Paper Chase

Paper Chase

In the current battle between Congress and Trump on the question of oversight, Trump just blinked.

It was reported earlier today that former White House personnel security director, Carl Kline, would answer questions for a Congressional investigation of security clearance issues next week. The White House has blocked, or said it would block, the appearance of administration officials before Congress since the Mueller Report became public, setting the stage for a (another) Constitutional crisis.

One key witness is former White House Counsel Don McGahn, who features in the Mueller Report around a potential charge of Obstruction of Justice. The Washington Post reported, when the report came out that McGahn’s “ubiquity in the report’s footnotes laid bare his extensive cooperation in chronicling the president’s actions,” prompting Trump to dispute McGahn’s assertions and talk of blocking his appearance before Congress. In particular, the Mueller Report points to Trump’s dislike of note taking, as the Post reported:

“Some of the report’s most derogatory scenes were attributed not only to the recollections of McGahn and other witnesses but also to the contemporaneous notes kept by several senior administration officials — the kind of paper trail that Trump has long sought to avoid leaving.”

Another part of the paper trail that is escalating the fight with Congress is the request for Trump’s tax returns. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin has refused to turn them over to Congress, as required by law, and the deadline has passed. This action (or inaction) could put Mnuchin in jail for 5 years.

On several fronts, Congress is now engaged in a paper chase with the administration, so join the pursuit with a Paper Chase cocktail. Via Kindred Cocktails, this is a very tasty riff on the Paper Trail cocktail I wrote about a year ago.

1.5 oz Bulleit Rye

1 oz Aperol

.75 oz Bonal Gentiane Quina

Stir with ice, strain onto a large cube and garnish with a lemon twist

Cheers!

He Went to Jared

Manhattan Transfer

It was not a good week for the Russian asset in the White House, and the Michael Cohen testimony to Congress was only one aspect of the walls closing in on Trump.

The NY Times broke the story that Trump overruled intelligence officials and ordered the security clearance for his son-in-law Jared Kushner. While there is nothing particularly unexpected or shocking in this news, it does prove — once again — that Trump lied.

House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.) has already requested information related to granting Kushner a clearance as Congress moves to investigate the matter. Between his request that the Russians provide a secure backchannel communications avenue outside of the reach of U.S. intelligence agencies, to high debt levels (tied largely to overpaying for Manhattan real estate), the FBI and CIA had deemed Jared “unclearable.”

In today’s NY Times, Nicholas Kristof ties together a nice deal for solving Kushner‘s money problems, Saudi Arabia’s quest for a nuclear program and a company that wants to supply the Kingdom with reactors. It is so much more refreshing here now that the swamp has been drained.

By going to Jared, Democrats may be on to a more fruitful path that does not even need to involved the Mueller investigation. While debates rage around the ability to prosecute a sitting President and whether it is wise for the House to impeach Trump if it is unlikely the Senate will convict, there may be easier ways to attack the corruption of this administration.

Trumpworld presents a target-rich environment, and the past week offered several high priority targets of opportunity. The security clearance for Jared is one, but also the clearance for his wife, first daughter Ivanka, as well. Cohen’s testimony also provided another direction with Don Jr. and the Trump Organization. Federal prosecutors from the Southern District of New York are already on the case in several instances Cohen told the Committee, but his testimony also gave Congress a roadmap for further investigations and witnesses.

The unprecedented Presidency* of Trump sees an almost hourly progression of abnormal and illegal behavior (check the Weekly List from Amy Siskind), but shifting the focus to those around him could be a way to begin dismantling this regime. Whatever reasons Republicans have for defending Trump, those reasons may not carry over as easily to people like Jared and Don Jr.

As the investigations turn the spotlight on people around Trump, have a Manhattan Transfer cocktail. A Phil Ward creation I pulled from “Death & Co: Modern Cocktail Classics,” The Manhattan Transfer is:

1.5 oz Rittenhouse 100 Rye

1 oz dry vermouth

1 oz Ramazzotti

1 dash orange bitters

Stir over ice, strain into a coupe, no garnish

Cheers!

Slip Slidin’ Away

Slope

The Russian operative in the White House continues his efforts to destroy American democracy with the latest ploy being the National Emergency declaration.

Even while announcing the need for extraordinary means to secure the southern border from the menace in his head, he made clear how much of a non-emergency the situation is, daring anyone to try to put a check on powers he feels entitled to wield. Immediately, a number of sycophantic, and/or compromised, Senators pledged fealty to Emperor Orange I. And Trump may not be wrong about his Supreme Court Justice picks backing up his unConstitutional actions when it gets there (see: Muslim Ban).

For the GOP to not push back on this presidential power grab and the precedent it sets is just one more of the jaw-dropping, head-scratching, WTF?!? moments from Republicans in the past few years. Some of them do recognize the power this will give the next Democratic president to declare a national emergency on guns, health care, or climate change to get around a GOP Senate (whose control is so structurally baked in as to be near certain).

Of course, precedent setting and unprecedented is the hallmark of the unPresidented age we are living through. Trump has sent us speeding down so many slippery slopes that America would sweep any Winter Olympics medal count. Forget about making America great again, we will have our hands full just making America functional again. Restoring the rule of law alone will require many difficult steps back up those slippery slopes.

Trump is golfing his way through the National Emergency, ensconced on his own property in Florida, while the rule of law is slip sliding away. Time for a Slippery Slope cocktail.

The drink comes from Tona Palomino. I found the recipe via Kindred Cocktails while looking for new ways to use Cherry Heering. The Slippery Slope is:

2.5 oz rye

.75 oz Cherry Heering

.5 oz Cynar

Stir over ice, strain into a cocktail glass

Cheers!

Hunting (and Finding) Witches

Rye Witch

The Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker would not answer questions from Congress today about whether he still considers the Mueller investigation to be a “witch hunt.”

Before Trump named the “Big Dick Toilet Salesman” (h/t @emptywheel) to the role that oversees Mueller’s efforts, Whitaker had echoed the witch hunt sentiments regularly spouted by Trumpists. While he may not own up to the words now, we can see that “Hot Tub Crime Machine” Whitaker (h/t @MollyJongFast) was just another attempt to disrupt and/or end the investigation.

Now that Democrats have control of the House of Representatives, real oversight can begin on the Trump administration and their swampy crime wave. Congressman Adam Schiff, Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee is also planning on looking beyond the administration to find those who have tried to interfere with Mueller (looking at you former chairman Nunes).

It will be interesting to see how the recent revelation from Jeff Bezos over the extortion attempt from Trump friend and National Enquirer owner David Pecker factors in to what Shiff is looking into. Some of Trump’s support in Congress seems a normal extension of the cliff Republicans have driven off. But, maybe he can uncover how others, like Senators Ted Cruz and Lindsey Graham, went from such big Trump opponents to orange-stained lapdogs.

The tendrils of the corruption in Washington have spread massively (reaching all the way to South Dakota where former GOP/NRA operative — and Russian spy Maria Butina’s boyfriend — Paul Erickson was just hit with 11 felony counts). At this point (and this stat is a couple weeks old now) there have been 199 Criminal Charges; 37 People/Entities Charged; including 6 High-level Trump Associates; 7 People have pled Guilty; 4 People Sentenced to Prison; 1 Convicted by a Jury.

Whitaker may have avoided talking about the witch hunt because his boss seems to be changing the talking point to “Presidential Harassment.” At this point finding witches in and around this presidency is like finding hay in a hay stack.

The way things are going, we are likely to hear about more witches being found any time now. While you wait, have a Rye Witch cocktail.

Created by Jim Meehan, the Rye Witch is a riff on an Improved Old Fashioned. I pulled the recipe from Talia Baiocchi’s great book Sherry. The Rye Witch is:

1 dash Fee Brothers orange bitters

1 dash Regan’s orange bitters

1 cube of Demerara sugar

2 oz Rittenhouse Rye

.25 oz Strega

.25 oz palo cortado sherry

Muddle the bitters and sugar in a mixing glass, add rye, Strega, sherry and ice, stir and strain into a chilled rocks glass, garnish with an orange twist. (Yes, not a rocks glass pictured. Needed to do dishes. Don’t judge.)

Cheers!

Time to Carve Up Some Trump Steaks

killing floor

Hard times is here and everywhere you go

Times are harder than ever been before

                                          — Skip James, “Hard Time Killing Floor Blues” (1931)

The continuing government shutdown means Federal employees are about to miss another paycheck. Every passing day puts our national security, food safety, and even our scientific understanding of the changing climate more at risk as workers can’t do their jobs – or are doing them without pay and wondering how to buy food or pay the rent.

This kind of disruption must be a dividend Putin never thought he’d get with his purchase of Trump. Of course, this isn’t only on Individual 1, as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell could end the shutdown anytime by allowing a vote on house measures (that already passed the Senate).

McConnell, who wouldn’t let news of Russian interference in 2016 on behalf of Trump come out until after the election, is now keeping the government closed and just lifted sanctions on a key Russian oligarch. It is almost as though he doesn’t want his suspicious activity to be overshadowed by the growing revelations of Trump’s dealing with Russia.

While Trump and his GOP enablers in Congress bring hard times to America, the newly Democratic-led House of Representatives is preparing to begin its oversight work. The recent Buzzfeed report on Trump directing Cohen to lie to Congress, its brief elevation of impeachment talk, and Mueller’s pushback notwithstanding, the docket of Democratic inquiries would be enough to take down several administrations.

The list of Trump swamp creatures and their questionable (if not illegal) activities could have House committee rooms looking like the slaughterhouses of Chicago. This will all be warmup to the main event, when Trump himself makes it to the House killing floor. Between obstruction of justice, violation of the emoluments clause and possibly treason, he is likely to get carved up into the best Trump steaks yet.

While waiting for the Hearings to begin, have The Killing Floor cocktail. Via Frederic Yarm at Cocktail Virgin, The Killing Floor is:

1.5 oz James E. Pepper Rye (I used FEW Spirits Rye, the Chicago connection seemed right)
.5 oz Bigallet China China Liqueur
.5 oz Cocchi Sweet Vermouth
.5 oz Bonal Gentiane-Quinquina

Stir with ice and strain into a rocks glass. Garnish with an orange twist.

Cheers!

Waiting Is the Hardest Part

Purgatory

Just a few weeks out from the election and the anxiety is intensifying. What direction will America be headed on November 7?

Polls go back and forth, including one today that says a low turnout could mean Republicans hold the House by one seat. Reports of GOP voter suppression activities are now a part of each news cycle. Voting systems across many states are so insecure that children have hacked them in minutes, and Congress has done nothing to strengthen our defenses while the Russians are up to their same tricks from the 2016 election.

It does seem the anti-Trump part of the country is more motivated to vote, and there are many people working to get out the vote in big numbers for Democrats. Still, the waiting for election day won’t be easy. This is particularly true as the propaganda from the right has been turned up to 11.

No matter, how the election goes, there will be a lot of work to do when it’s over. Whether it’s Congress getting back to normal oversight duties if Democrats win or potential reactions that might come as a result of interference or corruption, November 6 is more of a beginning than an end.

As we face the final three weeks to the midterm elections, now would be a good time for a Purgatory cocktail. Via Kindred Cocktails, the Purgatory is:

2.5 oz Rittenhouse Rye

.75 oz Bénédictine

.75 oz Green Chartreuse

Stir over ice, strain into a chilled coupe, lemon twist garnish

Cheers!

The Aging of Reason

Reason

“We’re on a mission from God.” — Elwood Blues

Have you seen the Light? America today is seeing its fundamental values — a birthright of the Enlightenment — being squeezed from two sides.

On the one side is the Religious Right. It has been building for quite a long time, but it does seem different today. For all of the faults of George W. Bush, he was a Believer who tried to live as (his version of) a good Christian. Trump, on the other hand, obviously prefers to spend his Sundays on the golf course (preferably one of his own). Nevertheless, the Religious Right is the strongest part of his base.

Plenty of evidence has sprung up just in the past week, from Trump’s anti-abortion moves to moving the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. The new generation of evangelical leaders, including Franklin Graham, Jerry Falwell Jr. and Texas megachurch pastor Robert Jeffress, heap praise on Trump (and VP Pence), but raise questions whether their aim is power rather than piety.

The influence of the Religious Right on the policies of the U.S. government is not what the founders intended. When Thomas Paine published his Age of Reason pamphlets attacking organized Christianity, he was arguing the church was corrupt and overly institutionalized. What would he think of today’s situation?

As obvious as the Religious Right squeezing from one side is, the other pressure point is really just coming into focus. Shedding some light on this point is (of all people) Henry Kissinger in The Atlantic this month. While his piece, “How The Enlightenment Ends,” is aimed at how humans are not prepared intellectually, philosophically, or ethically, for the rise of artificial intelligence, it definitely touches on some topics that have become more visible in the Age of Trump.

The Enlightenment sought to submit traditional verities to a liberated, analytic human reason. The internet’s purpose is to ratify knowledge through the accumulation and manipulation of ever expanding data. Human cognition loses its personal character. Individuals turn into data, and data become regnant.

Users of the internet emphasize retrieving and manipulating information over contextualizing or conceptualizing its meaning…Truth becomes relative. Information threatens to overwhelm wisdom.

When it comes to politics, Kissinger sees the velocity of data having a negative impact on understanding and on building consensus. He says this is due to the greater ability to micro target based on “specialized purposes or grievances.” A quick look at the social media effect on the 2016 election gives plausibility to this idea. “The digital world’s emphasis on speed inhibits reflection; its incentive empowers the radical over the thoughtful; its values are shaped by subgroup consensus, not by introspection,” Kissinger writes.

Perhaps like Jake and Elwood, it is time to get the Band back together — Locke, Kant, Voltaire, Adam Smith, etc. — to spark a new Enlightenment for the 21st Century, one that energizes a new generation to tackle the philosophical and ethical questions unimaginable in the 18th Century.

But before you going looking for that copy of Rousseau’s The Social Contract you had in college, you may want to make yourself an Age of Reason cocktail.

Via Bittermen’s, the Age of Reason is:

2 oz rye

.5 oz cognac

.5 oz Cocchi Americano

1 bar spoon green Chartreuse

1 bar spoon yellow Chartreuse

10 drops Bittermen’s ‘Elemakule tiki bitters

lemon twist

Stir over ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Run the lemon twist around the rim of the glass and discard.

Cheers!