Friday, June 09, 2017

This Thing and the Next Thing

Let history record that a number of bars in Washington opened early on Thursday.  They served special drinks, often featuring Russian vodka, and one new cocktail called the Covfefe.  They opened for those not watching the James Comey testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee at home with a bowl of popcorn, having called in sick to the office.

And that's the way it is in June of 2017. Aside from the any excuse for a party or tweet-worthy event Washington crowd for whom politics is their reality TV, all this suggests pent-up frustration, the release of fear, the escape from disgust, and a lot of righteous Schadenfreude.   Let this national nightmare, this march to the darkness, be over.  Or since that's unlikely to happen soon enough, let's get drunk and release the laughter.

Here's another indication of where we are: the guy who was the FBI director about a month ago repeatedly called the current incumbent in the White House a liar, and that wasn't even the headline. (Update: well, not until later anyway.)

Comey advanced the case for obstruction of justice and abuse of power in at least two ways, verified that the special counsel is investigating criminal obstruction.  But there's still too much wriggle room to make impeachment a realistic possibility this year.  As long as it depends on what remains basically a he said/he said encounter on the Flynn investigation, and contradictory statements on why Comey was fired, it's not enough to push R legislators to a doomful act.  If you enjoy the spectacle though, you're probably in for a year of it at least, with a number of perp walks (including perhaps, it was suggested today, the current AG) to precede political action.

As for what this tells us about our apprentice dictator, it only confirms and illustrates what we already knew: he thinks like an apprentice dictator, or as E.J. Dionne puts it, an authoritarian who has no idea of what being President of the United States actually is, or means:

  "There has been a lively debate among Trump critics about whether he’s dangerous because he’s inclined toward authoritarianism or because he’s incompetent. The Comey episode allows us to reach a higher synthesis in this discussion: Trump is incompetent precisely because he believes he can act like an autocrat in a constitutional democracy."

But this thing did manage to obscure the next thing.  Democrats lambasted the White House for announcing the name of the man to be appointed as the new FBI director on Wednesday, in a transparent attempt (they said) to distract from the Comey testimony.  But it worked beautifully the opposite way: the Comey testimony took all the attention, and nobody was scrutinizing the appointment.

But it is, as the DC lawyers say, problematic, at the very least.  When the choice of Christopher Wray was announced in a tweet, the first stories were uniformly positive.  He was praised, or at least seen as non-controversial.  But Christopher Wray has questions to answer.

He's known for defending Chris Christie in the bridgegate scandal, and he's a Republican partisan, contributing to R candidates.  Did the apprentice dictator ask for his loyalty?

Wray made his name in the government investigating Enron and other corporations, but since then he has made his money defending them, particularly against charges under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.  Not exactly the ideal resume for an FBI director.  Then there's his possible involvement in justifying torture during his time in the GW Bush Justice Dept.

More directly to the point, his law firm represents interests of the man who says he will appoint him.  And even more directly, his firm represents two huge Russian oil companies, that both are mentioned in connection with the ongoing Russian investigations.  This article outlines some of the conflict of interest problems that could compromise those investigations, as well as investigations that may arise involving the interlocking Russian government, "intelligence," and oligarch-run banks and industries.

He may not be as incompetent as most of the cabinet, or as obviously corrupt as...well, members of the cabinet, and it's a big relief that somebody who isn't an utterly laughable stiff is willing to be appointed.  But that's not really enough.  If this guy has problems, there could be bigger problems ahead if they aren't addressed.  

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