Why the Running Mate Will Really Matter This Time

It seems much more important to get the details on men behaving badly if you are: A. a Democrat B. Weathly. Being a Republican, say Trump, should apparently, just be overlooked

as Trump being Trump. Not that there is any excuse for sexual harassment or unhealthy workplace behavior. It’s just that if the Democrats hold their aides to higher standards it will increase the chances of reelection of Trump. But perhaps ethical purity is most important. It is a really complex problem reflecting fast changing/improving social standards. It may boil down in this One Case to accepting apologies with the idea that we all learn something and the “look the other way”

OPINION | FOURTH ESTATE

With four leading presidential contenders in their 70s, the VP slot has never been more meaningful.

Bernie Sanders

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By JACK SHAFER

02/19/2020 09:17 PM EST

Jack Shafer is Politico’s senior media writer.

The vice presidency—likened to a “warm bucket of piss” by John Nance Garner, who suffered eight years in the office under FDR, and called a political dead end by others—has miraculously become Washington’s second most desirable job.

It’s not that the job has changed. What’s given the vice presidency a new sheen is the advanced age of four leading contenders for the presidency—Donald Trump, 73; Bernie Sanders, 78; Mike Bloomberg, 78; and Joe Biden, 77. None of the four amigos are likely to croak tomorrow, but the actuarial odds are bending against them. One scholar on aging reports that Trump has an 84.8 percent chance of surviving a 2020 term, while Sanders, Bloomberg and Biden rate several percentage points worse.

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Lest you think I’m being ageist for harping on the candidates’, um, advanced maturity and general health, let me point out that they’re currently slicing each other up on the topic. On Wednesday, a Sanders spokesman fended off questions about her candidate’s health cast aspersion on Bloomberg health. She claimed he had had multiple heart attacks in the past. Not so, the Bloomberg campaign responded, explaining the Mike has never had a heart attack but he does have three heart stents. This language in this column may strike you as morbid but it’s no more morbid than what the campaigns are saying about one another.

If the Democratic Party is paying attention to this actuarial action—and I think it is—their next veep nominee won’t be another no-name ticket balancer picked to satisfy the geographic, gender, and ethnicity needs of the ticket. Rather, he (or she) will be selected based on the understanding that he stands a higher statistical chance completing the term of the presidential nominee than veeps before him. Instead of nominating one prospective president, the Democrats especially will effectively be nominating two. In the absence of a crystal ball, there’s no way to determine whether the winning candidate will survive his term. But it shouldn’t take a crystal ball to see that the advanced ages of these candidate should be a major campaign issue.

Of course, any president, no matter his age, could drop dead tomorrow. In 1961, writer Clare Booth Luce asked Lyndon Baines Johnson why he had surrendered his powerful position as Senate majority leader to become John F. Kennedy’s veep. “Clare, I looked it up: one out of every four presidents has died in office. I’m a gamblin’ man, darlin’, and this is the only chance I got,” he answered. Johnson was a little off—at the time, one in five presidents had died in office (four from natural causes and three from assassination). But he was also operating on the forbidden knowledge that Kennedy was a sick man who required heavy medication.

Consider the shaky grip the current frontrunners have on life. Sanders had an onstage heart attack last fall and has failed on his promise to release all of his medical records. Trump, the oldest president ever elected to a first term, is clinically obese, walks with a heavy gait, reportedly sleeps only 4-5 hours per night, looks terrible and plays similar games with his medical records. And then there’s that suspicious unplanned visit to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center he took in November. If Trump were to expire tomorrow in his golf cart, who would be astonished? Joe Biden projects more physical vigor than either Sanders or Trump, but his brain was marbled by two life-threatening aneurysms in 1988, requiring a microsurgical craniotomy. Only Bloomberg exhibits both physically and mentally vital, but at his age—and even with his billions—how long can he hold that pose?

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The best historical parallel to 2020 might be 1944, when a frail Franklin Roosevelt prepared to run for his fourth term. Roosevelt had come to doubt that his existing vice president, Henry Wallace, would make a good successor in the likely event that he died. So he dumped Wallace for Harry S Truman. One day, Truman was drowning in the warm bucket of piss. The next, he was floating in a presidential sea of ambrosia. The 2008 election provided another example when the veep slot was more prize than consolation. At age 72, John McCain was older than any newly elected president, and was not a healthy man. Mindful that his war-time injuries and history of melanoma might conspire to prevent him from completing his first term, McCain reached down a full generation to select the youthful Sarah Palin, then 44, as his running mate. If Democrats follow that template, you can expect somebody like Stacy Abrams, a relative youngster at 46, to fill the ticket this year.

It should go without saying that the vice presidency will return to its low status if the Democrats nominate a young presidential candidate like Pete Buttigieg, 38, this year. Buttigieg has only a minuscule chance of dying in office, which could be career-ender for anybody who might run and win with him. At the end of Buttigieg’s two hypothetical terms, his veep would be stale political bread with little chance of winning the next presidential contest. History is quite consistent on this point: Since passage of the 12th Amendment, only two vice presidents—Martin Van Buren and George H.W. Bush—have been elected president immediately following the completion of their vice presidential terms. (Richard Nixon lost in 1960, but won the office eight years after his vice presidency concluded.)

The four elderly amigos can’t take sole credit for making the vice presidency potentially great again. You’ve got to tip the hat to Trump, whose erratic behavior nearly activated the 25th Amendment in May 2017. In pre-Trumpian times, the amendment—which allows the vice president to become the acting president should the president be ruled unable to “discharge the powers and duties of his office”—was used sparingly. It was invoked during Ronald Reagan’s colon surgery and George W. Bush’s colonoscopies. But nobody contemplated using it on a sitting president until Trump started acting nutty and fired FBI Director James Comey. Although nothing came of it, administration aides reportedly worked behind his back to activate the amendment and replace him with Mike Pence as acting president.

Should we elect a geezer president in 2020—something that looks more likely with every passing day—we can expect his aides to interpret the victor’s every behavior for signs of physical disability or mental breakdown. Meanwhile, in a separate room, we can expect the once lowly veep to patiently await his promotion by death.

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As an aged candidate and incumbent, Trump could have easily shopped for a “better” veep than Mike Pence for 2020. By better I mean younger and more accomplished. Instead, Trump again bestowed the slot upon the slavishly loyal 60-year-old Pence. This indicates Trump has no intention of dying. Neither do I. Send longevity hints via mail to Shafer.Politico@gmail.com. My email alerts and my Twitter feed would make a great ticket. My RSS feed remains in exile.

Fearful of Trump’s Attacks, Justice Dept. Lawyers Worry Barr Will Leave Them Exposed

Feb. 15, 2020

Disarray at the Justice Department?

Fearful of Trump’s Attacks, Justice Dept. Lawyers Worry Barr Will Leave Them Exposed

After a week of tumult, some career prosecutors expressed concerns about political interference and the attorney general’s response to the president weighing in on the prosecution of an associate.

The Justice Department has been grappling with President Trump’s tweets almost since he took office.
The Justice Department has been grappling with President Trump’s tweets almost since he took office.Credit…Anna Moneymaker/The New York Times

By Katie BennerSharon LaFraniere and Nicole Hong

  • Feb. 15, 2020
    • 1464

WASHINGTON — In an email a few days ago to the 270 lawyers he oversees, Nicola T. Hanna, the United States attorney in Los Angeles, offered a message of reassurance: I am proud of the work you do, he wrote.

Other U.S. attorneys in the Justice Department’s far-flung 93 field offices relayed similar messages of encouragement after President Trump’s efforts to influence a politically fraught case provoked the kind of consternation the department has rarely seen since the Watergate era. “All I have to say,” another United States attorney wrote to his staff, “is keep doing the right things for the right reasons.”

But the fact that the department’s 10,000-odd lawyers needed reassurances seemed like cause for worry all by itself.

In more than three dozen interviews in recent days, lawyers across the federal government’s legal establishment wondered aloud whether Mr. Trump was undermining the Justice Department’s treasured reputation for upholding the law without favor or political bias — and whether Attorney General William P. Barr was able or willing to protect it.

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Mr. Trump elicited those fears by denouncing federal prosecutors who had recommended a prison sentence of up to nine years for his longtime friend and political adviser Roger J. Stone Jr. Mr. Barr fanned them by scrapping the recommendation in favor of a far more lenient one, leading the prosecutors to quit the case in protest.

Mr. Barr then took to national television to complain that Mr. Trump’s angry tweets were undermining him and his department’s credibility — a sign to some current and former lawyers that the department’s freedom from political influence is in imminent danger. Their worries are compounded by the fact that people in Mr. Trump’s circle have been mired in so many criminal or ethical scandals that practically any legal action on those cases could be seen through a political lens.

As many of the department lawyers and some recently departed colleagues see it, Mr. Barr has devoted much of his authority and stature to bolster the president since he took office a year ago.

In ever stronger terms, he has attacked the F.B.I.’s investigation into whether the Trump campaign conspired with Russia to influence the 2016 presidential election. He has said it was mounted on “the thinnest of suspicions” and advanced despite a lack of evidence. The special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, ultimately found insufficient evidence that the president or his advisers engaged in a criminal conspiracy with Russia but documented their openness to Moscow’s sabotage effort.

While he has pledged that the department will not pursue politically motivated investigations, Mr. Barr said this month that he had created an “intake process” for the president’s personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani to forward supposed proof of misconduct in Ukraine. Mr. Giuliani has claimed to have evidence damaging to former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and his son.

This month, Mr. Barr ordered reviews of several politically sensitive cases handled by career prosecutors in Washington, including that of the president’s former national security adviser Michael T. Flynn, which has become a flash point for pro-Trump activists.

Attorney General William P. Barr went on national television to complain that Mr. Trump’s angry tweets were undermining him and his department’s credibility.
Attorney General William P. Barr went on national television to complain that Mr. Trump’s angry tweets were undermining him and his department’s credibility.Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

Meanwhile, Mr. Barr’s expansive view of presidential authority has helped Mr. Trump fight off congressional oversight. It was the Justice Department, for instance, that decided it was unnecessary to give Congress the whistle-blower complaint that ultimately led to the president’s impeachment.

Mr. Barr’s critics say those and other moves have all but invited increasingly aggressive demands from the White House. His supporters in the Justice Department counter that he has used his political capital to protect the department and national security interests. But they sound increasingly worried about whether he will be able to manage the expectations of an ever more volatile president.

Mr. Barr’s effort this week to scale back those expectations, officials said, was born of necessity. He is said to have told the president privately that he will not open politically inspired inquiries on Mr. Trump’s behalf and that the president’s public comments about specific criminal cases are damaging the department’s work.

When the president’s public outburst over the prosecutors’ sentencing recommendation for Mr. Stone made it clear that Mr. Barr’s message had not sunk in, Mr. Barr and a few trusted advisers elected to deliver it again in a way that has repeatedly proved effective in grabbing the president’s attention: on television, this time in a nationally broadcast interview with ABC News.

By the end of the week, many at the Justice Department’s headquarters were uncertain whether that interview would resolve what some called an increasingly untenable situation. Some steeled themselves for a stream of presidential invective or even Mr. Barr’s departure in response.

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In the legal trenches where the department’s lawyers handle controversial cases on a daily basis, some expressed relief that Mr. Barr had defended the department and tried to set boundaries for a president seemingly intent on erasing the red line between political motivations and individual criminal cases that has prevailed since Watergate.

“Thank God,” one lawyer said. “I was beginning to be really upset over the sentencing, but I really admire that he told Trump to shut up,” said another. A third wrote in a memo: “Barr was EXACTLY right.”

But others questioned Mr. Barr’s sincerity, saying he was already too closely aligned with Mr. Trump’s political priorities to accept his words at face value.

One described Mr. Barr’s timing as self-serving, saying that the president had attacked the department before but Mr. Barr spoke up only when he felt his own credibility was on the line. Another suggested that the best way for Mr. Barr to demonstrate his integrity would be to resign.

All spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to journalists, or for fear of job repercussions. A spokeswoman for Mr. Barr declined to comment.

The supervisor of one team of prosecutors questioned whether the Stone case portended a presidential crusade to use the department’s legal powers to damage his political enemies and help his friends. Is it “a one-off or a trend?” another supervisor in a different office asked.

Some former senior officials predicted that government lawyers, especially those with politically sensitive cases, would face new skepticism in court about the department’s motivations.

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“I’m sure that some D.O.J. attorneys feel that judges are not going to look at them in the same way,” said Mary McCord, a former assistant attorney general for the department’s national security division. “And I’m sure there are judges who are going to wonder, ‘Can we credit what you say, or is D.O.J. going to come back tomorrow and say something different?’”

Generally, lawyers across the department’s vast legal apparatus said they were simply trying to ignore the political drama unfolding in Washington and concentrate on their own work.

In the capital, the Justice Department has been grappling with Mr. Trump’s tweets almost since he took office. Amazon is suing the government over its loss of a $10 billion defense contract, saying Mr. Trump’s tweets prove his animosity toward its owner, Jeff Bezos. A team of Justice Department lawyers moved to withdraw from a case over the addition of a citizenship question to the 2020 census after Mr. Trump blindsided them by declaring on Twitter that their assertions in court were “fake.”

Until last spring, the impact of Mr. Trump’s outbursts about criminal prosecutions were blunted somewhat by the fact that he largely aimed them at Mr. Mueller, whose stature with Congress and the public made it unlikely he would be fired.

Even then, Mr. Trump or his legal team hinted broadly at the prospect of pardons for some associates who faced criminal charges brought by the Mueller team. And Mr. Trump publicly praised one defendant, his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, even as a federal jury deliberated whether to convict him on financial fraud charges.

But United States attorneys lack the political buffer that Mr. Mueller enjoyed. So Mr. Trump’s attacks on the career prosecutors in Mr. Stone’s case carry different weight.

Mr. Trump’s latest attacks on the Justice Department and senior officials’ intervention in a case involving his longtime friend threatened to undermine its reputation for upholding the law without a political bias.
Mr. Trump’s latest attacks on the Justice Department and senior officials’ intervention in a case involving his longtime friend threatened to undermine its reputation for upholding the law without a political bias.Credit…Samuel Corum for The New York Times

In his interview with ABC News, Mr. Barr seemed concerned about the possibility of more mass defections. Three prosecutors withdrew from the Stone case while the fourth resigned from the department entirely the week before Judge Amy Berman Jackson of Federal District Court in the District of Columbia was scheduled to sentence Mr. Stone.

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“I hope there are no more resignations,” Mr. Barr said. “We, we like our prosecutors and hope they stay.”

As Mr. Trump has pointed out on Twitter, two of those prosecutors — Aaron Zelinsky and Adam C. Jed — helped carry out the special counsel’s investigation, which Mr. Trump detested. Their supervisors reassured them this week that they would suffer no retaliation for withdrawing from the Stone case.

Timothy J. Shea, a close ally of Mr. Barr’s who took over this month as interim U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, sent his staff an email of support this week. “While there are times where reasonable minds may disagree, I respect the work that each of you do, and I will do my best to support our work,” he wrote.

Mr. Shea’s role is especially fraught because the Washington office, the largest in the country with 300 lawyers, often handles politically sensitive cases and inherited several prosecutions begun under Mr. Mueller. At least some in that office privately complained that Mr. Trump and Mr. Barr both treated Mr. Shea’s predecessor, Jessie K. Liu, shabbily.

Ms. Liu, a Trump appointee, was viewed in the office as a leader who helped protect prosecutors from political meddling. But her relationship with other department officials grew strained, especially after she decided there was insufficient evidence to seek an indictment of Andrew G. McCabe, the former deputy director of the F.B.I. and a frequent target of the president, according to two people familiar with the situation.

She was nominated for a top job at the Treasury Department and transferred there this month to await her confirmation. Then this week, the president decided to rescind her nomination, even over Mr. Barr’s objections, according to three people familiar with the discussions.