The Mueller Report and the Trump Evangelicals

Mueller Report

I spent part of the weekend reading the Mueller Report. Nothing I have written below is new if you have been following the news coverage of the report or read it for yourself, but I thought I would use this space to jot down some of my notes as I processed it.

  • The Russians interfered in the 2016 presidential campaign against Hillary Clinton and in favor of Donald Trump.  In other words, it is possible that Donald Trump won in 2016 because of Russian help (Vol. 1:1).  Future historians should put an asterisk next to Trump’s victory in 2016.  We may never know how the Russians helped Trump, but they clearly interfered.
  • There are “numerous links” between the Russian interference in the U.S. election and the Trump presidential campaign (Vol 1:1).
  • The Trump campaign did not conspire or coordinate with the Russian government in its election interference activities (“collusion” is not a legal term), but it certainly came close.
  • The Russian Facebook campaign played to American fears.  These Russian-authored social media accounts and ads were promoted through retweets and responses to tweets by Sean Hannity, Roger Stone, Kellyanne Conway, Donald Trump Jr., Eric Trump, and Michael Flynn.  (Vol I: 26-27).  In other words, these people helped make the Russian interference effective.  (Of course none of these people knew they were retweeting and promoting the work of Russians).
  • The report presents the Trump campaign as chaotic and disorganized.  Several members of the campaign were working with Russia to help Trump get elected.  Some lied about it and got caught.  Others seemed to just get lucky that they did not do anything reaching the level of criminality.  Those who told the American people that there were no links between the Trump campaign and Russia included Paul Manafort, Donald Trump Jr., Kellyanne Conway, Mike Pence, and Sarah Huckabee Sanders, and Trump himself.  (Thanks to Lawfare Blog for identifying these names and providing links).
  • It seems like most Trump supporters stopped reading the report after Volume 1.
  • Mueller says up-front that he respected the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) and agreed not to indict a sitting President.  Yet he also says his office uncovered “potentially obstructive acts related to the Special Counsel’s investigation itself.” (Vol. 2:1)
  • Mueller reminds the readers that “a President does not have immunity after he leaves office.”  Why would he put that in the report if he did not think a legitimate case of obstruction could be made against Trump? (Vol 2:1). Perhaps the answer comes on p. 2:2: “if we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the President clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state.  Based on the facts and the applicable legal standards, however, we are unable to reach that judgment.  The evidence we obtained about the President’s actions and intent presents difficult issues that prevent us from conclusively determining that no criminal conduct occurred.  Accordingly, while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.” In other words, Mueller may have found evidence of a possible indictment for obstruction, but could not bring an indictment because of the OLC guidance.  As several scholars have shown, including historians Julian Zelizer and Yoni Appelbaum, this is Mueller’s way of suggesting that it is the job of Congress to handle such behavior.  (Also 2:156-182).
  • Volume 2:3-7 reads like Mueller’s case for impeachment:
    • Trump lied about contacts with Russia
    • Trump tried to intimidate former FBI Director James Comey to end the investigation into  Michael Flynn’s ties with the Russian government. According to Mueller, there is “substantial evidence” to support Comey’s side of this story.  Trump denied that he asked everyone in the room to leave so he could pressure Comey to drop the investigation.  He lied about this.
    • Trump tried to get Jeff Sessions and several other members of the federal government to bring an end to the ongoing Russia investigation.  How is this not obstruction?
    • Trump fired FBI director James Comey and tried to make it look like he was fired for incompetence unrelated to the Russia probe. We now know that Comey was indeed fired because Trump did not like the Russia probe, despite the fact that the FBI director insisted that Trump was not under investigation.
    • Trump tried to get White House attorney Don McGahn to remove Mueller as Special Counsel.  McGahn told Trump that such a request was “silly” and “not real.” He would not do it.  Trump then told McGahn to deny press reports confirming that the president ordered him to have the Special Counsel removed. (2:114)
    • Trump tried to get Corey Lewandowski to tell Attorney General Jeff Sessions to publicly declare that the Mueller investigation was “very unfair” to him.  Trump also wanted the probe limited to future election interference, rather than focus on the Russian election interference in 2016.  Lewandowski asked White House aid Rick Dearborn to get the message to Sessions.  Dearborn never delivered it.  This is one of many examples of Trump’s staff protecting an out-of-control and incompetent president motivated by his own narcissism, self-image, and personal vendettas.
    • Trump edited Donald Trump Jr.’s statement about a June 9, 2016 meeting at Trump Tower with a Russian lawyer who claimed to have dirt on Hillary Clinton to make it appear that the meeting was about adoption.  He and his personal lawyer then lied about the fact that he did this.
    • Trump pressured Jeff Sessions, on more than one occasion, to unrecuse himself from heading the Mueller investigation because he thought Sessions might fire Mueller.
    • After Flynn began cooperating with the Special Counsel, Trump tried to get Michael Flynn to give him a “heads up” about any “information that implicates the president”
    • Trump tried to manipulate Trump Organization executive Michael Cohen’s testimony before the Special Counsel. (2:138, 146)
  • On pages 2:9-12, Mueller lays out the five kinds of obstruction of justice under the heading “The Legal Framework of Obstruction of Justice.”  Wow!  It seems like Trump violated all five of these forms of obstruction.

The Bottom Line:

Donald Trump is a liar who clearly obstructed justice.  He has forced others to lie to the American people on his behalf.  Some, like Sarah Huckabee Sanders, a self-professed evangelical Christian, lied for the president on multiple occasions.  (That is a lot of slips of the tongue). Others refused to lie for him. The Mueller report reveals that Trump’s presidency lacks a moral center.  He should be impeached.

And what about the court evangelicals and all of those other white evangelicals who still support Trump?  They will double down in their support for the president.  He is God’s chosen instrument and his evangelical supporters will invoke biblical examples of how God’s anointed instruments will always suffer persecution.  They will claim that the Mueller Report is biased (except, of course, the parts that say there was no collusion).  They will continue to stoke the “witch hunt” metaphor.   They will continue to take their marching orders from Fox News and claim that the report proves that Trump did not commit a crime.  They will argue that the country should simply move forward as if nothing happened.  They will ignore the parts of the report that show Trump’s immorality and lies.  Court evangelicalism blinds one to the truth.  For example:

What document are these guys reading?  It can’t be the Mueller report.  🙂

But perhaps a few pro-Trump evangelicals will see the light and finally realize, like Billy Graham eventually did with Richard Nixon, that Trump is not worthy of their support

“Mark Burns, can we USE him anymore?”

Burns MarkTonight CNN released an audio file of the 2016 Donald Trump-Michael Cohen conversation (recorded by Cohen) in which the candidate and his lawyer discuss making a payment to cover-up an alleged Trump affair with Playboy playmate Karen McDougal.

In addition to the discussion of the McDougal payment, Trump and Cohen talk about two evangelical supporters of the presidential candidate: South Carolina pastor Mark Burns and Ohio pastor Darrell Scott.

Here is what I heard on the recording:

Trump:  Pastor Scott, what’s happening?  Can we use him any more?

Cohen: “Oh yeah…100 [percent?].  No, your friend Mark Burns.  We told him to stop.

Trump:  I don’t mean [him]. Mark Burns, can we use him any more?

Cohen: No.

First, it seems that Trump confuses Scott and Burns, the two most prominent African-American pro-Trump pastors.

Second, Cohen says that they can still “use” Scott, but not Burns.  This is quite telling. In fact, clergy allowing themselves to be used for political gain is exactly what I had in mind when I coined the term “court evangelical.”  There is a long history of evangelicals getting “used” by presidents and presidential candidates.  I write about them in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.

Third, we now know Michael Cohen was involved in managing Trump’s relationship with these evangelical advisers.

Fourth, Burns, a Trump surrogate who prayed at the Republican National Convention, was probably deemed no longer “useful” because he created a minor scandal by posting a picture of Hillary Clinton in blackface.  Then CNN learned that he lied about his resume.  Both of these stories broke in September 2016, the same month that Cohen recorded his conversation with Trump.

Fifth, as these posts indicate, Burns continued to be an informal Trump surrogate well after the election.  I guess the ban on Burns only lasted for a short time.  At some point Trump must have thought he could start “using” him again.

Unless of Course You are Stopped at the Border and Your Children are Confiscated…

Gotta love the court evangelicals!  😦

 

Some Court Evangelicals Break Ranks on Trump’s Immigration Policy

immigrants

The Trump administration is separating children from parents at the Mexican border.  Attorney General Jeff Sessions says that Romans 13 justifies the policy, but court evangelical Franklin Graham calls the policy “disgraceful.”  Another court evangelical, Samuel Rodriguez, also opposes the policy.  Learn more from this piece at CBN news.

I am now waiting for the following evangelical leaders to stand-up to Donald Trump’s immigration policy:

Robert Jeffress has said nothing.  Yet he has wished Trump a Happy Birthday and thanked him for being such a great POTUS:

Jerry Falwell Jr. has said nothing.  If he tweeted something today I can’t see it.  He blocked me a long time ago.

Paula White has said nothing.  But she is tweeting:

Eric Metaxas:  I don’t know what he is saying on this issue.  I am blocked.

Johnnie Moore:  He seems more focused on Trump’s meeting with North Korea”

Mark Burns is being a good court evangelical:

James Dobson, the champion of “family values” has an interesting tweet today:

Ronnie Floyd seems to be running a prayer sweepstakes:

Richard Land: Silent

Greg Laurie is focused on a big rally in Dallas and Trump’s meeting with the North Koreans:

Tony Perkins, another champion of family values, has said nothing about the fact that Trump is ripping families apart at the border. Do “family values” only apply to white families? Middle-class families?

But he does love Trump:

 

A Court Evangelical Backs Trump’s DACA Decision

It looks like Trump is doing away with the DACA program.

300 evangelical leaders support DACA and urged Trump to keep the program.  These include religious leaders associated with the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities, the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, the National Association of Evangelicals, the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, World Relief, and World Vision.

Court evangelical Pastor Mark Burns is not one of these evangelical leaders.  As Warren Throckmorton noted today, Burns has tweeted in support of Trump’s decision to end DACA.

Make America Great Again.

The Latest From the Court Evangelicals:

Here’s a late night update for those who are interested:

Pastor Mark Burns sounds more like Ben Franklin than Jesus as he spins his appearance this morning on AM Joy.

Jack Graham:

Robert Jeffress:

James McDonald wants us to remember that he is an ex-court evangelical. He resigned after Access Hollywood:

The modern day Dietrich Bonhoeffer tweets:

Ralph Reed is mixing-it up with a progressive journalist:

This Court Evangelical WILL NOT Resign

This comes from Mark Burns, one of the more outspoken court evangelicals and the pastor of Harvest Praise & Worship Center in South Carolina.  You may recall his prayer at the GOP Convention last summer.

A few thoughts about this rambling video attached to the tweet:

  • Trump names some court evangelicals: Michelle Bachman, Ronnie Floyd, James Dobson, Tim Clinton, Kenneth and Gloria Copeland, Jerry Falwell Jr. Janetzen Franklin, Jack Graham, Harry Jackson, Johnnie Moore, David Jeremiah, Robert Jeffress, Robert Morris, Tom Mullins, Ralph Reed, James Robison, Tony Suarez, Jay Strack, Paula White, Tom Winters, and Sealy Yates
  • He mentions that A.R. Bernard has resigned from the “faith initiative” and praises his Christian leadership.  He never addresses why Bernard resigned.
  • He addresses those who think he (Burns) should resign from the advisory council and says “If God has called me to be a spiritual ear…to the POTUS, if God has anointed me and called me…to walk in that assignment regardless of whether or not we agree with everything our President does…then how in the world can we resign if God has appointed us to do this.”  Not sure how to argue with this.
  • He adds: “For me this is not political.  I would never abandoned a church member of mine…. no matter how many times they don’t understand something….The only time I would abandon them is if they have renounced that Christ is the Messiah and they denounce that there is not God and they become a wolf in sheep’s clothing and they become what we need to separate ourselves from [and] they refuse to believe and receive that Jesus Christ is Lord. At that point there is no need for me to continue if in their mind they believe what I am saying is no longer going to help them.”  I will let you decide if Trump fits the bill here.  Think about the “wolf in sheep’s clothing” line.
  • He is “proud” that he has a “Daniel’s anointing.”  Such an anointing, he says, is given to those “called into government” to be an “ear to the King.”
  • He talks about the Gospel. But he fails to see that his association with Trump tarnishes the Gospel message and undermines his own witness to that Gospel.
  • He says that attacks on Trump are coming from the “pits of hell.”
  • He never denounces racism, white supremacy, or Trump’s message of moral equivalency.
  • Once again he mentions the phrase “unprecedented access.”
  • Reaffirms that Trump “loves God” and “loves Jesus Christ.”

Burns says he is making this video because he does not want to be misunderstood.  No misunderstanding here.  This is perfectly clear.

Where are the Court Evangelicals Today?

Where are the Court Evangelicals today?

Paula White: Silent

James Dobson: Silent

Mark Burns: Silent

Franklin Graham: Silent (He’s actually tweeting about air-traffic control today)

Robert Jeffress:  Silent.  He’s hanging out with Pence today:

James K.A. Smith gets it right:

The Court Evangelicals

File Photo: U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump shakes hands with Jerry Falwell Jr. at a campaign rally in Council Bluffs, Iowa

I have been getting a lot of positive feedback on my use of this phrase in an earlier post today on the evangelicals who seem to love Trump’s recent executive order on religious liberty.

Not all evangelicals who voted for Trump are what I am describing as “court evangelicals.”  I am going to use this phrase from now on to describe Trump’s inner circle of evangelicals who think it is a good idea for ministers to endorse candidates from the pulpit, have bowed a knee to the political power of the presidency, think Trump is a “baby Christian,” believe evangelicals have found their “dream president” in Trump, and regularly show up at the White House whenever Trump wants to say something about religion.  The court evangelicals sacrifice their prophetic voice to political influence.  The court evangelicals have put their faith in a political strongman who promises to alleviate their fears and protect them from the forces of secularization.

Trump Jeffress

As I wrote earlier today, the backlash to Trump’s recent executive order on religious liberty was fierce.  It fails to deliver on what Trump promised evangelicals on this front during the campaign.  But you won’t hear the court evangelicals complain.

I described some of these court evangelicals the other day.  The list includes:

Jerry Falwell Jr.

Paula White

James Dobson

Mark Burns

Ralph Reed

Robert Jeffress

Eric Metaxas

Franklin Graham

donald-trump-and-pastor-paula-white

 

The Prayer of Pastor Mark Burns

He prays for God to defeat the “liberal democrats.”

He states the GOP is the “conservative party under God.”

He prays that God will protect the GOP “against any attack that comes against us.”

And he prays it all “in Jesus name.”

Prosperity gospel preacher Mark Burns.  He is making a mockery of Christianity and a mockery of Trump’s GOP.