The Kavanaugh hustle

While Trump is destroying the honor and reputation of the presidency, Senate Republicans are doing all they can to destroy the legitimacy of the Supreme Court.

.. They want a Supreme Court that will achieve their policy objectives — on regulation, access to the ballot, social issues, the influence of money in politics and the role of corporations in our national life — no matter what citizens might prefer in the future.

.. His confirmation will be the equivalent of handing the court over to the Heritage Foundation and the legal staff of Koch Industries.

.. It is characteristic of hypocrites to be unctuous and judgmental. How else to describe the attitudes of the GOP senators rushing Kavanaugh to the bench, and their defenders in the conservative legal academy who long to undo 75 years of court precedents?

.. when Democrats on the Judiciary Committee howled about rigged hearings and did whatever they could to bring more information to light, Republicans primly accused them of lacking civility.

.. The talk of civility is laughable in light of the Republicans’ refusal to give Garland — a judge whose quality Kavanaugh himself extolled — either a hearing or a vote. That was not just incivility, it was an abuse of power reflecting the political right’s determination to seize control of the court by any means necessary.

.. But by voting to confirm Kavanaugh, they would be ratifying everything in politics they claim to be against. This is not just about their pledges to protect the right to choose on abortion. It’s also a test of whether they mean what they say about wanting politics to be less partisan and more consensual. Caving in to the power brokers and ideologues on this will follow them for the rest of their careers.

.. If the Trump era produces a backlash so strong that a Democratic president and Congress pass breakthrough economic and social policies, conservatives will count on their court majority to block, dismantle or disable progressive initiatives.

.. This is a fight about democracy itself. Right now, democracy is in danger of losing.

Donald Trump talks like a mob boss — and reminds us he has no idea what he’s doing

Beyond flipping, Trump addresses Michael Cohen’s charges by repeatedly emphasizing that the hush money payments at the center of his guilty plea were not made with campaign funds. There’s just one problem: That doesn’t exonerate him.

In context, Trump appears to be trying to say that this proves his innocence, but the opposite is the case — you can’t just evade campaign finance rules by paying for your campaign expenses with non-campaign funds. If you could, the rules would be meaningless.

.. A separate issue, however, is that while a private citizen is free to make a secret hush money payment to his former mistress if he likes, a political campaign is required to disclose what it’s spending money on.

.. If Trump had reported a cash payment to Stormy Daniels to the Federal Election Commission, that naturally would have raised questions about why he was paying her and somewhat defeat the purpose of making hush money payments in the first place. So what Trump and Cohen seem to have decided to do is avoid using campaign money, thus allowing them to avoid disclosure rules.

.. But just like lying on the disclosure form would be illegal and refusing to do the disclosure would be illegal, paying for campaign expenses out of a non-campaign account and then declining to report that as a contribution to the campaign is also illegal. Simply put, there is no legal way to spend money on your election campaign without disclosing that fact.

Trump appears to have a misunderstanding of campaign-finance law, and may have inadvertently admitted to breaking the law as a result

“Later on I knew,” Trump said. “Later on. But you have to understand, Ainsley, what he did — and they weren’t taken out of campaign finance. That’s a big thing. That’s a much bigger thing. Did they come out of the campaign? They came from me. I tweeted about it. I don’t know if you know, but I tweeted about the payments. But they didn’t come out of the campaign. In fact, my first question when I heard about it was, ‘Did they come out of the campaign?’ Because that could be a little dicey. They didn’t come out of the campaign, and that’s big. It’s not even a campaign violation.”

.. Cohen explained that he committed the campaign-finance violations “at the direction of the candidate” and with the “purpose of influencing the election.”

.. Based on Trump’s interview on Fox, he seems to think that a campaign-finance violation would have occurred if campaign funds were used to pay off Daniels and McDougal, rather than his personal cash, which was used to reimburse Cohen for the initial Daniels payment. The reverse of this is true, as The Huffington Post first reported.

.. If Trump had routed money through his campaign to pay off women, it would be legal. Campaigns can spend unlimited amounts of money. The problem would have been that if Trump did use his campaign to pay off any women, it would have defeated the purpose of making the payment, which was to ensure silence. Such an expenditure would have had to be reported to the Federal Election Commission and publicly disclosed.

.. Trump’s best defense is one that Cohen claimed was true earlier this year, and one that Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, has also latched onto: That the arrangement was made not to boost Trump’s candidacy but to shield his family, particularly his wife, Melania Trump, from the embarrassing information. That argument was what helped former Democratic Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina in a similar case.

But Cohen’s testimony, backed up by what the government says is evidence that corroborates it, hurts that narrative.

Congress, Do Your Job

After President Trump’s Terrible Tuesday, Republican lawmakers need to stop pretending that there are any red lines that he won’t cross.

Congressional Republicans have been operating under a see-no-evil policy with President Trump: ignoring his lying, his subversions of democratic norms and his attacks on government institutions or, when that’s not possible, dismissing such outrages as empty bluster — as Trump being Trump.

..Also on Tuesday, a federal jury convicted Mr. Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, of bank and tax fraud. How did Mr. Trump react? More like a Mafia don than a guardian of the rule of law. While criticizing Mr. Cohen on Wednesday, the president tweeted that, by contrast, he had “such respect for a brave man” like Mr. Manafort, who “refused to ‘break’ … to get a ‘deal.’ ” The president, in other words, felt moved to praise a convicted felon for refusing to cooperate in the pursuit of justice.

.. And how did Republicans in Congress react? They didn’t, if they could avoid it. John Cornyn, the majority whip in the Senate, shrugged that he had “no idea about what the facts” of Mr. Cohen’s guilty plea were “other than the fact that none of it has anything to do with the Russia investigation.” The office of the House speaker, Paul Ryan, said it needed “more information.” Most members opted for silence.

.. When members of Mr. Trump’s party pooh-pooh his thuggish rantings and otherwise signal that they will overlook even his most dangerous behavior, they are inviting him to act out even more. Like a willful toddler, Mr. Trump lives to test limits.

.. Republican lawmakers need not attack Mr. Trump in order to stop enabling his worst impulses and begin distancing themselves from his corruption. They simply need to stop cowering. An obvious first step is for Congress to pass legislation protecting Robert Mueller’s Russia inquiry

..  The president has toyed with the idea of firing Mr. Mueller and his superior, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, moves that would ignite a constitutional crisis. Lawmakers are deluding themselves to think that he won’t consider such radical acts again as his predicament grows more dire.

.. Much of the groundwork for a bill to protect the Russia investigation has already been laid, with a bipartisan plan having passed the Senate Judiciary Committee. Shamefully, Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican majority leader, has refused to bring the bill up for a vote

.. insisting that it is unnecessary because of course the president would never fire Mr. Mueller.

.. Mr. Ryan has spouted similar assurances. Then again, Mr. Ryan also laughed off the idea that Mr. Trump would strip his political critics of their security clearances, so clearly Republican leaders are not the best barometers of this president’s thinking.

.. Speaking of Mr. Ryan, the speaker needs to shut down the attacks on Mr. Rosenstein by Mr. Trump’s lackeys in the arch-conservative Freedom Caucus.

.. Mark Meadows and Jim Jordan threatened to force an impeachment vote on Mr. Rosenstein, claiming that he was impeding Congress’s harassment — uh, “investigation” — of the Justice Department and the F.B.I. When that plan flopped, the men set their sights on holding Mr. Rosenstein in contempt of Congress — which doesn’t sound as dramatic, but would, if successful, provide Mr. Trump an excuse to oust Mr. Rosenstein and replace him with a lap dog.

.. Once upon a time, campaign finance violations made congressional Republicans very angry indeed. During Bill Clinton’s second term, there was quite an uproar over allegations that the Chinese government had attempted to influence the 1996 presidential race via illegal campaign contributions. (Does Vice President Al Gore’s visit to a certain Buddhist temple ring any bells?)

.. His efforts to hide the money trail suggest he knew his behavior wasn’t kosher. And while the initial payments to the women were made before Mr. Trump won the election, he didn’t begin compensating Mr. Cohen until February of 2017 — thus any conspiracy was carried straight into the Oval Office.

.. Every week seems to bring fresh evidence that Mr. Trump, his inner circle and his main backers do not consider themselves bound by such pedestrian concepts as truth, ethics or the law. The latest confirmation for that was the corruption indictment of Representative Duncan Hunter, Mr. Trump’s second campaign supporter in the House. The first, Representative Chris Collins, was indicted two weeks ago on insider-trading charges.

Congress, unfortunately, remains crouched and trembling in a dark corner, hoping this is all a bad dream. It’s not. Republican lawmakers need to buck up, remind themselves of their constitutional responsibilities and erect some basic guardrails to ensure that — in a fit of rage, panic or mere pique — this president does not wake up one morning and decide to drive American democracy off a cliff.