So, about Friday. Remember that part where I was all like “That’s suborning perjury!” and then, then it was “Democrats can’t even wait for the Mueller report, they have to impeach Trump now!” Yeah. That was … a thing.
Everything on Friday was couched in a careful collection of “if true” and “is reporting” and “alleges.” But that doesn’t mean there wasn’t a considerable amount of “lean in” to the story published on Buzzfeed, both here and elsewhere. The thing about that story was not that it indicated that Trump had committed a felony — we already know that Trump committed felony violations of campaign finance law in instructing Michael Cohen to make undercover payments. Both Trump and Republicans in Congress have come to the conclusion that felonies, when committed by a Republican, are no big whoop.
What set the Buzzfeed story about was the simplicity of the story it told. You don’t have to understand the complexities of campaign finance law to understand that instructing a witness to lie under oath is a crime. It’s not necessarily a worse crime, but it is much more understandable. Telling Cohen to lie is suborning perjury, is obstruction, and it’s an indictable offense precisely because explaining the crime is exactly that simple.
So the statement from the special counsel’s office on Friday night wasn’t just a surprise, it was a deadly complication to a story that had been so, so simple. Even in the best case, even if you read the carefully worded statement about “specifics” by spokesman Peter Carr as exactly that — a carefully worded statement that only strikes out some particular details of the original article—it just leaves … a mess.
Of course, if that outcome is concerning here, it’s far worse over at Buzzfeed. It’s not too much to say that both the publication and the careers of quite a few people are on the line. This kind of story, the story that was obviously going to be an instant sensation, is exactly the sort of story that demands careful, check it once, check it twice, just keep on checking validation of every detail. Well known reporters more than heavily hinting that they may have been contacted by some of the same sources and took a pass on the story certainly doesn’t help the apparent judgment.
On the other hand, Buzzfeed is staying firmly planted behind the story. The reporters, the editors, and the spokesperson for the publican continue to stress their faith in both the sources and their analysis. They’re being “specific” as well, as in saying that “As we’ve re-confirmed our reporting, we’ve seen no indication that any specific aspect of our story is inaccurate.” Buzzfeed has also indicated that they might release more information in support of their story. Which would be good … though at this point it won’t stop right-wing sights from claiming this as a victory over fake news until doomsday. But maybe there is more. Maybe there are documents. Maybe there’s a nice memo emblazoned with the Trump Organization logo and graced with Trump’s scrawl giving Cohen the complete timeline of lies he was supposed to tell.
That seems unlikely, but it would be nice to get back to Friday. Things were so simple then.
Okay, let’s read pundits.
Trump – Russia
Virginia Heffernan on the Buzzfeed story and the aftermath.
Los Angeles Times
On Thursday night, BuzzFeed News reporters Anthony Cormier and Jason Leopold returned to the story about Michael Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer, and his admission that he had lied to Congress, under oath, about Trump family business dealings in Moscow.
Ho hum, but, according to two federal law enforcement officials involved in an investigation of the matter, there was something special about this particular lie to Congress: Trump persuaded him to tell it. According to BuzzFeed, the president didn’t coerce Cohen into lying. He asked Cohen to lie, and Cohen obliged.
Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III ‘s office has disputed elements of BuzzFeed’s report, and the president has denied everything. But if it is proved true, it’s what legal types call subornation of perjury. And subornation of perjury — rather than conspiracy or treason — might be the crime that brings Trump to his knees. After the Leopold and Cormier story broke, the price of black-market impeachment futures shot up by 35%.
Man. Someone with insight either before that story was published, or before the special counsel statement was made, could have made an instant fortune at PredictIt — which is a very good example of why playing the markets at PredictIt is a really bad idea.
Pushing someone to lie to law enforcement is on the books as a crime in the U.S., Scotland and some other English-speaking countries. In the 19th century, perjury subornation was part of a practice known as “horse-shedding,” named for certain obstructors of justice who hung around taverns where juries stayed, posing as horse groomers. They subtly pressured the jurors to return false verdicts.
I’m going to stop there, but I had to stay with this story long enough to bring you “horse-shedding.”
Jonathan Chait continues his review of Donald Trump, uncovert agent of Russia
New York Magazine
The discovery that the Federal Bureau of Investigation had opened a counterintelligence investigation into the president of the United States did contain a caveat: “No evidence has emerged publicly that Mr. Trump was secretly in contact with or took direction from Russian government officials.” Yet, the very next day, the Washington Post reported that Trump had gone to extraordinary lengths to keep his discussions with Vladimir Putin secret. Trump may not have been “secretly in contact” with the Russian leader — the whole world knew they were meeting — but nobody outside the Russian government and Trump himself knows what they discussed. Trump’s efforts to conceal discussions with the Russian president went to almost comically suspicious lengths. He excluded any foreign-policy advisers, failed to debrief anybody in the U.S. government, and even confiscated his translator’s notes. American intelligence and foreign-policy officials — who, in theory, are supposed to implement the president’s agenda — have been reduced to spying on Russian communications about the meetings to attempt to suss out what their own president said.
It is honestly difficult to find anything Trump has done that isn’t better explained by his being in the employ of the Kremlin expressly for the purposes of destroying the United States and crippling the Western alliance. For Trump to have achieved what he has just through sheer incompetence is like someone taking a true false test and getting a zero — sheer random chance should have produced better results than Trump has displayed.
As for whether Trump “took direction from Russian government officials,” we don’t know what directions, if any, Putin might be giving Trump in their secret meetings. But here, too, the indirect evidence is sitting right before us: Trump has said he takes Putin at his word that, contrary to the findings of U.S. intelligence, Russia did not hack Democratic emails. He has repeatedly asked his advisers about pulling out of NATO, questioned whether he would defend a NATO ally that faced an attack, and picked fights with leaders of Canada, Britain, France, and Germany. The splitting of the Western alliance would fulfill a strategic goal generations of Russians could only dream of.
Charles Pierce on the Renfield to the White House monster.
There simply is no more loathsome creature walking the political landscape than the Majority Leader of the United States Senate. You have to go back to McCarthy or McCarran to find a Senate leader who did so much damage to democratic norms and principles than this yokel from Kentucky. Trump is bad enough, but he’s just a jumped-up real-estate crook who’s in over his head. McConnell is a career politician who knows full well what he’s doing to democratic government and is doing it anyway because it gives him power, and it gives the rest of us a wingnut federal judiciary for the next 30 years. There is nothing that this president* can do that threatens McConnell’s power as much as it threatens the survival of the republic, and that’s where we are.
This week, McConnell will do exactly what he said he would not do — introduce a bill in the Senate that is not acceptable to both Trump and the House — because when he said that he, of course, did not mean it. McConnell will do anything for the guy who signs off on the list of federalist society approved judges, and that’s the end of it.
McConnell declared himself in opposition to Barack Obama right from the first day in office. There’s even video. Most noxiously, in reference to our present moment, when Obama came to him and asked him to present a united front against the Russian ratfcking that was enabling El Caudillo del Mar-a-Lago, McConnell turned him down, flat. Moreover, he told Obama that, if Obama went public, McConnell would use it as a political hammer on Hillary Rodham Clinton. (Obama should have done it anyway, god knows.) McConnell issued a watery denial of these charges, but there’s no good goddamn reason to believe him.
Trump is a tool of the Russian government. McConnell … is just a tool.
Michael Tomasky is ready to revive McConnell’s own campaign commercial.
Anybody out there old enough to remember how Mitch McConnell first got elected to the Senate? No? So I’ll tell you.
It was 1984. McConnell was the Jefferson County Judge-Executive in said Jefferson County, home to Louisville. Kentucky was still a mostly Democratic state then—four of its seven House members were Democrats, and both senators. McConnell was running against Walter “Dee” Huddleston, a two-term incumbent mostly known for his attention to home-state issues.
Here’s how old I am: I remember that race well. And I’ve met Dee Huddleston, who was a good friend of my father (and in case you forgot I’m from Kentucky — yes, I do know where Covington is).
McConnell ended up winning the election by around 5,200 votes, and he did it on the strength of one theme, and really one ad. It seems Huddleston had missed a number of votes and gone off thither and yon giving paid speeches, so McConnell—with the help of a certain Roger Ailes—ran an instantly famous ad in which a man with a pack of bloodhounds goes off around the country and world in search of Huddleston (“my job was to find Dee Huddleston and get him back to work”). The spot generated massive free media, as the political class had not yet learned to say in 1984, and has gone down in political ad history. One of his ads in his 2014 race even referenced the famous spot.
Man, I hated that commercial. Dee Huddleston died just last fall, by the way. Sadly, there will be no rematch. But at least he doesn’t have to watch what’s being done with his Senate seat. Oh, and Mitch McConnell was a young upstart who had just turned 40 at the time of that race. That’s genuinely hard to believe.
The LA Times responds to Trump’s latest offer.
Los Angeles Times
In offering a compromise of sorts to end the partial government shutdown, President Trump invited the American public to join him Saturday in an exercise of blame-shifting. People should resist the impulse to hold anyone but Donald Trump responsible for the historically long and needless shutdown of much of the federal government, although his Republican enablers in Congress can bask in the shame as well.
Pressured by the growing disapproval of his leadership even among his core supporters, Trump proposed what he called a down payment on a broader immigration reform: a three-year freeze on deportations for the Dreamers, or immigrants brought to the United States illegally as children, and for some non-citizens with Temporary Protected Status. Such temporary relief, though, wouldn’t make the Dreamers much better off than they are now.
In exchange, Trump wants $5.7 billion for his cherished wall along the southern border. It’s worth noting that the president shifted his rhetoric significantly — no longer is it a wall from the Pacific Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico, he said, but “steel barriers in high-priority locations” identified by border agents.
All Trump wants is the low, low price of everything he ever asked for and then some. In exchange, he will provide temporary protections that already exist to head off a problem that he created, and he’ll even allow a vote on bills to open the government he shut down. This isn’t a good offer. It’s not even good extortion.
Karen Tumulty reminds us that he who dealt it … you know, dealt it.
Trump wasn’t kidding when he said he would “take the mantle” for shutting down the government. Trump owns this debacle, which he charged into with the same recklessness he exhibited so frequently as a private businessman.
It is worth remembering that Trump skated through no fewer than a half-dozen corporate bankruptcies, bullying his creditors into restructuring his debt and covering over his mistakes. As one of them, billionaire Carl Icahn, once put it during negotiations with Trump involving an Atlantic City casino deal that went bad: “We’re both on a life raft now. We have to do something to save ourselves.”
Trump always argued that no one got hurt by his financial antics, conveniently dismissing bondholders, contractors and others who had to, as they put it in the business world, “take a haircut.”
Here’s a good one. Trump once convinced a group of investors to make him the head of their investment organization so he could make an offer on a casino he wanted to buy. As head of this group, Trump bought the casino, but also spent the group into bankruptcy within a year. Then he turned around and bought both the group and the casino for pennies on the dollar. That’s Trump’s idea of making a deal.
That’s not how things work when you play brinkmanship with a quarter of the sprawling federal government, especially when it is over something — in this case, a border wall — that most Americans do not want.
This longest-ever shutdown has plenty of victims, starting with the 800,000 federal employees who are going without paychecks, even as their mortgage payments and credit card bills pile up.
It is also hurting everyone else by biting into economic growth. CNBC reported Tuesday that the administration’s own forecasts of the impact have doubled; it now expects the partial closure to reduce the economy’s expansion by 0.1 percentage point a week — which means that if it lasts until the end of the month, at least half a percentage point would be knocked off gross- domestic-product gains.
There are good reasons to think the number is closer to 0.2 percent per week. Trump could already be looking at a quarter of economic contraction.
Dana Milbank thinks Trump’s a comedian, but that doesn’t make him funny.
Large parts of the government have ceased to function for the longest time in U.S. history. Eight hundred thousand people are furloughed or forced to work without pay. Trump, who proudly said he would take blame for the shutdown, now says “the buck stops with everybody.” This mayhem has been created in service of Trump’s vision of a walled fortress on the border (an idea Trump’s own chief of staff once called “almost childish”) of the sort seen in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” (“Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries!”).
In the last several days alone:
Trump, hosting the Clemson football team, ordered Big Macs and Whoppers because White House food preparers are on furlough. His tweet about the fast-food fest misspelled hamburger as “hamberder.”
Trump, after publicly disparaging Jeff Sessions, his old attorney general (“Mr. Magoo”), for failing to protect him from special counsel Robert Mueller, was reportedly “startled” to learn on TV that — uh oh! — his nominee to be the new attorney general, William P. Barr, is a dear friend of Mueller’s.
Well, that last part was kind of funny. And let’s all remember what we were doing before visions of suborning plums danced in our heads …
Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, undermined two years of Trump administration denials by telling CNN “I never said there was no collusion” between Trump’s campaign and Russia.
There are plenty of other reasons, plenty of better reasons, to impeach Donald Trump.
Economics other than Trump’s shutdown
Paul Krugman looks at some Democratic states where the government actually works.
New York Times
Why can’t Republicans govern? It’s not just that their party is committed to an ideology that says that government is always the problem, never the solution. Beyond that, they have systematically deprived themselves of the ability to analyze policies and learn from evidence, because hard thinking might lead someone to question received doctrine.
And Republicans still control the Senate and the White House. So even when (if?) the shutdown ends, it will be at least two years before we have a government in Washington that’s actually capable of, or even interested in, governing.
But not everything is on hold. For America has a federal system, and the 2018 elections set the stage for a wave of actual governance — of real efforts to solve real problems — at the state and local levels.
If you want to think happy thoughts, think about this.
At this point more than a third of Americans live under full Democratic control, not far short of the Republican total.
These newly empowered majorities are moving quickly to start governing again. And the experience of states that already had Democratic trifectas suggests that they may achieve a lot.
Click over to Krugman’s column to get a list of achievements. Then write them down for the next time someone is trying to Brownback your state.
Leonard Pitts on why not being actively bad, is not good enough.
The stories all made recent headlines. The first was about the state of Florida posthumously pardoning the Groveland Four, a group of African-American men who suffered torture, prison and murder after being falsely accused of raping a white woman in 1949.
The second concerns broad Republican condemnation of one of their own, Rep. Steve King, for an interview with The New York Times in which he questioned why the terms “white nationalist” and “white supremacist” should be considered offensive.
The third involves a directive — since rescinded — NBC News sent its writers, reporters and anchors about King’s words. “Be careful to avoid characterizing [King’s] remarks as racist,” it said. suggesting that the remarks instead be described as ‘what many are calling racist’.”
Pitts compares the way these stories were treated, with the words of a much greater man named King written over five decades ago.
King famously penned the epistle from a jail cell in Birmingham in response to a group of white clergymen, eight moderate, principled men, who had condemned as “unwise and untimely” his demonstrations against segregation in their city.
One passage of King’s response seems especially apropos to this moment. In it, he confessed that he had become “gravely disappointed with the white moderate.” Too often, he said, they were “more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice,” and preferred “a negative peace, which is the absence of tension to a positive peace, which is the presence of justice.”
Added King: “Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will.”
Make no mistake: King well knew that all over the South, liberal white kids were risking their lives for black freedom. He was calling out other white people, often older, more moderate white people like those eight men, for the tepidness and flaccidity of their commitment to racial reconciliation. This was 1963, but as the stories above suggest, that problem endures.
Somebody, right now, is writing another story about how, gosh darn it, not all Trump supporters are racist, but golly gee, they sure are concerned about that “security threat” at the border. Uh huh. Actually, several someones are writing that story. Every day.
The Miami Herald is well — or poorly — positioned when it comes to climate change.
When the threats of sea-level rise are discussed, many assume that those at risk are South Floridians who live on the coast, that those of us who live away from the water need not worry. Beware that false comfort. We are all in danger.
We’ve all seen the rising water in Miami Beach. Below the surface of our lives are perils many of us do not see — threats to Coral Gables, Sweetwater, Kendall, Miami Gardens, Sunrise, Weston. Already, there are signs that salt water is seeping west to the Everglades as the rising tide of the ocean intrudes on land in western Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties.
If Republicans want to keep Florida in their column, they really should be concerned about climate change. Because they need to address if they want to keep Florida. Full stop.