Sunday, April 21, 2019

The misinformation:
William Barr's redaction of truth

IT WAS ALL supposed to be clean, neat, surgical. The newly-minted Attorney General William Barr would deign to read the overwhelming volume of the 400+ pages of the Mueller Report so we wouldn't have to.

Barr, previously hailed as the last institutionalist left alive in Washington, would burn up a weekend to consume the report, and release its findings in a breathtakingly short four! page! summary that would satiate critics of President* Trump, burnish Barr's sterling reputation, and calm the turbulent waters roiling the moats around House Trump. All would be well in the fullness of time.

Only it ... didn't turn out that way. What's been developing, or metastasizing, ever since in Washington and the nation has been a growing unease with Barr, President* Trump, and an increasingly brazen willingness to disregard the Constitution in the service of a single president. Barr, once the ostensible new adult on the block, has dug in his heels and refused to release the unexpurgated work product of Mueller & Co., in what looks more and more like a deal Barr has struck with Trump, a private transaction that has effectively secured for the presidential asterisk an attorney general of, literally, his very own.

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Who would have believed it? After 2,800 subpoenas, 199 criminal complaints, 37 indictments and five guilty pleas achieved by Special Counsel Robert Mueller III over a long and painstaking 22 months, it took Barr just 48 hours -- the weekend of March 22-24 -- to apparently consume Mueller's 400+ page report and decide that, you know what, there was no there there profound enough to call for its immediate release.

If that strikes you, after almost two years, as something of a leap into the improbable, you are not alone. Team Trump spiked the ball that weekend in what it thought was the end zone, on the days of presumed triumph in the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, and the possible role that government functionaries and freelancers played in that interference.

They proclaimed victory — "Hoax! No collusion! No obstruction!" — on the basis of Barr's early and strangely comprehensive determination that House Trump was in the clear on everything. The final determination would have to come after Barr had time to more fully read the report and decide on what needed to be left in, for Congress' eyes and the public, and what had to come out ... before either Congress or the public got to see it.

Barr, and by extension Trump, tore down the goal posts before the game was over. In the days to come, Barr would double down on his initial intransigence, finally announcing plans to release the Mueller report on Thursday, April 18, on Holy Thursday, just in time for the news vacuum of Easter recess, when lawmakers and government insiders would be out of town. When it was released, Barr had held the completed report, with and without redactions, for a total of 28 days.

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ONE OF the deeper, structural problems with Barr's stonewalling/slow-walking strategy, at least in terms of the public, was that Barr himself apparently doomed it to failure.

There was nothing to be defended, by Barr or Trump or anyone else, until the full report was released. The report's "conclusions" couldn't possibly satisfy the House Judiciary Committee or the public ... until the final conclusions are known.

Trump's in a trickier spot there, in a black hole of his own design. He can't talk about it without embarrassing the attorney general he's come to revere. If Trump hasn't read the full report, and it's a safe bet he hasn't, he can't possibly speak to the report's findings with anything approaching credibility.

The absence of the full unredacted Mueller report is problematic; the full report is still necessary. But the longer Barr takes to make the full report public, the more excuses and explanations he gins up before he releases the document, the more he undercuts the public's ability to believe — in him.

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Writing in Politico on April 9, Asha Rangappa got to the core of the two central problems with Barr’s extraconstitutional gambit:

“Since Congress alone has the power to take action against the president, if he has broken the law or abused his power—which is true if the Justice Department adheres to its policy of not indicting a sitting president, even if it is not settled law—Congress would by necessity need to see the evidence Mueller has gathered to determine if impeachment is warranted. If lawmakers weren’t able to see the report, then the president would effectively be immunized from accountability for wrongdoing while he is in office, putting him above the law.”

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Bernie in the Fox's den

BERNIE SANDERS turned up on Fox News on Monday night. No, that's not a typo nor a hallucination. The self-described Democratic socialist seeking the presidency for the second time was the guest of honor at a Fox News town hall in Bethlehem, Pa., a kind of Daniel in the lion's den that Roger Ailes built (and unfriendly confines for a liberal of any pedigree).

But the fire Sanders brought to his questioners, Bret Baier and Martha McCallum, and the upbeat reception many in the audience gave him, point to a sea change that could make the primary season (at least) an interesting time. Sanders' appearance was one of the more profound shots fired in the still-nascent 2020 presidential campaign, and coming as it did on television, it almost certainly won't be the last of its kind.

It got people's attention. The Sanders town hall attracted 2.55 million viewers, with 489,000 of them in the holy grail demographic sweet spot of ages 25 to 54. His audience drew the biggest viewership of the town galls this year (so far). On that basis, Sanders' flinty, combatively principled approach to dealing with the GOP, and the weaponized Fox News bloviation machine, might be exactly what Democratic candidates need this year and next.

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First, it was an opportunity to prove that Democratic candidates as holistically perceived are not the angry, fire-breathing bomb throwers of President* Trump's tireless invention, but real people with policy prescriptions that maybe, just maybe, less reflexively doctrinaire Republicans could get their heads around.

We saw some of that possibility as Sanders fielded questions on a wide range of topics, from income inequality to Sanders' tax plan, from the likelihood of Joe Biden entering the race to the very idea of what a Democratic socialist is. On the matter of health care, Baier polled the house in Bethlehem: “A show of hands,” Baier said. “How many get their [health] insurance from work right now?”

A healthy number of hands went skyward. “Okay. Now, how many people are willing to transition to what the senator says, a government-run system?” Nearly every hand in the room went up. That plurality was further underscored by approval shouts, and a hearty applause for a idea that Trump and congressional Republicans have loved to vilify.

Even accounting for the possibility that Team Sanders had liberally seeded the room with its own supporters, there were certainly enough real Republicans in the place. Their rousing reaction to Sanders' presumably heretic proposal runs contrary to the attitudes of those in the amen corner of the GOP leadership.

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SECOND, SHOWING up within the conservative media ecosystem counters the myth that Democrats don't have the courage, or the nerve, to engage Republicans on their turf, and their televisual terms. Just as candidates are increasingly compelled to trying to campaign in all 50 states if they're serious about the presidency, the Democrats may need to get real about taking their message to all the places that matter, even if they haven't been welcome there in the past. Places like Fox News.

Gut-check moments like that are remembered by the opposition, even if they'd rather pretend it didn't happen. You get props for just showing up. That may have been Sanders' calculus; it's surely the same reason that South Bend, Ind., mayor Pete Buttigieg has reportedly been talking to House Ailes about hosting a Fox-hosted town hall of his own.

Feisty, articulate, smashmouth when necessary, Sanders brought a progressive message into a place where its toleration was least expected. To go by the reaction of some Republicans — presumably the voters of Trump's base — there's cause for concern. Reacting to Sanders' appearance, Heycel commented on the You Tube page dedicated to the town hall: “Voted Republican all my life. My next vote goes to Bernie!” Steven Porras couldn't agree more: “I’m not a Democrat but I’m on the Bernie train.”

For the loyalists of Team Trump, reactions like that suggest there's something new to fear, or at least think about: A cohort of voters as willing to vote their consciences in 2020 as they were in 2016, when many of them crossed over to Trump. What makes this so potentially important isn't not so much that Bernie Sanders came to Fox News. It's the fact that Bernie Sanders left Fox News amid an audience apparently more inclined to praise him than to bury him.

Image credits: Sanders: Fox News. Fox News Channel logo: © 2019 Fox News Channel.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Thinning the herd: Donations, Democrats
and the process of elimination

HAVE YOU launched your Democratic presidential campaign yet? That question has its roots in the political reality of the 2020 cycle; the Democratic field is as crowded now as it's been in a generation, with 17 contenders either formally in the race for the White House or seriously considering a bid.

But the 2020 contest, like every other such campaign, will be subject to its own attrition, and probably sooner rather than later. If the April 15th finance-tracking report from Politico is to be believed, that winnowing process is already underway, with the electorate making its choices by way of the wallet instead of in the voting booth.

The frontrunners at this time are, in some ways, the usual suspects, the ones whose campaigns either started early or benefited from some buzz or another. Sen. Bernie Sanders, the elder statesman of the season (by virtue of running in 2016 and not because of his age) was out in front with $20.7 million, followed by Sen. Elizabeth Warren ($16.5 million) Sen. Kamala Harris ($13.2 million), Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand ($12.6 million), John Delaney, ($12.1 million) and Beto O'Rourke ($9.4 million).

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The next tier of five candidates drops off from there financially, by a little or a lot: Sen. Amy Klobuchar is next ($8.8 M), then Sen. Cory Booker ($7.9 M), South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg ($7.1 M), Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard ($4.5 M), and former Washington governor Jay Inslee ($2.3 M).

After that, there's another serious falloff in donations. Former Colorado governor John Hickenlooper comes in with $2 million, businessman Andrew Yang with $1.8 million, and spiritualist author Marianne Williamson with $1.5 million.

The last drop-off doesn't seem to follow any chronological protocol. Julian Castro, for example, whose campaign started months ago, hasn't gained the kind of traction his campaign needs, or the traction one expects from a White House bid  several months along. Castro, who deserves better, is in last place in Politico's tally, with $1.1 million.

Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio isn't included, likely since his campaign started after Politico's chart was published. And of course the 800-pound gorilla in the room, former Vice President Joe Biden, hasn't entered the race yet.

Because we're in a fluid situation, Politico's chart already has limited utility; the constant flow of money will see to that soon enough. But it does give us an early snapshot — a campaign-math group portrait — into which candidates are catching fire, or not, where it counts.

To be continued, for some more than others.

Image credits: All graphics: Politico.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Watch Kamala Harris. Now keep watching.

Don’t fall asleep on Kamala Harris.

The Democratic California senator, who jumped out front as a declared candidate for the presidency, has been quietly going about her business since her splashy Oakland campaign rollout in January, when Harris both announced her candidacy and set the emotional bar for the campaign — a deft blend of ebullience and duty — that no other Democrat in the race has matched yet.

Other candidates have announced since then, like Beto O’Rourke, the early imagistic darling of the 2020 race. Others haven’t formally announced but might as well have; South Bend, Ind., mayor Pete Buttigieg, a startlingly nimble, intellectual force seemingly come out of nowhere, comes to mind.

But modern American politics needs money; modern American presidential politics demands it. Cash flow buys a campaign time and space, and imparts the credibility of staying visible. Money keeps the lights on in the office of a presidential dream ... and Kamala Harris has got a lot of it. ...

Read more at Swamp

Image credit: Swamp logo: © 2019 Jerrick Media LLC.
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