Trump investigating idea of ‘loyal electors’ who will vote for him, regardless of election results

There’s little doubt that Donald Trump is willing to do anything at all to hold onto power. He’s already proven that with the actions that ended with his impeachment, and expanded on that proof to a horrific degree when he purposely discarded a national testing plan for COVID-19 out of hopes that more people would die in Democratic states. When someone is ready to discard hundreds of thousands of people just on the chance it will bolster their odds, it’s hard to think there’s any lines that can’t be crossed in trying to keep his stubby hands on the reins.

To that end, Trump has already spent the first part of this year:

  • Tearing apart the Postal Service
  • Spreading lies about vote by mail
  • Testing the use of force to block protests
  • Fomenting violence in democratically led cities

To prepare against the day when the numbers show voters want him to leave their house.

But there’s one more step Trump is taking that’s designed to ensure he can’t lose. Like … really can’t lose. That step goes back to one of the least favorite parts of the system created by eighteenth century people unable to imagine a world in which electronic communication could tie the nation together in an instant: the Electoral College.

Like the Senate filibuster, the Electoral College is an institution that ensures a handful of people can control the fate of vast issues. Everyone recognizes that it’s undemocratic. Only those who absolutely depend on it—like Republicans who have lost the popular vote in six of the last seven elections—have anything nice to say about it. It was an overly complicated idea in 1788. It’s a ridiculous relic today.

Barton Gellman's latest article in The Atlantic is notable for the forthright discussion of how Trump is unlikely to be pried from the White House without, at the very least, a legal fight. One of the biggest reasons that the Republicans are hurrying to get a fresh Trump appointment into the Supreme Court—even if that means making the selection while Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is still lying in state at the Capitol—is precisely so that there will be a heavily Trump-friendly majority on the court when the lawsuits inevitably arrive on its doorsteps. After all, Republicans don’t want to take the chance John Roberts has a twinge of conscience. 

But in addition to laying the public groundwork by disparaging mailed-in votes and planting false stories of foreign nations seeding America with fake ballots, there’s another big step that the Trump campaign is making more quietly in the effort to prepare for a loss at the polls. After all, Trump doesn’t have to win at the polls to secure his spot in the White House—he already proved that in 2016.

However, 2016 swung on a very small number of votes in a few swing states. Right now, Trump is further behind in the polls than he ever was in that cycle, and he’s well behind in several states that he won last time around. But that may not be an issue.

The meeting of the Electoral College in December, and the count of those votes in January, immediately after Congress is seated, are supposed to be formalities. Sure, the college itself is a democracy-warping relic that gives way too much power to small numbers of people in specific states while disenfranchising tens of millions. But at least the process of executing the vote is more or less ceremonial. Except when it’s not. 

In 2000, with the vote in the Electoral College looming and many people urging him to fight on, Al Gore went before the nation to say “Tonight, for the sake of our unity as a people and the strength of our democracy, I offer my concession.” It is impossible to even imagine Trump making such a speech. If Trump refuses to concede, no matter what the outcome in the popular vote or the Electoral College, there is no real procedure in place for making him go. 

And there’s another threat: the electors themselves.

We are accustomed to choosing electors by popular vote, but nothing in the Constitution says it has to be that way. Article II provides that each state shall appoint electors “in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct.” Since the late 19th century, every state has ceded the decision to its voters. Even so, the Supreme Court affirmed in Bush v. Gore that a state “can take back the power to appoint electors.” How and when a state might do so has not been tested for well over a century.

Republican sources report that the Trump team is already conducting a low-level campaign to test their ability to seat electors who are “loyal” not in the sense that they vote according to the outcome of the election, but in the sense that they vote for Trump, no matter what.

Six of the most critical states—Arizona, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin—have both chambers of the state legislature controlled by Republicans. What happens if the voters of Florida or Pennsylvania give Biden a solid victory, but the legislatures of those states seat electors who all promise to vote for Trump? It would go to court, of course, but how would a newly appointed Trump justice rule on a case about “in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct?” The Supreme Court, the with Ruth Bader Ginsburg Court, recently ruled that states could pass laws prohibiting faithless electors. But it’s unclear if those laws would stand up to deliberate meddling by Trump-favoring legislatures. Some state officials are currently denying this effort, which means about as much as a denial from Trump.

As with every other contingency, the possibility of Trump exercising these anti-democracy measures drops with every percentage point of his defeat. Trump doesn’t just need to lose, he needs to lose so badly that everyone, top to bottom, gets the message. So badly, that everyone sees that opposing the will of the voters would not mean a protest, but a revolution. So badly that everyone will be buying new ten foot poles just to keep him at a distance.

Trump will try to cheat. If there is any possible means in which he can claim victory, even it means doing to the Constitution what Mitch McConnell has done to the Senate rules, he will go there. His rejection must be visceral and decisive, because anything else he will read as weakness.

Trump refusing to leave office is not a fantasy, because he’s doing everything to make it real

Our old friend the Fascism Watch hit midnight eight months ago as Senate Republicans affirmed that there was no crime for which they were willing to hold Donald Trump responsible. Despite Trump’s using his high office to extort a foreign nation into providing lies against a political opponent in exchange for desperately needed military aid, the Senate dismissed the idea of calling even a single witness. The disdain they demonstrated then is being repeated now as multiple senators not only reverse their previous “principled stand,” but declare that they will support Trump’s Supreme Court nominee before they even know the identity of that nominee.

In 2016, the idea that Trump might refuse to respect the outcome of the election was treated as a fringe position. In 2020, the idea that Trump might hold onto power no matter what the results at the polls is still being treated as something that isn’t worth consideration. But it demands to be taken seriously, not as a wild idea, but a possible—even probable—outcome.

The question now is not: “Would Donald Trump cheat to hold onto power?” Because that question has been asked and answered almost every day of the last four years. The question now is: “Why would Trump not cheat to maintain his grip on the nation?” And there may be no good answer.

Campaign Action

Four years ago, the Republican Party made a pretense of being against the racism, xenophobia, misogyny, and authoritarianism of Donald Trump. Then one by one, they bent the knee. They have made it clear that their loyalty lies not with principle or party, and certainly not with nation. They’ve laid their personal fealty with Trump and Trump alone. For them, there is no going back.

The same Republicans who gave Trump a pass on impeachment, the same Republicans who declared their willingness to trample their own statements in support of Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, the same Republicans whose control of the Senate is also on the cusp … have exactly zero interest in “doing the right thing.” Even before Trump, Sen. Mitch McConnell discovered that the Constitution was subject to a complete end-around run by anyone willing to put their morality and concern for the nation on a shelf. Not only do they have no incentive to prevent Trump from stealing the election, they have every incentive to help.

With the Senate in his pocket, Trump has been preparing his followers for the rejection of the poll results for months. As Mother Jones points out, destroying faith in voting-by-mail has been an essential part of laying the foundation on which Trump can create claims of an invalid election. 

It’s not difficult to imagine an Election Day scenario in which Trump prematurely declares victory based on his lead among in-person votes, which are quicker to tally than mail-in votes in many states and are expected to lean more Republican. Trump then seeks to invalidate the mail-in ballots that favor Democrats before they’re counted.

This leads to an all-too-possible scenario in which Republican state legislatures either vote to reject mail-in ballots outright, or rule that the vote on the election night is the only “real” vote. Attempts to appeal these decisions in court then roll inexorably upward to a Supreme Court where Trump’s latest appointee joins with Alito, Thomas, Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh to install Trump for a second term—without even necessitating a “swing vote” from John Roberts. Trump continues a string of victory rallies as he prepares to hold up his hand again on Jan. 20.

Should there be protests (and there would be), Trump has also been preparing his followers for that moment. In Portland, Oregon, and in the streets of Washington, D.C., Trump has demonstrated an ability to deploy forces that are more than willing to use chemical weapons and deadly force against even peaceful protesters. He has spent months telling his followers that “Democrat-run” cities are hopeless cesspits that deserve to burn. Fox News has done everything possible to expand on that image of anarchy that needs a hard kick.

Even if the Army and National Guard decided to sit on their hands when Trump calls—and he would call—Trump and Attorney General William Barr have already demonstrated an ability to scoop up thousands of paramilitary forces from executive agencies that are more than willing to literally bust heads for Trump. That’s not even counting the Trump supporters who are willing to bring their own guns in to Rittenhouse the unarmed, a position that Fox News is now busy buffing up to superhero status.

Trump is a guy who always wants things to be “rougher.” Always wants the police to be “tougher.” Who hasn’t hesitated to call his political opponents “traitors” or to call for the death of people who have not faced trial. No matter what the outcome, why would he not use force to hold onto power?

As The Atlantic points out, this threat is much greater than most people are allowing. 

A lot of people, including Joe Biden, the Democratic Party nominee, have mis­conceived the nature of the threat. They frame it as a concern, unthinkable for presidents past, that Trump might refuse to vacate the Oval Office if he loses. They generally conclude, as Biden has, that in that event the proper authorities “will escort him from the White House with great dispatch.”

But that scenario suggests that a defeated Trump pouts in his office and waits for his exit escort to arrive. Trump could just as easily—and perhaps, more likely—simply declare the election invalid. Fox News would certainly back him. Republicans in the House and Senate might take a minute to check the wind direction before joining in. Maybe two hours. Then they would be all in. Trump could put up a front of appealing the outcome in court while Republicans launched “investigations of massive voting fraud” in the Senate. But it would all be for show.

This isn’t a nightmare scenario … or rather, it is a nightmare. It’s just one that Trump’s teams are working to make real. They are already putting in place the legal groundwork and public perception to appeal any outcome unfavorable to Trump. As Mother Jones notes: “The question won’t be whether American democracy can survive Trump. We’ll already know that it hasn’t.”

All that remains to find out is whether democracy can be renewed. For that to happen, everyone needs to go into this election with their eyes open, knowing that the more decisive Trump’s loss, the less likely he is to be successful in his all but certain attempts to deny that defeat. Everyone is going to need to work like hell to get as many people to the polls as possible on Election Day, to see that mail-in ballots are counted, and to hold responsible every official, at every level, who gets in the way of allowing people’s votes to be counted.

You can’t push back a threat if you won’t admit it’s real, and you better not go into a fight without a plan. Donald Trump will absolutely cheat to hold onto power. He’s demonstrated that again and again. He’s been impeached for it. He will not stop now. And everyone, including Joe Biden, better have a plan for what to do when it happens.

Bolton claims he wanted to release information during impeachment, was blocked by White House

John Bolton wrote a book. That seems kind of hard to remember now, but you may recall it as the one that came out just before the one from Donald Trump’s niece that confirms Trump as “the dumbest student” his school had ever seen, and before the book by Bob Woodward that explains how Trump knew about the deadliness of COVID-19, but decided to ignore it because he thought it would be a political “win.” But it was definitely after the 40-something other books (not kidding) about Trump. Somewhere in there.

Once upon a time—with that time being, unbelievably enough, the first month of this interminable year—what Bolton had to say might have mattered. With multiple witnesses at Trump’s impeachment having parts of the story about the effort to extort lies from the government of Ukraine, Bolton was uniquely positioned to fill in critical gaps. His testimony might have carried weight and had historical significance. Senate Republicans eventually voted that they didn’t want to hear from Bolton, or from anyone else, but well before that the former national security adviser made it clear that he wasn’t interested in talking anyway. He was saving it all for his book, where it wouldn’t do a damn thing for the nation but could earn him a tidy profit. Bolton, through his personal decisions, made himself into a minor footnote. 

Even so, it seems that the effort to suppress his book went deeper than has been known, and included interfering with a routine investigation. Because thanks to men like Bolton, there are no rules.

Bolton’s book was originally slated to appear in March. That was then pushed back to May, and eventually slid into June. The biggest reason for the slide was that even though the manuscript had been sitting with the White House for months, the publisher could not get a signal that the book did not contain classified information. Such investigations are routine, and usually result in either a thumbs-up or a list of information that needs to be removed or edited before publication.

That didn’t happen in this case. As the book rolled on toward its final publication date, Trump accused Bolton of knowingly including classified information. The William Barr Justice Department trotted off to do what they always do: act as Trump’s personal attorneys in court. That attempt to block release of the book eventually failed—not least of all because Barr moved at a point where the book was literally on the shelves of bookstores nationwide. However, the judge did have harsh words for Bolton, suggesting that he could forfeit that much-desired profit and possibly face additional penalties for the release of confidential information.

But now it seems that it wasn’t just Barr who was responsible for putting the book on hold. Because other members of Trump’s team interfered with the routine security clearance review of the book, purposely holding the book up to diminish its impact. Meaning that even as they were taking Bolton to court for moving ahead without getting clearance, they were also making sure that he never got clearance.

Bolton’s attorneys made this claim in a letter to the court on Tuesday. As The New York Times reports, Bolton now claims that he wanted to release one portion of his book—a portion relevant to the impeachment trial—at that time. But White House aides blocked the security review even though Bolton didn’t believe that there was any classified material in the section.

At the heart of this appears to be a lawyer named Michael Ellis who was a former assistant to (of course) Rep. Devin Nunes. Despite no background or training in security reviews, Ellis directed the official in charge of the security review to put a freeze on Bolton’s manuscript while he conducted “his own review of the book.” It was Ellis who then claimed that the book was “replete” with classified information. Ellis’ review then became the basis of the Department of Justice claims against Bolton.

No one is crying for John Bolton. Or his mustache. And at this point, the idea that he might have released some information at the time of the impeachment except for some maneuver by the White House dodges the fact that Bolton could have stepped in front of every news camera in the country and told everyone what he knew. However, the attempt to stifle Bolton is just another example of the lengths that the Trump White House has gone to to silence dissent, and the willingness of every Republican involved to throw “normal process” in the waste bin. 

It’s time to get in Good Trouble to preserve the legacy of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Of course we’re crying. A woman who held us all up for so, so long has finally laid down her burden after the literal fight of a lifetime. We’re hurting. We’re afraid. We miss her already

But Republicans are already celebrating the death of pioneering Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg as an opportunity. Donald Trump is calling on Republicans to act quickly to confirm whatever nominee he puts forward. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is contemplating whether a no-witnesses impeachment can be topped with a no-hearings confirmation. Ted Cruz is thinking about nothing except what he won’t be wearing under that black robe. Tom Cotton is speeding through his collection of KKK-approved all-white handkerchiefs mopping up all of the drool. And Josh Hawley is … probably shooting something.

There is absolutely no doubt that the GOP will now engage in the Hypocrisy Olympics, working hard to master the art of the 180-degree turn and racing to put Trump’s nominee across the line in record time. But a mere willingness start a hell-in-a-handbasket assembly line may not be enough to put another butt in Ginsburg’s seat on the Court before it even has a chance to cool. Democrats are not about to roll over. This is a fight worth having.

2020 may have robbed us of both Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Rep. John Lewis, but it’s time to get in Good Trouble. And there are multiple ways to fight.

“From where I sit, Ruth Bader Ginsburg's dying wish was not that McConnell would do the right thing. She knew he wouldn't. It was that we would FIGHT LIKE HELL to preserve her legacy.” — Elie Mystal, The Nation

Hillary Clinton has offered a three-part plan for fighting against the rapid replacement of Justice Ginsburg: 

1) Win over GOP Senators on principle.

There are dozens of Republicans who barely finished articulating why there could not be a nomination for a Justice during an election year. Not only did many of them voice this in 2016, some of them have continued to do so over the last four years in the most adamant terms; terms that having included things like “even if this was a Republican president.” It’s included telling America to “use my words against me” if they didn’t hold true to this claim. It may seem that there are no Republicans left willing to stand up for any principle, especially one they created out of convenience in the last election cycle, but that feeds right into the next point.

2) Pressure GOP Senators in tight re-election bids.

There are definitely Republicans in red states who will feel like falling in line behind Trump and McConnell is the only option. But there are also those—like Susan Collins—who are already finding that standing too close to Trump is leaving them with radiation burns. Push them. Make this an issue. There’s absolutely no doubt that, no matter who Trump nominates, it will be some Federalist Society-approved ultraconservative, ready to tear down everything Justice Ginsburg accomplished and paint the nation in a shade of industrial repression gray. Make it clear that anyone voting for Trump’s nominee—anyone who even supports a vote on Trump’s nominee—is supporting the reversal of every gain made under Ginsburg. 

3) Use procedural obstacles in the Senate.

There are not nearly as many obstacles here as there used to be, because the idea that the Senate runs on rules has been simply discarded by McConnell—who regularly discards the idea of regular order to simply do as he pleases. Still, there are some shreds remaining. To start with, Democrats must refuse  a continuing resolution so long as there is any threat of McConnell forwarding a nominee. Unless there is a binding agreement—an agreement that goes way beyond McConnell’s word—shut it all the #$%@ down. In addition, Democrats must deny the Senate unanimous consent. Not just unanimous consent on the nomination, but on everything. The Senate has less than two weeks of scheduled sessions in the remainder of the year. Democrats need to deploy every possible roadblock to scheduling hearings, holding hearings, bringing a nominee forward, scheduling a vote … these are delaying tactics, and there’s little doubt that McConnell will run over them all. Only, if the polls start to show that Americans aren’t happy about the nominee or the process, McConnell might start to lose some of these procedural votes.

And Americans are already not happy.

In Times/Siena polls of Maine, North Carolina and Arizona released Friday, voters preferred Mr. Biden to select the next Supreme Court justice by 12 percentage points, 53 percent to 41 percent. In each of the three states, Mr. Biden led by just a slightly wider margin on choosing the next justice than he did over all.

According to that poll, the desire to see Biden pick the nominee is actually higher than the base support for Biden. This could very well mean that the importance of this issue gets driven home to Republicans up for reelection in a very visible way.

But if any of the above is going to happen, it’s also going to have to happen in the streets, on the phones, and in every forum where Democrats—and everyone else—can make it clear that the legacy of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg must be preserved at all cost. She carried us this far. Now we have to carry her dream.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s body isn’t even cold and Mitch McConnell is dancing on her grave. This is war. Dems have powerful weapons. Now is the time to use them.

— Rob Reiner (@robreiner) September 19, 2020

Will Republicans stand by their own statements, or join McConnell in the most profound hypocrisy?

Four years ago, Mitch McConnell infamously refused to consider the nomination of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court. Instead, McConnell twisted a never-employed 1992 comment from Joe Biden into a “rule”: Nominees to the Court should not be considered in the year before an election. There was absolutely no justification, in law or in practice, for this rule, and while Republicans trotted out statement after statement claiming that they were following some sort of “tradition,” the truth was that McConnell invented this faux tradition whole cloth. 

Even before Donald Trump, McConnell recognized the fundamental flaw in the American Constitution—at too many points, it counts on the participants in the process of government to act with a sense of honor and commitment to the nation. The authors of that document assumed that commitment to country, and a fair dose of public pressure, made it unnecessary to cross every “T” on the to-do list. They did not contemplate the kind of men who were perfectly willing to ignore a president’s nominee to the Court, or to dismiss an impeachment without hearing a single witness. They didn’t contemplate the depth of partisanship that would make these cowardly actions something Republicans would celebrate and encourage.

Like Donald Trump and William Barr, Mitch McConnell saw that the rules as written gave him the power to grab hold of the process of democracy and strangle it. But McConnell wasn’t alone in the fantasy he spun in 2016; a long line of Republicans joined him in fabricating claims and statements, and went before the nation under the pretense of a rule that never existed. It’s clear—it’s long been clear—that McConnell is unconcerned about being caught in his lies. He’s a happy hypocrite, unconcerned with either public scorn or the verdict of history. After all, he expects the nation he’s creating through corruption of the judiciary to write that history. The questions now are: Who will join him, and can they be stopped?

As McConnell spun his rule straight from his nethers, Republicans in 2016 did the same thing that Republicans have long demonstrated as their primary attribute: They fell in line. And if falling in line required lying about Senate rules, the Constitution, or history, they were willing to go there, even if the lies were obvious. Mother Jones has compiled a list of Republican senators who, four short years ago, engaged in chest pounding over the wrong, wrong, wrongness of voting on a Supreme Court nominee in an election year. FactCheck.org has also compiled a set of statements made by Republicans in 2016—and after—that definitely need to be on the lips of every reporter, and constituent, who speaks to them from now until January. Finally, Cosmopolitan put together such a list back in February of 2017, for the express purpose of holding Republicans true to their own statements.

Of course every list is headed by McConnell.

Morning Joe put together a montage documenting Mitch McConnell's shameless flip-flop about the appropriateness of filling a SCOTUS seat in a presidential election year pic.twitter.com/Czc6dmPGbS

— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) May 29, 2019

John Cornyn (from his own website): “I believe the American people deserve to have a voice in the selection of the next Supreme Court Justice, and the best way to ensure that happens is to have the Senate consider a nomination made by the next President.”

Ted Cruz:  “It has been 80 years since a Supreme Court vacancy was nominated and confirmed in an election year. There is a long tradition that you don’t do this in an election year.”

Marco Rubio: “The Senate is not moving forward on it until after the election. Senator McConnell, the majority leader, has already made that clear. And I agree with that. There’s been precedent established over 80 years that, in the last year, especially in the last 11 months, you do not have a lame-duck president make a lifetime appointment to the highest court on the land.”

Also Marco Rubio: “Number one, I don’t think we should be moving on a nominee in the last year of this president’s term—I would say that if it was a Republican president."

Lindsey Graham: “If an opening comes in the last year of President Trump’s term, and the primary process has started, we’ll wait to the next election.”

“I want you to use my words against me. If there’s a Republican president in 2016 and a vacancy occurs in the last year of the first term, you can say Lindsey Graham said let’s let the next president, whoever it might be, make that nomination." pic.twitter.com/quD1K5j9pz

— Vanita Gupta (@vanitaguptaCR) September 19, 2020

Cory Gardner: "I think we’re too close to the election. The president who is elected in November should be the one who makes this decision." (This statement was made in February 2016, 10 months before the upcoming election. Gardner at first said he would consider a nominee for Obama, before McConnell forced Gardner to recant.)

Jim Inhofe: “It makes the current presidential election all that more important as not only are the next four years in play, but an entire generation of Americans will be impacted by the balance of the court and its rulings. I will oppose this nomination as I firmly believe we must let the people decide the Supreme Court's future.”

Chuck Grassley: “Following the death of Justice Scalia, as Americans were beginning to cast their votes for the next President, I said that we’d move forward with the next President’s nomination to the Supreme Court, regardless of who won. The President has made his selection and that’s what we’ll do."

Also Chuck Grassley: “A lifetime appointment that could dramatically impact individual freedoms and change the direction of the court for at least a generation is too important to get bogged down in politics. The American people shouldn’t be denied a voice.”

Still more Grassley: Grassley invited Merrick Garland to a breakfast meeting, not to consider him as a candidate, but to ”explain why he will not hold hearings.”

Joni Ernst: “We will see what the people say this fall and our next president, regardless of party, will be making that nomination.” 

Thom Tillis (from his own web site): “The campaign is already under way. It is essential to the institution of the Senate and to the very health of our republic to not launch our nation into a partisan, divisive confirmation battle during the very same time the American people are casting their ballots to elect our next president.” 

Ron Johnson: “I strongly agree that the American people should decide the future direction of the Supreme Court, by their votes for president and the majority party in the U.S. Senate.”

In 2016, Susan Collins called for public hearings on Merrick Garland and praised the nominee. This was, of course, pre-falling in line.

Ditto for Lisa Murkowski, who at first supported holding hearings, only to come back and “revoke” her support after a conversation with Grassley. “Senator Murkowski respects the decision of the chair and members of the Judiciary Committee not to hold hearings on the nominee.” 

As a special bonus, here’s Ted Cruz—not just proclaiming that there should be no vote before the election, but warning about how Merrick Garland is exactly the kind of nominee you could expect … from Donald Trump: "Merrick Garland is exactly the type of Supreme Court nominee you get when you make deals in Washington D.C. A so-called ‘moderate’ Democrat nominee is precisely the kind of deal that Donald Trump has told us he would make—someone who would rule along with other liberals on the bench like Justices Ginsburg and Sotomayor. We cannot afford to lose the Supreme Court for generations to come by nominating or confirming someone that a dealmaker like Donald Trump would support ... I proudly stand with my Republican colleagues in our shared belief—our advice and consent—that we should not vote on any nominee until the next president is sworn into office. The people will decide. I commend Mitch McConnell and Chuck Grassley for holding the line and ensuring that we the people get to exercise our authority to decide the direction of the Supreme Court and the Bill of Rights.”

Justice Department has opened a criminal investigation into John Bolton over his anti-Trump book

Donald Trump is good for literature. Actually … that’s overstating it. A lot. But Trump is certainly good for publishers, and for dramatic titles. In one-word titles alone, it’s possible to build a pretty decent description of Trump using Rage, Unhinged, Disloyal, Fear, Hoax. You certainly don’t have to go to Insane Clown President, but … that’s also not a bad description.

The last few weeks have seen Trump’s leveraging his family to fight—and fail—to stop the publication of a book by his niece Mary Trump, and books by former Trump attorney Michael Cohen and former journalist Bob Woodward. The trio of tomes are all hot off the presses and still in the headlines. But it requires rewinding to June 20 (also known as March the 121st , in pandemic dating) to find the focus of Trump’s current disloyal, unhinged, rage hoax. That was the date that a federal judge dismissed attempts by the White House to block publication of John Bolton’s book detailing his time as Trump’s national security adviser. 

During that court case, the judge pointed out multiple times that Trump was attempting to block a book that had already been printed, distributed to warehouses, was on the shelves at thousands of stores, and had already been read by hundreds of critics and journalists. Open barn door? Meet horse. But the judge did not address claims from the Department of Justice that Bolton may have violated national security, though he noted if it was true, Bolton could lose all the profits from the book deal that kept him conveniently mum during Trump’s impeachment. And now the Justice Department has announced an investigation into Bolton because … sure, why not?

The book has been on the stands for four months and is no longer hanging onto a slot in even an extended list of best sellers. There’s nothing to be gained by going after Bolton other than the demonstration that people like Roger Stone, convicted of multiple crimes, get to walk away for being Trump’s pals, while people like Bolton get the weight of the DOJ tossed their way for the crime of insufficient toadying.

But it’s hard to feel like there’s a good guy on either side of this case. After all, Bolton failed to come forward when his testimony mattered, what he ultimately revealed was confirmation of things that had already been stated, and … he’s John Bolton. The best possible ending for this story is that both Trump and Bolton come out with their sub-mud reputations sullied by whatever it is that’s worse than mud.

According to The New York Times, a team within the DOJ has convened a grand jury to hear evidence about Bolton’s use of classified information in his book, aka I couldn’t think of a title so I just stole a line from Hamilton. Bolton has denied that he published classified information. Trump has argued back that Bolton is “a dope” and “incompetent” and “a washed up creepster who … should be in jail” for “trying to make me look bad.” It’s unclear if the grand jury will reward these rubber-meets-glue arguments with an indictment, but it would probably be pretty interesting—and kind of hilarious—to hear the presentation. 

And yes, to be honest it’s clear that the White House purposely refused to provide Bolton with responses on the classification of his submitted manuscript simply in an effort to delay publication and provide Trump with leverage to do exactly what he’s doing right now: conduct a political persecution of a perceived enemy. Bolton shouldn’t face charges for purely political reasons, if for no other reason than on a “first they came for John Bolton, and ...” basis. Still, every DOJ official tied up with going after John Bolton could be busy persecuting a human being instead, so let’s hope this takes some time. And please, if someone is going to leak classified information, how about the transcripts for the presentation to the grand jury?

This scandal has to be the last, no this scandal has to be the last, no this scandal has to be …

Since Tuesday, America has been caught up in the effort to process the fact that Donald Trump wasn’t simply ignorant and bull-headed when it came to failing to address the coronavirus pandemic. Trump was fully aware of the danger, repeatedly briefed on necessary actions, and fully cognizant of what was required to save American lives. He choose to … go another way. A way that involved repeatedly lying to the nation and talking about how the virus would “just disappear” even as he was privately admitting that he knew better.

That admitted lie is so shocking that it’s hard to remember that, just a week ago, the nation was busy being shocked to learn about the depth of Trump’s disdain for veterans. Multiple sources both within the White House and the military confirmed that Trump had not only displayed incredible disdain for John McCain, but for fallen soldiers at a military cemetery, calling them “suckers” and “losers.” Even Fox News had no problem confirming the story. Trump even explained to military leaders—military leaders—that he didn’t want veterans in his parade, because he found amputees unsightly.

A week before that was the news that the Department of Homeland Security had deliberately covered up evidence that Russia was working behind the scenes of the 2020 election to assist Trump with false claims about Joe Biden’s competence. That effort included dismissing the official in charge of counterintelligence, telling Congress they would get no more briefings on election security, and refusing to hand over standard reports. All while Trump was not only continuing to lean on the Russian talking points, but making racist claims about Kamala Harris. And in the middle of all this, snippets from Michael Cohen’s book suggested that not only had Trump extorted support from a televangelist with threats of revealing a pool boy three-way, but he gave a pretty good indication that the Russian “pee tape” is a real thing. 

There’s a reason the Fascism Watch ticked down to midnight back on Jan. 31. That’s when Republican senators made it clear that Trump was free to do anything he pleased, no matter how odious. America might not have gotten that message. Trump already knew it. 

It wasn’t until Feb. 6 that the Senate actually voted to give Donald Trump an official pass, despite a mound of evidence that he had used his high office to extort a foreign power into lying about a political opponent under threat of withholding military and economic assistance. It was exactly the sort of abuse of power available only to the White House. Exactly the kind of crime for which impeachment was created. There is not the slightest shred of doubt that Trump did it. But Republicans not only refused to hold Trump accountable—on Jan. 31 they made it clear that they would not even allow a single witness to speak in Trump’s “trial.” They didn’t care about Trump’s misuse of power. They didn’t care about lying to both Congress and the public. They just “owned the libs,” gave themselves a high five, and went on vacation.

Mitch McConnell and the Senate Republicans handed Donald Trump not just an absolute pass, but a clear signal that they would neither hold him to account for any action, nor challenge any statement he made. Why is it then any surprise that the next day Trump felt free to say that COVID-19 would go away in April? Why is it any surprise that Trump decided to cancel a planned national testing strategy because he thought COVID-19 would kill more people in Democratic states? What possible reason would there be for Trump to not cooperate with Russia in planting rumors about Biden? It’s not like anyone is going to do something about it. 

And, of course, why shouldn’t Trump feel free to lie about COVID-19? It’s not just the Senate that’s happy enough to go along with whatever Trump has to say. The media is right there for him, supporting him in a very special way.

A tale of two front-pages: @nytimes the morning after the Comey letter telling of discovered duplicative emails...and this morning's after we discover Trump knew and lied about a virus which has gone onto kill almost 200,000 Americans. pic.twitter.com/VjdgmvmmR0

— person woman DAN camera tv (@DaytimeDan) September 10, 2020

Following the astounding revelation that the FBI had found some additional copies of unimportant emails it had already seen, The New York Times not only filled every single column of its front page with this critical story, it handed over a large portion of that page for comments from Donald Trump. When Trump admitted lying to the nation about COVID-19, the “paper of record” not only thought this was a good day to devote two-thirds of its front page to an accidental explosion had happened over a month before and 9,000 miles away, but neither Biden nor any other Democratic leader was sought out for comment. Instead, the Times continued to represent the epitome of access journalism. It may seem that they, like much of the media, have learned nothing since 2016, but that’s not really true. They’ve learned exactly what it takes to keep getting interviews with Trump.

Republicans have learned they can get from Trump an endless stream of judges whose reading of the Constitution includes only one amendment, massive breaks for billionaires, and dropping all pretense of fighting corruption. And outlets like The New York Times have also learned that Trump will come through for them with an endless stream of jaw-dropping scandals that make great copy … so long as no one sticks with one story long enough to make impact. All for the low, low price of surrendering any pretense of integrity. A bargain.

Republicans are not about to call out Trump for his murder of 200,000 Americans. Or for his lies. Or for anything else. They made it all possible. So did a media more interested in seeing what the next scandal is than really driving home the impact of the last one.

For both of them, Trump is the fascist goose who laid heaps of gold-plated, if foul, eggs. Propping him up may be distasteful, but they like the results.

John Durham’s top assistant resigns as Barr squeezes for some kind of report before election

There’s supposed to be a rule that the Department of Justice (DOJ) doesn’t make announcements concerning anyone involved in an election within 60 days of the election—a rule that James Comey absolutely disregarded with his last minute theatrics in the 2016 election. Considering the closeness of that election, there’s little doubt that Comey’s action, and the media coverage of it, was a deciding factor in handing Trump the White House. And William Barr has made it absolutely clear that he’s all in favor of smashing that rule again to keep Trump in place.

But Barr’s intention of releasing the report by his lieutenant, John Durham, got slightly harder on Friday. Because acting U.S. Attorney for the District of Connecticut Nora Dannehy, who has acted as Durham’s top aide during his attempt to follow up on Trump’s claims about the “deep state coup” behind the Russia investigation, has resigned not just her position helping Durham, but from the entire Justice Department. And the reason is directly related to Barr’s attempts to rush the report out as an “October surprise.”

As the Hartford Courant reports, Dannehy was recruited to help Durham in his round-the-world quest to convince allies to join in the conspiracy theory and claim that the entire Russia investigation was set up long before Trump was elected. That includes tracking down claims that the CIA planted a college professor in London years earlier so George Papadopoulos could eventually be lured into trying to arrange a hook up between Trump and Putin. It also includes chasing down the same claims about a nonexistent server in Ukraine that were involved in Trump’s impeachment.

The investigation of the investigation has been underway for over a year and a half, and has so far managed to snag one charge against one person, with former FBI attorney Kevin Clinesmith pleading guilty to having edited an email. Compare this to the Mueller investigation, which netted 199 criminal charges, 37 indictments or guilty pleas, and five prison sentences … so far. 

Oddly enough, despite an investigation that’s now just a few months short of the entire length of the Mueller investigation, there appear to be no tweets from Trump or other Republicans complaining about the length, scope, or cost of the Durham investigation. Somehow, when Mueller was involved in his much more productive investigation, both Trump and his leading minions in the House found time to constantly complain about the budget of the investigations and to scoff at the “minor nature” of convictions. Funny. That’s not happening this time.

Dannehy has worked with Durham for decades. She was recruited back from private practice specifically to work on this investigation. But on Thursday evening she sent an email to the office in New Haven to announce that she was leaving, and the reason appears to be because she is worried about pressure from Barr to hand over a report before the election. Insiders say that Dannehy has been pondering leaving for weeks, but stayed this long out of her personal loyalty to Durham. 

According to the Courant, Dannehy said the investigation was going to last “six months to a year” when she agreed to return to the DOJ. But it’s taken much longer, and without producing any obvious signs of progress.

Still, even the departure of Durham’s top assistant is unlikely to prevent Barr from putting out something in the days immediately before the election. After all, as he did with the Mueller report, Barr can always give a completely false “summary” of the investigation and leave the truth to come out long after the spotlight has turned away.

Fox News has more important things to cover than pandemics and fires—where important means ‘silly’

On Wednesday—as the pandemic approaches 195,000 victims in the United States, the Department of Justice (DOJ) goes all in on defending Trump against allegations of rape, and California firefighters are dealing with the states’ second, third, and fourth largest fires all at the same time—Fox News has decided to spend the morning giving extensive coverage to a much more vital, serious story. Donald Trump … has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Yes, that’s a real thing. Trump was totally nominated for the prize by a single far-right member of the Norwegian parliament—the same anti-immigration member who nominated Trump for the same prize in 2018. It’s not clear exactly what Trump has done to warrant this honor, but there’s a considerable list of possibilities. 

For example: Since Trump broke the nuclear treaty with Iran and did everything possible to make it impossible for anyone else to follow the extensive regime of inspections and limitations that assured Iran could not build a nuclear weapon, Iran’s stockpile of enhanced uranium has now grown to 10 times the limit allowed under that treaty. And that’s just one of several reasons why Trump really has had an enormous impact on world peace.

In addition to setting Iran up to be the next nuclear power, Trump could collect a prize for his handling of nuclear weapons in North Korea. Because after exchanges of cake and birthday cards, receiving beautiful notes, stamping out thousands of genuinely hideous commemorative coins, and falling into mutual authoritarian love, the number of nuclear weapons controlled by Kim Jong-un is up to somewhere between 30 and 40; the isolated dictatorship has conducted a expanded program of missile launches; and Kim maintains large stockpiles of both chemical and biological weapons. Trump’s entire outreach to North Korea appears to have resulted in an expanded travel schedule for Kim and excuses for other countries to ignore international sanctions. That’s certainly worth a No Prize.

Or perhaps Donald Trump was nominated for one of his truly outstanding international moments: The abandoning of America’s Kurdish allies. Trump pulled out the small number of U.S. forces helping to maintain order along the border between Syria and Turkey, not only allowing Kurdish fighters who had long sided with the U.S. to be trampled on by a one-two-three dictator punch of Bashar al-Assad, Recep Erdoğan, and Vladimir Putin—he also paved the way for a resurgence of ISIS, created a chaotic power vacuum ripe for creating new terrorist groups, and permanently damaged both the reputation and power of the United States. A big No Prize for that one.

Or Trump could be up for getting that big lump of gold in exchange for his sterling work in selling the bombs that are blowing up civilians in Yemen. Trump’s first out-of-the-U.S. visit was a stop with Mohammed bin Salman in Saudi Arabia, where Trump talked up the big heap o’ arms that he was selling the kingdom. Since then, Trump has defended the Saudis’ right to dictate to other nations in the region, including tweeting his wholehearted support of conducting a long-running blockade of a U.S. ally for the crime of having a free press. Trump also hasn’t let little things like the kidnapping, torture, dismemberment, and murder of a U.S. journalist get in the way of his ability to provide the bombs that are blowing up wedding tents, and hospitals, and fishing boats, and school buses, and homes, and … Quick, bring out the No Prize.

Of course, it’s hard to consider Trump’s achievements in international peace without looking at the one that has already earned him a major award: extorting the leader of Ukraine with threats to withhold U.S. military assistance unless Trump was provided with lies he could use against Joe Biden. That one earned Trump an impeachment. (If there was no medal, I would personally like to offer Trump a commemorative plaque celebrating this achievement.) The result of this action wasn’t just the immediate harm it did to Ukraine, or making the United States seem even more ridiculous. It also gave Russia a long-lasting power boost in the region and helped assure that NATO would not expand eastward. Give him all the No Prizes!

Speaking of NATO, Trump’s really outstanding achievement award might be in how much he’s weakened the military and economic relationship with Europe that has prevented World War III since World War II. Every member of the NATO alliance provided forces to assist the United States when it went into Afghanistan, and many of them suffered substantial losses. Trump has made sure that will never happen again by constantly attacking allies and turning the United States into a laughingstock. No Prize for that. 

Trump can have an auxiliary No Prize for how he’s damaged the relationships between the United States and South Korea, and the United States and Japan. But his biggest No Prize of all might be how Trump has so mishandled the relationship with China that he’s generated what’s being described as Cold War II. Having surrendered any claim to the defense of human rights, the United States is now completely ineffective at addressing genuine moments of oppression and genocide. And because Trump has been utterly ineffective at anything other than alienating allies, China has been emboldened to move faster, both internally and externally, to confront the U.S. and make its own demands on the world.

But if Trump is up for the big prize for his unmatched ability to generate worldwide conflict and destabilize the planet as it faces twin crises over the coronavirus and climate, he’s in good company

Adolf Hitler was nominated once in 1939. As unlikely as it may seem today, Adolf Hitler was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1939 by a member of the Swedish parliament.

Hello, history, are you rhyming again?

Barr makes it clear—again—that he intends to drop the Durham report before the election

On July 28, Attorney General William Barr appeared before the House Judiciary Committee. During a half-day of questioning in which Barr was repeatedly evasive or purposely intended to misunderstand questions, there was one answer he provided which was absolutely clear. When Florida Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell asked Barr to commit that the conspiracy theory-based report being prepared by John Durham would not be released before the November election, Barr’s answer could not have been briefer. “No,” he said.

Barr has made it absolutely clear that he does intend to deliver an October surprise. Ever since he stepped back onto the national stage by purposely distorting the results of the Mueller investigation, Trump’s new Roy Cohn has been engaged in politicizing the DOJ and turning the department into an wing of Trump’s reelection campaign. One of his first acts was drafting U.S. Attorney John "Bull" Durham to begin a round-the-world quest into claims Trump had made against Joe Biden, the pursuit of a DNC server that never existed, and undermining the actions of his own department in the Trump-Russia investigation. 

And now, as the campaign enters its final two months, Barr is being equally clear that he’s ready to ignore the Justice Department's “60-day rule” against taking overtly political steps in the final weeks before an election.

As Trump continues to show that he will say anything, Barr continues to make it equally clear that he will do anything to back up Trump’s statements and actions. As CNN notes, Barr was aggressively belligerent in a Wednesday night interview, making it clear that he is more than willing to break the 60-day rule, or any other rule, if that’s what it takes to keep Trump planted in the White House.

Barr wasn’t just unwilling to agree that Durham’s international quest for lies wouldn’t be packaged up for release before November 3, he was all in on Trump’s statements about how mail-in ballots lead to fraud. These were especially egregious statements coming from an official charged with keeping the elections safe and who knows that there is no evidence backing such claims.

CNN: "You've said you're worried a foreign country could send thousands of fake ballots ... what are you basing that on?"

Barr: "Logic."

CNN: "But have you seen any evidence?" 

Barr: “No.”

But Barr doesn’t seem to need any evidence. Or rules.

Because in the CNN interview, he repeated that he doesn’t believe the 60-day rule applies to the Durham investigation. "I will handle these cases as appropriate,” said Barr, “and I do not think anything we do in the Durham investigation is going to be affecting the election."

Of course not. Just because Barr accompanied Durham to Rome where he tried to convince Italian authorities to join him in claims that professor Joseph Mifsud was secretly a CIA plant put in place months in advance to snare Trump adviser George Papadopoulos into trying to make contact with Russian officials, doesn’t mean there’s anything political about the investigation. Just because Barr was already secretly working with Durham at the time he redacted the Mueller report. Just because Barr and Durham dropped in on Australian intelligence and unsuccessfully tried to get them to agree that that Australian official Alexander Downer planted false evidence against Carter Page. Just because Barr has made it absolutely clear that the Durham investigation is “broad in scope and multifaceted” including trying find some basis behind the Ukraine fantasy behind Trump’s impeachment—a conspiracy aimed directly at generating false evidence against Joe Biden … none of that makes it political.

What’s clear from everything that’s been learned about Durham’s investigation is that it’s been spectacularly unsuccessful. Barr and Durham didn’t get Italy to lie for them about Mifsud. They couldn’t get Australia to lie for them about Downer. And the heads of both MI5 and MI6 in the U.K. refused to play along with their claims about Joe Biden’s actions in Ukraine. The only actual charge to come out of the investigation so far is a single count of altering an email against decidedly third-tier figure and former FBI attorney Kevin Clinesmith. And the truth is that Clinesmith’s actions weren’t discovered by Durham at all—they were included in the report prepared by DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz last December.

To date, it appears the Durham investigation has turned up exactly nothing that wasn’t previously known, and has completely struck out when it comes to trying to fulfill Trump’s conspiracy fantasies. However, none of that will stop William Barr from issuing a deliberately confusing last-minute memo designed to present things in a completely upside-down manner. After all, that’s his speciality.