Wednesday, August 08, 2018

Rough Road Ahead

Will Bunch is not sanguine about the likelihood of a happy ending of the Mueller investigation as occurred in Watergate, when an unethical Republican was forced to resign the presidency. He is stunningly depressing as he explains

In 1974, idealistic young prosecutors like Ackerman and Wine-Banks were able to take on an imperial president because the political system — especially Congress — was still committed to fundamental notions of democracy. Some of that was ideology — you actually had such a thing as “liberal Republicans” like Connecticut Sen. Lowell Weicker who could be a thorn in Nixon’s side — but some of that was real accountability; the Senate voted 77-0 in February 1973, when the president was at the peak of his power, to investigate Watergate. That simply would not happen today, not with Republicans answering to voters who claim they’d prefer Vladimir Putin over Hillary Clinton.

The other difference, though, is the man in the Oval Office. Nixon — for all his paranoia and the illegality of his campaign dirty tricks — still respected the guardrails of constitutional democracy enough that he didn’t destroy the White House tapes, didn’t defy the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court when he was ordered to turn them over, and even voluntarily released that “smoking gun” tape with an acknowledgment that he would be impeached. (Instead, he resigned after a delegation of GOP senators urged him to do so; could you imagine Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell — after shredding the Constitution to get Neil Gorsuch on the Supreme Court — doing the same?)

Trump, on the other hand, is a graduate of the despicable “fixer” Roy Cohn’s school of political diplomacy — deny everything, admit nothing, lie profusely, and when those don’t work, sue everybody in sight. There’s little doubt that had Trump been president in 1974, he would not think twice about doing the things that even Richard Nixon would not do — ripping America apart and maybe even threatening a civil war, all for the sole purpose of saving his own narcissistic hide.

But the reality may be even worse. Mother Jones' David West cautions that there is a chance that the Special Counsel's report will never see the light of day. After it is given to Rod Rosenstein, the Assistant Attorney General can release it to the public, send it to Congress (a member of which probably would leak it), or simply do nothing. The warning from West's colleague David Corn, who has followed the Trumpian connection to Russia closely, is even more ominous: "Those Americans out there who are waiting for Robert Mueller to give us the full truth of what happened in terms of the Russian attack on the United States, we're likely not to be satisfied."

That is probably overly pessimistic. However, the system may be incapable, even beyond Bunch's fears, of holding the President and his gang accountable.  

It is widely assumed that Mueller's negotiations with Giuliani over an interview with Mr. Trump can only end badly for the President. But Giuliani may- for all his apparent bumbling- may actually be achieving the President's aims.

Although it is unlikely, the former New York city mayor may obtain favorable terms for an interview. Conducting the interview at the White House, as that of Bill Clinton with Ken Starr's office, would be a relatively small concession. More significantly, it may be limited in topic or in length. It could also be in written form, though that is extremely unlikely because answers would be written by White House lawyers, vetted, and answer little or nothing.

There will be no report until a meeting takes place- as is more likely- Mueller and Giuliani conclude there will be none.  That may leave no time for issuance of a report before Election Day.  If a report is issued before November 6, it will be in autumn, in the midst of campaign 2018.  The tweets from President Trump nearly write themselves, accompanied by distortion and manipulation from legal representative Rudy Giuliani, and cries of anguish from Trump surrogates. 

By the week before the election, the GOP will have Fox News and the Trump base convinced that Robert Mueller is working hand-in-hand with the Russians in order to rig congressional elections for the Democratic Party.

Once President Nixon resigned, there was a rough consensus in the country, especially among elites, that the system had worked.  The subject of the Watergate investigation had resigned, there was relatively little recrimination, no criminal charges, no rioting, and the leader of the free world was replaced by the sane and sober individual previously selected as Vice-President. Nixon went on to have a pleasant career sought after for his reputed knowledge of foreign affairs.

There was no acknowledgment that the system actually had failed.  Nor do we understand that the failure to hold President Nixon fully accountable played a role in numerous misdeeds- Iran-Contra,  illegal interrogation- torture, running the White House for personal financial gain- committed by subsequent Presidents.  After suspicions about Richard Nixon were borne out, he was pardoned, paying no penalty other than being returned to the status quo ante. 

With the inertia and contradictions of the legal system and apprehension of politicians and the media, the deck is stacked against demanding accountability for a Republican president. Donald J. Trump understands this even better than the other seven individuals who have followed Mr. Nixon. Therefore, as Bunch concludes

people are going to have to vote in November as they’ve never voted before and protest and march and make phone calls and — hardest of all — take the kind of risks that people in other endangered nations are accustomed to taking, and that Americans aren’t. It’s not Watergate II: The Sequel, and there’s no guarantee of a happy ending. But it’s the story that we’ll need to write for ourselves in order to live.

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