S1: I feel superstitious when I predict anything other than going to be a hard fight. We feel good about where we are. But, you know, I don’t underestimate how he plays.
S2: We come from different places. We’re part of different generations. But I quickly came to admire and love Joe as a man who early on learn to treat everybody with dignity and respect. Right now, I’m asking everybody to vote and vote early.
S3: Hello and welcome to Trump Cast, I’m Virginia Heffernan. I went to the poll near Slate’s closed offices in downtown Brooklyn to vote early yesterday. I’m not going to tell you who I vote for. It’s a surprise, but my friend Sarah had proposed we get coffee and read the line together. It turned out to be about an hour and a half. That was deceptively long because people were standing in clumps spaced by six feet and the line with all those big gaps snaked around blocks and blocks. OK, so Sarah and I live in the same building and we voted together in twenty sixteen. I was super upbeat that day. I was not one of those people who kind of knew Trump was going to win. I don’t really believe in those people. But anyway, I was upbeat. She was really wary. So this year we switched roles. Sarah was in high spirits. Sure, Biden would win and I was freaking paranoid. I felt like I’d be jumped by a proud boy, hit every corner, so darting my eyes around seeing skinheads. And I filled in my Biden circle as black as night. I was afraid to miss any tiny spot that could be used against me like a hanging chad. Before we got to the ballot box, we decided that our reversed moods meant that twenty twenty was going to go better than twenty sixteen because we jinxed at that time with those moods. So Sarah proposed. We do other things opposite from how we’d done them in twenty sixteen, which somehow meant getting something very expensive called an orange blossom iced latte, a very, very, very sweet cup of tang flavored espresso. We choked it down and decided that this sacrifice would definitely favor our candidate. Four years ago, I spent election night on stage at a Trump cast live event with Jacob Weisberg, who started the show and was the host of Trump cast. And he had us to what was basically a party was literally song and dance and comedy. Daryl Williams played. There was some vaudeville performers and we were so sure of the outcome that we didn’t even have an electoral map on the screen behind us. We were just soft shoeing and tap dancing and it was going to be the end of Trump Ghast. And then it wasn’t Mike Pesca of the Gist and I were on stage as the realization dawned that Donald Trump was going to be the president. Jacob, whom I have never seen as anything but unflappable, looked white as a sheet. I was sure he could explain what was happening, but he was speechless. We tried to keep the performances and the mood going for a little while, but eventually people started filing out and then I filed out. It went to Sarah’s apartment and we kept refreshing the maps on our phones until there was nothing to refresh. Four years later, we have a country led by, well, you know who he is. By every measure, we are far worse off than we were. On top of that, the super rich have gotten super richer and the proof that Trump obstructed justice, rolled tanks in on peaceful protesters, attempted to sell out our allies to frame a rival, raped one woman and sexually harassed and assaulted dozens of others, collaborated with the Kremlin, lied with every word you said, and acted out of white supremacy and malevolence and insanity. None of that in four years has cost him the White House. We have chronicled his crime after his crime, his sadism and more sadism. And he is still there. Congress didn’t protect us. Mueller didn’t protect us. The Justice Department didn’t protect us, and the Cabinet certainly didn’t protect us. So now the vote is the only chance to get him out. The next time I’ll talk to you, it will be Election Day. Comcast was slated for retirement four years ago, but we hung in there and we still promise to stay until this is over. But I’m counting on all of you and our fellow Americans to make it over soon. Please let Trump cast retire. My guest today to talk about the last four years and how in the world Trump was allowed to serve. What’s fast approaching a full term is none other than Bennewitz. Benjamin Wittes is a senior fellow at Brookings Institution and the editor in chief of a Lawfare blog.
S4: Ben, welcome back to Tramcars. Thanks for having me back.
S5: It’s so good to see you because I feel like there’s a a valedictory moment or some occasion here. I’m going to call you the valedictorian. I don’t mean a victory lap, but I mean an opportunity to speak somewhat elegiac about the past four years and about especially all the partial and failed efforts to keep Trump from serving out a full term before the next inauguration. He could still be gone. But I’m operating under the assumption that in spite of everyone’s best efforts, he did make it through the full four years. How did that happen? That’s what I want to hear from you.
S4: Yeah. So I think the first answer to that question is that every guardrail that we put in the way of majoritarianism failed. And the thing that is protecting us from the failure of that, those guardrails is majoritarianism. Let’s just do the failures in order. The first failure, which is an extraconstitutional graft onto our constitutional system, is the failure of the two party system. And the two party system is a system that is supposed to take all the WACA doodles and give them a seat at the table in parties, and then they get defeated. And we present to the American people a choice between a sane center right figure and a sane center left figure, and it sort of washes that out. So the first failure was the total failure of the Republican Party to play that role. That is a historic failure. This the systems, the this system has actually worked really well in very much the way that the founders imagined the Electoral College working. Right, that the children could have their fun and then the grown ups would step in and choose a president. Right. That’s the way the founders imagined the Electoral College. The Electoral College has never really played that role. Instead, the two party system has played that role. You know, you can flirt with having Eugene Debs be the president, but eventually he’s not going to get the Democratic nomination. The socialist candidate is not going to win the presidency, particularly not if he’s in jail. And you’re going to have Warren Harding. That’s the first failure that the hostile takeover of the Republican Party happened. The second thing is that the majoritarianism system of the electoral vote, of the popular vote was overruled by the counter majoritarian system of the Electoral College, which ironically was designed to protect us from demagoguery by the majoritarian system. So those systems inverted themselves. Right then the next big failure. And of course, the despite your fond hopes for the Hamiltonian electors, the Electoral College, in fact, rubber stamped the counter majoritarian instinct rather than playing the role that the founders imagined that it would play, which was, OK, you’ve had your fun people. Now the grown ups come in and say, all right, Donald Trump is not going to be president of the United States. So then the next huge failure is the failure of the congressional oversight process. Now, there are some notable exceptions to this, but the I think, broadly speaking, you can say that the congressional oversight process functioned to, you know, functioned in a party over branch kind of way. This is something that the founders really did not anticipate. And so if you’d asked James Madison or Alexander Hamilton, Trump gets in, what’s going to stop him? And the answer sitting there in Federalist 51 is ambition shall be made to counteract ambition. Right. The the tools need to be we’re going to have the the Hobbesian war of the branches. All against all, and we’re going to arm them both and what that does not take into account is that if you’re a Republican senator before you are a senator, then you do all kinds of things, like not investigating things that you should be investigating or even investigating the people who are investigating them. This becomes particularly apparent at the time of the firing of Jim Comey when every member of Congress had the decision to make was this acceptable and the majority in both houses took the position. And it’s fine. We’re not going to spend too much time on this because Jim Comey was, after all, doing an investigation of the president. And the president can be forgiven for being kind of pissed off about that. This continues through a great deal of trials and tribulations until the impeachment process. And this is the next big failure. The impeachment process was designed in the face of the true outrage to say we’re not standing for it. And faced with a transcript of the true outrage and numerous members of the White House staff and national security staff and the staff of the State Department saying here’s what happened. And a whistleblower who was courageous enough to file a report about this. The entirety of the Republican caucus in the House said, fuck it, we don’t really care. And in fact, that’s the real problem here is Pete Struck or Obama gate, essentially the entire Republican caucus in the Senate, with the honorable exception of Mitt Romney, said the same thing. So that is the sequence of failures. And here is the good news. The people actually that thing we were supposed to protect against majoritarianism has never been fooled by this. And Donald Trump lost the popular vote the last time by according to every poll. He is going to lose it more by more. This time he’s in a weaker electoral position than he was. And and so the irony is that the thing all of these counter majoritarian institutions, the Senate, the impeachment process, the two party system that were designed to protect us against majoritarianism, all failed. And the one remaining hope, the one that has actually consistently performed at or above average, including in the twenty eighteen midterm elections, the people said enough of this shit and now they are poised. We all hope to do it again. And so I say God bless majoritarianism. And maybe the founders protected us from it just a little too much.
S5: Wow. I mean, have you written that because that was an aria, even exceeded my expectations even from you? I mean, just the concision of the argument about majoritarianism and ambition to counter ambition. I think you owe that to us in writing.
S4: Susan and I, Susan Hennessey and I wrote a version of that in the conclusion of the Unmaking the presidency. But it’s part of a larger argument. I’ve never kind of written the hey, all these counter majoritarian institutions have function to facilitate demagoguery. And the one thing that is actually protecting us from demagoguery is majority sentiment.
S5: Amazing. I’ve never written that. Well, I want you to just then it was suitable for Bartletts Bartletts. If you’re listening, there is a perfectly epigram you can laminate. I don’t think I know exactly what majoritarianism means, believe it or not. Tell me just just give our listeners some idea, because there are a lot of abstractions have come up in the last four years and we’re constantly being reminded of our commitments to the republic if we can keep it. And those commitments are reframed in different ways and majoritarianism. Where does that stand for the founders as an idea for the founders?
S4: Yeah, so this is a really interesting question. So first of all, majoritarianism is quite simply ruled by the majority. Right. And if you think about it in its purest form, it is direct democracy as still practiced in certain small northern New England towns. But, you know, you can design very crude democratic systems that are kind of ancient Greek and Roman, that are sort of Rome is much more complicated. But crudely, majoritarianism, whatever the majority says, goes right. And you have these these votes. Now, the problem, the founders were extremely suspicious of majoritarianism. And the reason is that the late Roman Republic had and the Greek city states had showed that particularly the late Roman Republic showed that if you don’t design systems very carefully, they are enormously susceptible to demagoguery. So the Rocci brothers and we’re were one of the famous cases in Rome and these LED lights and we tell the story of the Groppi brothers, you can’t just name check the Kraki brothers. All right. And the other later example is Mariusz and Sulla. So these are Roman political figures who were of some capacity and talent and were promised a lot of things to the poorer elements of the society and became politically popular as a result. And this is where the idea of demagogue comes from and the founders. And ultimately in these cases, they resulted in significant violence. And in Mariusz case, it resulted in a dictatorship by Maris’s rival, Lucius Kornelia Sulla, who basically eradicated all of Mariss followers. So these are searing events in the minds of the founders who are trying to think about how do you create a functional republic? And they are very suspicious of purely majoritarian democracy. In fact, they don’t they’re allergic to the term democracy because it implies mob rule. It implies simple majoritarianism. And so they build these structures. The Senate, which is counter majoritarian in character. Right. Delaware has as many and Rhode Island has as much representation as Virginia, which is now even more extreme. Those were the extremes then. The extreme now is that Wyoming has as much representation as California. That’s a population disparity of of 60 times. Right? Thirty million to half a million. The whole idea of these systems and there’s much to it. The Supreme Court is another example. Right. So the famous characterization of the problem of judicial review is called the counter majoritarian difficulty. Right. How do you justify in Democratic terms, the Supreme Court’s ability to overturn democratically enacted statutes? And the whole theory of this is that these are systems that are designed to protect us from the tyranny of the majority. Right. And ironically, all of these systems have operated in the Trump era to entrench and enable the tyranny of. Of a minority, that is, the majority never voted for Donald Trump, the majority never voted, the majority of people favored impeachment, the majority of the population favored the Mueller investigation, wanted it to proceed unencumbered. Right. The people here have been pretty smart. And if you went by the actual majoritarian instincts of the American people, the non demagogue, i.e., Hillary Clinton would be president and, you know, she might have a Republican Senate to deal with. But you’re really talking about a situation in which the systems that we built to protect us against a Roman demagogue all served to facilitate a Roman demagogue. And it’s extraordinary. Now we are down to the last stand. And the last stand is, can the majority take back the right to rule?
S5: Is it possible then, though, that the founders overstated the danger of a kind of pop star leader, that in fact that was grounded in and this is where we go to the Electoral College as a counter majoritarian body, that, you know, the description of the Electoral College by many other people is that it’s a racist institution. And is it possible to be counter majoritarian and also in some way egalitarian or not racist? Because once you start saying the worst that can happen is the majority’s voice gets heard, you start to say this is rabble. They won’t ever pick the right person. They’re accused or too low. There is too low stature. They don’t have enough money. They’re not male enough. And then you decide that the minority needs to take things into their own hands. I mean, why isn’t the warning that the majority would always throw up a demagogue that promised them free ice cream? Because they’re such they’re such children, as you say. Why isn’t that just a kind of fig leaf for workaday racism?
S4: Yeah. So first of all, I don’t know any Democratic theorist who really believes in pure majoritarianism. And so I don’t want to fault the founders. You can fault them for their racism. And there is a sense in which a lot of these systems are heavily influenced by that racism. But I don’t want to fault them for being overly concerned about demagoguery. The concern was right, and the United States had a very good long run of actually not having demagogues as president. Now you can think about Andrew Jackson and some opposition to that. But by Trump standards, Andrew Jackson was a scholar, you know, and so like he was a vicious racist and like he was a horrible guy, but he was an extremely capable guy and he was not a trivial person. And it is quite wrong to confuse the problem of Donald Trump with the problem of Andrew Jackson. We haven’t had a lot of demagogues as president and the one who maybe got close. Who was Huey Long and I think was a plausible opposition candidate for in the 30s was assassinated, and so I think there’s a I don’t want to be too hard on the founders for having taken this problem very seriously and having built systems to prevent its realization. I do think if you’re looking objectively at what happened in the Trump era, what happened is that those systems failed all of them, one after another, and they all failed in a fashion that majoritarianism did not fail. And if you think about, like, what are we all praying for on Tuesday? We are praying that the majority is big enough to overwhelm all those systems. Right. We’re afraid of the Supreme Court getting involved. We’re afraid of state legislatures appointing their own slate of electors.
S6: And what are we saying is the protection against that big enough majorities so that the result is really, really clear? And I do think when you’re in that situation and you’re saying that we need a majority to be loud enough and clear enough to overcome all those counter majoritarian things that are designed to protect us from demagoguery, or we’re going to have more demagoguery.
S4: You have to say that something went wrong. Yeah, but I don’t think it’s I don’t think the founders got it wrong. I think it’s that the country has developed in ways that, you know, little if James Madison were here on Trump cast, he would say this is a situation that requires attention, government’s attention for precisely the reasons that we wrote the Constitution in the first place.
S5: It’s just fascinating hydraulic account of how these things are allowed to work and how they didn’t work, like when leaving aside the word racism, the emotional charge of these things, just the even understanding how these counterbalances are meant to work on kind of a mechanical model. I don’t even know what metaphors the founders were using with things like checks and balances. But I picture, you know, scales and I picture kind of kind of hydraulics and the way ships work, something like that. And the fact that those circuits were overwhelmed to bring in electricity and worse, the Internet by misrepresenting how many people believe this or that and and trolling and hacking. You know, when you hear of Cambridge Analytica describing, boasting probably inaccurately, that they managed to hack certain counties for Trump and hack the Electoral College. So the Electoral College is not serving its purpose as a counterbalance to the to the popular vote, but it’s just a vulnerability. It’s just like a weak point in a security system that can be hacked. I mean, that is a very different way of thinking about these entities and this productive tension that’s meant to govern us.
S4: So the Electoral College is a really good example of this problem. So I actually think the original conception of the Electoral College, it’s not modern. You can’t defend it in a modern democratic language. But it’s a really interesting theory and I think it’s a theory with some significant integrity. So if Alexander Hamilton were here through the Electoral College is really a creature of his imagination, he would describe it, I think, like this.
S5: Please sing, please. I’d like you to say that I’m not even going to try. I’d like you to rap.
S4: OK, so look, there is no national media back then. People don’t have remotely the same information the politicians that you have are engaged with. If you live in rural Virginia, you may not know anything about the politicians that Hamilton is dealing with in New York City. Right. You have no contact with them. You have they don’t speak to you. You’re not reading their newspapers. And remember, a lot of these people are publishing newspapers, but they’re really, really local. So if you’re trying to choose a national president, how is a voter in South Carolina supposed to evaluate a candidate from New York? How do they even have there’s no campaigning. Right. And so the theory of the Electoral College is, hey, let’s have people in each jurisdiction select the people that they know.
S6: I can choose between Virginia Heffernan and Mike Pesca. Right. I can choose between James Madison and that other guy in Orange County, Virginia, because I live in Orange County. And then we’ll send that. And they are, by the way, people who are engaged in national politics, who are writing letters all over the country, who are reading stuff, then they can go engage with each other and they decide who should be the national leader.
S4: Now, notice how many of those premises are now incorrect. We have a national media. Everybody can listen to Trump cast no matter where you are. Right. Everybody can read Lawfare, everybody can read The New York Times and everybody can read Breitbart part. And from Infowars, the our information environment right now is entirely a matter of choice, not much less a matter of geography. Anybody can engage national politics and anybody does. And by the way, we are much less close to our local politicians than we used to be. And so then here’s what happens as that becomes truer and truer. Even before that becomes true, we get rid of the idea that you’re electing your local politicians to choose the president direct, you know, voting for people who are pledged to the Virginia Heffernan ticket. That starts pretty early. So we lose faith in the idea that the Electoral College is going to become this intermediary institution like Congress, right where you vote for the people and then they exercise their judgment in choosing the president. We lose touch with that really early.
S6: And so it ends up being this weird mechanical thing where a certain number of each state has a certain number of electoral votes that go mechanistically to the candidate who wins the popular vote in that state.
S4: Unless, of course, so it becomes just as mechanistic or almost as mechanistic as a you know, as a popular vote system, but on the basis of a much less rational and by the way, much less democratic idea.
S6: So if you had said to me, if you said to me, OK, let’s choose a president by indirect election, there’s an interesting discussion to be had about that. Right. We would all elect our people and they would choose the president. That’s kind of what European countries, how they choose a prime minister. It’s a different system, but it’s the same basic idea. You don’t vote for, you know, for Angela Merkel. You vote for your local or your party. And the party chooses the leader of the party. Right. Nobody voted except in one district. And in Ontario, people didn’t vote for Justin Trudeau. You can make a case for that. It’s very hard, in my view, to make a case for something that’s just as mechanistic, only based on this weird mathematical model in which because you live in New Jersey, you have X number of electoral votes that will automatically by the way, we all know where they’re going. Right. And so you but if you live in Ohio, you have a different number of electoral votes and nobody knows where they’re going. That doesn’t really make any sense.
S5: Yeah, and the opacity of it seems to make it more hackable so that while there looks like there’s a contest, there’s a bloody battle going on on the Internet between, say, Trump and Hillary or Trump and Joe Biden. There’s actually backroom shenanigans being done by whether it’s Cambridge Analytica or certain states attorneys general to kind of fix this thing. So do you think you’re I mean, one thing that comes to mind, as I’m sure like you, I get a lot of email about the coming election and the various elections, and I need to give more. Jamie Harrison. And recently, I’ve seen ones that don’t tell me just to wish Kamala Harris a happy birthday or Barack Obama, but to show my support for Rachel Maddow. Right. And that’s the moment where I think, is she my delegate? She’s the person I’ve perfected on to you by watching her on TV. And so whatever she does, whatever she believes is what I believe. I know I have such a such a close, intimate relationship that it’s like the relationship in the 18th century that that a voter that a land owner might have with a kind of local councilman or a or a would be delegate. And these proxy figures that exist on the Internet and the media. You have met Rachel Maddow in person, but I only know her as a persona that I am taught to feel very warmly toward, but that she might sort of somehow be my identity might be tagged to hers and through her tag to Biden and Kamala Harris is unnerving when I know that that’s not how the election works. I mean, I don’t know if that’s there’s a there’s another story being told that the level of the Internet that is in conflict. With the base, with the base way that all these things work, so I think that’s a really interesting point.
S4: And notice in reference to previous discussion, there is no analogue to Rachel Maddow at the time of the founding. The closest I can think of is a kind of Ben Franklin figure who is, you know, a superstar. But Ben Franklin was a politician. He’s the greatest scientist of of the period from the United States. He’s old and he’s a kind of legendary figure by this point. But more to the point, he’s actively involved in politics. Right? He’s minister to France in the relevant period. He’s at the constitutional convention. He’s yeah, he’s also writing writing stuff, writing almanacs and that sort of thing. But that that’s because of the sort this sort of period of Renaissance people, there’s no analogue to somebody who, like Rachel, is just a media figure and who has immense prestige, who carries a lot of who people. Your description is really interesting. Who has a a a following that is political, but not just political in character. And there’s no analogue to a Sean Hannity. Right. These are people who in the founding era would have been running for office. They would have been the mode that we had of of that kind of political engagement, was running for office, was being in in the room where documents were written. And I think the difference between a world in which there is a national media and people organize their identities around it and a world in which there are not there is no national media and people don’t organize their identities around national media ID is very, very hard to even understand how big that difference is. Like I struggle with that all the time, what it must have been like to live in the mountains in Virginia.
S6: And basically that was the world, right? You didn’t have information systems designed to have you in dialogue with the person who lived in Maine. There was no know you could write individual letters, but you had to know who you were writing them to to to do that. And that’s a that’s a just a deep, deep difference between the polar differences between that and a social media environment. But the intermediate difference is just the world, a world in which there is a national media versus a world in which there is an extremely interesting.
S5: So that one of the things that broke down or, you know, all these failsafes that are guardrails that failed us, one of them was a kind of measured media, not a kind of not a hyper hysterical media or some media that diluted us into thinking that we were in some direct relationship with these candidates or their proxies where that left open the real levers to be pulled somewhere else. I just feel that the felt experience of the election and even the felt experience of the last four years has radically differed from just the gears of democracy that we’re just not we’re alienated from how the system currently works. When you were talking about the various junctures where we might have where Trump might have been stopped in its tracks, you left out the Mueller investigation. I assume that you pointed to it by talking about the firing of James Comey. But is that all it was? I mean, go back for a second and revisit the investigation that, you know, was extremely important to us and to the country as it evolved. And, you know, was it just kind of dud that failed to explode? What do you make of the wild baby cannon fire is still ringing in your ears. Do you have something to tell us about the revelations of the Mueller report and where the findings of the report will stand in the years to come?
S4: Yeah, so I left it out because I actually don’t think the Mueller investigation was a failure. I think the failure was a congressional. It was a failure of Congress. And there’s a lot that people criticize Bob Mueller for and some of it I agree with. Was it the perfect investigation? No. Was that the investigation? Did it make all the choices that. I at least in retrospect, but probably also in real time, would have wanted Bob Mueller to make no, but at the end of the day, I don’t think I think almost nothing turns on the failures of Bob Mueller’s investigation.
S5: Well, what about the failures of the Justice Department? What about them?
S4: I mean, because at the end of the day, Bob Mueller put four hundred and thirty five pages of radioactive impeachment grade uranium on the desk of the House Judiciary Committee. And yes, Bill Barr mischaracterized it. And yes, Donald Trump seized the moment and declared vindication. But anybody who read the introduction, the executive summary of both Volume one and Volume two of that report knew that the president should be removed from office. And the Democratic leadership of the House Judiciary Committee did not move articles of impeachment in response to that report. It required the additional movement of l’affaire Ukrainian. And so I don’t think at the end of the day, the problem was Bob Mueller and his investigative choices. Now, what I have made some of them differently. Do I wish he had done some things differently than he did? Yeah. Do I wish he had been less concerned about being fired and made certain choices more aggressively? Yeah. Do I think that the marginal difference between what the investigation would have produced and what it did produce would have been the difference between Congress doing its job and not? No, not not for a moment am I detained by that possibility. The problem here was not that Bob Mueller didn’t put enough information on Congress’s doorstep for Congress to do its job. It’s that Democrats in Congress, with their eyes on the political consequences of Republicans, capitalizing it on Trump, capitalizing on it, wanted to focus on other things and knew they could not get it done because the Senate was not going to convict Donald Trump under any circumstances. And as a political matter, they were right. The Senate wouldn’t convict Donald Trump under any circumstances. But that comes reinforces the point that you have a systemic failure on the part of Congress. Even when the president was saying, but I have a favor to ask you of a foreign head of state and his own staff, roud ratted him out. You could not get the political will in Congress to remove him. Nothing Bob Mueller was going to add to the Mueller report would have changed that dynamic. And so while I think it’s interesting to talk to Andrew Weissman about his criticisms of of the way the investigation was conducted, I am mindful of the fact that at the end of the day, the problem was not in the Mueller investigation. It was in the elected branches of government.
S5: What about the Justice Department there, too? Because sometimes, you know, when we’re in our great or not great theory of man theory of history, but is it the great man theory of history, the theory of history, the terrible man theory of history? Right. Or where great means something like gross or inspiring that you start to think, well, the Senate couldn’t have gone so wrong without without McConnell and his particular mindset and set of tactics and in this case, the Justice Department, it seems that it can’t have gone so wrong except for the presence of Filiba. But maybe these are institutional failures. Maybe it just took someone willing to kind of activate all the, you know, possible radioactivity of their offices to make them work this way, to keep a demagogue in power. So leaving out McConnell and the Senate, what do you have to say about Barr on that? I mean, was there always a vulnerability in the office of attorney general that could have been exploited? And how also did that office fail us? You know, a career, an institutionalist, as he was repeatedly described? Not some, you know, my my pillow CEO with a law degree from Cooley who was said Trump was going to suddenly step into the role, but someone that that most people thought would do a measured, decent job. And his misrepresentation of the findings of the Mueller report seem to be responsible for what put that to rest even more than congressional inaction? Was that just a problem waiting to happen, that you get a kind of Roy Cohn figure? In that office, or was that a bar special?
S4: Well, a bit of both. First of all, one of the people who was emphasizing that Bell Bar was an institutionalist and got him really wrong with me. And so I don’t I was as fooled as anybody by him. And I am as shocked as anybody could be by how he who he turned out to be. So I don’t you know, I don’t want anything that I’m going to say to sound like I’m saying I told you so to about Bill Bar because, boy, did I not. Look, some of this was very predictable. And since I’ve said that I did not predict the bill bar part of it, I did predict with a fair bit of confidence the problem of the Justice Department under Trump. And I did it before Trump was president. I wrote an article on Lawfare entitled Trump and the Powers of the Presidency, in which I said that the big vulnerability here was the Justice Department and that the all you had to do to use the Justice Department to go after your friends, to go to protect your friends and go after your enemies, was appoint an attorney general who was willing to do it and get rid of the people who weren’t. And the day after the election, Susan Hennessey and I wrote a piece about watch for the firing of Jim Comey, because that’s what you’re going to have to do if you’re Donald Trump. So I do think some of this was very predictable and predictable and predicted, although in my case, the part of it that was not predicted was that Bill Barr was that person that which took me very much by surprise. Look, the problem predates Bill Barr. Matt Whitaker was a problem. It turns out that Rod Rosenstein was a big problem. And, you know, the the shocking revelation that he actually put his name to a memo that said the Justice Department doesn’t have any equities one way or the other in the locking up of kids separating them from their family. A lot of that predates Delbar, right? Jeff Sessions did his job on the big uncertain of the big things and including recusing himself. But look, the Justice Department was in ragged shape before Bill Barr showed up. And the reason for that is that Donald Trump cares about the Justice Department and Donald Trump caring about something is, you know, means it gets precisely the sort of TLC that ruins institutions. You know, there are parts of the federal government that will emerge largely unscathed from the Trump administration. And that’s because Donald Trump doesn’t care about them. Right. And but if he cares about you, it is because he wants to ruin you, destroy you, and he cares about the Justice Department. He cares about the functioning of this institution. And that is a very, very unfortunate thing.
S5: Ben, thank you so much for being here. Lots of things I know we’ll have to bring over and read up on and talk to you more about, but this will probably be the last conversation we have before Election Day. Maybe we’ll talk a little bit in what we hope will be the interregnum. But it’s just it’s it’s always so immensely interesting to talk to you. So thank you, Ben.
S1: Thank you. And I just want to say, on behalf of all Trump cast guests who have appointed me, their official spokesman, for purposes of communicating this, we salute your struggle over the last four years. Producing a show on Donald Trump is got to be the ultimate mortification of the flesh. And you deserve the Congressional Medal of Honor for four, absorbing that on behalf of the nation.
S3: Benjamin Wittes is a senior fellow at Brookings Institution and the editor in chief of Lawfare blog. And that’s it for today’s show. What do you think? I’m coming up with a new slogan and these anxious last few days. It’s fuck you’re not feelings. Have some feelings on Twitter and find me to share them. I’m at page 88 and the show is at Real Tramcars. And please write us whichever app you use for podcasts. Give us five stars in a review. Our show today was produced by Melissa Kaplan. I’m Virginia Heffernan. Thanks for listening to Dreamcast.