Slack Chat: A voice to turn the nation’s chairs

J: Hey T, did you see that Trump’s property-tax lawyer got raided by the feds? I’d have liked to have been a fly on the wall for that one.

T: Ooh, when was that?

J: It just popped up; it’s from The Hill.

T: That could be big. It can’t be about Trump’s minions without including Trump, right?

J: AP doesn’t have it yet … Yeah, it could be really big. I suppose the guy could have other clients but I’m hard-pressed to come up with who else would draw a raid from the feds other than Al Capone or Trump. And Capone’s dead.

T: If the AP hasn’t signed off it’s too soon to really speculate much. It’s an interesting development, though. Anything involving taxes can be a treacherous landing place for a man who once claimed a loss of nearly a billion dollars.

J: Tax issues are quicksand; once you’re in it’s really, really hard to get out. Ask Willie Nelson.

T: Or Wesley Snipes.

J: Do you think the timing is just coincidence, or does Mueller think it’s OK to move now that the elections are over?

T: I doubt Mueller took a vacation in October; his investigators have probably been planning operations behind the scenes for a couple of months. We might see several of these raids, some indictments and who knows what else over the next few weeks, as the Mueller investigation gets back to it after shutting its public face off for the midterms.

Cohen was in the news today … what was the timeline between the Cohen raid and his indictment? That might tell us how long before the results of this raid reach the public.

J: The raid was in April, and his original indictment was in August. So, four months for the egg to hatch.

I think Mueller is also trying to set the wheels in motion in case he gets fired… if the indictments have already been issued, they’ll go forward whether Mueller is fired or not. So he could just be being proactive.

T: Two possibilities keep coming up for speculation that I suspect are overblown by several factors:

  1. Mueller getting fired would not be good for an investigation that’s run tightly – not to mention quietly – but it’s not as if Mueller is the investigation. He’s just the titular head, and not even that, when you consider he has a boss.
  2. Manafort getting pardoned would not keep him out of jail. He would still be liable for state charges.

And, as you have said several times, Trump would take a huge political hit for pardoning him.

J: I’ve read that Trump pardoning Manafort would by itself constitute obstruction of justice. Even if it didn’t, there would be enormous blowback.

Manafort still has state charges pending against him; those certainly aren’t going away.

T: I think the Mueller firing would be the biggest political gamble since … I don’t know if there has been a parallel, not even the Saturday Night Massacre. Trump would be gambling that he could quiet down the investigation by removing its face, assuming he can get away with it because his base has consistently backed his plays.

I suspect firing Mueller might accomplish the opposite, though.

We’ve lacked a single, reasonable voice – a Murrow/Cronkite voice – since Trump emerged in 2015. If Trump fires Mueller, he may well become that voice.

Trump’s base has been polled, and 59 percent of them strongly agree that Mueller should be allowed to finish the investigation. And the majority trust Mueller.

J: I think that even Trump’s base would have to ask the question “If you’re innocent, why fire Mueller?” That won’t stop Trump from trying to discredit Mueller any way he can, but I think Trump has calculated that he can withstand whatever firestorm Mueller’s findings will bring. And maybe he can; his base has stuck with him through a dozen things that would have brought down any previous president.

T: I think our closest parallel to Trumpism might be McCarthyism, in that McCarthy managed to convince a huge swath of the nation – like Trump’s base, mostly rural and uneducated – to buy into his paranoid delusions.

Two events killed McCarthy’s momentum. In the first, Edgar R. Murrow, in a famous telecast, laid out a painstaking diagram of McCarthy’s legal posturing. McCarthy was allowed to respond – and did – about a month later. Murrow added a final response to the end of McCarthy’s rebuttal.

Here is the Murrow telecast, from March 9, 1954.

 

Here is McCarthy’s rebuttal.

 

 

The second event to galvanize the public — to “turn their chairs around” — was the “Have you no sense of decency?” line delivered in a court of law by McCarthy’s legal adversary.

The famous line was delivered by Joseph Welch, chief counsel for the Army during the Army-McCarthy hearings. Wikipedia provides us a detailed description of the confrontation:

*****

On June 9, 1954, the 30th day of the Army–McCarthy hearings, Welch challenged Roy Cohn to provide U.S. Attorney General Herbert Brownell Jr. with McCarthy’s list of 130 Communists or subversives in defense plants “before sundown”.

McCarthy stepped in and said that if Welch was so concerned about persons aiding the Communist Party, he should check on a man in his Boston law office named Fred Fisher, who had once belonged to the National Lawyers Guild, which Brownell had called “the legal mouthpiece of the Communist Party”.

Welch had privately discussed the matter with Fisher beforehand and the two agreed Fisher should not participate in the hearings. Welch dismissed Fisher’s association with the NLG as a youthful indiscretion and attacked McCarthy for naming the young man before a nationwide television audience without prior warning or previous agreement to do so:

Welch: “Until this moment, Senator, I think I have never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness. Fred Fisher is a young man who went to the Harvard Law School and came into my firm and is starting what looks to be a brilliant career with us. Little did I dream you could be so reckless and so cruel as to do an injury to that lad.”

“It is true he is still with Hale and Dorr. It is true that he will continue to be with Hale and Dorr. It is, I regret to say, equally true that I fear he shall always bear a scar needlessly inflicted by you. If it were in my power to forgive you for your reckless cruelty I would do so. I like to think I am a gentleman, but your forgiveness will have to come from someone other than me.”

When McCarthy tried to renew his attack, Welch interrupted him:

Welch: “Senator, may we not drop this? We know he belonged to the Lawyers Guild … Let us not assassinate this lad further, Senator. You’ve done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?”

McCarthy tried to ask Welch another question about Fisher, and Welch interrupted:

Welch: “Mr. McCarthy,

 I will not discuss this further with you. You have sat within six feet of me and could have asked me about Fred Fisher. You have seen fit to bring it out. And if there is a god in heaven it will do neither you nor your cause any good. I will not discuss it further. I will not ask Mr. Cohn for any more witnesses. You, Mr. Chairman, may, if you will, call the next witness.”

At this, those watching the proceedings broke into applause.

Here is the telecast:

 

 

*****

T: We need a moment like those, a reasonable voice to break through and snap the hypnotized masses out of their reality television-induced slumber, and back to the real world. The world where truth is real, not scripted conspiracies.

I thought Chris Wallace was trying to recreate just such a confrontation a couple of weeks ago when he braced Trump. I suspect he’ll try again. Add Mueller’s calm voice to the mix and we might get that moment.

I hope Mueller doesn’t sound like Beaker.

J: Wallace might be able to do it; he’s respected even though he’s with Fox News. He’s more of a news reporter than an opinion guy, and he’s not afraid to take Trump on.

T: Whew … I found footage of Mueller speaking, and he doesn’t sound like Beaker. He uses an affected, hesitation-laced courtroom style more than a media room style.

As you would expect, given his extensive legal background and utter lack of public profile.

J: He’s a lawyer by trade and former head of the FBI, so he’ll certainly be comfortable in front of Congress. I’m just not sure he’ll ever get the chance to stand up in front of Congress and have his Joe Welch moment.

T: If Trump fires him, Mueller gets to speak freely all over the cable box.

J: That could be another factor in Trump’s reasoning. Not only would firing Mueller make him a martyr, it would free him to speak all over the airwaves. And there is no way the incoming Democratic majority wouldn’t call him in to testify if he was no longer leading the investigation.

T: How does the investigation finally go public? What did Kenneth Starr do?

J: Starr presented his findings to the House Judiciary Committee, which then recommended that Clinton be impeached. Mueller could do that, either by report or by testimony, or he could let the grand jury make the recommendation.

T: Did the public get a full report?

J: Yes, the full report was public. Mueller’s may or may not be, because it involves foreign nationals who might be placed in jeopardy by publication of their identities.

T: Can you imagine the media feeding frenzy that report is going to inspire? There will be a lot of good reporting, of course … but the aggregators will be unreadable for at least a week, and maybe for several years.

J: There won’t be anything else on the aggregators for weeks. It’ll be worse than Kardashians. It’ll be worse than (shudder) the royal wedding.

T: Oh, they’ll find time for the reality show crap, that’s their bread and butter. Most of Trump’s hard-core supporters are so addicted to reality television that they’ll find Mueller’s report confusing, boring and far too real for their funhouse mirror reality tastes.

J: There’s always time for reality crap, but we both know that it’s going to be weeks of saturation coverage of that report. It’ll be ugly. And it’ll grate on Trump like a rusty cheese grater. He thrived on free media in the 2016 campaign, but after the report he’ll see the other side of the coin.

T: Who grates rusty cheese?

J: Stop it.

T: What if Mueller finds that there was no collusion?

J: Well, then Trump will take a victory lap. I suspect he’ll try to take a victory lap anyway, no matter what the conclusions are, because that’s how he rolls.

“Look at all the people who worked for me who DIDN’T get indicted!”

T: All six of them.

J: Well, the night is young.

T: Mueller will enter the courtroom, be sworn, and sit down. Grassley will ask him, “what say you?”

And Mueller will calmly reply, “I’m a little teacup. Short and stout.”

J: Well, at least he won’t go, “meep.”

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