Most of my friends are liberal, which in the current era is to say progressive, which in the current moment is to say increasingly illiberal about a lot of things. A closed mind seems to many to be the epitome of virtue.
We butt heads regularly on Trump, which is to say in the current moment Russiagate versus its doppelganger the FBI probe. There’s no proof yet of either argument but I find much more actual evidence is present with respect to the latter. In turn, the arguments created when people connect the dots of actual evidence seem much stronger, and of more import, with respect to the FBI probe (and related matters) than it does with Russiagate.
My so-called liberal friends don’t much bother to look at the evidence on the emerging case about FBI misdeeds. I have my biases but since I consume mainstream news I can’t miss the pro-Russiagate arguments. And I will sometimes go out of my way to read what are purportedly serious attempts to make the anti-Trump case, just in order to see if I am missing anything substantive.
When I do that most of the time I still don’t find any real beef. Case in point: Jeffrey Toobin’s recent article in The New Yorker. His argument: the attempt to fire Mueller reveals that “the case for obstruction is clear”.
Lawyers often get a free pass to traffic in the counterintuitive because the law is not always logical. But even after I try to adjust for the fact that I am not an attorney and that I may not be able to follow the law’s counterintuitive nuances I honestly don’t find his argument persuasive in the least.
He starts by saying that most white collar crime turns on motivation and uses that to suggest that the search for motivation is the main issue in framing a case for obstruction.
Trump is held to have suggested to his lawyer several rationales for firing Mueller that don’t hold up. And from that Toobin gleans bad motivation.
- He accepts at face value that the Times report is true in the main AND true in the particulars. To say one finds the news report credible is one thing; to use a Times story to draw what appears to be a firm legal conclusion of guilt something else entirely.
- He argues that Trump advanced arguments about Mueller conflicts and that these are not sufficient to justify firing. From this he adduces “McGahn recognized the key fact—that Trump wanted to fire Mueller for the wrong reasons. Trump wanted to fire Mueller because his investigation was threatening to him.” How do we know that McGahn “recognized” that Trump wanted to fire Mueller for the “wrong reasons”? Moreover, even if McGahn was correct in that assessment what of it? Isn’t it at least as credible to think that Trump was using a private conversation with a White House attorney to test various ideas about a justification that would sell? That in itself hardly suggests he made the suggestions about conflict of interest nefariously.
- And let’s say Trump wanted rid of Mueller, and Comey too, because they were “threatening” to him. So what? Perhaps the president correctly viewed them as a threat, and as an illegitimate one. Indeed even if Trump is proven to be incorrect in his view that the inquiry was illegitimate if he believed that to be the case his motivation could not have been to obstruct justice but to see that it be done. And of course it is not at all a given that his opinion that the inquiry was tarnished from the start will be proven to be incorrect when the dust settles.
Almost all of the arguments against Trump if you vanish and go to the other side of the mirror. Which is why much depends on “the memo” and the energies it may set loose.
If the case against the FBI, Clinton and the Obama administration has the weight it is alleged to have then Trump would have had all the justification in the world for seeing events in motion as threatening, and in taking action to protect himself. It is possible that this explains the furious thrashing around on the Russiagate side at the moment. There is nothing new to report there, really, and so the level of angst about the FBI probe and the breathlessness of the reporting about obstruction seems to me to be revealing about—well, about motivation.