Listening to the hearing by the Senate intelligence committee yesterday, featuring retired Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, and former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates was a symposium in legal nuances, political innuendo and geopolitical cyber-security files.
Ms Yates, a veteran of 27 years in the Justice Department, rebutted one senator’s attempt to discredit her, following his earlier vote to confirm her, with her verbatim recall of his specific question as to whether she would, if required, object to a presidential order. She repeated his earlier question, her answer that she would oppose a presidential order that she considered illegal, and then stuck her finger in his eye with, “I said I would and I did” in reference to her directing the justice department not to defend the Trump executive order on the Muslim travel ban. Her testimony was guided and guarded by her clear grasp of both legal principles, legal statutes, and national security demands that she refuse to answer. Measured, calm, professional and articulate, Ms Yates burnished the reputation of the Justice Department (refusing to counsel her successor “from the cheap seats”) and further sullied he reputation of the Oval office and the administration for firing her and dubbing her a “democratic” pawn. Even the most reactionary right-wing ideologue would have to concur that she retained her professional honour and reputation and enhanced the trustworthiness of the government, at least under the previous administrations going back 27 years, including both Democratic and Republican governments.
Seated beside Ms Yates, James Clapper, not fired but merely retired Director of National Intelligence who served under both Obama and George W. Bush, offered another, yet different, model of professional competence and avuncular nonchalance. Also clear about what he knew and where the boundary exists precluding his crossing the ‘national security’ classification, Clapper was most forthcoming, in offering his personal opinion about how the country might improve its “pushback” against cyber-threats, and aggressive information campaigns by both Russia (and other national opponents) as well as ISIS.
He offered the prospect of a full-out information initiative to counter the mis-information threats from the Kremlin in its attempts to sabotage the democratic process, and the radicalization efforts (said to be both aggressive and highly effective) by the radical Islamic terrorists. Clear-eyed and now unrestrained by office and the many protocols that inhibit free expression while formally tethered to the government, Clapper relished his opportunity to insert his considered and substantive views about America’s reticence, reluctance or even considered rejection of aggressive actions in the ideas and information theatre, especially those offered by the internet.
Once again, evidence squirts out that this gigantic mother-ship of a country, like the testosterone-inflated nuclear-powered aircraft carriers that ply the seas in her name and can turn only ever so slowly in the waters of new threats, can and will change only at a glacial speed. Under serious threats from terrorists and from malignant dictators seeking to destabilize western institutions such as the EU, NATO and the American influence earned through decades of both honourable and less-than-honourable methods and goals of foreign policy, Clapper points to a giant gap in the American “push-back”….clearly evidence, once again, that bullets, missiles, bombs and rockets are the preferred weapons of choice, while Putin and ISIS pound the internet with propaganda, fake news and incriminating noise.
The story of trump’s “pre-and-post-rebuttle” attacks on Yates will likely gobble the largest share of the news coverage of the hearing. However, the less ‘sexy’ story is about the potential impact of watching truth-purveyors demonstrate by their courage and their conviction that the United States has not totally abandoned the pursuit of truth even if the White House has, and will continue to do. Yates and Clapper, through three hours of testimony, have historically, given the current political climate, taught the people of America, (at least those willing to take the time to watch and to digest the details, and their impact) that there are seasoned professional among the civil service, the Justice Department, and even the Pentagon whose integrity cannot and will not be compromised in the face of mounting evidence of the potential of authentic compromise of high-level officials, like Flynn, whose participation in National Security, however, brief, may spell legal turbulence for trump and his gang.
His “clearance” for work conducted prior to his firing is significantly different from the “clearance” he ought to have endured under White House guidance for the National Security Advisor job he was given by the Oval Office. Clapper repeated the fact that the senior jobs all require a much stiffer scrutiny that those of lower rank. Even though he served for only 18 days, he still sat in on all the most highly secure briefings to the president….a simple fact that ought to arouse frenzy among patriots of both parties, and legal beagles of constitutional protection bent.
In Canada, as I am sure in other countries, one meets seasoned political veterans who have entered a pool based on their projected date for trump’s impeachment. I recently talked to one who had selected Easter 2018 as his date for the demise of the president. Even that date would allow trump considerable time and opportunity to make a mess of many files, including the debasement of the professional media, except for his ‘patron’ Fox News.
Juxtaposed to the Senate hearing yesterday was the ceremony in which of the Profile in Courage Award was presented to former president Obama on Sunday evening, in the JFK Library in Boston. The ‘coming-out’ of President John F. Kennedy’s only grandson, Jack Schlossberg, son of Caroline Kennedy, saw a self-possessed, articulate, young man espousing the liberal attitudes and values of his grandfather, and great uncles, Bobby and Teddy. As a graduate of Yale who will enroll in Harvard Law this September, there is little doubt the world will see and hear much more from this son-of-the-dynasty that emerged in the 1960’s from Cape Cod, Massachusetts.
Not only was the young Mr. Schlossberg highly articulate, if obviously constrained in his modesty, but he detailed the many accomplishments of the first African-American president in U.S. history, and the courage he demonstrated throughout his tenure of eight years. And then, it was the former president’s turn to take the podium.
Documenting the courage of all those who voted for the Affordable Care Act, knowing they could be, and eventually were, defeated in their constituency because of that vote, Obama inextricable linked his own legacy to the courage and tenacity of the America people, while using his own sophistication to remind his present and television audiences, “Any fool can be fearless” as a none-too-subtle jab at the current occupant of the Oval Office. A second lesson in American patriotism, humanist values, political courage and the public revealing of public servants of a calibre we can only be grateful were willing to serve in the previous administration.
Just when all new coverage seems like a race to the bottom of the honesty and ethical barrels of both lies and unrestrained narcissism coming from the White House, the world has been given shining examples of the quality, the excellence, and the positive vision for all Americans, including the health care provision for which both Obama and Teddy Kennedy fought so long and hard.
Obama told the story of Ted Kennedy walking the halls of the hospital during the period when his son was receiving chemo treatment for cancer. He spoke with the other parents of children undergoing similar treatment and listened to their fears and anxiety that they might not be able to afford the treatment, without considerable stress on their families. It was a similar story to the one told by Jimmy Kimmel, last week, about his newborn son, whose heart needed corrective surgery. As he proclaimed on his late-night talk show, “No one should have to be in the position of having to decide if they can afford the medical treatment to save their child’s life!
Just when the night of the political stage looks most dark and bleak, here are two or three occasions that lift the human spirit,, just as did the election of Macron in France on Sunday, defeating his primary opponent the far-right National Front led by Marine LePen.
With Hillary, Macron, Obama, and potentially Jack Schlossberg with the support and guidance of his parents, there are small green sprigs of what we can only hope are strong and indefatigable plants that will grow and inspire other sprouts of courage, integrity and authenticity.
And we can all hope that it will not take until Easter 2018 for trump to fall from his lofty perch.