What Is the Crisis? The Possibility of Collusion

June 15, 2017

What would “collusion” look like? That’s the question that’s on my mind today.

In a previous post, I outlined four possibilities about how we might understand the crisis currently facing the United States. The first of those possibilities was this:

“that the person who is serving as President of the United States has, allegedly, done some things that disqualify him from further service. Among the allegations are that he colluded with the Russians to have them help him win the election.

That same post sketched three other understandings of the crisis, and I said I was more drawn to two of these others. But for the moment, let’s focus on this first alternative: Arguably, Donald Trump has done either or both of two disqualifying things: colluded with agents of a foreign power to affect the outcome of the presidential election, and/or committed obstruction of justice in trying halt any investigation of such possible collusion.

It is the obstruction of justice charge that has received the lion’s share of attention since Trump fired FBI Director James Comey on May 9. On May 17, Assistant Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed James Mueller as Special Prosecutor to continue the investigation that the FBI had started earlier about Russian interference in the 2016 election. Since Mueller’s appointment there has been a good deal of public discussion of the obstruction possibility, but very little public discussion of the collusion/interference matter. Some day we will hear from James Mueller about his investigation, but almost certainly no time soon.

So, again, what would collusion have looked like? What collusion might have happened between operatives of the Russian government and those acting on behalf of the Trump/Pence campaign?

Some things we do know.

  • We know that there have been many connections between Trump, his family members, business associates and political operatives, on the one hand, and Russian government, mob and business figures on the other.
  • We know that Donald Trump has refused to release his tax returns, which might corroborate deep Trump family business connections with Russians, perhaps even Putin-linked Russians.
  • We know that Michael Flynn (Trump’s first national Security Adviser), Jeff Sessions (his Attorney General), and Jared Kushner (his son-in-law and adviser extraordinaire) all lied about contacts with Russians during the campaign and in the period before the inauguration.
  • Finally, we know agents of the Russian government interfered with 2016 election. As James Comey put it in recent testimony, “There’s no fuzz on that.”

So what don’t we know? We don’t know if there was any explicit collusion between Trump or his campaign officials with Russian government or quasi-government agents.

Or is that right? Back in July 2016, we heard Donald Trump, at a press conference call on Russia to find Hillary Clinton’s missing emails. “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing,” he said. And he called on them to be publicly released if Russia did find those missing emails. “I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press,” he added.

Isn’t that collusion? Was that so out front and blatant that it doesn’t really count? Or do we take that as not really a serious request by Trump, so outrageous as to be theater not real collusion?

What would collusion have to look like for it to be considered serious – serious enough for the election of Donald Trump to be viewed as illegitimate, serious enough for him to be impeached and removed? That’s the question I’ve been wondering.

Here’s what etymology.com has to say about collusion:

collusion (n.)

late 14c., from Old French collusion, from Latin collusionem (nominative collusio) “act of colluding,” from colludere, from assimilated form of com “with, together” (see com-) + ludere “to play” (see ludicrous). “The notion of fraud or underhandedness is essential to collusion” [Fowler].

Playing together, but with an element of “fraud” or “underhandedness.”

I can think of two different forms that collusion might have taken: encouragement or coordination. Trump may, on the one hand, have encouraged the Russians to meddle in the American election by hacking into e-mails and releasing the embarrassing ones, or by messing around with voting software (we know the Russians did that too) or putting out and promoting false stories (ditto). Or, on the other hand, Trump or his political operatives, may have worked out a coordinated scheme of activities that included all three of these kinds of activities.

If it’s merely a question of encouragement, then the July 27 press conference remarks has to count as confirming. On the other hand, if it’s coordination that we need to see, then that’s probably some of what James Mueller is currently investigating.

But why would we need to see evidence of such coordination? Some kinds of collusion required considerable advance planning among those involved. To cheat at bridge you’d need to work out a system of signals between partners. On the other hand, not much coordination – if any really – would have been necessary for Trump to benefit illicitly from Russian meddling. Think of an alley-oop pass in basketball. It takes little more than eye contact for such a play to be put in motion. Trump and the Russians had already established a degree of recognized mutual interest in their earlier business dealings. Both sides would have realized, without any discussion, that efforts to embarrass Hillary Clinton would work to the benefit of Trump in the election. It wouldn’t even require much eye contact to put such collusion in motion.

In this regard it’s telling for me that Trump has done next to nothing (Sessions, too) to condemn the known Russian interference. So should we expect to learn of explicit coordination? I don’t think so. Perhaps it took place, but it needn’t have to render this election illegitimate.

For me, it’s also telling that Trump has been eager to hear reassurances that he isn’t under investigation. He received such assurances from Comey, but now the Washington Post reports Trump himself is indeed under investigation after firing Comey. Perhaps Trump is dissembling, but that strikes me as unlikely. More plausible is that some collusion (encouragement or coordination) took place between members of his staff and Russian agents. Trump himself may be unaware of what took place.

That possibility puts me back in mind of the famous Sen. Howard Baker question during the Watergate Hearings. (Baker, a Republican, was the ranking minority on the panel.) “What did the President know and when did he know it?” That question became a touchstone for Watergate, and made all the more explosive the revelation that the President did know of the cover-up and di help to orchestrate it. Likely Baker began posing that question to help insulate Nixon from damage. As the Christian Science Monitor explained it years later, “What’s forgotten today is that Baker thought he was protecting Nixon with that line. He was attempting to wall off the president from the actions of aides who might have done something wrong.” Baker had begun to suspect something bad had happened; perhaps all the blame could fall on Nixon aides and Nixon himself could be shielded from the fallout.

I remember thinking at the time that Nixon himself should be held responsible for the behavior of his close aides and advisers. So, too, with Donald Trump.

The question of collusion between the Russians and the Trump/Pence campaign is a live one. It’s made more vital by the lies and denials of Flynn, Sessions, Kushner and others. It’s made more vital by Trump’s refusal to release his taxes. It’s made more vital yet again by his firing of Comey. The more these things come to light, the more we have to wonder what more there is to learn.

The question of collusion is a critical one for U.S. democracy and self-government. It wouldn’t have taken much more than a wink or a nod between the Russians and the Trump team to change the outcome of this very close election, and to render the result illegitimate.

Who’s to say “illegitimate?” On the one hand, recognition of collusion on the part of the Congress could lead to impeachment and removal of Trump (Pence, too?) from office. But that judgment would be up to the Republican majorities in both Houses. Just now, they’re sticking close to Trump.

On the other hand, it’s really up to the American voting public. What will we conclude in the weeks and months to come about whether there was collusion? And if we see there was, what will we do about it?

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What Is the Crisis? the Budget, Health Care, Ethics and Civil Rights, Too

In a series of recent posts I’ve been trying to sketch the dimensions and major features of the crisis facing the United States.  The political/constitutional crisis, I’ve argued, is primarily a question of the legitimacy of the 2016 election: whether the Trump campaign cooperated with elements of the Russian government to influence voters, and whether since the election the Trump administration has tried to shut down legitimate inquiries (by the FBI, by Congressional committees) into the question of Russian interference with the 2016 presidential election.

There’s more to say about these matters, but today I’m struck by four other jaw-dropping matters that, absent the Russia connection crisis, would lead me to suspect this administration had departed from fundamental, long-standing commitments of the American Republic.

Budget Proposal.  One is the budget proposal delivered to Congress by OMB Chief Mick Mulvaney.  It proposes draconian cuts in many safety net provisions (including Medicaid) as well as for diplomacy, science, the arts.  It proposes steep tax cuts for the wealthy.  And it makes fantasy projections of economic growth to make it appear at all prudent.  It has been attacked both liberals and conservatives.  It has been derided by professional economists.  I’m especially drawn to E. J. Dionne’s analysis (The Wider Trump Scandal) that calls attention to its lies and shattered campaign promises.

Health Care.  The Congressional Budget Office has now released its scoring of the wealthcare bill (AHCA) passed by House Republicans.  The CBO analysis shows 23 million more Americans without health insurance over the next decade, higher insurance rates for older Americans, and unaffordable premiums for those with pre-existing conditions (at least a third of us).  This is no healthcare bill: it is a give-away tax cut for the rich that would deprive millions of health care coverage and add millions to the deficit.

Discrimination.  In testimony before the Senate Education Committee yesterday, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos aggressively pushed her initiatives for school choice: vouchers and charter schools.  But she refused to give assurance to Senators from both parties that schools receiving federal funds would not be allowed to discriminate against students.  This would return us to pre-1954, pre-Brown v. Topeka Board of Education civil rights standards.

Ethics.  In separate but twinned stories yesterday, the Trump administration thumbed its nose at governmental ethics.  Trump officials said they would not make any effort to track foreign revenues to Trump-owned businesses, this despite an earlier pledge — to comply with the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause — to donate any foreign-generated profits to the government.  At the same time, Trump administration officials are refusing to comply with requests from the Office of Government Ethics for copies of all waivers given to Trump-appointees to allow them to serve in the administration despite having previously as lobbyists or industry attorneys.  Early in his presidency, Trump issued an Executive Order that prohibited lobbyists and lawyers hired as political appointees from working for two years on particular government matters that involved their former clients.  The EO provided that exceptions could be made via signed waivers.  The Trump administration has signed many such waivers but now is refusing to show them to the Office of Government Ethics — or anyone else.  Drain the swamp, indeed.

All in one week, while the Russia connection revelations continue to mount.

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What Is the Crisis? Two Conflicting Narratives

With his usual panache, Andrew Sullivan frames the current crisis by calling attention to two opposed narratives about what is going on, one framing it as crisis, the other as triumph:

These are, it seems to me, the two unstoppable narratives grinding our politics to a halt. The status quo in Washington — an unhinged, unfit, mentally disturbed narcissist as POTUS fast losing any faint credibility with even his own staffers — is utterly unsustainable. In a serious crisis, more than half the country won’t believe a word the president says. The White House is barely functioning; legislation is completely stalled; next week’s trip abroad will have everyone watching from behind a couch; the FBI and CIA are reeling; there’s almost no one in the State Department; no presidential due diligence is applied to military actions; the president only reads memos when his name is mentioned in them; a not-too-smart and apparently mute 35-year-old son-in-law is supposed to solve every problem in the country and world; and the press secretary is hiding in the bushes. No one has any confidence that the president couldn’t throw us into a war or a constitutional crisis at a moment’s notice. Nothing this scary has happened in my lifetime.

And yet around 35 percent of the country still somehow views every single catastrophe Trump perpetrates on America and the world as either a roaring triumph or a huge middle finger to the elites, and therefore fine. For them, everything is sustainable. When Republicans can shrug off giving top-secret Israeli intelligence to the Russians, there is nothing they cannot shrug off. We are not talking about support for various policies here. We are talking about the kind of following a cult leader has. In poll after poll, around 80 percent of Republicans still approve of the job Trump is doing. Still. That’s why the GOP leadership, even as their agenda evaporates, are leery of taking Trump on. His hold on their own voters is tighter than theirs is. It’s tighter than Nixon’s because Trump has built a reactionary movement from the ground up and taken over an entire party. He can communicate with them in ways no other Republican can. And there is no way on earth he is ever going to go quietly, if he agrees to go at all.

That’s why I have a hard time figuring out how this ends, even though it must end.

Of course I subscribe to one of those two views and am dumbfounded by the other.  But he’s right there is the other take, however jawdropping.  How to penetrate and disassemble that other narrative: there’s the problem.

The whole piece is worth reading.

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Fear and Loathing in Manchester

This morning I’m taking in the news from Manchester, U.K.

A day after Trump speaking in Sunni Saudi Arabia laid the responsibility for terror largely on Iran and Shia Islam, a bomb attack kills 22 and injures 59 — or at least that’s the toll being reported now.  And the perpetrators? ISIS has claimed responsibility, and thus this terror likely has radical Sunni culpability.  For a useful corrective on the Trump speech, I recommend Juan Cole (University of Michigan),  Trump on Islam: Neo-Orientalism and anti-Shi’ism.

We need to hit the reset button on our approach to this cycle of violence whose hub is in the terrain we call the Middle East.  Donald Trump has made it plain that he would have us see that we can separate the world into evil people and therefore also good people: this Manichaean framing can be trusted only to make matters worse.  Trump would have us pass over terror by those who identify as Sunnis, terror by those who identify as Christians, terror by Israel.  Blaming one side in the conflict will only stoke the fires.

So what can we do in the meanwhile? For one thing, we can press for continuing normalization of relations with Iran, especially in the aftermath of Hassan Rouhani’s electoral victory.  For another we can oppose selling arms to Saudi Arabia.

We can also resist the temptation of fear.

I find myself thinking of the Bene Gesserit litany from Frank Herbert’s Dune:

I must not fear.

Fear is the mind-killer.

Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.

I will face my fear.

I will permit it to pass over me and through me.

And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.

Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.

The bombers in Manchester were looking to instill fear.  To the degree we react with fear, we give the bombers what they want.  Our media magnify this.  The coverage of events like the Manchester bombing can easily lead you to believe that terrorist acts are the most significant threat an ordinary person faces in the course of ordinary days.

‘Terrorism Is Aimed at the People Watching,’ writes Conor Friedersdorf today in The Atlantic.  As horrible as the harm to those killed and injured, we need to take care not to cause further damage by letting the violence spread through our own fear.  (“I will permit it to pass over me and through me.”)  Friedersdorf calls attention to the media exaggeration of terror deaths.  He particularly calls attention to analysis from Pricenomics about How Media Fuels Our Fear of Terrorism, which includes this striking graphic:  Screen Shot 2017-05-23 at 9.34.45 AM


Mourn for the dead, pray for the wounded, but do not be consumed by fear.

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What Do Pence and Other Evangelicals See in Trump?

At Notre Dame University today, Vice President Mike Pence told graduates to be “men and women of integrity and values.”  The headlines around this commencement speech are all about the protest (150 students, parents and faculty members walked out), but I am more interested in understanding what Pence thinks — how he makes sense of the world, of the President with whom he serves, and of the values that guide his life.

The question is especially on my mind because this was Pence’s second commencement speech this weekend.  Yesterday he spoke at Grove City College where he told graduates that whatever their choice of vocation, “the same call of leadership falls on each of your shoulders.”  Then he lifted up Donald Trump as an exemplar.  So there is the puzzle.  If integrity matters, how can he serve and admire Trump (ahead of even Ronald Reagan in his admiration) when Trump frequently lies, cheats and demeans others?

Pence’s remarks at Grove City about leadership are worth quoting at length:

First, to be leaders you must inspire those around you by being salt and light in every walk of life. Remember now, people follow people they respect. So first and foremost you must aspire to be men and women of character.

Secondly, servant leadership, not selfish ambition must be the animating force of the career that lies before you. For it’s written, whoever would be first of all, must be servant of all. Your education these past four years has prepared you to lead. You hold within you all that you need to leave this place and succeed. All you need to add to it is courage.

C.S. Lewis said memorably that courage was not one of the virtues, it was actually a form of every virtue at the testing point. If you aspire to lead, you’ll need courage because leadership brings both honor and opposition.

Anyone who dreams big will encounter those who think small. Anyone who dares to step forward will find those who’d rather they stayed put. And anyone who thinks they can will always hear from those who are sure they can’t.

You know, you need look no further than a friend of mine as an example of leadership and perseverance: The 45th President of the United States of America, President Donald Trump.

Can Pence seriously mean this?

For argument’s sake I’ll grant Pence his claim that Trump has perseverance.  But “character?” “Servant leadership?” “Integrity?”  I just don’t see how that case can be made.  What value touted by evangelical Christians has Trump not mocked with his life? Truthfulness? Fidelity? Generosity? Trustworthiness? How can Trump be an exemplar, a leader to follow, for Pence or any evangelical?

Thinking about that question, I’m reminded of Emma Green’s recent piece in The Atlantic on Franklin Graham Is the Evangelical Id.  Graham, a prominent evangelical, is the son of Billy Graham and today leads both the evangelical organization his father founded and the international relief charity Samaritan’s Purse.  Green notes that Graham is both determined to be apolitical but also is frequently immersed in politics.  “Graham takes comfort in Trump’s election,” she says.  Here’s what Graham tells her about why:

“[Trump] did everything wrong, politically,” Graham told me. “He offended gays. He offended women. He offended the military. He offended black people. He offended the Hispanic people. He offended everybody! And he became president of the United States. Only God could do that.” Now, he said, there’s “no question” that God is supporting Trump, Graham said. “No president in my lifetime—I’m 64 years old—can I remember … speaking about God as much as Donald Trump does.”

Is this the answer for Pence as well as for Graham?  That it doesn’t matter what Trump has done in the past or even how he lives his life today?  That he is God’s chosen person, and therefore he is the one we must follow and exhort others to follow?

Or is there some other possibility?

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What Is the Crisis? Next Steps and Acceptable Resolutions

Now that the Russian Connections investigation is in the hands of Robert Mueller as Special Counsel, we should be thinking about where this might lead, and, insofar as there are choices, where we hope it leads.

As any number of commentators have noted, Mueller’s appointment means that we are unlikely to learn much of anything from the various governmental investigations for months, maybe even years.  (For example: Michelle Cottle in The Atlantic, and Andrew Kent in Lawfare.) On the one hand, Mueller will be circumspect about any release of information until his investigation comes to a conclusion, and on the other, Republican leaders controlling the House and Senate committee investigations will say the matter is now in the hands of the Special Counsel.

Mueller’s focus is likely to be on whether any laws were broken, but his actual scope of concern may, by virtue of Rosenstein’s letter appointing him, be broader than that. We just don’t know, and are unlikely to know for some time.  Nevertheless, there are things we can do and things we can think about.

Next steps.  While Mueller’s investigation is in progress, here are three next steps we should be taking.

  1. Because his focus may be on the narrow question of whether any laws were broken, we should continue to press the various Congressional committees to continue their work.  We need to know whether there was improper (whether legal or not) foreign/Russian involvement in this election, and whether anyone connected with the Trump campaign or the Republican Party encouraged or abetted that involvement.  These are proper, essential matters for the Congress to consider.
  2. We need to continue to press for the release of Trump’s tax returns.  The public has a right to know; they should have been released well before the election.  Mueller may seek them, but if he does, he may never release them.  This question needs to be pressed every day.
  3. So far, Mike Pence is getting a pass. He is out of focus, and in the bushes.  We need to press to know what Pence knew and what role he played in the election and the transition.  Is he implicated as well?  As CNN has pointedly asked, Did Pence know Flynn was under federal investigation two weeks before Flynn’s appointment as National Security Advisor? The New York Times has reported that Flynn told the transition team he was under investigation two weeks before the inauguration, and Pence led the transition team.  How could Pence not know?  All this puts a new color on the story that Flynn lied to Pence and that this was what triggered Flynn’s dismissal.

Good investigative journalism (independent, fair and factual) is going to continue to be essential.

Acceptable Resolutions.  (a) Trump toughs it out, (b) Trump resigns, (c) Trump is impeached. That is a short list of possible upshots of this crisis.  Which would we prefer?  A Quick End Would Be Better, writes E. J. Dionne in the Washington Post, but he goes on to discuss a paradox: Democrats want Trump out sooner, but would be better served if he hung around to embarrass the Republicans in 2018 and perhaps 2020; Republicans are not so eager to show him the door, but would be better served in the next elections by a quick exit.  Many who never wanted Trump in the first place are beginning to consider the difficulties of life under a President Pence, assuming he would survive a resignation or impeachment.  We’d likely see a reinvigorated hard right agenda shared between the President and the Republican majorities in the Congress.  So what do we want?  Today I believe we should work for one of two outcomes.

  1. Trump stays, but with a crippled agenda.  I believe Dionne is correct.  Even with the risks of a narcissistic impulsive President, we’d be better off with Trump than with Pence, though we would have to work to see that none of the Republican agenda moves forward: not on health care, not on taxes, not on the environment, not on education.  Were Trump to try to resolve such a stalemate through a resignation, we should continue to press to know what Pence knew and what he actions he took during the election and transition.
  2. If Trump is to be impeached, let Republicans take the lead.  Trump is a Republican-made crisis through and through.  Republican words and deeds during the Obama years paved the way for Trump, Trump prospered in the primaries against their ragtag band of candidates, their voters stuck by him in the election, and through the first three months Republican leaders in the Congress have stood steadfastly by Trump.  (Think what little we have heard from Ryan or McConnell about this crisis.)  If Republicans want him gone, let them do the heavy lifting.  Let them explain why he needs to be impeached.  Don’t ask the Democrats, with a few Republicans, to clean up this mess.

Trump needs to be hung around Republican necks while he is in office, through his departure, and during the clean-up.

While we press for the full truth on the Russia connection and for the release of Trump’s tax returns,

  • we need to continue to call attention to Trump’s lies, misdeeds and mistakes, and, at least as important,
  • we need to say more clearly what we stand for.  What agenda are we prepared to move once he is gone?
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What Is the Crisis? the Unitary Executive Heresy

In yesterday’s New York Times, John Yoo argued Forget Watergate; Think Iran-Contra.

In it, Yoo argues that “Unlike in the Watergate case, there is no evidence that the president ordered witnesses to lie, destroyed evidence or tried to block F.B.I. agents from doing their job. At least, no evidence yet.”  Thus, in his view, the President is unlikely to be found guilty of obstruction of justice,  and then he adds “… not just for lack of facts, but on constitutional grounds as well.”

It’s the constitutional grounds Yoo sketches that draw my attention here in part because — as even Yoo acknowledges — we don’t yet know the facts about whether there is a legal/criminal case to be made against Trump in the Comey matter.  But I think Yoo is wrong about the constitutional situation and he tries to slip by us a mistaken understanding of the Constitution.

First, let’s remember who John Yoo is.  The NYT op-ed identifies him thus: “John Yoo, a deputy assistant attorney general from 2001 to 2003, is a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.” His wikipedia biography adds this: “He is best known for his opinions concerning the Geneva Conventions that attempted to legitimize the War on Terror by the United States. He also authored the so-called Torture Memos, which concerned the use of what the Central Intelligence Agency called enhanced interrogation techniques including waterboarding.”

Although he is a very intelligent person, Yoo’s defense of torture makes me wary of anything he says.  He is also just one among many conservatives who assert the constitutional claim of the ‘unitary executive,’ and I believe it is important we not get suckered into accepting this view while we sort out the facts of the obstruction of justice matter.  Here’s what Yoo says:

Article II of the Constitution gives the president the duty to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed.” With this clause, the framers vested in the president the authority to oversee all federal law enforcement. As Alexander Hamilton observed in Federalist 70, “good government” requires “energy in the executive,” and a vigorous president must ensure “the steady administration of the laws.” According to this original constitutional design, President Trump may order the end of any investigation, even one into his own White House.

Whatever Trump may or may not have done, Yoo is saying, neither the FBI nor any other organization within the executive branch of the federal government can (should?) be used to build a case against him, because legally and properly (constitutionally) he can shut down such an investigation at will.  “Instead, Congress should turn to the powers designed by the framers for exactly such circumstances: the tools of funding, oversight and, as a last resort, impeachment.” It’s up to the Congress, not the FBI.

Put another way, Yoo is saying that the President in his activities as President is beyond the reach of law enforcement because he is the boss of everyone, no exceptions.  It isn’t really true, Yoo is saying, that “no president is beyond the reach of the law.”

Most of the argument about the unitary executive has played out over matters of the president’s power over foreign (especially) and domestic policy.  Here’s an overview of the issue from the Los Angeles Times in 2008.  Here’s another from The Atlantic in 2011. In 2007, Cass Sunstein wrote the following on the University of Chicago Law School Faculty blog:

Gerhard Casper, for example, has vigorously argued that the Constitution gives Congress broad authority to structure the executive branch, by insulating law implementation from complete presidential control. Others, including Steve Calabresi, have vigorously disagreed, contending that the document and its history clearly forbid Congress from intruding on the president’s authority to run the executive branch.

In essence, those who hold to this theory, hold that Congress cannot create in law any provision that gives true independence to any organization within the executive branch of the government.  Thus, no one in the Justice Department can appoint a special counsel who has the ability or independence to fully pursue the matter of the 2016 election Russian connection wherever it leads.

If you read Yoo’s op-ed, you’ll see he offers as support for the doctrine of the unitary executive only a single sentence from Article II of the Constitution and some snippets from Alexander Hamilton’s contributions to The Federalist.  Hamilton was the member of the constitutional convention most supportive of a strong executive.  He left the proceedings for several weeks when he didn’t get his way, returning only to sign the finished document.  The use Yoo makes of Hamilton’s remarks are strongly antithetical to the spirit of the U.S. Constitution, which everywhere seeks to divide and separate power to prevent tyrannical domination by any person or group.  The ‘unitary executive’ is a pernicious doctrine that seeks to make the Constitution say what Hamilton was unable to have it say in 1787.

I want to be clear: I do not think that obstruction of justice is at the heart of this crisis.  The crisis has much more to do with the general unfitness of Trump to be President, with a number of reckless, nation-threatening steps he has taken or tried to take, and with the continuing support of the man on the part of Republican party leaders in the face of this unfitness and various reckless actions.  I believe the proper remedies are more likely to be political than legal.

I agree with Yoo when he notes that impeachment does not require a showing of criminal behavior:

Contrary to common wisdom, impeachment does not require the president to commit a crime but instead refers to significant political mistakes or even incompetence. This was the framers’ intent — as Hamilton explained in Federalist 65, impeachment was to tackle “the misconduct of public men” or “the abuse or violation of some public trust.” Such offenses, he wrote, “are of a nature which may with peculiar propriety be denominated political, as they relate chiefly to injuries done immediately to the society itself.”

Nevertheless, with Thomas Friedman, I am inclined to think impeachment is unlikely given the Republican leadership’s perfidy in backing Trump.  “This G.O.P. is not going to impeach him; forget that fantasy. Either Democrats get a lever of power, or we’re stuck emailing each other “S.N.L.” skits.”  Rather, we have to look to the 2018 and 2020 elections, hoping no disaster befalls the republic before those elections.

Meanwhile let’s not swallow the unitary executive claim of Yoo, Calabresi and others that the president is, essentially, above the law.

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