Sunday Opinion

Mourning, Mueller, potpourri and politics

As much as we might like to forget the toxic atmosphere of today’s political environment, it’s always useful to partake of informed opinion on current affairs. In this Sunday’s opinion section, we have visual comments about the President’s role at a funeral and a climate-change critic, and columns about the reality of politics and whether Democrats can really protect Robert Mueller. As always, the opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of The Tribune.

 

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The fake “potpourri” of today’s political landscape

The word “potpourri” has a few definitions, but for a columnist it means writing about a bunch of unrelated stuff because he’s too lazy to come up with an overarching theme. Instead, he’ll take a superficial look at several developments. I have long experience doing that because of my career in TV news, where the marching orders were to “Get out there and scratch the surface!”

What better frivolous way to begin this potpourri than with that fist bump, or whatever it was, at the G-20 summit in Buenos Aires between Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Russian President Vladimir Putin? They have a lot in common, those two.

First, they’re both from murderers’ row. Second, they both have a huge amount of influence over Donald Trump. The leaders are doing quite well at playing the American president, although Trump is pretending his nose is currently out of joint with Putin. He insists it’s all about Russia’s belligerent behavior against Ukraine, including the shipboard capture of several sailors and boats ramming, but many suspect that it might have more to do with collusion than with collisions.

Back home, as the Trumpster is painfully aware, special counsel Robert Mueller seems to be tightening the vise on Trump’s, uh, whatevers. The Mueller investigation is obviously well on its way to unraveling what appear to be boldfaced lies from Trump and his henchpeople about his motivations for allowing Vlad to have his way with him. The last thing the American president needs right now is a photo op of his way being had by the Russian president.

Besides, with the death of a predecessor, George H.W. Bush, President Trump had to suddenly pivot away from his Mueller demonizing to the pretense of statesmanlike mourning that his office protocols require — ones even he could not ignore. It gave us time to think about how far we’ve come as a country from our 41st chief executive to No. 45. It’s tempting to join everyone else and reflect on our loss of public manners, but were they merely a subterfuge?

To a big extent, they were. True, past politicians would try really hard to put on their likable costume, complete with a mask of civility; Trump doesn’t even try wearing them. But our leaders were just as cutthroat then as they are now.

We have learned some lessons. From Jim Crow, we’ve grudgingly evolved into a facade of equal opportunity — or did until this Trump guy came along to appeal to his followers’ darkest instincts, the ones they had been forced to suppress. Add to that mix a social media democracy run amok and you see a landscape consumed by the wildfires of hatred and ignorance that rage out of control.

The wildfires are not simply metaphors. Global warming is not just a threat to our existence, but it’s one of many examples of disasters we no longer have the will to prevent. To a great extent, we’ve surrendered to the selfish few who control and misuse their immense power. So actually this is a potpourri, a collection of offenses by humans that threaten humanity.

I suppose there is a common theme here after all, and that is we need to stop playing these silly games where everybody loses.

Bob Franken is an Emmy Award-winning reporter who covered Washington for more than 20 years with CNN. (c) 2018 Bob Franken Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

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Sorry, Democrats You Can’t Protect Mueller

Mitch McConnell just did our constitutional order an enormous favor by burying the so-called Robert Mueller protection bill, hopefully never to rise again.
There’s been much harumphing about how Republicans are in the tank for President Donald Trump by not getting on board the bipartisan bill, but it is a singularly misbegotten piece of legislation.
Plan A, i.e., passing the thing, would have been hard enough. But its supporters apparently didn’t think through a need for a Plan B or C: Trump would have vetoed the bill if it passed Congress, and if it somehow p
assed Congress with a veto-proof majority, the Supreme Court likely would have struck it down.
The push for the bill again shows how, to this point, Trump’s main threat to our constitutional system has been catalyzing a hysterical opposition. That opposition is willing to throw overboard legal and constitutional niceties to thwart Trump.
Hence, much of the #resistance judging regarding Trump measures. And hence the astonishing spectacle of U.S. senators, sworn to uphold the Constitution, advancing a blatantly unconstitutional bill.
The president is the chief executive, and like it or not, Trump is president. “I conceive that if any power whatsoever is in its nature executive,” James Madison declared, “it is the power of appointing, overseeing and controlling those who execute the laws.”
If the president can fire the attorney general (the ill-used Jeff Sessions attests that he can), he certainly can fire Mueller. The attorney general is a much more important position.
In compelling Senate testimony, Yale law professor Akhil Amar explained the constitutional problems with the Mueller protection bill. One is that to be constitutional, the special counsel must be an inferior officer. Otherwise, he has to be confirmed by the Senate, which Mueller wasn’t. And if he’s an inferior officer, he can be fired.
The problem with the protection bill in terms of constitutional architecture also gets at the problem with the special counsel.
Yes, there’s lots of criminal action in the Mueller probe — the Paul Manafort trial, the various plea deals — but current Justice Department guidance says that the president himself can’t be indicted. That means that all Mueller can do regarding the president directly is produce a report that may well instigate congressional action, up to and including an impeachment probe. This preliminary investigative work should be the work of Congress alone, without the help of someone nominally working for the president he’s targeting.
Indeed, if you want investigations of the president that the president can’t stop or have influence over, you have to run them out of Congress. With the Democratic takeover of the House, such congressional probes are on their way.
Trump has huffed and puffed about Mueller, yet cooperated — in some instances, quite fulsomely — with his investigation. That could change at any time. But firing Mueller would lead to dire political consequences, and now fail to achieve its end of truly shutting him down. If cashiered, Mueller would presumably show up in January as the first witness before Rep. Jerry Nadler’s Judiciary Committee and spill all he knows.
That’s probably all the protection Mueller needs, and certainly all the protection he can legitimately be afforded.
Rich Lowry is editor of the National Review. (c) 2018 by King Features Synd., Inc.

Categories: Sunday Opinion

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