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

Sarah Sanders: God “wanted Trump to be president”

Sanders

Press Secretary Sanders made this statement in an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network.  Michelle Boorstein has it covered at The Washington Post.  Here is a taste of her piece:

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders told a Christian television station Wednesday that God “wanted Donald Trump to become president” so he could support “a lot of the things that people of faith really care about.”

The early, abbreviated transcript provided by the conservative evangelical station CBN, the Christian Broadcasting Network, didn’t include specifics from Sanders. However, many in a devoted segment of Trump’s base have said they consider any drawbacks of his presidency worth it because the president regularly speaks about their priorities and picked two Supreme Court justices believed to oppose abortion. On Monday, Trump lauded proposed state-level legislation meant to bring more teaching of the Bible in public schools.

“Does it kind of blow your mind that someone like Donald Trump, who is sitting in the Oval Office, I know you can list the accomplishments, but at the same time just from a spiritual perspective there are a lot of Christians who believe that for such a time as this –” said David Brody of CBN, trailing off, according to the transcript.

Sanders replied: “I think God calls all of us to fill different roles at different times, and I think that he wanted Donald Trump to become president and that’s why he’s there. And I think he has done a tremendous job in supporting a lot of the things that people of faith really care about.”

Read the rest here.

I am willing to stand by Sanders on this claim, as long as she is open to the possibility that God made Trump president to expose the political idolatry of American evangelicals.

As for now, we see through a glass darkly.

Sarah Huckabee’s World

Sarah_Huckabee_Sanders_screenshot_2I was struck by this part of Michelle Boorstein’s Washington Post article “How Sarah Huckabee Sanders sees the world“:

As a girl, she watched her father, Southern Baptist pastor-turned-GOP-governor Mike Huckabee, sidelined when he entered politics. Arkansas Democrats literally nailed his office door shut.

In the years after, she saw conservative Christians — like her family, like most everyone she knew — ridiculed in American pop culture.

As a young woman, she moved to Washington for a government job, and noticed right away, she says, that people in the nation’s capital care more about your job than who you are. “Certainly not like where I’m from,” she says.

Sanders described this perpetual interloper experience from her other world: an elegant, well-appointed office at the White House, where reporters from places such as the New York Times and CNN metaphorically prostrate themselves at her door day in and out, and from where she can receive guidance on the phone every day from her father, long a political darling of conservative Christians, a TV celebrity now worth millions.

Despite my never-Trumpism, I find myself in sympathy with this.  I need to think more about why that is the case.

Read the entire piece here.  See our previous post on Jennifer Rubin’s take on Boorstein’s article.  I resonate with it as well.

Tweeting the History of Slavery at the University of Virginia

UVA

The Daily Progress has a nice piece on Kirt von Daacke, Professor of History at the University of Virginia and the university’s co-chairman of the President’s Commission on Slavery, who has been tweeting the results of his research. Check out his tweets @slaveryuva

Here is a taste:

Kirt von Daacke, an assistant dean of history and co-chairman of the President’s Commission on Slavery at the University, writes most of the tweets. The periodic intrusion into Twitter timelines helps to keep the immediacy of slavery alive at the university, von Daacke said, and helps users get a sense of how interconnected and violent the system was in Central Virginia.

“Real people lived and died to build and maintain the U, it’s not just abt Jefferson. #SlaveryU,” he posted in January.

“I started tweeting out information eight or nine months ago just as a way to share it, promote our existence and begin to think about the evidence,” von Daacke said. “As I did it, I was struck by how useful it was as a way to begin to see patterns in all the data.”

So he kept tweeting between classes and meetings, sometimes enlisting students or other researchers to write a few posts about their own research.

“Each individual tweet doesn’t do much, but if you are following, it starts to creep in just how many people were involved, how much money, how much violence and misery,” he said.

Read the rest here.

This project is certainly fitting in light of what happened on the Charlottesville campus in August, but it also serves a great model for using Twitter to share snippets of historical research.

 

 

Something for Sarah Huckabee Sanders to Think About

Sarah_Huckabee_Sanders_screenshot_2

Sarah Huckabee Sanders has replaced Sean Spicer as Donald Trump’s Press Secretary.  Sanders, the daughter of former Arkansas governor and presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, is an evangelical Christian.

Most American evangelicals are fond of C.S. Lewis.  Perhaps Sanders has read “The Chronicles of Narnia” series to her children or hopes that they will read it on their own some day.  I imagine that Sanders would embrace much of what Lewis has to say in his classic Mere Christianity.

With this in mind, I hope Sanders gets a chance to read Jennifer Rubin’s short Washington Post piece “The inevitable, fitting end to Spicer’s miserable tenure in the White House.”  Rubin’s “moral argument” is definitely worth considering, not only for Sanders, but for all of us.

Here is a taste:

There is a moral argument, I suppose, for men and women who chose to go into this administration to serve in Cabinet-level or sub-Cabinet positions out of a sense of obligation to the country. (The better argument is that working in this administration inevitably leads to enabling wrongdoing and horrible policy decisions, but I understand the rationale of those who disagree with me.) However, there is no moral argument for going directly into the president’s senior/political staff, which in this administration means defending indefensible conduct, denying reality and encouraging others to lie in defense of the administration. You cannot serve in a dishonorable White House honorably.

Spicer willingly embraced the effort to intimidate and silence the press. He accepted his role in trying to demolish objective reality. He relished the mission to discredit every independent source of information that might contradict the president. In doing so he, more than any predecessor, did harm to the First Amendment and to the White House. He lowered the standard set by administrations of both parties — spin, advocate and sidestep but never lie.

For young, ambitious men and women in Washington and elsewhere, Spicer is an object lesson. Ambition and yearning to be in the “know,” in the center of power (what C.S. Lewis called the “inner ring“), can lead one to cast aside principle, values and simple decency. Lewis described the impulse to be an insider:

And you will be drawn in, if you are drawn in, not by desire for gain or ease, but simply because at that moment, when the cup was so near your lips, you cannot bear to be thrust back again into the cold outer world. It would be so terrible to see the other man’s face—that genial, confidential, delightfully sophisticated face—turn suddenly cold and contemptuous, to know that you had been tried for the Inner Ring and rejected. And then, if you are drawn in, next week it will be something a little further from the rules, and next year something further still, but all in the jolliest, friendliest spirit. It may end in a crash, a scandal, and penal servitude; it may end in millions, a peerage and giving the prizes at your old school. But you will be a scoundrel. … Of all the passions, the passion for the Inner Ring is most skillful in making a man who is not yet a very bad man do very bad things.

Read the entire piece here.