Well, well! Spring training has finally begun. We can look forward to the end of the winter that never really got here and on to the annual ritual of watching players struggling to make the team, and others getting cut.
It’s rather like watching the Democratic primaries. I was a kid in Brooklyn New York, back in the ’50s. Being Dodger fans automatically meant the Giants and especially the Yankees were the enemies. But that didn’t stop us from loving players like that great 20th century philosopher and catcher, Yogi Berra. Some of his timeless quotes are most fitting for today’s world — like one of his most famous, “You can observe a lot by just watching.” And if you were watching the news this past week, you would be excused for having a headache.
The president tried to tip the scales of justice. He went so far overboard that his personal defense lawyer, masquerading as the Attorney General of the United States, went on the air to say the president’s tweets “make it impossible for me to do my job.” Just to make sure that the president got the message, AG Barr added, “it’s time to stop the tweeting.” And what was it that pushed President Trump’s very most loyal loyalist to the brink of insubordination? Another of Trump’s henchmen, dirty-trickster Roger Stone, had been found guilty of witness tampering and lying to Congress. The Justice Department recommended that Stone receive a 7-to9-year sentence for his crimes. Trump trashed the prosecutors, attacked the judge and jury for finding him guilty, and demanded that DOJ rescind its recommendation. It took Barr less than a day to reverse the recommendations of DOJ’s expert prosecutors. Trump later tweeted he had the “legal right” to mess with the Department of Justice, and he praised AG Barr’s actions.
Barr had the treble problems of all four prosecutors withdrawing from the case, one of them quitting his job, of morale among the career staff at Justice sinking lower than a snake’s bellybutton, and the perception that Barr caved to political pressure. Hence the pushback on Trump’s general conduct vis-à-vis Justice.
So, what did we observe by seeing this mess? The president thinks he can demand prosecution of his political enemies and interfere with the independence of the Judiciary and the Department of Justice. A normal president would have known better than to launch this attack.
The president wants to keep Congress in the dark about Russia — again. An aide to the director of National Intelligence briefed the House Intelligence Committee that Russia was reprising its 2016 shenanigans, pushing for Trump’s reelection, as well as trying to subvert the Democratic Party’s nomination process. When Trump was informed of this, he had what was described as “a meltdown.”
The president was untroubled by the fact that a hostile foreign power was interfering in the most sacred of our institutions, free and fair elections. What irked him was that Adam Schiff, head of the Intelligence Committee, would use the information against him. Trump appointee, acting DNI director, Admiral Joseph Maguire, found himself out of a job, to be replaced by Richard Grenell, whose only qualification for the sensitive position is his blind loyalty to Trump.
Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders was told that Russia was angling to elevate his campaign. His response: “Here’s the message to Russia. Stay out of our elections!”
What did we observe by watching this? The President thinks that the people’s branch of government, the United States Congress, should be kept in the dark and not allowed to do its job. He thinks the nation’s intelligence agencies should look the other way when it comes to Russian subterfuge and subversion.
A normal president might make it clear that Russia had crossed the line — again. He would take action to prevent Russia from interfering in American elections; he would make it clear to the American public that our national security is his highest priority. But Trump did not do any of those. Instead, he obsessed that his political opponents would use the truth to harm him.
We saw much more over the last few days. Former President Bush retracted a pardon to someone whose family donated a few thousand dollars to his campaign. Bush felt that the appearance of impropriety that pardoning a campaign contributor was so bad he couldn’t do it.
Trump, on the other hand, was just fine about handing a “Get Out of Jail Free” for $200,000 to convicted tax cheat Paul Pogue. Put that next to Trump’s statement that Roger Stone “was treated very unfairly” and you would be justified in reaching the conclusion that the Trump presidency has put Justice for sale to the highest bidder.
Mitch Edelman writes from Finksburg. Email him at email@example.com