Have We Nearly Reached The Tipping Point?

The Trump administration and its Republican cohorts in Congress are just beginning the Soviet-style purges of our own government that will probably ultimately end with the firing of Robert Mueller and the shutting down of the Russia investigation entirely.

Yesterday, Adam Schiff warned that the House Intelligence Committee seems to be preparing to shut down its Russia investigation at the end of this year. According to Schiff, “I’m increasingly worried Republicans will shut down the House Intelligence Committee investigation at the end of the month…Republicans have scheduled no witnesses after next Friday and none in 2017. We have dozens of outstanding witnesses on key aspects of our investigation that they refuse to contact and many document requests they continue to sit on…It appears Republicans want to conduct just enough interviews to give the impression of a serious investigation…Beyond our investigation, here’s what has me really concerned: The attacks on Mueller, DOJ and FBI this week make it clear they plan to go after Mueller’s investigation. Aggressively and soon.”

Republican Trey Gowdy virtually confirmed Schiff’s suspicions, saying, “I feel no need to apologize for concluding an investigation”. According to the NY Times, “Mr. Gowdy confirmed on Friday that he told a Democratic member of the committee, Representative Jackie Speier of California, that the end of the year offered a ‘natural boundary’ to their work.”

Devin Nunes, having been cleared in a surprisingly quick Ethics Committee investigation of his collusion with the White House to smear Obama administration officials by accusing them of “unmasking” intelligence sources, is now technically back as the head of the Intelligence Committee despite the day-to-day operations of the Committee being supposedly led by Mike Conaway and the aforementioned Gowdy. And the fact that the Republicans have scheduled interviews with Felix Sater, the Russia-connected convicted felon who worked with Bayrock and then the Trump Organization, and Trump’s long-time personal assistant Rhona Graff in New York, rather than DC, has Nunes fingerprints of obstruction all over it. In essence, Democrats on the Committee are faced with a choice, to go to New York and be able to interview the witnesses directly or stay in Washington and be able to cast some important votes that might include the tax bill and the budget.

Besides indicating his intention in shutting down the House inquiry, Gowdy is also trying to preemptively purge the number two man at the FBI. FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe is supposed to testify to the House next week but, according to Gowdy, “I’ll be a little bit surprised if he’s still an employee of the FBI this time next week.” Gowdy believes that McCabe will be terminated because of some kind of perceived bias against the President, a theme that Republicans in Congress are pushing hard on these days.

That meme ramped up into full gear when the DOJ released a selected number of texts between a senior FBI counter-intelligence official and an FBI lawyer that contained some pointed and critical remarks about Trump. However, a further review of the full number of texts showed that the two were also critical of Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Eric Holder, and other members of the Obama administration. So the real question now is who and how the DOJ only released a selected set of texts that created an image that the two FBI agents were biased against Trump when they were clearly engaging in critical political commentary of both parties. Yes, their communications were certainly inappropriate. But its also seems highly inappropriate for the DOJ to selectively release information, especially when the Inspector General’s investigation of the matter is ongoing and without the proper review from the Office of the Inspector General before doing so, potentially compromising the investigation and committing a felony by violating the Privacy Act.

Last night, John Cornyn, the number two Republican in the Senate seemed to also open the door to Mueller’s firing in an oblique way with his short response to Eric Holders tweet that “Speaking on behalf of the vast majority of the American people, Republicans in Congress be forewarned: any attempt to remove Bob Mueller will not be tolerated…Country not party.” Cornyn’s response was simply “You don’t”.

Over at the EPA, Scott Pruitt has apparently hired a media advisor who has spent the last year at a private firm trying to uncover EPA officials who have been critical of Trump or Pruitt. According to the NY Times, the advisor “was taking aim at ‘resistance’ figures in the federal government, adding that he hoped to discover whether they had done anything that might embarrass them or hurt their cause.” To that end, his company filed over 40 FOIA requests on individuals within the EPA in order to discover whether they did “anything that would be useful for Republicans.”

Beyond the individual purges of government officials who are deemed to be disloyal to Trump, the attempt to turn government agencies into essentially propaganda arms of the administration continues apace. Rex Tillerson has essentially gutted the State Department, weakening or eliminating independent analyses of policies, regions and countries. Steve Mnuchin basically quashes any independent analysis at Treasury. The EPA refuses to let climate scientists attend conferences, much less give speeches. And now we learn that the Trump administration has determined that there are certain words the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) are not allowed to use. These include “vulnerable”, “entitlement”, “diversity”, “transgender”, “fetus”, “evidence-based”, and “science-based”. Worse, the orders for what words cannot be used also include alternative language for some of those words which actually turn the meaning of those words on their head. For instance, the suggested language to use to replace “evidence-based” or “science-based” is “CDC bases its recommendations on science in consideration with community standards and wishes.” Evidence and science are simply not dependent on community standards or wishes. This is the apotheosis of Orwellian Newspeak that we have last seen coming out of the Soviet Politburo.

It feels like we are imminently reaching a real inflection point, not just in the Mueller investigation but in foreign policy and for our democracy as a whole. It is clear that another, probably significant, indictment or plea deal is coming from Mueller, sooner rather than later. There are rumors swirling that Jared Kushner is about to be indicted. That was further fueled by the announcement yesterday that Kushner’s legal team was hiring a crisis management firm. The attacks by Congressional Republicans and the President himself on not only Mueller but the FBI and the DOJ are increasing in number and vitriol daily. The right-wing propaganda machine is in full gear demanding Mueller’s firing. Paul Ryan seems to be content to let the Russia investigation in the House shut down and let his colleagues relentlessly attack Mueller and the FBI/DOJ.

And now it appears that Republican leadership in the Senate may also be willing to let Trump fire Mueller and shut the Russian investigation down. The ending of the House investigation into Russia is the first step to firing Mueller. Next would be shutting down the Senate Intelligence Committee, which might be a harder sell, although Cornyn’s tweet raises some doubt about that. Trump has certainly been pressuring the Senate to do so. And once Congress has shut down their investigation, it clears the way for Trump to fire Mueller. And that would set off a real Constitutional crisis that it appears Congressional Republicans have no interest in confronting. Taken all together, there seems to be strong indications that something major is brewing.

On a broader level, the anti-democratic tendencies of the Trump administration and Congress are getting more blatant and extreme. Republicans in Congress have spent the last year crafting major legislation in secret and without hearings, legislation that is opposed by a strong majority of the public, and trying to ram that through Congress by brute force with no input at all from the opposition party. The purging of individual administration officials is apparently already happening and picking up in pace. Earlier this week, Louis Gohmert actually ran down a list of FBI employees and questioned their loyalty to the President. The silencing of any independent voices or analyses from within government is also an almost regular event.

Rachel Maddow had on a panel of four experienced US Attorneys and lawyers last night and she asked them all whether they believed that Trump would fire Mueller. Every one of them said they did not believe he would but that, even if that happened, the investigation would go on. I found their confidence to be quite disturbing. While denouncing the Republican criticisms of Mueller, they were seemingly convinced those attacks were simply an attempt to influence public opinion. But this is not the 1970s and Watergate or even the 1990s and Clinton/Lewinsky. This is Donald Trump and the future of not only the President but his family and, by extension, his business is at stake. He has shown a willingness to break any political and legal taboo to protect those interests. There is nothing that gives me confidence he will not do so again.

In foreign policy, Lindsey Graham is now saying that there is a 30% chance that we will attack North Korea if it launches another missile test. That goes up to 70% of the North Koreans test another nuclear bomb. Trump’s announcement regarding Jerusalem and Nikki Haley’s “evidence” of Iranian missiles is setting the stage for a potential war with Iran.

The pressure on all fronts seem to be growing daily, if not hourly. At some point, you have to believe that things will explode.

Lastly, I just want to make a point about Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan who still manage to seemingly get a relatively free pass for their contributions to our current instability. It is more than their constant enabling of Trump. We all seem to have forgotten that these men refused to make a bipartisan statement condemning the Russian interference in our democratic processes in the fall of 2016, purely for partisan gain. McConnell’s refusal to give Merrick Garland a hearing was actually an assault on judicial independence and our separation of powers, essentially declaring a Democratic President does not have the right to seat a Supreme Court appointment. There is some evidence that Paul Ryan knew that Russians were not only supporting Trump but down-ballot Republicans as well, and he was perfectly fine with that. Rumors swirl that Ryan will leave the House after this horrendous tax bill passes, apparently content in his lifetime goal in redistributing wealth upward. But could the real reason be that he does want to damage his precious reputation, built primarily on outright lies, by being associated with Mueller’s firing, thereby leaving his enormous political ambitions open in the future? Or could it be that Ryan himself is tangentially implicated in the Russia investigation?

What I do know is that when both Ryan and McConnell were confronted with the fateful choice of choosing party over country, they chose party. And that, not an enormous tax cut for the rich or even a seat on the Supreme Court, will be their legacy in history.

Originally published at tidalsoundings.blogspot.com on December 16, 2017.

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E.Eggert(m2c4)

E.Eggert(m2c4)

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Thoughtful discussions on politics and economics with some sidelights in photography and astronomy.