From the Nixon Tapes:
John Dean: I think that there’s no doubt about the seriousness of the problem we’ve got. We have a cancer within-close to the presidency, that’s growing. It’s growing daily. It’s compounding. It grows geometrically now, because it compounds itself…
Today the husband of the Wicked Witch of the White House, Kellyanne Conway, George Conway, echoes John Dean’s warning in an op-ed at the Washington Post. George Conway: Trump is a cancer on the presidency. Congress should remove him.
Before I get to Conway’s op-ed, I must disagree. Donald Trump is but a manifestation of the cancer that has been growing within the Republican Party since Richard Nixon.
Republican political consultant Steve Schmidt who helped run George W. Bush’s 2004 presidential campaign and led Sen. John McCain’s 2008 presidential bid explained it best when he renounced his membership in the Republican Party in 2018:
Steve Schmidt is finished with the Republican Party. He renounced his membership last week in a series of withering tweets that quickly went viral. Under Trump, he wrote, the party had become “corrupt, indecent, and immoral.” With the exception of a select few, the GOP was “filled with feckless cowards who disgrace and dishonor the legacies of the party’s greatest leaders.”
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[T]he reality that I’ve come to is that the party stands at an hour at which it is irredeemable, where it has died and bled out because of the cowardice and fecklessness of its leaders.
When Trump was elected, there were three parties in Washington: the Trump party, the Democratic Party and the Republican Party. The Republican Party had every chance to put a check on his vile personal conduct, his administration’s outlandish corruption, his fetishizing and affinity for autocrats around the world and his undermining of the western alliance.
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This cancer has always been there. This dormant cancer. But it has become fully embraced in this moment. We’re seeing at this moment a president of the United States do five things. He is using mass rallies that are fueled by constant lying to incite fervor and devotion in his political base. The second thing we see him do is to affix blame for every problem in the world. Many of them are complex, not so different from the issues faced at the end of Agrarian age and the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. We see him attack minority populations with words like “invade” and “infest.” The third thing he does is a create a shared sense of victimization caused by the scapegoated populations. This is the high act of Trumpism: From Trump to Sean Hannity to Laura Ingraham, everyone is a victim. The fourth thing he does is he alleges conspiracy by nefarious and unseen hidden forces – the “deep state.” And the fifth thing is the assertion that “I am the law, that I am above it.”
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What you’ve seen is this rapid devolution over the last 18 months of the Republican Party becoming a white ethno-nationalist party, a blood-and-soil party that is protectionist, isolationist, that is rooted in resentment and grievance.
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It’s always been there. It’s been there from the Know-Nothing movement in the 1840s. The effect of Trump is the justification it gives to people who are angered by Trump to act more like Trump. To debase themselves into opposition. If you want to oppose Trump, the first thing you should do is say, “I’m not going to do one thing that makes it worse.” Because making it worse helps Trump. Part of the damage of this era is his debasement and his purposeful divisions. That’s unique in all of history.
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If the party of Lincoln and Eisenhower and Teddy Roosevelt and Reagan is to be redeemed and resurrected, then the party of Trump must be obliterated. Annihilated. Destroyed. And all of the collaborators, the complicit enablers, the school of cowards, need to go down. Maybe something can regenerate from that.
With this clarification, let’s turn to George Conway: Trump is a cancer on the presidency. Congress should remove him.
So it turns out that, indeed, President Trump was not exonerated at all, and certainly not “totally” or “completely,” as he claimed. Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III didn’t reach a conclusion about whether Trump committed crimes of obstruction of justice — in part because, while a sitting president, Trump can’t be prosecuted under long-standing Justice Department directives, and in part because of “difficult issues” raised by “the President’s actions and intent.” Those difficult issues involve, among other things, the potentially tricky interplay between the criminal obstruction laws and the president’s constitutional authority, and the difficulty in proving criminal intent beyond a reasonable doubt.
Still, the special counsel’s report is damning. Mueller couldn’t say, with any “confidence,” that the president of the United States is not a criminal. He said, stunningly, that “if we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the President clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state.” Mueller did not so state.
That’s especially damning because the ultimate issue shouldn’t be — and isn’t — whether the president committed a criminal act. As I wrote not long ago, Americans should expect far more than merely that their president not be provably a criminal. In fact, the Constitution demands it.
The Constitution commands the president to “take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed.” It requires him to affirm that he will “faithfully execute the Office of President” and to promise to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution.” And as a result, by taking the presidential oath of office, a president assumes the duty not simply to obey the laws, civil and criminal, that all citizens must obey, but also to be subjected to higher duties — what some excellent recent legal scholarship has termed the “fiduciary obligations of the president.”
Fiduciaries are people who hold legal obligations of trust, like a trustee of a trust. A trustee must act in the beneficiary’s best interests and not his own. If the trustee fails to do that, the trustee can be removed, even if what the trustee has done is not a crime.
So too with a president. The Constitution provides for impeachment and removal from office for “Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.” But the history and context of the phrase “high Crimes and Misdemeanors” makes clear that not every statutory crime is impeachable, and not every impeachable offense need be criminal. As Charles L. Black Jr. put it in a seminal pamphlet on impeachment in 1974, “assaults on the integrity of the processes of government” count as impeachable, even if they are not criminal.
And presidential attempts to abuse power by putting personal interests above the nation’s can surely be impeachable. The president may have the raw constitutional power to, say, squelch an investigation or to pardon a close associate. But if he does so not to serve the public interest, but to serve his own, he surely could be removed from office, even if he has not committed a criminal act.
By these standards, the facts in Mueller’s report condemn Trump even more than the report’s refusal to clear him of a crime. Charged with faithfully executing the laws, the president is, in effect, the nation’s highest law enforcement officer. Yet Mueller’s investigation “found multiple acts by the President that were capable of executing undue influence over law enforcement investigations.”
Trump tried to “limit the scope of the investigation.” He tried to discourage witnesses from cooperating with the government through “suggestions of possible future pardons.” He engaged in “direct and indirect contacts with witnesses with the potential to influence their testimony.” A fair reading of the special counsel’s narrative is that “the likely effect” of these acts was “to intimidate witnesses or to alter their testimony,” with the result that “the justice system’s integrity [was] threatened.” Page after page, act after act, Mueller’s report describes a relentless torrent of such obstructive activity by Trump.
Contrast poor Richard M. Nixon. He was almost certain to be impeached, and removed from office, after the infamous “smoking gun” tape came out. On that tape, the president is heard directing his chief of staff to get the CIA director, Richard Helms, to tell the FBI “don’t go any further into this case” — Watergate — for national security reasons. That order never went anywhere, because Helms ignored it.
Other than that, Nixon was mostly passive — at least compared with Trump. For the most part, the Watergate tapes showed that Nixon had “acquiesced in the cover-up” after the fact. Nixon had no advance knowledge of the break-in. His aides were the driving force behind the obstruction.
Trump, on the other hand, was a one-man show. His aides tried to stop him, according to Mueller: “The President’s efforts to influence the investigation were mostly unsuccessful, but that is largely because the persons who surrounded the President declined to carry out orders or accede to his requests.”
As for Trump’s supposed defense that there was no underlying “collusion” crime, well, as the special counsel points out, it’s not a defense, even in a criminal prosecution. But it’s actually unhelpful in the comparison to Watergate. The underlying crime in Watergate was a clumsy, third-rate burglary in an election campaign that turned out to be a landslide.
The investigation that Trump tried to interfere with here, to protect his own personal interests, was in significant part an investigation of how a hostile foreign power interfered with our democracy. If that’s not putting personal interests above a presidential duty to the nation, nothing is.
White House counsel John Dean famously told Nixon that there was a cancer within the presidency and that it was growing. What the Mueller report disturbingly shows, with crystal clarity, is that today there is a cancer in the presidency: President Donald J. Trump.
Congress now bears the solemn constitutional duty to excise that cancer without delay.
As I said, Donald Trump is but a manifestation of the cancer within the Republican Party. These “feckless cowards” and “collaborators” and “complicit enablers” are acolytes in the crypto-fascist personality cult of Donald Trump, and they will place their allegiance to their “Dear Leader” over their sworn duty to the Constitution and to the country. Arizona politicians react to Mueller report:
Sen. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., praised Attorney General Bill Barr in a tweet and said it is clear that Russia had worked to interfere with the election. With the release of the redacted report, McSally wrote it was time for the country to move on.
“I am grateful for the utmost professionalism and diligence displayed by Attorney General Barr to release as much of the report as transparently as possible,” McSally wrote. “What is clear is that the Russians sought to influence the 2016 election and sow discord in our country.”
She added: “Now it is incumbent upon us to come together to focus on issues that matter to Arizonans: creating more good-paying jobs, affordable and quality healthcare, supporting working families, providing veterans the benefits they deserve, and securing our border.”
Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., accused Democrats and the media of attacking the president on baseless grounds. The five-term congressman and Trump loyalist continued to ridicule the investigation, the Democrats and the media.
“For two years Democrats and Fake News media mislead (sic) the American people with countless attacks on” Trump, he wrote. “Today, we once again can confirm that there is STILL no obstruction and STILL no collusion.”
Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., said in a video posted on Twitter that he is reading the Mueller report. Despite the president’s “public displeasure” with the Mueller investigation, Biggs said, there was no basis for an obstruction charge. Biggs said Americans and Congress should “get back to work.”
In a tweet, Biggs distinguished the lack of evidence for collusion and the decision by Barr and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to not pursue obstruction charges.
Biggs wrote: “No collusion. No charges for obstruction. Now that the #MuellerReport is out, let’s return to doing the business of the American people. Democrats must stop trying to undermine @POTUS @realDonaldTrump.”
Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Ariz., said it was time for the public to move past the investigation.
“Once again, today’s release of the Mueller report concludes that no Americans conspired with Russia to interfere in the 2016 presidential election,” she said in a statement. “Despite Democrats’ repeated attempts to claim otherwise, the report confirms there was no collusion or obstruction by President Trump or members of his campaign.”
Rep. David Schweikert, R-Ariz., had not weighed in on the release of the report.
None of these craven cowards will do what Republican Senator Barry Goldwater did during Watergate:
Sen. Barry Goldwater, Ariz., the 1964 GOP presidential nominee, was a respected conservative leader in a Senate whose Republican ranks were less conservative than now. On Aug. 6, 1974, at the regular Senate Republican Conference lunch, Goldwater fumed: “There are only so many lies you can take, and now there has been one too many. Nixon should get his ass out of the White House — today!”
Goldwater called William Timmons, a White House aide, to set up a meeting. He told Timmons he wanted to tell the president that many GOP senators wanted him to resign. [He would tell Nixon what he thought – that he himself would now vote for conviction.]
Nixon agreed to see Goldwater on the following day. But he insisted that the top GOP congressional leaders accompany him. So Goldwater arrived with Sen. Hugh Scott, Pa., the minority leader, while Scott’s House counterpart, Rep. John Rhodes, Ariz., came separately.
“There’s not more than 15 senators for you,” Goldwater said. Nixon asked the pipe-smoking Scott for his views. “I think 12 to 15,” said Scott, who had once had defended Nixon on the basis of a doctored Watergate transcript that had been shown to him privately.
In a May 1973 interview with Time magazine’s Hays Gorey, Goldwater said, “If it can be proved that he lied, resignation would have to be considered. It would be quick. Everything would be over, ended. It wouldn’t drag out like impeachment.”
Where is this Republican Party today? As Steve Schmidt counsels, “[T]he party of Trump must be obliterated. Annihilated. Destroyed. And all of the collaborators, the complicit enablers, the school of cowards, need to go down” if the great American experiment in democracy is to survive.