trump mania (thursday)

Trump’s Operation Dictatorship: What the debate exposed
Joseph Kishore and David North, WSWS, Oct 1 2020

The degenerate spectacle of Tuesday night’s debate between Donald Trump and Joseph Biden will be remembered in history as the US’ moment of truth. The myth of an invulnerable and eternal American democracy has been shattered. Political reality has burst through the countless layers of deceitful propaganda of the corporate-financial oligarchy and exposed the undeniable fact that the White House is the political nerve center of a far-advanced conspiracy to establish a presidential dictatorship and suppress constitutionally guaranteed democratic rights. The grunts and barks emitted by Trump on Tuesday night leave no doubt about his intentions. Trump is as serious about the threats he made during the debate as Hitler was about those he wrote down in Mein Kampf. Trump views the November election as a continuation of the political coup d’état that began last June in Washington DC when he unleashed military and police forces against peaceful protesters. Trump’s political strategy is fairly obvious and can be summed up with the infamous phrase: “Cry ‘havoc’ and unleash the dogs of war.” The conspiracy will unfold as follows:

  1. During the remaining month of the election campaign, Trump will do everything he can to discredit the voting process with the intention of delegitimizing the counting of the ballots, which, as he fully expects, will show that he lost the election by millions of votes. He will use fabricated allegations of ballot fraud to incite fascist thugs, assisted by police and unidentified federal agents, to intimidate voters and carry out violent acts at polling stations.
  2. On election night Trump will declare that he is the winner, claiming that all ballots cast through the mail are illegitimate. He repeated during the debate his claim that the only way that he can lose is if the election is “rigged,” through the destruction of ballots and other forms of fraud. Even though he trails heavily in the polls, Trump is counting on a delay in the tally of mail-in ballots to give him the opportunity to declare victory in key battleground states.
  3. Trump will use the 10 weeks between Election Day on Nov 3 and the Inauguration on Jan 20 to mobilize his followers in the streets, while turning to a stacked Supreme Court to decide the election in his favor. On Tuesday he again said that he was “counting” on the court to “look at the ballots.” He has the full support of the Republican Party, which is pressing forward with the rapid confirmation of Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Amy Coney Barrett, so that she will be in a position to cast a deciding vote in any court decision on the election. Trump is also counting on support within the police and sections of the military, as well as his control over the DHS. The WaPo reported Tuesday that DHS acting Secretary Chad Wolf, a Trump crony, is preparing immigration raids by ICE in “sanctuary cities,” such as Denver and Philadelphia, this month. Federal paramilitary forces will be mobilized in many major metropolises in advance of the election.
  4. Most critical of all for the success of his conspiracy, Trump has factored in the spinelessness of the Democratic Party. He fully expects that the Democrats, apart from mouthing a few empty threats, will do nothing to stop him. The abject bankruptcy of the Democratic Party was on display on Tuesday night. While Trump personified the viciousness of a ruling class moving toward fascism, Biden—frail and frightened—epitomized bourgeois democracy on its death bed. Though endlessly intoning, “This is the deal,” Biden spent the 90 minutes of the debate evading the fact that his opponent is preparing for civil war and dictatorship. He mindlessly declared that once the votes are counted, the political crisis will be over, and everything will return to normal. The role of the Democratic Party is to do everything it can to downplay and cover up reality, in order to prevent any popular mobilization against Trump. Biden went out of his way to declare that he is not opposed to Supreme Court nominee Amy Barrett. He complimented her as “a very fine person,” even though Barrett, once on the Court, will be one of those who will drive a nail into Biden’s political coffin. When Trump goaded Biden by declaring that the Democratic Party candidate supports the “far left manifesto” of Sanders, Biden responded by repudiating any association with left-wing politics: “I beat Bernie Sanders by a whole hell of a lot.” Biden did not even respond to Trump’s verbal salute to the fascist Proud Boys. He pledged to demand that his own supporters “stay calm” as the election is contested, while Trump urged that they mobilize and challenge the results.

To believe that dictatorship can be averted by supporting the Democratic Party is to close one’s eyes to reality. The Democrats’ actions are determined not by an abstract devotion to democracy but by the interests of the class that they represent. Any strategy to counter the threat of dictatorship must base itself on a correct understanding of the underlying causes of the political crisis. Trump is the expression of a far deeper disease, whose origins and character must be properly understood. There are several interrelated factors at work.

  1. The far-reaching decay of American capitalism. In little more than a decade, the US has been devastated by two major crises, first in 2008 and now in 2020. In both cases, the ruling class resorted to a massive and unsustainable inflow of funds, essentially the printing of money, to keep the financial markets afloat. The historically unprecedented transfer of wealth to the rich must be paid for through an intensification of the assault on the working class.
  2. Arising from the economic weakening of the US is the precipitous decline in the global position of American imperialism. Despite 30 years of unending war, the American ruling class has been unable to maintain its position as the global hegemon. Now, it sees in the rise of China an existential threat. All the resources must be diverted to prepare for global warfare with China, of which the conflict with Russia is one element. The American working class must be put on rations.
  3. The staggering concentration of wealth in the hands of a tiny layer of society. The 400 richest individuals in the US now control $3.2t, and the richest 1% have more wealth than the bottom 40%. A recent RAND Corporation study calculated that the stagnation of income over the past four decades for the bottom 90% of the population created an aggregate net loss of income of $47t. Democracy cannot survive under conditions of such enormous levels of inequality.
  4. All of these underlying conditions have been intensified by the pandemic, which has revealed in the starkest way the dysfunctionality of American society. Trump speaks and acts on behalf of a criminal financial oligarchy that will stop at nothing to protect its wealth. Its response to the COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated its contempt for the lives and welfare of the population. Its demand for the reopening of schools is an essential component of its program of “herd immunity,” which has already led to the deaths of more than 210k people in the US.
  5. While the federal bailout has sent share values on Wall Street soaring, tens of millions are unemployed, and the major corporations are planning mass layoffs. The ruling class knows that it confronts mass social anger that will take an explosive and potentially revolutionary form. This is what imparts to Trump’s actions their frenzied and reckless character. Terrified of the development of social opposition, he sees in every protest and manifestation of opposition the danger of the “radical left” and “socialism.” The growth of working-class militancy, already apparent in the wave of strikes, has convinced a substantial section of the ruling class that they have no way out except through violence.

The lessons of the rise of fascism in the 1920s and 1930s are of burning contemporary relevance. The examples of Hitler in Germany, Mussolini in Italy and Franco in Spain demonstrate that the turn to fascism and dictatorship comes when the ruling class is no longer able, for reasons embedded in the character of capitalist society, to resolve its crisis through democratic means. In the aftermath of Hitler’s rise to power in 1933, in a pamphlet named “Whither France” written on Nov 9 1934, Leon Trotsky warned that the Nazi regime was not a uniquely German phenomenon, writing:

In all countries the same historic laws operate, the laws of capitalist decline. If the means of production remain in the hands of a small number of capitalists, there is no way out for society. It is condemned to go from crisis to crisis, from need to misery, from bad to worse. In the various countries the decrepitude and disintegration of capitalism are expressed in diverse forms and at unequal rhythms. But the basic features of the process are the same everywhere. The bourgeoisie is leading its society to complete bankruptcy. It is capable of assuring the people neither bread nor peace. This is precisely why it cannot any longer tolerate the democratic order. It is forced to smash the workers by the use of physical violence.

The working class must resist Trump’ coup plotting with its own program and its own methods.

  1. This requires an absolute break with the Democratic Party and all political forces that work to subordinate the struggles of the working class to the capitalist system.
  2. Workers must reject every form of politics that seeks to divide the working class along national, racial or gender lines. The fight is not between “white America” and “black America” but between the working class and the corporate financial oligarchy.
  3. The class struggle must be expanded and unified. The logic of the crisis raises the necessity for workers to prepare a political general strike through the formation of popular organizations and committees, controlled by workers and independent of the pro-capitalist unions and the political parties of the ruling class.
  4. The fight for democratic rights is inseparable from the fight against the capitalist system. The many forms of social protest throughout the country, especially the multi-racial demonstrations against police brutality and the growing rank-and-file movement against the life-threatening demands for a return to work, must be unified as a class-conscious movement against capitalism.
  5. Most critical of all, American workers must recognize that their struggle within the US is part of a global movement of the working class against the international capitalist system. The workers of every country, including those of China and Russia, are their class brothers and sisters. They too are engaged in struggle against their capitalist rulers.

The weeks to come will be used by the SEP’s presidential campaign to mobilize the working class and youth against the threat of dictatorship. The SEP and the WSWS makes an appeal to all those opposed to Trump’s coup to draw upon the lessons of history, recognize the very real political dangers, and make the decision to fight back. Support and utilize the SEP’s presidential campaign to develop an understanding of the present crisis and the necessity of revolutionary socialist policies. Circulate this statement as widely as possible in order to build up opposition to Trump’s Operation Dictatorship. The American working class has the power to scuttle Trump’s conspiracy. But it requires a socialist program and genuinely revolutionary leadership. Do not wait passively for events to unfold. If you understand the danger, take action to avert it. And the most effective action readers of the WSWS can take is to become members of the SEP and fight to put an end to capitalism in the US and throughout the world.

Trump administration prepares anti-immigrant raids in Democratic Party-led “sanctuary cities” ahead of November election
Trévon Austin, WSWS, Oct 1 2020

Trump and Barr in the Cabinet Room of the White House. (Photo: Tia Dufour)

According to a report Wednesday by the WaPo, the Trump administration is preparing a series of raids targeting immigrants in Democratic Party-led cities and jurisdictions across the US that have adopted so-called “sanctuary” policies. The Post cited three federal officials who described the move as part of Trump’s effort to present himself as the “law and order” candidate in the run-up to the presidential election. The planned Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) operation, informally known as the “sanctuary op,” will reportedly begin in California as early as this week. The raids would subsequently spread to other cities, including Denver and Philadelphia. Two officials said that acting Secretary of the DHS Chad Wolf is expected to travel to at least one of the jurisdictions where the operation will take place to emphasize Trump’s assertion that that local officials have failed to protect residents from alien criminals. The operation is widely seen as a political maneuver by Trump, considering the organization already rounds up and incarcerates undocumented immigrants on a regular basis throughout the country.

Trump’s latest maneuver in his war on immigrants cannot be separated from his effort to carry out a coup d’état and establish a presidential dictatorship. Trump is making it clear that he will utilize all resources in his possession to suppress opposition to his repudiation of election results in the event he loses the popular vote. Federal agents, including officers from ICE and CBP, are already playing a role in suppressing protests against police violence across the US. There is no doubt that the increased presence of ICE in cities due to the “sanctuary op” will be utilized in Trump’s strategy. Throughout his presidency Trump has railed against cities that have limited police agencies’ cooperation with ICE and CBP. Trump has blamed city mayors that implement the policies, often Democrats, for a sharp rise in violence and crime throughout the US. The same accusations were levied against officials who refused to accept federal intervention in recent protests against police brutality. ICE officials have repeatedly threatened to send additional agents to cities and counties considering sanctuary policies, if they continue advocating for them. Mike Alvarez, an ICE spokesman, claimed jurisdictions that don’t cooperate with ICE increase the risks facing immigration agents and the public. He told the Post:

Generally speaking, as ICE has noted for years, in jurisdictions where cooperation does not exist and ICE is not allowed to assume custody of aliens from jails, ICE is forced to arrest at-large criminal aliens out in the communities instead of under the safe confines of a jail.

Sanctuary protocols restrict the extent to which local law enforcement can cooperate with federal immigration officials. Places with the policies in place generally refuse to hold immigrants in jail for longer than they are required to so that ICE agents can arrest them after they leave custody. Additionally, sanctuary cities do not check the immigration status of suspects arrested or detained for minor criminal offenses. Federal immigration officers in sanctuary jurisdictions are still allowed to detain individuals they suspect of being undocumented immigrants. However, without the cooperation of local law enforcement, ICE agents are left to do their own dirty work of monitoring when suspected individuals are being released from jail. Many of the country’s largest cities have adopted sanctuary policies. According to the most recent statistics, 70% of the arrests ICE makes occur after the organization has been notified of an immigrant’s pending release from state prison or local jail. In 2019, the agency claimed it arrested more than 160k immigrants this way. ICE officials have used the issue to whip up xenophobic fears, claiming that sanctuary policies increased a backlog of “at-large criminal and fugitive aliens ICE seeks to apprehend.” In a statement, ICE official Henry Lucero said:

We cannot stand by idly while knowing the public is being misled about the role ICE plays in keeping the public safe. The fact is local policies prohibiting agencies from working with ICE put you in danger and waste police resources. The public should hold its leaders accountable and demand to know what type of criminals are being released from local custody instead of turned over to ICE.

The Trump administration has repeatedly threatened to carry out anti-immigrant operations in sanctuary cities throughout his presidency. A proposal last year suggested busing migrants from the US-Mexico border into the streets of San Francisco and other sanctuary cities. Another operation purposefully targeted migrant parents with children. Trump has also threatened to revoke federal funding from jurisdictions refusing to comply with ICE. On Monday, in another political action, ICE announced a dozen arrests in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina. The community was featured in the Netflix documentary series “Immigration Nation” for electing a sheriff in 2018 who ended local law enforcement’s cooperation with ICE. ICE officials claimed that six of the arrests included immigrants with criminal backgrounds and that sanctuary policies left them “free to reoffend until their capture.”

The ultra-right background of Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett
Alan Gilman, WSWS, Oct 1 2020

Barrett delivers remarks in the Rose Garden of the White House after Trump announced her as
his nominee for Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, Sep 26 2020. (Photo: Andrea Hanks)

On Sep 26 2020, Trump nominated circuit court judge Amy Coney Barrett to the US Supreme Court to fill the vacancy created by the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died eight days before at the age of 87. Barrett is a protegée of the late Justice Antonin Scalia, the long-time leader of the court’s right wing. In the likely event she is confirmed by the Senate this month, Barrett would serve to fundamentally shift the Supreme Court’s ideological balance much further to the right. Barrett’s nomination must be confirmed by a majority in the US Senate. The Republicans now hold a 53-seat majority in the 100 member Senate. Fearing the loss of the Presidency, as well as their majority in the Senate in the upcoming November election, the Republicans intend to ram through her confirmation before the election takes place, or if need be, before many of their terms expire in January.

Barrett was born and raised near New Orleans, the eldest of seven children from a devout Catholic family whose father was an attorney for Shell Oil. She graduated from Notre Dame Law school in 1997 and then spent the next two years as a law clerk, first for Judge Laurence Silberman of the Court of Appeals for the Washington DC Circuit and then for Justice Antonin Scalia of the Supreme Court, the judge whose deeply reactionary judicial philosophy she had adopted. From 1999 to 2002 she practiced law in Washington DC at a firm that merged into Baker Botts. This firm’s senior partner was James Baker, who was Treasury Sec under Reagan 40 and Sec State under Bush 41, and who subsequently served as the lead attorney for Bush 43 in the contested 2000 presidential election that culminated in the infamous Bush v Gore decision. As a junior lawyer at Baker’s firm, Barrett provided research and briefing assistance in the litigation that culminated in the 5-4 Supreme Court decision to permanently halt the vote count in Florida, preserving Bush’s 537-vote lead and thereby giving him the presidency. Barrett’s mentor Justice Scalia was the organizer of that majority.

From 2002 to 2017 Barrett worked as a law professor at Notre Dame teaching constitutional law and statutory interpretation. As a Scalia follower, she emphasized originalism in her academic work and in numerous articles that appeared in various law journals. Her work caught the attention of arch-conservatives who promoted her publications and provided platforms for her to espouse her originalist views as well as her provocative view of stare decisis, the principle that courts should be guided by legal precedent, one of the primary obstacles in overturning Roe v Wade, the landmark abortion rights case. Originalism, the basis of ultra-right legal theory for the last 40 years, holds the view that the Constitution does not evolve. Instead judges should decide constitutional questions based solely on the drafters’ original intent. This position began to emerge in the 1980s and corresponded to the beginning of the social counter-revolution. The preceding two decades had seen the Supreme Court validate social reforms through such decisions as Brown v Board of Education, which effectively outlawed school segregation, as well as rulings affirming such principles as “one person, one vote” in legislative apportionment, the famous Miranda rule limiting police questioning, and decisions affirming an implied “right of privacy” in the Constitution, which culminated in Roe v Wade.

Courts became the instrument of instituting reforms in response to bitter struggles of the working class, under conditions where American capitalism was wealthy enough to afford them, but the political system of two right-wing pro-corporate parties was incapable of enacting them. This period lasted less than 20 years, before the courts resumed their accustomed role as the bulwark of reaction. By the 1980s, the postwar dominance of US capitalism was in decline, and there was a sweeping turn to the right by the ruling class and all its institutions. As the Reagan Administration began its direct political assault on the working class, the undermining of the legal framework that had justified social reform came under attack by the “originalists” who rejected the “activist judges” who were supposedly responsible for these reforms by going outside of the intent of the authors of the constitution. They also hoped to utilize this view to counter the “activist” courts’ expansion of reproductive rights, enforcement of Church-state separation, and protection of the rights of criminal suspects. Antonin Scalia emerged as one of the principal ideologues for this emerging originalist view. In 1982, Reagan appointed him to the highly influential Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit and in 1986 to the Supreme Court. Once on the court, Scalia quickly became its most influential conservative. He was an opponent of gay rights, affirmative action and abortion rights, and said that the landmark case of Roe v Wade was wrongly decided.

For all its pretensions of consistency and legal reasoning, the originalist view is just a legal façade to rationalize preconceived legal conclusions. As with many judges in the capitalist courts, Scalia would quickly abandon his judicial philosophy whenever it came into conflict with the social interests he represented. The most egregious example of this was Scalia’s decision in Citizens United v FEC, which struck down the McCain-Feingold Act’s restraints on electoral expenditures by corporations. Scalia’s originalism was thrown overboard when he held that corporations have free speech rights under the First Amendment, just as people do, even though corporations as legal “persons” in control of vast economic assets were hardly envisioned when the Constitution was written. Scalia was instrumental in forming the Federalist Society in 1982, to which Barrett was to later become a member. The Federalist Society serves as an organization of conservatives and libertarians that advocates for a textualist and originalist interpretation of the US Constitution. It has now evolved into the de facto gatekeeper for right-wing lawyers aspiring to government jobs and federal judgeships under Republican presidents. The Federalist Society has vetted all of Trump’s list of potential Supreme Court nominees. As of Mar 2020, 43 out of 51 of Trump’s appellant court nominees were current or former members. Of the current eight members of the Supreme Court, five (Kavanaugh, Gorsuch, Thomas, Roberts and Alito) are current or former members, along with nominee Barrett. Scalia’s widow attended Barrett’s nominating ceremony where Barrett made special mention to her most important mentor. She said:

I clerked for Justice Scalia more than twenty years ago, but the lessons I learned still resonate. His judicial philosophy is mine, too.

Barrett’s judicial career began in 2017 when Trump nominated her to the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, which covers Wisconsin, Illinois, and Indiana. Barrett has been on Trump’s list of potential Supreme Court nominees since 2017, almost immediately after her court of appeals confirmation. In Jul 2018, after Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement announcement, she was reportedly one of three finalists that Trump considered before he ultimately nominated Brett Kavanaugh. Reportedly, although Trump liked Barrett, he was at the time was concerned about her lack of experience on the bench. He reportedly told aides that he was “saving” her for the Ginsburg seat, so that a woman would replace a woman. In a 2013 law review article Barrett examined the role of the doctrine of stare decisis, which is Latin for “to stand by things decided” and is shorthand for respect for precedent. Judge Barrett wrote:

The doctrine is not a hard-and-fast rule in the court’s constitutional cases.

She added that its power is diminished when the case under review is unpopular. Barrett then listed seven cases that should be considered “super-precedents,” cases the court would never consider overturning. The list included Brown v Board of Education, but not Roe v Wade. In explaining why the abortion ruling was excluded, Barrett referenced scholarship agreeing that in order to qualify as “super-precedent,” a decision must have widespread support from not only jurists but politicians and the public at large, to the extent of becoming immune to reversal or challenge. Michael Gerhardt, a University of North Carolina law professor who has written frequently on stare decisis, told the WaPo that Barrett’s approach to overturning precedent was “radical.” He said:

If she puts her academic views into action and four other justices go along, it will produce chaos and instability in constitutional law.

In a 2017 law review article written before she joined the appeals court, Barrett was critical of Chief Justice Roberts’s 2012 opinion sustaining a central provision of the health care law, writing:

Chief Justice Roberts pushed the Affordable Care Act beyond its plausible meaning to save the statute.

On Nov 10 2020, one week after the election, the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear another case attacking the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act. Barrett has also emphasized how she relies deeply on her strict adherence to her Catholic faith, even as she stresses that it does not affect her judicial decisions. She is a member of a predominantly Catholic group called People of Praise. It promotes charismatic Catholicism, a movement that grew out of the influence of Pentecostalism, which emphasizes a personal relationship with Jesus and can include baptism in the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues. The group upholds the primacy of male authority within the family, as it is in the Roman Catholic hierarchy. Ahead of her upcoming Senate confirmation hearings, Barrett’s advocates are now trying to smear questions about her involvement in People of Praise as anti-Catholic bigotry. Asked about People of Praise in a televised interview last week, Vice Pres Pence responded:

The intolerance expressed about her Catholic faith during her last confirmation hearing, I really think, was a disservice to the process and a disappointment to millions of Americans.

Pence’s statement referred to Barrett’s 2017 confirmation hearing to the appellate court, when Senator Diane Feinstein questioned Barrett’s cult-like devotion, saying:

The dogma lives loudly within you.

Barrett directly addressed the issue of judges influenced by their faith in a 1998 paper she co-wrote titled “Catholic Judges in Capital Cases,” which has since become one of the most scrutinized works of her career. Barrett co-wrote that Catholic judges are obligated to follow the law, but also “to adhere to their church’s teachings on moral matters.” In this article, Barrett wrote that Catholic judges opposed to the death penalty on religious grounds should recuse themselves from cases that would require sentencing someone to death. At her 2017 confirmation hearing, she noted that as a law clerk she had assisted Justice Scalia, a conservative Catholic and staunch advocate of the death penalty, in capital cases. Once having been confirmed to the appellate court, any lingering moral qualms Barrett may have had about the death penalty quickly dissipated, as she has rejected requests to delay executions. Barrett’s “moral” bearings quickly reemerged when any cases before her related to abortion. She has twice dissented to the majority’s opinion holding laws restricting abortion to be unconstitutional. She also was in the minority which wanted the full court to rehear a decision by a three-judge panel, ruling that Indiana laws requiring that funerals be held for fetal remains after an abortion or miscarriage, and banning abortions because of the sex, race or developmental disability of a fetus, were unconstitutional. As to the poor, Barrett wrote a 40-page dissent from the majority’s decision to uphold a preliminary injunction against the Trump “public charge rule” that would jeopardize permanent resident status for immigrants who use food stamps, Medicaid and housing vouchers.

Although every Supreme Court nomination is important because justices serve for life and decide issues that impact the lives of hundreds of millions of people, Barrett will be the first Scalia clerk to be appointed to the bench, and the first confirmation since 1993 when a seat will shift from the “liberal” side of the court to the “conservative” side. These terms should be used with caution. While Ginsburg was a liberal on gender issues, and to some extent on race and democratic rights, she was just as firm an upholder of capitalist property rights as any of her colleagues. During the past several decades, major cases have been decided by 5-4 votes with Ginsburg in the majority. These decisions include striking down restrictions on abortion, recognizing same-sex marriage, striking down the death penalty and life without parole sentences for juveniles, limiting the death penalty to only crimes involving murder, and the right to judicial review for Guantanamo detainees. With Barrett replacing Ginsburg, all these cases would likely have gone the other way. Moreover, with the likelihood of a contested presidential election occurring and perhaps once again being decided by the Supreme Court, Barrett’s accession to the court will give Trump three justices named by him, joining Alito, Thomas and Roberts in a 6-3 pro-Republican majority to back an electoral coup d’état. In the event Trump is defeated and removed, Barrett would be part of a 6-3 right-wing majority which Biden could use as an excuse every time he rebuffed popular demands to reverse the ultra-right policies of his predecessor and undo their reactionary consequences.

Evasions, anti-Russian demagogy at Comey hearing before US Senate
Patrick Martin, WSWS, Oct 1 2020

Comey before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sep 30 2020.
(Photo: Ken Cedeno/AP)

Wednesday’s day-long appearance by former FBI Director James Comey before the Senate Judiciary Committee was the latest round in the ongoing political warfare in Washington, as Democratic and Republican members of the committee traded accusations of manipulating investigations and doing the bidding of Russia. Both the posturing of the senators and the stonewalling by Comey, appearing on a video link from his living room, seemed incongruous in the context of the mounting political crisis in the US. The hearing came the day after the first debate of the presidential campaign, in the course of which President Trump reiterated his threats not to respect the outcome of the balloting and made an open appeal to fascists and white supremacists to “stand by” his campaign. Not a single Democrat or Republican on the Judiciary Committee, supposedly charged with responsibility for upholding the US legal system, made any reference to the brazen lawlessness promoted by Trump the night before.

The Judiciary Committee is headed by South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham, a sharp critic of Trump during the campaign for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination who has since become one of Trump’s most slavish Senate flatterers. Graham is locked in a tight reelection battle with Democrat Jaime Harrison, who has raised a huge campaign war chest and is “killing me financially,” by Graham’s own admission. His political career is now completely tied to Trump. Graham launched an investigation earlier this year into the origins of the FBI probe into alleged connections between then-candidate Trump and the Russian government, codenamed Crossfire Hurricane. This was the initial form of what became the Mueller investigation, named after former FBI Director Robert Mueller, who was named special counsel and took over the probe after Trump fired Comey as FBI director in May 2017.

The Judiciary Committee investigation is based on the findings of DoJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz, who was sharply critical of one aspect of Crossfire Hurricane, the FBI wiretapping of former Trump foreign policy aide Carter Page, on the basis of a warrant obtained under the FISA Act. Horowitz found that the FBI application for the FISA warrant contained at least 17 serious errors, including suppression of the fact that Page was serving as a CIA informant when he met with a number of Russian government officials. While the Horowitz report documented the cavalier attitude of FBI officials to such legal requirements as evidence and probable cause, he was careful not to claim that the entire investigation into the Trump campaign was either illegal or politically motivated. This has not stopped efforts, driven by the Trump White House, to obtain either DoJ or congressional sanction for Trump’s claims that the Obama-Biden administration had engaged in illegal surveillance of the Republican presidential campaign. Trump has repeatedly expressed the view that Obama, Biden and dozens of other officials in their administration should be liable to lengthy prison terms for this alleged spying.

Attorney General William Barr has appointed US Attorney John Durham to conduct an internal investigation into the origins of the Russia probe, with Trump aides expressing the hope that Comey and other top officials will be indicted. One FBI lawyer has been indicted for falsifying an email message relating to Carter Page, but the Durham investigation has so far failed to deliver the desired pre-election bombshell with less than five weeks remaining to Election Day. The conflict that played out Wednesday before the Senate committee is a continuation of political warfare between two reactionary factions of the ruling class that has raged since Trump’s nomination as the Republican presidential candidate in 2016. On the one side is the fascistic president and his Republican enablers. On the other is the nominal opposition of the Democrats, who have relentlessly promoted the fabricated and unsubstantiated claims of Russian “meddling” and Trump administration “collusion” put forward by sections of the intelligence apparatus at odds with Trump over foreign policy questions, particularly related to Russia and the Middle East. The Senate Judiciary Committee hearings are the congressional version of Durham’s probe, with the same goal: to dig up or manufacture political mud that can be of assistance to Trump’s reelection campaign. In preparation for Comey’s appearance, the Trump administration produced two political stink bombs in quick succession.

On Sep 25, Attorney General William Barr sent a letter to Graham revealing that the Russian who had been a “sub-source” for the notorious Steele dossier, a lengthy document alleging significant Russian financial and government connections with Trump’s business enterprises, as well as seedy details of Trump’s alleged sexual activities in Moscow, was suspected of himself being a Russian intelligence agent. The source was identified as Igor Danchenko, a Ukrainian-born lawyer employed at a Washington think-tank. Then, on Sep 29, DNI Ratcliffe released a one-page letter after Barr agreed to its declassification. The letter claims that the CIA had learned in Jul 2016 from Russian intelligence contacts that Hillary Clinton was taking steps to trigger a Trump-Russia scandal in the hopes that this would deflect attention from the FBI investigation into her use of a private email server while she was US Sec State. The combined effect of these two documents was meant to suggest, in an extremely convoluted and murky fashion, that Hillary Clinton had been acting as a dupe of Russian intelligence when she began voicing charges that Trump had close political ties to Russia and was acting as an instrument of Putin. The result was Wednesday’s hearing, in which both Republican and Democratic senators traded charges that their political rivals were Russian stooges. Graham and other Republicans denounced Comey for the bogus FISA warrant to wiretap Carter Page, absurdly striking a pose as defenders of the civil liberties of the American people.

The Democrats responded with equally reactionary diatribes against Trump as the supposed agent of Moscow, reiterating the phony charges that were the basis of the Mueller investigation. Ranking Judiciary Committee member Diane Feinstein readily admitted that the FISA application to wiretap Carter Page and the Steele dossier as a whole were riddled with false information, but she claimed that these were only minor aspects of the anti-Russia investigation. Comey defended Crossfire Hurricane, saying it had been “done by the book.” He flatly rejected claims that the Russia investigation as a whole was a fabrication. But he seemed mainly concerned not to become collateral damage in the political warfare. He claimed dozens of times that he could not remember, did not know or was not aware of various aspects of the Crossfire Hurricane investigation, denials which became increasingly implausible as they accumulated throughout the day. Eventually, Senator Mike Lee, a Utah Republican, said with exasperation:

With all due respect, Mr Comey, you don’t seem to know anything about an investigation that you ran.

Comey also rebuffed the claim made by President Trump during the Tuesday night debate that Joe Biden was personally responsible, during his final days as vice president, for the FBI investigation into Trump’s national security advisor Michael Flynn, who was fired for lying about his contacts with the Russian ambassador during the transition period between the election and Trump’s inauguration. Comey said:

I would remember it, because it’d be highly inappropriate for a president or vice president to suggest prosecution or investigation of anyone, and it did not happen.

Comey also welcomed suggestions from Democrats, notably Senate Minority Whip Richard Durbin, that Trump could be vulnerable to Russian blackmail because he needs money to pay for Trump Organization loans and debts totaling $421m for which he is personally responsible. The NYT revealed the existence of these debts in its front-page expose Monday, based on 20 years of Trump’s personal tax returns.

Evidence of war crimes, torture, surveillance and assassination plots: Assange hearing nears final day
Thomas Scripps, Laura Tiernan, WSWS, Oct 1 2020

A meeting between Assange and lawyer Geoffrey Robertson, illegally recorded by UC Global.

London’s Old Bailey heard evidence yesterday of astounding acts of criminality carried out by the US government against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. These included near total surveillance, grossly violating Assange’s privacy and legally privileged conversations; the theft of personal documents; and plans to kidnap or poison him. The testimony was provided anonymously by two former employees of UC Global, a Spanish company which provided security for the Ecuadorian Embassy in London where Assange claimed asylum. Details of their accounts had previously emerged in the press and have now been formally submitted as evidence. Summarizing their written statements, defence lawyer Mark Summers QC explained how the witnesses learned, in their words, that from 2016 UC Global boss David Morales “had entered into illegal arrangements with the US authorities to supply them with sensitive information about Mr Assange.” Morales told one of the witnesses directly that they were working for “US intelligence,” which he otherwise variously referred to as “the dark side” and “our American friends.” Morales experienced a “noticeable increment in his assets” after these relations were established.

While UC Global was working for US intelligence, one witness was instructed by Morales to install new surveillance cameras in the embassy which could secretly record sound and told to deny that they could do so when installing them. They were also told the cameras should have streaming capabilities so the Americans could have access. Later, secret microphones were concealed in a fire extinguisher in an embassy meeting room and in a socket in the toilets where Assange tried to hold private meetings. Stickers were placed on external windows to counteract vibrations and allow the “American friends” to use laser microphones pointed at the windows from outside the embassy. This surveillance was targeted specifically against Assange’s communication with his legal representatives, considered “priority targets.” Morales, said one witness, showed “a real obsession in relation to monitoring and recording the lawyers, because ‘our American friends’ were requesting it.” Lawyer-client privilege is a basic principle of justice, and any violation by the prosecution should result in a case being thrown out of court. Morales also asked the team at the embassy to obtain Assange’s fingerprints, steal his documents, and “steal the nappy of a baby that regularly visited Mr Assange” to establish whether the child was his. Morales “expressly stated that the Americans were the ones who wanted to establish paternity.” He later recounted to the witness that his American handlers were considering “more extreme measures,” specifically his “kidnap” or “poisoning.”

Other witness statements read into evidence confirmed and expanded on the utterly lawless character of Assange’s persecution. Robert Boyle, a US criminal and civil rights lawyer, gave expert evidence on grand juries, the legal mechanism by which Assange has been charged in the US. He explained that grand juries “operate without adherence to the technical and evidential rules of criminal trials” and that their “broad powers have been usurped by the government,” turning them into a “rubber stamp” for prosecutors. This “de facto appropriation of those powers by law enforcement has created fertile ground for prosecutorial abuse,” including the coercion of witnesses. As an example, he cited the case of Chelsea Manning, who US prosecutors tried to force to testify against WikiLeaks via a grand jury subpoena. Manning’s principled refusal was punished with imprisonment and bankrupting fines, which caused “grievous psychological harm and very nearly cost her life.” In March this year she attempted suicide in the Alexandria Detention Center, where Assange would be held pre-trial.

Bridget Prince, director of One World Research, a public interest investigations and human rights research organisation, detailed how any jury in Assange’s trial would be stacked against the WikiLeaks founder. Assange would be tried in Alexandria, in the Eastern District of Virginia, his jury pool drawn from government military and security services and private security contractors that are some of the “largest employers” in that area. Government agencies with headquarters in the region include the CIA, FBI, National Cyber-Security and Communications Integration Center, Department of Defence, and Army Intelligence and Security Command. There is also a “high concentration of companies which are government contractors working in the military and intelligence sectors.”

In the afternoon, the court heard defence evidence on WikiLeaks’ 2011 Guantanamo Bay Files publications, which investigative journalist Andy Worthington described as “the anatomy of a crime of colossal proportions perpetrated by the US government on the majority of the 779 prisoners held in Guantanamo.” Mark Summers QC for the defence cited key passages from Worthington’s two witness statements. The journalist had partnered with WikiLeaks to provide critical background and context for the files, which comprised thousands of pages of Detainee Assessment Briefs from the Joint Task Force at Guantánamo Bay (JTF-GTMO) to SOUTHCOM in Miami. Worthington has published extensively on Gitmo and was lead author of a 2009 UN report on secret detention. In his written statement to the court, Worthington explained how the Guantanamo files “contained detailed explanations of the supposed intelligence used to justify the prisoners’ detentions,” with “evidence” extracted by CIA torture, “either in Guantanamo or in secret prisons run by the CIA.” He cited the example of three detainees whose false testimony, “which evidenced the criminal use of torture,” was used to convict many fellow-prisoners. Worthington wrote:

False testimony was extracted from Abu Zubaydah, seized in Pakistan in 2002. He spent four and a half years in CIA prisons in Thailand and Poland and was subjected to waterboarding and “controlled drowning” on 83 occasions. Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi was captured in Afghanistan, and illegally renditioned by the CIA to Egypt, where under torture he falsely confessed that AQ operatives had been meeting with Saddam Hussein to discuss obtaining CBW. Although this false confession was retracted by al-Libi, it was used nevertheless by the Bush administration to justify the invasion of Iraq in Mar 2003. MI6 agents witnessed his removal from Bagram Airbase in a coffin. MI5 and MI6 agents supplied questions to al-Libi’s CIA torturers in Egypt. Another prisoner, Nashiri, tortured at a CIA black site in Thailand alongside Zubaydah, later successfully brought a case at the European Court of Human Rights, utilising inter alia WikiLeaks Cablegate evidence of CIA rendition.

This monstrous crime, which led to 1m deaths and the destruction of Iraqi society, enjoyed the “knowing involvement” of the British state. Worthington noted that” Britain’s Telegraph newspaper partnered with WikiLeaks on the Guantanamo Files, Assange’s “media partners” at the Guardian and NYT having already turned on him for “irresponsibly” disclosing war crimes. Worthington recalled that he and Assange met “regularly” at the Telegraph’s offices “for joint meetings and discussions.” The newspaper carried no report yesterday of Worthington’s testimony, despite having published the 2011 Gitmo revelations ahead of WikiLeaks.

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