Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Republicans stand by and stare as Trump shoots America

This morning one of my friends expressed disgust, not at Trump (reason being that we all knew what to expect from him) but at the Republicans in congress and all others who support Trump in spite of the damage he inflicts on our country every single day. You might recall that Scriber has been saying that the real story of 2016 and the rise of Trump is not so much Trump as those who support him no matter what.

Donald Trump controversially observed that he could shoot an individual on a widely trafficked New York City street and not “lose one voter.” That is true according to factchecking by Snopes.

Now to put it in context, Snopes informs us that “The comment was part of a larger point Trump was making about the loyalty of his voting base”.

Trump knows that he can stand on stage in Helsinki, sucking up to the KGB agent now dictator of Russia, disparage America and its institutions, alienate our allies, and not lose a single Republican in congress. That also is true according to Scriber’s reading of the news about reactions to the Helsinki summit.

To put this one also in context, it is about the loyalty Trump enjoys amongst the Republicans in congress. Like, for example, AZ Senator Jeff FLake, the congressional Republicans might say Trump has done wrong, but they honor their bargain with him.

That’s the theme of John Cassidy’s column at the New Yorker, What’s Changed Between the G.O.P. and Trump After Helsinki: Nothing.

Donald Trump’s rise within the Republican Party is often described as a hostile takeover, and there’s obviously some truth in that description. But after Trump won the G.O.P. Presidential nomination, in 2016, most of the Party’s leaders in Washington made their peace with him, on the basis of an arrangement that is still in effect today.

… Trump agreed to campaign for other Republican candidates. He also agreed to abide by many of the central tenets of the G.O.P. faith, including its devotion to tax cuts, deregulation, and the dismantling of the liberal welfare and administrative state.

Trump has, however, insisted on adding some twists to the Republican platform, some of which—such as protectionism and suspicion of international alliances—contradict the old dogma. But internal consistency is a goal that democratic mass movements never fully achieve, and the Trump-G.O.P. concordat has proved more durable than many observers expected, surviving eighteen months of chaos, controversies, and occasional big setbacks, such as the failure to repeal Obamacare. Trump’s recent criticism of nato allies, and his denial of Russian election hacking at a press conference with Vladimir Putin, in Helsinki, have provoked an enormous political reaction, but nothing that has transpired in the past few days suggests that the Trump-G.O.P. deal is about to break apart.

To the contrary, both the President and his party are determined to get the Helsinki fiasco behind them and return to business as usual. “I take him at his word if he says he misspoke, absolutely,” the Ohio senator Rob Portman told Fox News, on Tuesday, shortly after Trump’s pitiful effort to walk back his comments at the press conference. Senator Marco Rubio, of Florida, commented: “I can’t read his intentions or what he meant to say at the time. Suffice it to say that for me as a policymaker, what really matters is what we do moving forward.”

A few Republicans did call Trump’s comments disgraceful, but fear and short-term self-interest still have most of them cowed. At the grass roots of the Party, there is no sign of Trump’s supporters deserting him, which makes it very dangerous to cross him. …

But fear of Trump and his cult of personality isn’t the entire story. In their state of subjection, many Republicans console themselves with the thought that, in policy terms, the concordat is still holding, as evidenced, for example, by Trump’s nomination of Brett Kavanaugh, a conservative scion of the Republican establishment, to the Supreme Court.

With a Republican-controlled congress, there is little chance that anything meaningful will come of attempts to constrain Trump from standing on more Helsinki podiums and doing the national security equivalent of shooting America.

Trump now accepts US intelligence on Russian hacking? Oh, come on.

Before we get to the meat of this post - the disastrous display of Donnie courting treason at Helsinki - let’s pause for a listen to Christina Aguilera doing Something’s got a hold on me. As you listen, imagine slightly different lyrics.

Let me tell you now
Russia’s got a hold on me, yeah (oh, it must be Vlad)
Oh oh Russia’s got a hold on me right now, child (Oh, it must be Vlad)

That’s the only hypothesis that seems (to me) to make sense of our president’s bromance with Putin and his attacks on our democracy and our institutions. (You can take the referent in that highlighted phrase as either Trump or Putin.)

Onward …

Trump says he accepts U.S. intelligence on Russian interference in 2016 election but denies collusion reports the Washington Post.

After getting hammered in the media over his performance in Helsinki bordering on (insert T word here), Trump tried, stumblingly, bumblingly, dishonestly to rewrite history.

President Trump on Tuesday grudgingly sought to inch back his warm remarks about Russia and its leader during a summit in Helsinki a day earlier, saying he had misspoken when he appeared to accept President Vladi­mir Putin’s denials that Russia had interfered in the 2016 presidential election.

Initially crossing his arms in front of him, and reading haltingly from prepared remarks, the president said he accepts the U.S. intelligence community’s assessment that Russia sought to influence the election — but added that it “could be other people also,” an assertion not backed by evidence.

The strained effort at damage control came more than 24 hours after his rhetorical embrace of Putin at a joint news conference set off a global uproar, including shouts of treason from some Democrats and demands from many Republicans that he mop up the mess. Many of his usual defenders had gone dark in the wake of the summit, and neither Trump nor his aides acknowledged any error until the president took to the cameras Tuesday afternoon.

Trump sought to minimize the impact of Russia’s efforts to interfere in domestic U.S. politics while repeating his frequent denials of cooperation between his campaign and Moscow. And he did not address the broader context of his remarks in Helsinki, which included praise for Putin, attacks on the FBI, and declarations that both Russia and the United States were equally to blame for sour relations.

“I accept our intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election took place,” Trump said Tuesday, flanked at the White House by Republican members of Congress who were preparing for a meeting on tax policy. “Could be other people also. A lot of people out there. There was no collusion at all, and people have seen that, and they’ve seen that strongly.”

The scene carried echoes of past moments of political crisis for Trump, including his comments last year that “both sides” were to blame for a deadly white-supremacist rally in Charlottesville. Then, as now, Trump backtracked with apparent reluctance after a period of public outcry.

Trump had also tweeted before the news conference Monday that the United States had been “foolish” and “stupid” in its approach to Russia, and then said during the news conference that “we’re all to blame” for tensions.

What a difference a day makes

Trump’s explanation Tuesday hinged heavily on a single word that he sought to revise 24 hours later.

At the Helsinki news conference, during a disjointed soliloquy about a Democratic National Committee computer server, Trump referred to Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats and the findings of Russian interference in the election: “With that being said, all I can do is ask the question. My people came to me, Dan Coats came to me and some others, they said they think it’s Russia. I have President Putin; he just said it’s not Russia. I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be.”

Then at the White House on Tuesday, Trump asserted that he had misspoken by saying “would” instead of “wouldn’t.”

“The sentence should have been, ‘I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be Russia.’ Sort of a double negative,” Trump told reporters. “So you can put that in, and I think that probably clarifies things pretty good by itself. I have on numerous occasions noted our intelligence findings that Russians attempted to interfere in our elections.”

Let’s pause for an educational break - or maybe not. I was going to write a small essay about why changing one word makes little difference to the overall explanatory coherence of Trump’s remarks. There are just too many other pieces of verbal evidence, publicly available, that as a whole are consistent with the hypothesis that Putin has something big on Trump.

Steve Benen (MSNBC/MaddowBlog) says the same thing in simpler terms: Trump tries and fails to clean up his Putin summit mess.

Though the president tends to live in a bubble, Donald Trump realized at some level that his press conference in Helsinki on Monday was a disaster. Yesterday, he tried – and failed – to put things right.

First, while reading from a typed script that had been prepared for him, the president made the case that he misspoke while questioning U.S. intelligence while standing alongside Russian President Vladimir Putin. NBC News reported:

“I thought that I made myself very clear, but having just reviewed the transcript…I realized that there is a need for some clarification,” Trump said Tuesday at the White House. “The sentence should have been…’I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be Russia’.”

At the Monday press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Trump said about election meddling in 2016: “(Putin) just said it’s not Russia. I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be.”

Contextually, this is impossible to believe, since Trump clearly made the case on Monday that he accepts Putin’s denials at face value. Indeed, the president’s attempts at a clarification were based on the idea that the only problem with his press-conference comments was a single word.

But that’s absurd. At the same event, Trump added, “I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial.” Are we to believe the American president misspoke then, too? Perhaps there was another missing “not” that was supposed to be in that sentence?

Making matters slightly worse, I’ve seen some suggestions that Trump also said yesterday that he now accepts U.S. intelligence on Russia’s intelligence operation targeting our elections. That’s not quite what happened. What he actually said was, “I accept our intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election took place. Could be other people also.”

That’s not an endorsement of the intelligence community’s findings. By adding “could be other people also,” Trump made it abundantly clear that he doesn’t fully accept his own administration’s conclusions.

And in that way Trump continues to play the role of Putin’s Puppet. The relevant constitutional phrase is “aid and comfort” offered to an enemy of the United States.

What else can I do?

Trump’s approach to Russian interference in our election comes down to this:

I asked Putin if Russia interfered with our election. He said no. What else can I do?

What if FDR would have responded to Pearl Harbor in the same way:

I asked Japan if they attacked Pearl Harbor. They said no. What else can I do?

h/t David Fitzsimmons via Facebook

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

'someone unfit to hold the office of president' gave 'aid and comfort' to an enemy.

Polishing Putin
Polishing Putin

There are three parts to my headline. (1) Trump is unfit for office - any office. (2) By his actions in the Helsinki Summit, and many before that, he provides aid and comfort to another country. (3) That other country, Russia, by its actions, is at least an adversary and quite probably qualifies as our enemy.

Some will now, and some have already, called Trump’s performance in Helsinki as “treason”. Lawyers already are splitting legal hairs about the applicability of that term. (See, for example, this analysis in the Washington Post.) Legal wrangling will just get in the way of resolving the most important question. What hold does Russia and Putin have on Trump? What could have motivated such slimy behavior on the part of the President (the President of the United States of America, for God’s sake)? What could have led Trump to such abasement, such obeisance , such bootlicking before a foreign dictator?

Another line of questions need to be explored. It seems that every new transgression by Trump merits consideration as “the bottom” - as in “have we hit bottom yet?” More specifically, what would it take to line up the Republicans in congress in taking action against Trump? How can they, all of us really, rationalize not taking action? Do they think that Russia is our friend? That we as a nation deserve such treatment as is specified in the Mueller indictments? And if this is acceptable and not yet at bottom, then imagine, please, what would “bottom” look like. That vision bodes ill for our nation.

How Helsinki stunk

In disastrous press conference, Trump defended Putin, blasted Americans is a good summary by Steve Benen (MSNBC/MaddowBlog) of what went down in Helsinki. Here are highlights.

  • Putin, standing alongside Trump, insisted Russia never interfered in U.S. elections. This faced no pushback whatsoever from the American president.
  • Asked specifically if he believes American intelligence professionals or Putin, Trump gave every indication that he considers the latter more credible – Trump praised Putin’s “strong and powerful” denial, effectively endorsing the Russian leader’s line – before whining for quite a while about Hillary Clinton emails. (Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats was mentioned by name as someone whose judgment Trump chooses not to fully believe. The appropriate move would be for Coats to resign today.)
  • Despite the Republican line that Russia simply wanted to create division and chaos in 2016, Putin conceded today that he wanted Trump to win.
  • At no point did Trump condemn Russian election interference – apparently because Trump doesn’t really believe there was any Russian election interference.

Historians can speak to this with more authority, but this may have been the worst performance on an international stage for any American president, ever. Trump traveled to Finland, defended an American adversary, took cheap shots at Americans, and rejected the judgment of American intelligence professionals. I felt like I was watching our president launch an assault on his own office, siding against his own country, for reasons the White House will struggle to defend.

And this was Trump’s public performance. It’s worth taking a moment to consider what, exactly, Trump told his Russian benefactor in private.

Former CIA Director John Brennan wrote on Twitter, “Donald Trump’s press conference performance in Helsinki rises to & exceeds the threshold of ‘high crimes & misdemeanors.’ It was nothing short of treasonous. Not only were Trump’s comments imbecilic, he is wholly in the pocket of Putin. Republican Patriots: Where are you?”

That need not be a rhetorical question.

John Shattuck in the Boston Globe asks Is Donald Trump committing treason?

Following the 2016 presidential election, a specter of treason was hovering over Donald Trump because of his response to the mounting evidence that the Russians had intervened to help elect him.

As the president-elect entered the White House, he summarily rejected the conclusion of US intelligence agencies that Russia had engaged in cyberwarfare against the US elections. He worked to block investigations into Russia’s actions. Trump advisers and associates had extensive political and business dealings with the Russian government before and during the 2016 presidential campaign. While there has not been any direct evidence that the president-elect was involved in the Russian government’s actions, circumstances suggested that individuals or groups close to the president could have aided or known about the Russian meddling.

According to the law, the federal crime of treason is committed by a person “owing allegiance to the United States who … adheres to their enemies, giving them aid or comfort.” Misprision (abetting) of treason is committed if a person “having knowledge of the commission of treason conceals and does not disclose” the crime.

Today the evidence of Russian cyberattacks against the US democratic process is overwhelming. On July 13, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, a Trump appointee and former Republican senator, stated that “the warning lights are blinking red again,” as they were before the 9/11 attacks, and that “the digital infrastructure that serves this country is literally under attack.” This high-level warning came on the same day Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein announced that 12 Russian agents had been indicted for hacking Democratic officials in the 2016 elections by a federal grand jury convened by special counsel Robert Mueller. The Russian attacks began the day after Trump had openly encouraged Russia to hack the e-mails of his opponent.

In response to the indictments of Russian agents last week, Trump declined to condemn the cyberattacks, nor did he indicate that he would to defend the country against them. Instead, the White House claimed that the Russian indictments exonerated the president because no Americans were accused of collusion. In the special counsel’s probe, however, four Trump campaign officials have already been charged with criminal conduct relating to the Russian cyberoffensive.

Before his meeting Monday with President Vladimir Putin of Russia, Trump remarkably blamed his own country for the poor state of US-Russia relations, repeating his mantra that the Mueller investigation is a “rigged witch hunt.” Trump’s pre-summit comments implied that he would not use the tools of diplomacy, law, or military technology to defend the United States against continuing Russian cyberattacks. If true, this would be tantamount to giving aid and comfort to an enemy.

… it’s worthwhile to try to improve relations with an adversary. True enough, but not at the expense of US national security. The president’s hostility to the US investigation of Russian cyberattacks, his failure to impose a cost on Russia for the attacks, his denigration of US alliances, and his eagerness to have “an extraordinary relationship” with the Russian leader all point toward giving aid and comfort to an enemy.

In Some Dare Call It Treason has a listing of many who agree, saying that “Trump’s bizarre summit with Putin has his critics reaching for new epithets.”

Trump’s coddling of Putin prompted Trump criticism to reach a fresh threshold, as the press and politicians started flinging a new, shocking descriptor that burns like acid when it lands: In their new stinging formulation, Trump isn’t just a lout or a loon, a firebrand or an opportunist, he’s a traitor.

New York Times columnist Charles M. Blow was among the first to apply the “T” word to the president in a prescient Monday piece titled “Trump, Treasonous Traitor,” which appeared just hours before the presser. “It was nothing short of treasonous,” former CIA Director John Brennan tweeted of Trump’s press conference performance. “I’m so sorry the Commander-in-chief is a traitor,” tweeted Michael Moore, agreeing with Brennan for the first time ever. Tea Party stalwart Joe Walsh said the same. “Trump the Traitor,” read the headline on Boston Globe columnist Michael A. Cohen’s Monday afternoon piece. He concluded, “Trump is a clear and present danger to US national security.”

Other voices from both parties concurred without actually using the T-word. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) called Trump’s kowtowing to Putin “shameful.” In a statement, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said Trump had “abased himself … abjectly before a tyrant.” “Disgraceful,” wrote Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). “Shameful,” wrote Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.). “Indefensible,” wrote former U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power. “Useful idiot,” wrote journalist David Corn. “Disgraceful,” reiterated CNN anchor Anderson Cooper. “Dangerous and reckless,” wrote Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.). “Donald Trump is either an asset of Russian intelligence or really enjoys playing one on TV,” wrote New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman. American academic and diplomat Eliot A. Cohen added this on Twitter, “The word treason is so strong that we must use it carefully. But that press conference has brought the President of the United States right up to that dark, dark shore.”

Trump’s obeisance to Putin at Helsinki was easy to predict given his earlier refusals to call the Russians out and punish them. But were we ready to see him come this close to violating his oath of office to protect and defend the Constitution? Watching him grovel and defer to Putin revealed Trump as a coward and weakling, an excuse-maker and an apologizer, and as someone unfit to hold the office of president. “If this is what President Trump says publicly, what did he tell Putin privately?” asked Sen. Mark Warner.

For months now, Trump has denounced the press as an “enemy of the people.” He said it again in a tweet on the day before his Putin meeting, expanding his enemy list to include “all the Dems.” Having deceitfully placed the phrase “enemy of the people” into currency, it’s only right that it has boomeranged on him.

Newsweek asks “Did Trump Commit Treason at Putin Meeting?” and answers with Here’s What Lawyers Say.

There are many things you can accuse President Donald Trump of. And treason is now apparently one of those after his controversial press conference with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin at their summit in Helsinki, Finland. But do lawyers agree?

According to federal law on treason, 18 U.S. Code § 2381: “Whoever, owing allegiance to the United States, levies war against them or adheres to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort within the United States or elsewhere, is guilty of treason and shall suffer death, or shall be imprisoned not less than five years and fined under this title but not less than $10,000; and shall be incapable of holding any office under the United States.”

And in Article III of the U.S. Constitution, it says: “Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort. No person shall be convicted of treason unless on the testimony of two witnesses to the same overt act, or on confession in open court.”

Laurence H. Tribe, Carl M. Loeb University Professor and a professor of constitutional law at Harvard Law School, told Newsweek: "If one defines ‘war’ to include cyberwar—e.g. by deliberately hacking into a nation’s computer-based election infrastructure—then what we witnessed in Helsinki was President Trump openly aiding and abetting the Russian military’s ongoing war against America rather than protecting against that Putin-led cyber-invasion.

"That in turn could reasonably be defined as ‘treason’ within the meaning of 18 USC 2381 and Art. III of the US Constitution.

But Ross Garber, a lawyer and adjunct professor at Tulane Law School, who has represented state governors in impeachment trials, does not believe the constitution can be stretched or interpreted to regard Russia as an enemy against which the U.S. is at war.

“No matter how repugnant one might consider the president’s statements in Helsinki, they do not meet the constitutional definition of ‘treason,’ which is very narrow and addresses providing aid to an ‘enemy,’” Garber told Newsweek. “Russia is not technically an enemy because we are not at war with it. These matters are far too important to allow partisan aims to diminish serious constitutional analysis.”

I’ll let John Cassidy of the New Yorker sum up in Donald Trump’s Disastrous Trip to Europe. What are our allies thinking about Trump?

… From one perspective, Trump didn’t do or say anything very novel. We already knew that he admires Putin and wants warmer relations with Russia. We also knew that he rejects the unanimous conclusion of U.S. intelligence and law-enforcement agencies that Putin’s regime interfered in the 2016 election. We knew that he’s still obsessed with Hillary Clinton’s e-mails and the special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe. What was shocking was Trump’s willingness to reaffirm these things in full view of the world, with Putin at his side. Some of his longtime enablers in the G.O.P., such as the House Speaker, Paul Ryan, and Senator Tom Cotton, were moved to distance themselves from him as he flew home to Washington. But much of the rest of the world saw Trump’s performance on Monday as further confirmation of something they figured out a while ago: the White House is occupied by a determined international wrecker, a person who may have hidden obligations to Moscow.

America’s allies will be monitoring what happens in Washington over the next few days, and whether there is any real pushback against the President. They will also be looking out for any resignations among the members of Trump’s national-security team. To many Europeans, the continued presence at the Pentagon of James Mattis, the Secretary of Defense, who is a staunch supporter of nato, has been somewhat reassuring.

But even if Mattis stays on, other countries will step up their efforts to defend their own interests. Initially, their efforts will focus on economics. Eventually, if Trump’s policies are sustained, there will be military implications, too. In most parts of Europe, there is still a lot of good will toward the United States as a country. But, remarkable as the idea would have sounded a few years ago, many Europeans now regard the American President as a serious threat. After the events of the past week, can you blame them?

And that suits Vladimir Putin just fine.

Monday, July 16, 2018

What We Get When Demography Collides with Democracy

Here’s the short take from 538’s Significant Digits email.

8 states
By 2040, eight states will be home to nearly half (49.5 percent) of the country’s entire population. An implication of that bit of trivia: 30 percent of the American population will control 68 percent of the American Senate. “The House and the Senate will be weighted to two largely different Americas,” the Post writes. [The Washington Post]

The Post’s Phillip Bump says more - In about 20 years, half the population will live in eight states.

In response to Post opinion writer Paul Waldman’s essay about the current power of the minority in American politics, the American Enterprise Institute’s Norman Ornstein offered a stunning bit of data on Twitter.

Norman Ornstein
I want to repeat a statistic I use in every talk: by 2040 or so, 70 percent of Americans will live in 15 states. Meaning 30 percent will choose 70 senators. And the 30% will be older, whiter, more rural, more male than the 70 percent. Unsettling to say the least.

Paul Waldman
In the age of minority rule, a Supreme Court justice appointed by a president who got fewer votes is confirmed by a party in the Senate that got fewer votes, to validate policies opposed by most Americans:

In broad strokes, Ornstein is correct.

The Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service of the University of Virginia analyzed Census Bureau population projections to estimate each state’s likely population in 2040, including the expected breakdown of the population by age and gender. Although that data was released in 2016, before the bureau revised its estimates for the coming decades, we see that, in fact, the population will be heavily centered in a few states.

Eight states will have just under half of the total population of the country, 49.5 percent, according to the Weldon Cooper Center’s estimate. The next eight most populous states will account for an additional fifth of the population, up to 69.2 percent — meaning that the 16 most populous states will be home to about 70 percent of Americans.

Bump presents the graphical evidence for disturbing demographical trends.

Ornstein’s (and Waldman’s) point is clear: 30 percent of the population of the country will control 68 percent of the seats in the U.S. Senate. Or, more starkly, half the population of the country will control 84 percent of those seats.

… the possible anti-democratic effects of the lopsided Senate are [clear] … states that make up more than two-thirds of the land area of the United States — will … control enough of the Senate to overcome any filibuster.

But none of this will happen overnight. To underscore Waldman’s point, already a president who lost the popular vote will nominate a Supreme Court justice who will be confirmed by a minority party that has a bare majority in the US senate in order to enact policies that the majority of the electorate oppose. The data reviewed here are just extensions of what is in place right now. If the demographic projections hold, it will only get worse as a minority tightens its tyrannical rule.

Illustrated Gnus, GOPlins, and other fantastical critters

King Donald
Kavanaugh's Konstitution

Here are the main themes from the Mournday Mourning Illustrated News (aka toons from AZBlueMeanie at Blog for Arizona)

  • The Kavanaugh Kaper
  • Which legacy would you prefer? Reagan brought down the USSR. Trump brought down NATO.
  • Trump’s Despotocracy - Ask not what your enemies can do for you - ask what you can do for your enemies.
  • Conversation overhead in London: “Bloody Hell! The real gas bag is more hideous than our balloon.”
  • House Republicans Strzok out.
  • U. S. asks Thai Navy SEALs to help with reunification. (No, we did not, but we should.)

Sunday, July 15, 2018

What you will not be told about the Supreme Court nominee

The NY Times provides a comprehensive (long) look at Trump’s pick for the Supreme Court: Influential Judge, Loyal Friend, Conservative Warrior — and D.C. Insider. We are warned that the narrative being constructed about Brett Kavanaugh leaves out a lot.

… as with any nominee, Judge Kavanaugh and his supporters are carefully shaping his narrative for the diverse Senate and the broader American public: his mother the judge, not his father the lobbyist; his parents’ early struggles, not their second homes in the Florida Keys and on Maryland’s Eastern Shore; his service as a children’s sports coach and a Catholic volunteer, not his participation in some of the most bitter partisan fights in recent times.

They do not let on that Judge Kavanaugh is by legacy and experience a charter member of elite Washington: His family’s government-centric social circle, his two summer jobs on Capitol Hill, his White House service, his golfing at the capital’s country clubs, his residence in one of the richest suburban enclaves in America. Nor do they note that Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination is the culmination of a 30-year conservative movement to shift the judiciary to the right.

In retrospect, his climb to a justice’s seat may seem calculated — from pursuing jobs that put him close to the nation’s most powerful men to the moment he raised some eyebrows by praising Mr. Trump for the breadth of his candidate search (“No president has ever consulted more widely…”). Although the president talked with many people about his choices, he selected Judge Kavanaugh from a list compiled with the guidance of conservative activists.

Although some would put it differently, remember that Kavanaugh is the guy who thinks sitting presidents are above the law and should not be subject to investigation or criminal charges. That, if put into practice, would be Trump’s get-out-of-jail card.

And that is why Trump picked Kavanaugh above other equally ultraconservative choices.

Mark Sumner at Daily Kos elaborates in Supreme Court nominee Kavanaugh argues that presidents can’t be indicted, sued, or even investigated.

Every Supreme Court nominee considered by Donald Trump was a genuine, Federalist Society approved ultraconservative. Every one of them could be counted on to uphold the right of big business while tearing away women’s rights, voting rights, gay rights, labor rights, and basically just rights. If it wasn’t included, word for word, in a document that was written before the steam engine, repeating rifle, and the corporation were invented … it’s out of here.

But something had to give Brett Kavanaugh the edge. There had to be something that made this member of the DC court a favorite with Trump, even though the most rabid members of his base favored someone else.

“I believe that the President should be excused from some of the burdens of ordinary citizenship while serving in office.”

That’s from an article that Kavanaugh authored in 2008 for the Minnesota Law Review. Just what burdens should be “excused” for sitting presidents? Indictments for one thing. Civil suits for another. Kavanaugh believes that presidents should be free from being sued while in office—a position he, rather inconveniently, did not hold while working for Ken Starr. To be fair, Kavanaugh calls on Congress to make this clear through legislation. It’s not certain how he would rule if such a suit against Trump should wander his way … but we’ll likely get to find out.

Kavanaugh’s defense of the idea that the executive—along with military leaders—should be freed from the threat of criminal indictment, comes with a statement that might be particularly pleasing to Trump that “no Attorney General or special counsel will have the necessary credibility to avoid the inevitable charges that he is politically motivated.” Kavanaugh’s position is that the president’s role is so important, that even preparing for a criminal investigation is too much. And confronting the idea that this would put the president “above the law,” Kavanaugh’s defense: “… it is not ultimately a persuasive criticism of these suggestions. The point is not to put the President above the law or to eliminate checks on the President, but simply to defer litigation and investigations until the President is out of office.”

So, Kavanaugh wouldn’t excuse the president from justice forever, just allow him to do as he pleases for years. …

What does Trump see in Kavanaugh? A guy who will give him what he wants most: Years of relief from facing his crimes.