Finding light in the darkness of Washington

From the darkness that permeates our national political environment, this week saw a few rays of light shine through.

The main event in Washington this week was the public testimony of former Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Democrats predictably tried to get Mueller to implicate President Donald Trump in nefarious activities. Republicans unsurprisingly rallied around Roman poet Juvenal’s famous phrase: quis custodiet ipsos custodesOr, to borrow the modern spin, who will investigate the investigators?

Mueller remained above them all. Like famous almost-G man Detective Joe Friday, he stuck to “just the facts.” Commentators may critique his performance, but he stuck to the original charge he was given, the rules of the Justice Department, and relied upon the hundreds of pages contained in his comprehensive report.

Former special counsel Robert Mueller testifies before the House Intelligence Committee hearing on his report on Russian election interference, on Wednesday. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Democrats were unhappy. In their closed-door meeting following the hearings, Speaker Nancy Pelosi turned down Judiciary Committee Chair Jerry Nadler and his push for impeachment proceedings to begin. Republicans were displeased because Mueller did not dive into the so-called “Steele Dossier,” an opposition research report funded in part by Hillary Clinton’s campaign, and giving rise to part of Russia’s efforts.

However, another light broke through in the midst of the circus. Mueller’s opening statement ended with a warning:

“And let me say one more thing. Over the course of my career, I’ve seen a number of challenges to our democracy. The Russian government’s effort to interfere in our election is among the most serious. As I said on May 29, this deserves the attention of every American.”

One elected official gave this statement the attention it deserved: Republican Rep. Will Hurd of South Texas. A former CIA officer and the only presently serving African-American Republican in the House, his questions focused on prospectively protecting our electoral system from foreign interference.

Mueller and Hurd both saw the bigger picture. The day-to-day political score keeping will inevitably play out, but the tension and internal strife within our nation is exactly what our geopolitical adversaries want to see. When the United States is unified and focused, we cannot be beaten. Last week’s 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 reminds us of that.

However, when we are at odds against each other … well, President Abraham Lincoln had a famous quote about a “house divided against itself.”

The other ray of light arose in the other chamber of Congress. It is an old political joke that every United States senator thinks they should be president. This year, seven of them are proving it true, throwing their hats into the ring for the 2020 Democratic nomination.

You might have missed it, but we have a newly confirmed Secretary of Defense. Trump has been criticized — in some cases, fairly — for running the executive branch through “acting” appointments, rather than nominating permanent candidates for Senate consideration. But with the Department of Defense, he did the appropriate thing.

Dr. Mark Esper was confirmed by the Senate on Tuesday. The vote was 90-8. Pretty overwhelming. Democratic Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer, Hillary Clinton’s running mate Sen. Tim Kaine, and combat vet/double amputee Sen. Tammy Duckworth all voted in favor. Whatever their differences with Trump, they believed the nominee a qualified candidate.

Five of the “no” votes were Democratic presidential candidates, seemingly voting against Trump on reflex. Sens. Cory Booker, Amy Klobuchar, Kamala Harris, Kristen Gillibrand, and Elizabeth Warren all stood against confirmation. Sen. Bernie Sanders couldn’t be bothered to show up for work.

Credit is due to the seventh Democratic senator seeking his party’s nomination: Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado. He voted in favor of Secretary Esper, joining the overwhelming bipartisan “yes” vote.

It says something about our politics when it is noteworthy that a presidential candidate is part of a vast majority of elected officials acknowledging something as simple as the qualifications of a candidate. Nevertheless, even in the dark days, light can shine through. Thankfully it did this week through Mueller, Hurd, and Bennet.

Michael Cianchette

About Michael Cianchette

Michael Cianchette was the chief counsel to Gov. Paul LePage from 2012-2013 and deputy counsel from 2011-2012. A Navy reservist, he was deployed to Afghanistan from 2013-2014 as a trainer and adviser to the Afghan National Police. He is an alumnus of the Leadership Maine program and holds a BA in economics and political science from Boston College along with a JD and an MBA from Suffolk University. He works as in-house counsel and financial manager for a number of affiliated companies in southern Maine.