Political Animal

Robert Mueller Should Zero in On Obstruction of Justice and Issue a Report

According to what we know at this point, Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his team are investigating three things:

  1. How Russia attempted to interfere in the 2016 election
  2. Whether or not members of the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia
  3. Whether or not the president attempted to obstruct justice

The investigations into the finances of Trump and his associates is tied to exploring evidence of #2, but might lead to further criminal investigations.

As we’ve heard from lawyers, especially when it comes to numbers 1 and 2 above, the investigation could go on for another one to two years. Given how Trump is escalating (see threats to North Korea and Venezuela, as well as his response to the events in Charlottesville), we might not have that long before a real disaster occurs.

When it comes to the possibility of removing Trump from the White House via impeachment, it is not likely that Congress will move on anything unless/until they receive a report from Mueller outlining potential “high crimes and misdemeanors.” It seems to me that the fastest and clearest path to that would be charges that he attempted to obstruct justice. For example, we already know that Trump:

  1. Asked for loyalty from Comey in exchange for keeping his job,
  2. Asked Comey to drop the investigation of Michael Flynn, and
  3. Admitted publicly that he fired Comey because of the Russia investigation.

While Trump might be more concerned about what Mueller’s team will find when they investigate his finances, it seems clear that the intricacies of untangling all of that is what will take time, whereas the president himself has practically admitted to obstructing justice.

I just looked at Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s letter announcing the appointment of Mueller as special counsel and a summary of his charge. Unless there is something embedded in law that isn’t included there, I see nothing that would preclude Mueller from issuing a report to Congress on the one area of obstructing justice. Doing so could force their hands to open impeachment proceedings in the House. It is very possible that Mueller could continue his probe into other areas while that is underway.

Perhaps the lawyers among us can explain why that is not a realistic option at this point. But, while many have pointed out that impeachment is a political process, I don’t see anything happening on that front based on charges that the current president is being inflammatory with our adversaries or is a white supremacist. I’d like Mueller to provide them with something. The sooner…the better.

What Will Republicans Do Now?

Let’s be clear about something: the current president of the United States is a white supremacist.

An awful lot of people have been equivocating about that one. The issue is not that he is pandering to white supremacists in order to secure their support…he agrees with them. Based on his history before and after running for the presidency, he simply put an exclamation point on that yesterday. But it’s even more serious than that.

If we were to do a Venn diagram of people who are narcissists, paranoid and white supremacists, I suspect that there would be a fair amount of overlap. And right in the middle of that would be the man who has been elected to lead the most powerful nation on earth—Donald Trump. Combine those things and you have a recipe for disaster.

In reporting on the events yesterday, the New York Times included this little nugget:

No word in the Trump lexicon is as tread-worn as “unprecedented.” But members of the president’s staff, stunned and disheartened, said they never expected to hear such a voluble articulation of opinions that the president had long expressed in private.

What that tells us is that those who go beyond seeing what this president says in public or on Twitter are regularly exposed to what we witnessed yesterday. That would include his closest advisors, his Cabinet, and Republican congressional leaders. In other words, the people who have the power to intervene to stop this disaster-in-the-making have been regularly exposed to the unfiltered version of Trump. They can’t claim ignorance or surprise.

For a while now I’ve been saying that, left to his own devices, Trump will not get better. As a matter of fact, the pressures and public exposure that come with the presidency will only make things worse. That is what Tony Schwartz (ghostwriter for The Art of the Deal) was addressing in this tweet following the press conference yesterday:

He’s right, we must stand in opposition to this president every day. But we also have to recognize that until 2020, the only people with the power to remove this threat from the White House are members of his Cabinet and/or congressional Republicans…who have an even closer look at how this president is unraveling.

If they can’t make a move to do anything out of a desire to save our country, then they could simply look at it from their own self interest. It must be clear to them by now that either they do something about this president or the entire Republican Party goes down with him. In addition, they have an agenda that is even less likely to go anywhere as long as Trump is the leader of their party.

I’m not suggesting that people like McConnell and Ryan will come to their senses anytime soon, anymore than I expect that Pence, McMaster, Cohn and Kelly will make any moves with regards to the 25th Amendment. From my vantage point, I don’t have the ability to gauge their complicity. But right now, when the depravity of the man in the White House is on display for everyone but the perpetually blinded to see, might be a good time for them to start having this conversation…if they haven’t already.

Why Governor’s Races Will Be Crucial in 2018 and 2020

Those of us who live in Minnesota got a great reminder a few years ago about how a governor’s race can be crucial to a state.

Back in 2010, the entire country experienced a wave election that favored Republicans at both the national and state level. Like many states across the Midwest that had traditionally been blue (or purple), that meant that Republicans gained control of both houses of the Minnesota legislature. But Tom Emmer, a right wing extremist who went on to win Michelle Bachmann’s seat in Congress, was the Republican nominee for governor, prompting a more moderate Tom Horner to run as an Independent. That meant a three-way race with Mark Dayton as the Democratic nominee. The election was decided by the tiniest of margins with Dayton winning by 0.4%…and it determined the fate of our state over the next eight years.

Shortly after the election, Republicans went to work all over the country to gerrymander legislative districts at both the state and federal level in their favor. Minnesota was no exception. But Governor Dayton vetoed their plans—sending the redistricting efforts to a neutral court to decide. In 2012, Democrats regained control of both the state House and Senate. In U.S. House races, Democrats picked up one seat, but it wasn’t related to redistricting.

What that meant for the state is that during his first two years in office, Governor Dayton had to deal with a Republican legislature. You might remember that it led to a short government shutdown when they failed to agree on a budget. But two years later, with a Democratic legislature, a lot of positive things happened for the state. Here’s how Patrick Caldwell summed it up in 2015:

Over the past several years, Minnesota has become a testing ground for a litany of policies Democrats hope to enact nationally: legalizing same-sex marriage, making it easier to vote, boosting primary education spending, instituting all-day kindergarten, expanding unionization, freezing college tuition, increasing the minimum wage, and passing new laws requiring equal pay for women. To pay for it all, Dayton pushed a sharp increase on taxes for the top 2 percent—one of the largest hikes in state history.

I wrote an article back then comparing this story to what happened in our neighbor state of Wisconsin. Scott Walker became their governor and, with a Republican legislature, gerrymandered their state to favor their party’s candidates. They went on to cut taxes, curb unions, expand private school vouchers and reject hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding.

What are the results of these two paths taken? Rather than rattle off a lot of statistics, I’ll simply point to two rankings of the 50 states. U.S. News and World Report ranks the 50 states based on their economic stability and potential. In 2016, Minnesota was ranked #12 and Wisconsin #35. WalletHub similarly ranks states on their economies. In 2017, Minnesota came in at #17 and Wisconsin #25.

But a state’s economy is only one indicator. For another take, the Annie E. Casey Foundation produces a report every year ranking states with respect to child well-being. In their 2017 results, Minnesota ranked #4 and Wisconsin #12.

I want to emphasize two conclusions from all of this. The first is that, when comparing what happened in Minnesota and Wisconsin, we have a compelling story about how Democratic policies work. The second is that we only have that story because Minnesota elected a Democratic governor by a hair’s breadth in 2010.

Every race in 2018 and 2020 is going to be significant. But Governor’s races aren’t encumbered by gerrymandering and could therefore be the bulwark against the kind of manufactured Republican tilt we’ve been seeing over the last few years. Ultimately, they could determine whether states across the country go in the direction of Minnesota or Wisconsin.

Quick Takes: Response to an Unhinged President

After the President of the United States went on an unhinged racist rant during a press conference today, it seems that the most appropriate thing to do would be to round up some of the twitter response.