Authoritarianism Watch: We Had a Year. It's Almost Up.

In February, I recommended this interview with Yale professor Timothy Snyder, who warned "we have at most a year to defend the Republic, perhaps less." My friend Sarah Kendzior also warned soon after Donald Trump's election that we had around a year to prevent a full-on authoritarian takeover.

We are now weeks away from the anniversary of Trump's inauguration, and here are some things I've read this morning:

1. [Content Note: Video may autoplay at link] John Solomon at the Hill: FBI Launches New Clinton Foundation Investigation. "The Justice Department has launched a new inquiry into whether the Clinton Foundation engaged in any pay-to-play politics or other illegal activities while Hillary Clinton served as Secretary of State, law enforcement officials and a witness tells The Hill. FBI agents from Little Rock, Ark., where the Foundation was started, have taken the lead in the investigation and have interviewed at least one witness in the last month, and law enforcement officials said additional activities are expected in coming weeks."

This is a gross abuse of power. Targeting political opponents this way is also a hallmark of authoritarian regimes.

2. [CN: Disablist language] Matthew Gertz at Politico: I've Studied the Trump-Fox Feedback Loop for Months; It's Crazier Than You Think. "Many of the president's most vicious tweets, which often baffle observers because they seem to come out of nowhere, make more sense when you realize that they are actually his responses to Fox's programming. ...Trump's morning tweets upend the news cycle, with cable news producers and assignment editors redistributing time and resources to cover his latest comments. Statements from the president are inherently newsworthy. But the result is certainly a positive one for Fox: The network's partisan programming gets validation from the president, and forces the rest of the press to cover Fox's obsessions whether they are newsworthy or not."

And because Trump obsessively watches (and routinely compliments) Fox News, and amplifies their contorted take on the news, they have an ever greater incentive to broadcast what he wants to hear. They have essentially become a de facto propaganda outlet for the White House. (More directly than they have been before.)

State-influenced media that twists the news to a leader's favor, especially in ways that minimize his despotism, is also a hallmark of authoritarian regimes.

3. Michael S. Schmidt at the New York Times: Obstruction Inquiry Shows Trump's Struggle to Keep Grip on Russia Investigation.
[When Sessions went against Trump's wishes and recused himself from the Justice Department's Russia investigation], the president erupted in anger in front of numerous White House officials, saying he needed his attorney general to protect him. Mr. Trump said he had expected his top law enforcement official to safeguard him the way he believed Robert F. Kennedy, as attorney general, had done for his brother John F. Kennedy and Eric H. Holder Jr. had for Barack Obama.

Mr. Trump then asked, "Where's my Roy Cohn?" He was referring to his former personal lawyer and fixer, who had been Senator Joseph R. McCarthy's top aide during the investigations into communist activity in the 1950s and died in 1986.

...The special counsel has received handwritten notes from Mr. Trump's former chief of staff, Reince Priebus, showing that Mr. Trump talked to Mr. Priebus about how he had called Mr. Comey to urge him to say publicly that he was not under investigation. The president's determination to fire Mr. Comey even led one White House lawyer to take the extraordinary step of misleading Mr. Trump about whether he had the authority to remove him.

The New York Times has also learned that four days before Mr. Comey was fired, one of Mr. Sessions's aides asked a congressional staff member whether he had damaging information about Mr. Comey, part of an apparent effort to undermine the F.B.I. director.

...Mr. Trump began to discuss openly with White House officials his desire to fire Mr. Comey. This unnerved some inside the White House counsel's office.
The gist of that is: Trump's attempts to obstruct justice have been just as relentless and brazen as anyone with any sense has imagined they've been.

And there is zero indication that he is inclined to curtail his aggressive contempt for the rule of law. To the absolute contrary, there is every indication that the more frustrated Trump gets with legal limitations on his power (provided thus far only by the courts) and the ongoing investigations which may hold him accountable for behavior in which he believes he should be able to engage with impunity, the more hostile he becomes toward our democratic systems, norms, and laws.

Further, the Republican Party not only refuses to address Trump's disloyalty and tyranny; its leadership is still busily carrying water for him, including siding with him against the Justice Department.

4. [CN: Video may autoplay at link] Laura Jarrett, Evan Perez, and Manu Raju at CNN: Ryan Backed Nunes in Spat with Justice Department over Russia Documents, Sources Say.
House Speaker Paul Ryan backed his fellow congressional Republican, House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes, during a meeting over the Russia investigation Wednesday, capping off a months-long dispute between the committee and the Justice Department, multiple sources with the knowledge of the situation told CNN.

...At Wednesday's meeting — initiated at [Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein]'s request — Rosenstein and [FBI director Christopher Wray] tried to gauge where they stood with the House speaker in light of the looming potential contempt of Congress showdown and Nunes' outstanding subpoena demands [regarding a broad range of documents connected to the dossier of compromising allegations about Trump's connections to the Kremlin].

While Ryan had already been in contact with Rosenstein for months about the dispute over documents, Rosenstein and Wray wanted to make one last effort to persuade him to support their position. The documents in dispute were mostly FBI investigative documents that are considered law enforcement sensitive and are rarely released or shared outside the bureau.

During the meeting, however, it became clear that Ryan wasn't moved and the officials wouldn't have his support if they proceeded to resist Nunes' remaining highly classified requests, according to multiple sources with knowledge of the meeting.
All of the above is such a tiny slice of what is happening. It's a few hours of a single day.

We had about a year. That year is almost up.

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