Notes from an American: December 12, 2019

13 mins read
Former Governor Mike Huckabee, who now argues that Trump is eligible for a third term. Photo by Gage Skidmore. (CC BY-SA 2.0)

“’I was on the fence but I went with Trump’s GOP because I love listening to all of the Republican men screaming and yelling,’ said no female swing voter in the suburbs ever,” political analyst Nicolle Wallace tweeted this afternoon. And that’s the key to the yelling and table pounding going on in Washington in the impeachment hearings. The Republicans are not trying to make a case, or to persuade anyone; they are simply trying to dominate by making this all so painful we stop caring and let them get away with excusing their president for abuses that no one contests.

It is a travesty… but remember that they would not behave this way if they thought they had it sewn up. They know their only hope is to convince the majority of Americans, who disapprove of Trump, either to believe their lies or to get so tired of the screaming that they give up. It is classic abusive behavior.

This story was deep in something folks thought missing in yesterday’s post: the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing with Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz. On Monday, Horowitz released his investigation into the origins of the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, concluding it was proper and not politically motivated. I wrote about it here, and noted that Trump and Attorney General William Barr, along with Sean Hannity, simply claimed the report said the opposite of what it did.

On Wednesday, Horowitz appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee, and the pattern of all these hearings held. Republicans, led by South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, misrepresented the report’s conclusions. Graham said the report had shown “a massive criminal conspiracy,” when, in fact, it showed the exact opposite. But then there was confusion. Barr appointed a different inspector back in April when he was concerned that Horowitz would not assail the FBI’s work on Russian links to Trump’s campaign. That man, US Attorney for Connecticut John Durham, gave a statement when the report came out, saying he did not agree with all of it. This statement, as I wrote before, was inappropriate and unprecedented.

Republicans focused on the discrepancy between Horowitz and Durham to undermine the report. But here’s what Horowitz testified was their disagreement: While both men agreed that it was proper for the FBI to investigate Trump advisor Carter Page, they disagreed about whether the case should have been opened as a preliminary investigation, which limits some of the steps the FBI can take, or as a full investigation, which does not. It is a narrow distinction, and not terribly important here because they did not actually do anything for the first month that wouldn’t have been okay under a preliminary case.

In a separate issue that kept getting mixed in, the report found errors with four FISA applications to surveil Page. He was a consultant in the Russian and Central Asia oil and gas industry, and had been recruited by Russian agents in 2013, leading the FBI to obtain a warrant from a FISA court to surveil him in 2014, long before he signed on as a Trump advisor. So Page had long been on the FBI’s radar as a possible Russian asset.

In October 2016, the FBI again wanted to look at Page, who was then working for Trump, after they had received a tip that another advisor had boasted that Russia had damaging files relating to Hillary Clinton, but they made errors in the FISA application, and then made errors in the next three, too. (FISA applications run for short periods of time, so they had essentially to renew them, but they were overseen by a different judge every time and all signed off on them, so there was clearly no inside job. I’ve written about that here, too.) Those errors are serious—and FBI Director Christopher Wray has already taken steps to address them– but they did not affect the investigation. Nonetheless, Trump tweeted “They spied on my campaign!” and called the FBI “scum.”

Horowitz’s testimony uncovered only one important thing, to my mind. In October 2016, two days before then-FBI Director James Comey announced the FBI had reopened Clinton’s email investigation, Rudy Giuliani said in a media interview: “I think he’s got a surprise or two that you’re going to hear about in the next few days. I mean, I’m talking about some pretty big surprises.” Then, after Comey made his announcement, Giuliani said that Comey had bowed to “the pressure of a group of FBI agents who don’t look at it politically…. The other rumor that I get is that there’s a kind of revolution going on inside the FBI about the original conclusion [not to charge Clinton] being completely unjustified and almost a slap in the face to the FBI’s integrity…. I know that from former agents. I know that even from a few active agents.” There were rumors at the time that Comey made the damaging announcement to keep rogue FBI agents from leaking the news to the press.

Horowitz says the investigation into those apparent leaks is still open (although he is clearly not hurrying). Comey’s announcement, made after voting had already begun, hurt Clinton badly. Indeed, now that I look at it, it looks quite what Trump and Giuliani were trying to do to Joe Biden, doesn’t it? Anyway, that was the only new thing that came out of that testimony.

A couple of other investigations are also on the radar screen: yesterday, a federal judge refused to dismiss a lawsuit against Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the State Department, and the National Archives and Records Administration saying that Pompeo must produce the missing notes to Trump’s phone calls with Russia. By January 10, they either have to say he complied with preservation laws or explain why not. Then he’ll have until March to produce the documents.

Tomorrow the Supreme Court will begin to decide whether or not to take up Trump’s appeals for two cases he lost in lower courts about whether or not he or his accountants have to produce his financial records and tax returns to Congress. If the Justices decline to hear the cases, he and his accountants will have to produce the information Congress has subpoenaed. If they agree to hear the cases, that does not mean they will decide in his favor. It would, though, buy him until next June or so before their decision.

Finally, tonight, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee tweeted that he would be on Sean Hannity’s show to “explain how [Trump] will be eligible for a 3rd term due to the illegal attempts by Comey, Dems, and media, et al attempting to oust him as [POTUS] so that’s why I was named to head up the 2024 re-election.” My guess is that this is not really about 2024, which is a long way away, but for 2020, when Trump plans to argue that he has been cheated out of his full term and tries to get supporters to refuse to accept anyone but him in the White House. Trump has repeatedly floated the idea that he should get an extension for all the years he has been under investigation; I think this is more of the same. Remember, a Justice Department memorandum says a sitting president cannot be indicted, but once out, he’s fair game. He has no intention of leaving office, but needs to soften up his base to overthrow the Constitution so directly.

That’s it for today’s news from America.

And now, as a special surprise to you who have asked if I would do Brexit… on this fateful day I called in Jim Cronin, a British historian who studies it. He said:

“The exit poll released at 10pm has predicted a big win for Boris Johnson and the Conservatives and, in effect, for Brexit. The poll is likely to hold up and that will mean a Conservative government with a sizable majority for the next five years.

“The result is a very big defeat for Labour and its current leader, Jeremy Corbyn. Voters not only rejected him and his leadership; it is likely that Labour will have lost seats in the northern part of the country that have traditionally been Labour and where antipathy to the Tories has been deep and settled. Labour has already lost its formerly solid base of support in Scotland. Together, these losses mean that the road back from defeat will be long and hard.

“Johnson won by stressing the need “to get Brexit done”, but he also abandoned the Tory commitment to austerity. Can he deliver on Brexit? It surely won’t be as easy as promised. And are the Conservatives sincere about increasing spending on the National Health Service, on housing, and on other social programs? Delivering on Brexit will certainly be more difficult and protracted than promised; and it would require quite a leap of faith to believe that the Tories will deliver on domestic policy. Now, though, they will have the opportunity. Of course, will they lose Scotland and oversee the breakup of the kingdom? Perhaps.”


Wallace tweet:

Horowitz testimony:

Horowitz report:

Testimony about leaks:

Trump Putin notes:

SCOTUS cases:

3rd term:

Originally published on Substack. Re-posted with permission.

DemCast is an advocacy-based 501(c)4 nonprofit. We have made the decision to build a media site free of outside influence. There are no ads. We do not get paid for clicks. If you appreciate our content, please consider a small monthly donation.

Heather Cox Richardson is a political historian who uses facts and history to make observations about contemporary American politics. She is the author, most recently, of To Make Men Free: A History of the Republican Party.

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