CAFE Insider Newsletter #43: Bottomless Pinocchios

CAFE Insider Newsletter #43: Bottomless Pinocchios

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Dear Reader,

No one has ever credibly accused Donald Trump of consistency of thought and principle. There are no neutral axioms when it comes to what Trump condones or decries. This is true with respect to the media, for example. The conventional wisdom that the president loves Fox News and hates the “failing” New York Times only goes so far; it depends on the particular journalist. If you are Ed Henry or John Roberts, it doesn’t matter that you enjoy the halo of the Trump cheerleading network; you are an enemy of the people. And if you are Bob Woodward and say something positive about the commander-in-chief, it doesn’t matter that you are employed by “fake news” Washington Post; you will be singled out for praise, as Trump did this week in a tweet.

The only principle is that he is for you if you are for him; he is against you if you say something against him. There is no concession, no nuance, no quarter given to any perceived opponent.

On this week’s CAFE Insider podcast, I went on a short rant about this particular hypocrisy relating to Trumpian standards. I said that if we applied to the president the standards of proof that he applies to others, he would have long ago been impeached, tried for criminal conspiracy, convicted, and sentenced to an uncomfortable prison.

Consider something as basic as impeachment. The nation is roiling over impeachment questions such as these: What is a high crime and misdemeanor? Is the current inquiry in the House legitimate given that there has not been a vote in the full chamber? Is it worthwhile to proceed in the House if the result in the Senate is a foregone conclusion? The president rails against impeachment on many grounds, including its alleged illegitimacy and the low unemployment rate. I’ve heard one presidential lawyer, Jay Sekulow, repeat as a mantra that there can be no impeachment without definitive proof of a criminal act or other clear violation of law. Never mind that this is not what the Constitution says, or that the political process of impeachment can encompass abuses of power that may not be coextensive with some criminal statute.

That would arguably be all well and good if the president, as a matter of principle, felt that a high standard must be met for impeachment. Not so. This week he has, on Twitter of course, called for the impeachment of Mitt Romney, with the cute hashtag #IMPEACHMITTROMNEY. Never mind that the overwhelming legal consensus is that, unlike judges and presidents, members of Congress cannot be impeached. What was Mitt’s impeachable offense? Posting a critical tweet of Donald Trump.

Same with treason. Trump has suggested the death penalty for supposedly treasonous conduct by the unidentified Intelligence Community whistleblower and also, for good measure, Adam Schiff. Neither of these has solicited the help of a foreign power to win an election or sided with a strongman like Putin over America’s own intelligence community. And so, judged by the standard he sets for others, Trump is Benedict Arnold on steroids. I am merely a private citizen whose words carry no force or threat, but I have consistently resisted using the word “treason” in relation to Trump because it is a term with special legal (and Constitutional) meaning. The commander-in-chief, sadly, has no such compunction.

There are a hundred other examples of Trump condemning others based on standards that would send him to purgatory and prison.

At least one of them is downright comical. This week, the White House Counsel, Pat Cipollone, sent a mostly rhetorical missive to various House committees announcing Trump’s refusal to cooperate with the “illegitimate” impeachment inquiry. There are many criticisms levelled, one of which actually cracked me up. It is an attempted takedown of Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff.

The letter makes much of the “Four Pinocchios” designation that Glenn Kessler’s Washington Post Fact Checker feature levied against House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff for his claims that his committee had not spoken to the whistleblower. This was not true, as we now know, and Schiff has apologized for not being clearer. I for one would be willing to go along with this point, assuming that Cipollone and the rest of Trump’s defenders would credit the Fact Checker as an authoritative voice on lying by public officials. If they were to give the feature proper credit, they would have to acknowledge that, as of August 5th (when Kessler and his likely-exhausted team last tabulated the count) Trump had uttered 12,019 public falsehoods since taking office.

In fact, Trump has received many hundreds of “Four Pinocchio” designations and is the only politician ever to receive the un-coveted “Bottomless Pinocchio,” which distinguishes a “Four Pinocchio” statement repeated over 20 times. It is a special triumph of mendacity. Trump had 14 claims qualify for the “Bottomless Pinocchio” upon its inception in December 2018. So long as Trump’s lawyers and Congressional allies refuse to hold Trump to the standard to which he holds others, then calling out Schiff’s Four Pinocchio—from “The LameStream media” Post, no less—rings hollow. Because the tally so far is Trump: 12,019; Schiff: 1.

It’s laughable, but I would prefer to laugh at less consequential comedy.

My best,

Preet

Denver | October 24, 2019

Former Colorado Governor, recent presidential candidate, and now candidate for Senate – John Hickenlooper – will join Preet on stage for a conversation about the current political moment.

What is the state of the progressive movement? Can Democrats win majority senate seats in 2020? What should the congressional agenda be in the midst of an impeachment inquiry? These are just some of the questions we’ll be exploring.

Then, our previously announced guest, Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action, will impart her wisdom on effective gun control, fighting the NRA, and what it takes to inspire a grassroots movement.

Detroit | November 12, 2019

Preet’s former colleague, Barbara McQuade, who served as Detroit’s U.S. Attorney, will join him on stage to discuss the strains on the rule of law, Congressional efforts to hold the president accountable, and the outlook for impeachment.

Then, our previously announced guest, Michigan’s Attorney General Dana Nessel will speak with Preet about the most pressing local issues and her efforts to challenge the Trump Administration’s policies on climate, immigration, and healthcare.

 

and don’t miss us in:

Minneapolis | November 5 | with Mayor Jacob Frey

Atlanta | December 4 | with former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates

DIAGNOSING TRUMP

Article II, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution says that the president “shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed.”

The question before us: Does President Donald Trump “exhibit a consistent pattern of behavior that suggests he is incapable of properly discharging the duties of his office?”

George Conway’s answer to this question, which he raises, is an emphatic “yes!” and it comes in the form of an 11,400-word essay for The Atlantic, declaratively titled “Unfit for Office.”

Conway is this week’s guest on Stay Tuned. A conservative lawyer whose credentials include the Federalist Society and a significant role in Bill Clinton’s impeachment, Conway’s virulent critiques of President Donald Trump, on Twitter and in his recent editorials, have captivated the public because of his other name: “Mr. Kellyanne Conway.”

In his essay, Conway argues that Trump’s pattern of behavior is consistent with the Narcissistic Personality Disorder – among other psychological afflictions – and that his mental health renders him incapable of serving the role of a fiduciary the Constitution envisions for the President. He writes:

To act as a fiduciary requires you to put someone else’s interests above your own, and Trump’s personality makes it impossible for him to do that. No president before him, at least in recent memory, has ever displayed such obsessive self-regard. For Trump, Trump always comes first. He places his interests over everyone else’s—including those of the nation whose laws he swore to faithfully execute. That’s not consistent with the duties of the president, whether considered from the standpoint of constitutional law or psychology.

After the release of the Mueller Report, Conway publicly called for Trump’s impeachment, declaring in the Washington Post that “there is a cancer in the presidency” and it’s up to Congress “to excise that cancer without delay.” He now has this advice for congressional investigators:

Any serious impeachment proceedings should consider not only the evidence and the substance of all impeachable offenses, but also the psychological factors that may be relevant to the motivations underlying those offenses. Congress should make extensive use of experts—psychologists and psychiatrists.

When asked if Trump knows the difference between right and wrong, Conway told Preet:

Donald Trump doesn’t think in terms of right and wrong. He thinks in terms of ME. He’s capable of understanding the difference between right and wrong, which means he’s culpable and he can be held accountable for his misconduct. But he doesn’t think in “right and wrong,” concepts of justice—when you hear him reading things about freedom and democracy and justice off a teleprompter, the affect is typically flat. There’s a reason for that. He can’t articulate those things…they don’t mean anything to him.

Is Trump’s mental health relevant to his impeachment? Let us know your thoughts by replying to this email or writing to us at [email protected]

And don’t forget to listen to this week’s episode! It drops Thursday, October 10.

FOLLOW

Follow George Conway @gtconway3d for his sharp legal analysis and humorous takes on what he sees as Trump’s latest episodes madness.

CROOKED DIPLOMACY

If you haven’t already, listen to the latest episode of the CAFE Insider podcast: “Crooked Diplomacy,” and follow along with this transcript of Preet and Anne’s conversation.

*Please note, you may now manually add your unique Insider Podcast feed to your favorite podcast app. Here are the instructions.

That’s it for this week. We hope you’re enjoying CAFE Insider. Reply to this email or write to us at [email protected] with your thoughts, suggestions, and questions.

— The CAFE Team

Tamara Sepper, Carla Pierini, Julia Doyle, Calvin Lord, David Kurlander, and Aaron Dalton

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