One has to wonder where the Trump Administration is headed with their policy towards Iran. There are, to say the least, a number of contradictions. However, before I get too far into this, I would like to make three comments.
- For almost forty years the Iranians have been nothing but trouble-makers. The government is the number one source of state sponsored terrorism in the world. The leadership continues to try and export the revolution and to thwart U.S. interests in the Middle East.
- I am glad that Mr. Trump called off last week’s planned strikes into Iran. Unfortunately, like so many of his decisions, he did so for the wrong reasons.
- While on active naval service, I made two port calls in the 1970’s to Iran. One to Bandar Abbas and one to Khorramshahr. Interesting places, but maybe not too relevant to this piece. Since then I made several trips through the Strait of Hormuz on U.S. Navy ships in and out of the Persian Gulf, and every time we were tested by Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) armed boats. No shots fired.
As you know, Iran is responsible for a series of attacks on tankers in the Gulf of Oman, near the Strait of Hormuz, in recent weeks. Five total as of this writing. Additionally, they launched surface-to-air missiles against U.S. military drones, missing once and hitting two including the most controversial last week. Why?
The most obvious reason is that their economy is being crushed by sanctions imposed by the U.S. It is having a direct and profound impact on daily life inside Iran. The sanctions are succeeding in that respect. While the United States is demonstrating its ability to succeed in this effort, it forces the Iranians to respond in order to demonstrate their own resolve, show their citizens that they will not bow to the U.S., and to attempt to get relief from the sanctions. In other words, they are demonstrating that they can have an impact on the world’s economy by stopping all Persian Gulf oil, not just Iranian oil, from reaching the market, thus having a direct impact on countries such as Japan and others that rely on that oil for their own economic well-being. If they cannot totally stop the flow of oil, then they can make it so costly — insurance rates, the price of oil, military requirements to protect tankers, etc. — that it will still have an impact unacceptable to many countries. (As a side note, when I worked Middle East issues in the Pentagon, insurance rates for shipping in the Gulf was one of our measures of effectiveness (MOE). If they went up, we needed more resources. When they went down, we as a military were being effective in keeping the sea lanes open and secure.) The point is, the Iranians are not going to stop meddling with the shipping lanes in and out of the Gulf until they feel some sanctions relief.
Here is the mismatch. The Trump Administration claims that the sanctions will be eased when the Iranians come to the table to renegotiate the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) also known as the Iran Nuclear Deal. Mr. Trump pulled us out of it in May of 2018. One may claim that the JCPOA was a good deal or a bad deal, but in the short term at least it did stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. It opened Iran up to verification of its compliance and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) conducts regular inspections to ensure continued compliance. The other members of the agreement besides the U.S. (the U.K, Russia, China, France, Germany, and European Union) agree that Iran is abiding by the terms of the agreement and all remain in the agreement while working with Iran to keep them from violating its terms. Even the U.S. intelligence agencies as late as this spring testified in open hearings to Congress that the Iranians continue to abide by it.
So why would Iran return to negotiate a deal that they had already agreed to but from which the United States withdrew and is now punishing Iran for complying with that treaty? To be fair, one of the main criticisms of the JCPOA is that it addresses only nuclear weapons and not the development of ballistic missiles or Iran’s continued support of terrorism throughout the region. Fair enough. The original idea behind the negotiations was to take it one step at a time. Solve nuclear weapons and then address missiles in another treaty. Solve missiles and then address stopping terrorist activities. A building block approach that would instill trust as each step takes effect and allows for continued negotiations. It may or may not have worked, but now we will likely never know. More to the current point, why would the Iranians trust the U.S? And if this president can tear up a treaty with malice of forethought then what would keep the next president — elections are in 18 months and we may have a new one — from tearing up the Trump Treaty? There is no trust.
Making matters worse for our current strategy is that our trusted allies and friends no longer trust us either. Some, especially Japan and Germany and France, are not even sure that they can trust us when we say that the Iranians are definitely behind the recent attacks. And if they don’t support us now, they will certainly not support us in an armed conflict in the region. The U.S. does not want to go it alone in this arena.
Making it worse, even it if it sounds logical on one level, is Mr. Trump’s tweet that maybe the U.S. would not protect shipping without being compensated.
“China gets 91% of its Oil from the [Strait of Hormuz], Japan 62%, & many other countries likewise. So why are we protecting the shipping lanes for other countries (many years) for zero compensation. All of these countries should be protecting their own ships on what has always been a dangerous journey. We don’t even need to be there in that the U.S. has just become (by far) the largest producer of Energy anywhere in the world!”
While on one level it is imperative for a coalition effort to thwart Iranian attempts to disrupt the shipping lanes, on another it ignores the number one maritime objective of the United States — to protect shipping lanes around the world to ensure the free flow of commerce at sea. Did that just change because “we don’t even need to be there”?
While Mr. Trump once again made himself the hero of a soon to be catastrophe by fixing the crisis he created, still, calling off the strikes last week was the right call. He made himself into some kind of humanitarian savior by implying that no one told him about possible loss of human life. I find that insulting to the U.S. military. He implies that they aren’t doing the job because he didn’t find out about the number of casualties until 10 minutes before the strikes. Hogwash! The president, any president, is offered a series of options for him to choose. Included in the “pros and cons” of any option is the potential loss of life to Americans and to those under attack when the situation is not all out combat but rather a “message” as these were intended to be. He is either lying or cannot comprehend basic information. (By the way, in that series of tweets Mr. Trump tries to sound tough by saying that “we were cocked and loaded” to attack. Anyone that has served in the military would know that no one talks that way in senior, serious discussions and that besides, the expression is “locked and loaded.”)
But I digress.
The best reason for calling off the strikes is that, according to reports from senior, unnamed officials in the Pentagon but thought to be the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is that there was no second step. There was no consideration for what is called branches and sequels — what happens and what steps do we take when the Iranians inevitably respond. There was no clear understanding of what those strikes would do to enhance our strategy of getting the Iranians to the table. It would in fact, have made that much harder as the Iranians would likely have escalated their attacks and there were no follow-on U.S. plans. Fundamentally, Mr. Trump and his advisers lost sight of the fact that the enemy gets a vote on how things unfold. Without thinking through the next steps, having those strikes go forward would have opened up a potential Pandora’s Box of serious trouble in the Gulf.
Remember this. There is a reason we have fought in Iraq and Syria. They are not Iran. Iran has been a bigger trouble-maker in the region and a bigger counter to our policy goals than the other two ever were or could be. Why haven’t we gone after the Iranians in the same way? Because it will be hard.
In the 1987-88 Operation Earnest Will, the U.S. and other nations escorted tankers to protect them from the Iranians. During the Iran-Iraq War, the Iranians tried to cut off Iraqi oil shipments through the Gulf. Besides escorting tankers, the U.S. and coalition forces fought the “tanker wars” to punish the Iranians for placing mines in shipping lanes and other hostile acts. U.S. Navy ships were hit by mines (none sank) and other Iranian actions resulted in SEAL raids, and attacks on Iranian warships. Operation Praying Mantis resulted in a number of Iranian ships going to the bottom or being put out of action. The point is, the Iranian harassment of shipping quickly came to a stop. The Iranians also learned some valuable lessons in how to combat U.S. forces through asymmetric means.
The Iranian Navy is basically a professional navy built along the lines of most in the world with a recognizable command and control structure. The real bad guys are the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) that have their own forces, ashore and afloat, and do not answer to anyone in the Iranian government other than the Supreme Leader. Those are the ones to keep an eye on.
So now what? The Iranians probably think that Mr. Trump is all bluster and no action. Will that encourage more dangerous provocations on their side? How will the U.S. respond? If our policy is to corral Iranian nuclear and ballistic missile ambitions than how do we do that? No easy answers.
Whether we are officially in or out of the JCPOA, along with the other members of the agreement, it would seem to provide the best frame work for re-engaging with the Iranians. As far as practical, without losing our advantage in the region, talking is better than fighting. Should it come to war, we will prevail. But keep in mind that we are not talking about a few cruise missile strikes into empty air fields in Syria. It will be messy and we will take casualties. They will not be pushovers and they will test our capabilities. Right now, the rest of the world may not be with us. Most importantly, what is the end game? What do we want from the fighting? In 1988 it was for them to quit interfering with shipping lanes. It worked. Today we say it is guarantees about no nuclear weapons. How do we achieve that when everything the Iranians see around them (hello, North Korea) indicates that Mr. Trump responds with love letters to those with the weapons who test them, fire ballistic missiles and threaten the U.S. main land?
The Iranians tried negotiations through the JCPOA and feel like they were tricked. It will not be easy to get them back to the table, no matter how grim their economy. The Trump Administration needs to re-engage with the Iranians, without preconditions, but without easing sanctions until talks resume. Then a measured give and take — known in diplomatic circles as “compromise” — can result in the easing of some sanctions in return for specific Iranian actions. This may be the best way to ease us out of this growing crisis. Without it, expect the Iranians to continue to act out until they find the limit of U.S. patience.
The Constitution is under attack. An attack so brazen that it is likely to do significant long-term damage to our country’s ideals, values, mores, and the rule of law.
Mr. Donald J. Trump is in full attack mode trampling on all that we used to hold dear. In the meantime, the House and the Senate, Republicans and Democrats alike, sit idly by either endlessly filled with angst over what they should or should not do (hello Democrats!) or aiding and abetting the president in his relentless pillaging of our Constitution (I’m talking to you Republicans).
I just do not get it. Why is no one acting?
While wringing their hands over whether to begin impeachment proceedings against the president, the Democrats worry about the political implications for the 2020 election. They fear that starting impeachment proceedings will hand Mr. Trump a victory in the next election. I fear that by not acting — hey guys! remember that you won an historic election in 2018 because the majority of voters wanted you to put a check on his shenanigans? — they will hand Mr. Trump the election. Part of their logic is that with the Republican controlled do-nothing cowering Senate Mr. Trump would never be convicted. Perhaps. However, the calculation should be that spelled out in the Constitution — there is abundant evidence that he indeed committed “high crimes and misdemeanors” — and not some political calculation on who will or will not get elected as a result. Politics should not play a part in a decision to impeach or one not to impeach.
Congress! Do your job! Nay, it is more than do your job. It is do your duty to uphold the Constitution. Anything less is dereliction of that duty.
What more does it take? Everyday there is a new assault on our values and our laws. The list is too long to enumerate here, but remember a few of Mr. Trump’s greatest hits.
- “Individual 1” — Mr. Trump’s lawyer Mr. Michael Cohen is serving three years in jail for, among other crimes, violating election laws by paying hush money to two mistresses of Mr. Trump’s to stay silent about their affairs because it could impact the election. The judge in the case, Judge William H. Pauley III said in open court in New York that Mr. Trump directed his attorney (Mr. Cohen) to commit a federal felony. He is essentially an unindicted co-conspirator in the case.
- Obstruction of Justice — In his report, which he followed up with a remarkable public statement from the Department of Justice building, Special Counsel Robert Mueller made it abundantly clear that if the president had committed no crime, he would have so reported. As he said in the report and in his remarks, “if we had confidence that the President clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said that.”
- Russia interfered with the election to aid Mr. Trump — In his report and remarks, Mr. Mueller makes it abundantly clear that the Russians did interfere with the election. A fact that the President resolutely says did not happen. As Mr. Mueller noted, “Russian intelligence officers who were part of the Russian military launched a concerted attack on our political system. The indictment alleges that they used sophisticated cyber techniques to hack into computers and networks used by the Clinton campaign. They stole private information, and then released that information through fake online identities and through the organization WikiLeaks. The releases were designed and timed to interfere with our election and to damage a presidential candidate. And at the same time, as the grand jury alleged in a separate indictment, a private Russian entity engaged in a social media operation where Russian citizens posed as Americans in order to interfere in the election.”
- Collusion — According to the Mueller Report, members of the Trump Campaign met over 100 times with Russians known to be agents of, or to have connections to, the Russian government, including the famous Trump Tower meeting in the summer of 2016. As we all know, the word “collusion” was never used in the Mueller Report. However, yesterday the president said that he would collude again with a foreign power given the chance. In an interview with ABC news in the Oval Office no less, he said in response to a question about receiving damaging information from a foreign power that he would take it. “I think you might want to listen, there’s nothing wrong with listening. If somebody called from a country, Norway, ‘we have information on your opponent.’ Oh, I think I’d want to hear it. It’s not interference, they have information. I think I’d take it. If I thought there was something wrong, I’d maybe go to the FBI. If I thought there was something wrong. But when somebody comes up with oppo research, right, they come up with oppo research.” When asked about FBI Director Wray’s testimony to Congress that any political campaign should report foreign interest in that campaign, Mr. Trump replied, “The FBI Director is wrong. Because, frankly, it doesn’t happen that way in life.”
- Actively undermining the Constitution — As explained in a Washington Post opinion piece by Mr. George Conway and Mr. Neal Katyal — both conservative attorneys — on Tuesday the Trump lawyers filed a brief to prevent turning over documents relating to Mr. Trump’s taxes and other financial dealings. Without getting too far into the legal weeds (although maybe all of us should start doing so), the basis of the Trump argument is that Congress has no oversight authority with respect to the president. In particular, the brief argues, Congress has no business “trying to prove that the President broke the law.” They say that the Executive Branch holds the power under the Constitution for law enforcement, therefore Congress can do nothing. This of course denies our country’s history where Congress has exercised oversight, including investigations of law breaking, since its founding.
- Active law breaking — Today, White House Adviser Kelly Anne Conway was found to have consistently and continually broken the Hatch Act. (The Hatch Act prohibits political activities and speech while acting in a government position.) The opinion handed down by the independent Office of the Special Counsel (OSC) says that she should be fired from her position. (It is worth noting that the head of the office was nominated by Mr. Trump and confirmed by voice vote in the Senate.) The response from the president and Ms. Conway is to scoff at the law and the OSC finding. As Ms. Conway put it when previously asked about her actions under the Hatch Act “Blah, Blah, Blah. If you’re trying to silence me through the Hatch Act, it’s not going to work. Let me know when the jail sentence starts.”
In a country where we like to say that no one is above the law, the president and his advisers are. Mr. Trump could indeed shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and get away with it as he famously said during the campaign.
I think that we all must remember that Mr. Trump and the president are the same person. I only say this slightly tongue in cheek. What I mean is that we have become so accustomed to Mr. Trump’s outrageous statements — perhaps even amused by them — for so long including before he even considered running for president that they tend to get lost in translation. Mr. Trump saying such things is harmless. The President of the United States saying them is incomprehensible. Or at least it used to be. There is no longer gravitas in presidential statements. There is no longer acceptance of presidential pronouncements as true or binding. There is no longer respect for the office from nations around the world. There is no longer a presumption that the president will follow the Constitution. All of that may be ignored by our fellow citizens. Just remember, however, that he still has the power. And the unencumbered use of that power to follow one of his harebrained ideas could be devastating. Those that know him from long before his presidency say without hesitation that he will do anything to help himself. Anything. Think about that with someone with Mr. Trump’s mind set and the president’s power.
Even Mr. Mueller believes the president is above the law. Certainly Attorney General Barr thinks so. Re-read Mr. Mueller’s remarks last month about his report. He explains in detail why there was no indictment of the president. While a president may be investigated, he said that “under long-standing Department policy, a President cannot be charged with a federal crime while he is in office. That is unconstitutional. Even if the charge is kept under seal and hidden from public view—that too is prohibited. The Special Counsel’s Office is part of the Department of Justice and, by regulation, it was bound by that Department policy. Charging the President with a crime was therefore not an option we could consider.”
So there you have it. The president is above the law. Mr. Trump knows it. We can expect his behavior to become increasingly autocratic as he continues to eviscerate Congress. (Note the increasing instances of declaring a “national emergency” to circumvent the will of Congress concerning Mexico, Saudi Arabia, immigration, arms sales, tariffs, and other actions.)
But, but…. Mr. Mueller did point out that there is a way to hold a president accountable. In his spoken remarks he said “the opinion says that the Constitution requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting President of wrongdoing.”
In other words, impeachment.
Negative precedents are being set almost daily by this administration and especially by the president himself. We as a country will have to live with future presidents that hold themselves above the law should this president get away without being held to account. Whether or not he gets re-elected the precedents he sets, left unchallenged, will stand.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is the most powerful elected official in the land behind only the president. She must use that power under the Constitution to articulate why Mr. Trump’s actions are not only abhorrent on their moral face but also that they are crimes.
The president is a criminal. We must hold him accountable. Do your duty.
“You all knew that some things are worth dying for. One’s country is worth dying for, and democracy is worth dying for, because it’s the most deeply honorable form of government ever devised by man. All of you loved liberty. All of you were willing to fight tyranny, and you knew the people of your countries were behind you.” — President Ronald Reagan from his speech “The Boys of Pointe du Hoc” on 6 June 1984
Yesterday was the 75th anniversary of the invasion of Normandy by Allied forces. D-Day. The largest naval and air assault in the history of the world. The beginning of the end of Nazism. I hope all of us were able to take a few minutes to remember the brave men who came ashore that day in order to save a continent and to restore the security and safety of all nations through the destruction of tyranny.
Their determination, fortitude and valor cannot be overstated. While movies such as “The Longest Day” and “Saving Private Ryan” try to capture the intensity, confusion and terror of that day, none of us that did not experience it first hand can truly know what it was like. Hell on earth.
Why did they do it? In the abstract it was for democracy and our country and the knowledge that our American way of life was threatened. They did it to restore freedom to oppressed people across Europe. They did it because it was the right thing to do. They did it because they understood honor, sacrifice, discipline and taking on the tough jobs. As the doors of the airplanes opened and they jumped into the darkness and the ramps on the HIggins boats dropped, they did it for each other. No one wanted to let their buddies down. Average men rightly honored as the best our country has to offer.
It wasn’t easy. Casualties on D-Day for U.S. forces are estimated at 1,465 dead and 3,184 wounded. 1,928 were declared missing and presumed dead. 26 were captured. The heaviest casualties were on Omaha beach and among the airborne troops. Over 425,000 Allied and German troops were killed, wounded or went missing in the course of the Battle of Normandy. 9,387 Americans are buried in Normandy near Colleville-sur-Mer including Brigadier General Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. the son of President Teddy Roosevelt who was in the first wave ashore and including forty-five sets of brothers. All of these lives were sacrificed “for the common cause of humanity” as declared on the inscription over the chapel at the cemetery. Boys mostly. 18 and 20 year old kids that would never make it home to family and friends. Forever young. Those boys that survived are now in their nineties and this is likely the last major celebration of the landing that will include those who were actually there.
Many tragic stories surround the invasion. Perhaps the impact of the dangers that they faced can best be represented by the good citizens of Bedford Virginia. Of the 220 soldiers in Alpha Company, 116th Regiment, 29th Division, thirty-five were from Bedford. Alpha Company was among those most devastated when the ramps for the landing craft dropped. They lost 103 men that day, of which 19 were from that small town in Virginia. A life changing event for those left behind.
Alongside the Americans came the British and Canadians. Elements of forces from France, Poland, and other nations parachuted into the country or rode the waves to the beach. French Resistance forces came out of the woodwork to harass and delay the German response. It was the best the world had to offer working in concert.
On the beach at Normandy the seeds of the world as we now know it were planted. The cooperation of the Allies in that endeavor begat the creation of NATO, the European Union and other economic and security organizations meant to preclude future wars in Europe and to foster the well-being of freedom loving people on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. It worked.
None of these men considered themselves heroes. They did not want to let their buddy or their family down. They had a job to do and they did it. They realized that they were part of something bigger than themselves and they were willing to sacrifice anything, including their lives for the greater good and the well-being of others.
Those men understood the dangers. They went forward anyway. To them it was not to put America first, it was to put the freedom of the world first. As a nation, we should take this time to reflect upon the incredible achievements of our “greatest generation” who led the way in war and in peace. They are the soul of our country and they reflect our core values. Well done, men. Rest easy.
Let us pray for our leaders today, that they have the same understanding of sacrifice, honor, and dedication to doing the right thing.
Several events last week disturbed me to my core as I realized the depths that Mr. Donald J. Trump and his administration will go to protect him from the rule of law and any sort of accountability. One of the prominent warning signals came in the form of Attorney General William Barr’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee. In case you missed the live broadcast of his appearance, I will point out that it was not just what he said in response to questions but also how he said it. He was clearly annoyed that any Senator would question his decisions or his power as the head of law enforcement in the United States. Perhaps more chilling was his unadulterated and unabashed pro-Trump posture. He is no longer the Attorney General of the United States, or even the attorney charged with protecting the presidency as an institution. He clearly and forcefully defended Mr. Trump, the man, and not the president, the office.
Among many startling elements of A.G. Barr’s comments regarding the Mueller Report are what I see as the three most egregious points:
- The most troubling and news worthy defense of Mr. Trump by A.G. Barr was his insistence that the president is above the law. You read that correctly. In response to a question on obstruction of justice — and the fact that if Mr. Trump was successful in carrying out the obstruction, then that could be the reason that no conspiracy to work with the Russians was proved — Mr. Barr stated that under the Constitution the president has the authority to oversee investigations (including those involving the president) and therefore has the authority to shut them down. Thus, there can be no obstruction even if the president stops an investigation into himself because it is within his power. He further argued that this is especially true if the president thought the investigation “was not well founded” or “groundless.” The president has the ability to declare it so. “The president does not have to sit there, constitutionally, and allow it to run its course.” And there you have it. All the president has to do is say that there is no reason to investigate him and then no one can investigate him. (I assume a “hoax” is “not well founded.”) The Attorney General believes the president is above the law. (For info, Article I for the proposed impeachment of Richard Nixon was obstruction of justice.)
- The second most troubling aspect of A.G. Barr’s testimony is that he waffled mightily in response to a question as to whether the president or any one else at the White House asked him to investigate others. The context was a section of the Mueller Report that indicated Mr. Trump pressured the Department of Justice (DOJ) to re-open an investigation of Secretary Hillary Clinton and others of Mr. Trump’s political opponents after the election. He finally answered “I don’t know.” Right. (As Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) pointed out, that’s not something one might forget.) It used to be a bipartisan agreement that a president using his office to investigate a political opponent on purely political grounds was an abuse of power (Article II of those brought against Mr. Nixon).
- The third most troubling comment was the confirmation by A.G. Barr that Special Counsel Mueller objected to the characterization of his report put forward by Mr. Barr on 24 March. In his statement summarizing the results of the Report he claimed that Mr. Mueller found no criminal evidence of conspiracy or obstruction. When the report was finally released, we found that was not true. Mr. Mueller wrote to Mr. Barr three days after his March summary to object to the characterization of his work. “The summary letter the Department sent to Congress and released to the public late in the afternoon of March 24 did not fully capture the context, nature and substance of this Office’s work and conclusions.” Some Senators think that Mr. Barr lied in his previous testimony when he said that he had not heard any objections from Mr. Mueller when in fact he had already received and read the letter.
There were more, but then you can read it for yourself.
Let’s put a few more developments from recent days out there to paint a picture. Consider the following:
- In an on-air discussion with Sean Hannity of Fox News Mr. Trump said of the Mueller Investigation, “This was a coup. This was an attempted overthrow of the United States government.” Incredibly — although I don’t know why I continue to be surprised — Representative Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), the House Minority Leader, used the same word in response to a reporter’s question.
- The Trump Administration asserted that it will fight or ignore any House subpoena. They are also going to court to stop subpoenas of other entities where Congress is seeking information about the president and possible financial ties to other governments or foreign entities. “We’re fighting all the subpoenas.” (Contempt of Congress — refusing subpoenas — was Article III of those against Mr. Nixon.)
- Mr. Trump still does not acknowledge Russian interference in the 2016 election. According to the Mueller Report there were 251 contacts between Trump campaign officials and Russian-connected operatives including 37 meetings in person or via Skype. At least thirty-three campaign officials and advisers held the meetings or were aware of such meetings. Recall that the Mueller Report concluded that “the Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election in sweeping and systematic fashion.”
On Friday, Mr. Trump and Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin held a nearly ninety minute phone call. Mr. Trump did not confront Mr. Putin about the attacks. President Obama may have been asleep at the switch and not done all that he could as his administration learned the breadth and depth of Russian intrusion, but he did talk directly to Mr. Putin to warn him against further meddling. He also imposed sanctions against Russia (which are the ones that presidential adviser Michael Flynn got into trouble over for calling the Russian Ambassador and saying that Mr. Trump would lift them). President Obama also expelled 35 Russian diplomats from the US and shut down two of their facilities in the US. Yet in his ninety minute conversation with Mr. Putin, Mr. Trump did not even bring up the Russian actions except to say that he and Mr. Putin did not collude and Mr. Putin should know because he was the one who was supposed to have done it. They then agreed that it was a hoax. You can’t make this stuff up.
So what does all of this mean?
When taken in their totality it means that we have a president with no boundaries, no oversight, and no sense of what is right. Mr. Trump still has not been held accountable for any of his outrageous actions and must surely think that the preponderance of evidence indicates that he never will be. Most certainly not by the Republicans in the Senate and not by the Attorney General. In fact, should someone, somehow initiate proceedings against the president, we already know that his A.G. says he can shut it down because, well, just because he can if he wants to.
It is also clear that Mr. Trump will not take Executive Action to stop Russian interference in the 2020 election. Although various agencies are working to shore up our defenses, there is no national level coordination and planning under way to prevent further meddling. Indeed, Mr. Trump and others in his administration implied that he would take their help again in 2020.(Russia if you’re listening…)
I think that the evidence above also indicates the Mr. Trump believes that the purpose of the federal government is to do his bidding and therefore he will not hesitate to use the full power and strength of the U.S. government to take down his political opponents. Apparently he will do so with the willing acquiescence of the A.G. and Republicans in the House and Senate.
Talk of coups really scares me. Do the president and the leader of the Republican Party in the House really think that the Mueller Investigation was an attempted coup? Stop and think about that for a moment. Anyone that threatens this president’s sense of well-being is a direct threat to him. Really? A coup? If they actually believe that then there is nothing he will stop at to prevent losing his power. And who will stop him? The House is being ignored (A.G. Barr won’t even show up to testify about the Mueller Report and his role in its release). No oversight there. The Senate trembles in its boots that one of their Republican colleagues will be the subject of a nasty Tweet. No oversight there. The Attorney General is now the personal defense attorney for Mr. Trump. No oversight there. The fix is in.
How far will he go? Declare martial law for some other self-created crisis? Nullify a close election he loses? Suspend the election because he Tweets out that the Democrats are attempting a coup? I am not sure what he is capable of doing.
Do I sound like a wing nut conspiracy dealer with too much time on his hands? I hope so.
And yet, the things I’ve mentioned above happened in only a matter of days. In other administrations, Republican or Democrat, there would be a major reaction to such a clear threat to our norms and national well-being. Sadly, most people just dismiss it as business as usual.
One theory floating around is that Mr. Trump and his advisers and supporters in Congress are pushing the Democrats in the House as hard as they can so that they are left with little recourse except for impeachment. Improbably, the Republicans think that an impeachment proceeding against Mr. Trump will help his approval ratings and “guarantee” his re-election in 2020. To them there is no down side as they know that the Senate would never convict him of the Articles of Impeachment. If that is the plan, how much further will the administration overflow the banks of good government to create a flood of institutional indignities to force the issue?
I worry that we are in the midst of the creeping destruction of our Republic. It is taking place in slow motion and in public so that most people who are rightly concerned with the day-to-day effort of just going to work, to school and of trying to keep food on the table don’t see it. Like everything associated with this president, it is hiding in plain sight.
“You don’t even have to be convicted of a crime to lose your job in this constitutional republic. If this body determines that your conduct as a public official is clearly out of bounds… Impeachment is not about punishment, impeachment is about cleansing the office. Impeachment is about restoring honor and integrity to the office.” — Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.)
“The president of the United States looked 270 million Americans in the eye, and lied, deliberately and methodically. He took an oath to faithfully execute the laws of this nation, and he violated that oath. He pledged to be the nation’s chief law enforcement officer, and he violated that pledge. He took an oath to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, and he willfully and repeatedly violated that oath.” — Mitch McConnell (R-Ky)
“There is one standard of justice that applies equally to all, and to say or do otherwise will undermine the most sacred of all American ideals. [The] President has committed federal crimes, and there must be a reckoning, or no American shall ever again be prosecuted for those same crimes.” — John Thune (R-S.D.)
“As of April 27, including the president’s rally in Green Bay, Wis., the tally in our database stands at 10,111 (false or misleading) claims in 828 days.” — Washington Post
Have Republicans finally seen the light and figured out that Donald J. Trump is unfit for office given the clear-cut references to obstruction of justice in the Mueller Report? Hardly.
The quotes above refer to the impeachment proceedings against President Bill Clinton in 1999 and the fact that our current president has lied over 10,000 times since taking office. The hypocrisy speaks for itself.
And yet, the talk of impeachment — should Mr. Trump be impeached or not — focuses only on the disagreements within the Democrat Party. Not a word on the Constitutional duty for oversight and the rule of law from any Republican. The closest that any Republican now in office came was a statement from Senator Mitt Romney (R-Ut). Mr. Romney did not speak of impeachment or make a case that Mr. Trump should resign. He merely said that he was “sickened” and “appalled” by the actions of those in the Trump administration and campaign “including the president.” No reference as to what the consequences should be, but at least it was something. He was, of course, immediately attacked for his statement. After that, crickets.
And it gets worse.
“And you look at what Russia did — you know, buying some Facebook ads and try to sow dissent and do it, and it’s a terrible thing but I think the investigations and all the speculation that has happened for the last two years has had a much harsher impact on democracy than a couple Facebook ads….I think they said they spent about $160,000. I spent $160,000 on Facebook every three hours during the campaign. So if you look at the magnitude of what they did and what they accomplished, I think the ensuing investigations have been way more harmful to our country.” — Jared Kushner commenting on the Mueller Report
We have come to a place where a (the?) Senior Adviser to the President, downplays the fact that a foreign adversary interferes in our election and that he believes that the investigation of that fact was a bigger threat to our democracy. Oh, by the way. He got his facts wrong, and he failed to mention criminal activity hacking into the DNC data base and stealing damaging emails. But I suppose that is to be expected from this administration.
And it gets worse yet.
When the president’s personal lawyer was asked about the Mueller Report’s findings of Russian interference in the election during an interview on CNN he said, “There’s nothing wrong with taking information from Russians.” When given a chance to clarify his statement he said, “There’s no crime. We’re going to get into morality? That isn’t what prosecutors look at, morality.” So in the course of the Trump campaign we’ve gone from there was no contact with the Russians, to maybe there was contact but it was to talk about orphans, to if there was contact with the Russians there is nothing wrong with it, to we did contact the Russians but everybody would have done the same, to yes, of course we were in cahoots with the Russians, what’s wrong with that?
And it gets even worse.
According to the New York Times then Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Kirstjen Nielsen tried to bring up cyber security and Russian (and other foreign adversaries) interference in the 2020 election. She was thwarted by Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney who told her not to bring it up in front of the president. She was told that Mr. Trump equates any discussion of Russian interference in the 2016 election as questioning the legitimacy of his election. As a result, there have been no Cabinet level meetings on the subject and no presidential level directives to prepare to defend the country against future attacks. So much for the president upholding his oath of office. Additionally, I will take a quick note to remind everyone that the DHS is not primarily focused on immigration. At least it wasn’t until this administration. It is involved in counter-intelligence work, cyber security and many other areas vital to our country to protect it from real threats to our security, not manufactured border crises.
Mr. Trump is the biggest threat to our democracy of any president in my lifetime, and possibly ever. My lifetime includes the presidency of Richard M. Nixon. He at least had certain standards that even he would not dismiss. A scoundrel yes, but a scoundrel with at least some understanding of what our country stands for. There were lines even he would not cross. Mr. Trump knows no boundaries and now he is aided and abetted by Republicans in the House and Senate that apparently have no boundaries either. Somehow they have made a pact with the devil that they will support and defend anything Mr. Trump does or says in order to get a tax cut and conservative judges on the federal courts. It seems nothing else matters.
By their actions and words it is clear that the Republican Party no longer has any intellectual or moral underpinnings. Their sole reason for being is to defend the president, no matter what. The Republican Party in Washington ceased to exist. Trumpism prevails.
To me this is not a matter of policy or a matter of Democrats just not liking the president. Like has nothing to do with it. Mr. Trump is destroying the moral fabric of society and deliberately stoking fear and loathing in order to achieve his own ends.
All presidents deserve thoughtful criticism and reasonable people can reasonably disagree on a given policy. This is more than that.
Please tell me that you would hold Mr. Trump’s actions, words, and demeanor up to your children as an aspirational goal you would be proud to see them achieve. If you cannot do that, then why do we tolerate it in our president? What happened to our desire to see a person of great character as the leader of our country?
And please, spare me the “what abouts.” Not all of our presidents or party leaders have been icons of virtue, but can you truly say that anyone of them in our lifetime was worse than Mr. Trump? This is not a “it happens on both sides” issue. It is not.
While the Democrats move to and fro tearing themselves apart contemplating their collective navel as they try to decide whether and how to hold Mr. Trump accountable under their duty as sworn to in an oath to protect and defend the Constitution, Republicans sit smugly on the sidelines appearing systematically to kiss Mr. Trump’s — well, you know. Not a leader among them.
We get so caught up in the day-to-day travesty known as the Trump Administration that we lose sight of the forest for the trees. Everyday brings a new outrage. It is hard to keep up. Step back sometime and think about the totality of his destructive work. Taken as a whole, he is a one man wrecking crew with his advisers and apologists in Congress gleefully sifting through the wreckage.
We now know who Mr. Trump is and little about him surprises me any more. He outrages me, yes, worries me, yes, but not much new in his spiel. What worries me more is that so many people go merrily along with him hoping that some day it will make their lives better. Where is the evidence for that? Apparently, the motivation for Republicans in Congress and those working for him in the White House is power. Pure unadulterated power.
I wonder how they manage to look at themselves in the mirror each morning. Shameful.
Two significant events took place yesterday. In one, the Attorney General went before the good people of the United States, and to put it kindly, embarrassed himself when he uttered misleading and deceptive statements regarding the Mueller Report. The other event was the release of the 448 page redacted report itself. In reading the Report it became clear that Attorney General William Barr is a shill for the President of the United States and will act in a manner consistent with many in the Trump Administration as outlined in the Mueller Report. Lying and abuse of power are the norm as is so evidently clear in the Report. (I have not yet read all of it — a compelling read, by the way. You can find it here. It reads a lot like a mob crime novel.) There is so much detail in the Report that it is easy to get distracted or to just stop and shake one’s head at the immoral and unethical activity detailed in it. For now, let’s take a big picture view of what did and did not come out of the Report.
Not to put too fine of a point on it, but the Report most certainly does not exonerate the president. It does not recommend prosecution of the president, but Special Counsel Robert Mueller clearly lays out a road map for Congress to act if it so chooses. More on that below.
The Report comes in two volumes, one on Russian-Trump Campaign coordination and one on obstruction of justice efforts. It is significant to note that the Report does not contain any counter-intelligence information. In other words, it doesn’t answer the question if one or more of those involved in the Trump Campaign and Administration were involved with a foreign power (or powers) to act in a way that furthered the interests of those countries at the expense of our own. A very major hole in the entire Report. It is also pertinent to remember, that Mr. Mueller took a very narrow view of his charter and stuck mainly to investigating Russian interference and the president’s subsequent reaction to that investigation. There are numerous “spin-off” investigations taking place in New York, Virginia, Washington D.C. and elsewhere. Those are not impacted by this Report.
When reading Volume I, remember that “collusion” is not a legal term. (Which makes it even more embarrassing that A.G. Barr said at least five times in his press conference that there was “no collusion.” Of course there wasn’t. It’s not a legal term. He was clearly pandering to an audience of one. But I digress.) Mr. Mueller does not use the term collusion anywhere in the report. The correct terms are conspiracy and coordination. Mr. Mueller said that the Trump Campaign activities did not rise to the level of a crime provable beyond the shadow of a doubt, but that there were numerous contacts between the campaign and the Russians. More specifically he wrote in the Introduction to Volume I that:
As set forth in detail in this report, the Special Counsel’s investigation established that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election principally through two operations. First, a Russian entity carried out a social media campaign that favored presidential candidate Donald J. Trump and disparaged presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Second, a Russian intelligence service conducted computer-intrusion operations against entities, employees, and volunteers working on the Clinton Campaign and then released stolen documents. The investigation also identified numerous links between the Russian government and the Trump Campaign. Although the investigation established that the Russian government perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency and worked to secure that outcome, and that the Campaign expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts, the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.
Russia interfered in the election. Russia actively worked to help Mr. Trump and damage Secretary Clinton. The Trump Campaign knew about it and expected to benefit from it.
In Volume II the Special Counsel lays out the reasoning behind not charging Mr. Trump with the crime of obstruction of justice. This section is, to me, quite interesting and exceedingly relevant. To the contrary of A.G. Barr’s assertion that Mr. Mueller could not make a determination, the Report clearly states why they did not recommend prosecution of the president for his actions. Mr. Mueller followed the existing policy of the Department of Justice (DOJ) that a sitting president cannot be indicted. However, he says, a president can be prosecuted after he leaves office. Therefore, the Report states in the introduction to Volume II, that in order to safeguard “the integrity of the criminal justice system, we conducted a thorough factual investigation in order to preserve the evidence when memories were fresh and documentary materials were available.” A big hint that criminal prosecution may be advisable in the future or that the Congress can use the information in the near term.
Additionally the Report goes on to say that it would not be fair to accuse the president of a crime, even though he is not indicted, because without an indictment no trial could be held and if there was no trial, then the accused could not defend himself. In other words, under the rules we can’t indict a president, so we can’t bring him to trial, therefore we won’t say he broke the law, but we won’t say he did not either. A considerable difference from the way A.G. Barr depicted the situation. In fact, Mr. Mueller lays down a pretty compelling case that Mr. Trump probably did obstruct justice beyond a reasonable doubt.
Here is the kicker. In the introduction the Report says that:
If we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the President clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state. Based on the facts and the applicable legal standards, however, we are unable to reach that judgment. The evidence we obtained about the President’s actions and intent presents difficult issues that prevent us from conclusively determining that no criminal conduct occurred. Accordingly, while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.
In other words, we can’t say he committed a crime because then we would have to act, but we cannot act while he is in office, but (hint, hint) we do not exonerate him. In fact, the only reason that Mr. Trump did not further obstruct justice was because some of his staff would not lie or act illegally on his behalf. As the Report puts it, “The President’s efforts to influence the investigation were mostly unsuccessful, but that is largely because the persons who surrounded the President declined to carry out orders or accede to his requests.”
Who can take action? The Congress. The Report also takes note of that fact. In a long discussion of the legal precedents and other factors governing presidential powers and Congressional powers as delineated in the Constitution, it states in part that,
Under applicable Supreme Court precedent, the Constitution does not categorically and permanently immunize a President for obstructing justice through the use of his Article II powers. The separation-of-powers doctrine authorizes Congress to protect official proceedings, including those of courts and grand juries, from corrupt, obstructive acts regardless of their source.
The Report goes on to conclude that,
Finally, we concluded that in the rare case in which a criminal investigation of the President’s conduct is justified, inquiries to determine whether the President acted for a corrupt motive should not impermissibly chill his performance of his constitutionally assigned duties. The conclusion that Congress may apply the obstruction laws to the President’s corrupt exercise of the powers of office accords with our constitutional system of checks and balances and the principle that no person is above the law.
In the context of the full report, it seems that Mr. Mueller is trying to lay out a road map for the Congress to take action.
The real question is whether or not the Congress will act on this extremely damaging delineation of the rampant corruption and flouting of the norms that used to govern our presidents. Mr. Trump clearly has no interest in upholding his oath to defend the Constitution. Will Congress?
Many political arguments are underway as to the pros and cons of initiating impeachment hearings. One could argue that there should be no political considerations to be had. Either the Congress has the duty to begin such proceedings given what we know (which is only the tip of the iceberg) or it doesn’t.
It most definitely is not time to “just move along.” We must hold our elected officials to account. As the true magnitude of this Report sinks in we as a nation must make considered decisions as to how to deal with it. We either have a country of laws where no one is above the law or we do not. So far, it appears we do not. Even as I write this the president is in his lair at Mar-a-Lago using his Twitter feed to send out expletive filled expressions of rage to denigrate the Report, those that did the investigation, and those that had the courage to stand up to the president and refuse to do his bidding and told the truth about what happened.
Worse yet is that regardless of how one feels about Mr. Trump and what action should or should not be taken to hold him accountable, the evidence that the Russian Federation interfered in our 2016 election is irrefutable. And yet, the president, who took an oath “to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States” still refuses to acknowledge the attack on the United States.
That alone should be an impeachable offense.
My biggest concern is that once again the president will take away the lesson that he can get away with anything and not be held to account. Given his past performance, I think we can expect him to further ignore the law and to act outrageously. There is no one to stop him and he now has an Attorney General that acts as his personal attorney ready to protect him.
Let us hope that the House of Representatives continues to exercise their Constitutional duty to provide over sight of the Executive Branch of government. Otherwise, it’s “Katie bar the door.” Hang on for a wild ride.
…Don’t it always seem to go, That you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone…
—– Joni Mitchell from the song Big Yellow Taxi
From time to time I try to do a self-evaluation as to my perspective on current events under this president’s administration. In a nod to Chicken Little, I wonder if things are really as bad as they seem or whether I am falling prey to the hype. Am I running around yelling that the sky is falling for no reason? In my view, there is less hype and more to be genuinely concerned about with this president as time goes by. I worry that the incremental destruction of our political norms and traditions is passing the notice of many of our fellow citizens and that one day we will wake up and realize that what we all assumed was right in these United States is now gone.
Consider the following:
- The president gutted the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). We now have an Acting Secretary of Homeland Security and key department heads are missing or also have “acting” leaders including the Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security, the Undersecretary for Management, the Director of the Secret Service and the Director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Any day, the Director of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) will be empty as he becomes the Acting Secretary. Additionally in the DHS the FAA and FEMA are headed by acting directors. There are other key offices empty.
- When the president was asked who is in charge at DHS given all the vacancies, he replied, “Frankly there’s only one person that’s running it. You know who that is? It’s me.”
- There are 716 positions in the government that require Senate confirmation. Of those there are 140 with no nominee. Only six are awaiting confirmation. Positions without permanent leadership include the Secretary of Defense, the president’s Chief of Staff, and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). The other positions are generally department heads or at the Deputy and Assistant Secretary level across the government, in other words, the people that actually get things done.
- The president is trying to interfere with the work of the Federal Reserve, an institution previously thought for decades to be above political interference which is critical to its credibility and role in shaping the U.S. and world economy.
- The Attorney General of the United States is refusing to release the entire Mueller Report to the Congress. He alone (or will it be with help from the White House?) will determine what will be released. While it may be reasonable to withhold some of the report’s information from the general public, refusing to release it to Congress, who is authorized to deal with classified information and grand jury proceedings, makes it impossible to know whether the true story of the investigation will be known. Additionally this week, Attorney General Barr asserted that the government was spying on the Trump campaign. As he said, “I think spying on a political campaign is a big deal. I think spying did occur.” When asked to provide proof, he said he could not. How convenient. The man who controls what parts of the impartial investigation may be released can assert whatever he cares to and then not have to provide evidence.
- The Attorney General got his job by currying favor with Mr. Trump. His hiring is paying off for the president as Mr. Barr repeats many of the president’s talking points and provides further fodder for his assertions that he was “exonerated” (he wasn’t), that it was all a “hoax” (the entire intelligence community says it was not), and that it was an “attempted coup” (forgetting that the Special Counsel, Attorney General, Deputy Attorney General, FBI Director, etc., etc., etc.) were all this president’s appointees. The president procured a personal attorney in Mr. Barr, and the United States lost an Attorney General. (One might ask Mr. Trump and his supporters how a corrupt, phony, political vendetta prone organization could “exonerate” him. A seemingly direct contradiction.)
- Additionally, the Attorney General refuses to support the law of the land — the Affordable Care Act twice upheld in the Supreme Court — primarily because that’s the president’s position. It’s kind of scary if a president can seek to overturn laws he doesn’t agree with by directing the Department of Justice to work to overturn it, even though it was twice deemed Constitutional.
- Speaking of not following the law, it appears that Secretary of the Treasury Mnuchin will direct the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) not to turn over Mr. Trump’s tax returns. This in spite of the fact that under the law the Secretary is not to interfere in decisions made by the IRS and the fact that a law is on the books that says the IRS “shall” turn them over to Congress upon request (not “may”, “could”, “might” or any other modifier). The law is a 1924 statute enacted to uncover fraud within the Executive Branch following the Teapot Dome scandal.
- After declaring a National Emergency and sending additional troops to the border, there is no Senate confirmed Secretary of Defense and no Secretary of Homeland Security. Not even nominees. Where is the oversight? Mr. Trump professes that “I like acting. It gives me more flexibility.” In other words, he likes people to be unsure in their jobs because it gives him more control over them. Additionally, he does not have to worry about too many tough questions coming during Senate confirmation hearings.
- Frustrated by the asylum laws governing immigrants, the president wants to undo them all and in fact argues that we eliminate judges that adjudicate the laws about asylum. As he said this week, “And we have to do something about asylum. And to be honest with you, you have to get rid of the judges.”
- Among other measures being considered (again!) in the White House is an Executive Order ending birthright citizenship (anyone born on U.S. soil is considered a citizen). So apparently the president and his advisers think that the president can unilaterally overturn the Constitution. In this case, the 14th Amendment.
I could go on and on. I find it very troubling that the assaults on the rule of law continue unabated and indeed, seem to be increasingly frequent and harsh. On the other hand, the president is a known blowhard who continually speaks outrageously and without knowledge of nearly any subject. Should we worry about his pronouncements or is it just more sound and fury rather than substance? If during his presidency he has already told over 9,000 provable lies should we just dismiss most of his statements as more lies? Or is there something there?
I think that there is something there. The president does not seem constrained by any law from taking action, even though many of his most controversial policies have been consistently overruled in the courts. He and his administration willfully ignore attempts at oversight from the Democrats in the House of Representatives. Republicans in the Senate are too afraid of being “primaried” (when did that become a word?) to stand up to him. Where are the limits to his power as he continues to push the boundaries and in many cases break them? Or are these concerns of mine just a gut level reaction to his abominable personality and persistent bullying and belittling?
In my heart I know that Mr. Trump cares nothing about the people of the United States. He cares only of himself and arguably his family. Whatever helps him personally and allows for his family to continue to make money off of the presidency is all that keeps him focused.
My concern is that having rid himself of nearly everyone in his Cabinet and close advisers that stood up to him to point out that his actions were unlawful, immoral or unethical (and in some cases all three) is gone. Now he is surrounded by enablers. I fear that as time goes by he will become ever more autocratic in outlook and action. Reportedly, Mr. Trump models himself after President Andrew Jackson. Remember what President Jackson is said to have remarked about a decision made by the Supreme Court under Chief Justice John Marshall, “John Marshall has made his decision. Now let him enforce it!” (President Jackson ignored the Supreme Court’s decision in Worcester v Georgia. The case involved the sovereignty of Native American tribal lands.)
Mr. Trump is headed in the same direction as Mr. Jackson. He sees no limits on his power and believes that he can ignore the law where it suits him. And why not? Throughout his entire life he has never been held accountable for his actions in any meaningful way. With A.G. Barr’s unilateral assertion that the president is exonerated under the Mueller investigation, what is to make him think that anything or anyone will get in his way?
Sometimes I do think that I am Chicken Little. Maybe I worry about the course of our nation a little too much. Unfortunately, I am also a student of history and current events. There are just too many examples throughout time where revolutions and the loss of freedoms did not happen overnight, but rather incrementally and slowly. Most people’s lives were not immediately or directly impacted and so they didn’t pay close attention or fret over it. And then one day, it was too late. They didn’t know what they had until it was gone.
One at a time Mr. Trump’s actions may be more annoying than substantive. Put them all together and it paints the picture of a man who knows no boundaries. A president who is slowly eliminating his opposition and consolidating power in his own hands.
An old U.S. Navy saying goes “Eternal vigilance is the price of safety.” We should all remain vigilant to the actions of our president.