That was an odd day. The House Judiciary Committee held its first impeachment hearing, with four quite impressive legal scholars debating whether President Trump’s dealings with Ukraine constituted impeachable offenses. Three said yes, definitely. The fourth said maybe not, or maybe not yet. And the Republicans on the committee were very angry. This shouldn’t be happening. The whole process was illegitimate. This was a coup. And this was what everyone expected. Both sides had dug in long ago. No one was going to give an inch, or give a damn what the other side said.
But odd things were happening in the background:
A group of mental health professionals led by a trio of pre-eminent psychiatrists is urging the House Judiciary Committee to consider Donald Trump’s “dangerous” mental state arising from his “brittle sense of self-worth” as part of its inquiry into whether to approve articles of impeachment against him.
“We are speaking out at this time because we are convinced that, as the time of possible impeachment approaches, Donald Trump has the real potential to become ever more dangerous, a threat to the safety of our nation,” said Yale Medical School Professor Dr Bandy Lee, George Washington University Professor Dr John Zinner, and former CIA profiler Dr Jerrold Post in a statement which will be sent to House Judiciary Committee members on Thursday.
The statement will be accompanied by a petition with at least 350 signatures from mental health professionals endorsing their conclusions.
All three psychiatrists have said they are willing to testify as part of the impeachment inquiry.
This was a bit off-topic. They offered no opinion on whether Trump should be impeached or not. They were issuing a warning – keep this up, or even worse, pass articles of impeachment, and we all could die:
Dr Lee acknowledged that members of congress – especially Republicans who are supportive of the president – might dismiss the warning she and her colleagues are delivering as just a product of differences of political opinion, but stressed that the fact that they should be taken seriously because their training enables them to recognize Mr Trump is exhibiting “definitive signs of severe pathology of someone who requires an advanced level of care” and who “meets every criterion of lacking a rational decision making capacity”.
“The one thing that we are trained to do is to distinguish between what is healthy and what is abnormal, and when the pattern of abnormality fits, then we recognize that it is pathology and not part of the wide variation of which healthy human beings are capable,” she said. “What we recognize is a pattern of disease and that may look like another political ideology or another political style to the everyday person who is unfamiliar with pathology, but to us it is a very recognizable pattern.”
Dr Lee explained that the president’s continued embrace conspiracy theories was actually a public health issue because of his ability to draw members of the public into a “shared psychosis at the national level”.
And of course they were ignored. What was Congress supposed to do with that? One party’s shared psychosis at the national level they will call the flat-out truth. There is a “deep state” – the CIA and NSA and FBI and all the other intelligence services, and the state department too. They conspired to defeat Trump in 2016 and they’re trying to overthrow him now. The voters don’t matter. The “deep state” hates democracy. The “deep state” hates America. And the “deep state” hates Donald Trump.
This is a conspiracy, a secret plot to take over the government, and the Trump folks can prove it, and then that blew up:
The prosecutor handpicked by Attorney General William P. Barr to scrutinize how U.S. agencies investigated President Trump’s 2016 campaign said he could not offer evidence to the Justice Department’s inspector general to support the suspicions of some conservatives that the case was a setup by American intelligence, people familiar with the matter said.
Some conservatives – everyone at Fox News and Rush Limbaugh and Alex Jones and all the rest, and Donald Trump – got the bad news:
Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s office contacted U.S. Attorney John Durham, the prosecutor Barr personally tapped to lead a separate review of the 2016 probe into possible coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia, the people said. The inspector general also contacted several U.S. intelligence agencies.
Among Horowitz’s questions: whether a Maltese professor who interacted with a Trump campaign adviser was actually a U.S. intelligence asset deployed to ensnare the campaign, the people said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the inspector general’s findings have not been made public.
But the intelligence agencies said the professor was not among their assets, the people said. And Durham informed Horowitz’s office that his investigation had not produced any evidence that might contradict the inspector general’s findings on that point.
John Durham looked where he was told to look. He dug deep. There was nothing there. Michael Horowitz’s office asked again and again. Was there anything there? Nope. There was no “deep state” conspiracy:
The previously unreported interaction with Durham is noted in a draft of Horowitz’s forthcoming report on the Russia investigation, which concludes that the FBI had adequate cause to launch its Russia investigation, people familiar with the matter said.
And that hurt:
Trump and his allies have relentlessly criticized the FBI probe, which was taken over by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, as a “witch hunt” and pushed for investigations of those who launched it. They have been eagerly anticipating the release of Horowitz’s report in hopes the watchdog with a nonpartisan reputation might validate their attacks.
Barr told CBS News in May that some of the facts he had learned about the Russia case “don’t hang together with the official explanations of what happened.” He declined to be more specific…
Horowitz’s draft report concludes that political bias did not taint how top FBI officials running the investigation handled the case, people familiar with the matter said.
So much for that shared psychosis at a national level. That was madness. But that trio of pre-eminent psychiatrists may be worried for nothing, because this president can control himself:
The British Conservative Party was given a huge boost on Wednesday when Donald Trump left the U.K. without smashing up its election strategy. The U.S. president was supposed to hold a press conference at the end of a gathering of NATO leaders but canceled it, saying he had answered enough questions.
“We won’t be doing a press conference at the close of NATO because we did so many over the past two days. Safe travels to all!” the commander-in-chief said on Twitter.
And then he left early. He got the hell out of town as fast as he could, but no one had a problem with that:
This means U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson survived the Trump visit without any extra obstacles being put in his way ahead of the December 12 vote.
“There are huge sighs of relief all round,” said Conservative ex-Cabinet minister Andrew Mitchell, who is fighting to keep his Sutton Coldfield seat in the election. “It’s a great triumph for the prime minister.”
That is to say, Johnson dodged a bullet:
Johnson spent two days working hard to avoid being pictured with Trump, who is deeply unpopular in the U.K. He did not greet the president at the door of Downing Street when world leaders arrived for a reception on Wednesday night. The only photos of Johnson and Trump together were the full NATO group shot and the obligatory opening handshake snap.
They also didn’t hold a joint press conference. Instead, they had a late-night, one-to-one meeting in Downing Street’s grand White Room, which was not announced in advance and was mentioned on the U.K. government website with little fanfare afterward.
Johnson even swerved mentioning Trump by name when he held his own press conference at the end of the NATO meeting. Asked if he thought the president was good for the West, the PM said the U.S. had “massively contributed to NATO, has been for 70 years a pillar of stability for our collective security.”
Trump? Who? Johnson doesn’t like the guy:
On the campaign trail on Tuesday, he insisted he wanted to push ahead with a French-style tax on U.S. tech giants – a major point of contention between Trump and Macron. “I do think we need to look at the operation of the big digital companies and the amount of tax that they pay,” Johnson told reporters. “They need to make a fairer contribution.”
During his press conference on Wednesday, he also appeared to reject a demand from Trump that the U.K. take back British-born Islamic State fighters currently held by the U.S. in Syria.
Trump bit his tongue:
Trump helped Johnson when he said he would not want the British health service included in a U.S.-U.K. trade deal after Brexit, even if it were offered “on a silver platter.” The opposition Labour Party has made hay with leaked documents which they claim show U.S. and U.K. negotiators discussed drug patents in preliminary talks on a deal…
During his press conference on Wednesday, a relieved Johnson insisted the NHS would not be on the table in a trade deal with the U.S. “Everybody by now has rumbled this for the nonsense it is,” he said.
But it wasn’t nonsense for a bit – we should be able to sell the NHS our pharmaceuticals at our prices – nine hundred percent higher than they’ve ever seen over there – and then that wasn’t what Trump wanted. Trump needs friends. He also needs to prove that he forced all NATO members to chip in ten times more, because that’s the Art of the Deal and he is the master of that. He needs something good he can point to next year, a reason he should be reelected. He fixed NATO. He loves NATO. So he behaved himself this time.
That wasn’t easy, as the Washington Post’s Philip Rucker and Ashley Parker report here:
President Trump, who has demeaned his domestic political rivals for being laughed at around the world, found himself the scorned child on the global playground at a NATO summit here Wednesday, as widely circulated video showed leaders gossiping about and mocking him.
The video, captured at a Buckingham Palace reception Tuesday evening, appeared to show Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, French President Emmanuel Macron, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and others laughing about Trump’s freewheeling news conferences earlier in the day. “I just watched his team’s jaws drop to the floor,” Trudeau told the others, dropping his hand toward the ground to dramatize his retelling.
And so it was Wednesday morning that Trump presented a sulking, brooding president, as he slapped down Trudeau as “two-faced” and engaged with other foreign counterparts at a secluded estate here outside London.
He was snide but that was about it:
Though his conduct here fit his pattern of disruption at international summits, Trump did not make the fiery threats that have punctuated previous gatherings. NATO leaders were almost giddy as they survived another encounter with Trump with their alliance intact. Trump’s canceled news conference – eliminating one last chance for him to take aim at them – was to many the departure gift.
And that was that, but not quite:
The day’s drama centered on Trump and Trudeau, who previously feuded at the Group of Seven summit in 2018. Asked Wednesday by journalists about Trudeau’s mockery, Trump fired back at the Canadian prime minister.
“Well, he’s two-faced,” Trump said of Trudeau. “And honestly, with Trudeau, he’s a nice guy. I find him to be a very nice guy. But, you know, the truth is that I called him out on the fact that he’s not paying 2 percent, and I guess he’s not very happy about it.”
During their Tuesday meeting, Trump needled Trudeau over Canada’s defense spending, labeling the country “slightly delinquent” for failing to meet NATO’s defense spending guidelines for member nations of 2 percent of gross domestic product.
Trump was later caught on an audio recording bragging to an unidentified summit attendee, “That was funny when I said that guy was two-faced.”
No, that was just a junior high girl lashing out. He’d been slammed. And the New York Times’s Katie Rogers and Annie Karni see that French President Emmanuel Macron is the one who really knows how to play Donald Trump:
By the time their 45-minute appearance at the American ambassador’s residence in London was over, the French leader had managed a rare role reversal, putting Mr. Trump on the defensive about his vision for NATO and his handling of a military conflict involving Turkey, and swatting away the president’s joke about sending Islamic State fighters from Syria to France …
When asked during the afternoon meeting to address his earlier comments about Mr. Macron, Mr. Trump, a leader averse to face-to-face confrontation, initially demurred. When it was his turn to speak, Mr. Macron was direct.
“My statement created some reactions,” Mr. Macron said. “I do stand by it.” …
Mr. Trump slumped back in his chair, while Mr. Macron sat on the edge of his chair, bobbing and gesturing energetically.
Mr. Macron’s aggressive approach appeared at times to unsettle Mr. Trump.
Dan Drezner has a theory about why that is so:
Manipulating children into doing what you want by pretending to demand they do the opposite thing is a trick most parents learn to use. It usually stops working around the age of five.
Trump is biologically older than five, but his oppositional behavior has been prominent throughout his political life. During the 2016 campaign, Howard Kurtz reported that Trump’s aides labeled this “defiance disorder.” In 2017, Axios’ Mike Allen reported, “Aides say the quickest way to get Trump to do something is to tell him he can’t.” There’s an entire chapter in my forthcoming book devoted to how Trump’s oppositional behavior is akin to that of a toddler.
So is it that simple? Did Macron figure out that the way to get the best of Trump is to exploit his psychological weaknesses such as defiance disorder and an abhorrence of direct confrontation to get him to support NATO?
It’s not quite that simple. Politico’s David M. Herszenhorn suggests that NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg also deserves some credit, as he has spent the past three years doing what he can to make Trump happy.
There is something to that, although the degree to which Stoltenberg has attempted to please Trump seems like toddler psychology as well.
That trio of pre-eminent psychiatrists might have been right after all:
What will be interesting to see is whether other leaders, sick of flattering Trump with little to show from it, follow Macron’s example. There is another possibility, however: Trump reads stories about Macron getting the best of him and throws a temper tantrum at the actual meeting.
With Trump, one is never entirely certain which toddler trait will come to the forefront.
Paul Waldman puts that this way:
For someone who has spent much of his life obsessed with the idea of being laughed at, desperate to gain acceptance from the elites he simultaneously scorns and seeks approval from, whether it’s Manhattan’s moneyed establishment, Ivy League intellectuals or the leaders of other countries, it must have cut him to the bone.
And he may be a bit crazy:
Trump’s preoccupation with the idea of being laughed at borders on the pathological. It was his primary theme as a candidate whenever he discussed foreign affairs or international trade: China is laughing at us, Europe is laughing at us, the Taliban is laughing at us, OPEC is laughing at us, the world is laughing at us. But once he became president, he promised, the laughter would stop. And so he has asserted many times since taking office. “We don’t want other leaders and other countries laughing at us anymore, and they won’t be,” he said.
Yet now, there is literally not a single person on Earth who gets laughed at more than Donald Trump.
It becomes particularly vivid when Trump finds himself amid foreigners, when he lacks either the solid background of his own White House behind him or a cheering crowd of Republicans in front of him. In those contexts, he is exposed, vulnerable, trying to assert command and primacy to people who see him as a buffoon.
And that actually may be dangerous:
Trump’s global unpopularity can affect American interests. When other world leaders find political advantage in distancing themselves from our president, it means they’ll be more eager to find ways to oppose American initiatives. Our alliances won’t collapse, but they’ll be weaker than they would be if the American president wasn’t viewed with such contempt around the world.
And Trump certainly is. Since he took office, publics in other countries have been far more likely to view America as a threat and far less likely to have a favorable view of the United States, which makes everything we try to accomplish in cooperation with other countries more difficult.
And as the time of possible impeachment approaches, Donald Trump has the real potential to become ever more dangerous, a threat to the safety of our nation. Didn’t someone just say that?
Yes, and this was inevitable too:
Former Vice President Joe Biden released an ad on Wednesday capitalizing on the viral video showing several top NATO leaders appearing to chuckle about Trump, saying that the “world is laughing at” the president.
“The world sees Trump for what he is: insincere, ill-informed, corrupt, dangerously incompetent, and incapable, in my view of world leadership.” Biden’s voice says. “And if we give Donald Trump four more years, we’ll have a great deal of difficulty of ever being able to recover America’s standing in the world, and our capacity to bring nations together.”
Biden’s ad also highlights the moment Trump appeared to be mocked by world leaders during a speech at the United Nations last year.
“In less than two years, my administration has accomplished more than almost any administration in the history of our country,” Trump declared, and audible laughter is heard from the audience afterward.
This sort of thing could drive Trump over the edge, but he will be impeached:
The spirited exchange unfolded as the Judiciary Committee began determining which impeachment charges to lodge against Mr. Trump based on an investigation by the House Intelligence Committee. The president abused his power, sought to subvert an American election and endangered national security when he pressured Ukraine for political favors, Democrats said.
In an investigative report released on Tuesday, they also concluded that Mr. Trump pressured President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine to announce investigations into former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and other Democrats, while withholding a White House meeting and $391 million in vital security assistance.
Within days and despite unanimous Republican opposition, the panel could begin drafting and debating articles of impeachment, eyeing a vote by the full House before Christmas. Democrats signaled on Wednesday that the charges could be based not just on the Ukraine matter but also on earlier evidence that Mr. Trump may have obstructed justice when he sought to thwart federal investigators scrutinizing his campaign’s ties to Russia’s election interference operation.
This was intense, for four quite impressive but rather nerdy legal scholars:
Invoking arguments between the framers of the Constitution and impeachment precedents dating to monarchical England, the scholars dissected the quality of the evidence before the House and how to define at least one possible impeachment charge, bribery.
The three law professors invited by Democrats said that Mr. Trump’s behavior was not only an egregious abuse of his power for personal gain, but the textbook definition of the kind of conduct that the nation’s founders sought to guard against when they drafted the impeachment clause of the Constitution.
“If what we’re talking about is not impeachable, then nothing is impeachable,” Michael J. Gerhardt, a professor at the University of North Carolina, told the panel. “This is precisely the misconduct that the framers created the Constitution, including impeachment, to protect against.”
But a fourth witness, Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University, cautioned House Democrats against rushing into an impeachment based on an incomplete set of facts and overly broad standards. He conceded that the president’s conduct may have been impeachable, but said Democrats risked tainting the validity of the Constitution’s only remedy for grave presidential misconduct outside an election.
“I am concerned about lowering impeachment standards to fit a paucity of evidence and an abundance of anger,” he said.
Well, there was a lot of that:
Within the first half-hour of the hearing, it was clear that the proceedings had entered a more cantankerous stage. The panel, stacked with some of the House’s most ideologically progressive and conservative lawmakers, lived up to its reputation. Republicans repeatedly sought to halt the proceedings with parliamentary demands, while the Democrats pressed forward.
Republicans on the panel, some of Mr. Trump’s most ardent defenders, sought to portray the case against him as a political hit job. And they disputed forcefully that Democrats had proved that Mr. Trump directed a pressure campaign on Ukraine.
“This is not an impeachment,” said Representative Doug Collins, Republican of Georgia. “This is simply a railroad job, and today is a waste of time.”
That’s what the Big Guy said:
Mr. Trump, in Britain for the 70th anniversary of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, called impeachment “a dirty word that should only be used in special occasions.”
When the hearing concluded, his spokeswoman dismissed the proceedings as a “sham process,” proclaimed the president’s innocence, and branded the opinions of the three legal scholars called by Democrats as the product of “political bias.”
Stephen Colbert explained that well enough many years ago – “It is a well-known fact that reality has liberal bias.”
And then there’s his 2007 book I Am America (And So Can You!):
Tomorrow you’re all going to wake up in a brave new world, a world where the Constitution gets trampled by an army of terrorist clones, created in a stem-cell research lab run by homosexual doctors who sterilize their instruments over burning American flags. Where tax-and-spend Democrats take all your hard-earned money and use it to buy electric cars for National Public Radio, and teach evolution to illegal immigrants. Oh, and everybody’s high!
Trump has the ability to draw members of the public into a shared psychosis at the national level? Ah hell, that’s been going on for a long, long time.