Many people are saying…
“What did the president know and when did he know it?”
When Howard Baker famously asked that question over 40 years ago, it was during a process that ultimately ended Nixon’s presidency. Today it is being asked about the farce that is the Trump administration, in which Breitbartian conspiracy theorist Michael Flynn was allowed to linger as the most powerful nation on earth’s national security adviser even though the administration had been informed weeks ago that Flynn was an untrustworthy, lying sack who was probably vulnerable to Russian blackmail. I repeat: This was the national security adviser.
The Flynn fiasco is but one exhibit in a seemingly endless gallery of corruption, lies, deception. blunders and incompetence that adorn Trump’s (occasional) occupation of the White House. But it may prove the most actionable one, the one most demanding of accountability and consequences.
NIxonian consequences? The most convincing scenario suggested by the timeline suggests Trump knew what Flynn told Russians in December, knew Flynn lied about it, and then lied about knowing about Flynn’s lies. In other words, the most likely answer to the question “What did the president know?” is all of it. And when did the president know it? Every step of the way.
But Trump may turn out to be unlike Nixon in one very crucial respect: When Baker asked that question in the summer of 1973, he asked it during hearings conducted by an investigative committee of the United States Senate. Congress took an interest in Nixon’s venality.
A couple of outliers notwithstanding, the current Republican Congress has shown far more enthusiasm for denying Trump’s venality than investigating it.
Trump is, as I like to say, mad as a hatter, and he has surrounded himself with authoritarian crackpots. The prospect that he will arrest journalists or send security forces to seize control of a media organization is alarmingly plausible, as is the prospect of Trump using the power at his disposal to crush private citizens who displease him.
The judiciary has thus far executed constitutional responsibilities and, for now, continues to function as viable branch of government. But the judiciary alone protecting the nation from Trump, well, as Andrew Jackson famously/infamously said, “John Marshall has made his decision. Now let him enforce it.”
The Republican Congress, meantime, has been perfectly content to abrogate its responsibilities because Trump promises to give rich people tax cuts and gut the already slack regulation of the nation’s most powerful and exploitative industries.
The Nevadan who is easily in the strongest position to rein in Trump is Republican Sen. Dean Heller, a career politician who, as we used to say in the trailer court, wouldn’t say shit if he had a mouthful
After Nevada’s senior senator voted to confirm Steven Mnuchin as Treasury Secretary – predictably, because he’s a Republican, but also bizarrely, as Dean Heller was effectively supporting the Foreclosure King over the objections of Dean Heller – the senator said: “We can either stare at the darkness of the past or we can focus our attention forward to the future where a strong economy and job creation are placed at the top of the Administration’s new pro-economic agenda.”
If only Heller might stare, or even turn away from his video game long enough to sneak a peek, at the darkness of the present and the future.
Whichever Republicans in Congress are awakening to the threat posed to the republic by Trump, Bannon, Sessions and Friends, Heller is assuredly not one of them. Like the judicial branch, the legislative branch is also burdened with keeping the executive branch in check. If and when Republicans in Congress ever re-assume those responsibilities, it’ll be despite Heller, not because of him, I bet.
And here’s another bet: If/when asked about the Flynn fiasco, instead of echoing Howard Baker and demanding to know what the president knew and when, the response will be “Heller’s office did not immediately respond.”