Sunday, September 22, 2019

House Dems may charge contempt of Congress but their targets have nothing but contempt FOR Congress

Roving Reporter Sherry alerts us to a triplet of opinion pieces in the NY Times.

(1) Nicholas Kristof presents the facts of Trump and Election Interference, Whistle-Blower Edition. Many elements are murky, but something clearly stinks he says.

There’s so much we don’t know about the whistle-blower complaint concerning President Trump. But here are four things we do know:

First, it seems that an experienced intelligence official was so deeply disturbed by Trump’s interactions with the president of Ukraine as to feel the need to blow the whistle.

Second, the inspector general for the intelligence community, Michael Atkinson, who was appointed by Trump and has long experience on national security issues, found the whistle-blower’s concern to be legitimate and urgent.

Third, the whistle-blower complaint came after Trump and his associates hounded Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, to undertake a corruption investigation involving Joe Biden and his son, Hunter. … The Wall Street Journal reports that in that phone call, Trump pressed Zelensky about eight times to work with Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani to investigate the Bidens.

Fourth, Trump withheld $250 million in military assistance urgently needed by Ukraine to fend off Russian aggression, although Ukraine didn’t learn of this until August. He released the money after the whistle-blower complaint and after members of Congress intervened.

Trump apparently tried to use American diplomatic might and the leverage of military assistance to get Ukraine to exonerate Manafort for 2016 and smear Biden for 2020.

The incoherence of the Trump-Giuliani position is underscored in this interview Thursday evening on CNN:

Chris Cuomo: Did you ask the Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden?

Rudy Giuliani: No. Actually, I didn’t …

Cuomo, 24 seconds later: So, you did ask Ukraine to look into Joe Biden?

Giuliani: Of course, I did.

Trump has been credibly accused of using the presidency to enrich himself (summits at Trump properties!), to protect himself from law enforcement (appeals to James Comey, offers of pardons!) and to punish perceived adversaries (Amazon, CNN, Andrew McCabe). Now he may have harnessed the power of the presidency to gain political advantage.

Yes, it surely stinks. But is this a Ukrainegate for Trump?

(2) Maureen Dowd admits that Trump Walks a Crooked Mile but, given the history of unprecedented precedents, she is compelled to ask Has he finally gone too far?

So just consider this: Around the same time that Trump escaped the noose after Robert Mueller’s tepid testimony, sliding away from charges that he colluded with a foreign country to interfere in our election, he began arm-twisting another foreign country to interfere in our election.

So the president is under suspicion of making like Nixon and abusing power to go after his enemies, saying it would be a shame if anything happened to that military aid that you want because you don’t dig up some dirt on the son of my political rival.

The administration kept the whistle-blower’s complaint from Congress, even though Congress has the legal authority to know what this urgent complaint is about.

Trump is literally acting like an international mobster. Roy Cohn would be so proud.

Trump and his psychofants have gotten away with just about everything other than shooting someone in Times Square - and Trump admits to thinking he could get away with that. So, ya gotta ask whether this one will finally bring him down. Dowd asks:

So is this the Big One? We don’t know because so much has come before. But if it is? Now that would be Big.

(3) Frank Bruni exposes The Corey Lewandowski Trap and how Democrats keep underestimating the audacity of Trump and his tribe.

Did that look of unalloyed contempt come naturally to Corey Lewandowski, or did he rehearse it? I picture him in front of a mirror as his “testimony” before the House Judiciary Committee approached, fine-tuning his sneer, perfecting his glare, testing different tilts of his head to see which conveyed maximal disgust with his inquisitors. He was hellbent on acing this performance.

And ace it he did, if the goal was to distill the Trump ethos into a few ugly hours. A flamboyant defiance of authority? Check. An extravagant disdain for precedent and procedure? Check. Cockiness, a persecution complex and a proudly situational relationship with the truth? Check, check, check. Bashing the media and even taking a whack at Hillary Clinton, he was Donald Trump in absentia, Donald Trump in excelsis, showing his former boss and future patron how scornfully Trumplike he could be.

So did the House Dems get what they wanted?

Not really, not from where I sit, and that reflects the sad and alarming fact that they still can’t quite wrap their minds around the impudence of Trump and his enablers, they’re still putting too much faith in an old-fashioned rule book and they’re still not looking around corners as well as they should be.

Yes, they got him to verify, on national television, that Trump had tried to enlist him in what amounts to obstruction of justice. But that was already in Robert Mueller’s report, and it got lost somewhat in the reciprocal grandstanding and ambient vitriol. The Americans who tuned in — a small minority — had already made up their minds about Trump’s culpability and how much to care about it, or they saw, more than anything else, a boatload of blowhards making a lot of nasty Washington noise. When everybody’s seething and sniping, the effect is equalizing and indiscriminate. Nobody looks good.

Lewandowski’s performance, like Maguire’s refusal last week to share any details of the whistle-blower’s complaint, was just the latest reminder of the terrible corner that Trump puts Democrats in. Proudly flouting convention and brazenly bending the law, he dares them to try to muscle him back into line, but it turns out that any such effort is anything but swift and sure. And any such effort is interpreted by rigidly partisan voters along rigidly partisan lines.

… Democrats to some extent keep being surprised and taken aback by just how many people are willing to abase themselves for Trump and by just how expansively they’ll shred etiquette, trash tradition, junk their reputations and test the very boundaries of the law. …

Part of what could be called the Corey Lewandowski trap is Democrats’ failure to accept this. …

[Kristof:] When historians review Trump’s term, I think they will see combat between an out-of-control president and various U.S. institutions, such as the courts, the Civil Service, law enforcement, the intelligence community, the House and the news media, which generally have done a credible job of standing up for laws and norms and against one-man rule. The only institution Trump has co-opted completely is the Republican Party in Congress."

Today’s struggle over the whistle-blower may be remembered as a central battle in that epic confrontation. The core question is whether our president can get away with weaponizing the federal government to punish political opponents, or whether legal constraints and congressional oversight can keep him in line.

[Bruni: ] It’s overwhelming — by design, I think. Trump has discovered that shamelessness is its own reward, and his disciples have learned that lesson well. Lewandowski all but strutted out of that hearing room as Democrats muttered meekly about a contempt citation that would involve time, courts, etc.

When it comes to contempt, the House Dems appeared bested by Lewandowski, the master of sneering, snarling contempt.

Bruni explains that “There’s a way to sidestep that trap. Hint: It has to do with November 2020.”

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