House Judiciary Committee takes a giant step toward impeachment

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler has previously indicated that impeachment proceedings were a reasonable probability. Just not quite yet.

“There are several things you have to look at,” Nadler said in December. “One, were there impeachable offenses committed, how many, et cetera? And, secondly, how important were they? Do they rise to the gravity where you should undertake an impeachment?”

Nadler took a big step toward impeachment on Tuesday by announcing that he has hired Norman L. Eisen and Barry H. Berke  as “consulting counsels”  — two men who already have answers to those questions.

Norman L. Eisen (Brookings Institution photo)

Eisen, as the chairman of the investigative watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), has been arguably the most prolific and high-profile chronicler of Trump’s many ethical violations. He has written dozens of op-eds for the New York Times, the Washington PostUSA Today, and other outlets.

In fact, he and Berke, a white-collar criminal defense lawyer – along with CREW executive director Noah Bookbinder – authored a voluminous compendium, now in its second edition, of the evidence that Trump obstructed justice, published by the Brookings Institution.

They lay out the legal arguments supporting Trump’s impeachment and indictment, and broadly hint at which they consider preferable by calling indictment the “option of last resort”. They write:

In many ways, the question has become less about whether there is a case that Donald J. Trump obstructed justice, and more about whether and in what form the rule of law will be followed.

Eisen, who served as Barack Obama’s testy ethics czar for two years, has most recently accused Trump of soliciting campaign contributions from Russia and witness tampering.

A case study in normalizing Trump, from the New York Times

I’ve been tweeting a lot about the latest New York Times interview with Trump. Here’s the main article, here’s a partial, edited transcript, here’s a sidebar on Times publisher A.G. Sulzberger’s colloquy with Trump on press freedom.

I don’t have that much more to add, although I’ll note that my first tweet definitely struck a nerve.

There have been lots of interesting repsonses, I encourage you to look through them.

I’ll just leave you with this one:

UPDATE:

Give up on getting this White House to answer reporters’ questions; focus on the next one

Sarah Sanders. (White House photo)

It’s time to declare press relations with this White House a total loss.

The latest news is that members of the White House press corps are so desperate that they are demanding that Sarah Sanders spend more time insulting them, lying to them, and not answering their questions.

White House Correspondents’ Association president Olivier Knox called the White House’s abandonment of regular briefings a “retreat from transparency and accountability” that “sets a terrible precedent.”  Washington Post media critic Margaret Sullivan wrote that the briefings “show reporters at least attempting to get at the truth by questioning those in power.”

But the practice under Sanders has been so perverted and debased that there’s simply no point asking for more.

As with so many other important, valuable presidential practices that Trump has smashed to bits, what we need to do is start thinking about how to put them back together when he’s gone.

Maybe Trump has done us a service, in a way. The reality is that White House-press relations – judged by the standards of transparency and accountability — were in terrible shape even before he came and declared journalist the “enemy of the people”.

Consider those daily press briefings folks are getting misty-eyed about. During the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations, press secretaries consistently saw their job as issuing a talking point then batting down questions, not answering them. Despite Obama’s pledge of transparency, press secretary Robert Gibbs smoothly picked up the deflection baton from Dana Perino.

Admittedly, simpering Sean Spicer and sneering Sarah Sanders turned that into a truth cudgel, but it’s been a long time since a press secretary straight-forwardly answered an embarrassing question.

Some critics have attacked the press corps for not taking more concerted, even organized action against Trump’s press office. But news organizations tend to want to operate with complete independence. And anyway, there have never been any agreed-upon standards about how much access and transparency a White House should be required to provide.

So here’s our chance. Let’s set high, formal expectations for the next president. Simply being “better than Trump” is way too low a bar. The idea shouldn’t be to raise the bar a bit, it’s to set a whole new bar.

Let’s get presidential candidates to pledge to meet those expectations. Then, every time they fail to meet them, it’s news!

What about a minimum number of press briefings and press conferences? A minimum number of sit-down interviews – and not just with friendly journalists? Regular access to decision-makers? More people authorized to speak on the record? And a commitment to explain what went into a decision rather than just repeating a stale talking point?

In fact, I think campaign reporters, rather than swallowing and regurgitating whatever crumbs they can get, should prioritize making clear public distinctions between candidates who are genuinely open to taking questions and being held accountable (if there are any) and those who are so circumscribed by fear of a bad sound bite that they say nothing beyond their pre-polled talking points.

(My advice to candidates in the latter category: Your opposition will create bad sound bites no matter what; better to drown them out than try to avoid them.)

I hope the next president continues to use Twitter to give the public insights into their thinking. But our expectations should be much higher than that. Back in 2008, I proposed a number of things that Obama could do to live up to his campaign promise to use the Internet to “create a transparent and connected democracy”.

He didn’t. And then Trump came along. But let’s try again. Let’s push for a White House web site that provides a window into the decision-making process, where some meetings are streamed live; where the president’s full daily calendar is posted online and visitor’s logs are updated frequently; where you get some sense of what is really going on in the White House and how responsive it is to the American people’s needs.

Let’s establish some basic, reasonable ground rules that almost everyone can agree upon for transparency and accountability. And then let’s hold the next president to them.

Let’s treat this like what it is: A full-on national crisis

ABC on the Iranian hostage crisis.

The field of American political journalism can make a lot of amends in the next few days if it allows itself to realize that the nation is now in full crisis mode, and starts to reflect that in its coverage.

For the many mainstream journalists still trying so hard not be perceived as taking sides, who have never found the right moment to say “Fuck it, I can’t do this anymore,” this would be a good time. There is nothing even a tiny bit normal about this anymore.

If federal law enforcement officials actually have evidence that Donald Trump suborned perjury before Congress, then impeachment proceedings are an absolute necessity, and each and every continued expression of support for Trump from Republican officials is a newly revelatory — and highly newsworthy — admission that they are putting party over country.

The news stories about this should be ceaseless and the coverage should relentlessly ask: Why isn’t this happening?

Meanwhile, huge swaths of the government are shut down, in what is nothing less than the president taking his own branch of government hostage, causing massive ongoing damage to the economy, to regular people, and for what? Because Ann Coulter challenged his manhood?

The press should be treating it like the Iranian hostage crisis – a dominant story that is major news every single day that it goes on.

As for impeachment, the timing for the Atlantic’s “Impeach Donald Trump” cover this week turned out to be really quite perfect: Even those who quibble over what qualifies as a high crime cannot possibly argue that suborning perjury before Congress doesn’t qualify. (The news did, however, make the magazine’s amazing compilation of 50 Moments That Define an Improbable Presidency suddenly feel a tad out of date.)

Yoni Applebaum writes in the Atlantic piece that Trump’s “actions are, in sum, an attack on the very foundations of America’s constitutional democracy.”

And while journalism about impeachment proceedings focuses almost exclusively on the potential downsides, Applebaum compellingly argues that beginning the process begins the healing, by “shifting the public’s attention to the president’s debilities, tipping the balance of power away from him, skimming off the froth of conspiratorial thinking, moving the fight to a rule-bound forum, and dealing lasting damage to his political prospects.”

Even before the latest news, as he noted, there was urgency. “With every passing day, Trump further undermines our national commitment to America’s ideals. And impeachment is a long process.”

As I’ve written before, journalists need to stop stifling their outrage about Trump’s affront to American and journalistic values. And now, the object of their outrage should primarily be the Republicans who continue to defend the radical, impulsive, destructive, compulsive liar they have backed in some sort of awful Faustian bargain so far.

From “Blazing Saddles”

As for the shutdown, there’s no excuse to keep treating it as simply another news story, quoting people on both sides – and more recently, marveling at the tit-for-tat. Consider a few key facts:

  • There is no precedent for a president simply refusing to do his job (lead a functional executive branch) when he doesn’t get his way. He is actually holding himself hostage.
  • Previous shutdowns took place when budget negotiations stalled, and were all ended with short-term funding bills to allow for further negotiation.
  • There were and are no negotiations.
  • This is now the longest shutdown ever and there is no end in sight.
  • Trump doesn’t seem the least bit alarmed, because government is basically the enemy, anyway.
  • The shutdown is causing horrible distributed affects – untold damage to the economy, to workers, to people who require services — that take a while to come into focus and can only become uppermost in the public mind through relentless press coverage.

The two crises are of course directly related. Trump sees continuing the shutdown indefinitely as a way of consolidating his base on the assumption that they will save him from impeachment whatever comes, because, by his reckoning, “You can’t impeach somebody that’s doing a great job.”

Let’s hope that at editorial meetings in newsrooms across the country today, top editors stop to recognize that we are at an inflection point, and history will not only judge Donald Trump, it will judge  them as well.