Last week, Mitch McConnell voted to confirm Merrick Garland as Attorney General. Twenty Republicans actually crossed the aisle to do the same, an amazing thing in this day and age. But without Mitch, it would’ve been just one more Kamala tie-breaker.
The speculation is that this was Mitch’s way of telling Garland — and Joe Biden — that stealing that Supreme Court seat in 2016 was nothing personal.
And it wasn’t. I have no doubt Mitch would have tanked anyone Obama nominated. Anything to further vandalize that administration. Garland just happened to be there.
But while Mitch surely thinks, in his own head, that it was nothing personal, he knows Joe Biden holds no such illusions. Because when Mitch sabotaged the Garland nomination, he blew a hole through history, full stop. And for Biden that was personal. He was there, in the White House.
It’s nothing new that the obstruction of that fifth reasonable voice on the bench was a major disaster, and it only got worse when Trump drew an inside straight and won three new justices. And when you consider how narrowly Hillary Clinton lost that election, you can see what a fickle and sinister path history too often takes.
But now it’s payback time, and it will be fascinating to see how it plays out. Make no mistake, the Garland appointment is exactly what it looks like — a specific and calculated middle finger in the face of Mitch McConnell. And a hunting and fishing license for Garland. It's too obvious for Mitch to ignore.
Biden had any number of excellent choices for attorney general, but he went, apparently with no hesitation, right to Garland. And that one nomination probably speaks louder than anything Biden has ever said.
Did it help that Garland was profusely qualified? That he came with a deep background in both the criminal and civil sides of the law? That he has an enviable track record of prosecuting both domestic terrorists and white-collar thieves? That he clearly has the chops we’re all looking for in a righteous avenger? Sure.
But even with all the things Garland now has on his plate — all those capitol rioters, all those co-conspirators and enablers, all those former cabinet officials, all those amateur criminals that infested every corner of the Trump administration, all those Trump family members, not to mention Trump himself — even with all that, you still have to believe there’s a special place in Garland’s heart for Mitch McConnell.
They go back, you see. We all carry the memory, still painful, of how Garland’s SCOTUS nomination was torched. But we forget how Mitch and his cronies burned him once before, in 1995, when Bill Clinton appointed him to the DC Court of Appeals. Mitch wasn’t in charge then, but he was a conspicuous member of the gang of GOP senators that delayed Garland’s nomination for a year and a half. They staged a make-believe dispute with Democrats over whether the seat should rightfully be filled at that time. Sound familiar?
In retrospect, that was a dry run for the theft of the Obama seat twenty years later. In both cases, it was “nothing personal.” In both cases, there was never a scintilla of doubt on either side of the aisle about Garland’s fitness for the appointment. And in both cases, the GOP went for the naked power grab, a template they have since perfected. The country hasn’t been the same since.
You can bet Garland remembers it vividly. So does Biden — he was there in the Senate.
One of the ironies here is that for Garland, it really is nothing personal. From all reports, he’s a total professional who goes where the facts and the law take him, period. Let’s take a moment to savor that concept, so alien to Jeff Sessions and Bill Barr, for whom facts and law were merely inconvenient obstacles to be worked around.
But Mitch can’t take any comfort in Garland’s rectitude. When Garland says he’ll follow the facts, that’s exactly where Mitch does not want him to go. Too many of those facts point to the wrong side of law. And too many of them, alas, Mitch has yet to explain.
For starters, he still hasn’t explained the $2.5 million that his GOP Senate Leadership Fund received from sources suspiciously close to the Russian Mafia — and by definition, to Putin — during the 2016 presidential campaign. Considering the role we now know Russia played in that campaign — and how, just before the election, Mitch famously refused to allow a bipartisan statement condemning that role — Garland might just wonder if there’s any there there.
Nor has Mitch explained how Oleg Deripaska — a sanctioned Russian oligarch with his fingerprints all over the Trump/Russia scandal — managed to get his sanctions lifted by Congress, no small thing even in 2019.
This happened just as Deripaska was setting up a deal to put a $1.3 billion aluminum plant in — what a coincidence — Kentucky. It would create hundreds of new high-paying jobs in Mitch’s very own home state. Hmm.
But wait, there’s more. When a later bill to re-sanction Deripaska passed the House overwhelmingly, and with substantial Republican support, guess who shot it down in the Senate?
Of course, whether the promise of those hundreds of Kentucky jobs played a part in Mitch’s recent re-election or not is indeed an open question. But it’s one Garland might care to ask. Or investigate.
And as it happens, those hundreds of jobs never materialized, because just last week, the owners of that very aluminum plant — Russia connections and all — pulled the plug on the project. Before it got built. Before it could hire anyone. Almost as if Deripaska noticed there was a change in administration. Why throw good money after bad?
Admittedly, there might not be a fire here, but the smoke is really thick and smelly. I’m sure Mitch can explain everything, preferably under oath.
And let’s not forget Mitch’s lovely wife, Elaine Chao, who's in some hot water herself. I won’t get into this side of the story, but it’s juicy, easily accessible online, and still developing. The upshot is that Chao has ethics inquiries going on in several inspector generals’ offices right now. And while I personally don’t know how an ethics violation escalates to a criminal one, I’m quite sure Merrick Garland does.
Mitch is reported to be considering retirement. That has to be, at least in part, because his job isn’t much fun anymore. But just maybe he’s also looking over his shoulder.
Because while Mitch knows exactly what he’s done, he has no idea what Garland knows. He’ll spend at least the next four years wondering if Garland is coming after him. And he’ll expect Garland to be as ruthless and single-minded as he himself would be.
So even if Garland ultimately makes no move at all on Mitch, Mitch can’t help but wonder. And squirm.
And the beauty is that neither Garland nor Biden ever has to say another word about it. For Biden, the appointment itself says everything he wants to say. And for Garland, grand juries can do all the talking.
In other words, Mitch, it’s nothing personal.
P.S. Yesterday was the anniversary of this blog. I started it, just as the lockdown began, thinking it might serve as a sort of diary of the pandemic. Which it is, though not in any way I anticipated. Looking back at exactly ninety posts, I notice that my writing has gotten, by turns, more political, critical, strident, cranky, amused, bitter, wry, disgusted, hopeful, and other adjectives I won’t get into, being no big fan of adjectives to begin with. But most of all, it’s been a source of sanity for me in a difficult time that’s been less difficult for me than for most. For a significant part of that sanity, I have you, my readers, to thank — it was deeply touching to know somebody was actually out there reading this stuff. So thank you. And, as Cy Vance notably said when he finally took possession of Trump’s tax returns, “The work continues.”