Wednesday, February 12, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He promised to use the power of the state to protect his friends and punish his enemies.

Trump spoke to reporters briefly during a visit by the President of Ecuador. Most of the questions were about Trump's actions over the last few days to protect Roger Stone, his political backer. Stone was convicted of perjury and witness tampering in an attempt to shield Trump from the investigation into Russia's interference in the 2016 election.

In the course of about ten minutes, Trump attacked all of the following people:
  • Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his "people," all of whom were drawn from Trump's own Justice Department
  • former FBI director James Comey, who Trump fired in an attempt to prevent further investigation into his ties to Russia's election interference
  • serving and former FBI agents who took part in the government's attempt to investigate Russia's interference in the 2016 election on Trump's behalf
  • the four prosecutors on the Roger Stone case, who resigned in protest after they followed sentencing guidelines and were overruled by Attorney General William Barr.
In the last few days, Trump has also made implied threats against the judge handling the Stone sentencing, and mused openly about forcing the Army to discipline Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman for testifying before Congress about the Ukraine scandal.

Trump has essentially admitted in his recent tweets that Barr was acting on his direct orders by protecting Stone. His own advisors have told reporters that Trump is alternating between rage over his impeachment and exultation at having it behind him, and feels empowered to do anything necessary to prevent further scrutiny of his actions. Federal prosecutors still on the job are telling reporters that they fear more direct political interference of this type.

Trump is also very likely afraid: Stone is the fifth person from Trump's innermost circle either in or facing prison time with direct knowledge of his dealings with Russia during the 2016 election. (Michael Flynn is awaiting sentencing, and Michael Cohen, Rick Gates, and Paul Manafort are all in prison.) 

Why does this matter?

  • Doing corrupt acts out in the open is just as bad as doing them in secret.
  • Americans losing faith in the fairness of their courts and the integrity of their elections is what America's enemies want.
  • Using the power of the government to punish people who oppose you is pretty much the definition of authoritarianism.
  • When the president's own closest allies are telling people that he's having mood swings and lashing out at anyone he thinks is an enemy, it's a bad situation.