OK, imagine for a moment that you are Donald Trump and you want to strike back at a Congress, at the FBI, at the Deep State and fully half the country for having the temerity to challenge you. I know, you don’t want to put yourself in that situation, but it seems necessary to try it out just to prepare for the retaliation program that is headed our way.
Normally, you’d have to worry just a bit about what is legal. But that limitation has been taken away with a Senate acquittal vote that ratifies a blank check for the presidency. Basically, Donald Trump is moving early post-impeachment to prove that Congress can go climb a tree as far as he is concerned for limits.
As an early demonstration, on Trump’s behalf two Senate committees have asked Treasury and State for official records on an individual’s travels. Of course, in this case it is Hunter Biden, from years past, and unlike Congress’ requests for Trump’s own records—stalled over personal privacy issues--Team Trump is falling all over itself to comply quickly.
Then too, there are limits that usually come with the dignity of the Oval Office, a kind of reflection of accepted official presidential behavior. But that, too, has been removed.
So, hearing Trump lumping several investigations together, call the work “bullshit” from the White House lectern is now a reflection of his independence from swampy protestations rather than crude disregard for the office.
Lastly, there are limits that any president might find useful, for his or her own purposes, to ensure that no unintended harm arises from the retaliatory measures that the Oval Office wants to deliver. But Trump lacks self-restraint, and listens only to his egotistical gut.
An early illustration of this lack of limit is the reassignment of Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the National Security Council staffer on Ukraine who has advised on actual policy-making in Europe, over his testimony before the House in calling out the un-rejected facts that Trump was running a shakedown plot in an effort to unearth political dirt on Joe Biden from the Ukraine. Clearly Vindman isn’t going to testify again, what is the point of moving him out, other than revenge? Presumably the security council had benefited from his work previously.
Almost needless to say, the campaign to bag Vindman, his twin brother, and, eventually the original whistleblower, run counter to the spirit, if not text of federal law and an independent military.
In other words, in building his enemies list and retribution targets, Trump already is reflecting a lack of thoughtful or effective attacks against enemies.
Trump is pursuing payback as an end in itself, the mark of a bully.
Were I to be advising Trump in his reelection effort, I would be telling him to seek “retribution” by promoting a series of legislative moves that would put Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Democrats in a box. I would tell him to come up with a health care plan now, an attack on prescription drug prices, a comprehensive approach to immigration and an understandable economic incentive program, including infrastructure projects.
Doing so would force Democrats into having to declare that they either support such legislation, which would defang much about what only can be achieved through replacing him in the White House, or would force Democrats to defend more unpopular programming.
Of course, this is, well, bullshit, as Trump would now call it. Instead, expect election challenges, not-so-clean social media campaigns that stretch the truth, coarse insults, withholding of government aid – an array of government-fueled attacks that could extend to Justice Department investigations and criminal investigation.
His interest is not in devising plans that might be described as clever or even intelligent. He wants to steamroller his declared opponents, ridiculing them as individuals, and making sure that every member of Congress knows and believes that Trump can ruin their personal and professional lives. His retribution is exactly the kind of victimization that he claims as his own through investigation of his own bad behaviors in the White House.
It wasn’t Pelosi, Adam Schiff and Jerrold Nadler who ran a rogue campaign for personal political gain towards the 2020 election. It wasn’t James Comey and the hated few in the FBI who invented unwarranted contacts with Russian operatives seeking undue influence in the last election. It hasn’t been ambassadors and national security staff who organized plots to skirt Constitutional limits on the presidency. But they the targets.
California and other states already were protecting various health programs, fuel efficiency standards and immigration rules as Team Trump has moved to declare Obamacare void, or eliminate environmental and immigration regulations. Trump talks of “bipartisanship” only if it means the other party agreeing with him. Otherwise, you are eligible for partisan attack.
Rep. Steve Scalise, R-LA, the House Whip who is a Trump loyalist, put into words what the goal is: In an interview on Fox’s Sean Hannity, Scalise said that those who allegedly abused power in investigating Trump's 2016 election should be sent to prison. Scalise noted that federal prosecutor John Durham is looking anew at the origins of the Russia investigation with a wider purview than an inspector general would have. "People need to be held accountable. They abuse their power to literally try to take down a candidate for president of the United States. People ought to go to jail," he said.
That, of course, has little to do with the specifics of the impeachment process, but it illustrates what is at stake.
At the same time, Atty. Gen. William P. Barr also issued an order that no investigation of 2020 candidates can proceed without his personal approval – and naturally, that of Donald Trump, whom Barr views by his actions as a client. It feels blatantly political.
Sen. Mitt Romney, R-UT, is a target for voicing and voting what many other Republican senators said in private or in part, that while opposing removal from office, Trump ran afoul of the Constitution. So, in TrumpWorld, Romney needs to pay, presumably with exile an effective politician. John Bolton, the former national security adviser, John F. Kelley Jr., the former chief of staff, even Mike Mulvaney, the current acting chief of staff, all made unsupportive remarks during impeachment, so they need to go, or, in Bolton’s case, face possible criminal review for referencing information Trump belatedly sees as classified.
Meanwhile, we’re looking away from contacts that Rep. Devin Nunes, R-CA, the ranking member the House Intelligence Committee, had with Lev Parnas, Rudy Giuliani’s henchman in the Ukraine. We’re looking away from Giuliani himself as to whether he aided in violating campaign finance laws or inviting foreign interference in elections. We’re ignoring Trump’s own family as we look to cruicify Hunter Biden for taking an offered no-show board job for Ukrainian company Burisma while his dad was vice president.
In the kingdom of Trump, there is only one judge and jury, based soley on what is good for the king, even if it leads to bad, if unintended results.