Friday, May 10, 2019


Uncredited tawdriness from a blog called Sententiae Antiquae that I'll be looking at later on.

Hot take on our Constitution from David F. Brooks ("The Tawdry Trump-Nadler War"):
Our system of checks and balances requires that political leaders hold two opposing ideas in their heads simultaneously. If you’re a political leader, the first is that your political opponents are wrong about many things and should be defeated in elections. The second is that you still need them. You need them to check your excesses, compensate for your blind spots and correct your mistakes.
Political opponents are actually not part of the system of checks and balances "between the different departments of government", as somebody should have taught Brooks around 8th grade. The founders would have been happy not to have any, President Washington in particular really hoping to avoid any parties at all.

Please tell Mitch McConnell, though, that he needs somebody to check his excesses, compensate for his blind spots, and correct his mistakes. My guess is he'll cooperate better if you tell him he gets to check somebody else. To be honest, that would also work better on me, and it probably worked better on James Madison too; Madison himself, in Federalist 51, seems to have been focused on giving departments the ability to resist:

But the great security against a gradual concentration of the several powers in the same department, consists in giving to those who administer each department the necessary constitutional means and personal motives to resist encroachments of the others.
Brooksy's agenda is, of course, making sure we understand that however unpleasant President Trump is (in the contest between the White House and the House of Representatives, in which checks and balances certainly are involved), we should understand that House Judiciary chairman Jerry Nadler, who has been demanding for some weeks that the Justice Department furnish his committee with the entire, redaction-free Mueller Report and its underlying materials, is pretty much the same, "tawdry" in fact—first time, I'll bet, anybody has ever applied that startling adjective to my generally placid and dignified congressman.
If Congress uses its power simply to destroy the president, then of course any president is going to clam up and refuse to cooperate. If Congress picks fights merely to gin up the political passions of the donor base, then of course the system of checks and balances is going to break down.
Republicans have crossed this line in the past, and Democrats crossed it this week, undermining the way the system of oversight is supposed to work. How do we know this? Because of what Democrats are declaring a constitutional crisis over — the redaction levels of the Mueller report. Of all the contemptible things the Trump administration has done, this is probably the least contemptible.
I'm not sure where Brooks gets his information that Nadler might be using his power "simply to destroy the president", or how he thinks Trump would be destroyed by the release of the full report if the difference between that and the redacted version we all have is as trivial as Brooks supposes (the report we've got is already "extremely damning" about the president, he says, and "Barr has made 99.9 percent of Volume II of the Mueller report, which is focused on obstruction, available to top Democrats"). Besides, eight paragraphs later, he suddenly decides Nadler isn't doing it to destroy the president at all or to "gin up the donor base" either:
This constitutional crisis is just for show. Partly the Democrats want the show because it just feels good to bash the administration. “This has had a cathartic effect on the Democrats because we have finally been able to find a way to fight back at the obstructionism,” Representative Jamie Raskin told my Times colleague Sheryl Gay Stolberg.
That's misreading Raskin, by the way, whose point is not that it is being done to feel good but that it feels good because it's doing something which is, he hopes, effective. He's also on the House Oversight Committee, chaired by Elijah Cummings, which has said that it might withhold salaries from government employees who refuse to appear before committees. Which brings up another point: Nadler's demand for the unredacted report is just one of a number of moves in the House, some of which are going to be more effective than others. Judiciary has also subpoenaed former White House lawyer Don McGahn, whose testimony forms the core of the Mueller obstruction case, and has sought testimony from Mueller himself, as well as demanding a wealth of documents from 81 Trump-connected individuals back in March (they've definitely been obeyed by Tom Barrack and Stephen Bannon, so far). Oversight has subpoenaed eight years of Trump's financial records from his accountants, and
is conducting a wide-ranging investigation centering on alleged abuses with the White House security clearance system. The panel has requested documents and witness testimony from the White House.
House Ways and Means has demanded six years of Trump tax returns from the Treasury Department, with which Secretary Mnuchin has so far refused to comply, and we'll see whether he succeeds (meanwhile, New York state law is in the process of being rewritten to allow the state to supply Trump's returns to Congress if it asks). And Intelligence is after Trump's financial records from Deutsche Bank and and Capital One; and
The House Intelligence, Foreign Affairs and Oversight committees asked the White House and State Department to turn over “all documents and communications, regardless of form and classification, that refer or relate to any communications between President Trump and President Putin, including in-person meetings and telephone calls.”
And there's always more, whether in the Senate (trying to get to Donald Junior, who lied fairly flagrantly in his last appearance with their Intelligence committee), and the various state and federal courts investigating Stone, Gates, Manafort, and Trump himself, and the misdoings of his Foundation and the 2017 inauguration committee, which he seems to have used as personal slush funds or mechanisms for feeding cash to his businesses, and his violations of the constitutional Foreign Emoluments clause, and good old Stormy...

It's hilarious that Brooks seems to think that the redactions in the Mueller Report are the only things at issue here, that Nadler is only bothering about so all the Democrats can be excited about something. In fact I think there is a certain amount of payback in this particular angle, because when as Brooks says
The administration claims it needs to protect continuing investigations and grand jury information. The Democrats claim they should go to a judge and get him or her to lift those restraints.
he's evidently not aware that DOJ has always gone to a judge to lift those restraints in previous investigations, and successfully; Judge Sirica cheerfully gave House Judiciary all the grand jury material on the Watergate plumbers when they requested, and when the Starr Report was delivered to the House in 1998, it had every single unredacted word, and the key allegation, that Clinton had committed "perjury", was based on grand jury testimony that Republicans released to the public practically the day they got it. David F. Brooks wrote cheerfully in the Weekly Standard that September, laughing at
Sen. Moynihan, who's been going around town saying this is a "crisis of the regime." The phrase is brilliantly portentous and vacuous. Also literally untrue. This is no crisis of the American regime, since the Constitution provides for impeachment....
Late in the day, phone traffic is heating up, with people checking out one another's perceptions. The TV news is all heavy breathing, but the phone gossip has it that parts of the report are comparatively weak, like the abuse-of-power section. Some find the report underwhelming. Democratic Hill staffers tell each other that the worst is over. The bottom has been reached. Conservatives are concentrating on the moral stuff. Most are absolutely appalled. The sickness of the relationship. Clinton's odd morality -- his weird rules about what he can do, when, with Monica.
The great question is how the masses will respond to the sex narrative. Will the Democratic congressmen read it and be sickened or read it and be outraged that Starr laid it all out? Look for people to fall into utterly different camps, the moralists and the amoralists. The culture war lives.
It wasn't a constitutional crisis then because "the Constitution provides for impeachment", and it's not a constitutional crisis now because it's just Jerry being tawdry.

He didn't have a word in 1998 about how the House should stop being so tawdry (it's startling how much of the Starr-Kavanaugh porn he manages to insert into his Weekly Standard commentary, though). What he doesn't understand today is that it's not like last time. Nadler and Cummings and Schiff and others aren't kidding: the president seems to be running a criminal enterprise and to have good reason for trying to prevent any information from coming out; he can't be allowed to withhold it on the grounds of some idea that he's "checking" the House's power. To my way of thinking we certainly do have a constitutional crisis: there's a man in the White House doing things he absolutely should not be doing, since, as I like to remind everybody, the moment of the inauguration, when he was holding a profitable hotel lease that read,
“No member or delegate to Congress, or elected official of the Government of the United States ... shall be admitted to any share or part of this Lease.”
and some GSA clown issued a finding that that was OK.

Mr. Madison's arrangement has built too much resistance into that office. Trump can keep collecting profits from governments the US does business with, he can keep meeting or calling Putin outside ur ability to know what he's saying, he can throw a ruinous tariff on a range of products and tank the stock market on a whim, he can give his children jobs that they can exploit for a profit, he can call for police to beat up criminal suspects, he can insult whole races of people, he can single out people who make him feel threatened and demand they be investigated and nobody seems constitutionally enabled to stop him. He can refuse to testify, disregard subpoenas, bribe and intimidate witnesses, and tell an unending series of lies, and nobody has succeeded in punishing him for it. Unless we can, and I think all those investigations are going to be needed to do it.

As I was working on this, everybody else was learning about Trump's latest attempt to tamper with a witness to his frantic obstruction of justice defending himself against obstruction of justice charges, twice in the past month:
WASHINGTON — White House officials asked at least twice in the past month for the key witness against President Trump in the Mueller report, Donald F. McGahn II, to say publicly that he never believed the president obstructed justice, according to two people briefed on the requests.
Mr. Trump asked White House officials to make the request to Mr. McGahn, who was the president’s first White House counsel, one of the people said. Mr. McGahn declined. His reluctance angered the president, who believed that Mr. McGahn showed disloyalty by telling investigators for the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, about Mr. Trump’s attempts to maintain control over the Russia investigation.
He didn't stop committing crimes when Mueller handed his report in. I don't know what David Brooks has been up to.

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