Republicans are simultaneously attacking our sanity and our constitution…now, the promotion of a ridiculous conspiracy theory and a scary Supreme Court action might represent the turning point in the Right’s battle against American democracy
During a massive May, 1969 Vietnam war protest in Washington, D.C., the government literally circled the wagons — in that case, city buses — around the White House. Although there was no realistic danger of the White House or then President Lyndon Johnson being attacked by protesters — one or two stray crazies might try jumping the fence, but that’s about it — paranoid security forces parked empty buses bumper-touching-bumper around the entire perimeter of the grounds, making it impossible for anyone to approach the fence and chant anti-war slogans.
It’s happening again, but on a more metaphorical level. Every time investigators get close to exposing Donald Trump’s crimes, his cadre of defenders go to all and any lengths to stonewall the inquiries or obfuscate the evidence against him. That’s been going on since the beginning of the Mueller Investigation, of course. But during Thanksgiving week, 2019, just after the public testimony in the House Intelligence Committee’s impeachment hearings wrapped up and a critical Congressional subpoena case came to the attention of the Supreme Court, matters took a frightening turn.
The impeachment hearings showed conclusively that Trump violated the Constitution by attempting to coerce Ukraine’s president to “investigate” the Bidens and bogus conspiracy theories about Ukraine’s purported — but non-existent — interference in our 2106 election. But although the case is open and shut, Congressional Republicans in both Houses are not open to enforcing the law — they’ve shut their eyes.
To defend Trump, Reublicans have at this time unanimously adopted the position that although the president had clearly violated specific clauses of the Constitution, those crimes do not “rise to the level of impeachment.” Although this is absurd — if intentionally violating several Constitutional clauses for personal gain does not rise to the level of impeachment, one wonders what could — Republicans feel they can sell this position to their brainwashed base and thus enable Trump to get away with…virtually anything.
That in and of itself is dangerous. If there are no Constitutional reins on executive power — or if Congress refuses to pull those reins when needed, we will enable a runaway “Unitary Executive” who is free to engage in any illegal practices he or she pleases. The Constitution’s Framers had the foresight to give Congress the power to impeach precisely because they foresaw that grifters like Trump, once in office, could abuse the authority of the presidency. Refusal to use that power, when its exercise is so clearly necessary, is to grant dictatorial status to the President — and is itself a violation of each Congressperson’s oath of office.
But perhaps that is not the most dangerous position some, if not most Republicans are taking. Trump will eventually pass from office and from this earth, and the possibility of restoring and rebalancing our Republic will at least be open to us. But that restoration must start with a national dialogue based on commonly accepted facts, if not on agreement about the meaning of those facts. And it is Trump and the Republicans’ Putinesque attacks on reality itself that threatens to sabotage our capacity to restore a true, as opposed to a faux constitutional republic.
Those attacks have come in the form of publicly challenging reality in the specific context of the Ukrainian impeachment investigation — by spouting wild conspiracy theories that were initiated by Putin, spread by Trump and his cronies, and have now been picked up by Republican representatives in both Houses. The easiest of these bits of detritus to debunk is the idea that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 presidential election, and used data from the Democratic National Committee’s (DNC) server, managed by Crowdstrike, a computer security company, to do so.
“Right, but it could also be Ukraine [as well as Russia that attacked the the 2016 U.S. election]. I’m not saying that I know one way or the other.” — Louisiana Republican Senator John Kennedy
The way Trump tells it, Crowdstrike is a Ukrainian company owned by a wealthy Ukrainian oligarch. The Democrats gave “their server” to Crowdstrike which took it to Ukraine and hacked it, then used the information they obtained to try to defeat Trump in the 2016 election.
This nonsense is easier even than Pizzagate to debunk. First, Crowdstrike is based in California, not Ukraine. It is not owned by a Ukrainian, but is publicly traded — and the majority of its shares are owned by a private equity firm with ties to Trump. When the DNC server was hacked, the Democrats had Crowdstrike investigate, and the firm concluded it was Russian intelligence that did the hacking — a conclusion later confirmed by all U.S. government security services and by the (Republican majority) Senate Intelligence Committee which conducted a thorough investigation of the matter.
There was more than one server, but the primary physical server, which is shut down, is still sitting in the DNC’s office — displayed next to the file cabinet that was broken into by the Watergate burglars. One thing that Trump apparently doesn’t understand is that to hack a server, as the Russians did, you don’t have to steal the computer, take it to an undisclosed location, and crack it like a safe. You just have to go online, get into the server’s database and download its information. But Trump continues to spout the theory that the physical server is in Ukraine and being hidden from the FBI which is trying to find it. (They are not, because they know where it is — in the DNC’s office.)
Now, according to both Putin and Trump, the Ukrainians, not the Russians, actually interfered in our election but are conspiring with the Democrats to frame Russia for the nefarious act while delegitimizing Trump’s election by claiming that Russia interfered with it. This “false narrative,” as U.S. Ukraine diplomat and Russia expert Fiona Hill calls it, gives Trump the pretext he needs to demand that Ukraine announce an investigation into these non-existent crimes.
Head spinning yet? That’s because you’re reading about a Putin-inspired conspiracy theory. In Putin’s Russia, where the media is 100% controlled by the Kremlin, nothing is real. How Russian propaganda and disinformation works in that country is a topic for another blog, but one example of the state’s manipulation of events will give you an idea of the lengths officialdom goes to in order to control public perceptions. From time to time, the Russian government pays “protesters” to assemble in the streets of Moscow to give the appearance that Russia is a free society. These faux protests are filmed and reported on the nightly news. Real, grass roots protests are squelched and their participants are often beaten and/or jailed.
So, to review, the DNC server, which never belonged to Crowdstrike, is not in Ukraine. And it has been established beyond a reasonable doubt that it was Russia that hacked the server — not Ukraine, which had no motive whatsoever to interfere in our election.
But the real kicker is that the information released (through Wikileaks) from the hacked server was detrimental not to the Trump campaign, but to the Clinton campaign. To believe the Ukraine-hacked-our-election conspiracy theory, you would have to believe that the Democrats gave their server to Ukraine so it would release information that could cause the Democrats to lose the election so they could then “frame” Russia and delegitimize Trump’s presidency. And you would have to have a ready answer for someone who asked you, “Why didn’t the Democrats just keep the information to themselves and go ahead and win the election?”
In the real world, it’s clear that Russia is promoting the “Ukraine” conspiracy to cover its tracks, muddy the waters and give Trump something to whine about.
Enter Congressional Republicans who reiterated these phony talking points throughout the impeachment hearings and apparently plan to use them to justify Trump’s behavior in the upcoming Senate impeachment trial. They are knowledgeably conspiring with Putin, Russian intelligence, Trump and his cronies to tell the Big Lie to the American public. That is part of their ongoing campaign against our sense of reality. If they succeed, even partially, in having that lie believed, the very basis of our democracy is in peril.
Meanwhile, a few days before Thanksgiving — in the same timeframe that numerous Republican appointed and elected officials were pushing the “Ukraine Did It!” conspiracy theory — the Supreme Court made a frightening decision.
Two legal entities, the Manhattan prosecutor’s office and the U.S. House Oversight Committee, have subpoenaed Trump’s financial records from his accounting firm Mazars. Both subpoenas seek records relevant to the hush money Trump paid Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal, with whom he is alleged to have had affairs, as well as other financial fraud and tax evasion schemes.
Several months ago, Trump sued to prevent Mazars from releasing his records. The cases have been working their way through the courts, with Trump losing badly at each level. In addition to rejecting Trump’s arguments, both the federal district and appeals courts in New York and D.C. made a point of lecturing his legal team on their absurdity.
Why? Trump’s lawyers actually maintained that the President is not only immune from indictment or prosecution while he is in office, as a dubious Justice Department memo claims, but that he is also immune from even being investigated until he leaves office. They claimed that even if the President commits an obvious crime, he can’t be stopped or arrested on the spot, charged with anything or have his crimes looked into.
This argument is so ridiculous that the NY District Court judge used Trump’s own example — that he could shoot someone in the street and his supporters would still stand by him — to ask the plaintiff’s lawyer if he actually believed, in that instance, the President should not be investigated. The answer was yes — even if Trump shot somone in front of witnesses, his crime could not be investigated, the witnesses could not be interviewed, the forensic evidence could not be analyzed and so on, so long as he was in the White House.
That judge, and judges in the higher courts, pointed out that this legal theory put the President above the law, and that was unconstitutional and against the express intent of the Framers. So the rulings against Trump were pretty much slam dunk — until he appealed them to the Supreme Court.
At the time of the appeal, Mazars, based on the appeals courts’ decisions, was about to comply with the subpoenas and turn Trump’s records over to the investigators. Then the Supreme Court stepped in and stayed those actions, pending its own further investigation into the matter. Since it takes five Justices to effect such a stay, it is quite likely that the Court will actually hear the case rather than simply let the decisions of the lower courts stand. Said case would not be decided until June, 2020.
In other words the Court, which is stacked with two Trump appointees and three other “conservatives” who have pushed theories of the Unitary Executive (read King, or Dictator, depending on the time period) — actually thinks that there is sufficient merit to the argument that the President can not even be investigated for crimes that it wants to review the lower courts’ decisions.
The simple fact that the Court would entertain such a notion is scary. If he President can’t be investigated, Congress no longer has its oversight power, and he can do whatever he wants — including take bribes, get us into a war so members of his family can profit, manipulate the stock market and currency, give patents (and weapons) to anyone who will pay for them, profit from drug dealing and so on — and there is absolutely now way to stop him.
Now, the Supreme Court hasn’t actually rendered a decision, or even decided to review the lower court’s decisions. It could still decide not to take the case and let the lower courts’ decisions stand, meaning the subpoenas would have to be obeyed and the records released. Or, it could take the case and ultimately decide that the subpoenas have to be honored. But even to entertain the notion that the Executive should not be investigated goes against all common sense and any reasonable interpretation of the separation of powers the Framers enshrined in the Constitution.
So, circling the wagons. Running an intentional disinformation campaign to cover up a President’s crimes and possibly saying it is illegal even to investigate those crimes. This is the week that was. Will it prove to be the week when the Right won its war against democracy?