Trump or Bolton: Who’s the Boss?

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Tensions between the United States and Iran have been on a steady decline over the last two years, but the past week or two have seen things getting alarmingly worse. Almost as concerning, however, is that the president may not be entirely to blame.

A series of escalatory moves – starting with the deployment of additional U.S. forces to the Persian Gulf and new unilateral sanctions on Iran and ending with the alarming withdrawal of U.S. diplomats from Iraq due to alleged Iranian threats – have all contributed to a growing dread that we may be on a collision course for conflict. The Pentagon even recently reviewed a plan to send up to 120,000 men and women in uniform to the Middle East in response to any Iranian aggression.

But according to more recent reports, President Trump is frustrated by it all, and unconvinced he even wants a war with Iran. So who does?

The same man who’s always wanted one: John Bolton.

Bolton had been a loud and public advocate for war with Iran since his controversial time in the George W. Bush Administration. He is a vociferous opponent of diplomacy, and his zeal for conflict isn’t limited towards just Tehran – he is unapologetic about his support for the Iraq War, and has pushed for preemptive strikes and interventions from North Korea to Venezuela.

It was Bolton who made the announcement about sending a carrier strike group to “send Iran a message.” And the news that the intelligence leading to the Iraq personnel withdrawal is highly suggestive of his style as well – especially given that some of our allies, in particular the British, have said the threat is being exaggerated. (Bolton infamously pushed politicized intelligence in the lead up to the Iraq War.) Taken with the fact that President Trump withdrew from the Iran Deal against former Secretary Mattis’ advice only after Bolton came on board his administration, a clear picture of his corrosive influence starts to emerge.

Bolton as a warmonger is not a revelatory idea. The more interesting (and frightening) thought is Bolton as someone who is dragging, or even manipulating, the president towards a position – and an armed conflict – that he does not want.

While no one can deny that President Trump has been aggressive in his own posture and rhetoric towards Iran, there was always a contradiction there. Candidate Trump campaigned against foreign interventions, especially in the Middle East; it was this isolationist streak that turned so many like Bolton off from serving early on in the administration. The president must also recognize that his base (and the majority of the country) is opposed to wars of choice, thanks to normally friendly voices like Laura Ingraham and Tucker Carlson.

So the question for President Trump is: in the face of his own instincts and the views of his most vocal supporters, will he continue to allow Bolton to push him around? The situation in the White House seems reminiscent of Steve Bannon’s tenure as a senior advisor – constantly overshadowing the president, and being seen as his puppet master. Will he allow Bolton to have a similar outsized influence, all for a policy that would put our troops at risk and launch another unpopular Middle East war that would make the Iraq War seem quaint by comparison?

In other words, who’s the boss?

Copyright 2019 Graham F. West, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Graham F. West is the Communications Director for Truman Center for National Policy and Truman National Security Project, though views expressed here are his own. You can reach West at [email protected]

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Oversight is Not Optional in Democracy

After (falsely) claiming total exoneration from the release of a redacted version of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report, President Trump has dug in his heels even further, telling reporters that the White House was fighting “all the subpoenas” from Democrats in the House of Representatives.

Presumably included on that list are efforts by the House Judiciary Committee to subpoena former White House counsel Don McGahn to testify on his testimony in Mueller’s report. There’s also the House Oversight Committee, which held former White House personnel security director Carl Kline in contempt earlier this week when he chose not to respond to a subpoena about security clearance practices in the administration’s early days. And of course, there is also the ongoing fight between the Department of the Treasury and the House Ways and Means Committee over President Trump’s long-hidden tax returns.

More broadly, the president seems to be signaling that he’s disinclined to cooperate with any sort of congressional oversight. Unfortunately for him, that isn’t how our democracy – or any functioning democracy – works.

Congress is a co-equal branch of the executive by design. It a well-known feature of the U.S. government’s origin story that our founders were fearful of an overpowered head-of-state, and it’s reflected in the way our government is structured. When you add to that the Republican Party’s constant rhetoric of panic around President Obama’s supposed imperial presidency, and their willingness to use every mechanism of congressional oversight to harass him for eight years but produce no results (i.e. not one instance of obstruction of justice – much less Mueller’s ten-plus examples), President Trump’s stance is even more bizarre and hypocritical.

Beyond that – and specific to the question around a possible testimony from McGahn or anyone else who is tangent to the special counsel’s work – the fact remains that the conversation around the Mueller investigation is not yet concluded. Mueller clearly left the question of whether or not the president of the United States committed obstruction of justice to Congress. He laid out the case in his report, but was unable to do more based on Department of Justice guidelines that suggest a sitting president cannot be indicted for a crime.

This is the school of thought that is leading some Democratic leaders to consider impeachment, and others urging a wait-and-see (and investigate some more) approach. Whether one believes the Mueller Report is a formal or informal impeachment referral or not, the clear answer is more congressional investigation to choose the right path forward. That starts with testimony – from those with explosive stories to tell, like McGahn, as well as from Mueller himself.

And that’s why Trump’s attitude about oversight is dangerous – not just for the country, but for himself as well. He appears to have learned all the wrong lessons from the Mueller Investigation, likely lulled into a sense of complacency by a protective attorney general, a complacent GOP Congress, and an devoted echo chamber of right-wing media. By continuing to up the ante with public proclamations rather than a quiet legal battle, he draws more attention to his behavior – behavior that is anecdotal evidence that he’s exactly the type of president who would try to stop an investigation into himself.

Unfortunately for Trump, he is more brawler than tactician (in the sense that the same can be said of a bull in a china shop). His intransigence may be satisfying in the short-run, but it’s far from certain it will protect him in the long run – at least, if our democracy functions as it should.

For now, it is clear the subpoena fights and the Mueller Investigation conversation will persist because, whether the president likes it or not, oversight is not optional in democracy.

Copyright 2019 Graham F. West, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Graham F. West is the Communications Director for Truman Center for National Policy and Truman National Security Project, though views expressed here are his own. You can reach West at [email protected]

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An Unusual Emergency

Just days ago, President Donald Trump finally signed a bipartisan bill to keep the U.S. government open and functioning for longer than a stopgap amount of time. He also declared a national emergency in order to do what the funding bill didn’t: reallocate money for his border wall.

It was an extraordinary step to address what one might call an “unusual” emergency. The White House was quick to point out that presidents have declared more than 50 national emergencies since the National Emergencies Act became law in 1976. But has there ever been an emergency quite like this one?

Has there ever been an emergency where the “crisis” exists for two years, but it doesn’t become an “emergency” until the president’s party loses the House in the midterms? Because the Republican Party held both the House and Senate for the first half President Trump’s term, and he didn’t build the wall then.

Has there ever been an emergency where our national security and intelligence leaders didn’t sound the alarm to Congress? Because Director of National Intelligence Dan Coates, FBI Director Christopher Wray, and CIA Director Gina Haspel didn’t mention the urgent need for a wall in their Worldwide Threat Assessment briefing last month.

Has there ever been an emergency where the military was deployed to deal with a situation, but that wasn’t sufficient to resolve the crisis? Because the Trump Administration has sent thousands of active duty troops and National Guardsmen to the southern border already and continues to keep them there, even though former Secretary of Defense James Mattis admitted that their long term mission is “somewhat to be determined.”

Has there ever been an emergency where the president has repeated so many falsehoods, exaggerations, and made-up anecdotes? Because from denying the facts about drug trafficking in legal ports of entry to telling harrowing tales of women with their mouths duct taped closed (that no one can verify), this president has done a remarkably poor job of basing his case in facts or reason.

And has there ever been an emergency where the president declared it and then jetted off to his private vacation club? Because that’s what President Trump did last week: He signed the papers, and promptly flew off to Mar-a-Lago for a long weekend on our dime.

There has been no emergency like this, of course, because there is no emergency. The president’s own actions and rhetoric (he literally said he “didn’t need to do this” while declaring the emergency) make that point clear. It’s a ridiculous executive overreach meant to pander to the president’s base and his own ego.

Thankfully, there is a way out of this non-emergency. The aforementioned National Emergencies Act allows for either house of Congress to pass a repudiation of a president’s national emergency declaration; if passed, it then forces the other house to vote on that same resolution.

In other words, Democrats in the House of Representatives can call the president’s bluff on this fake emergency – and then force Republicans in the Senate to take a stance, which should be interesting given how many of them said they were against the declaration before the president made it. It would be interesting to know how their concerns about fiscal responsibility, comprehensive border security, and the U.S. Constitution stack up against their willingness to challenge the president.

Regardless of the outcome, it has never been more clear that we are living through a test of our democracy and its associated norms and rules. This “unusual” emergency only drives that point home.

Copyright 2019 Graham F. West, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Graham F. West is the Communications Director for Truman Center for National Policy and Truman National Security Project, though views expressed here are his own. You can reach West at [email protected]

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Climate Change Remains a Threat at Home

At the tail end of last week, the Department of Defense released an overdue report on the effects of climate change on military bases in the United States.The report, required by law under the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act (that was passed by the Republican-controlled Congress and signed by President Trump), was intended to provide a full accounting of “vulnerabilities to the military resulting from climate change over the next 20 years.”

What we got fell short, to say the least.

Set aside, for a moment, the fact that the report was not initially released to the public and only saw the light of day thanks to environmental groups’ activism. The document mentioned only 79 facilities, failing to consider all military bases or include any Marine Corps installations. It was also missing key portions it should have included as directed by law, like a list of the top ten installations threatened by climate consequences for each military branch or a cost mitigation plan for dealing with these problems. These failings and more have earned the ire of some lawmakers: Senator Jack Reed, a Democrat from Rhode Island, called the report “an alphabetical list” and said it “reads like an introductory primer and carries about as much weight as a phonebook.”

Yet despite its reduced form, the report was astounding in its own way. Because even the Trump Administration – stubborn as a mule about accepting climate change, let alone fighting it – could not hide the truth: Climate change is having an impact on our military readiness and operations here at home.

Those effects, of course, go far beyond the flooding, droughts, and wildfires that are (however reluctantly) cited in the report. Rising sea levels are already costing our coastal installations, and the damage will only increase as flooding damage increases in the decades to come. Extreme heat stresses our power grid and leads to outages, which can in turn cut off critical support for ongoing missions in the field. And increasingly powerful natural disasters that strike our cities, destroy our infrastructure, and kill our citizens necessarily sap military resources when it comes time for recovery efforts.

To be clear, the report is far from enough – such a halfhearted effort hardly deserves praise. It fails to go into the depth specified by Congress, and it is dangerously light on proposed solutions or even a ranked-by-urgency assessment of the (incomplete) list of problems it does identify. Worse, there is little hope that the president himself will react appropriately; he has continuously disregarded climate reports, from his own administration and international organizations alike, as inconsequential to his worldview and his policymaking.

Nonetheless, the report it is a sobering reminder that climate change poses a national security threat not just abroad, but here at home at well – whether our lawmakers choose to acknowledge it or not. Such a reminder seems hardly necessary given the death and destruction we’ve seen from superstorms and wildfires over the past year. And of course, there’s the fact that national security leaders have been making these same arguments in a nonpartisan manner since the Bush Administration.

Some folks in the Trump Administration, it seems, are still a little slow to come along. Here’s hoping they figure out how to lead, follow, or get out of the way – before the rest of us suffer the consequences of their negligence.

Copyright 2019 Graham West, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Graham West is the Communications Director for Truman Center for National Policy and Truman National Security Project, though views expressed here are his own. You can reach West at [email protected]

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Trump’s Attorney General Pick Falls Short

William Barr is relatively qualified, especially for a Trump nominee. In fact, he held the office he has been nominated for, attorney general, under President George H. W. Bush from 1991 to 1993. One would assume that prior experience would have prepared him for a strong showing in his confirmation hearing this week before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Unfortunately, Barr fell short – specifically in his commentary and commitments with regard to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.

For one, Barr refused to recuse himself from overseeing the ongoing investigation into possible collusion between Russia and the Trump orbit to influence our 2016 election. In fact, he wouldn’t even promise to follow the advice of ethics officials of the Justice Department on whether or not he should do so.

Barr also declined to promise to make the results of the Mueller investigation public, despite the fact that the American people clearly deserve to see any and all conclusions about how our democracy was influenced by a foreign power. He wouldn’t agree to any stringent protections for the special counsel either, offering only his word that he wouldn’t fire Mueller without cause. (These assurances are a necessity, as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is still blocking bipartisan legislation meant to prohibit the president from a politically-motivated firing of one of his favorite angry tweet targets.)

All of this presents cause for concern because Barr has previously been vocally opposed to the special counsel’s investigation. He wrote an unsolicited memo in June of 2018 detailing for the White House why he found part of the probe to be “fatally misconceived” and arguing – based on his limited knowledge of the case as a private citizen – that there was no obstruction case against President Trump. In addition, Barr had also praised the president’s more dubious decisions before, including his firing of then-FBI Director James Comey (which the president said he did because of the “Russia thing”).

Were these merely efforts by Barr to put himself forward for a position in the high-turnover environment of this administration? Perhaps so – others have done less to get the attention of the Trump White House and ended up comfortably employed, at least for a time. Regardless, these particular actions raise a red flag in light of the would-be attorney general’s unwillingness to commit to defending the Russia investigation in a way that satisfies all parties involved.

What Barr needed to do during his hearing was show that he prioritized law and order over the favor of his president. He could have recused on account of his past opposition to the Mueller probe and indicated that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein could continue overseeing his work, but he did not. He could have promised to make even just the results, if not the full report, from the investigation public, but he would not. And he could have spoken in favor of bipartisan legislation to protect the special counsel from a politically-motivated firing (or even voiced support for more stringent protections, like those offered by Acting Attorney General Robert Bork to the second Watergate prosecutor in 1973).

He did not.

Regardless of party, most Americans can agree that we seem to be living in extraordinary times. With new Russia-related revelations coming by the day, we need an attorney general who is clear and unequivocal about prioritizing transparency, accountability, and oversight.

Unfortunately, Barr’s confirmation hearing was far from sending that much-needed signal.

Copyright 2019 Graham West, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Graham West is the Communications Director for Truman Center for National Policy and Truman National Security Project, though views expressed here are his own. You can reach West at [email protected]

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Trump’s Ego is Keeping the Government Shutdown

On Dec. 11, President Trump said he would be “proud to shut down the government.”

That’s an important boast to remember a month later, as the government shutdown approaches its fourth week. And as sure as the president claimed he’d accept responsibility for the shutdown then, he’s avoiding any and all responsibility for it now. Most recently, he stormed out of an Oval Office meeting with legislators after they refused to accept his demands.

The $5.7 billion chunk of funding the president demands for his border wall is the reason for the shutdown. Much like any other Trump product, the wall is expensive, ineffective, and primarily meant to gratify its champion’s ego. It’s also not worth the pain that the shutdown is causing federal workers and contractors across the country.

The president claims he wants a wall to stop drugs and dangerous criminals from crossing over the southern border. This argument, however, rests more in his prejudices and xenophobia than it does in fact. Most drugs enter our country through legal points of entry rather than across land.

A physical barrier also won’t fix visa overstays – a more urgent immigration challenge than border crossings, which have been decreasing for years. Ignoring its ineffectiveness, the wall itself is also completely impractical, given the wildly varying terrain and ownership of land along the almost 2,000-mile border.

There is also no “security crisis” to speak of on the southern border. The vast majority of those who are coming to our country via migration from the south are among the most vulnerable people in the world: parents and children feeling extreme violence and poverty in Central America, seeking only opportunity and safety in a new land. The only humanitarian crisis is that which has been wrought by this administration’s draconian immigration policies, from children detained away from their parents to restrictive rules for asylum-seekers and the rescinding of DACA to historically low refugee admissions.

The president and his enablers in Congress – chief among them Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who could easily bring up the exact same no-wall funding package that the Senate already passed in December – can blame the Democrats for the shutdown all they want. But the simple calculus is that the Republicans have demonstrably chosen to make the wall their top priority above all other functions of the U.S. government. Otherwise, there would be no reason not to re-open the government and return to normalcy now, and continue the border security policy discussion as a separate item.

What happens next remains to be seen. As he headed to the southern border, the president said he would “maybe definitely” consider declaring a national emergency to force his unwanted policy on the American people. This opens up a host of new questions, not least of all where he would re-appropriate $5.7 billion from and how such an audacious executive overreach would fare in court. In the meantime, though, the shutdown continues to deprive federal workers and contractors of their paychecks and the American people of an increasing number of the services that their government provides.

The craziness of these times is almost enough to make one nostalgic for the days of the campaign trail, when then-candidate Trump insisted Mexico would foot the bill for his vanity project. Unfortunately, that – like everything else about the wall, and our current situation – was based on little more than foolishness and falsehood.

Copyright 2019 Graham West, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Graham West is the Communications Director for Truman Center for National Policy and Truman National Security Project, though views expressed here are his own. You can reach West at [email protected]

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Rosenstein Remains at Risk

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein has had a whirlwind two weeks.

When a New York Times story claimed that Rosenstein had previously discussed “wearing a wire” and removing President Trump via the 25th Amendment to the Constitution (which provides for cabinet officials to declare a president incompetent to serve), it seemed almost certain he would be fired, forced to resign, or otherwise out. At one point last week, thanks to some confused reporting, it looked like the deputy attorney general was already gone.

The president, however, went a different route. Instead of firing Rosenstein in absentia (as he has previously done with many White House officials), he indicated to reporters he would “very much like to keep” Rosenstein in his post. This was, to be sure, a show of restraint as unprecedented as it was welcome, given how the president usually reacts to those who criticize him.

But now, even after a presidential reprieve, the Deputy Attorney General is back in the thick of it. The head of the cartoonishly conservative House Freedom Caucus, Republican Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina, has announced that the House Judiciary Committee will have Rosenstein testify in a closed door hearing on October 11th, both on his remarks as reported by the Times and any other topic of their choosing.

The trouble is that even in normal circumstances, the hyper-partisan House – where many of the president’s most unapologetic defenders dwell – is a dangerous place for Rosenstein to go.

Set aside for a moment that it isn’t clear Rosenstein ever said the things the Times piece claimed he did. Not only did he deny it, many outlets doing subsequent reporting qualified his remarks as ‘in jest’ or ‘sarcastic.’

The more urgent issue is that Rosenstein is the manager, and the guardian, of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation – something President Trump’s aforementioned champions would very much like to do away with. (Rosenstein appointed Mueller to his post, and supervises his investigation because Attorney General Jeff Sessions had to recuse himself from all Russia-related matters on account of his failure to disclose his own Russian contacts to the Senate committee that approved his nomination.)

Any effort to pressure Rosenstein into resignation now, whether from the White House or the people’s House, could set our nation on a dangerous course. With the deputy attorney general out, the president would be free to do what he’s reportedly tried to do at least twice before: fire Mueller before he can complete his investigation.

Such an action would provoke a constitutional crisis, not to mention nationwide protests unlike any we’ve seen even in the past two years. It would also leave unanswered key questions that relate to our national security – namely, what was the extent of Russian interference in our 2016 election, which if any Americans in the Trump orbit aided in or benefited from that interference, and how can we stop it from happening again in 2018 and beyond?

The bottom line is simple. Mueller’s investigation must continue until it is done, so Rosenstein must keep his job.

All this is to say that the Rosenstein journey to the Hill next week is fraught with risk, and it will be up to level-headed elected officials and members of the media to react to whatever new leaks or tall tales may come out of it with the wider possible consequences in mind.

Copyright 2018 Graham West, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Graham West is the Communications Director for Truman Center for National Policy and Truman National Security Project, though views expressed here are his own. You can reach West at [email protected]

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Just Three Republicans

Months ago, the Senate Judiciary Committee reviewed, discussed, and passed bipartisan legislation that would protect Special Counsel Mueller from a politically-motivated firing. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, however, refuses to let the legislation come up for a vote in the full Senate.

Now, House Democrats are trying a different tactic.

They plan to bring up their own Mueller protection legislation for discussion in the House Judiciary Committee. In order to force their Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., to allow the conversation, however, they need just three Republicans to vote with them.

Three Republican votes. Not to pass the legislation, or even to move it out of committee. Just three votes to even talk about it.

Their timing couldn’t be better. In a Tuesday morning interview, President Trump suggested that his recent declassification of specific pages of the Carter Page FISA paperwork and text message records from civil servants in law enforcement will lead to the exposure of the Russia investigation as a great “hoax” – an achievement, he said, that would rank among the greatest in his presidency.

Never mind that House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif., already tried to prove the claims that the president is espousing, only to end up verifying the opposite. (That is, that Page was a surveillance subject for suspicious activities well before the campaign, and that the Fusion GPS dossier was not, in fact, the primary driver behind the Trump-Russia investigation.) Never mind that the select declassification of individual pages of a document will surely tell a cherry-picked, partial story. And never mind that having more text messages floating out in the discourse (likely without context) will fuel the president’s authoritarian tendency to attack individual citizens of our democracy from the bully pulpit of the president.

What this declassification action will do is fuel the president’s ire against Special Counsel Mueller. And that ire will only grow more volatile as whatever half-baked conclusions he reaches are reinforced in his mind by a chorus of sympathizers and supporters repeating them on Fox News. Will it be enough to cause Trump to fire the special counsel and set off a constitutional crisis? Perhaps, though hopefully not. But the president’s increasingly open loathing and slander against Mueller in recent months make it a possibility we cannot dismiss.

Three Republican votes on the House Judiciary Committee are all we need to simply have a mere conversation about possibly taking proactive action against such a catastrophe.

Other Republicans have already called for such legislation in addition to those on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Five House Republicans signed onto their own variant of the Mueller protection bill back in April of 2017; another co-sponsored a similar piece of legislation with a Democrat. Many – all the way up to Speaker of the House Paul Ryan – have expressed their agreement with the majority of the American people that the special counsel should be able to continue his investigation to its conclusion.

These sentiments are critical, but they are not enough. It is time for action.

It is time for just three Republican members of the House Judiciary Committee to join their Democratic colleagues, put country above party, and demand the opportunity to at least discuss this problem and a potential solution. There is no denying that there may be a political cost for them to do so in the present, but it could well save us all some more significant pain in the near future.

Copyright 2018 Graham West, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Graham West is the Communications Director for Truman Center for National Policy and Truman National Security Project, though views expressed here are his own. You can reach West at [email protected]

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All the President’s (Former) Men

It has been a tough week in court for the president’s former men.

First, a jury found former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort guilty on eight counts of financial crimes (with a lone holdout keeping the jury from consensus on 10 more guilty verdicts). This is only Manafort’s first of two trials; his next, to address his failure to register as a foreign agent, will begin in September. Even before that second trial, the former lobbyist has already has been sentenced to enough years as to spend the rest of his days in prison.

Second, special counsel Mueller’s team pushed back the sentencing for former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn. Flynn, who was fired by the White House allegedly for lying to Vice President Mike Pence about his contacts with Russia during the presidential transition, has already pled guilty to lying to the FBI. It would seem that his delayed sentencing is indicative of further cooperation with the special counsel.

And finally, President Trump’s former attorney and “fixer” Michael Cohen pled guilty to eight charges, including five counts of tax evasion, one count of making a false statement to a bank, and two campaign finance violations. The last two are of particular note, given that Cohen alleges that they were “directed by a candidate for federal office” – presumably Trump, ordering him to pay hush money to Stephanie Clifford and Karen McDougal to keep news of his affairs with them from affecting the election in its final months.

Team Trump’s various defenses, across all fronts, have been weak. When it comes to Manafort, the White House’s strategy has been to distance themselves from a man who ran the president’s campaign for five months – including during delegate wrangling at the Republican National Convention and selecting Pence as the vice presidential running mate. And while Manafort’s current convictions don’t have anything to do with Russian interference in the 2016 election, it’s less certain that his upcoming trial will be so disconnected.

Meanwhile, on the Cohen front, the president claimed in an interview with (who else) Fox News that he knew about Cohen’s payments only “later on” and insisted he did nothing wrong. This clashes with both Trump’s prior claim that he did not know about the payments at all, as well as the previously-released taped recordings of then-candidate Trump clearly discussing the payments with Cohen.

How exactly all of this fits in with Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe remains to be seen. But for now, we need to remain focused on critical goals and clear facts.

The critical goal is to allow all investigations into the Trump orbit’s wrongdoing to continue. This president and his White House have tried to bully critics, attack journalists for asking pressing questions, undermine oversight institutions, and muddy the waters of every story at every turn with whataboutism, red herrings, and outright lies. They must not be allowed to succeed.

Part of keeping them from doing so hinges on repeating clear facts. When it comes to Russian interference, we know Moscow worked to elect candidate Trump – and that people in the Trump orbit were eager to accept that help, and have lied about it since. Cohen may have new information on the collusion front if he can prove the president was aware of the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting, wherein the campaign tried to get “dirt” on Secretary Clinton from the Russian government. Flynn too could be providing insight, depending on who actually directed him to have those conversations with the Russian ambassador during the transition.

But Cohen’s other allegations open up a new front independent of the Russia issue. The president’s alleged direction of Cohen to pay affair hush money is a serious crime – one already corroborated by the taped conversation and the president brazenly changing his own story. While more details will surely emerge, the core message is already clear: the President of the United States is implicated in a crime that doubtlessly had a critical impact on his own election.

All told, the president is experiencing the consequences of surrounding himself with a culture of corruption and a gallery of individuals to whom immoral and illegal conduct, gratuitous self-enrichment, and saving their own skin all seem to be second nature. And as all the president’s former men keep revealing details, our elected officials in Congress need to remind themselves that we are a nation of laws to which everyone – even President Trump – is accountable.

Copyright 2018 Graham West, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Graham West is the Communications Director for Truman Center for National Policy and Truman National Security Project, though views expressed here are his own. You can reach West at [email protected]

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Democrats: Don’t Root for Crazy

I used to root for crazy. In fact, as a lifelong Democrat, I was thrilled when President Trump announced he was running for president.

When I watched someone who I thought was little more than a pompous, know-nothing goofball descend from his gaudy golden escalator to kick off his campaign, I thought he’d be nothing more than a laughingstock and a sideshow.

Even as the campaign wore on and Trump’s potential for doing real harm became more clear – racist rhetoric and incidents (augmenting his prior role as birther-in-chief), virulent insults to women, coarse and frightening anti-immigrant and anti-refugee language, inciting violence at his rallies, petty personal spats, and so much more – I have to admit that I kept hoping for him to keep winning Republican primaries.

To be sure, I was dismayed by his candidacy and his success. Actually, “grossed out” might be the more appropriate term. I was grossed out that so many Republicans were willing to overlook Trump’s utter lack of knowledge, compassion, and integrity for a chance at upending the status quo – or worse, that they actually loved him for his more odious qualities and views. But I rationalized their moral failing by reminding myself that primaries on the left and the right traditionally only turn out the most extreme of partisans.

Besides, I was rooting for crazy because I wanted to win. I thought – I knew – we could win in the general election. And then, we didn’t.

The 2016 election was when I learned my lesson about not rooting for crazy. But even now, there are still Democrats cheering on the worst of the worst in our society in the hopes that it will give them a slight electoral edge.

Trump-backed Kansas Secretary of State Chris Kobach’s narrowest of victories in the recent gubernatorial primary – wherein he ousted a GOP incumbent – is the latest example of some local Democrats allegedly hoping for a hardline opponent so that they might stand a chance in the general. But all across the country, Senate races from Arizona (Kelli Ward) to West Virginia (Don Blankenship) are tempting Democrats to root for crazy. Many House races are, predictably, even worse.

One could argue that while rooting for crazy may be morally wrong, it isn’t tactically problematic – especially if it’s all mental. Silently wishing for a hopefully more beatable opponent isn’t impactful, and American politics is, after all, a zero-sum game. Right?

I’m not so sure. We live in an age of outrage fatigue, hyperpartisanship, and information warfare all actively affecting our elections. In such a precarious position, it seems that anything – including the perverse sense of confidence from facing someone truly bonkers – that increases complicity from Democrats, progressives, and independents unhappy with our country’s direction is a bad thing. When we’re rooting for crazy, what we’re doing is giving ourselves permission to relax a little. It’s a voice in our heads wishing that what we see as self-evidently bad politics and bad policy will be as obvious to our neighbors as it is to us. Unfortunately, it’s also an unearned and unfounded indulgence in faith that things will be just fine.

The time for making those kinds of easy assumptions about elections is long past. The time for knocking doors and making calls, however, is very much here. Being anti-Trump or anti-Trumpian will be certainly be key to winning over the majority of our country who opposes this callous, thoughtless president and all that his administration represents. But it will also take belief in our own policies and candidates and values to carry the day – and that belief will need to be backed up by the hard, yeoman’s work of politics.

So Democrats, don’t root for crazy. Just go out and beat it.

Copyright 2018 Graham West, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Graham West is the Communications Director for Truman Center for National Policy and Truman National Security Project, though views expressed here are his own. You can reach West at [email protected]

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