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Trump’s State of the Union Expected to Depart From Vague Epithets About ‘Radical Leftists’

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Photo illustration by Spencer Means

WASHINGTON, February 5, 2019 — When President Donald Trump arrives in the chamber of the House of Representatives to deliver his second State of the Union address Tuesday, the bipartisan-minded speech he is expected to deliver will be a dramatic departure from the apocalyptic rhetoric he frequently uses to describe his political enemies.

In a briefing with reporters last week, White House aides attempted to cast his annual message to Congress as an olive branch. In one excerpt of the speech, which is entitled“Choosing Greatness,” Trump is expected to call on Congress to “break decades of political stalemate, we can bridge old divisions, heal old wounds, build new coalitions, forge new solutions, and unlock the extraordinary process of America’s future.”

Trump’s turn to bipartisanship may only be a momentary break in character. Since the midterm elections, the president has consistently described those opposed to him interms both vague and extreme.

Midterm election rhetoric laced with concerns about the ‘radical left’

During the run-up to the 2018 midterm elections, applause lines warning of “radical Democrats” who“want to tear down our laws, tear down our institutions in pursuit of power, demolish our prosperity in the name of socialism and probably worse” were a staple of the president’s campaign stump speech. At least one tweet warned of “radical leftists” supporting Democratic candidates.

During the 35-day partial government shutdown he instigated over his proposed wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, Trump used a Pentagon event on missile defense to complain to an audience of military officers that the “radical Democrats” in the House majority had come from the “radical left.”

He also spoke of a “radical left” opposed to border security during his first prime-time Oval Office address, telling Americans: “The radical left can never control our borders.”

The president’s preferred phrase for his perceived enemies has filtered down to Congressional Republicans and conservative media, both of which are replete with examples of the use of terms like “left-wing,” “leftist,” “radical left,” and “radical Democrats.”

These can refer to anyone ranging from moderate Democrats opposed to the president’s border wall to so-called “Never Trump” conservatives who’ve remained stalwart in their opposition to a president they say is not one of them.

Trump’s epithets show the hallmarks of an ‘authoritarian statist,’ says consultant Rick Wilson

According to conservative strategist Rick Wilson, the use of such vague epithets by both thepresident and his supporters marks Trump as an “authoritarian statist” and canbe traced back to two inflection points involving Fox News architect Roger Ailes.

“One of the great tricks of authoritarians and statists is the amorphous other. There’s always a threat — the evolving threat of the other,” said Wilson, a veteran GOP ad maker and the author of “Everything Trump Touches Dies.”

Ailes, Wilson said, understood there was a mass of Democratic voters who were “not of the Ted Kennedy type,” meaning that they were not progressive on social issues.

Speaking of Republican strategy generally, he said, “We went after them on cultural issues and on describing an effete elite possessed of amazing power and pure evil trying to destroy our way of life.”

Wilson explained that such thinking became even preeminent in GOP politics in 2010 during the rise of the Tea Party, in part because the internet had lowered the cost of communicating to a targeted audience.

“If you poke the average guy in a focus group who’d easily use the term ‘cultural Marxism’ and ask ‘what does that mean, exactly?’ the dumbfounded stare is always the same,” he said. “They don’t know what it means, they just know that they hate it.”

Wilson noted that as a prominent anti-Trump Republican, he often is confronted by people who accuse him of being a “socialist, liberal, blah blah blah,” based solely on his opposition to President Trump.

“It always comes down to one thing — you don’t like Trump, therefore your politics are of the left.”

“That’s how they look at everything, though this one prism of ‘are you a socialist liberal or are you Trump supporter?’” “The only thing they can ever say is ‘you don’t like Trump, therefore you’re a leftist. It’s kind of shocking and frightening at the same time.”

Wilson said that none of the characteristics or beliefs shared by him or other anti-Trump Republicans could by any means be considered to be “of the left” – until now.

‘Stabbed in the back’ by moderate Republicans and mainstream conservatives

“[Trump is] great at playing the statist politics of these guys, who Republicans on paper believe are oppressive to human freedom,” Wilson continued. These are the same kinds of “games that Saddam [Hussein] played, and Kim [Jong-un] plays, and [Vladimir] Putin plays.”

Wilson theorizes that Trump’s praise of Putin as an exemplar of “strong leadership” stems from apolitical impulse akin to the “stabbed-in-the-back” myth popularized in Weimar Germany. In the current iteration, Wilson says, mainstream conservatives and moderates Republican stand-in for German Jews.

Charlie Sykes, editor of “The Bulwark” and author of “How The Right Lost Its Mind,” echoed many of Wilson’s sentiments about the zero-sum thinking common with Trump and his supporters. The constant demonization of a hard-to-define enemy is good politics for the president.

“In a lot of ways, this is not surprising for Trump because he’s much more effective running against someone and running against something than running for something,” said Sykes, who hosted a conservative talk radio program until 2016.

“[Trump] needs a foil, so casting the Democrats as dangerous and radical is going to be the formula for his 2020 campaign — to convince his base and swing voters that no matter what his feelings will be, the Democrats are much scarier, that they are coming to catch you, that they hate you.”

Virtue signaling to the right on religious freedom

Sykes said much of Trump’s appeal is predicated on his supporters’ belief that the other sidewants to destroy the things they care about most, particularly regarding religious freedom.

“That’s been a very bright, powerful message to groups like evangelical Christians who have been convinced that religious liberty is on the line because Democrats will rollover their rights,” he said.

Trump and his political allies are purposefully creating an exaggerated, cartoonish image of a political enemy that hates both him and America itself, said Sykes. That way, he doesn’t have to run against a specific policy or a specific idea.

“Trump is trying to make it not about him so that it’s not being pro-Trump or anti-Trump, it’s being pro-American, pro-values, pro-Christian religious liberty,” Sykes said. He referred to Pennsylvania state representative Rick Saccone, who lost a special election to Conor Lamb, a Democrat who now represents the state’s 18thCongressional district. Saccone said that Democrats “hate Trump, hate America and hate God.”

Trump’s rhetoric parallels recent history in strongman states like Turkey, Hungary, Poland and the Philippines

While Sykes maintained that casting his political opposition as vague yet terrifying was in Trump’s own political self-interest, Michigan State Political Science Professor Dr. Erica Frantz warned that the use of such rhetoric parallels recent history in places like Turkey, Hungary, Poland, and the Philippines — countries that have seemingly retreated from the practice of western-style democracy in favor of a more populist authoritarianism.

“What Trump has done is not unique to the United States,” she said. “It’s happened in other parts of Europe and in the developing world as well.” She believes that the American political climate is entering a situation in which anytime anybody speaks out against the president, he and his allies immediately label them as unpatriotic or not loyal to the United States.

“You have very vague rhetoric,” she said. “The virtue of vagueness is that it doesn’t have to pinpoint you to any specific thing.”

“Any category that is vague, loose, and encompasses anybody they don’t like is useful. In this instance, the ‘enemy’ is ‘the left.’”

Is Trump’s political rhetoric paving the way for anti-democratic behaviors?

Frantz noted that such behaviors are effective because pointing to political opposition as an enemy can easily paves the way for anti-democratic behaviors.

“Because those who support the incumbent are fighting against an enemy, they’re going to be more likely to accept such activity,” she said, calling Trump’s talk of declaring a national emergency at the border “very troubling in these contexts.”

“Historically speaking, we’ve seen emergencies being used as opportunities for these individuals to clamp down,” she said, citing Turkey’s ongoing national emergency used by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as justification for the continued imprisonment of thousands of journalist, academics, and civil society activists.

Because the one thing that can hinder such authoritarian takeovers of an established democracy is resistance from the would-be authoritarian’s own party, elected Republicans’ failure to stand up to Trump could have lasting consequences, Frantz said – particularly if he is able to declare a national emergency on the border without much meaningful pushback or consequences.

Trump’s power within the Republican Party has been bolstered by his outsider status, she said. It’s “not usually not a good thing in established democracies when we see these outsiders suddenly swoop in and win office.”

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Andrew Feinberg covers the White House, Capitol Hill, and anything else you can think of for BeltwayBreakfast.com and BroadbandBreakfast.com. Andrew has reported on policy and politics in the nation's capital since 2007, and his writing has appeared in publications like The Hill, Politico, Communications Daily, Silicon Angle, and Washington Business Journal. He has also appeared on both daytime and prime radio and television news programs on NPR, Sirius-XM, CNN, MSNBC, ABC (Australia), Al Jazeera, NBC Digital, Voice of America, TV Rain (Russia) and CBS News. Andrew wishes he could say he lives in Washington, DC with his dog, but unfortunately, he lives in a no-dogs building in suburban Maryland.

"The Best People"

Trump Fires Secret Service Director, Names Career Official As Replacement

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WASHINGTON, April 8, 2019 — Less than 24 hours after he announced the firing of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, President Trump has fired the head of the agency charged with protecting him and his family.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders on Monday announced that Secret Service Director Randolph Alles would leave the agency “shortly” and be replaced by James M. Murray, a career official whose prior positions include service as the Special Agent in Charge at the agency’s Washington Field Office.

“United States Secret Service director Randolph “Tex” Alles has done a great job at the agency over the last two years, and the President is thankful for his over 40 years of service to the country,” Sanders said in a statement. Mr. Alles will be leaving shortly and President Trump has selected James M. Murray, a career member of the USSS, to take over as director beginning in May.”

Alles, who retired from the United States Marine Corps as a Major General, had been tapped by Trump to lead the Secret Service only four months after he’d been confirmed as Deputy Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection Service.

His ouster comes in the midst of what one administration official told CNN was a “near-systematic purge happening at the nation’s second-largest national security agency.”

According to author Ronald Kessler, Alles clashed with administration officials last year when he proposed withdrawing Secret Service protection from some of President Trump’s family members and advisors unless they’d received threats.

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The Russia Investigation

Trump Allies Say Democrats Could Get Mueller Report If They Weren’t Afraid Of Impeachment

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House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y.

WASHINGTON, April 8, 2019 – Current and former Trump administration officials say that Congressional Democrats have ample justification to obtain the report of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, but only if they launched a formal inquiry into whether to impeach President Trump.

And because Democrats are afraid to go down that road, say the current and former Trump officials, they’re stuck in an illegitimate quest for documents protected by executive privilege.

A judge would support the Democrats if they weren’t too chicken to talk about impeachment

In the wake of Wednesday’s House Judiciary Committee vote authorizing a subpoena for the entire report of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, together with underlying evidentiary materials, the president, White House officials and their supporters are reverting to their usual gloves-off approach to dealing with Democrats’ investigations.

Democrats are characterizing their efforts to obtain Mueller’s report as a normal function of Congressional oversight, but the administration’s view is that Democrats’ investigation — as currently constituted — is an illegitimate effort to obtain material they are not legally entitled to see outside of an impeachment investigation.

The one set of circumstances laid out under the precedent most relevant to today’s conditions was the release of materials from Watergate Special Prosecutor Leon Jaworski’s investigation as part of an impeachment investigation.

One senior administration official said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., is asking the Justice Department to break the law when he should trust that Attorney General Robert Barr will release what he legally can.

 “Chairman Nadler is demanding secret grand jury information and classified material that he knows is against the law to release,” said the official.  “He should stop playing politics and allow the Attorney General to complete his work.”

But another source close to the president said House Democrats could make a strong case for obtaining the materials they seek under the precedent set during Watergate. That’s only if it were not for Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler’s reluctance to launch a formal impeachment inquiry.

“[Nadler] is probably afraid to even think about impeachment, much less say it on the record,” the official said.

“He knows any judge will give Congress what it needs to conduct an impeachment inquiry, but he knows that if he does, we win. So he’s pretending what he’s doing is the same thing, but it’s illegitimate unless he bites the bullet and calls it impeachment.”

The Mueller Report might have been a role-reversal

After the reception of Attorney General William Barr’s four-page summary of the Mueller Report appeared to “clear” President Trump of wrongdoing, Trump appeared to be engaged in a role-reversal: He said he was willing for the public to see the report. 

But after apparent statements by attorneys in the special counsel’s office disputing the characterization of the Barry summary of the Mueller Report, the president has shifted to the argument that releasing the report would run afoul of both the law and Department of Justice policy, rules and regulations. 

Trump’s acceptance of Barr’s exercise of discretion and putative adherence to the letter of the law governing protection of grand jury materials is an uncharacteristic turn for Trump. He spent the first two years of his term encouraging House Republicans’ efforts to release documents concerning ongoing investigations, while belittling and insulting his first Attorney General — former Alabama Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions — for following Justice Department rules by recusing himself from investigating Trump’s 2016 campaign.

Prior to this turnabout, Trump had relished the idea of presenting himself as reasonable, transparent, and deferential to the longstanding norms governing the White House’s interactions with the Department of Justice. 

One-time White House Communications Director Scaramucci says Democrats are afraid

Former White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci also weighed in, telling BeltwayBreakfast that Nadler’s actions are hypocritical in light of his previous opposition to the release of Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr’s report on then-President Bill Clinton.

Democrats are “100 percent” afraid of raising impeachment for fear of triggering an outcome similar to that of what transpired during the 1998 midterm elections, in which voters rejected Congressional Republicans’ attempt to impeach then-President Clinton by declining to re-elect a number of GOP incumbents.

“They can’t go to impeach him because that’ll send his poll numbers through the roof and it’ll likely cause him to get reelected,” Scaramucci said.

“It’ll create a mass wave of voter participation in people who are supporting [Trump], so they can’t impeach him. What they’re really trying to do is they’re trying to harass him so that they can get their fundraising numbers up.”

Former Trump Deputy Campaign Manager David Bossie says Trump should seize control of the Mueller Report

But not everyone in Trump’s orbit is counting on Democrats’ fear of blowback to provide a rationale for denying Democrats the full Mueller report. Trump 2016 Deputy Campaign Manager David Bossie said that Trump should throw caution to the wind by directing the White House Counsel’s Office to assert control over the report’s release and scrub it of any material that would ordinarily be covered by executive privilege.

“I think the White House…needs to exert privilege claims over the report,” Bossie told BeltwayBreakfast. “Giving up the attorney-client privilege, the work-product privilege, the executive privilege and the deliberative privilege should be taken seriously, and just because the Democrats want something in is not a reason to have it in the report.” 

Bossie predicted that despite the Department of Justice’s “public relations” efforts to present the public with a process that is outside President Trump’s control, nothing resulting from the current process overseen by Attorney General Barr would satisfy Democrats because they are “incredibly dedicated to the President’s destruction and don’t care about process.”

“They don’t care about rules and they don’t care about precedent will do whatever it takes to try and destroy him,” he said. 

Democrats, he added are “not going to ever be satisfied” with any result short of impeaching the President, and will do whatever it takes to achieve that end “through any means necessary” and regardless of whether a formal impeachment proceeding is launched or not.

“Nancy Pelosi doesn’t want to call it [impeachment], but that’s what it is.”

Former Trump campaign aide Sam Nunberg says no reason to work with Democrats

One of Bossie’s colleague from the 2016 race, Trump campaign aide Sam Nunberg, said that from the President’s perspective, there’s no good reason to work with people who are trying to destroy him.

“They’re not going to cooperate on anything because it just won’t stop,” he said. 

“None of these inquiries are being done…in good faith, so what is the point of cooperating?” he asked before adding that nothing the White House did to respond to Democrats’ requests would ever be enough.D

Democrats defend their actions, deny interest in impeachment

One source close to Nadler wondered whether the President or his allies are attempting to goad Democrats into launching impeachment proceedings by refusing to comply with anything short of a formal impeachment inquiry.

Whether or not they are doing so is “their business,” said the source, who warned such maneuvers would not be successful because Nadler “would never do something because he’s goaded into it or anything else.”

Nadler, the source said, “has been very clear” about the need for “all the facts to be in” before he can apply “a very careful test in determining whether [he] would even move forward on impeachment.”

“There’s a lot of work that we need to get done before we’re even at a stage of being able to make that determination.

But one House Democrat who sits on both the Judiciary and Oversight Committees, Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., said that he and his colleagues have a responsibility to review Mueller’s evidence themselves and that their responsibility was far more wide-ranging than simply deciding whether or not to impeach a President.

I don’t think [impeachment] is a necessary predicate for our ability to obtain the Mueller report or any information that we consider relevant. We have a constitutional oversight responsibility that is far broader than just an impeachment investigation,” he said.

But one House Democrat who sits on both the Judiciary and Oversight Committees, Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., said that he and his colleagues have a responsibility to review Mueller’s evidence themselves and that their responsibility was far more wide-ranging than simply deciding whether or not to impeach the President.

I don’t think [impeachment] is a necessary predicate for our ability to obtain the Mueller report or any information that we consider relevant. We have a constitutional oversight responsibility that is far broader than just an impeachment investigation,” he said.

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The Russia Investigation

In A Post-Mueller World, Trump Turns To Revenge As Democrats Try To Press On

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Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at the Treasure Island Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada June 18, 2016. REUTERS/David Becker

WASHINGTON, March 26, 2019 — A day after Attorney General William Barr told Congress that Special Counsel Robert Mueller had found President Donald Trump to have neither “colluded” with Russia during the 2016 election nor obstructed the investigation into alleged collusion, President Trump and Republicans are out for revenge. Democrats are vowing to press on in their search for answers.

Initial reactions from the White House focused on Barr’s declaration that Mueller “did not find that the Trump campaign, or anyone associated with it, conspired or coordinated with the Russian government” during the 2016 election, and on his own finding that Trump’s conduct over the course of the investigation — including his decision to fire then-FBI Director
James Comey in May 2017 — did not fulfill the elements of the crime of obstruction of justice.

Although Barr noted in his letter to Congress that Mueller himself had stated that the report “does not exonerate” Trump, both the President and his advisors characterized Barr’s interpretation of Mueller’s report as leaving him completely exonerated.

While some observers characterized Barr’s letter was a chance for Trump to “reset” his presidency, it wasn’t 24 hours before Trump and his advisors began to hit back against those who, having conducted, supported, or reported on the investigation, had purportedly shown themselves to be enemies of the President.

Speaking to reporters outside the West Wing on Monday, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders set the tone for the day by casting an investigation that was conducted by a Republican administration’s Justice Department, led by lifelong Republican Robert Mueller, and overseen by Republican — and Trump appointee — Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, as a waste of money and a coup attempt by Democrats and the press.

“I think that it’s disgraceful that we had $25 million in taxpayer money to chase a witch hunt that shouldn’t have taken place in the first place. I think Democrats and the liberal media should be absolutely embarrassed by their behavior over the last few years, by their breathless reporting,” Sanders said.

“It’s not just that they reported and spread a slanderous and malicious lie, but that they hoped for the takedown of the President of the United States.”

Sanders later took to her official government Twitter account to circulate a New York Post image of a mock NCAA basketball tournament “bracket” entitled “Mueller Madness,” which encouraged readers to vote for who’d be crowned “the worst” of the 64 Trump critics drawn from not just the print and television news media, but also comedians, network sitcom producers, and late-night television hosts.

One of Sanders’ counterparts from Trump’s reelection campaign also went beyond generalized attacks on the media by circulating documents reminiscent of Richard Nixon’s so-called enemies list.

Network news producers who checked their email on Monday found a memorandum from Trump campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh and bearing the subject line: “Credibility of Certain Guests.”

The memorandum, which was first reported by Axios’s Jonathan Swan, advises producers against booking a number of current and former government officials who’ve criticized President Trump over his alleged ties to Russia and obsequious attitude towards Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Among those Murtaugh’s memo advises the networks to blacklist are the current chairmen of the House Judiciary Committee and Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Reps. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y. and Adam Schiff, D-Calif.

Other elected officials targeted by Murtaugh are Rep. Eric Swalwell, a California Democrat and member of the Intelligence Committee whose many TV appearances have given him a national following, and Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal, who Trump has repeatedly attacked over his Vietnam-era service record. Rounding out the target list are Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez and John Brennan, the former CIA director and Trump critic who the president retaliated against last year by ordering his security clearance to be revoked.

“Moving forward, we ask that you employ basic journalistic standards when booking such guests to appear anywhere in your universe of productions,” Murtaugh wrote before advising producers to ask themselves the “basic question” of whether any of those he’d named “warrant further appearances in our programming, given the outrageous and unsupported claims made in the past.”

But the Trump administration’s plans for revenge may not be limited to his perceived enemies in the press. During an interview with the PBS Newshour’s Judy Woodruff, Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway said she agreed with Trump attorney Rudolph Giuliani and other Trump allies, who’ve called for the FBI and the entire Justice Department needed to be investigated for what Giuliani and others have characterized as an attempted coup.

“I think their point is, the Justice Department, the FBI, the shenanigans that were happening when Comey and McCabe and Strzok and Page and Ohr and the rest of that lot were there ridiculing the Trump voters, smelly Wal-Mart shoppers and things like that, saying they needed a — quote — “insurance policy” to make sure he wouldn’t be the president,” Conway said, rattling off a list of FBI officials who’ve become a staple of right-wing conspiracy theories over the past few years.

“I think, in the interest of full accountability, transparency in our great democracy, the public has a right to know what folks were doing to try to subvert a newly democratically elected president,” she added.

The President himself joined in as well, telling reporters that the conduct of those who’d supported — or reported on — the Mueller investigation had been “evil” and “treasonous.”

“There are a lot of people out there that have done some very, very evil things, very bad things — I would say treasonous things — against our country,” Trump said Monday as he stood alongside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“We can never, ever let this happen to another President again,” he added.

While Trump and his allies appeared to plot their revenge, House Democrats vowed to obtain Mueller’s full report and press on with their investigations, no matter what the President might say.

“We can’t worry about what he’s going to say. We have to worry about the American people and about vindicating the rule of law in America,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., who serves on both the House Judiciary and Oversight Committees.

Raskin stressed that Democrats are not talking about impeachment, only about getting to the facts, adding that the American people do not want Democrats to simply fold up their tents and go home based on the assertions made by Attorney General Barr, who he called an “unreliable narrator” on the subject of Mueller’s report.

“He already, long ago, committed himself on the point that the president’s cannot be found guilty of obstructing justice,” he said, referring to Barr’s authorship of a memorandum arguing that the President cannot obstruct justice when acting as the head of the executive branch.

White House officials contacted by BeltwayBreakfast rejected Raskin’s assertion that Barr is “the last person that question [obstruction] should have been left to” by noting that the attorney general’s letter specifically denied that his views on the president’s authority over the executive branch factored into his judgment that Trump had not committed obstruction of justice.

Nevertheless, Raskin compared Barr’s presentation of Mueller’s findings to a high school book report by a student who’d read the Cliff’s Notes on the book instead of the book itself. Raskin said that he and his House colleagues are determined to get a look at both the full report and the underlying evidence used to compile it.

“I have a million questions about brief précis that was advanced to us by the attorney general,” he said, adding that the “opaque, inscrutable, and slippery” language in Barr’s letter “[generates] dozens of questions about what exactly is being asserted by the Attorney General and what was actually found by the Special Counsel.”

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