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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

@jeffreysrobbins

Trump Is On A Slippery Exit Ramp

It's been another bad stretch for Donald Trump. The president's terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad week began with his labored shuffle down a short, modestly inclined ramp after giving an even more labored speech at West Point, one eliciting an audience response somewhere between tepid and silent. It was an event commandeered by Trump himself. He was trying to appear a wee bit presidential after having been hustled to his emergency bunker when peaceful protests across the street grew loud and his manly stride to a church to hold a bible as though it were kryptonite boomeranged.

Problem was, it looked an awful lot like a ramp too far; there are track meets that could have been held in the amount of time it seemed to take the president to get down that ramp. Coupled with his inability minutes earlier to raise a glass of water with one hand, this led to a fresh wave of doubt about his capacity, doubt which, to be fair, he has generated virtually nonstop since taking office. Characteristically, he made matters worse. "The ramp that I descended after my West Point commencement speech was very long & steep," he tweeted, "and most importantly was very slippery."

The thing is, lying just isn't as easy as it used to be, what with the advent of videotape. Everyone could see that the ramp was actually very short, not remotely steep and, unless it had been inexplicably slicked with Vaseline for the occasion, not at all slippery. Not since Jimmy Carter claimed to have used a canoe paddle to battle an amphibious attack rabbit to a draw had a presidential attempt at bravado seemed so pathetic.

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The President Who Doesn’t Want Us To Know What Went Wrong

In the Broadway classic "Guys and Dolls," a gangster named Big Julie From Chicago informs participants in a crap game that they will be using dice specially made for him — with "invisible" spots. "These dice ain't got no spots on them," protests Nathan Detroit, the game organizer. "They're blank." But Big Julie, a practiced cheater as well as a thug, is ready. "I had the spots removed for luck," he replies. "But I remember where the spots formerly were. Do you doubt my memory?" "Big Julie," says Nathan with resignation, "I have great trust in you."

President Donald Trump channeled Big Julie From Chicago during his White House spin classes over the last few weeks, insisting — not for the first time — that he hadn't said things the entire world heard him say and insulting reporters who had the nerve to quote him back to him. "Don't be a cutie pie," snarled the leader of the free world at one reporter who asked him about the thousands of Americans dying each week. But he was particularly incensed at proposals that the country actually try to learn what the federal government knew about the pandemic, when we knew it, what we did about it and what we are doing.

One proposal circulating in Congress would create a National Commission on the COVID-19 Pandemic, "not just to look back at prior practices and mistakes but to learn lessons as quickly as possible to better protect the United States going forward." The bipartisan body would consist of five Republicans and five Democrats. To ensure that it would not interfere with our response or become a tool in the presidential election, its members would not even be appointed until after the inauguration, and the new president would appoint its chair. Presumably, if Trump is reelected, that would be Jared Kushner.

The commission's purpose would be to get the facts, which was generally regarded as a good thing in times past. After the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, then-President Franklin Roosevelt appointed a commission to investigate why we were so unprepared for it. After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, then-President George W. Bush approved a commission to investigate. Both presidents, one a Democrat and one a Republican, knew that these inquiries might well embarrass them. But both possessed the character and the maturity to know that finding the truth was critical to the welfare of the country they were elected to serve.

This president, however, is in what may charitably be called a league of his own, and he blasted the suggestion that we learn the truth about what happened with COVID-19, deploying his customary rubbish. "It's witch hunt after witch hunt," sniped Trump. "Everyone knows it's ridiculous." If the president has been honest with the American public, an inquiry shouldn't concern him. "Actually, throughout my life, my two greatest assets have been mental stability and being, like, really smart," he tweeted in 2018. Let's call that debatable on both counts.

If the president has been honest, he should welcome the investigation. He and his fellow geniuses would be free to blame the disastrous federal response to warnings about the pandemic, and response to the pandemic itself, on anyone they want: on the states, for foolishly supposing that the United States government would confront a global health catastrophe; on the impeachment proceedings, which the president claims distracted him; on former President Barack Obama's administration, which hadn't been in office for almost three years when the pandemic struck and which warned Trump's team about this in early 2017; or on UFOs. The idea is to have adults separating facts from falsehoods with expertise, integrity and the good of the nation in mind.

The president is unenthusiastic, and one may reasonably infer why. But we are in extremely tough shape, and this is no time for crap games or hiding spots.

Jeff Robbins, a former assistant United States attorney and United States delegate to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, was chief counsel for the minority of the United States Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. An attorney specializing in the First Amendment, he is a longtime columnist for the Boston Herald, writing on politics, national security, human rights and the Mideast.

The Sad Implosion Of Alan Dershowitz

The road leading to President Donald Trump’s acquittal from charges of which he is plainly guilty is littered with a trail of public figures selling their souls and abandoning their consciences. Few have been more dispiriting, however, than retired law professor Alan Dershowitz, whose reputation imploded in national view during Trump’s impeachment trial, all seemingly because of an unquenchable thirst for limelight. Dershowitz’s embarrassing performance in the service of a corrupt president who positively basks in a totalitarian’s view of his own power (speaking of the Constitution, he said, “I have an Article 2, where I have the right to do whatever I want as president”) left Dershowitz looking like a sad and simple toady, so enthralled by media attention that he is willing to say anything for anyone in order to get it.

From its outset, the Trump presidency provided Dershowitz the welcome opportunity for attention, and he has taken advantage of it. He has been ubiquitous on cable television, sounding somewhere between silly and ridiculous on the president’s behalf, arguing that the poor beleaguered Trump was being persecuted by those bent on trampling his civil liberties. As impeachment proceedings got underway, Dershowitz found himself in increasing demand and was tapped to be on Trump’s defense team, an appointment he appeared to relish. His pitch: However accurately the articles of impeachment passed by the House summarize Trump’s conduct, Trump cannot be impeached because he has not committed a statutory crime. Before you could say, “egg on his face,” a clip surfaced of Dershowitz proclaiming the precise opposite with equal self-assurance in 1999. “It certainly doesn’t have to be a crime,” Dershowitz had said. “If you have somebody who completely corrupts the office of the president and who abuses trust and who poses great danger to our liberty, you don’t need a technical crime.”

Faced with this direct contradiction from his own lips, Dershowitz launched a series of cringeworthy “clarifications” that damaged his credibility further. “I wasn’t wrong. I have a more sophisticated basis for my argument,” he explained to one interviewer. “I didn’t do research back then. I relied on what professors said,” he told another. “I am much more correct right now,” he insisted to a third, a line that may live on for its hubris and its inanity.

From there, Dershowitz proceeded to the well of the Senate to declare on behalf of President Trump that Trump could demand whatever he wanted of whomever he wanted as long as he believed it would get him reelected. “If a president does something which he believes will help him get elected in the public interest, that cannot be the kind of quid pro quo that results in impeachment,” announced Dershowitz. This concept of American democracy evoked Mussolini more than Jefferson. Once again, Dershowitz tried to backtrack, falsely denying what he had said and then accusing those who had heard him of “distortion.”

In his needy zeal for the spotlight, Dershowitz has self-eviscerated, eliminating his credibility on an issue that, one imagines, matters more to him than Trump does. For decades, Dershowitz has ably made the progressive case for Israel, challenging its critics on the left and arguing, frequently under fire, that those who genuinely care about democratic values should regard Israel, which has broadly preserved those values, with respect, rather than hatred. Dershowitz’s unprincipled defense of the attempted dismantling of democracy by a president contemptuous of it has served to decommission him as an advocate for Israel; his association with Israel hurts Israel, rather than helps it, which is too bad for it and too bad for him.

In fairness, Donald Trump has had quite a team of enablers, and Dershowitz is far from the only one who has contributed to our crisis by letting his country down. He is a reminder of how much, and how quickly, work needs to be done to restore our nation to the one we once took for granted.

Jeff Robbins, a former assistant United States attorney and United States delegate to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, was chief counsel for the minority of the United States Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. An attorney specializing in the First Amendment, he is a longtime columnist for the Boston Herald, writing on politics, national security, human rights and the Mideast.

In The Senate, An Explosion Of Phony Indignation

Rep. Adam Schiff, lead House manager of the impeachment case against President Donald Trump, delivered a tour de force last week, painfully, crushingly detailing the president’s obvious guilt and decimating his defenses. It’s fair to say, however, that this did not go over all that agreeably with Senate Republicans who, determined to sidestep the evidence of Trump’s abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, opted for phony professions of outrage at being called to account.

Leading the charge was Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), whose depressing forfeiture of a once-meaningful reputation for independence has led former admirers to shake their heads at what fear of a Republican primary can do to a person’s conscience. Collins claimed to be appalled at Congressman Jerry Nadler’s use of the phrase “cover-up” to describe conduct by Senate Republicans that can’t easily be described otherwise. Trump’s “defense” of the mountain of evidence against him is the patently false assertion that none of it is “first-hand.” But Republicans have not merely looked the other way at Trump’s blanket order that the documents reflecting his conduct be withheld and the aides to whom he gave orders be gagged; presented with a simple request that the documents be turned over and the aides be required to tell the truth, they made the request impossible. For his part, the president does not hide the fact that he is hiding the facts. “We’re doing very well,” Trump boasted about the impeachment proceedings last week. “(H)onestly, we have all the material. They don’t have the material.”

Collins is upset about the phrase “cover-up.” Too bad. That is precisely what it is, and her objection to a phrase that fits the GOP’s conduct like a glove makes her look ridiculous. Evidently, in the United States Senate, which Collins claims to revere, it is now permissible to block the truth and impermissible to speak it.

But it wasn’t only the apt use of “cover-up” that Collins and colleagues find offensive. It was Schiff’s reference to a CBS News report that said Republican senators had been warned, “Vote against the president and your head will be on a pike.” “That’s not true,” shouted Collins, and Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski complained, “That’s where he lost me.” Whether the White House used the word “pike” or “spear,” there is no doubt that the message has been delivered — forcefully and repeatedly: If Republicans stand up to Trump, they will sleep with the fishes, politically speaking

. “I talk to Republicans all the time, quietly, individually,” said Ohio Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown on Friday. “(M)any of them tell me that Trump’s a liar … but they’re all afraid of him.” Republicans’ professions of outrage at reports that they are afraid of Trump are, quite simply, as phony as a $3 bill.

Indeed, “phony” is the word that rushes to mind when listening to Trump’s defenses, and one hardly knows which among them is the most laughable. One potential prize winner: Trump’s contention that he had not demanded a quid pro quo from Ukraine. Knowing that he was guilty of the demand, he uttered the words “no quid pro quo” in a conversation in which he expressly confirmed that he was demanding a quid pro quo. This bit of idiocy would not survive scrutiny by fifth graders. “In other words,” observes Brown University constitutional scholar Corey Brettschneider, “if the president is robbing a bank and says, ‘I am not robbing a bank,’ we should believe him.”

Despite the hokum and the fraud served up by the White House’s smoke-blowing machine, polls show that most Americans get what is going on here. Two surveys released before Schiff buried Trump found that 51% want Trump removed right now. Republican senators will no doubt succeed in preventing that. They are unlikely, however, to prevent a verdict from being rendered against them by history.

Jeff Robbins, a former assistant United States attorney and United States delegate to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, was chief counsel for the minority of the United States Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. An attorney specializing in the First Amendment, he is a longtime columnist for the Boston Herald, writing on politics, national security, human rights and the Mideast.