It appears the Trump White House has decided to stonewall every bit of congressional oversight, hoping to either run out the clock until the election or have their handpicked Supreme Court majority rule in their favor. There was a time when I would have thought the second option was unthinkable, even with a conservative majority, but after the court intervened in the 2000 Florida recount, I was disabused of that naive assumption. If they have to destroy constitutional checks and balances to keep Trump in power, they may very well do it.
The president has put the Democrats on notice that they do not plan to respond to subpoenas or allow anyone to testify, even those people for whom they previously waived executive privilege. Under threat of holding witnesses in contempt of Congress, the White House has told them to take it up with the courts if they don’t like it. House oversight committee chairman Elijah Cummings, D-Ma, told MSNBC on Tuesday night, “to date, the White House has refused to produce a single piece of paper or a single witness in any of the Committee’s investigations this entire year.”
Trump may succeed in this strategy. After all, he has a pliant Attorney General and a subservient Republican Party that will back him to the hilt. The courts have been well-packed by the alleged hero of this drama, former White House Counsel Don McGahn. If they are unable to get any witnesses to testify, Democrats may be forced to stage an interpretive dance of the Mueller Report and go directly to an impeachment vote.
As for the politics, the Trump inner circle is taking a rather novel approach. They are claiming total exoneration, of course, even as the president continues to demean and insult the investigation. But Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner have been road-testing some new lines, which are possibly the most aggressive form of gaslighting we’ve seen yet.
Last Sunday, Giuliani made the rounds of the morning talk shows and mostly kicked up a lot of dust that made little sense. But he did say one thing that took people by surprise. Responding to a comment from Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, who said he was appalled that “fellow citizens working in a campaign for president had welcomed help from Russian including information that had been illegally obtained; that none of them acted to inform American law enforcement,” Giuliani replied, “there’s nothing wrong with taking information from Russians.”
When Tapper went on to point out that while it’s not expressly illegal it is unethical, Giuliani scoffed at the idea anyone cares about such things.
In a working democracy, the president would care because impeachment doesn’t require that a president must have violated a statute, merely that he is unfit for the office, if the Congress so determines. He is clearly unfit. But this is not a working democracy at the moment, so the administration doesn’t fear such a consequence to their actions.
On Tuesday Jared Kushner made a rare public appearance at the TIME 100 Summit. When asked about the Russia investigation, he made a comment even more startling than Giuliani’s. After brushing off the investigation as “silly,” he said:
You look at what Russia did, buying some Facebook ads to try to sow dissent and do it, and it’s a terrible thing. But I think the investigations and all of the speculation that’s happened for the last two years has had a much harsher impact on our democracy than a couple of Facebook ads.
Here is the full comment:
Perhaps Kushner hasn’t had time to keep up with the news or read the Mueller Report since his portfolio includes everything from office redecoration to Mideast peace, but that is simply ridiculous. Indeed, calling the Russia interference “a couple of Facebook ads” shows that these people still refuse to admit what happened and that it is not in dispute.
The House Intelligence Committee reported last year that Russia spent about a million dollars a month on Facebook ads reaching at least ten million users, all of it propaganda swill and mostly on behalf of Donald Trump. But that was just one small part of their operation. TIME helpfully laid it all out:
The Mueller report described a wide-ranging Russian operation that included hacking Hillary Clinton, Sens. Marco Rubio and Lindsey Graham, the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee; attempting to hack the Republican National Committee; releasing stolen emails online; probing state voter databases for weaknesses and stealing hundreds of thousands of voters’ personal information; spreading propaganda aimed to sowing division and depressing the vote through fake accounts on social media; staging a handful of rallies in Florida, Pennsylvania and New York; and setting up multiple meetings with members of the Trump campaign, although the probe did not find that members of the Trump campaign actively coordinated or cooperated with Russia.
There was nothing “silly,” as Kushner said, about investigating all of that. And there was certainly nothing silly about investigating a president who seemed to be determined to cover it up. That silly investigation showed that he repeatedly broke the law in attempting to do that. We still don’t know exactly why, and Mueller didn’t answer the question in his report to the Attorney General. It’s possible that it will be found in the classified reports around the counter-intelligence investigation which presumably looked more closely at the threat to national security by Trump’s bumbling campaign and presidency.
Giuliani insists there’s nothing wrong with colluding with foreign adversaries to sabotage your political rival. Kushner says they just bought some Facebook ads and the real sabotage was the investigation. Trump himself has repeatedly denied that Russians had anything to do with it at all.
None of that adds up to a clear admission of guilt for what happened in 2016, but it certainly sounds as if the Trump 2020 campaign is open for business. It’s clear that if a foreign nation wants to intervene in the election they will once again welcome the help. What’s unclear is why they are so sure that it will always be to their benefit.