Why isn’t this getting more attention? “Slitting the throats” of “deep state” federal bureaucrats? In better times, DeSantis would have been forced out of the race. (Free link.)
The two largest federal employee unions on Thursday denounced Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s recent vow that as president he would “start slitting throats” in the federal bureaucracy — the latest escalation in intensifying Republican attacks on government operations they want to slash or eliminate.
DeSantis, whose campaign for the GOP nomination has included promises to downsize agencies and fire bureaucrats, made the comments this weekend in New Hampshire while criticizing the “deep state,” echoing a term regularly used by former president Donald Trump to deride Washington.
There is no shortage of commentary about the indictment of Donald Trump on charges that he tried to overturn the 2020 election. So I want to spend a few moments taking a look at Mike Pence. In reading the 45-page indictment last night I was struck, once again, at how decently and courageously Pence acted when faced with the greatest challenge of his public life.
I can’t understand why liberals and conservatives are so reluctant to give him any credit, blowing past his actions on Jan. 6, 2021, and focusing instead on his previous eight four* years as an obsequious Trump toady and his status as a theocratic right-wing extremist. That’s fine. He deserves that criticism. But before and during the insurrection, Pence acted with moral courage, telling Trump repeatedly that he would follow the Constitution by certifying Joe Biden’s victory, and with physical courage, refusing to flinch after Trump whipped up an enraged mob that surely would have killed him if given the opportunity.
“You’re too honest,” Trump reportedly told Pence on Jan. 1 after learning that Pence would not reject or return to the states electoral votes that had been properly cast.
If you’re not inclined to give Pence his due, think about what would have happened if he’d gone along with Trump’s corrupt scheming and Trump had attempted to remain in office. As one administration official is quoted as saying, there would be “riots in every major city in the United States.” To which Co-Conspirator 4 (identified as Justice Department official Jeffrey Clark) is said to have replied, “Well, that’s why there’s an Insurrection Act.” And there you have it: Troops in the streets, gunning down members of the public in order to keep Trump in office.
We all owe Mike Pence a debt of gratitude.
• We are already hearing a lot of misguided commentary that special counsel Jack Smith will need to prove that Trump knew he was lying about the outcome of the election in order to show that Trump committed the crimes with which he has been charged. For instance, David French of The New York Times, an anti-Trump conservative and lawyer whose analysis I have come to rely on, nevertheless gets it wrong when he writes:
There’s little doubt that Trump conspired to interfere with or obstruct the transfer of power after the 2020 election. But to prevail in the case, the government has to prove that he possessed an intent to defraud or to make false statements. In other words, if you were to urge a government official to overturn election results based on a good faith belief that serious fraud had altered the results, you would not be violating the law. Instead, you’d be exercising your First Amendment rights.
I don’t think that’s right. Regardless of whether Trump believed he’d been a victim of voter fraud, it’s indisputable that he knew Biden had been declared the winner. Trump’s beliefs did not give him the right to put together slates of fake electors, which the indictment devastatingly describes as morphing from a semi-legitimate contingency plan into a flat-out attempt to dislodge the real electors. And it surely did not give him the right to foment a violent insurrection.
In any case, the indictment is full of evidence that Trump was told over and over, by his own officials, that he had lost the election, and that he continued to lie about it publicly. Even if French is right, I don’t think Trump’s state of mind should pose much of an obstacle.
• Did Rudy Giuliani, a.k.a. Co-Conspirator 1, sing like a canary or what?
• We need to understand what we’re living through. The president of the United States staged a violent insurrection with the aim of staging a coup in order to remain in office, and, if the polls are to be believed, about 43% of voters would still like to return him to that office. Tuesday was an important day for accountability, but this country remains on the brink of falling into right-wing authoritarianism. None of us know whether we’re going to get through this or not. God help us all.
I’m spending a few days in Graceland with my daughter, an Elvis fanatic who’s wanted to visit for many years. But I want to make sure you’ve read The New York Times’ astonishing report on Donald Trump’s explicit, publicly stated plan to convert the presidency into authoritarian one-person rule. Here is a free link.
As you’ll see, Trump would eliminate any meaningful congressional oversight on the grounds that such oversight would somehow violate the separation-of-powers provision in the Constitution. At the same time, the president would be free to ignore spending directives passed by Congress. I would call it a path to dictatorship except that we would presumably still have elections. Oh, wait.
Trump has a non-trivial chance of being elected president in 2024. Everyone who’s concerned about the future of our country needs to read this.
As gratified as I am that Donald Trump is being held to account for his reprehensible behavior, I find that Friday’s developments have left me sad as well. There are three reasons for this.
First, the alleged crimes documented by special prosecutor Jack Smith are so much worse than we had been expecting. Nuclear secrets? Plans for invading an unnamed country, probably Iran? If Trump wasn’t actively sharing these documents with our enemies, he was nevertheless storing them with shocking disregard for who might go looking for them. We have to assume that Mar-a-Lago was crawling with spies.
Then there is his massive hubris and stupidity. All of the charges, without exception, stem from documents he held onto after he was given a chance to return them. One commentator — I forget who — referred to this as a “get out of jail” gift that he nevertheless spurned. Just incredible.
Second, there is the dispiriting fact that there is literally no bottom for Republican elected officials in defending Trump. The top two elected officials in the House, Speaker Kevin McCarthy and Majority Leader Steve Scalise, have both attacked law enforcement and stood by Trump, denouncing the “weaponization” of the Department of Justice and the FBI. So, too, has Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is so far the only plausible Trump rival for the 2024 presidential nomination. A pardon looms if a Republican — maybe even Trump — defeats President Biden.
Third, there is the reality (or Reality, if you prefer) that the crimes with which Trump has been charged would land any ordinary person in prison for a very long time if they were convicted — and yet the prospect of Trump’s ending up behind bars in the event of a guilty verdict seems unlikely in the extreme.
If Trump is convicted of what he’s been charged with, he should spend the rest of his life in federal custody. Does anyone really expect to see that? No, of course not. And thus our two-track system of justice — one for the rich and powerful, one for everyone else — will continue unchallenged.
Tara Reade’s new home: The Kremlin. Photo (cc) 2015 by Larry Koester.
On Tuesday came the bizarre news that Tara Reade, who accused Joe Biden of past instances of sexual assault during the 2020 presidential campaign, had popped up in Russia, claiming she feared being imprisoned or killed. The Guardian reported that she had “defected”; The New York Times went with the less charged “moved.”
Women rarely lie about sexual assault, but there were reasons right from the start not to believe Reade’s claims. Among other things, the PBS NewsHour reported that the details Reade offered were almost certainly false, and Politico found that she had spent much of her adult life as a grifter. Below is a blog post that links to those stories.
Follow the money
Media Nation | May 16, 2020
Two in-depth reports Friday rendered what was left of Tara Reade’s credibility in tatters.
The more important was a story by the PBS NewsHour. Lisa Desjardins and Daniel Bush interviewed 74 former Joe Biden staff members, 62 of them women. And though they said Biden sometimes had trouble keeping his hands to himself (something Biden acknowledged and apologized for last year), they emphatically denied that they’d ever heard of him engaging in sexual assault.
“The people who spoke to the NewsHour,” they wrote, “described largely positive and gratifying experiences working for Biden, painting a portrait of someone who was ahead of his time in empowering women in the workplace.”
Crucially, an on-the-record source told them that there were problems with Reade’s job performance that may have led to her termination. And the place where the alleged assault took place was entirely out in the open, making it nearly impossible for Biden to have done what she claims without being seen.
Also Friday, Natasha Korecki reported for Politico that Reade has spent much of her adult life as a grifter, lying and cheating people out of money — but never, in the recollection of the people she interviewed, saying anything negative about Biden.
“Over the past decade,” Korecki wrote, “Reade has left a trail of aggrieved acquaintances in California’s Central Coast region whosay they remember two things about her — she spoke favorably about her time working for Biden, and she left them feeling duped.”
In the weeks after I wrote about the Reade case for WGBH News, I’ve gone from thinking there was a reasonable chance that she was telling the truth to now believing it’s highly likely that she made the whole thing up.
But why? Could it have something to do with her weird praise for Russian President Vladimir Putin? What should we make of the fact that her lawyer, who’s representing her for free, is a Trump donor? Or the fact that another lawyer who’s acted on her behalf has ties to Russian propaganda operations?
Ultimately Reade’s story can’t be definitively proven or disproven, but the media have done a good job of laying out the facts and showing how far-fetched it is. Now we need to know who, if anyone, was behind what appears to be a classic political dirty trick. Keep digging.
There must be a $1 trillion platinum coin in there somewhere. Photo (cc) 2016 by cweyant.
I imagine most readers of this blog understand the ins and outs of the debt ceiling fiasco, but in case you don’t, a brief explanation.
The debt ceiling is an extra, and entirely unnecessary, appendage to the work of passing budgets and appropriating money. Congress gets to debate what should go into the budget, and that’s an opportunity for those who want hold down spending to make their case and put it to a vote. But once the budget is passed, that’s the end (or at least it should be), and if the executive needs to borrow money to fulfill that budget, then so be it.
For the past century, though, congressional action has been needed to approve more borrowing, even though that borrowing is to cover spending that has already been approved, and in many cases has already taken place. No one thought much about it until recently, but in 2011 congressional Republicans refused to raise the debt ceiling unless President Obama made concessions, and now House Republicans are attempting to do the same with President Biden.
The only other Western democracy that countenances this foolishness is Denmark. Try buying a car with a loan and then telling the finance company that your family has voted not to approve the monthly payments. Bye bye car.
You’ll note that this only happens when there’s a Democratic president and one or both branches of Congress is controlled by Republicans. President Trump ran up enormous deficits, and the debt ceiling was routinely increased on a bipartisan basis to accommodate those deficits. Other than a few rogue individual votes here and there, Democrats have never sought to exploit the debt ceiling, because — whatever their faults — they belong to a party that believes in basic governance.
Sadly, though, the debt ceiling negotiations have occasioned an outpouring of terrible both-sides media coverage. Gosh, why can’t Democrats and Republicans come together for the good of the country?
Click on image of post to follow link to the NPR story
The hypocrisy and phoniness surrounding this issue are why a lot of observers are calling on Biden to invoke the 14th Amendment, which states in part, “The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned.” Or to mint the coin.
In any case, if and when Democrats are fully in power again, they ought to repeal the debt ceiling so we can go about our business like a normal country.
If you’re so inclined, you can sift through mounds of commentary on CNN’s alleged news event Wednesday night with Donald Trump. Tom Jones of Poynter has a solid account here. I thought beforehand that it would be terrible, but it was even worse than that.
If you saw it, or if you’ve just read about it, you know that the hall was filled with MAGA types who cheered Trump’s every utterance, whether it was his support of the Jan. 6 insurrectionists or his dismissal of E. Jean Carroll as a “whack job.” Carroll just won a $5 million jury verdict against Trump for sexually attacking her and for libel.
CNN moderator Kaitlan Collins was well-prepared and tried the best she could to hold Trump to account. Predictably, though, he shouted over her, spewing lies at such a rapid clip that she could only latch onto a few of them in an attempt to push back. It was a disgraceful night for CNN, and president Chris Licht ought to be fired. Then again, he was only doing what his corporate overlords want, and he seems quite pleased with himself today.
I do want to zero in on one moment. When Collins pointed out that people died on Jan. 6, Trump immediately cited Ashli Babbitt, an insurrectionist who was fatally shot by a Capitol police officer. Trump denounced Lt. Michael Byrd, who’s Black, as a “thug,” and by injecting him to the proceedings unbidden, he put the officer’s life and safety in danger at the hands of deranged right-wingers and white supremacists. Byrd told NBC News in 2021 that he’d gone into hiding. If he has since been able to resume his normal life to some degree, Trump has now shattered that.
“America was served very well by what we did last night,” Licht told his staff after the event, according to tweets by Brian Stelter, the network’s media reporter until Licht fired him. No we weren’t, and CNN’s current media reporter, Oliver Darcy, said so in his morning newsletter, writing, “It’s hard to see how America was served by the spectacle of lies that aired on CNN Wednesday evening.”
Tuesday was, as we keep being told, historic. We don’t know what will happen to Donald Trump next, and he may be faced with more serious charges in Georgia and Washington. These front pages, though, tell quite a story about the former president’s arraignment on felony charges in New York. (From the Freedom Forum’s indispensable Today’s Front Pages website.)
After months — years? — of anticipation, Donald Trump has reportedly been indicted (free link) by the Manhattan district attorney’s office on criminal charges that he paid off a porn star he’d had sex with in order to buy her silence ahead of the 2016 election. Hey, it could happen to anyone, right?
I don’t really have anything to add to the mountains of commentary that’s going to come our way. But I do want to recommend this recent edition of “The Ezra Klein Show.” The guest was Times columnist David French, an anti-Trump conservative of long standing who also happens to be a pretty sharp lawyer.
As French explained it, Trump faces criminal exposure on three fronts. The Stormy Daniels case is actually the weakest because it rests on some rather esoteric and unproven legal theories. I’m not going to get into it, but French’s explanation was clear and compelling.
The strongest of the three cases is that Trump corruptly tried to interfere with the 2020 vote count in Georgia, not just pushing Republican officials to overturn the results but threatening them if they refused. French is of the view that this one is close to a slam-dunk, as Trump was caught breaking the law on audio recordings.
Finally, there are whatever federal charges may come out of Trump’s actions during and before the attempted insurrection of Jan. 6 — seeking to overturn the election, putting Mike Pence’s life in danger and inciting a mob to violence. French seems to think that the case is reasonably strong but may prove too complicated when it’s put before a jury.
Also, I like to joke with my students about my Unified Richard Nixon Theory of Everything. Well, the Times is observing that Trump would be the first former president to face criminal charges. True — but that’s only because Gerald Ford pardoned Nixon before he could be indicted.
Mel King was a giant. I remember his 1983 Boston mayoral campaign against Ray Flynn as though it were yesterday. Flynn defeated King. But King, the first Black candidate ever to make a serious bid for the office, remained a force until his death this week at the age of 94. GBH News has the story.
On matters of human decency, of character, or of integrity, who could choose between Ray Flynn and Mel King? It is only in the consideration of other qualities — the strength of commitment over time, the wisdom that comes with experience, the consistency of values — that the dramatic differences between the candidates emerge. Given these differences, we’d anticipate the inauguration of Ray Flynn as Boston’s next mayor with hope. But we’d anticipate the inauguration of Mel King with enthusiasm.
Boston has still not elected its first Black mayor. The city now has its first person of color as mayor, Michelle Wu, who’s Asian American. But it is disheartening to contemplate that in a place with such a lamentably racist past, not a single African American has ever held the top elected position. Mel King came close — and inspired a generation of Bostonians.