The Rosenstein Conundrum

Rod Rosenstein

A comedy skit performed during a recent podcast episode of Slate’s Trumpcast pinpointed one of the most disorienting features of the Trump era for those who oppose it. Comedians Steve Waltien, Kate James, and Asher Perlman held a mock meeting of liberals to reevaluate their political and social opinions given the topsy-turvy happenings of our national moment (among their new verdicts: Rex Tillerson good, Kombucha bad). Beyond the laugh-lines, it’s a deeply resonant concept for those moved by the endless contortions and contradictions of our president. It calls to mind the Mother Jones report from last month that liberal feminist women were congregating at Stormy Daniels strip shows. Life can be confusing when your mantra is “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

Perhaps no one embodies this push and pull like Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. He’s a Trump political appointee. But he’s a career Justice Department lawyer with a reputation for integrity. Yet, he authored a deeply disingenuous memo that served as the pretext for James Comey’s firing. But he appointed a Special Counsel to investigate Russia’s election interference and coordination with the Trump campaign. Yet, he has acquiesced in Trump’s efforts to discredit the Russia investigation by releasing misleading FBI agents’ text messages. But he spoke out defiantly against congressional Republicans attempting to derail that investigation. Yet, he gave in to GOP demands to disclose highly confidential investigation materials. Hey liberals, where do we stand on Rosenstein again?

Now, there’s a greater conundrum at the center of the Rosenstein riddle coming to a head in the coming months. The deputy attorney general appears to be the only Trump-appointee insulating the Special Counsel investigation from the president’s meddlesome hands. Yet, that very supervision is becoming one of the Mueller investigation’s greatest threats. Continue reading

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No More Confirmations. Period.

It’s not chaos if the dizzying madness is caused by careful design. Yet, the nation’s front pages insist day after day that “chaos” and “turmoil” are “roiling” the White House, as Rex Tillerson is sacked on the can, as Rick Perry potentially moves from one agency he can’t remember to another. The repetition is nauseating, which is a better descriptor for the effects of our president’s childish gamesmanship with executive branch personnel. For there is nothing chaotic or tumultuous about a deliberate plan by an institutional terrorist hell bent on dismantling the citizenry’s trust in its own government. How else could you describe a president so gleeful over the sickening drama he has injected into his own administration’s bloodstream? Rather than replenish a government he has failed to adequately fill, Donald Trump continues to haphazardly hack away.

In doing so, President Trump has undermined the basic functioning of responsible government even beyond his own unprecedented ignorance. We are about to be on our second CIA director, secretary of state, and FBI director in little over a year, to say nothing of the breakneck churn of the president’s own staff. Trump’s impish disregard for the orderly functioning of government has even impeded his own priorities—deportations of undocumented immigrants are far lower than they were during any time under President Obama (though they are more arbitrary and cruel).

Fortunately, the president’s effort at disrupting his own cabinet is one of the few areas over which Congress has strong, constitutional authority to affect. The response must be strong and unmistakable: the U.S. Senate should refuse to confirm—should refuse to even consider—any Trump cabinet-level nominee. Continue reading

Review: What Happened

 

What Happened by Hillary Clinton

It was no surprise that Hillary’s Clinton’s latest book was greeted by many as yet another attempt by a calculating politician to deflect blame and reposition her reputation. Here was the former Democratic nominee, not even a year removed from a shocking electoral defeat that by all accounts should not have happened and that has imperiled American democracy, reinserting herself into the national discourse to yet again defend and explain her values and choices. Always opposed to losers, frequently distrusting of Clintons, and often unsympathetic to women, political pundits focused their reviews on whether Clinton sufficiently accepted responsibility for her election loss, seeking their pound of flesh. In a media landscape that allowed vague suspicions about Clinton’s motives and morals to reach equal footing with the daily outrages of Donald Trump, it was all too easy to dismiss Clinton as the worst interpreter of “what happened.”

In many ways, the critical reception proved the unstated thesis of the book. That once set, narratives never die. And for Hillary Clinton—a smart, ambitious, private, and independent woman—that narrative has always been that there was something lurking behind the curtain even when she was most exposed. Fortunately, then, Clinton didn’t write What Happened for those viewing her through that prism. Instead, she set out to expose that prism and show its effect on both the campaign and her public life. Continue reading

Live-Tweeting Obstruction of Justice

Three strains of executive incompetence and self-immolation came to a head this week. First, on the policy front, the administration’s absent leadership and ham-fisted threats continued its unbroken string of legislative futility as the Senate failed to pass its promised healthcare bill. Second, the wild and revolting West Wing drama cultivated by President Trump reached new heights as newly hired (and now newly fired) communications director Anthony Scaramucci caused Press Secretary Sean Spicer and Chief of Staff Reince Preibus to resign, while embarrassing himself with unhinged, confusing, and vulgar statements to the media. And third, the President escalated his assault on the rule of law by assailing his own Attorney General for recusing himself from overseeing the Department of Justice’s Russia investigation due to unavoidable conflicts just as powerful evidence between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin came to light.

Yes, it has been an unnerving few weeks for the country (to say nothing of the last six months, or the last two years). What seems to make it all the more unsettling, though, is the sense—that heavy, dank, oppressive feeling—that that there will be no consequences. The sense that the rules have changed, that none of this will make a difference, and that these monsters will get away with everything. Certainly, this fear has informed and shaped much of the media coverage, with our weekly check ins on whether the Trump diehards are holding fast (newsflash: they are!).

This aura of invincibility that many across the spectrum—left, right, middle, and the media alike—perceive enveloping President Trump is understandable. There’s a legitimate concern that our politics are so polarized, and that the Republican Party is so radicalized, that Trump will survive all outrages and abuses and stand a decent chance of reelection should the economy continue rolling along. Perhaps in the short term this view is correct; Trump will hold most Republicans and the hearts of its most active supporters, and in turn the congressional GOP will muddle along, leaving him unchecked. But the problem with applying the “Teflon Don” theory to all things Trump—including his piques of obstructionist rage and the assorted sordid happenings of son Donnie Jr.—is that it imposes a cable TV framework to legal and policy worlds unconcerned with political theatre. A criminal investigation is not a news cycle. Continue reading

Lies Are Lies Are Lies Are Lies

There are a lot of ways to lie. That was the upshot from Thursday’s dramatic Senate Intelligence Committee hearing, where former FBI Director James Comey spent the better part of three hours recounting the latest chapter in the 1960s political thriller that is our ongoing national nightmare. The hearing uncovered new ground when Comey described President Donald Trump’s efforts to obstruct the Michael Flynn investigation and implied that there was a greater scope to the underlying Russia investigation than previously thought. It also exhibited the many flavors of falsehoods.

The tutorial began the day before the hearing, when the Intelligence Committee prematurely released Director Comey’s written testimony. That seven-page submission detailed presidential intimidation in a dramatic first-person chronology of dinners and telephone calls between a wooing President Trump and a reluctant Comey. The testimony described a series of efforts by Trump as both president-elect and president to pressure the then FBI Director into engaging in deceit in its subtlest form—lying by omission. Continue reading

A Disastrous Double-Standard

As the remarkable story of President Trump’s secret ties to Russia unfolds each day, it is hard not to think back to the day last summer where a press conference about a different investigation, with a different potential target, and an undoubtedly different outcome became the center of the political universe. On July 5, 2016, FBI director James Comey took to his high podium to deliver a statement about his organization’s criminal investigation into potential mishandling of classified information by former Secretary of State and then-presumptive Democratic nominee for president Hillary Clinton. As Comey himself admitted, it was “an unusual statement.” He both gave “more detail about our process than [he] ordinarily would” while “not coordinat[ing] or review[ing] [his] statement in any way with the Department of Justice.” Intense public interest and importance, he said, justified his departure from protocol.

Comey’s statement was unusual for another reason. Despite finding no deceit or destruction of evidence, finding no intent to disclose classified information, and ultimately concluding that Clinton sent or received a mere 110 e-mails in 52 e-mail chains (plus six others found by examining e-mail fragments) containing classified information over a private server, he felt the need to publicly chastise his investigation target. Although determining that no reasonable prosecutor would bring charges based on such meager evidence of intentional mishandling of classified information, Comey took time to make the damaging and debatable charge that Clinton had been “extremely careless” and speculatively ruminated that it was “possible” a hostile foreign actor had accessed Clinton’s communications.

Now we know that just weeks after Comey made these public statements about a confidential investigation, his FBI was actively investigating the far more explosive possibility that Clinton’s Republican opponent in the presidential race was intentionally conspiring with a hostile foreign power to influence the election in his favor. Continue reading