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In Defense of Rep. Amash and a Very Few Other Republican Apostates

Way back in our high school and college days we passionately participated in scholastic debate tournaments, and although it was considered a nerdish pursuit by most of our classmates it had a lasting salutary influence on the way we look at politics. The sport taught to us to consider political questions with a dispassionate objectivity, carefully weighing the logic of the arguments made by both sides and the validity of the evidence presented, then considering the counter-arguments for any fallacies or false facts that had been presented.
Debates aren’t always won according to these gentlemanly and scholarly rules, of course, even in a scholastic debate tournament and especially in the rowdier and more low-brow public arena. We remember winning a match where our partner argued that there was no need to ban supersonic airliners because they’re flying too fast to cause air pollution, and also recall losing several rounds to even more preposterous arguments. During the last Republican presidential debates the failed casino mogul Donald Trump was declared the victor over Princeton University’s former national collegiate debate champion and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz with nothing but ad hominem attacks and outright falsehoods, and boasted to the press that Cruz wasn’t so tough when the rules allowed for rude and insulting interruptions of his carefully crafted arguments.
Even so, we’d like to think that questions of the utmost public interest can still be settled by facts and logic and respectfully deliberative debate. Which at long last brings us to the current acrimonious “twitter” debate between President Donald Trump and Republican Michigan Rep. Justin Amash.
Trump is by far the more famous of the two, we must admit, but this Amash fellow strikes us as pretty formidable. He’s in his third term representing Grand Rapids and the rest of western Michigan’s third district, and has earned a reputation as a penny-pinching libertarian who will occasionally defy Republican party leadership on matters of Republican principles, even going so far as to vote against spending bills that continue to ratchet up the national debt and to object to trade policies that burden his district with retaliatory tariffs. That was bad enough for some Republican tastes, but a couple of days ago he so far as to agree some with some of the damned Democrats that Trump has engaged in impeachable conduct.
The talking heads on the Trump-friendly networks and radio talk shows and internet “podcasts” all exploded, naturally, but our ears were open to Amash’s arguments, and we found them persuasive. He started off with a succinctly “tweet”-sized statement of “principal conclusions,” which included that: Attorney General William Barr mislead the public about the report by special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the Russian government interference in the last presidential election; the report indicates Trump committed impeachable offenses by attempting to interfere with the investigation; that “Partisanship has eroded our system of checks and balances”; and that “Few members of Congress have read the report.”
Having followed all this stuff with a nerdish obsession we find it hard to argue with a single word Amash wrote, and at this point in the “twitter” wars are glad to see anyone laying out plausible arguments rather than misspelled screeds, and even more heartened to see that Amash correctly wrote “principal” rather “principle,” which even we had to confirm was correct.
Trump had no problem formulating a response, however, quickly “tweeting” that Amash was “a total lightweight who opposes me and some of our great Republican ideas and policies just for the sake of getting his name out there through controversy. If he actually read the biased Mueller Report, ‘composed’ by 18 angry Democrats who hated Trump … he would say that it was nevertheless strong on NO COLLUSION and, ultimately, NO OBSTRUCTION … Anyway, how do you Obstruct when there is no crime and, in fact, the crimes were committed by the other side? Justin is a loser who sadly plays right into our opponents hands!”
Trump’s die fans will surely find it convincing, and gloat that “at least he fights,” but by ingrained habit we glumly note that Trump never seems to fight back except with ad hominem fallacies and unsubstantiated claims. Amash might seem a “lightweight” and “loser” compared to the far more famous and wealthy Trump, but that does’t mean he’s wrong, and he seems to have the better argument. In subsequent “tweets,” all written in “tweet-sized” but according to the Queen’s pristine English and old-fashioned rules of rhetoric, he correctly noted that the Mueller reported cited several lied-about-under oath contacts between Trump campaign officials and Russian operatives, at least 10 instances where Trump unsuccessfully tried to quash any further investigation into those contacts. The report then made clear it was constrained by Justice Department guidelines from seeking indictments, and plainly left it up to the damned Democrats and the rare maverick Republican in Congress to decide if any of that constitutes the “high crimes and misdemeanors” that the Constitution considers impeachable offenses. So far, so far as we can tell, Trump and his die-hard fans have no answer but schoolyard taunts and substantiated claims that his critics should be hanged for treason.
We don’t find it convincing, and although Amash is taking the sucker’s route along the high road in the debate we’ll say on his behalf that neither is any of the rest of Trump’s typically illiterate “tweet.”
For one thing, Amash seems admirably on board with what we’ve long considered the great Republican ideas and policies. He’s voted more often than not with what Trump wants, and more impressively has a 99 percent rating with the Club for Growth, a 94 percent rating from Americans for Prosperity, 87 percent with the American Conservative Union, and 85 percent with Heritage Action for America, and there’s no denying he’s better on budget deficits than Trump ever pretended to be. If Trump wants to call him a publicity seeker, which is pretty much the perfect example of the pot calling the kettle black, Amash can convincingly claim he’s chosen a principled way of getting attention.
Amash’s “tweets” have already provoked a primary challenge from a Michigan legislator who describes himself as a “pro-Trump, pro-life, pro-jobs, pro-Second Amendment, pro-family values Republican.” Trump very narrowly won Michigan’s electoral votes in the last election, and is behind in the state polls against all the leading Democratic candidates at the moment, but his inevitable endorsement of Amash’s challenger will surely have some weight in a 2020 Republican primary. Amash is by no means anti-life or anti-jobs or anti-Second Amendment or anti-family values, and especially in that last category we have doubts about how committed Trump is to any of these causes, but these days being anti-Trump is a problem for almost any Republican anywhere, and after winning three elections we’re sure Amash knows that.
The 2020 primary is still more than a year away, though, and there’s always a chance that by that point Amash will be able to proudly campaign as one of the few Republicans who was willing to stand up to Trump. Maybe not, and probably not, but at some point in the further future we expect that principled Republicanism will make a comeback, either before or after the country goes as bankrupt as a Trump casino, and that Amash will have standing to make the arguments. None of Amash’s Republican colleagues have endorsed his views, but for the most part they’ve declined to condemn them, and on both sides of the aisle most of these weather-watching politicians seem to be hedging their bets.

— Bud Norman

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The War Between Trump and Congress, and the Ongoing Struggle for the Truth

The longstanding battle between President Donald Trump’s administration and the United States Congress has recently escalated, and by the time judicial branch sorts it all out we expect that no will be looking good.
When special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation without any charges brought against the president for conspiring with the Russians or obstructing justice, Trump claimed complete exoneration and seemed to expect that would end the annoying discussion. Alas, the report included evidence of numerous contacts between Trump campaign officials and Russian, most of which the campaign officials lied about, and it documented several occasions when Trump attempted to obstruct justice but was thwarted by his White House staff, so the Democrats were disinclined to let the matter drop.
The Democrats who hold the majority in the House of Representatives have continued to hold hearings and ask hard-to-answer questions, and want full 400-plus pages of Mueller’s released to the public without redactions that apparently concern 16 criminal investigations that the special counsel team turned over to various jurisdictions of the Justice Department, and they’re requesting tax returns and other documents and calling witnesses about the various other Trump scandals that have been in the press. Even the Republican-run Senate intelligence committee is getting in on it, issuing a subpoena to Donald Trump Jr. to go over some earlier testimony about a meeting he had with some Russian operatives at Trump Tower in light of what Mueller’s report revealed.
Trump’s Attorney General is refusing to hand over the un-redacted report and defying a subpoena to testify to the House judiciary committee, Trump’s Treasury Secretary is refusing to hand over Trump’s tax returns or to testify to anyone about why, and Trump himself is vowing to resist everything. The president is claiming executive privilege to prevent the release of the full Mueller report that supposedly exonerates him and stop former White House counsel Don McGahn from testifying about the times he told the special counsel investigation Trump ordered him to either fire the special counsel or otherwise interfere with the probe, he’s backing Attorney General William Barr’s refusal to testify despite a contempt of Congress vote, and we fully expect he’ll resort to any measure to keep his namesake son from testifying under oath.
For now Trump seems to be winning, at least to the extent that he’s not yet been indicted and the Democrats haven’t yet got their hands on the documents they want, but the game is still very much afoot. We’re old enough to remember how President Richard Nixon dragged out the Watergate scandal, and although we were young at the time watched the hearings and read the press reports with rapt attention, and as we recall all the judicial precedents that were set regarding executive privilege and congressional oversight powers are not in Trump’s favor. Sooner or later everything comes to light in American politics, and we assume that Trump has self-serving reasons to keep Barr and McGahn and Mueller and Trump Jr. from facing questions under oath, and even more reasons to keep anyone from looking at his tax returns or those redacted portions of the special counsel’s report.
More worrisome for now is that Republican Senator and intelligence committee chairman Richard Burr signed off on the subpoena for Trump’s namesake son, and at a time when the Republican caucus has become somewhat restive about the president’s trade wars and foreign policy and a few other things that offend traditional Republican sensibilities. Several Republican Senators and all of the Trump-friendly media are calling Burr a “Republican in name only,” which is the worst thing they can think of to call a Republican, but Burr was a Republican when Trump was a registered Democrat and a Reform Party member and an independent who mostly palled around with and made big donations to Democrats, and he’s the epitome of what used to be considered a conservative before Trump redefined the term. When everything eventually comes to light, he might be as well respected by the general public and positioned in the party as the many Republicans who who declined to sanction Nixon’s misdeeds back in the Watergate days.
On the other hand, Trump might well plow through on the unquestioning support of those rally crowds he still commands and the indifference of the broader American public. The last time an Attorney General was cited for contempt of Congress was way back in President Barack Obama’s administration, when Eric Holder refused to cooperate with a congressional investigation in the “Fast and Furious” gun-running scandal, and although all the Republicans were outraged about it the Democrats seemed to share his contempt for Congress and admire his fighting spirit. This time around the Democrats will be outraged and most of the Republicans will be chanting their annoying mantra that “at least he fights,” and the vast majority of Americans who don’t care about all this headache-inducing stuff will be checking the unemployment rate and their retirement accounts.
We’re sure Trump hopes that his two appointees to the Supreme Court will help him prevail when all these various cases wind up, and is especially hopeful about Justice Brett Kavanaugh, but that won’t do much to restore America’s faith in its constitutional order. Trump’s fans will be galvanized against the damned Democrats that attempted coup, his opponents will be all the more eager to support any crazy leftist that runs against Trump and his undeniable craziness, and we’ll see how that turns out.
At least Burr and ourselves and a very few other Republicans old enough to remember Watergate will once again be outraged by presidential power run amok, and some of the Democrats seem to be asking tough questions we consider quite reasonable. Although we no longer hold out hope for either party we retain an old-fashioned faith in God and the free press and the systems of governance and all that eventually brings everything to light.

— Bud Norman

Another Riveting Afternoon of Television

James Holzhauer’s continued dominance of the Jeopardy! game show notwithstanding, the most compelling television show on Wednesday afternoon was Attorney General William Barr’s testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee about his handling of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on the “Russia thing.” Barr wound up taking such a beating that he’s declining to participate in today’s scheduled interrogation by the Democratic-led House Judiciary Committee, even though that’s likely to be the embarrassing big story of today.
If you’ve been following the “Russia thing” reality show you know that Mueller’s report found insufficient evidence to charge that President Donald Trump colluded with a Russian plot to interfere with the past presidential election on his behalf, despite the indictment and convictions and guilty pleas it won against Trump’s campaign manager and personal lawyer and national security for lying about their numerous contacts with Russian officials, and left it up to the Democratic majority in the House of Representatives and the slighter Republican majority in the Senate to decide if Trump’s thoroughly documented attempts to impede the investigation constituted obstruction of justice and the “high crimes and misdemeanors” that are impeachable offenses.
Before releasing the redacted 400-plus-pages report Barr released a four page press release summarizing the conclusions, which he chided the press for calling a summary, and it made Trump look a lot better than the eventually released redacted report did, and the redactions are probably even more damned damning. The free if “fake” news media have reported that Mueller and his crack team of investigators thought Barr mischaracterized their findings, so naturally the damned Democrats had some tough questions about that, and for the most part Barr had trouble coming up with answers.
As old-fashioned pre-Trump Republican conservatives we have no rooting interest in these damned Democrats, but we have to admit they scored some points. One of Barr’s inquisitors was California Senator and announced Democratic presidential candidate Kamala Harris, who is far too far left for our tastes yet too centrist for the left wingers we watch Jeopardy! with at Kirby’s Beer Store, and as a former California prosecutor she’s probably sent too many young minority males to prison to win a Democratic nomination, but there’s no denying she left Barr stammering. As crazy as she is Harris can eloquently pose a tough question, which Trump’s Attorney General struggled with on Wednesday, and if the Democrats can forgive her occasional resort to common sense she’d probably make a formidable opponent for Trump in the next presidential election.
Trump had clearly hoped that Barr’s four-page summary of the the Mueller report would fully exonerate him of anything to do with the “Russia thing,” but Barr’s testimony on Wednesday and his absence on Thursday will likely keep it in the news for a while. The report confirms the consensus of the national intelligence community and Trump’s own appointees that Russia meddled in the last election on Trump’s behalf, which Trump continues to doubt and has done absolutely nothing about, and we can easily guess why Barr declines today to answer any questions from a Democratic majority on a House Judiciary Committee about that. For now, at least, the “Russia thing” seems likely to linger, and any attempts by Barr and Trump to charge “deep state” conspirators for starting it will only drag it out into the next administration, no matter what it is.
At this point, we wonder if any of it will make any difference at all. By now Trump’s opponents are disposed to believe the the worst about him, even if the Mueller report doesn’t fully oblige them, and Trump’s fans are inclined to believe that he’s making America great again, even if the Mueller report doesn’t quite back up that audacious claim. The economy’s still sluggishly chugging along at the same low-growth rate it was during the last years of the hated Obama administration, more and more brown-skinned people are showing up at our southern border but we’re treating them more harshly than ever, and there are a couple of Trump appointees on the Supreme Court who might or might not back him up in the the looming Constitutional showdowns about all of it, and that’s more likely to settle the next presidential election.
We’ll be watching all the news until then, and taking on an even livelier interest than in Holzhauer’s amazing run on Jeopardy! So far as we can tell, this is serious business.

— Bud Norman

As Bad As It Is, It Could be Worse

America seems a pretty prosperous and placid place when you read the latest news from Venezuela or most of the countries in this troubled world, but there’s still plenty of desultory domestic news to argue about.
The economy continues to chug along, although interest rates are historically low and the national debt is unprecedentedly high and no one knows how we’ll deal with the inevitable downturn, and the income inequality is such that the Democrats are waging successful class warfare about it. For now President Donald Trump seems safe from impeachment proceedings, but there are still plenty of scandals and constitutional showdowns and unsettling issues he has to deal with.
When special counsel Robert Mueller ended his investigation of the “Russia thing” without bringing any charges against Trump, and a four-age summarization of the 400-plus page report written by Trump’s Attorney General stressed that, Trump claimed not only vindication but also victimization by a “deep state” conspiracy of federal officials who attempted a treasonous coup d’tat and should presumably be hanged. The redacted 400-plus pages of Mueller’s report have proved somewhat more embarrassing to Trump, however, and although he still claims the report completely exonerates him — which the 400-plus pages plainly state on several occasions that it does not — and with his characteristic presidential eloquence Trump now calls the exonerating document “total bullshit.”
Attorney General William Barr is scheduled to testify before Congress today about the matter, and the Democrats are expected to ask some tough questions about the rather smiley-faced summation of the Mueller report that he issued. The report confirms the unanimous conclusions of the intelligence community that the Russian government meddled in the past election on Trump’s behalf, which Trump continues to deny and has done nothing about. The report documented numerous contacts between Trump campaign officials and the Russian government, and the investigation has won indictments and guilty pleas and convictions against Trump’s campaign manager and national security advisor and personal lawyer for lying about it, so we can’t blame the damned Democrats if they ask about any of that. All in all, it should be a hard day on the job for Barr and the rest of the Trump administration.
The report explicitly states that it does not exonerate Trump of obstruction of justice, and makes clear to even a lay reader that the only reason the investigation didn’t charge Trump with that crime is because Justice Department policy forbids indictment of a sitting President, and because Trump’s underlings disobeyed his orders in fear of the law. The report leaves it up to the Democratic majority in the House of Representatives to decide if it constitutes the “high crimes and misdemeanors” that are constitutionally impeachable offenses, and there are a lot but probably not quite enough Democrats who find that offer tempting. Former White House counsel Don McGahn is featured prominently in the report, describing several instances when he defied Trump on orders he considered illegal, and McGahn is scheduled for upcoming testimony before Congress, and Trump is already accusing him of perjury, so that should prove interesting.
Meanwhile, all those blacked-out redactions have to do with criminal cases where the special counsel found evidence of criminal actions that it considered outside its jurisdiction, and those investigations are ongoing. We anxiously await to learn what that’s all about, and we can well understand why the damn Democrats literally can’t wait to find out, as they’re already subpoenaing everything they can about Trump’s still wholly owned businesses and surpassed tax returns and campaign and transition team and inaugural committee and administration. It’s all going to wind up in the courts, and Trump is counting on his two Supreme Court appointees to bail him out in the court of last resort, but that remains to be seen. There’s always a chance that Trump’s appointees are the principled conservative constitutionalists he said they were, and they’ve disappointed Trump on a few rulings.
Our guess is that the damned Democrats’ investigations will turn up something damned embarrassing to Trump, and that Trump and his die-hard supporters won’t be the least bit embarrassed about any of it. Our hope is that at least we don’t wind up fighting it out on the streets the way they’re doing down in Venezuela.

— Bud Norman

The Mueller Report and Its Thus Far Inconclusive Findings

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on his investigation into the “Russia thing” has proved disappointing to President Donald Trump’s critics, as it didn’t recommend any criminal charges be filed against Trump. On the other hand, Trump and his die-hard supporters have some explaining to do.
The 448-page report confirms the findings of all of America’s intelligence agencies that the Russian government tried to tilt the last presidential election in Trump’s favor, which is no surprise given that it won an indictment of 13 specific Russian operatives. Trump continues to take Russian dictator Vladimir Putin’s word that it must have been some other country — or perhaps some 400-pound guy sitting in his bed — who hacked the Democratic National Committee’s e-mails and coordinated an internet disinformation campaign and attempted to sabotage state voting systems, and that requires some explanation. A nation also anxiously awaits Trump’s explanation for why his administration has taken no measures whatsoever to prevent foreign interference in an American presidential election from happening again.
Mueller did not find sufficient evidence to charge Trump or his campaign with conspiring with those Russian efforts, so Trump and his supporters are entitled to gloat about that, but the report also cites convincing evidence that the Trump and his top campaign officials knew about the Russian effort, welcomed the assistance, repeatedly lied about its contacts with Russian officials, which has already resulted in guilty pleas and guilty verdicts against Trump’s campaign chairman and national security advisor personal lawyer, and that Trump himself lied to the American public during the Republican primary race about his business dealings in Russia.
This might not amount to a federal conspiracy case, as the special counsel’s “witch hunt” seems to have reluctantly concluded, but it doesn’t look good.
The report also declined to charge Trump with obstructing justice during the special counsel investigation, but as Trump’s carefully chosen Attorney General William Bar admitted in his four-page version of the 448-page report “it also does not exonerate him.” Mueller was a well-regarded director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation during both Republican and Democratic administrations, and he’s the sort of stickler for the rules who followed a Justice Department guideline against indicting sitting presidents, his report notes that the Congress is constitutionally allowed to decide what constitutes an impeachable high crime or misdemeanor, and it also documents several instances when Trump wanted to obstruct justice but his administration underlings prevented him from doing so. Most of those administration underlings are now long gone, but there’s a Democratic majority in the House of Representatives these days, and they’ll surely be holding hearings and demanding explanations.
Much of the 448-pages of the report are blacked out, as they involve the 14 ongoing criminal cases that were referred to various jurisdictions of the Justice Department, and when they eventually come to light they’ll surely requiring some explaining.
Mueller’s punctiliously by-the-book report notes that it’s up to Congress to decide what constitutes impeachable “high crimes and misdemeanors,” and seems to suggest that’s an open question requiring Congressional consideration. Our guess is that the feisty Democratic majority in the House will see it one way, but despite a few defections the slim Republican majority the Senate won’t agree by the needed super-majority to remove Trump from office.
By the time Trump runs for reelection in ’20 it probably won’t matter much. Trump’s foes already believe the worst  about him, and Trump’s fans don’t care about anything he might have done to defeat that awful “Crooked” Hillary Clinton last time around. There’s still something to be said for punctiliously sticking the rules, but these days it’s a matter of situational ethics.

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— Bud Norman

Fasten Your Seatbelts, as Today’s News Will Be a Bumpy Ride

Wednesday was a pretty slow news day by recent standards, but today will almost certainly be different. Attorney General William Barr has announced a news conference to discuss the special counsel investigation’s report about the “Russia thing,” a few hours later a reportedly “lightly redacted” version of the 400-page-or-so is scheduled to be revealed, and the resulting arguments about it will surely dominate the conversations on television and newspapers and in bars and dinner tables across the country.
Barr has already released a four-page summary of the report — he doesn’t want anyone to call it a summary, but we can’t think of a suitable synonym — which revealed that the investigation found no proof a conspiracy between the Russian government and the campaign of President Donald Trump, and did not reach a conclusion about obstruction of justice. Ever since Trump has repeatedly claimed complete exoneration by the report, even though Barr’s brief account of the report explicitly said “it also does not exonerate him,” but he’s stepped up up his attacks on the investigators and clearly seems worried about the public getting to read a lightly redacted version of what they came up with.
Some of the investigators have anonymously told The New York Times that Barr’s condensed version painted a too rosy picture of their work, and we expect that despite the light redactions the full 400 pages will give Trump’s critics something to bite into. Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani has said he’s preparing a counter-report to the report that supposedly exonerates his client, Attorney General Barr is eager to tell the public what to think about the report before it gets a chance to read it, and Trump and his most strident media allies are openly talking about charging the investigators for treason for writing the report they claim completely vindicates them.
The investigation has already won indictments against 13 Russian nationals for for interfering with the past American presidential in various ways, and indictments and guilty verdicts guilty pleas against Trump’s campaign chairman and co-campaign chairman National Security Advisor and longtime personal lawyer, and various other administration officials have had to revise their security clearance forms to include numerous contacts with Russian officials, but we already know no charges are currently pending against Trump himself. That’s a huge disappointment to to large segment of the population that would prefer to see Trump out of office, but we expect that some congressional Democrats will find some of those vaguely-defined high crimes and misdemeanors that are impeccable.
Trump and his talk radio apologists and other die fans, as well as a few congressional Republicans, will likely find some reason to charge those dastardly investigators with treason, and have them hanged by the neck until they are dead, even if they did completely exonerate The president by declining  to charge Trump himself. The Trumpian right remains enraged by the investigation that they swear exonerates Trump, and it might yet get is revenge.
We’ll see how it  turns out, as Trump likes to say, and for now we haven’t the foggiest idea. The only prediction we can make with any certainty is that he matter won’t be settled  by the end of this day, and that today will nonetheless prove interesting.

— Bud Norman