There are at least two tasty dishes in the smorgasbord today: one is the latest action of the fourth branch of the US government, the one run by Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller. The other is an announcement from the head of the second branch, the executive, that the month-long government furlough would be suspended for three weeks, until February 15, while House leaders pretend to negotiate with President Trump over the issue of border security and, in particular, appropriating funds to build a wall along vulnerable parts of our Southern border.
Both dishes look promising, so let’s take a taste of both. First, the Stone soup, or perhaps I should say Stone in soup, for that would seem to be where Roger Stone, colorful Trump ally and Wikileaks expert, has been firmly placed. Mr Stone was awakened at his Florida home before dawn by a fleet of FBI Suburbans, lights flashing, and a squadron of G-Men with automatic weapons drawn. Mr Stone said he would have have gladly surrendered himself to the Feds without all the hullabaloo and intimidation of his wife and dogs, but of course hullaballoo is Robert Mueller’s modus operandi. He likes the showy, predawn raids, the macho intimidation, the hardball squeezing of his victims.
Just ask Paul Manafort, who has been languishing in solitary confinement these past several months because he refuses to get with the program and invent something incriminating about Donald Trump. Or you could ask Steven Hatfill, the man Mueller pursued like the Furies back in the early 2000s because he thought, mistakenly, that Hatfill was responsible for sending around anthrax that claimed five lives and infected 17 others.
Mueller blithely destroyed Hatfill’s career and then, when Hatfill was exonerated and won a $5.82 million settlement from the government, declined even to apologize. The man is a dangerous fanatic, but he is the government’s own dangerous fanatic, so they let him him conduct his predawn raids, pursue certain people for ‘process crimes’ while ignoring others (the ones with a D in the column designating their party affiliation), and generally making life difficult for the man whom the people — but not people like Robert Mueller — elected as President of the United States. And here’s one more question: how is it that CNN just happened to be outside Roger Stone’s house cameras rolling? Who tipped them off?
It’s hard to know what will happen with Roger Stone. He is an insouciant Trump loyalist who has been around the political block, and down some political alley ways, since the days of Nixon. He will not, I think, be easily intimidated. And since none of the seven counts lodged against him have anything to do with the President or ‘Russian collusion,’ it’s a little difficult to know where Mueller’s latest folly will end up. A 14-day sentence like that imposed upon small-fry George Papadopoulos? Papadopoulos, remember, was the chap who for 15 minutes was supposed to be the source [fake news alert for the link: it’s The New York Times] of the whole Trump-Russia narrative but who turned out to be a dispensable pawn in John ‘I-voted-for-Commie-Gus-Hall-and-Still-Got-to-Be-Director-of-the CIA’ Brennan’s popular game of Get Trump.
I suggest washing down the Stone soup with a mouthful of good claret before proceeding on to The Shutdown Samba.
The big question today, of course, is ‘Who blinked?’ Both sides claimed victory. The President says that he won because the Democrats, though not coughing up any dough to keep the flood of illegal wannabe-immigrants out, at least agreed to sit down to talk about it.
Tweedledee Pelosi and Tweedledum Schumer, for their part, claimed victory because, although agreeing to negotiate, insisted that it would be over their dead bodies — or, in point of fact, over the dead bodies of those whom the criminal immigrants murdered — that the President would get any money to build any wall.
For both it was a matter of principle: for the President, it was partly about keeping what was probably his central campaign promise and partly about keeping Americans safe, for the Bobbsey Twins it was about the principle of destroying Trump by making him go back on that promise.
Who will win this game of chicken? Unless Trump builds the wall, he loses. Not just this hand, but the whole smash. His base will wither and 2020 will be in sharp jeopardy. I think he knows that. I hope he does. His comments suggest that he does. ‘If we don’t get a fair deal from Congress,’ he said, ‘the government will either shut down on February 15, again, or I will use the powers afforded to me under the laws and the Constitution…to address this emergency.’
Meaning…what? Well, he could declare a national emergency and order the military to build the wall with funds from various Pentagon and other governmental sources. Or he could forbear to declare a national emergency and still order the military to build the wall. The latter would be preferable, I think. Doubtless a left-wing district judge somewhere would issue a temporary restraining order on ‘a nationwide basis’ as was done when Trump issued his first travel ban.
But Trump might just ignore the TRO, sending CNN and Bill Kristol into apoplexy but nevertheless fulfilling his promise. Constitutional crisis? Nah. Just another move in the Shutdown Samba. Doubtless the Supreme Court would weigh in with some dispatch. It’s hard to predict what John Roberts would do — maybe he would say that the cost of building the wall was really a tax and so it was OK. Meanwhile, the vigils outside Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s convalescence home would increase in ferventness.
Here’s one thing I wish for, though: if the government does go into partial shutdown mode again on February 15, let’s furlough Robert Mueller and his team of anti-Trump partisans and let the air-traffic controllers get on with keeping the friendly skies safe.
Meanwhile, after the exertions of today’s Shutdown Samba, we all need another glass of that claret.