The President’s Joseph McCarthy

Originally published May 2, 2019 | Link to original

Attorney General Willam Barr testifying before the Senate Wednesday. Photo by Sarah Silbiger.

Dear Friend and Reader:

Thursday, the Attorney General of the United States refused to testify before the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee. Yes, he skipped school on an important day. Call the truancy officer. He was going to be asked about why he lied to the American people about the content of the Special Counsel’s report into Russian meddling with the 2016 election, and why he lied when he said he did not know Mueller objected to his characterization of what the investigation discovered.

When the Special Counsel’s results were first reported in the media in late March, based on facts in the 448-page document, the headline could have read, “Mueller Confirmed Trump Campaign had 100 Russia Contacts.” It could have read, “Trump Team Destroyed Evidence of Probable Conspiracy.” It could have read, “Trump Tried to Fire Mueller Repeatedly.” It could have read, “Trump Not Exonerated of Obstruction.”

That’s a pretty darned good looking corpse — Roy Cohn, 1964, World Telegram & Sun photo by Herman Hiller.

Instead, The New York Times reported on Sunday, March 24, “Mueller Finds No Trump-Russia Conspiracy, Barr says.” The next day, the top headline read, “A Cloud Over Trump’s Presidency is Lifted.” The Washington Post said, “Mueller Finds No Conspiracy.” The Wall Street Journal: “Mueller Finds No Trump Collusion.”

This was a complete, 180-degree reversal, done right before our eyes. How was this possible?

The law governing the Special Counsel’s investigation required that Robert Mueller III deliver his report to the Attorney General of the United States, who is William Barr.

From there, it was up to Barr to do what he wanted with the information. And what he did was write a memo, delivered to Congress two days later, that said Mueller did not document a criminal conspiracy with Russia and did not charge the president with obstruction of justice.

As I read these headlines going by, I was just astonished over and over again. Not one single journalist or editor had read the report. All they had was the word of the new Attorney General, appointed by Trump to be his Roy Cohn.

You would need to be a bit of a history buff to know who that is. Cohn was chief counsel for Sen. Joseph McCarthy, who for eight years was the leading provocateur of the House Committee on Un-American Activities — that is, the witch hunts for communists in the United States. Cohn rose to prominence as a prosecutor of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg as Russian spies, which led to their executions in 1953.

There Were No Card-Carrying Commies

When you hear the name Roy Cohn, think “Soviet communist plot” and “Joe McCarthy.” It was McCarthy who famously said, “I have here in my hand a list of 205, a list of names made known to the Secretary of State as being members of the Communist Party, who are nevertheless still working and shaping policy in the State Department.”

Jackie Robinson, the first black major league baseball player, testifying before the House Committee on Un-American Activities, July 18, 1949. He was called to testify for his statement that it was “unthinkable” that blacks would go to war against the Soviet Union.

It was a bluff. The number then morphed over the next days: “207 bad risks,” “81 loyalty risks,” “57 card-carrying Communists,” and so on. But not one was a card-carrying Communist. Was there even such a thing? Many people had their lives destroyed just by being accused of having Communist sympathies, and it was Cohn and McCarthy who led the charge — with the American public cheering. Some got on various lists for being homosexual, others for having liberal views, others for refusing to turn in their friends.

Those accused were usually denied the presence of an attorney, or asked to defend themselves without being able to cross-examine the accuser.

Frustrated with his first Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, Pres. Trump famously said he wanted his own “Roy Cohn” in that role. What’s so amazing is that Trump as a younger man knew Cohn personally: Cohn was one of his early mentors. When Cohn was dying of AIDS in 1986, Trump just as famously refused to visit him in the hospital to thank him or say goodbye.

Can you imagine what Cohn would have thought if he knew that Trump’s campaign and transition had more than 100 contacts with the Russians? That the campaign had been offered dirt on Hillary Clinton, and wanted to take it? That Jeff Sessions lied to the Senate during his confirmation for Attorney General? That National Security Advisor Mike Flynn had lied to top FBI agents about his contacts with the Russians?

That’s the irony here, if you can even call it that: today, the modern Roy Cohn is covering up a real conspiracy with the Russians rather than trying to trump up a fake one. Yet to call William Barr “Roy Cohn” is to diminish his role. This is top-shelf hypocrisy that deserves the full recognition of Joseph McCarthy himself, who by the way died 62 years ago today.

Mueller’s Letter to Barr

On March 27, 2019, after all those headlines were flowing, Robert Mueller wrote a letter to the Attorney General, which was published Wednesday.

Mueller wrote, “The summary letter the Department [written by Barr] sent to Congress and released to the public late in the afternoon of March 24 did not fully capture the context, nature, and substance of this Office’s work and conclusions.

Sen. Joseph McCarthy listens to his attorney, Roy Cohn, during the televised Army-McCarthy hearings in 1954. The series of hearings badly damaged the senator’s image and led to a vote of censure by the Senate.

“We communicated that concern to the Department on the morning of March 25. There is now public confusion about critical aspects of the results of our investigation. This threatens to undermine a central purpose for which the Department appointed the Special Counsel: to assure full public confidence in the outcome of the investigations.”

For Mueller to write, “There is now public confusion about critical aspects of the results of our investigation,” denies Barr’s agency. The sentence should read, “You have confused the public about the results of our investigation, and made the president look innocent.”

This was an intentional act of deception. Barr knew exactly what he was doing, and he got the result he wanted. In fact, in his report, Mueller writes, “If we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the president clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state.”

They did not. In fact, the Mueller report is a catalog of crime. It is disgusting. And it states how it arrived at its conclusions — including the decision not to bring charges, but rather to defer to Congress.

On the Russia question, destruction of potential evidence was an important factor. Trump team people such as Jared Kushner communicated using WhatsApp — a Facebook-owned program that encrypts messages, and other programs that automatically delete them. Collusion was Paul Manafort, the campaign chairman, giving polling data to the Russians and telling them to target certain key states.

Regarding obstruction of justice, there is a standing Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel directive that says a sitting president cannot be indicted, but from what I understand, that was only part of Mueller’s thinking. There were two other factors. Because a sitting president cannot stand trial (different from not being indicted), Mueller felt it was unfair to accuse him of a crime since he could not defend himself at a criminal trial. And Mueller did not want to make it impossible for Trump to exercise his legitimate Article 2 powers as president, though Trump seems to have little interest in this.

Instead, Mueller presented the evidence for Congress to take up. And his fairness and adherence to the rules left an opening that Barr, who has been called General Coverup during a past incarnation working for the Reagan/Bush administration, happily and knowingly exploited. This was one of those scenarios where the lie is halfway around the world before the truth has its pants on — but worse. The delay was a month.

A Gap in Reality

There is also a gap in reality that Barr exploited. I am speaking with as many Trump supporters as I can about this, and they are falling back on the supposed bottom line: “no collusion,” which is simply not true. Part of the reality gap involves denial. When there is a problem, many people decide they don’t want to know about it. That opens the proverbial can of worms.

Trump supporter expresses her unmitigated transcendent ecstasy at actually meeting the candidate. Photo by Brian Snyder.

But there is more: most people you meet tend to be in denial of their own problems and don’t want to take any mental posture that involves digging for the truth. It seems easier to live the lie, or to be in “blissful ignorance” — which means to ignore. Once someone is on notice that a person is lying or defrauding them, both law and common sense require them to take action.

Yet many people, once they discover they’re being deceived, keep on allowing themselves to be deceived. There are many reasons for this, including how it’s seemingly easier to be dead than to be alive. In his book People of the Lie, Scott Peck writes, “Erich Fromm [author of Escape from Freedom] was acutely sensitive to this fact when he broadened the definition of necrophilia to include the desire of certain people to control others — to make them controllable, to foster their dependency, to discourage their capacity to think for themselves, to diminish their unpredectibility and originalty, to keep them in line.”

James Comey, the former FBI director fired by Trump, wrote something similar in an op-ed on Wednesday. “Proximity to an amoral leader reveals something depressing. I think that’s at least part of what we’ve seen with Bill Barr and Rod Rosenstein. Accomplished people lacking inner strength can’t resist the compromises necessary to survive Mr. Trump and that adds up to something they will never recover from. It takes character … to avoid the damage, because Mr. Trump eats your soul in small bites.”

Well, I guess he would know.

In the end, this is a spiritual issue, because the spiritual journey is the quest for the truth — not for convenience. It takes guts to challenge lies and liars. You may doubt yourself. You may be called an abuser, or branded a liar yourself. You may be treated like an outsider or a heretic. You may be bullied. People may stop talking to you. That is too much for most people to endure, and besides, we’re all so busy living our lives.

Who has time to read and think about a 448-page report? And isn’t the president doing something about those damned Mexicans? The stock market is doing great and man, I could use a beer right about now.

The truth is not for everyone.

With love,

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