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Why Democrats May Embrace Jim Comey’s Self-Righteousness in 12 Months

Some Democrats are already blaming Jim Comey for Hillary’s loss last night. It will be some time before we know for sure whether that is true. Certainly polling (to the extent that it can be regarded as a fair read of the electorate, which I’m not sure it can) didn’t show Hillary losing a lot of support, net, over the course of Comey’s head fake. Instead, polls showed Gary Johnson voters coming home to the GOP, which closed Trump’s polling gap. I do think it likely that Comey’s head fake had an effect on Democratic turnout.

So we will see whether Comey is to blame or something else (that said, by the time we really know that, a narrative will be set).

But I also want to talk about Comey’s position going forward.

Had Hillary won, I think President Obama might have fired Comey in the lame duck. But I don’t see that happening now. Partly, because it would be seen as vindictive, and Obama has his legacy to cement. More importantly, there’s no chance Obama could get someone else confirmed.

So Comey will be FBI Director on January 20, with six plus years of a ten year term in front of him.

Trump has already floated Rudy Giuliani as Attorney General.

I have no idea what their relationship is like now, but recall that Comey worked for (presumably was hired by) Giuliani when the latter was US Attorney in the 1980s. Giuliani is the guy that launched Comey on his self-righteous career of federal prosecution.

For that reason — and because of Comey’s behavior in the last month — I expect Trump will keep him.

That means Comey’s self-righteous rule is one of the few things that will prevent Trump, in the near turn, from politicizing the FBI more than it already is. Today’s FBI is already bad, but Comey may limit how badly Trump’s FBI targets Muslims and others Trump targeted during the campaign.

Ultimately, Comey’s tenure may end where it has before, in standing up to some legalistic abuse (even while sanctioning the underlying behavior, as Comey did with both torture and mass surveillance), and resigning or getting fired.

But in the short term, at least, the Democrats who are blaming Comey today may welcome his self-righteousness tomorrow. Me, I think the reasons that self-righteousness is a problem now will remain a problem. But probably less problematic than having Joe Arpaio run the FBI.

Chris Christie and Karl Rove’s US Attorney Project

The Republicans were supposed to talk about how they plan to Make America Work Again last night. And I supposed Paul Ryan — and to a lesser extent Mitch McConnell, when he wasn’t being booed — presented a vision of how they think Republicans run the economy. That vision doesn’t actually resemble the protectionist big government approach Donald Trump has been running on. But given the revelation that Trump offered to let John Kasich run both domestic and foreign policy if he would be his VP candidate (Kasich was still reluctant), perhaps we should focus more on how Mike Pence wants to suffocate the economy.

Instead, as most people have focused, Republicans continued to attack Hillary (Hillary continues to attack Trump, though I suspect she will focus somewhat more on policy next week than Republicans have thus far). Many people have unpacked Chris Christie’s rabble inciting witch hunt last night, but Dan Drezner backs his review of it with some data on the risks to democracy (click through to read all of, which is worth reading).

Gov. Chris Christie’s speech garnered particular attention. It triggered similar reactions from The Weekly Standard and Vox, two outlets not known to agree on all that much.

The climax of Christie’s speech was a call-and-response with the crowd listing Clinton’s various misdeeds.

[snip]

Indeed, political events in both Turkey and the United States makes one somewhat concerned about the future of democracy as a political institution. Francis Fukuyama has banged on in recent years on the problems of political decay in the advanced industrialized democracies. He’s a bit more sanguine about this election cycle than most, but the erosion of accepted norms of political behavior is an extremely disturbing trend. Donald Trump (and his campaign manager) certainlyepitomizes this contempt for such minor things as the Constitution and the rule of law:

As the cherry on the top of this worry sundae, the Journal of Democracy has just published an article by Roberto Stefan Foa and Yascha Mounk entitled, “The Danger of Deconsolidation: The Democratic Disconnect.” Foa and Mounck have previewed their findings here and here over the past year, and their thesis is pretty damn sobering: 

[snip]

What we find is deeply concerning. Citizens in a number of supposedly consolidated democracies in North America and Western Europe have not only grown more critical of their political leaders. Rather, they have also become more cynical about the value of democracy as a political system, less hopeful that anything they do might influence public policy, and more willing to express support for authoritarian alternatives. The crisis of democratic legitimacy extends across a much wider set of indicators than previously appreciated….

In theory, it is possible that, even in the seemingly consolidated democracies of North America and Western Europe, democracy may one day cease to be the “only game in town”: Citizens who once accepted democracy as the only legitimate form of government could become more open to authoritarian alternatives.

[snip]

By all means, read the whole thing. As an American, I find it particularly troubling that Ronald Inglehart’s rebuttal essay says that Foa and Mounck are exaggerating because this phenomenon is limited to the United States.

Foa and Mounck’s data ends in 2010. One could argue that things have only gotten worse since then, as Christie’s show trial speech suggests. But if I have a sliver of optimism, it is that the Trump campaign is America’s moment of staring into the anti-system abyss and seeing the ugliness that would await.

I will be curious if, after this election cycle, there is a greater appreciation for the democratic institutions that have made America great for more than a century.

I’m sympathetic to the notion that democracy is becoming delegitimized here and elsewhere, and in part blame the elites who have divorced policy outcomes from democratic accountability and therefore from benefits for average voters.

But the Chris Christie witch hunt is a special case. After all, this is a former US Attorney, a former top embodiment of America’s criminal justice system (and Christie’s attack was far more irrational than that of another US Attorney, Rudy Giuliani, earlier in the night).

And he’s not just any US Attorney. He’s a US Attorney who got that role largely off his fundraising for George W Bush, even in spite of concerns about his experience. Christie was, in some ways, one of the early test cases for Karl Rove’s theory that US Attorney positions would make great launching pads for further political advancement — and it worked, to some degree. After prosecuting a bunch of Democrats in an equal opportunity political corruption state, Christie won the governorship and started abusing his power, most spectacularly with Bridgegate. He came close to winning the VP nomination with Trump (and if last night is any indication, perhaps he should have). Along the way he pioneered Deferred Prosecution Agreements, making monitor positions another piece of pork for loyal Republicans.

In other words, Christie is the personification of a Republican effort to politicize a position that — while political — had previously been treated with some respect for precedent and neutrality.

No longer. Last night, Christie broke down all remaining barriers between law enforcement and political prosecution. It was the inevitable outcome of Rove’s little project.

Like Drezner, I’m worried generally about the state of our democracy (though unlike him I think the elite have a lot to answer for letting it happen). But the Christie witch hunt is a development above and beyond that general trend.

The NYPD Profiles Everyone’s Favorite Terrorist Group, MEK

As I noted yesterday, the latest installment of Goldman and Apuzzo’s exposure of the CIA-on-the-Hudson relies on a 2006 document laying out plans to profile Iranians and Shiites (and Palestinians) in anticipation of heightened US-Iranian conflict.

New York City has always been a prime target for terrorist groups and as the possibility of military action taken against Iran grows stronger, so does the danger of the City being attacked by agents of the Iranian government or its sympathizers.

Based on that premise, they lay out a bunch of groups to profile.

Among those, however, is the MEK, the Iranian opposition group designated as a foreign terrorist organization. Here’s what the document has to say about them:

Mujahedin-e-Khalq Organization (MEK), designated by the US Department of State as a terrorist group, has presence in NYC. MEK is strongly opposed to the current Iranian administration and it is not believe [sic] not to pose a threat of retaliation should the US engage Iran military. The group’s actions here are typified by several incidents where suspected MEK members disrupted speeches and protested against Iranian officials visiting and/or present in US.

Now, at one level, the MEK actually is a designated terrorist organization, regardless of how sensible that designation remains. So it makes sense to see them profiled by the NYPD. Though it is telling by itself that 5 years into the CIA-on-the-Hudson program, they apparently hadn’t been, yet. That is, the NYPD doesn’t appear to have been pursuing terrorist organizations in general. (Indeed, it did not include Colombians–who might be of interest because of terrorist organizations FARC and AUC–among its ancestries of interest.)

But in spite of the fact that according to the NYPD, the MEK doesn’t pose a threat, it does appear to have included the MEK in their Iranian profiling. Among its recommended actions, it suggests,

  • Expand and focus intelligence collection at locations affiliated with the MEK.
  • Identify leads with subjects or locations having ties to Hamas, Hezbollah, PIJ, MEK, or the Alavi Foundation.

An excellent use of taxpayer dollars!

Granted, this document was written in 2006, so the NYPD’s profiling priorities may have been improved in the interim six years. But I wonder. When such prominent New Yorkers as Michael Mukasey and Rudy Giuliani joined the MEK speaking tour (technically committing material support for terrorism under Holder v. HLP) did the NYPD start collecting intelligence on them, too?

In any case, the NYPD’s belated decision to profile a designated terrorist organization at the time when they were deemed not to pose a threat sure embodies the kind if idiotic decisions that appear to lie behind the CIA-on-the-Hudson’s intelligence program.

More New York Republicans Providing Material Support to Terrorists

Speaking of material support for terrorism, David Cole uses the recent trip by Rudy Giuliani and others to suck up to the Mujaheddin-e Khalq (MEK) as an opportunity to explain the idiocy of the Holder versus Humanitarian Law Project SCOTUS verdict.

DID former Attorney General Michael Mukasey, former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, Tom Ridge, a former homeland security secretary, and Frances Townsend, a former national security adviser, all commit a federal crime last month in Paris when they spoke in support of the Mujahedeen Khalq at a conference organized by the Iranian opposition group’s advocates? Free speech, right? Not necessarily.

The problem is that the United States government has labeled the Mujahedeen Khalq a “foreign terrorist organization,” making it a crime to provide it, directly or indirectly, with any material support. And, according to the Justice Department under Mr. Mukasey himself, as well as under the current attorney general, Eric Holder, material support includes not only cash and other tangible aid, but also speech coordinated with a “foreign terrorist organization” for its benefit. It is therefore a felony, the government has argued, to file an amicus brief on behalf of a “terrorist” group, to engage in public advocacy to challenge a group’s “terrorist” designation or even to encourage peaceful avenues for redress of grievances.

[snip]

But in June, the Supreme Court ruled against us, stating that all such speech could be prohibited, because it might indirectly support the group’s terrorist activity. Chief Justice John Roberts reasoned that a terrorist group might use human rights advocacy training to file harassing claims, that it might use peacemaking assistance as a cover while re-arming itself, and that such speech could contribute to the group’s “legitimacy,” and thus increase its ability to obtain support elsewhere that could be turned to terrorist ends.

Cole goes on to note the hypocrisy of the government, which has given exceptions for humanitarian purposes to corporations seeking to sell cigarettes, even while arguing NGOs cannot provide food and water.

Mind you, I’m actually with Cole: Rudy and Mukasey and Fran Fragos Townsend and Tom Ridge ought to be able to go make speeches sucking up to Iran’s version of Ahmad Chalabi (oops! I forgot that Chalabi was Iran’s!), a bunch of liars who have invented intelligence to try to justify war with Iran. That’s what Republicans do, after all: promote hucksters who can justify the next war.

But it’s really time for either some consistency in the way the government pursues its war on terror violent extremism, or an admission that the war on terror has disintegrated into a war on those who oppose US empire. The government is still investigating a bunch of peace activists for material support. And yet four prominent Republicans can offer the same kind of material support as the peace activists–but this time in service of war or US hegemony or oil–with no similar consequences?