Tuesday, December 05, 2017

A Land of Mini-Coups

By Mark Steyn
December 4, 2017

Image result for michael flynn court
Former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn leaves federal court in Washington on Friday. (AP)

Following Michael Flynn's guilty plea for "lying to the FBI", there seem likely to be further feverish developments in Robert Mueller's "Russia investigation". Professor William Jacobson asks the obvious question:
Why is Robert Mueller even investigating the presidential transition?
The Order appointing Mueller concerns election interference, not post-election political decisions of the winning candidate.
Indeed. First, it shouldn't be a crime to lie to the FBI given the way the FBI lies to us with impunity. Yours truly thirteen years ago:
Martha, it seems, will be going to jail for telling a lie. Not in court, not under oath, not perjury, but merely when the Feds came round to see her about a possible crime. They couldn't prove she'd committed a crime, so they nailed her for lying while chit-chatting to them about the non-crime. And for that they're prepared to destroy her company. 
It's true that it's an offence to lie to the Feds. But, as my New Hampshire neighbours Tom and Scott, currently in my basement stretching out a little light carpentry job to the end of the winter, are the first to point out, the Feds lied to the public about Waco and Ruby Ridge (another bloodbath) for years. If the Feds can lie to the people, why can't the people lie to the Feds?
Martha Stewart wound up behind bars for telling a lie in a matter in which there was no underlying crime. In the case of Flynn, I heard some bigshot in Congress argue that Flynn's lies were somehow "material" to the investigation. But, as Professor Jacobson points out, it's hard to see how Russia can "interfere" with the election after it's been held. Flynn's conversations occurred in his capacity as a senior figure in the incoming administration. That's the normal business of diplomatic relations - and it is most emphatically not the business of minor policemen within a leaky and insecure permanent bureaucracy.
So Flynn's "lies" are not material - unless the Deep State is "investigating" the winning side in the election for engaging in the usual business of government.

Second, I happened to speak to the FBI about a certain matter a couple of months back. Very pleasant lady. Thought it all went well. But my lawyers were dead set against it - because, if you go to see the Feds in the context of some or other investigation and you chance to be infelicitous about this or that, you'll find that suddenly you're the one being investigated for, as noted above, the one-way crime of lying to the authorities. Did Flynn, in fact, lie? When you're shooting the breeze with G-men, mistakes or faulty recollection can be enough to land you in prison - if the Feds think it useful to them to threaten you with that. When Flynn pleaded guilty, was he, in fact, guilty? Or was he rather a ruined and broke man who could no longer withstand the pressure of the metaphorical electrodes with attendant billable hours?

I think we all know the answer to that. As I always say, the process is the punishment. And the Federal Government (which wins 97 per cent of cases it brings to court) can inflict a more punishing process than anyone this side of Pyongyang. This is a vile business that does no credit to a civilized society.

Third, as longtime readers, listeners and viewers know, I strongly dislike the uniquely American "presidential transition" period. As you know, in, say, the Westminster system, if a prime minister loses on a Thursday, his goes to the Palace to resign on the Friday, and he moves out of Downing Street on the weekend. The new cabinet ministers are in place the following Monday or Tuesday. The "transition" is part of the general institutional sclerosis of Washington, and certainly no friend to swamp-drainers: A year after Trump's election, key positions in every cabinet department - Deputy Secretaries, Assistant Secretaries, Under-Secretaries, Deputy Assistant Secretaries, Assistant Deputy Secretaries, Deputy Assistant Under-Secretaries - are still held by Obama appointees.

Well, you say, that's business as usual with Chuck Schumer. What can you expect? But in this case the losing party decided to take the opportunities afforded by the transition to the next level. As I put it back in October:
During the stupid and anachronistic two-and-a-half-month electoral "transition", the outgoing Administration worked round the clock to de-legitimize and cripple their successors.
Hence Susan Rice and Samantha Power frantically "unmasking" all the way up to inauguration day.

If there is any justification for this absurd "transition", it is that a US presidential administration is uniquely unwieldy and is constitutionally required to go through ever more molasses-speed confirmations of key figures. Therefore, it helps to keep the old government around to have someone to answer the telephone in case Little Rocketman nukes Cleveland. 
That justification would only have merit if the outgoing administration behaved with a degree of circumspection and deference to the people's verdict. That's to say, they should be keeping the seat warm, not making substantive policy moves at odds with the positions of the duly elected incoming government.

Obama's decision to pick a last-minute fight with Moscow and expel a bunch of Russian diplomats does not seem to me to be appropriate for a placeholder president on the way out the door. So it is not just that the incoming administration's attempts to ameliorate the damage were, pace Mueller, entirely legitimate, but that it is Obama's actions that are, in the sense of political decorum, wholly improper.

Since January 20th, the party that lost the election has been, supposedly, out of power. But its appointees remain in charge - to the point where the President has to go to court to evict the in effect self-appointed head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau - a lawless and unaccountable body so beyond the much vaunted "checks and balances" of the US Constitution that it can shake down its targets (banks) and transfer the proceeds to its ideological allies (anti-capitalist activist groups). The permanent bureaucracy's argument re the CFPB is that elections don't matter. Primitive countries have coups against the president; subtler systems have a thousand below-the-radar coups in every rinky-dink bureau and agency.

As Peter Roff puts it in US News:
In case anyone still doubts it, the deep state is real.
So it is. Whatever else may be said about them, Republicans make good losers: Nixon to Kennedy, Bush Sr to Clinton, McCain to Obama... For a generation, Democrats have convinced themselves that there is no such thing as a legitimate Republican victory: Bush Jr was the "selected" president, and the tag was sufficiently effective that even the murderous assault of 9/11 provided only a brief respite. The strategy this time round is a kind of inversion: Trump may be the elected president, but at the CFPB, the Justice Department, State, Homeland Security et al the self-selected permanent state cruises on.

~We had a busy weekend at SteynOnline, including my special audio interview with rock legend Ted Nugent, covering everything from feral cats to Mitt Romney. We also marked the fortieth anniversary since Ted warmed up "Cat Scratch Fever" for me. In a different musical vein, mySong of the Week celebrated a classic novelty number - and my weekend movie column told the tragic tale of a great comic, Charlie Chaplin's heavy.

We also presented my radio serialization of Scott Fitzgerald's story "The Rubber Check" in three episodes: Parts OneTwo and Three. I'll be starting a special Christmas edition of Tales for Our Time this coming weekend. If you were otherwise distracted these last 72 hours and missed any or all of these delights, I hope you'll check out one or two of them.

If you're thinking of giving the gift of Steyn this holiday season, we've introduced a special Mark Steyn Club Christmas Gift Membership that lets you sign up a chum for the Steyn Club and then choose a personally autographed welcome gift for them - either one of two handsome hardback books or a couple of CDs. You'll find more details here - and scroll down to the foot of the order form for the choice of books/CDs.

And, for members and non-members alike, there are bargains galore in our Steynamite Christmas specials.

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