Does the US Postal Service qualify as an intelligence agency? If you work for the US Postal Inspection Service, it seems you might just in fact be a member of the intelligence community. That means that you have to fill out what’s called an SF-86 Security Clearance form. Abigail Spanberger is a former CIA operations officer who previously worked for the US Postal Inspection Service. She’s running on the Democratic ticket for Congress in Virginia and her unredacted SF-86 apparently ended up in the hands of the Congressional Leadership Fund, which is Paul Ryan territory.

Evil acts of espionage were to blame if you believe other Democrat candidates with backgrounds in intel or the military like retired Lieutenant Colonel Amy McGrath who’s gunning for a seat in Kentucky. Here’s Colonel McGrath dressing down some anonymous, theoretically-GOP, n’er-do-well, good-fer-nuthin’ leaker:

If this was deliberately leaked, it’s a despicable act by a political party that loves to tout its national security credentials, but then goes after those who worked to provide it.

Who cares about Bruce Ohr or Glenn Simpson when you have Post Office security clearances ending up in the hands of GOP PAC’s?! This must be collusion! Let’s start impeachment proceedings against whoever is responsible for this!

Maybe not quite so fast. A day or so later, the USPS fessed up to making a clerical error – albeit an important error that sheds light on how government agencies, the Post Office included, have detailed and elaborate protocols on how to respond to FOIA requests for details on a candidate. Something that is standard practice in politics and has been for some time. It appears that someone screwed up in what information they released to America Rising. What seemed to have happened is an unredacted SF-86 with all of Spanberger’s sensitive personal details was mistakenly released to America Rising, who passed it on to the Congressional Leadership Fund.

America Rising is a conservative PAC that provides opposition research on Democratic candidates. A Red Fusion GPS if you wish, although Fusion GPS’s true colors are closer to green, with shades of blue and even a little red when necessary.

The Colonel from Kentucky is not impressed. And in Virginia, Spanberger is insisting that foul play was involved – despite USPS spokesperson Dave Partenheimer insisting that it was “because of human error.” Lawsuits are being launched and Spanberger, McGrath and others are doing their best to fan the flames of their own outrage in order to gain an edge. For example, in Virginia’s 7th district where Spanberger is up against David Brat – whose shock primary win over David Cantor back in 2014 heralded the voter rebellion in both parties that was to come in 2016.

So yes, a botched SF-86 in a FOIA request by a PAC clearly requires shock and awe tactics from a retired Colonel and a former spy. It just feels a touch manufactured, if you’ll forgive me. But hey, it might work and in a mid-term election that’s all about setting the groundwork for impeachment proceedings against a sitting president, anything that paints GOP/conservative PAC’s as scheming and underhanded is worth a shot.

The Judiciary was in the Constitution. But not the Department of Justice which was created in 1870 as part of the federal Executive Branch. But that doesn’t matter according to Harvard Law Professor Jack Goldsmith. Back in January he wrote this in Lawfare:

The most important guarantees of DOJ/FBI come not from the Constitution or statutes, but from norms and practices that since Watergate have emerged within the Executive branch.

Every presidency since Watergate has embraced policies for preserving DOJ and FBI independence from the President in certain law enforcement and intelligence matters.

In other words, make way for rules, protocols, regulations, and policies. Because of Watergate, you must get the hell out of the way and make room for Administrative State policy. As part of this broad perspective, Goldsmith attacks the Unitary Executive view and insists that the Executive should function like a mini-me of the Constitution: with competing factions divided against each other so that ambtion counteracts ambition within the Executive itself.

And the Executive is indeed showing some divisions, mostly between President Trump and AG Sessions, who responded to yet another Trump interview that sharply criticized Sessions with the AG responding with these words:

I took control of the Department of Justice the day I was sworn in, which is why we have had unprecedented success at effectuating the President’s agenda. While I am the Attorney General, the actions of the Justice Department will not be improperly influenced by political considerations. I demand the highest standards, and where they are not met, I take action.

Note the careful wording at a key point in his pushback and widely praised defense of the DOJ: will not be improperly influenced by political considerations.

Because the DOJ is in fact often, if not always, influenced by political considerations. Sometimes improperly so. Especially Obama’s DOJ during the electoral campaign for the 2016 elections and even more especially during the transition period. Acting AG Sally Yates, for example, ignoring Trump’s executive order in early 2017. And perhaps being involved in Associate Deputy AG Ohr’s illegal contacts with Chrisopher Steele. AG Lynch’s tarmac meeting with Bill Clinton, is another example as well.

Look, it’s doubtful anyone from the other side of the aisle are supporting Sessions because they think he’s a noble warrior. They detest Sessions’ values and his law-and-order policies. But they love that he’s in a struggle with Trump. So perhaps what we have is a floating unitary executive theory:

When we’re in power we suipport a strong and unified executive. When they’re in power, we support a weak and divided executive.

And of course, in this kind of environment, President Trump firing AG Sessions would almost certainly be a bad political move. Especially before the November elections, as Senator Lindsey Graham was careful to add when speculating about his former colleague’s future in Trump’s cabinet.

Perhaps we should think of it this way: A president firing his AG should require something close to “high crimes and misdemeanors” in order to be acceptable. Sessions might not have had to recuse himself according to some views, but had he not, we have no idea how the FBI – or even the DOJ under Sessions – would have proceeded with the Russia investigations.

Because indeed there were and are those in both the FBI and DOJ who would love nothing more than impeachment proceedings to be launched against Trump.

So the question becomes: how do you deal with a highly politicized DOJ and FBI? There seem to be two main roads you can take:

  • You take the high road and try to focus on process and hope that works. Like Sessions seems to be trying to do. OR
  • You get as partisan and political as your opponents in the FBI and DOJ and start firing people. Like Trump wants to do.

A separation of powers conundrum within the Executive Branch of government. This is a mess any way you look at it.

If you’ve been following the evidence as parsed by writers like Washington Examiner’s Byron York, National Review’s Andrew McCarthy, Chuck Ross at the Daily Caller, John Solomon in The Hill, and Lee Smith of Tablet and Real Clear Investigations, you can imagine that the intel community may well have been a key part of  a movement to prevent Trump from being elected, then to turn the Electoral College against him, then embarrass and discredit the new administration, and finally to lay the grounds for impeachment.

If you believe that Russia and Trump colluded you feel frustrated that they haven’t done their job, not that they are rather setting dangerous precedents. This includes a possible plurality of voters, most/much of the media, and a clear majority of any subset of progressive and liberal elites you could name in academia, Hollywood, government and even in finance.

In other words, the Mueller probe and the previous FBI investigations are merely a couple of additional – if vital – chess pieces in the culture wars. They are not – in the view of those who follow them at least – ways to reach some sort of understanding of the truth of a complex reality. They are confirmations of bias. The way the Mueller investigation is covered differs enormously depending on the media outlet that’s doing the covering. There seems to be precious little middle ground that reports from say. Politico and the Washington Times share.

It’s boiled down to two competing conspiracy theories:

  1. Hillary was given a pass and Trump was hard-balled in an effort to keep him out of and then to try and remove him from the White House.
  2. Trump colluded and needs to be removed from office – often by any means possible, save assassination … unless we have to resort to that as well.

But there is a reality out there. There are facts and witnesses and perhaps one of the two theories is closer to the truth. The fatal problem is that bias is so evident on the part of the intel community and partisan baiting is such a favorite tactic of President Trump that the result after all this is over will be thus:

All investigations are now political and therefore partisan. There is no true guilty or innocent. There is only what side of the aisle, or wall, or any other issue like abortion, you happen to be on. That means that the Judiciary is political in a way that the Founding Fathers would not have foreseen. Look at District Judges rendering judgement on Trump’s policy decisions through the court’s stays on executive orders they don’t agree with. That can work the other way should the tables turn. And turn they always do.

So Trump’s baiting of John Brennan who has been such a partisan critic of the President that even his colleagues – while defending his right to maintain his security clearance (even though it’s a privilege and not a right, unlike free speech) – have said he’s gone over the top, is a logical move on the chessboard of cultural warfare.

Should Brennan sue, Trump would use the legal process to discredit the ex Head of the CIA. Fighting witch hunts with show trials, ones that Brennan likely deserves. But America does not.

 

You know, I could say a few things about Bill Clinton – and yes some of them would even be about the peace and prospertiy that he had at least some role in creating for America – but right now, I’ll just say this:

Hillary and Bill and Trump are right. So are the Obamas, of course.

Aretha Franklin is gone. People grew up whose lives changed as they listened to her music. Whose lives were changed by her music. They all will be mourning her passing. She helped change the world. So when Bill Clinton tweets:

Like people all around the world, Hillary and I are thinking about Aretha Franklin tonight & listening to her music that has been such an important part of our lives the last 50 years. We hope you’ll lift her up by listening and sharing her songs that have meant the most to you.

He’s right tonight and while his tweet is too perfectly constructed, it is certainly heartfelt. Clinton is a pretty competent saxophonist and any musician has to appreciate the powerful beauty of Aretha Franklin’s work.

President Trump’s comments before a Cabinet meeting were a little rambling and were about him as well as Aretha, but they were just as heartfelt. And his tweet was actuallly presidential:

The Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, is dead. She was a great woman, with a wonderful gift from God, her voice. She will be missed!

But just wait. Here’s Hillary’s tweet:

Mourning the loss today of @Aretha Franklin who shared her spirit and talent with the world. She deserves not only our RESPECT but also our lasting gratitude for opening our eyes, ears and hearts. Rest in eternal peace, my friend.

You can feel it coming, can’t you? Right now tweets are being put together that will savage the President and praise MeToo and lament that Trump wasn’t MeToo’ed during the campaign. Why did they have to wait so long to publish the Harvey Weinstein story?? They will yell. And Aretha’s ghost will be raised in order to attack old white men – like a Shakespearean tragedy on amphetamines.

The Obama’s avoided this trap with their elegant and sweeping tribute:

Through her compositions and unmatched musicianship, Aretha helped define the American experience. In her voice, we could feel our history, all of it and in every shade — our power and our pain, our darkness and our light, our quest for redemption and our hard-won respect

But others won’t be so balanced, one fears.

This is not a comment on Aretha Franklin’s personal political views. One need not wonder if she was a fan of President Trump. She probably wasn’t, despite their previous professional relationship which seems to to have been good.

Soul heals like few other things do. We all have our stories. At least people my age do, and I suspect a lot of younger people as well. But it’s inevitable that Aretha’s passing will be weaponized and used and that’s just the way things are. But for now we should be thankful not just for the gifts she shared with us, but for the agreement she brings amongst adversaries.

If only for one precious moment.

 

We know of Peter Strzok’s firing because his lawyer, Aitan Goelman, has been kicking up a fuss in the media since Monday. There certainly didn’t seem to be a press conference by the FBI announcing the decision on Friday when Deputy Director David Bowdich handed down the decision. Was there even a press release somewhere maybe late Friday night? Do people in general even realize that Bowdich – more tough law-enforcement cop than ambitious Ivy League prosecutor – was appointed the new Deputy Director back in April?

The fact that for most of us, the answers are “no …” seems to suit the FBI just fine. This was a dismissal that seems to have more to do with desperately trying to rescue the agency’s tarnished reputation, something Director Christopher Wray clearly views as a priority. A quiet dismissal on a Friday in August, like a stealth drone hoping to avoid detection.

Good luck with that in DC, Bowdich and Wray.

So, the news is out and now the question is: does it change how Congressional Committees might view Strzok or how he might himself provide testimony at some point in the future? What will Strzok do, in other words? Remember, he’s the guy no one in the top brass at the FBI (of which he was arguably a part of, or just down the hall from) or the DOJ wanted the public to find out too much about. A guy who was key to every major event in the Trump probe up until he was demoted.

Consider his infamous text messages, especially the notorious “we’ll stop it” one that was a response to his ex-lover former FBI attorney Lisa Page. As Byron York mentioned in a column at the Washington Examiner back in late June, why did it take so long for those text messages to get revealed?

Perhaps one could ask: had the DOJ’s Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s report on the FBI’s investigation of Hillary Clinton’s servers and emails not included that one notorious reply – which is how we found out about it – would we have ever found out about it? Is it any wonder that Devin Nunes is desperately trying to get President Trump himself to authorize the release of as much documentation as possible regarding the Mueller and FBI probes before the mid-term elections in November? What else is there, and how might it tie together various actors in what might be the real collusion and conspiracy here?

I suspect Nunes is right to ask President Trump to authorize the release of the documentation. So far, no luck. One wonders who is whispering in Trump’s ear that that would harm national security because it would expose FBI methods to the bad guys (including sultry Soviet – oops Russian – spies, of course) and must be avoided at all costs.

But unless we have clarity on the swirling mess of accusations and counter-accusations and competing conspiracies and possible collusions, we will drift in a fog of suggestion and innuendo where any narrative might be true. And the result is that the FBI’s reputation has indeed been damaged.

But you wouldn’t know that from a significant part of the media. They stick with the obstruction-of-justice narrative where any criticism of Mueller or FBI agents or the DOJ or anyone else in government is seen as an evil conspiracy to shut down the truth.

There are a few cracks in their united front. John Solomon’s persistent investigative reporting on the contradictions and conflicts in the DOJ, FBI, and Fusion GPS’s official stories in The Hill, for example. The Daily Beast has even admitted there was zero evidence of collusion, but always then returned to suggesting that now, finally, oh-boy-here’s-that-smoking-gun-we’ve-found-it- … almost!

Unfortunately, The Hill now has a story on how a GoFundMe campaign is approaching mid- six-figures to help Strzok defray legal costs and to cover lost income from his demotion and then firing. Does contributing to the GoFundMe campaign give you dibs on Strzok’s royalties from his upcoming book? No?

So what else is out there, and what will Strzok decide to tell, do, and pubish? It’s instructive to go back and read Byron York’s column from last June. Horowitz’s investigation found the notorious text message by discovering that Strzok’s phone had a database on it (some special chip perhaps) that was collecting text messages that the FBI itself didn’t even seem to know about. This was after running the phone through a series of tests suggested by the frickin’ Defense Department! Please tell me that Stzrok’s phone wasn’t a Huawei.

In other words, it took a multi-agency-supported probe of a single cell phone to extract some very damaging text messages that were it not for Horowitz’s single-minded focus, would have remained undiscovered. And the question of whether the DOJ knew of that damning text message and left it out of documentation they provided to Congress is still unanswered.

Horowitz is the guy who got Strzok fired, in other words.

So, what else haven’t they had the time or the budget or sufficient luck to find?

So maybe “high crimes and misdemeanors” should be seen in a more flexible way, according to some. Streiff, at Red State, is all for widening the reach of impeachment, to such an extent that it would become another nearly-everyday form of public accountability, as regular as a mid-term election. Here’s what he wrote a few days ago regarding West Virginia’s state legislature and it’s attempts to impeach their State Supreme Court of Appeals over out-of-control renovation costs at the high court’s chambers.

As impeachment is a political and not a judicial act, wearing white shoes after Labor Day is an impeachable offense if a majority of the House of Representatives says it is. Eric Holder and Susan Rice should have been impeached in the last administration. In the current one, Rod Rosenstein needs to be impeached. The House fixating on what the Senate might do misses the point. A viable threat of impeachment and the possibility of having to face a trial in the Senate would have a moderating influence on a lot of bad actors. And, even absent trial and conviction, the impeached official would have their ability to functioned sufficiently damaged that they would probably either resign or be fired. In the case of federal judges, we lose sight of the fact that they only “shall hold their offices during good behavior” That “good behavior” is something the House has the right to decide. A district court judge or appellate judge who is regularly reversed should be assumed to not be exhibiting “good behavior.” In fact, I think the nation would be well served if Congress took a page from some high pressure companies and every year rank-ordered judges from top to bottom and impeached the lowest ten percent.

Which would certainly change the balance of power between the Legislature and Congress. Whether at the state level or at the federal level. Is this all Harvard and Yale’s fault? Is this sort of contempt for the Judiciary the inevitable outcome of an isolated and elitist class of lawyers and judges who go to a select few universities and who wield incredible power as a result? Not that West Virginia’s judges fit that description. Chief Justice Margaret Lee Workman was apparently born to coal miner parents and did her law school in-state. Robin Davis got hers at West Virginia U. Former Chief Justice Allen Loughry was arrested and convicted of fraud presumably for out of control spending on renovations and who knows what else. He went to law school in Columbus, Ohio.

Does this mean that the judiciary needs to be dependent on the legislature? A no-longer co-equal branch of government?

Consider this theoretical. Should the Taney Supreme Court which authored Dredd Scott as a sort of desperate attempt at a quasi-political settlement of a fundamental legal issue in America, have all been impeached? Looking back and comparing what they did to spending too much on furniture in West Virginia, the answer to commentators like Streiff should be at least, a resounding yes.

Or think of it this way, Hobbe’s gloomy vision of society (forged during England’s Civil War) led to his belief in the necessity of a Leviathan, an unquestionable authority whose will would bring order, even if sometimes iniquity rather than true justice would be a likely outcome. Locke later dispelled some of that gloom and helped lay the foundation for America’s constitution, but in some ways the independence of the Judiciary is a remnant of Hobbe’s pessimism: a hermetically sealed corporation that society places enormous power in the hands of, in the hope of interpreting the laws that the legislature writes, and of enforcing their particular interpretation through the state’s monopoly on violence. Stare decisis indeed.

With that view, then what Streiff is suggesting is the crushing of the authority of the Judiciary, because of what seems to be a feeling that they are not only corrupt and partisan, but incompetent.

What would America look like with the threat of impeachment constantly hanging over the heads of elected officials and members of the Judiciary? If getting re-elected is what drives Congress to pass off the details of their legislative duties to the Administrative State, then Streiff may find that he likes little of what would result from a weakened judiciary. But burning things down is in season right now.

The Trump Economy and Buyer Psychology

© 2018 Steve Feinstein. All rights reserved.

 

There was one thing most voters agreed on before the 2016 presidential election and that was that Donald Trump was a good businessman and would likely do a good job handling the economy. After eight years of halting, lackluster economic growth under the heavy Government hand of President Obama, Trump’s supporters hoped that The Donald would be able to unshackle the economy and inject real growth back into the country’s business environs.

He has done so. The facts are irrefutable:

Stocks are markedly higher than at the end of Obama’s tenure. The Dow is over 26k now (mid-Aug 2018) compared to 19.8k when Obama left office and the more broadly-based S&P 500 is over 2800 now compared to 2270 when Obama left office.

Unemployment is down to 3.9%, the lowest in decades.

Job creation under Trump is robust, with over 3.5 million new jobs since Jan 2017, according to the BLS.

Economic growth The GDP rose at a 4.1% annual pace in Q2 2018, compared to a tepid 2.14% average GDP growth in the 2010-2016 recovery years under Obama.

The question is, of course, why, and how much is this president—or any president—really responsible for the economy’s performance, good or bad?

Rabid, resentful liberal partisans—still reeling in utter shock and disbelief over Hillary’s ignominious defeat, and eager to downplay any Trump success—are only too quick to point out that they feel Obama handed Trump an altogether better economic hand than the one President Bush gave to Obama, so President Trump had a “head start” over Obama. With the country’s banking system supposedly teetering on the brink of total collapse in the waning Bush years (according to liberal revisionists), it is Obama who deserves the credit for stabilizing a potentially calamitous situation and bringing order and sanity back to American economic markets. In liberal chronicles, any further growth in the ensuing Trump years is the result of Obama’s measured, steady hand on the financial tiller as he masterfully guided the fragile American economic boat around the rocky shoals, as it were, and avoided any additional damage.

Nice story. Blatantly untrue, however, despite the popular narrative put forth by the liberal mainstream media and repeated endlessly by accuracy-challenged Democratic politicians. The banking crisis was brought about largely by Democratic-sponsored, PC-driven lowered lending standards, which led to the creation of mortgage loans to borrowers patently unqualified to receive them. It was a financial time bomb waiting to go off. It finally did, and when it happened, the brilliant, heroic efforts of Sheila Baer (head of the FDIC under President Bush) ensured that not a single bank failed, maintaining confidence in the system and preventing an out-of-control run on the banks. In fact, President Bush put in place all the solutions to the crisis—including TARP—and the system was already recovering by time Obama took office several months later.

Much to the total chagrin of rabid, resentful conservative partisans, however, Obama does deserve some credit. His calm, reassuring demeanor did indeed deliver a settling effect to deeply worried world markets.  And while his “Stimulus” was little more than political showmanship of essentially no tangible positive economic value, it did demonstrate that the American administration was engaged and willing to take action.  Sometimes, appearances can be as meaningful and comforting as actual substance. The world breathed a sigh of relief: The President was hands-on. Things would get better.

And they did. Unfortunately, they didn’t get that much better. Once past the immediate danger of the Great Recession, the Obama recovery was the weakest economic recovery after a recession in over 50 years. The weak recovery was indeed Obama’s fault, as he took the opportunity presented by a desperate economic situation to impose his onerous, punishing ideological thumbprint on what he saw as the unfair aspects of our free-market system.

Under the banner of the undefinable but haughty-sounding phrase of “social justice,” Obama targeted businesses with a raft of thicket-like, punitive regulations, increased their taxes and generally made it far more difficult for private businesses—large and small—to make a substantial profit. Make no mistake, the unspoken, never-admitted-to but unquestioned target of his actions was private business, owned and run, in Obama’s mind, mostly by conservative Republicans, whose ill-gotten profits never filtered down to the “deserving”—his voting base. Obama would change that.

For example, he weaponized the EPA by empowering them to impose new emissions regulations so intentionally, unrealistically strict that targeted companies would be virtually forced out of business. Another action was his ACA Obamacare, which weighed down companies with virtually untenable financial requirements and new taxes for providing mandatory healthcare coverage for their employees. These are just two of the most visible of an uninterrupted 8-year string of anti-business actions on his part. The net result of Obama’s web of politically-motivated anti-business taxes and regulations was an incredibly weak economic recovery, one that averaged only about 2% annual GDP growth from 2010-2016.

The real culprit of Obama’s actions was, of course, the creation of tremendous uncertainty. Companies simply didn’t know what new punishment, regulation or tax awaited them around the bend. One anti-business action after another was flung at them by the Obama administration; companies were shell-shocked into inaction. They dared not make a risky move in terms of aggressive expansion or major capital investment for fear of yet another social justice landmine being tossed in their path.

Whether it’s an individual, the head of a household or the CEO of a billion-dollar company, when the outlook is uncertain and likely negative, it’s human nature to play things conservatively, close-to-the-vest and take no chances. People spend the bare minimum, just enough to get by. Families cut back: No new car or extravagant vacation this year. Not until things improve. Companies don’t expand and they don’t hire beyond what’s absolutely necessary. They go into cost-cutting survival mode, hoping to merely ride out the storm and keep their heads above water.

That is precisely the negative atmosphere that Trump has removed and that’s why things are so much better. Buyer psychology is buyer psychology, regardless of scale. “Buyers”—individual consumers, heads of households, hiring agents, corporate purchasing managers, expansion-minded CEOs—all feel immeasurably more confident and certain about the economic landscape now, under president Trump, than they did under Obama. People don’t feel that they’re going to be blindsided or have the figurative rug pulled out from underneath them. This administration has earned the confidence of the business community by rolling back punitive regulations and lowering taxes in a common-sense fashion and it shows in the employment gains across all demographic groups, the markets’ performance and the GDP growth, which is averaging above 3% and poised to go higher, something that eluded the anti-business Obama administration.

President Trump deserves direct, unequivocal credit for the current economic turnaround. His removal of unneeded, punishing regulations and his tax-cutting measures have sent an unmistakable signal to buyers of all stripes and sizes that the country’s business conditions really are better and it’s safe to come out now. President Trump understands “buyer psychology” the way few, if any, past presidents have. This is a prime example of presidential leadership, coming from a skilled, experienced businessperson and exercised to the good of all Americans.

 

There’s some back-channel quiet talks going on between America and the Taliban on allowing the radical Islamic army that has terrorized Afghanistan – both when they were in power in the late 90’s and first years of this century, and when they were out of power and launching attacks around the country, including in the capital Kabul. How should we react to this news?

  • Claim it’s an outrage and that the Taliban is merely looking for ways to undercut Ghani’s forces and topple the US-backed Afghan leader, so they can finally reconstitute their violent theocracy once the last American troops have fled?
  • Decide that 17 years of war with little stability, or God forbid, nation-building to show for it means it’s time to deal with the Taliban as a possible legitimate participant in the tribal labyrinths of Afghan politics? That is, bring them to the negotiating table under clear conditions?

Welcome to the New Age of Realism. If you believe people like William Ruger and Michael Desch, (a Koch Institute vp for research and a Notre Dame political science professor), who writing in The National Interest, state:

In the post–Cold War era, in contrast, many conservatives—flush with victory in the Cold War and besotted with predictions of the end of history—turned this rhetoric into reality and embraced an activist, militarized and highly assertive stance toward the rest of the world. In doing so, these conservatives have embraced a revolutionary mind-set besotted with dreams of socially engineering the world.

That is, the neocons have, since the early 90’s, ripped conservative foreign policy from it’s realist roots and embarked on a radical experiment in nation building. Afghanistan being the longest and bloodiest attempt to forge a stable and moderately democratic state out of a tribal and feudal value system.

So, is this back-channel talk realist? Is it an example of the new realism that is being thrust to the center of the world stage by President Trump’s antics? And was the outrage over Trump’s performance in Helsinki (an outrage I shared) a reaction of the media and the foreign policy community at a sea-change in how we deal with rival powers? Even if Trump is indeed being played by Putin – who was educated and trained by, and became a part of, Soviet intelligence during the latter years of the Cold War?

How would a realist foreign policy perspective deal with the possibility of bringing the Taliban to the negotiating table?

The Daily Beast has a fascinating piece on the process with special attention to two key players: former diplomat Robin Raphel, and former US Army Colonel and Afghan vet Chris Kolenda. Through months of back and forth negotiations, usually in Doha, they managed to help set up a series of moves – brief ceasefires and promises of some flexibility from Taliban leaders – that seems to have support from the Pentagon and at least some members of Trump’s administration. But the devil is truly in the details, and trust is as sparse a commodity in Afghanistan as a monsoon rain in Kabul.

It seems that it would be very easy to end up with a disastrous deal that would essentially return Afghanistan to the summer of 2001. Consider this from the article by Spencer Ackerman:

But while the two statements seemed to represent momentum for peace, they pointed to a diplomatic logjam. The Taliban reject Ghani’s government as a puppet and prefer to deal with its American patron. Ghani, with vocal American backing, positioned himself as the central figure. A bilateral U.S.-Taliban negotiation could undermine a government Washington has spent 17 years backing as the legitimate voice of Afghanistan. “There was a standoff,” Raphel said.

Within the Trump administration, there was also strong skepticism that the Taliban could deliver on the promises they heard via Kolenda and Raphel. For years, U.S. officials have held that the Taliban are a decentralized umbrella group of factions, rather than a united force. The impact of that conventional wisdom is to render diplomacy pointless, since it was unknown if Taliban interlocutors actually spoke for anyone else. A procession of military officers, for the better part of a decade, have preached fracturing the Taliban through “reconciliation” efforts, despite their dismal track record.

In other words, aside from the fact that one can hardly trust the Taliban to want to deliver on their offers to be part of some sort of peace process, the question has always been whether they could even do such a thing. The brief ceasefire about a month ago was apparent proof of a more centralized Taliban leadership. They hope. Until the next truck bomb kills dozens in Kabul. And then there’s the question of what kind of authority would Ghani have absent US support? Would he end up handcuffed in front of a Taliban Flag with a terrorist ready to slice his throat for the cameras? Or is that a savage ISIS tactic which the oh-so moderate Taliban would never indulge in?

What if some sort of peace accord was signed, US troops left over a period of a few months, and the Taliban then resumed control of the country? What if a realist foreign policy response would be to say, so what? Afghanistan wants to be a theocracy, or a feudal, tribal society. We wasted billions of dollars and thousands of lives and tens of thousands of injured men and women. It didn’t work. It never will. Here’s Ruger and Desch again:

That social engineering, whether at home or abroad, is a difficult and fraught undertaking, often derailed by unintended consequences, and so should only be undertaken when markets and voluntary efforts fail or are overwhelmed by natural or man-made disasters. That the more we do for others, the less they will do for themselves. In short, the conservative watch words are humility and prudence.

So perhaps a realist foreign policy in Afghanistan would consider peace talks and a peace process involving the Taliban, the terrorists who sheltered Osama bin Laden. And if that peace process collapsed – after so many other dead ends in that Central Asian graveyard of ambition – then it would say we have reached an endpoint. This great game is over. Let Afghanistan be Afghanistan.

That would be nearly impossible for many in the foreign policy establishment to swallow. It couldn’t be any other way.

This is a problem. Freedom Caucus House Member Warren Davidson of Ohio, when prodded about the upcoming mid-terms, said this:

The Freedom Caucus is strong, and we’re going to keep getting stronger. The organization doesn’t exist to use tactics, the organization exists to effectively be the Republican wing of the Republican Party. I think that will continue to be the case if we’re not in the majority.

So, some Freedom Caucus members are willing to say that a GOP majority might not exist come the 2nd week of November. And that possibility, aside from all the Trump-centric speculation about possible mid-term results, means that a Freedom Caucus as part of a House minority GOP party would be a very different political animal than what is has been since 2010. Not nearly as much leverage from their block of disciplined conservative representatives, when Democrats hold the Speaker’s gavel.

And it’s an interesting question, but it’s not just what the Freedom Caucus does if the GOP loses the House. It’s what does the GOP, specifically the House GOP, does if they lose the House? Because there seem to be several possibilities:

  • Blame Trump and lean the Koch’s way?
  • Blame the Establishment (meaning most of GOP members themselves) and lean Trump’s way?
  • Blame the media and hope Trump leans their way?
  • Wait to see what Trump says and then duck?

There’s been a sub-plot lately about how President Trump has been batting over 300 in the GOP primaries, aside from the strike-out in Alabama of course, (or should that have been an equestrian metaphor?). But the primaries are about the base, and elections are about independents and especially women voters.

It’s tricky not to fall into ridiculous labelling that does not capture the diversity of over one-half of voters in America, so college-educated suburban women might not be the key to the GOP holding onto the House. And it’s a regional and district-by-district thing as well. But it’s hard to argue that this is a demographic that the President is not offending and alienating.

So how does an almost entirely male Freedom Caucus (Arizona’s Debbie Lesko notwithstanding) appeal to college-educated suburban women and help ensure the GOP retains the House?

Talk about the economy. Talk about jobs. Talk about school vouchers. Talk about local issues. And avoid talking directly about gender diversity. Avoid the identity-politics circus that is waiting like a tattered lion in a cage, hoping to take their heads off. They will lose that battle every time, especially once the media amps it up. And that way the House GOP will find out what independent and women voters are looking for in this election. They may not like what voters tell them in November but trying to clap like a seal surrounded by clowns and still end up getting hooked off the stage is not the best way to stand your ground. Avoid the circus and talk about main street.

When is collusion impeachable? To answer that one has to ask what is collusion? Andrew McCarthy, a former DOJ prosecutor who has been following the Mueller probe with a series of incisive and illuminating articles, apparently got a little tongue-tied on television last week and didn’t distinguish clearly enough the difference between collusion and conspiracy, for which he apologized for with an article on the difference in National Review.

Collusion is defined by the Cambridge Dictionary as:

(An) agreement between people to act together secretly or illegally in order to deceive or cheat someone.

Here’s a legal definition from the online Law Dictionary:

A secret arrangement between two or more persons, whose interests are apparently conflicting, to make use of the forms and proceedings of law in order to defraud a third person, or to obtain that which justice would not give them, by deceiving a court or it officers.

Unfortunately, certainly in the legal sense, collusion seems to be an impeachable offense if the conflicting parties happen to be a presidential campaign and the intelligence services of a rival foreign power.

So, where do you draw the defining line in order to say: they crossed this line? They conspired with Russian intelligence to gain an advantage on their domestic political opponent. Let’s start with a few facts.

  • Christopher Steele is a former British spy. While being one of America’s closest allies is not the same as being a GRU hacker, Steele relied on second or third hand accounts by Russian sources of the allegations about then-Candidate Trump.
  • The FBI and the DOJ withheld key information from the FISA court regarding the warrant to spy on Carter Page.
  • Fusion GPS not only worked with Steele, it also worked with Russian clients to lobby against the Magnitsky Act which imposes sanctions on Russian figures linked to the Kremlin in response to the murder of a Russian whistleblower (Magnitsky) on a 9-figure tax fraud reportedly committed by Putin’s regime. And were paid in part by Hillary’s campaign and the DNC possibly.
  • Natalia Veselnitskaya of the Trump Tower meeting was also lobbying against the Magnitsky Act.
  • Hillary Clinton may have been part of a pay to play scheme where the Secretary of State may have eased the way for a uranium company transaction involving the Russians with her husband Bill Clinton gaining a $500,000 gig speaking in Moscow, and the Clinton Foundation gaining donations as well. A case for quid pro quo certainly seems plausible.
  • Donald Trump Jr. and likely Donald Trump himself were eager and glad to get dirt on Hillary from a Russian source.

So as Paul Manafort has his lucrative and shady business dealings as a lobbyist dragged into the spotlight in court, one has to ask, where should the impeachment guns be pointing? Everywhere? And if that’s your answer, your drain-the-swamp-with-impeachments-galore tactic risks trivializing the power of impeachment. Doesn’t it?

Maybe not. It seems to me that impeachment should be handled cautiously. Unlike Kenneth Starr’s case with Bill Clinton which was also a witch-hunt, regardless of what you think of Slick Willy as family man. But it may be that by the time all the investigations are finally over, both sides of the aisle and especially their base supporters will be clamoring for impeachments of figures on the opposite side. What will impeachment mean then? What will trust in government mean?

Nixon’s impeachment lowered trust and changed America. But America was already changing and the cultural divides that brought Nixon to power and helped feed his paranoia are back in play in 2018 and we may be headed towards another impeachment. It’s just hard to say exactly who will end up impeached in the end. And it’s even harder to say what kind of backlash this will have in the slightly longer run.

And we have some midterm elections to get through in slightly less than 100 days. Which will be a real challenge for Mueller’s team. When do they release their report, and according to what ethical guidelines? Read Byron York’s piece in the Washington Examiner where he compares Kenneth Starr’s mistakes to the choices Mueller (who is obviously keenly aware of his fellow prosecutor’s role in Clinton’s impeachment trial) will have to make between now and the midterm elections. In fact, likely between now and Labor Day.

And Mueller will have to do it with factions on both sides of the House restless for impeachment. Good luck with that Bob.