CONSTITUTIONAL ROT (is what we got)

I pulled this off the WWW . . . the words/thoughts/ideas/opinions of Yale Law Professor Jack Balkin.,

fixing any typos or major grammar goofs and highlighting and bolding or underlining here and there.  . . .

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Trumping the Constitution

Jack Balkin, Knight Professor of Constitutional Law

Yesterday I gave a talk at a Yale Law School Alumni luncheon in New York City.  This is a summary of my remarks. (It is not a transcript—I spoke from notes.)

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When you think about politics these days, it’s hard to avoid focusing on Donald Trump’s remarkable rise to power and his even more remarkable presidency. It’s even harder to avoid thinking about the scandals swirling around him day to day. It’s not that I don’t think these are important. But they are not the subject of today’s talk.  In this talk, I want to look at the big picture. In this picture, Trump is merely a symptom. He is a symptom of a serious problem with our political and constitutional system.

Because Trump’s method is to provoke outrage and fluster his opponents, many people have wondered whether we are currently in some sort of constitutional crisis.  We are not. Rather, we are in a period of constitutional rot.

By “constitutional rot,” I mean the decay of features of our system that keep it a healthy republic.  Constitutional rot, which has been going on for some time, has produced our current dysfunctional politics.

Constitutional dysfunction isn’t the same thing as gridlock—after all, the three branches of government are currently controlled by the same party. Rather, it is a problem of representation. Over time, our political system has become less democratic and less republican. It is increasingly oligarchical.

By “democratic,” I mean responsive to popular will and popular opinion. By “republican,” I mean that representatives are devoted to the public good, and responsive to the interests of public as a whole—as opposed to a small group of powerful individuals and groups. When representatives are responsive not to the interests of the public in general but to a relatively small group of individuals and groups, we have oligarchy.

Republics are especially susceptible to constitutional rot

Republics are premised on pursuit of the common good. Representatives are given power for the sole purpose of pursuing the public good. The Framers understood that republics are fragile things. They are easily corrupted, and over time, they are likely to turn into oligarchies or autocracies.

When a government becomes oligarchical, leaders spend less and less time working for the public good. Instead, they spend more and more time enriching a small group of important backers that keep them in power. Because the general public feels abandoned by politicians, it gradually loses faith in the political system. This leads to the rise of demagogues, who flatter people with promises that they will make everything right again.

Oligarchy has resulted from the gradual breakdown of the party system that selects candidates and makes political parties responsive to the public, as well as from changes in how political campaigns are financed and changes in the structure of mass media. The problem has occurred in both parties, but it is especially pronounced in the Republican party, which styles itself as a populist party but is anything but. A small class of wealthy donors has disproportionate control over the Republican policy agenda. The influence of the donor class over that agenda is the best explanation of developments in Congress.

What are the deeper causes of constitutional rot? There are four interlocking features, which we might call the Four Horsemen of Constitutional Rot: (1) political polarization; (2) loss of trust in government; (3) increasing economic inequality; and (4) policy disasters, a term coined by Stephen Griffin to describe important failures in decision making by our representatives, like the Vietnam War, the Iraq War and the 2008 financial crisis.

Today, one of the most important, overarching policy failures is America’s inadequate response to globalization. The 2008 financial crisis is a special case of this larger policy failure. A democracy requires a stable, economically secure middle class to create the right incentives for government officials to pursue the public good. A globalized economy puts serious pressure on social insurance programs and on the economic stability and self-sufficiency of Americans. Political and economic elites have not navigated globalization’s changes well. They have taken pretty good care of themselves, but they have not taken care of the whole country. This inadequate response to globalization has hastened constitutional rot.

These four horsemen—polarization, loss of trust, economic inequality, and policy disaster— mutually reinforce each other.  Political scientists have pointed out that rising economic inequality exacerbates polarization, which in turn helps produce policies that exacerbate inequality.  Rising inequality and polarization also encourage loss of trust.  Polarization and oligarchy create overconfidence and insulate decision makers from necessary criticism, which makes policy disasters more likely; policy disasters, in turn, further undermine trust in government, and so on.

In an oligarchical system, regardless of its formal legal characteristics, a relatively small number of backers effectively decide who stays in power. In such a system, politicians will have strong incentives to divert resources to the relatively small group of backers who keep them in power. Not surprisingly, the power of government and resources for government are often wasted or diverted from important public goods. Our constitutional system is still formally democratic but has become more oligarchical in practice over time. As a result, the United States has wasted a great deal of money on policy disasters, it has shaped the tax code so that most of the benefits of economic growth have gone to the wealthiest Americans, and through unwise tax and fiscal policy it has diverted a lot of money that could have been used for public services and public goods to the wealthy.

Constitutional defenses against constitutional rot

Our Constitution is designed to ward off both oligarchy and demagogues and preserve a republic. For the most part, it has been quite successful in the face of a wide variety of changes and challenges. Some of these features of our constitutional system, however, don’t work very well any more in preventing oligarchical tendencies.   Separation of powers between Congress and the President is a good example. Rick Pildes and Darryl Levinson have pointed out that our system is better described as separation of parties rather than separation of powers.  When the President and Congress are from the same party, there will be little oversight of the President. The Republican Congress’s almost complete disinterest in checking Trump is a particularly worrisome example of this.

Even so, the United States still has many other republican defenses. We still have an independent judiciary, regular elections, and a free press. Many other countries that have eventually succumbed to autocracy are not so fortunate. Moreover, in the United States, from the Founding forward, lawyers have played a crucial role in defending the republic: in staffing an independent judiciary; in promoting rule of law values in the bureaucracy; and in bringing cases to protect constitutional rights and check executive overreach. Once again, many other countries that have become autocratic are not as fortunate as the United States.

Propaganda and constitutional rot

One should not underestimate the value of our free press, even as comes under assault from the Trump Administration. Reporters have not been cowed into silence as they have been in other countries.  If anything, Trump’s shenanigans and his successful manipulation of the press in 2016 have caused the press to think more deeply about its democratic responsibilities.

Even so, the power of the press to protect republican government has been weakened.   Part of this is due to economics, and part of it is due to other factors.  The American system of freedom of the press was undermined in 2016, not by censorship but by Trump’s very effective hacking of the media; he is both a master manipulator and an effective demagogue in the digital era.

The system of free press was also undermined by the production of effective propaganda both from within the United States and from outside it. These two forms of propaganda come from different sources but they reinforced each other in a perfect storm in 2016.

We now have domestic propaganda machines that have thrown their support behind Trump, and now engage in the shameless forms of propaganda which would have done Soviet-era apparatchiks proud. The only difference is that instead of propping up communism, they prop up Trump. In addition, Russia and allied groups in Eastern Europe engaged in successful propaganda campaigns during the 2016 election season, designed to enhance Trump’s chances and sow discord and confusion in the United States.

Propaganda’s effects corrode republican institutions and encourage constitutional rot. Propaganda enhances polarization; it increases distrust of political opponents, as well as those elements of government held by one’s political opponents.

Propaganda seeks to foster controversies that divide the country and enhance mutual distrust and hatred among fellow citizens. It seeks to convert politics into a particularly brutal opposition between virtuous friends and evil enemies who must be stopped at all costs and by any means necessary.

Propaganda also undermines the crucial role of deliberation and the search for truth in a democracy. Propaganda attempts to put everything in dispute, so that nothing can be established as true, and everything becomes a matter of personal opinion or partisan belief.  Because everything is a matter of opinion, one can assume that anything a political opponent says can be disregarded, and that factual claims contrary to one’s own beliefs can also be disregarded. Thus, successful propaganda builds on motivated reasoning and encourages even more motivated reasoning.  It undermines shared criteria of reasoning, good faith attempts at deliberation and mutual accommodation between political opponents in democracies.

Moreover, if people stop believing in the truth of what they read, they don’t have to think hard about political questions. Instead, they can simply make political decisions based on identity or affiliation with their political allies. Propaganda, in other words, undermines truth to destroy the concept of the public good and to encourage tribalism.

As a political system becomes increasingly oligarchical, it also becomes less equal, more polarized, and generates greater distrust, both of government in general and of political opponents. People not only lose trust in government, but in other people who disagree with them.  Political opponents appear less as fellow citizens devoted to the common good and more like internal threats to the nation.

Another way of putting it is that in a well-functioning republic, there are friends and potential friends. Potential friends are people you currently disagree with, but might ally with in the future because both of you are devoted to the public good.  In system of constitutional rot, you have something like Carl Schmitt’s model of friends and enemies. From this perspective, Schmitt’s friend/enemy distinction is a corruption of politics, rather than its essential nature.

Trump as a symptom of constitutional rot

Loss of trust in the government and in political opponents eventually produces demagogues who attempt to take advantage of the situation. Demagogues don’t spring up unawares. People see them coming from miles away. But by this point people have so lost faith in government that they are willing to gamble on a demagogue. They hope that the demagogue can make things right again and restore past glories.

Trump is a demagogue. We might even say that he is straight out of central casting for demagogues: unruly, uncouth, mendacious, dishonest and cunning.  His rise is a symptom of constitutional rot and constitutional dysfunction. Constitutional rot not only allowed Trump to rise to power; he also has incentives to increase and exacerbate constitutional rot to stay in power. Many of his actions as president—and his media strategy—make sense from this perspective.

Polarization helps keep Trump in power, because it binds his supporters to him. He exacerbates polarization by fomenting outrage and internal division. He also confuses and distracts people, keeping them off balance and in a state of emotional upheaval. Emotional upheaval, in turn increases fear and fear enhances mutual distrust.

Trump doesn’t care if his opponents hate him, as long as his base hates and fears his political opponents more.  Because his supporters hate and fear his enemies, they are more likely to cling to him, because they are quite certain that his enemies are even worse.

Polarization also helps keeps most professional politicians in his party from abandoning him. Many Republican politicians do not trust Trump and many regard him as unqualified. But if Republican politicians turn on Trump, they will be unable to achieve anything during a period in which they control both Congress and the White House. This will infuriate the base and anger the wealthy group of donors who help keep Republicans in power. Republican politicians who oppose Trump may face primary challenges. Finally, Republican politicians can’t be sure that enough of their fellow politicians will follow them if they stick their necks out. In fact, they may provoke a civil war within the Republican Party, in which Trump’s supporters accuse them of stabbing Trump (and the party) in the back.

Many people think that the sense of upheaval that Trump has created in American politics means that he cannot keep going this way for long; and that his presidency is about to crack apart at any moment. This is a mistake. Polarization and upheaval are good for him. Crisis is his brand.

Why Trump has been a populist turncoat

If you understand the relationship between polarization and oligarchy you will understand a remarkable feature of American politics. Although Trump ran as a populist who promised to protect the working class from the depredations of globalization, as soon as he entered the White House, he reversed course. His cabinet is full of wealthy individuals, and many of his top advisors are from the very financial class that he excoriated in his campaign. Moreover, he has quickly allied himself with the most conservative elements of the Republican Party, and he has supported a health care bill that is likely to harm many working class Americans.

The Republican Party in Congress depends on its donor class to stay in power. The central goal of the Republican agenda, therefore, is to deliver benefits to the donor class, either through tax cuts, government expenditures, or deregulation.

The current health care bill passed in the House and awaiting action in the Senate is a case in point. It is actually a tax cut disguised as a health care measure. It offers a 600 billion dollar tax cut to the wealthiest Americans, which it pays for by removing some of Obamacare’s insurance protections and gradually eliminating its Medicaid expansion. The health care bill’s tax cut also sets the revenue baseline that will be used to evaluate tax reform in the next fiscal year, when the Republicans will once again use the reconciliation procedure to pass a bill that cannot be filibustered.  By locking in tax cuts in the health care bill, Republicans make tax reforms easier to accomplish in ways that are more likely to please their donors.

From the standpoint of populism, the health care bill is an utter travesty; it withdraws important benefits and protections from working class Americans to benefit the very wealthiest. But it makes perfect sense from the standpoint of oligarchy. Even so-called moderate Republicans in the Senate depend heavily on the donor class, and therefore they face enormous pressures to cave and support the bill by adopting a face-saving (but ineffectual) compromise. Something similar happened in the House. Establishment and more moderate Republicans also caved, not because the Freedom Caucus is so powerful, but because the powerful donors who shape the party’s policy agenda wanted their tax cuts. Moreover, because the Senate bill is likely to be so unpopular among the general public, Senate Republicans are drafting it in secret, with no public hearings.  The actual text won’t be revealed until shortly before the vote is taken.  After all, as one Senate aide explained, the Republicans aren’t stupid. They know that the bill is toxic. But it pleases their donors, and so they will sacrifice any pretense of procedural regularity to achieve their goals.

The health care bill is a prime example of constitutional rot. Our nominally republican system of government has become so infected by oligarchy that the party in power has no scruples about acting in an entirely shameless manner, as long as the interests of its masters are well-served.

Which brings us back to Trump’s about face. Trump ran as a populist but he now governs as a sellout. This is not an unusual phenomenon among populist revolutionaries. Once they take power, they often quickly discard the people who put them in power; they substitute new backers who are easier to deal with and/or pay off to stay in power.

Trump is a huckster, with few actual ideological commitments. So he has few qualms about changing course. It is much easier for Trump to ally himself with Congressional Republicans than to attempt a seriously populist legislative agenda, which would be very costly, and would be opposed by members of his own party. Working across the aisle with Democrats is unlikely because of the very polarization Trump has helped foster. Democrats do not trust him and working with them might lead his Republican allies in Congress to abandon him.  And he needs loyalty among Republicans to fend off the scandals swirling around him.

Thus, ironically, Trump’s very strategies for gaining power—dividing the country and fomenting mutual hatred—mean that he should align his policies with members of his own party against the Democrats. That means that he will not govern as an economic populist, although his rhetoric will remain rabidly populist. But there will be little substance behind it. It is far easier to align with Congressional Republicans, who will protect him from Democrats who despise him and want to topple him with scandals.

Having cast his lot with Congressional Republicans, that means that he too, will serve the same donor class. Trump may have run a populist campaign, but now that he is in power, he has pretty much embraced oligarchy. His populism is mostly sloganeering—it is a Potemkin village.  We might say that it takes a Potemkin village to make a Trump presidency.

The future

That’s the bad news. Here is the good news.

First, Trump represents the end of a cycle of politics rather than the future of politics.  American politics is divided into regimes in which one party’s agenda tends to dominate. Eventually that party runs out of steam, its coalition fragments, its political agenda becomes irrelevant and inadequate to current problems, and the evolution of the political system undermines it.

Trump is the last president in the Reagan regime. During this period, the dominant party was the Republican Party; the regime’s policy agenda was tax cuts and deregulation above all; its coalition was white voters plus professionals and wealthy business elites; and it fostered and exacerbated the polarization of political parties that began with the 1968 election.

The Reagan regime’s electoral coalition is falling apart; from 1992 to 2016, the Republican Party won the presidential popular vote only once; twice the party has had to depend on an electoral college victory. This is a sign of weakness, not strength.

The regime is crumbling; Trump is the last Reaganite. In the next few election cycles, a new regime will begin, offering the possibility of a new beginning in American politics.

Second, despite the influx of propaganda and the decline of separation of powers in restraining the President, many features of the constitutional system remain robust.  We still have an independent judiciary, a free press, and regular elections.

Third, we should not confuse what’s been happening in the past several months with constitutional crisis. Constitutional crisis means that the Constitution is no longer able to keep disagreement within politics; as a result people go outside the law and/or turn to violence or insurrection. However unpleasant our politics may be, all of our current struggles are still within politics.

Fourth, we are headed for a big showdown in electoral politics over the next several election cycles.  One of the two parties will have to find a way to restore trust in government and renounce oligarchical politics.  The next decade will tell the tale. I remain hopeful.

Even if Trump left office tomorrow, and were replaced with Mike Pence, there would still have to be a reckoning over these issues. Indeed, even if Hillary Clinton had won the election, there would still have to be a reckoning—perhaps even more urgently if Clinton won, because she ran a campaign that paid so little attention to populist concerns. The United States has failed to reconcile globalization with democracy.  It has not accommodated the demands of republican government to global economic change. This is a serious policy failure, and it has contributed to constitutional rot. The bill for this neglect is coming due. We will have to pay it.

The central question is how to preserve republican government in the face of a changing global  economy.  Trump is a merely symptom of the larger problem. So my advice to you is: keep your eye on the larger issue, and not on the President’s latest tweets.

I believe we will get through this, together. But we have to pay attention to the real sources of constitutional dysfunction, and preserve our republic. In this task, lawyers like the people in this room today have an important role to play in defending the Constitution and the rule of law. Thank you very much.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Constitutional Rot and Constitutional Crisis


No one could accuse Donald Trump’s presidency of being boring.  The first hundred days have careened wildly through scandals, revelations, outrages, and fracturing of political norms. Every time Trump does something remarkable, like the recent firing of Director James Comey, pundits ask whether we are in a constitutional crisis.

However, as I noted in a previous post, constitutional crisis refers to something different: A constitutional crisis occurs when there is a serious danger that the Constitution is about to fail at its central task of keeping disagreement within the boundaries of ordinary politics instead of breaking down into lawlessness, anarchy, violence, or civil war.

As Sandy Levinson and I have explained, there are three types of constitutional crises. In Type One crises, political leaders announce that they will no longer abide by the Constitution or laws (for example, because of emergency), or they openly flout judicial orders directed at them. In Type Two crises, people follow what they believe the Constitution requires, leading to political paralysis or disaster. In Type Three crises, political disagreement about the Constitution becomes so intense that the struggle goes beyond the bounds of ordinary politics. People take to the streets; there are riots; the military is called out to restore order (or suppress dissent); political figures threaten violence or engage in political violence; or parts of the country revolt and/or attempt to secede,

Constitutional crisis is very rare, and nothing that has yet happened in the Trump Administration — including the Comey firing– comes even close. But people are right to think that something important– and dangerous–is happening to our political institutions.  That is why, I think, people so often reach for the term “constitutional crisis” to describe it.

In this essay, I want to introduce a new idea to explain our current predicament. I will distinguish constitutional crisis, which is very rare, from a different phenomenon, which I think better describes what is happening in the United States today. This is the idea of constitutional rot.

Although the Comey firing is not an example of constitutional crisis, it is an example of constitutional rot.  For this reason, people are right to worry about it.

Constitutional Rot: Decay in the Norms and Institutions that Support Democracy

What is the difference between constitutional crisis and constitutional rot? Constitutional crisis could, in theory, happen to any constitution; constitutional rot is a specific malady of constitutions of representative democracies—that is, republics. Constitutional crisis occurs during relatively brief periods of time; constitutional rot is a degradation of constitutional norms that may operate over long periods of time.

What is constitutional rot? Democratic constitutions depend on more than obedience to law. They depend on well-functioning institutions that balance and check power and ambition. These include not only public institutions but institutions of civil society like the press.

Next, democracies depend on the public’s trust that government officials will exercise power in the public interest and not for their own personal benefit or for the benefit of private interests and cronies.

Democracies also depend on forbearance on the part of public officials in their assertions of power, and obedience to norms of fair political competition. These norms prevent ambitious politicians from overreaching and undermining public trust. These norms help to promote cooperation between political opponents and factions even when they disagree strongly about how to govern the country. Finally, these norms prevent politicians from privileging short term political gains over long term injuries to the health of the constitutional system.

When politicians disregard norms of fair political competition, undermine public trust, and repeatedly overreach by using constitutional hardball to rig the system in their favor, they cause the system of democratic (and republican) constitutionalism to decay. This is the phenomenon of constitutional rot.

The idea of constitutional rot is very old. The political theory of republicanism familiar to Constitution’s founders asserted that republics were delicate institutions that were always susceptible to decay and corruption over time.   Time was the great enemy of republics, because ever-changing circumstances, and the driving force of people’s ambitions and desire for power would open the door to—if not encourage—multiple forms of institutional corruption. In modern democratic republics, this institutional corruption is a version of constitutional rot.

The Dangers of Constitutional Rot

Constitutional rot creates two serious risks to democratic politics. First, by playing too much hardball, demonizing their opposition, and attempting to crush those who stand in their way, political actors risk increasing and widening cycles of retribution from their opponents. This may lead to deadlock and a political system that is increasingly unable to govern effectively.

Second, undermining or destroying norms of political fair play and using hardball tactics to preempt political competition may produce a gradual descent into authoritarian or autocratic politics.  Such states may preserve the empty form of representative democracy—they may have written constitutions and regular elections; and they may adhere for the most part to the rule of law formalities. But power is increasingly concentrated and unaccountable; the press, civil society, political opponents, civil servants and the judiciary no longer serve as independent checks on the power of the people in charge. Indeed, political leaders may systematically seek to weaken or co-opt each of these possible sources of opposition. These features of constitutional rot are likely to lead to increasing corruption, overreaching, and suppression of basic liberties. Regimes that slide into autocracy or authoritarianism may not suffer constitutional crises in the sense that they are politically stable and successfully avoid civil unrest or civil war. But they have failed as democratic constitutional systems; increasingly they are democracies in name only.

Obviously these two risks—deadlock and descent into autocracy—are related.  A system that has become so deadlocked that politics seems futile may lead to the election of demagogues and authoritarian minded politicians who undermine democratic norms and lead a nation toward autocracy.

There are important literatures emerging on these questions in political science, including the study of hybrid regimes that split the difference between autocracy and democracy, and the phenomenon of democratic backsliding, which we have seen in places like Hungary and Turkey. This January, Tom Ginsburg and Aziz Huq, writing on this blog, offered an account of what they call constitutional retrogression.  (This is an opening statement of a larger project they are working on, How to Lose a Constitutional Democracy.) All of these ideas are related to what I am calling constitutional rot.

Lest I be misunderstood, I am not claiming that the United States has already slid into autocracy, or that we have already produced anything like the democratic backsliding we see in Hungary or Turkey.  Our institutions remain far more robust. And indeed, as the incurable optimist that I am, I believe that our democratic institutions are resilient enough to push back against the depredations of a demagogue like Trump. But what many Americans increasingly sense, I think, is that our democratic institutions are decaying and/or are under assault.  If nothing is done to halt the decay, we will eventually be in very big trouble.

III. How Constitutional Rot Relates to Constitutional Crisis

What is the relationship between constitutional crisis and constitutional rot?  The two phenomena are not identical. As noted above, the question of constitutional crisis concerns whether the constitutional system can perform its central function of making politics possible—keeping struggles for power within politics and preventing violence, insurrection, and civil war.  The three types of constitutional crises listed above can occur in many different kinds of systems, whether democratic or not.  Constitutional rot, by contrast, is a feature of constitutional democracies and republics—it concerns how these systems degrade into deadlock and despair on the one hand, or into authoritarianism and autocracy on the other.

 There is another important distinction. The idea of “crisis” refers to a crucial moment in time—usually rather brief in duration—in which the constitutional system will adequately respond to a challenge, be undermined, or be successfully reconstituted.  Constitutional rot, by contrast, is often a long and slow process of change and debilitation, which may be the work of many hands over many years.  Crisis seems to come upon us suddenly—it focuses everyone’s attention on the spectacle.  Rot develops slowly and gradually and may be imperceptible in its earliest stages; sometimes features of constitutional rot are obvious, but sometimes they operate quietly in the background.

Even so, the two phenomena are connected.  Continued constitutional rot in a democratic system may be the harbinger of a constitutional crisis years later.  In his 2015 book, Broken Trust: Dysfunctional Government and Constitutional Reform, Steven Griffin has argued that the most important source of constitutional dysfunction in the United States is increasing loss of public trust among citizens. This loss of trust did not occur overnight; it is the result of decades of fateful decisions by political actors seeking short-term political success, stoking political polarization to win elections, and playing political hardball to lock in greater power and reduced accountability.  Griffin regards this as a sort of “slow-motion” constitutional crisis. I would say that it is a description of constitutional rot.

Constitutional rot in a democracy need not always lead to constitutional crisis. It might simply lead to a less just and less democratic system of government. This is what happens in slides to autocracy. Nevertheless, constitutional rot, if unchecked, can lead to a constitutional crisis, just as placing increasing weight on a rotten tree branch can eventually cause it to snap. Indeed, constitutional rot can lead to any one of the three types of constitutional crisis that Levinson and I described.

Politicians may publicly reject constitutional obligations. (Type One). The system may suffer severe crises of governance in which the state is unable to perform basic functions (Type Two).  Finally, loss of public trust combined with the rise of political opportunists and demagogues who stoke anger and resentment in their followers (or in their opponents) may produce cycles of political violence, or even insurrection (Type Three).

Constitutional rot, in other words, can eventually cause a democratic constitution to fail both as a *democratic* constitution—because the system degenerates into autocracy; and as a democratic *constitution*— because the constitution no longer can keep political disagreement within the bounds of law and peaceful political dispute.

My view is that we are not currently in a period of constitutional crisis. But for some time we have been in a period of increasing constitutional rot.  The election of a demagogue like Trump is evidence that our institutions have decayed, and judging by his presidential campaign and his first hundred days in office, Trump promises to accelerate the corruption.

Understanding the Comey Firing in Terms of Constitutional Rot

Similarly, Trump’s firing of James Comey was not in itself a constitutional crisis, because the President legally has the authority to fire the FBI Director. It happened once before, when Bill Clinton fired Director William Sessions because of ethics violations. Comey’s firing is not a constitutional crisis. Trump has not asserted (for example) that he is deliberately acting outside the Constitution.

Rather, Comey’s firing is a symptom of constitutional rot, and people have been employing the language of constitutional crisis to describe it.  This problem, I think, is related to what Steven Griffin meant when he suggested that we are in a “slow motion” constitutional crisis, one ultimately caused by lack of public trust in government.

Many Americans no longer trust government to act in the public interest, and many politicians act in ways that encourage their lack of trust. President Trump has violated many preexisting political norms, and our increasingly polarized politics has caused the nation’s two political parties to push the envelope through various forms of constitutional hardball.  When people in power no longer hesitate to use their power to its fullest extent, and when norms of fair political competition are pushed aside, the viability of our democratic constitutional system is threatened.

The real concern about James Comey’s firing as FBI Director is best understood in terms of constitutional rot. The FBI director serves for a 10 year term that is designed to span across presidential terms in office. The goal is to insulate the head of the nation’s investigative service from political pressure by politicians—and especially the President, who always retains the power to remove the director. Thus, the technical legal rule that the President can fire the director is accompanied by a more amorphous democratic norm; namely, the norm that the president should hesitate to remove a director except for very good reasons, and that the President should not remove a director in circumstances in which it might appear that the President is pressuring the FBI to compromise its investigative authority for political reasons.

The Comey firing violates this democratic norm. The circumstances of the firing, as well as Trump’s own shifting explanations for it, suggest that Trump acted out of corrupt motives. The concern is that Trump fired Comey because Trump sought to hinder ongoing investigations into connections between the 2016 Trump presidential campaign and the Russian government,  or between criminal enterprises (like money laundering) involving Russian oligarchs and Trump’s businesses.  Democratic norms exist to prevent even the appearance of political corruption. The worry is that the norm was violated in circumstances that scream conflict of interest and create the appearance of corrupt motivations—that Trump used his powers as President to obstruct an ongoing criminal investigation. If one could prove Trump’s intent to obstruct the FBI’s investigations, this would constitute a violation of federal obstruction of justice laws, and very likely constitute an impeachable offense to boot.

Loss of trust brought Trump to power and loss of trust keeps him in power despite his incompetence and venality.  Loss of trust has exacerbated political polarization– members of each party increasingly view the other as mortal enemies.  Polarization, in turn, sows increasing distrust, continuing the cycle.  Because of extreme polarization, Congressional Republicans feel they can’t afford to abandon Trump, even though many of them understand that he is a demagogue and unfit to be President. If they stand up to Trump, they fear that their base will punish them, and that Democrats will take advantage of them. If they spend time investigating or blocking Trump, they also fear that their policy goals will be derailed and their donors will punish them as well.  Hence Republicans keep their mouths shut and continue to enable Trump.  The inability to act caused by polarization is a form of institutional rot, which creates a space for Trump to continue to violate constitutional norms.

* * * * *

Constitutional rot does not occur all at once; it is a gradual process. The constitutional system in the United States may well be able to survive even Donald Trump’s misadventures. But Trump’s demagogic rise, his conduct of the presidency, and the inability (or unwillingness) of members of Congress to stop him, are signs that all is not well in American constitutional democracy. To paraphrase Shakespeare, something is rotten in the state of America. The limbs of the great tree of state are decaying. At some point, if we put too much weight on our democratic institutions, they will snap. Then we really will be in a constitutional crisis.

The language of constitutional rot is a better way to understand people’s recurrent use of “constitutional crisis” in describing the Trump Administration. There is currently no actual constitutional crisis in the United States. But if constitutional rot continues, we are living on borrowed time.

[UPDATE: For more on the problem of constitutional rot, see my June 14th speech to the Yale Law School Alums, Trumping the Constitution.]




Hacker, Banker, Soldier, Spy: A Guide to the Key Players in the Trump-Russia Scandal

blogger’s note:

I don’t know how much of this is accurate, but it’s worth keeping an eye on and doing your own independent research and thinking about.

Get up to speed on the growing controversy engulfing the presidency.

Keeping track of the relentless news on the widening Trump-Russia investigation—from revelations about the president’s inner circle to the role of Russian oligarchs and other assorted players—isn’t easy. As part of our project to cover this scandal, we’ve assembled dossiers on the sprawling cast of characters who populate this stranger-than-fiction controversy threatening to engulf the presidency. We’ll be adding to and updating these, so check back regularly.

Donald Trump

Despite his claims to the contrary, the president’s ties to Russia are long, deep, and, above all, mysterious. In the 1980s, before the Soviet bloc crumbled, Trump was already trying to get a foothold behind the Iron Curtain. Since then, he has on at least three occasions announced plans to build a Trump Tower in Moscow in partnership with various power players and oligarchs. Before his campaign came under investigation by the FBI and assorted congressional committees, the mogul happily touted his Russian dealings: “I’ve done a lot of business with the Russians,” he once bragged to David Letterman.

Trump’s relationship with Russia, and his refusal to condemn the Kremlin as evidence of its election interference became clear, raised questions during his campaign. Not only did Trump praise Vladimir Putin, but his campaign pushed to remove a plank from the Republican Party platform that called for arming Ukraine in its fight against Russian forces.  (Blogger’s note–> this action did happen and confirms some of the allegations contained in the Steele dossier).  

He also surrounded himself with aides and advisers with curious Russian connections, including lobbyist Paul Manafort and little-known consultant Carter Page, who traveled to Moscow at the height of the presidential campaign to deliver a speech critical of US foreign policy. That same month, a former British spy and Russia expert named Christopher Steele, who had been hired by a US research firm to look into Trump’s Russia ties, grew so worried by what he was finding that he provided his intelligence reports to the FBI. Mother Jones was the first outlet to report on the existence of the memos and the spy’s effort to get them into the hands of American authorities. Steele’s dossier contained a series of hair-raising—though as yet unverified—claims: Russia had been cultivating Trump for years, it possessed blackmail-worthy material on Trump of a sexual nature, and the Trump campaign may have colluded with the Kremlin as it mounted a hacking operation to tarnish Trump’s opponent.

The president has called the Russia scandal a “hoax” drummed up by the “fake news media,” and said, “Russia has never tried to use leverage over me.” But he has grown increasingly enraged by the various investigations swirling around him and his associates, denouncing them as a “witch hunt.” At one point, his White House, with the help of House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, staged a clumsy effort to redirect the controversy to Obama administration surveillance. As the scandal snowballed, Trump abruptly fired James Comey, the FBI director overseeing the bureau’s investigation into ties between Trumpland and Russia. But far from disappearing, the scandal is poised to define Trump’s presidency. It could even end it.

Vladimir Putin

Despite a once-hopeful move toward democracy, Russia can’t seem to shake its Soviet legacy. A major reason is the former KGB spy and USSR functionary who has led modern Russia for most of its 26-year existence. Putin is rumored to be one of the richest men—if not the richest man—in the world. Not bad for a guy who has spent his entire career in government service. After graduating from law school in 1975, he entered the KGB and ascended rapidly, eventually becoming the head of the FSB, the KGB’s successor organization, in 1998. Putin’s rise in politics was even more rapid: In 1999, he was named deputy prime minister and then acting prime minister by President Boris Yeltsin; months later, when Yeltsin resigned, he became acting president. He has led the country ever since.

Many Russia experts believe Putin’s main goal is to restore Russia’s place in the world as a major power by challenging the dominance of Western democratic values. This goal fueled the Kremlin’s 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine, Russia’s opposition to Eastern European countries joining NATO or the European Union, and more recently a campaign by the Kremlin to undermine US and European elections with cyberattacks. Within Russia, Putin has also stoked the image of the West as an enemy, spreading fake news like his claim that Hillary Clinton instigated mass protests in Moscow in 2011 following Putin’s reelection as president.

Putin has long had an admirer in Trump. In a 2007 TV interview, Trump said Putin was “doing a great job” in “rebuilding Russia.” In his 2011 book, Time to Get Tough, Trump lauded Putin’s “grand vision” for Russia and its surrounding countries. Trump’s pronounced admiration has since been reciprocated, if only tepidly: During the 2016 campaign, Putin called Trump “a colorful and talented man” and “bright,” and he later applauded the future president for “reaching the hearts of the voters” and “representing the common people.”

The Family

Ivanka Trump

The “first daughter” is so tight with Dasha Zhukova, the wife of Russian oligarch and Putin ally Roman Abramovich, that she reportedly invited Zhukova to attend her father’s inauguration. Ivanka has also helped her father pursue business deals in the former Soviet bloc. In 2006, Donald Trump asked formerly “Mafia-­linked” businessman Felix Sater to “squire” Ivanka and her older brother, Don Jr., around Moscow, according to the Washington Post. And Ivanka was deeply involved with a failed effort to build a Trump Hotel in Azerbaijan, where the Trumps had joined forces with a family whom a government minister had accused of corruption and who had possible ties to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.

Donald Trump Jr.

“I have nothing to do with Russia,” President Trump has declared. “No deals. No loans.” That’s not quite true. Just ask his oldest son, who serves as the executive vice president of the Trump Organization. “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross section of a lot of our assets,” Don Jr. told investors in 2008. “We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.” Weeks before the election, Trump’s son was reportedly paid $50,000 to address a pro-Russian group in Paris whose leader nominated Putin for the Nobel Peace Prize in December.

Eric Trump

In a May interview with Boston radio station WBUR, golf journalist James Dodson recalled asking Trump’s second-oldest son a few years ago about who was funding his father’s courses. “We don’t rely on American banks,” he replied, according to Dodson. “We have all the funding we need out of Russia.” Eric, who manages the Trump Organization with his older brother, called Dodson’s account “completely fabricated.”

Jared Kushner

The president’s son-in-law reportedly failed to disclose “dozens of contacts with foreign leaders or officials in recent months” on his application for security clearance, including meetings with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak and Sergey Gorkov, the head of Vnesheconombank, a Russian state-owned bank. According to the Washington Post, Kislyak reported back to Moscow following their sit-down that Kushner had proposed “setting up a secret and secure communications channel between Trump’s transition team and the Kremlin, using Russian diplomatic facilities.”  Kushner reportedly strongly advocated Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey in May—further raising questions about his role. In late May, the Post and other news outlets reported that Kushner had become a focus of the FBI’s Russia probe, with investigators digging into his contacts with Kislyak, Gorkov, and other Russians. The 36-year-old real estate scion has volunteered to be interviewed by the Senate Intelligence Committee and his lawyer has said Kushner “will do the same if he is contacted in connection with any other inquiry.”

Cabinet Players

Jeff Sessions

“I did not have communications with the Russians,” the former Republican senator from Alabama said during his confirmation hearings in January. That statement quickly came back to haunt the new attorney general, after the Washington Post reported that Sessions had met at least twice with Ambassador Kislyak during the presidential campaign—including the day after then-Director of National Intelligence James Clapper suggested publicly that Russia was behind the Democratic National Committee hack. Congressional investigators reportedly are looking into whether Sessions may have had additional contact with Kislyak. In March, Sessions said he was recusing himself from any investigations of Russian election meddling, but he later played a key role in firing the senior Justice Department official overseeing the probe—Comey.

Rex Tillerson

The secretary of state and former Exxon Mobil CEO, who was once deeply involved in the company’s operations in Russia, forged deep bonds with oligarchs and Kremlin officials. In 2013, Putin awarded him the Russian Order of Friendship.

Wilbur Ross

In 2014, the billionaire (and “king of bankruptcy”) led a group of investors in a takeover of the Bank of Cyprus, an ailing financial institution with deep ties to Russia. Other top investors included oligarch Viktor Vekselberg and former KGB official Vladimir Strzhalkovsky. During Ross’ confirmation process for commerce secretary, Senate Democrats asked him for more details about the bank, including any loans made to Trump or his company. The Trump White House blocked the release of that information. But this probably isn’t the last we’ve heard about the bank: US Treasury officials are probing payments routed to lobbyist (and former Trump campaign chairman) Paul Manafort through Cyprus—a hotbed of illicit Russian cash. In March, the Associated Press reported that $1 million was directed to a Manafort-linked company in 2009 via the Bank of Cyprus.

All the President’s Men

Michael Flynn

The former Defense Intelligence Agency chief memorably led Republican National Convention attendees in chants of “lock her up.” Now Flynn—ousted less than a month into his job as Trump’s national security adviser—is facing legal jeopardy of his own. According to members of the House Oversight Committee, the retired lieutenant general may have broken the law by failing to disclose payments from Russian and Turkish interests, including for a Moscow speech he gave at an event celebrating RT, the Kremlin-­backed broadcaster, where he was seated next to Putin. Barack Obama personally warned Trump about hiring Flynn, whom Obama had fired from his DIA post. In January, acting Attorney General Sally Yates urgently told the Trump administration that Flynn had lied about his contacts with Ambassador Kislyak and could be vulnerable to Russian blackmail. When that news emerged in the Post three weeks later, Trump fired Flynn and blamed the media, calling Flynn a “wonderful man” who had been treated “very unfairly.” Flynn has offered to testify if offered immunity. In May, the Senate Intelligence Committee subpoenaed records from him and his business associates.

Paul Manafort

A lobbyist out of central casting, Manafort has repped some of the world’s shadiest autocrats and dictators, once flying to Angola in the ’80s amid the country’s bloody civil war to pitch warlord Jonas Savimbi. (In hacked text messages made public in February, Manafort’s daughter Andrea allegedly said her father had “no moral or legal compass” and described her family’s wealth as “blood money.”) Brought on to the Trump campaign at the urging of his former business partner Roger Stone, Manafort helped to guide it through the Republican convention. Manafort was ousted in August, as details emerged about his work for deposed Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, a Putin ally, which allegedly involved $12.7 million in secret cash payments earmarked for Manafort. Scrutiny of Manafort, who is reportedly under investigation by the FBI and the Treasury Department, has expanded to include his business dealings with Oleg Deripaska, the Russian aluminum magnate and Putin ally who was denied a visa to the United States because of alleged ties to organized crime.

Roger Stone

The 64-year-old, who proudly sports a tattoo of Richard Nixon across his back, has made a career of political subterfuge. He cut his teeth at 19 as a Nixon dirty trickster, once hiring a GOP operative to infiltrate George McGovern’s campaign. He later co-founded the lobbying firm of Black, Manafort, Stone & Atwater in the early 1980s. He has advised Trump for decades, lobbying on behalf of Trump’s casino interests and serving as campaign manager of the real estate mogul’s short-lived presidential campaign in 2000. During the 2016 campaign, Stone seemed to possess uncanny knowledge of what WikiLeaks had in store for Hillary Clinton. On October 1, he tweeted, “Wednesday @HillaryClinton is done. #Wikileaks.” Less than a week later, WikiLeaks began publishing the emails of Clinton campaign chair John Podesta. Stone claimed he was in touch with WikiLeaks’ founder, Julian Assange, and that he exchanged direct messages with Guccifer 2.0—the handle for the alleged Russian hacker(s) who posted the stolen DNC emails. Reportedly under investigation by the FBI, Stone has strenuously denied any collusion with Russians and has volunteered to testify before Congress. But anything he says should be taken with a grain of salt—his mantra, after all, is: “Admit nothing, deny everything, launch counterattack.”

Michael Cohen

In the dossier produced by the ex-British spy Steele, Trump’s pugnacious personal lawyer surfaced as an alleged liaison to Russian officials—a charge he strongly denies. He has long-standing business and family ties to Ukraine. In January, he hand-delivered a peace plan for Ukraine and Russia to then-national security adviser Flynn, according to the New York Times. The effort also involved Trump’s business associate Sater and Andrii V. Artemenko, a Ukrainian lawmaker.

J.D. Gordon

The former Navy officer and Pentagon spokesman, who advised the Trump campaign on national security policy, has reportedly acknowledged advocating a controversial platform change at the Republican National Convention: removing language calling for the provision of “lethal defensive weapons” to Ukraine to protect the country from Russian aggression. Gordon was also one of several Trump campaign aides who met with Ambassador Kislyak during the Republican convention.

Rick Gates

As Manafort’s right-hand man, Gates helped him lobby on behalf of Putin-­allied Ukrainian President Yanukovych and was involved in at least two multimillion-dollar deals with Russian oligarchs—one with Deripaska and another with Ukrainian natural-gas titan Dmitry Firtash. Like Manafort, Gates did not disclose his work as a foreign agent to the Justice Department last year, a possible violation of the law. Following the election he helped form a nonprofit promoting Trump’s agenda, but he departed after the Associated Press reported Manafort’s business dealings with Deripaska.

Michael Caputo

The veteran PR consultant ran communications for Trump’s 2016 primary campaign in New York. But before that, he spent years working in Russia, first for the US Agency for International Development and then for his own Moscow PR firm. In 2000, he was hired by Gazprom Media to burnish Putin’s image in the United States. At one point, fearing Russian organized-­crime figures were hunting him, Caputo (and his parrot, August West) took refuge on a boat in Florida.

Carter Page

“I think he is an idiot”—so said one Russian spy to another of a 2013 effort to recruit Page as an intelligence asset. (“I didn’t want to be a spy,” Page has said. “I am not a spy.”) Washington foreign policy hands scratched their heads when Trump cited the obscure energy consultant, who had once worked for Merrill Lynch in Russia, as one of his campaign advisers. And Page’s July 2016 speech in Moscow, where he sharply criticized US foreign policy toward Russia, drew notice at the FBI, kicking off the bureau’s ongoing probe into Trump associates. Page, a central figure in the Trump-Russia imbroglio, recently gave a series of bizarre interviews in which he dodged questions but also seemed to implicate himself. He acknowledged meeting with Kislyak during the GOP convention and, after first denying that he had discussed the easing of sanctions with Russian officials, hedged in an interview with George Stephanopoulos: “Something may have come up in a conversation. I have no recollection.”

Erik Prince

In January, according to the Washington Post, the founder of notorious private security contractor Blackwater—whose sister is Trump’s education secretary, Betsy DeVos—held a secret meeting in the Seychelles with a Russian close to Putin in an effort to establish an unofficial back channel between Moscow and Trump. Prince also reportedly advised Trump aides, including Flynn, during the transition. (Prince denies both claims.)

Ezra Cohen-Watnick

The 30-year-old National Security Council official is a member of the “Flynnstones,” as the dwindling cadre of Flynn loyalists on the NSC are known. After Flynn’s firing, incoming national security adviser H.R. McMaster attempted to remove Cohen-­Watnick from his position, but top Trump advisers Kushner and Steve Bannon intervened to save his job. Cohen-Watnick—known for his hawkish views on Iran and for clashing with CIA staffers—was among a trio of White House officials involved in an effort to lend credence to the president’s baseless claim that he had been wiretapped by the Obama administration. The NSC staffer—along with White House lawyers Michael Ellis and John Eisenberg—helped provide Rep. Devin Nunes with access to classified documents that the House Intelligence Committee chairman cited as evidence, wrongly, that Trump associates had been inappropriately “unmasked” in surveillance intercepts.

Investigators and Intel


John Brennan

In August, the then-CIA director held urgent briefings with Congress’ Gang of Eight lawmakers about Russia’s efforts to get Trump elected. Before stepping down on Inauguration Day, he told Fox News that Trump lacks a “full understanding of Russian capabilities and the actions they are taking on the world.” On January 6, the National Security Agency, the CIA, and the FBI announced that “Putin and the Russian Government aspired to help President-elect Trump’s election chances when possible by discrediting Secretary Clinton and publicly contrasting her unfavorably to him.”

James Clapper

In May, the former director of national intelligence debunked one of Trump’s favorite pieces of spin. The president loved pointing out that Clapper once said he’d seen no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. But in congressional testimony, Clapper clarified that at the time he made that statement, back in March, he was not in a position to know of the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation into Trump’s Russia ties. And he testified that Trump’s denials and downplaying of Russian election interference had aided the Kremlin.

Sally Yates

Six days after Trump’s inauguration, the then-acting attorney general paid an urgent visit to the White House to alert the administration that Flynn had lied about his interactions with the Russian ambassador and could be vulnerable to blackmail. “To state the obvious: You don’t want your national security adviser compromised with the Russians,” she testified in May. Instead of acting on her warning, Trump waited another three weeks to ax his national security adviser, doing so only after the Washington Post reported on Flynn’s communications with Kislyak. A longtime Justice Department official who once served as US attorney for the Northern District of Georgia, Yates was abruptly fired in late January after she refused to enforce the administration’s hastily executed “Muslim ban.”

James Comey

When news of his firing flashed across a TV screen on May 9, Comey thought it was a prank. Trump had previously praised the Justice Department veteran after he briefly reopened the bureau’s investigation into Clinton’s emails just before the presidential election. Shortly after his inauguration, Trump summoned Comey for a private dinner, where he asked for the FBI director’s political loyalty, the New York Times reported; Comey promised him “honesty.” The relationship went downhill from there. Comey perhaps sealed his fate when he publicly confirmed the bureau’s ongoing probe into the Trump campaign and dismissed Trump’s claims that he was wiretapped by the Obama administration. Trump recalled of his decision to fire Comey, “When I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, ‘You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story.’” News soon emerged that Comey kept detailed memos of his interactions with Trump, including on the president pressuring him to quash a growing FBI investigation into Michael Flynn.

Christopher Steele

A real-life James Bond who worked undercover for MI6 in Moscow in the 1990s and later oversaw the British intelligence agency’s Russia operations, the ex-British spy was hired by a US research firm during the presidential campaign to look into Trump’s business ties in Russia. His network of sources provided him with alarming allegations, including that the Putin regime possessed compromising information on Trump and had been cultivating the real estate mogul for years. His memos also contained salacious allegations regarding Trump’s personal conduct while visiting Russia. In July 2016, Steele passed his findings on to contacts in the FBI; after the election, US intelligence officials briefed Obama and Trump about the memos. The Senate Intelligence Committee may seek to question Steele as part of its investigation into possible Russian interference in the US election.

Robert Mueller

George W. Bush tapped the ex-Marine and federal prosecutor to head the FBI just days before the 9/11 attacks. He went on to lead the bureau for 12 years, becoming the longest-­serving FBI director since J. Edgar Hoover. Like his friend James Comey, Mueller has an independent streak and no qualms about taking on the powers that be. During the Bush years, he nearly resigned over what he saw as a rogue White House effort with the National Security Agency’s warrantless surveillance program. As special counsel in charge of an investigation that Trump has dubbed an unprecedented “witch hunt,” Mueller is likely to again butt heads with a sitting president.

Hackers and Hacks

Julian Assange

Conservatives once called for the WikiLeaks founder to be locked up. During the 2016 campaign, Trump allies, including Roger Stone and Alex Jones, hailed him as a hero for releasing hacked emails from the DNC and Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta. (Stone claimed to have “back-channel communications” with the hacktivist during the campaign.) Assange—who has taken refuge in Ecuador’s London Embassy since 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden over rape allegations (the case was dropped in May)—has claimed the source for the hacked messages was not the Russian government. The US intelligence community begs to differ. WikiLeaks’ release of the first batch of Podesta’s emails was curiously timed: It dropped less than an hour after a video clip of Trump bragging about sexual assault went public. Thereafter, the material was released in daily batches—that is, in a manner designed to inflict maximum harm to the Clinton campaign.

Guccifer 2.0

Guccifer was the handle of a notorious Romanian hacker who was sentenced to 52 months in prison in 2016. Guccifer 2.0 is the online persona that surfaced in June 2016 to take credit for hacking the DNC. The persona has claimed to be a lone wolf from Romania, but the intelligence community and outside experts have concluded that Guccifer 2.0 (which direct-messaged with Stone) is almost certainly a front for Russian intelligence. It’s a misogynistic one at that. “I’ve never met a female hacker of the highest level,” Guccifer 2.0 wrote last year. “Girls, don’t get offended, I love you.”

DC Leaks

The mysterious website and its associated Twitter feed popped up in June 2016. Over the course of the campaign, it published the hacked emails of military and political targets, including Colin Powell, NATO commander General Philip Breedlove, and the campaign staffs of Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham. The people behind DC Leaks, which is no longer active, claimed to be “American hacktivists,” but the US intelligence community reported that the site was a front for Russia’s military intelligence service.

RT and Sputnik

In its joint report on Moscow’s election meddling, the US intelligence community described RT, the TV network formerly known as Russia Today, as “the Kremlin’s principal international propaganda outlet.” The report noted it “has actively collaborated with WikiLeaks”; Assange hosted a show for the network in 2012. RT also has controversial ties to Flynn, who was paid to speak at a 2015 gala for RT in Moscow and frequently appeared as an analyst on the network. Another Kremlin-supported outlet, Sputnik, spread fake news while boosting Trump and attacking Clinton. In late May, newly elected French President Emmanuel Macron confronted Putin about Russian meddling in the French elections and slammed the two news outlets as instruments of “lying propaganda.”

Cozy Bear and Fancy Bear

The shadowy groups are affiliated with different branches of the Russian security apparatus. Cozy Bear has been linked to a variety of cyberattacks against government and corporate targets throughout the world, including a 2015 spear-phishing attack on the Joint Chiefs of Staff. According to CrowdStrike, the cybersecurity firm hired by the DNC, Cozy Bear first targeted the DNC in the summer of 2015. Fancy Bear penetrated the DNC’s network in April 2016, apparently unaware Cozy Bear had gotten there first. The group’s targets have ranged from the World Anti-Doping Agency to the German parliament.

Russian Connections

Sergey Kislyak

Following the 2016 presidential election, it came to light that Kislyak—the Russian ambassador to the United States since 2008 and formerly Russia’s deputy minister of foreign affairs—held multiple private meetings and phone conversations with Trump campaign surrogates and aides, including then-Sen. Jeff Sessions, Carter Page, J.D. Gordon, and Jared Kushner. His pre-inauguration communications with Flynn—which included discussion of US sanctions targeting Russia—led to Flynn’s ouster. Kislyak told the Washington Post he was in contact with Flynn before the election, but he declined to say what they discussed. Some US intelligence officials allege that Kislyak is not just a diplomat, but a talented spy-recruiter.

Sergey Gorkov

A graduate of the FSB’s finishing school for spies, Gorkov heads Vnesheconombank, Russia’s state-owned development bank—effectively Putin’s slush fund. With its board seeded with Kremlin ministers, including Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev, the bank was the majority lender for the Sochi Olympics, has helped Russia gain financial power in Ukraine, and is currently under US sanctions because of Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea. In December 2016, Gorkov attended a meeting with Jared Kushner brokered by Kislyak—after which Gorkov appears to have gone directly to meet with Putin.

Felix Sater

This Russian-American businessman (and onetime FBI informant) has quite the rap sheet, including prison time for stabbing a man with the stem of a margarita glass and a guilty plea in a Mafia-linked racketeering case. Though Trump claimed in a 2013 deposition that he wouldn’t know Sater if they were in the same room, the pair in fact worked together on a variety of projects, including a potential Moscow hotel. Once a managing partner of Bayrock Group, a real estate firm with offices in Trump Tower and alleged organized crime ties, Sater reportedly worked as a senior adviser to Trump in 2010, with a Trump Organization email address and business card. In January, Sater met with Trump attorney Michael Cohen and Andrii Artemenko, a pro-Putin Ukrainian lawmaker, to discuss a “peace plan” for Ukraine and Russia.

Andrii Artemenko

Currently facing an inquiry by Ukrainian prosecutors into possible treason over his collaboration with Trump associates on the Russia-friendly peace plan, the Ukrainian parliament member claims to have evidence of corruption that could oust his country’s current pro-European president. Artemenko has spent time in prison on embezzlement charges (eventually dropped) that he says were politically motivated.

Tevfik Arif

The Kazakh founder of the Bayrock real estate firm was formerly a USSR commerce official. He hired Sater, who by 2005 became Bayrock’s managing partner; subsequently, the firm entered into deals with Trump to develop various hotel and condo projects. In 2010, Bayrock’s former finance director sued the company (but not Trump) over one of those joint ventures, the Trump SoHo, calling the building “a Russian mob project” financed with mysterious cash from Kazakhstan and Russia.

Victor Podobnyy

At a January 2013 energy conference in New York, Podobnyy met future Trump adviser Carter Page. At the time, Podobnyy was a clandestine Russian intelligence agent working under diplomatic cover in Russia’s UN delegation. For the next five months, Page met with, emailed, and provided documents to Podobnyy about the energy business, believing that Podobnyy’s UN position would help him broker deals in Russia. All the while, Podobnyy and one of his colleagues attempted to recruit Page as an asset. In 2015, Podobnyy was busted by the FBI for being an unregistered agent of a foreign government, along with two other Russians, but avoided arrest and prosecution because of his diplomatic immunity.

Sergei Millian

The Belarusian-American president of the Russian American Chamber of Commerce in the USA first met Trump in 2007 at Moscow’s Millionaire Fair. Millian—whose given name is Siarhei Kukuts—says he later signed an agreement with the Trump Organization to market Trump properties to buyers in Russia and the former Soviet bloc. In June 2016, Millian shared a slew of allegations about Trump with an associate. These allegations, corroborated by other sources, according to the ex-British spy Christopher Steele, would later make it into Steele’s unverified intelligence reports on Trump’s Russia ties—where Millian is reportedly identified as source “D.”

The Oligarchs

Dmitry Rybolovlev

Known in Russia as the “fertilizer king,” this billionaire oligarch bought a Palm Beach mansion from Trump in 2008 for $95 million—more than twice what Trump paid for it in the mid-2000s. It was a surprisingly high price, given Florida’s crashing real estate market and an appraisal for much less. At least twice during the campaign, Rybolovlev’s plane was in the same location as Trump’s, fueling speculation of deeper ties.

Dmitry Firtash

For years, this Ukrainian natural-gas titan cut deals with Russia’s state-owned gas company, Gazprom. Putin’s administration sold him Russian gas at a steep discount, and Firtash resold it in Ukraine, reinvesting some of the profits into electing pro-Putin politicians, including Viktor Yanukovych. In 2008, Firtash partnered with Manafort on an $885 million deal to buy and redo a New York hotel. The deal fell apart, but a few years later Firtash and Manafort were together again—this time named in a lawsuit alleging that Firtash laundered money through a New York investment fund established with Manafort’s help to send back to Ukraine for political use. (The case was dismissed in 2015.) Since 2013, the United States has sought to extradite Firtash from Austria to face bribery charges in an unrelated case.

Oleg Deripaska

This billionaire aluminum magnate was denied entry to the United States in the mid-1990s because of suspected ties to the Russian Mafia. A few years later, Manafort helped Deripaska try to secure a visa to come to the United States. In 2006, Deripaska reportedly hired Manafort for a $10 million annual contract; Manafort reportedly pitched Deripaska on a plan to bolster Putin’s image in the United States and elsewhere. In 2014, Deripaska sued Manafort for accepting a $19 million investment and then failing to account for the funds. (The suit is pending.)

Aras Agalarov

This billionaire’s real estate company, Crocus Group, has secured multiple contracts from the Kremlin, and Agalarov personally received a medal of honor from Putin. In 2013, Agalarov partnered with Trump to bring the Miss Universe pageant to Moscow, where it was hosted at one of his lavish properties. The day before the pageant, Agalarov helped organize a meeting for Trump with more than a dozen of Russia’s top moguls. Agalarov claims he and Trump made a deal to build a Trump Tower in Moscow following the pageant, a venture that never materialized.

Emin Agalarov

Trump starred in a 2013 music video with this middling Russian pop star (the son of Aras Agalarov). It was shot on the morning of the Miss Universe pageant in Moscow, where Emin performed two numbers. In a March 2017 interview, Emin described an ongoing relationship—including “messages” and a handwritten note—with the Trump family that continued after Trump’s inauguration. “Now that he ran and was elected, he does not forget his friends,” Emin said.

Viktor Vekselberg

The Ukrainian oil baron with past ties to the Kremlin is reportedly worth $12.8 billion. Through his company Renova, he holds a 5.5 percent stake in the Bank of Cyprus, where Wilbur Ross served as vice chairman of the board until his confirmation as US commerce secretary in March.

Watchdogs and Lapdogs

Sen. John McCain

After the presidential election, McCain obtained a copy of Steele’s dossier, passing it to Comey during a December meeting. “I think there’s a lot more shoes to drop from this centipede,” the six-term senator and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee said this spring. While his fellow Republicans have tried to squelch probes into the scandal, McCain has pressed for a more aggressive inquiry, calling for a special congressional select committee or an independent commission. In mid-May, he said the growing scandal had reached “Watergate size and scale.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham

On the campaign trail, the South Carolina senator was a harsh critic of Trump, calling the real estate mogul a “jackass” who lacked “the temperament or judgment to be commander in chief.” Like McCain, Graham is one of few Republicans who have not sought to downplay the Russia scandal. His Senate Judiciary subcommittee has mounted an investigation into the Kremlin’s election interference that Graham has vowed is “going to find out all things Russia.”

Rep. Devin Nunes

The House Intelligence Committee chairman’s brazen attempt to provide cover for Trump’s wiretapping allegations backfired in epic fashion. After Nunes’ White House-aided effort was unmasked, he was forced to recuse himself from the Intelligence Committee’s probe of Russian election meddling. Now the California congressman, who served on Trump’s transition team, is himself under investigation by the House Ethics Committee for possibly disclosing classified information. At a private GOP fundraiser in April, Nunes echoed Trump’s ongoing claim that the purpose of the congressional investigations into Russian election interference was to justify Hillary Clinton’s loss.

Rep. Adam Schiff

The ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee has been described as “Trump’s public prosecutor.” During the panel’s first hearing on the Russia matter, Schiff laid out what amounted to an indictment in his lengthy opening statement. In his previous career as a federal prosecutor, he brought charges against the first FBI agent indicted for espionage. The congressman has been calling for an independent investigation from the start and clashed repeatedly with Nunes.

Sen. Mark Warner

One of the only Democrats with any real say in how the Russia probe plays out, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee says the investigation is “the most important thing I’ve ever done.” It wasn’t until Warner threatened to boycott the hacking probe that Trump-boosting Sen. Richard Burr agreed to include possible Trump-Russia links in the investigation. Warner now says he has full “confidence” in Burr, but various reports indicate he has become frustrated with Burr’s slow pace.

Sen. Richard Burr

“There’s not a separation between me and Donald Trump,” Burr said during his reelection campaign. Burr also worked on the Trump campaign’s national security team and takes credit for instigating the FBI’s investigation into Clinton’s emails. The three-term Republican and chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee was enlisted by the White House in February, along with Nunes, to personally call reporters to push back on stories concerning Trump associates and Russia. No surprise, Burr originally said his panel’s investigation would not involve Trump’s campaign. He has since changed his tune, but concerns remain about whether he can lead a full and fair inquiry.

The Hyperventilators

Louise Mensch

Of all the self-appointed detectives propagating their theories on Twitter, Mensch, a novelist and former Conservative member of the British Parliament, is the most bombastic and controversial. The day before the presidential election, Mensch, who’s known for making fantastical claims, reported that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court had granted the FBI a warrant to surveil Americans with ties to Trump as part of its investigation. Another two months would pass before the New York Times confirmed the existence of a warrant from the court in the case of Carter Page. Since then, Mensch has made claims that Page traveled to Moscow last July to explicitly request Russia’s help in hacking the election, delivering a prerecorded tape of Trump offering to make US policy more beneficial to Putin if elected. No reputable media have reported this.

John Schindler

The former NSA analyst declared in August 2016 that, regardless of who became president, Putin had already won the election by meddling with the American political system. Oddly, Schindler wrote about this in Jared Kushner’s New York Observer, where Schindler is a regular columnist. (Kushner has since stepped down as the paper’s publisher.) In his column and Twitter feed—which Schindler liberally peppers with blindly sourced intel community gossip—he confidently suggests it’s only a matter of time before Trump’s collusion with the Kremlin is revealed. Sample tweet: “Trump knows his illegal ties to Moscow will be exposed soon. Hence his panic. He will do anything to save himself. Even provoking civil war.”


Preet Bharara, Sally Yates and James Comey: Fired while investigating Donald Trump

(CNN)After President Donald Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, questions immediately arose about the President’s motivations for his dismissal — and for the recent firings of two other then-President Barack Obama-appointees who were in the middle of conducting investigations linked to Trump.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said Comey’s firing was part of a “deeply troubling pattern from the Trump administration,” that appears to be linked to two other high-profile dismissals.
“They fired Sally Yates. They fired Preet Bharara. And they fired James Comey, the very man leading the investigation. This does not seem to be a coincidence,” Schumer said shortly after the announcement, calling for a special independent prosecutor into the Trump campaign’s ties to the Kremlin.
“Any person who he appoints to lead the Russian investigation will be concerned that he or she will meet the same fate as Director Comey,” he said.
Toobin: Firing Comey grotesque abuse of power
CNN’s senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin was not buying the idea that Comey was sacked over the Clinton investigation, saying it was “absurd.”
Toobin branded the move a “grotesque abuse of power by the President of the United States,” comparing the sacking of Comey to President Richard Nixon’s firing of special prosecutor Archibald Cox during the Watergate scandal.
The FBI director saw his reputation compromised when he became embroiled in the 2016 election campaign. He was first criticized by Republicans when he announced he wouldn’t be charging then-Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton over her emails, and then by Democrats for publicly reopening the case days before Americans went to the polls.
Why was Comey fired?
The Trump administration attributed Comey’s dismissal to his handling of the investigation into Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server. In a signed letter released by the White House, Trump informed Comey that he was “hereby terminated and removed from office, effective immediately,” explaining that he reached the conclusion that the erstwhile director was “not able to effectively lead the bureau.”
Blogger’s note –> shortly after the initial reasons given Trump went on TV and told THE WORLD that he fired Comey b/c of this ‘Russia thing’ and that he was going to fire Comey no matter what anyone else had to say about it, pro or con.
What was he investigating?
As head of the FBI, he was overseeing the investigation into the Trump campaign’s alleged ties to the Kremlin. Democrats have ridiculed the notion that the Clinton issue is what truly prompted Comey’s dismissal, drawing parallels to Watergate-era firings and suggesting Comey was getting too close to the White House with the Russia probe.
Where is the investigation now?
At a hearing last week, Comey confirmed that the FBI’s investigation into accusations of coordination between Trump’s presidential campaign and Russian officials was continuing. It’s not clear if the incoming FBI director will pick up where Comey left off.
Appointed by Obama, former Deputy Attorney General Yates had been running Trump’s Justice Department as Acting Attorney General while Trump’s nominee for the role, Sen. Jeff Sessions, awaited confirmation. She became a household name when Trump abruptly removed her from the temporary position.
Why was Yates fired?
Ostensibly for her refusal to implement the first iteration of Trump’s ban on travelers from a number of Muslim-majority countries.
“The acting Attorney General, Sally Yates, has betrayed the Department of Justice by refusing to enforce a legal order designed to protect the citizens of the United States,” White House press secretary Sean Spicer said in a statement at the time, explaining the President’s actions.
What was she investigating?
As part of the probe into possible collusion between Russia and the Trump administration, then-acting Attorney General Yates met with White House counsel to inform them that then-National Security Advisor Michael Flynn wasn’t telling the truth about his interactions with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak and, as a result, represented a blackmail risk.
“We believed that General Flynn was compromised with respect to the Russians,” Yates said in a Senate subcommittee hearing aimed at gathering details of the Russian hacking of the 2016 election on Monday in Washington.
“Logic would tell you that you don’t want the national security adviser to be in a position where the Russians have leverage over him,” she added.
Where is the investigation now?
Yates said Monday that she warned the White House earlier this year that former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn could be “essentially blackmailed by the Russians.”
Preet Bharara, former US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, was known as one of Wall Street’s fiercest watchdogs and a widely respected prosecutor.
Why was Bharara fired?
Bharara first refused to resign along with 46 US attorneys across the country. Although it is common for incoming administrations to replace US attorneys when transitioning to power, Trump had previously assured Bharara that he’d keep his job.
Sources told CNN that Bharara had been told after a meeting with Trump in November that he could stay on, and that he felt blindsided by the request. He was fired after refusing to comply.
At the time, Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren posted a series of tweets suggesting Bharara was removed in part because he “had authority over Trump Tower.”
Bharara suggested that this was indeed the case. “I wanted it to be on record that there was a deliberate decision to change (his) mind and fire me, particularly given what my office’s jurisdiction is,” he said.
What was he investigating?
Bharara’s office had many investigations ongoing at the time of his firing, including one involving Trump favorite Fox News.
And then there’s the President’s claim that he was wiretapped in Trump Tower on orders of then-President Obama, whose investigation led back to the Southern District of New York.
“Trump has undoubtedly decided that he wants his own pick rather than the choice of Senate adversary (and minority leader) Chuck Schumer in place as the top federal prosecutor in New York,” CNN legal analyst Paul Callan wrote in March.
Where is the investigation now?
Members of both parties have said they have seen no evidence to back up Trump’s allegations about Obama, and, addressing a hearing before the House Intelligence Committee, Comey said that he had “no information” to support claims by the President that he was wiretapped on the orders of his predecessor.
CNN’s Laura Jarrett, Jake Tapper, Stephen Collinson, Jeff Zeleny and Jeremy Diamond contributed to this report.


Where Are the United States Attorneys?

Three months after President Trump abruptly fired half of the nation’s 93 United States attorneys, following the resignations of the other half, he has yet to replace a single one.

It’s bizarre — and revealing — that a man who called himself the “law and order candidate” during the 2016 campaign and spoke of “lawless chaos” in his address to Congress would permit such a leadership vacuum at federal prosecutors’ offices around the country. United States attorneys are responsible for prosecuting terrorism offenses, serious financial fraud, public corruption, crimes related to gang activity, drug trafficking and all other federal crimes.

As is usually the case when confronted with his own incompetence, Mr. Trump has spent his time looking for somebody else to blame.

“Dems are taking forever to approve my people,” the president said in a statement he released on Twitter Monday morning. “They are nothing but OBSTRUCTIONISTS! Want approvals.”

 The problem is, the Democrats couldn’t obstruct any United States attorney nominations if they wanted to because Mr. Trump has not made any.

It’s possible that Mr. Trump is having a hard time luring competent, experienced candidates to work for an administration mired in perpetual chaos and widening scandal. Since Mr. Trump considers loyalty the highest qualification for federal office, that might be. But United States attorney is a highly coveted job under any president, and there should be no shortage of people eager to be considered.

For now, local offices are being run by acting United States attorneys, often career lawyers or deputies held over from the Obama administration. They’re able to manage day-to-day operations, but don’t have the authority to push forward major policy changes. While those changes, like Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s ordering prosecutors to seek more severe punishments, may be ill-advised, a serious president needs to have the people in place to implement the programs that supposedly matter to him.

Especially when it comes to higher-profile, long-term cases, Senate-confirmed heads are needed to work in coordination with the Justice Department.

The United States attorneys are only the tip of the iceberg. Mr. Trump has yet to nominate a new F.B.I. chief after firing the former director, James Comey, last month. The Justice Department’s criminal, civil and national-security divisions are all under temporary leadership.

These delays are strange even for a White House that ran what one former official called the “slowest transition in decades” and that has dealt with key government posts with all the urgency of a summer barbecue.

While his hiring freeze, which is leaving many lower federal jobs unfilled, is part of a broader strategy to hobble or suffocate entire federal agencies, this seems less deliberate and harder to understand. The prosecutors certainly won’t be coming on board anytime soon. Even in a fully functioning administration, it takes months for nominees to be screened by the F.B.I. and approved by the Senate.

One familiar rationale — that Mr. Trump wasn’t prepared because he never expected to win — may account for some of the delay, but it’s an increasingly embarrassing excuse. You don’t run for president on a major-party ticket as a lark, and you don’t pink-slip top federal prosecutors en masse without a long list of qualified candidates in your back pocket.

There are two other obvious, and perhaps simpler, explanations, and both may be correct. Mr. Trump does not actually believe in or care about his campaign claim of “lawless chaos” in our streets. And Mr. Trump is not a good manager — not of his businesses, certainly, and not of the vastly larger, more complex organization he now runs, the one that matters to the well-being of every American.

My reply to a reader comment

The reader’s comment is in dark letters, my response is in blue:

I love your mission statement, which promises to track issues and stories of the day for those who sincerely want to think and judge for themselves. To do that well, we need not both fact and context within which fact can be assessed. Lacking or disregarding either fact or context harms judgment.

–> I think I follow what you’re saying here, but not completely sure.

I admire your “Trump timeline…(ongoing)” by Steven Harper as a consolidated source of topical information that is not generally organized usefully or available in one place. By itself, however, your timeline does not allow the nonpartisan thinker to fairly consider whether Russia and Trump are excessively, too secretly and/or improperly bound, as the partisan — essentially Clinton — interests who advance that hypothesis would have it.

–> Thanks.  I regard myself as a non-partisan person who votes for the PERSON, not the PARTY.  So, for me it’s a case-by-case basis.  Before Trump was elected I was quite apolitical and didn’t pay much attention to politics one way or another but generally disliked politics and politicians very much.  Could you or I run for POTUS?  No.  Are you a millionaire or billionaire?  Me either.  I’m not pro-Clinton; I’m not anti-Trump . . . however, I’m in favor of, to a large degree, the antithesis of what Trump seems to stand for and be all about.  I’ve never seen a bigger jerk with the world’s biggest ego and world’s largest hubris.  If/when Trump does something to applaud, I will applaud . . . until then I will condemn much of what he does, because much of it would not be tolerated by a GRADE SCHOOL PRINCIPAL or any ‘normal’ parent.

Your Trump/Russia compilation does not provide or cite the facts/context of relations among Russian interests and other prominent American political actors, such as Mr and Mrs Clinton and allied interests such as their foundation, staff and officials like John Brennan, whom you quote affectingly. Only in and with that context can one assess the merit and the meaning of Trump/Russian associations.

–> Trump said on national TV he fired Comey b/c he wanted the ‘Russia thing’ to end.  He asked Pence and Sessions to leave the room so he could talk to Comey alone and then Trump pressured Comey to let Flynn off the hook.  I believe Comey over Trump.  There’s soooooo much stuff there with respect to Trump and Russia that I will be AMAZED if he gets through this unscathed.  The main reason he was elected is because he successfully duped millions of people into believing he would bring bygone jobs back . . . like coal . . . like factories.  It ain’t gonna happen and eventually his base will turn on him — but how much damage will he accomplish first?  I started out being much more neutral but since November every new day makes me like the present POTUS less and less and to regard him as perhaps the biggest present and ongoing menace to mankind we’ve ever seen. Hitler didn’t have nuclear weapons.  Trump is Barnum and Bailey, rolled into one.  I believe history will eventually bear this out.  I believe what some pundits have said, “If only Trump had a father that showed him love he would not be like he is.”

To correct this oversight, you could fact-track, fact-check and update each of the Clinton/Russia associations that Liz Wheeler notes in her “News Anchor Uncovers Definite Evidence of Collusion With Russia,” which appears at

–> I do seek to fact-check and thought I’ve been doing that.  If you fact-check Trump, the fact checkers are saying about 4% of what he says is ‘true.’  Trump is a lying skunk . . . just watch the news and you’ll draw the same conclusion, in short order. I hate that there seems to be very little in the way of completely neutral and unbiased reporting . . . there’s FOX and all the others, which do lean a little or a lot LEFT.  I don’t like that — but Trump is his own worst enemy.  Can you believe he openly admitted he fired Comey to get rid of the Russia investigation?  In his arrogance he must think he’s above the law and can do what he wants and will ultimately get away with anything he wants to do.  Nixon said, “When the President does it, it’s not against the law.”  It seems that Trump feels the same.

Ms Wheeler humorously presents the deadly serious case that, as matters stand now, you short-change your stated mission. I hope you will correct that oversight because I happen to believe with John Brennan that the underlying importance of unseen Russian influence in US politics matters a great deal. I also believe it deserves the truly nonpartisan examination that and assessment that you purport but fail to present.

–> I am not a Republican . . . I am not a Democrat . . . I hate politics and think the Constitution needs a major overall.  What’s to stop a ‘Stalin’ from being elected or someone who is seriously mentally ill (like the experts say Trump IS)?  The founders were against PARTIES and FACTIONS and THAT has escalated into a big-time mess that has this country very F’d up (IMHO).  Everyone is a fallible human being and will make mistakes, but this guy is sooooooooo flawed and soooooooo UNPRESIDENTIAL that, for a thinking/feeling (and perceptive) person it is VERY HARD TO TAKE.

Failing that, I will consider you nonpartisan in name only and in fact a closet leftist seeking more marketable cover in changing times.

–> I’m not a leftist (any way shape or form), but I do believe Trump is perhaps the most evil thing this country has ever seen and the sooner he gets gone, the better.  

‘Emperor’ Trump?

Roman emperors required everyone to regard them as “gods” and to ‘worship’ them (or else).  Trump has surrounded himself with a great many sycophants, suck-ups, yes-men and yes-women, bootlickers, brown-nosers, and stooges.  His many manifestations of misbehavior would not be tolerated by a grade school principal (but many in Congress show zero outrage).  What we require from ‘ordinary’ people, shouldn’t the standards be at least the ‘same’ for the so-called extraordinary — i.e., a POTUS?  This is ‘not’ ancient Rome and Trump is not an ancient Roman emperor (much to his chagrin).

A listing of ‘some’ of Trump’s misbehavior (that most parents would disapprove of and/or punish their child for):

  1. lying
  2. obfuscating
  3. name-calling
  4. disrespecting various persons that deserve respect (mayors, judges, Senators, etc.)
  5. extreme arrogance
  6. extreme hubris
  7. making stuff up and saying it’s ‘true’ — trying to pass it off as ‘real,’ (just b/c he said it.  Trump says, “Only believe what comes out of my mouth — everything else is fake.”)
  8. calling what is true ‘false’ or ‘fake’
  9. trying to create an alt reality (disparaging real reality)
  10. totally self-focused + shows complete disregard for the feelings of others
  11. sexual misconduct (that he minimizes)
  12. spurning and/or trying to undo or destroy many long-standing American values and achievements since WW2
  13. encouraging physical violence to others
  14. disliking others mainly b/c of their race or religion
  15. disregard for rules — feeling ‘above’ the rules
  16. obstructing a legal investigation
  17. acting more like Don Vito Corleone than POTUS JFK
  18. winning and besting/beating others is most important thing — ungraciously trying to grind any opposition parties into the ground
  19. tough, macho, overly ‘manly’ persona; power-hungry
  20. unwilling or unable to control his many negative and self-defeating impulses
  21. loutishly lashing out when criticized
  22. unwilling to take advice, counsel, or direction from others
  23. unteachable (he’s a know-it-all)
  24. unpredictable and inconsistent and contradictory comments and ‘positions’
  25. firing important people with long and distinguished careers without just/good cause in an effort to dodge justice and doing the right thing(s)

Why The Russia Investigation Matters And Why You Should Care

Analysis . . .  May 24, 20176:00 AM ET

Some people have FOMO that they might miss an Orlando Bloom waitress update.

Others have a fear of missing out when it comes to the latest on whether Michael Flynn is going to turn over documents that have been requested by Congress — and what’s going to happen next in the Russia investigation.

Your author is in the latter category — and doesn’t really know how much people care about Orlando Bloom and his waitryst (see what we did there?), but it was a trending Google search.

There is a divide in this country — and it’s not the one between Democrats and Republicans. It’s the one between people who are deeply captivated by politics and those more engaged with other priorities and “real” lives.

At NPR, it’s our goal to try and bridge that divide the best we can — to make the complicated understandable and relatable, and especially to tell you why something in politics matters.

That’s why a question asked at Tuesday’s House Intelligence Committee hearing about the Russia investigation with former Obama CIA Director John Brennan caught our attention:

“Please tell my constituents, my neighbors, why they should care — and not just in Washington, D.C., but in Washington state and Texas and Connecticut and points in between — and why should they care, and why do you care, sir?”

The question was posed by Washington Democrat Denny Heck, and it provoked a high-minded response.

Here’s what Brennan said in full:

“Well, for the last 241 years, the nation and the citizens have cherished the freedom and liberty upon which this country was founded upon. Many brave Americans have lost their lives to protect that freedom and liberty and lost their lives to protect the freedom and liberties of other peoples around the world. Our ability to choose our elected leaders, as we see fit, is, I believe, an inalienable right that we must protect with all of the resources and authority and power.

“And the fact that the Russians tried to influence resources and authority and power, and the fact that the Russians tried to influence that election so that the will of the American people was not going to be realized by that election, I find outrageous and something that we need to, with every last ounce of devotion to this country, resist and try to act to prevent further instances of that. And so, therefore, I believe, this is something that’s critically important to every American. Certainly, it’s very important for me, for my children and grandchildren to make sure that never again will a foreign country try to influence and interfere in the foundation stone of this country, which is electing our democratic leaders.”


Russia is accused, as Brennan said, of not only trying to influence the election by hacking and releasing emails, but engaging in a full-fledged influence campaign through propaganda to get Donald Trump elected. That’s the assessment of 17 U.S. intelligence agencies. Not only that, but the FBI is investigating potential collusion between Trump associates and Russia to help in that effort — in Russia’s interest.

Trump’s former national security adviser, Flynn, is at the center of all of it. Others, including Trump’s former campaign manager for a time, Paul Manafort; Carter Page, a former foreign policy adviser; and, the Washington Post reported, a senior adviser currently in the Trump White House, also are being investigated for their ties.

Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and a top adviser, also was found to have met with the head of a Russian state-owned bank and to have communicated with Russian officials. He has offered to speak with the Senate Intelligence Committee.

James Comey was fired as FBI director after testifying twice in the past few months on the FBI’s investigation. Wednesday is the deadline set by House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz for the FBI to turn over any Comey memos related to the Russia investigation (though it’s unclear the Justice Department will allow them to be sent over).

It turns out, Heck also asked Comey and Adm. Mike Rogers, the director of the National Security Agency and head of U.S. Cyber Command, the very same question at a hearing back in March.

Rogers’ answer:

“I don’t think it’s in the best interest of our nation for any external entity to attempt to manipulate outcomes, to shape choices. That should be the inherent role of a democracy. The investigation we’re going through, I think, is a positive in the sense it’ll help illuminate to all of us, regardless of party, what are the implications here and what does it mean for us, because I think our conclusion, and that of the intelligence community broadly here, is this — absent some change, this behavior is not likely to stop. Absent some change in the dynamic, this is not likely to be the last time we’ll be having these discussions about this kind of activity, and I don’t think that’s in anybody’s best interests for us as a nation.”


Regardless of party, Rogers said, as he looked across the dais where plenty of Republicans were seated.

Comey went next and delivered the most consequential answer, given his central role in the investigation. This was the same hearing at which Comey first made public that there was, in fact, an FBI investigation into Trump associates’ potential collusion with Russia. The way he ended his answer may have portended his fate (emphasis added):

“Well, like Adm. Rogers, I truly believe we are a shining city on a hill to quote a great American, and one of the things we radiate to the world is the importance of our wonderful, often messy, but free and fair democratic system and the elections that undergird it. And so, when there’s an effort by a foreign nation-state to mess with that, to destroy that, to corrupt that, it’s very, very serious — threatens what is America. And if any Americans are part of that effort, it’s a very serious matter. And so you would expect the FBI to want to understand — is that so? And, if so, who did what?

“But, again, I want to be very careful, so that people don’t overinterpret my words, to preserve our ability to answer those questions, we’re not talking about our work. I’m not here voluntarily, right? I would rather not be talking about this at all, but we thought it was important to share at least that much [that there is an FBI investigation into Trump team connections to Russia] with the committee and the American people, and now we’re going to close our mouths and do our work to see if we can answer those questions ’cause the answers matter.

He emphasized that last bit and assuredly shut off his microphone.

“Shining city on a hill,” of course, is a reference to Ronald Reagan. Comey was a registered Republican until saying last year he no longer was. He served as a prosecutor in the Reagan Justice Department, as well as the ones under Republican George H.W. Bush and Democrat Bill Clinton, and was appointed to positions twice under Republican George W. Bush, including No. 2 at DOJ, before being appointed by Democrat Barack Obama to replace Robert Mueller as head of the FBI.

Trump has derided the Russia investigation as a “witch hunt,” essentially declaring it Democratic sour grapes for losing the election. He has tried to reassure Flynn with encouraging notes telling him to “stay strong,” per Yahoo.

Trump also seemed to dismiss the concerns of Sally Yates, the former acting attorney general, because she was “somebody who we don’t even know,” he told NBC, as compared to Flynn, whom Trump described as a “very good person.”

Brennan, Rogers and Comey, who have long, distinguished careers serving under presidents of both parties, all believe asking the questions and getting the answers are important. They should guide decisions for America’s future, they said, because the American democracy and its ability to choose its leaders without fear of foreign influence is at the core of the republic.

Many Trump supporters are skeptical and view even any questions asked as attempted indictments.

But these three men would argue that Americans should let the conclusions be guided by the facts and allow a rigorous effort to attain them, because there’s nothing more fundamental to a free and fair democracy.

That’s why this matters.