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Gasoline on the Fire

August 7, 2019
Gasoline on the Fire
(Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

1. Joaquin Castro Is Irresponsible

Editor’s note: A draft version of the Triad was posted on the Bulwark this morning which erroneously said that the tweets identifying Trump donors came from Julian Castro. The tweet was sent out by Castro’s campaign chairman, Joaquin Castro. We regret the error.

I had a long piece yesterday about the disingenuousness of Donald Trump’s Monday speech. Here’s the nub, in case you missed it:

What we have here is an arsonist who has set our country on fire. And he’s standing around in the crowd with the rest of us, watching the blaze, and he’s lecturing us like he’s one of the firemen.

The blaze I’m talking about, of course, is the state of American public life. You may have noticed that things are not awesome: white nationalists, antifa, mass shootings, pitched battles in the streets, massive disinformation campaigns run across an internet which still has not real rules of the road.

The best thing you can say about American political life in 2019 is that it’s not quite as bad as the 1970s. Yet.

And into this waddles Julian Castro’s brother and campaign manager, Joaquin Castro, who yesterday decided to tweet out the names and employers of 44 Trump donors from San Antonio.

This is dangerous and foolish and exactly the kind of thing you don’t do if you truly believe that we’re in volatile territory.

2. Gasoline on a fire

We are 72 hours after a politically-motivated mass murder carried out by a white nationalist who seems to be supportive of Trump.

For Castro to use his platform to highlight the names of Trump donors in this atmosphere has no public purpose—none at all. The information is publicly available. He is not disclosing something new.

The names of these people have nothing whatsoever to do with the El Paso shooting. There is no way—again, none at all—to draw a line from Texans who gave a couple thousand dollars to Trump to this terrorism. Do they have some infinitesimal  responsibility for the Trump administration, writ large? Sure. In the same way that any individual in a population of 330 million is “responsible” for the actions of a duly-elected politician. Which is to say, it theoretically exists, but is so small that it’s impossible to either observe or measure. And the leap from minor “material support for Trump’s election” to “complicity in terrorism” borders on blood libel.

No, what Castro was trying to do had nothing to do with the public good. He was trying to (1) get attention and (2) shame these people.

In the abstract, shame is fine. A great number of societal mores are maintained not by law, but by custom. And that the bedrock enforcement mechanism of customs is shame.

But prudential concerns are always paramount. And one of them is this:

When you’re standing around watching a house burn down, you do not spray people in the crowd with lighter fluid.

Let us be very, very clear: Castro publishing these names, at this moment, is every bit as irresponsible as Trump calling for violence against protestors at his rallies.

Either he realized this, which makes him a monster. Or he did not. Which makes him a fool.

If his brother does not repudiate this and remove him from his campaign, then he is unfit to be president.

3. Mark Bowden

This is genius: Insider asked the great Mark Bowden to read the Mueller report and then write an adaptation of it. The difference is the difference between reading the military’s internal debrief on Mogadishu and reading Black Hawk Down. Like I said, genius.

Bannon advised against firing the director. He said that the time when that could have been done smoothly was past. Besides, he explained, getting rid of Comey would not stop the investigation: He could fire the director, but he couldn’t fire the FBI!

But Trump’s mind was set. If this director would not tell the world that Trump was not being investigated, then Trump would get another.

At a dinner two days after Comey’s testimony, Trump dictated a dismissal letter for the director to Stephen Miller, his senior policy adviser. The letter stressed that the president was not firing Comey because he feared the outcome of the investigation but because he and the public had “lost faith” in him. The final, four-page version faulted Comey’s judgment and conduct, his handling of the Clinton email investigation, and his failure to more aggressively prosecute leakers.

“Don’t try to talk me out of it,” Trump told his aides on the morning of May 5. “Because I’ve made my decision, so don’t even try.”

McGahn managed to persuade the president to delay. Comey’s status was under review at the Justice Department anyway, and Trump had a meeting scheduled with Sessions and Rod Rosenstein, his deputy, that very evening. After all, Comey reported to them, not directly to the president.

At the meeting with Sessions and Rosenstein on May 8, Trump made his feelings plain. There was something “not right” about Comey. He thought he should be removed. Then he asked for their views. Both men were on board. Sessions reminded Trump that he had recommended Comey’s removal the previous week. Rosenstein criticized the director’s handling of the Clinton email investigation. They agreed to draft a memo recommending Comey’s firing.

“Put the Russia stuff in the memo,” the president said.

Rosenstein asked why. If Comey’s firing had nothing to do with the investigation, why mention it?

Read the whole thing.

Jonathan V. Last

Jonathan V. Last is editor of The Bulwark.