Trump Has Created a Political Landscape So Much Stranger Than Most of Us Are Willing to Admit


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When was the last time we had a sitting president and a former FBI director calling each other liars? And something like 100 per cent of the population seems to believe that at least one of the accused liars is a real liar. That’s the new American normal.

The Comey circus produced a holiday atmosphere in DC, with bars open for business before the live hearings came on. And the TV audience for the Comey show was an apparently impressive 19 million-plus viewers. But that’s pallid next to the presidential inauguration’s 30 million-plus, or the Super Bowl’s typical 110 million-plus in the US. Here you may insert the appropriate comment about how these numbers reflect American priorities, with football being five times more engaging than a game where the republic is an underdog.

In this kind of carnival atmosphere, it is little wonder little attention is paid when the director of National Intelligence stonewalls the Senate Intelligence Committee rather than answer questions about presidential law-breaking. Little attention was paid when the director of the Central Intelligence Agency stonewalled rather than answer questions about presidential law-breaking. Even the Senate Intelligence Committee’s Republican majority paid little attention to the stonewalling by top national intelligence community officials, both Trump appointees. Some Democrats paid a little attention, albeit decorously.

Republicans will not entertain pointed questions from uppity black women

The hearing didn’t begin to get close to testy until Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who was instrumental in getting Comey fired, refused again and again to answer a simple question. The question from Democratic senator Kamala Harris of California (where she was state attorney general) was whether Rosenstein would assure the independence of the independent counsel, former FBI director Robert Mueller, who is investigating the relationship between the Trump campaign and Russian power brokers. Rosenstein would not give a direct answer, choosing to stonewall by filibuster. Senator Harris interrupted:

Sir, if I may, the greater assurance is not that you and I believe in Mueller’s integrity … it is that you would put in writing an indication based on your authority as the acting attorney general that he has full independence.

Again Rosenstein rambled unresponsively and again Harris intervened. At that point, two Republican senators, chairman Richard Burr of North Carolina and John McCain of Arizona, intervened and curtly lectured the senator from California on the need for “courtesy.” It looked for all the world like Republicans playing to their base by trying to put the uppity black woman in her place. As a result, Rosenstein was granted the courtesy of being allowed to stonewall like the others, not even giving lip service to future independence, integrity, or justice.

Senator Burr, by insisting on “the courtesy for questions to get answered,” made sure the questions would not get answered. Or rather, Rosenstein’s refusal to say he would do what he could to guarantee the independence of the independent counsel was tantamount to warning Robert Mueller that he was on a short leash. Insofar as that warning is the real message, that is also tantamount to obstruction of justice.

Isn’t it high time to get the FBI working for Trump interests?

And if that weren’t enough to reassure the president that the noose wasn’t tightening around his neck any faster than senators who swore an oath to protect and defend the Constitution could obstruct, the president nominated a new FBI director. That’s a little like the Gambino Family picking its own prosecutor.

The White House’s tweeted choice for James Comey’s successor is Christopher Wray, who has been greeted by largely respectful, if muted acceptance, in the words of The New York Times:

In choosing Mr. Wray, the president is calling on a veteran Washington lawyer who is more low key and deliberative than either Mr. Mueller or Mr. Comey but will remain independent, friends and former colleagues say…. [He] would bring a more subtle management style to the FBI…. [He] is a safe, mainstream pick….

To emphasize that point, the Times ran a picture showing Mueller and Comey, with Wray slightly behind them. The picture was taken in 2004, when Wray was in the Justice Department helping to craft torture policy for President Bush. Wray is overtly political, having given consistently and only to Republican candidates. In 2004, Wray’s testimony about the homicide of a CIA detainee was characterized as “less than truthful” by Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy of Vermont. Wray’s most recent high-profile success was helping to keep New Jersey governor Chris Christie from being indicted for the criminal closing of the George Washington Bridge as political payback. A court allowed Wray to withhold potential evidence against his client.

If being a dishonest Republican torture-promoter isn’t enough to disqualify, maybe his legal work as a partner in the 900-lawyer King & Spalding international law firm would serve. His clients have reportedly included Trump family members. Another partner is the ethics advisor to the Donald J. Trump Revocable Trust. And then there are Wray’s apparent Russian connections reported by USA Today (but not the Times). Wray’s firm has a Moscow office. It “represents Rosneft and Gazprom, two of Russia’s largest, state-controlled oil companies.” Rosneft also has ties to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson who, as Exxon CEO made a $500 billion oil drilling deal with Rosneft, a deal suspended by sanctions imposed by the Obama administration.

Conflicts of interest, dishonesty, torture, corporatocracy, Russian connections—why shouldn’t those be the standards of American law enforcement? It’s the new American normal.

William M. Boardman has over 40 years experience in theatre, radio, TV, print journalism, and non-fiction, including 20 years in the Vermont judiciary. He has received honors from Writers Guild of America, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Vermont Life magazine, and an Emmy Award nomination from the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.



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June 11th, 2017 by