So the Michael Horowitz testimony was more or less a dud, but it was a dud for a particular reason, and it’s a reason that should worry us.
Congressional hearings are about policy and law. I used to try to watch them on C-SPAN when C-SPAN was a novelty, because I was a government geek and it seemed really cool to be able to see these guys in action, which you never used to be able to do. But even I couldn’t go much more than 10 or 15 minutes. Oh, look, there’s Ted Kennedy! He’s famous. Oh wait. He’s talking about insurance regulations. Hey, where are those Perry Mason reruns?
Congressional hearings, even “dramatic” ones, are designed to dwell on the mundane. Policy-making is mundane. They are not designed to clarify urgent moral truths. In fact, precisely because they are designed to illuminate mundane details, you might say they are designed to obscure moral truths.
The moral truth of our situation is obvious. The President of the United States is a gangster, a liar, a pimpernel, a gonef, a shyster, a sociopath. We know he cheated in 2016, because he did so in front of our eyes. Even if you want to get pedantic with me about “Mueller found this, didn’t find that,” there’s the simple fact that he had Michael Cohen pay off Stormy Daniels.
So we know he cheated then, and we know he’ll cheat again in a heartbeat. In fact, he’ll do worse than cheat. He’ll be sitting there taking whatever help he can get from Russia, China, wherever. And he’ll deny he’s doing it. And meanwhile, out of nowhere and based on nothing, he’ll accuse his Democratic opponent of cheating—of accepting foreign help from Ukraine, or Canada or Mexico or Turks & Caicos or wherever. Because, you know, the Turks & Caicos ambassador to Washington will say something anti-Trump at a party and it’ll get back to the White House and the next day it’ll be: “Corrupt ambassador very anti-TRUMP, working with Deep State and Democrats! Inbareassment to a great nation!”
The moral truth is Donald Trump is a mortal danger to democracy. I’ve heard Republicans say that the investigation into Trump’s campaign, the investigation that Horowitz has investigated twice now failing to produce the desired result either time for Dear Leader, is “without precedent in American history.” They say this gravely and solemnly, with a whiff of shock, as if it’s supposed to scandalize us that this investigation is without precedent.
You know why it’s without precedent, you shit-for-brains? Because we’ve never had a presidential campaign accept foreign help before. We’ve never had a candidate say openly and repeatedly that he wanted Russia—Russia!—to make public 30,000 of his opponents’ emails. Of course the investigation is without precedent. Donald Trump is without precedent.
So no moral truth emerges from Capitol Hill. What happens instead is a bunch of lawyers (for the most part) trying to score lawyer points. Not that there’s that much else anybody could do. The Democrats mostly just got Horowitz to confirm over and over that he found no political bias and that the investigations into Trump associates were justified. We did learn a couple of interesting things. Horowitz confirmed for the first time that he’s investigating Rudy Giuliani and his FBI contacts over those promises of his about something big coming in the closing days of the 2016 campaign. And Kamala Harris got Horowitz to sorta kinda maybe suggest that he’d investigate Bill Barr.
Republicans seized on the expected things, the violations of procedure, and frankly Horowitz was more accommodating to them than he was to the Democrats (which, as I wrote in my last column, his track record as IG suggested he would be). But they were kind of all over the place too. Lindsey Graham, in that rambling opening statement, got away from the procedural violations entirely and dwelled on alleged political bias—a point on which Horowitz went against Trump.
It was sickening to hear Graham getting enraged about FBI agents calling Trump an idiot. In 2015, Graham said Trump “is shallow, he is ill-prepared to be commander-in-chief, he doesn't know what he is talking about in terms of how our laws work, he says the worst things possible about immigrants and women, and he's a complete idiot when it comes to Mideast policy. So I think over time, common sense will prevail.”
Well, it sure didn’t. Trump sense prevailed. And now Graham is the most abject and self-abasing apologist of them all.
Something else happened today you should know about in case you missed it. Trump paid $2 million in a settlement obtained by the attorney general of the state of New York (yes, there is such a thing as an honest attorney general) as ordered last month by a New York judge. This was to close accounts on his phony foundation. Presumably, the eight selected charities are getting cash, not portraits of Trump, sports memorabilia, or other things on which the foundation spent its money.
With any other president, this alone would be an enormous scandal and probably an impeachment count. A phony charity? The President of the United States?
But in the universe into which Trump has deposited us, it’s not even going to make the cable news wheel. What will make cable, though, are the lies that will, Trump hopes, keep the story murky. Congressional hearings aren’t the venue where such lies are defeated. That can only be done at the ballot box, which Trump and the Republicans know, which is why they’re trying to rig it, too. No inspector general will save this country. The moral clarity that is required here will be up to us.