Category Archives: Trump

Impeach him. Now.

No, I’m not talking about impeaching President Trump. That is a knotty decision with excellent philosophical and legal arguments on one side and valid political and practical ones on the other.

AG William Barr

No, I’m talking about the prime law enforcement officer of the United States, William Barr, the Attorney General. He lied to the American public and apparently committed perjury when testifying to Congress. These are crimes that call out for impeachment, unless Barr resigns immediately.

Special Counsel Robert S. MuellerPhoto credit: USAToday

On April 10, Barr was asked in a Senate hearing whether Special Counsel Robert Mueller agreed with his summary of the results of Mueller’s investigation and his conclusions. Barr testified before the Senate that he didn’t know. That statement was not truthful. We now know that Mueller had written to Barr on March 27, three days after Barr had released his “summary,” that he did not agree with Barr’s conclusions. Mueller wrote to Barr that his memo “did not fully capture the context, nature and substance” of the probe and the Report.

Barr misrepresented both sections of the Mueller Report. In the second section, Mueller clearly documented 10 instances of Trump’s obstruction of justice. If anyone but the president had committed even one of these acts, (s)he would have been indicted. Mueller specifically said in the Report that he could not directly accuse the president of a crime because the Department of Justice has ruled that a sitting president cannot be indicted.

[W]e determined not to apply an approach that could potentially result in a judgment that the President committed crimes…. Fairness concerns counseled against potentially reaching that judgment when no charges can be brought.

“Accordingly,” Mueller wrote, “while this report does not conclude the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.” In his four-page memo, Barr directly contradicted Mueller on that point, saying that Mueller had not been influenced in any way by that DOJ ruling. Even more significantly, Barr wrote that there was evidence both for and against obstruction in the Report, but he had determined that there was no obstruction, thus giving Trump the pretext to proclaim, falsely, again and again, “No collusion, no obstruction.”

Mueller also condemned the delayed release of the Report, which allowed the misinformation that Barr had propagated to marinate and solidify in the minds of the public. In his letter to Barr, Mueller complained that

There’s now public confusion about critical aspects of the results of our investigation. This threatens to undermine a central purpose for which the Department of Justice appointed the Special Counsel, which is to assure full public confidence in the outcomes of the investigations.”

And by extension, to undermine public confidence in the Department of Justice itself and the rule of law.

The Russian connections with the Trump campaign are covered in the first section of the Report. Though there were many of these, Mueller was not able to prove conspiracy between the campaign and Russia. Collusion is not a legal term. Barr elided the distinction between collusion and conspiracy. He ignored the ongoing investigation of Roger Stone, who was trafficking in stolen documents with Wikileaks and the Russians. It’s possible Stone can’t be successfully prosecuted under the current statute, because our laws outdated: they don’t account for digital documents.

With his letter Mueller included redacted introductions and executive summaries from the Report that he and his staff had written for Barr to release to the public. Barr did no such thing. He had said publicly that he “was not interested” in releasing summaries of the Report, that he didn’t want to release it piecemeal.

Can there be any doubt that the Attorney General has violated the sacred trust placed in him by covering up the President’s crimes and deceiving the American public? William Barr cannot be trusted to oversee the remaining prosecutions (redacted) in the Mueller Report nor those that will arise from the corruption of Trump and his family.

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May 1, 2019 · 2:09 AM

The unbearable mystery of Mueller

Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller
Photo credit: USAToday

For almost two years Democrats waited with apprehension and Republicans with dread for Special Counsel Robert Mueller to conclude his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. When the day finally came, Attorney General William Barr received the report. Two days later, he summarized the conclusions in a four-page letter. Republicans were elated, Democrats were stunned, and the president was jubilant.

Barr wrote that Mueller found neither Trump nor members of his campaign had conspired with the Russians. 

But the other charge, obstruction of justice, remained unresolved. Mueller wrote

while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him [emphasis mine]. 

Whereupon Barr took it upon himself, in consultation with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, to go where the Mueller Report had not. He concluded that President Trump had not obstructed justice, despite Mueller’s refusal to exonerate him. 

Why did Special Counsel Mueller decide not to decide? Prosecutors normally prosecute.

A Special Prosecutor is appointed when an important investigation demands that it be led by someone deemed to be completely independent and resistant to countervailing political winds. By not resolving the question of Trump’s obstruction of justice, Mueller obviated the purpose of having an apolitical Special Counsel. The final decision now falls to a Trump appointee, the Attorney General, or Congress, which is nothing if not political. 

Barr is hardly unbiased. Before his nomination, he wrote an unsolicited memo that called Mueller’s obstruction of justice investigation “fatally misconceived.” Barr wrote that, given the executive power inherent in the office, it is impossible for the president to obstruct justice. It was completely within Trump’s powers as head of the executive branch, Barr wrote, to ask FBI Director James Comey to go easy on then-National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and fire Comey for his suggestion that the President had acted inappropriately.  

Barr believes that there cannot be obstruction without an underlying crime. Once Mueller cleared Trump of collusion, the underlying crime was gone, so ipso facto  Trump could not be obstructing justice.

It was clear early on that members of the Trump campaign had meetings with Russian nationals and tried to hide and then deny those actions. The infamous June 9, 2016, meeting in Trump Tower was one of these. It was attended by three senior members of the Trump campaign (Donald Trump Jr, son-in-law Jared Kushner and then-campaign manager Paul Manafort) and a Russian government lawyer. Trump Jr had written that he would love to receive opposition research on Hilary Clinton from the Russians. Trump and his aides concocted several stories to explain the meeting, but none of the lies was able to withstand the truth eventually uncovered by tireless journalists.

We also know that during the campaign the president was working on a lucrative business deal, the erection of a Trump Tower in Moscow. Was he compromised by his eagerness to do business with Putin? Was making lots of money the only motive for Trump’s deference to the Russians?

Did Mueller fail to draw a conclusion because it might have prejudiced ongoing investigations he had referred to other jurisdictions? Would a conclusion have contaminated the jury pool for a future grand jury?

The Democrats will have to choke on these questions and more until, if ever, the full report is released. House committees may carry on the multiple investigations they have begun. They may call Mueller to testify, despite Barr’s opposition.

But if the Dems are wise, they will concentrate on giving the voters what they want. Healthcare leads the list. Trump may have given Democrats a gift by proposing to completely repeal the ACA / Obamacare. Voters are much more interested in the bread-and-butter issues that affect them directly every day than they are in the political bickering in Washington. 

If American democracy can withstand the Trumpian onslaughts, an accurate history of the Trump era will one day be written.

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Trump’s elusive wall


Trump promoting his wall -USA Today

Donald Trump needs The Wall that he’s been hawking since he entered the presidential race, but the Democrats, led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, won’t let him have it. Like a spoiled brat who can’t get his way, the President had a tantrum. He retaliated by shutting down the government.

Donald Trump hates to admit he made a mistake. He rarely apologizes. Now he’s boxed himself in by saying he won’t reopen the government that he himself shut down unless he gets his Wall, but the Democrats are standing firmly against a wall they say would be ineffective. Negotiations are at an impasse. Trump is holding 800,000 federal workers hostage to something that began as a mnemonic device, a way to remember what he was supposed to say.

Why is Trump so enthralled by his Wall?

Before he officially became a candidate, Trump’s political advisers realized that immigration would resonate with conservatives and unemployed workers left behind in a growing economy that did not need their skills. In order to keep the easily distracted candidate on message, his handlers hit upon The Wall — a simple concept, an easy-to-remember four-letter word. It appealed to Trump the Builder — Build the Wall! — and the crowd’s enthusiastic response to the slogan converted it to a meme that has practically become a symbol for Trump himself.

The Trump Tower escalator descended with the aspiring candidate to a waiting crowd so that a beaming Trump could announce his candidacy. He described the evils he said were afflicting the country and attributed them mostly to immigrants who he said were invaders that arrived in hordes at the southern border. To stymie them Trump envisioned a “beautiful” Wall he would erect to “Make America Great Again” by walling out undesirables. America for Americans! (Never mind that America was built by immigrants and most Americans are descended from them.)

The Wall has become a convenient way for Trump to distract the country when new revelations from the Mueller investigation grab the headlines or challenge his version of events.

Now Trump has seized on the expedient of declaring a national emergency so that he will be able to use expanded executive power. The White House is looking for options like using military manpower and funds designated for other projects. The Pentagon may not look favorably on losing funds needed perhaps to build new barracks.

Democrats will lose no time before they challenge Trump in court. The president cannot overrule Congress by appropriating funds for a project it has not approved without precipitating a constitutional crisis. We are again in uncharted waters.


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Mending Wall by Ben East

Author, teacher and diplomat Ben East reflects on two dissimilar walls: one a poem by Robert Frost, the other the obsession of Donald Trump. With admiration and his permission I am reblog it below.

Only 2,000 Miles to Go

Robert Frost’s great poem, outwardly a critique on a pre-existing wall, arguably has little to do with the hypothetical wall being proffered today.

But Frost’s wall stands for so much more, and the critique applies more universally than merely to stone piled on stone. The critique can be said to include any barrier that divides us. The critique includes blind adherence to tradition. The critique marvels at the depravity and ignorance displayed by our fellow man.

I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.

Frost’s narrator, in his easy country voice, recognizes that nature itself opposes these barriers. Hunters or weather or the invisible hand of the outdoors, the ordinary stuff of time’s passage, work in concert against the wall.

The narrator resonates common sense in questioning why his neighbor would rebuild the wall between their properties. And this same good sense reveals the answer: the neighbor is an individual of dim intellect and long habits.

He moves in darkness as it seems to me,
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father’s saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, “Good fences make good neighbours.”

I’ve always loved this poem. Today I love it more than ever. I hear in this lament the nation’s former poet laureate snickering at today’s gross display of race-baiting, fear-mongering, ignorance, and megalomania.

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall…

Mending Wall
-Robert Frost

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun;
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
I let my neighbour know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
“Stay where you are until our backs are turned!”
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of out-door game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, “Good fences make good neighbours.”
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
“Why do they make good neighbours? Isn’t it
Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That wants it down.” I could say “Elves” to him,
But it’s not elves exactly, and I’d rather
He said it for himself. I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me,
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father’s saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, “Good fences make good neighbours.”

_____________________________________________________

Ben East published his first novel, Two Pumps for the Body Man (New Pulp Press, 2016), as a Bush-Cheney era black comedy. Set in Saudi Arabia, Two Pumps does for American diplomacy and the War on Terror what Catch-22 did for military logic during the Second World War. 

His second novel, Patchworks (Moonshine Cove Publishing, Sept 2017), examines American gun culture in a similar light.

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Can Trump declare a state of emergency?

photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Upon reading Elizabeth Goitein’s “What the President Could Do If He Declares a State of Emergency” in The Atlantic, my dismay spurred me to write the previous post. In “Our democracy may not be as robust as we think,” I considered a few of the disasters Trump would be empowered to inflict on the American public by declaring a state of emergency.

After publishing the post, I began to read The New York Times, and almost immediately came upon Bruce Ackerman’s “No, Trump Cannot Declare an ‘Emergency’ to Build His Wall,” The title promised to contradict all I had written based on Goitein’s article.

But Ackerman’s article was nuanced.

He refers to laws that would seem to prevent the president from suspending civil liberties and imposing martial law or build his wall. The first is a provision in a statute of 1878 that expressly forbids the willful use of “any part of the Army or the Air Force to execute a law domestically” unless “authorized by the Constitution or an act of Congress.” Then he refers to another statute from 1807 that directs the secretary of defense to “ensure that any activity (including the provision of any equipment or facility or the assignment or detail of any personnel)” will “not include or permit direct participation by a member of the Army, Navy, Air Force, or Marine Corps in a search, seizure, arrest, or other similar activity … unless authorized by law.”

Would Trump respect these statutes? For that matter, is he even aware of them? Is anyone in his cabinet or on his staff sufficiently conversant with the law to attempt to curb his illegal impulses? We have seen Trump compose executive orders and issue commands without seeking legal advice, unaware that he may be violating the Constitution or the laws of the land. His M.O. is “Act first, think later (if ever).” Knowing the presidency confers great power, Trump seems to think there are no restraints. If he were to declare an emergency, there would be a delay before the courts or Congress could thwart him. 

Ackerman admits that the laws he refers to “do contain a series of carefully crafted exceptions to the general rule.” He concedes that Trump might take advantage of the exception which authorizes the military to detain suspected terrorists. That’s not a stretch, since the President has repeatedly characterized migrants who cross the border illegally as terrorists.

But Ackerman believes that “it is an unconscionable stretch to use this proviso to support using the military for operations against the desperate refugees from Central America seeking asylum in our country.” It is “unconscionable” for a moral and compassionate person, but Trump has repeatedly demonstrated that he is neither. He has already gassed them.

The National Emergencies Act “formalize[s] the power of Congress to provide certain checks and balances on the emergency powers of the President,” writes Ackerman. It gives the House the right to rescind a state of emergency declared by the president and requires the Senate to ratify within 15 days. It seems foolishly optimistic to trust that the the legislators in the current divided Congress could come together in both houses long enough to pass a resolution.

Yet, in a neat twist of logic, Ackerman argues that Congress would intervene:

Since President Trump’s “emergency” declaration would be a direct response to his failure to convince Congress that national security requires his wall, it is hard to believe that a majority of the Senate, if forced to vote, would accept his show of contempt for their authority.

Hmm. That remains to be seen.

Finally, Ackerman concedes that, despite the legal obstacles that confront him, Trump could well declare a state of emergency. “He will likely take the most irresponsible path possible, issuing his ‘national emergency’ through a tweet or a question-begging written pronunciamento.”

We have reason to be very concerned.

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Our democracy may not be as robust as we think

Imagine an internet that restricts access to certain websites, including social media platforms; search engines programmed to return only positive results to queries for “Trump”; email that is monitored, censored, even blocked. Does that sound fanciful, an impossibility in our American democracy? Perhaps. Yet the threat is real. 

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign stop in Council Bluffs, Iowa, Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2015. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

The current issue of The Atlantic has an alarming report written by Elizabeth Goitein, the Co-director of the Liberty and National Security program at The Brennan Center for Justice. Goitein delineates the formidable emergency powers that are available to the president during a national emergency. The article, “What the President Could Do If He Declares a State of Emergency,” is an eye-opener. Everyone should read it.

By announcing the mere threat of war, for example, the president could assume control of all communications, most likely including the internet. He could do so by invoking a law that has been on the books since 1942, when fears of invasion during World War II justified extraordinary executive power. Though it didn’t exist when the law was written, the internet today is a vital component of communications.

The Brennan Center for Justice at the NYU School of Law has tallied 123 statutory provisions that grant the president broad emergency powers the moment he declares an emergency. Moreover, the president himself may determine what constitutes an emergency, because the statutes do not define it. In addition, there is no judicial review, nor a requirement that Congress ratify the president’s appropriation of exceptional power. Though Congress could vote to end the state of emergency with a two-thirds, veto-proof majority in both houses, what are the chances of that happening today?

The Insurrection Act of 1807, modified over the years, allows the president to employ military troops to enforce the authority of the federal government in cases of lawlessness, insurrection and rebellion. Trump could deploy armed forces domestically wherever he saw fit, because the statute does not define the specific conditions that constitute an emergency. The law is vague enough that Trump could, for example, authorize tanks to patrol the streets, rounding up political protesters and undocumented migrants. President Eisenhower invoked this law in 1957 to enforce desegregation of the schools in Arkansas with federal troops.

Authoritarians routinely declare states of emergency to impose their will forcefully on their people. Trump admires tyrants like Turkey’s Erdoğan and Duterte of the Philippines — why wouldn’t he follow their examples? After all, Trump is not inhibited by respect for or even knowledge of the law or of the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution.

Trump continues to attack the free press because it persists in calling him to account. The President riles up his followers and advocates the imprisonment of a political rival. He denies Muslims entry to the U.S. Clearly, Trump has no reverence for the basic freedoms of the press, speech and religion. Gotein cites Geoffrey R. Stone, a constitutional-law scholar at the University of Chicago, who observed that “It would not take much to upset the [Supreme Court’s] current understanding of the First Amendment.” 

“Indeed,” Goitein remarks wryly, “all it would take is five Supreme Court justices whose commitment to presidential power exceeds their commitment to individual liberties.”

Presidents in living memory have exercised emergency powers. Citing imminent threat to America, President Franklin Roosevelt defied the Constitution by interning U.S. citizens of Japanese descent. More recently, President George W. Bush authorized warrantless wiretapping and torture after 9/11.

In view of the latent perils to democracy that are now immediately available to President Trump, Gotein urges the American public to inform itself. We must insist that Congress repeal obsolete laws and limit the ones that contain the potential for abuse. The newly Democratic House must begin the review process in committees so that a future Democratic Senate can ratify the changes.

The time to act is now, before Trump or another president declares an emergency that gives him limitless power.

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Will 2018 election results reflect the will of the people?

BallotBoxThe highly anticipated midterm elections of 2018 are less than two weeks away. There is general agreement that the election is extremely important, because the United States is at a crossroads. President Trump has snubbed traditional allies and cosied up to the usual adversaries. He has withdrawn from treaties that were painstakingly drawn up over a period of years. He has levied tariffs where once there was free trade. Until October, the stock market was soaring. Less than two weeks before the election, all the gains of 2018 have been wiped out. His tax cuts have ballooned the deficit to record-setting heights.

Democrats are hoping to regain control of Congress, but it won’t be easy, even though there are significantly more Democrats than Republicans. Republicans, however, vote in greater numbers than Democrats. Another complicating factor is that Democrats are clustered in densely populated cities while many Republicans are in sparsely populated rural areas, making a Republican vote worth significantly more than a Democratic one. For example, Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska was re-elected with 111,000 votes; Democratic Chuck Schumer of New York was re-elected with 4.8 million votes. Yet they have equal power in the Senate.

Active voter suppression has wiped Democrats off the rolls in record numbers. State legislators with Republican majorities are writing new voter ID laws with the intent to disenfranchise people of color, because they tend to vote Democratic. The Republican governor of Georgia has purged hundreds of thousands of likely Democratic voters from the rolls. Of course, it also works the other way. Republicans are vulnerable too. In Alaska, new residency rules are designed to disenfranchise the Native Americans that were crucial to Sen. Murkowski’s victory in 2012.

This tactic is not new. It was employed until the Voting Rights Act of 1965 made it illegal. But in 2013 the Supreme Court ruled in Shelby County v. Holder that the Act relied on antiquated data and struck down its most effective provisions. Within five years of that decision, close to a thousand polling places were gone, most of them in predominantly African-American counties.

Free elections are still threatened by Russian meddling. Given what we now know, it may have swung the 2016 election to Donald Trump. The U.S. intelligence services are certain that the Russians continue to interfere, trying to influence the outcome of the election.

There is another, more sinister factor to consider: election results may be skewed domestically. We have no way to guarantee the accuracy of ballot counting, because the counting is not observable. Vote counting, once done in public view, now takes place out of sight, inside of computer chips. Jonathan Simon argues forcefully that what has happened to American democracy under Donald Trump and the Republicans may have a simple explanation.

Simon believes that tampering with electronic vote counting  may account for America’s dramatic shift to the right, considering that a majority of the electorate is centrist and did not vote for Donald Trump. By computerizing the electoral process we have made it extremely easy to alter the results. It’s no longer necessary to stuff ballot boxes with paper ballots or change 10,000 votes by hand. A machine can do that efficiently in seconds. A programmer or hacker can steal the election by inserting a few lines of code into the hundreds of thousands of lines of code and achieve the desired result with minimal risk of detection.

“This amounts to a rolling coup that is transforming America while disenfranchising an unsuspecting public,” Simon writes in “Code Red: Computerized Elections and the War on American Democracy.” Simon’s declared reason for writing the book is to alert the public to what he sees as a danger to democracy and the Republic that is far greater than gerrymandering and voter suppression. He wants to spur people into action before we can no longer vote our way out.

Simon asks,

Why do we collectively and so blithely assume that hundreds of millions of votes counted in secret, on partisan-produced and -controlled equipment, will be counted honestly and that the public trust will be honored to the exclusion of any private agenda, however compelling?!

Think about it.

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