Frightening

“I believe that the president has learned from this case.  The president has been impeached — that’s a pretty big lesson.”   — Senator Susan Collins (Tr-Maine)

Multiple Senators opined in a similar way that Mr. Trump learned his lesson as to the seriousness of his actions concerning Ukraine and that he would be more reserved and conventional in his approach to governing in the future.

Ha!

When asked by a reporter about Senator Collins’ statement, specifically, what lessons he’s learned from the impeachment, Mr. Trump responded:

“That the Democrats are crooked.  They’ve got a lot of crooked things going.  That they’re vicious.  That they shouldn’t have brought impeachment.  And that my poll numbers are ten points higher.”

It has only been a little over a week since the Impeachment Trial of Donald John Trump concluded.  In that time, Mr. Trump embarked on a crusade of retribution and increasingly threatening behavior.  The list is too long — in just nine days mind you — to enumerate here but it started with the National Prayer Breakfast, continued in a rambling and profane State of Mind speech in the White House, and is clearly enumerated in his omnipresent Tweet storms.  It is, in a word, frightening.

Of greatest concern to our Republic is his stated intent to meddle in the Justice system of the United States of America.  Our legal system depends on the ability of our prosecutors, judges and juries to attempt to be as impartial as possible.  As with Joe Friday in the old “Drag Net” series, “just the facts, Ma’am.”  Just as important is the public’s perception that the system is unbiased and faithful to the law.  Mr. Trump is attempting to undercut both elements that are so important to our rule of law.

We got a preview of coming attractions a few weeks ago when the DOJ initially asked for a relatively long prison sentence (seven months) for confessed felon Mr. Michael Flynn.  That was later withdrawn and a recommendation for probation was substituted after the original career prosecutors were over-ruled by senior political appointee DOJ officials.

In case you missed it, Mr. Trump’s long time friend and confidant — and proud self proclaimed political dirty trickster — Mr. Roger Stone was convicted on seven felony counts including lying to Congress and witness tampering.  His is the last case to come from the Mueller Investigation which resulted in multiple defendants going to jail on convictions or admissions of guilt.

Mr. Stone is due to be sentenced next week.  This week the four career prosecutors from the Department of Justice (DOJ) used the existing formula under current law to recommend a sentence for Mr. Stone.  Prosecutors recommend a sentence, based on the guidelines, and then judges hand down the sentence based on those same guidelines coupled with any mitigating or aggravating circumstances and other factors that may have come out during the trial or that are presented by the defense attorneys in order to humanize the guidelines.

The DOJ prosecutors recommended in a brief presented to the court that Mr. Stone serve seven to nine years in jail.  That night, the president tweeted at two A.M. that “This is a horrible and very unfair situation.  The real crimes were on the other side, as nothing happens to them.  Cannot allow this miscarriage of justice!”  Later that day, under the direction of Attorney General William Barr, the court papers were withdrawn and a lighter sentence was put forward by DOJ.  Mr. Trump later publicly questioned whether there was “prosecutorial misconduct” in the case under the original prosecutors.

The four original career prosecutors resigned in protest.  Three resigned from the case and one from the case and from DOJ.

It gets worse.  As it always does with Mr. Trump.

The president then went after the presiding judge in the case on Twitter.  He went after Judge Amy Berman Jackson a judge in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.  She is a highly respected member of the judiciary known for her fairness and lack of tolerance for shenanigans in the court room.  Oh by the way, she also was the judge in other prosecutions brought forward by Mr. Mueller including Mr. Paul Manafort and Mr. Richard Gates.  It was the sentencing of Mr. Manafort that particularly incensed the president, which he brought up in his latest attack on Judge Jackson.

It gets worse, as it always does.

The president then went after the forewoman of the jury that convicted Mr. Stone.  On Twitter, of course, he said of the forewoman, “Now it looks like the fore person in the jury, in the Roger Stone case, had significant bias.  Add that to everything else, and this is not looking good for the “Justice” Department.”  He then referenced “Fox and Friends” on Fox News.  Of course he did.  And of course he puts “justice” in quotations.

It gets worse, again.

Yesterday AG Barr, in what appeared to me to be a “CYA” (an old term — known in modern circles as damage control mode), held an interview with ABC News where he opined that the president’s Tweets were making it “impossible” for him to do his job.  To me, it looked like the AG was trying to tell Mr. Trump that he was taking care of the president and following up on his desired use of the Justice Department for his own purposes, but that the Tweets were giving away the ball game.  Basically, to me, he was saying to the president, “Cool it.  We’ve got your back but we can’t do it if you brag about it.  Just stop it.”

But no matter.  The president just — Could. Not. Let. It. Be.

Today the president says that he has “the legal right” to interfere in cases brought by the Justice Department.  Let that sink in for a minute.

Not only is he claiming that he can interfere in the prosecution proceedings against his friends and allies, but that he can direct the prosecution of his perceived enemies or those that he claims are disloyal to him.  Not to the Constitution, to him.  Personally.

That’s some scary stuff.

In case you don’t quite get it, note that Mr. Trump is pushing the Department of Defense to have the Army take disciplinary action against Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman for his reporting, through the chain of command, his uneasiness with Mr. Trump’s now infamous call with the Ukrainian president.  He testified to Congress under a subpoena — following orders and his oath to the Constitution.  Said Mr. Trump of Colonel Vindman, “He is over with the military.”  This from a man that pardoned three military war criminals.

The bottom line is this.  The President of the United States clearly thinks that he is squarely in charge of the country.  Not as a leader, but as an autocrat.  Whatever he wants, he gets.  Whatever he tells people to do, they must do it or be subject to retribution or worse, criminal prosecution.  Not legal orders, mind you.  Rather, anything he wants, regardless of legality or morality.

Sadly, though profoundly disturbed, I am not shocked by Mr. Trump’s behavior.  I am, however, dumbfounded that with only one exception, the former Republicans in Congress have formed a cabal that has gone over lock, stock and barrel to aiding and abetting his outrageous behavior.  Indeed, they cheer and applaud his every inane and threatening statement.  Literally.  Take a look at video of his public appearances the day after the Impeachment Trial.  You know, the “trial” where the Trumpists refused to allow any evidence or testimony.

Mr. Trump during his campaign famously said that he could shoot someone in broad daylight on Fifth Avenue in New York City and get away with it.  Sadly, that may have been a prophecy rather than an apocryphal statement.  Clearly he has come to believe that not only can he get away with that, but apparently he now believes that he has the right to do that if it is in the “national interest” — meaning in his interest.

Can you imagine what will happen if he wins a second term?

 


Still No Pesos

Throughout his campaign and then during his reelection rallies as president, Mr. Donald J. Trump continually declared that he would build a wall along the border with Mexico and that Mexico would pay for it.  Time after time this was his go-to rally cry to fire up his base.

There is only one problem. Mexico supplied exactly zero pesos to build his wall.

Signaling that his wall promise was a scam, in January, 2017 Mr. Trump signed Executive Order 13767 that directed the federal government to begin building the wall using U.S. government funds.  No construction began because the funding was not there and it was unclear where funds for a wall existed.

Please remember that the Republican Party controlled the White House and both houses of Congress for two years, including 2017.  No funds were appropriated because the majority of those in Congress, including Republicans, realized that the wall was a terrible waste of money.

Also recall that in a compromise move, the Democrats in Congress offered Mr. Trump over 20 billion dollars for his wall in exchange for permanent legal status for the “Dreamers” (those under DACA, the Deferred Action For Childhood Arrivals order).  Mr. Trump was for it before he was against it.  He walked away without a deal.

Switching tactics, Mr. Trump shut down the government for 35 days at the end of 2018 and into 2019, the longest in American history, holding the country hostage to get funding for his wall.  Congress held firm.  Still no wall.

Trying yet again, in February, 2019 Mr. Trump declared a National Emergency using a loophole in an act passed during the Cold War intended to be used in a fast breaking real time emergency.  He tried to use that as the vehicle to move funds to build his wall that had not been appropriated for that purpose.  That move was blocked by a bipartisan vote in both houses of Congress.  Mr. Trump vetoed that bill and Congress did not override his veto.

Efforts in the courts effectively blocked construction by precluding any use of appropriated funds not intended for the wall. In July of this year, on a 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court allowed the use of 2.5 billion dollars in funds on the border while legal proceedings continue.

Many Constitutional experts assert that Mr. Trump’s use of these funds for a wall violates the spirit and letter of the Constitution which clearly gives the power over financial expenditures to the Congress.  Article 1, Section 9, Clause 7 of the Constitution says “No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law.”  In 2019 Congress specifically forbade the use of federal money for the wall.

To date, no new wall, fence or other barrier exists.  There have been upgrades to existing fences and barriers that needed repairs.

Yesterday the Trump Administration revealed that the Department of Defense (DOD) would divert 3.6 billion dollars from DOD construction projects to be used on the wall.  These were not nice-to-have items.  Many of the projects were needed to repair or replace infrastructure damaged by natural disasters.  Among them are:

  • 400 million dollars for rebuilding military structures in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands as part of the recovery from damage following Hurricane Maria.
  • 17 million dollars for Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida to rebuild following severe damage from Hurricane Michael.
  • 770 million dollars intended to help our NATO allies by building facilities for U.S. forces to operate in response to expanded Russian adventurism in Europe.  Specifically, the European Deterrence Initiative is a response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and annexation of Crimea.  I would bet Mr. Vladimir Putin is glad to hear of this change.
  • Several projects to rebuild substandard schools on military bases.
  • And on and on for bases in Utah, North Carolina, Arizona, Kentucky, Virginia, Maryland, Hawaii, Alaska and other states.

In addition, the Trump Administration is re-allocating nearly 300 million dollars from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), and the U.S. Coast Guard even as Hurricane Dorian bears down on the mainland.

Besides being a dangerous precedent for future presidents who are thwarted by Congress and declare a National Emergency to get their funding anyway, it is also bad policy.

These construction projects that are now “deferred” run the danger of never being built.  The Trump Administration says that future appropriations bills will pick up the funding for these needed repairs and new construction.  The Democrats in Congress and some Republicans, although they mostly remain as the silent majority, argue that they will never appropriate funds for those projects because they don’t have to — they already did it and cannot appropriate funds that they already appropriated. (And you thought Alice in Wonderland had some strange characters.)

What makes this entire bizarre episode so sad is that there is only one reason that this is happening.  Mr. Trump fears the voters in 2020 that he promised in 2016 would get a wall.  As his signature promise, if he fails to deliver, he will be shown to be as weak and unable to govern as he actually is.  This diversion of funds is a perverted use of presidential power to further the ambitions of a single person for his own gain.

It is probably only the beginning of the bizarre and Constitutionally dubious actions this president is likely to take to further his own personal goals as the election gets closer.  Mr. Trump does not have the best interests of the country as his guiding light.  He only cares about himself.

 


Dereliction of Duty

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.

 


Shameful

“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.

 

 

 


The End Of The Beginning

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.

 

 


Where Are The Pesos?

(With a bow in the direction of Steve Schmidt, the former campaign manager for Senator John McCain’s presidential bid, for the title.)

Last night the president gave a speech to the nation about the alleged crisis on our southern border.  Lots of figures and statistics continue to be thrown around to support the president’s desire to build a wall.  Most are misleading or purposely distorted in order to support his campaign pledge.  Whether you support the wall or not, here are the facts provided by Mr. Trump’s own administration and other independent sources.  We can disagree on the best way to provide border security, but it should be a fact based discussion.  With the emotion removed it becomes a different situation.

  • Mexico will not pay for the wall.  Claims that the new U.S., Mexico, Canada trade agreement (NAFTA by any other name with a few improvements) will result in Mexico “essentially” paying for it is false.  Whether or not the new agreement changes the balance of trade between the U.S. and Mexico, that money does not go into the U.S. Treasury.  And the U.S. Senate has yet to take up the new agreement so it is not in force.  No time-table for ratification is set.
  • 800,000 American federal workers are out of a pay check come Friday.  There are hundreds of thousands of more American workers without pay checks that support the Federal government or that provide services to the government that are without pay checks and will not get back pay.
  • Claims that the number of migrants crossing the border are unprecedented are wrong.  According to the U.S. Border Patrol, there were 303,916 apprehensions at the border in 2017.  That is the lowest in 45 years.  In 2018 there were 396,579.  A slight increase, but significantly lower than the 1.6 million apprehended in 2000.
  • The southern border is not the primary way that undocumented immigrants enter the country.  According to the Department of Homeland Security, in 2017, 606,926 people were in the country illegally by over staying their visas.  That is roughly twice the number from the southern border.  101,281 of those who did not leave when their visa expired were from Canada.
  • According to the U.S. State Department, “there was no credible evidence indicating that international terrorist groups have established bases in Mexico, worked with Mexican drug cartels, or sent operatives via Mexico into the United States.”
  • According to the U.S. government, in 2017, 2,554 official encounters in the U.S. occurred with people on the terrorist watch list (which does not mean they are terrorists as it is often a case of mismatched names or other glitches).  Of those, 2,170 attempted to enter through airports.  NBC news reports, based on a DHS report to Congress, that the “roughly 4,000” terrorists cited by Trump Administration officials that were stopped were from around the world, not at the southern border.  This includes stopping some before they get on an airplane overseas.  Again this refers to people on the watch list, not necessarily actual terrorists.  In the first half of 2018 exactly six immigrants were stopped at the southern border for being on the list.  In the same time frame, forty-one were stopped at the Canadian border.
  • Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) personnel deported 5,872 suspected gang members in 2018.  ICE does not break down which gangs these people belong to so it is impossible to know how many belong to MS-13.  Additionally, some of those in the mix that were deported were not actually members of gangs.  It is likely that the number of MS-13 gang-bangers arrested by ICE is in the hundreds.  The total number of gang members deported in 2018 is less than one percent of those entering legally and then staying in the country illegally.
  • Any murder or rape is a tragedy.  Keep in mind that statistics consistently show that immigrants — legal or illegal — are far less likely to break the law than those born in the United States.
  • According to the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) about 90% of the heroin entering the U.S. comes through Mexico.  Frankly, no one knows exactly how much enters the country each year.  However, DEA reports that the very large majority of it comes through legal ports of entry by land, sea and air.
  • The vast majority of non-U.S. citizens attempting to enter the U.S. do so at legal ports of entry.  Under U.S. and international law, those seeking asylum must be taken at their word that they are in danger of their lives, or persecution in their native lands until a hearing is held to adjudicate their claim.  Not everyone crossing the southern border seeking asylum is granted it.  Current administrative processes at the border result in extremely long wait times (it could be months) to enter through a port of entry.  This induces desperate people to try to cross illegally and then to turn themselves in to authorities.  This happens quite often and in peaceful ways.  Whether the individuals entered legally or illegally, if they ask for asylum, under the law, they must be heard.

Here is my opinion.

What is really at stake is Article I of the Constitution.  In what is known as the “vesting”clause, all legislative authority is given to the Congress, including appropriations and authorizations to spend money.  Note that it comes before Article II that gives executive power to the president.  Article III creates the judiciary.

In his first two years, Mr. Trump did not have a Congress that would put a check on his whims, desires and plans.  Now he does with Democrats controlling the House of Representatives.  On their part, the House is exercising their Constitutional power of the purse to establish that they are a co-equal branch of government and do not have to give in to the president on every issue.  Frankly, it is about time.  Missing in action is Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) who got burned by the president’s promises in December and refuses to get involved to end the shutdown.  It is likely that in short order (a few days to a week) Republican Senators will start to come over to the Democrat’s plan and Mr. McConnell will have to bring the Democrats’ bills to the floor to again pass what they already did just before Christmas.

Remember that the bills passed by the House last week are exactly the same as those already passed by the Republican controlled Senate.  Because a new Congress was installed last week, all bills not passed by both Houses need to start over.

The government shutdown over the wall has nothing to do with border security.  All sober government officials, Republican or Democrat, support border security.  They differ on how our money and resources should be spent to protect and regulate the border.

The wall is a political stunt.  The president backed himself into a corner and when a bipartisan deal was presented to him (including the bill passed in the Senate just before Christmas), after agreeing to it, he caved to right-wing pundits and proudly proclaimed that he would own the shutdown.  That he and many of his advisers did not understand that when a shutdown goes into effect it means the government shuts down, hurting countless thousands of people across the country, is a story for another day.

Warning!  Warning!

It appears that there are three ways this situation can be resolved.  Mr. Trump caves.  The House and Senate get together and pass veto proof bills to fund the government.  Finally, Mr. Trump may follow through on his threat to declare a National Emergency, mobilize the military and use Department of Defense funds to build his wall.  This last move is that of an autocrat.  It is Despot 101.  Create a threat where one doesn’t exist, declare an emergency, mobilize the military, bypass the democratically elected legislature and take steps to curtail any opposition.

And all of it is based on a big lie.  I cannot think of a more dangerous scenario.


The Good News and The Bad News

It has been a busy week.  First the good news.

For the third time I was an Election Judge (poll worker, but sworn in as a judge in this state because of the decision-making that may be needed).  Once again it was a very long day with no respite, but worth it.  At our location, everyone, Republican, Democrat or Unaffiliated, was uniformly cheerful, friendly, and appreciative of their role to play in our democracy.  It was refreshing in the current era to see the best parts of our republic.

In my state, Maryland, one of the “bluest” in the country, we re-elected a Republican Governor for the first time in decades.  At the same time, the Democrat controlled state legislature gained more seats for the Democrats and voters re-elected our Democrat Senator and Representatives.  I consider that a positive sign as well.  In the first year of the Governor’s term, he tried to push legislation through that did not have the support of the representatives.  At the same time, some of the legislation the Democrats wanted was turned back by the Governor.  The same old story?  In this case, no.  Both the Governor and the legislative leaders realized that nothing would be accomplished if they didn’t — wait for it — compromise on the issues.  That does not mean it was all unicorns and rainbows, there were some knock down, drag out battles over certain issues.  On the whole, however, both parties recognized that compromise was necessary in order to accomplish meaningful results.  Consequently, most of those involved, including an unheard of for this state second term for a Republican Governor, returned to office.  (To put it in perspective, he is only the second Republican Governor in Maryland since Spiro Agnew — Richard Nixon’s first Vice president.  The last two term Republican Governor was Theodore McKeldin first elected in 1951.)

I was looking forward to writing an entirely positive piece in this space and was feeling better about the state of affairs in our country after the election.  After all, the House would now have oversight over the excesses of the Executive Branch for the first time in two years.

It lasted less than twenty-four hours.  Then came the bad news.  In duplicate.

Wednesday night another mass shooting of innocent victims occurred.  This time in Thousand Oaks California, considered the third most safe city in the country, according to FBI statistics.  Mostly students out for a break in the routine and a little dancing were gunned down.  Another needless tragedy that is becoming increasingly too common.  According to the Gun Violence Archive, this was the 307th mass shooting in the U.S. in 2018.  (They define a mass shooting as four or more people shot in one incident — not necessarily all deaths.)  Another in a long line of sad days for too many families and for all of us as citizens.  Perhaps the new Congress will finally address common sense gun laws that are supported by a majority in the country across all party lines.

Earlier that day the president gave what can only be described as a bizarre press conference that was either an attempt at showing that he would not change his habits and methods despite a significant defeat at the polls or a deliberate attempt to be bizarre in an effort to change the news cycle away from the success the Democrats had at the polls.

More significantly, he fired (yes, fired, when the president asks for a resignation it is not a voluntary action to resign) Attorney General Jeff Sessions Wednesday afternoon.  It was not so surprising that he did so, as he had been saying he would for well over a year, but it was unsettling that he did so less than twenty-four hours after the polls closed.  To some extent, it is what it is.  I was no fan of Mr. Sessions, but I did respect that he stood up to the president over the ongoing Mueller investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and possible obstruction of justice by the president.  Mr. Sessions did the right thing to recuse himself in accordance with the ethics of the situation and the rules of the Department of Justice (DOJ).  Mr. Trump never got over the fact that someone in his administration did the right thing.  He constantly asked where was “his Roy Cohn” — an Attorney General that should defend him personally and shield him from investigations, rather than work for the American people in upholding the principles of the Constitution.  (You may remember that Roy Cohn was Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer and mentor.  Mr. Cohn started his public career as Senator Joseph McCarthy’s Chief Counsel during the Army-McCarthy hearings in 1954.  Mr. Cohn is  the person responsible for teaching Mr. Trump to always “hit back twice as hard” against any accusations and “deny, deny, deny” — never apologize or admit to a mistake.)

The real bad news was not necessarily in the departure of Mr. Sessions.  The shocker was the person Mr. Trump named as his successor.  Mr. Trump’s intent to stop the Mueller investigation is reflected in his choice.

In a move that many Republican and Democrat Constitutional scholars consider against the law, Mr. Trump got his Roy Cohn by appointing Matthew Whitaker as the Acting Attorney General.  Mr. Whitaker is not a Senate confirmed official, which is the basis for many scholars and experts to consider his appointment to be illegal.  The normal sequence of events would be for Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to become the Acting Attorney General.  Conceivably, Mr. Trump could have appointed another Senate confirmed official as the Acting AG but he did not do that.  Why, you ask?  I do not know what goes on in Mr. Trump’s mind, but I can guess.

This is a bit down in the weeds, which I think Mr. Trump believes most people don’t care about, but this turn of events is serious and with long-lasting impact.  I will attempt to explain why, as succinctly as possible.

Mr. Rosenstein has been the supervisory official for the Mueller investigation.  Mr. Trump has been at odds with him for nearly two years about that investigation.  He wants to put someone into the DOJ as Acting AG in order to have someone in place to over rule Mr. Rosenstein and to inhibit, if not derail or eliminate, the Mueller probe before it indicts one of his family (the odds are high that Mr. Donald Trump Jr. is in Mr. Mueller’s sights) or comes back with a report saying that the Trump Campaign did conspire with the Russians to influence the election and then Mr. Trump obstructed justice in an attempt to cover it up and/or protect his family and business interests.

Legal scholars not only think Mr. Whitaker is an invalid appointee, but they also mostly agree that should he stay in the position, he must recuse himself from overseeing the Mueller investigation because of his extensive public remarks stating that he does not believe anything happened between the Trump Campaign and the Russians.  Oh, and that there was not obstruction of justice. Unfortunately, before being briefed on the investigation or before talking to the ethics attorneys in the DOJ, Mr. Whitaker has expressed that he will not recuse himself.  Of course not. Mr. Trump would not have appointed him if he did.  Preposterously, today Mr. Trump claimed to reporters that he did not know Mr. Whitaker, even though Mr. Whitaker often accompanied or replaced Mr. Sessions in many meetings with the president.  Reportedly, since the president did not like Mr. Sessions, Mr. Whitaker often spoke to the president in his stead.  My view is that some kind of quid pro quo was reached between Mr. Trump and Mr. Whitaker.  The former would appoint him Acting AG with some kind of follow on appointment in the future and the latter would make sure Mr. Mueller and his investigation was severely inhibited or ended.  Such an arrangement of course would be illegal and further the case for obstruction of justice.

They are birds of a feather, however.  Mr. Trump is well-known for his scams, such as Trump University that took in millions of our fellow Americans money based on promises never delivered.  It was forced to close down and Mr. Trump paid a hefty fine.  Mr. Whitaker was on the Board of Directors of a firm that the Federal Trade Commission labeled a “scam,” shut down and fined millions of dollars.  Additionally Mr. Whitaker sent threatening emails to some who complained that they were scammed.  So, they have that in common.

Mr. Whitaker has been especially clear in his remarks regarding the Mueller investigation and the circumstances surrounding the president.  He is right in line with the president that there is nothing there and that it is politically motivated.  In fact, he has opined that the “real” investigation should be of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee (DNC).  Here is what will happen, in my view.

  • Mr. Whitaker will severely limit funding for the Mueller investigation which will curtail further work without having to actually dismiss him and effectively end the investigation.
  • Mr. Whitaker further will limit Mr. Mueller’s work by prohibiting a subpoena of the president to force him to answer questions and will limit any other new avenues of investigation.  (The Acting AG overseeing the investigation must approve all significant elements of the Mueller probe.)
  • Mr. Whitaker will appoint a new Special Counsel to investigate Mrs. Clinton and the DNC in an effort to distract from the Mueller investigation and to give the president a new “caravan” to attack in an effort to distract the American public.

All of this will happen quickly, so that the new Democrat majority in the House has no chance to stop it before taking over in January 2019.  Mr. Trump must be feeling trapped between the rock (Mr. Mueller) and a hard place (the incoming Democrats in the House).  He will act out in any way possible to protect himself, his family and his business interests.  He probably feels that with Mr. Whitaker as the Acting AG, he can dictate which actions the DOJ should take and how Mr. Whitaker can act to protect him.  This is dangerous new territory for our country.  Firing Mr. Mueller directly will cause a political firestorm that may backfire on Mr. Trump.  Instead there will be delays, obfuscation and a slow strangling of the Mueller probe.  The real question is how senior officials in the DOJ, starting with Mr. Rosenstein will react to this affront to our Constitution.  Do they resign in mass?  Do they soldier on doing the best that they can under stifling circumstances?

What about the Republicans in the Senate?  Will they find a spine and stand up to the president at last? Are there any Republicans left in the Senate or have they all become Trumpists?  I see little hope as Senators such as Lindsay Graham (Trumpist — SC) have gone from saying that firing Mr. Sessions would not be tolerated to supporting Mr. Trump’s action to remove him.

“If Jeff Sessions is fired, there will be holy hell to pay.  Any effort to go after Mueller could be the beginning of the end of the Trump presidency, unless Mueller did something wrong.”  — Lindsay Graham in July 2017

“What I’ve been saying for months is every president deserves an attorney general they have confidence in and they can work with.” — Lindsay Graham in November 2018

I am not picking on Senator Graham as his remarks reflect the change in almost every Republican in Washington today.  They changed from executing their oversight role to a becoming a rubber stamp of all things Trumpian, even as it defies what they say they’ve stood for their entire lives.

So for a few hours Tuesday night, I felt good about the future of our country.  I still feel good about it in the long run.  A few short hours later I realized that in the short run, we have a crazy ride ahead of us that will threaten the very fiber of our country.  I think we will survive based on the goodwill I experienced Tuesday, but it is not going to be easy or pretty.

Hang on for a crazy trip over the next two years.  It’s gonna be wild, baby!