On the Front Lines of the GOP's Civil War

In 2016, a group of Republicans broke ranks with their party to try to stop Donald Trump from winning the presidency. Now they’re rallying once more to keep him from destroying the country. Sam Tanenhaus reports on the Never Trumpers.


Book parties in Manhattan tend to be overspillings of the workday. People stop by in office clothes on their way home—uptown, downtown, to Brooklyn, or out to the suburbs. But in D. C., book parties are social occasions, even when they involve business, which is to say politics, the only business that matters. One Saturday evening in late October, some of the brightest figures in Washington’s media elite streamed into a splendid Colonial Revival house on Foxhall Road in Wesley Heights. “Outer Georgetown,” someone clarified: The phrase implied more than it said, like so much else in this surreal time in American politics. Some of the guests were liberal journalists whose faces were as familiar as their bylines: Jane Mayer and Elizabeth Drew, Andrew Sullivan and David Corn. But among them, too, was a cadre of the uprooted and displaced, writers, intellectuals, and pundits who, had they gathered in Paris or London—well, Ottawa, anyway—might have worn the haunted glamour of émigrés and exiles, though in this case they are strangers in the same precincts where they once felt very much at home. Call them Republicans with a conscience, conservatives without a party, or simply, as most do, the Never Trumpers.

Liberals and conservatives have always commingled easily in Washington, but a year into the presidency of Donald J. Trump, old lines are blurring and new alliances are forming in remarkable ways. Exhibit A is the owner of the grand house on Foxhall Road: David Frum, a former hardcore conservative and speechwriter for George W. Bush. It was Frum who, with another Never Trumper, Michael Gerson (now a Washington Post columnist), coined the phrase “axis of evil” in 2002 and promptly entered the annals of liberal infamy. These days, however, Frum is better known as a heretic and outcast, primus inter pares of the Never Trumpers. 

As the party got under way, Frum and his wife, the author Danielle Crittenden—he in a dark-blue suit and white shirt; she in black pants and a sleeveless blouse—greeted their guests. With his broad forehead and Tory accent (“agaynst”), Frum still has the manner of the Toronto gentry in which he was reared. Standing near a pair of museum-quality African sculptures, he gently urged his guests down a small flight of stairs to the backyard, which was getting crowded and buzzy in the fading light. 

The week that had just ended was no more or less lurid than many others in the first year of Trump’s America, that bottomless tasting menu of national debasement. The day before, a video had surfaced proving that the administration’s Mr. Clean, John Kelly, the chief of staff universally praised for bringing soldierly order to an anarchic White House, had defamed an African-American congresswoman. Meanwhile, the week-old #MeToo movement had begun to fell big media names. (A no-show at the Frums’, though he’d been on the guest list, was Leon Wieseltier, the former New Republic eminence and literary monarch of Washington; his story would break a few days later.)
Given all this, it didn’t seem odd to be celebrating, near a lighted pool with fountain spouts on a warm Indian-summer night, the publication of Red Famine: Stalin’s War on Ukraine (sample chapter: 

“Starvation: Spring and Summer, 1933”), which had just that week gotten a rave in The New York Times. As the Champagne fizzed and the “Eastern Europe–themed” hors d’oeuvres circulated on silver trays—smoked sturgeon, osetra caviar, borscht shots with vodka that went down like raspberry sherbet—the book’s author, Post columnist Anne Applebaum, gave brief remarks. She thanked her “beloved friends the Frums,” who “care about the things I care about,” and also reminded the guests of another book, From a Polish Country House Kitchen: 90 Recipes for the Ultimate Comfort Food, which she and Crittenden wrote in 2012. “We had a little discussion beforehand about whether we should talk about the cookbook in honoring a book about the famine,” Applebaum said. 

“After a famine,” Crittenden called out, “you want a cookbook.” 

Everyone laughed, but Applebaum, in a black cocktail dress, had serious things to say. For one, the lessons of the Ukraine famine, in which almost four million died, were more immediate than we might suppose. Consider: The mass starvation was not an accident but a plan—part of a policy designed by Stalin to stamp out rebellion in a region five hundred miles from Moscow. Stalin’s paranoia went back to the beginning of the Russian Revolution, which had inspired anti-Bolshevik uprisings in Ukraine and caused his predecessor, Lenin, to say, “We must teach these people a lesson right now, so that they will not even dare to think of resistance in the coming decades.”
"Because Americans have emerged safely at the other end of some pretty scary pasts, they think no one has to do anything."
Well, the decades kept coming, but so did resistance, in ever-changing forms. Today, it is the Never Trumpers who are holding out against “forced collectivization”—imposed by the leaders of their own party—and feel locked in an epochal struggle, with a great deal riding on the outcome. To them Trumpism is more than a freakish blight on the republic. It is a moral test. “We’ve seen a moment before when holders of property gambled that their best hope of retaining their property was to disenfranchise fellow citizens,” Frum told me. “We’ve seen before when important parts of society put their faith in authoritarianism. Because Americans have emerged safely at the other end of some pretty scary pasts, they think no one has to do anything—‘It’ll just happen automatically.’ ” 

This is not the sort of thing Frum said in his former life, as a wunderkind of the American Right. But for him, as for many of the guests at his party, the rise of Trump changed the old refrain “It can happen here” into something more dire and pressing: “It’s happening now and must be stopped.” One guest, the affable conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks, has called Trump a “European-style blood-and-soil nationalist.” Another, the historian Ronald Radosh, has written that when he met Steve Bannon in 2013, at the so-called Breitbart Embassy in D. C., Trump’s future Rasputin told him, “I’m a Leninist. . . . I want to bring everything crashing down and destroy all of today’s establishment.” That establishment includes the Never Trumpers, and it’s a sign of how far things have come that these insiders have now become outlaws.

Long before Trump was even nominated, when hopeful moderates were pointing to his encouragingly sane positions on abortion and health care and party elders like Bob Dole and Trent Lott were saying that Ted Cruz was the greater evil, a small but influential band of Republicans, not yet called Never Trumpers, were warning that he was an authentic global menace. One august figure on the Right, the Post columnist George Will, renounced the Republican party in June 2016, declaring himself unable to witness its submission to Trump. Others, such as longtime GOP operatives Mike Murphy and Rick Wilson, began appearing on MSNBC, where they swung hard at nominee and party alike. At the time, Trump seemed headed for a historic rout in the general election, and the spectacle of these chagrined oppositionists was a cheap-thrills sideshow to liberals, who chortled, if only to themselves, “So now you get it.” 

What was missed was the message the Never Trumpers were trying to send, and how genuinely alarmed they were. “There wasn’t a single conservative I talked with at the beginning of 2016 who thought Donald Trump was a remotely acceptable candidate for president,” says Max Boot, a neoconservative foreign-policy writer who served as an advisor to John McCain in 2008 and Marco Rubio eight years later. In March 2016, as Trump closed in on the nomination, another neocon, William Kristol, a founding editor of The Weekly Standard, tried to engineer a third-party escape hatch. It went nowhere. Two years on, Boot has quit the Republican party and says of his Never Trump confederates, whose numbers seem to shrink by the day, “Right now we could all fit in my living room.” Boot’s tone, plaintive but defiant, is common among the Never Trumpers. It echoes the cadences of another period in our history, when a generation of would-be communist revolutionaries were similarly blindsided—the Ukraine famine was only the first of several shocks—and subsequently abandoned the faith. Some of these apostates swore off politics altogether.

Others went into retreat. Still others rejoined the fight but switched sides. They became counterrevolutionaries, spoiling for one last showdown. One of them, the Italian novelist Ignazio Silone, predicted at midcentury that “the final struggle will be between the communists and the ex-communists.” 

A parallel conflict is unfolding today, as one sharp blow after another—from Trump’s humbling of Fox News to the reductio ad absurdum of Roy Moore—has deepened the enmity between the pro-Trump faction and its adversaries on the Right. This latter group sometimes sounds like liberals, but its members are in fact counter-Republicans who mean to take their party back, or blow it up. Others are seeking a third way. A group that includes Boot and Applebaum is creating a centrist sanctuary and talk shop, the Renew Democracy Initiative. They’re polishing up a manifesto and plan to bring out a book, “a kind of Federalist 2.0,” says one contributor, the columnist Bret Stephens, a Never Trumper exile from The Wall Street Journal. In April of last year, Stephens went to the Times and hasn’t looked back, except to toss grenades at Sean Hannity, Steve Bannon, and the rest of what he calls “the bigoted, dipshit wing of the Republican party.” Stephens today sounds less disillusioned than emancipated—as though, in his words, he’s “walking away from a love affair gone bad.”

The same is even truer of Frum, who outdoes all others in his born-again zeal, perhaps because he got there first and has the scars to show for it. His bill of particulars against the movement and the party he once championed long predates Trump and Trumpism. In the essays and columns he writes for The Atlantic, in his fluent commentary on MSNBC, in his smart Twitter observations (he has close to six hundred thousand followers), and in his new book, Trumpocracy, Frum’s sharpest jabs are aimed not at the “kleptocrat” Trump but at House and Senate Republicans whose “ideas for replacing Obamacare bubbled with toxicity” and were a “radical attack on American norms of governance.” 
His pages on the “Rigged System,” the Republican campaign to disenfranchise African-American voters in no fewer than twenty states, burn with the white-hot anger we would expect to read in The Nation, not in a book by a former Bush staffer who once teamed up with Richard Perle, the neocon “prince of darkness,” to write An End to Evil, a jeremiad heady with high-Cheneyist fumes. 

(“Mullahs preach jihad from the pulpits of mosques from Bengal to Brooklyn,” Frum and Perle wrote. “Our enemies plot, our allies dither and carp, and much of our own government remains ominously unready for the fight.”) 

The Never Trumpers have their own history to live down. Many were lusty cheerleaders for the second Iraq War, the event above all others that cleared the path for Trumpism. Jacob Heilbrunn, who wrote a skeptical history of neoconservatives and their swaggering approach to foreign policy, says Frum and the others are “back on old and comfortable terrain as intellectual renegades, issuing apocalyptic warnings about a totalitarian threat to democracy. They want to make neoconservatism great again by championing regime change—this time in Washington itself.”

On the Right, “neoconservative” carries a second, explicitly cultural depth charge, as Boot acknowledges when he says that “Jewish conservative intellectuals, with a few exceptions, have been pretty stalwart.” That’s not surprising, given the anti-Semitic odor that clings to the alt-right pockets of Trumpism. It also stirs troubling memories of the long history of white ethnocentrism on the American Right, from the Depression-era demagoguery of Father Coughlin through the “Christian Front”–style offensives against the civil-rights movement in the fifties, up through Pat Buchanan’s attacks on the pro-Israel “Jewish lobby.”

This may explain the Never Trumpers’ defensiveness. “I’m a registered Republican,” Frum told me recently, as if trying to convince himself that the party he once belonged to still exists . . . somewhere. Across the continent, possibly? “If I lived in California,” he speculated, “I’m sure I’d be voting for Republican members of the state legislature or a Republican candidate for governor”—but not, he allows, if he lived in Alabama. 

Of course, Frum knows very well that Republicans have no power in California and frighteningly much in Alabama. And one can scour the conservative press—which tends toward either robust Trumpism or evasive anti-anti-Trumpism—and not feel the urgency that one finds in Frum’s Trumpocracy, with its despairing plea to an audience he worries is deaf to the approaching thunder of the Cossacks. “Maybe you don’t care about the future of the Republican party,” he writes, addressing an imaginary liberal reader. “You should. Conservatives will always be with us. If conservatives become convinced that they cannot win democratically, they will not abandon conservatism. They will reject democracy.”

Frum dates his apostasy to the 2008 election, which he wrote about as a conservative journalist (for National Review) and policy expert (for the American Enterprise Institute, the Beltway’s premier conservative think tank). Everyone knew it was going to be a tough year for the Republicans. Bush’s second term—Iraq, Hurricane Katrina, the subprime-mortgage crisis—was catastrophic. The Democrats had a charismatic presidential candidate in Barack Obama. John McCain, the Republican nominee, was overmatched and showing his age. In desperation, he selected Sarah Palin as his running mate. “When McCain picked her, you could understand how they arrived at that decision,” Frum says today. “She’s a woman. She raised taxes on the oil industry. I was briefly sold on that idea.” 

Not for long, though. McCain’s team hadn’t vetted Palin with any rigor, but Frum did, informally. “YouTube was still a very new thing,” he recalls, “and I remember watching all the video I could find. There wasn’t much, maybe three hours.” It was enough to see the obvious. “She was just out of her depth, even when she talked about Alaska.” 

Palin’s ignorance alone was disqualifying. Even worse, Frum remembers, she had a brilliant but disturbing campaign style. “She had a genius for finding the stress points in American society and turning people against people,” he says, meaning her insinuating praise of small-town “real America” and her accusation that Obama, the nation’s first black presidential nominee, had been “palling around with terrorists.” Palin didn’t invent this style of demagoguery. But she was, in Frum’s telling, the purest practitioner. 

After the election, he began to rethink. The trouble wasn’t McCain’s drubbing. It was the conservative embrace of Palin, which seemed tied to “the collapse of support for the Republican party by the young and the educated,” as he later told The New York Times. He left National Review with an idea to revive a more moderate Republicanism. His vehicle was a now-defunct website called the FrumForum. 

During the first months of the Obama presidency, Frum says, he noticed that an odd silence had settled over his colleagues at AEI. The country was locked in debate over the Affordable Care Act, the most ambitious legislative initiative in a generation. Why wasn’t AEI more vocal about it? Frum thought he knew: Many of the policy experts at AEI supported the bill but were afraid to say so, lest they anger their allies—and donors.

In fact, there was every reason for conservatives to like the policy, in principle at least. Its cornerstone, the so-called individual mandate, was the stepchild of an idea dreamed up by the Heritage Foundation, the number-two conservative think tank in D. C. Today, Republicans from Trump on down vehemently denounce the mandate—it was a casualty of the tax bill the Senate passed late last year—but it was designed as a market-based approach to health care, a near carbon copy of the plan Mitt Romney had enacted as governor of Massachusetts. These resemblances were no secret. On the contrary, they were supposed to be a selling point for Obamacare. “It was a compromise measure, crafted with the buy-in of the pharma and insurance companies, with a lineage stretching back to Richard Nixon’s proposal, and based on the Heritage-Romney plan,” says Geoffrey Kabaservice, the author of Rule and Ruin, a chronicle of the modern Republican party. “It was an alternative to the Medicare-for-all that the Democrats surely would have preferred.”

Conservative opponents of the ACA were well aware of the bill’s provenance. But since attacking Obamacare worked at election time, they pretended otherwise, inventing the fiction of “repeal and replace.” The same dishonesty explains why they couldn’t come up with a workable substitute: Obamacare was the GOP plan. “The Republicans never had a health-care alternative,” says Ross Douthat, the New York Times op-ed columnist who counts himself among the Never Trumpers. 

All of this is obvious today, but Frum saw it happening in real time. Though he is by temperament and talent an intellectual pamphleteer, he’s also a first-rate wonk. His book Dead Right, published in 1994, stripped bare the myth of Ronald Reagan as the vanquisher of big government. And he knew that the Democrats had been serious about health-care policy, dating back at least to Hillary Clinton’s attempt in 1993. “Hillarycare” has entered history as a dismal flop, but it was a political defeat, not a policy failure. We forget that Hillary dazzled legislators of both parties in early hearings, and that the task force she set up brought the full spectrum of experts into “the process.” The program crashed only after Republicans launched a media campaign to destroy it.

Frum understood this because he’d been on the other side, fending off the evils of big government, but by 2010 he was looking at things less ideologically. To begin with, the country was still digging out of the Great Recession. The economy had been shedding five hundred thousand jobs a month—and when people lost jobs, they lost medical coverage. They needed help. But Republicans couldn’t, or wouldn’t, see it. Congressional hotshots like Paul Ryan were calling the economic crisis a boondoggle for tax-and-spend Democrats. 

Republicans vowed that health care would be Obama’s Waterloo. They all but ignored the excitement he inspired, and the discipline of his congressional majorities, who had learned from the mistakes of Hillarycare. All this indicated that the ACA was going to pass, which meant Republicans should bargain hard for the pieces they wanted—especially since Obama preferred a bipartisan bill. Instead, the GOP stonewalled. “No negotiations, no compromise, nothing,” Frum wrote on his website in March 2010. “We went for all the marbles, we ended with none.”

The Obama White House delightedly tweeted Frum’s post, and then came the angry barrage. First, Frum was eviscerated in a Wall Street Journal editorial. No matter that he had been an editor there during the first Bush presidency, and had edited columns by Paul Gigot, who had since become the Journal’s top opinion-page editor. “Mr. Frum now makes his living as the media’s go-to basher of fellow Republicans, which is a stock Beltway role,” the Journal said. “He’s peddling bad revisionist history that would have been even worse politics.” 

Next came a call from AEI. “Time for me to come in and have a chat with the powers that be,” Frum recalls. He had a meeting with AEI’s president, Arthur Brooks, the next day. According to Frum, Brooks “told me I was welcome to keep my title but I should give up my salary and my office and not come to work anymore. I was mad about it at the time. In retrospect, I don’t know that he had any choice.” Frum means he’d asked for it. “There’s a part of me that knows I should write in a blander way,” he says. “It would be healthier. I know that and then I just won’t do it.” 

It helps that he doesn’t have to. With children not yet of college age, Frum would have preferred to keep his $100,000 AEI salary. But he didn’t need the money. His father, Murray Frum, was a Toronto real-estate tycoon and one of North America’s major art collectors (hence the exquisite African sculptures), and he led a consortium that came close to buying the Blue Jays in 1997. Barbara Frum, David’s mother, was a revered CBC journalist. 

But while Frum didn’t have money worries, others did. “The economy of the conservative world in 2009 and 2010 was very difficult,” he told me. “A lot of think tanks were shrinking. And a lot of people were scared. They didn’t want to be seen with me. It felt dangerous.” As he was pushed further out of the circle, something inside him was freed up. He began to reinvent himself as a conscientious objector to the Republican party, criticizing it from within. In 2011, he wrote a blistering cover story for New York magazine in which he said the GOP had “lost touch with reality.” 
All its policy ideas, he said, boiled down to a single fetish: “more tax cuts for the very highest earners.” (Six years later, Trump’s GOP made a prophet of him with its tax “reform” bill.) Frum also wrote a takedown of Rush Limbaugh in Newsweek. “That was really out of bounds,” he told me with a laugh. “I’d committed various infractions against orthodoxy and people were genuinely mad,” Frum says. “It was lonely and disorienting. I lost a lot of friendships. Suddenly people I spent a lot of time with weren’t around.”

All political movements contain the seeds of their own ruin. Either the leaders of the movement sue for peace with the establishment, or they keep pushing the envelope ever further, until the fringe displaces the center. Both those fates combined to undo “movement conservatism.” Its first theorists and publicists, a small nucleus well aware that they were outnumbered in their efforts to roll back history, ran interference for dubious causes and rabble-rousing politicians. In the fifties, William F. Buckley Jr. and his brother-in-law Brent Bozell, both Yalies, wrote a book defending the below-the-belt slugger Joseph McCarthy and arguing that the true hysterics were the “enemies” who were out to get him. Barry Goldwater, the GOP presidential nominee in 1964, defended the crackpots of the John Birch Society as doughty patriots while insisting that the actual extremists were liberal intellectuals like Arthur Schlesinger Jr.

Still later, when talk radio became big, Republican elites championed Limbaugh. “Dear Rush,” Ronald Reagan wrote in 1992, “thanks for all you’re doing to promote Republican and conservative principles. Now that I’ve retired from active politics, I don’t mind that you’ve become the number-one voice for conservatism in our country.” Soon enough, Limbaugh was on the cover of National Review, with the headline “The Leader of the Opposition.” From there it was a small step to Palin love. After her debate with Joe Biden in 2008, Rich Lowry, the editor of National Review, wrote, “I’m sure I’m not the only male in America who, when Palin dropped her first wink, sat up a little straighter on the couch and said, ‘Hey, I think she just winked at me’. . . . And her smile . . . sent little starbursts through the screen and ricocheting around the living rooms of America.”
“Every major non–Wall Street Journal columnist was against Trump. The Weekly Standard was against Trump. National Review was against Trump. None of it mattered.”
The high-low fusion was risky—a kind of unsafe political sex. With each compromise, movement elites gave up more ground. “You can tell this story as one of a changing media environment,” says Ross Douthat. “From Buckley to Roger Ailes”—the longtime head of Fox News—“you go from a time when the leading media impresario was intellectual and high-minded to someone who was primarily interested in making money.” Buckley and company had an old-fashioned belief in institutions, and were confident the movement would remain a top-down operation. The ideas began with them. Why wouldn’t power accrue to them, too? “What you have in Buckley and Reagan is a desire to have what the liberals have had,” says Geoffrey Kabaservice. “Buckley doesn’t want a second-rate New York Times. He wants an actual conservative Times that has the same standing, same quality and reputation as the liberal Times. Reagan does not want a conservative president in office who’s going to have a less capable government than the liberals have had before.”

That illusion crumbled in 2016. “The election proved elite conservative media doesn’t matter,” says Douthat. “Every major non–Wall Street Journal columnist was against Trump. The Weekly Standard was against Trump. National Review was against Trump. None of it mattered.” 

And if those publications don’t matter, why fund them? Even as Trump taunts the “failing” New York Times, it’s the boutique right-wing media that’s truly in peril, now that its lack of influence has been exposed. When National Review—the country’s most venerable conservative journal—published its celebrated “Against Trump” issue just ahead of the Iowa caucuses in 2016, the blowback was considerable. On a fundraising cruise last August, donors and subscribers objected fiercely to the issue. (NR editors and writers pointed out that it had been a one-off.) Today, Rich Lowry says that reports of financial pressure have been exaggerated. But at the time there was serious concern. “There were complaints and cancellations,” says Jack Fowler, National Review’s vice-president, though he adds that the magazine has since rebounded. 

It has done so by splitting the difference on Trump. NR writers Kevin Williamson and Jay Nordlinger oppose the president, while their colleague Ramesh Ponnuru looks for places where Trumpism intersects Reaganism or George W. Bushism. Meanwhile, Lowry, who has sometimes pushed an anti-anti-Trump line in his own columns, tries to keep NR’s pages in balance. “I watch the tone and the volume,” he says of attacks on Trump. “But, more or less, people can say what they think. We’ve probably had more internal debates than we’ve had in a while, but that’s a symptom of the times.”
The other option is to capitulate, which is what happened at The Wall Street Journal. Much has been written about friction between the Journal’s down-the-middle, just-the-facts news reporters and its highly ideological editorial department. But the more significant story—an obsession for the Never Trumpers—is the rupture within the Journal’s editorial pages and the exodus that resulted. 

Bret Stephens, who won a Pulitzer in 2013, was the defector with the highest profile. He was deputy editor when he jumped over to the Times, where he was soon joined by his editor at the Journal, Bari Weiss. The Journal’s books editor, Robert Messenger, is now at The Weekly Standard. Sohrab Ahmari, a foreign-policy writer, went to Commentary. Mark Lasswell, an editor, was told not to return from a book leave. 

Those were heavy losses in pages whose content is managed by fewer than thirty people in total. And the reason, according to several defectors, was the Journal’s skidding reversal once Rupert Murdoch realized Trump could win. Several sources pointed to the editorials by one writer, James Freeman. “All-in for Ted Cruz” during the primaries, Freeman wrote a strong attack on Trump’s Mob dealings, and had a second ready to go. But as Trump got closer to clinching the nomination, Paul Gigot kept delaying publication, saying “it needed work.” Once Trump became the likely Republican nominee, Freeman executed a neat volte-face. “The facts suggest that Mrs. Clinton is more likely to abuse liberties than Mr. Trump,” he wrote. “America managed to survive Mr. Clinton’s two terms, so it can stand the far less vulgar Mr. Trump.” 

Since then, the Journal has gone further. Even jaded readers were startled to see the editorial-page call for Robert Mueller, who is leading the Russia investigation, to resign. And when an op-ed urged Trump to issue blanket preemptive pardons for the accused, John Yoo, the theorist of the expansive “unitary executive” and author of the Iraq War “Torture Memos,” warned in the Times that the Journal’s advice would place Trump on the road to impeachment. (Neither Gigot nor Freeman replied to interview requests.)

“Conservatives have decided they are a tribe,” says Jennifer Rubin, the conservative Washington Post writer who has declared war on both Trump and his GOP. “They’re not Americans first. They’re Trump defenders first.” It is ideological groupthink, the Right’s own political correctness. And it gives credence to the old argument, rooted in the culture wars of the nineties, that a great many conservative writers and policy experts are intellectuals manqué, tightly leashed by wealthy donors, just like the Republican politicians they promote. 

But in truth, “Conservatism, Inc.” was never the luxury gravy train its critics depicted. It was closer to a Soviet-style nomenklatura, with a good deal of ideological policing. “I had the president of a small conservative think tank tell me he admires my anti-Trump position but he just can’t be identified that way because his donors would cut him off,” says Boot. Even now, the Never Trumpers I talked to, though freed from the grip of the old dogma, were constantly going off the record or pleading, “Protect me.” Who can blame them? For all their resources, they are indeed outnumbered—unwanted and unloved.

So it was in an earlier time, too. “We ex-communists are the only people on your side who know what it’s all about,” Arthur Koestler, another of the great apostates, said long ago to liberals disinclined to take him and his ilk seriously. The good news is that the Never Trumpers are getting a close hearing. Whatever mistakes they made in their time of devotion, they have emerged as the best exegetes of the conservative god that failed. No one else understands it so well—its means, its ends, its methods, its costs. “The problem with the devil’s bargain is that the devil never delivers,” Frum says. “That’s the point of the story.”

Trump and the Goodfellas

The presidential candidate says he didn’t know he was doing business with the mob.

Donald Trump says he’ll succeed as President because he has succeeded in business, so it’s appropriate to scour his business record. One area in particular that deserves scrutiny is his business relationship with companies controlled by the Mafia.

The reporting on this has so far been scanty, and we have no new revelations. But Mr. Trump was active in construction in the 1980s, when federal racketeering cases highlighted the influence that a “club” of mobsters exerted over large construction projects in New York City. In one 1988 trial, Anthony “Fat Tony” Salerno, boss of the Genovese crime family, was among those convicted in a scheme to control and profit from the concrete contracts for numerous buildings in Manhattan, including Trump Plaza.

We asked Mr. Trump about these ties on his recent visit to the Journal, and his answers are worth hearing at length. Mr. Trump recalled that in Manhattan there were perhaps three concrete companies and “virtually every building that was built was built with these companies.” He added that “a lot—all of these people—were somehow associated, according to what I read, I don’t know it for a fact.”
Since the Mafia is in the business of stealing, we figured Mr. Trump would be angry that he had to build a “mob tax” into the cost of his projects. But he seemed to be a satisfied customer.

In his stream-of-consciousness way, Mr. Trump described the concrete companies of that era: “You know, Wall Street Journal didn’t write about these guys but these guys were excellent contractors. They were phenomenal. They could do three floors a week in concrete. Nobody else in the world could do three floors a week. I mean they were unbelievable. Trump Tower, other buildings. They would do literally—and you’d say how can you do three? They’d set it, pour it; before the concrete was even dry, they would be putting forms on the floor working off the steel beams, okay?”

He added that “they were unbelievably good contractors in terms of doing the work. But a lot of them were supposedly associated with the mob.” Did he realize at the time that he was, for example, working with a company largely controlled by Salerno? “No, nobody would know that,” said Mr. Trump.

He recalled that after the bust following the 1980s real-estate boom, many contractors “tended to be not around so much after that. Then a lot of them got indicted I think by [former New York County District Attorney Robert] Morgenthau, who was a great D.A., fantastic guy, fantastic, but he indicted a lot of people. I don’t know in concrete, but a lot of people were indicted. And then they started sort of disappearing. Actually it’s a much different world today. But if you built a building in New York, you basically were, unless you didn’t want to build it, you basically had to use one of the two or three companies that were there, for the concrete structure mostly.”

Atlantic City brought more transactions with wise guys. The Washington Post recently reported that Mr. Trump’s casino license was delayed as he was developing the Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino in part because of ties to reputed Scarfo crime family associate Kenny Shapiro.

Asked about a July CNN report suggesting Mr. Trump had overpaid for a parcel of Atlantic City land from Philadelphia mobster Salvatore Testa, Mr. Trump said, “I don’t know who Testa is.” CNN reported that the transaction occurred in 1982. That was a long time ago—and two years before Testa was found shot to death.

What about the contractors in south Jersey? “You had contractors that were supposedly mob-oriented all over Atlantic City,” Mr. Trump said, adding that “every single casino company used the same companies, just I hope you will say that.” Mr. Trump said that “unlike the ones I told you about in New York, they had some lousy contractors. But basically when you’re in Atlantic City, you’re using all of the contractors, you bid them out. Some of them may have been mob-oriented, I don’t know.”

But if Mr. Trump didn’t know whether his associates had mob ties, why did he warn others not to get involved in casino gambling lest they attract organized crime? Mr. Trump now says he was merely trying to discourage potential competitors from entering the casino business: “I’d say negative about it because I didn’t want to have other jurisdictions do gambling. That’s sort of, like, you know, basic business sense.” So he says he warned about mob influence to deter competitors while claiming lack of knowledge about mob ties to his own projects.

Mr. Trump has never been accused of a crime, and his see-no-evil, he-had-no-choice explanation worked for him as a businessman. The question is whether this is adequate for someone who wants to be President.

The question is especially apt for GOP primary voters because Democrats would surely raise it in the general election. Mitt Romney lost in 2012 in part because Democrats trashed his stellar business record in private equity. Better to vet Mr. Trump’s business record now than next October.

Warren Buffett On GOP Tax Cuts & Consequences


‘We’re losing the war for truth’: Franken denounces Trump, GOP in final floor speech

Sen. Al Franken bade farewell to Capitol Hill on Thursday with a lengthy broadside against the policies of the Trump administration and a call for politicians to commit themselves to “honesty in public discourse.”

The speech put to rest questions about whether Franken (D-Minn.) would follow through on his promise to resign over more than a half-dozen allegations that he had touched women inappropriately.

Until Wednesday, Franken had not announced the date he would leave the Senate, and at least two Democratic colleagues — Sens. Joe Manchin III (W.Va.) and Patrick J. Leahy (Vt.) — recently said that he should reverse his decision.

In his farewell address, Franken lamented what he described as the degradation of truth in the national political debate and the hyper-partisan environment this has produced. He will resign his seat on Jan. 2 and his successor, Minnesota Lt. Gov. Tina Smith (D), is scheduled to be sworn in on Jan. 3.

“As I leave the Senate, I have to admit that it feels like we’re losing the war for truth,” Franken said in his final speech on the Senate floor. “Maybe it’s already lost. If that’s what happens, then we have lost the ability to have the kinds of arguments that help build consensus.”

As Republicans celebrated the passage of their tax plan in another part of the Capitol, Franken denounced the bill as a means of “showering corporations and wealthy donors with tax breaks and special favors.”

“The Republican tax bill represents a slap in the face to those forgotten men and women” mentioned by President Trump during the 2016 campaign, he said. “I guess the president forgot about them.”

Franken is one of seven lawmakers who in the past three months have resigned or decided not to run for reelection after allegations of sexual misconduct or harassment. His departure is a symbol of the wider reckoning taking place over sexual misbehavior among powerful men and the power of women’s allegations in the wake of the #MeToo campaign to raise awareness about sexual harassment.

On Thursday, Franken’s speech was followed by warm tributes from colleagues who praised his legacy and said they were sad to see him go.

“I’m sorry that he’s leaving under these circumstances,” said Senate Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.). “Everyone who has ever lived has had moments they wish they could erase. . . . We all draw strength from the healing power of redemption, and we can take heart in the knowledge that tomorrow is another day.”

Franken, 65, joined the Senate in July 2009 and worked hard to distance himself from his prior career as a comedian. Cultivating a reputation as a serious legislator, he emerged as a powerful voice against corporate interests in politics and one of the Democrats’ most pointed and effective critics of Trump.

The two-term senator had risen as far as to be discussed as a possible candidate for president in 2020, until a woman said last month that he had grabbed her breasts while she was sleeping and forcibly kissed her in 2006. That woman, Leeann Tweeden, was followed by several others who alleged sexual misconduct by Franken.

The drumbeat of allegations proved to be too much. On Dec. 6, a wave of Senate Democrats called for Franken to step aside, and the next day he said he would resign in the coming weeks.
Franken, who apologized in the face of some of the accusations, was defiant as he made his announcement. He has denied some allegations while saying he remembered other situations differently from his accusers. He also sought to turn the tables on Trump, who faces arguably more-serious allegations of sexual misconduct.

“There is some irony in the fact that I am leaving while a man who has bragged on tape about his history of sexual assault sits in the Oval Office,” Franken said in his Dec. 7 speech.

In his remarks Thursday, Franken did not address the allegations or outline his plans after leaving office. Instead, he took a comprehensive look at his political values and how they are faring under Trump.

With several references to Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.), a political mentor who died in 2002, Franken said the Trump administration and the Republican Party have “eviscerated” policies designed to protect racial minorities, women and LGBT people, among other vulnerable groups.

“The policies pursued by the Trump administration and congressional Republicans today could not stand in starker contrast to the values Paul championed,” Franken said. “The values propelling the Republican agenda today are about consolidating political and economic power in the hands of corporations and the very wealthy.”

As Franken spoke, several Democratic colleagues sat listening. For most of the speech, there was only one Republican — Sen. Lamar Alexander (Tenn.) — in attendance.

Franken thanked Alexander for seeking consensus and a shared understanding of the facts as chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, of which Franken is a member.

“Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for when we’ve done that,” he said.


Republican Attacks on Robert Mueller Are Absurd. But the GOP Has Been Lawless for Decades.


Washington is all abuzz with rumors about the fate of Robert Mueller, the special counsel appointed to examine “any links and/or coordination” between Russia and the 2016 Trump campaign.

According to some reporting, Donald Trump’s allies believe he will have a “meltdown” and try to fire Mueller if the special counsel does not quickly wrap up the investigation and exonerate the president. (It wouldn’t be a simple procedure for Trump to get rid of Mueller, but if he’s determined to do so, he almost certainly can.) Meanwhile, elected Republicans and conservative news outlets are obsessively attacking Mueller in a clear bid to lay the groundwork for Trump to pardon any of his subordinates convicted on charges growing out of the Russia probe.

But one thing’s for sure: If Trump does take some kind of outrageous action against Mueller, the Republican Party will mumble, look down at its shoes, and then do nothing whatsoever. Earlier this year there was momentum among a small number of GOP lawmakers to join with Democrats to pass legislation protecting Mueller, but that’s quietly petered out. There may be some opposition from some Republicans, but the odds of it being enough to stop Trump are quite low.

If this occurs it should come as no surprise to anyone. It’s simply the logical endpoint of decades of effort by the Republican Party and its media penumbra to shield the GOP from the rule of law or any small-D democratic norms. Today’s GOP sees any and all rules just as billionaire New York real estate developer Leona Helmsley saw taxes – they’re only for “the little people.”

There’s always been a significant faction of the U.S. right, rooted mostly in large corporations, that’s similar to the right in Latin America, in that it genuinely sees democracy as illegitimate. The success of Franklin D. Roosevelt during the 1930s was a gigantic shock to their system, and there were two small scale efforts by Wall Street and big business to overthrow Roosevelt via military coup.

Meanwhile, John Foster Dulles, a powerful corporate lawyer who later became secretary of state during the Eisenhower administration, told his clients facings new government restrictions: “Do not comply. Resist the law with all your might, and soon everything will be all right.”

Dulles was wrong. From the viewpoint of conservatives, things did not get “all right” anytime soon. The New Deal was such a stunning political success that, starting with Roosevelt’s election in 1932, Democrats held the majority in the House of Representatives for 58 of the next 62 years until 1994. Democrats controlled the more-aristocratic Senate almost as firmly during the same period, for 52 years, and even managed to gain the presidency for a majority of that time. They provided an imperfect but real check on the right’s dream of rolling back the 20th century and returning the U.S. to the late 1800s.

But Dulles and company handed their commitment to massive resistance down to their ideological descendants. And soon enough it erupted spectacularly during the presidency of Richard Nixon.

There was an enormous amount of liberal self-congratulation after the Watergate investigation and Nixon’s resignation. The system worked! But that was true only in the sense that the system worked when Al Capone was convicted of tax evasion. And even that comparison isn’t quite accurate: Americans, at least, were aware of Capone’s bigger crimes.

By contrast, Nixon’s most monstrous misconduct remains largely unknown, even today. It’s now proven that during the 1968 campaign he directly ordered his underlings to collude with a foreign power – South Vietnam – to prevent a peace deal that could have ended the Vietnam War. His motive was the most craven imaginable: He was worried that peace might help his opponent, Hubert Humphrey. Instead, Nixon won the presidency and in 1973 signed a treaty on essentially the same terms available five years earlier. Tens of thousands of Americans, as well as hundreds of thousands of people across Indochina, died thanks to what can without hyperbole be called treason by Nixon.

Then there’s Nixon’s “secret” bombing of Cambodia, during which the U.S. dropped 2.7 million tons of explosives – more than had been used by the Allies during all of World War II – on one of the poorest countries on earth. This was a blatant violation of the U.N. Charter and hence of the U.S.

Constitution, yet the House Judiciary Committee rejected an article of impeachment condemning it. This left the Nixon administration’s preposterous legal justification available for the Obama administration to cite over 40 years later as vindication for drone strikes in countries with which the U.S. is not at war.

Instead Nixon was nailed for quite real fraud, bribery and obstruction of justice. But the committee’s Bill of Particulars, which describes Nixon soliciting campaign contributions from McDonald’s in return for letting them raise the price of a quarter pounder cheeseburger, does make it all seem, in the scheme of things, like small potatoes.

While the Watergate investigation has been portrayed as a proud moment of bipartisan commitment to America’s glorious ideals, this is nearly the opposite of the truth. Nixon would unquestionably have evaded punishment if Republicans rather than Democrats had controlled Congress.

Even with Democrats in charge, the first congressional attempt to look into it, led by populist Rep. Wright Patman, was effectively killed by Gerald Ford, who at the time was the House Republican leader. (While Ford claimed he was only doing this because of a belief in good governance, he almost certainly was acting on Nixon’s orders.)

Then there’s Howard Baker, the top Republican on the Senate Watergate Committee. Baker has long been celebrated for asking, “What did the president know, and when did he know it?” But Baker was actually asking that in an attempt to protect Nixon, and secretly met with Nixon to provide him with intelligence about the committee’s activities. The glowing reviews for Fred Thompson, then the committee’s minority counsel and later a GOP senator from Tennessee, are also a myth.

Meanwhile, Republicans engaged in their now-familiar cut-and-paste attacks on the press. Nixon’s press secretary declared in 1972 that “I use the term shoddy journalism, shabby journalism, and I’ve used the term character assassination. … This is a political effort by the Washington Post, well-conceived and coordinated, to discredit this administration.” The purported coordination, of course, was supposedly with George McGovern, Nixon’s opponent that year.

In the end, only a third of the 17 Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee voted for the three successful articles of impeachment. And even they largely did not do so out of any kind of high-mindedness. Rather, by 1974 the economy had collapsed — characters in the movie “Network,” made during this period, repeatedly refer to “the depression” — taking Nixon’s popularity with it.

So with a slightly different roll of history’s dice, Nixon might have skated. But he didn’t. At that point Republicans could have taken one of two lessons from the experience: either “Don’t commit impeachable offenses” or “Build walls to protect yourself when you commit impeachable offenses … and get revenge.” They went with door number two.

It was during the Nixon administration that Roger Ailes developed what he called “A Plan for Putting the GOP on TV News.” Eventually this would become Fox News, and give Ailes the power to generate a self-contained alternate reality for the Republican grassroots. The right’s other area of vulnerability was the courts, which had repeatedly ruled against Nixon. The so-called “Powell memo,” which laid down the blueprint for the right’s counteroffensive of the last 40 years, emphasized that “the judiciary may be the most important instrument for social, economic and political change.” Ever since, the right has made an enormous investment in shaping the Supreme Court as well as lower courts, in particular the critical U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

At the same time, the Democratic Party was undergoing a peculiar cultural shift that’s led them to celebrate losing honorably for the good of the country. This was in fact the exact language of Clark Clifford, one of the “wise men” surrounding Lyndon Johnson when his administration discovered Nixon’s appalling Vietnam chicanery just before the 1968 election. Clifford successfully argued to Johnson that “some elements of the story are so shocking in their nature that I’m wondering whether it would be good for the country to disclose the story … It could cast [Nixon’s] whole administration under such doubts that I would think it would be inimical to our country’s interests.” Top Democrats, including Johnson, Clifford, Secretary of State Dean Rusk, and National Security Adviser Walt Rostow generously took Nixon’s secret with them to their graves.

The same perspective caused Democrats to meekly accept a new status quo when it came to special counsels. Incredibly enough, there hasn’t been a significant investigation headed by a special counsel who’s a Democrat since Nixon fired Archibald Cox in 1973. Democrats have internalized a heads-you-win-tails-I-lose belief that an investigation of a Republican administration can’t be handled by a Democrat, whereas one investigating a Democratic administration must be conducted by a Republican. The same goes for the head of the FBI: Every single one in the bureau’s history, including three appointed by Democratic presidents, has been a Republican.

For their part, the elite print and broadcast media accepted the right’s critique that they were – as huge profit-driven corporations naturally tend to be – horribly liberal. This made them uncomfortable with their own power, and they decided not to use it against Republicans. Ben Bradlee, editor of the Washington Post during Watergate, explained in his autobiography that he “began to feel subconsciously that what the world did not need right away was another investigation that might again threaten the foundations of democracy. What the newspaper did not need right away was another fight to the finish with another president — especially a Republican president. [emphasis in original]”

This dynamic — an aggressive GOP versus a Democratic Party and media both terrified of getting two for flinching – has only accelerated since.

During the Iran-Contra affair of the mid-1980s, Ronald Reagan almost certainly committed impeachable offenses. Specifically, he had, in violation of the Arms Control Act, approved the sale of weapons to Iran in 1985. After the story broke, the independent counsel named to investigate it was Lawrence Walsh, a stalwart Republican who’d previously been appointed to various high-level positions during the Eisenhower and Nixon administrations.

It didn’t matter. As it became clear that Reagan was vulnerable, and his underlings had engaged in a massive cover up to protect him, Walsh was ferociously attacked by his own party. The Wall Street Journal and the Washington Times denounced him, as did members of the mainstream media anxious to demonstrate that they’d turned over a new, less-liberal leaf.

By the end of 1992, Walsh had discovered that Reagan’s successor, George H.W. Bush, had likely committed his own impeachable crimes while concealing his role in the scandal. But Bush, on his way out the door after losing to Bill Clinton, pardoned six convicted or indicted Iran-Contra defendants. “George Bush’s misuse of the pardon power,” Walsh later wrote, “made the cover up complete.”

But if Republicans were certain that Republican presidents were innocent, they knew that Clinton, as a Democrat, was inherently guilty. All they needed to do was figure out exactly why.

The New York Times got the ball rolling with its preposterous coverage of the Whitewater scandal – which did indeed involve minor crimes, but none committed by Bill or Hillary Clinton. Republicans seized upon Whitewater to demand an independent counsel.

Clinton’s attorney general, Janet Reno, chose Robert Fiske, a Republican who’d been appointed U.S. District Attorney by Gerald Ford. Unfortunately, Fiske failed to produce the right results: The Clintons had not improperly tried to influence bank regulators in Arkansas, nor had they murdered White House counsel Vince Foster. The Wall Street Journal decried “The Fiske Cover Up.”

There was only one solution: another, more disciplined Republican independent counsel. Two GOP-appointed judges from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia replaced Fiske with Kenneth Starr. Starr produced results after a mere four years, having somehow expanded the Whitewater investigation to cover Bill Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky. Clinton’s impeachment was overseen by Newt Gingrich and Dennis Hastert, an enthusiastic adulterer and child molester, respectively. (The Whitewater probe was eventually wrapped up in 2003, nine years after it started, by a third Republican counsel, Robert Ray.)

Next up was the 2000 election. It’s been totally forgotten now, but in the week before the vote, the George W. Bush campaign became worried Bush might win the popular vote while losing the electoral college. They therefore laid plans to grab the presidency with national demonstrations demanding that Al Gore bow to the clearly expressed will of the people.

Gore was even preemptively condemned for his selfishness. Ray LaHood, a Republican member of the House from Illinois, declared that it “would be an outrage” if Gore assumed office under such circumstances. Chris Matthews also felt strongly, saying that “knowing him as we do, [Gore] may have no problem taking the presidential oath after losing the popular vote to George W. Bush.”

Of course, exactly the opposite happened. Bush officially won Florida and the electoral college when the Supreme Court halted the Florida recount in a 5-4 decision. The five members of the majority were all chosen by Republican presidents, while two of the dissenters were GOP appointees and two had been picked by Clinton. Gore immediately and obediently conceded.

A full examination published in November 2001 found that under every possible standard Gore would have won Florida if all the votes had been counted. The Washington Post published a story about this on page A10.

By then Matthews and LaHood had both long lost interest in this subject. Matthews, who said that he’d voted for Bush, became a star on the liberal MSNBC. Nine years afterward in 2009, President Obama named LaHood secretary of transportation.

Within a few years, Bush was embroiled in the Valerie Plame scandal. Patrick Fitzgerald was appointed by James Comey, then-deputy attorney general, to investigate. While Comey was a Republican, Fitzgerald, in a scandalous anomaly, was not. He wasn’t a Democrat, of course; he was just an independent.

He was also loudly slurred as unconscionably biased.

Bill Kristol, the neocon leader, pronounced that “the whole prosecution is absurd” because Fitzpatrick “is now out to discredit the Bush administration.” William Safire called him “a runaway Chicago prosecutor,” while CNN’s Lou Dobbs said Fitzgerald was engaging in “an onerous, disgusting abuse of government power.” Four months after Bush administration official Scooter Libby was convicted of multiple counts of perjury and obstruction of justice, Bush commuted his sentence.

That brings us to today and the Mueller investigation, with the GOP going further than ever before. It goes without saying that Mueller, a Republican appointed by a Republican deputy attorney general who in turn was appointed by a Republican president, is running an investigation that’s incredibly unfair to Republicans. Fox’s Jesse Watters has been making the case that it is in fact “a coup” aiming to destroy Trump “for partisan political purposes and to disenfranchise millions of American voters.”

For her part, Fox’s Jeanine Pirro believes that “the only thing that remains is whether we have the fortitude to not just fire these people immediately, but to take them out in cuffs.” Trump himself has referred to the FBI, one of the most notoriously conservative government agencies, as constituting a “rigged system” — rigged against him – whose “reputation is in Tatters.”

So, it’s almost impossible to imagine Trump being forced to pay any price by fellow Republicans. The GOP has spent 43 years constructing an enormous network of well-funded, committed defenders in Congress, the courts and the media. This in turn has allowed them to live in a mental universe in which they cannot do wrong, and therefore any attempts to impose restrictions on them are morally outrageous. The system is now working at full throttle. As Bruce Bartlett, a former Reagan and H.W. Bush staffer, and current GOP heretic, forlornly says, if Watergate happened today, “Nixon would have finished his term.”


The Growing Case for Impeaching Donald Trump, From Lawlessness and Corruption to Abuse of Power

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, as we turn now to an update on the movement to impeach President Donald Trump. In November, a half-dozen Democrats introduced articles of impeachment against Trump, accusing him of obstruction of justice and other offenses. Co-sponsors include Democratic Representatives Steve Cohen, Luis Gutiérrez, Al Green, Marcia Fudge, Adriano Espaillat and John Yarmuth.

Well, on Thursday, another congressmember endorsed articles of impeachment. This time it was one of the 12 House Democrats representing a district won by Trump in 2016: Democratic Congressmember Carol Shea-Porter of New Hampshire. She said in a statement Thursday, “Many Members of Congress, including myself, agree with Republican Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker that President Trump poses a dangerous threat to national security and the future of our democracy. … I believe it is past time for Members of Congress to put country before party and bring these discussions out into the open,” Shea-Porter said. Until now, other Democrats who have endorsed Trump’s impeachment have hailed from safe blue districts. Porter plans to retire at the end of her term.

This comes as the House rejected an effort last week by Congressmember Al Green of Houston to move forward with articles of impeachment, even as some 58 Democrats voted in support of the resolution—nearly a third of the caucus. Meanwhile, a petition for impeachment launched in October by Democratic donor Tom Steyer now has more than three-and-a-half million supporters, and at least 17 communities around the country are on record calling for impeachment proceedings against Donald Trump.

Well, earlier this month, Democracy Now! spoke to constitutional attorney John Bonifaz, co-founder and director of Free Speech for People. I started by asking him about the movement to impeach Trump.
JOHN BONIFAZ: Well, to be clear, what we’re doing here with this impeachment campaign that we launched with RootsAction on the day of the inauguration, because the president had refused to divest from his business holdings all across the world in defiance of the anti-corruption provisions of the Constitution—what we’re doing, Amy, is designed to defend our Constitution and our democracy.
This is not about being dissatisfied about certain policies of the president. This is about the Constitution and the basic fundamental principle in this country that no one is above the law, not even the president of the United States. And he walked into the Oval Office that day already defying the rule of law, already refusing to comply with those two anti-corruption provisions of the Constitution.
AMY GOODMAN: Explain exactly what those two anti-corruption articles of the Constitution are and what he refused to do with his businesses.
JOHN BONIFAZ: So those two anti-corruption provisions are the Foreign Emoluments Clause and the Domestic Emoluments Clause. The Foreign Emoluments Clause makes clear that the president shall not receive, nor any other federal elected official shall not receive, any payments or financial benefits of any kind from any foreign governments. The Domestic Emoluments Clause applies only to the president and says he shall not receive any financial benefits or payments of any kind from the federal government or the state government other than his federal salary.
This is a president who has 111-plus business interests all over the world, many of which involve illegal foreign benefits, foreign government benefits, to him personally, through his company, the Trump Organization, as well as having properties all over the United States that involve state government benefits and the federal government, through the leasing of the Post Office Square in Washington, D.C., that is now the place where the Trump International Hotel resides.
So, what we’re dealing here with is a president who knew, prior to taking the Oval Office, warned by constitutional scholars, that he needed to divest from his business interests in order to comply with those anti-corruption provisions. He refused to, and he is engaged in treating the Oval Office as a profit-making enterprise at the public expense.
AMY GOODMAN: How have things changed since January, when Donald Trump became president?
JOHN BONIFAZ: I think what has happened is we’ve seen a growing list of impeachable offenses that require an impeachment investigation in the U.S. Congress parallel to the Mueller investigation. This is not a question of having to wait and see whether or not the federal criminal investigation that’s proceeding turns up violations of federal criminal law by the president or any of his associates. That’s a separate question.
The question here are crimes against the state. That is what impeachment is about—abuse of power, abuse of public trust, and not only through the violations of the anti-corruption provisions. There is now, of course, evidence of obstruction of justice. There’s evidence of potential conspiracy with the Russian government to interfere with the 2016 elections and violate federal campaign finance laws, among others. There is now evidence of abuse of the pardon power in the pardoning of former Maricopa County Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio. There’s recklessly threatening nuclear war against a foreign nation. There’s misuse of the Justice Department to try to prosecute political adversaries. And there’s the giving aid and comfort to neo-Nazis and white supremacists. All of this—all of this deserves an impeachment investigation in the U.S. House of Representatives.
AMY GOODMAN: So, in response to some Democratic leaders warning against calls for impeachment before Robert Mueller’s investigation has been completed, billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer defended his $20 million ad campaign to impeach President Trump, and blasted his critics, telling The Wall Street Journal, “The Republican nominee wasn’t really a Republican. The person who energized the Democratic Party wasn’t really a Democrat. So, when I hear the Washington establishment tell me, 'Shut the f— up,' I think, well, maybe.”
And on Thursday, he tweeted, “It doesn’t surprise me that the political establishment in Washington, D.C. can’t imagine the idea of the American people having an independent voice. They’re scared of any threat to their control. But it’s important to do what’s right,” said Tom Steyer. I want to play a clip of the ad that has been running on television.
TOM STEYER: He’s brought us to the brink of nuclear war, obstructed justice at the FBI. And in direct violation of the Constitution, he’s taken money from foreign governments and threatened to shut down news organizations that report the truth. If that isn’t a case for impeaching and removing a dangerous president, then what has our government become?
AMY GOODMAN: That’s the billionaire Tom Steyer, who has spent millions on this ad campaign that’s running on television. Can you talk about what he is attempting to do—it’s the Need to Impeach campaign—and whether you’re working with him, John Bonifaz?
JOHN BONIFAZ: Well, we’re in communication with Tom Steyer and his team about collaborating possibly, and we do think what’s important here is to elevate the national conversation. He’s obviously helping to do that. We fully agree with all that he’s saying about the need for this impeachment process to move forward in the House of Representatives. And the more voices that come forward from the American people all over the country is going to help push that forward in Congress.
AMY GOODMAN: So let’s talk about what’s happened this November, these six House Democrats announcing they’ve introduced articles of impeachment against President Trump. This is Congressman Steve Cohen making the announcement on November 15th.
REP. STEVE COHEN: I am proud to stand here with my friend, Congressman Gutiérrez, with other congresspeople who will be here, in announcing that we are introducing articles of impeachment to remove President Trump from office. There will be, I believe, six signatories on the resolution. We have taken this action because of great concern for our country and our Constitution, our national security and our democracy. We believe that President Trump has violated the Constitution, and we’ve introduced five articles of impeachment.
AMY GOODMAN: Again, that’s Congressmember Steve Cohen of Memphis, Tennessee. Joining him, Luis Gutiérrez of Chicago, Marcia Fudge of Ohio, Adriano Espaillat of New York, John Yarmuth of Kentucky and Al Green of Houston, Texas. So, explain what they’re introducing.
JOHN BONIFAZ: Well, they’ve introduced five articles of impeachment, and they’ve done it as a group. And it’s significant because up until now there were two members of Congress, Al Green being one of them, Congressman Al Green from Houston, and Congressman Brad Sherman from Los Angeles, who had introduced articles of impeachment around obstruction of justice. These articles go beyond obstruction of justice, including that, but also the violations of the foreign and domestic emoluments clauses and the president’s continued attacks on freedom of the press and on the independence of the judiciary.
And what’s significant here, Amy, is that these articles have been introduced by members of Congress despite the continued opposition by their own party’s leadership in the Congress. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has made clear that she doesn’t think impeachment should move forward at this time, and yet they are going ahead and moving this forward. And I think they’re asking for other members of Congress to join them, beyond those who already have stepped forward. And we, as Americans, all across the country, should push for an impeachment investigation and should urge our members of Congress to take the same kind of action.
AMY GOODMAN: So, respond to Nancy Pelosi. I mean, what these Democrats are saying is this is not the way to retake the House in 2018, that if you disagree with the president, the way to deal with that is through elections. Explain why you see impeachment as key.
JOHN BONIFAZ: Well, we’re a nonpartisan organization. We’re not involved in the political strategy of any political party. What we are focused on is defending our Constitution. At this particular moment in time, it is not acceptable to say that we will simply kick the can down the road and wait until after an election cycle to lay the groundwork for the impeachment proceedings. They may not happen tomorrow. They may not get started next month. But the fact is, we need to be laying that groundwork and making this call now.
And members of Congress, whether they’re Democratic, Republican, independent or what have you, need to be stepping up to protect and defend the Constitution. That’s the oath they took, in addition to the president taking that oath, to protect, defend and preserve the Constitution.
And the other point on this, Amy, is that Nancy Pelosi has been saying that we don’t have the facts out, we don’t have the Mueller investigation completed. But what they’re really saying is they want other facts out, because we already have the facts out about what this president has done with respect to the emoluments clauses, with respect to obstruction of justice and so many other impeachable offenses.
And when we look at the Mueller investigation, we’re mixing apples and oranges. That’s a criminal investigation, whether or not the president and his associates have committed violations of federal criminal law. The question of impeachment is about abuse of power, abuse of public trust, crimes against the state. And it is just wrong for any member of Congress to suggest that a criminal investigation needs to be completed before an impeachment proceeding can begin.
AMY GOODMAN: One of the people who has gone before the congressional committees is Roger Stone, one of President Trump’s oldest advisers. He issued what appeared to be a veiled threat, warning in August any politician who voted to impeach President Trump would face a violent response.
ROGER STONE: Try to impeach him. Just try it. You will have a spasm of violence in this country, an insurrection like you’ve never seen.
REPORTER: You think?
ROGER STONE: No question.
REPORTER: You think if he got impeached, like the country would go to—
ROGER STONE: Both sides are heavily armed, my friend. Yes, absolutely. This is not 1974. The people will not stand for impeachment. A politician who votes for it would be endangering their own life. There will be violence on both sides. Let me make this clear: I’m not advocating violence, but I am predicting it.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s Roger Stone speaking to TMZ. He says there would be a violent response. John Bonifaz?
JOHN BONIFAZ: It’s an outrageous statement, but it also highlights that we cannot allow fear to dictate our response to this lawless president. We cannot say that we’re going to stay on the sidelines here while the Constitution is being shredded, because of that kind of claim that Roger Stone or anyone else might make.
AMY GOODMAN: So, explain how impeachment would work. What would the process look like?
JOHN BONIFAZ: So, the first process involves the House Judiciary Committee taking up the question. The House of Representatives would need to pass a resolution that would advance to the House Judiciary Committee the question of an impeachment investigation or articles of impeachment. You know, Congressman Al Green has said that he wants to go to the floor with a privileged resolution immediately, that will force a vote in the House of Representatives as early as in the next few days in this coming week.
But, you know, beyond that process, the process of having the House Judiciary Committee take up this question would then involve subpoena power, would then involve taking witnesses. This is what happened during the Nixon impeachment proceedings.
I understand when people say, “Well, the Republicans control the House Judiciary Committee. They control the House of Representatives. They control the Senate. Where do we think this process could actually go?” But, you know, there were plenty of people who argued on the day that we launched this campaign, on Inauguration Day, that there was just no way people would be standing up to demand this, and now we see millions of Americans demanding it. Now we see 17 communities on record, and now we see seven members of Congress on record. And the facts continue to build that this president is defying the rule of law. We must place country over party here and stand up for the basic principle that no one is above the law.
AMY GOODMAN: So, if you were arguing for the impeachment in Congress, if you were laying out the case against Trump over this almost a year that he’s been in office—not quite yet—can you lay out the articles of impeachment?
JOHN BONIFAZ: Yes. We would start with the violations of the two anti-corruption provisions of the Constitution: the Foreign Emoluments Clause and the Domestic Emoluments Clause. This president is treating the Oval Office as a profit-making enterprise at the public expense. He’s taking illegal payments and benefits from foreign governments in violation of the Foreign Emoluments Clause, and he’s taking illegal payments from the state governments around the country, as well as from the federal government, in violation of the Domestic Emoluments Clause. That’s point one, or point one and two, if you will, because they’re two different clauses.
Then you have obstruction of justice. This is a president who first demanded loyalty of his former FBI Director James Comey. When he didn’t get that, he went ahead and fired him for not letting go, as he put it, of the Flynn investigation and “this Russia thing,” as he said. That was obstruction of justice. That FBI director was involved in investigating the Russian interference in the 2016 election and its potential connection to the Trump campaign. It led to the appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller. And now we know, based on new reporting by The New York Times, that soon after that, the president sought to stop the congressional investigations in the Senate that were going—that continue to go on with respect to that. So obstruction of justice, which was the first article of impeachment against Richard Nixon, would certainly be part of this case.
Then we have the potential conspiracy with the Russian government, potential collusion, to violate federal campaign finance laws and other federal laws and to interfere with our elections. That evidence continues to be built. But it’s also an impeachment question, and the House Judiciary Committee should take that up.
Then we have the abuse of the pardon power. This is a power that is not unlimited by a president. And what the president has done with the pardon of former sheriff, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, is he has essentially undermined the due process rights of the thousands of people who were impacted by Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s illegal actions. This is the sheriff who was found in criminal contempt of court for refusing to stop his illegal practices of detaining people based on the color of their skin. And this president went ahead and used the pardon power in a wrongful way to pardon him.
Then we have the giving aid and comfort to neo-Nazis and white supremacists, not just what the president said after the Charlottesville tragedy, but also his most recent tweets, tweeting out anti-Muslim—inflammatory anti-Muslim videos. This president is giving that aid and comfort to white supremacists.
Then, you know, this president also has engaged in recklessly threatening nuclear war. Now, the fact is that the president is the commander-in-chief. He does not have the power to initiate a war. That is established under the War Powers Clause, despite the fact that we’ve seen violations of it in the past. But this takes it to a whole new scale. This is a president who literally is engaged in recklessly threatening nuclear war against a foreign nation. That reckless and wanton disregard for the established norms and for essentially putting millions of lives at stake, threatening really the world, is an impeachable offense.
And then, finally, most recently, this president has talked about how he would like to see the Justice Department prosecute Hillary Clinton and other political adversaries. This misuse of the Justice Department, or attempted misuse, to prosecute political adversaries would be another impeachable offense worthy of investigation.


The GOP tax bill may be the worst piece of legislation in modern history

If the Republican tax plan passes Congress, it will mark a watershed for the United States. The medium- and long-term effects of the plan will be a massive drop in public investment, which will come on the heels of decades of declining spending (as a percentage of gross domestic product) on infrastructure, scientific research, skills training and core government agencies. The United States can’t coast on past investments forever, and with this legislation, we are ushering in a bleak future.

The tax bill is expected to add at least $1 trillion to the national debt over the next 10 years, and some experts think the real loss to federal revenue will be much higher. If Congress doesn’t slash spending, automatic cuts will kick in unless Democrats and Republicans can agree to waive them. Either way, the prospects for discretionary spending look dire, with potential cuts to spending on roads and airports, training and apprenticeship programs, health-care research and public-health initiatives, among hundreds of other programs. And these cuts would happen on top of an already difficult situation. As Gary Burtless of the Brookings Institution points out, combined public investment by federal, state and local governments is at its lowest point in six decades, relative to GDP. 

The United States is at a breaking point. In August, the World Bank looked at 50 countries and found that the United States will have the largest unmet infrastructure needs over the next two decades. Look in any direction. According to the American Road & Transportation Builders Association, the United States has almost 56,000 bridges with structural problems (about 1,900 of which are on interstate highways), and these are crossed 185 million times a day.

Another industry report says that in 1977 the federal government provided 63 percent of the country’s total investment in water infrastructure, but only 9 percent by 2014. There’s so much congestion in America’s largest rail hub, Chicago, that it takes longer for a freight train to pass through the city than it takes to get from there to Los Angeles, according to Building America’s Future, a public interest group.

There is no better indication of the U.S. government’s myopia than the decline in funding for research. A recent report in Science notes that for the first time since World War II, private funding for basic research now exceeds federal funding. Research and development topped 10 percent of the national budget in the mid-1960s; it is now less than 4 percent. And the Senate’s version of the tax bill removed a crucial tax credit that has encouraged corporate spending on research, though the House-Senate compromise version will probably keep it. All this is happening in an environment in which other countries, from South Korea to Germany to China, are ramping up their investments in these areas. A recent study found that China is on track to surpass the United States as the world leader in biomedical research spending.

When I came to America in the 1980s, I was struck by how well the government functioned. When I would hear complaints about the IRS or the Federal Aviation Administration, I would often reply, “Have you ever seen how badly these bureaucracies work in other countries?” Certainly compared with India, where I grew up, but even compared with countries such as France and Italy, many of the federal government’s key offices were professional and competent. But decades of criticism, congressional micromanagement and underfunding have taken their toll. Agencies such as the IRS are now threadbare. The Census Bureau is preparing to go digital and undertake a new national tally, but it is hamstrung by an insufficient budget and has had to cancel several much-needed tests. The FAA lags behind equivalent agencies in countries such as Canada and has been delayed in upgrading its technology because of funding lapses and uncertainties. The list goes on and on.

There are genuine problems beyond underfunding. The costs of building American infrastructure are astronomical. But during the Depression, World War II and much of the Cold War, a sense of crisis and competition focused America’s attention and created a bipartisan urgency to get things done. 

Ironically, at a time when competition is far more fierce, when other countries have surpassed the United States in many of these areas, America has fallen into extreme partisanship and embraced a know-nothing libertarianism that is starving the country of the essential investments it needs for growth. Those who vote for this tax bill — possibly the worst piece of major legislation in a generation — will live in infamy, as the country slowly breaks down.