It’s time for a brief governmental shutdown. A couple of days ought to do it, just long enough for everyone in town to read the explosive Bob Woodward book on Donald Trump and his dysfunctional administration.
It’s 448 pages, so some of our leaders may opt for the CliffsNotes, but it’s critical they read Woodward’s book “Fear,” which confirms what anyone paying even the slightest bit of attention already knew: that Trump is profoundly unfit for the job of president. But more than that, it details the work of many of Trump’s aides in trying to protect the nation from our president. If that’s not shocking — and I confess it isn’t — it ought to be.
So, once our so-called leaders are finished reading, then they should meet to decide what the hell to do next.
The above is, of course, the fantasy section of the column. Republican leaders won’t read the book (at least not where anyone can see them) or the CliffsNotes or do anything. There’s plenty of jaw-dropping anecdotes in the book, but not one of them is surprising. And from Republicans in Congress, who are already well aware of the White House dysfunction, we can expect nothing.
If you watched the first day of the highly charged Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearings – when Democrats demanded all the Kavanaugh records, many of which Republicans are withholding — you know all you need to know. Protesters may scream. Democrats, who should have to listened to Michael Bennet and saved the filibuster for this confirmation, may cry coverup. But it’s still business as usual.
Kavanaugh will be asked many tough questions, but maybe none tougher than his thoughts on Trump’s latest attack on the rule of law – his tweet attacking the “Jeff Sessions Justice Department” for indicting two Republican congressman just before the midterms, putting their seats in doubt. It’s enough to make Nixon blush.
What does Kavanaugh do with that question? Can he really not condemn the Trump tweet? Can we really not suspect that Trump nominated Kavanaugh for his well-known willingness to uphold the authority of the executive? Will he look to the Republican response to the Woodward book for guidance?
In a normal political crisis, you’d think there would be only two choices for congressional Republicans, whose enabling of Trump will go down as a scandal of historic proportions, in responding to “Fear.” They could either call it the standard “fake news,” which, as they know, is a little tougher with Woodward, who is not Michael Wolff and not Omarosa. He is, well, Bob Woodward, who, yes, has been rightly criticized for his overuse of anonymous sources, but who says in this case — here’s fear for you — he has tapes of all the conversations.
The other option would to, uh, do something, maybe something as obvious as ensuring that Bob Mueller’s investigation is safe from Trump.
But in this case, there a third option, which will almost certainly be the road taken — for everyone to pretend there is no Woodward book and no echoes of Watergate.
You’ve probably seen the book highlights by now.
How top aides stole papers from Trump’s desk so he’d never see them and act on them.
How Defense Secretary James Mattis, after explaining to the president why we have troops in South Korea (uh, to avoid World War III was Mattis’ answer), said Trump had the understanding of a “fifth or sixth grader.” Or how Trump told Mattis it was time to assassinate Bashar al-Assad, which Mattis simply ignored.
How Chief of Staff John Kelly called Trump an “idiot.” Kelly denies this, but it has been reported before. You may note he didn’t deny the rest of Kelly’s Woodward-reported quote: “It’s pointless to try to convince him of anything. He’s gone off the rails. We’re in crazytown … I don’t even know why any of us are here. This is the worst job I’ve ever had.”
How Trump called Sessions “mentally retarded” — does anyone not believe that? — and “a dumb Southerner” who “couldn’t be a one-person country lawyer down in Alabama.” As David Graham cleverly noted in The Atlantic, a president in this situation might be careful what he says about slow-talking Southern lawyers, referring to the late Sen. Sam Ervin’s long-ago role in Watergate.
There are many more Trumpian insults in the book. But maybe the juiciest excerpt I’ve seen so far is Trump lawyers pushing back against the president’s wish to testify in the Mueller investigation. According to Woodward, former Trump lawyer John Dowd persuaded Trump to do a mock interview, which Trump failed miserably and not only because he started ranting, “This thing’s a goddamn hoax. I don’t really want to testify.”
But here’s where it gets weird. Knowing that Trump couldn’t help but perjure himself, Dowd went to Mueller’s office and apparently, yes, re-enacted the mock interview, with Dowd playing the Mueller role and Jay Sukelow, who is still one of Trump’s lawyers, playing Trump. It’s impossible to believe and yet impossible for anyone to have made up. It’s an SNL skit waiting to happen.
And then there’s this: On the day before Dowd submitted his resignation to Trump, he told Trump, “Don’t testify. It’s either that or an orange jumpsuit.”
The latest from The New York Times is that Mueller will agree to allow Trump to answer some questions in written form. If Trump can avoid a formal interview, it may (or may not) allow him to avoid the whole jumpsuit issue. But we’ll know who didn’t write the answers if they take more than 280 characters and do not include the word “hoax.”