KELLYANNE CONWAY’S TERRIBLE, HORRIBLE, NO GOOD, VERY BAD WEEKEND

Two questions for former Trump campaign manager and now counselor to the president, Kellyanne Conway (who has a JD degree from George Washington University) :

— “Now the you’ve admitted that Trump will never release his tax returns, what did you know and when did you know it?”

— “What is the difference between what you told Meet the Press’s Chuck Todd was ‘alternative fact’ and a lie?”

A message to lawyers who defended candidate Trump’s “under audit” ploy as an appropriate excuse for anyone seeking the presidency: “Consider yourself duped.”

A lesson for any Trump supporter who believed that he would ever release his tax returns or adhere consistently to the truth: “Fool me once, shame on you….”.

IT’S STILL ALL ABOUT CREDIBILITY

You can’t say I didn’t warn you. An Inauguration Address that was only 17 minutes long and filled with lies aplenty!

Here’s are the fact-checkers:

Washington Post

Politfact

PBS

Fact-check.org

Vanity Fair

The winners? Those who heeded my call and refused to listen to him speak.

QUESTION: How more many minutes to go in this presidency?

ANSWER: Too many.

THE TRUMP RESISTANCE PLAN: STEP 1

[This article first appeared on billmoyers.com on January 18, 2017. It’s the third in my series and you can read the first two installments here and here.]

“The king and his worthless adherents are got at their old game of dividing the Continent, and there are not wanting among us, Printers, who will be busy in spreading specious falsehoods…”

— Thomas Paine, Common Sense (1776)

When the victors write history, the resulting narrative often focuses on why things happened. Far more important to the contemporaneous participants is the question of how. Mounting an effective resistance requires understanding an adversary’s strategies. Donald Trump’s most effective delivery system is a duet: Trump and Kellyanne Conway. Tracking a single example reveals their techniques.

Strategy #1: Lie

In the tradition of notorious “Strongmen,” Trump promulgates Big Lies. These outrageous fictions are easier to sell because listeners can’t imagine that the speaker would make them up. Since the election, one of Trump’s biggest has been his supposed “landslide” victory that gives him a mandate. The truth is that Trump’s percentage of the popular vote makes him a historic loser — close to Michael Dukakis in 1988. He ranks in the bottom quartile of Electoral College winners.

Strategy #2: Repeat the Lie

To reinforce the Big Lie, Trump and Conway use repetition to create a false reality. It has worked before. Thanks to Trump’s “birther” Big Lie, 72 percent of Republicans still have doubts about President Obama’s American citizenship. Here is a sample of the same technique in action on the “landslide” Big Lie:

“In addition to winning the Electoral College in a landslide…”– Trump tweet, Nov. 27, 2016

“Landslide. Blowout. Historic.”– Conway tweet, Nov. 28, 2016

“We had a massive landslide victory in the Electoral College, as you know…”– Trump’s interview with Fox News’ Chris Wallace on Dec. 11, 2016

All independent fact-checking organizations have rated the “landslide” claim false.

Strategy #3: Deflect, Divert, and Distract

After U.S. intelligence agencies concluded unanimously that Trump’s tenuous victory had come with the aid of Vladimir Putin, he and Conway deployed their “Three ‘D’s’” strategy: deflect, divert, and distract.

Trump deflection on Dec. 9: Mocking U.S. intelligence findings, his transition team issued this terse statement: “These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.”

No, they aren’t. Discussing Trump’s false assertion and the enormous changes to intelligence gathering and reporting since 2002, CIA chief John Brennan said, “It’s been light years since the WMD report.”

Conway deflection on Dec. 18: “The professional political left is attempting to foment a permanent opposition that is corrosive to our constitutional democracy and ignores what just happened in this election…The left is trying to delegitimize his election.”

No. Republican stalwart Senators John McCain and Lindsay Graham are leading the charge to investigate Russia’s interference with the election.

Conway deflection and diversion on December 18“In response to CBS News’ John Dickerson’s question about President Obama’s sanctions against Russia’s hacking, she said, “It does seem to be a political response at this point, because it seems like the president is under pressure from Team Hillary who can’t accept the election results.”

No. Senators McCain and Graham are among a bipartisan group complaining that President Obama’s sanctions were not sufficient.

— Trump diversion and distraction on Dec. 31“I know a lot about hacking. And hacking is a very hard thing to prove. So it could be somebody else. And I also know things that other people don’t know, and so they cannot be sure of the situation.”

When asked what he knew that others did not, Trump added this cliffhanger: “You’ll find out on Tuesday or Wednesday.” Trump’s big reveal never materialized.

Trump diversion on Jan. 3: “The ‘Intelligence’ briefing on so-called ‘Russian hacking’ was delayed until Friday, perhaps more time needed to build a case. Very strange!”

Senior intelligence officials told NBC News that the briefing was always set for Friday.

Trump deflection and diversion on Jan. 7After receiving the intelligence briefing, Trump tweeted: “Intelligence stated very strongly there was absolutely no evidence that hacking affected the election results. Voting machines not touched!”

No. The report actually says:We did not make an assessment of the impact that Russian activities had on the outcome of the 2016 election. The US Intelligence Community is charged with monitoring and assessing the intentions, capabilities, and actions of foreign actors; it does not analyze US political processes or US public opinion.” (Emphasis supplied)

Trump’s “voting machine” red herring diverted attention from the report’s conclusion: Putin infected America’s body politic with a sophisticated cyber-assault that included propaganda and the daily drip of Wikileaks materials hacked from Democrats’ computer systems.

Conway deflection on Jan. 8: “In terms of Russia…they did not succeed in throwing the election to Donald Trump. That’s very clear in this report…”

No.

Strategy #4: Bully and Intimidate

If someone resists Trump’s Big Lies, he attacks.

Trump on Jan. 4: “@FoxNews: Julian Assange on U.S. media coverage: ‘It’s very dishonest.’ #Hannity ‘More dishonest than anyone knows.'”

The U.S. intelligence report concluded that to help Trump defeat Hillary Clinton, Russian military intelligence used Julian Assange’s Wikileaks as the vehicle for releasing materials Russia had hacked from the DNC.

— Trump on Jan. 8: “Kellyanne Conway went to @MeetThePress this morning for an interview with @chucktodd. Dishonest media cut out 9 of her 10 minutes. Terrible!”

Network news shows editing guest spots is nothing new, especially guests who deflect, divert, and distract.

— Trump distraction on Jan. 9 (3:27 am): After Meryl Streep’s Golden Globe acceptance speech alluding to Trump’s offensive behavior toward a disabled reporter, he tweeted, “Meryl Streep, one of the most over-rated actresses in Hollywood… Just more very dishonest media!”

Strategy #5: Confuse

All strategies morph into an overriding message: Trust Trump and no one else. Unless he blesses it, believe nothing that you see, hear, or read. Those who question the Great Man are unpatriotic, biased liars. The playground bully has become the school principal.

Already exhausted from an ugly campaign, Americans get dizzy on Trump’s accelerating merry-go-round. The faster it goes, the more difficult to get your bearings. When your head is spinning, it’s impossible to keep your eye on the ball.

Future installments in this series will suggest ways to defeat Trump’s assault. I invite readers to share their ideas. Here’s a modest beginning:

TRP Strategy #1: Disconnect from Trump

Unfollow him. Starve him of attention. Drive down his ratings. When he or his minions appear on TV, change the channel.

Take a cue from the entertainment industry: boycott the Inaugural — unless you’re there to protest peacefully. Everyone else should resist the universal human temptation to watch a train wreck unfold. Tell everyone you know to do likewise. Low ratings will send a message. With his ever-changing stories and grandiose plans, missing his speech won’t mean missing anything that matters. If he can’t reach you, he can’t confuse you.

TRP Strategy #2: Seek the Truth

Some citizens weary of partisan bickering view the unprecedented controversies swirling around Trump as more of the same. They prefer to disengage from everything. It’s tempting. But even leading Republicans agree that Trump is different – and not in a good way. An unwillingness to seek the truth allows purveyors of falsehoods to prevail. Facts know no party lines and ignorance is no friend of democracy.

So after Trump takes office, follow this general rule: Keep close tabs on what Trump does to America and the world, but rely on news source(s) that will rigorously fact-check his every utterance. Follow only credible outlets that are willing to call out a Trump lie when they encounter one. Avoid those that repeat his falsehoods as if they were true, or give his minions a platform for lies and the Three “D’s.”

Apply that standard to me. My columns link every factual assertion to a sourced reference. I invite scrutiny.

TRP Strategy #3: Fight Back

Boycott and tweet out the companies sponsoring irresponsible platforms, so they are held accountable for their actions. Take a look at Sleeping Giants. It provides a do-it-yourself approach to influencing companies that advertise on “hate news” sites. Most of the businesses you challenge will be grateful to hear from you because a computer algorithm chooses their ad sites. Literally, these companies don’t know what they’re doing. The strategy works for “fake news,” too.

Throughout the campaign, Trump’s strategies produced ratings that were a media bonanza. Not any more. Remember that your time and your clicks translate into money for media outlets.

For eight years, American colonists fought to win freedom from Great Britain. Every citizen has a duty to preserve and protect it.

 

TRUMP’S CONFLICTS PLAN – Part 1

Someday, Sheri Dillon and her colleagues at Morgan, Lewis & Bockius may regret her performance at Donald Trump’s January 11 press conference. Public relations people saw the event as “beautiful” and “the best thing ever.” It wasn’t. For the legal profession, it was ugly.

Everyone Gets a Lawyer

Dillon represents a controversial client. So did Clarence Darrow. That’s part of any attorney’s job description. Like all citizens, Donald Trump is entitled legal counsel. In fact, the country’s best hope is that he heeds sound advice from lawyers who aren’t afraid to tell Trump when he’s wrong.

Sheri Dillon is Donald Trump’s tax lawyer. Again, that’s fine. His complex financial affairs require capable tax counsel. But on January 11, Dillon allowed herself and her great law firm to become Trump’s prime public defender of a patently insufficient plan to address his business conflicts of interest and wholly separate Emoluments clause problem under the U.S. Constitution.

Future installments in this series will detail the flaws in the Dillon/Morgan Lewis plan. Based on Dillon’s remarks and an accompanying Morgan Lewis memo, here’s a bottom-line preview from Office of Governmental Ethics Director Walter Shaub:

“[T]he plan does not comport with the tradition of our Presidents over the past 40 years.”

The Lawyer’s Role

Like any client, Trump set the parameters of Sheri Dillon’s engagement and the limits of her authority. Faced with those constraints, she did what lawyers do: Dillon created a plan and then defended it. On January 11, she made a closing argument, just as an attorney would to a judge, a jury, or the IRS.

But this time her audience was the American people. And she had no adversary arguing the other side of the case. In fact, her opposition was a central norm of democracy, namely, an Office of the President free of even the appearance of institutionalized corruption. Until Office of Government Ethics Director Walter Shaub responded with his accurate observations of the plan’s wholesale failures, no one was representing that norm.

This is the first in a series that examines the myriad problems with the Dillon/Morgan Lewis plan and Dillon’s effort to defend it. Along the way, Sheri Dillon morphed into yet another public relations spokesperson for Trump’s talking points.

A Summary of the Plan’s Major Failures

The press conference came complete with theatrical props — piles of papers on a large table near the podium. But Dillon did not provide the pubic with any documents implementing the Dillon/Morgan Lewis plan. Without the ability to scrutinize the various trust instruments and related materials, it’s impossible to verify any of the claims she made about her plan’s ability to do any of the things she promised. But even based on her description, a brief summary of the fatal shortcomings include:

— Trump is not divesting. He will retain all benefits that flow from owning assets that create his massive conflicts of interest. Those conflicts compromise the integrity of the Office of the President. While in that Office, Trump and his family will benefit from any increase in the value of those assets.

— Trump’s children remain active managers of his assets.

— Trump plans to resume management of those assets after his presidency.

— Trump’s agreement to give away hotel profits from foreign governments does not solve his wholly separate Emoluments clause problem. And it’s a red herring that doesn’t even attempt to address the issues arising from his numerous other foreign entanglements — bank loans on Trump structures, payments from building tenants, royalties, and the like.

Dillon was more precise, but Trump conflates his conflicts and Emoluments clause problems. He lumps everything together and talks about “conflicts” that he “cannot have” because he’s president. The truth is that the scope and magnitude of both problems remain unknown because Trump has not revealed the detailed financial structure behind his empire. That includes loans, investors, and other information that even his personal tax returns would not disclose.

About Those Tax Returns

Trump hasn’t released those returns, and he probably never will. At his press conference, Trump reiterated, “I’m not releasing the tax returns because as you know, they’re under audit….”

As he spoke, Sheri Dillon stood nearby. She had co-signed a March 2016 letter, stating that the IRS audits had been completed through 2008. He hasn’t released those earlier returns, either. Her letter explaining why probably presages the argument that Trump will make to withhold all of them forever:

“Your returns for these years report items that are attributable to continuing transactions or activities that were also reported on returns for 2008 and earlier. In this sense, the pending examinations are continuations of prior, closed examinations.”

Hers was a lawyer’s argument. And not a particularly good one for a client who was seeking — and now has won — the Presidency of the United States.

Dillon As Trump’s Newest Minion

Dillon’s completed her transformation from legal adviser to just another Trump spokesperson with her concluding lines:

“We believe this structure and these steps will serve to accomplish the president-elect’s desire to be isolated from his business interests and give the American people confidence that his sole business and interest is in making America great again, bringing back jobs to this country, securing our borders and rebuilding our infrastructure.”

The final words in that sentence — “bringing back jobs to the country, securing our borders and rebuilding our infrastructure” don’t appear in the accompanying “White Paper” on Morgan Lewis letterhead. They’re certainly extraneous to any reasoned professional legal opinion. So are Dillon’s concluding sentences:

“The American people were well aware of President-elect Trump’s business empire and financial interests when they voted. Many people voted for him precisely because of his business success.

“President-elect Trump wants to bring this success to all Americans.”

Donald Trump, Kellyanne Conway (who has a JD), or some other Team Trump person probably wrote that ending. But Dillon spoke it, so whatever fees Trump paid Morgan, Lewis & Bockius for this assignment, he got his money’s worth.

Specifically, Dillon confirmed publicly the soundness of a fatally flawed plan. When things go badly for Trump under that plan, he’ll have lawyers to blame. For him, it’s a win-win. For Dillon and the reputation of a great law firm, not so much.

By The Way…

OGE Director Walter Shaub’s reward for his uncommon courage in speaking the truth about the Dillon/Morgan Lewis plan was an immediate summons to the principal’s office of Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. After the infamous Access Hollywood tape surfaced, Chaffetz declared that he would not vote for Trump. Three weeks later, he reversed himself and reboarded the Trump train, promising years of investigations into Hillary Clinton if she won.

In light of Dillon’s performance at Trump’s press conference, the most ironic sentence in Chaffetz’s letter to Shaub was this: “Your agency’s mission is to provide clear ethics guidance, not engage in public relations.”

Then came the most threatening passage: “OGE’s statutory authorization lapsed at the end of fiscal year 2007 and the Committee has jurisdiction in the House of Representatives for reauthorizing the office.”

Just when you think Trump’s conflict of interest and Emoluments problems can’t descend to some frighteningly new level, they do.

LATEST TRUMP DISTRACTION FROM HIS RUSSIA PROBLEM

TRUMP DISTRACTION: Launches 6:00 am Saturday morning Twitterfit aimed at Rep. John Lewis (and lies about the actual condition of Lewis’ Congressional district — see this from the Atlanta Constitution: “Trump trashes John Lewis’ district: Things to know about 5th Congressional District.”)

REAL STORY: Nine hours earlier, the Senate Intelligence Committee announced an investigation that Trump doesn’t like: “Intel Panel to Examine Possible Campaign Links With Russia.”

A TEST FOR JEFF SESSIONS

[This post was also published at The American Lawyer on January 13, 2017.]

The Justice Department’s Inspector General is looking into James Comey’s disclosures of the Clinton email investigation. But I’m not confident that he’ll reach the most important issue in that debacle: the underlying leaks that probably contributed to Comey’s actions. That will require Jeff Sessions to pick up the baton.

During his Senate confirmation hearings on January 10, Senator Sessions (R-AL) assured colleagues that he’s not Donald Trump’s lackey. Here’s his first test: Find out who at the FBI leaked information to Rudy Giuliani during the final weeks of the campaign.

Those leaks probably forced FBI Director James Comey into the corner producing actions that cost him and the Bureau integrity for years to come. They may have swung the election to Trump, too, but done is done. It’s not about re-litigating the last election. As United States attorney general, Sessions has to assure the integrity of the next one. 

Roll the Tape

In October, polls showed Trump losing so badly that he was likely to cost Republicans the Senate. Three months earlier, Director Comey had announced that no reasonable prosecutor would bring criminal charges against Hillary Clinton for her use of a private email server while she was secretary of state. But in an unprecedented press conference, he’d opined about her recklessness anyway. That kept Trump’s “Crooked Hillary” rally theme alive. Even so, as summer turned to fall, the email-gate story was losing its legs.

On October 25, Rudy Giuliani appeared on Fox & Friends. When a host asked whether him Trump had anything other than “some more inspiring rallies” planned for the remaining 14 days of the campaign, Giuliani chuckled.

“Yes,” he grinned.

“What?” a co-host asked.

“You’ll see,” Giuliani answered in a full-throated laugh. “We’ve got a couple of surprises left. I call them surprises in the way we’re going to campaign, to get our message out there. Maybe in a little bit of a different way. You’ll see, and I think it’ll be enormously effective.”

Giuliani then discussed how “all of these revelations about Hillary Clinton, finally, are beginning to have an impact.”

On October 26, conservative radio talk show host Lars Larson interviewed Giuliani.

“There’s a kind of revolution going on inside the FBI about the original [July] conclusion being completely unjustified and almost a slap in the face of the FBI’s integrity,” Giuliani said. “I know that from former agents. I know that even from a few active agents who, obviously, don’t want to identify themselves.”

The same day, Giuliani appeared with Fox reporter Martha MacCallum. As the interview ended, he interrupted her to volunteer, “And I think he’s [Trump] got a surprise or two that you’re going to hear about in the next few days.”

MacCallum tried to conclude the interview, but Giuliani kept pushing: “I mean, I’m talking about some pretty big surprises.”

Finally, MacCallum took the bait.

“I heard you saying that this morning,” she said. “What do you mean?”

“You’ll see,” Giuliani laughed.

Friday, October 28

Shortly after Giuliani’s teasers, Comey violated Justice Department guidelines with a letter informing Congress that the Bureau was reviewing additional evidence relating to the Clinton email investigation. Immediately, Giuliani backpedaled.

“I don’t know anything about leaks from the FBI or the Justice Department,” he told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer. “I haven’t talked to anybody in the FBI or Justice Department.”

When Blitzer confronted Giuliani with the Lars Larson interview, Giuliani responded, “Well, the information I’ve been getting is from former FBI agents. If I did say that, that was wrong.”

But Giuliani’s distinction doesn’t help the Bureau. Whether the leaks came directly from active agents, or whether active agents leaked to retired agents who then went to Giuliani, they originated within the FBI. In addition to professional responsibilities of confidentiality under the ABA Standards on Prosecutorial Investigations, agents sign employment agreements that have sharp non-disclosure teeth. Certain FBI personnel working on the Clinton investigation also signed a “Case Briefing Acknowledgement” in which they agreed, “[D]ue to the nature and sensitivity of this investigation, compliance with these restrictions may be subject to verification by polygraph examination.”

Lie detectors!

Wednesday, November 2 

Less than a week before Election Day, another FBI leak produced a new bombshell. Bret Baier of Fox News cited “two separate sources with intimate knowledge of the FBI investigations” for what turned out to be a bogus report. He said that the Clinton investigations would likely to lead to an indictment. Trump milked that one. As rally crowds responded with “Lock her up” even more loudly than before, some members of the mob added, “Execute her!”

By Thursday, Baier admitted that he’d spoken “inartfully” about the false FBI report. By Friday, he was in full retreat: “That just wasn’t inartful, it was a mistake and for that I’m sorry.”

When MSNBC’s Brian Williams grilled campaign manager Kellyanne Conway on whether Trump would stop using the earlier false report in his stump speech, she smiled and said, “Well, the damage is done to Hillary Clinton…”

Sunday, November 6

Then Comey sent another letter confirming that his earlier missive had been a false alarm. But by then, early voters had cast 40 million ballots — almost 30 million of which came after his October 30 letter. Meanwhile, Trump had spent the week telling crowds that Clinton’s problems were “bigger than Watergate” and that criminal investigations into her dealings would continue for years into her presidency.

When confronted with Comey’s latest exoneration of Clinton, Kellyanne Conway kept her smile as she told MSNBC, “We have not made this a centerpiece of our messaging… This has not been front and center of our campaign.”

If all of this had happened to Trump, hearings in the Republican Congress would have begun immediately after the election. Rudy Giuliani would be under oath and senators would be asking him to name his FBI sources — active or retired.

In fact, Trump said that he wanted a full-scale investigation into leaks of the U.S. intelligence report on Russian hacking. The ones that emanated from the FBI are far more consequential to the future of American democracy.

BEGIN THE TRUMP RESISTANCE PLAN BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE

[This article fist appeared on billmoyers.com on January 9, 2017]

Note from Bill Moyers:  I’m pleased to officially welcome Steven Harper to our site. Steven retired early from a successful career as a litigator to write – and write he has done, including two acclaimed books — The Lawyer Bubble — A Profession in Crisis and Crossing Hoffa – A Teamster’s Story (a Chicago Tribune “Best Book of the Year”). He’s currently working on another, from which I’ve read some riveting excerpts, about the recent downfall of a New York law firm once led by New York State Governor and two-time presidential candidate Thomas Dewey. 

Steven Harper blogs at his site The Belly of the Beast (https://thelawyerbubble.com/), contributes regularly to the monthly magazine The American Lawyer, and is an adjunct professor at Northwestern University. When I read one of his short essays recently and some of his work on his current book project, I invited him to contribute a series of articles providing insights into current events. You can follow him here on our site and on Twitter at @StevenJHarper1. 

 

“Begin The Trump Resistance Plan Before It’s Too Late”

“Immediate necessity makes many things convenient, which if continued would grow into oppression…” 

— Thomas Paine, Common Sense (1776)

Ordinary citizens searching for the convenient satisfaction of immediate necessity are Donald Trump’s unwitting allies in an unseen war on democracy. It’s difficult to blame them. Most Americans are busy leading frenetic lives. In sound bites, they receive what passes for news; there’s no time to confirm its veracity. Politicians like Trump tell them what they want to hear; it pleases them. But quick solutions displace efforts to understand complicated challenges for which there are no easy answers.

Short-term convenience can produce long-run peril. Waiting for Trump’s America to reveal itself assures his victory and the republic’s loss. Perhaps more precisely, it could assure the loss of the republic. Successfully resisting the dangerous Donald Trump requires united action toward a common goal, thoughtful strategy, and flexible tactics.

The Goal

The objective of The Trump Resistance Plan (TRP) must transcend America’s politics and culture wars. Citizens of good will across the political spectrum will always disagree on matters of public concern. That’s healthy democracy.

The larger battle at hand pits democracy against an unknown fate. Throughout the world, populist nationalism is joining with authoritarian leaders to upend longstanding democracies. To repel this historic assault on our shores, the TRP proposes a goal that should find universal acceptance among Republicans, Democrats and independents.

For 230 years, two norms have anchored American democracy. One is that elections must be free of foreign interference. Another is that the presidency must be free of institutionalized corruption. Trump is undermining both. The TRP’s single goal is to preserve those norms.

The importance of the first is clear. America sought independence from the tyranny of remote rule. Foreign agents that subvert our most important democratic process – voting – are enemies. Any citizen giving aid or comfort commits treason. Trump’s belittling of U.S. intelligence conclusions that Russia hacked the election to help him win seems to qualify.

The second norm distinguishes the United States from countries where tyrants increase personal wealth and power at the expense of the people. That principle, too, has roots in the founding of our nation as a rebellion against a king and his corrupt government. Even the appearance that presidential acts are for sale is incompatible with democracy. Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns, liquidate his business holdings, and relinquish his finances to a truly independent blind trust violates that norm.

The Audience

No patriot can reasonably resist the TRP’s goal. After all, it’s not tit-for-tat politics designed to exact revenge for Republican recalcitrance during President Obama’s eight years, although some might prefer that myopic mission. Policy outcomes are important. But the current stakes are greater than the ebb and flow of typical political battles.

To succeed in eradicating two norms that underpin American democracy, Trump requires a compliant Republican Congress. Many GOP members opposed Donald Trump’s candidacy. They knew he lacked the experience and temperament to govern. Rationalizing that anything – even an erratic, irrational, and self-aggrandizing Trump – was better than Hillary Clinton, almost all of those detractors succumbed to his bullying and fell in line.

Now some of those same Republicans have learned that they were actually falling in line with Vladimir Putin. That alone should create a case of buyer’s remorse. But Trump can offer them a deal. They get his support for the hard-right policies that many Republicans have wanted for years. In return, all they have to give him is what he wants: fracturing the two central norms of American democracy. Perhaps some of them now realize that they are playing out a script for which only Putin, Trump and his minions know the ending.

Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) doesn’t care. He wants Trump’s deal. Sorting out conflicts of interest for members of what will become the wealthiest cabinet in modern history is a big job. The absence of a thorough Trump transition team vetting process makes it even bigger than usual. But McConnell is working with Team Trump to give the Office of Government Ethics – and the American people – the bum’s rush.

The Challenge

Putin’s stain on Trump’s election is permanent. Everything that he does as president comes with a taint. Everything. Likewise, his failure to eliminate his conflicts of interest means that every presidential act brings with it a presumption of corruption. Any member of Congress who supports legislation that he signs on any subject gets dragged deeper into his mud.

The two norms he seeks to destroy are threshold issues for the moral authority of his office. Whether his actions take the form of appointments, signing legislation, or issuing executive orders does not matter. All are fruit of a poisonous Trump election tree. Whether the subject is health care, tax reform, trade or anything else, the stench of election scandal and a presumption of corrupting financial conflicts of interest hang over everything he touches.

Surely a handful of Republican Senators can find sufficient strength to become profiles in courage. It takes only three heroes to flip his 52-48 margin in the Senate into a bulwark that protects liberty from his assault. Then he’d have to deal with those representing the majority of voters who wanted someone else in the Oval Office. That won’t eliminate his Putin election cloud or the taint of his presumed self-dealing, but it’s a start.

The Stakes

Shortly after the election, The New York Times’ editorial board wrote that it was “ready to support” Trump, “without denying the many disgraceful things he did and said to get elected, the promises he may or may not keep, the falsehoods he peddled that were either delusions or lies.”

Such compartmentalization is treacherous. Character is destiny. The country cannot allow Donald Trump’s character to determine its destiny. In his battle to obliterate the two norms without which democracy cannot exist, every conscientious citizen should force him and his minions to fight for every inch of ground.

No shot has been fired, but make no mistake: the war for America began on November 8.

Turn off your reality-TV shows, folks; this is real.