Friday, May 3, 2019

A Shakespearean tragedy in three or more acts - King Donald the Dementer

Due to ongoing internet issues, this is an early post in place of Saturday’s blog.

Susan B Glasser considers Trump, Wrecker of Reputations. She opines in the New Yorker On Attorney General William Barr’s testimony and the coming constitutional crisis. In his short time in politics, President Trump has shredded the careers, professional integrity, and dignity of many who have worked for him. Attorney General William Barr is no exception.

Her essay might well be subtitled “The week that was, that was not, and that should not have been.”

The week started with a meeting between Trump and Democratic leaders on a 2-trillion dollar infrastructure proposal from Trump. Who do you think will bankroll that budget buster? Not Senate Republicans. So, DOA.

AG Willian Barr then captured the news cycle with his dissembling, sometimes bumbling performance in the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. Belatedly we learned that Barr received letters from Special Counsel Mueller chastising Barr for his disingenuous public characterization of Mueller’s investigation. And Barr wrapped it up with his snubbing, and dissing, of the House Oversight Committee - he ignored the invitation to testify and didn’t show.

… [House Speaker Nancy] Pelosi, at a press conference, told reporters that the Administration’s refusal to coöperate with Congress on so many matters was itself obstruction. As for Barr, she said, he had lied under oath to Congress about his dealings with Mueller and “disgraced” his office. “We are in a very, very, very challenging place,” she said. So much for Infrastructure Week. The constitutional crisis was back on.

[big snip]

One of the more amazing performances was that of Senator Lindsey Graham who used his Chairmanship of the Senate Judiciary Committee to threaten Hillary Clinton about her emails. Graham concluded in reference to any further investigation of Trump would not occur: “It’s over.” Apparently with regard to Clinton’s emails, “It’s not over until the South Carolina Senator sings.”

So let’s continue Glasser’s essay right there. How have the Republicans, in what has been described as the greatest deliberative body in the world, fallen so low?

The Trump Presidency has been a great wrecker of reputations. In his short time in politics, Trump has managed to shred the careers, professional integrity, and dignity of many of those who worked for him. Rex Tillerson had been an American corporate superstar, the C.E.O. of ExxonMobil, one of the wealthiest oil companies in the world. He became Trump’s Secretary of State and, according to the account given to reporters at an off-the-record session by Trump’s chief of staff John Kelly, learned that he was being fired while sitting on the toilet, an indignity followed up with a Presidential tweet announcing his exit. Trump’s first chief of staff, Reince Priebus, was just leaving Air Force One, oblivious, when Trump tweeted the news of his firing. On Thursday, Trump did it again, with Stephen Moore, his controversial choice for the Federal Reserve, tweeting that he was out of contention soon after Moore told Bloomberg News that the President was his “biggest ally.” In the interview, Moore said, of the President, “He’s full speed ahead.” The Trump tweet abandoning him came at 12:29 p.m., which was apparently little more than half an hour after Moore told a Bloomberg writer that the President was still all in. “Moore got Priebus-ed,” the writer tweeted.

Just as striking as Trump’s own crude efforts to humiliate, however, are the numerous examples of those who seem to abase or degrade themselves in their efforts to curry favor with the President. Such behavior, of course, has long been a bipartisan feature of life in Washington, where access to power can do bad things to the character of those who seek it. The Trump Presidency has produced more than its share of examples, however, given that getting and staying in this President’s good graces appears to require an extra helping of public obsequiousness, grovelling, flip-floppery, and over-the-top televised pronouncements.

This unseemly aspect of the Trump era was on full display at Wednesday’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, where both the committee chairman, Senator Lindsey Graham, of South Carolina, and Attorney General Barr went out of their way to appeal to the President, at the expense of their own credibility. Graham, who ran against Trump, in 2016, and called the future President a “kook” who was “unfit” to hold the office, opened the hearing by reading aloud text messages exchanged, in 2016, between two F.B.I. agents, who expressed the same fears about Trump that Graham had at the time. Graham then announced that he had not actually read the whole Mueller report, the contents of which he proceeded to dismiss.

For his part, Barr, once again, acted more as the President’s defense lawyer than as his Attorney General. Taking a maximalist position on Presidential power, Barr argued that Trump would be well within his rights to shut down any investigation of himself if he believed it to be unfair. Surely, that statement will go down as one of the most extraordinary claims of executive authority since Richard Nixon said that “when the President does it, that means it’s not illegal.” Throughout his appearance, Barr continued to assert that Trump had been cleared of all wrongdoing by the Mueller investigation, while admitting, under questioning by Senator Kamala Harris, that he and his deputy had not actually looked at the underlying evidence of Presidential obstruction assembled by Mueller before determining that it was not sufficient to warrant charges. Barr also said that Trump directing his then White House counsel to fire the special counsel—a key incident in the Mueller report—was not a big deal because Trump was actually ordering that Mueller be replaced, which, Barr contended, is not the same thing as ordering him fired. His client, not surprisingly, was pleased. “A source familiar with Trump’s thinking said the President thought Barr was great and did an excellent job,” Axios reported.

Barr’s whole performance, in fact, was so over the top, so Trumpian, that it immediately led to an array of tweets and op-eds wondering why Barr, a once-respected figure in conservative legal circles and a relatively uncontroversial Attorney General during the Presidency of George H. W. Bush, would choose to end a distinguished career in such a fashion. After all, Barr, like Graham, hadn’t even liked or supported Trump when he ran for President.

The most scathing take of all came from the former F.B.I. director James Comey, whose firing by Trump led to Mueller’s appointment. Writing in the Times, in a piece titled “How Trump Co-opts Leaders Like Bill Barr,” Comey posited that Barr’s conduct and that of others around Trump was a consequence of their having chosen to serve the President. “Amoral leaders have a way of revealing the character of those around them,” Comey wrote. “Accomplished people lacking inner strength can’t resist the compromises necessary to survive Mr. Trump and that adds up to something they will never recover from.” It doesn’t happen right away but over time, Comey wrote, in a series of compromises along the way. “Mr. Trump eats your soul in small bites.”

So Washington enters May as it ended April, with a constitutional crisis in the making and no Infrastructure Week. But will the constitutional clash between the Democratic House and the Republican President be any less performance art than the nonexistent infrastructure deal they claimed to be making? After Wednesday’s contentious Senate hearing, Lindsey Graham, whatever you think of his credibility, spoke what appeared to be a genuine political truth. He said that, as far as he and his Republican-controlled committee are concerned, there will be no more discussion of the Mueller report, no more testimony, and no impeachment. “It’s over,” he said, and he may well be right.

And thus endeth the integrity of Lindsey Graham and William Barr. They surrendered that to the devourer of souls, King Donald the Dementer.

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