Monday, June 12, 2017

Time Aplenty

Lindsey Graham on Sunday warned President Trump "You may be the first president in history to go down because you can’t stop inappropriately talking about an investigation that, if you just were quiet, would clear you,"

This will fall on deaf ears, not only because of Trump's famous stubbornness, but also because the President very likely knows that an investigation would indict him in a figurative- and possibly legal- sense. There is after all a reason, one eventually acknowledged by Trump, that the President terminated FBI director James Comey.

Let's hope something else falls on deaf ears. From the Center for American Progress' Ideas Conference, Rolling Stone reports that Representative Maxine Waters of California

receives one of the conference's most raucous receptions as she delivers the blistering indictment of Trump she's become known for since the president's inauguration – which she skipped. No one has sounded the alarm louder or more consistently since.

On stage Tuesday, on the heels of the president's biggest unforced error to date, Waters mocks her prudish colleagues for their reluctance to speak more forcefully about Trump: "Oh my god, she said the word 'impeachment'! Oh my goodness, it's too soon to say that! We can't focus on it because we have members in districts he won and they can't afford to talk about impeachment!"

Quite the opposite, Waters says, Democrats as a party can't afford not to talk about impeachment. They cannot wait for another election. "We can't wait that long. We don't need to wait that long. He will have destroyed this country by then. We cannot wake up every morning to another crisis, to another scandal. We cannot have the uncertainty," she declares.

Dear God, please, no.  Waters obviously is sarcastically referring to GOP Representatives, who presently will not buck the President of their Party because he remains popular with their base while crippling health care reform, privatization, and (above all) tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations are within their sight.

However, sarcasm is not in order; these are crucial factors and presently are an impenetrable hurdle to impeachment, now not even desirable. Consider that, as The Chicago Tribune's Steve Chapman notes

Nothing about his performance suggests he has any idea how to handle his office. Trump complains that the Senate is obstructing his nominations. But at last count, he has yet to pick anyone for nearly 80 percent of the positions that require Senate confirmation.

On one issue after another, he has had to flee from ill-considered positions. He said the U.S. might junk its "One China" policy — only to be forced to back down by Chinese President Xi Jinping. He lambasted President Barack Obama's "dumb deal" to take refugees from Australia but eventually decided to honor it...

Trump's incompetence is self-perpetuating. A clueless executive is forced to rely on aides who are mediocre — or worse — because better people are repelled. Vacant jobs and poor staff work, aggravated by bad management, lead to more failure, which makes it even harder to attract strong hires — and easier for opponents to get their way.

However, even the specter of the theocratic, slicker right-winger Mike Pence waiting in the wings may not be the primary reason that articles of impeachement should not currently be drawn up. Not when, as Politico explains

A broadly worded provision of the Internal Revenue Code gives Mueller, who acts with the authority of the Justice Department in his new post, the ability to obtain the returns from the IRS if he can demonstrate to a federal judge that there is “reasonable cause to believe, based upon information believed to be reliable, that a specific criminal act has been committed” and that the returns “may be relevant” to the investigation. Under the law, there is no requirement that the subject of the investigation—in this case, Trump—even be notified of the court order to IRS. The move does not require a formal subpoena or the action of a grand jury; veteran federal prosecutors said it could all take place in a matter of hours.

A handful of legal scholars and former federal prosecutors I interviewed say it is too early to determine whether Mueller will seek the tax records. But they say it would not be at all surprising if he does. There have been a swirl of allegations about questionable financial ties between the Trump Organization and Russian businessmen and banks close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, including Russian oligarchs who have made major investments in Trump properties in the United States and overseas. Trump’s two adult sons have both been quoted as saying that Russian investments represent a lopsided share of their revenues (they later denied the quotations or suggested they had been taken out of context). 

If Mueller is half as competent, professional, and non-partisan as any viewer of CNN or MSNBC has been led to believe he is, an effort to obtain many years of Trump's tax returns is nearly unavoidable. Nevertheless, he may take a pass. Yet

David Sklansky, a Stanford University law professor who worked for years as a Justice Department prosecutor in Los Angeles, says a request for the tax returns might be an obvious step for Mueller to take. “I’m reluctant to speculate about what will happen, but Mueller can apply for an order for tax returns, just like any U.S. attorney could, if he concludes there is reasonable cause to believe a crime has been committed,” Sklansky says. “Everything we know about Mueller suggests he isn’t likely to make an application like this unless he has good grounds for it.”

Samuel Buell, a law professor at Duke University and former federal prosecutor who led the Justice Department’s prosecution of the Enron Corp., says he is convinced that if Mueller believed he needed the returns, he would seek them—and that a judge would likely approve the order without delay, given the respect the former FBI director commands in Washington. “It’s hard to imagine an individual connected with federal law enforcement still alive in the United States with his stature,” Buell says.

If tax returns are obtained: game, set, match. It might still take many months to impeach and convict, or impeach and force the resignation of, the President, but it would be highly likely he would not survive politically. In the unlikely event there were no conviction (in the Senate) and no resignation, the GOP would be severely wounded, operating under a cloud which now can be only imagined. By contrast, decisive action now, when "obstruction of justice" remains an abstraction to most Americans, likely would incite a significant backlash.

There is a portion of President Trump's base which would remain loyal to him if he were videotaped shooting someone on Pennsylvania Avenue or if his tax returns were released.  But there is a reason he has refused to do either, and many of his current supporters would desert him if-if  the case for impeachment were far stronger than it is today.

Very few Democratic politicians have echoed Representative Waters' call for serious consideration of impeachment. They are heeding- and for the time being, should continue to heed- the advice given by the NFL's greatest active quarterback to his teammates during a slump: "R-E-L-A-X."

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