The elite media sees impeachment as a problem  —  for Democrats

Michael Cohen

The Very Serious People in Washington — the same people who supported the war in Iraq, always consider deficit-reduction a top priority, thought Hillary Clinton was entitled to the presidency, hold no grudge against torturers, and believe Democrats and Republican have become equally extreme — long ago concluded that any talk of impeaching Donald Trump was ridiculous, flaky, and delusional.

It’s not. By any normal standard, Trump has committed numerous impeachable offenses. Special counsel Robert Mueller is almost assuredly going to tell us about many more. And if impeachment is the remedy to a manifestly unfit president, it’s long overdue.

But members of the Washington media elite take themselves Very Seriously.

It does not matter that the Very Serious People have been wrong about literally everything in the last couple decades. Their tone is considered “neutral” by the media elite. The “View from Nowhere” is actually the View of the Very Serious People.

The Very Serious People share an ideology — neoconservative on foreign policy, fiscally allegiant to the 1 percent — but what really defines them is their sense of moral superiority over those who get upset at the status quo.

Similarly, their default approach is not to judge policy on its merits — say, on the effect it would have on actual, living, normal Americans — but rather to discuss the optics. They see politics as a sport. They judge winners and losers, and feel they are staying above the political fray.

(The term “Very Serious People” was coined by Duncan Black, aka the blogger Atrios, and popularized by New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, who writes that Very Serious People believe that “it’s better to have been conventionally wrong than unconventionally right.”)

So how did the elite media cover Michael Cohen’s absolutely devastating testimony on Wednesday?

They should have been framing it the same way John Nichols did for The Nation:

How, if the Congress is still to be understood as a meaningful check and balance on electoral and executive abuses, can the US House of Representatives neglect so devastating an indictment of Donald Trump by a man who served for a critical decade ‘as his Executive Vice President and Special Counsel and then personal attorney when he became President’?

But they didn’t.

Look, I understand that practically speaking, it may make sense for Democrats to wait until after Mueller goes public with his findings to start talking actively about removing the president. At that point, it might well be a slam dunk, as they say. There’s also a solid argument named Mike Pence against impeachment, at this point it’s a dead letter in the Senate, and it would certainly be divisive.

But the coverage shouldn’t be about will-they-or-won’t-they. It should be about whether there’s a case to be made.

And to the extent that there is an important political question, it should be aimed at Republicans, not Democrats: How can they possibly still be defending Trump?

Cohen’s testimony in particular offered the media an extraordinary opportunity to review what we know, and assess it by the standards to which we normally hold presidents.

Instead, we get this:

New York Times: Impeach Trump? Defend Him? Cohen Hearing Shows Perils for Both Parties. In a “news analysis,” Michael D. Shear writes:

[The coming year will] be a test for both parties, particularly Democrats, who after Wednesday’s testimony from Mr. Cohen will face a rising chorus from the liberal wing of the party to impeach Mr. Trump for what it says is a clear case of a president who defrauded the public about hush payments and business dealings before an election and then lied about it from the White House.

[…]

Faced with that pressure, how long will Democratic leaders be able to argue against impeachment proceedings? And if they move ahead, with little hope of attracting bipartisan support, will they risk a backlash at the polls from voters?

“The more you do this, it just fires up the base that thinks that each day he stays in office it endangers the republic,” said Thomas M. Davis, a former Republican congressman from Virginia who once led the Oversight Committee when his party controlled the House. “It’s the old thing about be careful what you ask for.”

Shear notes — but buries — the more obvious “peril”:

For Republicans, Mr. Cohen’s allegations will once again require Mr. Trump’s followers to decide how long they will stand by a president whose actions threaten not only his administration but also the fate of politicians in the party he now leads.

Associated Press: Cohen hearing stokes touchy topic of impeachment. Lisa Mascaro and Steve Peoples write:

For some, the outcome may — or may not — lead to grounds for impeachment. For others, impeachment cannot come fast enough.

What is certain, though, is the mounting tension. As the hearings and investigations unfold, Democrats, particularly those running for the White House, may be speeding toward a moment when they have no choice but to consider the I-word.

Newsweek: Why Cohen’s Revelations Won’t Lead to Trump’s Impeachment. Alan Neuhauser writes:

[T]here’s general agreement that the alleged conduct — although apparent federal crimes — do not amount to the ‘high crimes and misdemeanors” justifying impeachment and conviction under Article 2 of the Constitution, a process that requires not only the House to vote for impeachment but two-thirds of the Senate, where Republicans hold the majority, to then vote for conviction.

“In the public understanding of the framers, it is pretty clear that it is limited to conduct while in office,” says David Rivkin, a conservative constitutional law scholar who served in the administrations of President George W. Bush and President Ronald Reagan. “So whatever Donald J. Trump did or did not do in 2011 or 2013 or all the way through Jan. 20, 2017, is utterly irrelevant to the scope of impeachable offenses. In fact, the whole goal of impeachment is limited to your offenses as a public person — breach of public trust.”

(Cohen, incidentally, gave House investigators a copy of a check Trump wrote to repay him for illegal hush-money payments in August 2017.)

Some of the coverage feels almost like taunting.

NBC: Democrats face a dilemma on impeachment. Chuck Todd, Mark Murray and Carrie Dann write:

Democrats have a problem on their hands.

How do they reconcile their growing belief that President Trump has committed crimes — especially after Michael Cohen’s testimony on Wednesday — with their hesitation/reluctance to consider impeachment?

[…]

But if you believe that what President Trump has done is WAY WORSE than Clinton ever did, aren’t you tolerating/normalizing this kind of behavior if you don’t consider impeachment ASAP?

Many but not all of the Washington Post’s columnists are Very Serious. The excellent Eugene Robinson’s column is headlined Michael Cohen’s revelations advance Trump’s inevitable reckoning, and he seems to be almost calling for impeachment when he writes: “Getting him out of office is an urgent task for our democracy.”

Meanwhile, the large, dominant, lunatic far-right contingent of Post columnists as usual provided comic relief. See Marc A. Thiessen: Michael Cohen was supposed to provide ‘bombshell’ testimony. It didn’t explode. And (new arrival) (because by golly the Post needed another Christian-right-neoconservative columnist) Henry Olsen: Michael Cohen has blown a lot of political smoke but no impeachable fire.

But the sine qua non of Seriousness, Washington Post columnist David Ignatius doesn’t disappoint. “Democrats will face a growing dilemma about how aggressively they should pursue Trump,” he writes.

And he adds, for good measure: “As November 2020 approaches, the argument will increase that the issue should be left to the public.”

My proposal for an American public internet

This is more than a bit off topic, but I was just reading this Washington Post op-ed by Erik Martin, a former policy advisor for President Obama’s Office of Science and Technology Policy.

He calls for a “fresh infusion of public media” onto the internet, paid for at least in part by federal and state government – then distributed by some form of government fiat on major tech platforms.

I am wary of any government involvement, and outright mistrustful of government regulation in this area.

But I share Martin’s enthusiasm for some internet analog to 1967’s Public Broadcasting Act, which funded the development of noncommercial radio and TV programming “responsive to the interests of people.”

So what vacuum left by corporate media would an “American Public Internet” fill?

My answer is that it would tell American stories.

Right now, they are hard to find. And there is certainly no place to go on the web to find out what real American life is like in any sweeping way, what American experiences are in different places and at different socio-economic levels, and how Americans navigate the joys and struggles of everyday existence. (The closest we come now, not surprisingly, are the NPR and PBS websites, but they are not organized around the story-telling mission.)

I think there is a need for such a website — possibly launched with government money but sustainable (through a membership model) without.

So, for what it’s worth, I have dusted off my more-than-a-decade-old list of bullet points describing what an Americanpi.org would do:

  • It would aggregate and call attention to the best storytelling in newspapers, magazines, books, TV, multi-media, music.
  • It would also solicit, contribute and collate personal stories, categorizing them by theme, demographics, etc.
  • It would focus not on political issues, but on human ones: Overcoming adversity, seeking justice, helping others, public service, finding common ground, melting pot, loving the country.
  • For structure, it would feature weekly themes: love stories, tragedy and suffering, loneliness, not being alone, community, addiction, celebration, hobbies, neighborhoods, heroes, villains, the everyday, making a home, memoirs, crossing boundaries, generational change, impact of technology, justice achieved, justice denied, male misogyny, female misogyny, effects of misogyny, families (traditional and not) (divided and not), turning life around/redemption, lives of crime, lives of despair, mentors, when government succeeds (and fails), poverty, wealth, military lives, special needs, second childhoods, dying, rituals (graduations, weddings, birthdays), trials, social change, tolerance, intolerance, minority status, power, powerlessness, appreciations of the dead, the immigrant experience, the expat experience, coming of age, coming out, illness, religious observances, religious communities, prayer, work (hated and loved), coming to the city, getting out of the city, vacations, being exploited, being the exploiter, victims of capitalism, capitalist success stories, the invisible.

And it would have a secret agenda: It would help Americans see how much they have in common, rather than encouraging them to tear the country apart.

Slightly updated on Feb. 27.

Expect nothing less than a full report from Robert Mueller

Mueller in 2006.

Special counsel Robert Mueller owes Congress and the American public a full report on the extent of the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election and any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts.

This is not simply my opinion. I’ve taken everything but the first ten words of that paragraph directly from former FBI director James Comey’s March 2017 description to the House Intelligence Committee of the ongoing investigation that two months later was turned over to Mueller.

This was at heart a counterintelligence investigation. The potential filing of criminal charges was literally an afterthought, placed in the second-to-last paragraph of Mueller’s remit: “If the Special Counsel believes it is necessary and appropriate, the Special Counsel is authorized to prosecute federal crimes arising from the investigation of these matters.”

So once Mueller has figured out exactly what happened — which may or may not be very soon — he will of course deliver his findings to the Justice Department as well as distribute it through intelligence channels.

But the main goal of a counterintelligence investigation is crystal clear: it’s to make sure that whatever happened doesn’t happen again.

Generally, that information is very closely held, on a “need to know” basis, so as to not tip off the enemy.

But in this case, it’s clear that the parties who “need to know” are the U.S. Congress and the American people.

So do not be overly concerned about the limits placed on special counsel reports in general, or about grand jury secrecy.

We should expect a full report from Mueller. Nothing less than the future of our democracy depends upon it.

For more on this, including the interviews I conducted to reach this conclusion, please read my (admittedly premature) April 2018 article: Mueller’s big reveal is coming, and it could be bigger than anyone thinks.

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.