Monday, August 6, 2018

The big guns of August

OF ALL THE MONTHS on the calendar, August always bears watching as a kind of pivot-point  month, a transitional buffer between the chronically overheated days of July (when both tempers and temperatures reliably tend to flare) and September, when the first whispers of autumn announce themselves, giving us just a hint of the change of seasons to come.

It’s not always like that in August, but it’s true often enough. It was sure as hell like that 44 years ago.

That was the month in 1974, in the halcyon doomsday summer of Watergate’s crescendo, when Richard Nixon resigned from the presidency. Thursday, Aug. 9 (the 44th anniversary of the official resignation) was the day that marked a capstone to a season of relentless upheaval, as the scandal of Nixon’s creation, or at least his acquiescence, finally overwhelmed him.

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A lot can happen in the tree-ring time of 44 years; we’ve seen numerous opportunities for politicians to learn from the mistakes of the past. But when a mistake keeps happening, it’s not a mistake anymore. It's on purpose. Past may yet be prologue: What’s playing out in Washington and America this August is a fresh visitation of Santayanan wisdom.

In more and more inescapable ways, President* Donald Trump is facing the artichoke/Russian doll disaster of his proximity to, or complicity in, an attempt to subvert the American electoral system in the service of a foreign power. He is the point man of a White House angrily obsessed with the ongoing investigation into that subversion, and the role that Trump, his minions, lackeys and stooges may have played in it.

Every day, Trump has taken to Twitter, his soapbox of choice, to complain about the speed of the inquiry conducted by Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller. Faster, faster, The Donald would say, get on with it, get it over with.

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IF ONLY the rest of government ran as methodically: Mueller, appointed Special Counsel in May 2017, has been to this point conducting a master class in ethical, painstaking, circumspect prosecution. Releases to the media have been unflashy and all-business. No breast-beating, no Friday afternoon news dumps, no interviews every other day. And all of it done in a remarkably leak-free environment.

Now, though, as summer grinds on and patience at House Trump (already in short supply) gets rarer still, it’s somewhat easier to surrender to a gut feeling that we may be nearing an endgame on Mueller’s investigation — like really nearing an endgame — and it’s not because Trump demands that it be so, it’s because of the way Trump reacts when he discovers the Mueller probe won’t be subject to his demands in the first place.

There’s a lot of August left (whether Congress gets to take any part of its storied August recess or not remains to be seen), but it’s possible, and with an election coming up, maybe even prudent, for Mueller to show more of the cards he’s holding sooner rather than later.

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TRUMP’S growing exasperation over all this is obvious. You saw that on Monday, when news surfaced about House Trump leadership calling on the president* to stop posting tweets related to the Trump Tower meeting in June 2016. He’s getting more and more emotional about everything. There’s a manic edge in his statements of late that suggests someone actually unhinged, the frantic work of an administration fully at odds with itself.

Nothing else explains the schizoid aspect of the Trump White House as when Trump himself called the media “horrendous” and “horrible,” on Aug. 2, the same day that First Daughter/consigliore Ivanka Trump said, convincingly, that the media was not “the enemy of the people,” as her old man had tweeted some time before that.

Nothing else would account for what happened that same day, when his top intel specialists — National Security Advisor John Bolton, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, FBI Director Christopher Wray, and Gen. Paul Nakasone, head of the National Security Agency and US Cyber Command — collectively blamed the Russians for meddling in our 2016 election ... and Donald Trump ignored their assertions outright, or countered with his very unpatriotic own.

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And it’s about to get more interesting for Team Donald. News has surfaced that Kristin Davis, the “Manhattan Madam” who once serviced high-profile clients in New York City, has been subpoenaed to testify before the Mueller grand jury on Friday, Aug. 10. Davis is the friend and confidant of a man Mueller is increasingly interested in:

That would be chalk-stripe suit enthusiast Roger Stone, the former Trump political advisor and conservative fixer known to have been in contact with Guccifer 2.0, the online persona of the 12 Russian agents thought to be responsible for hacking into the computer servers of the Democratic National Committee and then leaking the findings to Wikileaks, after opening a backchannel with Wikileaks founder Julian Assange.

Davis once ran a novelty campaign for New York governor; Stone was her campaign adviser. And Stone has already admitted that he’s the unnamed person in the Mueller indictment against the Guccifer hacking crew, which was looking for dirt against Hillary Clinton — dirt to be used by the Trump 2016 campaign.

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A lot can happen in 44 years, and not much at all. The same hubris, the same thirst for power at the expense of ethics and morality that played out in 1974 is unspooling again. The past was the prologue we're living through today.

And while the endgame for the Nixon White House came this month, the Trump White House is still fighting to hold on, pushing back hard against the political history it is, despite its best efforts, already a part of.

And other guns besides those described here will go off in the distance. And Donald Trump will snarl, and tweet, and bully ...

And worry. And flinch. And look at the calendar to see: August is just getting started.

Image credits: Nixon: public domain. Commissar Trump: The author. Mueller: tk, Stone: tk.

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