Llewellyn King: Perhaps better to censure rather than impeach corrupt would-be dictator Trump

Warren Hastings (1732 –1818), impeached and acquitted

Warren Hastings (1732 –1818), impeached and acquitted


Impeachment is a procedure of last resort. It is for when those governed are unable to abide the excesses of one or more persons doing the governing. It owes its genesis to England and was a remedy for the Parliament to remove, or have removed, agents of the Crown (the King) whose conduct was egregious and contrary to the public good.

It goes back to the 14th Century. The language is the language of the day, peculiarly vague in today’s proceedings. “High crimes and misdemeanors” was one of those phrases which everyone in the context of the day knew what it meant. “Conduct unbecoming an officer and gentleman” is another such phrase loaded with meaning but deliberate in its obscurity.

It was not until 1788 that Edmund Burke, the great Anglo-Irish orator, moralist and member of Parliament, really put flesh on the skeleton of impeachment. During the impeachment of Warren Hastings, the first governor-general of Bengal and employee of the marauding British East India Company -- which had been acting as a government in India before it was annexed by Britain. He was the agent of what was little more than a criminal enterprise.

Hastings claimed that he was given arbitrary power by the East India Company to act in any way he chose. It was this arbitrary power, this concept that he was above the law and above all norms of decency, that inflamed Burke. “We have no arbitrary power to give, because arbitrary power is a thing which neither any man can hold, nor any man can give. No man can lawfully govern himself according to his own will – much less can one person be governed by the will of another,” he said.

Burke stated that there was no entitlement to arbitrary power in any human institution, and it could not be conferred on a governor by anyone because there was no entitlement under heaven for arbitrary power.

It can be argued in today’s crisis it is the exercise of arbitrary power by President Trump that lies behind the U.S. House’s move to impeach. Arbitrary power in diverting funds not approved for that purpose to building a wall on the southern border. Arbitrary power in restricting Congress’s entitlement to investigate the executive branch. On and on the use of what many would call arbitrary power, from abrogating treaties, abandoning allies, trashing traditions, and reversing previous settled issues, like the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals

All this, Trump asserts, is constitutional under Article 11. In essence, he has said, “Arbitrary power is mine.”

That is what lies behind the urge to impeach Trump. He is claiming to be, in conduct and statement, above the Constitution and the law. Ergo, he should be impeached.

But no. Impeachment, as Burke and his allies found, is a trap unless followed by conviction. In Hastings’ case, impeachment was up to the House of Lords and, despite the pleading of Burke and others, it declined to impeach after the procedure had dragged on for seven years.

Given the pusillanimous nature of the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate, its seeming preparedness to overlook damage to the constitutional order of governance and all the cascading damage to come down through the years, Trump’s acquittal is to be feared.

Trump in a second term, with the sense that he had been vindicated, would have no regard for law. He would feel emboldened to exercise arbitrary power in the most egregious way, rewarding his business interests and punishing his enemies, real and imagined.

As others have suggested, a better path for Democrats to pursue in the present constitutional crisis might have been to censure Trump, while looking to the courts to restrict him where possible. A less dramatic indictment, but also less of a future danger.

Republicans have developed an interesting defense of their own. Call it “the eye-rolling, tut-tutting.” They do this whenever Trump is raised in conversation, but they will not curb him in the Senate or speak out in public. Political cowardice.

These lily-livered legislators might find courage if they read on in Burke’s pleading in the matter of Hastings: “Those who give and those who receive arbitrary power are alike criminal; and there is no man but is bound to resist it in the best of his power, wherever it shall show its face to the world.”

There is much more from Burke. It is meaty, relevant stuff.

Llewellyn King is executive producer and host of White House Chronicle, on PBS. His email is He’s based in Rhode Island and Washington.

David Warsh: Republican recess

Patrick J. Buchanan, who helped set in motion what led to Trumpism

Patrick J. Buchanan, who helped set in motion what led to Trumpism



Not surprisingly, he quickly deleted the post. What the GOP stands for is not a conversation he wants to encourage.  It will, however, be on many minds as members of Congress head home for a two-week recess.

The conventional view among Democrats is that Trump has pretty completely taken possession of the Republican Party. Reviewing American Carnage: On the Front Lines of the Republican Civil War and the Rise of President Trump, by Tim Alberta, (Harper, 2019), in the current issue of The New York Review of Books, Princeton historian Sean Wilentz  dismisses Alberta for his “ingenuousness and lack of historical depth.”

The pioneer of Trump-style Republicanism — isolationist, protectionist, xenophobic, anti-immigrant – was former Nixon speechwriter Pat Buchanan, Wilentz writes. Buchanan’s speech opposing the nomination of George H.W. Bush at the Republican convention of 1992 anticipated Trump almost word for word, he says. The positions each took descended directly from the views of Ohio Sen. Robert Taft, whose candidacy the GOP swept aside in 1952 in favor of nominating Dwight Eisenhower.

Much of the wreckage Trump has caused is simply the expression of his willingness to pursue long-standing Republican policies while coarsening the polarizing politics practiced by the George W. Bush White House. Any number of historians, political scientists, and journalists have chronicled the long history of the Republican Party’s decay, but you won’t find it in Alberta. He would prefer that Trumpism be something other than Republicanism, not its culmination.

As a life-long Democratic voter, I. too, prefer that Trump turns out to be the exception, not the rule. It seems important to remember – Wilentz doesn’t – that two of the finest American achievements of the last 35 years were engineered by Republican administrations operating in the Eisenhower tradition: the end of the Cold War, “and the escape from the Panic of 2008.  Recognize, too, that senior veterans of those GOP administrations have taken the lead in proposing revenue-neutral carbon taxation as a response to the crisis of global warming.

Yes, the Republicans have also given us plenty to regret: the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, wholesale budget irresponsibility, health care intransigence.  But the campaign that John McCain led in 2008 was much in line with mainstream post-war Republican traditions,

What are the chances that the Eisenhower-Nixon-Ford-Reagan-Bush wing of the party will reassert itself and take the reins away from Donald Trump?  During the next two weeks, Republican Congressional leaders will sample opinion in their districts and search their own souls while Democratic counterparts prepare hearings that are expected to lead to a bill of impeachment. The mainstream press will continue to ferret out details.

What are the chances significant numbers of Republicans will return to Washington prepared to vote against the president?  What will happen if they do – or if they don’t?  Washington Post columnist Meghan McArdle was right when she wrote last week  that “a clear majority of public opinion” must back impeachment if it is to succeed – not a mere plurality or even a slim margin.

But opinion doesn’t move just autonomously, in response to what voters read or see or hear on the news. It must also be galvanized or rallied by political leaders.  The Democrats have ventured the opening gambit. South Carolina Sen. Lindsay Graham, a stout Trump defender, sought to stiffen the backs of House Republicans as they left left town.  How will they feel when they return? The first skirmishes of a battle for control of the future of the Republican Party begin next month..

Trump famously said, “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot someone and I wouldn’t lose any voters.”   We’ll see if that hyperbolic self-confidence will apply to his latest act of self-sabotage.

David Warsh, an economic historian and veteran columnist, is proprietor of Somerville-based, where this essay first appeared.


Chris Powell: Yet again, a much-delayed and unprovable assertion that Trump sexually assaulted a woman

E. Jean Carroll, the latest Trump accuser, in a 2006 photo

E. Jean Carroll, the latest Trump accuser, in a 2006 photo

Connecticut's worsening backwardness under the political correctness that dominates the General Assembly was demonstrated the other week when another woman accused President Trump of sexually assaulting her many years ago.

The woman, Elle magazine columnist E. Jean Carroll says the assault took place in the fall of 1995 or spring of 1996 in a Bergdorf Goodman store dressing room in New York City. The president denies it, as he has denied the similar accusations of more than 15 other women, none of whom complained contemporaneously to the police. That has made the accusations impossible to prove, though of course they are easy to believe in light of Trump's infamous boast, recorded in 2005 and publicized during his campaign in 2016, that as a celebrity he could get away with assaulting women.

If some of those women had complained contemporaneously to the police and a conviction had resulted, the country might have been spared a lot of trouble.

But the General Assembly has just legitimized the nearly indefinite withholding of sexual-assault complaints, approving a bill to extend Connecticut's statute of limitations from five years to 20 years for charges of sexual assault against adults and eliminating the statute of limitations for charges of sexual assault against minors.

The rationale for the legislation is that complaining about sexual assault is hard, so people need time. But time destroys evidence and impairs justice, which is the rationale for statutes of limitations. Only prompt complaints can stop a predator before he victimizes more people and advances to a position of authority.

This political correctness does sexual assault victims no favors. Justice requires timely complaints. Governor Lamont should veto the bill and urge the General Assembly to uphold due process of law.


Other politically correct nonsense in Connecticut is being challenged by a complaint to the U.S. Education Department's Office of Civil Rights. The complaint targets the state law allowing males to compete as females in school athletic events.

The law maintains that there is no biological gender anymore, only "gender identity." As a result two high school boys who want to be girls are winning many girls track meets -- precisely because biological gender is real, with males having physical advantages.

The nonsense of Connecticut's law evokes the analogy used by Lincoln to chide people who for political reasons dearly wanted to believe the impossible. If you call a tail a leg, Lincoln asked, how many legs does a calf have? Still only four, Lincoln explained, because calling a tail a leg doesn't make it one.

The U.S. Education Department should tell Connecticut that calling a boy a girl doesn't make him one. It just doubles the boy's athletic chances by cheating girls out of theirs. Nor is a boy a girl because many people, as in "The Emperor's New Clothes," are too intimidated by political correctness to acknowledge the obvious.

Chris Powell is a columnist for the Journal Inquirer, in Manchester, Conn.

David Warsh: Our two show-biz presidents



Over the course of 230 years, citizens of the United States have elected only two professional entertainers to the presidency: Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump. Both possessed an actor’s gifts: good looks; physical presence; a communicative face, in one man an infectious grin, in the other a much-photographed glower.

True, they took very different paths to the office. Reagan began as film actor, union president, and pitchman for General Electric Co. He turned to professional politician in his fifties, winning two terms as governor of California. Trump, a real estate developer and marketer, became a television personality in his fifties. Beginning in 2004, he played a puffed-up, airbrushed version of himself for 14 seasons on The Apprentice.

True, too, Reagan and Trump have left very different marks on the office. Reagan started out shakily, with Alexander Haig, Donald Regan, James Watts, and Ann Gorsuch, and wound up surrounded by good men, including Nichols Brady, James Baker and George Shultz. After being forced to fire National Security Adviser-designate Michael Flynn, Trump started out with some good men around him, Jim Mattis, H.R. McMaster, Rex Tillerson, and Gary Cohn surrounded by the likes of John Bolton and William Barr.

But the most important attribute they have in common is often overlooked. Their success as entertainers in an age of new media made them shrewd judges of what their respective audiences expected of them.(Reagan was host of a popular weekly drama series, General Electric Theater, from 1954 until 1962, and honed his speaking skills visiting company installations.) Reagan proved able to expand his base dramatically and became a transformational president (Barack Obama agrees.) Trump himself is apt to catastrophically fade, once deprived of his props. But the legacy of the campaign he ran in 2016 is likely to dominate politics for another 20 years.

I count three major issues in 2016 (leaving aside the hate-mongering of lock her her up): immigration, trade and foreign wars. Forging a new consensus on those issues will be an issue for several presidential cycles. For a sensible survey of the often irreconcilable rights and responsibilities of the three basic constituencies – the would-be migrants, the polity they seek to join and those who are being left behind – see Exodus: How Migration is Changing Our World (Oxford. 2013), by Paul Collier, a distinguished development economist. (I haven’t read Refuge: Rethinking Refugee Policy in a Changing World [Oxford, 2017].) Earlier Collier wrote the best-seller The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries Are Failing and What Can Be Done about It (Oxford, 2008).

For a somewhat sterner view, read The Great Escape: Health, Wealth, and the Origins of Inequality (Princeton, 2013), by Angus Deaton, a Nobel laureate in economics. Or wait for The Narrow Corridor: States, Societies, and the Fate of Liberty, by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson, in September. Then ask yourself if you think the U.S. is substantially different from Canada and Australia, where so-called “merit systems” prevail for allocating immigrant positions. Trump proposed something of the sort last week, a plan prepared by his son-in-law and a principal adviser, Jared Kushner.

Similarly, global trade will resume, but the contest with China for dominance won’t go away. The bad feelings on both sides from having come to the brink of a long-lasting trade war will take many years to subside. No one, not even William Overholt, author of a series of prescient books about the sleeping giant, most recently China’s Crisis of Success, can confidently predict the path relations will take. They’ll develop against the backdrop of whatever U.S. Trade Rep. Robert Lighthizser and his Chinese counterpart manage to achieve.

As for foreign wars, Trump’s relative caution with respect to North Korea, Venezuela, and Iran gives the lie to his habitual braggadocio. Don’t expect future presidents to be any more willing to intervene abroad militarily. Read America’s War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History (Random House, 2017), by Andrew Bacevich, if you doubt it. Perhaps all will campaign on promises to repair America’s seriously damaged diplomatic and intelligence services.]

Ronald Reagan’s presidency offered a genuine buoyancy. Trump offers mainly jingoism, chicanery and abuse. But both men sensed that voters were nearing a turning point in the zig-zag of American history. Sooner or later, legitimate Republican conservatives will turn on their usurper and his enablers. But for the present, Trump’s GOP is the party of innovation, even if it means trying to recapture the past.

Whether or not Trump is re-elected depends mainly on whom the Democrats nominate to run against him, and how that candidate chooses to run. Never mind the evangelicals. He or she can win with only a small portion of Trump voters in a Democratic coalition. In contrast, Reagan won a second term by a landslide, 525 to 13 electoral votes.

David Warsh, an economic historian and veteran columnist, is proprietor of Somerville-based, where this essay first appeared.

Llewellyn King: Trump, business and government

Trump Tower, at 721 Fifth Ave., in Manhattan

Trump Tower, at 721 Fifth Ave., in Manhattan

There is a persistent belief that business people are what you need in the Oval Office. It was one of the credentials on Donald Trump’s resume.

That, too, may be one of the underlying weaknesses of Trump’s presidency.

When Trump was elected, he thought he was the new proprietor of the United States, as though he had bought it in a deal. He had paid his money and acquired a new company: Donald Trump, chairman, chief executive officer and majority stockholder.

Trump came to Washington to run his new company. He won, as he likes to say, and the United States was his with which to do what he liked, where his whim was law. Pull out of a treaty, abrogate an agreement, decide the moral acceptability of the sexual preferences of the staff, and fire, fire, fire.

Rupert Murdoch — Trump’s man Friday in the media — famously said he had the right to say what was published in his newspapers. He asserted a kind of divine right of the proprietor; a concept that was eroding as the concept of the newspaper as a public service was gaining ground. Murdoch was not interested in the public service approach. Neither is Trump. They sit next to each other in the pea pod of history.

Trump’s view of the presidency as a proprietorship, the wholly owned property of the CEO, is seen in his actions and even more in his frustrations. If he were sitting atop a giant corporation, his word would be law; he could hire and fire at will, dictate a course of action and maybe retract it. The boss gets what the boss wants, particularly if it is a privately held outfit, like the Trump real estate empire.

Clearly, Trump thought that was what he would do when he took over the United States. His attempts to govern by fiat illustrate that frustration.

Trump, who is not a reader, had not schooled himself in the realities of governance, the give and take of Washington, the grand negotiation that is democracy, imperfect but purposeful — the great purpose being the republic and its well-being.

The organizing principle of a business is profit: It must take in more money than it spends. In real estate you bet against rising demand, borrow and buy. That is not a guide as to how to run the United States, or any other country.

The assets and liabilities balance differently. For example, NATO is an asset and Russia a liability.

Statesmen want to project power rather than use it. Trump wants to use it, to have dominion over the whole government and allies. He wants Congress to act only as permissive board of directors, not an equal partner. If the deal fails, he wants to be able to walk away. In government, and especially in international relations, you cannot walk away. The deal is nonetheless your deal, your failure.

I have watched other business people come to Washington and make, on a smaller scale, the same mistakes. They failed to understand the system; that to get things done you bend the system, not break it.

These, the benders, are the consummate Washington hands, often with institutional memories. They are the ones who get things done.

There is another side to this coin, and that is that no knowledge of business is a detriment to a leader. Sen. George McGovern, D-South Dakota, after his unsuccessful bid to win the 1972 presidential election, lamented that he wished he had understood business better when he was candidate lashing out at big business.

Lashing out at business is a standard approach by today’s Democratic hopefuls. It does not sit well with a lot of voters, particularly as most are employed by business. Those who think that kicking posterior is all that is needed in Washington are as wrong as those who think that business needs a boot in the same place.

The C suite does not fit in the Oval Office but, conversely, politicians have often been ignorant of the disciplines of business. Some tension is constructive; too much, and the nation loses.

On Twitter: @llewellynking2
Llewellyn King is executive producer and host of
White House Chronicle, on PBS. He is based in Rhode Island and Washington, D.C. His email is

Kelly Martin: How the White House is spending Earth Day



Today, April 22, Earth Day, many of us will mark the occasion by joining a community clean-up or getting out and enjoying the outdoors. Unfortunately, this year the Trump administration will be observing this celebration of our environment differently — by plotting to undermine critical safeguards that help keep our air and water clean.

Most people aren’t familiar with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), but it plays a critical role in keeping our communities and our environment healthy and safe.

Signed into law in 1970, just a few months before the very first Earth Day, NEPA simply requires that the government take environmental, economic, and health impacts into consideration before going forward with any major project, and that the public have an opportunity to weigh in. The law empowers communities to access information about the decisions that affect their lives and ensures that their feedback on these decisions is heard.

99 percent of the time, projects reviewed under NEPA move forward without much scrutiny or delay. But in the rare cases where a proposed project would pose a serious threat to communities, this safeguard is critical to protecting them from corporate polluters and their allies in government.

One of the most high-profile examples of this is the Trump administration’s attempt to force through approval of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline based on an outdated review from 2014 that was the basis for President Obama’s rejection of the pipeline. Thanks to NEPA, a federal court rejected this reckless plan and required the government to go back and take a closer look.

Not content to play by the rules, Trump is now moving to gut this long-standing safeguard. In guidance expected to be released this spring, the Trump administration is seeking to make the law entirely toothless by rolling it back so communities are silenced and blocked from weighing in on federal projects that threaten their health, environment, and economic livelihoods.

And it’s not just NEPA that’s under threat. Over the last two years, the administration has sought to eliminate or weaken every environmental safeguard it can get its hands on, threatening protections for our air, water, health, and climate, many of which have been in place for decades.

The pattern here is pretty clear: the administration is seeking to eliminate anything that might stand in the way of fossil fuel company profits, regardless of the cost to communities, local economies, and the climate.

This aggressive agenda threatens to eliminate much of the progress our country has made on environmental protection since the first Earth Day, in 1970, and we must stop it. We all deserve the right to clean water, clean air, and a stable climate, and to make our voices heard when those things are under threat. The American people won’t sit idly by and watch as the Trump administration tries to strip us of our voice.

Kelly Martin is director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Dirty Fuels Campaign.

David Warsh: Pelosi might be Democrats' strongest presidential candidate in 2020



The Mueller report seems ready to take over the headlines for the next month or so. However much we learn of whatever it contains, the special counsel’s report is a distraction from the main event on America’s calendar, which is the 2020 election.

President Trump’s war on the FBI will be an issue for many years to come, whether or not he is re-elected. But the path of events going forward, including the incumbent’s decision whether or not to run again, depends above all on who the Democrats nominate to run against him.

The Washington Post’s quarterly list of the top 15 Democratic presidential candidates, published Saturday was not encouraging, at least to those who consider Trump’s presidency to have been a disaster. Reporter Aaron Blake ranked Sen. Kamala Harris first among contenders, Sen. Bernie Sanders second, Sen. Elizabeth Warren third, Sen. Cory Booker fourth, former Vice President Joe Biden fifth and former Congressman Beto O’Rourke sixth.

Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg ranked tenth; Hillary Clinton, who has not said whether she is running or not, ranked eleventh.

The list thus contains seven young and/or inexperienced legislators, four of them women; two governors, Gov. Jay Inslee, of Washington (ranked thirteenth), and former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, of Virginia (fourteenth); and four elderly veterans – Biden, Bloomberg, Clinton and Sanders.

So it seems a good time to point out that the Democrats have a candidate who has already beaten Trump once, and who. leading their ticket, would almost certainly thrash him again.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is not on The Post’s list. Maybe the political pros know more than I do. Only those close to Pelosi can gauge her stamina. Were she to run and win, she would be, at 80, the oldest president ever elected, and unlikely to serve more than a single term. That in itself might be a virtue, in that it would give voters four years to assess the current crop of hopefuls.

The conventional wisdom seems to be that the Democratic nominee will have to stand toe to toe with Trump and punch it out. Lingering over Trump’s El Paso rally the other week, Wall Street Journal columnist Daniel Henninger described what he saw as “political performance art at a high level.” He concluded, “Progressives and their media affiliates can produce all the Trump fear and loathing they want. If their candidate can’t hold a stage with him, they won’t win.” Pelosi, who has little to prove, could run a front porch campaign.

As a candidate, Pelosi would represent a more businesslike future. She would also represent the durable past – Congress’s 75-year record of legislative achievement in cooperation with the executive branch, for one thing. The long ascent of women to positions of great responsibility, always against long odds, for another. For all the talk of new social programs costing hundreds of billions, the two most pressing items on the domestic agenda are to shore up Social Security and tackle health insurance once again. An experienced consensus-builder could lay the groundwork for both.

Pelosi’s single biggest asset as a candidate would be that her campaign would be the least divisive. She wouldn’t need to dismiss the concerns of Trump voters. with questions of border security, she could embrace many of his positions and put them in perspective. Nobody is going to be able to intone the fateful sentence for a second time – “our long national nightmare is over.” Pelosi, better than anyone else, could at least begin the healing.

It may not happen. Clearly the country is ready for a new generation. Might voters delay the turning of the page for four years in exchange for a pattern-setting woman president? This much seems clear: a back-room deal wouldn’t be possible once the primaries have begun. The possibility of Pelosi’s candidacy should undergo a careful thinking over at the highest levels of the Democratic Party, whatever that means, and in the press.

David Warsh, a veteran columnist and an economic historian, is proprietor of, where this essay first ran. He’s based in Somerville.

Jill Richardson: Billionaire candidates don't get it


Former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz just announced he may run for president as an independent centrist candidate in 2020.

I have some concerns about billionaires, however well-intentioned, running the country.

For one thing, people generally pay a lot of attention to those who have more than them, but they are less aware of those who have less. A billionaire with “just” a private jet will compare himself to an even richer billionaire with their own private island. They don’t have any idea what life is really like for a single parent raising two kids while working and attending night classes.

Social psychologists find that people usually believe they are responsible for their successes, but blame their failures on external factors like bad luck or a sluggish economy. They also extend the same benefit of the doubt to people within their own group.

When looking at people in other groups, they are less generous. Then they tend to blame people for their own failures.

As a result, the rich generally believe that worked hard for everything they had — but many think the poor are probably poor because they’re lazy. In reality, all people’s fates are due to both their own talents and efforts and their circumstances.

Think about Donald Trump. He was born to a wealthy and well-connected real estate mogul in New York. His father gave him millions, sent him to elite schools, trained him in the business, and introduced him to the powerful people whose help he needed to succeed.

Would Donald Trump gone anywhere in business if he were born to your parents? Very unlikely. But could you have done even better than Trump in business if you were born to his parents? It’s definitely possible.

Trump, no doubt, believes his success is solely due to his own work and “genius,” but it’s undeniable that the circumstances he was born into played a role.

The same of true for those with less extraordinary privilege.

Imagine a college classroom filled with 30 equally talented and hardworking students. Some come from well off families, live with their parents, and don’t need to work while attending school. Others come from poverty and hold full time jobs to pay their living expenses and tuition.

Perhaps some are homeless, or food insecure. Maybe they have to care for children or elderly relatives in addition to attending school. They might not have reliable transportation or own a computer at home.

Who will get better grades? Who will graduate sooner? Who might not graduate at all?

Good bet the students from wealthy families will feel they’ve earned their good grades and will have no idea what the students with lower grades were facing at home. They might even think students who got poor grades did so because they were stupid, lazy, or both.

In such a class, the best way to get grades up might be to help the students have stable living situations, enough to eat, fewer money woes, and less need to work full time while attending school. Just telling the low income students to work harder can only help so much when they’re in such a tough situation — it may even demoralize them further.

We need a government that understands the lives and struggles of ordinary Americans and can craft policies to help them. Billionaires generally won’t, regardless of their intentions, because it’s human nature to be generally clueless about those with less privilege than you.

Jill Richardson, a sociologist, is an columnist.

Trump's push for dirtier water

Northeast bays from space.

Northeast bays from space.

From Robert Whitcomb’s “Digital Diary,’’ in

Of course, the Trump administration wants to roll back federal protections under the Clean Water Act to please mining, agribusiness and real-estate-development interests! If this actually happens, you can expect more pollution, including of public drinking water, as well as damage to fish stocks and other wildlife in wetlands, rivers and lakes. Trump’s plan would harshly affect such coastal bodies of water as Narragansett, Buzzards and Chesapeake bays.

The Trump mob likes to say that the move would return needed power to the states to make determinations on water quality and how to protect it. But many states, especially in the South, that are basically run by big business interests, would simply engage in a race to the bottom of regulations, leaving more environmentally responsible states downstream to handle the new pollution.


Linda Gasparello: As in 1986, president has tainted Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving was usually a happy time for the elegant British-American broadcaster Alistair Cooke, whose “Letter from America” series on BBC Radio 4 captivated his millions of listeners for over half a century.

Cooke summed up his talent as “associating something quite tiny with something big. In other words, just looking at the way humans behave.” Every week, in a calming and confiding tone, he would discuss topics ranging from intrigue in the corridors of power in Washington to the significance to Americans of serving cranberry sauce with turkey on Thanksgiving.

But Cooke, in his Nov. 28, 1986 broadcast, had an unhappy story to tell “on the most American of American festivals and the one least tarnished with marketing tinsel.”

Thanksgiving that year, for Cooke, was tarnished by the Iran-Contra Affair, a secret U.S. arms deal that traded missiles and other arms to free some Americans held hostage by terrorists in Lebanon, but also used funds from the arms deal to support armed conflict in Nicaragua. The deal and the ensuing political scandal threatened to bring down the presidency of Ronald Reagan.

“Really the events of the past week have come at us – come at him – with such a tumbling clatter that it would be pointless of me at this stage to try and arrange their chronology. When I first heard about the incredible – every other senator and congressman has been working the word ‘incredible’ overtime – transfer of $30 million by Israel through a Swiss bank to be passed on to the motley band of Nicaraguan democrats, mercenaries and the relics of dictator Somoza’s bully boys, whom the president insists on calling freedom fighters, I found myself verbally paralyzed – a very rare condition with me – and falling back time and again on ‘incredible,’ spoken like a tolling bell,” he said in his broadcast.

Cooke, who was admired for taking the hysteria out of heated subjects, was outspoken on “Irangate,” just as he had been in the McCarthy era, which resulted in his telephone being tapped for two years.

“Two questions come up now, the answers to which will decide if the United States is to regain any credibility with its allies, with the Arab world, not to mention with any Soviet missions they have to deal with. One is the function and the respectability of the National Security Council – an institution set up only after the Second World War, which too often has quarreled with the secretaries of state and defense and, under this administration, evaded and deceived them, and possibly the president, himself.

“The other, more pressing, grave question turns on the honesty of the president, himself. How much did he really know and sanction of these incredible goings-on? It’s the same question whose stony answer brought down President Nixon and we shan’t know the truth until the congressional hearings get underway. They have great powers to subpoena the highest officers of the administration and get at the truth, as we saw with the Ervin Senate committee that probed into Watergate,” he said.

Reagan was hounded by the press, and there were three investigations into the scandal – one by the Tower Commission (led by Texas Senator John Tower), which Reagan himself appointed; congressional hearings in 1987, which were televised nationally; and an eight-year investigation, launched by Independent Counsel Lawrence Walsh, in which 14 people were charged, including National Security Advisor Robert McFarlane and Vice Adm. John Poindexter, his successor in that position, and Lt. Col. Oliver North of the National Security Council.

Ending his broadcast, Cooke said “the sauce that really soured our appetite” for the turkey that Thanksgiving was “the knowledge that, for the moment, the United States has no declared foreign policy that either friends or enemies can believe in.”

If Cooke were alive – he died in March 2004, less than a month after he filed his last “Letter” -- he would’ve been outspoken about what amounts to President Trump’s pardoning of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. This Thanksgiving, we would’ve heard him say gently and mellifluously that in Trump’s America, the incredible is true.

Linda Gasparello is producer and co-host of White House Chronicle, on PBS. Her email is She is based in Rhode Island and Washington, D.C.

Peter Certo: GOP's mid-terms campaign depended on lies, fear-mongering and rule-rigging

This 1874 cartoon by Thomas Nast is considered the first important portrayal of the Republican elephant.

This 1874 cartoon by Thomas Nast is considered the first important portrayal of the Republican elephant.


I can’t be the only one who spent the night of the mid-terms tossing and turning. Though I managed to shut off the coverage and try to sleep, spasms of anxiety woke me repeatedly throughout the dreary hours.

Ultimately, Republicans picked off several Red State Senate seats while Democrats won back the House and at least seven governorships.

A Democratic House will serve as a badly needed check after two years of aggressive Republican monopoly, but I can’t help feeling uneasy. For one thing, I can’t shake the last days of the campaign.

For a while, Republicans “merely” lied about their policy agenda.

Rather than campaigning on the $2 trillion tax cut for rich people they actually passed, they promised a middle class tax cut they never even had a bill for. And after spending all last year trying to throw 20 million to 30 million Americans off their health care, they (unbelievably!) promised to defend Americans’ pre-existing condition coverage — even as they actively sought to undermine it.

But the lies took a much darker turn as the White House took hold of the narrative.

Led by the president, GOP propagandists turned a few thousand refugees — over a thousand miles away in southern Mexico — into an “invading army.” The White House put out an ad about it so shockingly racist and false that even Fox News stopped airing it.

Unashamed, President Trump kept repeating the obvious lie that the homeless refugees were funded by Jewish philanthropist George Soros — even after a refugee-hating extremist murdered 11 Jews at a Pittsburgh synagogue.

Such vile hatred may have been key to Red State Republican gains in the Senate. But where that wasn’t enough, it was backstopped by voter suppression and gerrymandering.

Suppression may have helped the GOP governor candidates fend off strong challenges in Florida and especially Georgia, where tens of thousands of voters were scrubbed from the rolls and lines in Democratic precincts ran up to five hours long.

And thanks to gerrymandering, it took an extraordinary effort for Democrats to win even a slim House majority. They’re up only a few seats despite decisively winning the popular vote by at least 9 points. Had it been “only” a 4 or 5 point win, Vox’s Matthew Yglesias estimates, the GOP might have retained its majority.

Also worth noting: Democratic Senate candidates actually racked up over 10 million more votes than Republicans, even as Republicans picked up Senate seats on a GOP-tilting map,

To me these results show that Republicans can’t win with their actual policy agenda — not even in many Red States, judging by some ballot initiative results.

For instance, Red State voters in Missouri and Arkansas raised their minimum wages against the wishes of state Republicans. Missouri also legalized medicinal marijuana, along with deeply conservative Utah, and Purple State Michigan voters brought legal recreational marijuana to the Midwest.

Along with Utah, ruby red Idaho and Nebraska expanded Medicaid under Obamacare, a big win for health care.

These progressive policies are far more popular than their right-wing alternatives. So Republicans rely on a potent combination of lies, fear-mongering, and rule-rigging to win.

If Democrats ever hope to really come in from the wilderness, they need to support a host of radical pro-democracy reforms.

In that they can take inspiration from a stunning movement in Florida, where voters re-enfranchised over 1 million of their neighbors with felony convictions. And from Michigan, Colorado, Utah and Missouri, which all passed initiatives to support citizen-led redistricting. And from Maryland, Michigan, and Nevada, which all made voter registration easier.

Uneasiness is part and parcel of drawing breath in 2018. But if I sleep a little better tonight, it’ll be thanks to movements like those.

Peter Certo is the editorial manager of the Institute for Policy Studies and the editor of

Peter Certo: Nobody in White House is part of 'The Resistance'

“Storming of The Bastille’’ (July 14, 1789), by Jean-Pierre Houel.

“Storming of The Bastille’’ (July 14, 1789), by Jean-Pierre Houel.


This week, the White House continues its furious hunt for the anonymous official who proclaimed him or herself part of “The Resistance” in a New York Times op-ed. Unsurprisingly, the president is “obsessed” with it, CNN reports.

What really set Trump off — perhaps understandably — was the suggestion that aides were deliberately undermining orders. “We want the administration to succeed,” the author said, before describing a coordinated effort to “thwart parts of [Trump’s] agenda and his worst inclinations.”

But not all of that agenda. The author praised Trump’s commitment to “effective deregulation, historic tax reform, [and] a more robust military,” and even complained about “near-ceaseless negative coverage” obscuring those supposed accomplishments.

The president’s behavior in pursuit of that agenda may be “detrimental to the health of our republic,” the author admits, but assures readers: “There are adults in the room. We fully recognize what is happening.”

This helps the rest of us understand what’s happening, too: Career Republicans are riding right along with someone they themselves describe as “anti-democratic,” “reckless,” and “erratic.” And they’ll do it just as long as he cuts taxes for billionaires, deregulates the corporations they own, and keeps the spigot open to the military-industrial complex.

He’s doing that.

So, what’s he doing wrong? The author specifies only Trump’s “preference for autocrats and dictators” such as Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-un.

Trump’s admiration for those figures says a lot about his disdain for democracy. But the response the author describes sounds more like an effort to shut off diplomatic openings with nuclear-armed rivals than to curb Trump’s anti-democratic impulses. Feel better?

Beyond this, the author offers few specifics on what they’d actually like to prevent.

Pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal and the Paris climate accords? Not a problem, apparently. Deregulating the banks that caused the financial crisis, and the fossil fuel companies causing climate change? Go right on ahead.

Giving corporations and billionaires a $2 trillion tax break, then trying to cut food stamps, Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid? Trying to throw 24 million Americans off their health care?

The author describes precisely no concern about any of these things, because virtually any Republican would have done them.

Remarkably, the author actually complains that Trump “shows little affinity for ideals long espoused by conservatives.” But it sure sounds like he’s governing as one.

Sure, Trump has made unique his own contributions to modern conservatism — alliances with white nationalists, concentration camps for babies, etc. But our anonymous “adult in the room” offers no objection here either, even as down-ballot Republicans increasingly embrace those extremes.

I can believe that White House staffers really do find the president unstable and dangerous. But instead of constitutionally removing him by the 25th Amendment, they’re keeping him around so they can cut billionaires’ taxes, put over half of every taxpayer dollar into the military-industrial complex and coddle corporations that loot the country and pollute the planet.

The writer pines for the late Sen. John McCain, calling him “a lodestar for restoring honor to public life.” McCain was surely more honorable than the president he feuded with, but even he voted with Trump 83 percent of the time. Do we really think Trump’s pathologies reside entirely in the other 17 percent?

If Trump implodes, they’re going to act like his personality was the problem — not the policy agenda he’s executing on their behalf. They’ll say we haven’t gotten enough “real conservatism.”

Sorry, but I think the amazing social movements behind the real “resistance” would disagree. They’re not trying to roll back 17 percent of what this White House has done. They’re trying to transform it — and much of what came before it — 100 percent.

Peter Certo is the editorial manager of the Institute for Policy Studies.

Llewellyn King: Trump swims in a cesspool of vengeance

Treating the products of the Trump administration.

Treating the products of the Trump administration.


Just when you think President Trump couldn’t sink any lower, he astounds. He’s bewildering in his ability to sink and then sink further -- and all the while to claim success, rectitude and leadership.

This week’s plumbing of the sewers of conduct came in two Trump specials.

First, there was the unbecoming amount of presidential time spent on denigrating Omarosa Manigault Newman. He knew her well -- knew her propensity for infighting, exaggerating and lying -- when he hired her on at the White House.

The question is, what was a reality show contestant of no particular ability doing in the White House to begin with?

Whether the president fired her, or his chief of staff did, doesn’t matter. Clearly, there was merit in getting her out of there. That’s now more than clear, when we learn that she was taping conversations in the Situation Room, the sacred heart of the White House.

After a firing, there’s a kind of protocol: You don’t litigate the issue ex post facto, especially in public. You let it rest; those who have been fired anywhere are usually aggrieved and angry.

The executive who did the deed doesn’t then sink into verbal mud wrestling with the dismissed person. One doesn’t do that. But Donald Trump does do that -- with relish.

More egregious was his yanking the security clearance of former CIA chief John Brennan. This is vicious, petty, vengeful and strikes at the very basis of civil respect in America.

Security clearances are, at the least, a kind of badge, a medal, a recognition that you have served the country at the highest level of trust.

I’ve known four secretaries of defense, five secretaries of energy, three CIA directors and 12 national laboratory heads. I’ve seen how those now carrying the burden of office have consulted with those who had carried it.

Those who have security clearance, even if they aren’t called upon to use their knowledge often, are a kind of national reserve of expertise in sensitive matters, ready when needed. Others may need security clearance in defense contracting jobs when they leave their government service.

We don’t have civil honors as in Britain. Those with security clearances carry a little honor, a little recognition — and a lot of pride.

While Trump was bearing his teeth against the defenseless, like a hyaena afraid of losing its prey, big stuff at home and abroad was what one would’ve thought might have been of commanding interest to the president, including:

·       A red tide was damaging the ocean life of Florida while hurting its tourism.

·       California was burning up with the worst fires in history.

·       The mayhem was continuing in Yemen.

·       Turkey, a NATO member, was being driven into the arms of Russia, while its failing currency was roiling world markets.

·       Russia was believed to be preparing to knock out the U.S. electric grid; and it was legitimizing its grasp on Crimea.

·       China was seizing the South China Sea.

Against these, and other domestic and world crises, Trump was lost to bile and spite.

A friend, a lifetime Republican (small government, fiscal restraint, free trade, strong defense) suggested in conversation this week that the Trump legacy would cost us a generation of lost opportunity in the world. He said it would take that long to get back to old alliances and to the position of respect we have enjoyed in the world.

I disagreed. I think it could take 100 years, perhaps. The rub is one never returns to the status quo ante after upheaval. The earth moves, so to speak.

Consider two historical events with 100-year legacies. The first is the Congress of Vienna, in 1815, which mapped a peace in Europe that lasted nearly a century. The second is the ill-conceived Treaty of Versailles,  in 1919, the peace document signed at the end of World War I. It led to World War II; and, to this day, it’s at the root of much of the trouble in the Middle East.

Tweeting isn’t communicating, settling scores isn’t governing, handing the world over to Russia and China isn’t what we expect of any president, even a petty one awash in bile.

Llewellyn King is executive producer and host of White House Chronicle, on PBS. His email is He's based in Rhode Island and Washington, D.C.


Martha Burk: A sad birthday for Medicare and Medicaid




July 30 marks a very important anniversary in our modern political history.

Fifty-three years ago in 1965, President Lyndon Johnson signed Medicare and Medicaid into law, creating two programs that would disproportionately improve the lives of older and low-income Americans — especially women.

Fast-forward to 2018, and both programs are very much under siege. Nowhere is the struggle starker than in the House Republican budget — titled “A Brighter American Future” — now on Capitol Hill.

The importance of Medicare as a source of women’s health coverage can’t be over-emphasized.

Older and disabled women make up more than half the total beneficiaries, and two-thirds of those 85 and over. This budget from hell takes a giant step toward privatizing the program by allowing insurance companies into the Medicare marketplace, which means benefits could be caught in a race to the bottom and become too paltry to cover all but the barest of medical needs.

Medicaid is the joint federal-state program that provides low-income people with health care. The proposed Republican budget repeals the Medicaid expansion that came with Obamacare, which will cause 14 million to 17 million people to lose coverage.

The Medicaid remnants that survive would be turned into block grants, allowing states to pick and choose who gets covered and what kind of benefits they get — no doubt with little or no federal oversight. That approach makes it easier to cut the program without saying how many people would be dropped, or how much benefits would be lowered.

Since poor women under retirement age and their children are the biggest group of beneficiaries, it stands to reason they’d also be the biggest losers.

But there’s more. Because women have more chronic health conditions like arthritis, hypertension, and osteoporosis, they’re more likely to need institutional care. Since Medicare generally doesn’t cover nursing home care, Medicaid provides such care for those with disabilities and/or very low incomes — and 60 percent of those folks are women.

What’s not in the budget? Long gone is the Obama-era effort close the Gingrich-Edwards tax loophole that allows some high-income individuals (possibly including Donald Trump) to avoid Medicare and Social Security payroll taxes altogether, resulting in billions of lost revenue for both programs.

The House Republican budget probably won’t pass in its present form. But with Republican majorities in both houses of Congress, even compromises are sure to favor more cuts.

“A Brighter American Future?” Hardly. This summer’s 53rd anniversary of Medicare and Medicaid looks like a less than happy one for those that depend on them most — namely women, but really anyone counting on growing older.

Martha Burk is the director of the Corporate Accountability Project for the National Council of Women’s Organizations (NCWO) and the author of the book Your Voice, Your Vote. 

John Peffer: Trump and Putin share hatred of liberal democracy and the E.U.

The European Parliament, in Strasbourg, France.

The European Parliament, in Strasbourg, France.


Donald Trump didn’t fly to Europe to meet with NATO, European leaders, and Russian President Vladimir Putin. He got there by stepping through the looking glass.

Once on the other side, he made a series of extraordinary statements.

He accused Germany of being “totally controlled by Russia.” He declared that the European Union is a “foe” of the United States. He told British Prime Minister Theresa May that she should sue the E.U. instead of negotiate with it.

And, just days after the U.S. intelligence community and special counsel Robert Mueller confirmed once again that the Russian government interfered in the 2016 election with the aim of electing Trump, Trump said that he believed in Vladimir Putin’s claims of Russian innocence.

Why on earth would Trump embark on this surrealistic misadventure in foreign policy? Does Russia have some dirt on him?

Maybe. But whatever else is going on, Trump’s erratic behavior reflects a very specific worldview. Trump is attacking Europe and siding with Russia for political — and not just personal — reasons.

A segment of the U.S. right wing, which has now coalesced around Trump, has always been skeptical about Europe. It hates the social-democratic ideals baked into the European system. Indeed, any U.S. politician that leans in that direction inevitably gets branded a “European socialist.”

Then there are the more pacifist inclinations of Europe. Old hawks like Donald Rumsfeld famously railed against such E.U. stalwarts as France and Germany that opposed the U.S. misadventure in Iraq. (Remember “freedom fries”?)

These trends converge in the Euroskepticism expressed by media outlets like Fox News, a sentiment that heavily influenced the George W. Bush administration. To them, the European Union represented a kind of super-socialism that was spreading  and threatening U.S. global dominance.

The other major contribution to Trump’s worldview comes from Europe itself. Right-wing nationalist movements such as the Brexit campaign have tried to unravel the European Union.

These Euroskeptics view Brussels as an outside force trying to impose unwelcome regulations, immigrants, and political customs. For instance, the Polish and Hungarian governments are establishing illiberal regimes that challenge freedom of the press, judicial independence, and the free functioning of civil society the EU demands.

But there’s another strong Euroskeptic voice: Vladimir Putin.

Under Putin, Russia has supplied rhetorical and financial support for far-right wing parties throughout Europe — the National Front in France, the Freedom Party in Austria, the Northern League in Italy. Putin and the Euroskeptics are anti-immigrant and anti-liberal, and they favor nationalist and law-and-order policies.

But Putin also sees opportunity in Euroskepticism. A weaker E.U. won’t be able to attract new, post-Soviet members such as Ukraine or Moldova. A weaker E.U. will be more dependent on Russian energy exports. A weaker E.U. would have less power to criticize Russia’s political and foreign-policy conduct.

Which brings us back to Donald Trump.

The president has declared Europe an enemy because of its trade policies. But that’s just a red herring. He actually has a more systemic critique of the E.U. that coincides with the worldview of Vladimir Putin, Europe’s right-wing nationalists, and Euroskeptics among America’s conservatives.

This is very bad news. If the crisis in transatlantic relations were just about trade, it could be handled by some hardnosed negotiating. If the disputes with the EU and NATO were simply about Trump’s disruptive style, then everything could be resolved by a regime change at the polls in 2020.

But Trump has launched a much larger, ideological assault on European institutions and values. What’s worse: It’s part of the same attack on liberal values here in the United States.

Forget about NATO: Maybe we need a transatlantic alliance against Trump.

John Feffer wrote the dystopian novel Splinterlands and directs Foreign Policy In Focus, where a longer version of this piece appeared. 





David Warsh: Trump looks like a one-term president at this point

For a column that likes to look a little forward, the Trump presidency is a considerable roadblock. It won’t be possible to write with confidence about the American story until his administration is succeeded by the next. For that matter, Donald Trump himself can’t think very far ahead in these circumstances, and, while he improvises well, he is clearly  not a man accustomed to planning well into the future.

So the intriguing question for the moment remains, what happens if the then 74-year-old Trump declares victory and doesn’t run again?  What if he waits to announce, perhaps at the last possible moment, in July 2020, “I’ve accomplished what I was elected to do” and moves on to build his library?  Sixty-year-old Vice President Mike Pence  presumably would be more than ready to run.

It’s in this context that the latest developments should be understood – both his impending nomination of a second member to the Supreme Court and the planned trip to meet Vladimir Putin in Helsinki.  Both seem to me to bolster the likelihood that, when the time comes, Trump will prefer to be a one-term president rather than take his chances trying to win a second term.

There’s no arguing with the fact that Trump has a chance to influence the Supreme Court for another 20 to 25  years. But the course that any particular justice’s influence might take on a nine-person court is very hard to predict.  The Senate is narrowly divided and that will constrain the choice.  The president met June 28 at the White House with Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) and the five senators whose votes will likely determine the fate of any nomination:  Republicans Susan Collins, of Maine, and Lisa Murkowski, of Alaska; and Democrats Joe Donnelley, of Indiana, Heidi Heitkamp, of North Dakota, and Joe Manchin, of West Virginia,

As for the Helsinki meeting, Trump will talk to Putin about Syria and Iran, in hopes of finding some sort of mutual accommodation that might ratchet down the violence there. Some lifting of sanctions on trade will probably be part of the discussion. Putin may put back on the table the proposal for an across-the-board renormalization of relations that he privately transmitted through diplomatic channels last year.  Trump may choose to talk instead of the joint measures against election-tampering that he broached, then backed away from, a year ago. He promised to “talk about everything” when the two meet.  “Perhaps the world can de-escalate,” the president said. “We might be talking about some things President Obama lost.”

Obama’s foreign policy is not the issue. Even without Trump, American voters are probably returning to the realist, balance-of-power view of relations with Russia that dominated U.S. politics for the 45 years of the Cold War. The conviction that the United States is duty-bound to spread its values around the world, associated with Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush and the candidacy of Hillary Clinton, has been losing force everywhere but the Atlantic Council.

In this view, foreign policy towards Russia is a sideshow that will largely take care of itself. The real story is Trump himself. What got him elected was his tough talk on immigration and trade. What sustains his popularity, as best I can tell, is the very considerable set of skills he acquired as a reality-TV performer on The Apprentice and Celebrity Apprentice.  In this respect, Trump is like Ronald Reagan.

In every other respect, he is different. Reagan stressed alliances; Trump breaks them apart. Reagan was cheerful and friendly; Trump is a bully and a boor. Reagan made some bad appointments; Trump appointees have committed wholesale administrative vandalism. Reagan had confidence in the verdict of history; Trump makes war on it. The Iran-Contra hearings failed to seriously touch Reagan; the Mueller probe remains a dagger at the heart of Trump’s current term.

So see what happens in the November mid-term elections. Pay careful attention to polls next year.  Much depends on who wins the Democratic primaries. Then there will be the 2020 congressional elections to consider – what if the Dems take back both houses? Where would be the fun in that?  And, of course, keep an eye on the bond market, that harbinger of recession. It is always possible that Trump will run the table and, like Clinton, Bush, and Obama, settle into a second term more comfortable than the one before. I put the chances at one in three.

David Warsh, a Somerville, Mass.-based longtime columnist and economic historian, is proprietor of


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David Warsh: Comey tried to play referee in a dangerous game; see widely ignored context here

The report of the Inspector General of the Department of Justice on the FBI’s investigation of Hillary Clinton’s email practices has been extensively hashed over since it was published.   You can read about it, if you like, here or here or here.

What’s lacking is vital context. Yet tucked away on the last two public pages of the 568-page report are some tantalizing findings destined to eventually become the fundamental background to the story.

Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s report covered eight broad topics, as described by its executive summary –

  • The FBI investigation, code-named “Midyear Exam,” of former Secretary of State Clinton’s email server.
  • Former FBI Director James Comey’s go-it-alone statement about the FBI’s findings in July, 2016.
  • The Department of Justice’s subsequent decision not to charge Clinton with a crime.
  • The discovery in September of some unexamined Clinton emails on Anthony Weiner’s laptop computer, and the month that passed before the FBI sought a warrant to examine the machine.
  •  Comey’s decision to notify congressional leaders in October that the investigation had been reopened,
  • Some recusal issues.
  • Various text messages among agents.
  • And the FBI’s policies regarding Twitter announcements.

Indeed, the report presents an unusually thorough re-examination of the issues.  Agents assigned to the IG’s office sifted through 1.2 million documents and interviewed more than 100 witnesses, some of them more than once.

News organizations concentrated on two aspects:  Comey’s decision to make a unilateral announcement of FBI findings on July 5, in which he scolded candidate Clinton for having been “extremely careless” while recommending publicly that no charges against her be brought; and  his decision to notify Congress on Oct. 28 that new emails had been found.  Both decisions are held by partisans to have influenced the election to some unknowable degree.

In both cases, Horowitz was blistering. Of the July statement, its contents undisclosed in advance to his Justice Department superiors, the IG wrote that Comey had been both insubordinate and heedless of well-established FBI rules. He should have made his recommendation privately and allowed (or forced) President Obama’s Justice Department to make the call (and take the heat) that no charges would be brought.  Of October, Horowitz wrote:

"… Comey’s description of his choice as being between 'two doors,' one labeled 'speak' and one labeled 'conceal,' was a false dichotomy. The two doors were actually labeled 'follow policy/practice' and 'depart from policy/practice.' His task was not to conduct an ad hoc comparison of case-specific outcomes and risks. Rather, the burden was on him to justify an extraordinary departure from these established norms, policies, and precedent.''

Receiving slightly more attention, at least in conservative media, was a text exchange between the agent leading the investigation into the Trump campaign’s Russian connections and a high-ranking FBI lawyer, then his girlfriend.  Lisa Page wrote on Aug. 8, “[Trump’s] not ever going to become president, right? Right?”  “No. No he won’t. We’ll stop it,” replied special agent Peter Strzok.

(Remember, Paul Manafort was still managing the Trump campaign at the time; 10 days later he resigned.) In September Strzok was promoted to deputy assistant director of the Espionage Section.  In October, he drafted Comey’s letter to congressional Republicans – the one widely seen as harmful to Clinton’s candidacy.)

Overlooked entirely in the coverage, as far as I could tell, were four pages at the end of Chapter 12 -- “Allegations that Department and FBI Employees Improperly Disclosed Non-Public Information” – in other words, leaks.

Horowitz expressed “profound concerns” about the “volume and extent” of unauthorized communications, despite “strict limits,” which had been “widely ignored.” The IG’s ability to identify leakers was hampered by two factors. Horowitz wrote:  Sensitive information was widely shared, often involving dozens, and in some cases, more than a hundred persons; second, the normal strict rules governing disclosure appeared to have been widely ignored during the month before the election.

Which leads to those two pages at the end of the report. (I couldn’t think of a way to link them but you can easily scroll down here to find them at the bottom – Attachments G and H.) They contain two “link charts,” or schematic diagrams, depicting verified communications between FBI employees and media representatives, in April/May and October 2016.

Why April/May? That was a period in which Comey was pressuring the Department of Justice to move more quickly to obtain possession of the laptops that Clinton lawyers had used to sort personal from State Department messages, telling DOJ supervisors that he might appoint a special prosecutor if he couldn’t obtain them. (Horowitz found no evidence that he seriously considered it.) Already Comey had begun to contemplate the unilateral announcement he would make in July, fearing that the Obama administration could no longer announce a decision not to prosecute Clinton in a way that the public would find objective and credible.

Why October?  That was the period of intense behind-the-scenes maneuvering over the existence of the Weiner emails. After Comey revealed their existence in his letter to congressional leaders, Wall Street Journal reporter Devlin Barrett followed up with a blockbuster story, FBI in Internal Feud over Hillary Clinton Probe. Barret disclosed, among other things, that an FBI investigation of the Clinton Foundation had begun.

Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe was later fired, at the IG’s instigation, and referred for possible criminal prosecution, for having confirmed the existence of the second investigation to Barrett, and for having been less than candid when interviewed about his actions. McCabe has said that he was defending the FBI (and himself) against earlier unauthorized leaks accusing him of resisting the investigation.

No details are included in those diagrams about the identities of the callers and the called, but it seems a reasonable bet that the centerpiece of “Network Two” is reporter Barrett.   Whoever it is, you get from those 112 calls a pretty good idea of what true shoe-leather reporting looks like these days. And remember, the charts reflect FBI contacts only with journalists; congressional staffers are not mentioned.  (They may yet be if the Democrats regain the House.)

Comey has insisted, both in his book, A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership, and in interviews with agents working for the IG, that the threat of leaks had no effect on his decision to write that letter on the eve of the election. Some senior officials who worked for him weren’t so sure.  His general counsel, James Baker, told the IG, “If we didn’t put out a letter, somebody is going to leak it.”  Rudolph Giuliani, a U.S. attorney before he becoming mayor of New York, was widely involved as a go-between between FBI-connected sources and reporters at the time.

In each case, Comey’s defense against the Inspector General’s criticisms has been that he felt the FBI – and perhaps the nation itself – were  caught in a “500-year flood” and that extraordinary measures were required to deal with it.   Precisely this sense of the extraordinary is missing from Horowitz’s report.

The last word in these events will belong to journalists, first, and then historians. Among the former, reporter Barrett will likely be the most important. He left The WSJ  for The Washington Post in February 2017 and the next year helped The Post share a Pulitzer Prize with The New York Times for national reporting on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and Russia's connections to the Trump campaign, the President-elect’s transition team and his eventual administration.

Comey sought to play the role of referee. My hunch is that eventually he will be seen to have performed a service similar to that of another outsize regulator with an independent streak.  Former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, also 6 feet 8 inches tall, began a costly campaign against price inflation in the late 1970s.  Despite expert skepticism and political criticism, he won his battle over a 10 years and subsequently was celebrated at a hero.

Upholding post-Watergate standards at the Justice Department (Comey was deputy attorney general 2003-05) and the FBI during three presidential administrations is not the same as making monetary policy..  Yet there may be something in the experience of growing up tall that predisposes some men to act in certain ways when confronted with emergency. Whether you think the comparison is apt depends on what you expect will happen to President Trump and the congressional Republicans who support him.

David Warsh is a longtime business and political columnist and economic historian. He is proprietor of Somerville, Mass.-based, where this column first appeared.


Chris Powell: Pursuing war and trivia

For a few days, President Trump  seemed to threaten to go to war against Syria and its ally, Russia, on his own, without congressional approval. If  the president had bothered to ask for authorization, Congress might have been too busy. 

For half the Senate was interrogating Mark Zuckerberg, the chief executive of Facebook, about the "social media" company's compromising of the privacy of its users, as if people shouldn't know that putting personal information on the Internet is how not to have any privacy at all. 

Meanwhile, the rest of Congress seemed obsessed with perpetuating the special prosecutor's investigation of the president over his campaign's supposed "collusion" with Russia, an investigation that now has extended to a tryst Trump supposedly had with a pornography actress before he became president. 

The Trump investigation is becoming reminiscent of the perpetual investigations of Bill Clinton when he was president. Does anyone remember the Whitewater "scandal" and Monica Lewinsky, the White House intern with whom Clinton had a tryst? His lying about it prompted his impeachment, though it too was much ado about nothing. 

Like the Clinton investigations, the Trump investigation also is starting to evoke the assurance given to Soviet dictator Josef Stalin by the chief of his secret police, Lavrenti Beria: "Show me the man and I'll find you the crime." Will the special prosecutor find a crime committed by Trump before his unconstitutional bravado reduces the world to ash in a nuclear exchange? Will Congress look up in time to know what hit it? 


AVOIDING FACEBOOK IS LIFE INSURANCE: At least Facebook has been a blessing to news organizations. Before Facebook, when news organizations needed to report an untimely death, they had to solicit a photograph from the decedent's family, an unpleasant and sometimes intrusive task. 

But now news organizations need only to look up the decedent on Facebook, where they usually will find not only his photograph but also a full biography, often intimate. These days it seems that no one dies horribly without having neatly laid everything out for news organizations on Facebook. 

Conversely, it seems that if you stay off Facebook and other "social media," the worst that will happen to you is that you'll die of old age in bed at home. 


ESTY HAD TO KNOW BETTER:  Connecticut Congresswoman Elizabeth Esty,  who is ending her political career because she mishandled violence, threatening, and sexual harassment by her former chief of staff, Tony Baker, explains that she wrote a letter of recommendation for the creep to get him out of Washington and away from his former girlfriend. But of course that only risked inflicting him on new victims in his next job. 

This doesn't mean that perpetrators of sexual harassment and worse should never be able to find work again. It means that they should not be able to get jobs by deception and omission -- not be able to get jobs until their misconduct is acknowledged and atoned for. 

Esty isn't the only employer who concealed and passed along misconduct this way. The practice long has been common with sexual predators in business, government, education, and even churches. But no one should have known better about this than a member of Congress who often posed as a foe of sexual harassment. 

Chris Powell is a columnist for the Journal Inquirer, in Manchester, Conn. 

Domenica Ghanem: Pharma companies are the authors of the opioid crisis


At a recent rally in New Hampshire, Donald Trump called for the death penalty for drug traffickers as part of a plan to combat the opioid epidemic in the United States. At a Pennsylvania rally a few weeks earlier, he called for the same.

Now his administration is taking steps toward making this proposal a reality. Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions issued a memo on March 21 asking prosecutors to pursue capital punishment for drug traffickers — a power he has thanks to legislation passed under President  Clinton.

Time and again, these punitive policies have proven ineffective at curbing drug deaths. That’s partly because amping up the risk factor for traffickers makes the trade all that more lucrative, encouraging more trafficking, not less.

But it’s also because these policies don’t address the true criminals of the opioid crisis: Big Pharma.

If Trump really wanted to help, he’d put the noose around drug-making and selling giants like Purdue Pharma, McKesson, Insys Therapeutics, Cardinal Health, AmerisourceBergen, and others.

The president knows this, in a way. These companies “contribute massive amounts of money to political people,” he said at a press conference in October 2017 — even calling out Mitch McConnell, who was standing beside him, for taking that money. Pharmaceutical manufacturers were “getting away with murder,” Trump complained in the same speech.

For once, he’s wasn’t wrong.

The pharmaceutical industry spends more than any other industry on influencing politicians, with two lobbyists for every member of Congress. Nine out of ten House members and all but three senators have taken campaign contributions from Big Pharma.

It’s not just politicians they shell out for.

Opioid pioneer Purdue Pharma, the creator of OxyContin, bankrolled a campaign to change the prescription habits of doctors who were wary of the substance’s addictive properties, going so far as to send doctors on all-expense-paid trips to pain-management seminars. The family that started it all is worth some $13 billion today.

From 2008 to 2012, AmerisourceBergen distributed 118 million opioid pills to West Virginia alone. That’s about 65 pills per resident. In that same time frame, 1,728 people in the state suffered opioid overdoses.

McKesson — the fifth largest company in the U.S., with profits over $192 billion — contributed 5.8 million pills to just one West Virginia pharmacy.

Meanwhile, five companies contributed more than $9 million to interest groups for things like promoting their painkillers for chronic pain and lobbying to defeat state limits on prescribing opioids.

These companies don’t stop at promoting opioids. They also spend big on stopping legislation that would actually help curb opioid use.

Insys Therapeutics, a company whose founder was indicted for allegedly bribing doctors to write prescriptions for fentanyl (a substance 50 times stronger than heroin), spent $500,000 to stop marijuana legalization in Arizona in 2016.

In response, cities and states from New York City to Ohio are suing pharmaceutical companies for their role in the deaths of tens of thousands of Americans every year. It’s time for the federal government to get behind them.

Of course, going after these companies isn’t going to eliminate opioid abuse on its own. That will take combating the root social and economic causes that lead to so many deaths of despair.

But it’s clear who the real profiteers of the opioid epidemic are. If Trump wanted to get real about curbing incentives for selling opioids, he’d turn away from street dealers and target the real opioid-producing industry.

Domenica Ghanem is the media manager of the Institute for Policy Studies.


David Warsh: Trump's war on FBI might gradually become the dominating story of his regime




What’s going to turn out to be the ultimate story of the Trump presidency? The respective philosophic stances of the four most important English-language dailies could be glimpsed on  March 24’s front pages:

· The New York Times: “Trump Seethes, But Signs Bipartisan Spending Pact”; “President Unbound, Aides Bewildered, Capital Reeling”; “A 1.3 Trillion Deal Flies in the Face of His Agenda”; “Icy Maneuvering by U.S. and China in Tech Cold War”

· The Wall Street Journal: “Trump Relishes Off-Script Approach”; “Stocks Sink to the Worst Week in Years”

· Financial Times: “Bolton’s rise signals eclipse of moderates under Trump”; “China ready to hit back with tariffs”

· The Washington Post: “Budget is signed, with a dose of drama”; “Trump aide [George Papadopoulos] got campaign guidance on foreign efforts”; “In Bolton, President gains an old hand at bureaucracy game”

There was nothing that day about the porn star or the Playboy model. But a couple of days earlier, The Post had tucked inside its front section a story about the FBI. “McCabe was asked about media contacts on the day [FBI Director James] Comey was fired” shone a narrow beam of bright light on a dark corner of what I believe will in the end become the dominating story of Trump’s time as president.

Deputy director Andrew McCabe was fired earlier this month by Atty. Gen. Jeff Session, on the advice of the FBI’s Office of Professional Responsibility, which relied on information developed by FBI Inspector General Michael Horowitz. Cited was a “lack of candor” in various interviews with FBI investigators working for Horowitz – a cardinal sin among FBI agents. 

The Post article, written by Matt Zapatosky and Karoun Demirjian, presented several new facts. The IG’s team questioned McCabe that day President Trump fired Director Comey. They asked him about the role he played in sourcing of a story that appeared the autumn before in the WSJ, 10 days before the election. His alleged lack of candor that day, May 9, may have been the first of several examples ultimately cited in his firing, a day before he was slated to retire with fully vested pension benefits.    

That WSJ article, “FBI in Internal Feud over Hillary Clinton Probe,” by Devlin Barrett, revealed a series of disputes, both between Justice Department prosecutors and the FBI, and among factions within the bureau itself, about whether and how to pursue investigations of the Clinton Foundation. Reporter Barrett disclosed that, according to “people familiar with the matter,... Early this year, four FBI field offices – New York, Los Angeles, Washington, and Little Rock, Ark. – were collecting information about the Clinton Foundation “to see if there was evidence of financial crimes or influence peddling.”

The previously unreported investigation had been a matter of internal debate within both agencies throughout the campaign year, Barrett wrote, before describing the sequence of arguments in unusual detail. The Post hired Barrett away from the Journal in February last year.

Where did Barrett get his information? One vector became clear last week. Zapatosky and Demirjian, similarly citing “people familiar with the matter,” wrote that McCabe, acting in his capacity as deputy director, had

"authorized two FBI officials, the FBI’s top spokesman and FBI lawyer Lisa Page, to talk to a Wall Street Journal reporter [Barrett[ in October 2016, for a story the reporter was preparing on the Clinton email case and a separate investigation of the Clinton Foundation….. McCabe has said publicly that he felt he was “being accused of closing down investigations under political pressure,” and he wanted to push back."

Similar pressures may have led Director Comey to notify Congressional leaders on October 28 of the existence of a small trove of previously unexamined emails from Hillary Clinton’s private email server – a headline-provoking move that may have influenced the election results more powerfully than Russian interference.

The Inspector General’s report has not yet been released. Horowitz, a political appointee in the Bush and Obama administrations, has as good a reputation for integrity and independence as does Comey, but the concerns of the two men are not identical. (Trump and his supporters, and some others, routinely disparage Comey’s reputation.)

Conspicuous in the announcement of the scope of the IG’s review were “allegations that Department and FBI employees improperly disclosed non-public information.” How even-hand and thorough Horowitz’s investigation has been of leaks during the campaign year is, for now, anybody’s guess. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) has promised hearings once the report becomes public.  

The story of a presidency inevitably settles on a narrative. The Watergate inquiries that ended Richard Nixon’s presidency were furthered by a little-noticed battle over who would replace long-time director J. Edgar Hoover after is untimely death. The public understanding of what had happened was greatly shaped by the legend of “Deep Throat.” Internecine strife of a different sort seems likely to ultimately determine the way the Trump administration is remembered.

A daring mutiny by disgruntled FBI agents as the election neared? Political favoritism by those serving in the Obama administration? As with the Watergate proceedings, the questions go to the heart of what it means to serve with honor and to tell the truth. All they lack so far is a relatively dispassionate public forum in which to be examined. My guess is that they’ll find one next year. In that case, unless military conflagration supersedes it, Trump’s war on the FBI will gradually become the dominating story of his administration.

David Warsh, a veteran commentator on financial, political and media matters, is proprietor of, where this column first ran.