Impeachment: Week in Review

Minneapolis 4/16/18 Edition –  The recent avalanche of news about the FBI raids of President Trump’s sometimes-attorney-and-day-job-fixer Michael Cohen was supplanted by a new, record-breaking mid-April avalanche of news and coverage about the latest twist in our twisted reality -- the “TECHTONIC TITANS” battle between the President and the FBI Director he fired – James Comey.  The ousted G-man did a highly unusual interview with George Stephanopoulos that was broadcast Sunday night on ABC – the ABC news site posted a book length transcript (about 42,000 words) of the entire five-hour interview.  This was to be followed by Comey’s real, actual, you-can-buy-it-on-Amazon book – A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership, released April 17th -- the interview was the kickoff of the book tour.  The TECHTONIC TITANS media and Twitter war has already escalated.  Comey describes his first dinner with Trump, just after the inauguration, as reminiscent of organized crime initiation ceremonies, complete with a pitch for Comey’s personal loyalty to Trump.  Comey declares Trump is a serial liar who is morally unfit to be President, and who is causing the kind of destruction to American mores, ethics and values that a forest fire brings to a forest.  Trump retorted: Comey is a “liar,” a “slime ball,” and should be in jail.  In the interview, Comey went on record suggesting a new argument: impeachment would “let the American people off the hook.”  Comey spins an “eat-your-spinach” alternative: Americans are duty-bound to vote President Trump out of office in the 2020 election.  What has now become the Comey Investigation continues, with a battle over whether Cohen, Trump and others can review materials to make their own assessment as to lawyer-client privilege before prosecutors are given access – they’ve lost on that so far, but Cohen can review the seized material, and presumably could make court motions based on that.  Stormy Daniels was at the most recent Court hearing – the investigation may impact her own legal situation.  The international situation is highly unstable – with a trade war roiling economic forecasts and markets, the unpredictable prospect between a meeting between President Trump and North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, and Trump’s recent decision to launch coordinated missile strikes with England and France against Syrian chemical weapons facilities.  Meanwhile, Google’s link to a Dow Jones chart (Recommend: one year view) shows a recent, jagged meandering – with short term “saw teeth” that are noticeably bigger than those in the first year of the Trump Administration.

Comey interview/book/tour; Comey vs Trump; the Media battlefield

NY Times analysis summarizes and characterizes an historically harsh assessment of a new Administration from a former high official.  Fired FBI Director James said President Trump is destroying national norms like a forest fire.  Comey said: “Our president must embody respect and adhere to the values that are at the core of this country… the most important being truth. This president is not able to do that. He is morally unfit to be president.”  One of the more shocking aspects to the interview was that according to Comey, his dinner with President Trump shortly after the January 2017 inauguration felt like a kind of mob initiation.  Comey said: “I’m not trying to, by the way, suggest that President Trump is out breaking legs and, you know, shaking down shopkeepers,” Mr. Comey said. Instead, it was reminiscent of “the loyalty oaths, the boss as the dominant center of everything. It’s all about how do you serve the boss, what’s in the boss’s interests. It’s the family, the family, the family, the family.”  Trump countered in a tweet: “I never asked Comey for Personal Loyalty. I hardly even knew this guy.” Comey offered an unusual perspective on impeachment, saying: ““You cannot have, as president of the United States, someone who does not reflect the values that I believe Republicans treasure and Democrats treasure and independents treasure.  That is the core of this country. That’s our foundation. And so impeachment, in a way, would short-circuit that.  [Impeachment would] “let the American people off the hook.”  Comey believes Americans are “duty bound” to vote President Trump out of office in 2020.

The full transcript of all five hours of the George Stephanopoulos/James Comey book-length book interview is available at the ABC News website.  It's about 42,0000 words.

Headline Planet reports that in overnight sweeps the George Stephanopoulos/James Comey interview finished in a tie for second with the Academy of Country Music Awards -- both had a 7.2 rating.  Earlier in the evening, 60 Minutes was first with a 7.8 rating.  Since the interview and the music awards had the same rating, the 12.08 million overall viewers attributed to the Music Awards by Showbuzz, that suggests the interview, broadcast later, had a comparable total viewership.

A second source, The Hollywood Reporter, reports a total viewership of 9.8 million people for the Comey Interview.  As a benchmark, that's about half of the estimated 21.3 million who tuned in for the NBC 60 Minutes Stormy Daniels interview.

Media columnist Margaret Sullivan opines in the Washington Post that President Trump might weather the political firestorm that would certainly be triggered by firing Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, or even Special Council Robert Mueller, who reports to Rosenstein.  The reason is simple: the dominance of FOX News as a touchstone for Trump's base, and the alternative narrative that FOX is relentlessly promoting -- that the investigation is a fake, corrupt witch hunt to "overturn" Trump's 2016 election.  Sullivan notes that nothing like FOX existed during the Nixon impeachment -- which was ultimately driven by Republicans convinced he had tried to obstruct the investigation and had to go.  The bottom line for Sullivan's thesis is that the dominance of the FOX narrative is simply too overwhelming and blanketing to be significantly penetrated, even by news that is verifiably factual.  It should also be noted that viewers for both the Stormy Daniels and the Jim Comey interviews were nowhere close to mega-events like the Super Bowl, that draw America’s tribes together -- accordingly it's a real question as to whether information about the interviews reached many Trump supporters except via the "FOX filter."

The Mueller Investigation -- MSNBC's Rachel Maddow reports MSNBC has copies "believed to be former acting assistant attorney general Dana Boente's handwritten notes taken contemporaneously with talks with James Comey, corroborating Comey's testimony about what Donald Trump said to him."  Trump has referred to Comey's own records as fake memos and lies.  Maddow demonstrates that the substance of Boente's notes closely track with the substance of Comey's memorandums.  That doesn’t change the fact that Boente’s notes are hearsay evidence.

A GOP Congressman’s off-the-record view of Trump: “%&$%@#... etc” -- The Drudge Report provided an unusual link (for mainstream media, less so for Drudge) to the Mediate website, describing a block-busting-blockchain-hearsay opinion: Aidan McLaughlin's quotes from commentator Erick Erickson, taken from an off-the-record stroll in a Safeway store with a Republican Member of Congress who was described as being a regular defender of President Trump on FOX News. WARNING: these quotes are very explicit and use vulgar language.  The Congressman was said to have privately "decided he hates Trump, and wanted to unload."  The Congressman is quoted as saying: "If we’re going to lose because of him, we might as well impeach the motherfucker."  Speaking of the hypocrisy of saying different things publicly and privately, the Congressman said: "Everybody does this shit."  It goes on: "dammit he’s taking us all down with him. We are well and truly fucked in November... It’s like Forrest Gump won the presidency, but an evil, really fucking stupid Forrest Gump. He can’t help himself. He’s just a fucking idiot who thinks he’s winning when people are bitching about him. He really does see the world as ratings and attention."  If Mueller is fired: "shit will hit the fan if that happens and I’d vote to impeach him myself... Most of us [Republicans] would, I think... If we’re going to lose because of him, we might as well impeach the motherfucker. Take him out with us and let Mike [Pence] take over. At least then we could sleep well at night.”  The Congressman concluded: "I say a lot of shit on TV defending him, even over this. But honestly, I wish the motherfucker would just go away. We’re going to lose the House, lose the Senate, and lose a bunch of states because of him. All his supporters will blame us for what we have or have not done, but he hasn’t led. He wakes up in the morning, shits all over Twitter, shits all over us, shits all over his staff, then hits golf balls. Fuck him. Of course, I can’t say that in public or I’d get run out of town.”

Essay -- Writing in the New Republic, Elizabeth Drew offers up The End of Impeachment -- a thesis that the impeachment process has become so politicized: that "Impeachment may have already become defunct as an effective instrument for dealing with a crooked or out-of-control president."  Drew cites a "tempered approach" on the part of Democrats during the Nixon Impeachment, that allowed Republicans to join in an effort based on claimed misuses of Governmental power rather than policy differences.  She writes: "If Mueller’s report doesn’t lead to a radically changed view of the president on the part of Republicans and a substantial number of those who voted for him in 2016 (this can’t be ruled out,) such a bonding of Republicans with Democrats over impeaching Trump and driving him from office is inconceivable."  Drew makes this contrast with the Clinton impeachment: "Led by then-Speaker Newt Gingrich, the House impeachment of Clinton was a nakedly partisan exercise, based on a lie the trapped Clinton told a grand jury. It wasn’t admirable (nor was his sexual behavior literally in the Oval Office and the study next door,) but it didn’t rise to the level of an impeachable offense, and in the Senate the vote to strip Clinton of the presidency fell well short of the necessary two-thirds."  

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