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.
Last Friday, Attorney General William Barr announced that the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election conducted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller was complete. Yesterday, Mr. Barr put out a summary of the Mueller Report that some likened to a book report because it was very short on content and long on unanswered questions. There was some good news for our country in his summary.
According to Mr. Barr, Mr. Mueller did not find evidence of any conspiracy or criminal cooperation between the Trump Campaign or the President of the United States and the Russian Federation or any others associated with that country to rig the election. Very good news, indeed.
Let that sink in for a minute as you contemplate what it would mean had Mr. Mueller found that the president did conspire with a foreign adversary to win the election. We as a country would be in a very difficult place today had the result of the investigation been different. At the same time, think what a low bar that is. Never in the roughly 240 years of our national existence has there been any need to investigate such a matter. It was inconceivable. Yet, today, celebrations ensue that the president did not sell his soul to the Russians. At least politically. But let’s take a big sigh of relief that it is a positive outcome.
Also good news is that Mr. Mueller was able to finish his investigation without undue interference. Or at least it appears that way, with one known exception that I will address below. I have faith in Mr. Mueller and his thoroughness (read Mr. Barr’s letter to see just how thorough). In my estimation, he is a man of integrity who carried out his mission as he saw it and did not seem to be distracted by the circus atmosphere the president created. (Mr. Trump owes him an apology. Instead last night he continued to attack him and the investigation in his public statements and on Twitter. Shameful.) From the Attorney General’s letter, it also seems that Mr. Mueller took a very narrow view of his assignment and focused primarily on Russian interference. As we have already seen, other crimes or unsavory activities were farmed out to the presiding jurisdictions for action. It remains to be seen what else may arise from other federal and state district attorneys but there are no new indictments, announced or sealed, pending from Mr. Mueller directly.
There are many, many caveats and unanswered questions that hang over the whole report. First and foremost is the fact that no one has seen it outside of a few people in the Department of Justice (DOJ). Neither we as citizens nor our representatives in the House and Senate have seen it. We do not really know what it says — only what Mr. Barr says it says. By releasing his letter as he did, he gave Mr. Trump and his supporters a very big political win. Everything that comes after, no matter how damning it may or may not be, will be considered “sour grapes” or otherwise discounted. I happen to believe that there will be considerable evidence of wrong doing within the Trump Organization and the Trump Campaign that we will find to be unacceptable behavior from a presidential candidate but may not rise to the level of criminality or a provable conspiracy. Why all the lying about Russia? By lots of folks at different times and in different places including countless Russia lies by Mr. Trump himself? My own opinion is that the lying was covering up financial relationships and business deals between members of the Trump family and organization and various nefarious Russian oligarchs and entities. Again, perhaps not criminal (although such a great volume of lying to the people of the United States should have some consequence), but at best inappropriate and unseemly. We just do not know and will not know until the report is available to all.
Remember that despite Mr. Trump’s claim that he was “totally exonerated” by Mr. Mueller he was not. Concerning possible obstruction of justice, Mr. Mueller did not make a decision. Mr. Barr’s letter quoted directly from the Mueller Report to say that regarding obstruction, “while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.” I will be one of several million Americans that will want to know how that non-decision came about. It is curious that a seasoned, respected, courageous prosecutor would collect a very thorough number of facts and then take a pass on recommending whether or not it reached the level of criminality. What gives? The context of Mr. Mueller’s remarks in this regard will be very important. This is where we don’t know if there was undue influence on the investigation. Was he told not to make a decision? Why did Mr. Barr make a decision that there was no obstruction of justice if the investigator did not say so? Attorney General Barr wrote a long legal dissertation about the investigation even before he was nominated to the position (some critics opine that it was his try-out and audition for the office in that he caught the president’s attention with it). In it he stated his belief that a sitting president could not obstruct justice while carrying out the prescribed duties of the office. (Such as firing the FBI director.) Some in Congress and elsewhere are worried that the “fix was in.” In their view, Mr. Barr was hired to protect Mr. Trump from liability in just such a case. Without the supporting documentation, we cannot know what transpired. Unfortunately, Mr. Barr muddied the waters of an investigation that was meant to clear things up. If we knew the context of Mr. Mueller’s “pros and cons” regarding obstruction, we may even find that his intent was to outline the road map for Congressional inquiries and possible action. Mr. Barr seems to have tried to short-circuit that possibility. In my view that was a political decision made in the president’s favor rather than a legal one that should have been left to Mr. Mueller.
Lost in the Tweets and punditry is the fact the report apparently concludes that the Russians did meddle in the election with the intent of helping Mr. Trump — or at least with the desired impact of helping to defeat Secretary Hillary Clinton in the general election. This should be a major focus of those purporting to want to serve our country. How did they do so? What recommendations are there for stopping or at least limiting future interference? If the president accepts the results of the conspiracy investigation why does he still refuse to acknowledge that the Russians did interfere even as every knowledgeable person in the intelligence agencies and the Congress say that they did? This should be the basis of serious action on the part of the administration and the Congress to protect the 2020 election. Will that happen in the midst of the political brouhaha that is occurring daily?
Pressure will be brought to stop further oversight by the House committees looking into the actions of the president and his aides as well as on the District Attorneys looking into possible illegal activities undertaken by the Trump Organization and Kushner, Inc. Those investigations should continue. Despite claims by Mr. Trump and his supporters, Mr. Mueller’s report does not seem to touch on those activities. If they were illegal or unethical, the public should know. If they are not, then it would seem that the Trump family would want that information to be forthcoming as well.
There is an awful lot that we do not know about the Mueller Report. Right now, no one outside of the DOJ even knows how many pages it is or the depth of the supporting documentation. With 19 lawyers, 40 FBI agents, 2,800 subpoenas, 500 search warrants, 500 witnesses and other investigative work behind the report, it should be substantial and detailed. But we don’t know what we don’t know and there is no clear indication from the DOJ as to when or how much of the report will be made available.
Finally, while I do not really see the parallels between Mr. Trump and President Richard Nixon, I will merely point out that the Watergate scandal and investigation lasted a very long time. The original break-in occurred in June 1972. In October 1972 the FBI began to uncover the extent of the nefarious campaign efforts. In May 1973 the Senate Watergate Committee began its hearings and Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox was sworn in to investigate. In May 1974 the House Judiciary Committee began impeachment hearings (whether or not to do it). In July 1974 on a bipartisan vote the House committee approved three articles of impeachment (the first was for obstruction of justice, the second was for misuse of power and not fulfilling his oath as president, and the third was for failure to comply with subpoenas). In August 1974 the president resigned. He was never impeached.
My purpose in relating this bit of info is not to advocate for impeachment but merely to say that the completion of the Mueller Report is only the beginning of the search for the truth about what did or did not happen. It takes a long time.
Unfortunately, I think that the way Mr. Barr released selected excerpts from the full report will only serve to harden the positions of those that support Mr. Trump as president and those that think he has conducted himself improperly in the White House. Nothing has been fully settled except — thankfully — the president and his aides did not directly conspire with the Russians to throw the 2016 election.
It seems to me that a lot is still on the table and that this is only the beginning of more to come. I fear that given Mr. Trump’s proclivity to lean towards autocracy, that the idea that he was “exonerated” and the victim of a “witch hunt” will only embolden him and reinforce his worst instincts.
I hope that I am wrong.
Yesterday’s announcement by Mr. Donald J. Trump that he is declaring a national emergency on the southern border is just one more step towards creating the autocracy that he so desperately wants to have. After two years of total Republican control, and no “big, beautiful wall,” and no money from Mexico, Mr. Trump puts our Constitution in danger in order to shore up his political standing with his base. An overblown statement on my part? I think not.
As I have written in this space before, one may believe that we do or do not need a border wall, but the facts remain the same. There is no crisis on the border and a wall is not going to stop the flow of people or drugs into this country. You can look it up as I did in my previous piece using the statistics from Mr. Trump’s own administration. Mr. Trump, as usual, makes up his own statistics in order to make a case that his own administration cannot make. But the Constitutional issue is bigger than Mr. Trump’s usual panoply of lies.
The law that the president is using to justify his declaration is known as the National Emergencies Act (NEA) signed into law by President Gerald Ford in September 1976. Ironically, it was intended to end the abuse of the presidential power to declare a national emergency for just any political purpose. Enacted as a reaction to the Watergate scandal the intent was to eliminate the opportunity for presidential abuse of power to protect themselves from political scandal. The law itself is quite complicated. Its originators tried to tie together the elements of presidential prerogative to specific situations covered under existing laws. Without going too far into the weeds, Mr. Trump is using Department of Defense funds for his wall because of an existing statute that allows for redistribution of funds for the protection of military personnel on assigned missions. There are military personnel on the border — ordered there by Mr. Trump but in purely supportive positions — and thus he argues that the wall will protect those troops. It is a complicated interpretation of the law, but as I am not a legislative assistant nor an attorney, I will leave it at that. The point is that the president cannot just wake up one morning and declare an emergency for the fun of it — or at least until now it was thought that they could not — rather, the actions taken under a national emergency must be justified on the basis of existing law.
The DOD funds are primarily from military construction funds and intended for use in improving military support infrastructure, restoring hurricane damage to bases in North Carolina and Florida and other projects. Ironically, some of the money will come from a fund used by DOD for counter-drug operations. In all he is misappropriating over six billion dollars of DOD funds.
The act has been used 59 times over the years by various presidents. Most instances were to impose sanctions on a bad actor overseas, such as to inhibit a dictator from killing his own people. One was declared after Iraq invaded Kuwait and another after the terrorist attacks of September 11th. It was these types of acts that the legislation envisioned giving the president the ability to act quickly in a crisis. Most importantly, none of those previous declarations directly or indirectly circumvented the intent of Congress. This one does. The president is directly challenging the power of Congress to control funding for the first time under this provision.
That is why I believe his declaration to be a threat to the Constitution. A bicameral and bipartisan committee came up with legislation to fund the government that included roughly 1.375 billion dollars for Mr. Trump’s wall. The bill passed with veto proof margins in both houses of Congress. That should be the end of the discussion for this year. If Mr. Trump wanted more money in the future, he could work with Congress to add more money in those spending bills. However, in a fit of pique that he got less money this year than he would have gotten if he had not shut down the government for 35 days — and way less than the 25 billion dollars that Congress was willing to give him a year ago in exchange for protecting the “Dreamers” — the “greatest deal maker in the world” declared a national emergency to build a monument to himself and to bolster his chances in the 2020 presidential election. But don’t take my word for it, take his. Besides having talked about a “national emergency” for months and trying to use it as a threat to get Congress to give him more money, yesterday in response to reporter’s questions about why he did not just continue to work with Congress under normal appropriation and authorization processes, he said, “I could do the wall over a longer period of time. I didn’t need to do this, but I’d rather do it much faster.” Wow. So the president himself admitted that there is no national emergency, merely that he got tired of working with Congress and making slow progress, In other words he chose expediency over the national interest. He then went on to say, “And I don’t have to do it for the election. I’ve already done a lot of wall for the election. 2020. And the only reason we’re up here talking about this is because of the election…” Double wow.
So we have the President of the United States, invoking a national emergency, bypassing a bipartisan funding bill from the Congress, because he wants money to build a wall faster in order to appease his base for the 2020 election. That is one thing about Mr. Trump. He doesn’t hesitate to tell us when he is doing something shady.
In case you forgot, Article One, Section 9 of the Constitution says in part, “No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law.” Article One enumerates the powers vested in Congress. Section 9 is the “power of the purse” reference that is the strongest element of the power invested in the Congress. Since the president cannot spend money except for specific purposes, the Congress can exert its power as a co-equal branch of government. Without that power in Congress, the president and his Cabinet could spend money on any enterprise they see fit without over sight or other input from Congress.
Besides Mr. Trump’s Banana Republic shenanigans in creating a non-existent crisis to deploy troops and to build a wall to stop a non-existent “invasion” (Autocracy 101 Playbook), Constitutional experts consider his actions to be a direct threat to the Article One powers of the Congress. He would set a precedent that any time a president has a pet project that the Congress will not fund, he or she could declare a national emergency and take money from one authorized project and use it on an unauthorized one. It is an unabashed abuse of presidential power.
How to stop it? The NEA of 1976 provides that opportunity. A 1985 amendment allows for a joint resolution of Congress to end the emergency. Again, without going into the weeds, it requires a simple majority in both Houses to overturn it. Provisions require a speedy vote so that legislative legerdemain cannot bury the issue. They must address it if a bill is brought forward. The president may veto the resolution, in which case the Congress must over ride the veto with a two-thirds majority in both Houses to end the emergency.
It is widely expected that such a bill will come forward in the Democrat controlled House of Representatives where it is expected to pass. The chances of the bill passing are less certain in the Republican controlled Senate. Speculation is that it would pass on a majority, but that the Senate would not over ride a veto. Keep in mind that the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Trump-Ky) was against the president declaring an emergency before he was for it. Just a few days ago he was against it. Then on Thursday he took to the Senate floor to say that he supports it. So much for his reputation as an ardent supporter of the Constitution and the self-appointed protector of the Senate and their legislative powers. Perhaps he should re-label his position as the Senate Leading Enabler.
When the Congress fails to stop the madness, numerous court cases are likely to be filed. The basis of those cases will range from Constitutional separation of powers issues to eminent domain cases (it seems that most land owners along the border are not willing to give up their land for a meaningless wall). Whether or not the issue makes it to the Supreme Court is itself a question. The Supreme Court may consider this to be an issue between the other two branches of government, and they are historically loathe to make a decision that favors one or the other when it comes to delineated powers. They want them to solve it themselves, which seems logical since the Congress can pass laws to restrict or rescind the original Act, including the above voting procedure to end a national emergency. What is certain is that it will be working through the courts for months, possibly years, to come. The immediate question will be whether a court issues an injunction to stop any building of the wall using misappropriated funds while the court cases play out. And you can expect every brief opposing the action to begin with Mr. Trump’s statement that he didn’t need to do it.
In some ways this is an esoteric issue. In some ways it is a comedy of the absurd. It is hard to follow the nuances of the law and the Constitution. It gets complicated. Mr. Trump has a knack for putting things into black and white to try to make his points, even if he lies to do so. The country cannot afford to ignore him or to look away this time. To cut through the legalese, I’ll put it this way. The President of the United States is using a hoax to usurp the Constitution of the United States. He is making a pure power play that if allowed to stand will set a precedent for him, and future presidents, to act without restraint to achieve their purposes whether legitimate or not. It is the beginning of a president gaining unfettered power. This is not hyperbole on my part or an over reaction from those that are anti-Trump. Read up on your own, form your own opinion, but the consequences are not whether we build a wall. The issue is whether a president can skirt the law and get away with it. That should be of grave concern to anyone that believes that we should be a country of laws and that no one, not even the president, is above the Constitution.
As Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation continues, so far thirty-four people and three companies have been indicted or pleaded guilty to criminal charges. Five of the six advisers to Mr. Donald J. Trump that are on that list have submitted guilty pleas. Only time will tell how many more people close to Mr. Trump may be indicted as the investigation comes to a close. I will not venture a guess as to who, or when those indictments will come down (I thought it would have happened long before now) but I have no doubt that others — some very close to the president — will be charged.
Whether those charges are directly connected to working with the Russians to throw the election in Mr. Trump’s direction is hard to say for sure. However, of those indicted by Mr. Mueller to date, twenty-six are Russian nationals.
As the investigation continues to unfold, keep in the back of your mind the reasons why people spy on their own country or cooperate with foreign governments to undermine their home government. What could motivate a person to betray their country? There is an old acronym that summarizes those reasons. It is M.I.C.E. and breaks down as follows.
- M — Money. This can take many forms. Money to become rich. Money because the individual needs it for personal or family reasons. Money “owed” to them but because of “bad breaks” that they fault their own government for creating they never got what they felt they deserved. And so on.
- I — Ideology. This was the motivator for some in the early days of the Cold War or for those that cooperated with the Soviet Union in the 1930’s, 40’s, and 50’s. It is often an idealistic view of a particular ideology, such as communism being good for the poor and blue-collar workers.
- C– Compromised. This is otherwise known as good old-fashioned blackmail.
- E — Ego. This is one’s own sense of self-worth. It can be the result of trying to increase one’s own sense of self-importance or it can be a result of having the ability to sabotage someone else’s sense of self-importance for pure spite. Egos take many forms but the knowledge that you can do something and then did do something of great import is a significant motivator. It can also be the ego boost of doing something daring or forbidden that no one else has the nerve to do.
In the current era, the two biggest motivators are money and ego. And of course, some combination of two or more of these factors may play a part in getting someone to betray their fellow citizens. For example, having compromising information on a potential asset may not be enough to bring them over to your side. Sweetening the deal with substantial cash or some other fiduciary reward gets you there. It could be that the potential asset is severely in debt and about to be embarrassed or financially ruined should that information become known. That individual would be compromised by the release of that information. They are also further compromised if the “recruiter” offers to solve the indebtedness problem, which of course, further compromises the potential asset once they take the money or the debt is resolved.
Of those advisers to Mr. Trump indicted thus far, money and ego seem to be the driving factors. We will see what happens as the investigation continues. I for one will be curious as to their motivation.