Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Topping the Fall Reality TV Line-Up: Constitutional Crisis!

The jigsaw pieces of this past week are falling in place, and the picture they are creating is crystal clear: Donald Trump appears intent on driving this country into a constitutional crisis... #worstrealitytvshowinhistory.

The waves of breaking news cascading around the White House were so frequent and so intense this past week that even fresh news about O.J. Simpson was relegated to the second block. Geez, once upon a time, the entire country had to go through Johnny Cochran detox in order to make it through a news cycle without cutting a vein for an O.J. fix. But in the fairy land of Trumpelstiltskin, even old Mr. “the glove don’t fit!” was gasping for media oxygen.

O.J. was mercifully buried under a steady flow of breaking news items that appeared at face value to be just another week of routine mayhem in the Trump White House. Stepping back a bit, however, these news items suddenly seem to be jigsaw pieces falling into place toward a seismic day of reckoning. By week’s end it had become apparent that Donald Trump is laying the groundwork for firing Robert Mueller, and, in all likelihood, doing anything and everything he perceives to be within his power to cripple the Russia investigation permanently.

If this comes to pass, the United States could very well face the gravest constitutional crisis in its history. But there is constitutional crisis – as in, the unwillingness of one branch of government to accede to the limits of its constitutional authority – and then there is a crisis of our national constitution … a challenge to our character and will as a people. Once the facts are established that Trump is overstepping his constitutional authority, are we as a people willing to act in order to force our representatives to rein in or remove a President who is brazenly and nakedly intent on subverting a vital investigation into the most serious threat to our democracy in the history of our republic?

Let’s begin to assemble the pieces with the news that at the G-20 Summit in Europe last week, Donald Trump actually had a second meeting with Vladimir Putin. There were only three people in that meeting: Putin, the Russian translator, and Trump. Trump had foolishly taken a meeting with Putin without a single representative from the U.S. government to stand as witness, ally, and safeguard for himself. He was winging it.

No one except those three people knows what was discussed.

The only thing we know for sure is that when Donald Trump arrived back in the United States, he suddenly began pressing a variety of buttons that clearly signaled a circling of the wagons around the White House.  

He eagerly submitted himself to an hour of questions from the organization he routinely excoriates as “fake news.” On this particular day, however, Trump used The New York Times as a megaphone to get a new message into the public square: the President felt Jeff Sessions had essentially betrayed him by recusing himself from the Russian investigation. It was, of course, Sessions' decision to recuse himself that put the Russia investigation in the sole authority of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who promptly hired Robert Mueller as Special Prosecutor. Trump let The New York Times know that Sessions’ decision to recuse was “very unfair” to the President, and that he would not have hired Sessions for the job if he had known that Sessions would take that step.

Well, there’s hanging someone out to dry, and then there is holding them in a hammerlock directly underneath the nozzle of an industrial strength Dyson Airblade. No one could quite recall the last time a U.S. President filleted one of his cabinet officers quite so publicly and so comprehensively. It did not take a Freudian analysis of the President’s subconscious motives to get the point: “Hey, Jeff… time to resign, so that I can hire a new Attorney General who fire Mueller.”

More startling still was the fact that Sessions did not take the hint. The Attorney General seemed oddly unperturbed by the fire hose of disrespect dished out in an audio recording released by The Times, and in a stream of invective as Trump resorted to social media to angrily mistweat his Attorney General. Sessions, to his credit, simply issued a bland statement about continuing to serve as long as it was appropriate and went back to work.

However, a second and perhaps even more consequential Trump quote emerged from the Times interview. Trump told The New York Times that he felt that it would not be appropriate for Special Prosecutor Mueller to go “beyond the scope” of the Russian election-tampering investigation by looking into Donald Trump’s personal finances. As Bill Clinton learned while watching Ken Starr take the Scandal Local from Whitewater to Monica Lewinsky with all stops in between, presidents don’t get to tell special prosecutors what is and is not “in the scope of the investigation.” The message was unmistakable: if Mueller went after Trump's finances, the President would find a way to fire Mueller. Therein lies the germinating seed of constitutional crisis.

Shortly after came the reports that Trump lawyers are doing diligence on the nature and scope of the President’s authority to grant pardons. (Please excuse us if we take a quick victory lap on this one, as BTRTN was out ahead of the Huffington Post and The New York Times with  our post last week, entitled “Pardon Me. And Me. Me, too! Don’t Forget Me.” You can find it at The clear message in each of these reports is that Trump is gauging how to employ the pardon to undercut Mueller’s ability to secure honest testimony from Trump’s inner circle.

Then came the Times reporting that Trump’s legal team was busy researching how to slime the individuals selected to serve on Robert Mueller’s staff. The clear intent of this initiative was to prepare a “kitchen sink” rationale for firing Mueller. When Trump is ready to take the big leap in the unknown by firing Mueller, he wants to cloak his true reason under layers of camo netting in the form of spurious unrelated accusations of conflict of interest, liberal bias, and alleged past misdeeds on the part of Mueller’s elite investigate team.

On Friday, we learned that Sean Spicer had resigned from his position as the White House Communications Director in protest of the President’s decision to name Anthony Scaramucci to the Comms Director spot, layering Spicer in the pecking order. 

Scaramucci is widely known as “The Mooch,” and no, that is not a lame attempt at comedy. This guy actually is widely known as “The Mooch.” Having a slick, smarmy guy known as “The Mooch” pimping for a thug boss called “The Donald” is what you’d expect from a cheesy screenwriter peddling a sequel to “Jersey Shore.”

Those who watched The Mooch in action on Day One had to be impressed, if only because Scaramucci had not yet been neutered by his boss and made a singular point of oozing alpha from every pore. He did not merely project confidence, he visually exuded a radioactive hubris, calling to mind the advertising executive who once proudly recounted how much effort he had put into learning how to pretend to look sincere.

But make no mistake: Scaramucci is a howitzer next to Spicer’s water pistol. The Mooch is not the loopy, terrified marionette that Spicer became over the course of six months under Donald Trump. Also, given the litigious waters that lie ahead, it wasn’t dumb to put a Harvard lawyer out in front of communications.  In short (ok, that was cheap), replacing Spicer with Scaramucci was a serious upgrade in Trump’s communications arsenal, replacing a weak milquetoast and pathetically inept liar with a weapons grade propagandist. Trump had gamed this out and knew that Spicer would not be up to the task of defending the administration when time came to fire Mueller.

Just when we thought that Spicer’s exit was going to be the last explosion before a much-needed weekend came the latest episode of Friday Night Blights. Well after happy hour commenced on the Beltway, the Washington Post reported on leaked intel that Sergey Kislyak had reported back to the Kremlin during the election season that he had spoken with Jeff Sessions about the Trump campaign.

What seems most curious about this one is realizing just how many parties could have wanted this tidbit leaked. Sure, maybe it was yet another amazing bit of reporting by the Washington Post. Maybe it was a senior whistle-blower at the FBI or CIA tired of watching Trump and Sessions undermining intelligence operations. Or, could it have been Trump himself? Perhaps the President heard this tidbit and decided to air it out as further grounds for nailing Sessions. Or, try this: who, of all the players is in the best position to leak Russian-to-Russian communications? Why, one would have to believe that would be Vlad the Unveiler himself.

Maybe Putin decided to do his buddy Don a favor. Maybe Putin doesn’t think that Mueller’s investigation is in Russia’s interest, either. Maybe he thinks that having Donald Trump under his thumb is the best possible scenario, so he is now happy to help torpedo the Mueller investigation.

Which brings us full circle… back to that one-on-one conversation back at the G-20 summit. Vladimir Putin is a trained KGB operative. He knows when he has a once-in-a-lifetime moment… a one-on-one meeting with the President with no other American witness to be found. He is not a guy, Mr. Hamilton, who is going to miss his shot. Hey, Putin worked hard to elect Donald Trump, and he was not going to stand on the sideline and watch the bungling U.S. President slide from mere incompetence to becoming pathetically ineffectual before crash-landing at an impeachment trial. So maybe Putin used his private time to give Trump some advice.

Why, we can practically hear the Russian strongman lecturing the neophyte…

“Donald, I think you and I can accomplish great things together, but not if you let the weaklings in your government push you around! Start acting like a real man, not a sissy man! From what I can see, you have the full power to cripple this investigation. You fire Sessions. You get a new Attorney General who will fire Mueller and close down the Office of the Special Prosecutor. You tell your Republicans in the House and Senate to vote down an independent Congressional Committee. You understand?  Donald, my people are monitoring this investigation very closely. We have a good sense about what information the Special Prosecutor already has. It does not look good for you. And, of course, we know what our own intelligence officers have collected on your campaign, which – if it were ever to get out – would be a disaster. In sum, the walls are closing in all around you. You better act fast, or you will lose the ability to act entirely. If the wrong information were to get out, you could lose the presidency.  And, Donald... not even I would not have the power to stop it.”

Who knows?

All we know now is that Trump came back from the G-20, running scared and guns blazing. It’s easy to see one way this all plays out:  Mueller will subpoena a raft of financial records – including personal taxes -- from Trump. Trump will refuse to comply, citing executive privilege. The case will go directly to the Supreme Court, which will follow the lead of the 1974 Court that required Richard Nixon to turn over the tapes. Trump will continue to refuse to provide the financial information, triggering a Def Con One constitutional crisis.  And the only thing protecting democracy as we know it will be if enough Republicans perceive the outright rejection of a Supreme Court ruling as grounds for impeachment.

Or, the alternative scenario:  Trump’s lawyers will lay out this exact scenario and urge the President to take the risk and fire Mueller now.  Trump could easily conclude that he is impervious to impeachment, as it would take a full 17 Republican Senators to succeed. It’s possible that Congress would launch its own special prosecutor, but in that circumstance, Trump’s act of firing Mueller succeeds as a huge delaying tactic, pushing any investigation back to square one.

The first scenario is a textbook constitutional crisis – one branch of government openly and flagrantly defying the constitutional authority decreed to another branch of government.

The second is a crisis of our national constitution: our will to survive as a democracy of the people, for the people, by the people.  Do the people of the United States have the strength and the will to get out on the streets and defy a tyrant abusing his power to undermine our elections, subvert our government, and crush the United States Constitution?

It’s coming this fall on your favorite television network.

But do remember one thing. It is not reality TV.

It will be reality.

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