Tag Archives: Donald Trump

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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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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Pipe bombs and the crackup of the Union

Americans awoke this morning to the news that pipe bombs had been mailed to prominent political people. Not just any politicians— no Republicans, only Democrats and Trump’s favorite targets.

In his tweets and at his rallies, Trump has threatened and vilified Hillary Clinton, leading chants to “Lock her up!” He denied Barack Obama’s legitimacy, for years insisting that he was not born in the U.S., and has been dismantling every achievement of his predecessor since his first day in office. George Soros, the billionaire philanthropist and major Democratic donor, has been accused by Trump and the Right-Wing extremists of master-minding conspiracies against the U.S. and the world order. Trump has consistently disparaged the media, in particular, the publications that have criticized him, news organs like CNN and the New York Times. George Brennan, former Director of the C.I.A., has been outspokenly critical of Trump, and the President retaliated by stripping him of his security clearance.

Except for the NY Times, all of the above were recipients of bombs sent to their homes. Brennan’s was sent to CNN offices in New York.

We have a head of state who not only condones violence, but incites it. Since the days of his campaign, when he defended and encouraged his supporters that punched protesters, promising to pay their legal bills, the rabble-rouser-in-chief continues to stoke the fury of his followers, encouraging them to ravage the foundational principles of American democracy.

The country that prided itself on being a nation of laws is devolving into the misrule of chaos and hate. Trump campaigned on a pledge to destroy the existing order, and for perhaps for the only time, he is keeping his word. Rather than Making America Great Again, Trump is presiding over the disintegration of lawful society.

The political parties no longer work to reach compromises that further the greater good. Rather, they reflect the stark division of Trumpists determined to rend the fragile fabric of democracy and their opponents who want to conserve and build on the achievements of the bold experiment started over 200 years ago.

Update: Later in the day, more bombs were discovered. They were sent to Eric Holder, Obama’s attorney general and Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA).

 

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Trump’s military parade

Military parade in Moscow, 2010

One way a despot controls dissent is with an ostentatious display of military force. An autocrat who loves gaudy extravagance, Trump was so impressed by the military parade he witnessed in Paris last year that he returned home and immediately demanded one of his own, a large-scale military parade rolling through the streets of Washington.

VoteVets, an association of veterans who know only too well what it takes to prepare for war and actually risk their lives, looks askance at Trump’s proposed jingoistic propaganda. The chairman and Iraq War veteran Jon Soltz wrote in an email, “This parade is not about honoring our military — it’s about using our military to honor Trump, a man who dishonors America and puts our country at risk.”

In 1991, Pres. George W. Bush had a parade to honor the vets returning victorious from the Persian Gulf War. That parade cost $12 million. A similar parade 27 years later would cost much more.

The streets of Washington were not built to withstand an onslaught of tanks and armored personnel carriers. Reportedly, it would cost at least as much as the parade to repair the damage to Pennsylvania Avenue and the rest of the parade route.

In February, even Trump-supporter Rep. Lee Zeldin, R-NY, told CNN, “I don’t believe we should have tanks or nuclear weapons going down Pennsylvania Avenue.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-SC, tweeted that he supported a parade, but added his hope that “this parade will not focus on military hardware, but on military service, sacrifice, and saying ‘Thank You’ to those who protect our nation.”

In an apparent response to bipartisan objections, the Pentagon issued a planning memo in March, saying the parade will “include wheeled vehicles only, no tanks — consideration must be given to minimize damage to local infrastructure.”

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-IL, told NBC  that the idea is a “fantastic waste of money to amuse the president.”

Soltz called it “a national embarrassment all conjured up to serve a weak president’s frail self-image…. a disgrace.”

If you agree, pressure your members of Congress to intervene and stymie Trump’s wet dream. Do it now— the parade is scheduled for November, probably on Veterans Day.

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Treason, period.

Front Page, New York Daily News, July 17, 2018

“I see no reason why Russia would [interfere with our election].” —Donald Trump in Helsinki, July 16.

“I meant to say  “wouldn’t” instead of “would”” —Donald Trump, reading from notes, White House, July 17.

Please! Don’t add insult to injury!

A frantic White House understood what the President didn’t. The country was shocked and furious that the U.S. president, standing next to Putin and speaking to the world, repudiated the findings of his own intelligence agencies and believed Putin’s “strong and powerful” denial that Russia had interfered in the U.S. 2016 election.

In the face of strong criticism from both parties, Trump’s associates somehow persuaded him to walk back his remarks. He read from a prepared statement, a giveaway that the remarks were not his, and certainly not from the heart. He never reads from notes at his rallies.

Expecting the public to believe that he misspoke, omitting a mere 3-letter word, after praising Putin and Russia, is too much. As he did after the Charlottesville, Va, racial confrontation, Trump could not bring himself to completely renounce his remarks. He defended his observation that there were “some very fine people” among the white supremacists in Charlottesville, saying there were people to blame on both sides. Now, as he  did then, Trump said that the U.S. was as much to blame as Russia.

New York’s “Daily News” front-page reaction shows Trump shooting Uncle Sam on Fifth Avenue while holding Putin’s hand. Trump once said he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue in plain sight and suffer no consequences. Up to now, he was right. We’ll see what happens after today’s uproar, whether the Republicans who were publicly stunned by the U.S. president blaming America for problems Russia created will swallow his explanation of behavior that they found disgraceful (one of Trump’s favorite terms of opprobrium).

I wonder, does Trump realize that Putin ate his lunch in Helsinki?

Putin 1 (or more), Trump 0.

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