It’s tempting to focus 24/7 on the expanding Kremlingate probe — Mike Pence and Jared Kushner have now lawyered up, and Trump is tweeting his self-pity as his poll support wanes — but we need to pay heed to the damage he’s doing under the radar.
Just five months into his tinpot reign, a whopping 65 percent of Americans believe he has little or no respect for America’s democratic institutions. And that share would arguably be higher if more people knew about the kind of judges he envisions for the federal bench — like, for instance, the two bomb-throwing bloggers who appeared Wednesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Yup, bloggers. In their day jobs, John Bush and Damien Schiff are attorneys; in their off hours, they’ve indulged their incendiary ids and told people what they really think. Sort of like Trump’s tweets.
For instance, Schiff, who works for a conservative legal foundation and has been tapped for a seat on the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, once wrote in a post that Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy is “a judicial prostitute,” someone who’s always “selling his vote … to four other Justices in exchange for the high that comes from aggrandizement of power and influence.” Another time, he posted his disdain for a California school district’s anti-bullying program which “seems to teach that bullying of homosexuals is wrong.”
Stuff like that. Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse said Wednesday during the confirmation hearing, “If President Obama had sent in a nominee who had called Justice Kennedy a ‘judicial prostitute,’ the other side of this dais would have its hair on fire.” Schiff’s defense: “The point of that blog post was not to impugn or malign any person, but rather to attack a certain style of judging.” Oh.
Schiff and Bush both insisted that whatever they’ve blogged in the past would in no way influence their thinking on the federal bench — a fascinating argument, because it basically suggests that the donning of black robes would magically cleanse their minds of all their gut beliefs. It also implies that confirmation hearings are a waste of time, that senators should ignore a nominee’s track record when determining whether that person is qualified for the bench.
But Al Franken — one of the Senate’s most skilled questioners — isn’t buying that BS; in his words Wednesday, “One of the qualities I look for in a judge is judgment.” And given the fact that John Bush, a Kentucky lawyer tapped for a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals, had repeatedly written blogs that drew material from fake news websites … well, Franken didn’t think that was very good judgment.
Yes, folks, Trump has nominated, for the appeals bench, a guy who wrote hundreds of blog posts under a fake name (“G. Morris”), often using infauxmation from fake news sites. Let’s go straight to the transcript.
Franken: “You used the G. Morris alias when you wrote a series of posts about President Obama that seemed to focus on the president’s Kenyan heritage. One of those posts quotes freely from an article on World Net Daily, a website known for peddling conspiracy theories, fake news, and white nationalism. World Net Daily was also well known for trafficking in birtherism — the widely debunked and racist belief that President Obama was not born in the United States. The article you quote from suggests that a reporter in Kenya was detained by the government [of Kenya] because he was investigating, quote, ‘Barack Obama’s connections in the country.’ What point were you trying to make in this post?”
Bush: “Well, first of all, before getting into the particular post, I have to tell the committee, there are some things I’ve written on the posts, or the blog, that I wish I could phrase differently or said differently at this point. That particular post, I don’t recall all the details of it, but I was certainly not intending to endorse any views of another group as far as birtherism goes.”
Franken: “Well, in several other posts, you cite sources like World Net Daily. How did you decide which sources to rely upon in your writings and how did you decide which sources were credible?”
Bush: “As a blogger, I was finding things that were in the news that were of note. I thought — I wasn’t intending to, through the post, to say that President Obama was not born in this country. I never — “
Franken: “How did you decide — could you answer my questions? How did you decide which sources were credible? And do you believe that World Net Daily is a credible source?”
Bush: “As I said, when I was doing the blog, I made some posts that I today would not do. And I don’t particularly recall that one. What went into the decision to use that particular story, but I am not endorsing any of the birther view points of that particular person.”
Franken: “OK, let me ask you again. How did you decide which sources were credible, and how did you decide that World Net Daily is a credible source?”
Bush: “I don’t know whether I decided that or not. I just really cannot remember.”
Franken: “So you were free — you felt free to put posts out that cited sources that you knew were not credible?”
Bush: “No, senator, I’m not saying that.”
Franken: “What are you saying?”
Bush: “I’m saying that as a blogger, I was making political statements — “
Franken: ” — Using sources that engaged in fake news, hate speech. And again, what I was saying was, is that I think we have to, when we’re confirming judges, look at judgment. And in my mind, using my judgment to confirm someone who felt free to blog, and can’t answer how he decides whether to cite a source or not, whether it’s credible or not, that’s disturbing to me. Thank you.”
There you have it, the Trump mentality in practice: An appeals court nominee says he looked for “things that were in the news that were of note” — fodder for his “political statements” — but he can’t explain whether or to what extent he judged the “news” sources to be fake or true. Thanks to Franken’s questions, it would appear that Bush gave us a glimpse of his true self. But hey, that’s no cause for concern, because he promised, “I will not bring politics to the bench.”
That fig leaf will be enough to please the Republicans and ensure his confirmation — although one of their senators, John Kennedy of Louisiana, did tell Bush: “I have read your blogs. I’m not impressed.” In this dark age, any commonsensical insight counts as a major victory.