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.

 


Shameful

The president is at it again and incited a crowd in Greenville, North Carolina to engage in racist chants during one of his campaign rallies last night.

Again attacking specific Congresswomen of color he got the crowd to chant “Send her back.”

Shameful. Horrifying. Dangerous. Un-American.

Most frightening, I invite you to look at rallies in Germany or Italy in the 1930’s and compare them to Mr. Trump’s rallies.  The similarities are ominous.

The president clearly relishes his racist attacks on other Americans.  I hope — perhaps in vain — that the good people of North Carolina woke up this morning embarrassed by their actions.  They should be.

Should the president work in any other job in the United States, he would be fired for his racist rants as explained by a department he oversees, The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

I fear the president of the United States will have blood on his hands when one or more of his white nationalist supporters takes the situation into their own hands based on his overt encouragement of outrageous and indecent behavior.

It is clear to me and to his white nationalist supporters, that when he says “Make America Great Again” it is with a wink and a nod.  He really means “Make America White Again.”

All of us are complicit if we condone such actions from anyone, much less from the president.


The Bigot In Chief

As I am sure you know, on Sunday Mr. Donald J. Trump sent out a series of racist tweets about four Congresswomen of color.  Besides putting forth lies about who does or does not love their country, and other blatantly bizarre statements concerning a Congresswoman’s “love” for al-Qaeda, for three days (and counting) he used the most basic of racial and ethnic slurs by telling them to go back to where they came from.

This should not be surprising.  Mr. Trump has a record of racist statements and actions dating to the 1970’s when he and his father were sued by the federal government for discrimination in the renting of apartments in a building in Queens, New York.  The list of other racist statements and actions over the decades is way too long to recount here.  However, since declaring his candidacy for president the number of such incidents have increased.  As president, Mr. Trump seems to have settled on attacking women of color. Such attacks include the mother of a Marine killed in action, the wife of a soldier killed in action, various Congresswomen of color prior to this incident, and numerous others.  For some reason, he thinks that’s a good thing to do.

The president is a racist.

Some may argue that I cannot possibly know what is in his heart.  That is true, I do not.  I do know that his recurring actions and words show that he is a racist.  White nationalists say that he is one of them.  They recognize what they see. To paraphrase an old saw, if he walks like a racist, quacks like a racist and looks like a racist, he’s a racist.

Sadly, however, many of us already knew this and are profoundly disappointed in his actions, but not surprised.  What is surprising is that the entire Republican House and Senate members — save a few countable on one hand — support his racism.  Don’t take my word for it.  Yesterday the House voted to condemn the president’s remarks. Only four Republicans voted for the condemnation and one former Republican did so.  One of the four is the only African-American Republican in the House.   The vast majority of Republicans, in the House and Senate, are white men.  There is one African-American Republican Senator.

The Republicans lack of a back bone makes me sad for our country.

Mr. Trump is fully in control of the Republican Party and good men and women that used to stand up for what was right now meekly submit to his will — and in some instances loudly support his every deed — including the most basic of hurtful phrases.  “Go back.”  Those two words convey hate for the “other.”  Hate for people with “funny” names or who don’t look like northern Europeans.  It means that you do not belong here with “real” Americans, no matter how long you and your family have lived in the United States.  It separates you.  It is meant to demean.  It is hateful.  Words matter.  And only four Republicans put what was right over the fear of a Tweet from Mr. Trump.  In my book, if you stand up for a racist by actively supporting his words and actions, then that makes you a racist.

Shameful.

Mr. Trump took this course on purpose.  There was no attempt to “explain what he really meant” or to clarify, or to otherwise soften his words.  In fact he doubled and tripled down on his remarks by going out of his way to repeat them over and over.  It is entirely possible to disagree on a policy statement or a political agenda as I do with much of what the four Congresswomen under attack are pursuing.  What is not okay is using racial and ethnic smears to personally attack other American citizens duly elected to their office.

Why is he doing this?

Three reasons come to my mind.  First, this is his re-election campaign strategy.  He and his fellow Trumpist politicians want these four freshman Congresswomen to be seen as the face of the Democrats.  He will campaign that they represent the “true” Democrats and that if any Democrat is elected you will have people with funny names and darker skins running the country into the ground.  Remember that he started his run for the presidential nomination with the birther movement that claimed President Barack Obama was not a U.S. citizen and followed it up with his first speech from Trump Tower announcing his candidacy by calling Mexicans rapists and murderers.  It is a cynical and divisive deliberate strategy.  It is a naked manipulation of people’s fears and emotions.  It will get worse, especially since he sees no consequences to his actions.  Republican politicians rolled over and now have no stomach for standing up to him.  Probably, many will emulate him in their own campaigns, further dividing our country and demeaning our values.

Second, he is appealing to his base — and “base” may be the most correct term as he is using the basest of strategies to look for re-election in 2020.  I knew there were racists in our country, I just did not know there were so many.  And no, I don’t think every Trump supporter is a racist, but I fail to see how any policy he espouses or judge he appoints cancels out his obscene behavior that demeans the office he holds and besmirches the values of our entire country.  Our country is an idea, a set of values, the search for “a more perfect union,” and not one based on ethnicity or who our ancestors might have been or the color of our skin.

Third, he is covering something up.  Mr. Trump has a penchant for capturing the news cycle when he does not want us to look too closely at some other action or circumstance.  My guess is that the circle around him and Mr. Jeffrey Epstein — the industrial level child sex trafficker — is getting tighter and smaller.  They were known to hang together in the 1990s and early 2000s.  Indeed, in 2002 Mr. Trump is quoted in New York magazine saying that Mr. Epstein is a “terrific guy” and that “he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side.”  How young?  Mr. Trump hosted a party at Mar-a-Lago where he and Mr. Epstein were the only two male guests.  All the others were young women flown in for the party.  On Monday a bail hearing for Mr. Epstein was held in New York that included testimony from two of the young girls he abused. Is it possible that Mr. Trump was too personally involved with Mr. Epstein and his evil life style, even has the president says he “is not a fan”?  “When you’re a star, they let you do it.  You can do anything.”

The President.  Of the United States.  Is using the most vile and divisive words and actions to open old wounds and make new ones for his own personal gain.  And 98% of elected Republicans and millions of people think that is okay.

Historians will look back on this period and mark it as the end of the Republican Party.  The Republicans will be right up there in the pantheon of failed political parties with the Whigs and the Know Nothings from the 19th century.  The only question is how much damage to our country will they allow before they collapse.

In the meantime, we are in big trouble as a country.  We lost our soul when this man became president.  Every day we endure a new attack on our values and our Constitution.  I fear that Mr. Trump has lowered every bar of common decency and that his words and actions put people’s lives in danger.

When does it end?


The Trashing of the Presidency

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.

Wow.

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.


No Pesos, Just A Hoax

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.

 

 

 


What To Think?

You may have missed it with all of the theatrics surrounding the Trump Shutdown, but some potentially mind-blowing news came out last Friday and over the weekend.

Even as I suffer from Trump fatigue, and you know what I think of him as president, it is impossible to ignore this development.  The FBI started a counter-intelligence investigation of the president in 2017. The President. Of the United States.  It is unknown whether that investigation continues under the guidance of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, but it is likely that it does.  A counter-intelligence investigation is totally unlike a criminal investigation.  It is a totally different ball game.  It also puts the possibility of the president’s efforts at obstructing justice into an entirely different dimension.  Perhaps instead of trying to protect himself from embarrassment or through some other motivation, his decision to fire then FBI Director James Comey “over this Russia thing” was with a different outcome in mind.  Coupled with all of the subsequent efforts to stop or disrupt Mr. Mueller’s investigation, it appears he was trying to keep the discovery of conspiracy with a foreign power from becoming known.  In other words, the obstruction was the conspiracy (or collusion as it is popularly, but wrongly, called.)

In this context, the Mueller investigation, and Mr. Trump’s actions as a candidate and as president form a continuum across time and are not a series of discreet events.

It is hard to adequately convey how difficult the decision to do this is.  For the Department of Justice (DOJ), that would have to approve the FBI investigation at its highest level, to sign off on it, would indicate that there is or was extraordinary evidence that something was amiss.  This would be no routine investigation.

Apparently, the FBI became so alarmed at Mr. Trump’s actions that it appeared he was acting on behalf of a foreign power.  They knew that a “normal” president would not talk or act as he was, specifically with respect to Russia and Vladimir Putin, and could only explain it by the concern that he must be under the influence of a foreign power.  In other words, they thought the president could be a Russian agent.  No movie studio would make this movie.  Too preposterous.

To be clear, to be a Russian agent does not necessarily mean that the individual was trained in Russia or by Russians, or even that he was directly controlled by a Russian case agent.  As former CIA Director John Brennan said in testimony to Congress, such people can be “wittingly or unwittingly” agents of a foreign power.  I do not know and cannot make a good guess as to whether Mr. Trump is or is not knowingly a Russian agent.  But I do know that he is acting to further the Russian agenda over the best interests of the United States.

Keep in mind, Mr. Putin was a career KGB agent who attained the rank of Colonel before the end of the Cold War.  He knows what he is doing.

This is scary, mind-blowing, and a conundrum.  Our system of government is based on the premise that the president is above reproach when it comes to national security. One may disagree on specific policy decisions, but we must assume that presidents are doing what they believe are in the best interests of the United States, not a foreign adversary. The president is the final arbiter of military, intelligence, and foreign policy issues.  How do intelligence agencies or law enforcement agencies or the counter intelligence arms of various government agencies deal with an individual who, while under investigation, can over turn, hinder or evade those investigations?  And how should they be held to account?  If by definition the president is the lead diplomat for our country, how can he be wrong?  There are many implications and questions that arise when one starts thinking about our president as a Russian agent.  My head hurts.

Keep in mind that counter intelligence agents are some of the most peculiar people one will ever meet.  Thinking about their job, they are suspicious about everyone and everything that does not fit their mold of the “normal.”  Conspiracies lurk everywhere.  None-the-less, there must have been sufficient reasons to open this investigation or it would never have happened.  They do not investigate the president for the fun of it or for political reasons.  They just do not.  Yes, paranoia runs deep.  Into your life it will creep.  (With apologies to Buffalo Springfield.)  You are not paranoid if it is true.

The possibility gains traction through documented reports that Mr. Trump met one-on-one with Mr. Putin five different times over the last two years with only interpreters in the room.  He then collected the interpreters notes and refused to share what was said with anyone else in the government. Two particularly troubling meetings were the one in Helsinki last summer and an unscheduled meeting at a G-20 dinner in Hamburg Germany where only the Russian interpreter was present. (I have written about these meetings before. I was especially alarmed by the meeting in Germany.)  Rest assured the Russians know what was discussed and agreed to, but not those in the highest levels of our own government.

In my view, the most likely foundation to this arrangement rests on sanctions.  The Russians want them lifted and so does the Trump Organization.  The Russians were heavily sanctioned following their annexation of Crimea and it is hurting their economy.  They want them gone.  The sanctions were the genesis of the 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Russian representatives to get “dirt” on Hillary Clinton.  When you hear “Magnitsky Act” think sanctions.  The Russians want them removed.  Now.  Mr. Trump wants them lifted because following his many bankruptcies, nearly all his money came from Russia. The banks that produced the loans are subject to the sanctions. Continued sanctions means no big money for Trump Org.  Additionally, it is well know that Mr. Trump’s business Holy Grail is to put his name on a Trump Tower Moscow.

My view is that of many possible explanations, the simplest is that Mr. Trump wants to do business in Russia when he leaves office and is willing to bargain with Mr. Putin to get the access.  What other evidence exists?

Let’s look at some of the president’s actions and words.  This list is not exhaustive but representative.

  • As the Republican nominee he had the Republican National Committee 2016 platform changed regarding Ukraine in order to mirror Russian claims and interests.
  • At every opportunity he incessantly praises Mr. Putin which validates Mr. Putin’s self-proclaimed status, empowers him at home, and comes at the expense of our allies and friends.
  • The primary goal of Mr. Putin is to splinter the Western Alliance so that Russia can fill the void and return to the glory days — as Mr. Putin sees it — of the Soviet Union.  Mr Trump aids that goal in many ways.
    • He launches personal and political attacks against the leaders of Germany, the United Kingdom, France, and others.  He belittles lesser members of the European Union (EU) and NATO.
    • He supports Brexit (The UK departure from the EU) which currently has the UK in turmoil.  This weakens the EU and contributes to chaos in the internal affairs of a key ally.  That internal chaos distracts a force for good and takes a staunch opponent of Russia off of the world stage.
    • When asked in a 2018 interview to name the U.S. “biggest foe globally right now,” Mr. Trump  responded “I think the European Union is a foe.”  The EU contains our closest allies.  The interview was just before he met with Mr. Putin in Helsinki.
    • He continually belittles NATO in public.  It is apparent he does not know how funding for NATO works.  He apparently also does not know that the only time Article V of NATO was invoked (an attack on one nation is an attack on all) was following the terrorist attack in September 2001.  NATO troops have been in Afghanistan from the beginning of the conflict and remain there.  It has been widely reported that Mr. Trump continually pushed his senior aids throughout 2018 to have the U.S. withdraw from NATO.  Such an action would be Mr. Putin’s wildest dream come true.
  • He continually denies that Russia interfered with the U.S. 2016 election. He continually takes Mr. Putin’s word that Russia did not interfere over the facts presented by the entire U.S. intelligence community. Among his justification for taking Mr. Putin’s word is the newly reported reasoning for doing so, including this remarkable quote.  Mr. Trump “said that he raised the election hacking three times and that Mr. Putin denied involvement. But he said Mr. Putin also told him that ‘if we did, we wouldn’t have gotten caught because we’re professionals.’ Mr. Trump said: ‘I thought that was a good point because they are some of the best in the world’ at hacking.”
  • He pushed to have Russia rejoin the G-7 (it was previously the G-8).  The Russians  were expelled following their annexation of Crimea.  Mr. Trump said that he thinks that the punishment is too severe for that act.
  • At the 2018 G-7 summit Mr. Trump opined that of course Crimea belongs to Russia because “they all speak Russian.”  This put fear into the hearts of our Baltic, and NATO, allies that were once part of the Soviet Union and have a large Russian ethnic population.
  • Following the March 2018 poisoning in the UK of the Skirpals, former Russian agents that went over to the West, he said that there was no evidence to support the UK Prime Minister’s denunciations of Russia for an attack on British soil.
  • Last December he called for U.S. troops to withdraw from Syria “now” and turn it over to the Russians.  This is a long-standing goal of the Russians so that they can increase their influence in the Middle East and gain a military presence in the region.
  • He often spouts Russian talking points (propaganda).  The most recent instance was his spontaneous and out of the blue discourse on the Soviet Union, their presence in Afghanistan, and a revisionist history of their reasons for invading. (This was the subject of a recent post in this space, explaining how this promotes Mr. Putin’s view of the restoration of the Soviet empire.)

And so on.  Some big, some small, but all consistent in their praise of Russia and in pushing the Russian agenda.

So, what to think?  Is our president a Russian agent, whether wittingly or unwittingly?  I sincerely hope that the Mueller investigation addresses this issue clearly, either to confirm it or to debunk it.  From where I sit today, and from all that we have seen of Mr. Trump in the last three years, I think it likely.  It is most likely in the nature of long-standing business and other money schemes between Russian oligarchs and Mr. Trump and his family.  That would be in keeping with what we know about him and what he says himself.  With him, no matter the subject, it is all about the money.  Period.

Should this be true, I have no idea how it will be resolved.  It is beyond comprehension.  The President of the United States works for Russia.  Incredible.

The only thing that is clear to me is that Mr. Mueller needs to get the results of his investigation into the open as soon as possible.  I know that he is being meticulous, as he should be.  However, if this is even only a little bit true, our nation is in danger.  We need to know and we need to know before something truly awful happens.  And if it isn’t true, we need to know that as well so that we can move on without distraction to addressing the complex issues that we know await us in 2019

 


That Was The Week That Was

With apologies to the old 1960’s era television show — the precursor to shows on now such as the Daily Show — That Was The Week That Was, or as it was commonly known TWTWTW, or TW3, we just experienced among the craziest weeks in recent history.  Like the Daily Show, TW3 took actual news events and gave them a “can you believe it” comical twist.  Unfortunately, there was nothing comical about this past week.  If you were busy shopping or attending holiday parties, here are the highlights of what you missed over the past seven days.  In some semblance of chronological order, of which very little exists today in this administration, they include:

  • Late last Friday night a federal judge declared the entire Affordable Care Act (ACA) unconstitutional.  The judge said that since Congress lowered the tax for the Individual Mandate to zero, they essentially repealed the tax.  In two Supreme Court decisions the ACA was ruled constitutional because of the tax — which is a right held by Congress.  Since there is now no tax, the whole law was deemed unconstitutional, ignoring the long-standing legal precedent of “severability” which means that just because one part of a contract or law is deemed to be wrong, the whole contract or law is not voided.  More on this in a future post.
  • Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke resigned from the Cabinet to avoid investigation of his actions while in office.  This now means that since the mid-term election in November, Mr. Trump has fired or accepted the “resignations” of the Attorney General, his Chief of Staff, the Ambassador to the U.N., and the Secretary of Defense.  There are still countless White House staff positions, Assistant Secretaries, and Ambassador positions yet to be filled two years into this administration.
  • It was revealed that there are currently at least 17 investigations of Mr. Trump, his organizations, and associates by at least seven different jurisdictions.  (The Special Counsel, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, the U.S. Attorney for  the District of Columbia, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, Attorneys General from New York City, New York State and other states, and a “mystery” investigation that is under court seal.)
  • Two independent studies reported to the Senate Intelligence Committee that the Russians’ involvement in social media and efforts to help Mr. Trump and to hurt Secretary Clinton were more widespread than previously understood.  It continued well after the election and shifted focus to undermining Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his investigation of Mr. Trump.  In particular, the Russians took actions to suppress the minority vote.  Since Mr. Trump won the Electoral College by a total of approximately 80,000 votes spread across the three states of Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan it is probable, but not provable, that their actions changed the election.
  • General Michael Flynn arrived for sentencing thinking that he would get probation.  Judge Emmet Sullivan disabused him of that perception and threatened to lock him up.  “I am not hiding my disgust, my disdain, for this criminal offense,” said the judge.  Keep in mind that the judge has seen the redacted parts of the case that detail the full extent of the former National Security Adviser’s role in the campaign, transition and administration.  The sentencing was postponed for 90 days to give General Flynn another chance to cooperate with the investigation.  (Hint. Hint.)
  • In an ongoing civil suit in New York State, the Attorney General of New York attained a court order for the Trump Foundation to shut down.  The Foundation will distribute its remaining funds under court supervision.  The suit continues.  The N.Y Attorney General argued that the Foundation was little more than a slush fund for Mr. Trump, the Trump Organization and the Trump campaign.  All illegal activities.
  • Acting Attorney General Whitaker refuses to recuse himself.  The senior career ethics professional in the Department of Justice told the Acting A.G. that he should recuse himself from the Mueller Investigation.  Mr. Whitaker decided not to do so.  Remember that A.G. Sessions forever will feel the wrath of Mr. Trump for having rightly recused himself last year following the appointment of the Special Counsel.
  • The president unilaterally announced the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria within 30 days. On Twitter. He further ordered that plans be drawn up to withdraw most if not all of our forces from Afghanistan.  This decision was met with great joy and celebration in Russia, Iran, and by Syria’s despotic ruler.  It takes the U.S. out of any significant role in the future of the Middle East and sends a message to our friends and allies that we cannot be trusted.  The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) are the Kurds.  Through U.S. training, equipping and our Special Forces fighting alongside, they have become the most effective fighting force in Syria and were our partners in driving ISIS out of the cities.  We are now throwing them under the bus.  The Turkish government (along with Iran) does not want the Kurds to be a strong entity in the region and indeed the Turks are planning to attack them as soon as we leave.  Likewise negotiations to end the conflict in Afghanistan are now in jeopardy because the president wants us to leave.  All of our opponents now know to just wait us out.  We have lost all credibility in much of the world, but especially in Asia.  We also undermine Israel with this decision as the Syrians, Iranians, and Hezbollah and others can now consolidate their power, gain new territory and not worry about a U.S. presence in the area.  This is a dream come true for Vladimir Putin.
  • The president agreed to a Continuing Resolution to keep the government open until 8 February, the Senate unanimously voted to approve it and then he changed his mind and refused to go along unless he got at least $5 billion for a border wall.  Ironically the approximately 800,00 federal personnel that will be impacted are significantly represented by TSA agents, Border Patrol agents, Coast Guardsmen (the Coast Guard is not part of the Defense Department but falls under the Department of Home Land Security) and others charged with keeping our borders safe.  They will keep working but not get paid until the budget bill passes. For those that have mortgages, Christmas presents to buy, groceries to feed their family and other obligations, getting paid sometime in the future is not helpful to their current situations.  Mr. Trump promises a “very long shutdown” if he doesn’t get his way.  Remarkably, Representative Mark Meadows (Trump-NC) said that federal employees knew what they were getting into.  “It’s actually part of what you do when you sign up for any public service position.”  (Someone should tell Mr. Meadows that a well-run government does not shut down.  Furthermore, the Republicans have controlled the House, Senate and White House for two years.  Apparently that isn’t enough time to, you know, do your job and pass a budget.)
  • Secretary of Defense James Mattis resigned.  Take a look at his resignation letter here.  Those familiar with the way such things normally work, Secretary Mattis’ letter is a direct rebuke of Mr. Trump and his policies and his leadership.  Through the eloquent and gentlemanly language, the Secretary basically tells Mr. Trump that he is full of it and an anathema to all that the United States stood for, for over seventy years.  This is unprecedented in modern times.
  • The stock market is on track to have the worst December on record since 1931 and the Great Depression.  The reasons are varied but include the uncertainty created by Mr. Trump and his impulsive policy decisions, especially regarding trade and tariffs.

These are only the quick highlights.  And only one week’s worth of news is listed here.  In “normal” times this much activity in a month would be noteworthy.

Much of this will play out over the next few weeks and months.  I am sure we will all have plenty to say about it as events unfold.  Right now I want to emphasize what much of this means to us with respect to national security and foreign affairs.

Mr. Trump campaigned on an “America First” agenda.  Nice slogan.  As has been pointed out by many, this was also the slogan of the fascist leaning, isolationist wing of American politicians in the 1930s that refused to oppose the rise of Hitler and Mussolini.  I am not hinting that Mr. Trump is a fascist sympathizer, I am merely pointing out that there are historical roots to the thoughts, and policies he espouses.

Given Mr. Trump’s use of hyperbole in everything that he does, many thought that “America First” was just a catchy phrase that he liked.  What is becoming increasingly clear is that the words are more than a slogan.  He believes them in the sense that it governs his views on trade, national security, military action and our role in the world.  It is reflected in his decisions (against nearly unanimous caution not to do so) to withdraw from Syria and Afghanistan, his decisions to impose tariffs, and his desire to build a wall on the southern border.  It is an entirely isolationist, transactional way of thinking.  In this way of thinking we do not help or stand by allies unless there is something tangible in it for us — in Mr. Trump’s view, money.

This way of thinking is dangerous — to the interests of the United States and to peace and stability in the world.  It cedes the playing field to Russia and China who are more than happy to fill the void.

Re-read Secretary Mattis’ resignation letter. He resigned because of those “America First” policies.  This is what he is not so subtly saying.  Mr. Trump is a danger to all that we as a country have held dear for over 70 years and a danger to the influence and power for good that the world used to count upon from the good old U.S. of A. Not anymore.

Expect it to get worse as Mr. Trump has systematically removed all of those in his administration that were not afraid to tell him “no” and stood against his misguided plans.  The president acts impulsively and erratically and it seems that with two years of data, we now know that his instincts are either no good, or his knowledge of the world is sorely inadequate.

We are fast approaching a time where the United States government is run like the Trump Organization.  It will be in the hands of Mr. Trump, his daughter and son-in-law.  Period.

Likewise, the world — our friends and allies as well as our enemies — now know that the president is weak and ill-informed.  The decision to leave Syria proves it to them.  The icing on the cake was his decision to cave to the whining from hard-core right-wing pundits on television calling him out on not shutting down the government over his wall.  It makes Mr. Trump look scared of losing his base and gives power to the likes of Ann Coulter, Laura Ingraham and Rush Limbaugh.  Along with Sean Hannity, those apparently are his real cabinet.

On the other hand, this is a season of great joy!  Celebrate with friends and family.  Remember that we are all God’s children and enjoy the gift of life.  For a few days, we can put aside the worries of the secular world and revel in the power of the spiritual world.

Best wishes to all.