“…But he is a state-of-the-art autocrat; he understands that he need not resort to the truncheon or the midnight knock at the door. His assault on civil society arrives in the guise of legalisms subverting the institutions that might challenge his authority.”
— Franklin Foer, Viktor Orban’s War On Intellect
By Dan Peak
The Commoner Call (5/13/19)
Dear Fellow Readers,
Legal mugging. Politics with Trump in the White House, as with a global plethora of autocrats, is like a daily mugging of law and order … and us. Our checks and balances are dependent on some regard for oath of office and our Constitution. Once Congress has issued subpoenas and they are ignored, what then? Congress has no prosecutorial power; can or will persons ignoring subpoenas be fined or arrested?
The opening quote is from an Atlantic article about Hungarian strong-man ruler Viktor Orban and his polished effort towards “liquidating the intelligentsia”. As Orban takes radical steps to rid Hungary of the highly respected Central European University (CEU) see if the paragraph below doesn’t remind you of politics in Wisconsin or at our national level.
“The bureaucrat warned of an imminent amendment to the national higher-education law that had been scripted in secret. Although the legislation didn’t mention CEU by name, the school was its obvious—and only—target. The bill would suddenly make CEU’s existence in the country dependent on quickly meeting a series of impossible-seeming requirements. As a foreign university, it would have to operate a campus in its country of origin. (CEU was chartered in the state of New York, but it didn’t have any faculty or facilities there.) Its national government would need to enter into a bilateral accreditation agreement with Hungary. (In the U.S., accreditation agreements are the jurisdiction of the states, not the federal government.) “It was an absolute masterpiece of this style of legal mugging,” Ignatieff told me.”
CEU faces a choice of being shut down, holding a knife to it’s own throat to comply with midnight legislation or move from Hungary. In too many ways we face equally unacceptable choices on many fronts.
Pattern of corruption.
Former FBI general counsel James Baker has had enough and is now going public. Trump and Russpublicans have abused a FBI culture of remaining quiet and Baker going public calling “bullshit” with regard to Trumpian claims of bias and corruption with the advent of the Trump-Russia investigation.
Our government institutions and media are going to have to invent new rules and cast off old and outdated limits like not charging a sitting president if we are to effectively confront Trump.
What If Nixon Had Destroyed The Tapes Instead Of Turning Them Over?
James Risen writing for The Intercept says Trump “has inflicted a slow-motion Saturday Night Massacre on the American people, a constitutional nightmare that has lasted two years instead of one night”. We are likely to see another two years of the same behavior with Trump’s personal attorney Attorney General William Barr. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein was given better than a benefit of the doubt after Jeff Sessions’ recusal and his appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller. But Rosenstein’s exit happens with his promise to Trump to “land the plane” if left in place at the Department of Justice and standing passively behind Barr as he lied about the conclusions of the Mueller report to benefit Trump.
Risen wonders what we’ll hear from Mueller and former White House legal counsel Don McGahn. Don’t we all? We’re not even sure how we get to a point of hearing from them as they are but two of the many legal challenges Congress faces in trying to provide oversight and get to the truth of Trump-Russia election interference and assorted criminal activity.
The Washington Post reports: Trump and his allies are blocking more than 20 separate Democratic probes in an all-out war with Congress
“President Trump and his allies are working to block more than 20 separate investigations by Democrats into his actions as president, his personal finances and his administration’s policies, according to a Washington Post analysis, amounting to what many experts call the most expansive White House obstruction effort in decades.
“Trump’s noncooperation strategy has shifted from partial resistance to all-out war as he faces mounting inquiries from the Democratic-controlled House — a strategy that many legal and congressional experts fear could undermine the institutional power of Congress for years to come. All told, House Democrats say the Trump administration has failed to respond to or comply with at least 79 requests for documents or other information.”
Running out the clock
Trump may not win these legal battles but he will do his best to run out the clock and delay any legal setbacks until after the 2020 election. In the meantime Trump is ‘buying’ votes and flaunting the lack of any legal actions against him to date.
Consider Trump’s recent rally in the Florida panhandle, specifically Panama City. Trump needs Florida to win reelection. While doing all he can to limit any financial support for post-hurricane recovery in Puerto Rico Trump regaled his crowd with promises of support including rebuilding damaged Tyndall Air Force Base. One of the more grotesque moments — among many — had Trump laughing, turning “shooting migrants into a punchline”.
Trump will do whatever it takes. There is likely a similar plan for largesse and support for ‘states rights’ social issues for every battleground state – he needs to get his base voters to vote. On a national level he is hijacking the Washington D.C. July 4th celebration to turn it into a Trump event.
Meanwhile Trump lawyer Giuliani announced (and subsequently cancelled) a trip to Ukraine to shop for and coordinate investigations against legal opponent former vice president Joe Biden: Trump’s International House Of Ratf*cking Is Opening A Franchise In Ukraine.
Charles Pierce references the New York Times report of the announced trip but offers his own less careful view of what this means.
“Who knows what the Ukrainians will feed him? He’ll believe almost anything and sell absolutely everything to the president*, who will make sure it gets laundered into the campaign. Then will come the Covering The Questions moment, to be followed by the Clouds and Shadows over the campaign which will linger for god knows how long. Elite campaign journalism likely will fail miserably (again). It can be argued that Biden is less vulnerable than Hillary Rodham Clinton was because nobody has a 25-year running head-start in creating a supervillain out of him, but I don’t have much faith in that outcome. It only took about a year for people to put Clouds and Shadows over the Clinton campaign in 1992 and they lingered and thickened in 2008 and 2016.”
Think of it as Trump’s and Giuliani’s campaign version of shooting someone on 5th Avenue.
If you prefer a whiff of encouraging news consider MSNBC host Rachel Maddow’s reports on how courts are at least “expediting” Trump-related cases.
But remember Sen. Kamala Harris’ questioning of Barr which had us assuming Trump is pressuring Barr to investigate political opponents given Barr’s non-denial. That and Trump assures us that it would be “appropriate” to discuss a Biden investigation with Barr. It seems a safe bet this has already happened.
Orban is winning his battle against the ‘intelligentsia’ in Hungary and it is resulting in a significant brain drain for the country. No matter, it just makes it easier to rule – which is of course the goal.
Trump is flagrantly lining his own pockets through his policies. Consider this review of how beyond Trump’s tax fraud with the wealth transfer from his father and his tax avoidance based on his $1 billion in losses over a decade, he has benefitted directly through his own tax cut: Trump Is A Bad Businessman. Is He A Tax Cheat, Too?
“The bill lowered the top tax rate from 39.6 percent to 37 percent. But it was far more generous to the wealthy who, like the president, structure their businesses to pay tax on a so-called pass-through basis. They gained a whopping 20 percent deduction on their income.
“…As a result, the bill cut the top rate on people who, like the president, own pass-through businesses in the real estate industry all the way to 29.5 percent.
“….All of this raises the question of whether the president steered the 2017 tax bill and subsequent regulations in directions that personally benefited him and his family. Moreover, because Mr. Trump is the not to liquidate his business assets or put them in a blind trust, concerns about his financial conflicts of interest are uniquely heightened.”
Trump claimed his tax plan cost him money but only his wide-eyed cult would believe such a claim. But the idea of holding Trump financially and maybe legally accountable at some distant time in the future once he leaves office feels hollow.
We need to defeat Trump at the polls. Let’s hope Congress gives as good as it gets and for every setback, for every ‘revised’ Trump-branded July 4th celebration there is a constant pattern of relentless and aggressive oversight actions with enough victories to shed light on the real Trump – something the media failed to do in 2016.