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Posts published in May 2020

Fantasy land


The essential objective of the Republican Party for the next five months is to rewrite the history of the last three and a half years. The strategy is to throw up so much flak that distorts or revises reality that by election day enough voters are so thoroughly confused or so supremely disgusted that they won’t vote, concluding American democracy is just not worth the bother.

The GOP strategy is driven from top by a cult figure who, as conservative columnist Max Boot wrote recently, doubles as the “unhinged conspiracy-monger in the White House.”

Americans have for a long time, and very strangely, been suspectable to conspiracy theories. But now the old, standard wacky notions – the moon landing was faked, extraterrestrials landed in Roswell, New Mexico in 1947, Elvis is still alive – have given way to conspiracy theory as politics.

“Classically, conspiracy theories are propagated by people on the margins – they’re almost a weapon of the powerless, for holding the powerful to account,” says Russell Muirhead, a political scientist at Dartmouth College who has studied this American fixation with the nutty. “But right now the new stuff is coming directly from the powerful, which is really quite extraordinary.”

Donald Trump’s obsession with conspiracies provides both insight into his lack of character, as well his re-election strategy. Given his criminally botched response to a deadly pandemic that left 100,000 American dead in barely two months, while tanking the economy, perhaps for years, the Conspirator-in-Chief can hardly run on his record. He must shift attention to keep his most committed supporters both entertained and distracted from reality.

Trump’s one-time chief strategist, Steve Bannon, who also once headed Breitbart News, a website cesspool of half-baked nonsense and rightwing propaganda, perfectly described the GOP strategy in 2018. “The Democrats don’t matter,” Bannon told the writer Michael Lewis. “The real opposition is the media. And the way to deal with them is to flood the zone with shit.”

And that is precisely what Trump has been doing while his willing enablers, including the timid souls Idaho voters dispatch to represent them in Washington, D.C., stand by mute amid the fetid garbage.

Trump, of course, rode to real political prominence peddling the fake news that Barack Obama was not an American citizen. Many of his supporters bought the “birther” nonsense, and some still do. They also bought that Mexico would pay for his wall and that China would pay for his tariffs. Initially they bought his claim that the COVID-19 virus was “a hoax,” but clearly some conspiracy theories get overtaken by events.

Now Trump is asking them to buy the hoax that voting by mail will lead to vast corruption of the electoral process, a convenient claim for a guy who lost the popular vote by 2.8 million votes in 2016 and will need a spectacularly outrageous conspiracy theory to justify his loss in November.

The man the Internet whit Dave Pell calls “the Cloroxymoron” has, of course, had to manufacture new conspiracies as the old ones run out of steam. There is “Obamagate,” a conspiracy so deep and impenetrable that the White House press secretary declined to respond to a question about just what it was. Then came the spectacularly obscene charge emitting from the presidential Twitter feed that former Republican congressman and cable TV host Joe Scarborough may have murdered a young female staff member in 2001.

That odious one drew a poignant response from the woman’s husband who correctly accused the Republican president of having taken “something that does not belong to him — the memory of my dead wife — and perverted it for perceived political gain.”

In debunking the Scarborough nonsense, the Washington Post’s Craig Pittman might have been talking about the gutless lack of decency on the part of Idahoans like Rep. Mike Simpson and Sen. Mike Crapo, Republicans who know Scarborough because they served in Congress with him when he represented Florida.

“Trump’s tweets offer a reminder of the remarkable nature of the Trump era — that a sitting president can traffic in incendiary and false allegations while the political world around him remains largely silent, accustomed to Trump’s modern-day definition of presidential behavior,” Pittman wrote. “As with many such eruptions from the White House, there will probably be little if any consequence beyond, in this case, the collateral suffering of a private family in Florida.”

At this point let’s note that a recent Yahoo/YouGov poll reported that “44 percent of Republicans believe that Bill Gates is plotting to use a mass COVID-19 vaccination campaign as a pretext to implant microchips in billions of people and monitor their movements.” Yahoo News felt compelled to note that is “a widely debunked conspiracy theory with no basis in fact.”

That kind of statistic does, however, help explain why once sensible, fair minded guys like Crapo and Simpson now behave as they do in our Age of Trump. They have become paralyzed with the fear that the most fever swampish in the GOP base will turn on them.

It’s a reasonable fear. After all Oregon Republicans just nominated a U.S. Senate candidate who is a believer in the wacky QAnon conspiracy theories that promote Trump as a world savior, while Idaho Republicans like Janice McGeachin and Heather Scott have become the party’s modern day “Know Nothings.”

Some of the president’s most loyal followers – and most fervent conspiratorialists – have taken to calling Trump the “God Emperor,” but this emperor’s clothes are missing even if the two Mikes and so many others ignore the reality. Their essential cowardness exposes the profound ethical and moral rot in the modern GOP under Trump. It will follow them all their days.

“We are living through the most dangerous challenge to the free government of the United States that anyone alive has encountered,” David Frum wrote in his 2018 book Trumpocracy: The Corruption of the American Republic. Frum, the former George W. Bush speechwriter, has basically given up on the silent majority of GOP officeholders who have aided and abetted the intellectual destruction of their party.

“What happens next is up to you,” Frum writes, knowing that once principled conservatives like Simpson and Crapo, unable or unwilling to exercise leadership at a time of peril, will do nothing, while cowering in a corner literally and figuratively clutching their seats.

The governor’s lieutenant


In July 1962 when one of Idaho’s U.S. senators, Henry Dworshak, died, his funeral was scheduled shortly after to be held in Washington, DC. Idaho’s governor, Robert Smylie (like Dworshak a Republican), made plans to attend.

Those plans changed after he got a phone call from Bill Drevlow, who was then the lieutenant governor, and a Democrat. Remember here that when a governor sets foot outside the state, the lieutenant governor takes over, and while the principal is away, can do whatever a sitting governor can do, from signing bills to appointing office holders …

As Smylie recalled, “Bill asked me not to go to Henry Dworshak’s funeral in Washington, which I should have done as a matter of courtesy, simply because, he said, ‘I do not think I could withstand the pressure to appoint a senator.’ So I stayed home.”

Drevlow and Smylie had a good relationship, and that incident exemplified it: Another lieutenant governor of an opposing party - or an opposing faction - might not have offered the warning, and simply struck without notice. Idaho’s structure of electing governors and LG’s completely separately - different from many states which bind them together - allows for that.

Idahoans can easily forget this, because relations between the occupants of those offices for most of the state’s history have been cordial. While the holders of the second office were often obscure politicians for much of the first half of Idaho state history, they’ve tended to be prominent figures in recent decades.

Of the five lieutenant governors who held the office for at least a term in the four decades up to the last election, four became governors of the state, and a fifth (David Leroy) only narrowly lost election to the top job. (One of the four, Jim Risch, served parts of two separate terms adding up to more than four years.) All of those LGs appeared to have a satisfactory working relationship with their governors, even when they were of different parties; the mutual deep involvement in Idaho politics and in their party structures may have been a factor.

But that’s history. Current events are something else entirely.

The cold war between Governor Brad Little and Lieutenant Governor Janet McGeachin has drawn not only statewide but even international attention. Part of the reason is the subject of their current dispute, over the state’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Little has pressed for restrictions on public, business and other activities with an aim of corralling the virus. McGeachin has opposed him on this.

And not just as a matter of perspective. Consider this line from the national news site Daily Beast: “A few days before reopening The Celt Pub and Grill, Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin penned a scathing op-ed in which she slammed Gov. Brad Little’s oversight of the coronavirus pandemic.” The reopening of the business which she co-owns, the story also notes, was directly in opposition to the governor’s shutdown orders, and exactly the sort of thing the Idaho State Police had been investigating and warning business owners about.

If that wasn’t sufficiently in-your-face, McGeachin also remarked in her opinion piece, “As Lieutenant Governor, I am one heartbeat away from the governor’s chair.” That is accurate, but also a little eerie considering the attitudes and armaments of some of her more enthusiastic supporters.

It’s not easy to imagine McGeachin giving Little a friendly cautionary phone call in the event of his plan to leave the state for, say, a regional governor’s meeting.

Little may have to watch his travel plans, for the rest of this term at least, with the utmost of care.

And as the term ends, you couldn’t be surprised to actually see an Idaho lieutenant governor running against an incumbent governor. That would really write a distinctive chapter of Idaho political history.



It was a sunny May morning in Idaho. The primary election was over and Governor Little was in pretty good spirits. He was looking to back his ¾ ton Ford pickup into a metered space by the Capitol when a Prius with a “COEXIST” bumper sticker slipped in behind and took it. Brad laughed, “Damn Democrats. You won’t be so cocky come November!” he muttered with a smirk. He circled the block.

After plugging the meter, he looked up at the trees, accepting that the starlings would speckle his dusty truck. His mood was coming down. But the sunny stroll buoyed him as he crossed State St. and climbed the steps.

A young man stood near the door looking at him, anxious, holding a manila folder.

“Can I help you, young man?” Brad offered. He noticed the Idaho Freedom Foundation lapel pin.

“Um, Governor Little?”


“This is for you. You have been served.”

“Oh Jeez, not another lawsuit.” Brad slapped the folder against his thigh.
The young man blushed and fidgeted. “Um no, Governor Little. This is a summons to a duel.”

“A duel?” Brad slapped his thigh again with the folder and guffawed. “You Freedom Foundation guys don’t like the election results huh?”

The young man’s nervousness eased and he launched into what sounded like a practiced speech. “Under Idaho Territorial law, matters of honor must be addressed between gentlemen when duly served. Chapter 7 Section 33(b). You are hereby notified that the honor of your opponent has been challenged and you are to respond.”

Brad thought quickly. “Didn’t we get rid of that law when we cleaned up all those regulations this last year.”

The young man smiled. “Indeed. You removed the section that repealed this section. The law is restored. You have two days to respond to the challenge. It’s all spelled out for you in the summons.” He gestured to the folder.

Brad couldn’t help laughing. “So, what does Wayne choose for weapons? Sneers at ten paces? He knows I can’t sneer as good as him.”

Here the fidgeting resumed. “It’s all in the summons there Mr. Governor. Honor will be settled. And Mr. Hoffman is serving as the second; he will discuss the weapons, the dueling ground and the time with your second, as is the time-honored custom.” Then he skipped down the steps and trotted off to the west.

Brad took the folder into the marble floored dome and read the contents. Then he headed to the second floor.

He burst through the Attorney General’s office and slapped the folder on the big desk. “What the heck do I do with this?”

AG Lawrence Wasden scanned the one-page piece of paper and blanched. “I was hoping it wouldn’t come to this,” he muttered.

“You mean this is legal?” Brad exploded. “How can this be?”

“Well, we did eliminate a lot of stuff last year. It turns out we also got rid of the law repealing the chocolate ordinance, so chocolate is now illegal in Idaho if you can believe it.” Lawrence said amused, then frowned. “My deputy on honor laws just told me about this last week. It sure doesn’t take those Freedom Foundation boys long, does it?”

“But I’m supposed to duel the Lieutenant Governor, Janice McGeachin, not the Freedom Foundation!”

Wasden frowned, then he hit an intercom button and barked, “Jerry, get in here!” He muttered to Brad as the door burst open, “He’s my honor code deputy.” He handed the paper to the deputy who scanned it.

“Well, Jerry?”

“Oh, there’s a problem with this sir.”

Brad rolled his eyes. “I know that! What do I do?”

“You cannot respond sir. This is an invalid duel summons.”

“Really? I thought dueling in Idaho was now legal.”

Now Jerry fidgeted. “Well, because of the repeal of Chapter 23, Section 3(d), technically it is, but under territorial law, dueling can only be done by men, so this summons is not valid.”

Lawrence put his hand on Brad’s shoulder. “It’s Idaho Brad. It’ll be OK.”

A foreign policy Senate race


If you are a die-hard Republican who puts the word “greatness” in the same sentence with Donald Trump – as many within the GOP do – then you’ll probably appreciate how Idaho Sen. Jim Risch does business as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee.

Risch, who communicates with the president on a routine basis, has made it a practice of not criticizing the Trump. Risch’s committee is not the place for high-profile investigations of the administration’s actions, or the first stop for impeachment proceedings. Risch boasts of having an open dialogue with the commander in chief and any disagreements he has with the president are discussed behind closed doors.

The senator says his approach is one that best serves himself, personally, and the nation. Critics dispute whether Risch is acting on the best interest of the country, but there is no doubt that he’s making the right moves for himself personally – and especially politically.

Congressional oversight works only when both political parties are willing to engage, and in this environment, “oversight” is a one-way street for Democrats. Trump owns the Republican Party, and except for Sen. Mitt Romney, just about everybody in Congress with a GOP tag. Republicans basically are fine with Trump doing as he pleases.

Risch, who has been involved in politics in one way or another for more than a half a century, knows how the game is played. When he was president pro tem of Idaho’s Senate in the 1980s, he expected loyalty from his fellow senators and mostly got it. Those who sided with him got choice committee assignments, or nice offices.

Those who dared to go against him were relegated to the back bench. Risch is giving the same courtesy to President Trump, who places a similar value on loyalty. If Risch suddenly became an oversight cop on Capitol Hill, as his critics suggest he should do, he’d be a forgotten figure in the Trump White House. And, as a bonus, he would be tarred and feathered by the Republican faithful in Idaho – with state party chairman Raul Labrador leading the way.

But for former State Rep. Paulette Jordan, the only Democratic candidate with any kind of a shot at knocking out Risch in November, foreign policy is far from being a lost cause. She can effectively argue that if Risch is going to use his power to side with Trump, then it’s only appropriate for him to take ownership of Trump’s policies – warts and all.

Marc Johnson, a political columnist who served as chief of staff under Gov. Cecil Andrus, describes America’s status as a world leader being in retreat and decline. “Among America’s closest International friends, the deterioration of our country’s standing is simply astounding. In a recent survey of our once closest European allies, only 20 percent of the residents of the United Kingdom said the U.S. would act responsibly in the world. In France, 3 percent – you read that correctly – think the U.S. is best positioned to confront global challenges,” he wrote.

“As capable as the president has been of destroying U.S. credibility and puncturing the myth of American exceptionalism, he didn’t get there all my himself,” Johnson says. “He had a lot of help from this feckless, rudderless, incompetent collection of Republican senators and members of Congress. And no one wears the feckless label more notably than Idaho’s Jim Risch, who, intitle only, sits atop the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.”

Ah, Trump loyalists will say, consider the source. Andrus was not a fan of Risch, and it’s clear that Johnson has an equal low regard for the senator. But Johnson offers some delicious talking points for Idaho Democrats and this year’s campaign.

Of course, the administration has bragging points of its own – including building a constructive relationship with North Korea (opposed to engaging in nuclear warfare), getting NATO to increase support for defense and curtailing ISIS.

Risch will defend to the end his working relationship with Trump, saying “I’m privileged to speak directly and frequently with President Trump and I’m honored to be able to counsel with him on matters of foreign relations and national security.”

We’ll see in November if Idaho voters agree with Risch’s approach.

Chuck Malloy is a long-time Idaho journalist and columnist. He may be reached at

Remember and honor


As I was growing up in the years following America’s victory in the Second World War, I remember being so proud of the country and those who had served and given their lives to win the war. The country had come together as one to accomplish something truly remarkable. Americans of every national origin, faith and creed played a part in the war, although the participation of some--African Americans and Japanese Americans-- had been in separate units. Nevertheless, the war dead were honored and mourned by a united, thankful nation.

The outcomes of the significant wars since that time--Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan--were nowhere near as satisfying. It was not because the troops who fought and died for the country were any less patriotic or dedicated to serving their fellow Americans than those in WW2. The problem was generally of a political or leadership nature--involvement in unwinnable or unnecessary conflicts, strategy blunders and the like.

Korea ended in a stalemate that continues today. We lost in Vietnam. It is hard to see what was gained in Iraq besides making Iran a stronger adversary. Afghanistan is headed toward a bad ending. Regardless of those sad outcomes, the lives of the U.S. men and women who gave their all for their country were just as precious as the war dead of any successful conflict. Their deaths were just as tragic. We, as a united nation, should thank and mourn them on Memorial Day and every other day of the year.

I still fill with anger and grief when I think of my 58,220 Brothers and Sisters who died in the Vietnam War. Every time I think of Jimmy Nakayama of Rigby being incinerated by an errant napalm canister in the Ia Drang Valley in 1965, it brings tears to my eyes. I welcomed 2d Lt. Herbert George Lucas to my battalion in August 1968 and signed the papers sending him home in a body bag twelve days later. He died among Brothers who knew little about him.

Regardless of our opinion about the wisdom of a particular conflict, there should be no equivocation about our attitude toward those who honorably served in it. Those who died fighting for the country in any conflict deserve our respect and appreciation.

Although it is not an armed conflict, we ought to also find a place in our hearts this Memorial Day to remember and honor those who have died at the forefront of the struggle against the novel coronavirus. It has been appropriately described as a war by leaders on both sides of the political aisle. So far, it has claimed close to 100,000 American lives.

The doctors, nurses, first responders, hospital workers and others who have died while tending the afflicted are entitled to the thanks of their country. Those who have become infected and died while serving us behind a grocery store counter, or harvesting produce, or breaking carcasses in a packing plant, or delivering food, or driving a bus, or the many other unsung jobs that have helped the nation through the beginning stage of the pandemic, deserve to be thanked and remembered as we observe Memorial Day 2020. Nor should we forget those who have succumbed to this new threat. They should receive the last respects of their fellow Americans.

Above all, we should share our remembrance as a unified country. After all, we are the "United" States of America. We are at our very best when we act together.

The new “normal”


A lot of people in our country have spent many years wishing they were living in 1950-1970. Good times. Good music. Good friends doing fun things. They want all that. Again.

The other day at the grocery store, I heard a woman say to the checker, “I’ll be so glad when this virus thing is over and we can get back to normal.” “Normal?” She said “Normal.”

I guess, to her, she meant as life was last February. Or March. Or 1963. “Normal?”

The same word - normal - seems to be what those armed protesters wanted when they stormed a couple of statehouses the other day. “Open up.” “Give us back our freedom.” “Open the bars and restaurants.” “I need a haircut.” “Open it all up so we can get back to ‘normal’.”

Well, let’s see what a piece of our future “normal” will look like after whenever COVID-19 and Trump are no longer threats to our lives. Let’s take just one example: airlines.

There’s a little desert town a few miles from us: Marana, Arizona. You’ve probably never been to Marana, Arizona. But, if you go one day, several miles Northwest of Marana, you’ll find Pima Airpark. It’s got a very long runway, but no control tower. No navigation system. No landing lights. Daylight flying only. A small building for a few workers. Private.

Now, look at the picture above. That’s most of Pima Airpark. Note the little white things. It’s a picture of mostly commercial airplanes and a few, smaller regional aircraft. Jet aircraft. All of ‘em.

They’re being “mothballed.” They’ve been cleaned out inside. Anything that would deteriorate by heat or direct sun has been removed and all windows have been covered by some sort of film. They’re all but abandoned. Asleep.

I count 70. But, the picture is a month old so there’s probably more sitting there now in the same condition. Abandoned. Asleep.

Some belong to United Airlines. Despite being paid several billion dollars in bailout tax dollars last month, United has told employees the company will cut 30% of staff and equipment in October. You see, the bailout had a clause that said United had to keep the present employees for six months. October is the sixth month. Then, CUT.

I don’t know what new work an unemployed flight attendant can find. Same for all the pilots suddenly dumped on the market. But, it doesn’t stop there. Every airline in the country is doing the same. Cutting employees and “mothballing” or outright selling planes to whoever wants one. Or more. At reduced - greatly reduced - prices.

Besides Pima Airpark, there are at least a dozen more just like it in Texas, Oklahoma, Nevada and Southern California. All of ‘em - all - are getting planes to park. Spokesmen for the airline industry verify the numbers and, further, predict no airline will ever return to the size, either in equipment or employees, as they were prior to COVID-19. Additionally, many - many - commercial flight routes will be cut.

Now, how many more airline companies are going through the same downsizing at the moment? And how many sub-contract companies? General Electric, maker of jet engines - and all their suppliers - are laying off. Nobody’s buying jet engines. How about those flight meal providers who will either cut back or close? And the other companies that do regular major FAA-required overhauls of commercial jets in this country and abroad. Thousands of jobs worldwide in just that one support industry.

And, we’re just talking commercial airlines here. What about cruise ship companies and the thousands of businesses that provide the necessary support? Where do a few hundred unemployed first mates or pursers go looking for a job?

You can multiply all this downsizing - and resulting staff reductions - by as many career fields as you can think of. And by any industry/service companies. Whatever your eventual answer, it’ll be anything but “normal” out there. And it’ll be bad in many ways. We already have 35-million out-of-work. How many more coming?

I’ve never been good at predicting the future. But, I can tell you this. Anyone - anyone - who thinks we’re going to see a return of whatever their version of “normal” may be is going to be disappointed.

Life as we remember it - even January or February of this year - that life is gone. Something new awaits. In just about everything.

Between the pandemic and Donald J. Trump, it’s going to be very different. The next eight months - and some years beyond that - will bring great changes. Upheavals, if you will. Governance, industry, science, commercial business, travel, health care, education, society in general - all will not look like we’re used to.

What will our new “normals” look like? How will our lives be different? How far from 1950-1970 will we be?

Will those commercial jets mothballed at Pima Airpark ever fly again? None of us know.

But, here comes our new “normal.”

No rubber stamp


Last week, I joined more than 1,000 of my former Department of Justice colleagues who have asked leave to file an amicus (friend-of-the-court) brief in the Michael Flynn case. Together, we have 14,300 years of experience enforcing the federal criminal laws in every administration since that of President Eisenhower.

In our brief, we urged U.S. District Judge Emmett G. Sullivan to uphold the rule of law and deny Attorney General Barr’s request to dismiss the Flynn matter. In this column, I offer a summary of key arguments made in that brief, but in the interest of brevity, have omitted citations.

There was a time when federal prosecutors had complete discretion to terminate any criminal case at any time, and for any reason. That changed in 1944 when the Supreme Court promulgated Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 48(a) which provided: “[t]he government may, with leave of court, dismiss an indictment, information or complaint.” By including the phrase, “by leave of court,” the Supreme Court made it clear that the prosecution’s right to dismiss a criminal action was no longer unfettered but was instead subject to judicial oversight and approval.

Acknowledging that the government’s discretion to dismiss a case remains “broad and should be disturbed only in rare circumstances,” we urged the Court to “exercise its authority to undertake a searching review of the government’s request. Case law holds that a court may deny a governmental dismissal motion to which the defendant has consented “if the motion is prompted by considerations clearly contrary to the public interest.”

Because the government’s motion “bears the hallmarks of a brazen attempt to protect an ally of the President,” a searching review is needed “to protect the public interest in the integrity of the Department of Justice and the fair administration of the criminal law.”

Flynn’s case is not in the early stages of charging or pretrial discovery, or even in the middle stages of pretrial preparation and plea negotiation.

Indeed, it is at the end stage – ready for sentencing. Imposition of sentence is a matter for the trial judge. Flynn has pled guilty – twice – admitting under oath that, while serving as the President’s National Security Advisor, he lied to FBI agents about his communications, made during the 2016 presidential campaign, with a high-ranking representative of a hostile foreign power.

Now, as the clock readies to strike midnight in this matter, the government claims that Flynn’s lies were not “material.” Case law holds that the “dropping of any offense” at this late stage of the proceedings threatens “an intrusion on the judicial function.”

It is no secret that the president has closely followed developments in the Flynn prosecution, making repeated public statements critical of the prosecution and lauding Flynn’s loyalty. He has often implied that Flynn might receive a presidential pardon. The president’s rapt attention to this case is significant, permitting the inference that Attorney General Barr’s motivation in bringing the motion to dismiss at this very late hour is not to serve the interests of justice, but to placate the president.

Were the court to “bless the Executive’s proposed absolution of [Flynn],” who is a close associate and strong supporter of the president, without conducting a probing inquiry, it would bring into question the integrity of the judiciary itself. And it would risk deeply undermining public confidence that justice is being fairly administered.

The government’s claim that Flynn never committed a crime is premised on the notion that “new” evidence shows that Flynn’s statements were not “material,” so as to warrant his prosecution. The government is wrong on both the facts and the law. The government advances the “wholly novel position that concededly false statements like the one Flynn made to the FBI do not constitute a crime if, at the time the statement was made, the FBI did not already have an ongoing criminal investigation of the defendant.” At the time of the FBI interview, the FBI had an open counterintelligence investigation focused specifically on Flynn’s direct role, as a member of President Trump’s campaign, in Russian interference in the 2016 election as well as other dealings with foreign nationals.

The federal statute pursuant to which Flynn was prosecuted, 18 U.S.C. Section 1001, applies broadly to “any matter within the jurisdiction of the executive, legislative, or judicial branch of the Government of the United States,” and criminalizes false material statements made in connection with any such matter. The sweeping scope of this statute dovetails with the FBI’s jurisdiction "to investigate potential violations of federal criminal law and threats to national security that may or may not be criminal in nature."

For a lie to be material, the government need only make “a reasonable showing” of the “potential effects of the statement.” Judge Sullivan “has already analyzed the materiality of Flynn’s false statements in considerable detail, and has held that they were material in ways both narrow and broad.”

The closing paragraph of the brief cautions that, were the Court to grant the government’s motion, it would sanction using the awesome power of prosecution for political reasons, antithetical to the public interest : “A democracy governed by the rule of law requires a Justice Department that acts evenhandedly when exercising its vast powers. There is ample evidence that under its current political leadership the Department has been weaponized to do the opposite: to punish the President’s opponents and reward his friends. The government’s motion to dismiss the prosecution of a presidential ally who has twice confessed to serious crimes is yet another step down this dangerous path. The career officials who carry out the Department’s work and whom the President routinely maligns cannot speak in their own defense. But this Court has the authority and the obligation to ensure that federal law-enforcement power is exercised in the interest of the people – the public interest – as the Constitution requires. We respectfully ask the Court to do so."

This case raises extremely important issues; It merits careful watching.

America’s retreat


The United States, the acknowledged world leader in the post-World War II era, is in retreat and decline. Among America’s closest international friends the deterioration of our country’s standing is simply astounding. In a recent survey of our once closest European allies only 28% of the residents of the United Kingdom said the U.S. would act responsibly in the world. In France, 3% – you read that correctly – think the U.S. is best positioned to confront global challenges.

That this disastrous retreat has taken place under a Republican administration and with a GOP-controlled Senate is a stark reminder of how far Donald Trump’s Republican Party has retreated from the place Ronald Reagan once proclaimed the “shining city on a hill.”

The number two Senate Republican, John Thune of South Dakota, actually said the quiet part out loud this week, admitting that Trump not only owns the GOP soul, but apparently more importantly has also squeezed the last ounce of independence from his frightened lackeys. “I just think that everybody realizes that our fortunes sort of rise or fall together,” Thune said as he placed a priority on re-election at the expense of absolutely everything else.

As capable as the president has been of destroying U.S. credibility and puncturing the myth of American exceptionalism, he didn’t get us here all by himself. He had a lot of help from this feckless, rudderless, incompetent collection of Republican senators and members of Congress. And no one wears the feckless label more notably than Idaho’s Jim Risch, who, in title only, sits atop the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

A comprehensive listing of Trumpian ineptitude in the foreign policy arena, combined with the willful rejection of critical allies and international institutions, would fill a library shelf, so consider just the most recent examples of America trashing itself with Republican approval.

Anyone with a sense of how political leadership works would have known that a crisis like a global pandemic would lay bare Trump’s unfitness. “Trump’s handling of the pandemic at home and abroad has exposed more painfully than anything since he took office the meaning of America First,” says William Burns, a 33-year career foreign policy professional who now heads the Carnegie Endowment. “America is first in the world in deaths, first in the world in infections and we stand out as an emblem of global incompetence. The damage to America’s influence and reputation will be very hard to undo.”

Risch was Tweeting on January 24, “Today I was briefed by leading global health experts about the outbreak of a novel coronavirus in China. We learned that the risk of transmission within the U.S. is low at present. I will continue to work closely with U.S. officials to ensure Americans are protected.” But what has he actually done?

Well, he’s embraced the White House blame China message, while totally ignoring the epicenter of the crisis – the White House. Even that begs the question of just what is Risch’s China strategy? Trump’s only approach, beyond unbroken fidelity to China’s dictatorial leader, involves tariffs that have crippled trade, while forcing U.S. taxpayers to bail out American farmers.

And what of the World Health Organization (WHO)? If the WHO needs reform, is the best strategy to eliminate U.S. funding in the middle of the pandemic? Again, the Idaho senator has no strategy and nothing to say.

Meanwhile, under cover of COVID-19 confusion, Trump has fired the inspector general at the State Department, Steve Linick, an issue that had the Foreign Relations Committee a real chairman, would be front and center on the committee’s agenda. Risch has said nothing and will do nothing even in the face of published reports that the firing is linked to a number of questionable actions, including an investigation of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s decision to circumvent Congress and make a controversial $8 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia. (I asked Risch’s office for a comment on the IG firing and received no response.)

Trump’s cashiering of Linick marks the fourth such dismissal in three months and is an obvious effort to eliminate any visage of independent oversight of Trump and his administration’s conduct. The only Republican to immediately express concern about this blatant authoritarianism was Utah’s Mitt Romney who called Trump’s action “a threat to accountable democracy and a fissure in the constitutional balance of power.” Risch, meanwhile, is silent.

It is telling that in his year and a half as Foreign Relations chairman, Pompeo has not once appeared before Risch’s committee to answer questions about China, Iran, Syria, Afghanistan, North Korea, deteriorating relations with NATO countries, or anything. With dereliction of his Senate duties – never more on display than the recent IG firing – Risch is abetting Trump’s efforts, as Aaron Blake wrote recently in the Washington Post, to “undermine independent oversight of his administration.”

For good measure this week, Risch, acting as ranking Republican on the Intelligence Committee, voted to advance the nomination of Texas congressman John Ratcliffe, a Trump toady widely described as the least qualified person ever nominated for such a position. Ratcliffe, with Risch’s help, will complete the politicization of the nation’s intelligence agencies.

To be sure hypocrisy is part of this story, as well. Risch never tempered his criticism when a Democrat occupied the White House and his partisan disdain was regularly on display during the Obama Administration. “This is a foreign policy that is in shambles,” Risch said in 2012. “In the Middle East, it is a foreign policy of apology, it is a foreign policy of appeasement, it is a foreign policy of dithering and looking the other way. This cannot go on.” Yet, when it comes to Trump, Risch doesn’t critique, analyze or even discuss, he accepts – everything.

Who benefits from Risch’s behavior and Trump’s foreign policy incoherence and incompetence? China, of course, (and Putin’s Russia) whose aim is to diminish American influence and weaken historic alliances, while discrediting democracy.

Michael Fullilove, a decidedly pro-American scholar who heads the Lowy Institute, Australia’s largest think tank, described it succinctly: “We increasingly feel caught between a reckless China and a feckless America that no longer seems to care about its allies.”

Meanwhile, Jim Risch is on track to be remembered as the worst chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee in the post-war period. He has certainly earned the distinction.

Q-time, anyone?


Here’s a question that would have been worth asking Idaho Republican candidates before the primary, but is still worth it after the results come in and the party’s nominations settled:

Are you Q?

Will you join in with fellow Republicans (and it is all or nearly all Republicans) who cry out, “We are Q”?

The answer would give you something highly useful to know when considering whether to place this person in a position of public responsibility.

For those not in the loop on this, a little background.

The Q may have been launched after an October 2017 remark by President Donald Trump, describing the moment as “maybe the calm before the storm.” Odds are he meant nothing serious or momentous.

But it struck like a thunderbolt in some quarters. Days later, a message appeared online on the 4chan board under the handle “Q” (I’ve wondered: is it coincidental that a character in Star Trek was like-named?), which is supposed to refer to a high security clearance level. He (or she? or …?) left a series of puzzling statements, referred to among the cognoscenti as “crumbs,” thought to allude to events of great import, mostly events just about to happen, sometimes with specific time frames attached.

What sort of events? That has shifted with time. One description in one news account offered, “In the black hole of conspiracy in which ‘Q’ has plunged its followers, Trump only feigned collusion to create a pretense for the hiring of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, who is actually working as a ‘white hat,’ or hero, to expose the Democrats. Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and George Soros are planning a coup — and traffic children in their spare time. J.P. Morgan, the American financier, sank the Titanic.” There are variations. There have been many predictions of major events, few of which even by generous interpretation have come to pass.

It has moved beyond conspiracy theory to become a kind of club. Adherents to the Q-cult have sort of adopted the slogan, “Where we go one, we go all” (or, WWG1WGA). If this is sounding a little like the origins of a new religion, well, that’s a growing characterization too.

There are practical impacts. One report this week said, “QAnon users are posting make-at-home recipes for hydroxychloroquine …”

Imaginative stuff from tin foil hat country, in other words. A constituency for it has developed.

Bringing this a little closer to home: Across the Snake River, and like Idaho, Oregon just held its primary election, and the results there are in. In the race for U.S. Senate, incumbent Jeff Merkley won the Democratic nomination, as expected, and his chief opponent on the Republican side, defeating a number of contenders, will be a financial advisor named Jo Rae Perkins.

Perkins, it turns out - this seems not to have been widely known beforehand - is a Q adherent. In announcing her win, she said on a video, “Where we go one, we go all. I stand with President Trump. I stand with Q and the team.”

The political analyst Chris Cillizza suggested in noting this, “The problem for the state Republican Party is that they now have a nominee for the United States Senate who believes in a wild conspiracy theory - and who will, undoubtedly, use the platform afforded her by being the party's nominee to promote the QAnon message. That's a big problem for the Oregon Republican Party.”

Bringing this back across the Snake River …

How many Q-anoners has the Idaho Republican Party just nominated to office?

So far as I know, none ... but, really, what are the odds of that?

Idaho voters should want to know.

And if you’re a candidate, if you’re a Q-anoner, stand up and say so! Let us all know who you are ...

(image/Mike McKenzie)