Welcome to another edition of What Fresh Hell?, Raw Story’s roundup of news items that might have become controversies under another regime, but got buried – or were at least under-appreciated – due to the daily firehose of political pratfalls, unhinged tweet storms and other sundry embarrassments coming out of the current White House.
I’m just a simple country columnist, so maybe someone a bit more sophisticated can help me understand why impeaching the most unpopular president* in the modern polling era–for real crimes and not on some contrived partisan charges–would lead to a public backlash and propel Trump to a second term? I must be missing something.
I get that impeaching Bill Clinton didn’t work out well for the GOP. At the end of the process, Bubba had the highest approval rating of his presidency and the Republican brand was like New Coke. But they did OK in subsequent elections. And according to Gallup, when the Starr Report dropped—just before they impeached him–Clinton’s net approval rating was +29 (63% approval-34% disapproval). Throughout the previous year, his approval rating had fallen below 60% in just three of the 19 surveys Gallup conducted.
And they impeached Clinton for lying about sex, which, let’s face it, most adults have done at some point in their lives. Of course there was a backlash.
Now, Donald J. Trump is a different story. On the 15th day of his presidency, his net approval rating in FiveThirtyEight’s polling average dropped into negative territory and has stayed there ever since. On his best day in the past year, 43% of the public approved of his job performance and 52% disapproved. But the real story has been in his “strongly approve” and “strongly disapprove” numbers, with the latter consistently polling around twice as high as the former.
When Attorney General Bill Barr made his first attempt to cover up released his summary of the Mueller report and the media initially ran with the regime’s “total exoneration” storyline, only a third of the public, Trump’s cultists, bought it. So help me understand where this mass of people who might rally to his defense are supposed to be coming from? His die-hard base is going to turn out next year regardless.
Richard Nixon also had solid approval ratings when his crimes came to light, but the process of holding impeachment hearings turned public opinion 180 degrees against him. That’s a better analogy, no? He went down for obstructing justice.
Robert Mueller’s team found 10 incidents in which Trump did the same. Mueller believed it exceeded his authority to say the President committed crimes, but he analyzed the incidents according to the DOJ’s three-pronged legal framework. First, would an act impede an investigation or judicial process? Second, was the act connected to an ongoing investigation or judicial process? And finally, was there evidence that it was Trump’s intent to impede an investigation or judicial process? Eight of the acts Mueller analyzed satisfied all three criteria. In other words, anyone other than the president would have been charged with eight counts of obstruction. And the same can be said of witness tampering, campaign finance violations and other offenses.
Some parts of this are simple:
The Mueller Report and James Comey’s testimony under oath both document Trump ordering illegal prosecution of political opponents.
That is huge.
Comey and Sessions resisted.
If Trump gets away with it, what happens if there’s a next time?
— Ari Melber (@AriMelber) April 19, 2019
Robert Mueller concluded that it was Congress’s job to uphold the law when it’s violated by the president. His report is an impeachment referral. Every member of Congress swore an oath to uphold the Constitution, and they don’t have many tools available to them to do so. Impunity always breeds more lawlessness.
And with that, let’s move on to this week’s roundup…
Impunity always breeds more lawlessness…
In the general counsel’s office at D.H.S., a department official told me, “there’s a view now that we should be pushing the legal limits,” bc “we’re going to win at the Supreme Court.” My latest @NewYorker on the chaos at DHS & unbridled ambitions at WH: https://t.co/PGCK8ikxZu
— Jonathan Blitzer (@JonathanBlitzer) April 17, 2019
Speaking of impunity, last week, Trump’s Justice Department “adopted a narrow interpretation of a law meant to bar foreign interests from corrupting federal officials, giving Saudi Arabia, China and other countries leeway to curry favor with Donald Trump via deals with his hotels, condos, trademarks and golf courses,” according to The Guardian.
If Trump manages to pocket half a percent from a billion-plus dollar campaign, plus fringe benefits from official GOP, Super PAC, and other 2020-related favor currying events, he is going to gross 8 figures from his reelect. It’s flagrant, vulgar grifting. https://t.co/w97NlWDQUD
— Brian Beutler (@brianbeutler) April 16, 2019
Remember Ryan Zinke, the disgraced former Interior Secretary whose conflicts of interest were so blatant that even Donald trump was like, ‘whoa dude, ixnay on the iftgray’? This week, he landed a sweet gig on the board of directors of US Gold Corp., which owns the Copper King gold-copper project in Wyoming and the Keystone project in Nevada’s Cortez Trend.
Also this week, the Interior Department’s Inspector General opened an ethics probe into Zinke’s successor, David Bernhardt. Bernhardt is a former oil lobbyist who “played a central role in writing policies designed to advance President Trump’s policy of ‘energy dominance’ and expanding fossil fuel exploration,” according to The NYT, which noted that “he has been dogged by allegations of ethics violations since joining the Trump administration.”
DOE officials announced at the @CoalCouncil‘s spring meeting that the government will take an initial step in its Coal FIRST Initiative by funding 13 projects aimed to start research and development of the proposed so-called coal plants of the future. https://t.co/7mTbPXarf7
— Ellie Potter (@potter_ellie) April 15, 2019
One more grifty story. Last august, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell took to the Senate floor to praise a little-known startup called Braidy Industries.
This week, Russian Oligarch Oleg Deripaska announced plans to invest $200 million to build a new aluminum plant in McConnell’s home state of Kentucky. It will be the biggest new aluminum plant to be built in the US for a generation or two.
CNN reported that Deripaska’s company, Rusal, “will take a 40% stake in the project, which is led by US startup Braidy Industries.”
Three months ago, Trump lifted sanctions on Oleg Deripaska and Rusal. According to Newsweek, “McConnell was among the advocates for lifting sanctions on Rusal, arguing that the deal with Treasury would maintain pressure on Deripaska personally without disrupting global aluminum supplies.”
Nothing to see here, folks. Move along.
“For the third time in three years, the United States’ standing in an annual index of press freedom declined, a result the report’s authors attributed to President Trump’s anti-press rhetoric and continuing threats to journalists.” More on that at The WaPo.
What did Trump see on Fox and Friends that might account for this one, via The NYT?
Trump on Friday abruptly reversed American policy toward Libya, issuing a statement publicly endorsing an aspiring strongman in his battle to depose the United Nations-backed government.
The would-be strongman, Khalifa Hifter, launched a surprise attack on the Libyan capital, Tripoli, more than two weeks ago. Relief agencies said Thursday that more than 200 people had been killed in the battle, and in recent days Mr. Hifter’s forces have started shelling civilian neighborhoods.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement a few days after Mr. Hifter’s militia began its attack that “the administration at the highest levels” had made clear that “we oppose the military offensive” and “urge the immediate halt to these military operations.” Most Western governments and the United Nations have also condemned the attack and demanded a retreat.
Mr. Trump, however, told Mr. Hifter almost the opposite, the White House said Friday….
Analysts said Mr. Trump’s endorsement would embolden Mr. Hifter and hamper United Nations efforts to call for a cease-fire.
Perhaps a savvy reporter could get some insight into this sudden policy shift from the Pentagon.
On May 31st it will be ONE YEAR since a Pentagon spokesperson briefed on camera to the press. Combat ops in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Somalia, ships at sea, tensions with North Korea, China, Russia, Iran, suicides, moldy mil housing. Will there be a sudden new spox? https://t.co/QeJmYNeNGh
— Barbara Starr (@barbarastarrcnn) April 17, 2019
Our long-read of the week is Nicholas Confessore’s deep dive into how Mick Mulvaney, who is both Trump’s Chief of Staff and his illegitimate director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, is “destroying democracy from within.”
And this week’s good news is that “the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals dealt another blow to President Donald Trump’s immigration agenda on Thursday, rejecting the administration’s bid to block two California ‘sanctuary’ laws that limit local cooperation with federal immigration enforcement efforts.” More on that from The Sacramento Bee.