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Thursday, May 18, 2017

The morning after: still gypsies, tramps, and thieves

Yesterday was- to borrow a current bit of argot- an inflection point for the chattering classes.

Just as “I” was starting to cross a handful of congressional lips- not as the favorite pronoun of pols and the President alike, but, instead, as in “impeachment”- the malarial fever wafting through the Undrained Swamp broke last night.

When I was born in 1955, one President had been impeached, ever, 88 years before.

For a few hallucinatory hours on the afternoon cable talk shows Wednesday, we were watching preparation for the launch of the third impeachment of a president in my lifetime.

But the fever broke after a Franklin Graham-sent missionary doctor hacked his way through to the village to administer a dose of special counsel pills and a ream of tracts on Sorts of Sex You Shouldn't Try.

The fever will return, as surely as the swamp that nurtures it is never diminished, only deepened by administration after administration's alumni who hear bottom-feeding is good eatin', all day long.

But for the moment, Richard Burr, North Carolina’s junior senator and chair of the Senate’s Intelligence Committee, is breathing easy.

Having been a willing collaborator- with his disgraced House counterpart, Devin Nunes- in early White House efforts to suppress “the Russian thing”- Burr can now put his committee’s investigation into a politically-induced coma. The half-dead, half-alive House investigation will be smuggled out in darkness and shipped to Congress’ Island of Dr Moreau, the lower chamber’s ethics committee.

Overnight the easily-spooked, even more readily-relieved senator (who, on 9/11 frantically phoned his wife to pull out as much money as she could from the local ATM) issued a statement oozing bafflegab:

The appointment of former FBI Director and respected lawyer Robert Mueller as special counsel for the Russian investigation is a positive development and will provide some certainty for the American people that the investigation will proceed fairly and free of political influence.

The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence will continue its own investigation and to the extent any deconfliction is required, we will engage with Director Mueller and our expectation is that he will engage with the Committee as well.

“Deconfliction.” Recently, I started annotating my paperback copy of Lois Beckwith’s The Dictionary of Corporate Bullshit. Senator Burr is now added just below the airline president who called dragging a passenger up the aisle by his arms “re-accommodating.”

Deconflicted, we can all get some closure and move on. The appointment of Robert Mueller lets Democrats claim a win for democracy and Republicans to come out of hiding. Once the news broke that the President asked FBI director Comey to kibosh the investigation of his 24-day National Security Advisor, Michael Flynn (a man of parts; the President could call him in the middle of the night to ask if a strong or weak dollar is better for America, and for reassurance there were no Muslims under his bed), the GOP went to ground.

Charlie Rose complained his CBS morning show invited twenty congresscritters and got no takers; not even Fox News could tempt any out with the blandishments of easy questions and binders full of sexually harassable reporter-babes.

Mueller's appointment is a good thing, for as long as it lasts.

It just may not last long (last night my insightful friend, Oregon lawyer Art Stevens, posted, "I wager that DT will fire the special counsel. It will not help him as it will further erode his support. It was funny today to see the appointment of a special counsel as the markets dropped. But watch...he will fire him").

There are many potential pitfalls. Granny Clampett, aka Attorney General Jeff Sessions, lurks behind the Big Desk in his booster seat, busily working on Making America’s Private Prisons Great Again, until the next full moon beckons him rise, re-unrecused.

Sessions is, even at the moment, interviewing new FBI directors, including the acting director, Andrew McCabe, who was part of the botched “mean to Hillary” investigation that was the proximate cause of Comey’s firing for said botching, according to the memo prepared by order of the President to Sessions to Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein, who dutifully cobbled one up before morphing into the savior of democracy yesterday.

Rosenstein, as Acting Attorney General while Sessions naps in his coffin lined by the blood-soaked marl of Alabama, now runs the Department and will oversee the new special counsel and the Seventh Director, too.

Should Mueller need more resources, or to expand his remit, he has to get approval from Rosenstein. His report, when it comes, will not be to the public but to the senior staff at DOJ.

And while some news outlets are breathlessly reporting Mueller is a man beyond firing, Mueller is also a man who holds office at the pleasure of the President’s men at the Department of Justice, under department regulations.

Recalling the fates of Attorney General Elliot Richardson, Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus, and Special Counsel Archibald Cox may be useful. Reference to the money quote from fourteen seasons of The Apprentice may also be instructive.

But for the moment, God’s in his heaven, all’s right with the world. Presidents love foreign travel when home is naught but shitstorms and SNL skits (dear President Nixon spent twenty-three of his last seventy days in office busily meeting heads of state and government in Austria, Belgium, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Portugal, Saudi Arabia and the Soviet Union). The President has sent Little Preebs, his chief of staff, ahead to make sure the Air Force One hand towels are the softer ones he expected 119 days ago.

Kellyanne Conway, Sebastian Gorka and Sarah Huckabee Sanders are giddy to start calling in room service orders to the White House chef at all hours and rehearsing their eleven-day cosplay of Risky Business while the grownups are gone.

For the more self-aware of the President’s staff, Mueller is like the boss’ tax audit: they can just refuse to talk about things Russophile while the investigation proceeds. To the extent the media keep reporting stuff, the schedule for flinging raw meat to the base is already primed and timed.

For House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Mueller is the Second Coming: proof that God wishes the Republican majorities to get back to the people’s business: starving the poor, promoting self-help medical care with roots and ground-up leaves (except of the medical or recreational cannabis sorts); and de-taxing the crush-burdened members of the Trump Cabinet Class.

For the President, Mueller eliminates the international suspicion that, on his world tour- starting tomorrow- he is Phileas Fogg, ruthlessly shadowed by the implacable Inspector Fix of Scotland Yard (there's no there there, he said last night, and Mueller will prove it; I already know but won't).

There is still plenty over which to fret, though.

Foreign travel is a minefield for the parochial: not for nothing did the racist presidential candidate George Wallace (whose supporters' kids and grandkids now sport the #MAGA cap), on a 1971 European junket ahead of a second run, emerge from a European hotel fretting, “God, I hope I don’t commit any foxpaws.”

Lumbered with an exhausted and inept-even-when rested-and-watered-senior staff; unable to put the press on a plane to Asia (for his campaign stop at Mexico’s presidential palace he sent the scribblers to Phoenix), the President will disembark in Saudi Arabia and immediately face a social-conservative-base-riling choice: whether to stroll across the tarmac, hand-in-hand- with a dude, be he the Oil King or not.

President Bush 2 was notorious for this sort of faggy foreigner enabling, but his staff helpfully explained in gender-segregated societies men can be real hand-holding bros without freaking out, and anyway, they are also authoritarian oil billionaires: good Muslims, a credit to their faith.

The Gay Grip-n-Grin behind him, the President will then face another handshake issue: having invited or welcomed the bloody-shirted rulers of Egypt, The Philippines and Turkey to the Oval Office, will he make nice with the Sudanese President (who has an International Criminal Court warrant for genocide out for him) at the Islamic nations summit the Saudis have laid on, or pick fights with the leaders of the other nations from which he seeks to ban all travel to the US?

Then on to Israel. There he and Benjamin Netanyahu will air kiss, settle down for a free and frank exchange of views, like dealing with comb-overs when the wind shifts, and “WTF, Dude! I mean, the Western Wall! Really?” (while Press Secretary Sean Spicer says the hotly-contested holy site is part of Jerusalem but not Israel, the President’s hand-crowned Miss World, UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, says it is too part of Israel).

Then there’s the little matter of “WTF on a crutch, Dude! You told the Russians?”

Last night talk show host Seth Meyers said fears the Russian diplomats installed listening devices in the Oval Office last week are overblown: “They installed a talking device after the last election.”

Finally, to The Vatican, a cute mini-state (“I have so many great golf courses bigger than this,” he is sure to tell the Pope as an icebreaker, before explaining how The Art of the Deal should have the authors of the Bible looking over their shoulders), and discussing points of eschatology (“Well, I say God is the ultimate. You know you look at this? Here we are on the Pacific Ocean. How did I ever own this? I bought it 15 years ago. I made one of the great deals they say ever. I have no more mortgage on it as I will certify and represent to you. And I was able to buy this and make a great deal. That’s what I want to do for the country. Make great deals. We have to, we have to bring it back, but God is the ultimate. I mean God created this (points to his golf course and nature surrounding it), and here’s the Pacific Ocean right behind us. So nobody, no thing, no there’s nothing like God,” he told Christian Broadcasting’s David Brody in September 2016).

On a pilgrimage to Lourdes in the 1950s, the Catholic novelist of rural Georgia, Flannery O’Connor, wrote home, “I figure when in Rome, do as you done in Milledgeville.” In Rome the President will nonetheless be at least slightly awed by how many bankrupt casinos could fit inside St. Peter's, and seeing more gold leaf and putti than all the Trumproperties have combined.

What better time to introduce his new proconsul, Callista Louise Bisek Gingrich (Cally Lou to friends and family), french hornist in the Fairfax, Virginia town band, former chief clerk to the House Agriculture Committee, and, for six sex-drenched years, the devoutly Catholic mistress of Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich, to the Vicar of Christ?

Derided in some quarters as a poor choice, Ambassador-designate Gingrich is, in fact, a master of ecclesiastical law, having helped Daddy Newt (he is 23 years her elder) get the Archdiocese of Hotlanta to annul his marriage to Mrs Gingrich #2 after nineteen years- on grounds that she had been married to another man before him.

Gingrich married Cally Lou four months after divorcing Marianne, whom Gingrich married six months after divorcing Jackie, the one he filed papers on while she was recovering from cancer surgery. He finally got around to becoming a Catholic himself nine years later (Evelyn Waugh fans may be forgiven their fleeting, bemused thoughts of Rex Mottram).

But the cavils of American evangelicals aside, the ambassadress will find herself in circles accustomed to the louche and worldly, what with characters like Queen Christina of Sweden and Lucretia Borgia nestled in the archives of Vatican favorites (a Spectator magazine parody of Times of London obits noted of the latter, “her devotion to ecclesiastical matters was legendary, and of her relationship with Pope Alexander VI it may be justly said that she loved him as if he was her own father”).

And in any event, Mrs Gingrich is a nothingburger- to quote the late Cosmo editor Helen Gurley Brown- compared to America’s most famous courtesan, Pamela Digby Churchill Hayward Harriman (1920-1977).

President Clinton’s ambassador to France, Harriman was married to the son of a British prime minister, a Broadway producer, and a WASP millionaire, all while conducting affairs- inter alia- with broadcaster Edward R Murrow, famous wealth-inheritor John Hay Whitney, Prince Ali Khan, Italian industrialist Gianni Agnelli, Baron Elie de Rothschild, CBS founder William Paley, and shipping tycoon Stavros Niarchos.

When she died in office (“the world’s expert on rich men’s bedroom ceilings,” one critic noted), the President of France placed the Grand Cross of the Legion of Honor on her coffin, which the President of the United States sent Air Force One to fetch home.

Harriman was buried in next to her last husband- railroad heir, diplomat and governor Averell Harriman- four miles from the Harriman family plot his children showed up at on the day of his funeral in 1986.

Ambassador Gingrich has a lot of catching up to do, but the smart money is on the gimlet-eyed gal from Whitehall, Wisconsin.

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