It’s Been an Open Secret All Along

The scandal of Michael Wolff’s new book isn’t its salacious details—it’s that everyone in Washington has known its key themes, and refused to act

But “it was an open secret” now properly seems a broadened indictment, of all those who quietly let him get away with it, rather than an excuse.

The details in Michael Wolff’s new book Fire and Fury make it unforgettable, and potentially historic. We’ll see how many of them fully stand up, and in what particulars, but even at a heavy discount, it’s a remarkable tale.

.. His functional vocabulary is markedly smaller than it was 20 years ago; the oldest person ever to begin service in the White House, he is increasingly prone to repeat anecdotes and phrases. He is aswirl in foreign and financial complications. He has ignored countless norms of modern governance, from the expectation of financial disclosure to the importance of remaining separate from law-enforcement activities. He relies on immediate family members to an unusual degree; he has an exceptionally thin roster of experienced advisers and assistants

.. He views all events through the prism of whether they make him look strong and famous, and thus he is laughably susceptible to flattering treatment from the likes of Putin and Xi Jinping abroad or courtiers at home.

.. nearly 11 million more Americans voted against Trump last year than for him, including the three million more who voted for Hillary Clinton. (The rest were for Gary Johnson, who got nearly 4.5 million; Jill Stein, with nearly 1.5 million; Evan McMullin, with about 700,000; and a million-plus write-ins.)

.. They understand—or most of them do—the damage he can do to a system of governance that relies to a surprising degree on norms rather than rules

.. The failure of responsibility starts with Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan, but it doesn’t end with them. Every member of a bloc-voting majority shares responsibility for not acting on their version of the open secret. “Independent” Republicans like Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski share it. “Thoughtful” ones, like Ben Sasse and Jeff Flake.

.. When they vote as a majority against strong investigations, against subpoenas, against requirements for financial disclosure, and most of all against protecting Robert Mueller and his investigation, they share complicity in the open secret.

.. We are watching the political equivalent of the Weinstein board paying off the objects of his abuse. We are watching Fox pay out its tens of millions to O’Reilly’s victims. But we’re watching it in real time, with the secret shared worldwide, and the stakes immeasurably higher.

Trump Dissolves Voter Fraud Commission After Pushback From States

President had blamed fraud for losing popular vote in 2016, but provided no evidence

President Donald Trump dissolved the commission he created just eight months ago to investigate his unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud in the 2016 election, bringing an end to a panel that had faced resistance from state election officials.

.. Mr. Trump formed the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity in May and installed Vice President Mike Pence as chairman after blaming voter fraud for his loss in the popular vote to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. The panel was created despite independent experts saying there was no evidence to support his claim of widespread fraud, whether by illegal immigrants or others.

.. On Wednesday, the White House blamed the panel’s demise on states that refused to provide voter information.

.. In a statement, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said that there was “substantial evidence of voter fraud” but that the White House didn’t want to “engage in endless battles at taxpayer expense.”

.. An analysis by the Brennan Center, a nonpartisan law and policy think tank, has found that votes by noncitizens account for between 0.0003% and 0.001% of all votes cast.

America Is Not Yet Lost

The U.S. may yet become another Turkey or Hungary — a state that preserves the forms of democracy but has become an authoritarian regime in practice. But it won’t happen as easily or as quickly as many of us had feared.

.. never in the course of our nation’s history have we been ruled by people less trustworthy.

.. And the growing evidence that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia doesn’t seem to have induced any prominent Republicans who weren’t already anti-Trump to take a stand. Instead, we’ve seen erstwhile critics like Lindsey Graham become obsequious toadies promoting Trump properties.
.. we need to be realistic about the likely results of Robert Mueller’s investigation. The best bet is that no matter what Mueller finds, no matter how damning and no matter what Trump does — even if it involves blatant obstruction of justice — Republican majorities in Congress will back up their president and continue to sing his praises.
.. as long as Republicans control Congress, constitutional checks and balances are effectively a dead letter.
.. It’s going to be hard, because the game is definitely rigged. Remember, Trump lost the popular vote but ended up in the White House anyway, and the midterm elections will be anything but fair. Gerrymandering and the concentration of Democratic-leaning voters in urban districts have created a situation in which Democrats could win a large majority of votes yet still fail to take the House of Representatives.
.. Our democracy needs two decent parties, and at this point the G.O.P. seems to be irretrievably corrupt.

Trump Once Said the ‘Access Hollywood’ Tape Was Real. Now He’s Not Sure.

Despite his public acknowledgment of the recording’s authenticity in the final days of the presidential campaign — and his hasty videotaped apology under pressure from his advisers — Mr. Trump as president-elect began raising the prospect with allies that it may not have been him on the tape after all.

.. in January, shortly before his inauguration, Mr. Trump told a Republican senator that he wanted to investigate the recording that had him boasting about grabbing women’s genitals.

“We don’t think that was my voice,” Mr. Trump told the senator, according to a person familiar with the conversation. Since then, Mr. Trump has continued to suggest that the tape that nearly upended his campaign was not actually him, according to three people close to the president.

.. In recent days, he has continued to seed doubt about his appearance on the “Access Hollywood” tape, stunning his advisers.

.. Mr. Trump’s falsehoods about the “Access Hollywood” tape are part of his lifelong habit of attempting to create and sell his own version of reality. Advisers say he continues to privately harbor a handful of conspiracy theories that have no grounding in fact.

.. In recent months, they say, Mr. Trump has used closed-door conversations to question the authenticity of President Barack Obama’s birth certificate.

He has also repeatedly claimed that he lost the popular vote last year because of widespread voter fraud, according to advisers and lawmakers.

.. To the president’s critics, his conspiracy-mongering goes to the heart of why he poses a threat to the country.

.. Mr. Flake, who is not running for re-election, said in the interview that he was about to begin a series of speeches on the Senate floor outlining his concerns about Mr. Trump. The first, he said, will be dedicated to what Mr. Flake called the president’s disregard for the truth.
.. But the president’s success last year has also left some in his party in awe of his achievement and uneasy about angering his base of supporters.
.. “This guy got $2 billion of earned media in the primary, and he won an election that nobody thought he was going to win,” said Senator David Perdue ..  “This is a guy who is doing things that are totally unprecedented.”
.. “This guy, I think, is a historic person of destiny at a time and place in America when we’ve got to make a right-hand turn here.”
.. Mr. Trump’s friends did not bother denying that the president was creating an alternative version of events. One Republican lawmaker, who asked not to be identified, said that Mr. Trump’s false statements had become familiar to people over time. The president continues to boast of winning districts that he did not in fact win, the lawmaker said, and of receiving 52 percent of the women’s vote, even though exit polls show that 42 percent of women supported him.