by Bob Cesca
When we talk about the damage being inflicted on both the system and our political culture, this is what we're talking about. In case you missed it, Attorney General Jeff Sessions testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday and, in the process, helped to open up an all new precedent when it comes to investigatory interactions between the executive and legislative branches.
We'll circle back to this presently.
Trump's despotism and unpredictable berserker personality -- his "eternal now" worldview -- blends perfectly with the carpet-bombing politics the Republicans have played throughout the last 17 years, culminating in the last eight. The GOP has rejected the traditions of statesmanship and negotiation -- of legislating and bargaining -- and exchanged it for unprecedented ridiculousness.
Instead of finding a way to compromise with the former Obama White House, Mitch McConnell instead announced after the 2008 election that his sole agenda item would be to make sure Obama was a one-term president. The de facto leader of the party in 2009, Rush Limbaugh, likewise wished for Obama to fail, which, in turn, would’ve meant the utter failure of the economy. Rather than being grown-ups and understanding what many progressives knew at the time — that Obama began his negotiations closer to the center than the left — the Republicans opted instead to choose obstructionism and obstructionism alone. Hell, the Affordable Care Act was a Republican idea — devised by the likes of Bob Dole and Chuck Grassley and implemented at the state level by Mitt Romney. But even that was unacceptable to them, and to this day they’re desperately trying to repeal it.
Throughout the Obama years, the congressional Republicans grew accustomed to abandoning any significant legislative recourse by, among other things, choosing to weaponize frivolous lawsuits against the ACA and other Obama policies. One of those lawsuits attempted to force Obama to overturn the so-called Obamacare exemption for Congress, even though Congress is explicitly forced to use Obamacare if members and staffers want employer-based health coverage. This is how convoluted and childish the GOP has become, and Trump is merely upping the ante.
All of the current president's unforgivably damaging shenanigans aside, let's return to Sessions' testimony.
Actually, it's unfair to single out Sessions when, in fact, NSA director Admiral Mike Rogers, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein are also guilty of what we're about to discuss. Specifically, we're talking about the obvious and illegal stonewalling of Congress while under oath -- without any legal justification for the withholding of those answers.
This exchange from Tuesday's testimony says everything you need to know about how the White House is obstructing justice and engaging in contempt of Congress in order to cover up its collusion with Russia.
SENATOR ANGUS KING: I respect your willingness to be here. You testified a few minutes ago I'm not able to invoke executive privilege. That's up to the president. Has the president invoked executive privilege in the case of your testimony here today?
JEFF SESSIONS: He has not.
KING: Then what is the basis of your refusal to answer these questions?
SESSIONS: Senator king, the president has a constitutional --
KING: I understand that, but the president hasn't asserted that. You said you don't have the power to exert executive privilege so what is the legal basis for your refusal to answer the questions?
SESSIONS: I'm protecting the right of the president to assert it if he chooses and there may be other privileges that could apply in this circumstance.
KING: Well, I don't understand how you can have it both ways. The president can't not assert it, and you've testified that only the president can assert it and yet I just don't understand the legal basis for your refusal to answer.
SESSIONS: What we try to do, I think most cabinet officials, others that you questioned recently, officials before the committee, protect the president's right to do so. If it comes to a point where the issue is clear and there's a dispute about it, at some point the president will either assert the privilege or not or some other privilege would be asserted, but at this point I believe it's premature
KING: You're asserting a privilege.
SESSIONS: It would be premature for me to deny the president a full and intelligent choice about executive privilege. That's not necessary at this point.
Did any of that make sense to you? Me neither. Sessions appeared to be invoking executive privilege -- retroactively? -- in some sort of paradoxical bending of the space-time continuum. Basically, Sessions simply refused to answer questions about conversations with Trump because he apparently didn't feel like it, as if this is a real thing that people do in court or when giving congressional testimony. It's not a real thing.
When repeatedly asked for the legal basis for his refusal to answer, he essentially explained that Trump, maybe sometime in the future, might exert executive privilege on something Sessions said in the past. But the only way that can actually happen -- the only way for Trump to retroactively shield testimony from Congress (or anyone else) is to car-jack a time-traveling Delorean, travel back in time to a time and date before Sessions' testimony and to declare executive privilege before Sessions' appearance.
If Trump really wanted to thwart any untoward testimony on Trump-Russia from occurring, he would've done so before Sessions testified. But he didn't. Yet Sessions seemed to think that if Trump doesn't like what he hears from Sessions on television, he'll go full Biff Tannen and do the whole time-traveling bit. So, Sessions simply refused to answer.
This is brand new. This is not normal.
The truth is that Sessions, Coats, Rogers and Rosenstein are refusing to talk about their conversations with Trump because they simply can't -- not without starting major dumpster fires surrounding the White House. They know where the figurative bodies are buried and they probably -- stupidly -- took loyalty oaths to Trump. There's no other way to explain their self-incriminating actions -- other than one that I'll mention at the end of this. Feel free to skip ahead to the end if you want.
And, like all of the GOP's trickery throughout the past couple of decades, the Trumpers are establishing a terrible precedent that, at some point, will surely backfire against them. To repeat: they live in the eternal now, and so they're willing to do whatever they have to do in order to get through the day. Blowback is irrelevant.
The societal downside is that it seems to be acceptable now to render impotent any congressional investigation the White House doesn't like. This greatly diminishes the legislative branch's oversight powers, while strengthening the executive branch's power to get away with, in this case, collusion with Russia to subvert our democratic institutions.
Let the record show who started this madness. It was Republicans doing it to other Republicans in the name of a president who will likely not finish his first term -- a president who will surely leave office in disgrace as the most corrupt and incompetent chief executive in the history of the republic. And Sessions, along with all of the others, are on record as either relentlessly fluffing this president or placing themselves in legal jeopardy by defending him using illegal means.
The only immediate explanation for such recklessness is kompromat.