No Sport for Dullards


Jacqueline Alemany, Power Up: ‘By the Book Bob:’ Prosecutors say Mueller will tightly hug Justice guidelines in report

Ms. Alemany, whoever she may be, gives us what purports to be—and very probably is—a granular look at the problematic procedural issues surrounding the forthcoming Mueller reports. I won’t summarize; if the topic interests you, best read it for yourself. Then, if you are still interested, you may wish to note the following Aardvark observations.

“No Sport for Dullards”

That’s how a law professor of mine described an especially challenging course. And that’s the situation Barr finds himself in, as the new attorney general. Ms. Alemany spells out the balancing judgments Barr will have to make, and the issues he will need to finesse. This is a job for a senior, high powered lawyer. Barr is a senior, high powered lawyer.

Will he do his job in a responsible way? As to all the judgment calls he will need to make, will he in fact exercise good judgment?

Time will tell.

And maybe he will surprise us, by doing the right thing.

It would certainly make a change.

The Presidential Immunity Catch-22

Leakers are leaking that Mueller will abide by Justice Department policy that no matter how many crimes a president may have committed, you can’t prosecute him—at least while he’s still president.*

Meanwhile, there is also a departmental policy—famously violated by Jim Comey in respect of the Clinton email investigation—that if you aren’t going to prosecute, then you don’t publicly disclose derogatory information about the target of your investigation.

And one more thing: it’s pretty much universally understood that, for purposes of impeachment, “high crimes and misdemeanors” in the Constitution calls for a political and moral judgment, not just a narrow criminal law judgment.

Can you hold those three thoughts in your head at the same time?

Good for you.

What conclusions do you draw?

For example, it may occur to you that it’s one thing to say that if a prosecutor investigates and concludes that the target of the investigation did some bad things, but those bad things weren’t actually crimes, then the prosecutor is supposed to just keep his trap shut. But maybe it’s another thing if the investigation shows that the target violated large swaths of the criminal code, but he or she can’t be prosecuted for an arbitrary reason, such as the fact that he or she is the sitting president. Maybe the latter situation calls for an exception, so that the public can learn about all the crimes the sitting president appears to have committed.

And it may occur to you that it’s ironic that an investigation widely understood as examining whether the president is qualified for office based on moral and national security concerns might wind up concealing information of vital relevance to those moral and national security concerns.

Attorney General Barr Addresses President Trump

See my next post for a hypothetical conversation between Barr and Trump. It’s a thought experiment based on the considerations outlined above.

*Let the record reflect my view that this Justice Department “policy” is unwise and legally unfounded. But debating that question is not the point of this post.



Trump May Not Be Crazy, But the Rest of Us Are Getting There Fast: Psychologists’ couches are filling up as Americans seek relief from Trump Anxiety Disorder:

During normal times, therapists say, their sessions deal with familiar themes: relationships, self-esteem, everyday coping. Current events don’t usually invade. But numerous counselors said Trump and his convulsive effect on America’s national conversation is giving politics a prominence on the psychologist’s couch not seen since the months after 9/11—another moment in which events were frightening in a way that had widespread emotional consequences.

Empirical data bolsters the anecdotal reports from practitioners. The American Psychiatric Association in a May survey found that 39 percent of people said their anxiety level had risen over the previous year—and 56 percent were either “extremely anxious” or “somewhat anxious about “the impact of politics on daily life.” A 2017 study found two-thirds of Americans’ see the nation’s future as a “very or somewhat significant source of stress.”

These findings suggest the political-media community has things backwards when it comes to Trump and mental health.

For two years or more, commentators have been cross-referencing observations of presidential behavior with the official APA Diagnostic and Statistical Manual’s definition of narcissistic personality disorder. Journalists have compared contemporary video of Trump with interviews from the 1980s for signs of possible cognitive decline. And even some people on his own team, according to books and news reports, have been reading up on the process of presidential removal under the 25th Amendment of the Constitution—fueled by suspicions that the president’s allegedly erratic and undeniably precedent-shattering approach to the Oval Office may prove eventually to be a case of non compos mentis.

A more plausible interpretation, in the view of some psychological experts, is that Trump has been cultivating, adapting and prospering from his distinctive brand of provocation, brinkmanship, and self-drama for the past 72 years. What we’re seeing is merely the president’s own definition of normal. It is only the audience who finds the performance disorienting.

In other words: He’s not crazy, but the rest of us are getting there fast.

Aardvark’s Animadversion

Of course, a person would have to be insane not to be very worried right now. Thus, your mental instability is strong proof of the normality of your reaction to present circumstances:

There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one’s safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn’t, but if he were sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn’t have to, but if he didn’t want to he was sane and had to. Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle.

Joseph Heller, Catch-22