On Wednesday, July 24th, former special prosecutor Robert Mueller testified before two Congressional committees - the Judiciary in the morning, and the House Intelligence later in the afternoon. Democrats were salivating that Mueller was going to unload a heap of Trump’s impeachable crimes that had somehow been omitted from his special investigation. But basically Mueller just stuck to the script and repeated things that were already detailed in his 448 page report. So, it was really nothing new to anyone who, you know - actually read the report. (I should note that I’ve read half of it and skimmed half of it.) And Mueller pretty much testified exactly what he wrote:
Which is not even close to what the actual report said. Anyway, you know all this if you read the report. You do not know any of this if you watch Fox News. And remember as soon as the report came out and Barr delivered his four page memo to congress with the “No collusion. Total exoneration” tone a lot of Democrats were skeptical. And then Trump and Fox News said, “Mueller’s a stand up guy! He knows what he’s doing! He did his job! No collusion. Total exoneration.”
It sounds to me that the “No collusion, total exoneration” kind of stuck in Mueller’s craw and so he felt the need to clear up the general tone of his report for anyone who still thinks that it said any thing like, “No collusion. Total exoneration.”
And so Mueller said he would testify before congress. And suddenly Fox News and President Trump were like, “Mueller’s an incompetent hack! Don’t trust anything he says! He should have been fired!”
Funny how quickly folks change their mind, eh?
Anyway, Mueller went to Congress and testified. For several hours. But the additional smoking gun that Democrats were hoping for - never arrived. As mentioned he really just said the same exact things that were in his report. And Mueller refused to answer something like 200 questions - mainly about sitting A.G. Barr and the Steele dossier.
Okay. I’m not exactly sure why Mueller didn’t answer any of those questions but I guess he had his legal reasons. To be honest, the entire thing played out like Mueller was there to polish his reputation which he felt had been tarnished by Barr “mischaracterizing” his report. Mueller didn’t really give the committees anything new they couldn’t have just gotten from reading the report.
Honestly, I don’t really see what the point was. But hey, I guess it made for entertaining television for a few hours as Republicans tried to paint Mueller as a hack and Democrats fell all over themselves thanking him for being a veteran and we audience members kept hoping a smoking gun was just around the corner. Which - it wasn’t.
But still, the actual report is kind of interesting. You should read it. The only time it mentions “no collusion” is in the intro when Mueller discusses how collusion has no real legal meaning so he won’t be trying to prove “collusion.” Instead he was trying to prove coordination and conspiracy.
And it one hundred percent does not say “total exoneration.” It says the exact opposite, in fact. But I’m no longer sure that facts matter. And that’s a crying shame.
Robert Mueller made his first (and probably only) public statement about his special investigation into the Russian interference of the 16’ election. He reiterated that his report does not exonerate President Trump but also, and very clearly says, charging the President with a crime was not an option due to the constitutional restriction against charging an active President.
His full statement:
Two years ago, the Acting Attorney General asked me to serve as Special Counsel, and he created the Special Counsel's Office.
The appointment order directed the office to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. This included investigating any links or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the Trump campaign.
I have not spoken publicly during our investigation. I am speaking today because our investigation is complete. The Attorney General has made the report on our investigation largely public. And we are formally closing the Special Counsel's Office. As well, I am resigning from the Department of Justice and returning to private life.
I'll make a few remarks about the results of our work. But beyond these few remarks, it is important that the office's written work speak for itself.
Let me begin where the appointment order begins: and that is interference in the 2016 presidential election.
As alleged by the grand jury in an indictment, Russian intelligence officers who were part of the Russian military launched a concerted attack on our political system.
The indictment alleges that they used sophisticated cyber techniques to hack into computers and networks used by the Clinton campaign. They stole private information, and then released that information through fake online identities and through the organization WikiLeaks. The releases were designed and timed to interfere with our election and to damage a presidential candidate.
And at the same time, as the grand jury alleged in a separate indictment, a private Russian entity engaged in a social media operation where Russian citizens posed as Americans in order to interfere in the election.
These indictments contain allegations. And we are not commenting on the guilt or innocence of any specific defendant. Every defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty in court.
The indictments allege, and the other activities in our report describe, efforts to interfere in our political system. They needed to be investigated and understood. That is among the reasons why the Department of Justice established our office.
That is also a reason we investigated efforts to obstruct the investigation. The matters we investigated were of paramount importance. It was critical for us to obtain full and accurate information from every person we questioned. When a subject of an investigation obstructs that investigation or lies to investigators, it strikes at the core of the government's effort to find the truth and hold wrongdoers accountable.
Let me say a word about the report. The report has two parts addressing the two main issues we were asked to investigate.
The first volume of the report details numerous efforts emanating from Russia to influence the election. This volume includes a discussion of the Trump campaign's response to this activity, as well as our conclusion that there was insufficient evidence to charge a broader conspiracy.
And in the second volume, the report describes the results and analysis of our obstruction of justice investigation involving the President.
The order appointing me Special Counsel authorized us to investigate actions that could obstruct the investigation. We conducted that investigation and we kept the office of the Acting Attorney General apprised of the progress of our work.
As set forth in our report, after that investigation, if we had confidence that the President clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said that.
We did not, however, make a determination as to whether the President did commit a crime. The introduction to volume two of our report explains that decision.
It explains that under long-standing Department policy, a President cannot be charged with a federal crime while he is in office. That is unconstitutional. Even if the charge is kept under seal and hidden from public view—that too is prohibited.
The Special Counsel's Office is part of the Department of Justice and, by regulation, it was bound by that Department policy. Charging the President with a crime was therefore not an option we could consider.
The Department's written opinion explaining the policy against charging a President makes several important points that further informed our handling of the obstruction investigation. Those points are summarized in our report. And I will describe two of them:
First, the opinion explicitly permits the investigation of a sitting President because it is important to preserve evidence while memories are fresh and documents are available. Among other things, that evidence could be used if there were co-conspirators who could now be charged.
And second, the opinion says that the Constitution requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting President of wrongdoing.
And beyond Department policy, we were guided by principles of fairness. It would be unfair to potentially accuse somebody of a crime when there can be no court resolution of an actual charge.
So that was the Justice Department policy and those were the principles under which we operated. From them we concluded that we would not reach a determination -- one way or the other -- about whether the President committed a crime. That is the office's final position and we will not comment on any other conclusions or hypotheticals about the President.
We conducted an independent criminal investigation and reported the results to the Attorney General—as required by Department regulations.
The Attorney General then concluded that it was appropriate to provide our report to Congress and the American people.
At one point in time I requested that certain portions of the report be released. The Attorney General preferred to make the entire report public all at once. We appreciate that the Attorney General made the report largely public. I do not question the Attorney General's good faith in that decision.
I hope and expect this to be the only time that I will speak about this matter. I am making that decision myself—no one has told me whether I can or should testify or speak further about this matter.
There has been discussion about an appearance before Congress. Any testimony from this office would not go beyond our report. It contains our findings and analysis, and the reasons for the decisions we made. We chose those words carefully, and the work speaks for itself.
The report is my testimony. I would not provide information beyond that which is already public in any appearance before Congress.
In addition, access to our underlying work product is being decided in a process that does not involve our office.
So beyond what I have said here today and what is contained in our written work, I do not believe it is appropriate for me to speak further about the investigation or to comment on the actions of the Justice Department or Congress.
It is for that reason that I will not take questions here today.
Before I step away, I want to thank the attorneys, the FBI agents, the analysts, and the professional staff who helped us conduct this investigation in a fair and independent manner. These individuals, who spent nearly two years with the Special Counsel's Office, were of the highest integrity.
I will close by reiterating the central allegation of our indictments—that there were multiple, systematic efforts to interfere in our election.
That allegation deserves the attention of every American.
“Bueller? Bueller? Bueller?” - Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
“Mueller? Mueller? Mueller?” Just when I thought Robert Mueller had earned his day off. Anyway, a few weeks ago when his report was released, I almost thought we wouldn’t hear from Mueller again. But now Congress wants unredacted report and wants Mueller to testify because Mueller sent a letter claiming that Barr misrepresented his report. President Trump said, “It should be up to the AG if Mueller testifies,” but then AG Barr said to Congress, “I don’t care if Mueller testifies, ” but then Barr didn’t show up for his second day of testimony, and now Congress wants to hold AG Barr in contempt. But then, the President changed his mind saying Mueller shouldn’t testify. So, now, of course, Mueller will testify before Congress. But then … President Trump invoked Executive Privilege to prevent Congress from seeing the unredacted Mueller report, which will probably delay Mueller's testifying.
How naïve of me to assume this was over and done.
Anyway, I tried to read the entire Mueller report. But I’m only one guy, and it clocks in at 450 pages, and I have other work to get done. I got through about a third of it and mostly skimmed the rest, stopping to fully read a page or two that seemed important or to focus on some of the redacted bits to see if I could figure out what it was redacted (usually - no). Now, I know that “skimming” is not an exact science, but I suspect I’ve read much more of the full report than the vast majority of folks. And so, I tackle the following issues with a reasonable amount of knowledge.
A couple things I noticed. It’s very clear that Mueller found large amounts of evidence outlining Russian interference in the 2016 Presidential Election. Like, a jaw dropping amount of evidence! The other thing I noticed is that there is also, a jaw dropping amount of evidence - linking Trump staffers, advisors and family members to meetings and information swaps with the Russians.
BUT, as clearly stated in the opening statement summarizing the report, Mueller says, “... the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.” And the reason Mueller states this is because there was no long term agreement between the Russians and the Trump campaign. That’s it. There was no “long term” agreement. Not, “The Russians and the Trump campaign never met up.” Because the report says they did. Only that there was no, “long term agreement,” to fit the legal definition of collusion.
Did the Russians sabotage the election in favor of Trump? The report says “yes.” Did the Trump Campaign meet with the Russians to get said stolen information? The report says “yes.” It’s just that there was no “long term coordination,” for it to be legally considered collusion. The Russians, realizing that a Trump White House would be much more sympathetic to their cause, committed cyber terrorism against the US, then stole a bunch of documents from the DNC, then gave the stolen information to the Trump Campaign in hopes to help Trump win, and then went on to commit huge amounts of additional interference from outright misinformation campaigns on social media to fraud. The Mueller report literally says there is huge amounts of evidence supporting all those claims, it’s just that there was no long term agreement between the two parties for it to legally constitute collusion.
Wow. That, um - forgive me for saying this but … that does NOT sound like “total exoneration.”
The next thing I noticed is that - not much of the report is redacted. The redacted parts come sometimes in giant black chunks, and sometimes in lots of little snippets. All in all, I would say, of the 450 pages there are about 20 total redacted pages. And certainly not in a row, they are scattered all over. Of course, our two political parties see those 20 pages in a completely different light.
Republicans, “We see the majority of the report and we understand the spirit of what is being said, and so no one has to read the redacted twenty pages - because it won’t change anything. Also, the report clearly says “No collusion. Total exoneration,” so any additional investigation is a waste of time.”
Democrats, “We see the majority of the report and we understand the spirit of what is being said but too much information can be hidden behind twenty redacted pages that might shed more light into an investigation that clearly states Russia sabotaged the 16’ Presidential Election. Also, the report does not say, “total exoneration,” in fact it says the opposite of “no exoneration,” so we would like more information.”
Hrmmmm. Well, they can’t both be right! You know? One side is clearly in the wrong here. Alas, we all know the day and age we live in. Our side is always right. No common ground attempted. The other side is always wrong. Ad nauseam.
Republicans like to think they are one hundred percent altruistic, perfectly just and always correct, while simultaneously believing that Democrats are devil worshiping, lying, “libtards,” who are one hundred percent wrong, one hundred percent of the time.
Democrats like to think they are one hundred percent altruistic, perfectly just and always correct, while simultaneously believing that Republicans are faux-Christian, lying, “deplorables,” who are one hundred percent wrong, one hundred percent of the time.
Common sense and reason appears to have gone the way of the dodo.
Well, allow me to apply some common sense and reason to this new Mueller … happening. Let Congress read the unredacted report and allow Mueller to testify, because there is no reasonable explanation for blocking Congress from the full report. Members of Congress have security clearance on all matters of national security up to and including investigations that look into - if a hostile foreign power sabotaged a Presidential Election - which the report universally found Russia to have done! That sounds like National Security to me. Which Congress has clearance for. Therefor, common sense and reason suggest Congress should receive the full report.
And now Trump is invoking Executive Privilege to prevent Congress from receiving the full report. Which, if you are not exactly familiar with Executive Privilege, from Wikipedia:
“Executive privilege is the power of the President of the United States and other members of the executive branch of the United States Government to resist certain subpoenas and other interventions by the legislative and judicial branches of government in pursuit of information or personnel relating to the executive.”
Fair enough. That is the right of the President (and members of the executive branch) and it’s an important protection. In fact, many modern day Presidents have invoked Executive Privilege, some have done it much more than once, including - Nixon (a few times), Reagan, Bush, Clinton (several times), Bush Jr. (several times), Obama and now Trump.
Of course, it should also be noted that Congress can breach EP but must sue in federal court. It’s happened before, and in two notable cases, Nixon and Clinton, the President lost. Nixon invoked EP to avoid Watergate, Clinton invoked EP to avoid the Lewinsky scandal. Congress sued and won in court. The rest, as they say - is history.
So, this is really nothing new. The cover ups. The investigation. The lying. The testifying. The “I don’t recalls.” The invoking of Executive Privilege. The lawsuit. So people should really stop their fake outrage because we’ve seen this happen over and over.
These new shenanigans are nothing new but will add to the cost of the investigation and the amount of time we have to hear about it. Apparently, the overall cost of the Mueller investigation, so far, is a bit more than $16 million. Maybe that sounds like a lot to you, maybe it doesn’t. For context, the 9/11 Commission was funded with a $15 million budget. I’m sure you folks remember the 9/11 Commission. If not, it was an investigation into how and why the largest terrorist attack on the US occurred, and what can be done to prevent future attacks. Which, is the exact definition of “a matter of National Security.” (I just scanned over the 9/11 report and did not notice a single redacted item, which, I know, is NOT exactly the same thing we have going on today with Mueller report, but was still something I thought was interesting).
Now we have a new report, that is literally looking into a matter of National Security, investigating if a hostile foreign power sabotaged the 16’ Presidential Election. One would think, when applying common sense and reason to this dilemma - the Mueller Report is an important investigation into the National Security of the country.
And if you feel annoyed that the Mueller report cost more than the 9/11 Commission, allow me to remind you that the Clinton Impeachment cost taxpayers more than both investigations combined. To break it down:
Clinton Impeachment - “Did the President lie to Congress while under oath, about weather or not he cheated on his wife?” Cost to taxpayers: $70 million dollars (adjusted for inflation that’s $105 million today).
9/11 Commission: “An investigation into the largest terrorist attack on US soil and, as a matter of National Security, a report on how we can be better equipped to thwart future terrorist attacks.” Cost to taxpayers: $15 million dollars (adjusted for inflation that’s $22.5 million, today)
Mueller Report: “As a matter of National Security, an investigation into if a hostile foreign power sabotaged the 16’ Presidential Election?” Cost to taxpayers: $16 million dollars (but could go up).
If you honestly can’t see which of the above is not like the others, well - then you can’t. But common sense and reason should tell you that two of them are matters of National Security, and one of them is total BS that wasted a lot of taxpayer money.
Republicans used to be the security party, the military party. Even President Obama had a Republican Secretary of Defense. Speaking of Obama, we all know the truth of this next statement, if a two year Special Prosecutor investigation uncovered Russian interference in 2012’s Obama vs. Romney election that involved stolen information from the RNC in a way that handed Obama the win - Republican heads would have exploded from rage induced aneurysms!
I bet then, with that ridiculous Russian/Obama scenario, Republicans would have been very interested in security and in preserving election integrity.
Now … meh, not so much.
By now you all know that the full (but redacted) Mueller report has been made available to the public. I am slogging through it now. It’s long. Four hundred and eighty eight pages long. And I’m only one guy. It’s gonna take me awhile to get through it all.
But I have read a decent amount of it. It’s broke down into two volumes.
Volume I details Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and "if the Trump Team conspired with the Russians."
Volume II deals with the president's “actions towards the FBI investigation” and if any of said actions are "obstruction of justice."
So far - I have some thoughts.
So, what does the Mueller report actually say about Russian interference and collusion?
A lot. Like, way more than I ever expected it to. From Mueller’s introduction to Volume I of the report:
“The Russian Government interfered in the 2016 presidential election in sweeping and systematic fashion. Evidence of Russian government operations began to surface in mid-2016. In June, the DNC and its cyber response team publicly announced that Russian hackers had compromised its computer network. Release of hacked materials -hacks that public reporting soon attributed to the Russian government-began that same month …. Trump foreign policy advisor George Papadopoulos … (said) that the Trump Campaign had received indications from the Russian government that it could assist the Campaign through the anonymous release of information damaging to Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. The information prompted the FBI on July 31st, 2016, to open an investigation into weather individuals associated with the Trump Campaign were coordinating with the Russian government in its interference activities.
That fall, two federal agencies jointly announced that the Russian government “directed recent compromises of emails from US persons and institutions, including US political organizations,” and, “these thefts and disclosures are intended to interfere with the US election process.”
So, this all makes it very, very clear that Russia, a hostile foreign power, endlessly interfered in the US presidential election. That’s not even in debate.
The next part of the introduction talks about how Mueller was assigned, came on board in May of 2017 as Special Counsel and was authorized to investigate “the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 election,” including any links or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the Trump Campaign.
Okay. We all know this. And then the report clearly says this:
“As set forth in detail in this report, the Special Counsel’s investigation established that Russia interfered …. principally through two operations. First, a Russian entity carried out a social media campaign that favored presidential candidate Donald J. Trump and disparaged presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Second, a Russian intelligence service conducted computer-intrusion operations against entities, employees, and volunteers working on the Clinton Campaign and then released stolen documents. The investigation also identified numerous links between the Russian government and the Trump Campaign. Although the investigation established that the Russian perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency and worked to secure that outcome, and that the Campaign expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts, the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”
Hrmmm. The words “numerous links,” and “did not establish” don’t seem to fit together. Let me unpackage it all:
Mueller felt that the while the Russians instigated cyber terrorism and the Trump team accepted the stolen material there was technically “no collusion,” because both groups acted independently towards the same mutually beneficial goal.
Okay. I understand. That’s fair. The Trump team never called up the Russians and said, “Can you steal a bunch of stuff in order to help us win the election?” In which case, for it to be collusion, then the Russians would have to respond with, “Of course! We’ll break into the US Government and steal a bunch of information that will help you win!” Because that specific agreement - tacit or express - did not seem to happen - then there was “no collusion.”
Which … is not exactly how Barr’s four page summary spun it. But, whatever.
Also, I’m only about fifty pages into the report so far.
More to come.
Editor's note: Mueller investigators are coming forward to say that the report is far more damaging to the President than the AG (Barr) has let on. Which, is probably true. And that's why Congress should be able to read it.
Former special investigator Robert Mueller turned in his several hundred page report on Friday morning. I’m sure you’ve heard all about it - the investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia to interfere in the 16' Presidential election. No one outside of the Attorney General (and maybe his office) has seen the full report and so far, only a four page summary has been sent to Congress. The only thing we “know” is from the four page summary, which quotes Mueller’s report as saying, “The Special Counsel’s investigation did not find that the Trump campaign or anyone associated with it conspired or coordinated with Russia in its efforts to influence the 2016 US Presidential Election.”
Well, that’s kind of hard to misinterpret, you know? It sounds like the report is exonerating the President of all guilt. Right? And it might - for collusion. But the report also says, “While this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”
Argh to prosecutor double speak!
As someone who once worked on a lot of legal depositions, I know prosecution speech when I hear it. It sounds as if Mueller is saying, “I don’t think that President Trump and team colluded with the Russians” but he’s also saying, “but Trump still might be guilty of obstruction of justice, I just didn’t find enough evidence to prove it beyond a reasonable doubt in court to a jury.”
Prosecutors all over the world struggle with that exact issue. They might honestly believe a suspect is guilty of a crime and the suspect in fact - might actually be guilty. But a prosecutor’s belief in the suspect’s guilt - doesn’t prove anything. A prosecutor needs evidence, and then they have to spend taxpayer money in order to prosecute in a court of law.
What the report does NOT say is that President Trump and team are innocent of all crimes. What the report does NOT say is that the Russians did not interfer in the 2016 Presidential election.
Of course, conservatives are lining up to say the President is innocent of everything and the Mueller report proves it. And Democrats are lining up to say, “Well, maybe - but we need to read the full report because something is fishy here!” And, I do agree at the very least, Congress should receive the full report. I mean, you could convince me that the press and/or regular folks don’t NEED to see the full report (we might want to see it, though). I mean, there are plenty of state or federal secrets and/or sensitive materials that are probably buried within the Mueller Report and I would be okay if the DOJ was like, “No, the general public will not see the full report.”
But Congress? Um, what possible justification could you use to claim that Congress shouldn’t be able to see the full report? The entire legislative branch should be able to read the full report! Congress practically runs the country or at the very least, allows the country to function. They already have top secret clearance so there is no reason the report should be withheld from them. Also, they legislate laws and the report clearly has evidence of Russian interference in the 16’ election, which they might need to legislate laws to protect the U.S. elections from future interference. Withholding the full report from Congress is, frankly, a little suspicious. So give the full report to Congress.
Not that anyone asks me. =)
It sounded like it came out of a movie plot. In the early morning hours, federal agents stormed a home to make an arrest. They had to be after some major drug lord or a sought-after terrorist. There were 29 agents all wearing military gear and carrying weapons. High powered assault rifles were involved. Seventeen SUVs and two armored vehicles surrounded the home with lights flashing and sirens blaring. It must be a really dangerous dude.
In a nearby canal, amphibious watercraft charged the home filled with more federal agents. A helicopter hovered in the sky with long range weapons focused on the home. As agents approached the house with battering rams, they demanded that the accused immediately open the door and surrender. The attack on Osama Bid Laden had fewer Navy Seals involved then the number of agents who were sent to arrest this dangerous villain. Was this the seizure of an anti-government leader in Venezuela? Had El Chapo escaped from prison and his capture was about to take place? Had the feds found Bin Laden’s successor? CNN had been tipped off and broadcast the whole attack live. What was going on?
lt was none of these, but merely a longtime Trump friend Roger Stone. He was being arrested for making false statements to a congressional committee. And he was treated like a terrorist? Stone is an American citizen and has lived in south Florida for a number of years. He does not have a current passport. He has known about this investigation for months, and his lawyers said he would be glad to self-surrender if he were charged with a crime. If Stone had documents to hide or destroy, he would have had plenty of time in the months preceding his arrest. He has never been accused of any crimes and has no violent history.
After his arrest, the judge let Stone out on his personal signature without having to put up any property or money. It was obvious that Stone was no threat and should have been allowed to appear on his own. So what gives? Have we been turned into a jackboot democracy?
Here was Stone’s response. “They could simply have called my lawyers and I would have turned my myself in. I’m 66 years old. I don’t own a firearm. I have no previous criminal record. My passport has expired. The special counsel’s office is well aware of the fact that I’m represented. I was frog-marched out the front door barefooted and shackled. It’s an attempt to poison the jury pool. These are Gestapo tactics.”
Some in the press speculated that the special prosecutor and the FBI were sending a message. They sure were. It’s a message of terror, and fear that no citizen can trust their government. It’s a message that your government is not above using police state tactics, and that the justice system responds, not based on evidence, but based on threats. When thugs come into intimidate, it sends a message that you may not be living in a democracy anymore but a banana republic. It sends a message that no, you are no longer considered innocent until proven guilty in a system that operates in such a dictatorial fashion.
The story gets worse. Stone’s indictment accuses him of making false statements to the House Intelligence Committee, but the testimony is classified so Stone is prohibited from seeing what he supposedly lied about. How is he supposed to defend himself if he cannot even read what he supposedly said? What has happened to the supposed constitutional guarantee of being able to confront your accuser and challenging their evidence?
It matters not whether you are a liberal or a staunch conservative, this is not how justice is supposed to operate in America. Many Americans will feel that if it is not happening to them then why should they care. But unfortunately, what happened to Roger Stone could happen to anyone. Are we not a better country than this?
Peace and Justice
“When the president does it, that means that it is not illegal."
It’s unfair to Richard Nixon to be compared to Donald Trump. Nixon was ashamed of his behavior and proved it when a British game show host got the best of him in an interview that resulted in the incredibly incorrect statement Nixon uttered above. I’m not sure Trump is capable of feeling shame, but we can’t ignore how similarly the Trump Administration is unraveling like the Nixon Administration did as a result of Watergate.
Nixon was more popular than Trump is or has been. Trump limped into the White House thanks to the Electoral College. He lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton by two percent (48.18 percent to 46.09 percent). Nixon, however, won reelection in 1972 in one of the biggest landslides in American political history (60.67 percent to 37.52 percent). So these two Presidents started from vastly different measures of popularity.
After winning reelection, Nixon’s job approval rating according to Gallup was 50 percent. Trump entered his first term as President with a job approval rating of 45 percent, but his post-midterm job approval rating is just 38 percent—falling six percentage points in less than a month. That sudden drop is no doubt in response to Trump coercing the resignation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who recused himself from Robert Mueller’s investigation of the Trump campaign’s potential participation in Russian meddling in the 2016 Presidential Election.
Trump replaced Sessions with former ambulance chaser and potential defrauder of veterans, Matt Whitaker, Sessions’ former Chief of Staff, which is apparently legal, even though the order of succession at the Department of Justice doesn’t include the Chief of Staff on the list. The executive order Trump signed on March 31, 2017, doesn’t list the Chief of Staff as a potential successor either, but does state that “the President retains discretion, to the extent permitted by law, to depart from this order in designating an acting Attorney General,” which was the case when Barack Obama was President, too.
Nixon’s job approval rating dropped eight points between Dec. 11, 1972, and Jan. 12, 1973, as a result of The Washington Post’s continued reporting on the break-in of the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate Hotel that occurred June 13, 1971. But it wasn’t until Nixon’s Attorney General, Richard Kleindienst, resigned, along with top White House staffers, H.R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman, on April 30, 1973, that Nixon’s job approval rating reflected his guilt.
It’s generally not a good sign for Presidents when U.S. Attorneys General resign amid scandal, whether coerced to do so or not. Attorneys have a pretty good sense of people’s guilt and tend to be pretty good at covering their asses. Kleindienst wrote the playbook Sessions is simply following in an attempt to avoid the fate of John N. Mitchell, the Attorney General who ran Nixon’s 1968 and 1972 Presidential campaigns and was imprisoned for 19 months due to his involvement in the Watergate break-in and cover-up. And Trump is trying to improve upon the playbook Nixon wrote on covering up election fraud, but Trump is leaving his friends out to dry just as Nixon did.
Gordon Liddy, leader of the group of five men who broke into the DNC headquarters, told Attorney General Kleindienst that the break-in was directed and funded by the Committee to Re-Elect the President (CREEP), and that Kleindienst should arrange the release of the burglars to reduce the risk of exposing CREEP’s involvement in the break-in. But Kleindienst refused and ordered the Watergate burglary investigation to proceed like any other. He resigned April 30, 1973. Nixon's approval rating had dropped 19 points in roughly three months.
Just like Trump failed to ask Sessions if he would be willing to undermine Mueller’s investigation prior to appointing him Attorney General, Nixon failed to ask Kleindienst’s replacement, former Secretary of Defense Elliot Richardson, if he would do what Kleindienst wouldn’t and undermine the Watergate investigation. When ordered to fire the top lawyer investigating the Watergate scandal, Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox, Richardson responded by resigning on Oct. 20, 1973—five months into his tenure as Attorney General. Like Sessions, Richardson had promised Congress he would not interfere with the special prosecutor’s investigation. At this point, Nixon's approval rating was 27 percent—down another 21 points since Kleindienst's resignation.
Nixon then ordered Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus to fire Cox, the original Mueller. He refused and also resigned. Nixon then ordered the third-most-senior official at the Justice Department, Solicitor General Robert Bork, to fire Cox. Bork considered resigning after firing Cox, but Richardson convinced him not to in order to ensure proper DOJ leadership. Bork served as acting Attorney General until Nixon appointed William B. Saxbe to the position on Jan, 4, 1974, his approval rating still hovering at 27 percent.
You could say Trump has avoided some of the mistakes Nixon made, but he’s still mired in scandal and using any opportunity afforded him as President to undermine Mueller’s investigation into his campaign’s potential participation in Russian meddling in the 2016 Presidential Election. The appointment of Whitaker is to Trump as Bork was to Nixon; Whitaker just hasn’t fired Mueller yet, and might not have to if his idea to slow the investigation to a halt by cutting its funding works.
Sessions smelled guilt on Trump when he recused himself from the Mueller Investigation. That was Sessions covering his ass, and that odor has only worsened as Mueller’s investigation has resulted in indictments or guilty pleas from 32 people and three companies...so far. Some suspect a big announcement coming from Mueller, as eight members of his team worked Veteran’s Day—a paid day off for federal employees.
On Wednesday, CNN correspondent Jim Acosta’s White House press pass was suspended indefinitely. Acosta asked Trump whether he thought his calling a migrant caravan in South America an “invasion” demonized immigrants. The President answered “no,” adding that he wanted the immigrants to come to this country but do so legally, and that Acosta’s definition of invasion differed from his. Trump then went on to tell Acosta that he should focus on running CNN and let him run the country, and if he did, their ratings would be much better.
Trump attempted to take a question from NBC News correspondent Peter Alexander, but Acosta withheld the microphone from a White House intern and asked if Trump was concerned about the Russia investigation, to which Trump responded by calling it a “hoax” and told Acosta to “put down the mic,” stepping away from the podium when Acosta asked if he was worried about indictments. Acosta yielded control of the microphone to the intern, and Trump told Acosta that “CNN should be ashamed” to have him working for them, calling him “a rude, terrible person.”
Alexander defended his fellow free-press member: "In Jim's defense, I've traveled with him and watched him, he's a diligent reporter who busts his butt like the rest of us.” Trump responded by saying, “Well I'm not a big fan of yours either.” Trump continued to insult reporters during the press conference, calling a question from PBS correspondent Yamiche Alcindor “racist.” She asked if Trump thought calling himself a nationalist emboldened white nationalists. Trump also told April Ryan of American Urban Radio Networks to “sit down” repeatedly.
Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders is now being accused of circulating a doctored video of Acosta’s interaction with the White House intern. Sanders originally cited Acosta “placing his hands on” the woman as reason for his barring, but in defense of a lawsuit brought by CNN, the White House is now citing Acosta’s “disruptions” as reason for the suspension of his press pass.
If these aren’t the nervous actions of a guilty man’s administration, I don’t know what is. Nixon barred Washington Post reporters from the White House for everything but press conferences on Dec. 11, 1972. This was long after he sued The New York Times for publishing stories citing the leaked “Pentagon Papers,” a classified study of the Vietnam War that revealed the Nixon Administration had escalated the war despite knowing it couldn’t win the war. The Post came to The Times’ defense and published stories from the “Pentagon Papers” on June 18, 1971...just like NBC News and even Fox News is coming to the defense of Acosta and CNN today.
It took a year and a half for The Post to wear out its welcome at the White House with its Watergate coverage. Mueller’s investigation has been ongoing for a year and a half.
Democrats will have the votes to impeach Trump in the House of Representatives when the new Congress is convened on Jan. 3. House Democrats already introduced five articles of impeachment in November 2017, and only need a majority vote on one to force a Senate trial overseen by the chief justice of the Supreme Court, John Roberts. Impeachment doesn’t mean Trump is removed from office, however.
Nixon’s Senate trial lasted two months, and it was a full two years between the Watergate break-in and his resulting resignation, so if Trump’s timeline is as similar as it has been thus far, if he’s to be removed or if he’s to resign from office, it’s likely to happen sooner rather than later, but unlikely to happen at all. In fact, Congressional Democrats and Democratic Presidential candidates would likely prefer to run against a Trump White House rather than a Mike Pence White House, who is beloved by the Koch Brothers.
It’s not likely that Congress will remove Trump because two-thirds of Senators would have to find the President guilty in order for Vice President Pence to take over. Unless Senate Republicans up for reelection in 2020 (there are at least 20) feel they’d be better served running under a Pence Presidency than the Trump Administration, don’t expect Congress to remove the President. But Congress didn’t need to vote for Nixon to resign, and similar pressure on Trump—like criminal charges brought by Mueller—might bring similar results.
The more Mueller digs, the more he seems to be digging Trump’s political grave, so don’t be surprised if come February or March of 2019, Trump is doing what Nixon did on Aug. 9, 1974—resigning. But if there’s any shame to be pried from Trump’s soul to give us what we all need to heal as a nation, it’s going to require one hell of a game show host.
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