With new subpoenas, Jan. 6 committee closes in on its ultimate target: Donald Trump

Lawyers, investigative reporters and congressional committees have one thing in common: They like to ask questions they already know the answer to. That's the big takeaway from the four subpoenas issued by the House committee investigating the assault on the Capitol on Jan. 6 of last year. On Tuesday, the committee subpoenaed former Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani; former Michael Flynn lawyer and "election fraud" conspiracy theorist Sidney Powell; former Trump legal adviser and evangelical law professor Jenna Ellis; and former Trump adviser and TV commentator Boris Epshteyn. If this committee's investigation is being run like many others I've followed over the years, they already have the answers to most of the questions they plan on posing to all four of these witnesses.

This article first appeared in Salon.

I realize that everyone they just subpoenaed is a "former" of one kind or another, but that's where the committee is now as it closes in on people close to Trump who were involved in the events leading up to the assault on the Capitol last year. The committee has already subpoenaed a long list of Trump acolytes, hangers-on, former administration officials and former White House employees, including such luminaries as Roger Stone, Steve Bannon, Alex Jones, Mark Meadows and Dan Scavino, the former White House director of communications.

RELATED: Jan. 6 committee to investigate Trump's calls to allies at Willard Hotel before Capitol riot

That's just the tip of a rather large iceberg. The committee has issued 60 subpoenas, interviewed about 400 witnesses and obtained more than 50,000 pages of documents in its six-month investigation of the Capitol insurrection. Some of the witnesses who didn't appear voluntarily and had to be subpoenaed by the committee include:

  • Ali Alexander, an organizer of the "Stop the Steal" rally on Jan. 5.
  • Amy Kremer, founder and chair of Women for America First, involved in planning for the Jan. 6 rally on the Ellipse, where Trump, Giuliani and many others spoke.
  • Tim Unes, listed on Parks Department paperwork for the Jan. 6 rally as "stage manager."
  • Taylor Budowich, who organized radio and social media advertising for the Ellipse rally, and is now employed as Trump's primary spokesman and communications director for Trump's Save America PAC.
  • Ed Martin, an organizer of the "Stop the Steal" movement and fundraiser for the Jan. 6 rally.

And here's where it gets interesting: There are more than 300 other people who appeared voluntarily and have testified to committee investigators under oath, including at least a dozen former White House employees, some of whom were questioned for as long as five or six hours.

Under oath. Remember those words. All of the 400 people interviewed by the committee have done so under oath. That means they were subject to federal criminal charges for perjury, which means there is real pressure on them to provide truthful answers. At least some of the witnesses who appeared voluntarily also provided at least a portion of the 50,000 documents the committee has assembled, which would give even more credence to their testimony.

It was after hearing testimony for over six months that the committee issued its subpoenas to Giuliani, Powell, Ellis and Epshteyn on Tuesday. Giuliani and Epshteyn are known to have been in the "war room" at the Willard Hotel on Jan. 5, the night before the assault on the Capitol. Committee Chair Bennie Thompson announced that the committee already knows that Epshteyn was on a phone call with Trump on the morning of Jan. 6, which means that they were informed of this by another witness. See what I mean about investigators already knowing the answers to questions they intend to ask certain witnesses?

If I were Epshteyn or Giuliani or any of the others, I would be very worried right now. Let me assure you, as a longtime observer of these kinds of investigations, including Watergate, it is never a good sign if you are among the last of the witnesses to be subpoenaed by an investigative committee or a prosecutor. That means that they have already talked to everybody under, across and around you under oath, and you can count on the fact that they have already assembled volumes of information on your activities. Which means it would be a very bad idea to give false testimony, because the investigators you will be talking to already have the truth at their fingertips in the form of testimony by previous witnesses and documents already submitted to the committee.

Because the Supreme Court denied Donald Trump's claim of executive privilege on Wednesday, the committee will now have yet another trove of official documents, visitor lists, call logs, talking points and plans to challenge electoral ballots before they question Giuliani and his compatriots. White House documents released by the National Archives will also produce names of new witnesses the committee will want to question. One document received by the committee, and published by Politico on Friday, exposed a fantastical plan to use the military to seize voting machines and electoral records in all 50 states and have them "analyzed and assessed" by the — get this — director of national intelligence. It was, in effect, a plan for a military coup using a "national security emergency" as a pretext — the "emergency" apparently being Trump's loss in the election.

If the whole thing with the recently subpoenaed witnesses sounds like a trap, that's because it is. Investigators for the Jan. 6 committee are lying in wait for any lies Giuliani and the other witnesses might tell to cover up what they did in the days and weeks preceding the assault on the Capitol. In fact, it may be that the committee doesn't really need the testimony of Giuliani and Powell and the rest of the "elite strike force team" of legal eagles who filed and lost at least 60 lawsuits challenging the results of the 2020 election in battleground states. The committee has those lawsuits, as well as the judicial decisions either dismissing them or finding in favor of the defendants. They already have access to a voluminous record of the falsehoods in those lawsuits, all the phony "affidavits" filed on behalf of Trump and his campaign, all the false charges against Dominion Voting Systems and other outfits which have now dragged Sidney Powell and Rudy Giuliani into court to face charges that they defamed that company and others, charges which have at least temporarily cost Giuliani his law license and clearly threaten the law licenses of Powell and others.

Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland, a Democrat who sits on the Jan. 6 committee and is a former prosecutor, was quoted last week saying that the upcoming hearings, likely to begin later this month or early next month, "will blow the roof off the House." I'm beginning to believe it. The problem that Donald Trump and his aides like Mark Meadows and his "elite strike force team" of lawyers and the rest of them have is that lies are not advisable when you are testifying under oath. All the lies they have told since Nov. 3, 2020, about how Joe Biden "stole" the election from Trump won't hold up under the weight of thousands of pages of documents and phone records and text messages and all the other stuff from the National Archives and the documents already submitted to the committee, and they won't hold up in the face of sworn testimony by former White House aides and members of the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys charged with conspiracy who have already flipped and have been interviewed by prosecutors investigating the assault on the Capitol.

I don't have any evidence for this, but based on what I saw during Watergate and other major investigations I have followed, I would place a large bet that there is a pipeline between the Department of Justice and the Jan. 6 committee, and evidence has been flowing in both directions for months now.

When the committee, and the Department of Justice for that matter, get to the point that they're issuing subpoenas to people who were regularly in the room with the president during the days and weeks leading up to the assault on the Capitol, I would be very, very worried if I were the ultimate target of both investigations. The lid may be getting ready to come off the House of Representatives, but down at Mar-a-Lago, the roof is falling in on Trump's House of Lies.

Donald Trump should be very afraid: This anniversary was not good news for him

Donald Trump must have awoken on the morning of Jan. 6 last year with a terrible sense of foreboding. It was the day his nemesis, Joe Biden, was scheduled to be certified as the winner of the presidential election. He had spent two whole months, November and December, trying to forestall what was going to happen that day. We now know from reporting on the period after the election that he didn't do anything except play golf and talk to his outside lawyers, like Rudy Giuliani, and outside advisers, like Steve Bannon, about possible ways the results of the election could be overturned.

This article first appeared in Salon.

He spoke with Bannon on Dec. 29 from Mar-a-Lago. Bannon told Trump he had to return from Florida and be present in Washington to prepare the ground for what they had planned for Jan. 6. This meant he would have to skip his big annual New Year's Eve celebration at his club in Palm Beach, no small matter in the world of Donald Trump, who loves to be surrounded with adoring fans who have paid big money to be in his presence. But Bannon pushed him and pushed him hard. He had to work on Mike Pence. He had to pay attention to the memos written by another of his outside lawyers, John Eastman, laying out in two scenarios how Pence — who would preside over the joint session of Congress on Jan. 6 — could refuse to certify the electoral votes from battleground states and throw the election into the House of Representatives, where, as one memo delightedly declares, in all caps, "TRUMP WINS."

Trump had been after Pence to help him overturn the election for weeks. On Jan. 5, he cornered Pence in the Oval Office and called Eastman, who was in the "war room" in the Willard Hotel across the street, and the two of them pressured Pence to refuse to certify enough electoral ballots from states like Arizona and Pennsylvania and Michigan such that neither Trump nor Biden, would have achieved the 270 electoral votes necessary to win. Supposedly, in that scenario, the ballots would be returned to the states where the Republican-led legislatures would convene and appoint new slates of electors and, again in all caps, "TRUMP WINS."

RELATED: Ex-Trump aide Peter Navarro says 100 House members were "ready" to carry out election coup

According to Bob Woodward and Robert Costa's book "Peril," which uncovered the Eastman memos and provides the bulk of the reporting on what transpired between Trump and Pence, the vice president demurred during that Jan. 5 Oval Office meeting with Trump. The next morning, Pence spoke to the conservative retired judge J. Michael Luttig, who had been Eastman's boss in the Justice Department, about a letter he would release later that day. Following the legal advice of Luttig, as well as that of another conservative lawyer, John Yoo, Pence wrote that "my considered judgement [is] that my oath to support and defend the Constitution constrains me from claiming unilateral authority to determine which electoral votes should be counted and which should not."

According to "Peril," Pence remained at the vice president's residence in the Naval Observatory on the morning of the 6th and did not go to the White House. Trump had begun tweeting veiled threats directed at Pence at 1 a.m. and continued at 8:17 a.m. with this: "All Mike Pence has to do is send them back to the States, AND WE WIN. Do it Mike, this is a time for extreme courage!" But Pence went straight from his home to the Capitol, leaving Trump in the Oval Office making his final preparations for the rally on the Ellipse, which he had advertised with a December tweet: "Be there. Will be wild!"

Woodward and Costa made a valedictory tour of the cable shows on Thursday, appearing on "Morning Joe" and later the same day on "The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell." Woodward displayed his own copy of the Eastman memos on the air and referred several times to another sheaf of papers he described as a file of research from the office of Sen. Lindsey Graham that showed no evidence whatsoever of election fraud. Liz Cheney appeared on CNN, telling Jake Tapper: "'The president of the United States is responsible for ensuring the laws are faithfully executed; he's responsible for the security of the branches. So for the president to, either through his action or inaction, for example, attempt to impede or obstruct the counting of electoral votes, which is an official function of Congress, the committee is looking at that, whether what he did constitutes that kind of a crime. But certainly it's dereliction of duty."

Cheney has talked about possible crimes committed by Trump on or around Jan. 6 before, but it was Woodward's appearance on MSNBC that really caught my attention. I've been a sort of Woodward tea-leaf reader since the Watergate days, throughout his various tomes on presidents as the years have passed. What has always amazed me about Woodward has been his almost congenital refusal to draw conclusions from the extensive reporting he's done on presidents and their administrations. He'll interview them and come up with extraordinary quotes and documentary evidence, but all he ever does is present it without comment. He has been called a "stenographer" for good reason, because of his reluctance or outright refusal to analyze or draw conclusions from some of the groundbreaking revelations he has reported over the years.

But not this week. Brandishing handfuls of documents and looking as animated as I've ever seen him, Woodward made repeated charges that what Trump had done in attempting to overthrow the election of 2020 was "a crime against the Constitution." I'm not going to review my Woodward library on a quote-hunt, but I'm pretty sure it's the first time I've ever heard him accuse a president or former president of a crime.

I'm dwelling on Woodward's recent appearances on television for a reason. Ever since his famous work on Watergate, he has made a point of not reporting anything unless he's confirmed it with multiple sources or has seen it written in a document he has in his possession. For that reason, Woodward has always known a lot more than he has written. He's not necessarily withholding information from his readers, he is simply meticulous about what he feels he can report as true and what he can't. In his appearances on television, he always seems beyond buttoned-up. He's clearly a guy who's not just careful about what he says, but obsessively so.

Not on the anniversary of Jan. 6. Bob Woodward looked like he was about to burst, holding out his sheafs of documents like they were tablets that had been passed down to him on a mountain. Woodward is reticent. He is careful. But he also reflects very accurately what the Washington establishment is thinking and talking about amongst themselves — the behind the scenes chatter of the "permanent government," if you will.

Watching him on TV and reading my Bob Woodward tea leaves, it looked to me on Thursday that he has heard talk from friends and sources amounting to more than rumor — that Trump is going to end up charged with a felony, or multiple felonies. He made clear that he thinks the House Jan. 6 committee is being thorough, almost to a fault, in the way they're going about their investigation of the events before, during and after the day itself. Woodward is a Washington Whisperer par excellence. He's been at it for almost 50 years. He is one of the least excitable guys I've ever met. But on Thursday, as he was being interviewed by Lawrence O'Donnell, he looked like he was about to levitate out of his chair.

That's why for Donald Trump, Jan. 6 this year was even worse than Jan. 6 last year. As Richard Nixon discovered, when Bob Woodward says you're in trouble, you've really got something to worry about.

The American Mao: Donald Trump has led the Republican Party into a cultural revolution

There is only one truth: the truth of the party. And the party is Donald Trump.

That's what it's come down to, folks. The Republican Party has been effectively transformed into a doppelgänger of the Chinese Communist Party, with its own version of Chairman Mao Zedong at its head — and the first thing on the Party agenda is a purge.

It started soon after Trump lost the election last November. Who was out? Anyone who refused to help facilitate the Big Lie was pushed out by the Republicans' Maximum Leader. Brad Raffensberger, the Republican secretary of state in Georgia, who turned down Trump's plea to "find" 11,000-plus votes so he could flip the election in that state. Out. Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, another Republican who didn't sign onto the Big Lie with enough enthusiasm to please the Maximum Leader: Out. Trump tweeted on Dec. 30 (when he still had a Twitter account), "@BrianKempGA should resign from office. He is an obstructionist who refuses to admit that we won Georgia, BIG!"

CNN described Trump's purge campaign this way: "Trump has taken his involvement in 2022 Republican primaries to a new level as he works to permanently mold the GOP in his image. Beyond Trump's public efforts to oust Republican incumbents he considers disloyal, he has quietly tried to clear potential GOP threats to his endorsed candidates and encouraged others to run against his enemies."

The Maximum Leader is endorsing candidates running against any Republican who voted to impeach him, most prominently Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, who has taken a lead role in the investigation by the House Select Committee on the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. She has already been stripped of her leadership position in the Republican House Caucus and was censured by the Wyoming Republican Party.

RELATED: "It's basically the Titanic": Republican dissent grows louder as GOP preps for a NeverTrump purge

Trump has moved on around the country, endorsing people he considers loyalists even when they come laden with baggage, as with his endorsement of former NFL star Herschel Walker in next year's Georgia Senate race, even though Walker was accused during a divorce of "physically abusive and extremely threatening behavior," including threatening his ex-wife with a pistol and knives. In the race for Pennsylvania's open Senate seat, Trump endorsed Sean Parnell despite similar allegations in a divorce filing that Parnell was physically abusive to his wife and children. (Parnell recently suspended his campaign after a judge awarded his ex-wife primary physical custody and sole legal custody of their children.)

Back in Georgia, the Maximum Leader has also endorsed former Sen. David Perdue to run against Kemp in the Republican primary for governor. Perdue lost his race for re-election to the Senate to Democrat Jon Ossoff in a January runoff.

In Alabama, Trump is said to be considering backing a challenger to Republican Gov. Kay Ivey, in retaliation for her decision denying his request to hold a 2020 campaign rally at the USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park. He is also backing Rep. Mo Brooks in his campaign for the open Senate seat in Alabama. Brooks has been a fierce backer of Trump and a super-spreader of the Big Lie, and appeared with the Maximum Leader at his Jan. 6 rally on the Ellipse, where he helped rile up the crowd before the assault on the Capitol.

Possibly the best thing that ever happened to Fox News was Twitter's permanent suspension of Trump's account two days after the assault on the Capitol. With the Maximum Leader no longer able to address his followers directly, he became dependent on Fox as his chief propaganda arm.

It happened just in time, because after Fox News became the first network to announce that Biden had won the state of Arizona in the November election, many Fox viewers became so angry that they had fled almost immediately to even further-right outlets such as Newsmax and the OAN network. On Dec. 8, 2020, Newsmax achieved a ratings win over Fox News for the first time, when "Greg Kelly Reports" on Newsmax beat "The Story with Martha MacCallum" on Fox in the 7 p.m. news slot. By March of this year, a public opinion poll by Fabrizio, Lee & Associates showed that Fox had lost viewers to both Newsmax and OAN, although the network remained far ahead of both right-wing rivals in the overall ratings.

Want a daily wrap-up of all the news and commentary Salon has to offer? Subscribe to our morning newsletter, Crash Course.

Panicked at the prospect of losing the Trump base, Fox News threw itself into the arms of the Maximum Leader and unleashed its dogs, encouraging its star evening hosts to go all-in on spreading the Big Lie that Trump was the "true" winner of the 2020 election. Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham took their shows even further to the right than usual. Carlson produced a special called "Patriot Purge," which premiered in early November on the network's new streaming service, Fox Nation. The three-part series attempts to make the case for the entirely concocted premise that the Capitol assault was not carried out by Trump supporters but was a "false flag" operation run by the FBI, antifa and other shadowy forces.

Most recently, there was the release of text messages sent to Mark Meadows by Fox stars Hannity, Ingraham and "Fox & Friends" host Brian Kilmeade, asking the then-White House chief of staff to get Trump to call off the insurrection and send his followers home. After that news hit the headlines, the Fox hosts reacted like they'd been bitten by a rabid hedgehog, denying that their texts had said what they said and pledging lifetime fealty to the Maximum Leader.

Two prominent figures in the world of Fox News recently resigned in protest of Carlson's "Patriot Purge" series: Jonah Goldberg and Stephen Hayes. Last Sunday, Fox host Chris Wallace announced he was leaving the network for CNN's new streaming service, CNN+. But none of the three really left of their own accord. They were purged. They weren't sufficiently Trumpian. In a Wednesday column, Goldberg said he was leaving because he couldn't take the lies and hypocrisy, describing a culture within the network where Fox hosts would "say one thing to my face or in my presence and another thing when the cameras and microphones were flipped on." Everyone at Fox News knew what had happened on Jan. 6, Goldberg implied. It was their lies "over the 11 months that followed" that drove him out.

This is what a cultural revolution looks like. First comes a purge of all opponents or even doubters of the Maximum Leader, followed by a purification of the Party in his name. In China, the Cultural Revolution lasted from 1966 until the death of Mao Zedong in 1976 and was aimed at removing Mao's rivals in the Party, government, schools and workplaces. Mao insisted that those disloyal to the Party should be removed by violent class struggle, symbolized by his call to "bombard the headquarters," including local government buildings, party headquarters, schools and colleges. Books that were determined to run counter to Mao's teachings were burned. Scholars, professors and government bureaucrats were sent into what amounted to in-country exile in re-education and work camps.

All you have to do is subtract the word "camps" to describe what the Republican Party is doing right now around this country. They are banning books in Texas and elsewhere. They are collecting petitions to run recall elections against school board members guilty of teaching what they see as "anti-white" subjects in schools, by which they mean the actual history of slavery, segregation and Jim Crow. In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis just proposed an "anti-Woke" law allowing parents to sue local school boards if they feel their children are being taught the mythical subject "critical race theory." That proposal is based on the Texas anti-abortion law that recently went into effect allowing random citizens to sue anyone who facilitates an abortion after six weeks of pregnancy. In both Florida and Texas, what amounts to cadres of vigilantes are being established to enforce the Party's will on the populace — in this case, the will of the Republican Party.

RELATED: Ron DeSantis escalates his authoritarian purge: GOP bounty hunters are the next frontier

Every time a Republican stands up and points out that the emperor has no clothes, the Party destroys him or her. Which makes you wonder, how long will it be before you don't have to be a Republican to be purged and have your career destroyed? When will it come to pass that if you speak anti-Trump thoughts or write anti-Trump articles or attend anti-Trump rallies or even — God help us — cast anti-Trump votes, you will put yourself in danger of losing your job?

Mao unleashed the Cultural Revolution to destroy naysayers and enemies of the Party. Stalin created the Gulag as an instrument of political repression to accomplish the same thing. More than 18 million supposed opponents of the Communist Party were consigned to the camps between 1930 and 1953, the year of Stalin's death.

Notice that in both cases, the Maximum Leader had to die himself before his campaign of political repression, punishment and death was ended.

Both the Soviet Union and China had to go through a process of self-correction after decades of political repression, thought control, re-education and murder. The Russian self-correction eventually led to the bankruptcy and breakup of the Soviet Union. The self-correction in China led to the abandonment of communism in all but name and the remaking of the country as a capitalist economy under centralized state control. Neither country today looks anything like it looked under the Maximum Leaders who brought them down.

In this country, the Republican Party is "Republican" in name only and seems incapable of self-correction. It would have to throw off the bonds of Donald Trump and his lies in order to even begin to come to its senses. It may be the case that there are doubters in the Party ranks, or people who not only should know better but do know better. But unless they can raise objections without facing political death, the Republican Party's cultural revolution will continue, if past is prologue, until the Maximum Leader dies.

Is it Watergate yet?

it happened twice on Tuesday, and one person was involved both times: Liz Cheney. The House Jan. 6 committee has been moving in the same direction the Watergate investigation moved for a while now, but the thing with Mark Meadows' text messages is what turned the corner. Cheney took center stage the way Sen. Howard Baker gained the spotlight during the Senate Watergate hearings in the summer of 1973 when he asked his famous question: "What did the president know, and when did he know it?"

Baker's question was prompted by the testimony of former White House counsel John Dean, who had just blown the roof off the Senate hearing room when he testified that he discussed the cover-up of the Watergate burglary with Richard Nixon at least 35 times. Cheney's question was apparently prompted by the revelation of a series of texts between former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and several members of Congress on Jan. 6 as the assault on the Capitol was underway. "We know hours passed with no action by the president to defend the Congress of the United States from an assault while we were trying to count electoral votes," Ms. Cheney stated grimly. "Mr. Meadows's testimony will bear on a key question in front of this committee: Did Donald Trump, through action or inaction, corruptly seek to obstruct or impede Congress's official proceeding to count electoral votes?"

Cheney's question was more pointed than Baker's, but in both cases it was as if these conservative lawmakers from the same party as the man under investigation found themselves flabbergasted that they would be wondering whether the president of the United States had committed a crime while in office, and just as amazed that the question would arise at more or less the same point in the investigation.

RELATED: Jan. 6 PowerPoint reveals many more Republicans were in on Trump's coup plot

At the time they asked their questions, Baker and Cheney had access to more information than that which was provided to the public. Dean had been questioned for days by the Watergate committee's staff of lawyers and investigators before he took the oath and began his testimony in full view of the entire country — the hearings were being covered live by all three major television networks, something impossible to imagine today.

In the case of Mark Meadows, staff lawyers and investigators for the Jan. 6 committee have interviewed, under oath, some 300 witnesses and gone through tens of thousands of pages of evidence that has been provided to the committee. At the time Cheney asked her bombshell question on the floor of the House on Tuesday, we had been informed that Meadows exchanged texts with several Fox News hosts as well as Donald Trump Jr., all of whom were trying to get Meadows to influence the president to call off the assault on the Capitol. Cheney read several texts written by lawmakers who were cowering in their offices off the floors of the House and Senate chambers trying to convince Meadows to do the same thing.

Cheney has clearly seen other texts that she didn't read out loud during the debate over whether to hold Meadows in contempt, and she has not named the lawmakers who sent them. But her question indicates that at least some of the testimony they have taken from witnesses, and other texts she has seen from lawmakers, indicate that the committee has concluded there was a conspiracy between Donald Trump and lawmakers from one or both sides of the Capitol to disrupt the counting of electoral ballots and possibly to influence several battleground states to change their slates of electors from Joe Biden to Trump.

All of that is speculation at this point, but it's important to remember that investigations like Watergate and the assault on the Capitol largely don't unfold in the light of day. Here's how the New York Times framed it on Wednesday: "In closed-door interviews held in a nondescript federal office building near the Capitol, Ms. Cheney has emerged as a leader and central figure on the panel, known for drilling down into the details of the assignment she views as the most important of her political career. She is well-versed in the criminal code and often uses language borrowed from it to make clear she believes the former president and others face criminal exposure."

According to the Times, Cheney has also "pressed to assemble a team of former intelligence analysts and law enforcement specialists on the committee's staff, some of them Republicans — a move that bolstered the committee's bipartisan bona fides."

The Watergate committee staff had its offices in an unoccupied movie theater on Capitol Hill a short distance from the Senate hearing room. The floor of the theater had been transformed into cubicle-like spaces with temporary overhead fluorescent lighting where the staff worked. David Dorsen and Terry Lenzner, the two deputies to Sam Dash, the chief Democratic counsel to the committee, shared an office behind the curtain on the stage of the theater.

Want a daily wrap-up of all the news and commentary Salon has to offer? Subscribe to our morning newsletter, Crash Course.

I know this because I used to travel from New York to Washington to meet with Lenzner and Dorsen in mostly futile attempts to glean non-public information from the committee's investigation. That's the way reporting on one of these investigations goes: you run around and do as much reporting as you can and gather information on the subject at hand, and then one of the places you use to check the veracity of the information is the committee investigating the crime.

My particular corner of the Watergate investigation was Bebe Rebozo, described at the time as Nixon's best friend and neighbor on Key Biscayne, Florida, location of the so-called Winter White House. Rebozo was far more than that, of course, which was the reason I was writing a series of investigative reports on him.

The Senate Watergate committee had also become interested in Rebozo and the role he had played in laundering illegal donations to Nixon's 1972 re-election campaign, among other things. Rebozo was an interesting guy, the only money launderer I ever encountered who actually owned a chain of about 70 laundromats — which he used, in part, to launder funds for Nixon using the all-cash nature of the laundromat business to do his dirty work. The other way he did it turned out to be through the Key Biscayne Bank, which he owned and was located in a narrow storefront in a strip mall on the island. I became suspicious of it the day I walked in and attempted to open an account. There was exactly one "window" and one teller, who informed me that Key Biscayne Bank wasn't "that kind of bank," as in a bank in which you opened accounts and deposited and withdrew money.

One day, loaded down with a huge suitcase of documents I had assembled on Rebozo, I took the train down to Washington, went to the Watergate committee's Capitol Hill theater and exchanged my files for at least some of what the committee had assembled on Rebozo. They copied my files and returned the originals and I took the train back to New York. I can't tell you how dramatic all this was, to enter that old theater and quite literally go behind the curtain of the Watergate investigation.

A few days later, Lenzner sent one of the committee investigators to Florida with a subpoena for Rebozo's Key Biscayne Bank. Late that night, my phone rang and it was Lenzner. "You won't believe what happened," he said. The investigator had shown up at the Rebozo bank just as an employee was leaving for the day carrying a suitcase. He served the subpoena on the spot and opened the suitcase. It was loaded down with $750,000 in cash, and the man had a plane ticket for the Bahamas in his pocket. It turned out he ran a concession at the Paradise Island Casino, and the money in the suitcase was destined to be laundered there.

I'm telling this story because I think that's roughly the point we have reached in the investigation by the Jan. 6 select committee. They've gathered far more information than they've made public, and late on Tuesday they announced they will begin holding hearings in January.

But I think we can begin to see the outlines of where they're headed in the question Cheney asked during the debate over Meadows' contempt citation. What we know publicly right now is that the assault on the Capitol was planned in advance and organized at least in part by several right-wing militia groups, including the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers, possibly with the help of figures like Steve Bannon and Roger Stone. Both of them have been subpoenaed by the committee and one of them, Bannon, has already been found in contempt of Congress and is facing federal charges for refusing to testify.

We knew fairly early on that the Watergate break-in of the Democratic Party headquarters was planned by the burglars themselves, assisted by figures on the edges of the Nixon campaign like Howard Hunt and G. Gordon Liddy. What we didn't know was whether the conspiracy reached into the White House and involved the president, Richard Nixon.

The White House tapes would reveal the truth about that conspiracy, and it's beginning to look like the Meadows text messages, along with other evidence gathered by the Jan. 6 committee, will reveal a similar White House connection to the assault on the Capitol. The break-in at the Watergate was a crime, and so was the break-in at the Capitol. Covering up the planning and organization behind Watergate turned out to be a crime that brought down a president. It's looking like covering up the same kind of conspiracy involving the assault on the Capitol will turn out to be yet another crime, one that may bring down several members of Congress, perhaps to face federal charges for a crime that Liz Cheney has already named out loud.

Things are getting interesting, folks. The assault on the Capitol is being Watergated.

IN OTHER NEWS: Morning Joe panelists brutally mock GOP's Tom Cotton for 'petulant' stunt: 'One of the craziest things I've ever seen'

Morning Joe panelists mock GOP's Tom Cotton www.youtube.com

The Republicans had a plan for their judges — and it went way beyond Roe v. Wade

The entire edifice of Donald Trump's Big Lie about the 2020 election — that it was stolen from him through illegal votes cast by Democrats — now seems to rest on the unprepossessing business-suit-clad shoulders of one man: Jeffrey Clark, a former official in the Trump Department of Justice. He has informed the HouseSelect Committee on the Jan. 6 uprising that he is willing to be interviewed by investigators and if called upon, to testify with one condition. He intends to invoke his right against self-incrimination under the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution.

This article first appeared in Salon.

"The Fifth." That's what defense lawyers call it. Donald Trump himself spoke disdainfully of those protections during the 2016 presidential campaign, in reference to Clinton campaign staffers who had taken the Fifth to avoid testifying about Clinton's famed email server. At an Iowa campaign rally he said, "The mob takes the Fifth. If you're innocent, why are you taking the Fifth Amendment?"

Donald Trump himself provided one answer during his bitter and very public divorce from his first wife, Ivana. According to investigative reporter Wayne Barrett's book, "Trump: The Greatest Show on Earth," he invoked his protections under the famed amendment 97 times to avoid answering questions about his affairs with women who were not his wife. Barrett quoted Trump as saying the Fifth Amendment was his "favorite."

But as Jeffrey Clark is about to learn, the Fifth Amendment may protect you from self-incrimination, but it doesn't protect you from being indicted and possibly convicted for committing a crime. The first crime Clark may be charged with is contempt of Congress, for which former Trump aide Steve Bannon has already been indicted. Both men are seeking to avoid giving testimony to the Jan. 6 committee on their parts in Trump's attempts to overturn the election results on the day Electoral College ballots were to be counted and certified by the Congress.

RELATED: Trump DOJ lawyer Jeffrey Clark held in contempt after Jan. 6 committee vote

Attempting to overturn the results of an election is a federal crime. It is defined in the law as fraud against the government of the United States. Donald Trump himself may face indictment for his attempt during a phone call to convince Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensberger to "find" enough votes to reverse the outcome of the presidential election in that state. "Finding" votes that were not cast is fraud, and it is a crime. Conspiring with another person to do that is another crime. Making a phone call in furtherance of that conspiracy is yet another crime: wire fraud.

Trump very possibly committed the same sort of crime when, in November of 2020, he invited Michigan state legislative leaders to the White House and tried to get them to hold a vote in the state legislature to appoint new electors who would overturn the will of the voters in Michigan. In December of 2020, Trump summoned Pennsylvania state legislators to the White House after calling in to a hearing held by Republican legislators in Gettysburg to claim that he "won Pennsylvania by a lot." (Democrat Joe Biden actually won the state by 80,555 votes, giving him Pennsylvania's 20 electoral votes.)

The problem with committing crimes is that you may be indicted and tried and convicted and sent to jail. If you are charged with committing a crime such as fraud against the government of the United States, you will find yourself in the hands of a federal judge. This is where the Republican campaign to appoint and confirm federal judges comes in. The Republican Party has spent the last 40 years fixing federal judgeships around the country to their liking. Conservatives even established a non-governmental organization to vet, train, and recommend candidates for judgeships. It is called the Federalist Society. Until now, most legal observers have thought of the Republican effort to dominate the federal judiciary as essentially ideological: The Federalist Society has an avowed purpose of putting "conservative" judges on the federal bench.

But ideology takes you only so far. That was evident in the Supreme Court hearing on the key abortion rights case this past week, Dobbs v Jackson Women's Health Organization. We were treated last Wednesday morning to what amounted to a judicial treasure hunt. Under which rock, behind which bush, in which crack in a wall can we find our justification for overturning Roe v. Wade?

Each justice had a favorite rock to turn over. Justice Brett Kavanaugh seemed to think that he could find the Constitution's "neutrality" on the issue of abortion in the absence of the word from the text of the document. Justice Sam Alito espoused the idea that abortion wasn't legal in any state at the time the 14th Amendment was adopted, so that amendment's guarantee of equal protection under the law did not apply. Justice Amy Coney Barrett, who has seven children, two of whom were adopted, seemed fixated on the idea that equality between men and women was not an issue, because women who bore children did not have to face being kept out of the workforce by motherhood because they could always choose to take advantage of "safe haven" laws and put the child they gave birth to up for adoption, thus getting the nettlesome infant out of the way. Justice Clarence Thomas seemed satisfied to rest on his longtime obsession that women should bear the consequences of childbirth because they were the ones who decided to have sex. He had no interest in the fact that rape did not involve a decision on the part of a woman who is raped, and there was no talk whatsoever among the "conservatives" on the court about the role men play in procreation. Chief Justice John Roberts, who presided over the treasure hunt, was left with trying to find a way to save his court from the "stench" of politics that overturning Roe would bring with it, as Justice Sotomayor so bracingly said.

Want a daily wrap-up of all the news and commentary Salon has to offer? Subscribe to our morning newsletter, Crash Course.

Ideology isn't very good at providing answers for bothersome issues like abortion, and it's of little use in keeping offenders out of jail. For that, you need judges. The events of Jan. 6 have provided us with an example of how prescient the Republicans were in packing the federal bench with their brethren. More than 700 people have been arrested and charged with crimes in connection with the assault on the Capitol. Of that number, only 129 have been convicted, all because they entered guilty pleas, most of those in attempts to get reduced sentences. A lot of leniency has been dished out. The number of those serving time in jail for crimes committed during the assault on the Capitol is not known, but there have been numerous reports of probation, suspended sentences and "slap-on-the-wrist" punishments like a few days or weeks in jail.

The Justice Department under Attorney General Merrick Garland has come under criticism for not having brought cases against those known to be involved in the attempts to overturn the election, including such figures as Jeffrey Clark, John Eastman, Rudy Giuliani and the man who made the phone calls and chaired the White House meetings, Donald Trump. The 2022 midterm election is seen as a kind of political deadline for the investigation and criminal prosecutions of those responsible for the attack on the Capitol, as well as those involved in the greater efforts to overturn the election of 2020.

Waiting in the wings are the judges who are already being accused by Democrats of "slow-walking" the cases brought against the insurrectionists. Any cases brought against the likes of Clark, or others allegedly involved in conspiring to overturn the election, will be assigned to a judiciary packed with more than 220 Trump appointees to the federal bench. As we saw in the Supreme Court hearing on Wednesday, those judges can be depended on to be legal experts — or at least, experts at finding justifications for the outcomes that best suit the Federalist Society and the Republican Party.

And then, of course, there is the 2024 presidential election. Trump may or may not run again, but whoever the Republicans run, they will be looking for him to follow Trump's example and act as a pardon machine. If you are a Republican and you are charged with any crime in connection with electing other Republicans, or even with committing violent crimes against the government of the United States, you won't have anything to worry about.

They already own enough judges, and if they get the White House back, it will be ollie-ollie-in-come-free for every Republican conspirator there is.

Friendly-actin' pipsqueak Glenn Youngkin lured Democrats into a trap — and there's only one way to fight back

The victory of smooth-talkin' Glenn Youngkin over Terry McAuliffe on Tuesday has Democrats wringing their hands and looking under the couch cushions for excuses. After all, the entire Republican Party and anyone running under its banner should have been deeply wounded by now. They remain, after all, the party of Donald Trump, the single most unpopular political figure in our time. They were the party in charge when the pandemic hit and took 400,000 lives. They are the party that has pushed misinformation about COVID for nearly two years, including loud and repeated lies about vaccines and mask-wearing, causing countless additional deaths. They are the party that has persistently countenanced an attempted coup after the last election and spread the corrosive lie that Trump didn't actually lose.

Republicans should be so knocked back on their heels that they still can't manage to get up, and yet this blow-dried "businessman" running on a platform of transparent lies was able to win the governorship of Virginia. Why? Was it the Democrats in Congress and their failure to pass two incredibly popular bills before Election Day? Was it because McAuliffe carried the baggage of reminding Virginia voters of the Clintons and ran a boring, clueless, inept campaign? Or was his loss simply the predictable product of off-year politics and the bad luck of being the party in power in the White House?

Pundits are ganging up all these reasons and coming up with even more, but I think it's easy to get if you consider a political fact of life, for which Democrats have failed to account for decades. Democrats don't get to choose the issues Republicans run on. There may be many reasons Democrats did so poorly in Virginia on Tuesday, voter turnout among them, but there's one reason Youngkin took the win. He did what Republicans have gotten away with for decades. With his harping on critical race theory (CRT), he practiced dog-whistle politics with a wave and a smile.

He was also the beneficiary of Democrats selling Trump short for the umpteenth time. He's a pumpkin-skinned buffoon and a contemptible fascist asshole, but he's a crafty politician. In case you haven't noticed, Trump's new strategy is to continue to feed red meat to his base at his rallies, which may as well be taking place under glass domes as far as non-Fox News America is concerned, while quietly not saying anything bad about other Republicans — other than Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, that is. Those who simply abide by the cardinal rule of not talking trash about Trump get a pass.

Call it the wink-and-a-nod strategy. Trump didn't have to loudly endorse Youngkin because, just as everybody knew that "Let's go Brandon" meant "Fuck Joe Biden," Virginia Republicans knew that Trump's apparent distance from Youngkin meant that they should vote for him.

Youngkin picked up critical race theory and ran with it like a fumbled football. Every time he opened his mouth and those words came out, it was like Richard Nixon's dark warnings about "inner cities" or Ronald Reagan's imagined "welfare queens." Virginia Republicans could hear a dog-whistle like CRT a mile off, and it left independents free to embrace it as a serious issue without bothering to learn what it meant. Republicans knew what Youngkin was saying without him coming out and saying it: I'm going to keep "them" in their place for you.

It was classic modern Republican politics: racism without racist invective, Trumpism with a wink. Democrats are going to run into these smiling-faced Republicans with their shirt sleeves rolled up again and again as we get closer to the 2022 midterms. They're going to camouflage their insurrectionist beliefs with fleece vests and suburban mom-friendly pablum, and Democrats had better be ready for them. But what do you do about the Republican lies about critical race theory?

Democrats have to take away Republican slogans before they can come up with them. Biden's slogan, if he runs in 2024, should be "Joe Biden: President of the Greatest Country in the World." Congressional Democrats and others should run on "Protect Our Children." Democrats have got to learn to play fill-in-the-blanks politics. We can understand that "protect our children" means teach them the truth about racism and slavery, but please! Leave that out of the slogan. Let voters decide what "protect our children" means. Youngkin got away with his bullshit about CRT by lying about it and by letting his voters fill in the blanks. Same with his silence about "stop the steal." He didn't have to praise Trump out loud to let voters know he's on his side. They filled in the blanks for him.

What does "protect our children" really mean? Well, what did "Make America Great Again" mean? Trump let his voters fill in the blanks, and Democrats should let voters fill in the blanks when they say "protect our children." What's there to argue about with that slogan? Don't make the mistake of trying to combat the lies about CRT — for example, by saying that it portrays accurately America's history with slavery and race and besides, it isn't taught in schools anyway. Don't argue it, finesse it.

The Republican Party isn't a political party anymore. It's a safe deposit box filled with grievance and anger and hate. But because the Republican Party is the only other party on the ballot and their candidates — especially when they're blown-dry and fleece-clad — present independent voters with a place to register their frustration and impatience (see the NBC News poll finding that 71 percent think America is "on the wrong track"), and express their annoyance with "divisive" and "negative" politics. Don't bother pointing out who is actually being divisive and negative. Accept that in this political climate, facts like that don't matter. Independents need a place to use their votes to tell the party in power what they think, and Republicans, bless their black little hearts, are it.

Democrats don't have to worry about their own voters, other than turning them out. But Democrats have to become the place where they can vote for something. It's been said again and again that all the separate elements of the Build Back Better bill are very popular with voters. Polling shows overwhelming support for some of it. So take those elements everybody loves and shout them from the rooftops. You want lower middle-class taxes? That's us! You want free universal pre-K (read: child care for many parents)? Here we are! You want good roads and bridges that don't fall down? We've got them right here!

Republicans are going to show their true stripes when the infrastructure bill finally comes up for a vote in the House. It will be a big surprise if more than a dozen vote for it. So clobber them with it. How can they be the party of blue-collar workers — a big talking point for Republicans, when they're not cutting taxes on billionaires — when they're against the biggest blue-collar jobs bill since the Interstate Highway Act?

Democrats have to learn to be for the stuff voters like — and to finesse the rest of it. If Youngkin could run a campaign by finessing his stand on "stop the steal" and Donald Trump's attempted coup, Democrats can finesse CRT.

Don't argue with provable lies — nobody wants to hear your proof. Don't pick at Trump like he's an issue you can run on. He's a scab that won't come off, and he doesn't bleed. Come up with slogans that take a positive stand. Tell voters who you are and what you stand for. They'll fill in the blanks.

Trump's Big Lie is the new Lost Cause — and it may poison the country for decades

Perhaps the biggest of many imponderables about Donald Trump has always been the question of what playbook was he following? His 2016 campaign didn't have a plan beyond questioning the manhood of his male primary rivals and ceaseless yapping about Hillary Clinton's "emails." His 2020 campaign never found a focus until October, when he seized upon his victory over his own case of COVID-19 as evidence of his manhood. Remember his return from Walter Reed Medical Center to the White House? Trump was ripping off his mask on the Truman balcony! That'll show 'em!

In between campaigns, Trump's presidency seemed aimless, stumbling vaguely forward from one indictment to another until the time came to issue pardons, which we soon learned was his "favorite" presidential power — not being commander in chief, not ordering up Air Force One to fly him off on his many golf weekends, not even being able to pick up his bedside phone in the middle of the night and order a Big Mac and a Diet Coke. The pardon power was it.

Losing the election in November and having to move out of the White House has given him something to focus on, however. He never cared about governing and didn't have much of an ideology to guide him, but he's finally found something he can believe in and a playbook he can follow: his very own Lost Cause. Trump has embraced with gusto the South's strategy after losing the Civil War: Tell your own people that you didn't really lose, and double down on the nobility and honor of what they still believe in. In the case of the Civil War, it was slavery and the inherent superiority of whiteness and inferiority of blackness. The new Lost Cause is of course Trump himself, to whom his followers attach the same kind of gauzy metaphors that came into use after the Civil War: flags (Trump campaign flags, the Confederate flag and the "Don't Tread on Me" banner are in heavy rotation) songs ("I'm Proud to be an American" by Lee Greenwood and — perhaps not so ironically now — "You Can't Always Get What You Want" by the Rolling Stones are played at all his rallies) and symbols (Mar-a-Lago has become a kind of antebellum shrine to the garish excess Trump represents).

And of course, most important of all are the lies. The lies told to support the South's Lost Cause were as outrageous as they were numerous: Slaves were well treated by their kind and understanding masters and were far better off than they would have been had they remained with their savage tribes in Africa. The war wasn't fought over slavery, it was fought for the cause of "states' rights." Gender roles were preserved in revanchist amber: Men were the protectors of Southern white women's "honor" and "purity," and women returned the favor by forming the Daughters of the Confederacy and charging themselves with erecting the monuments to Confederate war heroes and the Confederate dead which became ubiquitous throughout the South.

It's hardly necessary to delve into Trump's lies about the election: They have been well documented and confirmed by more than 60 losses in his lawsuits contesting the election's outcome in battleground states. Trump has now launched himself into an adjunct of the Big Lie — the lie that the violent assault on the Capitol on Jan. 6 wasn't violent and wasn't an assault, but merely a "tourist visit" by Trump supporters, while outside agitators and antifa infiltrators committed all the violent acts to tarnish the Trump cause. Trump has turned Ashli Babbitt, killed at the head of a mob as she broke through a door into an area of the Capitol where members of Congress were sheltering, into a martyr. And his minions on Capitol Hill have done everything in their power to stymie and tarnish the work of the House committee investigating the assault, including voting en masse against a nonpartisan commission to investigate the Capitol assault and now opposing the move by the House to hold Steve Bannon in contempt for defying a subpoena to provide documents and testify before the House committee.

Bannon is in the process of transforming himself into a latter-day Robert E. Lee, talking about commanding a 20,000-strong army of "shock troops" he plans to use to intimidate "enemy" voters during the 2022 and 2024 elections.

The centerpiece of Trump's personal Lost Cause is nursing his grudge, and the collective grudge of his followers, against the "elites" they blame for bringing down the dream. Which involves, of course, whipping up the festering sore of resentment and hate that is the Trump "base." The South used the KKK and later the so-called Citizens Councils. Trump has the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers. I am certain we're going to learn from the House committee that Trump himself was involved in their deployment on Jan. 6 in the violent assault on the Capitol.

Perhaps the most important way the South promoted its Lost Cause after the Civil War was through electoral and legislative means. The rebellion of Southern states against the Reconstruction laws and the 14th and 15th amendments is instructive. Major figures of the Confederacy took prominent roles in the Democratic Party. The Confederate raider and first Grand Wizard of the KKK, Nathan Bedford Forrest, and other Confederate veterans attended the Democratic convention of 1868 in New York where one of Forrest's friends, Frank Blair Jr., was nominated as the party's candidate for vice president on a ticket with a former governor of New York. Their campaign slogan was "Our Ticket, Our Motto, This Is a White Man's Country; Let White Men Rule." Speeches against emancipation of the slaves given by Blair were said to contribute to Ulysses S. Grant's comfortable electoral victory.

Later, Southern states would virtually nullify the 14th and 15th amendments by passing the Jim Crow laws, stripping Black citizens of the right to vote and consigning them to subservient roles in the Southern economy and society little better than those they had held as slaves. The South separated itself from the rest of the country by its continuing adherence to the doctrines and practices of white supremacy in its legal and social systems.

Something very similar is going on right now in Republican-controlled states, including all of those that comprised the Confederacy, with state laws being passed to suppress the votes of minorities and gerrymander legislative districts to limit representation by minorities and the Democratic Party in general. It's a kind of legalized second secession by Republican states and the Republican Party, which has remade itself as the Trump Party, parroting Trump's racism and lies about the election and following his lead in Jan. 6 denial.

The words constitutional crisis and slow-motion Civil War have entered the lexicon. Former Republican writers like David Frum, Robert Kagan, Charlie Sykes, David Brock and Max Boot are all over the op-ed pages, warning that Trump and his allies are preparing to "ensure victory by any means necessary."

"The stage is thus being set for chaos," Robert Kaplan wrote recently in a widely shared op-ed in the Washington Post. "Partisans on both sides are likely to be better armed and more willing to inflict harm than they were in 2020. Would governors call out the National Guard? Would President Biden nationalize the Guard and place it under his control, invoke the Insurrection Act, and send troops into Pennsylvania or Texas or Wisconsin to quell violent protests? Deploying federal power in the states would be decried as tyranny. Biden would find himself where other presidents have been — where Andrew Jackson was during the nullification crisis, or where Abraham Lincoln was after the South seceded — navigating without rules or precedents, making his own judgments about what constitutional powers he does and doesn't have."

Donald Trump had to be handed a loss in 2020 in order to begin championing his new Lost Cause. There won't be another one. If he runs and wins in 2024, we will not recognize the smoking ruins left by a second Trump victory. It won't take them long to begin erecting statues to Steve Bannon and Tucker Carlson and renaming public squares after the "Great Replacement." The only question is, what will the Daughters of the New Confederacy call themselves? The Mistresses of Mar-a-Lago?

A New Confederacy: Trump and the Republicans have already seceded

You know which ones they are: Nineteen states have enacted 33 laws that make it harder for people to vote, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. Fifteen states made it harder to apply for a mail-in ballot. Four states limited mail-in ballot drop boxes. Four states imposed stricter mail-in ballot signature requirements. Eight states imposed harder voter ID requirements. Seven states made it easier to purge voters from the rolls. Three states reduced the number of polling places and voting hours. Three more states reduced the number of days or hours of early voting. Five states made it harder to vote for people with disabilities and two states made it a crime to hand out water or snacks to voters waiting in long lines to vote.

Nineteen states have enacted a total of 106 new laws restricting a woman's right to choose to have an abortion, according to the Guttmacher Institute. Twelve states enacted outright abortion bans, and Texas enacted a law banning abortion after six weeks of pregnancy, which is effectively a ban on abortion since most women don't even know they are pregnant at six weeks. Twenty-five states require a waiting period, usually 24 hours, before an abortion can be performed. Twelve of those states effectively mandate that women must return to a clinic twice over a two-day period before obtaining an abortion. Eighteen states require "counseling" before abortions, including notices of a purported link between abortion and breast cancer, the alleged ability of a fetus to feel pain, and the unproven long-term mental health consequences of abortion.

Twelve states have refused to expand Medicaid coverage under the Affordable Care Act, leaving as many as two million people without health insurance. Three of those states have Democratic governors who have attempted to get their legislatures to go along with Medicaid expansion but have been stymied by the state legislatures. Six states that recently expanded Medicaid coverage did so only after citizens forced the issue with ballot measures. All had governors and legislatures that had previously refused to extend coverage.

All of the states that refused Medicaid expansion and have passed restrictions on voting and abortion are controlled by the Republican Party. Many of those same states have also passed bans on mask and vaccine mandates, and nearly all of them have endured more cases per capita of COVID-19, more hospitalizations and more deaths from the virus. In effect, without any states (yet) seceding from the Union, we already live in two Americas.

One of those countries-within-a-country, in the words of the esteemed lawyer and Harvard professor Laurence Tribe, "has no set of constraints, no belief in the norms, no commitment to the Constitution or the rule of law, while the other side is trying to observe the rules." He said this on Wednesday night on "All in With Chris Hayes" on MSNBC, while discussing the challenges we face going into the 2022 and 2024 elections.

Even the subject of that show seems quaint at this point, because I don't think we are able to hold what we have always thought of as "elections" in this country anymore. If politics in the United States were a basketball game, the rules of the game along with fouls and penalties would apply to one team, the Democrats, and not to the other, the Republicans. The game, in the immortal words of Donald Trump, has been "rigged." It's not possible for the Democratic Party to win elections, because the Republican Party has decided it won't recognize Democratic victories. The only "wins" that are "legitimate" are Republican wins.

That's what these so-called audits have been about. I mean, just take the Arizona "audit." It was conducted on the orders of the Republican-controlled state Senate, but they didn't order that the entire election held in Arizona be audited. No, they just ordered that one election in one county be audited: the presidential contest in Maricopa County (which includes Phoenix, by far the state's largest city). They didn't audit the races for the state Senate, which they won. They just audited the election for president, which their candidate lost, in the largest county won by his opponent, Joe Biden.

Similar audits are planned for other states carried by Biden: Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. Republicans are trying to have another audit in Georgia, another state Trump lost. Are they auditing the elections won by Republicans who ran for Congress or the state legislatures? No, they aren't, because the Republican-dominated legislatures are run by Republicans who won elections. No need for an audit!

It's like counting all the baskets made in a game by one team and not counting those made by the other team. There is only one way to win the game: If you're on the team whose baskets get counted, i.e., the Republican team. If you're on the Democratic team, your points don't go up on the board.

Which is exactly what Donald Trump did way back in 2011 when he set out on his years-long challenge to the presidency of Barack Obama. Trump's "birther" campaign was the seed-corn of what we're seeing on a national level with the Republican Party today. What Trump was effectively saying was that Obama couldn't have won the game because he wasn't on the right team. He wasn't one of us. He wasn't one of us in religious terms because he was Muslim, and he wasn't one of us as an American because he wasn't born here, he was an immigrant. Therefore, his points don't count. He's not really our president. He is illegitimate. (To be clear, Obama isn't a Muslim or an immigrant.)

Tucker Carlson's "replacement" theory, which he now pushes almost nightly, is just another birther campaign like Trump's. Brown people and Black people and immigrants don't count, and their votes are no good because they're playing for the wrong team. They can't "replace" us because they're not "real" Americans. Hitler did the same thing in Germany in the 1930s when he declared that Jews were not real Germans. Then he passed the Nuremberg laws and formally stripped Jews of their citizenship. Then he took their wealth and businesses. Then he took their lives. Republicans have already made plans to challenge birthright citizenship. It's past time to wonder what they plan to do next, because they're already doing it.

The laws restricting voting that have been passed largely in Republican states apply to others, not to us. We've got our IDs because we own cars and have drivers' licenses. They take the bus; they don't. Their points don't count. We live in neighborhoods with a lot of precincts and voting locations. They live where there are far fewer voting places and more rules. The long lines they stand in to vote mean their points don't get on the board. They don't count.

We don't pass laws against vasectomies because we have dicks and we might need them. Laws restricting or outlawing abortion, on the other hand, are about women — and we're not women, we're Republicans! We can do whatever we like in the game out there on the floor because we're on the correct team! We don't get a foul called because of six weeks or 15 weeks or waiting periods, because the rules don't apply to us, they apply to them. Our points count. Theirs don't.

This is what I mean when I say that Republicans have already seceded. They're a white party and they're forming a white country with white laws and white companies and white jobs where white votes count and others don't. They can live in the states that comprise that country, but they can't survive there without our money. It was the same way with the South before the Civil War. They lived in their states with slavery, but they couldn't survive without the economy of the North, so they started a war. They never intended to "secede." They intended to win, and run the new country, which would be the South writ large, with slave-owners in power and slavery everywhere.

That's what Republicans and Donald Trump are doing right now. They know they can't win legitimate elections. There aren't enough of them. So they are engaged in a war, with the aim not of winning elections, but of taking over and exercising the power that, at least until now, came from winning elections. Republicans can't rely on doing that, so they have transformed their party from one that participates in democracy to a fascist party engaged in a takeover of the United States of America.

Democrats may or may not "win" in 2022 and 2024, but the elections are already over. Republicans have declared that only their votes count. Unless we get together and stay together and use our numbers to protect our democracy, we will end up living in their fascist country ruled by their dictator.

Empire of chickenhawks: Why America's chaotic departure from Afghanistan was actually perfect

The biggest fallacy about our exit from Afghanistan is that there was a "good" way for us to get out. There is no good way to lose a war. With defeat comes humiliation. We were humiliated in the way we pulled out of Kabul — and we should have been, because we believed the lies we had been told right up to the last moment.

This article first appeared in Salon

The lies we heard at the end of our war in Afghanistan wereas the same ones we were told, and were only too happy to believe, for 20 long years: that everything was going swimmingly. Remember earlier in the summer when the headlines were about how the Taliban controlled a large percentage of the territory in Afghanistan, but the Afghan government and its supposed army still controlled the provincial capitals and Kabul, and that was where the power was.

What a total crock of shit. Everyone was shocked — shocked — when the headlines started to come. Aug. 9, from the AP: "Taliban press on, take two more provincial capitals." That story was a doozie. "On Monday they [the Taliban] controlled five of the country's 34 provincial capitals." It didn't really matter which two capitals the Taliban had taken. You had to read way down in the story to discover they were Aybak, capital of Samangan province, and Sar-e-Pul, capital of Sar-e-Pul province. Where the hell were they? Who had even heard of them?

That was Monday. By Wednesday, Aug. 11, here was the headline in Al Jazeera: "Timeline: Afghanistan provincial capitals captured by the Taliban." How many, you might ask? In two days, the count had ballooned from five capitals to 18. Eighteen. Later that day, both Al Jazeera and Reuters were reporting that U.S. intelligence sources were saying that Kabul could "fall to Taliban within 90 days."

Surprise! Three days later, the evacuation of Kabul began. On Sept. 1, two weeks later, CBS News headlined: "This is the last American soldier to leave Afghanistan" with an eerie night-vision video capture of Maj. Gen. Chris Donahue, commander of the U.S. Army 82nd Airborne Division, XVIII Airborne Corps, headed up the ramp of a C-17 cargo jet wearing full combat gear including bulletproof vest and helmet with night-vision goggles attached, carrying his M-4 automatic rifle.

How did Afghanistan collapse so quickly to Taliban control? Because "we" — the U.S. military and its NATO allies — never controlled it to begin with. Nor did our puppets in the so-called Afghan government. The idea that we ever did, that we ever "controlled" or even had our finger on the pulse of the "graveyard of empires" was a lie.

You know who told us that lie? Every government from George W. Bush on, and every general ever put in charge of that doomed mission. Every single one of them reported that all was well, that the Afghan army was 300,000 strong, that the Taliban was on the run, that the Afghan air force was taking over from the missions flown by American warplanes, that the Afghans had their own helicopters now. And that the Afghan president, whether it was Ashraf Ghani or Hamid Karzai, was firmly in charge back in Kabul.

And you know who went along with that fiction? The United States Congress, which voted for 20 years to spend the $2 trillion we pissed away over there, and each of the presidents — yes, including Barack Obama and Donald Trump — who approved every increase of troops, every troop withdrawal, every "surge" that was advertised as the solution to end all solutions, the thing that would finally put the Taliban on the run. Remember all the Taliban commanders we were told were killed? A drone strike took out this one! Another drone strike took out that one! Wow! We had to be winning if the Taliban was losing so many important leaders!

And then there were the keyboard commandos back in Washington and New York, and the neocons from the Council on Foreign Relations, and the growing chorus of retired generals — among them all of the commanders of our Afghanistan mission — who were all over the op-ed pages and cable news assuring us that All Was Well, as they racked up the megabucks sitting on the boards of defense contractors selling all the military shit that was winning the war for us. "The eight generals who commanded American forces in Afghanistan between 2008 and 2018 have gone on to serve on more than 20 corporate boards," the Washington Post reported on Sept. 4, three days after we exited from Kabul with our tail between our legs.

There was Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who oversaw the big "surge" of 2009 that was the answer-to-end-all-answers to every problem we were having over there. He has been "a board member or adviser for at least 10 companies since 2010, according to corporate filings and news releases," the Post reported. There was Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., who commanded allied forces in 2013 and 2014, who went on to serve on the board of Lockheed Martin, the gigantic defense contractor. There was Gen. John R. Allen, commander in Afghanistan before Dunford, who is the president of the Brookings Institution, which has received $1.5 million over three years from Northrop Grumman, according to the Post. And Gen. David Petraeus, who preceded Allen and now sits on the board of KKR, a private equity firm in New York with many investments in the defense industry.

All of these gentlemen — and let's take a moment to note they are all men, not a female commander among them — reported back to us from their command posts in Afghanistan how well things were going over there, how we were all over the Taliban, how the Afghan government was successfully "standing up" its well-equipped, well-trained army to defend the country from the Taliban. And then they went on cable TV and continued their lies when they got back to the U.S. and retired from the Army, because that's what generals today do. They sit on corporate boards, they give incredibly well-paid speeches, they go on TV and they rake in the Big Bucks because they were so successful in Afghanistan … and in Iraq, too. Remember Petraeus and his "surge" in 2007? Boy, were we ever surging, huh? I remember Newsweek published a cover image of Petraeus in 2004 wearing his combat fatigues, standing on a tarmac with a Blackhawk helicopter behind him, with the headline: "Can this man save Iraq?" The story, believe it or not, was about how Petraeus was taking over the training of the Iraqi army, and that was what was going to "save Iraq." Don't you think we should have concluded, when the "surge" became necessary in 2007, that Petraeus had utterly failed in his mission to train the Iraqi army and "save Iraq" back in 2004?

The words "crock of shit" again come to mind, but they are far, far from adequate. These presidents, and these members of Congress, and these generals, and these war-happy pundits, ran a great big gigantic con on the citizens of this country who were paying the taxes which — someday, perhaps — will pay for the $2 trillion we pissed away over in Afghanistan, and the trillions we pissed away in Iraq, too. They lied over and over and over again that with just another troop surge, or another troop withdrawal (because suddenly everything was hunky-dory) and of course just another infusion of billions and billions of dollars and the loss of a couple thousand more American lives we could "win" in Afghanistan and "win" in Iraq.

Over there, they laughed at us. The Afghans and the Iraqis who took the money, took all the equipment we gave them, took 20 years of our politics and our "prestige" as a nation, and the whole time they were laughing their heads off, because they knew what we didn't know. None of it was working. None of it would ever work. And one day we would be headed out of both countries with our tails between our legs, because that's what you do when you lose.

That's why our frantic, chaotic exit from Kabul was perfect, because it perfectly capped off 20 years of lies about what was really going on over there, 20 years of frantic, chaotic thrashing around and throwing money and the bodies of young American men and women at a problem that could never be solved. It was an enormous delusion that we, the United States of America, could march into those countries thousands of miles away from our shores and — if we spent enough money and invented and fielded enough "mine resistant vehicles" and fired enough missiles from enough drones at enough "Taliban commanders" — could somehow emerge from those quagmires victorious.

We couldn't, and we didn't, and when that American major general, all kitted-out in the combat gear we spent 20 years dressing our soldiers in, scampered up the ramp of that cargo jet to steal away from the Kabul airport in the middle of the night, it was the absolute perfect ending to the perfect disaster the war in Afghanistan had always been. We were humiliated in front of the entire world, as we should have been. The way we left Afghanistan "did damage to our credibility and to our reputation," the famous Gen. Petraeus told CBS when it was all over.

Yeah, it did, Dave, and it should have. Maybe now the geniuses who got us into those godforsaken disastrous wars and kept us there will think twice before they do it again.

Except, wait. That was supposed to have been the great "lesson of Vietnam." Never mind.

9/11 and the birth of Trump's Big Lie

What drove this country crazy after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on 9/11? Was it how vulnerable we had been shown to be, that a group of 19 men armed with nothing more than box-cutters could bring the entire country to a halt? Was it that the attack was aimed primarily against innocent civilians, with nearly 3,000 killed at the Twin Towers alone? Was it that with the 19 hijackers dead in the suicidal attacks, we didn't seem to have anyone to retaliate against? Was it that we had no grasp whatsoever on understanding why our country, the freest and most democratic ever, was hated so much that they would attack us?

I remember how disconnected things felt for days, even weeks, after the attacks. Travelers outside the country didn't have a way to get home because flights had been canceled. People stranded in cities they were visiting within the country couldn't find cars to rent, there were so many trying to get home. Everyone seemed to feel a need to gather with families and friends and hunker down, as if another attack could come at any moment.

The country's leadership was frozen, stunned. Remember the photos of George W. Bush as an aide leaned over his shoulder and whispered the news into his ear? He was the president of the United States, and he looked scared to death. In fact, he was rushed from the school he was visiting in Florida to Air Force One, and his plane took off on what amounted to a flight to nowhere as his administration tried to pull itself together and decide how they would respond. It wasn't until hours later that Air Force One landed at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana and Bush hurriedly addressed the press in a windowless conference room, vowing to "hunt down and punish those responsible for these cowardly acts." Three days would pass before the president was flown to New York to appear atop the rubble of the World Trade Center at what became known as Ground Zero to take a bullhorn and make the pledge that would launch the country on a trajectory that has yet to change: "I can hear you!" he shouted to the workers at the site, "The rest of the world hears you! And the people — and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon!"

A collective madness ensued. A great scrambling began to protect us against … well, against what? Box-cutters first and foremost, it seemed, as a new regime of inspections began at airports everywhere. The initial panic over the hijacked flights would lead to the establishment of the Transportation Security Administration and the Department of Homeland Security, a kind of domestic department of defense which proceeded to put us on what amounted to a wartime footing within our own country that persists even today. How many times have you had to throw a set of fingernail clippers into a bin at airport security because a TSA agent was defending us from terrorism? How about removing your shoes because a lone lunatic made an unsuccessful attempt to blow up an airplane with a "shoe bomb"?

The entire paranoid regimen under which we still live 20 years later grew out of a supposed "war on terror" begun after 9/11 that has never ended. It took a decade to find and kill the actual terrorist who ordered the attacks on 9/11, but in the meantime two shooting wars were launched, only one of which had even the slightest connection to the terrorists who attacked us. There was an elemental problem: The war on terror wasn't against an enemy, it was against an idea, and ideas don't die when you hit them with bombs and bullets.

And so, without a readily definable enemy who could be seen and shot and killed and defeated, which is what wars are usually for, lies were substituted. We were buried with lies, and not just any lies. They had to justify the movement of hundreds of thousands of troops and the expenditure of trillions of dollars in treasure and the loss of thousands more American lives than died on 9/11 and countless more lives — enemies, civilians and, my goodness gracious, even a few real flesh and blood terrorists.

Sept. 11, 2001, was when the Big Lie was born. Or should we say, Big Lies, because they came fast and furious. By now they are known to be so completely without any basis in reality, so wholly bogus, that they hardly bear recounting. Weapons of mass destruction? Connections between Iraq and its government and leaders and the terrorists who attacked us on 9/11? Ha!

And then came new Big Lies to support the earlier Big Lies: that we were "winning" the war on terror. How many times were we reassured that all those lives and all those dollars were not being pissed away for nothing? How many times were we reassured that we were rebuilding the countries that hadn't needed rebuilding until we attacked them? How many times were we told of the miraculous training of the Iraqi and Afghan armies? They even invented a new word that I never learned in the classes I took in military history at West Point, a word to describe the magic bullet that was going to win both wars: the surge. If only we sent 10,000 or 20,000 or 30,000 or 50,000 more troops, we could win the mythical war on terror.

"Shock and awe" was a lie. "Taking Baghdad was a lie. The army of Iraq just went away. The "surge," each and every one of them, was a lie. "Winning" was a lie, every single time the word was used. Every. Single. Time. The Afghan army was a lie. It didn't even bother surrendering to the Taliban. It just went … poof. The Afghan "government" was a lie. It too went poof. The Iraqi government is a lie. Everything we have done to win the war on terror for two decades, 20 long years, has been a lie. We wasted trillions of dollars that could have been spent to, I don't know, feed hungry children in Arkansas? Pay for health care for poor families? Send kids to college? Reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and save our planet?

We wasted all those lives, American and Afghan and Iraqi and German and Australian and Polish and every other soldier from every other NATO country who died fighting "terror." And we killed hundreds of thousands of Afghan and Iraqi people for nothing.

For nothing.

The biggest Big Lie of them all was that it had meaning, that we accomplished something, that we somehow won the war on terror. Terror hasn't gone away. Hell, we're growing it ourselves now, right here at home.

I'll tell you another war we lost, maybe even a bigger and more important war than the war on terror. We lost the war on truth. And we were warned. Oh yes, we were warned. Take Donald Trump's first Big Lie right after 9/11 as just one example. He claimed — I hope you're sitting down for this — that he could see from his office window in Trump Tower crowds of Muslims across the Hudson River, several miles away, on the roofs of buildings in Jersey City, cheering as the World Trade Center fell.

Remember that one? It was such a patently outrageous lie that it zoomed right past without anyone noticing as the rest of the Big Lies hit one after another.

But Trump got away with it, and he learned from it. Oh, yes. He learned how the Big Lie worked. He learned from watching Bush get away with lying about WMDs, and he learned from the Big Lies that we were winning in Iraq and Afghanistan. So he started trying out other Big Lies of his own, like the one about how Barack Obama wasn't a citizen of the United States, that he had a fake birth certificate, that he was a "secret Muslim." Remember when Trump was all over the TV for days and days claiming that he had sent detectives to Hawaii? All we had to do was wait and he was going to reveal the "truth" about Obama.

He got away with his "birther" Big Lie, and he learned something that he has used ever since, something that helped him drive us into the ditch of the pandemic he lied about for a year, something that has helped him transform an entire political party, the Republican Party, from one of two normal political parties in this country into an authoritarian cult.

He learned that if he told Big Lies that were big enough, and if he repeated them enough times, that he could get away with it, just like Bush got away with lying about WMDs to get us into Iraq. And his party, the Republican Party, learned right along with him. Look at what they are doing right this minute about the insurrection he incited against the Congress of the United States in his naked attempt to overturn the election he lost. Donald Trump and the Republican Party are on a campaign to deny that it happened. They are trying to make a case that it wasn't Trump supporters who attacked the Capitol, it was somebody else, and those who were arrested are political prisoners facing false charges … and on and on and on.

The legacy 9/11 has left us is that there is no common set of facts we can agree on about anything: Not about the COVID pandemic and masks and vaccines; not about the climate change that has killed hundreds and left town after town burned to the ground or under water and destroyed by tornadoes and hurricanes. We cannot agree that votes counted amount to elections won or lost. We cannot even agree on the common good of vaccines that will save us, that science is worth studying, that learned experts are worth listening to.

The lies that followed 9/11 have torn us apart as a nation and put our democracy in peril. That's our legacy: Lies are now considered by an entire political party to be legitimate political currency. A man who has told so many lies we have lost count of them is now a legitimate political figure supported for the highest office of the land by one of our two political parties.

Lies began tearing us apart after the attacks on 9/11, and we have not regained our footing as a nation. The question hanging over us now is whether we ever will.

How we got COVID: We did everything right — and still got breakthrough cases

We've had quite an August. We got married, dodged a hurricane and came down with breakthrough COVID. While I would happily recommend the first two, I wouldn't wish the last on my worst enemy.

This article first appeared in Salon.

It hit completely out of the blue. One night last week, I fixed a nice supper — Italian sausage pasta with fresh tomato sauce — and sat down to eat and my appetite just disappeared. I didn't feel anything else, just a complete loss of the desire to eat. I didn't think much of it at the time. I'd had a late lunch — maybe that was it. So we finished dinner, watched an episode of something on Amazon and went to bed.

The next morning I woke up with a fever of 100.5 degrees. I was weak, having trouble breathing, headachy – it felt like a case of the flu, and not a light one. I took some ibuprofen and by noon my temperature was normal. But just to be on the safe side, I called my doctor and made an appointment for later in the day. Between the time I called the doctor and the time we left, I was too weak to drive, so Tracy drove.

The doctor took my vitals — which were normal — but she gave me a COVID test as a precaution. By the time we got home, the news was showing Hurricane Henri heading straight for us out here on the east end of Long Island. Full moon tide, three-to-five-foot storm surge, 75-mile-an-hour winds, the whole thing. We live only a few feet above sea level with one of our doors at the lowest point of the entire property.

Somehow, with a surge of adrenaline, we pulled ourselves together to prepare. We got our sump pump ready, and backed it up with a power inverter we could hook up to the car if the electricity went out.

We were already well-provisioned with bottled water and food, so on Saturday we settled down to wait out the coming storm that never came. Henri took a right turn at Montauk Point and headed off to New England and we were thankfully spared, because my COVID test came back positive right in the middle of everything.

How did this happen? For 18 months I've been writing about this disease and taking every precaution. Hell, I went out and got masks and latex gloves from the hardware store back in March of last year, before the CDC was even recommending them, and we wore them everywhere. I remember being the only person in a mask in the supermarket. We wore masks and gloves at the gas station, at the local deli, even walking down the street around other people, all of whom at the time were unmasked.

We didn't go anywhere. We didn't travel. We didn't have anyone over to the house. Like millions of others, we just hunkered down. Then in the spring came the opportunity to get vaccinated and we were among the first when they set up mass-vaccine points out here. Although the vaccine gave us some sense of security, we still wore our masks everywhere we went indoors, following CDC guidelines.

We got married on Aug. 9, outdoors in the presence of a few of our friends. Because we were all vaccinated, we didn't wear masks, and afterwards we had dinner outdoors, well-spaced away from others at a restaurant. None of the people in our wedding party have come down with the disease, so that wasn't it.

The only time I didn't wear a mask was at a local outdoor farmers market. Once. But looking back, I remember being in line for a moment to pay, with a few people in front of me and behind me. No one at the farmers market was masked, so that must have been it.

Outdoors, for a grand total of maybe two minutes without a mask in the presence of others. If you needed evidence of the virulence of the delta variant, there it is.

Tracy's test was positive, of course, and both of us have been laid low all week. Lots of coughing, no sense of taste or smell, fatigue — and by this I mean hardly being able to move your arms and legs — shortness of breath, everything you would expect, and more. But as we began to recover, it wasn't bad enough to necessitate another trip to the doctor, much less to the hospital, for either of us, thank goodness. We've been eating fruit and homemade chicken soup with rice, as much of it as we could stand. The symptoms started to subside a day ago, and we knew we were on the way back when we both laughed at something last night and at that moment realized we hadn't laughed for almost a week. Who knew that COVID took your sense of humor too?

I've been looking for a lesson in all of this beyond the obvious one — wear your mask even when you think you don't have to, even when you're around people you know are vaccinated. The only place we're not going to mask-up from now on will be inside the house and in our yard. That's how careful I think we're going to have to be.

We've known for at least a couple of months that being vaccinated won't protect you from contracting COVID, and I'm here to tell you that Tracy and I are walking, talking evidence of that. I've been recounting the statistics for this disease for more than a year, but never have those numbers seemed more ominous to me than when we became two of them. We have both been on the phone with the New York State Department of Health's contact tracing unit. They are incredibly thorough and efficient, so when I tell you that the national seven-day average of new cases is 156,300, I can assure you that number is as accurate as it can be, at least with respect to New York State. But the number that's truly staggering is the average number of daily deaths over the last week, which is 1,233 – with 2,210 having died on Thursday alone.

It now seems nearly beside the point to break down COVID statistics between vaccinated and unvaccinated people. It could be that whoever exposed me was vaccinated but showing no symptoms. I'm certain I was positive without symptoms for several days before I came down with a fever and was first aware that I was sick. I feel lucky that I didn't expose anyone during that time because I didn't go anywhere and I wasn't around anyone.

It was the politicization of this disease right from the beginning that has gotten us where we are, with statistics for new cases, hospitalizations and deaths approaching the highs they hit in January of this year. Insane opposition to imposing mask mandates in states like Florida and Texas and others are making things worse, and we're just getting started when it comes to the reaction that's sure to come with vaccination mandates by localities, businesses and entertainment venues. Irrationality has been the hallmark of this disease and it shows no signs of letting up.

I have to admit that during the past year I have joined in what Paul Krugman called in a recent column in the New York Times "the quiet rage of the responsible." But I must tell you that having contracted COVID, I have a whole new idea about what being responsible means, because it means us: Tracy and me. Even though we acted responsibly in getting vaccinated and wearing masks early on and throughout the pandemic, we still came down with this terrible disease.

I have reluctantly concluded that over time, practically everyone is going to get sick with the virus. It's going to be a part of our lives the way the weather is. We're going to have to learn that while there will be times it is warm and sunny, we're going to have to endure not just one winter of COVID, but many. COVID is well on its way to moving from pandemic to endemic. It is going to be with us for a very long time. We have to come to grips with the fact that while vaccines will protect us, there is no immunity to this disease. Living with it will mean more than just taking care of ourselves. It will take respect for others and the patience and endurance of all of us.

Lay off Joe Biden: He didn’t 'lose' Afghanistan — we are finally leaving it alone

Do you really think our pull-out from Afghanistan would have looked any different under the man who handled the coronavirus pandemic so well that he cashiered 400,000 American lives? He claimed over and over that he was going to end the "forever wars" and get us out of Iraq and Afghanistan once and for all. He was the president who said he could "make a deal" with the Taliban that was supposed to lead to a peaceful reconciliation with the Afghan government upon the withdrawal of American troops.

This article first appeared in Salon.

Taliban insurgents cleverly allowed cameras from Al Jazeera to film them walking through the presidential palace in Kabul demonstrating how a neat and tidy transfer of power looks, compared with what was attempted by the violent Trump mob that tried to take over the U.S. Capitol. This has led to predictable hand-wringing and pearl-clutching by the usual gaggle of Trump puppets, who the likes of MSNBC and CNN have been only too happy to allow on air to spew their anti-Biden garbage.

I swear, if I see the grim visage of one more Republican congressman lamenting the "chaos" caused by Joe Biden and the promises we broke with our "Afghan partners," I'm going to puke. We didn't have Afghan partners; we had people in a foreign country we showered with money and ordered around and told what to think and who to believe, which was us. Republicans have been waiting to hang "losing" the Afghanistan war around the neck of Joe Biden since he announced back in April that we would withdraw the troops remaining in that country by the end of this month. Unmentioned by all the Trump-puppets is the fact that Biden is doing nothing more or less than carrying out to the letter the deal Trump made with the Taliban last year: that we would pull all our troops out, that we wouldn't engage Taliban fighters in hostilities and they wouldn't engage us, and that the Taliban would pledge not to turn the country back into a stronghold for terrorist groups like al-Qaida and the Islamic State group.

Afghanistan didn't have a functioning government, but rather a bunch of people with official titles who were paid to do what we told them. Afghanistan didn't have a functioning army, it had a uniformed gang of men we gave M-16s and taught how to march and shoot. At least some of them were Taliban sympathizers. Some of those expensively trained Afghan soldiers shot and killed their American "partners," proving just what side they were really on. That the Afghan army is said to have "melted" into the populace as the Taliban walked triumphantly into Kabul should hardly be a surprise. Raise your hand if you expected anything different to happen. I'll wait.

Hmmm. No takers? I didn't think so.

With Afghanistan, we didn't even have the excuse that we were supporting a "war of independence" like we claimed about Vietnam. It was a big-power police action from day one. Bin Laden and al-Qaida hit us, so we went in there to take them out. We began losing Afghanistan the day we "took" Kabul from the Taliban and said we had driven al-Qaida terrorists out of the country.

Here's the deal with a big, muscular country like the United States that thinks it should have so much say about the way the world is run that we have military outposts in 140 countries: The minute we "take" a city, or a region, or a country, we've lost it, because everyone who lives there knows two things.

One, that we were never really going to live there, like we would if we changed citizenship or got a visa to move to a country like France. That's living in a country. We did what we always do in countries we occupy but don't live in. We walled off limited areas and turned them into Little Americas and called them "base camps" complete with resident McDonald's and KFC outlets. That's where the Americans who "took" Afghanistan lived, and nobody knew that better than the Afghans themselves.

Sure, there were some American civilians who actually lived in Afghan homes or apartments they rented or bought. Most of them worked for NGOs or international aid organizations like Doctors Without Borders or the dozens of groups that set up programs to help establish schools to educate Afghan girls and women. But few were in that country on official business of the American government. Most of the Americans representing our government lived behind gigantic concrete walls or Hesco barriers topped with razor wire and traveled in armored SUVs and Humvees in heavily defended convoys.

When I was in Iraq and Afghanistan around American troops, I used to ask them how they would like it if some foreign country moved a bunch of soldiers into their hometowns and seized property owned by locals and walled off that property and topped it with razor wire and then began moving around their hometowns in armored vehicles carrying soldiers with machine guns and grenades and even heavier weapons. To a soldier, they replied that would never happen in their hometowns, because people wouldn't let it.

Everywhere we established an American presence in Afghanistan was a hometown that didn't like being occupied by heavily armed American soldiers. So what did we expect?

The other thing the locals know with certainty is that we would leave. Hell, they watched 20 years of American soldiers cycle through their service in one-year tours. If they worked with the American military, Afghans could get to know a lieutenant in 2002 and watch them return as a captain in 2006, as a major in 2010, as a colonel in 2016, even as a general in 2020. But nobody stayed. Few became familiar with Afghan customs. Even fewer learned the language. They knew we wouldn't stay the course because most Americans Afghans came into contact with didn't stay more than a year.

The very worst thing about an American occupation of a foreign country is our arrogance of power. It infects everything. We have the biggest army, we have the biggest air force, we have the biggest navy; we have the biggest, most accurate, deadliest weapons; we have the most money, we can buy the most stuff, we can provide the most aid, and we can spread the most influence, which is to say we can insist on setting the rules and we can get our way. Our arrogance breeds contempt for those who don't recognize how right we are. If I had a dollar for every time I heard an American soldier use the word "backward" to describe something about either Iraq or Afghanistan, I could have retired by now.

The arrogance of belittling the "backward" way of life of those in a country like Afghanistan is breathtaking. I have known people in this country, the allegedly modern United States, who grew up without electricity in their homes, who carried water in a bucket from a spring to a house that had no indoor plumbing, who didn't see a store-bought piece of clothing until they were 30 years old, who never slept under anything but a homemade quilt and didn't see a wool blanket until they were middle aged; people who grew up without a family car, who fed themselves with what they grew and slaughtered. You want to talk about backward? How about refusing to be vaccinated for COVID, or states which have passed laws that control women's lives by limiting or completely ending their right to abortions? Or worshiping god by holding that women cannot be leaders or pastors in church?

The Afghan people know who they are and more than that, they know who they have always been, and they are just as proud as we are. I once sat down in a family compound behind 20-foot mud brick walls with a farmer and his sons who were descended from the family that had farmed that land and lived on it in mud brick compounds exactly like that one for more than 1000 years. When I used the word "Taliban" with the father, it meant "religious people" to him, not enemy. He took me outside and pointed down the road to a nearby farm. "Taliban," he said. He pointed further to another farm. "No Taliban," he said. Both farms were his neighbors. What he couldn't point to was the presence of anyone or anything having to do with the Afghan government, because in the remote region where his farm was along the border with Pakistan, there was no Afghan government.

We spent 20 messed-up years in Afghanistan flexing our muscles and spreading our money around, and now we are making a messed-up exit. We are leaving behind a country comprised largely of people just like the farmer I visited in his mud-brick compound, people who have never had contact with their government, people who live by religious rules and customs which are foreign to us and with which we don't agree, even rules which we consider to be cruel and "backward."

But it's their country, and those are their rules and customs, and now they will return to living as they did before we got there and started ordering them around and demanding that they do things our way, or else.

It's "or else" time in Afghanistan, folks, only this time it's their "or else" that counts. That's what you get when you invade and occupy foreign countries. You get shown the door and told not to let it hit you on the way out.

Whether or not we'll learn a lesson this time is doubtful. But what's not doubtful is that it's not Biden's fault. It's ours, because we paid the taxes and elected the politicians who put us there, and we elected the politicians who kept us there, and now we have elected the politician who is getting us out.

Good on him.

Cuomo and Trump have similar sordid histories — but only Republicans are sticking with their man no matter what

Andrew Cuomo is out as governor of New York. Reeling from allegations in a 165-page report by New York Attorney General Leticia James that he sexually harassed 11 women and assaulted at least one, most of whom worked under him in state government, and facing impeachment proceedings, Cuomo announced last Monday that he will resign on Aug. 24.

Cuomo faces charges that he groped and engaged in unwanted touching of several women, made inappropriate and suggestive comments and created a hostile work environment for women who worked for him. One of the women, Brittany Commisso, his former executive assistant, filed a criminal complaint accusing Cuomo of groping and rubbing her butt and slipping his hand inside her blouse and bra and grabbing her breast. The charge filed by Commisso is the most serious allegation against Cuomo. Four district attorneys from jurisdictions in Manhattan, Albany, Westchester, and Nassau counties have announced that they are reviewing the evidence presented in the attorney general's report.

Andrew Cuomo is a Democrat. Both houses of the New York state legislature are controlled by Democrats. Had Cuomo not announced he would resign, he would clearly have been impeached and convicted and removed from office by the state legislature.

Cuomo's rapid fall after allegations of sexual harassment and assault is reminiscent of Al Franken's resignation from the U.S. Senate. Franken faced allegations that he had forcibly kissed and groped several women. He was never accused of sexual assault, but less than a month after the first sexual harassment allegation was made against him in November of 2017, Franken announced he would resign from the Senate.

It has been said that Democrats eat their own, but it's more accurate to say that Democratic men, when they are caught acting being disgusting, at least have the sense to apologize and resign their positions. Democrat Eliot Spitzer was forced to resign as New York governor in 2008 following allegations that he had been a frequent customer of a high-priced prostitution ring. Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, another incredibly disgusting New York political figure, resigned from office in 2018 after the New Yorker reported that four women had accused him of physical abuse during sex. The women said that Schneiderman had choked, hit or slapped them without their consent.

Republicans, on the other hand, are not known for having a problem with men in their party when they are charged with sexual harassment and assault. Take the man who has been the leader of the Republican Party since he won the presidency in 2016: Donald Trump. In addition to various affairs Trump has had during three of his marriages, and the payoffs he has made to keep the women quiet, Trump has faced many accusations of harassment and abuse over several decades.

Let's take a look at what the Republican Party believes does not amount to behavior that would disqualify you from holding office. This list of Trump's alleged incidents of sexual misconduct is compiled from reports on ABC News and Time Magazine.

In a divorce filing, Trump's then-wife, Ivana, charged him with forcibly raping her in 1989. She is the mother of Eric, Donald Jr. and Ivanka. Later, under pressure to settle her divorce case, she withdrew her allegation, explaining that while she did feel "violated," she did not mean rape "in a literal or criminal sense."

Former model and photographer Kristin Anderson says that Trump shoved his hand under her dress and forcibly grabbed her vagina without her consent in a nightclub in the early 1990s. Anderson, who was in her early 20's at the time, said Trump was a stranger, a guy sitting next to her in a nightclub.

Jill Harth, a makeup artist, says that Trump groped her under her skirt at a dinner for contestants in one of his beauty pageants in 1992. She told the Guardian Trump had "pushed me up against the wall, and had his hands all over me and tried to get up my dress" in one of his children's rooms at Mar-a-Lago in the early 1990s.

Temple Taggart McDowell, a former Miss USA contestant, says that Trump forcibly kissed her on the lips more than once at the pageant in 1997.

Amy Dorris, a former model, told the Guardian that Trump groped her and forcibly shoved his tongue down her throat in 1997 at the U.S. Open tennis tournament. "I was pushing him off. And then that's when his grip became tighter and his hands were very gropey and all over my butt, my breasts, my back, everything," she said. "I felt trapped."

Lisa Boyne told HuffPost in 2016 that at a dinner she attended in 1996, women were forced her to walk across the table in order to leave the room. She says Trump commented on her underwear and vagina as she passed him.

Advice columnist E. Jean Carroll says that Trump pushed her up against the wall of a department store dressing room in the mid 1990s and forced his penis inside her. She has filed a lawsuit against Trump accusing him of rape.

Mariah Billado, who was Miss Vermont at the Miss Teen USA pageant in 1997, says Trump walked into her dressing room without her consent while she and other contestants were partially undressed. Trump admitted walking into dressing rooms and looking at undressed contestants on the Howard Stern Show in 2005, telling Stern he got away with it because "I'm the owner of the pageant."

Jessica Leeds says that Trump shoved his hand beneath her skirt and groped her "everywhere" while sitting next to him on a flight in the late 1970s. When she ran into him at a party in New York City several years later, Trump recognized her and called her a "cunt." She told the New York Times in 2016, "It was shocking. It was like a bucket of cold water being thrown over me."

Cathy Heller told The Guardian she was celebrating a Mother's Day brunch at Mar-a-Lago in the late 1990s with her husband, children, and mother in law when Trump walked up to her table and forcibly kissed her and grabbed her. She said Trump got angry when she tried to avoid his kiss and said, "Oh, come on!"

Karena Virginia told a press conference in 2016 that Trump walked up to her in the parking lot of the U.S. Open in 1998 and groped her breast against her will and asked her, "Don't you know who I am?"

Karen Johnson, a member of the Mar-a-Lago club, says that Trump pulled her behind a set of drapes and forcibly grabbed her vagina and kissed her on the lips in the early 2000's. "I didn't have a say in the matter," she says. Trump continued to pursue her by calling her repeatedly and offering to fly her to New York.

Miss Teen USA contestant Bridget Sullivan says that Trump walked into the dressing room at the pageant while she was undressed and hugged her "a little low on [her] back" against her will. He was like "a creepy uncle," Sullivan says.

Tasha Dixon, another Miss Teen USA contestant, made a similar claim against Trump, saying that he entered her dressing room at the pageant when she and the other girls were "half naked changing in our bikinis. There was no second to put a robe on or any sort of clothing or anything." Dixon was 18 years old when Trump ogled her in 2001.

Natasha Stoynoff, a reporter for People Magazine, says that Trump sexually assaulted her at his Mar-a-Lago club in 2005 while Melania – whom he had just married – was in another room changing for a photo shoot. Trump said he would take her to Peter Luger's steakhouse and told her, "You know we're going to have an affair, don't you?"

Former porn actress Jessica Drake told a press conference held by attorney Gloria Allred in 2016 that Trump kissed her and grabbed her without her permission in his hotel room at Lake Tahoe after a charity golf tournament in 2006. She said two other young women were also present, and he forcibly kissed them, too. Trump offered her $10,000 to return to his hotel room alone later. When she declined his offer, he said "What do you want? How much?" and offered her the use of his private plane.

Summer Zervos, a former contestant on "The Apprentice," told a news conference in 2016 that during a private meeting in his room at the Beverly Hills Hotel in 2007, Trump "grabbed my shoulder and began kissing me again and placed his hand on my breast."

Rachel Crooks, a former receptionist for the Bayrock Group, one of Trump's companies at Trump Tower, says that Trump forcibly kissed her without her consent outside an elevator in 2005. "It was so inappropriate," Crooks told the New York Times in 2016.

Mindy McGillivray says that Trump forcibly grabbed her buttocks without her consent in 2003 in a backstage area of a Ray Charles concert at Mar-a-Lago.

Samantha Holvey, a Miss USA contestant in 2006, told CNN in 2016 that Trump "inspected" her and other contestants "like we were just meat, we were just sexual objects," before the pageant. It made her feel "the dirtiest I felt in my entire life," she says.

Former Miss Finland Ninni Laaksonen told a Finnish newspaper that Trump groped her without her consent and "grabbed my butt" backstage at the David Letterman show in 2006 when she made an appearance with other Miss Universe contestants. Trump was the owner of the Miss Universe pageant at the time.

Cassandra Searles, a former Miss USA contestanty, says that Trump "continually grabbed my ass and invited me to his hotel room" at the pageant in 2013. She says Trump treated her and the other contestants "like cattle." Trump was the owner of the Miss USA pageant.

Sexual assault by forcibly grabbing and touching breasts and vaginas. Forcible kissing. Shoving women against walls and holding them against their will. Pulling a woman behind a set of drapes and assaulting her. Making disgusting and demeaning comments about genitalia and other body parts. Leering at naked teenagers backstage at a pageant.

And violent forcible rape, more than once.

Donald Trump isn't alone among Republican sexual abusers. Right now, Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida is under investigation by multiple law enforcement agencies for sex trafficking a minor, procuring sex and having sex with a minor.

Andrew Cuomo is out as governor of New York. Donald Trump just reported raising $100 million, likely in preparation to run for president again in 2024. His support among members of the Republican Party is currently above 80 percent. Republicans evidently believe sexual harassment and assault of women is a sign of strength and manhood, and a reason to vote for a disgusting slimeball like Donald Trump.

There's a difference between Democrats and Republicans. Don't forget it.

How Trump blew his chance to steal the election

The months leading up to Nov. 3, 2020, were for Donald Trump almost a carbon copy of what he had done going into the presidential election four years previously: He thumbed tweets, whined at his rallies and complained to anyone who would listen that the election had been "rigged" by Democrats. Of course, after election eve in 2016, we never heard another peep out of him about the dastardly Democrats and the wily ways they had rigged the election against him, because he won.

This article was originally published at Salon

But from the moment that his network of pet poodles at Fox News called Arizona for Joe Biden in November of 2020, causing a series of eruptions in the private quarters at the White House, culminated in a call to Fox executives to demand that the network reverse its Arizona projection, Trump understood that this time it would be different. He would lose.

Trump turned immediately to the courts, filing more than 60 federal lawsuits in the battleground states he lost claiming that the election had been "stolen" from him. But as one case after another went down to defeat or outright dismissal, he turned to loyalist loons like former general Michael Flynn, online conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, former White House adviser Sebastian Gorka, My Pillow guy Mike Lindell and — wait for it — the Proud Boys to push his obsession that he hadn't lost, and that the election had been rigged by nefarious forces.

See if this doesn't sound familiar. On Dec. 12, several thousand pro-Trump demonstrators showed up in Washington for at least two rallies, one on the Mall and the other on the steps of the Supreme Court, to protest its decision the previous day to throw out a lawsuit filed by the attorney general of Texas seeking to bar the states of Georgia, Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania from casting their electoral ballots for Biden. The court issued a brief unsigned order on Dec. 11 saying that Texas had no "interest in the manner in which another state conducts its elections" and dismissed the lawsuit. A few days earlier, the court had dismissed another suit filed by Pennsylvania Republicans seeking to throw out that state's Biden electors, thus disenfranchising millions of voters.

Trump was watching closely. With Proud Boys marching through downtown Washington in mock-military formations shouting "Move out!" and "1776!" Trump tweeted "Wow! Thousands of people forming in Washington (D.C.) for Stop the Steal. Didn't know about this, but I'll be seeing them! #MAGA." A bit later, he tweeted, "WE HAVE JUST BEGUN TO FIGHT!!!"

He must have liked what he saw on the streets of the nation's capital that Saturday, because seven days later, on Dec. 19, Trump was tweeting "Big protest in D.C. on January 6th. Be there, will be wild!" The next week, on Dec. 26, he tweeted "The 'Justice' Department and the FBI have done nothing about the 2020 Presidential Election Voter Fraud, the biggest SCAM in our nation's history, despite overwhelming evidence. They should be ashamed. History will remember. Never give up. See everyone in D.C. on January 6th."

After seven hours of testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee last Saturday by former acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen, and five hours of testimony before the same committee on Friday by Rosen's former acting deputy, Richard Donoghue, we now know that behind the scenes, Trump was very busy.

On Dec. 15, the day after Bill Barr announced that he would be leaving his post as attorney general, Trump summoned Rosen to the Oval Office and told him he wanted the DOJ to file legal briefs supporting the lawsuits he had not yet lost challenging election results in battleground states. He demanded that Rosen appoint special counsels to investigate Dominion Voting Systems, which had provided voting machines in multiple states. Rosen demurred, citing what Barr had already reported to Trump, which was that the DOJ had investigated his charges and had found no evidence of widespread or significant voter fraud.

Rosen told the Judiciary Committee that Trump called him almost daily trying to get him to have the Department of Justice declare that the presidential election was "corrupt" and announce that the department was initiating investigations of "election irregularities" in multiple states, including Georgia, Nevada, Arizona, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin — all states Trump had lost narrowly to Biden.

Rosen continued to defer and delay on the phone, and Trump started talking with the acting head of the DOJ's civil division, Jeffrey Clark, who was more amenable to Trump's conspiracies. Rosen described to the Judiciary Committee five separate "encounters" with Clark over his plotting behind Rosen's back with Trump, all of which took place between Dec. 23 and Jan. 3.

Trump became fixated on his narrow defeat in Georgia, placed a now-famous phone call to Gov. Brian Kemp on Dec. 5, trying to get him to pressure the state legislature to overturn Biden's victory in the state. Kemp deflected, telling him that he had no power to call for investigations into signatures on absentee ballots or any of the other things Trump was urging him to do.

On Dec. 27, at Trump's urging, Clark produced a letter dated the following day he wanted Rosen and Donoghue to sign. Aware that the governor of Georgia had rejected Trump's entreaties, Clark's letter amounted to a DOJ legal analysis that the state legislature could call itself into session without the governor's authority, reject the electors pledged to Joe Biden and appoint its own slate of Trump electors. "Time is of the essence," the Clark letter pleaded, because Congress would convene in joint session to certify the election on Jan. 6.

Rosen and Donoghue refused to sign the letter, telling Clark "this is not even within the realm of possibility."

That didn't end it. Clark apparently demanded a meeting with Rosen and Donohue, which took place at the DOJ on New Year's Eve. Clark told them Trump was planning on firing Rosen and replacing him with Clark so he could carry out his plan to manipulate the Georgia legislature into appointing a new slate of Trump electors. Clark told his two bosses that he was meeting with Trump the next week to carry this out.

Instead, Clark met with Trump a day later and showed him the letter, discussing their plan for a Trumpian "Saturday Night Massacre." Rosen and Donoghue demanded a meeting with Trump, at which they planned on telling him that the entire senior leadership of the Justice Department would resign en masse if Trump appointed Clark as acting attorney general.

Before that meeting took place, news emerged that Trump had placed a lengthy call to the Georgia secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, demanding that the latter "find" enough votes to overturn the election results in his state. "I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have," Trump said, according to a tape of the call obtained by the Washington Post.

The Oval Office meeting between Trump, Rosen, Donoghue and Clark went on the next evening, attended by White House counsel Pat Cipollone, who advised the president not to fire Rosen because such a move would trigger congressional investigations and distract from Trump's attempts to overturn the election. After three hours, the meeting broke up, with Rosen and Donoghue still in their jobs.

Rosen and Donoghue told the Senate Judiciary Committee that with only 17 days remaining until the presidential inauguration, they believed they had avoided a constitutional crisis. But we all know what happened three days later, on Jan. 6, when a violent mob of Trump supporters breached the Capitol building and delayed for several hours the certification of the electoral ballots which made Joe Biden president.

Between the early hours of Nov. 4, when Trump first realized he had lost the election, and Jan. 6, when the assault on the Capitol dominated every news cycle until the inauguration (and beyond), Trump was all over the place in his attempts to overturn the election. He was consumed with the lawsuits being filed around the country on his behalf — but was losing them, one after another. He was obsessed with following conspiracy theories about Biden ballots being carried by Special Forces soldiers from Germany and stuffed into ballot boxes in battleground states, about mysterious computers and satellites controlled by Italy switching Biden votes for Trump votes in battleground states, and multiple other outlandish conspiracies.

But beginning on Dec. 12, with the Proud Boys march through Washington and the demonstrations on the Mall and at the Supreme Court, Trump became fixated on holding a rally on Jan. 6 that he believed could prevent the certification of electoral ballots taking place that day. Two days later, he began his campaign to get the Department of Justice to join his plan to pressure state legislatures in a handful of states he had lost to throw out Biden electors and appoint their own slates of Trump electors.

He tweeted on Dec. 19, 26, 27 and 30, all dates coinciding with his pressure on Rosen and Donoghue to use the Department of Justice to help him overturn the election. On Jan. 1, the day he met with Jeffrey Clark to discuss firing Rosen, he tweeted "The BIG Protest Rally in Washington, D.C. will take place at 11:00 A.M. on January 6th. Locational details to follow. StopTheSteal!" On Jan. 4, Trump traveled to Georgia to hold a rally, nominally in support of the two Republican candidates in the U.S. Senate runoff election, but really to put pressure on Georgia legislators to overturn the election.

Practically every move Trump made in December and January in advance of Jan. 6 was a crime. Pressuring Jeffrey Rosen to misuse the Department of Justice to support his private lawsuits was a crime. Conspiring with Jeffrey Clark to fire Rosen so Clark could send the letter to the Georgia legislature was a crime. Calling Brad Raffensperger and Brian Kemp and pressuring them to "find" votes and use the legislature to overturn the election was a crime. Meeting with his own White House staff and outside advisers to plan the rally on the Ellipse at which he would incite the assault on the Capitol was a crime.

Trump's problem, to put it frankly, was that he didn't start committing crimes early enough. The crimes he committed in December and January were largely impulsive, not carefully planned or focused. He exploded with tweets and phone calls and meetings and rallies.

In short, Trump was Trump, as incompetent a criminal conspirator as he was a president. The only question left to be answered at this point is whether Merrick Garland and the Biden Department of Justice will have the courage to charge him and his co-conspirators with the felonies they committed: defrauding the United States by attempting to illegally influence the outcome of the 2020 election.

If that crime sounds familiar, that is because it is the same one special counsel Robert Mueller charged 24 Russian nationals with committing in 2016, when they illegally hacked into Democratic National Committee servers, stole campaign emails and set up fake accounts to influence voters on American social media platforms. With Donald Trump, nothing is ever new. Just watch him. He's out there right now raising $100 million to do it all over again in 2024. And the entire Republican Party is right there with him.

Will things ever return to normal? It doesn't look that way right now

The message of the Centers for Disease Control's documents obtained by the Washington Post and the New York Times on Friday isn't specified in those documents themselves, but in one epidemiologist's reaction to them. "Herd immunity is not relevant as we are seeing plenty of evidence of repeat and breakthrough infections," Dr. Jeffrey Shaman, a Columbia University epidemiologist, told the Post.

This article first appeared in Salon.

If you're like me, you will probably need a moment to let that sink in. Until Friday morning, July 30, 2021, herd immunity was the goal we were all working towards. Remember when President Biden set his goal of vaccinating 70 percent of the population by July 4? What followed was an extended discussion among experts and politicians about whether that goal would amount to the country reaching "herd immunity." The hope was that COVID would turn out to be similar to chicken pox or measles or polio, diseases for which herd immunity was long ago reached with vaccines. When enough people had been vaccinated, those diseases simply went away, with only occasional outbreaks of measles in communities which lost their herd immunity, due largely to anti-vaccine movements.

Most experts believed that it would take vaccinating somewhere between 70 and 90 percent of Americans for the country to reach something resembling herd immunity. The fact that COVID is a global pandemic, with many countries in the developing world lacking widespread vaccine distribution, argued against the kind of herd immunity eventually reached against diseases like polio. Still, the goal seemed within reach if enough of us could be convinced to get vaccinated. At that point, it was hoped, normal life in this country could resume, with people eating in restaurants, going to the movies, attending concerts, singing in church choirs, playing sports and attending school uninhibited by requirements to social distance or keep wearing masks.

On Friday, that hope went out the door. The CDC internal health document obtained by the Post and the Times urges federal health officials to "acknowledge the war has changed." What changed the CDC's approach to COVID was "unpublished data from outbreak investigations and outside studies showing that vaccinated individuals infected with delta may be able to transmit the virus as easily as those who are unvaccinated," according to the Post.

Herd immunity has to do with transmissibility. A disease goes away when enough people become immune to the infectious agent such that it can no longer be transmitted among a population. The CDC on Friday essentially admitted that being vaccinated against COVID doesn't make you immune. You can still contract the disease, especially the delta variant, and having become infected, you can still transmit the disease to others whether you have symptoms or not.

If you get down in the weeds of the CDC findings, you find that the lack of immunity provided by the current vaccines has to do with the way the antibodies produced by the vaccines act within the body. When the COVID vaccines are injected, the antibodies produced by the human immune system appear mostly in the blood. "Some antibodies may make their way into the nose, the main port of entry for the virus, but not enough to block it," the Times reported Friday. "The Delta variant seems to flourish in the nose, and its abundance may explain why more people than scientists expected are experiencing break-through infections and cold-like symptoms."

Vaccinated people can spread the virus almost as easily as unvaccinated people because the so-called "viral loads" in their noses and upper respiratory tracts can be nearly as strong as in unvaccinated people. When vaccinated people become infected, the virus attempts to travel from the nose and throat into the lungs. This is where the antibodies built up by the vaccines go to work, preventing a severe enough infection to need hospitalization.

"The vaccines — they're beautiful, they work, they're amazing," Dr. Frances Lund, a viral immunologist at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, told the Times. "But they're not going to give you that local immunity." Vaccinated people will be contagious for a much shorter time, Dr. Lund told the Times. "But that doesn't mean that in those first couple of days, when they're infected, they can't transmit it to somebody else."

There's the rub about COVID. Since vaccinated people can still "catch" the delta variant of COVID and transmit it to other people almost as easily as unvaccinated people, "in some sense, vaccination is now about personal protection — protecting oneself against severe disease," Dr. Shaman, the Columbia University epidemiologist told the Post. So it's not about the "herd," it's just about you.

This is why the CDC's findings this week are a game-changer. It's also why the CDC has released new guidelines suggesting a return to mask-wearing, even among vaccinated people, in areas of the country that are experiencing an uptick in breakouts of the disease. Getting the vaccine doesn't keep you from getting the disease, and it doesn't keep you from spreading it.

Of course, this might raise the question among the unvaccinated of why they should get the vaccine at all. If everybody can still get the disease and spread it to the extent that the CDC is going back to saying we've got to wear masks again – all of us, vaccinated and unvaccinated alike – what's the use?

For one thing, all the available vaccines provide protection against coming down with a bad enough case of the disease that you'll need to be hospitalized and run the risk of dying. And vaccines at least lower the possibility that you'll contract the disease and be likely to spread it. So we've gone from expecting that the vaccines will make us immune to the knowledge that the vaccines will protect us from severe infection and the symptoms of "long COVID" and the possibility of dying from the disease.

The message is, COVID is as contagious as chicken pox, Ebola or the common cold, and getting vaccinated isn't going to prevent you from catching it. But it will save your life.

That is a more nuanced argument for the vaccines, and it will have to be the argument that health care professionals and politicians take to the population that isn't yet vaccinated. Telling them that getting vaccinated is some kind of cure-all would be a lie, so tell them the truth.

I think the other thing the CDC findings published on Friday tell us is that the unvaccinated population is no longer "the problem." They are part of the problem, because they can of course catch the disease and spread it, but, as we just learned, so can those of us who are vaccinated. We may be returning to the point where "the problem," if there is one, is more about people who refuse to adhere to mask mandates, or those politicians who, faced with outbreaks of the disease, refuse to impose them.

If there is an enemy in the war against COVID it's the virus itself, which is far more virulent than we knew. It is mutating, and mutations like the delta variant are making the disease much worse than it was in the beginning. I think we will have to assume that there will be new mutations, new variants, meaning this disease is going to be with us in one form or another for years – maybe forever, like the seasonal flu and the common cold. We're going to have to learn to live with the disease even if more and more Americans come around to getting vaccinated, because while the vaccine may protect us as individuals, it will never protect us as the "herd" we hoped to become by getting vaccinated. We're never going to reach herd immunity, but it behooves us as a nation to reach a herd understanding that for better or worse, we're all in this together.