Time for Fussing and Fighting

Try to see it my way,
Do I have to keep on talking till I can’t go on?

 Think of what you’re saying.
You can get it wrong and still you think that it’s alright.
Think of what I’m saying,
We can work it out and get it straight, or say good night.

 Life is very short, and there’s no time
For fussing and fighting, my friend.
I have always thought that it’s a crime,
So I will ask you once again.

 Try to see it my way,
Only time will tell if I am right or I am wrong.

That’s reasonable. That was John Lennon and Paul McCartney in December 1965 – a long time ago. Those were happier days. McCartney filed suit for the dissolution of the Beatles’ contractual partnership on December 31, 1970, and those days were over. They couldn’t work it out.

But the song lived on. The words still resonate. Now this is our politics. “Do I have to keep on talking till I can’t go on?”

Yes, you do. Everything has turned preposterous. Catherine Rampell used to write about economics and theater for the New York Times – separately of course – and now she’s a columnist for the Washington Post offering this thesis:

Many of President Trump’s critics (myself included) have portrayed him as a fantastically successful con artist, a man who has swindled customers, vendors and voters alike.

We were all wrong. Trump isn’t history’s biggest scam artist; he’s history’s biggest dupe.

That actually is the argument being offered:

Trump and his defenders are spinning as they portray the president as the victim of an elaborate, long-running political sting, perpetrated by his own devious underlings.

Trump claimed once upon a time that he was recruiting the “best people” to the White House and senior ranks of the executive branch. He now claims he got conned into hiring a cabal of covert Never Trumpers.

And there are so very many of them:

This political heist has been perpetrated by diplomats, donors, lawyers, economists and generals who earned and then abused the trust of their mark.

Four of the five sitting Federal Reserve governors, for instance, were Republicans handpicked for their current positions by Trump, and yet Trump now says they represent the “biggest threat” to his presidency and are an “enemy” to America. He has similarly accused his own Cabinet members, White House counsel, FBI director and other senior officials of allegedly plotting against him.

And they are so very good at that:

Somehow they’ve tricked Trump into saying and doing racist and corrupt things, in public and on camera. They hoodwinked him into passing economic policies that punish his working-class base while rewarding wealthy donors. And, worst of all – in the case of Ukraine – these schemers suckered Trump into subordinating U.S. national security to his own selfish political interests.

Either that or they cleverly framed him.

And that’s where this gets tricky:

Consider Trump’s own top diplomat to Ukraine, William B. Taylor Jr., who testified to House lawmakers that Trump was extorting a desperate Ukrainian government into smearing Trump’s domestic political opponent. Taylor must secretly be a Never Trumper, the president claimed multiple times, without evidence. The decorated career diplomat had somehow hornswoggled Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo into giving him this senior diplomatic position – which Taylor knew would come in handy on the off-chance he’d someday be subpoenaed to testify against the president.

As in the song, think of what you’re saying, but there’s that other guy too:

Trump leveled the same Never Trumper charge against Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a war hero serving as the National Security Council’s director of European affairs. Vindman testified that the rough transcript of Trump’s “perfect call” with the Ukrainian president left out some damning details and was secreted away onto a special server against standard procedure.

Sure, Vindman might seem like a credible, honorable witness – particularly given his subject-matter expertise and his impressive biography. But really this was all part of a (very) long con. He fled persecution in the Soviet Union as a child and was wounded while serving the U.S. Army in Iraq as an adult – all so that someday he could set up a future president by… accurately testifying about what that president said and did.

And then there’s Trump’s European Union ambassador, Gordon Sondland:

Sondland is a loyal Republican donor and was a bundler for Trump in 2016. He also gave more than $1 million to Trump’s inaugural committee through four different LLCs. Now you might think this donation history, coupled with Trump’s decision to award him an ambassadorship, would inoculate him against accusations of anti-Trump bias.


After Sondland amended his testimony last week to confirm that there were indeed conditions placed on Ukraine before Trump would release military aid, Trump surrogates began impugning Sondland’s loyalties, too. This longtime GOP donor, it turns out, must secretly be a “deep-stater” in cahoots with Democrats!

“Why did Sondland change his testimony?” Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), a Trump ally, asked on Fox News. “Was there a connection between Sondland and Democratic operatives on the committee?”

Indeed, what other possible explanation could there be for a Republican offering incriminating testimony about the president?

Graham is singing the song – try to see it his way – but there is the other possible explanation for all this. Rampell suggests this: Trump did all the incriminating stuff in question.

That’s possible, but no one in the White House would ever admit that, and the Washington Post reports that now there’s a real issue with internal fussing and fighting:

The White House’s bifurcated and disjointed response to Democrats’ impeachment inquiry has been fueled by a fierce West Wing battle between two of President Trump’s top advisers, and the outcome of the messy skirmish could be on full display this week, according to White House and congressional officials.

So on one side there’s this:

Acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney has urged aides not to comply with the inquiry and blocked any cooperation with congressional Democrats. Top political aides at the Office of Management and Budget, which Mulvaney once led, have fallen in line with his defiant stance, the officials said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to talk freely about the behind-the-scenes developments.

Mulvaney’s office blames White House counsel Pat Cipollone for not doing more to stop other government officials from participating in the impeachment inquiry, as a number of State Department officials, diplomats and an aide to Vice President Pence have given sworn testimony to Congress.

And on the other side there’s this:

Cipollone, meanwhile, has fumed that Mulvaney only made matters worse with his Oct. 17 news conference, when he publicly acknowledged a quid pro quo, essentially confirming Democrats’ accusations in front of television cameras and reporters. Cipollone did not want Mulvaney to hold the news conference, a message that was passed along to the acting chief of staff’s office, according to two senior Trump advisers, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. A Mulvaney aide said a team of White House lawyers prepared him for the news conference and never said he should not do it.

And no one, not even the president, is settling this dispute:

Neither Mulvaney nor Cipollone has broad experience navigating a White House through such a tumultuous period. But their actions have contributed to the White House’s increasingly tenuous response to the impeachment inquiry, in which public hearings are set to begin Wednesday in the House. Despite the high stakes, the White House moved slowly to hire a staff specifically dedicated to working on the impeachment issue, a concern that was expressed to the White House by multiple GOP senators, Capitol Hill aides said.

Of course they’re worried, and then add this:

Complicating matters, on Friday, the same day he defied a congressional subpoena to testify, Mulvaney sought to join a separation-of-powers lawsuit filed against Trump and the House leadership by a onetime deputy to former national security adviser John Bolton. The move infuriated Bolton allies, The Washington Post has reported, partly because Bolton and other national security aides viewed Mulvaney as a key architect in pressuring Ukraine to launch political investigations on behalf of Trump.

And this:

Mulvaney’s move to join the lawsuit baffled several administration officials, people familiar with the matter said. The lawsuit could have provided a legal basis for Mulvaney’s refusal to testify in the impeachment inquiry, but late Monday he withdrew, saying he will file his own suit to ask the courts to decide if senior Trump administration officials must testify in the impeachment inquiry.

If the courts say he must testify, will he? He seems to say he will, which is odd, but not as odd as this:

The Office of Management and Budget has served as Mulvaney’s biggest bulwark, because it played a key role in blocking nearly $400 million in security aid to Ukraine over the summer. The OMB is led by a close Mulvaney ally, acting director Russell Vought, who has refused to cooperate with the impeachment inquiry, as have other political appointees at the agency. But the increasingly political nature of the OMB has rattled a number of high-level career staffers, and several have resigned in the past year, including one who announced his departure in the midst of the turmoil this summer.

Employees at the normally under-the-radar budget agency watched in dismay as political appointees at the OMB took the highly unusual step of overruling the concerns of career staffers to hold up the Ukraine military aid, according to multiple former agency officials who remain in touch with current employees and spoke on the condition of anonymity to protect career staffers.

“Everyone was freaked out because it so violated the norms of OMB,” said one former longtime career employee, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations. The impeachment inquiry now threatens to ensnare career staffers at the OMB, one of whom, Mark Sandy, was called to testify Friday but did not appear.

Mark Sandy needs to hire a legal team, right now. They all do. Or maybe they don’t:

The White House denied the existence of any internal tensions.

“We are one team and we work well together. The palace intrigue stories are false and they need to stop,” White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham said in an email.

No one believes that:

Trump has complained about his legal team to White House officials and advisers in recent weeks, saying they need to be more aggressive and defend him more. Cipollone released a letter from Trump early last month saying the White House would not be cooperating with the impeachment inquiry. But a senior administration official said Cipollone since then has failed to do more to keep members of the administration in line.

“Those who have aligned with the president and followed the president’s instincts on not to cooperate have been successful and been that firewall,” said this official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations. Cipollone, this person said, “has been pretty weak in ensuring people are on lockdown.”

And now it’s time to panic:

The divisions within the administration, at a time when it should be presenting a united front against House Democrats, are serious enough that they have caught the attention of Senate Republicans, who are concerned that the administration is not properly prepared for a Senate impeachment trial that could start in January. The House is expected to pass articles of impeachment against Trump as soon as December, triggering a trial in the Senate.

“This impeachment trial is going to be here before the White House knows it, and they’re not even remotely prepared for it,” said one Senate GOP aide. “What they need desperately is leadership to get ready, but until Mulvaney and Cipollone put aside their petty squabbles and start working together, all they’ll have is tweets.”

Perhaps that’s all they ever had, but the New York Times’ Peter Baker and Maggie Haberman tell the tale a different way:

President Trump’s chief of staff and former national security adviser clashed in court on Monday. Two new books describe how top aides to the president secretly plotted to circumvent him. And nearly every day brings more testimony about the deep internal schism over the president’s effort to pressure Ukraine for domestic political help.

In the three years since his election, Mr. Trump has never been accused of running a cohesive, unified team. But the revelations of recent days have put on display perhaps more starkly than ever the fissures tearing at his administration. In the emerging picture, the Trump White House is a toxic stew of personality disputes, policy differences, political rivalries, ethical debates and a fundamental rift over the president himself.

It seems that all hell is breaking loose, but some of that can be localized:

The fault lines were most clearly evident on Monday when Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, abruptly withdrew his effort to join a lawsuit over impeachment testimony after a sharp collision with his onetime colleague John R. Bolton, the former national security adviser. Mr. Mulvaney retreated only hours after a lawyer for Mr. Bolton and his former deputy, Charles M. Kupperman, went to court arguing that his clients wanted nothing to do with the staff chief because they had vastly different interests.

That’s cold, but the guy is odd:

In withdrawing his motion, Mr. Mulvaney indicated that he would now press his own lawsuit to determine whether to comply with a subpoena to testify in the House impeachment inquiry. But it left him at odds with the president, who has ordered his team not to cooperate with the House, an order Mr. Mulvaney has essentially refused to accept as other administration officials have until he receives separate guidance from a judge…

Mulvaney’s lawyers emphasized that he was not trying to oppose Mr. Trump, maintaining that he was actually trying to sue House Democrats, and an administration official who insisted on anonymity said there was “no distance” between the president and his chief of staff. Still, Mr. Mulvaney hired his own lawyer instead of relying on the White House counsel, and he consciously made clear that he was open to testifying if left to his own devices.

But there’s still the fight with Bolton:

The court fight between Mr. Mulvaney and Mr. Bolton on Monday brought their long-running feud into the open. Mr. Mulvaney was among those facilitating the Ukraine effort, while Mr. Bolton was among those objecting to it. At one point, according to testimony in the impeachment inquiry, Mr. Bolton declared that he wanted no part of the “drug deal” Mr. Mulvaney was cooking up, as the then national security adviser characterized the pressure campaign.

They won’t be working this out. None of this may work out. That’s what worries Max Boot:

President Trump is finally on the verge of being impeached – a fate he has richly deserved since he fired James B. Comey as FBI director on May 9, 2017, to stop the investigation of his campaign’s ties to Russia. So why am I so depressed and worried? In part, because there is no chance of Trump being convicted…

At best, only five Senate Republicans might vote to remove him despite ironclad evidence of guilt. Having survived impeachment, Trump could win reelection. He is almost certain to lose the popular vote, probably by a bigger margin than in 2016, but he could squeeze out another Electoral College victory.

That’s especially true if Elizabeth Warren is the Democratic nominee – and Michael Bloomberg makes that more likely if he splits the moderate vote… As Republican consultant Steve Schmidt says, “In America a sociopath will beat a socialist seven days a week and twice on Sunday.”

If so, Trump stays, and that worries Boot:

The longer he is in office, the more willful he becomes and the fewer adults are left to restrain him. Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III nailed him on multiple counts of obstruction of justice but failed to convince the public that it was worth impeaching. The day after Mueller’s congressional testimony fizzled, Trump was on the phone demanding that the president of Ukraine investigate one of his political rivals. If he survives this flagrant criminality, imagine what he will be emboldened to do next. It is, of course, impossible to predict the actions of a president who tries to buy Greenland, falsifies a weather map, and expresses interest in nuking hurricanes, and all that occurred just this past summer.

Boot then offers three or four long paragraphs of all the damage Trump could do, all of it quite likely, ending with this:

In his first term, Trump began an assault on international institutions by withdrawing from the Paris climate accord, the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Iran nuclear accord. Second-Term Trump could finish the job by withdrawing from the World Trade Organization and NATO. Even if Congress wouldn’t go along, he could effectively render NATO meaningless by simply saying he won’t go to war for our deadbeat allies, thereby reversing his begrudging endorsement of the Article V collective-defense provision. He could also impose heavy tariffs on European imports and withdraw U.S. troops from Europe, thereby doing further damage to an already faltering Atlantic alliance.

He could strike a terrible deal with North Korea to lift sanctions and withdraw U.S. troops from South Korea in return for cosmetic concessions, ending an alliance that has lasted more than 70 years. He could pull all U.S. troops from Afghanistan even without a peace deal, turning that country over to the Taliban. He could cut off aid to Ukraine (a country that he detests), recognize the Russian annexation of Crimea and lift sanctions on Russia.

All of that seems quite likely, so Boot offers this:

Second-Term Trump is more likely to inflict damage – to our democracy, our environment, our world order – that is incalculable and unfixable. That this is a very real possibility causes me to fear for our country more than at any point in my lifetime.

Ah, but we can work it out! No, that’s just an old song. Only time will tell if I am right or I am wrong.

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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