Is a special counsel for Trump-Russia really the best option??

(*tap, tap… is this thing still on?*)

As shown by the lack of posts from me here since Inauguration Day, I’ve had a hard time finding anything useful to say about the unprecedented dishonesty, unprecedented corruption, and unprecedented incompetence of the Trump administration.  There’s plenty of folks with bigger megaphones to decry the wrongness of their latest specific missteps, and the sheer unpredictability of Trump’s whims made it difficult to take a longer view.

But I’ve finally found a point where I dissent from the progressive consensus, so it feels like I should weigh in.  In the justified firestorm of outrage after Jim Comey’s firing as FBI director, the central demand among Democrats in Congress — and progressives in general — has been for the naming of a special prosecutor (or, to be technically accurate, a special counsel) to take control of the FBI’s investigation of connections between Russia and President Trump’s election campaign.

Being sufficiently old to remember previous investigations of Republican presidents, though, I wonder if that’s really the best thing to demand.  First of all, calling for a special counsel seems like an all-or-nothing bet on exactly who is named to do the job. If a loyal GOP hack whose highest priority is to neuter the investigation is picked (as happened when Joseph DiGenova was named to investigate the first Bush administration’s 1992 search for dirt on Bill Clinton), the pressure and demands will have backfired completely.

The independence and capability of the special counsel who is named will depend almost completely on the integrity of the person doing the picking — in this case, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who was either complicit in or exploited by the process of Comey’s firing.  And if Rosenstein has enough of a conscience and a spine to appoint a genuinely aggressive special counsel, why not simply let Rosenstein continue to oversee the existing FBI investigation?

Even in the best-case scenarios, special counsels going after GOP presidents have led to often-delayed investigations and meager results.  Patrick Fitzgerald was named in December 2003 to find out who leaked Valerie Plame’s covert CIA identity; it took almost two years to indict Scooter Libby, and another year and a half to get a conviction… which was promptly wiped away by George W. Bush’s commutation of the sentence before Scooter had served a single day.  Similarly, the Iran-Contra probe by Lawrence Walsh dragged on for six years, and had its key convictions overturned on appeal and remaining prosecutions erased by G.H.W. Bush’s Xmas eve pardons (bit of a family tradition there, eh?).

Is that really the route we want the Trump-Russia investigation to take?

I’m all in favor of pressure tactics to force an independent probe, but I think perhaps we should be pushing for a genuinely bipartisan congressional investigation, as well as whatever can be done to shield the existing FBI probe(s) from Trumpian influence.

I’m not going to pretend to be an expert about all of the alternative processes (including those I just mentioned), but it seems to me that the goal is to get as much information irrevocably out in public as soon as possible — and the hard lesson of experience seems to be that special counsels don’t provide this result.

From the Department of Self-Brainwashing, Cont’d

It’s not just Kentucky.  In Slate, Michelle Goldberg reports on the findings of focus groups convened by Planned Parenthood:

Shortly before the election, Politico and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health surveyed voters on health care policy. One of the survey’s findings was that 48 percent of people who were planning to vote for Donald Trump supported continued federal funding for Planned Parenthood, compared with 47 percent who did not. Nevertheless, now that the election is over, stripping Planned Parenthood of federal support is a key Republican priority….

… Now bracing for an unprecedented legislative attack, Planned Parenthood wanted to know more about the intensity of its support among Trump voters and about how well these voters had understood Republican plans when they went to the polls. On Wednesday, Planned Parenthood made recordings of the 90-minute focus groups—held in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; Phoenix; Las Vegas; and Milwaukee—available to a group of journalists.

For opponents of Trump, the recordings make for excruciating viewing. They show how myths about Hillary Clinton’s corruption proved more influential than facts about Trump’s. “I really didn’t trust Hillary at all, and that’s why I went with Trump,” said a new mother in Harrisburg who’d been undecided until the last moment. “He’s more honest than her.” […]

… It seemed as if Trump’s lasciviousness, which Clinton hoped would disqualify Trump with women, actually worked in his favor. The focus group participants couldn’t imagine that Trump would enact a religious right agenda.He’s probably paid for a few abortions himself,” said the 58-year-old in Phoenix, eliciting a roomful of laughs.

This is exactly what I was talking about in my earlier post. Why not vote for Hillary? “I can’t trust her.”

Okay, but how can you vote for Trump, given what he’s said and promised? “Well, he doesn’t mean what he says.”

Somewhere in the afterlife, George Orwell must be thinking about how he described the proles in 1984, and wondering if he undershot the mark.

Notes from the Nascent CA Insurgency vs. Trumpism

California may not have to secede from the United States in order to lead a rebellion against the reign of President 46.1 Percent:

  • A likely Obamacare repeal?  California could pass its own insurance mandate to keep its successful state health insurance exchange operating.
  • A coming immigration crackdown? The city of Los Angeles is creating a $10 million legal defense fund for people threatened with deportation.
  • Trump as precedent for future grifter-candidates who won’t reveal their financial interests?  California may soon let voters pass an initiative to require presidential candidates to release their tax returns in order to be eligible for the CA state ballot.

If they keep this up, I may have to move back…


What’s the Matter with Kentucky?

You might have caught the in-depth story in Vox this week about Obamacare enrollees in Kentucky who voted for Donald Trump, despite his (and all other Republicans’) endlessly repeated promises to repeal it at the first available opportunity.

For the TL;DR crowd, Kevin Drum at Mother Jones pulls out some of the choicest quotes:

Oller: The funny thing is, my husband said, “You know, he’s going to eliminate health care.” But he really can’t totally take it out, because everybody has to have health care. You can’t go backward….

Kliff: Did you hear him talking about repealing Obamacare in the campaign?

Oller: Yeah, he was going to get rid of it. But I found out with Trump … he says a lot of stuff. [laughs] I just think all politicians promise you everything and then we’ll see.

Kliff: Do you think if it does go away, you’ll regret your vote in any way?

Mills: I don’t know. I guess I thought that, you know, he would not do this….I was thinking that once it was made into a law that it could not be changed, but I guess it can? Yes?

What can be done about this kind of self-brainwashing?  As Drum summarizes, these folks “figured Trump was just blathering because, come on, what kind of person would take away people’s insurance?” He’s explicitly promising to ruin their lives, and they dismiss it as harmless blather.

But I’ll bet you that if you asked for their opinion of Hillary Clinton, they’d dismiss her knowledge, experience, and detailed policy proposals by saying, “There’s just something I don’t trust about her.”

There’s something deeper than political messaging going on here.

The Art of the Broken Deal

A caveat up front: The election results were so painful that I haven’t been masochistic enough to read anyone’s post-mortems. Especially since the first glimmers of reaction I saw consisted of predictable (if understandable) finger-pointing, with people who supported Clinton in the primaries blaming Sanders supporters, and vice versa. (I don’t want to litigate that question, though I do have some broader thoughts about what has gone wrong, which I’ll share in a separate post.)

My point, though, is that for all I know, everything I’m about to say has already been said by lots of people. But since Green Boy reopened the doors and invited me in, I’ll contribute my two cents’ worth, and I’ll just have to hope it’s not all too obvious.

Even in my attempt at a self-imposed news blackout, I did notice this faintly hopeful headline:

Obama Planning to Give Trump Extra Tutoring

Sure, this confirms what we already know, namely that Trump is an idiotic man-child who has no idea what being president entails… which is obviously terrifying if you let yourself think about it. But better to have Obama explaining how to do the job than Dick Cheney, right?

It may not have much impact in preventing Trump from appointing an array of cretins, assholes, and washed-up bootlickers to his Cabinet. But the more Obama and congressional Dems can get Trump’s ear during the transition, the greater the fragile hope that our new moron-king will only be disastrous on 90-95% of issues, rather than 100%.

Trump ran as an unapologetic racist/misogynist and barely tried to conceal his greed and dishonesty, but perhaps his only faintly redeeming feature is that he didn’t run as a true believer in the GOP orthodoxy of dismantling Medicare and Social Security, and he’s had a feud of sorts with House speaker Paul Ryan (the torchbearer for that orthodoxy). Moreover, his ego all but demands he not come across as Ryan and Mitch McConnell’s puppet.

So Obama and other Dem leaders need to play to that, whispering to Trump that they can be a useful foil when he wants to stick it to the GOP.  Bill Clinton’s “triangulation” in reverse, you might say.  They just need to be able to make the pitch in a way that strikes Dubya 2.0 as flattering, rather than manipulative. (It would turn my stomach, but hey, these guys chose to go into politics.)

Besides, it takes no great insight to predict that Trump’s main goal as POTUS will be maintaining his own popularity — and while other GOPers might be all too happy to take the heat for denying government benefits to average Americans, El Donaldo won’t want to see CNN profiling sympathetic souls who’ve had their health insurance, etc., taken away by the heartless Republican in the White House.  So it’s up to Obama and the Democratic leaders in Congress to nudge Trump in their direction a “friendly warning” when keeping his blustery campaign promises might backfire politically.

The Republican establishment that got the vote out for him may think they have an implicit deal with the new president: “We put up with your erratic campaign and your verbal abuse, then put you into office anyway, so now you do what we want.”

But if Trump has one single core characteristic, it’s breaking deals after he’s gotten what he wanted.  The challenge for Obama, Nancy Pelosi, and Chuck Schumer is to encourage that trait.