Impeachment watch: A possibility turns into a probability

Nadler on CNN.

The impeachment of Donald Trump is all of a sudden looking more like a probability – or maybe even an inevitability — rather than a possibility.

A new, specific, credible accusation of Trump’s involvement in a specific, criminal act is allowing Democrats and some media figures to go where they previously hesitated to go, despite a nearly two-year long drip-drip of corruption and criminality.

The sentencing memo for Trump’s former fixer Michael Cohen filed on Friday by the U.S.Attorney’s Office in Manhattan accuses Trump of coordinating and directing two felony campaign finance violations.

Jerry Nadler, the New York Democrat who will take over the House Judiciary Committee in three and a half weeks – and therefore will make the decision about opening impeachment proceedings — said that Trump’s actions, if proven, easily qualify as high crimes and misdemeanors.

“Certainly, they would be impeachable offenses, because, even though they were committed before the president became president, they were committed in the service of fraudulently obtaining the office. That would be the — that would be an impeachable offense,” Nadler told Jake Tapper on CNN on Sunday.

That’s not quite the same as saying impeachment proceedings are imminent. “You don’t necessarily launch an impeachment against the president because he committed an impeachable offense. There are several things you have to look at,” Nadler said. “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?”

But Nadler clearly thinks this is only the tip of the iceberg.

But the fact of the matter is that what we see from these indictments and charging statements is a much broader conspiracy against theAmerican people involving these payments, involving an attempt to influence the campaign improperly, with improper payments involving the Russians trying to get influence in the campaign, involving the president lying for an entire year about his ongoing business arrangements, business dealings with the Russians, involving obstruction of justice.

And unlike the last Congress, Nadler said, “The new Congress will not try to shield the president. We will try to get to the bottom of this, in order to serve the American people and to stop this massive conspiracy — this massive fraud on the American people.”

We have to look at these crimes, and what did the president know and when did he know about these crimes? You have to look at the Russian interference with the campaign, and what did the president know about that, and to what extent did he cooperate with that, if he did?

We have to look at his business dealings and his lying about that. We have to look at the fact that he surrounded himself with crooks. His campaign manager, his deputy campaign manager, his national security adviser, all of them, and a host, a bunch of other people, they all were meeting with the Russians. They all expressed interest in meeting again. 

None of them reported it to the proper authorities. They have all been indicted for one crime or another. The president invent — created his own swamp and brought it to the White House. These are all very serious things. 

Two other House Democrats were blunt. Rep. John Garamendi of California told CNN:”You might call it the opening days of an impeachment. We’re getting to that point now. We’re in this situation where high crimes and misdemeanors have occurred.

And Texas Rep.Joaquin Castro asked MSNBC: “When the evidence becomes so clear that you very likely have a criminal sitting in the Oval Office, what is the Congress left to do at that point?”

Former Richard Nixon lawyer and key Watergate figure John Dean said: “The House is going to have little choice the way this is going other than to start impeachment proceedings.”

And MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell said Friday night that “if history means anything in the Trump era, if precedent means anything in the Trump era, Donald Trump will be — must be — impeached because of the crimes prosecutors say he committed in the Michael Cohen case.”

Members of the elite political media, meanwhile, remain squeamish about the topic, refusing to take it too seriously. Some are asking a few questions about impeachment – but most are still treating it like a fringe idea.

They are certainly not treating it as the central organization principle for covering Trump from this point forward, as they ought to be.

For instance, the New York Times second-day story on Saturday didn’t really get around to the issue of impeachment until the 13th paragraph. And by Monday, mention of impeachment in the news columns was relegated to speculation that former Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey was a possible contender for White House chief of staff because he “could help Mr. Trump in an impeachment fight.”

The prospect of impeachment did make it to No. 8 in the Associated Press’s list of “10 things to know for today”. And Reuters covered Nadler’s remarks. But good luck finding any real mention in Axios’s AM newsletter or Politico Playbook.

That’s not surprising. For journalists who have been covering Trump day in and day out as if he were almost normal — suppressing their entirely appropriate sense of outrage — it’s going to be hard to admit that all this time, he was committing flatly impeachable offenses, in plain sight, and they weren’t saying so. 

Senators consider adding some bite to the toothless resolution calling for U.S. to end support for Saudi war in Yemen

Defense Secretary James Mattis meets with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at the Pentagon in March.

Senators vowing to pass legislation to end U.S. involvement in the Saudi war in Yemen that has “teeth” will need to craft something tougher than the mostly symbolic resolution that is currently headed for a floor vote.

Last week’s procedural vote on S.J. Res 54, introduced in the Senate by Bernie Sanders, represented an extraordinary rebuke of the Trump administration and a rare instance of Congress reasserting constitutional war powers it has mostly ceded to the executive branch.

But the resolution, reflecting language first introduced in the House by California Democratic Rep. Ro Khanna over a year ago, is so full of loopholes that its practical effects – even if it became law, presumably over a Trump veto – might be negligible.

The ACLU, in a letter to House members last month actually encouraged a “no” vote, arguing that the resolution “could inadvertently extend and increase fighting in Yemen, rather than end or reduce it.”

One big problem is that the resolution vaguely calls for Trump to remove U.S. forces “from hostilities” in Yemen, rather than forbidding specific activities. ACLU national security project director Hina Shamsi wrote on the ACLU website, that the previous administration twisted the legal meaning of that phrase. “In essence, the Obama administration narrowed the definition of hostilities virtually out of existence where airstrikes are concerned.”

The resolution also carves out an exception for U.S. forces “engaged in operations directed at al Qaeda or associated forces,” tacitly supporting the administration’s flawed contention that its own deadly raids in Yemen fall under the authorization of military force that Congress passed shortly after the 9/11 attacks.

What the ACLU recommends is specifics: A resolution that prohibits such things as “refueling of Saudi aircraft, military advice and information, logistics, and other support to the Saudi-led coalition.”

Some top Republicans are now expressing enthusiastic support for cutting further military support for Saudi Arabia. Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker told CNN yesterday that the plan that emerges will “have teeth.”

But having Republicans involved in the drafting of new language is a double-edged sword.

Outrage is clearly growing on both sides of the aisle at Trump’s attempts to ignore the apparently overwhelming evidence that Saudi leader Mohammed bin Salman personally ordered the ambush slaying and dismemberment of U.S.-based dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

But the new legislation could also end up even weaker than the current resolution. South Carolina Republican Senator Linsday Graham, despite his defiant talk, has introduced a draft “Sense of the Senate” resolution that would have exactly zero practical significance.

Connecticut Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy, who has been trying to end U.S. support for the war for three years, told Roll Call he is concerned that Republicans will try to “water this down.”

Does Murphy himself have any desire to toughen it up, instead? His office didn’t respond to a request for comment.

See previous coverage of U.S. support for Yemen:

How to get an up-or-down vote on U.S. involvement in the Saudi war in Yemen

What shared elements of Trump foreign policy are former Obama officials now willing to renounce?

Trump justifies his embrace of Saudi leader by endorsing the bloody U.S.-supported war in Yemen

Congress gets a spine and nobody notices because it’s about Yemen

Will Trump seize emergency powers out of self preservation?

Raising the possibility of Donald Trump invoking emergency powers rather than get impeached or lose reelection, the Brennan Center for Justice on Wednesday challenged Congress to immediately start reviewing statutory provisions that release the president from many legal constraints upon his declaration of a national emergency.

In an article in the Atlantic, the Brennan Center’s Liza Goitein notes that Trump took unprecedented steps to boost Republican turnout in the midterm elections, such as sending active-duty troops to the border in response to an imaginary threat.

Then she asks: “How much further might he go in 2020, when his own name is on the ballot—or sooner than that, if he’s facing impeachment by a House under Democratic control?”

She envisions a not entirely implausible scenario that starts with Trump declaring the threat of war from Iran and closing internet sites belonging to groups he says are subject to Iranian influence. It ends with him sending a text message to every American’s cellphone warning of violence at the polls, deploying troops, and winning reelection.

The Brennan Center, a progressive legal powerhouse based at the New York University Law School, has an accompanying database showing all 136 statutory powers available to presidents in a pinch. And don’t miss Goitein’s marvelously succinct video (see above).

Congress built an “edifice of extraordinary powers” over decades based “on the assumption that the president will act in the country’s best interest when using them,” Goitein writes. But some of them “appear dangerously suited to a leader bent on amassing or retaining power.”

It’s arguably the most terrifying example yet of how Congress has ceded the presidency enormous power during the last several decades. The solution, Goetien explains, is for Congress to impose “strict time limits on presidentially declared states of emergency” and “revise emergency powers to ensure that they don’t threaten Americans’ fundamental rights and freedoms.”

But she acknowledges in the video that the current Congress is unlikely to take the required action. Instead, she encourages “forward-looking committee chairs” to at least launch the process.

So, best-case scenario, that leaves Trump at least two full years with all these powers at his disposal.

I’m actually more concerned about Trump inciting and then overreacting to a terror attack. But more on that some other time.


George H.W. Bush was a horrible president, but Trump is the worst by far

Bush addresses Congress in 1989.
To people who take our history unsanitized, please, the slobbering over George H.W. Bush’s life by the mainstream political media has been hard to take.

Luckily, the internet is alive with some excellent reads about Bush 41’s real legacy of war crimes, racism, and obstruction of justice (thank you, Mehdi Hassan); his deadly neglect of the AIDS crisis (thank you, Garance Franke-Ruta) and the “dinner-jacketed decorum” he used as a cover for the racism and cynicism that brought us the likes of Clarence Thomas and Willie Horton (thank you, Peter Birkenhead).

And Bush the father was nothing compared to the son — who lied us into war, embraced torture and police-state-level surveillance and, although he may not have lied about everything, lied about pretty much all the big things.

Nevertheless, this is no time to lose sight of the fact that Donald Trump is a uniquely awful president in ways that even Bushian depravity doesn’t rival.

Trump’s uncouth and unvarnished expressions of racism and his barely disguised hatred of women have fed the darkest and most ignorant strains of American politics, empowering white nationalists and misogynists, readmitting language and sentiments into our political discourse that had gradually been disgraced, and generally reversing what had been American society’s reasonably steady movement in the direction of pluralistic enlightenment.

His countless lies, his demonizing of the traditional media and other truth-tellers, his contempt for science, and his divisive rhetoric imperil the American people’s ability to ever find common ground.

And his assaults on the judiciary and law enforcement, his personal corruption, his degradation of government agencies, his possible involvement in Russian interference with our elections, and his embrace of authoritarians and authoritarian ideas have for the first time in modern history made Americans actively worry for the future of their democracy.

If the Bushes are everything wrong with democracy, at least they didn’t threaten it in the ways that Trump does.

Finally, the total lack of empathy that undergirds Trump’s approach to the world puts him in a tiny minority of human beings. So, barring another improbable political calamity, that alone will make him the worst president ever.

George H.W. Bush and his son may well have paved the way for someone like Trump to con, hate, and wheedle his way into the presidency. But even they recognized that they had created a monster.