Fair and Unbalanced

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Mike Littwin

"The pump don't work 'cause the vandals took the handles."

Now that the Manafort-Gates indictments are in and the Papadopoulos admission that he lied to the FBI is revealed, the question is how Donald Trump will respond.

Because, as we know, respond he must. It’s what he does.

What we don’t know is whether Trump’s response will set off a constitutional crisis, in which he attempts to fire special counsel Robert Mueller and Congress either does or doesn’t try to stop him. But let’s just say the chance of a crisis is  more likely than the chance of ever seeing a seven-homer, 13-12 World Series game again.

Trump’s tweets are not exactly a tell. They always sound pretty much the same. On the day before the big announcements, his desperate-sounding, attack-on-Clinton, heavy-on-the-caps tweet ended this way: DO SOMETHING! He didn’t say what he wanted done, only something.

And then on the morning of the announcements, he ended his desperate-sounding, attack-on-Clinton, heavy-on-the-caps tweet this way: “NO COLLUSION!” — as if the indictments against Paul Manafort and his aide, Rick Gates, for tax evasion and money laundering, the kinds of charges more often reserved for mobsters than for presidential campaign managers, meant Trump was off the hook.

But the hook is very much there, and maybe what was most surprising about the day is that Trump didn’t attack Mueller, which must mean that he’s listening to his lawyers. The Washington Post reports Trump was fuming as he watched the news break. What else is new?

I don’t know how nervous Trump is, but the people who know about these things say that Mueller’s strategy is pretty obvious, which is to apply the pressure and then keep increasing it. And if Trump’s not nervous — really, really nervous — he has to truly believe that Mueller is off on a wild-hoax chase. Does anyone else believe that?

It seems Mueller laid on the non-campaign-related charges against Manafort and Gates in an effort to get them to flip, as we say in the business. They could both be facing more than 10 years in federal lockup, and there’s nothing to stop Mueller from adding charges. And so the question for Manafort — whose ties to Russian-backed Ukranians are a matter of record —  becomes what did he know and when/if will he spill it. As he considers that question, Manafort, who pleaded not guilty, is out on $10 million bond. Gates is out on $5 million bond. What I’m saying is, this is high-stakes poker.

An hour later, Mueller sweetened the pot by announcing the deal with obscure campaign aide George Papadopoulos to show what can happen if you do cooperate. Papadopoulos, who may face little to no jail time, admitted to lying to the FBI about his Russian connections and, in the details of that deal, we learned that he apparently knew about the Clinton emails in April. Clinton campaign manager John Podesta — whose brother Tony was surprisingly caught up in the Mueller investigation and had to quit his Democratic-friendly lobbying job — had his emails hacked in March, just the month before.

There are other seemingly important revelations in the Papadopoulos charges, which held much more news than the Manafort-Gates indictments. Papadopolouos told senior Trump advisers that the Russians had “dirt” on Clinton from thousands of emails, and at least one of those senior advisers encouraged him to look into setting up a meeting in Russia to learn more. It may not be coincidence that Papadopoulos’ revelations about the emails came not long before the infamous Trump Jr.-Manafort-Kushner meeting with the Russian lawyer and friends at Trump Tower. It may be, in fact, the critical link.

So, where does that leave us? Vox’s Ezra Klein has a point-by-point, where-there’s-smoke-there’s-often-fire list of reasons we should be suspicious. Here are just some of them — none of them, by the way, a smoking gun. But we know that Trump fired FBI chief Jim Comey for refusing to back away from investigating the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia. We know the unusual number of Trump campaign aides with Russian ties.  We now know that Papadopoulos knew very early about the Clinton emails and that the Trump campaign was apparently interested. We know about the Trump Jr. oppo-research meeting with the Russians. We know that Trump, in one of the strangest moves in his oh-so-strange campaign, publicly asked the Russians to hack Clinton’s emails and release them. We know that the Russians did hack Podesta’s emails, did use them to embarrass Clinton, did use social media in an attempt to swing the election.

Meanwhile, in breaks from attacking Clinton on the uranium deal, many in right-wing media — I’m talking about you, Fox News — are saying that Mueller should resign or be fired. In Congress, most Republicans — I’m definitely talking about you, Cory Gardner — weren’t saying anything about the indictments while Democrats were mostly cautious on the charges but insistent that Republicans should make it clear that Trump must not fire Mueller.

Would Trump really go that far? Sure, he would if this is, as it looks, only an opening move by Mueller. It’s the next one that has to worry Trump. And the one after that. And the one after that.

Photo by Mike Licht via Flickr: Creative Commons

It’s not clear if what we have here is the beginning of the revolution or — and this is my guess — the lonely surrender of those few Republican officials who have been willing to speak the truth that Donald Trump’s presidency is a danger to America and to the world.

Whatever it turns out to be, the day was extraordinary. I don’t remember anything quite like it. Of course, I don’t remember any president even remotely like Trump.

It began with Bob Corker, the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, saying that Trump is  “utterly untruthful,” a dangerous liar who is “debasing” both the job and America’s place in the world, who has “devolved” instead of evolved, who lacks the “desire” to make the effort to be a competent leader, whom he would never support again — “no way” — and “who is obviously not going to rise to the occasion as president.”

Trump responded, in his fashion, by reminding everyone that Corker was short, or as Trump tweeted, “liddle.” Also a “lightweight” who couldn’t be elected dog catcher.

That was pretty extraordinary in and of itself. Of course, Corker had already said that Trump could be leading us to World War III and that the White House was basically an adult daycare center. So his anti-Trumpism, which Corker took to every network camera he could find, may not have been all that surprising, but it was still shocking.

What Corker — who is retiring in 2018 — didn’t do was call out his Republican colleagues as the Trumpian enablers that they are. He left that task, apparently, to Jeff Flake, who later in the day stunningly announced he wouldn’t run for re-election in 2018 either, because, he said,  to do so would mean his “complicity in this alarming and dangerous state of affairs” that is the Trump administration.

”It is time,” he said, “for our complicity and our accommodation of the unacceptable to end.”

The unacceptable is, of course, Trump. The complicit are Republican officials. The accommodation is, as Flake put it, Republicans “pretending that the degradation of our politics and the conduct of some in our executive branch are normal. They are not normal…Reckless, outrageous, and undignified behavior has become excused and countenanced as ‘telling it like it is,’ when it is actually just reckless, outrageous, and undignified.”

He said Republicans would never accept that in a Democratic president and must not “meekly” accept it in a Republican president.

It was definitely extraordinary. You can read the speech here. You can watch Flake, whose voice shook with emotion, here. You can wonder, as I did, whether Trump’s feud with Sgt. La David Johnson’s widow, Myeshia Johnson, is what pushed Corker and Flake over the edge.

There were only a few Republicans in the room when he gave the speech. John McCain, Flake’s fellow Arizonan and Trump critic, was one. Corker was another. They reportedly gave him a standing ovation in the mostly empty chamber. Mitch McConnell was also there and thanked Flake for his service. It’s hard to know what McConnell is thinking, but it was probably about the need for 50 votes on tax cuts because, you know, what else really matters.

The problem is that the rebels aren’t manning any barricades. Corker and Flake are basically taking the next bus out of town. Flake was facing a Republican primary in which he already trailed badly in the polls. In his speech, he lamented that there seemed to be no space in Trumpworld for Republicans like him. Ezra Klein pointed out in Vox that Flake’s decision to quit was a victory for Trump, who couldn’t be happier. Steve Bannon said it was another “scalp” for his team. Yes, that’s what he said.

Corker, who supported Trump in the 2016 campaign, didn’t bring himself to become a full-time Trump critic until he had announced his retirement. Trump has insisted — almost certainly untruthfully — that Corker was retiring because Trump had refused to endorse him. Corker says Trump begged him to come back. But the point is still the same. Bravery, at this stage, comes only when the political stakes disappear.

John McCain, meanwhile, is battling brain cancer, and his fight with Trump may be his last one.

The question is who comes forward next, if anyone. We can be sure it won’t be Cory Gardner, who is the anti-Corker. Gardner slammed Trump during the campaign, calling him a “buffoon.” Once Trump was elected, though, Gardner pretty much fell into line, and now as chair of the NRSC, he is working to get Trumpist Republicans, like, say, the anti-Muslim, anti-gay Roy Moore elected. Moore is so much a Trumpist that he even offended Trump, who opposed him in the Republican Senate primary.

Flake is among the few Senate Republicans who has come out against Moore. Flake also wrote a book about his issues with Trump. He has bravely risked his career. And for those who say he still votes with Trump, that’s because Flake is a conservative. Being anti-Trump didn’t change his politics. It changed everything else.

As Flake said in his speech: “When we remain silent and fail to act when we know that silence and inaction is the wrong thing to do, because of political considerations, because we might make enemies, because we might alienate the base, because we might provoke a primary challenge, because ad infinitum, ad nauseam, when we succumb to those considerations in spite of what should be greater considerations and imperatives in defense of our institutions and our liberty, we dishonor our principles and forsake our obligations.”

It was a remarkable moment. And now we sadly wait for the moment to pass.

Photo by Gage Skidmore, via Flickr: Creative Commons. Congressman Jeff Flake and Senator John McCain speaking to the media after at a rally in Goodyear, Arizona.

Let’s be clear what happened here. According to the facts as we know them, a bullying Cub Scout leader kicked an 11-year-old boy out of his den because the boy, Ames Mayfield, asked a tough question of state Sen. Vicki Marble at a Cub Scout event.

Meanwhile, the Boy Scouts of America, including its Denver Area Council, have basically stood silent, refusing to address the issue directly other than to say they’re looking for a new den for Ames that would “allow him to continue his Scouting experience in a way that fits his and his family’s needs.”

I have no idea what that means, other than that they’re looking for a den that doesn’t routinely expel a child for asking a question. I called the Denver Area Council to ask under what authority the den leader had acted and what the Boy Scouts’ responsibility was in dealing with this issue, but the group failed to return my call, which could be interpreted as a failure to do their duty.

So, what should we infer from that silence? That the Boy Scouts condones the scout leader’s bullying behavior? Or that, in the name of privacy — the go-to excuse for most groups practicing damage control — they’re willing to stand by as the leader humiliates a fifth grader while also making a mockery of everything the Boy Scouts are supposed to stand for?

From everything we know — and that we don’t know more is directly on the Boy Scouts — the situation required at most a conversation between leader and parent. And, as far as I can tell, the only situation worth discussing is Ames’ punishment and whether the den leader should be, in fact, the one removed.

Drumming a kid out of his den would seem to be an extreme punishment under any circumstances. But what makes this story especially egregious was that the educational assignment for the Broomfield scouts was to research an issue in the news and then put questions to Marble, the invited guest.

Which is exactly what Ames did.

Ames came fully prepared, asking several questions. One was about Marble’s more-than-controversial statements at a 2013 legislative hearing on poverty in which she blamed high mortality rates in the black community on eating too much barbecue and chicken. If you don’t remember Marble’s trip down racial-stereotype lane, here’s the money quote from 2013: “When you look at life expectancy, there are problems in the black race. Sickle-cell anemia is something that comes up. Diabetes is something that’s prevalent in the genetic makeup, and you just can’t help it.”

And then she adds: “Although I’ve got to say, I’ve never had better barbecue and better chicken and ate better in my life than when you go down South and you, I mean, I love it. Everybody loves it.”

We’ve come to expect odd statements from Marble, a Fort Collins senator, on a variety of issues — I’m surprised she didn’t mention the health benefits of watermelon — but let’s just say that barbecue comments usually come at the top, or bottom, of anyone’s list.

When Ames asked her about the barbecue/chicken comments, Marble blamed it all on so-called fake news. “That was made up by the media,” she said, telling Ames he could believe if it he wanted to.

It wasn’t made up, of course. The full quote from that hearing is available for everyone to see, including by Ames when he was doing his research. And upon hearing Marble tell a bunch of kids that the media took her comments out of context that day, The Denver Post editorial board slammed her for telling a “finger-lickin’ lie.”

But that apparently was not the question that got Ames into trouble. He also asked Marble about gun control, a story that, sadly, is once again all over the news following the Las Vegas massacre. Marble is a strong defender of gun rights, and so Ames asked a long and tough question about her positions. It wasn’t the only tough question she got. Others asked about the border wall, about fossil fuels.

Here’s the heart of Ames’ question: “I was shocked that you co-sponsored a bill to allow domestic violence offenders to continue to own a gun. Why on earth would you want someone who beats their wife to have access to a gun?”

Ames went on for two minutes before the facilitator cut him off so Marble could answer. And five days later, the Cub Scout Pack leader asked for a meeting with Ames’ mother, Lori Mayfield, who says she was told that the den leader thought Ames’ question had been disrespectful. And that he wanted him out.

It was Ames’ mother who put his exchange with Marble on YouTube and who gave the video to Colorado Pols, which helpfully provided a transcript. And that’s almost certainly why we’re having this discussion. If you look on social media, where the story is raging, you’ll find some people ready to blame all this on the mother, as if Ames, a smart kid, couldn’t have come up with the questions himself. But more than that, even if the scouts thought the mother encouraged Ames — as if getting help from your parents were somehow a bad thing — how would that excuse expelling a fifth grader?

Even Gabby Giffords added her support for Ames, tweeting: “This is exactly the kind of courage we need in Congress. Ames, call me in 14 years. I’ll campaign for you.”

Ames has been in the Cub Scouts for years. He is months from moving on to the Boy Scouts, who have recently liberalized their views on gays and are even now accepting girls as participants. But asking a state senator a tough question is, for at least one leader, a step too far.

Ames says he may or may not join another den, although other dens have offered membership. You can understand any ambivalence. His mother says he is “heartbroken.” And that is the real crime here.

Photo of Ames Mayfield, courtesy of Lori Mayfield

This is not exactly a newsflash, but Tom Tancredo is threatening to run for governor. Again. And any establishment Republican politician in Colorado who doesn’t know enough to be scared witless by this possibility is in the wrong line of work.

It has taken a lifetime for Tancredo and Donald Trump to breathe the same political air, but that time is now, even if Trump (just guessing here) doesn’t have the slightest idea who Tancredo is.

But Trump ally Steve Bannon knows Tancredo. Among Tancredo’s, uh, credentials is that he’s a regular columnist for Bannon’s Breitbart News — a journalistic match made somewhere short of heaven. I can’t wait for Tancredo to cover himself. With a flag, of course. And, no doubt, with a big, beautiful wall — on Mexico’s tab, of course — in the background.

I always used to say that Tancredo columns wrote themselves. Now Tancredo columns can literally write themselves. And his bombast makes Trump look almost measured.  Trump may have made news by calling Mexican immigrants rapists. But Tancredo used to keep a fake-news list of illegal-immigrant murderers on his office door during his own slightly-hilarious-and-more-than-slightly-terrifying run for president.

What you need to know about Bannon, who made news by apparently sounding out Tancredo about a run, is that he cares far less about Trump than he does about Trumpism. And I don’t know who makes a better Trumpist than Tancredo, the sometimes-Republican bomb-thrower (and potential Mecca bomb-dropper) who was anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim and anti-Bush back when Trump was still a pro-choice Democrat.

Bannon has already threatened a “season of war” against Mitch McConnell, meaning a series of high-cost primaries against any Republican Senate incumbent who isn’t Trumpist enough. Tancredo is not running for the Senate, of course, but the call to revolution — particularly against his own party — is a siren Tancredo would never resist, whatever the office.

What I mean is, the way you’ll know whether Tancredo is running is to keep an eye out out for any balding septuagenarian setting up barricades.

If you missed the bizarre Trump-McConnell Rose Garden news conference Monday, in which Trump came down strongly on both sides of the Republican civil war, you know what I’m talking about. McConnell begged Republicans not to nominate people like Christine O’Donnell, Sharron Angle, Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock, who all ran for the Senate in 2010 during the Tea Party panic and lost.

“You have to nominate people who can actually win, because winners make policy and losers go home,” McConnell said to the press. But his real audience, of course, was Trump, who can’t seem to make policy even when he’s on the winning team.

Bannon, meanwhile, is scouring the country for Tancredo-style candidates who give hope to every Democrat thinking there’s a chance to take back the Senate. But what you have in the Colorado governor’s race is not only the chance to run against Republicans who back the McConnells and the Ryans, but to run against people who are, in fact, the Bushes (or their relative) and the Romneys (or their relative).

Before we go any further, I have to make a small confession. Whenever Tancredo says he’s running for anything, I’m all in. I know it’s wrong, but I can’t help it. I mean, there’s no other candidate who is sure to deliver a High Noon showdown against Dan Maes. What other Republican can brag about the time Karl Rove told him never to darken the White House steps again? This stuff is catnip for a political columnist.

But it’s not all selfish. It’s also one more opportunity for Colorado to reject the Tancredo brand — the carnival-barking demagogue who found his niche somewhere in the alt-right even before anyone knew the term. Twice he has run for governor, and twice he has lost.

So, he’s back, and his alleged reason for considering yet another run is perfect. In the post-Charlottesville Trumpworld, Tancredo seems worried that Colorado Republicans aren’t sufficiently white nationalist. No wonder Bannon is on his team. I’m sure there are many other fine people lining up to help.

Yes, Tancredo says he might have to run because none of the thousands of Republicans already in the race stood up for VDARE, the white nationalist group that had its scheduled Colorado Springs event canceled by the host resort hotel. Basically, Mayor John Suthers pushed VDARE out of town. And among those pushed was, of course, Tancredo, who had been scheduled to speak at the event.

And so he told The Denver Post, “Not one Republican in this state, no one elected or running for office, has the guts to say, ‘What the hell is going on?’ What ever happened with the First Amendment? Have we totally annihilated it in our rush to appease the left?”

Since then, Tancredo, the ultimate anti-appeaser, has been on a viability tour, asking Republican voters whether this is his time.

Well, I’ve got good news for him and bad news for Republicans.

He’s viable. In fact, the larger the field, the better chance Tancredo has to win while running as a unscripted Trump mini-me in a bad sports jacket. If the field were any larger, they’d need to borrow Mile High Stadium for debates. And, believe me, no one would kneel during the National Anthem.

Trancredo has his own solid base among Colorado Republicans. He would have no problem raising money. And, like Trump, he’s an expert at what we used to call earned media and what we now call the clown show.

The problem for Republicans is that this clown has no chance — as in none — to beat whoever wins the Democratic primary. He lost in the general election in 2010 and in the Republican primary in 2014. And, though he may be the Trumpiest guy around, let’s remember that Trump lost Colorado in 2016. If Trump can’t win as Trump, how could we expect Tancredo to?

And here’s what makes it worse for Republicans. Tancredo could care less if he loses. Seriously. Losing has become a habit for him by now. Besides, he’s not even running to become governor. He just wants to be back in the fight. And this time, with Steve Bannon in his corner, believe me, it’s going to be bloody.

Everyone in America is talking about the Trump-Corker-World-War-III feud. Except for those talking about the latest Trump-NFL-Jemele-Hill flare-up. And, yeah, those talking about the Trump-Tillerson-IQ-test throwdown. (Spoiler alert: If you’re the president and you challenge your Secretary of State to an IQ test, you are, by definition, a moron.)  And, sure, the latest on Harvey Weinstein’s repulsive Hollywood role as male predator, which Trump has said did not surprise him at all.

It’s not that there aren’t other things to discuss, like why the NRA isn’t calling for a ban of bump stocks after all. And why Trump has set up a string of barriers — including yet one more futile attempt to impose his freaking wall— to any agreement on protection for Dreamers. And why the only daycare anyone seems to be focusing on is the adult daycare in the White House.

Or maybe we can talk about the stripping of the Obama-era EPA rules. Or the moves toward decertifying the Iran nuke deal. Or the “one thing” that can stop North Korea. Or the catastrophic wildfires in Northern California, which, as of this writing, Trump hadn’t mentioned. Or why Trump is angry that he’s not getting enough credit (blame?) for the conditions in Puerto Rico. Or why he tried to take all the credit (blame?) for Mike Pence’s phony NFL walk-out stunt.

But if you’re starting to feel like the long-anticipated national crack-up has finally arrived — and, I know, it does feel that way — don’t fool yourself. It’s just another day in Trumpworld, in which Trump belittles while America burns.

There are websites that will give you by-the-second countdown until Trump’s four years are up. And if that doesn’t sufficiently discourage you, there are pundits who will tell you that Trump, despite his disastrous poll ratings, is well positioned to be re-elected.

Meanwhile, there’s the Trump-Corker feud to consume us. It began with Corker, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, saying the few adults in the White House were all that stood between the nation and “chaos.” Corker, who recently announced he would not seek re-election in 2018, found himself suddenly unburdened by any political imperative and did that rarest of things —he told the truth.

If there’s anything Trump dislikes more than a weekend at Camp David, it’s telling the truth. So he tweeted out a lie about Corker, saying the two-term conservative Tennessee senator had begged for Trump’s endorsement and that he didn’t run for reelection because he didn’t have the guts. It was such an obvious lie that no one took it seriously, except maybe Corker. He took it seriously enough to give an interview to The New York Times in which he made the world nervous with his take on Trump and the dangers of world war. And he made his Republican colleagues even more nervous by revealing that nearly all of them agreed with his assessment that Trump was a danger.

This was the essential truth — that Republican senators (see: Gardner, Cory) know how reckless and uninformed Trump is and yet they do nothing about it. Of course, there’s plenty that Corker himself could do, given his role as chair of the Foreign Relations Committee and given his past as a deficit hawk. We’ll see if actions match his words.

But what we do know is how Daycare Donald responded to these incredible charges from the normally low-key, but very influential, senator. Yes, he tweeted about Corker’s height.

He’s Liddle Bob Corker now, not to be confused with Li’l Marco Rubio, who once also told the truth about Trump, but that was long ago. And when Trump wasn’t hitting Corker for his 5-foot-7 frame, Trump was saying he was smarter than Rex Tillerson and wanted to go all Stanford-Binet on him. Now, tell me, who was the last president to have issued an IQ challenge?

It’s no wonder that Michael Bennet was moved recently to say he felt sorry for his Republican colleagues who wake up every day in fear of what Trump has done now and how they can possibly defend it. I’m sure Bennet was basically talking about Gardner, who is in an even tougher position than most Republicans as the head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, meaning he is charged with getting, say, the homophobic, Islamaphobic Roy Moore elected senator in Alabama.

I’m not going to waste any tears on Gardner, who, we know, will dodge any question on whether he agrees with Corker’s assessment. Those few senators who have been caught and forced to say something have basically said that they have more important things to do than comment on a feud, but actually they don’t. Corker’s warning tells us as much about the cowardly GOP-led Senate as it does about the dangers of Trump’s impulsiveness.

This is on the Trump enablers who try to pretend that Trump’s presidency isn’t a disaster. And Corker, who supported Trump during the 2016 campaign, knows he has been one of them.

As Corker told The Times: “The vast majority of our caucus understands what we’re dealing with here. There will be some — if you write that, I’m sure there will be some that say, ‘No, no, no I don’t believe that,’ but of course they understand the volatility that we are dealing with and the tremendous amount of work that it takes from people around him to keep him in the middle of the road.”

It’s pretty clear that Trump’s undercutting of Rex Tillerson on North Korea is what moved Corker to speak out. It’s also pretty clear we should take the warning seriously. After all, if you’re a serious person, you don’t just toss out World War III warnings. We’re just left to hope that Corker is not a liddle too late.

Photo by David Bolton via Flickr: Creative Commons