When you think Donald Trump should face punishment for seriously bad behavior or revel in it, you might admit that what we have at this moment is a governmental crisis that defies easy expectation.
We know that we have a White House that has no respect for Congress, and a Democratic-majority House that seethes over a president getting away with well, several somethings, if not prosecution. And now, just to show he’s over any challenge, Trump is thumbing his nose at answering any questions from House chairs who want to pursue their Constitutional duty for government oversight.
The result so far, as we saw last week, is to recommend contempt of Congress—and me—for Atty. Gen. William P. Barr. But wait, there are already promises of more for say, former White House lawyer Don McGahn, should he decline a subpoena to testify, or any number of cabinet secretaries who now have the Trump license to tell the House leaders to go pound sand.
No Enforcement Plan
The problem is that no one quite knows what contempt means, other than the obvious malodor of disrepute. As a result, there’s no specific practical plan moving forward to figure out how to enforce contempt, other than to use the phrase as often as humanly possible on cable TV political shows.
So far as we can tell, the attorney general can still go about his business unimpeded, indeed even choosing to ignore the next call from Congress about the Mueller Report, any FBI investigation, his own investigation of the “origins” of the Mueller investigation, or whether to have a Fourth of July party at the Department of Justice.
Generally, the threat of contempt has been enough to goad negotiators into finding some kind of compromise. But not this crowd. If anything, relations between individual Democratic congressional leaders and the White House are worsening.
We cannot expect any viable, public explanations from the White House about immigration policy, about its failure to reunite children from migrant parents, about its campaign to undercut health policies and declare Obamacare illegal and dead, about any lack of gun control policies and school safety, about the effects of deregulation and widened pollution possibilities on the environment, on aid for communities that will suffer increasingly harsh results of climate disruption.
Here are the possibilities:
- Criminal prosecution. Well, that would require referring cases of contempt to the attorney general, who already has shown he is disposed to ignoring factual findings towards prosecution of the current administration. In any case, he is not going to order prosecution of himself.
- Civil court enforcement. This is more possible, but history suggests that such cases would take months or years to settle and that judges are wont to ask the governmental agencies involved to settle their troubles.
- Congressional Jail. It turns out that Congress has a jail, but the prospects of sending a Capitol police officer to arrest the attorney general seems far-fetched. Subjecting a prisoner to C-Span speech excerpts by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and others seems unduly harsh. And in any case, how does this resolve the issues?
- Fines. This seems to hold the most promise. Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), head of the House Intelligence Committee, floated a $25,000 a day fine during an interview with Rachel Maddow. But most cabinet members are millionaires—some billionaires—and such a fine might seem as heavy as say $1 a day for you and me. Perhaps the number should be something sky-high, like $100,000 a day or $100 million a day. By the way, who would collect the money and where would it go? And who pays the bill if it is the White House claiming executive privilege over the testimony—Donald Trump? McGahn? Mueller? Barr?
Thinking Through the Consequences
Any parent knows that before you discipline your kid, you’ve thought through what it might mean to have grounded him or her for a month, and that punishment is not enough to right the original wrong.
In this case, Barr refused to give an unredacted copy of the Mueller report—or about 40 of them—to members of the Judiciary Committee, and he snubbed a subpoena. The next one of these will be telling the Oversight Committee to stick its subpoena or the Intelligence Committee that there is no reason for the individual to appear.
Punishment is effective if it is believable. Solving the problem is even better, however.
The real outrage of the Afghanistan war papers that no one wants to talk about
On Monday, December 9, The Washington Post released a confidential trove of 2,000 pages of government documents that revealed that senior U.S. officials repeatedly failed to tell the truth about the war in Afghanistan. They document in detail a practice of lying, deception and whitewashing that covered up unmistakable evidence that the war had no grand plan, no end in sight and no consistent leadership.
This article first appeared in Salon.
Russia went looking for puppets in America — and they found Trump and the Republicans
The Russians wasted decades infiltrating the left attempting to gain purchase in American political life. There was the Communist Party USA, of course. Established in 1919, the CPUSA grew through the 1930s and boasted a membership of about 100,000 at the beginning of World War II. A hundred thousand! Whoop-de-doo!
This article first appeared in Salon
Then there were the spinoff lefty parties like the Socialist Workers Party, the Progressive Labor Party, the Workers World Party, the Socialist Labor Party, the Progressive Labor Party — we could go on listing one splinter group after another with “socialist” or “labor” or “workers” in its title. They were tiny groups with memberships that were sometimes less than 100, and they would all deny being infiltrated by the Russkies, naturally. So would the “New Left” groups that came later, like SDS and The Weathermen. Nobody wanted to admit they were under Russian influence. Everything they were doing, from opposing the war in Vietnam to civil rights to fighting for free speech, was being done for completely pure reasons.
William Barr made it clear this week that he’d sign off on a sham investigation into the Dems’ 2020 nominee
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.
A perfect storm propelled New York's sleaziest real estate developer to an Electoral College victory in 2016 despite winning three million fewer votes than his opponent, but Nate Silver made a compelling argument that the letter James Comey sent to Congress just 11 days before Election Day announcing that the FBI was re-opening its probe into Hillary Clinton's emails was decisive.