By Robert A. Vella
In today’s supplemental coverage of politics, we’ll examine the travails of Attorney General William Barr and President Trump as they pursue their fascist agenda in tandem, illegal conduct by Trump’s racist senior policy advisor Stephen Miller, new developments in the Department of Homeland Security’s deployment of paramilitary forces to suppress racial injustice protests in Portland, the U.S. intelligence community’s timid testimony on election interference by foreign powers (particularly Russia), plus insightful editorials by impeachment witness Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman and CNN’s Peniel E. Joseph on the dangers of America descending into authoritarianism and even civil war.
The travails of Barr and Trump
In slightly more than 500 days in office, Barr has pivoted from establishment D.C. attorney—sworn to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States—into Trump’s family lawyer. The office of the attorney general is one of the oldest in our constitutional system, and the department is pledged “to ensure fair and impartial administration of justice for all Americans.” But Barr, instead, displays a tendency to use all the department’s levers—and with a $32 billion budget there are a lot of them—not to protect “all Americans” but to protect the president, personally and politically.
Barr’s testimony demonstrated a singular blend of real pugnacity and feigned world-weariness as he defended his 18 months in office. Barr has tried to muzzle Trump’s critics, protect his friends, hide information from Congress and investigate those who investigated the president. He has also—much like Cohn and Cohen—worked as a PR agent, spinning negative information in Trump’s favor, and even using federal agents to violently clear a path through protesters before a presidential photo op.
Above all, he has followed his boss’s lead in lying incessantly about every major scandal afflicting Trump, from Russia to Ukraine, and now about the current racial justice protests. Barr has is even begun lying preemptively about the coming election, claiming that the widespread use of mail-in ballots could lead to fraud. He continued also with a barrage of falsehoods large and small at this week’s House Judiciary Committee hearing, ranging from doubling down on his commitment to alternative facts about the Russia investigation to his insistence that no tear gas was used on protesters outside the White House, when the evidence is clear that it was.
It is tempting to think that everything will be set to rights when (or if) Barr leaves his post. But he is not a one-man show. He found and exploited structural and internal cultural weaknesses in the department that had been growing for years.
What that means is that the Department of Justice is going to have to come to a larger reckoning at some point, instituting or welcoming stronger safeguards against manipulation and misuse and shoring up ethical standards. It is going to have to find a way to stand up to all presidents who would intrude upon its independence, not just those named Trump. And as part of that, Congress also needs to figure out a way to conduct more effective oversight of the department.
A watchdog group alleges that President Trump’s senior policy adviser Stephen Miller violated federal law when he made comments on Friday about presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.
The complaint from Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) to the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) calls for an investigation into Miller’s comments criticizing Biden on Fox News.
“This administration continues to use its official powers improperly to assist the president’s re-election and to chip away at the checks and balances that preserve our democracy,” CREW Executive Director Noah Bookbinder said in a statement.
“It is well past time for those like Stephen Miller, who show an open disdain for ethics laws like the Hatch Act and who illegally use official resources to promote the president’s re-election bid, to be held accountable for their actions,” he added.
The Hill has reached out to the White House for comment.
The Hatch Act bars federal employees from certain partisan political activity that could influence an election while using their official titles. Those found to have violated it can be fined as much as $1,000 and face disciplinary action such as suspension or termination.
A senior Department of Homeland Security official whose office compiled “intelligence reports” about journalists and protesters in Portland, Ore., has been removed from his job, according to three people familiar with the matter.
Brian Murphy, the acting undersecretary for intelligence and analysis, was reassigned to a new position elsewhere in the department, the people said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss a personnel matter.
Acting homeland security secretary Chad Wolf made the decision on Friday, one person said.
US intelligence officials on Friday discounted the possibility of foreign countries mass producing fake ballots to interfere in the November elections, contradicting President Donald Trump’s continued insistence that mail-in voting poses a significant threat to election security.
The closed-door House briefing was led by the US intelligence community’s top election official, Bill Evanina, and senior intelligence officials who specialize in election security. Officials dismissed the possibility of foreign powers being able to interfere on a mass scale to produce and send fake ballots to voters and election authorities, a source said.
For months, those officials have routinely warned that the most serious foreign threats are hacking of election and campaign infrastructure, along with disinformation campaigns, largely from China, Russia and Iran. The issue of fake ballots is one that they don’t raise, according to multiple sources familiar with the ongoing briefings.
Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman stood by his decision to act as a key witness in President Donald Trump’s impeachment inquiry, vowing in a fiery Washington Post op-ed to reform a government he slammed as “reminiscent of the authoritarian regime my family fled.”
“At no point in my career or life have I felt our nation’s values under greater threat and in more peril than at this moment,” wrote Vindman, whose family fled to the US from the Soviet Union when he was a child.
“Our citizens are being subjected to the same kinds of attacks tyrants launch against their critics and political opponents,” he continued later, adding, “There is another way.”
In the op-ed that published Saturday upon retiring from the US Army after more than 21 years of military service, Vindman — “now a civilian” — recounted how he did not expect the course of events that stemmed from his decision to report concerns about Trump’s July 25, 2019, phone call with the Ukrainian President to other officials on the National Security Council. Vindman’s testimony in the impeachment inquiry ultimately prompted Trump to fire him as the top Ukraine expert on the council in February and his decision to retire from the Army.
Americans are living through truly historic times: the Covid-19 pandemic, protests catalyzed by the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, the national embrace of Black Lives Matter 2.0, and the specter of black-clad federal law enforcement officers engaging in pitched battles against peaceful mothers purposefully dressed in white, all of which can be refracted through America’s original sin of racial slavery.
Americans are living in an era when efforts to forge a new national identity — what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. characterized as a “beloved community” free of racial injustice — are directly confronting deeply entrenched national myths rooted in white supremacy. We are in the midst of what amounts to America’s Third Reconstruction.
In the wake of the Civil War, the architects of Reconstruction (1865-1877) made a valiant attempt to create a new interracial democracy. It faltered in the face of brutal violence, legal decisions that assaulted Black citizenship, and a political system that reinforced racial divisions thought to have been eradicated after the war. In the years that followed, segregationists erected Confederate monuments, massacred Black towns, and imposed a version of American history rooted in vicious racist myths that became part of our national culture.
America’s Second Reconstruction, the civil rights movement’s heroic period in the 1950s and 1960s, attempted to combat the symbols and substance of white supremacy and anti-Black racism, but its mission — despite watershed legal and legislative victories like Brown v. Board of Education and the Civil Rights, Voting Rights and Fair Housing Acts — remains incomplete.
America’s Third Reconstruction began with the soaring promise of Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential election and the victory of a campaign that millions took to be a definitive symbol of historic racial progress.
Dreams that a Black president could prove transformative to national race relations proved short-lived, and the emerging Black Lives Matter movement during Obama’s second term exposed the limited impact of a Black First Family on entrenched systems of oppression.
The 2016 election of Donald J. Trump revealed the depth and breadth of racial resentment and fear among those who correctly interpreted the phrase “Make America Great Again” as a call for a restoration of white supremacy: the “Redeemer South” of Reconstruction, devoted to the removal of gains made by African Americans, updated for a digital age.