Sunday, April 21, 2019

BTRTN: The Real Reason to Impeach Donald Trump


They are calling it Mueller’s Genuine Draft, not the watered down stuff you get at the Barr. Now it is out, and Democrats are fretting, squirming, stalling, wringing their hands, second guessing, and debating whether it is politically unwise to move aggressively on impeachment. Steve sees the clear reason to move forward.

Hey, we get it.  

All the savvy strategists like Nancy Pelosi think that impeaching Donald Trump is a bad political move. 

Sure, they say, you could probably pass the motion to impeach Trump in the House, but all that does is trigger a trial in the Senate to determine whether Trump is removed from office. And there, the shrewd pols opine, you will never get seventeen Republicans to vote against Trump, because they are all terrified of being primaried if they do. Impeachment? The big strategic thinkers will tell you it is just a big waste of time and effort, and in the end it will boomerang and badly damage the Democrats. When the Senate fails to convict Trump, he will once again scream that he has been vindicated, exonerated, and that all along he has been victimized by savage Democratic partisans who won't let go of their "witch hunt."

Yes, they go on, impeachment will only serve to damage the chances for the Democrats to win the White House in 2020, as they will look like they are obsessively trying to take Trump down. Just as the impeachment of Bill Clinton ended up damaging the Republicans, so too the Democrats will be the only ones hurt by trying to impeach Trump. Right?

You bet, says Nancy Pelosi. "He’s not worth it."

It was very easy to follow her logic, particularly when she ended with the very reasonable conclusion that we should all wait and see what the Mueller report actually said. Fair enough, we thought. Let’s wait and see what it says. 

It’s here, Nancy. And it is far bigger, far more ugly, and far more revolting than the fairy tale version William Barr was twirling so hard to spin.

Let us begin with the single most delicious sentence in the full 400 pages.

"The president's efforts to influence the investigation were mostly unsuccessful, but that was largely because the persons who surrounded the president declined to carry out orders or accede to his requests.”

You heard it right. This quote from the Mueller report actually includes the phrase “The President’s efforts to influence the investigation.” This sentence, in its very grammatical construction, is predicated on the assertion that the President intended, tried his best, and was somewhat successful in obstructing justice. The criminality of obstructing justice is not contingent on the extent it was executed successfully. Mueller is saying that the president tried his darndest to obstruct justice, and was "mostly unsuccessful" because nobody paid attention to him. But the grammar is clear: he tried to obstruct justice, and some of the time he was successful. There's not a lot of wiggle room there. Mueller is saying that Trump committed a crime that has been repeatedly used as grounds for the impeachment of the President.

Attorney General William Barr tried to convince us that Robert Mueller simply could not decide whether the evidence warranted a formal charge of obstruction of justice. This was a wildly inaccurate statement. But give Barr points for chutzpah: he managed to obstruct justice while trying to make the point Trump did not obstruct justice.

In fact, Mueller made clear in his report that he felt that Department of Justice policy specifically forbade him from indicting a sitting President. He therefore had a choice: to either clear the President completely, or to convey in the report that the evidence that Congress should weigh in considering whether to impeach the President. Here is the crucial quote:

“If we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the president clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state. Based on the facts and the applicable legal standards, we are unable to reach that judgment.”

Translated from the legalese: “I do not have the option to indict a sitting President, but if I thought he was innocent, I would tell you. And I cannot.” Boiled down further, it appears clear that Robert Mueller was taking a very specific position: that there is considerable evidence that Trump is guilty of obstruction, but that Mueller cannot bring charges against him. Only Congress can act on the information in this report, so he is providing Congress with everything it will need to make that judgment.

The Mueller report goes on to detail blatant efforts to obstruct the Mueller investigation, most pointedly, Trump’s obvious efforts to have Mueller fired. Trump instructs White House Counsel Don McGann to have Mueller fired because of “conflicts of interest,” which is a, uh, Trumped up reasoned to mask the real rationale.  McGann refuses, saying that he would rather resign. When word leaks to the press that Trump has issued the order, Trump orders McGann to publicly deny that Trump said it. McGann refuses.

There’s Trump’s handling of the disclosure of the Trump Tower meeting, in which he personally changes a press release to allege an innocent purpose for his son’s meeting with Russians, and then denies that he was involved in drafting the press release.

There are Trump’s repeated efforts to send signals to witnesses Manafort and Cohen that loyalty to Trump would be rewarded.

There they are, folks. Those are the smoking guns you’ve been asking for. They are guns, and they are still smoking. Corroborated testimony from reliable witnesses that Donald Trump made repeated attempts with conscious intent to hinder, thwart, inhibit, and undermine the Mueller investigation, by trying to fire the Special Prosecutor himself, by witness tampering, and by urging subordinates to lie to the Special Counsel.

Donald Trump obstructed justice.

Last time we looked – when Bill Clinton was impeached, and when Richard Nixon resigned in disgrace – obstruction of justice was an impeachable offense. Whatever a “high crime or misdemeanor” is, obstruction of justice is definitely one of them. 

So, Nancy, what do we do now?

Sure, Nancy, we understand. We can’t just decide after 24 hours with a redacted report to embark on an impeachment. We have to act cautiously and carefully and get all those ducks in a pristine row. Sure, we have to get our hands on the unredacted report. Let’s call William Barr and Robert Mueller in for sworn Congressional testimony. Let’s do that with McGann, too… let’s get him to repeat his allegation on national television. Let’s do this correctly. And meanwhile, Nancy, sure… let’s focus on the real issue… beating Trump in 2020.

Is that really what the Democratic leaders want us to do? Or are the leaders of the Democratic Party just playing rope-a-dope, adding new boxes to be checked in order to avoid having to grapple with the “I” word?

Let's be real: the White House will never accede to any request for documents, any subpoena, any Congressional testimony. Both Republicans and Democrats seem to be agreeing to perpetual delays. Democrats can look like they are actually doing something without having to actually impeach Trump. Republicans are trying to avoid giving any more damaging information (redacted material, Trump's taxes), with the hope of running out the clock... getting to election day, 2020, without any further damaging disclosures.

Which brings us to the essential issue of the day: if Congressional Democrats are confronted with essentially irrefutable evidence that the President of the United States committed a “high crime or misdemeanor,” do they even have the option to ignore it?

Or does the Constitution of the United States require that Congress act on such findings?

Can Speaker Pelosi make the decision that she will not invoke the Constitutional process designed for this situation because she thinks it would be bad politically?

Think about the ethical abdication of this position. 

Acting purely on the basis of an amoral political calculation rather than Constitutional principle is what Trump people do. That’s what the world's ranking hypocrite, Mitch McConnell, would do: glorify the Constitution when it works in his favor and ignore it when the Constitution is inconvenient.
  
That is the reason Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer are giving for hiding from impeachment: it’s a bad political strategy. Could cost us votes in the 2020 election. Can’t risk that.

It is ironic that Nancy Pelosi was quick to invoke ideals and principles when she famously refused to spend a dime on Trump's border wall because it was "immoral." The hard thing about acting on principle is that it can't be an act. People who invoke principles selectively are not really living by principles.

Democrats are supposed to act on principle, casting political considerations aside when a principle is at stake. The principle here is that a man who has committed “high crimes and misdemeanors” should not be the President of the United States. Congress should not be waiting until the next election and outsourcing that responsibility to voters on the hope that they will do the job that Congress is afraid to do. 

Yes, it is a hard road. It will be tough. Some people will question your motive. But if you believe that Trump has committed impeachable offenses, the framers of the Constitution gave you a remedy for this exact circumstance. They expected we would use it.

Ok, Nancy, let’s play this game on your terms. Allow me to challenge your essential premise: is your approach really all that savvy politically? You seem convinced that if the Senate fails to convict Donald Trump, it will cause a backlash of shame and embarrassment for the Democrats just as the 2020 election nears.

Here’s a different take.

If the Democrats do not move to impeach Donald Trump, it will be interpreted that you are not contesting Trump’s view that the Mueller investigation was a witch hunt. It will appear that you have caved in and accepted William Barr’s interpretation of the Mueller report. By not fighting Trump on his mantra that there was “no collusion, no obstruction,” you are conceding that he was right all along.

So you think that is a savvy political strategy?

There is an entirely different way to look at the political reading of this situation. It is entirely possible that a Senate trial of a sitting president would be the most compelling and all-consuming reality TV show of all time, and would dominate the airwaves in the months prior to the 2020 election. In such a “must see tv” event, witness after witness could be called to testify to the criminal, deceitful, and borderline treasonous behavior of this President and his White House. Trump would be revealed, day after day, for the amoral, corrupt manipulator that he is.

And finally -- finally -- the people who only watch Fox News might actually hear the other side of the story.

An impeachment trial, played out day after day for weeks on end, would be extremely damaging to Trump. It is reasonable to argue that the drama of an impeachment trial would trigger far more public involvement than the slow drip of Congressional hearings.

As a final comment on our evaluation of this decision from a purely political perspective, let's challenge your  premise that Republicans were badly damaged after their effort to impeach Bill Clinton failed. Numerous pundits have made the point that it is by no means settled history that the Republicans were hurt more than Democrats by that impeachment trial.  We must remember that Al Gore intentionally sidelined Bill Clinton -- the best Democratic campaigner in a generation -- because he did not want to be tarred with that association. Could that have been one reason that Republicans won the Presidency in 2000? If the Republican impeachment of Clinton took him out of the 2000 Presidential campaign, the argument can be made that the Democrats were far more damaged by the impeachment than the Republicans.

Let me add one last reason why the Democrats have to face up to their duty to move toward impeachment.

Right now, only two presidents have ever been impeached… Andrew Johnson, and Bill Clinton. Neither were removed from office. In fact, the alleged “high crimes and misdemeanors” committed by these two presidents are literally a fraction of the misdeeds committed by Trump in his six months in office.

But both of those presidencies carry the scarlet letter "I" of shame... the only two presidents ever to have been impeached.

Donald Trump should have that scarlet letter, too. History must record that Donald Trump was the worst President in United States history. We must ensure that history preserves the record of his Presidency at the greatest assault on our constitution, our rule of law, and our democracy in the life of our nation.

And it should be public record that we all knew it. We knew it while it was happening. 

Yes, pass that resolution in the House, bring those charges to the Senate, televise those hours of sworn Congressional testimony, and then make those Republican Senators say “not guilty” out loud. 

Trump may indeed be acquitted. But I would rather see that happen through the proper Constitutional mechanism than see him claim exoneration by virtue of the white flag of surrender that Democrats seem intent on waving. 

Stop being afraid to take a moral stand because you are frightened of how it will play politically. 

Do the right thing. 

In my lifetime, I have been repeatedly reminded that doing the hard thing -- the right thing -- so often ends up being a vastly superior solution – by almost every measure -- than the cheap, easy, and expedient option.

The founding fathers invented impeachment for this level of duplicity, corruption, deceit, criminality, and disregard for the rule of law.

They didn't create it to be an optional exercise to be used only when politically advantageous.

Nancy Pelosi says Trump “isn’t worth it.” 

Let's concede that, Nancy. He isn’t.

But our country is.

The Constitution is.

The rule of law is.

And yes, winning the White House in 2020 is, too. 

In the end, the real reason that Democrats should move forward with impeachment is that it is the right thing to do for every reason: morally, constitutionally, politically, and historically.  

Stop pretending there are reasons to delay, Dems. Do your job. Do the right thing. 

And get to work now.




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Wednesday, April 17, 2019

BTRTN 2020 Vision: Biden Surviving and Mayor Pete Rising

Tom with our BTRTN monthly feature on the 2020 Elections, with all the latest numbers.

Image result for 2020 visionThe Democratic field keeps growing, up to 18 strong, and still without Joe Biden.  And the GOP field is almost certainly set, with the emergence of the Barr summary of the Mueller report, and its announced larger truths that no one disputes:  that Mueller found no evidence of criminal conspiracy, nor could he bring himself to declare there was obstruction of justice (though he also fell short of exoneration).  There will be no impeachment hearings during the balance of Donald Trump’s first term, and no challenger (other than Bill Weld) will emerge to “primary” Trump from among those who might have been waiting for a more damning verdict.

But the most consequential developments of the past month for the 2020 presidential race were not these developments, but rather those involving Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg, as we shall discuss further on.

THE FIELD

In the last month, there were three more entrants to the Democratic field.  You may have missed the late March announcement of the “other” mayor now in the race, Wayne Messam, who presides over Miramar, Florida, with a population of 140,328, larger than Buttigieg’s South Bend (102,245) and dwarfing Wasilla, Alaska (which was about 8,000 when Sarah Palin was on the GOP ticket in 2008).  But you’ve probably heard about Representatives Tim Ryan of Ohio and Eric Swalwell of California, who both entered in April.

Remarkably enough, the field may not yet be complete, even apart from Biden.  Stacey Abrams, who narrowly lost the 2018 Georgia gubernatorial race, Montana Governor Steve Bullock, former Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe, Massachusetts Representative Seth Moulton and former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz (who is, of course, considering an independent run) remain potential entrants.  Grumbling Democrats may not consider this a swell field, on the whole, but it is certainly a swelling one.

Thus the entire Democratic field, as of now (that is, the announced candidates plus Biden) looks as follows, ranked by the average of the national polls over the last month (more on the polls below): 
  


Potential Candidates
Age
Announcement  Date
Credentials
Joe Biden
76
TBD
Former VP, Former Senator, Delaware
Bernie Sanders
77
2/19/2019
Senator, Vermont
Kamala Harris
54
1/18/2019
Senator, California
Beto O'Rourke
46
3/14/2019
Former Representative, Texas
Elizabeth Warren
69
12/31/2018
Senator, Massachusetts
Cory Booker
49
2/1/2019
Senator, New Jersey
Pete Buttigeig
36
1/22/2019
Mayor, South Bend, Indiana
Amy Klobuchar
58
2/10/2019
Senator, Minnesota
Jay Inslee
67
3/1/2019
Governor, Washington
Kirsten Gillibrand
51
1/15/2019
Senator, New York
John Hickenlooper
66
3/4/2019
Former Governor, Colorado
Julian Castro
44
1/10/2019
Former Secretary, HUD
Andrew Yang
43
11/6/2017
Entrepreneur
John Delaney
55
7/28/2017
Representative, Maryland
Tulsi Gabbard
37
1/11/2019
Representative, Hawaii
Marianne Williamson
66
1/28/2019
Self-help author
Eric Swalwell
38
4/8/2019
Representative, California
Tim Ryan
45
4/4/2019
Representative, Ohio
Wayne Messam
44
3/28/2019
Mayor, Miramar, Florida

THE MONTH

The month was dominated by a gut-check for Biden and the rise of Buttigieg.  Biden became embroiled in controversy when a Nevada assemblywomen, Lucy Flores, accused him of inappropriate physical contact with her when he was campaigning in 2014.  This charge was quickly followed by other women coming forward, and video emerging that quickly confirmed Biden’s traditional use of an old school, touchy-feely brand of retail politics.  Biden was slow to respond, did not get it “right” off the bat, and was clearly reeling from the charges.

None of these charges were “#MeToo”-esque in nature; none of the women who came forward were accusing him of inappropriate sexual behavior.  And while there were some who called for Biden to not enter the race, plenty of others were willing to cut him some slack, and not anxious for a repeat of Al Franken’s swift expulsion.  There is little question that Biden was hurt by the issue, since, at the very least, it hit him in his biggest area of vulnerability, that he is old and out of touch with today’s values. 

Pete Buttigieg, quite simply, has broken through.  And while he has a fascinating resume, as impressive as it is, it is not the resume that is causing the fuss.  It is the man himself, how he speaks, his common-sense, straightforward take on the issues, his personal appeal, that is driving the “Mayor Pete” wave.

As is well chronicled by now, Buttigieg is young, the youngest candidate in the field, at age 37, barely eligible to run for the office.  As Mayor of South Bend, he has among the slimmest portfolios among the 18 candidates.  But he has packed a great deal into that short life, as a Rhodes Scholar and former U.S. Navy intelligence officer who served in Iraq (as well as an undergraduate diploma from Harvard and a stint at McKinsey).  Add into the mix that he is openly gay, and you have an utterly unique candidate who may be as right (or ahead of) the times as Biden appears to be a relic of the past.

Buttigieg made his formal announcement this past Sunday, and the reaction has been astonishing.  The talk is of JFK and Obama, two previous winners who ran, respectively, on “the torch has passed to a new generation” and “hope and change” messaging.  Both were young, fresh and credentialed, and astonishingly different from their opponents in both the primaries and in the general election.

But all of this visceral reaction has translated into an impressive jump in the polls, more so in Iowa, where it seems almost everyone is paying very close attention.  Quite simply, none of the other candidates have generated anything approaching Buttigieg’s appeal.  He has surpassed Beto as the shiniest new object of the race.

The only thing hotter than Pete Buttigieg on this planet is James Holzhauer.  And if you have never heard of him, you simply have not been paying attention.



There have been few GOP polls, but the smattering out there indicate that Trump would crush a GOP challenger, with the margins between him and, say, Romney, at 50+ points.

THE NUMBERS

The Democratic race remains in three tiers now, both nationally and in Iowa.  We have ranked the candidates by their Iowa poll numbers, which we consider the most important right now.  There has been limited New Hampshire polling, but the most recent is quite similar to that of Iowa.

Biden and Bernie Sanders remain firmly alone in Tier One, with Biden materially ahead.  (You may have seen an omnious Emerson poll earlier this week, showing him trailing Sanders 29/24 nationally, but another poll just yesterday by Morning Consult had Biden up 31/23 over Bernie.)

Buttigieg has jumped into Tier 2, leaping from 0% to 11% in Iowa, and from 0% to 3% nationally.  No other candidates showed any similar movement up or down.  Amy Klobuchar fell from Tier 2 to Tier 3, her candidacy sinking under the weight of negative press on how she treats her Senate staff, and her moderate message that may be well off the party’s lefty tendencies.  Kristen Gillibrand has yet to make a mark, and she too finds herself struggling with the governors, the representatives and the offbeats that are filling out the field right now.

"Tiers"
Candidates*
Iowa Polls

Average of Naional Polls
Tiers
Emerson Jan 3 - Feb 2
DM Reg Mar 3-6
Mar 16 - Apr 15

Jan 16 - Feb 15
Feb 16 - Mar 15
Mar 16 - Apr 15
Tier 1
Biden
29
27
26

29
29
31
Tier 1
Sanders
15
25
20

17
23
23
Tier 2
Buttigeig
0
0
11

0
0
3
Tier 2
Harris
18
7
10

11
11
9
Warren
11
9
9

7
7
6
Booker
4
3
6

4
5
4
O'Rourke
6
5
5

7
6
8
Tier 3
Klobuchar
3
3
2

2
4
2
Tier 3
Castro
2
1
1

1
1
1
Inslee
0
1
1

0
0
1
Gillibrand
1
0
0

1
1
1
Hickenlooper
0
0
0

1
1
1
Gabbard
0
0
0

1
1
1
Delaney
0
0
0

0
0
1
Yang
0
0
0

1
0
1
Williamson
0
0
0

0
0
0

Other/NA
11
19
9

18
11
7

* Chart includes all announced candidates except the just-announced Messam, Swalwell and Ryan;
includes only Biden among the unannounced

Also worth commenting on this month are the fundraising figures announced by the candidates for the first quarter, a perhaps even more important scorecard than the polls.  It is fairly easy to tell the winners from the losers.


First Quarter Fundraising
$ Millions
Sanders
18.2
Harris
12.0
O'Rourke
9.4
Buttigeig
7.0
Warren
6.0
Klobuchar
5.2
Booker
5.1
Gillibrand
3.0
Inslee
2.3
Hickenlooper
2.2
Gabbard
2.0
Yang
1.8
Williamson
1.5
Castro
1.1
Delaney
0.4
Messam
0.1
Swalwell and Ryan announced after
April 1; Biden has yet to announce


The next Democratic candidate to make a buzz?  Look for Andrew Yang.  For a total unknown, the social entrepreneur raised a decent amount at $1.8 million, and he has made a minor mark in recent national polling.  Those are signs that portend a rising profile.

WHO CAN BEAT TRUMP?

There have been several polls that pose the central question for Democrats in the 2020 primary process:  are you going to vote for the candidate that best matches your policy views, or the one that you think is most likely to beat Donald Trump?

One such poll, by USA Today/Suffolk University, shows Democrats more inclined to back the one who can beat Trump over their ideological twin by a 55-35 margin.

And so Democrats will be paying attention to head-to-head polling, and at this early stage of the game, that is a plus for Joe Biden.  There have not been a ton of these polls, nor do they cover each of the Democratic candidates, but we have combined the results of two recent ones (Emerson and PPP) that cover a half-dozen candidates.   Biden easily outpaces Trump in them, while Bernie is even. 

This outcome would seem to reinforce a fear within the Democratic Party that veering too far to the left – toward Bernie or, say, Elizabeth Warren – for the nominee would give Trump a better chance to win. 

Dem
vs. Trump
Biden
+10
Harris
+4
O'Rourke
+4
Warren
+1
Buttigieg
+1
Sanders
0

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