Monday, September 30, 2019

Moscow Mitch and the Kremlin-owned NRA

FILE - This March 6, 2014 file photo shows Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky. walks onto the stage holding a rifle before speaking at the Conservative Political Action Committee annual conference at National Harbor, Md. McConnell now has an end
If Moscow Mitch McConnell truly wants to ditch that nickname, he's got work to do. A very good start would be to stop blocking the House gun safety bills from coming to the Senate floor. If he doesn't want to be considered a "foreign asset" of Russia, he needs to prove he's not beholden to the NRA—which is definitely a foreign asset of Russia.

That's according to a new Senate investigation spearheaded by Democrat Ron Wyden from Oregon. An 18-month probe by the Democratic staff of the Finance Committee, where he's ranking member, found that "the NRA underwrote political access for Russian nationals Maria Butina and Alexander Torshin more than previously known—even though the two had declared their ties to the Kremlin."

The NRA knew that Butina and Torshin were Kremlin operatives, and jumped in with both feet. NRA leadership traveled to Moscow in 2015, and when then-NRA Vice President Pete Brownell went to Russia on what was supposedly a private, personal visit to explore business opportunities, the NRA covered some of the costs. The report shows, using contemporaneous emails and interviews, that the NRA was knowingly and purposefully building ties with Russia and with the Kremlin.

While Wyden's focus was the NRA and proving it has been violating its tax-exempt status, the flip side is that Russia used the NRA as another means to infiltrate American politics, specifically the Republican party.

And few Republicans have been more of a friend to the NRA than Moscow Mitch. His career has been built in large part by the $1.3 million he's received from the NRA. It's a symbiotic relationship—together they team up to intimidate Republicans into doing nothing to end the epidemic of gun violence in America.

It's the stuff of wild conspiracy theory fiction, but it's all very real and happening out in the open. And it all goes back to Putin. All the way from the White House to an NRA-friendly Supreme Court and the one figure tying it all together—Mitch McConnell. He's not even trying to disguise the fact that he's in a relationship with Moscow, from guns to election security to selling out his home state's industries. Wyden's investigation illuminates just one more rotten part of his corruption.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Trump is surrounded by people so stupid, they thought releasing call readout was smart

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 19: House Judiciary Committee member Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) talks with reporters before heading into a closed-door hearing in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill October 19, 2018 in Washington, DC. The House Judiciary and Oversight committee are questioning Fusion GPS contractor Nellie Ohr, wife of senior Justice Department official Bruce Ohr. She is being questioned as part of the investigation into the opposition research dossier about then-candidate Donald Trump’s alleged personal and business ties to Russia that Republicans say is at the center of alleged Department of Justice misconduct during the 2016 election. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Rep. Matt Gaetz, so stupid that Trump values his advice. Like the advice to release self-incriminating shakedown phone call readout with Ukrainian president.
Yes, a handful of advisers to the popular-vote loser and chief traitor urged him not to release the call readout with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky—mainly Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. They may be evil, but at least they’re not total idiots, which is why Donald Trump apparently ignored them, instead listening to, well, this cast of jokers.

Reports Vanity Fair, ”In addition to several attendees at the meeting … which included several congressmen firmly in MAGA world, such as Jim Jordan, Devin Nunes, John Ratcliffe, Matt Gaetz, and Mark Meadows—Attorney General William Barr thought releasing the transcript would be for the best.” 

Devin Nunes, you might recall, is the Republican ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee and a likely Russian asset. It was his job to selectively leak, obfuscate, and obstruct the Mueller investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Ratcliffe was Trump’s first choice for director of national intelligence until it turned out he’d invented key chunks of his personal bio (claiming big terrorism-related prosecutions that never happened). Jordan and Gaetz are key members of the nihilistic ultra-right House Freedom Caucus.

These aren’t people who were in the room because of their smarts and sharp acumen, but because, as our own Mark Sumner put it, “these are ‘Yes, yes, yes! men’ who greet Trump’s every utterance like they’re in a scene from When Harry Met Sally.”

As Mark notes, not everyone in that room rooted for the call readout’s release. But there was clearly a critical mass of morons thinking that giving up the entire game by releasing that readout was the smart play, and why? Because Trump didn’t literally utter the words “quid pro quo”? Yet you surround yourself with sycophants, you aren’t going to get the best help and advice. (Think about Michael Cohen and … well, Rudy Giuliani.) It’s a wonder Trump has gotten this far in life.

Barr is the odd name in that bunch. He’s not an idiot. In fact, he’s as dangerous as he is precisely because he’s smart enough to clean up after Trump’s messes, without incriminating himself Giuliani-style. Or is he? He is clearly implicated in this scandal, and the fact that he refused to recuse himself despite being named in the whistleblower report is particularly damaging to him. Yet here he was, knowing his name would be publicly dragged into the impeachment proceedings, and he went along with it? He certainly wasn’t as stupid as the Freedom Caucus crowd as to think releasing that call readout would make this whole mess go away. So what was it?

Perhaps it was simple CYA. He was already in knee-deep, and if he wasn’t confident that the courts would allow him to block release of that call readout, things would look even worse for him when it was released. This could simply be him ripping off the Band-Aid, knowing the short-term pain would be better than further enmeshing himself in scandal.

Either way, we’re lucky in a way that Trump and his inner circle are as dumb as they are. Republicans are trying to push back on impeachment by arguing process—whistleblower was biased (wrong)! His attorney is a Democrat (so what?)! Adam Schiff knew about the allegations and sat on them (bullshit)! But really, thanks to their idiocy and incompetence, none of that matters—you can't argue the source is tainted when the primary evidence (the call readout!) was handed to us on a silver platter.

So thank you, White House clown car, for making this a lot easier than it could’ve been!

Friday, September 27, 2019

The Case for Trump's Impeachment: He's Betrayed America With Seven Countries

Speaker Nancy Pelosi. (photo: Jim Lo Scalzo/Getty)
Speaker Nancy Pelosi. (photo: Jim Lo Scalzo/Getty)
By William Saletan, Slate
26 September 19

He has betrayed America with seven countries. Here’s the indictment.

resident Donald Trump should be impeached. Not just for his manipulation of Ukraine, but for his overwhelming pattern of treachery against the United States.

The president swears that his pressure on Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, Trump’s leading opponent in the 2020 election, was perfectly innocent. Despite an array of evidence that Trump abused power—a whistleblower complaint, an arm-twisting phone call with Ukraine’s president, suspension of U.S. military aid to increase the heat, and an influence campaign in Ukraine by Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani—Trump shrugs off the whole story as a “Ukraine Witch Hunt.” He says he’ll beat the rap.

But Trump’s rap sheet is a lot longer than one story. What he has done in Ukraine—defending a corrupt foreign official, enlisting a foreign government to fight his domestic political opponents, and circumventing or removing American security officials who stood in his way—is part of a pattern. In transactions with at least seven countries, Trump has pursued personal advantage at the expense of the United States. In each case, he has explicitly attacked America, its political leaders, or its national security officials.

Here are the seven countries.

1. Russia. Trump solicited criminal campaign help from Russia and defended collaboration with the Kremlin to win the 2016 election. These aren’t unproven allegations. They’re recorded on video. At a press conference in July 2016, Trump urged Russia to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails. When a reporter asked Trump whether he had “any pause about asking a foreign government—Russia, China, anybody—to interfere, to hack … anybody in this country,” Trump replied, “No, it gives me no pause.” In 2017, when he was asked about the Trump Tower meeting at which his top campaign officials sought political help from Russian emissaries, Trump said there was no difference between getting help from Russians and getting it from Americans.

Trump has repeatedly asserted that the United States is no better than Russia. During his campaign, and again as president, he defended Russian President Vladimir Putin’s record of killing dissidents, claiming that “our country does plenty of killing also” and isn’t “so innocent.” Trump said Putin was better than President Barack Obama, calling the Russian president “a leader, you know, unlike what we have in this country.” Last month, at a press conference, Trump boasted five times that Putin had “outsmarted” Obama.

Trump took specific steps to protect Putin from the U.S. government. He repeatedly defended Putin against the 2017 U.S. intelligence report that exposed Russia’s interference in the 2016 U.S. election. Trump also dismissed the American officials behind the report as liars and hacks. He denounced the FBI, the CIA, the NSA, and “the intelligence community.” Last year, after a Department of Justice indictment documented the involvement of 12 Russian intelligence officers in the election hacks, Trump dismissed the evidence and defended Putin’s denial.

2. North Korea. Last year, Trump formed a public-relations alliance with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, based on the mutually advantageous fiction that North Korea was dismantling or halting its nuclear missile program. Since then, Trump has followed Kim’s lead, ridiculing American officials and politicians Kim doesn’t like. In May, Trump repeatedly applauded North Korea for calling Biden a “fool of low IQ.” In June, Trump portrayed the United States as North Korea’s lowly suitor, boasting—falsely—that Obama had “called Kim Jong-un on numerous occasions to meet” and that despite “begging for meetings constantly,” Obama had been turned down. Trump has also endorsed Kim’s attacks on Trump’s own advisers. Two weeks ago, after North Korea denounced U.S. national security adviser John Bolton as a “human defect” and said Bolton should vanish, Trump fired Bolton and defended North Korea’s invective against him.

Kim, like Putin, enjoys Trump’s protection from U.S. intelligence agencies. Trump has brushed aside the agencies’ evidence of Kim’s ongoing nuclear and missile work, calling such allegations “fake news” from “the Opposition Party.” Last month, Trump again followed Kim’s lead, criticizing joint military exercises between the United States and South Korea. And on Monday, despite international alarm over North Korea’s persistent missile launches, the president defended them.

3. Saudi Arabia. Trump is shielding the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, from American intelligence that shows MBS directed the murder of a U.S. resident, journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Last fall, a CIA assessment concluded that MBS ordered the assassination. Trump lied about the assessment, claiming that the CIA “didn’t make a determination.” Congress then instructed Trump to issue a legally mandated report on Khashoggi’s death, but Trump refused. Three months ago, when Trump was asked whether the FBI should look into the case, he said it had been sufficiently investigated, and he claimed that “nobody so far has pointed directly a finger” at MBS. When a reporter pointed out that the CIA had in fact implicated MBS, Trump replied, “I just don’t want to talk about intelligence.” 

4. China. Trump often complains about China’s trade surplus with the United States. But he always insists that the real culprit is the U.S. government. That’s because Trump views competition with other countries, like collaboration with other countries, as a venue in which to outscore and humiliate the real enemy: his fellow American politicians. At least 19 times since Trump became president, he has declared, “I don’t blame China.” Instead, he has faulted America. Last fall, he explained, “I don’t blame China. I blame our country.” Last year, and again two months ago, he repeated, “I don’t blame China. I blame the United States.”

Trump’s contempt for America, relative to China, goes beyond trade policy. He also believes that China’s Communist government is morally superior to the Democratic Party of the United States. Earlier this year, when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer refused to fund Trump’s border wall, Trump protested, “I find China, frankly, in many ways, to be far more honorable than Cryin’ Chuck and Nancy. I really do. I think that China is actually much easier to deal with than the opposition party.”

5. Israel. This year, Trump has targeted four Democratic congresswomen: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley, and Rashida Tlaib. He has portrayed them as un-American, claiming that they “came from countries” with bad governments (three of them were born here) and should “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.” But it’s Trump, not the congresswomen, who has dragged a foreign government into the feud.

Last month, Omar and Tlaib made plans to travel to Israel. Although Israel objected to their support of boycotts against it, it decided to permit their visit, on the grounds that denying entry to members of Congress would be an offense against the United States. But Trump felt no such loyalty to his country. He openly urged Israel to bar the two Americans—in fact, he warned Israel that it would look weak if it approved their trip—and he also lobbied Israeli officials in private. Under his pressure, Israel reversed itself and blocked the visit.

Trump proceeded to exploit Israel’s rebuke of the two congresswomen, just as he had exploited Putin’s criticisms of Clinton and North Korea’s criticisms of Biden. He also suggested that American Jews should put allegiance to Israel before their duties as American citizens. “Any Jewish people that vote for a Democrat,” he argued, were “being very disloyal to Israel.”

6. Turkey. Trump has consistently excused Turkish aggression against the United States. In 2017, he defended his former national security adviser Michael Flynn after Flynn was exposed as a Turkish foreign agent who had spiked a U.S. plan to arm America’s Kurdish allies. Then Trump refused to criticize Turkey’s authoritarian president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan—and even expressed sympathy to Erdogan in a phone call—after Erdogan’s thugs assaulted protesters in Washington. Last year, the White House pressed the Justice Department to look for ways to expel Fethullah Gülen, a Turkish dissident, despite having been told there were no legal grounds to do so. And in a dispute over whether to betray the Kurds in Syria, Trump sided with Erdogan against U.S. officials. Trump capped his treachery by firing Defense Secretary James Mattis, who had protested his abandonment of the Kurds.

7. Ukraine. What we know so far about Trump’s backstage manipulation of Ukraine fits the pattern. But you can also see several of his pathologies out in the open.

One of them is his incomprehension that he’s supposed to be a teammate, not an enemy, of previous American presidents. At last month’s G-7 meeting, Trump dismissed Russia’s annexation of Crimea, a Ukrainian province, as a personal embarrassment to Obama. That invasion was Obama’s problem, not Trump’s, the president argued. Therefore, in Trump’s view, the punishment Russia had suffered for it—being kicked out of what was then the G-8—should be overturned, now that Trump was president. Crimea was “taken away from President Obama, not taken away from President Trump,” said Trump. “It was very embarrassing to him. And he wanted Russia to be out … that was his determination.”

Another pathology, familiar from Trump’s interactions with Russia, China, and North Korea, is his habit of belittling domestic critics by playing on the idea of American inferiority. “Our media has become the laughingstock of the world,” the president told reporters on Friday, castigating them—in the presence of Australia’s prime minister—for pursuing the Ukraine story. “The media of our country is laughed at all over the world now. You’re a joke.” On Tuesday, at a meeting with Iraq’s president, Trump claimed that every foreign head of state with whom he had spoken at the U.N. General Assembly said the investigations of him were “crazy.”

A third pattern, consistent with Trump’s treatment of Russia, North Korea, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia, is his attacks on U.S. intelligence officials. On Saturday, he tweeted smears by two Fox News commentators. One called the Ukraine whistleblower’s complaint a “seditious effort” against Trump. The other warned that “an American spy in one of our intelligence agencies may have been spying on our own president.”

Trump says Ukraine is part of a much bigger story. “It’s just a continuation of the witch hunt,” he scoffed on Tuesday. He’s right that we’re seeing the same thing over and over. But what we’re seeing isn’t witches. It’s a president betraying his country. Draw up the articles of impeachment. 

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Trump ‘in disbelief’ after his call to Pelosi failed to stop the impeachment inquiry

WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 26: Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) holds her weekly press conference at the U.S. Capitol Visitors Center July 26, 2019 in Washington, DC. The House of Representatives passed a 2-year budget deal Thursday that was struck between Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
No deal, Donald
The failed “dealmaker” currently occupying the White House tried to weasel his way out of impeachment, according to CNN … and as everyone now knows, he failed miserably.
He had felt confident after phoning Pelosi earlier that morning. The drive for impeachment in her caucus had ramped up amid reports he pushed the Ukrainian President to investigate Joe Biden, and Trump was hoping to head off a clash. He figured he could de-escalate tensions by speaking with her directly.
It was after that call that Trump made the decision to release an "unredacted" version of the transcript of his July call.
With this approach, it almost seems as though Donald Trump had never met Speaker Nancy Pelosi before. This is likely one of the reasons for his desperate tweeting about impeachment on Tuesday.

It just means he’s in total shock, because he actually believed this wouldn’t happen.
But when the announcement he would release the transcript did little to quell the growing calls for his impeachment, Trump was in disbelief.
After Pelosi's historic announcement, Trump immediately began lashing out, accusing Democrats of distracting from his successes at the United Nations General Assembly and arguing it was just "more breaking news Witch Hunt garbage."
Frank Bowman III, law professor at the University of Missouri, talked with CNN and compared Nixon with Trump. I believe his comparison explains why Trump thought impeachment wasn’t going to happen: Trump believes laws don’t apply to him.
A possible, and frightening, difference between Nixon and Trump is that Nixon, in the end, was a man of the law in the sense that, while he committed offenses and tried to evade responsibility for them, he nonetheless believed in the constitutional structure of the US and that its laws applied to him. So when push came to shove and he was ordered to produce incriminating material, he did. I am quite sure that Trump neither understands nor believes in the American constitutional system. And I am not sure that Trump believes that he is bound by the law.
Trump understands that impeachment will put an exclamation point on his miserable legacy as “president.” Trump also knows that he’s going down in history as one of, if not the, worst president ever—and this is all that matters to the narcissist.
A source close to the White House who routinely speaks with Trump confirmed he does not want to be impeached.
Does anyone want to be impeached? Oh, to be a fly on the wall when Trump talked with Pelosi.

The “president” obviously left their conversation with the belief (or more likely the delusion) that he’d made a deal. It ended up being another one of his failures, because for Democrats, there are no deals when it comes to upholding the rule of law.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

White House makes emptiest possible threat about effect of impeachment inquiry

WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 11:  U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) speaks during a news briefing after the weekly Senate Republican policy luncheon June 11, 2019 at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC. McConnell said the Senate plans to take up a funding bill to address the humanitarian crisis on the U.S.-Mexico border.  (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Moscow Mitch McConnell already took care of that, guys
It was a given that the White House would insist that House Democrats are making a big mistake by moving forward on a formal impeachment inquiry, but the reason given is especially hilarious: Impeachment might mean Democrats can’t get any laws passed. 

“House Democrats have destroyed any chances of legislative progress for the people of this country by continuing to focus all their energy on partisan political attacks. Their attacks on the President and his agenda are not only partisan and pathetic, they are in dereliction of their Constitutional duty,” White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said in a statement.

Hey, you know what? The House has already passed a long list of bills that are sitting in Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s legislative graveyard. If the White House is so concerned about legislative progress, Donald Trump can just pick up the phone and tell McConnell to hold votes on the Violence Against Women Act, gun violence, elections security, a $15 minimum wage, and more. So House Democrats really don’t have to worry about impeachment holding up legislation—they’ve already done their jobs and handed the Senate enough work for a good long impeachment inquiry. If the Senate would do its job and consider any of that legislation, and if Trump would consider signing it. But they won’t, on general principle, no matter how popular the bill in question.

Grisham had more to say: “Americans deserve elected officials who focus on key issues to improve the lives of families, strengthen our communities, grow our economy, and keep our country safe.” This is true! “In President Donald J. Trump they have someone who has not only focused on those goals, but delivered results.” This is not true!

Note to the White House: If you’ve already made your threat a reality before an impeachment inquiry, it loses power as a threat about the results of an impeachment inquiry. Go figure.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Fox & Friends Is Terrified of Greta Thunberg

Greta Thunberg. (photo: Getty Images)
Greta Thunberg. (photo: Getty Images)

By Samantha Grasso, Splinter
24 September 19

limate change activist Greta Thunberg is a force so powerful that Fox News has finally started taking her seriously—as the enemy of children everywhere. 

Fox & Friends invited climate change denier Marc Morano onto Monday’s show following the international climate change strike on Friday, during which communities across the globe skipped work and school to demand their governments act on climate change. Morano, a former aide to fellow climate change denier Sen. Jim Inhofe, was quick to demonize 16-year-old Thunberg, characterizing her work as the very thing Fox News is known for: a “message of fear.”

“What is it about [Thunberg] that has interested so many young people?” host Steve Doocy asked Morano.

“Well, she sells fear. Greta Thunberg started in Sweden every Friday outside the Swedish parliament and it spread—to skip school in order to have a future,” Morano said. “In other words, she’s actually said...why should kids go to school if they have a future that will be no more unless government passes laws like the Green New Deal, more U.N. treaties.”

Morano detailed anecdotes of children becoming more anxious at the idea of climate change ruining their futures—which, same!!!

“She is the Greta Effect,” Morano said. “She’s causing and instilling fear in millions of kids.”

Host Ainsley Earhardt went on to accuse the children who participated in the protest of doing so because of peer pressure, while Morano insisted that a Gen-Z protest to skip school wouldn’t be nearly as effective as a protest that has them giving up social media or their smartphones—because it wouldn’t be Fox News without some Baby Boomer-pandering nonsense about kids and all their apps these days.

“If you really want to protest, do something challenging,” Morano said. “Why would you skip school? That’s an easy thing for any kid to do.” Not as easy as being a grown-ass man smearing a teenager on Fox News, apparently.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Garrison Keillor boldly wades into assault weapon, public nudity controversies

Hors d'Oeuvres in the House!


Garrison Keillor. (photo: MPR)

The beauty of Brexit for an American is that it gives us a glance at the debate in the House of Commons, an actual spirited debate, something unknown in our Congress, Conservative and Labor facing each other, two sword lengths apart, speaking in bursts of argument and rebuttal, no lengthy droning allowed, members free to jeer and laugh, the Honorable Speaker of the House John Bercow crying out, “Order!” which to an American sounds like he is referring to ordure or ordering hors d’oeuvres.

Nancy Pelosi never shouts “Order” in our House because hardly anyone is present. They’re all in their offices, on the phone, raising money. As for the Senate, it is a hospice. And this is why journalists focus on White House twittering. If the Chief Twit tweets, “Boogers on you, dum-dum. Talk to the hand,” it will be front-page for at least half an hour, and we’ll learn that no president in history ever used the “boogers on you” insult. How interesting. This is the current state of our democracy.

No wonder then that our government is unable to do a simple obvious sensible thing such as restore the ban on assault weapons. Men routinely give up their right to carry an AR-15 when they go through security at the airport. The Second Amendment ends at the metal detector. Air travel is crucial to the economy, and the American people won’t fly on a plane with NRA members wearing bandoliers, holding rifles with enormous magazines, carrying Glocks and Berettas. It’s not the result of a Supreme Court decision: it’s called “common sense.”

The majority of Americans would, if they were to see a civilian cross a parking lot with a semi-automatic weapon, think “lunatic” and make a mental note to avoid that shopping center in the future. These weapons are instruments of terror, their only purpose is to fulfill the violent fantasies of weird men. So why are they legal? The regular occurrence of mass shootings in public places is doing an enormous favor for Amazon and other mail-order houses. Thus, Walmart took a small sensible step last week and stopped selling ammunition for assault rifles so that killers who come blasting into the store and run out of ammo can’t restock on the spot, they have to go to Costco.

Public service is a high calling and, for that, you need only look at the stories about law enforcement people who’ve rushed to shooting scenes, run into buildings past scenes of panic, and approached the maniac who was shooting, and, as they say, “neutralized” him. The bravery involved is astonishing. It goes against our normal instinct to seek cover and avoid harm. Instead, the cops go in. Why can’t the empty suits in the Senate find sufficient testosterone to make it hard to own a weapon of mass carnage? It defies analysis.

The NRA has five million members. The Mormon church has six and a half million. If it pays enough money, will the Republicans bring back polygamy? If the Emotional Support Animal Association ponies up the cash, will Congress vote to allow llamas in restaurants? If the American Sunbathing Association fights for nudity as a basic First Amendment right and plunks down $30 million to the RNC, will POTUS come out on the White House drive and appear before the cameras wearing his Make America Naked Again cap? Do you think this POTUS is incapable of such a thing?


It was a popular referendum that got Britain into the Brexit mess and, despite the chaos, they believe that democracy can get them out. It is up to Democrats to restore such faith in this country. The party is in a marathon slog, gradually forcing candidates out who are running on fumes and illusion. The primaries lie ahead. The future of government rests with a couple hundred thousand voters who ticked Republican in 2016 and now, in the privacy of the booth, will admit to the disaster that has ensued and rectify the mistake. It is as obvious as the hair on his head.


SPEAKER: Hors d’oeuvres! Hors d’oeuvres!

Thank you, Mister Speaker. Let us look at the bright side. At least the Senators are not handing out free assault rifles and requiring us all to exercise our rights and carry one. This is a step in the right direction. And I would like deep-fried calamari and hummus with sticks of celery. Thank you very much.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

AG Barr and Trump are setting up an authoritarian power grab to kill the whistleblower inquiry

WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 22: U.S. President Donald Trump (R) and Attorney General William Barr arrive together for the presentation of the Public Safety Officer Medals of Valor in the East Room of the White House May 22, 2019 in Washington, DC. Comparable to the military's Medal of Honor, the Medal of Valor was established in 2000 by President Bill Clinton. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Although the acting director of national intelligence was advised by the Justice Department that he couldn't share a whistleblower complaint concerning Donald Trump with Congress, the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) opinion justifying that logic is still nowhere to be found.

During a Thursday press conference, House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff made a point of saying the opinion had not been shared with his panel yet. 

Instead of an actual legal opinion, all that has been disclosed about the administration's reasoning for withholding the urgent complaint from Congress is the basic framework that the complaint did not fall within the bounds of activity covered by the Whistleblower Protection Act.

In a Sept. 17 letter to Schiff, the intelligence community inspector general, Michael Atkinson, said the rationale he had received from the general counsel for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence was that the complaint "did not concern allegations of conduct by a member of the Intelligence Community or involve an intelligence activity under the DNI's supervision." 

Atkinson went on to say that although he considered himself to be "bound" by that determination, he also strenuously disagreed with it. "Particularly," he wrote, "that the disclosure in this case does not concern an intelligence activity within the DNI's authority, and that the disclosure therefore need not be transmitted to the congressional intelligence committees."

Atkinson said he took issue with "DOJ's analysis of the facts" and that, in his view, the complaint not only fell within the DNI's jurisdiction, but is indeed inseparable from it, relating to "one of the most significant and important of the DNI’s responsibilities to the American people.”

Whatever the OLC argument is—and we still don't know what it is—we should understand exactly what Attorney General William Barr and the White House are doing here. They are trying to prevent the whistleblower from using the formal channels laid out in the Intelligence Community Whistleblower Protect Act (ICWPA), leaving them and perhaps anyone who aids them open to prosecution for unlawful disclosures. (Contrary to popular belief, the ICWPA doesn't include protections for whistleblowers; it only lays out a mechanism to put forward a complaint to the congressional intelligence committees.)

Certainly, that is a piece of why IG Atkinson is treading so carefully, even though the law gives inspectors general sole discretion over whether a complaint is credible or whether it pertains to an urgent concern.

At base, Barr and the White House are applying maximal intimidation in order to keep the complaint from going public. And if it does go public in any sort of credible way (i.e., with a name attached to it), Barr and Trump will then have a self-fabricated foil in arguing that the disclosure wasn't legal. That will allow them to divert attention away from Trump's misconduct and instead create an argument over whether he has been unlawfully wronged.

In other words, this is all a diversion tactic, but it's a very dangerous one. Barr is both wily and lawless. He clearly cares nothing for the American people, but rather works in sole service of preserving presidential power—even for a president like Trump.

If Barr succeeds in either killing the disclosure or making this scandal a question of whether the law was followed in the course of disclosing the complaint, he could easily muddy the discussion and upend any momentum toward the removal of Trump from office. And building an authoritarian regime is about chipping away at democratic guardrails one at a time until they no longer exist.