Thoughts on Life, Love, Politics, Hypocrisy and Coming Out in Mid-Life
Saturday, December 31, 2022
Shielding Ukraine from America’s Culture Wars
The cool reception afforded to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky last week by the populist wing of the Republican Party was a reminder: The war in Eastern Europe won’t be exempt from the grinding logic of American polarization. An elite consensus within both parties continues to back Ukraine’s drive, underwritten by U.S. arms, aid and logistics, to repel Russia’s invasion. But right-wing skepticism has been growing and will likely continue to grow as the war persists, inconclusively, into its second year.
It’s easy to condemn or ignore this Republican sentiment. But it might be more productive for Washington to try to wall off the war from the United States’ raging cultural conflicts that distort everything in their path. That would mean justifying Washington’s support for Ukraine not as an open-ended ideological mission but as a limited defense of national sovereignty and a demonstration of U.S. military strength.
Joe Biden’s presidency has been animated by the notion that the United States faces a contest between democracy and autocracy, in which not just Donald Trump but ordinary Republican opposition to parts of Biden’s agenda poses an autocratic threat. . . . If Democrats’ political battle against right-wing populism is the domestic front in the global struggle for democracy, Ukrainians’ armed battle against Russian invaders is its main foreign outpost.
Put aside the merits of assertions that the GOP favors authoritarians, or that the war in Ukraine is principally about promoting democracy. It should be obvious that pressing both claims at once — and linking them together as part of a global ideological vision — won’t persuade Republican voters that continuous U.S. investment in the war serves their interests.
Consider that President George W. Bush’s democracy-promotion justification for the U.S. occupation of Iraq failed to persuade his critics of the war’s wisdom. Bush’s moral case for his foreign policy in some cases fused with the 2000s’ culture war over Christianity, heightening liberal opposition.
To take a much older example: In the early United States, the egalitarian Jeffersonians backed the French Revolution, while the more-conservative Federalists feared and opposed it. Though the new nation wasn’t directly involved, the ideological shockwaves from that European war turbocharged domestic divisions, leading to repression and near civil war during George Washington’s administration.
Ideology is a powerful mobilizer, and Biden’s democracy framing has probably rallied dovish U.S. liberals. Yet most successful American foreign policy projects see their public support stabilize as a consensus forms. On Russia and Ukraine, Americans are split over Biden’s performance, and Republican support for generous U.S. aid, which started sky-high, has deteriorated in recent months.
Ironically, the strongest arguments for Washington’s backing of Ukraine have nothing to do with America’s domestic contest over the meaning of democracy. As Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in April (but the administration has hesitated to repeat since), the United States is successfully weakening Russia’s military, thereby reducing its capacity to undertake future costly aggression. The United States is also upholding the importance of national sovereignty, a cause that is arguably dearer to conservatives and populists than to liberals. . . . . This war, like that one [Kuwait war], is putting the United States’ military-technological edge on global display.
On the populist side, the best argument for limiting America’s involvement in Ukraine is likewise not ideological but strategic: that the United States is burning through munitions so quickly that it might be weakening Washington’s deterrence capacity in East Asia in the short term. That region is more important to Americans’ prosperity than Ukraine, and is threatened by a far more powerful rival in China.
Foreign wars have a way of becoming bound up in America’s own conception of its national identity. But that doesn’t mean leaders need to lean in to the ideological polarization they produce. As the war enters a new phase, the administration will be forced to start thinking about what kinds of settlements would be acceptable to the United States. It might find public attitudes less volatile — and American strategy easier to define — if it begins to disentangle Ukraine from the culture wars.
Friday, December 30, 2022
George Santos is the Embodiment of Today's GOP
Sooner or later, the Republican Party’s devolution was bound to saddle GOP leaders with someone exactly like Rep.-elect George Santos of New York: a glib, successful candidate for high office who turns out to be pure fantasy with zero substance.
Santos, 34, who helped give Republicans their slim House majority by winning an open Long Island seat previously held by a Democrat, has admitted to “embellishing” his résumé and using a “poor choice of words” in touting his credentials. Those are understatements akin to calling the Amazon a creek or the Grand Canyon a ditch.
After initial reporting by the New York Times, journalists have discovered that, basically, Santos’s whole life story — as he sold it to voters — is a lie. He did not attend the exclusive Horace Mann Prep school in the Bronx, according to school officials. He did not graduate from Baruch College, as he had claimed. He did not climb the ladder of Wall Street success via Goldman Sachs and Citigroup, as he boasted. He is not “a proud American Jew,” as he wrote in a campaign document seeking support from pro-Israel groups, but instead considers himself “Jew-ish, as in ‘ish.’” Which apparently means not being Jewish at all.
He presented himself as the made-for-television incarnation of the vitality and diversity the Republican Party would like to project: a handsome gay Latino man, wealthy and self-made, whose very existence refuted the charge that today’s GOP shamelessly panders to racism and bigotry.
With that existence now revealed to be an illusion — with the “George Santos” voters elected shown to be a fictional character — most leading figures in the GOP have been silent. One exception is Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (Ga.), who defended him with tweets acknowledging that Santos lied but accusing “the left” of lying, too, although most of the examples she cited were not lies at all.
Some Democrats have called for Santos not to be seated in the new Congress; others have called for an immediate House Ethics Committee investigation. GOP leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), hoping for Santos’s vote to help him be elected House speaker, has offered no comment as to what steps, if any, the incoming Republican majority might take.
The party [the GOP] embarked on the path of make-believe politics long before Santos came onto the scene. All he did was expand the frontier.
For me, the key moment came when Republicans decided not to write a platform for the 2020 presidential election — when, in effect, they refused to tell voters what they would do if elected. They pledged only to enact whatever policies President Donald Trump might propose
The party can’t blame it all on Trump, though. In today’s GOP, a leading figure such as Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.) — a cum laude graduate of Princeton University and a magna cum laude graduate of Harvard Law School who clerked for Supreme Court Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist — routinely rails against smarty-pants “elites” who supposedly look down on regular folks like him.
Greene and others have shown that the way to prominence in the party is not through legislative or administrative accomplishments but via attention-grabbing displays of performative outrage.
What does it matter if what you say has no grounding in fact? By the time you get called on it, you’re off to the next over-the-top statement.
Santos’s carapace of lies is so elaborate and encompassing that it may suggest psychological issues we should hope he gets help in addressing. And there are serious legal questions about the source of $700,000 he reported lending to his campaign, with both local and federal prosecutors now said to be investigating.
But his idea of building a political career in the Republican Party on sharp-edged rhetoric and audacious lies was hardly original. Santos just took that routine further than his soon-to-be colleagues have done.
Thursday, December 29, 2022
The GOP Contributed to the Death of Its Own Voters
No country has a perfect COVID-vaccination rate, even this far into the pandemic, but America’s record is particularly dismal. About a third of Americans—more than a hundred million people—have yet to get their initial shots. You can find anti-vaxxers in every corner of the country. But by far the single group of adults most likely to be unvaccinated is Republicans: 37 percent of Republicans are still unvaccinated or only partially vaccinated, compared with 9 percent of Democrats. Fourteen of the 15 states with the lowest vaccination rates voted for Donald Trump in 2020. (The other is Georgia.)
We know that unvaccinated Americans are more likely to be Republican, that Republicans in positions of power led the movement against COVID vaccination, and that hundreds of thousands of unvaccinated Americans have died preventable deaths from the disease. The Republican Party is unquestionably complicit in the premature deaths of many of its own supporters, a phenomenon that may be without precedent in the history of both American democracy and virology.
[T]he wildly disproportionate presence of Republicans among the unvaccinated reveals an ugly and counterintuitive aspect of the GOP campaign against vaccination: At every turn, top figures in the party have directly endangered their own constituents. Trump disparaged vaccines while president, even after orchestrating Operation Warp Speed. Other politicians, such as Texas Governor Greg Abbott, made all COVID-vaccine mandates illegal in their state. More recently, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis called for a grand jury to investigate the safety of COVID vaccines. The right-wing media have leaned even harder into vaccine skepticism.
Breaking down the cost of vaccine hesitancy would be simple if we could draw a causal relationship between Republican leaders’ anti-vaccine messaging and the adoption of those ideas by Americans, and then from those ideas to deaths due to non-vaccination. Unfortunately, we don’t have the data to do so.
What we do have is a patchwork of estimations and correlations that, taken together, paint a blurry but nevertheless grim picture of how Republican leaders spread the vaccine hesitancy that has killed so many people. We know that as of April 2022, about 318,000 people had died from COVID because they were unvaccinated, according to research from Brown University. And the close association between Republican vaccine hesitancy and higher death rates has been documented.
Partisanship affected outcomes in the pandemic even before we had vaccines. A recent study found that from October 2020 to February 2021, the death rate in Republican-leaning counties was up to three times higher than that of Democratic-leaning counties, likely because of differences in masking and social distancing. Even when vaccines came around, these differences continued
Follow-up research published in The Lancet Regional Health—Americas in October looked at deaths from April 2021 to March 2022 and found a 26 percent higher death rate in areas where voters leaned Republican.
Congressional districts controlled by a trifecta of Republican leaders—state governor, Senate, and House—had an 11 percent higher death rate, according to the Lancet study. A likely explanation, the authors write, could be that in the post-vaccine era, those leaders chose policies and conveyed public-health messages that made their constituents more likely to die. Although we still can’t say these decisions led to higher death rates, the association alone is jarring.
One of the most compelling studies comes from researchers at Yale, who published their findings as a working paper in November. They link political party and excess-death rate—the percent increase in deaths above pre-COVID levels—among those registered as either Democrats or Republicans, providing a more granular view. . . . . after vaccines became available, that gap widened dramatically to 10.4 percentage points, again with a higher Republican excess-death rate. “When we compare individuals who are of the same age, who live in the same county in the same month of the pandemic, there are differences correlated with your political-party affiliation that emerge after vaccines are available,”
The absolute number of Republican deaths is less important than the fact that they happened needlessly. Vaccines could have saved lives. And yet, the party that describes itself as pro-life campaigned against them. Democrats are not without fault, though. . . . . But on the whole, Democratic leaders have mostly not promoted ideas or enforced policies around COVID that actively chip away at life expectancy. It is a tragedy that the Republican push against basic lifesaving science has cut lives short and continues to do so.
What’s most concerning about all of this is that partisan disparities in death rates were also apparent before COVID. People living in Republican jurisdictions have been at a health disadvantage for more than 20 years. From 2001 to 2019, the death rate in Democratic counties decreased by 22 percent, according to a recent study; in Republican counties, it declined by only 11 percent. In the same time period, the political gap in death rates increased sixfold.
Wednesday, December 28, 2022
Republicans Push A New Wave of Anti-LGBTQ Bills
Republican-controlled statehouses passed a record number of restrictions on transgender people in 2022 — from sports to health care — and conservatives aren’t slowing down.
Take South Carolina, where the Legislature may try out a new tactic next year: defining what it means to be a woman. Other conservative states may follow.
State Sen. Danny Verdin, a Republican, filed a joint resolution this month that would amend the South Carolina Constitution to establish that male and female be defined “in the context of reproductive potential… without regard to an individual’s psychological, chosen or subjective experience of gender.”
Although conservatives saw mixed results in trying to focus on gender and race issues in school board elections around the country this year, it’s still popular with the Republican base. Verdin’s proposal mirrors one filed on Capitol Hill this spring and channels a line of questioning Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) led against Ketanji Brown Jackson during her nomination for the Supreme Court.
While House Republicans will be able to force Democrats in Congress to vote on gender issues, President Joe Biden and a Democratic-controlled Senate leave the real legislative and legal battle to the states.
The IWF [Independent Women’s Forum] and other women’s groups, she said, are focused on several statehouses in 2023: Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee, North Dakota and Kansas. And IWF’s newest spokesperson, Riley Gaines — a former University of Kentucky swimmer who campaigned in Georgia with Herschel Walker and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) this year — also went to Texas to speak with lawmakers.
On Capitol Hill, the Republican resolution was designed to thwart the Biden administration’s efforts to codify protections for transgender students by defining “sex” in federal law as the one a person is assigned to at birth. That measure, sponsored by Rep. Debbie Lesko (R-Ariz.), isn’t likely to get attention in the Senate, but at least six states have already queued up bills focused on LGBTQ restrictions for their 2023 legislative sessions, with others held over from the last cycle or still expected to be officially filed.
“This trend of trying to define what gender and sex is is not a new one. What’s new now is that they’re trying to push it in a legal sense,” said Devon Ojeda, senior national organizer at the National Center for Transgender Equality.
The center has been working to organize transgender advocates against these bills and is also focusing its efforts on school boards and medical boards where similar resolutions could be introduced.
“These women’s rights bills are not about women’s rights,” Ojeda said.
Beyond defining gender, there are signs that GOP lawmakers in Missouri and Indiana want to follow Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis’ lead with copycat bills of Florida’s “Parental Rights in Education” law, a measure dubbed “don’t say gay” by its critics. The law bars educators from leading conversations in public school classrooms about gender and sexuality for children in kindergarten through 3rd grade.
Other conservative fronts include banning books that discuss LGBTQ themes, as well as race or religion, and banning public drag shows.
One area poised to see greater attention next year is banning gender-affirming care for those under ages 18 or 21. While that care rarely includes surgery for minors, according to medical experts, conservative lawmakers in Texas, South Carolina, Missouri, Virginia and Oklahoma have already submitted bills that would prohibit those procedures and more common recommendations, such as hormone replacement therapy.
Oklahoma state Rep. Jim Olsen is among those who aim to bring the bans to more states next year. Olsen said he based his proposal, which would allow minors who received hormone therapies or puberty-blockers to bring a felony or civil suit against their physician, on the Arkansas legislation.
Christina Polizzi of the Democratic State Legislative Committee pointed to Michigan’s Legislature, where Republican lawmakers tried to pass bills related to transgender students in sports and restrictions on health care — none of which made it to the governor’s desk. And after making transgender proposals a part of their party platform, state Republicans failed to maintain their majorities, leading to a Democratic trifecta heading into next year.
“These pieces of legislation that Republicans are pushing are completely unpopular,” Polizzi told POLITICO. “[Despite] the fact that it was clearly unpopular in places like Michigan, I see no signs of Republicans slowing down. We can expect to see them double down on this rhetoric in their next sessions.”
Polizzi said there will likely be a wave of legislation from Democratic lawmakers aimed at promoting anti-discrimination policies or undoing laws enacted by Republican predecessors.
One is from Texas state Rep. Erin Zwiener. She leads the chamber’s LGBTQ Caucus and also pre-filed House Bill 970, a leftover proposal from the 2021 session that would repeal a “criminality of homosexual conduct” law that’s still on the books. Zwiener’s legislation also comes as the state GOP added the line, “Homosexuality is an abnormal lifestyle choice,” to their priorities list this year.
Zwiener attributed some of the conservative proposals debated in the 2021 legislative session in Texas to GOP fears over redistricting and the looming election season, where candidates might have wanted to have an LGBTQ bill vote on their resume.
“If the Texas GOP wants to stay in power in Texas, they should not pursue these bills,” Zwiener said. “Whether or not they can help themselves, I don’t know.”
Monday, December 26, 2022
Youngkin Continues to Try To Drag Virginia Backward in Time
School has always provided a safe place for them. But that could all change—at the drop of a hat. This September, Governor Glenn Youngkin moved to restrict the rights of trans and nonbinary students in Virginia. The Governor announced model policies that, if enacted, would prohibit students from changing their name or gender on school records unless their family submits legal documentation and would forbid school staff from calling students by their preferred name or pronouns—unless a parent writes an official request.
But there’s something less obvious—and more urgent—that we need to talk about: With these model policies, Gov. Youngkin is not only restricting students’ rights, but potentially putting their lives in danger. As a 2022 Trevor Project survey found, LGBTQ teens already consider attempting suicide at high rates. And those rates can depend, in part, on a school’s environment: “LGBTQ youth who found their school to be LGBTQ-affirming reported lower rates of attempting suicide.”
In other words, the less affirming the school, the more mental pain experienced by LGBTQ students. Youngkin’s policies are the perfect example. They’re already harming students’ mental well-being, and they haven’t even taken effect yet.
What this policy and others like it fail to understand is that trans students aren’t hiding their identities for fun. Gender identity isn’t like choosing a favorite color or deciding on what to have for dinner. Gender identity is a part of who you are, and even though we are in the 21st century, parents can still be racist, homophobic, and transphobic. And so, their kids may not tell them everything—for good reason.
Many LGBTQ youth live in unaccepting homes, meaning that if they’re outed, they could be rejected or kicked out and disowned—all of which very obviously compromise a child’s safety. . . . . If a transphobic parent is “engaged in a child’s life” as Youngkin wants, it’s not a promise of care; it might mean harm.
On the abortion front, a special election for a Virginia state Senate seat is bring new focus on Youngkin's desire to greatly restrict access to abortion as he prostitutes himself to the Christofascist in Virginia - think The Family Foundation - and nationwide as he contemplates a run for the presidency. Politico looks at the special election and Youngkin's desire to restrict women's control over their own bodies. Here are article excerpts:
A special election for the Virginia state Senate is drawing big dollars and national attention in the latest sign of how the abortion issue is driving every level of politics in the post-Roe era.
The January contest to fill the Senate seat vacated by Republican Jen Kiggans, who was elected to Congress in November, does not threaten Democrats’ majority in the chamber. But pro- and anti-abortion rights groups, who are spending tens of thousands of dollars, believe the race could significantly impact people’s ability to access the procedure in the purple state.
Abortion is legal in Virginia until the third trimester, but Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin, a potential 2024 presidential candidate, has proposed prohibiting the procedure after 15 weeks of pregnancy in his recently released budget.
Youngkin doesn’t yet have the votes to enact that ban — but Democrats’ narrow majority in the state Senate has put this special election between Virginia Beach City Councilman and former NFL safety Aaron Rouse, a Democrat, and Navy veteran Kevin Adams, a Republican, in the national spotlight.
While groups on both sides of the abortion debate often invest in state legislative races, this special election has attracted unusually high sums of money for a single legislative special election, groups on the ground say.
Rouse, the Democratic candidate, is betting an abortion-focused message will carry him to victory in the state Senate race — mimicking a strategy that propelled other Democrats to victory in close contests during the midterm election.
“Listen, I’m not getting into the weeds of what a woman should be discussing with her health care professional. I support the current law of Virginia as it is and will fiercely defend against any legislation that will ban abortion in our state, our commonwealth,” Rouse said in an interview. “This seat is critical to ensure that we can protect the rights of women’s reproductive health care.”
Democrats, meanwhile, contend the future of abortion access is at stake — and say the race is all the more critical after Virginia state Sen. Jennifer McClellan, a staunch abortion-rights advocate, won the Democratic nomination to fill the seat left vacant after the death of Rep. Donald McEachin (D-Va.).
McClellan’s primary victory all but guarantees she will win McEachin’s overwhelmingly Democratic district come February — thereby reducing Democrats’ margin in the state Senate from three seats to two, and possibly positioning state Sen. Joe Morrissey, an anti-abortion Democrat, as a crucial swing vote.
If Democrats win the special state Senate election in January, then even after McClellan leaves they will hold a 21-18 majority and Morrissey becomes a non-issue for the pro-abortion-rights side; but if Republicans win — and Democrats hold a 20-19 majority — abortion rights groups worry Youngkin could use creative legislative maneuvering to get an anti-abortion bill to the floor of the Senate, where Morrissey could be the deciding vote.
“If Aaron Rouse wins — and we know we have an abortion-rights champion there — that flip of that seat is enough to safeguard our rights and ensure there’s not an abortion ban that gets to the governor’s desk.”
Youngkin is a menace who puts his own political ambitions ahead of the lives, rights and safety of countless Virginians. One way to say do to his backward agenda is to defeat the GOP candidate in this special election.
Christmas Is Fading As a Religious Holiday
“Do they know it’s Christmas?” the musician Bob Geldof once asked. Nearly three decades on, the answer in the United States is that they know perfectly well, but what that means, and how they express it, is in flux.
For years, conservatives have warned of a “war on Christmas.” Former President Donald Trump adopted it as a major cause, and nearly four in 10 Americans said in a poll last December that politicians are waging a campaign to take religion out of the holiday. Liberals have scoffed at the idea that anyone is trying to downplay Christmas, dismissing the whole thing as either earnest paranoia or cynical politics. They are right that there’s no coordinated push to downplay the holiday or its religious roots, but conservatives aren’t reacting to nothing: Christmas is becoming less of a religious holiday for millions of people.
Americans still love Christmas, if not quite as much as they used to. In 1995, 96 percent celebrated the holiday, per Gallup; by 2019, that had dipped slightly, to 93 percent. What has changed significantly is the way people mark it. From 2005 to 2019, the portion of Americans who say their Christmas celebrations are “strongly religious” dropped from 47 percent to 35 percent. . . . .A majority of Americans are still willing to accept Christmas displays on public property (at least when they’re combined with Hanukkah displays), but that number sank from almost three-quarters in 2014 to just two-thirds in 2017.
For Trump, one of the key elements of the war on Christmas was a supposed unwillingness to say “Merry Christmas,” as the phrase has been replaced by more inclusive but less explicitly Christian phrases.
It appears that people weren’t afraid to say “Merry Christmas.” They just didn’t care. A real shift has occurred, not because of animosity but because of apathy. In 2005, roughly equal portions of Americans told Pew Research that they wanted stores to say “Merry Christmas” and that they didn’t care what stores said (with another 12 percent favoring “Happy holidays” or “Season’s greetings”). Over the next decade, those numbers diverged. By 2017, less than a third (32 percent) preferred “Merry Christmas,” while more than half (52 percent) said it didn’t matter which greeting stores used.
It depends a lot on where you live and with whom you’re speaking. FiveThirtyEight, drawing on data from the Public Religion Research Institute, showed sharp regional differences in a 2016 analysis. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the West and Northeast, generally more liberal areas, lean toward “Happy holidays” over “Merry Christmas.” It is not, however, the conservative South that leads the way for “Merry Christmas” (the region is about evenly split), but the Midwest.
Age makes a difference too. Millennials are more likely than previous generations to see Christmas as a cultural rather than a religious holiday—a reversal of how older Americans feel. And a 2018 NPR/PBS Newshour/Marist poll found that 53 percent of Millennials prefer “Happy holidays,” versus 38 percent who like “Merry Christmas.” Although few good polls have delved into the views of Generation Z, these trends all point to a continued secularization in celebration and vagueness in greeting.
The big shift behind these changes is that even when all the faithful come, they are a shrinking group, and Christianity, in particular, is in steep decline. Robert P. Jones, PRRI’s president and founder, told me that the shift goes hand in hand with an increase in the number of Americans who identify as not religious. As a portion of the population, adherents to religions other than Christianity have barely increased over the past half century, but unaffiliated Americans are now a big share of the population even in historically very religious states. “Because of these shifts, younger adults who are religiously unaffiliated are also now much more likely to marry religiously unaffiliated partners,”
In 2021, as he left office, Trump declared he had triumphed against the war on Christmas . . . . But this seems like yet another premature victory celebration and another unfulfilled promise. If anything, the religious element of Christmas slipped in importance during Trump’s presidency, and like many of the cultural trends against which he railed, this one appears likely to continue into the future. In short, it’s beginning to look a lot like happy holidays, everywhere you go.
The irony is that with Millennials and Generaztion Z the Christofascist/GOP war against gays is a leading cause cited for leaving religious affiliation yet Republican politicians across the country - incluging Virginia's governor - are ramping up their attacks on LGBT Americans. Hopefully, this will only serve in the long term to accelerate the death of Christianity in America. That death will be well deserved and self-inflicted.
Sunday, December 25, 2022
Cassidy Hutchinson: A Portrait of Courgae and Morality
Cassidy Hutchinson knew better than to put herself in debt to what she called “Trump world.” As she would later testify, “Once you are looped in, especially financially with them, there is no turning back.”
But Hutchinson, who witnessed the final days of the Trump White House from her all-access perch as an aide to Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, had been subpoenaed by the Jan. 6 select committee. The deadline for turning over documents was looming, and Hutchinson was, she said, “starting to freak out.” One lawyer she consulted said he could assist — then demanded a $150,000 retainer.
So, the young aide, out of work since Donald Trump had left office a full year earlier, initially decided to turn to Trump world for help. Which is how she came to receive a phone call from Stefan Passantino, previously a lawyer in the Trump White House counsel’s office.
“We have you taken care of,” he told Hutchinson. When she asked who would be paying the bills, Passantino demurred — this despite legal ethics rules that let attorneys accept payment from third parties but only with the “informed consent” of their client.
“If you want to know at the end, we’ll let you know, but we’re not telling people where funding is coming from right now,” Hutchinson, in her deposition, recalled him saying. “Like, you’re never going to get a bill for this, so if that’s what you’re worried about.”
If Hutchinson’s live testimony before the select committee was riveting, her deposition testimony, taken several months later and released Thursday, is a page-turner: The Godfather meets John Grisham meets "All the President’s Men." Before, we could only imagine how frightening the situation must have been for the 20-something Trump staffer. Now, we can read of her frantic search for help, and her terror as she contemplated telling the truth.
It is a tale, at least in Hutchinson’s telling, of Trump allies dangling financial support in exchange for unyielding loyalty. “We’re gonna get you a really good job in Trump world. You don’t need to apply other places,” Passantino assured Hutchinson. “We’re gonna get you taken care of. We’re going to keep you in the family.” The goal, as he set it out, was clear: “We just want to focus on protecting the President.”
It’s a story of meek compliance enforced by fear of consequences — and menacing admonitions to remain on board. “They will ruin my life, Mom, if I do anything they don’t want me to do,” Hutchinson told her mother when she offered congratulations about finally securing a lawyer.
The night before her second interview with the committee, an aide to Meadows called Hutchinson about her former boss: “Mark wants me to let you know that he knows you’re loyal and he knows you’ll do the right thing tomorrow and that you’re going to protect him and the boss. You know, he knows that we’re all on the same team and we’re all a family.”
Most vividly, it is a chilling account of questionable legal ethics practiced by Passantino who, in a plot twist worthy of a Hollywood scriptwriter, was the Trump White House’s chief ethics officer. Passantino is depicted repeatedly advising Hutchinson to fall back on an asserted failure to remember anything. “The less you remember, the better.”
Except Hutchinson did remember — and quite a lot. Such as the incident in the presidential limousine, as related to Hutchinson by deputy chief of staff Tony Ornato, in which an enraged Trump allegedly lunged at his lead Secret Service agent when he refused to take the president to the Capitol on Jan. 6.
When Hutchinson mentioned this episode to Passantino shortly before her first interview with the committee, “he’s like, ‘No, no, no, no, no. We don’t want to go there. We don’t want to talk about that.’” . . . . Deposition prep with Passantino seemed confined less to reviewing the facts than to instructing the witness in the art of declining to disclose them. . . . . “He specifically told me, ‘I don’t want you to perjure yourself, but "I don’t recall" isn’t perjury. They don’t know what you can and can’t recall.’”
A week later, appearing before the panel, Hutchinson found herself peppered with questions about the Trump limousine incident. . . . . “I just lied,” a rattled Hutchinson told Passantino during a break. “And he said, ‘They don’t know what you know, Cassidy. They don’t know that you can recall some of these things. So you saying "I don’t recall" is an entirely acceptable response to this.’”
[L]awyers — at least lawyers who want to keep their law license — do not provide the kind of counsel that Hutchinson describes. There is no “overheard” or “I don’t recall” loophole if, in fact, you did hear something and you do remember it. Ominously for Passantino [who has taken a leave of absence from his law firm], the deposition transcript reveals that Hutchinson provided the same information to the Justice Department.
In the end, Hutchinson decided she could not accept such advice and still look at herself in the mirror. So, she dumped Passantino and decided to spill what she knew to congressional investigators.
“To be blunt, I was kind of disgusted with myself,” Hutchinson said. “I became somebody I never thought that I would become.”
To read her deposition is to wonder: What do the others in the Trump crowd see when they look in the mirror?
Lies and immorality were the norm of the Trump regime and the lies continue as does the moral bankruptcy.