Documentation. Witnesses. Facts. Truth. That's what they're afraid of.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Threading The Needle

A month and a half ago ago, I wrote this regarding impeachment of Trump:
I *THINK* I see the strategy the [Democrats] are playing here. Trump and his people will keep on thinking they're making big moves while they're actually making things worse for themselves (like being excited in March when they quickly move Barr up the board and then watch helplessly as Kamala Harris captures him and they can't play him, at least as effectively, anymore), and the Dems and their non-corrupted allies in law enforcement are subtly setting a trap to be sprung at the correct time. Republicans hate our whole system so badly that they can get away with overturning the board and declaring victory. Democrats cannot overturn the board, because, frankly, we care about living to play another day.
[... The] bottom line is the result. I'd rather use impeachment in 2-3 months when we've worked things to the point that the media and even a few Republicans are in the in our column than gamble from less of a position of strength today. I *think* it has a better chance to save democracy.

Mueller showing up on the podium last month did make a difference -- some of the media is now actually paying attention to the Mueller Report itself rather than to what people, first and foremost Bill Barr, are saying about it. I think that has made members of the media, like, READ THE REPORT. And now, much of the media no longer treats Barr as honest and they're open to the idea that Trump did a wee bit of obstruction of justice. Some examples:

Hell, CNN just hired Daniel Dale, who is known on Twitter as the Toronto Star's reporter covering Trump's lying.

If Pelosi has *any* chance of taking Trump down rather than just shaming him (which, if that's the only option, I'll take), it's going to be by reframing the discussion of why he's being impeached.

Right now, the public discourse is about Volume 2 more than Volume 1. And to the extent it's about Volume 1, it's about "Russian election interference." Not only do we need the spotlight moved over to Volume 1, we need to rewrite that title in the media's head to "Trump election stealing." This is why, I believe, they're holding hearings on Volume I next week and why they're working so hard to get the counterintelligence investigation materials and other documents before starting. If Schiff can't get those materials, he can at least alert the media that they exists, which I think, and I think he thinks, will make them more likely to see the light of day. This could be one reason they haven't subpoenaed Mueller yet; they need some time to change the narrative before bringing him in. What happens in the coming weeks is important. They can't do a shitty job.

When Mueller does testify, it will probably be the televised event of the century, right? So the Democrats had better be prepared for what'll probably be more than one day of questioning and testimony. And who's going to be asking the questions on the Dem side? 11 Congresspeople. And who's going to write them? Their staff, which isn't nearly enough people to move more quickly. Newt Gingrich cut Congressional staff headcount for exactly this reason -- so it would be harder to root out corruption. But you've got 11 congresspeople, and the staff they do have, and they *all* have to be totally up on what the report says.

There's a lot in the works. Over the coming weeks, Mueller is *going* to testify in front of Congress. A lot of people say he's too "by the book." But if he's so "by the book," he knows very well he can't dodge a subpoena and he either has to fess up in front of Congress when he's under oath or plead the 5th, or say he can't answer because the information's classified. But he can't lie and say it's because the information is classified if it isn't -- that would be perjury. He helped put Michael Cohen in jail for lying to Congress. I'd be shocked if he did it himself.

Some combination, if not all of, Trump's tax returns, Trump's financial statements, the unredacted Mueller report, the results of other ongoing investigations, and information from the counterintelligence investigation will be revealed soon. The Dems have already announced two contempt votes for Barr, one for McGahn, one for Ross. I think they're all supposed to happen by the end of next week (each one requires two votes, though not for long).

Mueller 's report is bad for Trump. There's no doubt it shows that he's a criminal. It shows that other Republicans are criminals. And obviously, it shows that Russians are criminals. However. There is so much more going on here than that. This wasn't just a two-year conspiracy by Vladimir Putin to put Trump in office and rewarded by Republicans in all sorts of ways. This is a decade-plus long conspiracy by Putin, and some others, to raise up radical right-wing governments all over the world and to overturn the established post-WWII order. We need to turn back all of it. This is one battle in a larger war. This is why Mueller was looking at people like Nigel Farage... I said that this was more than about one country helping one really bad person steal one election in one year. This has been about a handful of countries helping a *lot* of really bad people steal a *lot* of elections over a period of more than a decade.

But isn't Mueller telling the Dems it's time to impeach? Not necessarily. This is what the Mueller report says about it: Volume II, p. 178, footnote 1091: 

A possible remedy through impeachment for abuses of power would not substitute for potential criminal liability after a President leaves office. Impeachment would remove a President from office, but would not address the underlying culpability of the conduct or serve the usual purposes of the criminal law. Indeed, the Impeachment Judgment Clause recognizes that criminal law plays an independent role in addressing an official's conduct distinct from the political remedy of impeachment. See U.S. CONST. ART. l, § 3, cl. 7. Impeachment is also a drastic and rarely invoked remedy, and Congress is not restricted to relying only on impeachment, rather than making criminal law applicable to a former President, as OLC has recognized. A Sitting President's Amenability to Indictment and Criminal Prosecution, 24 Op. O.L.C. at 255 ("Recognizing an immunity from prosecution for a sitting President would not preclude such prosecution once the President 's term is over or he is otherwise removed from office by resignation or impeachment.").
That is not the plan. The plan is: don't base the case on *only* Mueller's 448 pages. There are still 14 investigations that he started that are still going on, several Congressional investigations, a number of other investigations in various municipalities, and a ton of other things that are still under wraps.

Anyway, I'm generally on board with impeachment, and I'm glad to see that support for it is increasing:

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The number of Americans who said President Donald Trump should be impeached rose 5 percentage points to 45 percent since mid-April, while more than half said multiple congressional probes of Trump interfered with important government business, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Thursday.

That's from last week. An update this week:

Overall, 27 percent of Americans say there’s enough evidence to begin impeachment hearings now — up 10 points from last month.
Another 24 percent think Congress should continue investigating to see if there’s enough evidence to hold impeachment hearings in the future, which is down eight points.

That's pretty huge. Swaying that 24 percent, which went from 32 percent last month as they went into the pro-impeachment column, is one of the things the Democrats appear to be working on, and if so, it's working.

My congressman and at least one of my Senators do support impeachment and I'm happy about that. And if the other Senator doesn't yet, she will shortly.

What I don't entirely get is why we need to do it now. One of the arguments in favor of that is because he's doing so many awful things, like caging children, and taking away an awful lot of rights from already disadvantaged groups, not to mention his gambling with the economy. I just don't get how an impeachment without a conviction helps on that front. Republicans in the Senate support most of these awful things, and they can get away politically in the media with letting a little obstruction of justice slide. He's committed so many crimes that Mueller laid bare. They are all absolutely crimes. But they're not crimes that will get him removed from office. So why the rush? We are going to know a LOT more a few weeks from now than we do today.

A brief aside: As much of a shitbag as Jeff Sessions is and always has been, he recused himself for a reason -- he was actually involved in the Russia plot -- and Mueller had relatively free rein for a while. I think when he lost that, he had to narrow his scope because he saw the writing on the wall. I just don't have much of another explanation for why he interviewed some of the people he did and then never mentioned them at all in his report. I was gobsmacked that the thing wasn't over 1000 pages.

Another sign he wasn't done is that if you read the report, which Barr said on March 22nd was wrapped up, there's stuff in there from an interview he conducted with Michael Cohen on March 19th, just three days before. There's no way people like Mueller and his team, who are cautious for a fault, just tacked on things like that at the very end with no time to actually check them out.

Back to the point -- prosecutors sometimes sit on charges until they can most effectively use them. If you're Elliot Ness and you can't get Al Capone on anything but tax evasion, you get him on tax evasion. That's pretty good, but if you can get him on murder, you get him on murder. If you want to get him on murder, you cannot walk into the courtroom saying, "Your honor, today I bring before you a man we are accusing of tax evasion, but I will prove that he committed murder."

Unless you think that there is a way you can do it that *can* actually remove him from office. Nancy Pelosi said at the Commonwealth Club the other day: "Nothing is off the table, but we do want to make such a compelling case, such an ironclad case, that the Republican Senate ... will be convinced of the path that we have to take as a country." She's either delusional, lying, or within some reasonable distance of correct. Trump appears to believe Option #3.  The fact that he won't let go of a report that supposedly exonerated him is telling, and Barr is going to extreme lengths to help him cover up.

I think it's possible, but she needs a smoking gun around election theft or Trump being a Russian (or otherwise) agent. A secret recording of one of Putin and Trump's conversations; or checks written from a Trump entity to Russian hackers or their representatives; or (probably not, but) the pee-pee tape? Probably a different story. Until she has that case, she needs to play the media into thinking that when she does get to using impeachment, she does so as a measure of last resort so that she doesn't look partisan. April Ryan on CNN said it well last weekend: [paraphrasing] "She's trying to nail the coffin shut. She won't impeach while the lid is still open."

I think things are progressing. We went from a handful of mostly backbench House Dems and one or two presidential candidates to call for impeachment to higher-profile House Dems to House Committee Chairs and most of the candidates while Nancy has gone from "No, it's too risky" to "We're going to get there."

The vibe I'm getting from her, and the actions I see the Democrats taking now feels nothing like 2007ish, when she gave a hard no, much to my chagrin, when it came to impeaching Bush. The Dems gained 38 seats in the House in 2006. And they weren't conducting hearing after hearing of Republican elected officials and corporations, and weren't constantly seeking documents, and they weren't holding anyone in contempt. This is not how Pelosi was talking about Bush:

Nancy would love to get rid of Trump. It feels personal for her, which is good. He's so outwardly horrible, it should be personal. I do not believe at all that the delay is about losing elections. That was Pelosi's opening shot to throw the media, and the comment about "Trump not being worth it" was aimed at Trump. She needled him again similarly on Jimmy Kimmel's show two weeks back:

'I’m done with him, in terms of talking about him,' Pelosi told late-night host Jimmy Kimmel on his ABC show. 'What we want to talk about is, let’s build the infrastructure of America and not have him stomp out of the room.'

I see comments like these on Twitter all the time:

When Pelosi says something to the effect of, "Let's get Trump to make a deal on infrastructure," it means "Let's get him to show up to a meeting that the media believes he should show up to and then let him whine like a little baby and storm out of the room." It's part of what she calls "self-impeachment," and that's exactly what Trump is doing:

But even with Trump making things worse for Trump (TM Bob Cesca), this just isn't as easy as some Democrats seem to want it to be, and in some ways deliberately so. Democrats simply can't run roughshod through our political and media systems the way Republicans can. That's partially due to the nature of liberalism vs. the nature of conservatism in general, partially due to the Republicans having spent 40 years working the media and the dark holes in our electoral systems, and partially because when the bad guys break the rules/laws, it's mostly bad, but it's a little good because 1. it shows us our vulnerabilities and 2. because it exposes them as bad guys. But when the good guys break them, then the rules are basically null and void.

Seeing the Dems actually trying to navigate these systems -- even if it takes longer than it would to just bash it to hell like Republicans do -- rather than just throwing up their hands, is a welcome advance. The Democrats don't want to become the bad guys while trying to take Trump out,which is why the Democrats aren't breaking the rules. However, they are moving forward within the rules.

The minute Pelosi affirmatively does anything involving, as Trump put it, that "dirty, filthy, disgusting word," the media is going to make a decision for the people as to whether or not the Democrats dropped a nuke on poor Trump for partisan political reasons, or because they've unearthed the greatest conspiracy in the history of the world. Do you think the average American knows the difference between an impeachment inquiry, an impeachment vote, and a Senate trial? Some members of the media might, and some might not. But unless they get a lot of help, they'll do a very shitty job of explaining it to the public. Whatever the media decides at the moment the Democrats drop the "I-Bomb" will probably be the narrative that colors their coverage for the next god-knows-how-many years.

The media gets something in its head about Democrats, the Republicans repeat it over and over, and then it becomes the truth. Hillary Clinton something something e-mails something something Clinton Foundation. Al Gore said he invented the internet (he didn't say that), so he's a chronic liar. Jimmy Carter gave a speech about "malaise" even though he didn't say "malaise."

Of course getting around all if this may be frustratingly slow. But if I'm presented with three choices: 1. Throw up my hands because I don't want to risk doing something bad, 2. Work more slowly and carefully than I wish I could to find a solution that keeps me good but also solves the problem, or 3. just do what the bad guys do... I'm picking #2. We'll see in the coming weeks if the Democrats are picking #1 or #2. It seems like 90% of Democratic Twitter is adamant that the Democrats are picking #1, which is why I wrote this post. I just don't want to have to engage in that discussion right now, unless someone can explain to me what real advantages impeachment brings that the Democrats don't have at their disposal now.