Saturday, December 02, 2017

Quotes of the Day: Legal Experts on Magnitude of Flynn Plea Deal

As the prior post on Michael Flynn's plea deal with Robert Mueller notes that the White House is trying to blow it off as a non-event .  True to form, Fox News, a/k/a Faux News,  has likewise down played it and seemed to focus an almost anything else possible last night (we were in the HYC club bar last evening and could see Fox on one TV and CNN on another and it was a case of conflicting realities). But those legitimate experts familiar with criminal law and the legal process see the matter quite differently. As noted in the past, I have worked as a consultant for the FBI in the past and do have some direct sense of how they operate and what plea deals mean.  Politico has a piece that looks at the reactions of various legal expert.   Here's my favorite one out of almost a dozen, none of which bode well for the White House:

‘As big as a day as this was for Mueller’s investigation, expect more and bigger ones’
Norman Eisen, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, chief White House ethics lawyer from 2009 to 2011, and ambassador to the Czech Republic from 2011 to 2014
“If you don’t want to do the time, you have to drop a dime” goes the jailhouse saying. How ironic that Michael Flynn, who encouraged the chants of “lock her up” at the Republic National Convention, is now following prison maxims in negotiating a plea deal with special counsel Robert Mueller. Having worked with and against Mueller, I know he is resolute in his pursuit of justice. The information and statement of the offense makes clear that Flynn has not just “dropped a dime” but a whole roll of them, implicating multiple other Trump transition officials with knowledge of his conversations with Russia and other foreign governments. As big a day as this was for Mueller’s investigation—and it was the biggest yet—expect more and bigger ones.

More Saturday Male Beauty

Trump Should Be Very Afraid of Mueller: Ask John Gotti or Sammy “The Bull”

While Congressional Republicans and the foul occupant of the White House are striving to focus attention on the U.S. Senate's passage of a horrific tax bill - if the nation is lucky, the House and Senate will prove unable to come to an agreement that merges the two versions of a massive give away to the obscenely wealthy and large corporations - the real news from yesterday is that Michael Flynn has struck a plea deal with Robert Mueller and is now set to spill his guts about Trump campaign collusion with Russia and/or obstruction of justice flowing from the oval office.  Besides setting the stage for serious legal exposure to Der Trumpenführer, the first inklings have appeared that Mike Pence may well also find himself in legal jeopardy.  A piece in the Washington Post notes in part as follows:
After six months of work, special counsel Robert S. Mueller III has indicted two advisers to President Trump and accepted guilty pleas from two others in exchange for their cooperation with his probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election — a sign of mounting legal peril for the White House.
With the guilty plea Friday by former national security adviser Michael Flynn — one of Trump’s closest and most valued aides — the investigation has swept up an array of figures with intimate knowledge of the campaign, the transition and the White House.
It appears to have swiftly expanded beyond Russia’s interference in the campaign to encompass a range of activities, including contacts with Russian officials during the transition and alleged money laundering that took place long before Trump ran for office.
And Flynn’s agreement to fully cooperate with investigators suggests that Mueller is not done yet.
Both Flynn and George Papadopoulos, who served as a foreign policy adviser to Trump’s campaign, acknowledged lying to the FBI about their contacts with the Russians. Now, both are cooperating with Mueller, according to prosecutors, potentially providing evidence against other Trump aides.
On Friday, the news about Flynn’s deal broke after the regular senior staff meeting at the White House, startling top officials and leaving many feeling helpless.  “We don’t know really what is going on,” said one adviser who speaks to Trump often and requested anonymity to describe private conversations. “Who’s it going to implicate? What are they going to say?”
Flynn’s cooperation poses particular risks for the White House. . . . . If anyone on the campaign coordinated with the Russians in their efforts to interfere with the election, Flynn would probably have been aware.
Aside from the legal implications, Flynn’s account could ratchet up the political pressure on the White House, which will now face more questions about why incoming Vice President Pence, chief of staff Reince Priebus and then-spokesman Sean Spicer insisted that Flynn did not discuss sanctions with Kislyak when other senior officials knew otherwise.
Not surprisingly, Der Trumpenführer is tweeting that Flynn did not implicate anyone in the White House.  Like everything coming from Trump's lips or fingers, the claim is not true.  It seems that Jared Kushner in particular should be very nervous about his own false statements.  As for Mueller's strategy of only hitting Flynn with one of the many charges that he could have faced, a piece in Vanity Fair lays out why Trump should be very, very afraid of what Mueller hopes to accomplish.  Here are highlights:
For months, Mueller has been working his way up the Trump food chain, beginning with a guilty plea by campaign adviser George Papadopoulos, and, more recently, a 12-count indictment against former campaign manager Paul Manafort. (Manafort has pleaded not guilty.) On Friday, after meetings to discuss a deal, the president’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, walked into a federal courtroom in Washington, D.C., and pleaded guilty in an arrangement that reportedly includes his testimony against more campaign officials, possibly including Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and the president himself.
It is, one person close the administration recently observed, a “classic Gambino-style roll-up.” To understand how Mueller might now proceed, to get a sense of the compromises he’d be willing to make to bag the larger prosecutorial targets in his sights, it’s eye-opening to go back to the deal he [Mueller] cut with Sammy the Bull.
When Gravano sent word from his cell in 10 South that he wanted to meet with the F.B.I., and that, more pointedly, he wanted to speak to them alone, the overwhelming suspicion was that it was more bull from the Bull. Robert Mueller didn’t believe it.
It is not difficult to imagine the tortured debate within Mueller’s mind as he weighed the decision. He could allow Sammy, a man who had admittedly killed 19 men, to play for Uncle Sam’s team. Or he could go into the Gotti trial knowing that Teflon Don—the swaggering crime boss who had walked away from three prior trials—could once again get away with murder.
All that is known with certainty is that Mueller agreed to the deal that would make Gravano the government’s star witness, the lynchpin of the federal case. In return, a murderer with 19 notches on his gun would wind up spending not much more time in jail than a deadbeat dad.
And all at once John Gotti was on his feet, and he let out a piercing wail as he recognized the act of betrayal that was unfolding just outside his cell door. The plaintive scream, Mouw would say, seemed to echo throughout the entire prison, bouncing off the walls and filling every bit of space. It was a sustained and powerful noise. And he imagined he could still hear the Don’s lamentations as he hustled Gravano into the back of the Chevrolet parked on the street 10 floors below.  It was a nice bit of theatre, but in the end, when the curtain fell, Gotti was—at last!—found guilty.
And Robert Mueller, who would go on to head the F.B.I., had discovered the logic that is the unwritten precept in any treatise on the art of the deal: winning is better than losing. It is ample justification for most any compromise.
Now, as special counsel, he is once again making deals.  He is still determined to get his man at all costs. First he flipped Papadopoulos. And then his office met with Robert Kelner, Michael Flynn’s lawyer. Many accusations were swirling around Flynn, including, not least, his alleged role in a complicated plot to kidnap Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen in return for a $15 million payday (a charge his lawyer has adamantly denied on his client’s behalf). But on Friday the deal was cut: Flynn was charged with one felony count of making a false statement to the F.B.I. regarding his potentially incriminating conversations with the Russian ambassador.
In return for getting off with what amounts to little more than a slap on his bony wrist—the maximum sentence the former general now faces is five years—Flynn will soon have to keep his side of the bargain. Can there be any doubt that the general who had chanted “Lock her up!” at the Republican National Convention has, like Gravano, agreed “to change sides?” Or is there any doubt that Mueller has brought Flynn into his fold because he has his eye fixed, once again, on bigger prey?
It is not difficult to imagine the wail of indignation, a keening and self-righteous outburst [from Trump] that would rival John Gotti’s at his moment of betrayed shock, that might rise out of the Oval Office when Flynn’s testimony finds its target.

Let's hope that Flynn's decision to be "flipped" will be viewed by history as the beginning of the end of the Trump/Pence regime. 

UPDATED:  A fun piece at Mother Jones looks at why Mike Pence likewise needs to be very afraid of where things may be headed.  Here's a small taste:
Mueller’s statement puts Pence on the hot seat. Was he really unaware of what “senior members” of the transition team were told about Flynn’s conversation with Kislyak? After all, at that time, Pence was the head of the transition team. A spokeswoman for Pence did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The bottom line is that Pence, as vice-president elect, made remarks that concealed a questionable Flynn interaction with Russia that was actually approved by the transition team that Pence himself was in charge of. The question now is: Was Pence a witting participant in this plot? And if not, who are the senior Trump aides named in the Mueller document who allowed this cover-up to occur?

The Right's Continued Hypocrisy-Filled Anti-Gay Bigotry

It is 2017, yet in the minds of many on the political right, if they had their way, it would still be the 1950's.   Institutionally, the Republican Party continues to officially oppose LGBT rights and, in fact, the party's 2016 national platform is the most homophobic in history. Making good on this declared agenda, the Trump/Pence regime is rolling back LGBT protections instituted by the Obama administration and we have witnessed in two cases before the U.S. Supreme Court where the U.S. Department of Justice has filed briefs that support anti-LGBT discrimination, one which argues that employers should be free to fire LGBT employees due to their sexual orientation and the other that Christofascists have the right to ignore non-discrimination and public  accommodation laws. All of which encourages the modern day Pharisees among the godly folk to discard their children like useless trash and/or withdraw all financial support at age 18.  The result?  40% of homeless youths are LGBT  and far too many would be college students lack finances to allow them to attend college.  

In recognition of this reality and in honor of my parents who accepted me when I came out unlike so many parents, I established and provided the original endowment for a scholarship for graduating LGBT high school students from the Hampton Roads area.  Likewise recognizing this sad reality, The Serpentine Society, an alumni organization at the University of Virginia (my alma mater) has established a scholarship for gay male students.  A similar scholarship exists for lesbian students.  This is all too much for the right wingers who strive to perpetuate a climate of discrimination and then whine when victims organize to help others in the targeted class.  To the falsely sanctimonious "conservatives" - bigots is a more apt description - the scholarship amounts to horrific "identity politics" which are seemingly only acceptable when put forward by white supremacists.  A column at "The College Fix" which holds itself out as "right minded news from across the nation"  whines in part as follows:

In one instance we are asked to accept everyone as moral equals; in another instance we are expected to accept very specialized and preferential treatment for certain demographics. The former is good; the latter suggest that there is something markedly different about the target group, something worth treating them differently than the rest of the population.

My response? What assholes, pardon "my French."  You support discrimination and the ostracizing of gays  based typically on Bronze Age era derived religious belief and then get your panties in a knot when something is done to address the consequences of the bigotry to strive to cultivate.   I suspect that the author of the piece finds scholarships for blacks and other minorities demonized by the right as offensive as well. The hypocrisy is off the charts.  Kudos to the Serpentine Society.  And, yes, I have joined it.

Saturday Morning Male Beauty - Pt 1

Friday, December 01, 2017

More Friday Male Beauty

America, the Banana Republic

Perhaps I am dating myself, but I have lived at this point under 13 different occupants of the White House and never has there been such an embarrassment - indeed, threat to the nation, like the current occupant. Given polling results, it appears that a majority of the citizenry agrees with that assessment.  Seemingly, only evangelical Christians - who have glaringly displayed their moral bankruptcy - white supremacists, and greed driven vulture capitalist on Wall Street appear to continue to support the current occupant who daily displays his unfitness for office.  His Vice President who makes Sergeant Schultz from Hogan's Heroes look like a pillar of decisiveness and wisdom.  America has become a caricature of the banana republics once so derided during my lifetime.  Frighteningly, there is no clear sign post of how the national nightmare will end.  Even America's closest ally, the United Kingdom, with all of its own problems, does not want Trump to visit. A piece at looks at how low America has fallen.   Here are excerpts:

When people call Donald Trump an authoritarian, it almost gives him more credit
than he deserves.  You don’t think favorably of authoritarians; they are despicable. But you do think of them as monstrously large, grievously terrifying, as somehow taking the measure of the polity they control and drawing on its stature to puff themselves up, even as they destroy their nation’s moral core. Despots like Mussolini and Hitler epitomized evil on the grandest possible scale. To call them clowns would trivialize the unconscionable horrors they inflicted.

Trump is certainly an authoritarian, but he is more of a tinhorn dictator, a tiny, negligible man who, rather than inflating himself with the nation’s grandeur, has managed to deflate the nation with his own insipidness. Thanks to him, America is now a banana republic. It is no longer a country of soaring ideas and idealism, a beacon to the world, an example of freedom at home and a protector of freedom abroad, an anchor of sanity in a world often bouncing on the waves of madness.

Whatever her failings, America was once majestic. Now she is hopelessly diminish
-ed — a wealthier version of the corrupt nations in the developing world that we 
used to ridicule. And we owe it all to Donald Trump for making America small again.

The meme of America withering into a banana republic is not a new one. Some observers made the claim after the 2000 presidential election, when Republicans successfully wrested the presidency from Al Gore, just the way cabals do in those banana republics. 

In Vanity Fair, the late Christopher Hitchens was more expansive. He enumerated 
the many ways in which America, the last great hope of mankind, had become 
a banana republic — primarily the way the government was willing to bail out 
the oligarchs while letting the general public suffer.

Hitchens added that there is absolutely no accountability for the thieves. This all 
should sound very familiar this week, as Republicans retool the entire tax system 
to rob from the poor and middle classes and give to corporations and the 
wealthy. If that isn’t a banana republic, I don’t know what is.

But Krugman and Hitchens were writing before we had a bona fide banana republic dictator to rule our kleptocracy. And while America long has had the economic and social characteristics of a banana republic, it took Trump, who has the instincts and temperament of a gangster, to finish the transformation. There is no disguising it now. We are what we are.

Trump is the kleptocrat-in-chief. He not only appears to be using the presidency as his own personal ATM, now promoting a tax-cut scam by which he stands to gain tens of millions of dollars, he also has been petty enough to steer business to his hotels and hawked his “Make America Great Again” tchotchkes. Check.

Apparently not satisfied to have enriched himself at the public’s expense, Trump has brought unprecedented nepotism to the presidency in a way that only tinhorn dictators do, giving his family access to the public trough while placing his unqualified cronies in positions of power. In this administration, everyone may be on the take. Check.

Just about every Trump directive, from health care to the environment to so-called tax reform to trade policy, seems expressly designed to give benefits to a small coterie of the wealthiest Americans while the rest of the country goes to hell. . . . Sure sounds like a banana republic to me. Check.

Like other tinhorn dictators, Trump has no use for the essentials of democracy. 
He openly attacks a free press and has a house press of his own, Fox News, and soon, 
quite possibly, Time Inc.

[T]here are allegations that he may using the levers of government to punish his 
press opponents, using the Justice Department’s antitrust suit against the
proposed AT&T purchase of Time Warner to try to force the divestment of CNN.  
This, too, is unprecedented in an American democracy, but not in a banana republic. 

Trump has taken aim at the electoral process itself, not only claiming that his loss 
of the popular vote was a fraud, but empaneling a government commission whose 
sole purpose is thought to be the disenfranchisement of voters who might oppose 
him. This is pure banana republicanism and an affront to democracy. Check.

Banana republics are often agent states — that is, they operate at the behest of larger
states. In fact the phrase “banana republic” first was coined by the writer O. Henry 
back in 1904, to describe the dependence of Central American countries on American 
businesses like United Fruit, which ran plantations in those countries and exported 

Now, America itself is one of those agent states, thanks to Trump’s troubling obeisance to Russia’s Vladimir Putin. Let’s not pretend otherwise just so we can save some face. There is no more face to save. American elections interfered with by Russia and a president intimidated by a Russian dictator? Check.

Tinhorn dictators do everything they can to dismantle a system of checks and 
balances. Trump has done everything in his power to do the same — from 
dismissing FBI Director James Comey, who was investigating Trump, 
intimidating the Justice Department and taking over the Consumer Financial 
Protection Bureau to…. well, you name it. Untrammeled power is his goal. Check.

In a banana republic, the dictator makes his own rules and lives by his 
own reality. Clearly, Trump thinks he is above the law, be it legal or moral. 
He boasts of it. He also is above fact. The latest example of the thousands 
of his presidency: According to The New York Times, he privately has 
declared that the Access Hollywood tape was not actually him! Banana 
republic time. Check.

Donald Trump has demeaned himself, but he has also demeaned the country
that was deranged enough to elect him. These characteristics speak to a corrupt
and desiccated nation, one that is staggering into oblivion.

The “alt-right” insist that until Trump, America was going the way of Rome — rotting from the inside. They are wrong. It is not decadence that is destroying America, but petulance. We are going not the way of Rome but the way of Guatemala or Zimbabwe or the Philippines — the way of banana republics. Thus does this once great nation tumble.
As for those who cite the fall of the Western Roman Empire as precedent, they miss two things (among others).  One of the precursor was that they system became so tilted in favor of the wealthy class, that average people simply ceased to see a benefit from living under the empire.  A second factor was the insidious rise of Christianity and its call to ignore fact and objective reason with its adherents withdrawing into a fantasy world that undermined the empire.  We see both of these elements growing under the Trump/Pence regime.

Trump Pressed Top Republicans to End Senate Russia Probe

Se, Burr whom Trump tried to pressure.
The New York Times broke the story last night that Donald Trump personally intervened and tried to pressure Senate Republicans to end the Russiagate probe, an act which might be a criminal offense involving obstruction of justice.  Meanwhile, Jeff Sessions has refused to answer a Congressional inquiry that asked him if Trump ever pressured him to intervene and derail the Russiagate and/or Mike Flynn investigation.  Obviously, if the answer is "no", one would thing Sessions would have answered the question.  Thus, the inference is that if Sessions will not answer the question, then Trump DID try to pressure Sessions.  The two circumstances certainly combine to argue that Trump WAS trying to obstruct the Russiagate investigation.  Here are excerpts from the Times piece:
President Trump over the summer repeatedly urged senior Senate Republicans, including the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, to end the panel’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, according to a half dozen lawmakers and aides. Mr. Trump’s requests were a highly unusual intervention from a president into a legislative inquiry involving his family and close aides.
Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina, the intelligence committee chairman, said in an interview this week that Mr. Trump told him that he was eager to see an investigation that has overshadowed much of the first year of his presidency come to an end.
“It was something along the lines of, ‘I hope you can conclude this as quickly as possible,’” Mr. Burr said. He said he replied to Mr. Trump that “when we have exhausted everybody we need to talk to, we will finish.”
In addition, according to lawmakers and aides, Mr. Trump told Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, and Senator Roy Blunt, Republican of Missouri and a member of the intelligence committee, to end the investigation swiftly.
Senator Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat who is a former chairwoman of the intelligence committee, said in an interview this week that Mr. Trump’s requests were “inappropriate” and represented a breach of the separation of powers.
Mr. Trump’s requests of lawmakers to end the Senate investigation came during a period in the summer when the president was particularly consumed with Russia and openly raging at his own attorney general, Jeff Sessions, for recusing himself from any inquiries into Russian meddling in the election. Mr. Trump often vented to his own aides and even declared his innocence to virtual strangers he came across on his New Jersey golf course.
In this same period, the president complained frequently to Mr. McConnell about not doing enough to bring the investigation to an end, a Republican official close to the leader said.
Mr. Burr said . . . . other members of his committee have had similar discussions with Mr. Trump. “Everybody has promptly shared any conversations that they’ve had,” Mr. Burr said. Mr. Burr and Mr. Blunt have both taken steps to limit their interaction with Mr. Trump this year, not wanting to create the perception of coziness as they conduct a highly sensitive investigation into contacts between the president’s campaign and Moscow last year.
Robert S. Mueller III, the Justice Department’s special counsel who is leading a separate investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, is also examining whether Mr. Trump tried to obstruct justice when he fired James B. Comey, the F.B.I. director who was running a federal inquiry into the matter.
Some of Mr. Trump’s advisers feared he would move to fire Mr. Mueller, an option that the president pointedly left open in an Oval Office interview with The New York Times in July.
During this time, Mr. Trump made several calls to senators without senior staff present, according to one West Wing official. According to senators and other Republicans familiar with the conversations, Mr. Trump would begin the talks on a different topic but eventually drift toward the Russia investigation.
In conversations with Mr. McConnell and Senator Bob Corker, the Tennessee Republican who is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Mr. Trump voiced sharp anger that congressional Republicans were not helping lift the cloud of suspicion over Russia, the senators told political allies. 
What Richard Nixon did that led to his resignation rather than face impeachment pales compared to Trump's overall actions - not to mention all of his other actions that argue for his removal from office.

The Case for Impeachment

As regular readers know very well, I viewed Donald Trump as unfit for office and a downright danger to the nation and the world long before the election results of November 8, 2016, and the subsequent failure of the Electoral College to act in the manner envisioned by the Founding Fathers when it certified Trump's election win.   Sadly, many Americans, in my opinion, allowed themselves to be swayed by their racism, religious extremism, greed, and other forms of misogyny to see Trump for what he is - and has been throughout his public life.  Now, the nation and world find themselves with a dangerous - in my view - lunatic in the White House.  One can hope that the Mueller investigation takes Trump down (and Pence too), but if that fails, a piece in Vox looks at  why impeachment still could be a viable solution to the toxic cancer in the White House.  Here are article excerpts:
I recent months, I have grown obsessed with a seemingly simple question: Does the American political system have a remedy if we elect the wrong person to be president? There are clear answers if we elect a criminal, or if the president falls into a coma. But what if we just make a hiring mistake, as companies do all the time? What if we elect someone who proves himself or herself unfit for office — impulsive, conspiratorial, undisciplined, destructive, cruel?
My fixation on this question began with President Donald Trump’s tweets to North Korea’s Kim Jong Un. This was the president of the United States, the man who controls the world’s largest nuclear arsenal, launching deranged, unvetted provocations at the most singularly irrational regime in the world. . . . . The rest of the Trump administration was trying to ratchet down tensions with North Korea. But the president himself was undermining the effort. . .
Republican Sen. Bob Corker, the widely respected chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, warned that the president was treating his office like “a reality show” and setting the country “on the path to World War III.” In an interview with the New York Times, he said of Trump, “I know for a fact that every single day at the White House, it’s a situation of trying to contain him.” These concerns, Corker told the Times, “were shared by nearly every Senate Republican.”
It’s not just Senate Republicans who worry over the president’s stability. Carl Bernstein, of Watergate fame, told CNN that his reporting found “a consensus developing in the military, at the highest levels in the intelligence community, among Republicans in Congress, including the leaders in the business community,” that Trump “is unfit to be the president of the United States.” A subsequent poll by the Military Times found only 30 percent of commissioned officers approved of the job Trump was doing.
The fear is shared by members of Trump’s own staff. Axios’s Mike Allen reported that a collection of top White House advisers see themselves as an informal “Committee to Save America,” . . . . Their concerns echo across the broader public. A September Quinnipiac poll found that 56 percent of voters believe Trump is unfit for office. Of late, I have been asking Republicans who work either in the White House or closely with it whether Trump is learning on the job — whether he is becoming more judicious, more disciplined, more serious. The answer, unanimously, is that he is not. Of late, Trump has taken to suggesting the Access Hollywood tape — where he is clearly shown bragging about sexual assault — is a fraud. These are statements, notably, that Trump can not only be seen making, and heard making, but statements he has admitted making. As is often the case, it is unclear whether Trump is lying to us, or if he is somehow lying to himself, as well. And it is hard to say which would be scarier.
We talk often about running the US government like a business, but businesses — at least public ones — have clear methods for deposing a disastrous executive. The president of the United States controls the world’s largest nuclear arsenal, not to mention the vast resources and powers of the federal government, and so the possible damage of letting the wrong person inhabit the Oval Office stretches all the way to global catastrophe. But is there anything we can do about it?
A number of House Democrats have introduced bills that point toward Trump’s removal. Rep. Brad Sherman, a California Democrat, introduced articles of impeachment built around Trump’s possible violations of the law. Rep. Zoe Lofgren, also a California Democrat, introduced a resolution calling for Trump to receive medical evaluation to uncover whether he is capable of carrying out the duties of his office — if not, the Cabinet could invoke the 25th Amendment and remove him.
But what if Trump isn’t a criminal or mentally incompetent? What if he’s exactly the man we saw in the election and that man just shouldn’t be president? What if America simply made a mistake?
Sometimes I imagine this era going catastrophically wrong — a nuclear exchange with North Korea, perhaps, or a genuine crisis in American democracy — and historians writing about it in the future. They will go back and read Trump’s tweets and his words and read what we were saying, and they will wonder what the hell was wrong with us. You knew, they’ll say. You knew everything you needed to know to stop this. And what will we say in response? The first federal official ever removed from office under Article II, Section 4 of the Constitution — the impeachment clause — was Judge John Pickering, in 1803. Pickering was an alcoholic and likely suffered from early-stage dementia. He would rant and rave from the bench. The official charges held that Pickering exhibited “loose morals and intemperate habits,” neither of which sounds like a high crime or misdemeanor to modern ears. He was convicted on all counts and removed from office. Another way of looking at Pickering’s removal is that it shows the founding generation defining what the impeachment power was for, and what high crimes and misdemeanors meant. In his 1833 Commentaries, Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story concluded that impeachment is “of a political character” and can be triggered by “gross neglect, or usurpation, or habitual disregard of the public interests, in the discharge of the duties of political office.”
The Constitution’s framers considered a few variants of the impeachment power. An early proposal would have restricted it to acts of “treason and bribery” only. That was rejected for being too narrow. A subsequent proposal would have expanded it to acts of “maladministration” as well. That was rejected for being too broad. “High crimes and misdemeanors” was the compromise, but it was never clearly defined.
What is clear is that high crimes and misdemeanors described far more than mere legal infractions. In The Federalist Papers, Alexander Hamilton wrote that questions of impeachment will “proceed from the misconduct of public men, or, in other words, from the abuse or violation of some public trust. They are of a nature which may with peculiar propriety be denominated POLITICAL, as they relate chiefly to injuries done immediately to the society itself.” “The grounds for impeachment can be extremely broad and need not involve a crime,” says political scientist Allan Lichtman, author of The Case for Impeachment. “That’s why they put impeachment not in the courts but in a political body. They could have put it in the Supreme Court, but they put it in the Senate.” In the course of reporting this piece, I spoke to a slew of legal scholars and impeachment specialists. Here is my conclusion: There is no actual definition of “high crimes and misdemeanors.” There is wide agreement that it describes more than violations of the criminal code, but very little agreement beyond that. When is the “misconduct of public men” impeachable? When does a tweetstorm rise to the level of “egregious violation of the public trust”?
On May 16, Ross Douthat, a conservative columnist at the New York Times, wrote a searing column arguing for President Trump’s removal from office. “From the perspective of the Republican leadership’s duty to their country, and indeed to the world that our imperium bestrides, leaving a man this witless and unmastered in an office with these powers and responsibilities is an act of gross negligence, which no objective on the near-term political horizon seems remotely significant enough to justify,” he wrote.
Douthat’s preference was to bypass impeachment entirely and invoke the 25th Amendment to the Constitution. That amendment, which permits the president’s removal if the vice president and a majority of the Cabinet certify him “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office,” was ratified in 1967 as a response to President Dwight Eisenhower’s health problems and President John F. Kennedy’s assassination.
It is worth playing out that scenario. Imagine that Vice President Mike Pence and the Cabinet did compel Trump to undergo psychiatric evaluation. And imagine the psychiatrist did return a diagnosis of some kind, be it early-stage dementia or narcissistic personality disorder (plenty of psychiatrists stand ready to diagnose Trump with all manner of mental ailments, so this is not far-fetched). The vote is taken, and Trump is removed from office.
To many of Trump’s supporters — and perhaps many of his opponents — this would look like nothing less than a coup; the swamp swallowing the man who sought to drain it. Imagine the Breitbart headlines, the Fox News chyrons. And would they truly be wrong?
Here is the counterargument: Our political system was designed by men who believed the mass public could make mistakes, and so they set up failsafes, emergency processes by which political elites could act. The Electoral College, which was ironically the key to Trump’s victory, was one of those failsafes — a collection of political actors who would be informed by the popular vote, but not bound by it. Today, however, the ideology of democracy has taken fiercer hold, elites are held in low regard, and those failsafes are themselves failing. “The case for the 25th Amendment or any other solution is that if a situation is dangerous, elites have a responsibility to risk popular backlash and even appear to be overturning the results of the election,” Douthat told me. In this telling, it is the job of elites to be a bulwark precisely when that job is hardest to carry out. But this analysis leaves us in a place that seems absurd when stated clearly: Though we have mechanisms for removing a dangerous president, those mechanisms are too politically explosive to actually invoke. President Trump could order a nuclear holocaust before breakfast, but unless society can agree that he is either criminal or comatose, both America and the world are stuck with him and all the damage he can cause.  Can this really be our system?

Friday Morning Male Beauty - Pt 1

Thursday, November 30, 2017

“Everybody Knew”: Inside the Fall of Today’s Matt Lauer

With the firing yesterday of Matt Lauer, NBC News apparently decided that it needed to clean its own house before other news outlets reported on what "everybody knew" about Lauer's transgressions.  As the repercussions of sexual misconduct roil across the nation - excerpt for in the White House where the molester-in-chief is now denying the accuracy of the Access Hollywood tape he previously admitted to - what is striking is that in most instances the news of the transgressions were known to others before hand , sometimes by many people. Personally, I cannot grasp the mindset of the men involved who due to their positions of power thought they could force themselves on anyone they wanted.  A piece in Vanity Fair looks at the situation of Lauer which tracts this same pattern (a piece in Variety gives more lurid details here).  Here are excerpts:
For weeks, amidst the deluge of revelations about sexual misconduct by powerful men in media, executives at NBC News had been hearing rumors of stories being reported at Variety and The New York Times about Lauer’s alleged sexual relationships with NBC bookers and producers. Those executives asked Lauer “if there was anything that he thought we should know or could fit into this category, and he adamantly denied that there was.” According to one NBC insider, Lack reported to other top executives that Lauer had denied any sexual impropriety.
Then, on Monday, a woman who had already met with The New York Times, but who wished to remain anonymous, went with her lawyer to meet with representatives from NBC’s human-resources department to lodge a formal complaint about Lauer. According to a person familiar with her complaint, neither “rape” nor “assault” was used in her complaint to NBC. Nevertheless, the complaint was serious and specific enough to result in the firing of NBC News’s biggest star and most powerful figure. The allegation related to an inappropriate sexual relationship that started when the colleagues were covering the Olympics in Sochi.
Lauer had been dogged by stories of infidelity for years, so much so that he had become a regular target of the tabloid press. That focus narrowed his world, according to a former colleague. “His pattern was that of a beleaguered person who was constantly being pursued by The National Enquirer,” the former colleague told me. . . . . “So I think the only place he could really operate was in his office and then when he was on the road. And there was a lot of him bringing attractive young women into his office for counseling and where he would talk to them about their career.” The Variety story about Lauer’s sexual misconduct, published Wednesday, based on the accounts of more than 10 current and former employees, reports that he could lock the door to his office from his desk.
There were, according to the former colleague, two groups of women that Lauer seemed to focus his attention on: interns, pages, and production assistants in charge of running scripts in the morning; and also bookers.
Insiders at NBC remained incredulous that NBC’s top brass was not aware of Lauer’s behavior with women. “The real focus right now should be on this complete disingenuous behavior by NBC to say, ‘I’m shocked,’” one former NBC colleague told me. Lauer has been prized and protected by a succession of NBC News presidents. . . . . “I don’t know what everyone is so surprised by,” said one high-level industry source. “This has been going on for months and months and everybody knew it and it was just going to be which girl came forward, and who reported it first.”
Lauer’s downfall could have been hastened by any number of his current or former colleagues, or at least that was the word inside NBC circles. “There’s a lot of speculation that Megyn Kelly was directly involved in getting women to come forward,” the former colleague told me. Kelly, who reportedly came to NBC with a whopping $23 million package and who has struggled to get traction at 9 a.m., reportedly felt the heat from Lauer’s disapproval, this person said. (An insider close to Kelly disputed both claims.) “Even if she wasn’t going to replace him, he was going to have a shiv in her back any day. You could already see reports of him saying that it was a mistake.”
Similarly, NBC insiders saw the hand of Ann Curry, whom Lauer ousted, in his demise, and possibly even Billy Bush. (Curry and Bush could not be reached for comment.) The repercussions inside NBC are unlikely to stop with Lauer.
As the national reckoning with sexual harassment continues, the question of Lauer’s improprieties looms large over NBC’s editorial decision to pass on Ronan Farrow’s reporting on Harvey Weinstein. “They were sitting in a glass house and they knew it,” Lauer’s former colleague said.