Democrats versus Barr versus Mueller are not fading away

The Mueller investigation led to the Barr letter which was followed by the release of most of the Mueller report was followed by the release of a Mueller letter to Barr, and now Barr has been questioned in the US senate. And the controversies continue, predictably with many angles being taken by media and politicians.

Washington Examiner: 5 takeaways from the Barr hearing

1. Tension between Attorney General William Barr and Robert Mueller

Barr revealed a split with the special counsel over the pursuit of evidence that President Trump tried to obstruct the probe. Mueller did not draw any conclusion on obstruction, despite gathering the evidence.

“The investigation carried on for a while as additional episodes were looked into,” Barr told the panel. “So my question was, why were those investigated if, at the end of the day, you weren’t going to reach a decision on them?”

Later in the hearing Barr dismissed a March 27 letter from Mueller complaining about Barr’s four-page memo to Congress about the report. “The letter’s a bit snitty and I think it was written by one of his staff people,” Barr told the Senate Judiciary Committee.

2. Barr didn’t review Mueller’s evidence.

Under questioning from Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., a former prosecutor who is running for president, Barr acknowledged neither he nor Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein reviewed the trove of evidencegathered by the Mueller team before he cleared Trump of any wrongdoing.

The Mueller report did not clear Trump of any wrongdoing, but Barr’s letter summarising the findings of the investigation were taken by Trump and others as doing that.

3. Barr is probing leaks to media.

Under questioning from Republicans on the panel, Barr said he is investigating Department of Justice leaks to the media regarding the investigation into alleged Russian collusion with the Trump campaign.

4. Barr is examining the justification for surveillance warrants into Trump campaign.

Barr said he is investigating the basis for the Justice Department’s decision to secretly surveil the Trump campaign beginning in October 2016. Barr said he is working with Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz to determine if a surveillance warrant was properly obtained by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance court the month before the election.

5. Senate Judiciary (probably) won’t call Mueller to testify.

Democrats are eager to hear testimony from special counsel Robert Mueller, they said Wednesday. But Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., doesn’t plan to invite him.

“I’m not going to do any more,” Graham said after Barr’s day-long hearing. “Enough already, it’s over.”

But it appears to be far from over.

RealClear Politics – Pelosi: Attorney General Barr Committed A Crime; “He Lied To Congress”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Thursday accused Attorney General William Barr of criminally lying to Congress about special counsel Robert Mueller’s report and Mueller’s letter relating to how Barr has characterized its findings.

“What is deadly serious about it is the attorney general of the United States of America is not telling the truth to the Congress of the United States. That’s a crime,” the Speaker told reporters.

Asked again about the accusation, Pelosi said: “He lied to Congress. If anybody else did that, it would be considered a crime. Nobody is above the law.”

Asked whether Barr should go to jail, the speaker said: “There’s a process involved here.”

There’s something for everyone to cherry pick from.

Mueller inquiry highlights lack of trust in US Government

The Robert Mueller inquiry into Russian interference in the 2016 US election has driven growing division in the United States, and has highlighted the lack of trust in the US government.

Neither side of the political divide looks good, not looks likely of addressing the dismal decay of democracy in the US.

Frank Miele (RealClear Politics): Mueller Report Is Litmus Test for a Divided Society

What the litmus test of the Mueller report reveals is whether or not we as individuals, as political parties and as Americans have faith in our government.

According to a recent poll, 84 percent of Americans want the entire report by Special Counsel Robert Mueller released to the public.

They aren’t satisfied just knowing that the investigation into President Trump’s alleged collusion with Russia is over after two years.

They aren’t satisfied with the attorney general, a distinguished public servant, explaining the results of the investigation as he is mandated to do by law. No, they want to see the report for themselves … they want to go over it with the proverbial fine-tooth comb and hunt down every inconsistency, every missing comma, every hidden clue that what they already know to be true is indeed true — that they can’t trust the government, that the wool is being pulled over our eyes, that the system serves some ulterior purpose and works on behalf of someone or some group that is not us.

That is a horrid condition for the body politic to find itself in. It suggests a complete lack of confidence in our leaders, in our institutions, even in our Constitution.

What the demand for transparency means at its core, however, is that we don’t trust government.

That distrust has been earned over many years and many governments and presidents.

What undermines our Constitution and our government is people like Nancy Pelosi questioning the motives and honor of good people who have chosen public service as a higher calling while at the same time she tirelessly defends James Comey, John Brennan and James Clapper, who appear to have used their plenary powers to intervene in 2016 and either prevent or subvert the election of Donald Trump.

I think that Trump has probably done more than anyone at trying to undermine the motives and honour of people, especially those involved with the Mueller inquiry – including Robert Mueller. He repeatedly called what Mueller was doing a witch hunt and a virtual coup attempt – until the Barr summary suggested there was no evidence of wrong doing by Trump.

The only way we can make the litmus test for trust in government the same for all Americans is if we test that trust through fair investigation. Don’t just tell us that Mueller can be trusted, but Barr can’t. Subject both of them — and all of our public servants — to the same rigorous examination. Find out where the truth leads. We’ve had two years of investigation of President Trump based on salacious allegations funded by the Hillary Clinton campaign. Now let’s apply the same level of scrutiny to the Democrats who have assured us without evidence for two years that the president colluded with Russia.

Miele is not helping the state of division in US politics here.  The Democrats certainly should be held to account,

The release of the Mueller report – that is expected soon – is likely to reignite an already volatile political situation. Unfortunately, expected redactions are unlikely to quell the inflammatory rhetoric and accusations flying in all political directions.

The shining beacon on the hill is a flaming inferno of dysfunction of democracy.

White House says SOTU will have unifying tone, while Trump attacks Pelosi

Donald Trump  seems to confuse greatness with grateness.

He is prone to contradictions and making odd statements, often out of step with his own officials and administration, and with his speech writers.

That continues as the White House has suggested his State Of The Union speech will have ‘a unifying tone’, at the same time as Trump attacks House leader Nancy Pelosi, and says he will call the Democrats to heal old wounds. It doesn’t sound like he is intent on healing growing rifts over immigration and his wall.

NY Times:  State of the Union Will Have Unifying Tone, White House Says

President Trump plans to use his State of the Union address on Tuesday night to outline a bipartisan and optimistic vision of the country, a senior administration official said on Friday.

It could be a difficult sell.

In the past few weeks, as he has tried to navigate his way out of a political standoff with Democrats, Mr. Trump has ramped up his anti-immigration messaging, stormed out of meetings with Democratic leaders and refused to accept any compromise that does not ultimately include funding for a border wall.

And while the White House said on Friday that the goal of the speech was to bring together a divided government and a divided nation, the official said immigration would emerge as the main theme.

The overarching theme of the speech, the official said, will be “Choosing Greatness,” and it will focus on issues where there is a possibility of bipartisan consensus: infrastructure, lowering health care and prescription drug costs, protecting American workers affected by what he described as “decades of flawed trade deals” and safeguarding national security.

‘Choosing Greatness’ seems to mean acknowledging Trump’s perception of his own greatness, which he seems to confuse with grateness.

The president will also call on Congress to replace what he described as the “Nafta disaster” with the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement and discuss the trading relationship with China.

I thought that Trump scrapped NAFTA and renegotiated it. perhaps he didn’t get it all his own way as he expected with his great negotiating prowess.

But while the White House tries to talk up unity Trump continues to do his best to divide.

CBS:  Pelosi is “very bad for our country,” Trump says

Days before a State of the Union address in which he’s expected to stress unity, President Trump said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is “very bad for the country,” in an exclusive interview with CBS News “Face the Nation” host Margaret Brennan.

The president also suggested Pelosi “doesn’t mind human trafficking,” or she wouldn’t oppose funding his border wall.

“Well, I think that she was very rigid — which I would expect — but I think she’s very bad for our country,” the president said, when asked what he learned after negotiating with Pelosi in recent weeks. “She knows that you need a barrier. She knows that we need border security. She wanted to win a political point. I happen to think it’s very bad politics because basically, she wants open borders. She doesn’t mind human trafficking or she wouldn’t do this.”

Mr. Trump said Thursday he doesn’t think lawmakers will reach a deal to fund his border wall. Mr. Trump told Brennan that Pelosi is doing a “terrible disservice to our country.”

“She’s — she’s costing the country hundreds of billions of dollars because what’s happening is, when you have a porous border and when you have drugs pouring in, and when you have people dying all over the country because of people like Nancy Pelosi who don’t want to give proper border security for political reasons — she’s doing a terrible disservice to our country”.

Typically Trump is blaming Pelosi for the shutdown that he was largely responsible for.

NY Times on his SOTU speech:

“Together we can break decades of political stalemate, we can bridge old divisions, heal old wounds, build new coalitions, forge new solutions and unlock the extraordinary promise of America’s future,” Trump plans to say, according to the excerpt, which was read to reporters at a briefing on Friday.”

There didn’t seem to be much togetherness tone in his CBS  interview.

CBS:

Pelosi’s deputy chief of staff Drew Hammill responded to the president’s remarks, saying, “The president knows, bluster aside, that Democrats are committed to securing our borders while upholding our values as a nation. The president should stop undermining bipartisan efforts to do just that.”

“President Trump’s recklessness didn’t make us safer, it undermined our security with 35 days of border patrol agents, DEA agents, FBI agents and Homeland Security personnel missing paychecks. Democrats have put forward strong, smart and effective border security solutions in the bipartisan conference committee, while the President still refuses to take a second shutdown off the table”.

NY Times:

And although the president agreed to three weeks of negotiations to end the impasse, he said on Thursday that the talks are “a waste of time” and strongly hinted that he would declare a national emergency to bypass Congress and obtain wall funding.

Mr. Trump suggested on Friday that he would announce his decision on declaring a national emergency during the State of the Union speech.

“I don’t want to say,” he told reporters when asked if he was planning to do so. “You’ll hear the State of the Union and let’s see what happens,” he said.

White House officials have been warning him against the action, but they also view it as a potential last-ditch exit ramp if they cannot find another face-saving solution.

This is all business as usual for Trump. He is either ignoring his own White House, or is deliberately sending different messages.

I don’t think that speak out of both sides of his mouth will be very face-saving.

Trump blinked then caved on shutdown

Donald Trump failed to secure funding for a border wall with Mexico for the two years that the republicans held majorities in both Congress and the Senate. He blames the then speaker Paul Ryan (and probably a lot of others).

He seemed to think he could heavy the new Democrat House leadership into funding his wall, so he precipitated a partial Government shutdown and demanded it. And the new House leader Nancy Pelosi wouldn’t budge. If she had given in it would have probably set the scene for ongoing heavy handed demands from Trump.

It resulted in the longest government shutdown ever. Trump, already viewed by a majority unfavourably, started to tank in approval polls.

Pelosi withdrew her invitation to Trump for the annual State Of The Union speech in Congress until after the impasse was resolved. Trump threatened to speak elsewhere, but ended up blinking and postponing it.

The shutdown continued, and the bad press continued, and the polls dipped more.

Then on Friday Trump caved in, for now anyway.

Reuters: Backing down, Trump agrees to end shutdown without border wall money

President Donald Trump agreed under mounting pressure on Friday to end a 35-day-old partial U.S. government shutdown without getting the $5.7 billion he had demanded from Congress for a border wall, handing a political victory to Democrats.

The Republican president’s agreement to end the shuttering of about a quarter of the federal government without securing wall money – an astonishing retreat – came three days after he had insisted, “We will not Cave!”

But Trump vowed that the shutdown would resume on Feb. 15 if he is dissatisfied with the results of a bipartisan House-Senate conference committee’s border security negotiations, or he would declare a national emergency in order to get the wall money without congressional approval.

He has been threatening to declare a national emergency for some time – but if it was actually an emergency why wait? It hasn’t suddenly become an emergency.

With polls showing most Americans blamed him for the painful shutdown – the longest of its kind in U.S. history – Trump embraced a way out of the crisis that Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had been pushing for weeks. The shutdown, which pitted Pelosi against Trump, was her first test since assuming the post three weeks ago.

Democrats remained unyielding in their opposition to a wall, one of Trump’s signature campaign promises that they call ineffective, costly and immoral.

Speaking in the White House Rose Garden on a chilly, sunny winter day, Trump said he would act to ensure that federal workers get their back pay “very quickly, or as soon as possible.”

That’s a change in stance for Trump.

But this doesn’t end the problem, it just postpones it. And it may make Trump’s problems bigger. He had been encouraged into talking and tough on wall funding by some on the hard right, and they are not happy.

Fox News: Ann Coulter rips Trump over border wall on Bill Maher’s show after attacking president via Twitter

Conservative pundit Ann Coulter both blasted and defended President Trump during an appearance on HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher” on Friday night — hours after she ripped into the president on Twitter for cutting a deal with Democrats to temporarily end the partial government shutdown without funding for his border wall.

Before appearing on the show, Coulter spent a good part of Friday blasting Trump on Twitter for accepting a temporary funding bill to reopen the government without money for the border wall.

“Good news for George Herbert Walker Bush: As of today, he is no longer the biggest wimp ever to serve as President of the United States,” she wrote in a series of tweets.

On the Maher show:

“I promise you the country would be run much better if I had a veto over what Donald Trump is doing. It’s crazy that I expect a president to keep the promise he made every day for 18 months.”

“Why hasn’t Trump been able to get it through for the first two years? Because the Republicans don’t want it.”

“I’m telling you how to get Trump,” Coulter said. “He promised something for 18 months and he lied about it. That’s how you get Trump. It’s not this Russia nonsense.”

This may damage Trump’s core support.

As is his habit Trump claimed some sort of victory on twitter:

“I wish people would read or listen to my words on the Border Wall. This was in no way a concession. It was taking care of millions of people who were getting badly hurt by the Shutdown with the understanding that in 21 days, if no deal is done, it’s off to the races!”

His words on the border wall have been a moving target as he fails to get funding.

He diidn’t care about the millions of people getting hurt by the shutdown when he made it happen – he even claimed that many unpaid workers supported what he had inflicted on them.

This has also inflicted a lot of damage on Trump’s ego. This sort of report won’t help: Art of the cave: Trump folds, finally

The man whose name graces the cover of “The Art of the Deal” called it a compromise, but let’s be clear: His agreement with Democrats to end the punch-yourself-in-the-face government shutdown was a complete capitulation, brought on in a panic when the gears of American air travel began grinding to a halt.

A less pigheaded politician would learn a hard lesson from how the embarrassing standoff backfired; he found himself unable to squirm out of responsibility for a cataclysm he had proudly announced was of his own making.

With Trump, the capacity for evolution is very much an open question. He spent most of his Rose Garden remarks repeating fearmongering tropes, most of them apocryphal, about the urgent need for a 30-foot-high wall along 1,000 miles of southern border.

It would be insane to think that we could be back in the same mess three weeks from now, but remember who sits in the Oval Office.

With Pelosi and the Democrats standing up to him until he blinked then caved. he next couple of years are going to be challenge for Trump, especially if the hard core right also turn against him.

Deal making like Picasso

One of Donald Trump’s many attributes (as claimed by Trump) is that he is a great deal maker.

“Deals are my art form. Other people paint beautifully on canvas or write wonderful poetry. I like making deals, preferably big deals.” — Donald Trump, “The Art of the Deal”.

Trump’s current deal making skills look a bit Picasso.

The New York Times details the apparent lack of understanding of trump over the Mexican wall funding crisis – What Trump Could Learn From His Shutdown.

In this case, the president’s inability to reach some sort of deal rests heavily on several basic failures of understanding by him and his team. These include:

1. A failure to grasp how divided government works. The president somehow came to believe that he’d have more leverage once the Democrats took control of the House.

Unfortunately, Mr. Trump has been spoiled by two years of Congress being led by weak-kneed members of his party who, even when troubled by his excesses, largely let him run amok, lest he call down upon them the wrath of the Republican base.

2. A failure to understand the costs of playing only to the base. Time and again, Mr. Trump has chosen partisanship over leadership, doing nothing to expand his appeal. This puts him at a disadvantage in wooing the public to his side of the wall debate.

His job approval has slipped over his handling of the wall funding and partial Government shut down. Even both Rasmussen and Economist/YouGov has him falling to -9% – see RealClear Politics.

3. A failure to understand Nancy Pelosi. Apparently, Mr. Trump never got around to reading “The Art of War,” or at least not Sun Tzu’s admonition to “know your enemy.” If he had, the president would have tried to develop at least a basic working relationship with Ms. Pelosi. The White House clearly assumed that, at some point — maybe after she secured the speaker’s gavel — Ms. Pelosi would bend to Mr. Trump’s will. But the speaker is not impressed with bluster. She is seldom cowed by political pressure from her own team, much less the opposing one. She plays the long game, and her will is as formidable as Mr. Trump’s, possibly more so. One key difference: Ms. Pelosi knows how the legislative process works.

4. A failure to understand shutdown politics. If you don’t want to be blamed for one, don’t say you’re going to own it. Mr. Trump sacrificed that option when he boasted how “proud” he’d be to grind the government to a halt.

5. A failure to understand how the government works. Neither Mr. Trump nor anyone on his team had a clue how disruptive even a partial shutdown could be — and how they’d need to scurry to prevent millions of people from losing food stamps, housing or tax refunds.

Ignorance of the real life effects of suddenly having your pay stopped. It’s probably not something trump has ever come close to experiencing.

6. A failure to understand how members of Congress operate. Standing by the president when he’s tweeting out empty threats and insults is one thing. But when a shutdown starts causing pain and outrage back home, Republican lawmakers, especially those in vulnerable districts or states, start asking themselves which they value more — their president or their political hides. Even casual students of Congress know that this is not a tough call.

It may also grind down his support.

Business deals are quite different. You win some, you lose some (like gamblers, business deal makers only brag about their wins, not their losses).

But political deals are far more complex. When a shutdown becomes a part of the pressure it impacts on many people who need to feed their families and retain their homes, and on politicians who want to retain their support.

A president has far more power than a businessman – but most of that power is reliant on many other people. Doing political deals requires an understanding of how to get the support needed to use their power.  Bullshit and bullying may work in some situations, like when you have a gutless Congress. But when you are up against a bloody-minded Congress understanding how politics works is important.

It may be better to liken Trump’s current deal making to a different sort of painting.

Image result for child painting anger

But ignorant anger is not a strong hand in the art of the political deal.