It was predictable that after “beating” the impeachment rap Trump would not learn the lesson that some Republicans claimed he might learn- namely, to stop being a bully and stop defying the rule of law. The lesson Trump learned, of course, was that Republicans are a bunch of ninnies who will not stop him from doing anything at all. Now that he knows that he is free to do as he pleases, he is going to bully and intervene everywhere to rewrite reality and make it over in the image he wants so that he can say he is fully exonerated. Blameless. Never committed any errors or crimes. Clean as the driven snow.
He has successfully made the Senate bend to his will. Now we learn he is already working on making the judiciary bend to his will.
The Stone sentencing has become one of the theaters for Trump’s assault on the judicial branch. Trump is not only attacking the sentence recommended by the prosecution team, he is attacking the judge, Judge Amy Berman, and the foreman of the jury in Stone’s case.
Trump wants to whitewash his past and the criminal and civil cases that were being investigated that would expose him to be the money launderer for the Russians and the corrupt failed businessman that he is. His tool to accomplish this suffocation of investigations into himself and allies is his enforcer and fixer, AG Barr. Barr, we are learning, has been meddling behind the scenes in the cases that threaten Trump especially those coming out of SDNY and the DC Circuit. Barr is head of the Justice Department and as such has the power to oversee matters carried out by the various U.S. Attorneys Offices across the country. He seems to be interested in getting involved only in cases that involve Trump and his buddies. In short Barr is sneaking around to modify, check, clean up and sweep away those matters that could get Trump in trouble once he leaves office and is no longer able to hide behind the shield of the OLC opinion that “a sitting president cannot be indicted”. If he can do this “clean up” work fast enough it will also be helpful for Trump’s re-election bid.
Barr was surely set in motion by Trump either directly or by inference as Trump often does- no direct order, just innuendo, but it’s clear what he wants. It probably took very little to set Barr in motion since he subscribes to the idea that a president should have king-like, unlimited power. We are just beginning to learn the extent of AG Barr’s meddling as prosecutors whisper to journalists that they feel nervous about taking on any matter that could be politicized because it involves people close to the president. We hear that certain matters that were pending before are now in limbo including the Stormy Daniels’ case involving those women who had affairs with Trump, remember them? who were paid off to stay quiet before Trump was elected in 2016. Barr also just assigned an outside prosecutor from another district to review the efforts of the prosecution team and the guilty plea in Michael Flynn’s case.
Let’s be clear here. When a defendant pleads guilty as Flynn has done, he is carefully instructed by his attorneys and the court about the acts he is admitting he committed based on the evidence of the prosecution, and he swears under oath that he is pleading guilty of his own free will. Flynn’s guilty plea and his case should not be open to review at this point. The only reason it is is because Trump’s fixer, AG Barr, is trying to get Flynn a lighter sentence. This is more protection for Trump. Flynn, after all, has information about Trump that is not information Trump wants spilled in public as he seeks re-election. Trump is always about doing favors to get favors.
Caught in the act of being Trump’s enabler in the Stone case because four brave prosecutors abruptly resigned, Barr gave an interview in which he said that Trump’s tweets were making his job “impossible.” With any other AG that could be construed to mean that he wants Trump to stop tweeting so that Barr can conduct his legitimate oversight of the Justice Department. But given what is going on behind the scenes, what Barr was really saying with that complaint about Trump’s tweeting is far more nefarious. Barr was telling Trump to stay quiet so he can be more effective sneaking around doing Trump’s dirty work. Barr’s complaint is, essentially, that Trump is making his job as fixer impossible.
How so? When Trump tweets openly about what Barr is up to, then there is a huge outcry from the legal community that shines a light on what Barr is doing and it makes it much harder for Barr to do his dirty work of applying pressure on the prosecutors who are running these criminal investigations to protect Trump from legal repercussions.
Should anyone be surprised? Of course not. This is what Trump does. He has installed Barr as his fixer who acts on his behalf just as he has done before with Michael Cohen and Rudy Guiliani.
Trump is also openly battling with New York prosecutors to get what he wants. First, Trump, probably illegally, declared that New Yorkers would not be eligible for the Homeland Security Trusted Traveler Program which makes it easy to move through customs. The reason, he says, is because New York is allowing immigrants with green cards to get driver’s licenses. That appeals to his base, of course. But that is not the real reason he is punishing New York. He is using this as a cudgel to get his criminal and civil matters cleaned up. He is insisting on another Ukraine-like quid pro quo that if New York wants to have the Trusted Traveler Program, New York should do what Trump demands. He takes something away first, then he says – let’s make a deal to get back what I took from you. In this case Trump demanded of New York’s Governor Cuomo to drop investigations into his misdeeds. “New York must stop all of its unnecessary lawsuits & harrassment” (Trump tweeted to Cuomo) New York Attorney General Letitia James responded in a tweet of her own: “When you stop violating the rights and liberties of all New Yorkers, we will stand down. BTW, I file the lawsuits, not the governor.”
For the past two nights Rachel Maddow has been wondering out loud what we can do now that democracy is rapidly getting flushed down the toilet thanks to Trump, the Republican Party, Fox News, other right-wing outlets, and Trump’s cult base. His base makes up maybe 43% of the electorate while the majority of about 55% sits by watching in horror, appalled and feeling demoralized.
Rachel Maddow had Timothy Snyder on her show. He wrote the book, “On Tyranny,” talking about the kinds of things we need to do to stand up for democracy which include supporting institutions and the heroes who push back on this administration like Ambassador Yavonovich, Colonel Vindman, the other witnesses in the impeachment trial, and the four prosecutors who just resigned in protest over the Stone sentencing. We must support all of them and clap for them, yes. But there is more that we can and must do individually to save our country from becoming a dictatorship and risking the installation of King Trump and his corrupt spawn for an indefinite reign.
We can become foot soldiers for our democracy.
This is part of what Snyder means by standing up for our democracy. Standing up for our country means doing our part to beat back the rampant cynicism that allows people to support Trump “because all politicians are corrupt anyhow.” It means pushing back on our own demoralization and depression to keep fighting. It means supporting the right people who could tip the balance of Congressional power especially strong candidates running for Senate against “at risk” Republicans like Susan Collins (support Sara Gideon), Martha McSally (support Mark Kelly), Cory Gardner (support John Hickenlooper), and Lindsay Graham (support Jaime Harrison). It means knocking on doors, making calls and registering voters especially in the 14 or so key swing states: Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Florida, Arizona, North Carolina, and others. And it means watching the news, yes, I know it is painful, but you need to stay angry, my friend. Watching the news will keep you motivated to beat Trump. There are many acts we can take to help save democracy. In future posts I will be offering a playbook with ideas for what you can do personally to beat Trump and Trumpism. And I will be posting about a book that all Democrats really ought to read, “Running Against the Devil”, by Rick Wilson. Stay tuned.