Yesterday the media erupted with the latest bombshell stories about President Donald Trump discussing plans for martial law and appointing former Trump campaign attorney Sidney Powell as Special Counsel. It was a well-known bomb and bust pattern. A fair basis for reporting on the meeting quickly mutated into panic reporting on the threat of a military takeover. This morning Jake Tapper ran his show “Conspiracy in the Oval Office” about how Trump spoke about the introduction of martial law. He asked, “How afraid should we be?” The answer is not very important on either point. President Trump publicly denied the report as “false news”.
Tapper rightly called the idea “crazy”. He added that this was “alarming and frightening”. I don’t doubt the validity of the story, just the implications of the story. It’s not as scary as the heading suggests, however.
This story has “sources” – the anonymous helpers who have caused leaks virtually instantaneously through meetings in the Oval Office for the past four years. In that case, within hours of meeting apparently various news outlets Friday night, the sources reported that Trump was discussing martial law and the appointment of controversial former campaign advisor Sidney Powell as special adviser to investigate the 2020 election. The meeting has been described as heated as various aides pushed back statements by Powell and General Michael Flynn, who was recently pardoned by President Trump.
There is every possibility that martial law and the special council were raised. The meeting was described as an informal meeting with Powell and Flynn. It would be no surprise that Flynn repeated his point of view. I recently criticized Flynn for arguing that martial law was appropriate in the face of the electoral controversy. It was an outrageous and ruthless statement that amounted to a call to tyranny. For those of us who defended Flynn for his abusive persecution, it was also a disappointment that someone who has long defended this country would accept such an anti-democratic appeal. Frankly, Trump should have reminded Flynn that he was speaking to the President of the United States in the Oval Office, and such a suggestion is extremely offensive and unfounded.
However, such a proposal does not make this a conspiracy in the works. Lots of crazy and disturbing things are said in the Oval Office. Some actually made it into the planning stage as if they were destroying the moon under President Dwight D. Eisenhower. The point is that there is no basis for declaring martial law and neither the courts nor Congress (including many Republican members) would advocate it. However, the stories touched on the fact that reports indicated that it was brought up by Flynn, and not some agenda item at a Trump Trilateral Commission meeting. Despite his alarming rhetoric, Trump has consistently followed court decisions and worked within the legal system. If he or his successor ever opposed the court, they would be removed from office.
Flynn, repeating his reckless comment in the Oval Office, makes no conspiracy. It’s an embarrassment. Even if Trump lost his mind, he would have to carry out a war rule without the military. The military has said to leave it out of such bizarre discussions.
Powell’s proposed appointment sounds like vintage Trump. However, a Powell appointment is only slightly more practical than a military takeover. The problem is, Powell is being banned from such an appointment for a variety of reasons. Let’s just call three.
First, a special lawyer is appointed by the Ministry of Justice. Trump recently fired Attorney General Bill Barr early from the ministry after Barr said he had seen no evidence of widespread electoral fraud and followed the ministry’s ethical rules by failing to disclose Hunter Biden’s pre-election investigation. Barr clearly wouldn’t make such an appointment, and even if he did, he clearly wouldn’t appoint Powell. Acting Attorney General Jeff Rosen is unlikely to be more inclined to do so.
Under the Ministry of Justice’s rules, such an appointment must not only be in the public interest but must be based on a determination that additional criminal investigation is required.[t]An investigation into or prosecution of this person or matter by a United States law firm or Department of Justice Department would create a conflict of interest for the department or other exceptional circumstance. “The Justice Department made no such findings, although Barr made it easier for federal prosecutors to investigate allegations of election fraud. On the contrary, the courts have unanimously rejected the allegations.
Second, even if a special lawyer was considered, Powell could not be ethically appointed. Powell was an advisor to the Trump campaign before she was separated from the Trump campaign over controversial conspiracy theories. (I was one of the many critics of the Powell press conference and the sweeping conspiracy theories). It would be unprecedented and unethical to appoint a former Trump campaign attorney as a special advisor to avoid a conflict of interest.
Third, and most importantly, nobody in the Justice Department would do it. If President Trump ordered Rosen to appoint Powell, Rosen should (and would) step down. I believe the President must make his way to the DOJ fleet before he can find someone willing to set up such a clearly unethical and inappropriate appointment.
Most notably, such an appointment would frustrate Barr’s in-depth research into the protection of Amber. As I discussed earlier, Barr effectively guaranteed that the investigation of both the Russian investigation and Hunter Biden could also be completed in a Biden administration. Barr made Durham a special lawyer, leaving Biden and the Democrats mixed up. Trump may have talked about firing Special Counsel Robert Mueller, but he never did. Biden would have to do what Trump ultimately didn’t. While investigating Hunter Biden, Barr waited until after the election for the investigation to be published. That will make it difficult for Biden to replace the US attorney from Delaware until after the investigation. By waiting until after the election, Barr preserved the integrity of both the investigation and the division from allegations of political motivation.
If Trump were to appoint Powell, that would be the excuse the Democrats are looking for to drop all three investigations. Even the discussion of such an appointment undermines the strong position Barr has left in these investigations.
These are only three reasons why this is unlikely. I do not accuse the media of writing about the meeting if it has valid sources. I just wish it showed the same interest in confirmed investigations into the Russian collusion investigation and the Hunter-Biden scandal. These are not chimerical, but real. This also applies to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s allegations of sexual misconduct by a former employee who was not anonymous.
This is all part of the withdrawal symptoms for a post-Trump medium. This was one last sensational story to be debated while burying less popular or convenient stories. There is an alternative. You can honestly and completely treat them all like independent media.
The bigger problem is that after the president prematurely ousted Barr from office, he has lost the critical stabilizing power of his administration. He now lacks that firewall and the source of mature and measured advice. That role will now fall entirely on the shoulders of White House attorney Pat Cipollone.