Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Deja vu all over again

With friends like these? Rivera is not a lawyer; Trump, Jr. is not a lawyer.  But to say it isn't obstruction you have to assume/admit it happened that way.

Watergate is not so green in my memory that I have photographic details of it down and complete.   I don't recall if John Dean testified before or after the Saturday Night Massacre. I do recall Dean's testimony didn't convince everyone Nixon was crooked, or guilty of obstruction of justice, or had to leave the office of President.  Dean was vilified, in fact, as a quisling, a leaker, a breaker of confidence, perhaps even criminally culpable simply for testifying.  And yeah, we're already seeing that "shoot the messenger" defense being trotted out:

“After getting fired, [Comey] magically reaches into his jacket and pulls out some memo he wrote at the time?” [former Trump aide Jason] Miller said to [CNN host Erin] Burnett. “That is absolutely absurd.”

“I think there’s also something a little bit weird and a little bit vindictive on Director Comey’s part,” Miller charged. “There’s this little diary — or figuratively speaking a diary — where he’s keeping every single note so he can try to come back and play gotchya games later on…the whole thing just doesn’t seem to make sense.”

That line has already reached the Speaker of the House:

“Look, there’s been a lot of reporting lately, I think, that requires close examination, let me tell you what I told our members just (Wednesday) morning,” Ryan said. “We need the facts. It is obvious there are some people out there who want to harm the president, but we have an obligation to carry out our oversight regardless of which party is in the White House, and that means, before rushing to judgment, we get all the pertinent information.”

“I’m sure we’re going to hear from Mr. Comey about why, if this happened as he describes, why he didn’t take action at the time,” Ryan said. “So there are a lot of unanswered questions.”
Protect the King; shoot the messenger.  One question is a legal one; the other is a distraction.  There was a lot of attention on Dean, as a way of taking attention off Nixon.  Of course, the desperation to distract is a tacit admission, too.

A senior official in the Trump administration, who previously worked on the president’s campaign, offered a candid and brief assessment of the fallout from that string of bad press: “I don’t see how Trump isn’t completely fucked.”

Neither does Paul Ryan, which is why he's trying to shoot the messenger.

For Nixon, the other big event history still vividly remembers was the Saturday Night Massacre, which seems historic and devastating in retrospect, and was eventually another nail in Nixon's coffin, but not necessarily so in the moment.  Somewhere in there, too, was the 18 1/2 minute gap, and the photo of Nixon's secretary straining mightily to keep a foot on the pedal of the dictaphone while reaching somewhere else on her desk, while putting another hand on another part of her desk.  Something like that; it was nuts, but it was meant to explain how she could have been distracted for almost 20 minutes while making the machine erase what was on the tape.  It was no more convincing than it sounds, and yet it didn't bring Nixon down.

The tapes were even released and published.  I remember buying a copy, and wish I'd held on to it to keep beside my copy of Ellsberg's Papers On The War (now I am dating myself).  I still have the Ellsberg, but the tapes were about as interesting to read as a phone directory, and disappeared somewhere in the last 40+ years.  But that didn't bring Nixon down, either.

The last straw was the "smoking gun" tape.  It's worth remember the Democrats controlled Congress; Nixon may have won a landslide victory, but the people gave Congress to the other party (as they thought they were doing in 2016), especially since it was a second term for Nixon.  Impeachment proceedings moved slowly and deliberately, with little fuss or bother; there were numerous public hearings and a rogues gallery of players to keep up with.  The movie "All the President's Men" covers it well, but simplifies it, too.  It wasn't just Nixon, or Dean,  it was a vast and greasy cast of characters.  Somewhere in there, too, Agnew had to resign and face criminal charges for something wholly unrelated to Watergate (putting the lie to another of Trump's ideas, that as President he is immune from criminal or civil prosecution).  It was long, it was drawn out, it was painful, and it wasn't over until it was over.

And it wasn't over until even the most die-hard hold outs went to Nixon and said it was over, even for them.  Men of impeccable Republican and conservative credentials who, to a man (they were all men, after all) would be considered "squishes" and "weasels" themselves, in today's GOP.

I don't know when this ends, I don't know how it ends.  I do know the center cannot hold: that this kind of chaos and madness and incompetence cannot go on sucking up the resources of so many people and so much of the Administration.   But don't take my word for it:

There is a growing sense that Mr. Trump seems unwilling or unable to do the things necessary to keep himself out of trouble, and that the presidency has done little to tame a shoot-from-the-hip-into-his-own-foot style that characterized his campaign.

There is a fear among some of Mr. Trump’s senior advisers about leaving him alone in meetings with foreign leaders out of concern he might speak out of turn. General McMaster, in particular, has tried to insert caveats or gentle corrections into conversations when he believes the president is straying off topic or onto boggy diplomatic ground.
And when that doesn't work, McMaster bald-faced lies to the press, as he has done about the leak to the Russians.   One can only lie so many times, but that number is high.  The bigger problem is trying to explain what the President, the man who "speaks his mind," just said, and why he didn't say what he clearly said, and didn't do what he clearly did.  When it was clear what Nixon had done, when he couldn't deny it anymore (although he continued to until he died), he was done.  Trump doesn't even deny it, he declares it, and insists it is his right to do as he pleases.  He's got the Presidential seal, and the Presidential podium, and his momma loves him like a rock.*

Trump is like the old Greek concept of chaos.  Logos, or reason, kept chaos in check, but couldn't vanquish it.  One day, the Greeks reasoned, reason and the order it imposed on chaos, would be forced to give up the struggle, and chaos would rule again.  Trump cannot be eliminated, only controlled.  But that control is limited, and limiting, and it can't stop Trump from being Trump; and therein lies the problem.

When is Trump done?  When what he's doing matters again.That may be by the end of the year, if he keeps making life and the function of government for his staff not only impossible but criminally illegal.  Asking Comey to "back off" Flynn is obstruction of justice no matter how you look at it.  Is it established?  No, but that's why you have investigations.  But as he undermines more and more of his own staff, making it impossible for them to even make an announcement that isn't refuted within hours or days, it will be harder and harder for his Administration to function.  If he doesn't break it all by 2018, a new Congress is very likely to break him, solely for the sake of the nation.  That break is coming.  At Slate, they compiled a list of news articles indicating the declining morale, not of the FBI (which is alternately "shattered" or "emboldened" by the Comey firing, depending on which article you read next), but of the White House staff.  It ends with this description from, of all people, Ross Douthat:

Read the things that these people, members of his inner circle, his personally selected appointees, say daily through anonymous quotations to the press. (And I assure you they say worse off the record.) They have no respect for him, indeed they seem to palpate with contempt for him, and to regard their mission as equivalent to being stewards for a syphilitic emperor.
We aren't six months in yet, and already Trump is losing the support of his staff.  Despite the attempts to blame Comey now, the chickens will come home to roost soon enough.

*Paul Simon; look it up. I can't do everything for you.


  1. “There’s this little diary — or figuratively speaking a diary — where he’s keeping every single note so he can try to come back and play gotchya games later on…the whole thing just doesn’t seem to make sense.”

    CROMWELL You have heard of the so-called Holy Maid of Kent-who was executed for prophesying against the King?

    MORE Yes, I knew the poor woman.

    CROMWELL You sympathize with her?

    MORE She was ignorant and misguided; she was a bit mad, I think. And she has paid for her folly. Naturally I sympathize with her.

    CROMWELL You admit meeting her. You met her and yet you did not warn His Majesty of her treason. How was that?

    MORE She spoke no treason. Our conversation was not political.

    CROMWELL My dear More, the woman was notorious! Do you expect me to believe that?

    MORE Happily there are witnesses.

    CROMWELL You wrote a letter to her?

    MORE Yes, I wrote advising her to abstain from meddling with the affairs of Princes and the State. I have a copy of this letter-also witnessed.

    CROMWELL You have been cautious.

    MORE I like to keep my affairs regular.

  2. Oh, that is very good.