Monday, July 16, 2018

Darkness at Noon

Ezra Klein has an interesting analysis of Trump and Russian collusion which conclusively proves one thing:  Ezra Klein is way too young to remember Watergate.

Donald Segretti.  Charles Coulson.  H.R. Haldeman.  G. Gordon Liddy.  Jeb Stuart Magruder.  John Ehrlichmann.  Those were some of the players in that scandal, people largely forgotten now.  Today you hear John Dean's name, and Nixon's, of course.  But the scandal started with indictments of underlings, people who committed crimes that didn't connect them to the White House, though they should have been connected because they were.  Nixon maintained plausible deniability even as Haldeman, Ehrlichmann, John Mitchell (Nixon's AG), Colson, Gordon Strachan, Robert Mardian, and Kenneth Parkinson were indicted for obstructing the Watergate investigation (sound vaguely familiar, that?).  Two things finally proved too much for Nixon's defense that he was surrounded by crooks but clean himself:  the Saturday Night Massacre, and the White House Tapes.

I remember the former as the dividing point between friends who said now Nixon looked guilty, and friends who said it proved nothing (and, strictly speaking, it didn't.  VERY strictly speaking, but still....).  I had a copy of the transcripts of the tapes.  The bigger shock was that they existed.  The lesser shock was how the President cursed like a sailor on shore leave in the Oval Office.  And what the tapes proved? can read about it now on Wikipedia and any number of websites that bring the story together.  I had to watch "All the President's Men" to get a sense of what really had happened.  It was all too complicated and too full of names of people no one had ever heard of doing jobs no one really understood (some for the White House, some for CREEP (Committee to Re-Elect the President; you can't make this stuff up).).  So, as Ezra argues, we had the information, and no, there never was a fact point or a story which crystallized the entire debacle and turned on a system of legal justice which led to....well, Ford's pardon.  In the long run, Ford (who was a feckless POTUS) led to Carter, who led directly to Reagan, and the line to Trump is a clear one.

So there you are.  Justice is not the straightforward process you might wish it to be, even when it's straightforward enough to get rid of a President.  Would a trial of Nixon have been any better?  Yeah, probably not.

Klein's argument is:  "The big issue, at this point, isn’t what we don’t know; it’s that we have no idea what to do with what we do know."  He's not wrong.  We didn't know what to do with Nixon, either.  In a sense, we still don't.  But Klein goes on to argue the same result will result because the political system doesn't desire justice, just power:

Congressional Republicans know their future is tied to Trump’s survival. Anything that weakens his administration weakens their 2018 reelection prospects, their ability to fill judgeships, their ability to pass tax cuts. Their political lives depend on Trump’s political strength.

While it’s an interesting counterfactual to imagine the way the GOP would be reacting if all of these revelations were attached to President Bernie Sanders’s 2016 campaign, it is fantasy to imagine they will do anything save protect Trump to the best of their ability.

Congressional Democrats don’t have the power to do anything right now, and as such are focused on taking back Congress in 2018. But even if they win the election, their priority will turn to retaking the presidency in 2020, and that’s going to mean focusing on health care and Social Security, not Russia and the 2016 campaign.

For that precise reason, the 2018 and 2020 elections cannot and will not act as a clear vehicle for accountability on Trump and Russia. From Supreme Court justices to tax policy to Obamacare’s future to environmental regulations, there is too much at stake in any given election, and there are too few choices available to voters, for them to answer a problem as complex and unusual as this one.

As for the rest of the legal system, keep in mind: There’s nothing necessarily illegal about Donald Trump publicly asking Russia to hack the Clinton campaign’s emails, just as there’s nothing illegal about him pursuing a stunningly pro-Putin foreign policy in the aftermath of receiving Russia’s aid. The actual hacking of the emails was illegal, but who’s going to hold Russia accountable for it? The Trump administration that asked for, and benefited from, their help?

The ridiculousness of both the question and the answer makes the point. Mueller’s indictments were announced just before Trump and Putin’s summit, and it first led to talk of whether Trump might cancel the meeting (of course he didn’t), and then speculation over whether and how he might confront Putin over Russia’s actions.

But everyone knows that Trump’s actual response to Russia’s intervention on his behalf has been gratitude and solicitousness — what other response is there to a world power doing exactly what you asked of them in a time of political need?

Now, part of that conclusion rests on the assumption we know all there is to know about Trump's actions, and that they don't amount to any violation of Federal criminal law.  Klein is not a lawyer, and I am, but even I would not presume to understand Federal criminal law enough to positively assert that conclusion.  So that's one problem; the other problem is a bit larger, and it's being undermined even now by the reaction to Trump's press conference with Putin today.

1 is still only 1, and nothing will happen to Trump before November; but still, this press conference seems to be a catalyst for something:
That would make an interesting study.  Maybe Rick Wilson could conduct it:
And David Axelrod is almost moved to be uncivil:
Even Neal Cavuto doesn't seem to know what to do with it:

“This had gotta be the most incredible thing I ever witnessed,” the host said during a Fox Business interview following the summit. He compared Putin’s proposed quid pro quo — an “exchange [of] information from each side’s accused hackers” — to a perpetrator helping firefighters investigate an arson.

“I don’t know,” Cavuto continued. “I’ll give the benefit of the doubt to maybe jet lag and time differences.”

“But holy moly,” he added.
Joe Walsh knows what to do:

As soon as the press conference was over, Anderson Cooper told his audience:
“You’ve been watching perhaps the most disgraceful performances by an American president in front of a Russian leader that I’ve ever seen,” the host said.
If the Democrats do win the Congress and are only concerned with getting a Democrat into the White House in 2020, they will simply set us up for the next Ronald Reagan in 2024.  History doesn't repeat itself, they say, but it does rhyme.  Rhyme, however, is a form of repetition.

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