My last blog introduced the Autocracy Clock, a time piece of my imagination that suggests our democracy will have ended when the midnight hour is reach. It concluded with: “The Autocracy Clock has not yet struck midnight; but that fateful hour is getting closer by the day.”
Well, President Trump hasn’t wasted any time in manipulating the hands on that clock – and neither have his allies in the Senate. The president quickly moved to fire NSC European affairs Director, Lt. Col. Vindman and his twin brother, having them escorted off the White House grounds like wrongdoers. Then he fired EU ambassador Gordon Sondland. Col. Vindman and Sondland became Trump’s enemies after their impeachment inquiry testimony in the U.S. House angered him.
On the day they voted to acquit the president, Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) sent a letter to the secret service director seeking information on Hunter Biden’s use of government transportation to conduct private business. These two senators also issued letters requesting records on former VP Joe Biden and his son Hunter from the departments of State, Treasury and Justice and the FBI, according to reports. A Democratic staffer disclosed that Treasury had supplied highly sensitive financial records about Hunter without a subpoena. Remember, the executive branch stonewalled subpoenas for documents issued by House Democrats during the impeachment inquiry.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) has promised investigations into his former friend, Joe Biden. These senators are attempting to accomplish what Trump failed to get foreign governments to do, smear the Biden’s.
Graham also said that Republicans intend to launch investigations of the whistleblower, whose complaint resulted in the disclosure of Trump’s nefarious call with Ukraine’s President Zelensky. He warned that they were “going to get to the bottom of all of this to make sure this never happens again.” Did he mean silence all whistleblowers?
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has made several attempts to publicize the whistleblower’s name. His obvious goal is to subject him or her to abuse and threats so others won’t make the same mistake of disclosing Trump’s illegal activities. These actions by Senate Republicans are not only appalling and shameful, they strike at the heart of the rule of law and our democratic processes.
A few days later, Attorney General William Barr announced that Justice had begun accepting information on Joe and Hunter Biden’s activities in Ukraine from the field, including from Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani. This might have remained a clandestine operation but for Sen. Graham who had disclosed the process on national television. Giuliani is supposedly under criminal investigation himself for his activities in that country but Barr has ordered that all probes involving Ukraine be referred to main Justice [Barr] for handling. Hmm.
It’s too late for Barr to stop prosecution of other high-profile Trump associates. Some, like Trump’s former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn have pled guilty; Paul Manafort and Roger Stone have been convicted by juries of numerous criminal charges arising from special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation. Now it appears, however, that Barr is placing his heavy fingers on the scales of justice to help both Flynn and Stone.
Barr has engaged an outside prosecutor to review the criminal case against Flynn before he is to be sentenced. And after Trump railed in a tweet against the 7 to 9-year sentencing guidelines that federal prosecutors had recommended in the Stone trial – calling it “a horrible and very unfair situation” – Barr quickly withdrew that recommendation and suggested a lighter sentence. Today, Stone was sentenced to 40 months in the slammer; Trump hinted about a pardon.
After three of the prosecutors resigned from the Stone case and one resigned from the Justice Department, Barr was called out and embarrassed. So, he criticized Trump for tweeting about DOJ affairs, saying the president was making it impossible for him to do his job, i.e., Trump’s covert fixer.
Fox News host Lou Dobbs – one of many outspoken Trump supporters on that channel – railed against Barr’s rebuke of the president’s tweets about Stone’s trial. Dobbs demanded to know why dozens of people in the “politically corrupt deep state within the Justice Department and the FBI” hadn’t been arrested. He said he didn’t “want to hear any crap about an independent Justice Department.”
Anonymous sources claimed that Barr might resign if the president didn’t relent. Yet, Trump ramped up his rhetoric, claiming that he is the “chief law enforcement officer of the country,” a title typically given to the U.S. attorney general. And yesterday he called on Barr to “clean house” at the DOJ and the FBI. Could it be that Trump had listened to Dobbs? It wouldn’t be the first time that the president followed Fox News’ reckless commentary.
Barr’s fealty to the president and his dereliction of the rule of law have been dramatically displayed. One columnist called him “Trump’s stooge.” And over 2,000 former federal prosecutors and DOJ officials have called for Barr to resign.
Just how far will Trump and Barr have to go, however, before their supporters in Congress attempt to stop them? Will congressional Republicans object if Hillary Clinton, the whistleblower or Hunter Biden were charged with a crime? Or are they so deep in Trump’s pocket that they will endorse anything he does?
Well, Trump will go too far – and that could be his undoing at the polls.