This MPU episode looks at the redacted Mueller Report and how Democrats should respond to it in congress and on the 2020 campaign trail.
This week, the MPU hosts celebrate their 200th broadcast by reflecting on the week in politics. They also talk about the history of the podcast, let us meet their families, and share some fun surprises along the way.
by Kevin Kelton
We rarely do this, but I am going to respectfully rebut the opinion article of my fellow More Perfect Union host, Rebekah Kuschmider, on the subject of Joe Biden. Yes, this is a debate, and no, there is no hate. Just a lot of disappointment.
You see, I agree with Rebekah that we need to have a serious dialogue in this country about women’s rights and male behaviors. Men have gotten way too free with our hands and our attitudes over the last several decades, and there is no excuse for it. We have badly abused our role and our rights in how we relate to women in the workplace, the dating world, and even on the campaign trail. It’s a long-overdue conversation, and we men need to do a hefty dose of active listening.
But the current kerfuffle over Joe Biden isn’t about the #MeToo movement or women’s personal body space. Let’s get honest here. If women wanted to have a serious conversation about Biden’s behavior, it could have happened during his many years in public life prior to the eve of his entree into the 2019 primary race. It could have happened when he ran for president in 1988, or again in 2008, or during his eight years as vice president, or during the two years since. It could have been a sincere discussion about how millions of men his age, not just Joe Biden, have to re-learn what’s socially acceptable behaviors and come to a higher understanding of what’s appropriate forms of affection and what’s not.
Joe Biden has to learn it. Al Franken has to learn it. Garrison Keillor has to learn it. Donald Trump has to learn it. And millions of non-famous men like me have to learn it, too. It could have been a positive social discussion of gender and age and societal rules and changing social norms.
But it hasn’t been. Instead, it’s been a personal hit job on one very public man, just days before he enters the race for president.
So please don’t try to kid me that this is some high-minded social revolution that’s going on here. It is not. It is a very purposeful, very cruel attempt to destroy a single man’s reputation for petty partisan gain.
The people lining up to go public with their personal grievances with Joe Biden aren’t dispassionate non-partisans. They are self-admitted Sanders supporters, women who want to see a female at the top of the ticket, angry far-left liberals trying to stave off another moderate Democratic nominee, and of course Trump sycophants who’d love nothing more than to see the the campaign of the one Democrat they fear the most aborted before his primary run even begins.
As for the handful of women and men who may sincerely be outraged by “Uncle Joe’s” chauvinistic old-school manners, they are blinded by their own self-righteous indignation. The #MeToo movement should be used to advance relations between the sexes, not turn it into a take-no-prisoners blood match to the death.
Any honest study of Joe Biden would show that he acts that way with women and men, girls and boys. A simple Google image search turns up dozens of photos of Joe getting intimate and handsy with other men, with his sons, with his political opponents, even with his old boss, Barack Obama. It’s not that Joe is a creepy perv. It’s that he’s too publicly affectionate, period.
But that is not a crime worthy of public scorn and humiliation. Nor is it a reason to stop a good and highly qualified man from seeking the presidency.
As for Biden’s so-called accusers, let’s take a gander at their motives for a moment. It was telling that one of the women who suddenly came forward last week is an ardent pro-Bernie supporter, and the other used her five minutes of fame to advocate for a female nominee. They both smack of bitter political agendas, and their nasty attempt to turn Biden’s ham-fisted shows of public affection into some kind of creepy sexual predator persona is abominable.
The truth is, Joe Biden is an American hero. A deeply religious man who is clearly devoted to his family, he served his party and his country admirably for almost five decades, including being a great two-term vice president. He was one of the first high public figures to speak out in favor of same-sex marriage, forcing others to follow his lead, and he has been a true champion of women’s rights and gender rights. He’s made mistakes in the past, as pretty much every male of his generation has. (Including this writer.) But to publicly tar and feather him for minor transgressions of contemporary social mores is a sin of all four orders.
If Joe Biden is not the person to lead Democrats into the next election, let the voters decide at the polls. There are plenty of good reasons to support Bernie Sanders, Beto O’Roarke, Pete Buttigieg, or one of the many highly qualified women and people of color in the race. Let them make their cases and let Joe make his.
Yes, Rebekah, you’re 100% right – it’s high time we learn to treat women as equals with full control over their own bodies and their own autonomy. That conversation is ongoing and should continue. But doing it by hoisting a good man on a burning cross doesn’t make it holy. It makes it hollow.
So, with all due respect, I think it’s time we stop talking about Joe Biden. Biden isn’t what’s wrong with America or American politics. The “creepy Uncle Joe” caricature is.
This week the MPU gang tells you why the Mueller Report is unlikely to be the dud that some cable news talking heads are claiming it could be, why Trump’s meeting with Kim Jung Un will be a bigger dud than Trump is would like it to be, and what they’ll be snacking on when Michael Cohen drops a dime on The Donald in his televised congressional testimony.
by Kevin Kelton
The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.
–Sen. Mitch McConnell, 2010
Every opposition political party has a duty to try to oppose and, when justified, defeat the party in power, and that starts with its highest leaders. Just as the Republicans worked their tails off to unseat Barack Obama in 2012, Democrats have an obligation to their voters to do everything in their constitutional power to unseat Donald Trump.
The question is, How?
For one, Democrats should not be afraid of impeachment and so cowered by the right as to turn the mere mention of the word into a taboo. The “I word” is not a curse; it’s a constitutionally sound legal process that The Founding Fathers created for just this reason. The House is fully in its constitutionally mandated oversight rights to investigate potential high crimes and send articles of impeachment to the Senate if justified. Yet with a “jury” comprised of 53 Republican senators, it’s doubtful (though not inconceivable) that body will achieve the requisite 2/3 vote to remove Trump from office.
But that does not mean an impeachment trial would be in vain. While the decision to vote for or against an impeachment conviction is a political calculation made by each senator, the damning testimony and evidence that would likely be unearthed in an impeachment proceeding would greatly inform the 2020 election.
The 2018 midterms showed that most Americans have lost patience with the lack of character and moral compass of this president. The revelations that could come out during an impeachment trial would greatly add to that impatience. Like the Titanic taking on water, Trump’s presidency cannot float forever. With each dirty revelation that surely would come out, each compartment of Trump’s illicit ship of state will begin to flood, and the entire administration will quickly submerge.
From Paul Manafort to Michael Flynn to Michael Cohen to Roger Stone – and maybe even Jared Kushner and Don Jr. – the wrong-doings that would come out during testimony in a public impeachment trial will send the Trump dominos falling. The president himself would probably survive thanks to his GOP firewall in the senate, but his presidency would be mortally wounded and on life support just as it heads into the 2020 primary season.
The idea that Trump might emerge from an impeachment acquittal victorious and vindicated is nonsense. He is not as likable as Bill Clinton, and his high crimes will prove much more than a sordid sexual affair. And it cannot be overlooked that even with a bump in Clinton’s approval ratings after his acquittal, that still didn’t stop his vice president, Al Gore, from losing the presidency in 2000.
One could even anticipate a GOP primary challenge to Trump on moral grounds. His poll numbers might get so bad that Trump would be compelled to forgo a re-election run, handing the nomination to Mike Pence in an effort to salvage some scraps of his presidential legacy. (A Hail Mary pass that didn’t work so well for Hubert Humphrey or Gerald Ford.)
But invariably, we will have to unseat Trump (or Pence) at the polls. While right now the pundit banter seems to flitter around who is the most progressive candidate or who is the new, younger face the party needs, I suspect that an impeachment process will change that equation. Voters often lurch from one extreme to the other – from Reagan-Bush old stodginess to Clinton young dynamism; from Clinton philandering to George W. Bush family values; from Bush II recklessness to Obama coolness.
If Trump is proved in a senate trial to be a dirty con artist who scammed his way into office and continues to profit illicitly from it, decency and honor may be the commodity 2020 voters crave.
Joe Biden is well-positioned to make that case. Just as George W. Bush was able to run on restoring honor and dignity to the Oval Office, Biden could run on honor, decency and competence. So might another Democratic candidate who can project a similar sense of honor and character in a way Hillary Clinton could not. A Trump-weary electorate might flock to that message and messenger.
The way to unseat Trump is to hammer his faults relentlessly and then offer a clear contrast. An impeachment trial in the senate, even one ending in acquittal, would magnify that contrast.
Trump’s policies may resonate with conservative voters, but his bankrupt character is what will ultimately defeat him.
September 1, 2018
The Honorable Rod J. Rosenstein, Deputy Attorney General
United States Department of Justice, Washington, D.C.
Re: Final Report from the Office of Special Counsel
Dear Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein and Members of Congress,
It is with great regret that I must issue this Final Report from the Office of Special Counsel announcing that we hereby close our investigation into Russian Interference with the 2016 Presidential Election with no finding of wrongdoing in this matter. I am sorry to say that after fifteen months of rigorous investigation by the nation’s premier team of criminal investigators and prosecutors, and at a cost of millions of dollars to U.S. taxpayers, our efforts were all for naught. Quite simply, we were stymied by the superior intelligence and cunning of Donald J. Trump and his campaign cohorts. In short, we failed.
Specifically, while my team was successful at chasing down thousands of leads and obtaining some 19 indictments and five guilty pleas from individuals and companies who worked together to elect Mr. Trump, we were helpless to build a case proving their illicit actions really happened. Even with bank records, wire-tapped conversations, thousands of emails, and other incontrovertible evidence of their web of conspiracy to affect the 2016 election, we have decided to hang it up and call it quits without attempting to make a case to the American people, the task we were specifically assigned and sworn to carry out.
While there is ample evidence that campaign staffers Michael Flynn, George Papadopoulos and Carter Page met with Russian operatives to discuss publishing materials meant to discredit candidate Hillary Clinton in exchange for a more favorable foreign policy toward Russia once the election was over (including changes to the RNC platform made at the behest of campaign manager Paul Manafort to benefit Russia in the Ukraine), we are stymied about how to prove said quid-pro-quo conspiracy so that rural voters and GOP Senators might comprehend it.
Further, despite thousands of documents showing unreported illicit financial transactions and favors of influence between Russian oligarchs and Mr. Trump’s family, we were unable to connect the dots of collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign, even though the President himself is on public record asking for their help to smear Mrs. Clinton with illegally hacked emails, and even though the President’s son, son-in-law and campaign associates met and spoke repeatedly with Russian operatives in furtherance of their efforts to illegally obtain and release her emails, and even though Mr. Trump and family would have been the sole beneficiaries of said collusion to affect the outcome of the election.
Moreover, while we have documented proof through emails, tweets and sworn witness testimony that Trump confidant Roger Stone personally engaged Julian Assange and the Russian hacker Guccifer 2, who went on to procure and release DNC and John Podesta emails to damage Clinton’s campaign only days after Stone predicted those events on multiple media outlets, we felt we had no choice but to accept his explanation that he was merely joking and the timing and specificity of his “jokes” was a coincidence. True, we could have called Mr. Stone to testify under oath and catch him in multiple changes in his story, but why bother? He said it was a misunderstanding and we have to take an upstanding man like him at his word. To have done less would have been a perjury trap.
Similarly, the fact that the President attempted to obstruct justice by firing FBI Director James Comey and through other documented efforts to derail our investigation is simply beyond our capacity to prove in court. As you know, the President claims it was all a misunderstanding, and the American people would surely believe a sitting U.S. president with a 13% “honest and trustworthy” rating over contemporaneous FBI memos, the sworn testimony of multiple eye witnesses, and every single officer of the U.S. Department of Justice.
I know you and the American people were hoping to find closure through our investigation. But frankly, the only way to do that would have been to put the key witness on the stand. And any effort to subpoena the President to testify under oath, as was done in Clinton v. Jones and upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, would have been an unconscionable perjury trap and may have insulted the President’s feelings as well. No president of the United States can be expected to testify truthfully and get his multiple different stories straight under that kind of pressure.
In all candor, it appears that Mr. Trump and his team of neophyte political amateurs were just too cagey and sinister for us. For that, and for all the negative press generated by the President’s disinformation campaign while we professionally and meticulously investigated this case out of the public eye as we were constitutionally charged to do, I humbly apologize. And if you’ll authorize it, I would like to testify in front of Congress so I may publicly clear the President’s good name and admit the folly of our partisan attempt to reverse his magnificent electoral mandate.
Oh wait!… No, I take that all back. I don’t know what I was thinking. It was 2 in the morning and I was Ambien writing.
We are still investigating. Further criminal indictments and referral for impeachment forthcoming.
Robert S. Mueller III
(As dictated to Kevin Kelton, cohost, The More Perfect Union podcast)
This episode of the MPU podcast looks at comedian Michelle Wolf’s turn as the headliner at The White House Correspondence Dinner, dictator Kim Jong-un’s turn as a statesman in South Korea, President Donald Trump’s turn as a guest on Fox and Friends, and Bill Cosby’s turn as a convicted sex offender. Amazingly, the only one who came off well was Kim Jong-un! What does that say about the world we live in?
by Kevin Kelton
As we head into the 2018 midterm elections, it’s astounding that the national Democratic Party still has yet to formulated a coherent message to voters. While President Trump and the GOP rally around simple, bumper sticker messages like MAGA, Build The Wall, and Drain The Swamp, the Democratic party cannot form a coherent message that can appeal to both liberal voters on the coasts and midwest working-class voters. This was a critical failing of the 2016 Clinton campaign, and it will be just as damaging to Democrats going forward if the party doesn’t speak to the voters it needs to win.
Here’s a proposal for a simple, clear four plank Democratic platform to retake congress and the White House. I call it The Campaign for American Justice:
1) Healthcare justice — expanded, reasonably priced healthcare using a mixed economy approach with the goal of quality healthcare for all.
2) Economic justice — tax incentives and economic incentives to get private employers to raise wages and decrease the wealth gap; make higher education more accessible and affordable to all.
3) Social justice — working with courts and local authorities to promote racial justice and reduce violence. This includes smart gun laws and better police training to reduce accidental deaths.
4) Political justice — reducing the power of money in politics and increasing voter participation.
The overriding theme of justice was chosen because it appeals to Americans across ideologies and demographics. Instead of promoting specific programs like “medicare for all” or “guaranteed jobs” (both toxic ideas to free market conservatives), the focus should be on the goal of finding a range of bipartisan solutions to promote justice in healthcare, the wealth gap, racial and social issues, and politics.
Rather than insisting on one pre-measured legislative cure like single payer health insurance, Democrats would be better off to identify the problems we face as a nation and offer a variety of proposals to solve them. “Drain the Swamp” isn’t a policy, it’s a goal. So is “Make America Great Again.” Even the seemingly specific “Build a Wall” is a euphemism for the goals of a stronger border, cultural hegemony, and economic security.
People want to vote for ideas that reinforce the good in America. They don’t need a position paper on each issue with cost breakdowns and detailed legislative language. Tell them what you stand for, and give them a reason to stand for it, too.
And without saying it explicitly, a campaign for “American justice” suggests a counter-balance to the corruption and lack of candor that is the hallmark of the Trump White House. A subliminal message that Democrats will stand for a better America, a fairer America, a just America.
Whether it be the Campaign for American Justice or another theme, Democrats need to start branding their party now so voters fed up with Trumpism have something to vote for in November.
by Kevin Kelton
The border wall between a “subject” and “target” is thin and can crumble quickly.
Much has been made about reports that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein told President Trump he’s “not a target” of the Russia or Michael Cohen investigations. Trump and his supporters seem to believe that exonerates him in both investigations. As they say online, LOL.
Over the years I’ve read many dozens of articles about murder investigations and other felonies. Invariably there’s a spouse, relative or close friend whom all the evidence points to, but the police call him “a person of interest” and not “a suspect.” Usually it’s to get that person to turn themselves in for questioning. But persons of interest can turn into suspects and charged perpetrators very quickly.
Unlike “suspect” and “material witness,” “person of interest”… generally refers to someone law enforcement authorities would like to speak with or investigate further in connection with a crime. It may be used, rather than calling the person a suspect, when they don’t want their prime suspect to know they’re watching him closely. Critics complain that the term has become a method for law enforcement officers to draw attention to individuals without formally accusing them.
Now here’s the FBI’s terminology:
• A “subject” is: “a person whose conduct is within the scope of a Grand Jury’s investigation.” A subject is somewhere between a target and a witness. A subject has engaged in conduct that may look suspicious or unethical, but the prosecutor isn’t certain that a provable crime has been committed and wants to do more investigating in order to be sure.
• A person is a “target” when the prosecutor or Grand Jury has substantial evidence linking him to the commission of a crime. The key thing to remember about these categories is that they are ultimately meaningless and offer you no protection. Why? Because even if you’re currently a witness or subject, there’s no guarantee that your status will remain unchanged.
According to Bruce J. Kelton, a former Justice Department attorney who prosecuted RICO and organized crime cases, “Many individuals who wind up as criminal defendants in federal court started out as subjects and as the grand jury investigation developed turned into targets. To give an example, Bernie Madoff was the initial immediate target in a Ponzi scheme in New York. But by the end of the investigation, 15 others who initially were subjects were indicted and convicted.”
So if you think the fact that Rosenstein told Trump he’s “not a target” means he’s been vindicated, you may be in for a big surprise. And if the president thinks he’s been vindicated, good! Let him continue with that false sense of security.
As for me, I will accept the outcome if he’s never charged. And do a jig if he is.
by Kevin Kelton
And they are right to do it.
The idea that news coverage should be totally “objective” and neutral in reporting the news is a misconception about the duty of journalism and a free press. It is not the job of the press to give artificial balance to an imbalanced story. Indeed, FOX News itself dropped it’s silly “Fair & Balanced” slogan in 2017. Apparently, the FOX News overlords finally realized that even the slogan itself reeked of hypocrisy.
For instance, when a war is unjust, or a government policy is clearly hurting people or unfairly rewarding others, or a politician has committed crimes or ethical lapses,it’s incumbent upon the news media to report it in clear, unambiguous terms that their viewers can understand. There is no responsibility of the press to be “friendly” or “balanced” in its reporting. To the contrary, its primary responsibility is to be adversarial and tough, to push back and question, and to report when the claims of government officials do not match the facts they uncover.
Let’s look at sports journalism as an example. If the New England Patriots are caught cheating by illegally inflating game balls, should the sports press fail to report that? Should they continue to say “allegedly” when clear testimony has shown the allegations to be true? Should they cover the football game as if the cheating episode never happened? If they discover evidence that a boxing match may have been fixed and a fighter took a dive, should they report that and condemn it? Or should they say, “Maybe the other guy would’ve won anyway, we’ll never know. So it’s speculative as to whether the fix affected the outcome of the fight or not.” Clearly their responsibility is to report the true facts as they unearth and understand them. And while they are reporting the unfolding story, they have every right (and obligation) to let their audience know that these questions are out there and the players are acting awfully suspicious.
I pay for newspapers not to get an artificially “balanced” reporting of the news. That’s what a ticker tape is for. I want context, perspective and analysis, and when it’s appropriate, I want them to help shame the offending parties into correcting their behavior. Consumer ombudsmen reporters often do some of the best investigative journalism out there precisely because they don’t treat their subjects with kit gloves.
A democratic free press isn’t simply a mirror. It’s a painting…it’s art. It should communicate and inform. It should move its audience. It should affect positive change.
Walter Cronkite was great because he showed human emotion when reporting JFK had died, and when showing cynicism and doubt when covering the government’s false narrative of the Vietnam War. Edward R. Murrow’s greatest moment was helping to unmask and end McCarthyism. Woodward and Bernstein didn’t give President Nixon the benefit of the doubt; they doubted and dug.
That is the mark of great journalists. Not to protect, but to unmask. Not to defend, but to offend.
Journalism isn’t a tool of the powerful. It’s a tool of the people they seek to govern. I’m glad the press is being tough on an immoral, unethical, and profoundly unqualified president. The only person who is responsible for their negative coverage is the man himself. He’s more than earned it.
This episode of “The More Perfect Union” podcast looks at Trump’s military strike on Syria and its ramifications, James Comey’s new book and its ramifications, Michael Cohen’s rumored 2016 trip to Prague and its ramifications, and Greg’s ability to do foreign accents and its ramifications.