Trump is purging those ‘insufficiently loyal’ just when America needs competence more than anything

At a time when the United States is facing an international crisis that demands cooperation, coordination, and above all the best possible information, Donald Trump is continuing to gut America’s intelligence agencies of experience and skill. Since his impeachment, Trump has accelerated his purge of the judiciary and intelligence to sweep them clear of anyone who isn’t found sufficiently loyal to Trump, meaning willing to ignore the truth and dismiss national interest to support Trump’s personal goals.

Replacing the acting director of national intelligence with Richard Grenell—a man whose entire skill set consists of joining Trump to tweet his disdain for allied nations and democratic leaders while praising authoritarian dictators and encouraging racism—is far from the final step. Trump is determined to make the intelligence services his personal tool, and if that means destroying their value to the nation … he’s more than okay with that.

According to Politico, Grenell is only the start, as Trump “tightens his grip” on the intelligence community. The idea that a phrase like “purge of career officials and political appointees deemed insufficiently loyal” is now used not as a dig, but as a factual description of exactly what is happening in the U.S. government, should be shocking.

Before his election, and even after it, many pundits looked on the way Trump was insulting the FBI, the CIA, and other agencies and confidently smirked that he was making very dangerous enemies. “You don’t want to pick a fight with those guys,” was an oft-repeated refrain. After all, the intelligence community has the intelligence, along with the tools to gather more. They know where all the skeletons are buried.

What no one seems to have accounted for is that the intelligence community could come forth with armloads of moldy bones and dump them on the table of a Justice Department that was actively engaged in a cover-up on behalf of Trump. And behind them was a Republican Senate that had already abandoned every principle except support of Trump. And behind them was a MAGA crowd that genuinely liked the idea that its champion bully-boy could tell law enforcement where to stick it.

And so he is. Acting director of national intelligence Joseph Magquire was fired because someone two tiers down the totem pole dared to give the House Intelligence Committee an accurate briefing on election interference. Republicans protested, because accurate information is so 2016. Someone in intelligence hadn’t gotten the word that everyone from the EPA to the Treasury Department was only there to provide information that boosted Trump, whether it was real or not. Now Maguire is out, and everyone else has definitely gotten the message.

As he has against the media, Trump has waged a constant war against the intelligence community, demeaning their value, diminishing their credibility, and insulting their … well, intelligence, even when he was theoretically responsible for their work. The Republican vote in the Senate to dismiss clear charges of abuse and obstruction against Trump in his impeachment trial was the final signal  that anything the intelligence communities might surface against Trump from now until doomsday would have all the impact of hurling feathers against a stone. For Trump and his supporters, the idea that the intelligence community is a threat is laughable … because that assumes that facts matter. They clearly don’t.

Trump’s intelligence community remake isn’t an effort to prevent the agencies from surfacing any information that might be inconvenient to Trump. That threat is over. Instead, the purpose of Trump’s remake is to genuinely boost the agencies’ value—as weapons against Trump’s enemies.

Just as Attorney General William Barr is all-in on using the Justice Department to assist Trump’s friends and assault his political opponents, a revised intelligence community provides ample opportunity to turn what were conspiracy theories lurking at the end of Breitbart and Q-ville into charges that are levied by men in appropriately dark suits against those on the enemies list.

The cost to the nation is just scenes like acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf bumbling through a briefing on coronavirus in which Louisiana Republican Sen. John Kennedy kept showing that he knew the facts infinitely better than the supposed expert in charge of keeping the nation safe. Look back on that last sentence in wonder … and fear. Wolf wasn’t hired for his knowledge. He was hired for his demonstrated skill in lying, even when his lying was obvious.

Trump already has his Cheka. Now he needs his KGB. Only even the KGB had some respect for competence.

The intelligence community erupts as Trump purges everyone opposed to Russian election interference

Step One: The intelligence official in charge of election security delivers the required briefing at a closed-door session of the House Intelligence Committee and informs the members of that committee that a) Russia has already engaged in interfering with the 2020 election, b) it is trying to sow dissension among Democrats, and c) the ultimate goal is to support Trump. 

Step Two: Republicans on that committee rush to Donald Trump, not to warn him about Russian interference but to complain that Democrats know about the interference. Trump responds by hauling in the acting director of national intelligence, raking him over the coals, and replacing him with a man whose entire skill set consists of making hate-tweets and promoting Russia.

Step Three: Chaos. Only … not enough chaos.

On Friday morning, NBC News was one of several outlets reporting a “near meltdown” in the intelligence community after the news was released that acting direct of national intelligence Joseph Maguire was to be replaced by xenophobic hate-bomb specialist Richard Grenell. Much of what’s happening inside the ODNI hasn’t become public, but there has apparently been enough pushback that Trump has already announced that Grenell will be a short-term appointment until he picks someone else.

Then, on Thursday evening, Trump offered the role to Doug Collins—an offer that still seems to be open. But Collins has already declared that he doesn’t want the job, because he’s still intent on running for a Senate slot in Georgia, a task that’s been complicated by Trump’s praise for the recently appointed Georgia Sen. Kelly Loeffler. 

As of Friday morning, Trump has announced that he will be appointing someone other than Grenell, but who that someone will be is still up in the air. In the meantime, the intelligence community has joined the Judiciary Community at full boil. It’s become absolutely clear that Trump is purging intelligence officials whose only crime is that they provided accurate intelligence to a committee that is not just cleared, but required to receive that information.

When word came that Maguire was being swapped out for Grenell, the initial reaction was a mixture of two parts disgust and one part puzzlement. Grenell has absolutely no experience in intelligence, and he’s never run so much as a shoe store. What he has done in his short time as U.S. ambassador to Germany is offend American allies and widen the fractures in the NATO alliance as he praised neo-fascist leaders, attacked his host country for admitting refugees, and defended Russian leader Vladimir Putin. But of course, Republican leaders in Congress rushed to applaud this appointment, even as everyone else scratched their heads.

It didn’t take long before the reasons behind the intelligence makeover became clear. At a closed-door briefing for the House Intelligence Committee last Thursday, intelligence official Shelby Pierson provided a required update on what the intelligence community knew about the security of the 2020 election. Pierson revealed that Russia was already actively engaged in interfering in the upcoming election, and that it was interfering for the purpose of supporting Donald Trump.

Republicans present at that meeting—who included Devin Nunes, Mike Conaway, and John Ratcliffe—rushed to the White House in concern. But they were not concerned about the Russian interference. They were concerned that Democrats knew about the interference. Trump shared that concern and seemed to be convinced that Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff had been given some special information, though there seems to be no indication that this is true.

Trump then called in acting DNI Joseph Maguire and reamed him out for allowing Pierson to give a long-scheduled and congressionally mandated briefing. Even though Maguire had been instrumental in trying to block the intelligence community whistleblower report that started off the impeachment investigation of Trump from ever seeing the light of day, that little favor did not seem to cool Trump’s fire. At the end of the day, he canned Maguire and went looking for someone who would be loyal to Trump rather than to the nation.

What’s happening at both the Department of Justice and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence at this moment is a last stand by those who have some concern other than protecting Trump’s political interests. What’s most frightening is just how small that group of fighters appears to be.

Russia is interfering in the 2020 election, and Republicans are moving to protect … the interference

The story has come out in pieces over the last two days, but those pieces are slotting into place with sickening clarity: Last week, a member of the intelligence community testified before the House Intelligence Committee that Russia is interfering in the 2020 election to support Donald Trump. Republican representatives rushed to the White House in concern, not about the interference, but about the fact that Democrats knew about it. And Trump then responded by  purging the intelligence community of anyone who was trying to combat the interference.

The result is that not only is Russia known to be interfering in support of Trump, but Republicans are openly acting to support that interference. And the intelligence community is being flipped from an instrument meant to protect the nation into one that exists entirely to support Trump.

Hundreds of times, maybe thousands, Republicans, and even some Democrats, have sounded the same refrain when Trump removed some adviser, ambassador, official, U. S. attorney, or general. “Donald Trump deserves someone he can trust as his ...“ … whatever. In fact, Donald Trump Jr. made exactly that statement about incoming director of national intelligence Richard Grenell on Wednesday evening, after Trump had exiled the current acting DNI, Joseph Maguire, for the crime of telling Congress what it is legally required to know.

That formula, the one that starts with “Trump deserves …,” is a recipe for disaster. And that disaster has already arrived.

Within weeks of occupying the White House, Trump put those people he “deserved” in charge of the EPA and the Interior Department, in charge of Energy and ICE. Trump got exactly what he needed to please the crowds at his rallies. The nation got national monuments destroyed, public lands given away, and environmental protections slashed. It also got parents being taken away in front of their kids, an ugly and useless wall being erected along the border, the destruction of the immigration policies that have defined America, and children in cages. That is what it means when Trump gets what he “deserves” and America doesn’t.

It took Trump longer to overcome the judiciary. From the moment he sat down in the Oval Office, the justice system has been a thorn in his side. Whether it was judges ruling against his travel ban, U.S. attorneys stubbornly continuing to investigate crimes committed by Trump’s company and friends, or even Trump loyalist Jeff Sessions stepping aside from the Russia investigation, the whole judiciary seemed to represent a limit on his authority. Then Trump got the attorney general he deserved. And the hundreds of new federal judges he deserved. And America got laws that protected Trump from charges, or investigation, or even mention in any criminal affair. 

There should have been a roadblock at the legislature, but despite all the efforts made in the House, the narrow Republican majority in the Senate had already made it abundantly clear that it was the Senate he deserves. Trump got a big tax cut—not just for “billionaires” in the abstract, but a huge reward for himself of tens, if not hundreds of millions of dollars. Trump got the judges he deserves, the Cabinet officers he deserves, the support for bombing and murder that he deserves, the voter suppression he deserves. And of course he got the impeachment trial strangled in its crib, just as he deserves.

Fresh off that endorsement of everything he deserves, Trump launched into full-on purge mode, clearing out the remaining members of every agency that thought they were there for something other than what Trump deserves. The State Department and the NSA, a second pass through the DOJ … giving Trump what he deserves.

Now he’s got what he deserves. He’s got an attorney general willing to set aside the law for Trump. He’s got a Republican Congress that is protecting him even if that means openly acting against the nation. He’s got an incoming DNI who knows nothing about intelligence … but knows that he is exactly what Trump deserves.

One more visit with Masha Gessen:

Rule #3: Institutions will not save you. It took Putin a year to take over the Russian media and four years to dismantle its electoral system; the judiciary collapsed unnoticed. The capture of institutions in Turkey has been carried out even faster, by a man once celebrated as the democrat to lead Turkey into the EU. Poland has in less than a year undone half of a quarter century’s accomplishments in building a constitutional democracy.

Of course, the United States has much stronger institutions than Germany did in the 1930s, or Russia does today. Both Clinton and Obama in their speeches stressed the importance and strength of these institutions. The problem, however, is that many of these institutions are enshrined in political culture rather than in law, and all of them—including the ones enshrined in law—depend on the good faith of all actors to fulfill their purpose and uphold the Constitution.

Elections are also an institution. Their free and fair execution is just as dependent on the “good faith of all actors,” and not on Donald Trump getting what he “deserves.”

Trump replaced intelligence director after election security briefing caused Republican panic

By any measure, outgoing acting director of national intelligence Joseph Maguire did Donald Trump a huge favor. Confronted by a report from the intelligence community inspector general that a whistleblower had raised an urgent concern, according to regulations, Maguire had no choice but to take that information to Congress. He didn’t. Instead, Maguire took the whistleblower report to the White House and the Department of Justice, where he was promptly told that it was of no concern, please stay quiet, that’s all, thank you. 

But despite his contribution to burying the issue that led to Trump’s impeachment, Maguire isn’t going to get the chance to remove the “acting” from his title and be nominated for the post of DNI. Instead, he’s getting ready to head out the door, and will be replaced by the worst, least qualified, and most poorly suited candidate imaginable. And it seems that Maguire was on track to be the new DNI until only a week ago, when a single briefing turned the intelligence community upside down.

The whole decision to replace Maguire with the spectacularly awful and in no way qualified Richard Grenell seems to be based on something that’s just as bad as the incoming DNI … but also strangely interesting.

According to The Washington Post, everything pivoted around a classified briefing given to the House Intelligence Committee last Thursday. A briefing on the topic of election security. Specifically, the subject of the meeting was “election security and foreign interference in the run-up to the 2020 election.” The meeting was not exclusive to Democrats. Unlike some recent hearings where Republicans have put on a show of being absent, they were in the room for this closed-door briefing—including Devin Nunes. 

At that briefing, intelligence official Shelby Pierson said … something. Something that made Republicans on the committee run back to report to Trump. Whatever that something was, it apparently made Trump hugely angry that this information had reached House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, because, according to the Post, “the information would be helpful to Democrats if it were released publicly, the people familiar with the matter said.”

Trump was so angry that he dragged in Maguire and confronted him over what Pierson had said. After that, Trump dismissed Maguire, replacing him as acting DNI with belligerent neo-fascist Grenell. Even though Trump has been busy cleaning house of officials in the NSA, DOJ, Pentagon, and State Department that don’t have Trump’s logo tattooed on their foreheads, Maguire was definitely on the inside of Trump’s circle … until that briefing. 

To recap: An intelligence official gave a briefing on threats to election security and of foreign interference going into the 2020 election. Whatever was in that briefing, it frightened Republicans enough that they ran to tell Trump that Democrats had seen it. The information is considered so “damaging” if it were to reach the public that Trump replaced the DNI with a far-right troll who has no experience in or connections to intelligence, and whose specialty is attacking opponents while defending neo-fascist leaders around the world.

Let the speculation begin.

Undersecretary of Defense is out as purge of those who pushed back on Trump’s Ukraine plot continues

Multiple sources are reporting that Undersecretary of Defense John Rood has been asked to submit his resignation. CNN says that Rood has “lost support among senior national security leadership,” but there may be a simpler reason for the undersecretary’s departure: Rood was the person who signed off on the Defense Department’s examination of corruption in Ukraine. That review said that Ukraine had met all the goals set forward in legislation to combat corruption and promote democracy and was eligible to receive military funding allocated to it by Congress.

Throughout the impeachment hearings, members of the Defense Department, such as Laura Cooper, testified that investigations of Ukraine had found no reason to withhold military assistance funding. Subsequent letters revealed by filings under the Freedom of Information Act have made it clear that when Donald Trump’s demand to freeze the aid was passed to the Pentagon by officials in the Office of Management and Budget, those officials knew they were breaking the law. And now Rood is the next one to pay the price for being honest when Trump is in charge.

Rood made another mistake when it comes to hanging around Washington in the Age of Trump. Shortly after Trump’s “perfect” call to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Rood emailed his boss, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, to inform him that "placing a hold on security assistance at this time would jeopardize this unique window of opportunity and undermine our defense priorities with a key partner in the strategic competition with Russia."

Rood also made Esper aware that a group of Pentagon officials were meeting to figure out how they could deal with Trump’s demands.

So Rood both:

Validated that Ukraine had met the required commitments to fighting corruption and supporting democracy that were the only test included in the legislation authorizing the military assistance. Made it clear that placing a hold on the assistance was a threat to the national security of both Ukraine and the United States.

That’s not the kind of truth-telling that’s allowed in either the White House or the Pentagon under Trump. During the impeachment proceedings, Republicans in the House and the Senate repeatedly maintained that Trump had the right to place a hold on the assistance for any reason. He doesn’t. And they claimed that the hold did not represent a threat to Ukrainian security. It did.

The purge of Rood from the Pentagon shows that the general housecleaning of anyone who dared to speak the truth during Trump’s impeachment is far from over. 

Barr isn’t about to quit, he’s not trying to stop Trump, and he’s not concerned about justice

Attorney General William Barr has been going public this week, expressing his frustration with Donald Trump. Barr is so upset about Trump placing his stubby vulgarian fingers on the scales of justice that he worries that he can’t do his job. He has even thought about quitting.

Don’t you believe it. The manual of the Justice Department says, “The legal judgments of the Department of Justice must be impartial and insulated from political influence. It is imperative that the Department’s investigatory and prosecutorial powers be exercised free from partisan consideration.” But Barr doesn’t believe any of that. He’s not leaving. And he’s not going to stop turning the Department of Justice into a blunt instrument in Trump’s undersized hands.

On Tuesday, The Washington Post reported that Barr had considered resigning in response to Trump’s never-ending tweets about federal judges, prosecutors, and jurors. But on Tuesday night, Barr’s spokesperson made it clear that he wasn’t going anywhere. And no matter how many times the Post quoted “people close” to Trump or Barr about the White House friction over Trump’s Twitter habit, this definitely seems like a moment when it makes more sense to believe what Barr’s spokesperson is saying rather than the media accounts.

The idea that the Department of Justice is supposed to be apolitical and insulated from political decisions isn’t hidden away or just a matter of obscure tradition. That’s the first paragraph of the manual that every member of the department is required to read. That’s what the DOJ is supposed to be—impartial, insulated, free to seek genuine justice rather than be influenced by politics.

All of that is exactly the opposite of what Barr has done from the very moment the Senate blessed his return to the attorney general position. Barr has made it clear, in both words and deeds, that he sees the DOJ as a wholly owned subsidiary of Trumpism, Inc. And he’s not about to back away from using his powers to blunt a blade that cuts deep against Trump’s political opponents.

Since moving his stuff back into the Department of Justice, Barr has:

Butchered the Mueller report, creating a false narrative especially designed to replace the actual results in the media spotlight with claims that Trump had been exonerated. To do this, Barr rewrote the conclusion on collaboration with Russia to disguise more than 100 points of active contact. But Barr’s action on the second half of the report was even more amazing: He took 10 instances of clear obstruction of justice and simply declared them okay, based on nothing more than his own opinion.  Extended the idea that Trump cannot be charged with a crime while in office—an already controversial ruling—to the even more astounding claim that Trump cannot be named in a criminal proceeding or even considered as part of a criminal investigation.  Attempted to hide the intelligence community whistleblower report by issuing a ruling that what the inspector general had determined was a critical issue was not critical at all. Attorneys working for Barr made an unprecedented decision that the whistleblower report did not have to be shared with Congress, despite clear law that said otherwise. That this decision failed to hold was entirely because the inspector general refused to be silent. Pretended during the impeachment proceedings that he was uninvolved in the Ukraine plot, even though he was clearly named by Trump as a conduit between the White House and Ukrainian officials. By refusing to testify before the House, Barr hid any actions he or the DOJ may have taken at Trump’s request … right up until the impeachment was over, when he announced an official pipeline between Trump’s personal attorney and the Department of Justice.  Created a special team lead by Connecticut U.S. Attorney John Durham to seek evidence for conspiracy theories voiced by Trump and Fox News. This has included attempting to get intelligence services in Australia, Italy, and the U.K. to provide information that could be used to attack the FBI and CIA. It has also included specifically seeking support for conspiracy theories meant to harm those Trump sees as enemies—from Hillary Clinton to James Comey to Andrew McCabe—despite a lack of genuine evidence. Created a second special team of hand-selected attorneys specifically to harass and undercut U.S. attorneys involved in cases that “interest Trump.” The latter have been subject to questioning about their loyalties and motives even as their cases have been put through additional review and second-guessed by Barr’s Trumpist hit squad. Directly interfered in the sentencing of Michael Flynn and Roger Stone by withdrawing sentencing suggestions and replacing them with much milder alternatives and by removing the U.S. attorney in charge of the Washington, D.C., office—an attorney who had been a member of Trump’s transition team and who was selected for that role by Trump personally—and replacing her with someone who would ignore career prosecutors and go along with Barr’s interference.

The Post story may claim that Barr “has his limits” when it comes to doing what Trump demands. If that’s so, those limits are yet to be tested. Because Barr is not a believer in a “unitary executive,” where all the departments of the executive branch are the responsibility of the president; he is a monarchist, who sees Trump as the owner of not just the Justice Department, but justice itself.

If he has limits, they won’t be found in the manual of the Department of Justice. Their basis might be found in actions of the Committee of Public Safety … or maybe not.

Trump’s attacks on judges and prosecutors aren’t the worst part of his threat to the judicial system

This week alone, Donald Trump has attacked career prosecutors because they refused to go along with a political decision to interfere in the sentencing of one of Trump’s advisers. Trump has also taken multiple swings at the federal judge involved in the case, including demanding a do-over for his pal Roger Stone after Stone was convicted on seven out of seven counts. But as bad as those attacks on the justice system may be, there’s one other thrust from Trump that may be the most deadly to anything resembling impartial justice: Trump has been attacking jurors.

Leveraging a statement from the jury foreman that they thought the U.S. attorneys involved in the case were “honorable,” Trump has made multiple assertions that the jury was biased against Stone from the start. Not only that, but he has tweeted attacks against the jury foreman by name, destroying the concept that a private citizen serving on a jury out of civic duty deserves to be shielded from political pressure and threats.

Trump’s attack on the jurors isn’t just a head-on assault on the American system of jurisprudence; it’s also a slam at the attorneys. Not the U.S. attorneys—Stone’s attorneys. After all, every one of the jurors survived questioning and challenges from Stone’s legal team to be seated. The transcript of the jury selection even shows Stone’s team learning that a juror had previously been a Democratic candidate for office and declaring themselves fine with it. Trump is creating a standard by which there’s no trial in America that could hold up. Or at least, no trial that Trump wants to see hold up.

And it’s not just Trump. Naturally, Fox News is all-in on the idea of attacking the privacy and assumed independence of jurors. Judge Andrew Napolitano has been all over this topic, insisting that the juror had an obligation to reveal information that very much was revealed during the jury selection. In fact, Stone’s attorneys were absolutely aware that some of the jurors had political positions opposed to Trump, with the transcript showing an attorney questioning one potential juror’s previous response, repeating, “Your answer was supported Hillary Clinton in 2016. Deeply opposed to everything Donald Trump stands for,” and the juror responding, “Yes.”

Stone’s attorney accepted that juror, along with others who said they had political positions opposed to Trump. There is no basis here for any retrial unless Stone wants to file an appeal on the grounds that his counsel was inadequate, which is a tough play, considering the essentially unlimited funds he had available to surround himself with a multimember team.

In many ways, Trump’s attack on the jurors resembles another campaign that he and his Republican allies just waged: the one against the intelligence community whistleblower whose information spurred the investigation that led to Trump’s impeachment. In that case, the whistleblower’s role was simply to bring information to the attention of authorities—no different than someone who called in on a tip line, or sent police anonymous information about a potential crime. The identity and motivations of the whistleblower mattered not one whit as soon as that role was performed. Not one piece of evidence came from the whistleblower. Not one action taken was based on testimony by the whistleblower.

But the IG whistleblower and Stone trial juror both represent something that Trump, and Fox, cannot stand: ordinary people trying to do the right thing, even in the face of pressure from the powerful. When that happens, Republicans spring into action. To attack. To threaten. To demean.

Because until people learn that they should just shut up around their betters, the world just can’t be the way that Trump and his allies demand.

John Bolton speaks in public at critical moment… to deliver a commercial for his unpublished book

For the first time since House managers asked that he be called as a witness in Donald Trump’s impeachment trial, a call that Senate Republicans immediately shut down, former national security adviser John Bolton has given a public interview. And the information produced in this appearance isn’t something that should be shocking to most Americans: John Bolton is a jackass.

Bolton’s appearance on Monday at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, was technically to be a discussion of threats to national security. But, as might be expected, most of the questions he was asked concerned Bolton’s time in the Trump White House and the issues that led to Donald Trump’s impeachment. Bolton was given multiple opportunities to speak about Trump’s actions involving Ukraine, or what he knew about the scheme against Joe Biden, or how Trump’s political hit squads smeared and removed the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch. And through it all, Bolton had one mustache-twirling response: Buy my book.

That Bolton’s manuscript continues to be held by the White House on claims that it includes highly classified information is itself news. And it’s an issue of genuine concern. Of all the mistakes that Bolton might make, mishandling classified information seems highly unlikely. That the pages have been parked somewhere in a White House sub-basement for this long without even a suggestion as to the exact objections to releasing it is a pretty good indicator that the holdup has nothing to do with Bolton inadvertently revealing something critical to national defense, and everything to do with his being critical of Trump. On that point, what’s happening with Bolton demands not just sympathy, but also attention and demands for more information.

As CNN reports, Bolton talked repeatedly about the "censorship" being applied to his book, about his desire to get events and statements before the public, and about concerns that history be accurately recorded.

That’s all fine. But it’s the way Bolton responded to any factual questions that went instantly beyond off-putting and straight into infuriating. The response to any attempt to solicit information from Bolton or to get him to confirm any item that came up in the House hearings or Senate trial of Trump was never anything more than some variation on “Wait for the book.” The evening was far more a promotion for a book no one can buy than it was a musing on national security.

The highlight in a frustrating list of frustrations may have come when Bolton was asked whether he considered Trump’s July 25 call to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky “perfect,” as Trump has so often called it. "You'll love Chapter 14," said Bolton. It went that way throughout the evening.

Bolton did make broad statements on some topics, such as when he said that he saw from the beginning that Trump’s policies toward North Korea were going to fail. On his signature issue of Iran, Bolton predictably felt that Trump had not applied enough “pressure.” He didn’t quite shout, “Bomb, bomb, bomb” … he only implied it.

But much of the interview devolved into an ouroboros that went from how terrible it was that Bolton’s book was being held to how much he wanted everyone to have access to that sweet, sweet history that’s … in the book. Of course, that history was also in Bolton’s head, and he could have relayed the critical issues to the American public at any moment by just opening his mustache prop and explaining what he knew. Only then, who would buy the book?

Meanwhile, Donald Trump has the ability not just to declassify anything he wants, but also to slap a top-secret classification on anything, up to and including the contents of his taco salad. Whether or not Bolton’s book ever appears, or appears only after adjustments to explain that Trump is the bestest, smartest, handsomest scratch-golfing genius ever, remains an open question. 

Bolton has another interview to give on his tour to promote a book that might never come out. Don’t count on it being any more informative.

Trump brags that he’s all about getting revenge on those who failed to ‘kill the king’

Every day of the Senate trial, Adam Schiff made the cases that Donald Trump is not a king. He’s not free to use the weaponry of the state as his personal tool, and not exempt from the consequences of his actions. He’s a citizen, constrained by law like the rest of us.

But of course, Republicans disagreed. And on Saturday morning Donald Trump made it clear that not only does he consider himself a king, he intends to make the remainder of his rule all about “grievance, persecution and resentment.”

Trump based his morning tweets on a two-week old article from The New York Times which looked at Trump’s post-impeachment actions. Susan Collins may have claimed that Trump was going to be chastened by the hearings, impeachment,  and trial.

And Trump has made it clear that he did learn something from the whole process. He learned that he can get away with anything — absolutely anything — without being concerned that Republicans will hold him accountable.

Following the impeachment, Trump has fired those who testified against him like Lt. Col. Vindman and Gordon Sondland. He’s taken petty vengeance on people like Vindman’s twin bother for having the bad taste of being related to someone on Trump’s enemies list. He’s held a White House session of self-congratulation in which he pointedly left out even most of the Republicans who voted to acquit over their failure to be sufficiently loyal. He’s continued hollowing out agencies across the government. He made it clear that he did send Giuliani to Ukraine to mine for political turds, and he told Geraldo Rivera that the way he will deal with phone calls to foreign leaders in the future is by conducting them in secret with no one listening in.

In one sense Trump’s mentality post-impeachment is that of the bunker. He’s been even more suspicious, more dismissive of the idea that anyone else has an opinion worth listening to, more determined to surround himself with a handful of only the most loyal, most protective staff (Welcome back, Hope Hicks!).

But if Trump is suspicious and angry down there in the gold bunker, he’s also feeling like he now has the space to revenge himself on anyone and everyone. And, of course, he’s ramped up his use of the Justice Department—and primary tool William Barr—to protect his friends, punish his enemies, and defy the whole concept of rule of law.

Trump has not just drawn a hard connection between himself and the state, he used his morning tweets to select a quote from the Times article that was surely meant to be a criticism.

“Ralph Waldo Emerson seemed to foresee the lesson of the Senate Impeachment Trial of President Trump. ‘When you strike at the King, Emerson famously said, “you must kill him.’ Mr. Trump’s foes struck at him but did not take him down. A triumphant Mr.Trump emerges from the biggest test of his presidency emboldened, ready to claim exoneration, and take his case of grievance, persecution and resentment to the campaign trail.” 

Trump added a “witch hunt!” claim to this statement, making it clear that as he was reading this section, he was nodding along. King, yes, Persecution, certainly. Resentment, and how.

The series of revelations that spilled in the last three days showing that not only was Barr putting pillows in place to protect Trump’s associates from facing consequences of their crimes, but building a whole team designed to second-guess and undermine veteran prosecutors shows how far down the fascism path Trump is already gone. Trump has already embraced “jokes” about naming himself president for life. Now he’s putting out tweets in which he’s the king.

And his rabble is applauding.

Trump is abusing a judge, intimidating jurors, and attacking prosecutors to destroy justice

In defending his convicted co-conspirator Roger Stone, Donald Trump has attacked the investigators, the prosecutors, and the judge in Stone’s federal case. On Thursday morning, with encouragement from Fox News, he moved on to attacking members of the jury. Trump has continued to show that there is no line he will not cross, because there are no lines. In the wake of his acquittal in the impeachment trial against him by the Republican-dominated Senate, Trump is unbound. He’s not testing the limits of the law; he’s making it clear that he is the law.

At the same time, Attorney General William Barr has made it known that he is personally stepping in to manipulate how punishment is handed down in America: more for Trump’s enemies, less for Trump’s friends. 

Since 2016, there has been no article that has proven its worth more times than Masha Gessen’s “Autocracy: Rules for Survival.” And one paragraph in particular clearly illuminates the last few days:

Rule #3: Institutions will not save you. It took Putin a year to take over the Russian media and four years to dismantle its electoral system; the judiciary collapsed unnoticed.

Trump didn’t have to take over American media. Fox News came prepackaged before he even stepped onto the golden escalator. All Trump had to do was scream, “Fake news!” at every fact that squeezed onto a screen. The Republican Senate just upheld Trump’s right to disassemble the electoral system at his leisure. So now it’s time for collapsing that judiciary—and Trump isn’t even trying to do it without notice.

As The Washington Post reported on Wednesday, Trump has gone directly after U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson, the judge presiding over the case of Roger Stone. This isn’t the first time Trump has demonstrated his willingness to demean a federal judge: He hadn’t even been elected when he attacked U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel by claiming that his “Mexican heritage” made him biased in the Trump University case; and in 2018, Trump was so blatant in his attacks on District Court Judge Jon Tigar that even United States Chief Justice John Roberts objected. But Trump is targeting Jackson as part of what is clearly a campaign to create right-wing outrage. Trump has repeatedly hinted, and did again on Wednesday, that he will simply pardon Stone and Flynn when it comes down to it.

But pardoning them is not enough, not when he can use these cases to assault not just charges against Trump advisers who were caught and convicted for 2016 campaign activities, but the whole concept of impartial justice. Donald Trump isn’t hammering a judge who is being tough on a pal. He’s hammering apart the whole justice system.

On Thursday morning, Trump attacked the foreperson of Stone’s jury, saying that she had “significant bias.” What was the evidence of this bias? It was that the jurist—whom right-wing media outlets have, of course, named—made a Facebook post defending the four prosecutors who resigned after Barr stepped in to overturn their sentencing guidelines. The juror said that the prosecutors “acted with the utmost intelligence, integrity, and respect for our system of justice.” As with his demands that the intelligence community whistleblower in the Ukraine plot be outed and interrogated, Trump is putting the jury, judge, and prosecutors on trial for Stone’s conviction.

All of this is aside from the fact that, thanks to Mitch McConnell, Trump has appointed 192 federal judges. That includes 51 appeals court judges and 137 district court judges, in addition to two Supreme Court justices that put conservatives in the driver’s seat of national policy for untold years to come. What Trump is doing now isn’t destroying the judicial system, because that work is pretty much done. He’s now rubbing out faith in the judicial system.

That’s why it’s unlikely that Stone will get an immediate pardon. As long as Stone can cool his heels at home, Trump and company will use his case for those two all-important purposes: destroying the republic and fundraising. That’s why members of Trump’s campaign team have already set up a fund supposedly dedicated to paying for Stone’s appeal and are running ads to reach out to Trump supporters in Stone’s name. Stone will probably get his pardon … when Trump has milked his crimes for maximum damage. In the meantime, Trump will tell outright lies about Judge Jackson, such as the claim that she put Paul Manafort in solitary confinement. She didn’t.

But the level of assault that Trump and Barr are staging on the remainder of the judicial system at this point demonstrates vividly that this is an endgame for democracy. Republicans didn’t do anything about Trump’s extorting a U.S. ally to cheat in the 2020 election. They’re not doing anything now about his abusing a judge, intimidating a juror, and tilting the scale of justice to favor his friends. They’re not going to do anything.

Except, perhaps, think about how nice elections will be when only Trump-approved candidates are allowed on the ballot.