Bedlam, Murder, and Immunity
The hit-man presidency.
Headline of the day: “Trump warns of ‘bedlam,’ won’t rule out violence after immunity hearing” - Washington Post.
“I think they feel this is the way they’re going to try and win, and that’s not the way it goes,” Trump said. “It’ll be bedlam in the country. It’s a very bad thing. It’s a very bad precedent. As we said, it’s the opening of a Pandora’s box.”
On Wednesday, bomb threats forced evacuations, closures or stepped-up security measures at more than a dozen state capitols, in Connecticut, Georgia, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, Wisconsin, Hawaii, Maine, Oklahoma, Illinois, Idaho, South Dakota, Alabama, Alaska, Maryland and Arizona.
How bad is it?
Experts say that acts of physical violence toward officials and politicians since the attack on the U.S. Capitol by a pro-Trump mob on Jan. 6, 2021, remain relatively rare. But they caution that the possibility of harm being inflicted on public servants is already undermining the health of U.S. democracy because the intimidation risks influencing their decision-making.
Officials who have been targeted say they fear that threats could, at any time, tip over into physical violence.
“I am really worried that there is going to be a tragedy,” Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Jill Karofsky said in an interview. “I believe people when they say that they want to hurt us or kill us. I don’t think they’re idle threats.”..
Karofsky… said she thought it was important to let the public know what officials are dealing with.
“We are at a moment of time where our democracy literally is on the line, and we have to figure out if we are just going to turn it over to a bunch of insurrectionists who think it is perfectly okay to use violence and intimidation to get the rulings that they want in a courtroom,” Karofsky said. “Or are we going to have a democracy where people follow the rule of law? And if I don’t stand up and if other people don’t stand up, and we don’t talk about this, we’re going to lose this battle.”
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The hit-man presidency
I’m guessing you have already seen/heard about this, but it is nonetheless gobsmacking:
Unfortunately, this is real life.
Former president Donald Trump’s lawyer argued that presidential immunity would cover the U.S. president ordering political rivals to be assassinated by SEAL Team Six.
During a hearing at a federal appeals court on Tuesday, Trump’s lead lawyer John Sauer made a sweeping argument for executive immunity, essentially saying that only a president who has been impeached and removed from office by Congress could be criminally prosecuted. Therefore, Sauer argued, the former president should be shielded from criminal prosecution.
Judge Florence Pan, asked Trump’s lawyer:
“Could a president order S.E.A.L. Team 6 to assassinate a political rival? That is an official act an order to Seal Team 6?”
The obvious answer, of course is no, the president does not have the right to order the murder of a political rival. But Trump’s lawyer tried to spin his way out of a direct answer, arguing that the president would have to be impeached by the House and convicted by the Senate before being held criminally liable for killing his rival.
The judge wasn’t having it.
“I asked you a yes or no question,” Judge Pan pushed back.
“My answer is a qualified yes,” Trump’s attorney said. “There is a political process that would have to occur.”
This was nonsense piled upon constitutional absurdity. The actual language of Constitution makes it clear that impeachment did not preclude subsequent criminal prosecution:
Judgment in Cases of Impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from Office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any Office of honor, Trust or Profit under the United States: but the Party convicted shall nevertheless be liable and subject to Indictment, Trial, Judgment and Punishment, according to Law.
In Trump’s upside-down legal universe, his lawyers are arguing that the clause means the opposite of what it actually says, insisting that it bars prosecution except in cases of impeachment.
The argument is frivolous with hair on it.
Judge Pan cut through the legal bullshit: "Once you concede that presidents can be prosecuted under some circumstances, your separation of powers argument falls away. And the issues before us are narrowed to, are you correct in your interpretation of the impeachment judgment clause?
Does the impeachment judgment clause actually say what you said it says? That's all we really need to decide."
You don’t have to be a constitutional scholar to see where this is going.
The others judges also expressed skepticism about Trump’s argument that presidents and post-presidents should have absolute immunity.
In a notable exchange, Judge Karen Henderson, an appointee of President George H.W. Bush, seemed skeptical of that claim, saying: “I think it’s paradoxical to say that his constitutional duty to take care [that] the laws be faithfully executed allows him to violate federal laws.”
BONUS: The Trump Flip-flop. As the judges noted, lawyers for Trump had made exactly the opposite argument during his 2021 impeachment trial:
“We have a judicial process in this country; we have an investigative process in this country to which no former officeholder is immune,” Trump attorney David Schoen said at the time. “That is … the appropriate one for investigation, prosecution and punishment, with all of the attributes of that branch.”
Schoen argued that the courts were best prepared to adjudicate such complex legal issues because Congress “does not and cannot offer the safeguards of the judicial system.”
Fellow Trump lawyer Bruce Castor echoed the point at the time even more directly.
“If my colleagues on this [Democratic] side of the chamber actually think that President Trump committed a criminal offense … after he is out of office, you go and arrest him,” Castor said.
Henderson pointed to Trump’s lawyers arguing in another case that the version of immunity they sought then “would expire when the president leaves office” and would not “place the president ‘above the law.’”
A Trump lawyer in that case said that “as the text of the Constitution makes clear, the president like all other citizens is subject to the laws and jurisdiction of states and the federal government alike.”
But, as is so often case, that was then. This is now.
Our friend Christian Schneider noted yesterday: If you had the “Donald Trump spreads racist birther conspiracies about Nikki Haley” ticket, it’s time to cash it in.”
Of course, Haley is eligible because she was born in this country. But, as we know, Trump is hardly restrained either by the facts or even a semblance of basic decency when it comes to these things.
And you know what else is back? The Muslim ban, with all of its deplorable trappings.
Even as he raises bogus questions about Haley’s eligibility, Trump is attacking her for refusing to support his bigoted jihad. Will Saletan writes in the Bulwark:
IN THE FINAL DAYS BEFORE THE IOWA CAUCUSES, Donald Trump is accusing Nikki Haley of being soft on terrorism. But the way he’s doing it tells a deeper story about Trump, his bigotry, and the fascist threat he poses: He’s attacking Haley, in effect, for opposing his 2015 proposal to ban all Muslims from coming to America….
There’s no mystery about what Trump is doing. He has always distrusted Muslims. He believes, correctly, that most Republicans share that feeling, and he has no more compunction about using this as a wedge against Haley than he did about using it against Obama. Trump knows that if Haley were to fire back at him, by pointing out that Trump wanted to ban all Muslims and she didn’t, that position would hurt her in the Republican primaries. In a party full of anti-Muslim sentiment, she can’t afford to make that point. And so far, she hasn’t.
Our friend Ben Wittes has been awarded the “Golden Heart” award by the president of Ukraine, “For a significant contribution to the strengthening of interstate cooperation, support of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, popularization of the Ukrainian state in the world.”
You really should read Ben’s reaction here. He writes:
I hope #SpecialMilitaryOperations have served to remind such Americans and Europeans of a few simple things:
Not to forget about Ukraine, not to get distracted, and that “tired” may be a reality but it cannot be an excuse.
Not to confuse the duty to host an embassy and its staff with anything like approbation or neighborly acceptance.
To remember that all fights by democratic societies to defend themselves are interlinked—that if you think you’re defending democracy at home but you’re content with the rise of authoritarianism abroad, you’re actually not defending democracy at home. You’re throwing others out to the zombies buy yourself time.
And, of course, “Putin khuylo!”
Tim O'Brien: The Most Corrupt President. Ever.
On Tuesday’s podcast, Bloomberg’s Tim O’Brien joined me to discuss the latest revelations about the former president — and Trump’s hope for a stock market crash under Joe Biden’s watch.
He’s willing to visit financial disaster and misery upon millions of people. Just so he doesn’t get painted as Herbert Hoover even though we already know that he’s Warren Harding.
He’s easily the most corrupt person to ever inhabit the White House.
He is rudderless, and he’s a moral vacuum, and he’s soulless, and he’s malicious. And he’s willing to create panic in people’s minds.
You can listen to the whole thing here. Or watch us on YouTube.
BONUS for Bulwark + Members: How to Handle the Trump Spew
On our weekly podcast, Mona Charen and I agree - from different directions - about controlling the discussion in the next 11 months.
1. Anti-Trump Means Anti-Democracy? You Can’t Be Serious
Berkowitz exaggerates grotesquely in calling the federal bureaucracy “overwhelmingly progressive” (has he ever visited the Pentagon?). But even worse: he disingenuously ignores the subject of Project 2025, the Trump-aligned Heritage Foundation plan to gut federal civil service rules and staff the government from top to bottom with Trump loyalists, ready to do his bidding. Combine Project 2025 with Trump’s expressed willingness to exercise his pardon power on behalf of those of his followers—the violent Proud Boys and Oath Keepers—ready to violate the law at his instruction, and we have a recipe for lawlessness and tyranny.
2. A Ray of Hope for the 2024 Elections from Pennsylvania
Pro-democracy Republican candidates prevailed in seven of those eight counties, ultimately ensuring bi-partisan, pro-rule majorities on their commissions. In the general elections, democracyFIRST helped elect pro-democracy majorities in nine of the 11 counties where they invested. Thanks in part to their work, heading into the 2024 election, of the 16 most competitive counties in Pennsylvania, which include 3.3 million registered voters, 13 will now have pro-democracy majorities on their county commissions. Pennsylvanians should take heart that, by and large, next year’s election is in safe hands.