Tuesday, April 30, 2019

The exponential growth of Trump's tsunami of untruths

President Trump has made more than 10,000 false or misleading claims writes the fact-checking team at the Washington Post.

It took President Trump 601 days to top 5,000 false and misleading claims in The Fact Checker’s database, an average of eight claims a day.

But on April 26, just 226 days later, the president crossed the 10,000 mark — an average of nearly 23 claims a day in this seven-month period, which included the many rallies he held before the midterm elections, the partial government shutdown over his promised border wall and the release of the special counsel’s report on Russian interference in the presidential election.

This milestone appeared unlikely when The Fact Checker first started this project during his first 100 days. In the first 100 days, Trump averaged less than five claims a day, which would have added up to about 7,000 claims in a four-year presidential term. But the tsunami of untruths just keeps looming larger and larger.

As of April 27, including the president’s rally in Green Bay, Wis., the tally in our database stands at 10,111 claims in 828 days.

Those are the stats. Visit the Fact Checker’s database for the kinds of the many things Trump lies about (in a word - everything).

When it comes to Trump's obstruction of justice, Lindsey Graham says 'I don't care.'

“Republicans are shameless hypocrites. A blow job is an impeachable offense while obstructing justice isn’t.” - Comment by “Wake Up People!!!” in response to Steve Benen’s blog post about Lindsey Graham’s hypocrisy.

Asked about evidence of obstruction, Graham says, ‘I don’t care’.

When Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) was Rep. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), he helped lead the impeachment effort against then-President Bill Clinton. In the process, the Republican lawmaker established a series of principles he said he believed in, setting benchmarks for lines a president cannot and should not cross.

Now, however, that a GOPlin is in the White House, Graham’s standards got flushed down the potty.

… Graham quite literally said he doesn’t care.

“I think it’s just all theater. It doesn’t matter. I don’t care what he said to [former White House counsel] Don McGahn. It’s what he did…. I don’t care what they talked about. He didn’t do anything…. I don’t care what happened between him and Don McGahn.”

Despite the findings of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, Graham, added that he considers obstruction allegations against the president to be “absurd.”

Or put another way, as of yesterday morning, if a Democratic president interferes in a lawsuit and encourages people to lie, that’s an impeachable offense. If a Republican president interferes in a federal investigation and encourages people to lie, that’s trivia – according to the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

It’s an amazing perspective. Graham didn’t say this explicitly, but the unmistakable takeaway is that he believes Trump attempted to obstruct justice, but he failed to actually do so. The president told the White House counsel to fire the special counsel and lie about it, but since Don McGahn didn’t execute Trump’s wishes, then the whole sordid mess is just “theater.”

I’ll leave it to lawyers to speak to this with more authority, but as best as I can tell, this isn’t how the system is supposed to work. Attempting to interfere with a criminal investigation is itself evidence of obstruction. McGahn’s willingness to ignore a president’s corrupt instructions does not let that president off the hook.

South Carolina’s senior senator, however, has left no doubt that he simply does not care, despite the principles he said he cared about when there was a Democrat in the White House. The Washington Post’s James Downie added, “Graham is far from the first hypocritical politician. But the South Carolina senator particularly prides himself on being no-nonsense and on his legal experience. That he has opted for such an obvious double standard is especially shameless.”

That would sting a normal person. The current crop of GOPlins, including Graham, however may be without that basic trait in humans (and other primates) of feeling humiliated by the conscious awareness of having done something wrong. Or, on another take, if they don’t regard Trump’s words and acts as wrong, then they can feel no shame.

Monday, April 29, 2019

Mourning on Mournday

F'd
Trump's tax cuts in action
Lap it up
An insult to canines everywhere
  • Couldn’t decide on a lead toon so …
  • Here are the rest of themes, schemes, memes, and falemes in this edition of the Illustrated Gnus (aka cartoons from AZ Blue Meanie at Blog for Arizona).
  • Rule of Law according to Trump via Suckabee Handers, KellyAnne Conway, Barr, Rudy, Faux News, Senate Republicans. Need I say more?
  • Biden promises hands-on presidency.
  • Biden dreams of running with a strong black woman as Veep. (Not Anita Hill, I guess.)
  • Bernie’s $1,000,000 gets Scriber’s Awkward Award.
  • What America is missing: A party of low taxes, small government, smaller debt, strong allies, standing up to dictators, no tariffs, free trade, and the Rule of Law.
  • No one is above the law. Might that be the man who would be king?
  • The only redaction we need to know in the Mueller report: (1) President Donald Trump is not guilty of collusion. (2) President Donald Trump is not guilty of obstruction.
  • The Supreme Court likely to confirm racial bias in the 2020 census. If my vote count is wrong, you tell me.
  • Finally, the only thing you need to know about who’s running our 2020 election - the Gremlin from the Kremlin.

Here’s a bonus toon.

King Donald
h/t Daily Kos

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Congress should exercise 'inherent contempt power' and lock up non-complying witnesses

Yesterday I posted commentary on Trump’s stone-walling subpoenas from Congress: Our nation is living divine right of kings redux. In the eyes of his followers President Trump can do no wrong. After having reviewed How the Trump-Congress subpoena fight is likely to play out by Phillip Bump at the Washington Post, I offered a pessimistic evaluation of how the battle between executive and legislative branches might end.

Who will win? The short of it is twofold. First, the clock favors Trump. His stalling and stonewalling are devices meant to run out the clock and deny effective congressional oversight until 2020 or beyond and in a new Congress, maybe not even then. Second, and perhaps more importantly, Congress can issue subpoenas but “it lacks a robust criminal enforcement mechanism. A recent Congressional Research Service report delineated the two ways in which Congress could pressure administration officials to respond to subpoenas: criminal contempt citations or civil enforcement.” Those actions end up in court and that creates delays. “And with Barr as AG, what are the chances that DOJ will act to enforce the subpoenas?” With absolute executive branch control, there are no checks and only imbalances. Our democracy is on the block.

Today I’m going to revisit Congress’ powers because they are more nuanced than my pessimistic conclusion suggests. In another post today (April 26), AZ BlueMeanie at Blog for Arizona provides an analysis of Congress’ power to compel testimony, Congress has inherent contempt power – ‘lock them up!’

The BlueMeanie concludes that “… Congress possesses “inherent contempt power” by which it can actually arrest people, hold them over for trial, and issue punishments without any help from either the executive or judicial branches.” The rationale is found in several sources with case examples dating back to 1795. The most recent opinion on this point is quoted by the BlueMeanie: Congress Needs To Lock Up Non-Complying Witnesses by Martin Longman (April 24, 2019, in the Washington Monthly Political Animal). Bear with me on this as I also quote Longman.

In 1795, two men offered bribes to three separate congressmen. These congressmen introduced a resolution calling on the Sergeant-at-Arms to arrest and detain the two men “pending further action by the House.” A special committee was established to investigate, and they recommended that the House hold a trial. Of course, they then had to determine what would constitute a fair trial. Here is what they decided:

Upon adopting the resolution and after considerable debate, the House determined that the following procedures be adhered to: First, the complaining Members were to submit a written signed information to the accused and for publication in the House Journal. In addition, the accused were to be provided counsel, the right to call witnesses on their behalf, the right to cross-examination of the complaining Members through written questions submitted to the Speaker, and adequate time to prepare a defense.

The trial was held using these procedures. The House voted 78–17 to find one of the accused guilty of contempt for trying to corrupt the integrity of its members. The other man was essentially found not guilty. This was the first exercise of Congress’s “inherent contempt power.” It’s one of three ways in which Congress can try to compel citizens to comply with their requests for information. They can actually arrest people, hold them over for trial, and issue punishments without any help from either the executive or judicial branches.

The second way Congress can try to enforce a subpoena is to make a criminal referral to the Department of Justice. They would send a contempt citation to the Department of Justice via the U.S. Attorney with jurisdiction. The obvious weakness here is that they are often depending on the executive branch to enforce a subpoena against an executive branch official, and this may not happen. [Probably not with William Barr as AG.]

The third option is for Congress to “seek a civil judgment from a federal court declaring that the individual in question is legally obligated to comply with the congressional subpoena.” The problem here is that it can be a lengthy process with an uncertain outcome. [Remember that Trump has shifted SCOTUS to a 5–4 conservative majority.]

In contemplating the specter of the House jailing someone, remember this from Longman:

Mike Allen of Axios quotes a source “familiar with the president’s legal strategy” who says “Trump can run out the clock by taking a hardline position. The president thinks it’s in his political interest to keep the fight going, and make it harder for the Democrats to have a coherent message.”

So two of the House’s options are shot leaving only the exercise of Congress’ “inherent contempt power.”

… based on strong precedent and the facts at hand, Congress would still be an excellent position to win any challenge to their authority to hold a contempt trial of their own for Don McGahn and for other holdouts, like former chief of the White House’s Personnel Security Office Carl Kline.

… the House could create a select committee dedicated to compelling the enforcement of their subpoenas, which would help them avoid tying up regular business on the floor.

Ordinarily, I would never advocate taking such a radical step. The procedure seems anachronistic, and the idea that a citizen can receive a fair trial in a political body like the House of Representatives seems absurd and would probably be perceived that way by the modern mind. I don’t like the idea of Congress locking people up.

But the Trump administration is taking steps more alarming, radical and norm-shattering than what I am proposing. I honestly don’t see how Congress has any alternative other than to lose this battle, and a lot of their power and prestige along with it.

In truth, I am no more than modestly concerned about congressional prestige. They need to invoke their inherent contempt authority less for themselves than for the rest of us. This rogue presidency is dangerous and cannot be left unchecked. There is still one way to check them, and as crazy as it might sound, it’s perfectly legal and has a long history.

Congress needs to get rough with non-complying witnesses and lock ’em up.

Friday, April 26, 2019

Our nation is living divine right of kings redux. In the eyes of his followers President Trump can do no wrong.

Back in January CNN reported that, according to Sarah Suckabee Handers, God ‘wanted Donald Trump to become president’.

“I think God calls all of us to fill different roles at different times and I think that he wanted Donald Trump to become president, and that’s why he’s there,” Sanders told CBN’s David Brody and Jennifer Wishon, according to a transcript of the interview provided by CBN.

Here’s the thing. If God made Donald Trump president, that act confers on Trump rights of divinity accorded to a king. Let’s explore that one.

From Dictionary.com:
divine right of kings
noun
the doctrine that the right of rule derives directly from God, not from the consent of the people.

A lot logically follows from that short definition. For example, “the doctrine that kings derive their authority from God, not from their subjects, from which it follows that rebellion is the worst of political crimes

And from the Wikipedia entry: “asserts that a monarch is subject to no earthly authority, deriving the right to rule directly from the will of God. The king is thus not subject to the will of his people, the aristocracy, or any other estate of the realm. It implies that only God can judge an unjust king and that any attempt to depose, dethrone or restrict his powers runs contrary to the will of God and may constitute a sacrilegious act.”

By now, you’ve figured out where this is going. In my view Trump’s behaviors, increasingly, are those of a king in a monarchy rather than those of a president in a democracy. As such, he is beyond the touch of democratic institutions and processes. As such, opposition to his actions is sacrilegious and cannot be tolerated. Trump’s tangle with Congress over subpoenas is an example.

Phillip Bump at the Washington Post explores How the Trump-Congress subpoena fight is likely to play out

It’s safe to say that President Trump is, at best, indifferent to the system of checks and balances that gives Congress the power to oversee his administration and his presidency. Trump has regularly complained about the number of investigations initiated by Democrats since they retook control of the House in January, at times conflating those probes with the most frequent target of his frustration, the investigation conducted by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III.

The Democrats don’t seem to be particularly worried about Trump’s complaints. In recent weeks, the salvo of requests has included demanding Trump’s tax returns, requesting testimony from an official in charge of security clearances and seeking testimony from former officials cited in Mueller’s report, such as former White House counsel Don McGahn. If it’s not a full-court press, it’s getting there.

In response, Trump has dug in. The Treasury Department missed a Tuesday deadline to hand over the tax returns. The White House’s personnel security director, Carl Kline, was instructed not to respond to a subpoena. On Tuesday afternoon, The Washington Post reported that the White House planned to fight the subpoena issued to McGahn on the basis of executive privilege.

We’re just past the brink of a wide-ranging, multifront legal fight between the executive and legislative branches.

Who will win? The short of it is twofold. First, the clock favors Trump. His stalling and stonewalling are devices meant to run out the clock and deny effective congressional oversight until 2020 or beyond and in a new Congress, maybe not even then. Second, and perhaps more importantly, Congress can issue subpoenas but “it lacks a robust criminal enforcement mechanism. A recent Congressional Research Service report delineated the two ways in which Congress could pressure administration officials to respond to subpoenas: criminal contempt citations or civil enforcement.” Those actions end up in court and that creates delays. “And with Barr as AG, what are the chances that DOJ will act to enforce the subpoenas?” With absolute executive branch control, there are no checks and only imbalances. Our democracy is on the block.

A unified Congress, in particularly the Senate, as it did in the Watergate hearings, could act to restrain Trump’s autocracy. But that would require cooperation from Senate Republicans. Unfortunately, they are self-sidelined by their own selfish interests (such as tax cuts for the already wealthy) and their Trumpian philosophy (authoritarianism). It is as if we lived in a monarchy in which the king buys his legitimacy by showering largesse upon the nobles. Our country is closer to that kind of government and society than most people believe.

Steve Benen (MSNBC/MaddowBlog asks Following the Mueller report, why are Dems the only ones ‘wrestling’?

The headline on the front page of the New York Times yesterday read, “Divided on Impeachment, Democrats Wrestle with Duty and Politics.” The article that followed highlighted a contentious and pressing issue that the House majority is struggling with.

But reading the Times’ piece nevertheless got me thinking about the reports we haven’t seen since the release of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report. The newspaper is right that Democrats are “wrestling with duty and politics,” but that only raises a question that’s gone largely overlooked:

Why aren’t Republicans “wrestling with duty and politics,” too?

… Trump’s Republican allies seem quite content, indifferent to the special counsel’s revelations, and incurious about their president’s alleged felonies.

As Ezra Klein put it last week, “It’s a sign of the rot in our political system that all conversation about holding the president accountable takes the form of discussing ‘What Democrats should do,’ because Republicans have utterly abdicated their oversight role.”

We’re not seeing “Republicans Wrestle with Duty and Politics” headlines because there are certain assumptions that undergird our contemporary political norms. One of them is that GOP officials – leaders and rank-and-file members – aren’t struggling with the evidence of presidential wrongdoing because they simply don’t care what the evidence says.

But that’s not a posture that deserves broad acceptance without controversy. Yes, Democrats are grappling with a divisive debate, and sure, that’s newsworthy. But the GOP’s indifference to a historic scandal is controversy unto itself.

It gets worse (with h/t’s for citations to several sources by AZ BlueMeanie).

It’s worse than Republican indifference, as Paul Waldman (Washington Post/PlumLine) reports in No bottom: Republicans show they’ll defend just about anything Trump does.

There’s a pattern that President Trump has followed many times when accused of wrongdoing. First, deny it. Then, when irrefutable proof emerges that you did it and your denials were lies, insist that there was nothing wrong with it in the first place. That’s how he handled the story of his hush-money payments to Stormy Daniels, the fact that he was pursuing a deal to build a tower in Moscow while running for president (“There would have been nothing wrong if I did do it”), and his campaign’s attempt to get damaging information on Hillary Clinton from a Russian lawyer (“totally legal and done all the time in politics”).

We’re seeing it anew. On Sunday, Rudolph W. Giuliani went on television and insisted: “There’s nothing wrong with taking information from Russians." This was in a context where that “information” was the result of an organized attack allegedly by Russian intelligence agents that included hacking into Democratic email systems.

That’s right: The president’s lawyer just issued an invitation to any foreign adversary — Russia, China, Iran, North Korea, the Islamic State, anyone — that if they decide that one American presidential candidate would be more favorable to their interests, they should go ahead and hack, spy or use whatever other kind of means they want to employ to sway the election, and their efforts will be welcomed.

That alone is shocking and despicable. But it’s just one part of a larger Republican argument, one that says not that Trump did some unfortunate things but nothing that would justify prosecution or impeachment, but instead that he is completely blameless because there is no such thing as unethical conduct if committed by Trump.

Remember my opener? This is the divine right of kings all over again. But here Trump’s exercises his divine right with the acceptance and approval of the members of his royal chamber - Republicans and evangelists to name two.

Waldman repeats:

Republicans … aren’t arguing that Trump’s behavior was reprehensible but doesn’t rise to the level of impeachment. Instead, their position is that Trump didn’t do a single thing wrong.

Perhaps nowhere was the rapid transformation more evident than among white conservative evangelicals, who at one time persuaded everyone to refer to them as “values voters,” as though they were the only ones in possession of “values” while everyone else just has opinions. Their enthusiastic embrace of the most amoral president in modern history has proved how laughable that appellation always was, which is why no one uses it anymore. Three years after rushing to his side, they have shown that if you can convince yourself that God’s will is being worked through Trump, no sin is too repulsive to excuse and no abuse of power too blatant to justify.

This is the logical and perhaps inevitable endpoint of the decision they made in 2016. Republicans chose as their leader the single most loathsome figure in American public life, a man possessed of not a single human virtue. He would inevitably call them to descend to the moral void where he resides. And when they did — enthusiastically — they showed us not just who he is, but who they are as well.

The AZ BlueMeanie asks How do we excise the cancer that is the Party of Trump? There’s lots more in that post for example, Paul Krugman’s essay The Great Republican Abdication. A party that no longer believes in American values.

… it’s later than you think for American democracy. Before 2016 you could have wondered whether Republicans would, in extremis, be willing to take a stand in defense of freedom and rule of law. At this point, however, they’ve already taken that test, and failed with flying colors.

The simple fact is that one of our two major parties — the one that likes to wrap itself in the flag — no longer believes in American values. And it’s very much up in the air whether America as we know it will survive.

The BlueMeanie concludes:

The Party of Trump represents somewhere between 36–42% of the American public. They walk among us. They are our co-workers, neighbors, and even family members. The authoritarian personality cult of Donald Trump is a cancer in the body politic that directly threatens the survival of our great American experiment in democracy.

Remove Donald Trump, and his cult followers will simply reassign their cult loyalty to whomever emerges as his successor. (Trump likely dreams of a Trump dynasty, keeping it within the Trump crime family. Sorry Mike Pence). His cult followers are not going to magically transform into becoming “normal Republicans” from our past after Trump is gone as some Never-Trumpers delude themselves. There is no going back to the Party of Lincoln when Never-Trumpers have failed to establish a viable alternative political party to appeal to disaffected former Republicans.

So the question we need to ask ourselves is “How do we excise the cancer that is the Party of Trump?” I don’t yet have an answer to this question. And neither does anyone else, it appears.

But let’s give Hillary Clinton a chance. She offers observations and advice in Mueller documented a serious crime against all Americans. Here’s how to respond.

Our election was corrupted, our democracy assaulted, our sovereignty and security violated. This is the definitive conclusion of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s report. It documents a serious crime against the American people.

The debate about how to respond to Russia’s “sweeping and systematic” attack — and how to hold President Trump accountable for obstructing the investigation and possibly breaking the law — has been reduced to a false choice: immediate impeachment or nothing. History suggests there’s a better way to think about the choices ahead.

Obviously, this is personal for me, and some may say I’m not the right messenger. But my perspective is not just that of a former candidate and target of the Russian plot. I am also a former senator and secretary of state who served during much of Vladi­mir Putin’s ascent, sat across the table from him and knows firsthand that he seeks to weaken our country.

I am also someone who, by a strange twist of fate, was a young staff attorney on the House Judiciary Committee’s Watergate impeachment inquiry in 1974, as well as first lady during the impeachment process that began in 1998. And I was a senator for New York after 9/11, when Congress had to respond to an attack on our country. Each of these experiences offers important lessons for how we should proceed today.

To get to the meat of her arguments, yo should read her op-ed in entirety. I’ll provide an outline of her lessons here.

  • First, like in any time our nation is threatened, we have to remember that this is bigger than politics. What our country needs now is clear-eyed patriotism, not reflexive partisanship. Whether they like it or not, Republicans in Congress share the constitutional responsibility to protect the country. …
  • Second, Congress should hold substantive hearings that build on the Mueller report and fill in its gaps, not jump straight to an up-or-down vote on impeachment. …
  • Third, Congress can’t forget that the issue today is not just the president’s possible obstruction of justice — it’s also our national security. After 9/11, Congress established an independent, bipartisan commission to recommend steps that would help guard against future attacks. We need a similar commission today to help protect our elections. This is necessary because the president of the United States has proved himself unwilling to defend our nation from a clear and present danger. …
  • Fourth, while House Democrats pursue these efforts, they also should stay focused on the sensible agenda that voters demanded in the midterms, from protecting health care to investing in infrastructure. …
  • We have to get this right. The Mueller report isn’t just a reckoning about our recent history; it’s also a warning about the future.

Clinton concludes:

Of all the lessons from our history, the one that’s most important may be that each of us has a vital role to play as citizens. A crime was committed against all Americans, and all Americans should demand action and accountability. Our founders envisioned the danger we face today and designed a system to meet it. Now it’s up to us to prove the wisdom of our Constitution, the resilience of our democracy and the strength of our nation.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

What Trump does not want to hear will cost the nation its election integrity

And that damage to our security is the price of his vanity.

Now I am no great fan of former Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen but she does deserve credit for trying to do the right thing. However, that credit is qualified. Point #1: It would have been far better for the nation had she succeeded in marshaling top level support for our cyber defenses against election tampering. Point #2: I think she should have broken this story herself.

In Push for 2020 Election Security, Top Official Was Warned: Don’t Tell Trump reports the NY Times.

In the months before Kirstjen Nielsen was forced to resign, she tried to focus the White House on one of her highest priorities as homeland security secretary: preparing for new and different Russian forms of interference in the 2020 election.

President Trump’s chief of staff told her not to bring it up in front of the president.

Ms. Nielsen left the Department of Homeland Security early this month after a tumultuous 16-month tenure and tensions with the White House. Officials said she had become increasingly concerned about Russia’s continued activity in the United States during and after the 2018 midterm elections — ranging from its search for new techniques to divide Americans using social media, to experiments by hackers, to rerouting internet traffic and infiltrating power grids.

But in a meeting this year, Mick Mulvaney, the White House chief of staff, made it clear that Mr. Trump still equated any public discussion of malign Russian election activity with questions about the legitimacy of his victory. According to one senior administration official, Mr. Mulvaney said it “wasn’t a great subject and should be kept below his level.”

Even though the Department of Homeland Security has primary responsibility for civilian cyberdefense, Ms. Nielsen eventually gave up on her effort to organize a White House meeting of cabinet secretaries to coordinate a strategy to protect next year’s elections.

While American intelligence agencies have warned of the dangers of new influence campaigns penetrating the 2020 elections, Mr. Trump and those closest to him have maintained that the effects of Russia’s interference in 2016 was overblown.

“You look at what Russia did — you know, buying some Facebook ads to try to sow dissent and do it — and it’s a terrible thing,” Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, said on Tuesday during an interview at the Time 100 Summit in New York.

“But I think the investigations, and all of the speculation that’s happened for the last two years, has had a much harsher impact on our democracy than a couple of Facebook ads,” he said.

What does one do in the face of such incredible stupidity? Such mendacity? Trump has gotten a wall of sorts: A White House barricaded against national security interests. The result is clear.

… cyberthreats have taken a back seat among security priorities at the White House.

Mr. Trump’s national security adviser, John R. Bolton, eliminated the position of cybersecurity coordinator at the White House last year, leaving junior aides to deal with the issue. In January, Ms. Nielsen fumed when 45 percent of her cyberdefense work force was furloughed during the government shutdown.

White House Counsel Don McGahn disobeyed Trump, now expected to testify in public

Tump claims exoneration: false! The Mueller report concluded “… 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, we are unable to reach that judgment. Accordingly, while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”

Trump said “Nobody disobeys my orders.”: Also false! At the very top of the list of those aides and cabinet members disobeying Trump’s orders is “White House counsel Donald McGahn who declined to tell Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein to fire Mueller.”

McGahn was asked by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) to testify in public session on May 21. Expect fireworks.

Jennifer Rubin (Washington Post) thinks that McGahn’s testimony should rock Trumpland.

Both with regard to basic facts (aides disobeying orders) and with major conclusions (Mueller says he would have cleared Trump of obstruction if he could, but he can’t because there is plenty of evidence), some truth-telling is badly needed.

McGahn, in particular, can offer a powerful rebuttal to Trump’s delusional assertions. He both disregarded Trump’s order and reportedly sat with Mueller for 30 hours providing, we can surmise, detailed information for the obstruction section. The good news is that McGahn will get his chance.

On Monday, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) released a written statement, which announced: “Following the scheduled testimony of Attorney General William Barr on May 2, 2019 and the expected testimony of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, which we have requested, the Committee has now asked for documents from Mr. McGahn by May 7, and to hear from him in public on May 21.” Nadler explained, “Mr. McGahn is a critical witness to many of the alleged instances of obstruction of justice and other misconduct described in the Mueller report. His testimony will help shed further light on the President’s attacks on the rule of law, and his attempts to cover up those actions by lying to the American people and requesting others do the same.”

Nadler added, “The Special Counsel and his team made clear that based on their investigation, they were unable to ‘reach [the] judgment … that the President clearly did not commit obstruction of justice.’ As a co-equal branch of government, Congress has a constitutional obligation to hold the President accountable, and the planned hearings will be an important part of that process.”

McGahn, next to Mueller, may do more to puncture Trump’s web of lies than any witness. Trump has reason to panic that his bogus narrative is about to explode.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Trump's finances subject of suit against House Oversight Committee Chair

It’s worth remembering that any time Trump World acts like it has something to hide, it probably does. So, as Steve Benen (MSNBC/MaddowBlog) reports, To keep financial records secret, Trump sues key House Democrat.

Last week, as part of the congressional investigation into Donald Trump’s controversial finances, House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) issued a subpoena to Mazars USA, directing the firm to turn over the president’s financial records. Almost immediately, the president’s new lawyers – hired to keep Trump’s finances secret – sent a letter to Mazars USA, insisting that the firm ignore that federal subpoena.

Today, Trump and the Trump Organization took this one step further.

Lawyers for President Donald Trump and the Trump Organization are suing House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings to block a subpoena for years of financial records from accounting firm Mazars USA.

The lawyers filed the lawsuit Monday in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, saying the subpoena “lacks any legitimate legislative purpose, is an abuse of power, and is just another example of overreach by the president’s political opponents.”

To the extent that reality matters, the House Oversight Committee recently heard testimony from Michael Cohen, the president’s former personal attorney and fixer, who altered lawmakers to a series of alleged financial misdeeds committed by Donald Trump.

Lawmakers are also aware of credible allegations of criminal fraud, criminal tax evasion, and money laundering, which the American president exploited to fuel his rise to power.

In other words, the idea that Cummings’ request for information “lacks any legitimate legislative purpose” seems a little silly: the Oversight Committee, which has an expansive purview, is obviously following up on evidence of suspected wrongdoing.

Indeed, it seems this new lawsuit does little except make clear that the president and his team are desperate to keep his financial records, including his tax returns, secret.

And as a rule, when Trump World acts as if it has something to hide, it’s because Trump World has something to hide.

The new litigation, which asks a federal court to block compliance with Cummings’ subpoena, is online in its entirety here (pdf).

"investigations of any matter

The President’s legal team emphasizes two areas of complaint, one legal and one political. First, they argue that without a specific piece of legislation at stake, the House committee has overstepped its authority. Second, they charge that the House Oversight Committee, and specifically its chair, Elijah Cummings, has issued the subpoenas for purely partisan political reasons.

With respect to the first point they argue on pp. 2–3:

Chairman Cummings has ignored the constitutional limits on Congress’ power to investigate. Article I of the Constitution does not contain an “Investigations Clause” or an “Oversight Clause.” It gives Congress the power to enact certain legislation. Accordingly, investigations are legitimate only insofar as they further some legitimate legislative purpose. No investigation can be an end in itself. And Congress cannot use investigations to exercise powers that the Constitution assigns to the executive or judicial branch.

And, on p. 6, they pronounce “… when a subpoena is issued by a single committee, any legislative purpose is not legitimate unless it falls within that committee’s jurisdiction.”

However, Article I, Section 5, of the Constitution states that “Each House [of Congress] may determine the Rules of its Proceedings …”

The Committee on Oversight and Reform is the main investigative committee in the U.S. House of Representatives. It has authority to investigate the subjects within the Committee’s legislative jurisdiction as well as “any matter” within the jurisdiction of the other standing House Committees.

… House Rule X, clause 4(c)(2), provides that the Committee “may at any time conduct investigations of any matter without regard to clause 1, 2, 3, or this clause [of House Rule X] conferring jurisdiction over the matter to another standing committee.”

Thus, on my reading, a legislative end is not required to motivate investigations by the House Oversight and Reform Committee (but see below). Neither is the Oversight Committee prohibited from investigating matters in the jurisdiction of another committee (again, see below).

With respect to the second point in the President’s suit the plaintiffs argue, and I quote:

  • “Its goal is to expose Plaintiffs’ private financial information for the sake of exposure, with the hope that it will turn up something that Democrats can use as a political tool against the President now and in the 2020 election.”
  • Beginning on p. 6, they list numerous quotes in evidence of “House Democrats’ Campaign of Abusive Investigations.”
  • For example, on p. 9, “The Mazars subpoena is based on one of the worst examples of the House Democrats’ zeal to attack President Trump under the guise of investigations: Michael Cohen’s testimony to the House Oversight Committee on February 27, 2019. The Cohen hearing was a partisan stunt …”

That reads like a complaint that all this happens in a political environment - a charge that seems unlikely to advance a legal case.

However, and relevant to both of the two points examined above, Talking Points Memo notes that:

In a separate probe involving Trump’s tax returns, [Trump’s attorney] Consovoy accused House Ways and Means Committee Chair Richard Neal (D-MA) of intruding into the President’s private affairs as part of a political witch hunt. In that case, Neal tied the request to Congress’ responsibility to oversee the IRS. The request was linked to the Democrats’ marquee anti-corruption legislation known as H.R. 1, which includes a provision demanding that all presidential and vice-presidential candidates disclose at least ten years of their returns.

So: I think the President’s suit is without merit. But I am open to correction on these matters by those with relevant legal expertise. Write to me at wsmaki@gmail.com.

UPDATE

Steve Benen has additional comments on the viability of the suit in Trump lawsuit hopes to limit the scope of congressional oversight.

… the Washington Post highlighted an interesting tidbit from the lawsuit, which I’d overlooked after initially reading the filing.

In Trump’s lawsuit, his attorneys cited a Supreme Court decision called Kilbourn v. Thompson, which found “no express power” in the Constitution for Congress to investigate individuals without pending legislation.

The problem with that argument, said University of Baltimore law professor Charles Tiefer, is that Kilbourn v. Thompson is a case from 1880.

And it was overruled by a decision in 1927, Tiefer said.

“By reaching back to precedent to the 1880s, they’re seeking … to overturn the entire modern case law that the courts have put together to respect Congress’s investigative power,” Tiefer added, referring to Trump’s lawyers. “It’s a very long shot…. These suits look like an act of desperation by the Trump lawyers.”

It’s obviously embarrassing that the president’s new legal team didn’t realize it was citing a Supreme Court case that was overturned nearly a century ago, …

Dubious legal citations

In his April 23rd Subscriber’s post email, Judd Legum (popular.info) also comments on the Trump team’s legal logic - or lack thereof. (Emphasis added.)

The primary case cited by Trump’s lawyer, William Consovoy, is called Eastland v. U.S. Servicemen’s Fund. But in Eastland, the Supreme Court confirmed Congress’ broad authority to conduct oversight as it sees fit.

In that case, the court found that a Congressional subpoena to determine if a private organization was “undermining the morale of the Armed Forces” was in the “within the legitimate legislative sphere.” The case “oozes” with “deference to Congress” about the proper scope of an oversight investigation. The court found that the “purposes behind the subpoena didn’t matter.”

Consovoy also cites the 1880 Supreme Court case of Kilbourn v. Thompson. That case was overruled in 1927 and “has not been followed for the last 90 years.”

Trump’s lawsuit appears to be less about winning and more about signaling the administration will fight “tooth and nail to resist House Democrats’ efforts at oversight, tie them up in court, and even try to run the clock.”

So it turns out that the two cases presented by Trump’s attorney in support of the suit actually work against the suit.

Benen concludes that the suit “raises anew questions about what it is Trump and his team are so desperate to hide.”

A prize bigger than impeachment starts with Trump twisting slowly in the wind

Joe Lockhart, White House press secretary from 1998 to 2000, asks us to see that There’s a Bigger Prize Than Impeachment. He says “Keeping Trump in office will destroy the Republican Party.” Following are snippets from the NY Times article. (h/t Sherry Moreau)

President Trump should be impeached because he is unfit for the presidency. He represents a clear and present danger to our national security. We didn’t need Robert Mueller’s report for that. But if Newt Gingrich taught us anything, impeaching the president is likely to be bad politics.

For Democrats, leaving Donald Trump in office is not only good politics — it is the best chance for fundamental realignment of American politics in more than a generation. Mr. Trump is three years into destroying what we know as the Republican Party. Another two years just might finish it off. Trumpism has become Republicanism, and that spells electoral doom for the party.

Mr. Trump has abandoned most of the core principles that have defined Republicans for the past century. Free trade abandoned for protectionism. Challenging our adversaries and promoting democracy replaced by coddling Russia and cozying up to dictators near and far. Fiscal conservatism replaced by reckless spending and exploding deficits.

What’s left of the party is a rigid adherence to tax cuts, a social agenda that repels most younger Americans and rampant xenophobia and race-based politics that regularly interfere with the basic functioning of the federal government.

I fully understand the historical imperative of holding the president accountable for his behavior. I also share the sentiment of so many Americans who want to punish him for what he’s done to the country. But I believe there is something bigger at stake.

Allowing Mr. Trump to lead the Republican Party, filled with sycophants and weak-willed leaders, into the next election is the greater prize. Democrats have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to realign American politics along progressive lines, very much like Ronald Reagan did for Republicans in the 1980s.

Trumpism equals Republicanism as long as Donald Trump is at the top of the ticket. And a real shift to progressivism in America will be delivered by a devastating rebuke of the president and his party, a rebuke that will return control of the Senate and state houses across the nation. Politics is always a gamble — and this is the best bet we’ve had in a long time.

We Dems must play the long game. In the short term, impeaching Trump would be morally satisfying to many of us. However, we might be able to achieve that end, not by impeachment (after which the GOPlins in the Senate would not vote to convict), but by censure which does not require senate approval. (See my post Censure as a viable alternative to impeachment of the president.) Censure would put us on record as disapproving of and condemning Trump and Trumpism. But Trump would remain on the ballot thus inviting an even greater condemnation by the nation.

And envision what Trump will face with strong resistance from the House and the disapproval of the American people.

To borrow some advice from Words of Watergate as they apply to Trump: “Well, I think we ought to let him hang there,” Ehrlichman told Dean. “Let him twist slowly, twist slowly in the wind.”

'Nobody disobeys my orders' blares Trump. That's one more falsehood from the man who would be king.

538’s significant digits email reports on Trump’s assertion that “Nobody disobeys my orders.” That’s an amazing piece of autocracy. It doesn’t matter, really, that it’s false (and it is). It is a reflection of a monarch with an out-sized ego out of touch with the realities of his kingly court.

The GOPlins in Congress who support Trump need to wake up. The founding fathers fought a revolutionary war because they resisted rule by a capricious king. But who got elected in 2016 shows capricious kingly tendencies and the nation is paying for that repeat of history.

15 instances
“Nobody disobeys my orders,” President Trump claimed Monday at the White House Easter Egg Roll. However, The Washington Post tallied 15 instances documented in the Mueller report of aides disobeying the president. They include disobedience on the parts of Trump’s White House counsel, campaign manager, chief of staff, defense secretary, staff secretary, deputy attorney general, deputy national security adviser, director of national intelligence and chief economic adviser. [The Washington Post]

In that Post article, Aaron Blake reports on yet one more false claim by the President: Trump says ‘nobody disobeys my orders.’ Here are 15 recorded instances of exactly that. The complete list of 15 follows.

–1. White House counsel Donald McGahn: Declined to tell Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein to fire Mueller.
–2. Former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski: Declined to apply pressure on Attorney General Jeff Sessions to limit the scope of the Russia probe.
–3. Deputy Chief of Staff Rick Dearborn: Declined to give Sessions a typed note Lewandowski gave him relaying the president’s message.
–4. Staff secretary Rob Porter: Declined Trump’s request to ask the No. 3-ranking official at the Justice Department, Rachel Brand, whether she wanted to be attorney general and take oversight of the Russia probe.
–5. Transition team leader Chris Christie: Declined to call FBI Director James B. Comey and tell him that Trump liked him.
–6. Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein: Declined to do a news conference after Comey’s firing saying it was his idea.
–7. Deputy national security adviser K.T. McFarland: Declined to write an internal email stating Trump hadn’t told national security adviser Michael Flynn to talk during the presidential transition to the Russian ambassador about sanctions.
–8. Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats: Declined Trump’s request to say there was no link between the Trump campaign and Russia.
–9. Acting Attorney General Dana Boente: According to McGahn, Boente declined Trump’s request to state publicly that Trump wasn’t under investigation. (Boente said he didn’t recall this conversation.)
–10. Chief of Staff Reince Priebus: Declined to get Sessions to resign.
–11. Chief economic adviser Gary Cohn: Along with Porter, prevented Trump from pulling out of trade deals by pulling papers off his desk.
–12. Chief of Staff John F. Kelly: Along with Cohn, declined to lobby the Justice Department to prevent the AT&T-Time Warner merger.
–13. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis: Declined Trump’s request to assassinate Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
–14. Mattis: Declined Trump’s request to provide military options for Iran.
–15. Unnamed officials: Ignored Trump’s directive to not endorse an agreement reached at the G–7 Summit.

Turning up the heat on Trump's obstructive conduct

Judd Legum (popular.info) makes the case for the obstruction charge. The evidence is far stronger than what Barr announced in his “summary” of the Mueller report.

Mueller’s overwhelming evidence on obstruction

In his March 24 letter summarizing the Mueller report, Attorney General Bill Barr states that, on the obstruction issue, “for each of the relevant actions investigated, the report sets out evidence on both sides of the question.” Now that we can read most of the report, it’s clear this is not accurate.

The report looks at a variety of obstructive conduct and evaluates them against the three basic elements for an obstruction charge:

–1. Was there an obstructive act?
–2. Was there a nexus to an ongoing official proceeding?
–3. Was there “corrupt” intent?

In at least 4 cases, Mueller reviews conduct that meets all three elements for obstruction of justice and provides no substantial exculpatory evidence. Mueller’s analysis was helpfully summarized by Quinta Jurecic, the managing editor of Lawfare blog.

Jurecic provides a “heat map” showing the coincidence of the basic elements - or lack of it - for each of several instances of alleged obstruction. In it, below, you want to look for rows showing three red squares

Lawfare1
Lawfare2

Legum provides an example.

… the report examined various efforts Trump undertook to remove Mueller as special counsel, including ordering former White House Counsel Don McGahn to have Mueller removed.

On Saturday, June 17, 2017, the President called McGahn and directed him to have the Special Counsel removed. McGahn was at home and the President was at Camp David. In interviews with this Office, McGahn recalled that the President called him at home twice and on both occasions directed him to call Rosenstein and say that Mueller had conflicts that precluded him from serving as Special Counsel.

The report lays out evidence that Trump’s actions were:

–1. Obstructive. (“[T]he attempt to remove the Special Counsel would qualify as an obstructive act if it would naturally obstruct the investigation and any grand jury proceedings that might flow from the inquiry. Even if the removal of the lead prosecutor would not prevent the investigation from continuing under a new appointee, a factfinder would need to consider whether the act had the potential to delay further action in the investigation, chill the actions of any replacement Special Counsel, or otherwise impede the investigation.”)

–2. Connected to an ongoing inquiry. (“Substantial evidence indicates that by June 17, 2017, the President knew his conduct was under investigation by a federal prosecutor who could present any evidence of federal crimes to a grand jury.”)

–3. Corrupt. (“There also is evidence that the President knew that he should not have made those calls to McGahn. The President made the calls to McGahn after McGahn had specifically told the President that the White House Counsel’s Office – and McGahn himself – could not be involved in pressing conflicts claims and that the President should consult with his personal counsel if he wished to raise conflicts.”)

This goes on for hundreds of pages and numerous examples. It is an exhaustive, overwhelming case based on mountains of evidence and the testimony of Trump’s closest aides.

Jurecic’s analyses of the four cases in which the three basic elements coincide follow the break. Each is labeled with the row letter from the chart above.

These cases go beyond merely “no exoneration.” On my reading, they are proven charges of obstruction of justice by the President.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Unsafe at any speed - Boeing 737 Max, Barr's redactions, Trump's tweets

Miller time
It's Miller time in the White House

Here are the rest of themes, schemes, memes, and falemes in this edition of the Illustrated Gnus (aka cartoons from AZ Blue Meanie at Blog for Arizona).

  • Miller ascendant: send the immigrants to sanctuary cities on Boeing’s 737 Max’s.
  • Which of these former presidents would be OK with the president’s behavior described in the Mueller report? (A) Lincoln, (B) Washington, (C) Eisenhower, (D) Bush, (E) Obama, (F) Clinton, (Z) None of the above?
  • Trump is shopping for a new MAGA after Barr’s rewrite of the Mueller report.. Candidates might include My Attorney General Always and Make Allegations Go Away.
  • “When they can’t indict a sitting president, they let you do it.” Remember that one about grabbing? I’ll spare you the graphic but if you really want it, here’s the link.
  • Fitz: Trump lists his exemptions, including the law and accountability.
  • Trump: no to Ihlan Omar, yes to Yemen war.
  • The things that took centuries to build now threatened: Notre Dame, Santa Rita Mountains, Rule of Law, Presidential Norms, American Democracy.
  • New Yorker satirist Andy Borowitz reports that Sarah Huckabee Sanders Accuses Media of Anti-Liar Bias.

WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)—Reacting to the journalist April Ryan’s call for her to be fired, the White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, said, on Friday, that she has been the victim of the media’s “widespread anti-liar bias.”

“From their obsession with fact-checking to their relentless attacks on falsehoods, the media have made no secret of their bias,” Sanders said. “It’s open season on liars in America.”

“This is media hypocrisy at its very worst,” she added. “The same journalists who advocate freedom of speech want to take that freedom away from anyone whose speech consists entirely of lies.”

“This is nothing more or less than a direct attack on the lying life style,” she said. “You take away my right to lie and you take away my ability to earn a living.”

Kellyanne Conway, the White House senior counsellor, spoke out in support of Sanders, telling reporters, “An attack on one liar is an attack on all liars.”

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Censure as a viable alternative to impeachment of the president

Washington Post columnist Karen Tumulty thinks that Impeachment would be a terrible thing for our country. and explains that “We have another option.”

President Trump should not be impeached. It would be a terrible thing for the country.

This is not because he doesn’t deserve it. The long-awaited report by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III has provided a devastating inside look at Trump’s White House, where he has created a culture of recklessness and deceit.

More than two years of admirably accurate investigative reporting on the part of the media — the same accounts that the president so often labeled “fake news” — gave the country a basic outline of how this presidency operates.

But the sworn testimony that Mueller compiled from insiders revealed that Trump has created, as my colleagues Philip Rucker and Robert Costa wrote, “an atmosphere of chaos, dishonesty and malfeasance at the top echelons of government not seen since the [Richard M.] Nixon administration.”

[snip]

[One reason she says:] Even a successful impeachment by the House would come screeching to a halt in the Republican-controlled Senate, where chances of the constitutionally mandated two-thirds vote it would take to convict are virtually zero. …

[snip]

As I’ve traveled with a number of the Democratic candidates in the early states, I have been struck by how infrequently the subject of the Mueller investigation has come up. The crowds are large and enthusiastic, eager for the contest to get underway, but seem far more interested in hearing about issues such as health care, jobs and the environment, which have a more direct impact on their own lives.

This is the debate that needs to happen — and that would be smothered if the election becomes a referendum on impeachment.

Nor would this missed opportunity be the only danger.

One of the features of Clinton’s character, both a flaw and a survival skill, was his ability to “compartmentalize” — to attend to the business of his presidency even as it was teetering on oblivion. That is one reason his job approval reached its highest point in the Gallup poll — 73 percent — the same week the House voted to impeach him in 1998. (It is also worth noting that the Republicans lost five House seats in the midterm elections that year, largely in punishment for an overreach that nearly cost them their majority.)

What we have seen from Trump is the opposite, both in his public behavior and the behind-the-scenes accounts in the Mueller report; under pressure, he becomes more erratic and reckless, prone to pushing legal boundaries and making policy pronouncements by tweet.

That the president did not succeed in his efforts to obstruct Mueller’s investigation, the special counsel wrote, was “largely because the persons who surrounded the President declined to carry out orders or accede to his requests.” But there are fewer and fewer of those non-sycophants around him.

None of this is to argue that Trump should not be held accountable for his actions, or that Congress — which has a constitutional duty to provide oversight of the executive — should do nothing in the wake of Mueller’s devastating report.

But there is another option: Either house, could, with a majority vote, formally censure Trump, something that has not happened to any chief executive since the Senate censured Andrew Jackson in 1834.

While this would be dismissed in some quarters as merely a symbolic act, it would be a historic rebuke of the Trump presidency — and would, properly, leave it to the voters to decide whether they have had enough of it.

A primer on the history and use of Censure

One pont I want to make here is that censure (aka condemnation or denouncement) is not just symbolic. In the rare cases where it has been applied as a punishment meted out by Congressional peers, there have been real and severe consequences to the target member of Congress - resignation, loss of re-election, and even death while in office.

Censure is attractive because it is not bound by the same constitutional shackles as is impeachment. As long as the GOPlins control the Senate, there is no chance that the Senate would vote to convict. I admit there is a small chance that the Senate would vote to censure the president, but the House can do it on its own; all it needs is a simple majority vote by its own members.

Imagine, 10 or 20 “whereas” statements in a censure document which basically lists the main findings of the Mueller report followed by “Be it therefore resolved that the House of Representatives censures the President of the United States.”

Here are some things you might want to know about censure.

Censure is a formal, and public, group condemnation of an individual, often a group member, whose actions run counter to the group’s acceptable standards for individual behavior. In the United States, governmental censure is done when a body’s members wish to publicly reprimand the President of the United States, a member of Congress, a judge or a cabinet member. It is a formal statement of disapproval. (Emphasis added.)

As you might expect, censure (and related actions like condemnation or denouncement) is very rare and is a very big deal with real political consequences.

For example, the only president to be censured was Andrew Jackson.

US Senate

In the US Senate, there have been only five instances in the last 100 years. These I pulled from the Senate records, presented with light editing and added emphasis.

November 4, 1929: Hiram Bingham (R-CT). Hired member of industrial group to assist with tariff legislation. “Condemned” for conduct tending “to bring the Senate into dishonor and disrepute.” Defeated for reelection.

December 2, 1954: Joseph R. McCarthy (R-WI). Charged with abuse and non-cooperation with the Subcommittee on Privileges and Elections during a 1952 investigation of his conduct; for abuse of the Select Committee to Study Censure. He was “condemned.” Died in office.

June 23, 1967: Thomas J. Dodd (D-CT). Use of his office (1961–1965) to convert campaign funds to his personal benefit. Conduct unbecoming a senator. Censured. Defeated for reelection.

October 11, 1979: Herman E. Talmadge (D-GA). Improper financial conduct (1973–1978), accepting reimbursements of $43,435.83 for official expenses not incurred, and improper reporting of campaign receipts and expenditures. His conduct was “denounced” as reprehensible and tending to bring the Senate into dishonor and disrepute. Defeated for reelection.

July 25, 1990: David F. Durenberger (R-MN). Unethical conduct “in connection with his arrangement with Piranha Press, his failure to report receipt of travel expenses in connection with his Piranha Press and Boston area appearances, his structuring of real estate transactions and receipt of Senate reimbursements in connection with his stays in his Minneapolis condominium, his pattern of prohibited communications respecting the condominium, his repeated acceptance of prohibited gifts of limousine service for personal purposes, and the conversion of a campaign contribution to his personal use.” “Denounced” for reprehensible conduct, bringing the Senate into dishonor and disrepute. Did not run for reelection.

All these actions by the Senate were passed with a strong majority with bipartisan support. In the most recent case, for example, the vote was 96–0.

Historical digression: (also from Wiki). Hiram Bingham III was an American academic, explorer and politician. He made public the existence of the Inca citadel of Machu Picchu in 1911 with the guidance of local indigenous farmers. Later, Bingham served as a member of the United States Senate for the state of Connecticut.

US House of Representatives

Also, in the House, there have been only six censures in the last 100 years (from Wiki).

1921 Thomas L. Blanton, Democratic Texas, Unparliamentary language 1979 Charles Diggs, Democratic Michigan, Payroll fraud, mail fraud 1980 Charles H. Wilson, Democratic California, Improper use of campaign funds 1983 Daniel B. Crane, Republican Illinois, Sexual misconduct with House page 1983 Gerry Studds, Democratic Massachusetts, Sexual misconduct with House page 2010 Charles B. Rangel, Democratic New York, Improper solicitation of funds, inaccurate financial disclosure statements, failure to pay taxes.

The House’s use of “reprimand”

Unlike the Senate, the House voted in 1976 in favor of a lesser action, the “reprimand.” Even so, there have been just five such actions in the last 20 years.

1990 Barney Frank, Democratic Massachusetts, Use of office to fix parking tickets on friend’s behalf 1995 Bob Dornan, Republican California, Criticism of President Bill Clinton as having “gave aid and comfort to the enemy” during the Vietnam war in a floor speech 1997 Newt Gingrich, Republican Georgia, Use of tax-exempt organization for political purposes; provided false information to House Ethics Committee 2009 Joe Wilson, Republican South Carolina, Outburst towards President Barack Obama during a speech to a joint session of Congress[5][6] 2012 Laura Richardson, Democratic California, Use of congressional office staff in 2010 election campaign

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Trump toadies trumpet 'exoneration.' They lie.

For quite some time I have been saying that the real story of the 2016 election of Donald Trump is not Trump but those who voted for him and (here I add) their representatives in DC. See my November 2017 post, More on the psychology of Trump voters - why nothing shakes their faith. Even earlier, before the election in August 2016, I posted Donald Trump’s next con: Dumping Democracy. There I concluded:

Trump’s lies gain credence partly because of the conference of referential validity - they get repeated constantly in the media and thereby become more firmly believed by Trump’s supporters. The minds of those supporters have been prepared by decades of conservative propaganda created and promoted by the leadership of the Republican party. Trump is a symptom or symbol of that stream of unconsciousness. The real story I continue to claim is not Trump but what he represents - a large proportion of the electorate which is prepared to believe his lies and who seem immune to rational thought. They will still be here after Trump, hopefully, is dumped. They will still vote for the Republican candidates who deliver them nothing but robbery to pay for tax cuts for the rich.

Nevertheless, even some of Trump’s detractors miss that crucial point. Instead, they treat Trump as a cause rather than, probably, an effect of a more fundamental rot afflicting conservative politics. For example, George Conway (husband of Trump counselor and mouthpiece KellyAnne Conway) wrote that Trump is a cancer on the presidency. Congress should remove him. Is Trump a bad guy? Sure. Should Congress remove him? Maybe. (There are valid arguments on both sides of that one. For example, see my post on how The founding fathers designed impeachment for a man without virtue.)

But in order to really understand what went wrong in 2016 we need to examine what’s missing in Conway’s op-ed, namely Trump’s slavish supporters and the GOPlins in DC.

Here is a fact. The Mueller report concluded that Obstruction of justice conclusion - maybe no crime, but certainly no exoneration. Quoting from Volume 2, page 182:

Because we determined not to make a traditional prosecutorial judgement, we did not draw ultimate conclusions about the President’s conduct. The evidence we obtained about the President’s actions and intent presents difficult issues that would need to be resolved if we were making a traditional prosecutorial judgement. At the same time, 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, we are unable to reach that judgment. Accordingly, while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him. (Emphasis added.)

Given Trump’s narcissism and his habitual, pathological lying, we should not be surprised that Trump claimed “total exoneration” even in the face of the Mueller conclusion above. (See, for example, CNN’s report From ‘total exoneration’ to ‘total bullsh**’: Trump lingers on damning report.) But what about those in Congress who are supporting Trump and his lies?

The AZ Blue Meanie has a longish post that squares with my view that Trump is not the rot but rather a symbol and symptom of it: Donald Trump is but a manifestation of the cancer within the GOP. In it, BlueMeanie exposes our Arizona politicians in the House and Senate for their support for Trump’s “total exoneration” lie citing an AZCentral report, Arizona politicians react to Mueller report. Edited excerpts follow.

As usual, Sen. Martha McSally, R-Ariz. took a middle ground. She “praised Attorney General Bill Barr in a tweet and said it is clear that Russia had worked to interfere with the election. With the release of the redacted report, McSally wrote it was time for the country to move on.”

From Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz: “Today, we once again can confirm that there is STILL no obstruction and STILL no collusion.”

Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., wrote: “No collusion. No charges for obstruction."

Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Ariz., said “Despite Democrats’ repeated attempts to claim otherwise, the report confirms there was no collusion or obstruction by President Trump or members of his campaign.”

AZBlueMeanie sums it up nicely adding historical context.

None of these craven cowards will do what Republican Senator Barry Goldwater did during Watergate:

Sen. Barry Goldwater, Ariz., the 1964 GOP presidential nominee, was a respected conservative leader in a Senate whose Republican ranks were less conservative than now. On Aug. 6, 1974, at the regular Senate Republican Conference lunch, Goldwater fumed: “There are only so many lies you can take, and now there has been one too many. Nixon should get his ass out of the White House — today!”

Goldwater called William Timmons, a White House aide, to set up a meeting. He told Timmons he wanted to tell the president that many GOP senators wanted him to resign. [He would tell Nixon what he thought – that he himself would now vote for conviction.]

Nixon agreed to see Goldwater on the following day. But he insisted that the top GOP congressional leaders accompany him. So Goldwater arrived with Sen. Hugh Scott, Pa., the minority leader, while Scott’s House counterpart, Rep. John Rhodes, Ariz., came separately.

“There’s not more than 15 senators for you,” Goldwater said. Nixon asked the pipe-smoking Scott for his views. “I think 12 to 15,” said Scott, who had once had defended Nixon on the basis of a doctored Watergate transcript that had been shown to him privately.

In a May 1973 interview with Time magazine’s Hays Gorey, Goldwater said, “If it can be proved that he lied, resignation would have to be considered. It would be quick. Everything would be over, ended. It wouldn’t drag out like impeachment.”

Where is this Republican Party today? As Steve Schmidt counsels, “[T]he party of Trump must be obliterated. Annihilated. Destroyed. And all of the collaborators, the complicit enablers, the school of cowards, need to go down” if the great American experiment in democracy is to survive.

Friday, April 19, 2019

The founding fathers designed impeachment for a man without virtue

The first part of this post is a summary of key takeaway points from the Mueller report. Then I turn to the question of whether Trump should be impeached.

The Mueller Report Is 448 Pages Long. You Need to Know These 7 Key Things by Matt Apuzzo and Adam Goldman of the NY Times. I’m going to make it even shorter by selecting examples supporting those key things.

The special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, produced a report of more than 400 pages that painted a deeply unflattering picture of President Trump but stopped short of accusing him of criminal wrongdoing. Here are seven takeaways.

(1) Trump did try to sabotage the investigation. His staff defied him.

When Attorney General Jeff Sessions told Mr. Trump that a special counsel had been appointed in May 2017, Mr. Trump grew angry: “I’m fucked,” he said, believing his presidency was ruined. He told Mr. Sessions, “This is the worst thing that ever happened to me.”

Mr. Trump began trying to get rid of Mr. Mueller, only to be thwarted by his staff. In instance after instance, his staff acted as a bulwark against Mr. Trump’s most destructive impulses. In June 2017, the president instructed Donald F. McGahn II, the White House counsel, to remove Mr. Mueller, but Mr. McGahn resisted. Rather than carry out the president’s order, he decided he would rather resign.

(2) So many lies. So many changed stories.

One of the unanswered questions of the past two years — which helped fuel the F.B.I. investigation, congressional inquiries and journalistic scrutiny — is why so many people lied, changed their stories and issued misleading statements to both the public and federal authorities.

The report recaps one false statement after another. …

(3) Fake news? Not so much.

The president has spent the past two years denouncing the news media. He has repeatedly accused reporters of making up sources to destroy his presidency. The report, though, shows not only that some of the most unflattering stories about Mr. Trump were accurate, but also that White House officials knew that was the case even as they heaped criticism on journalists.

(4) No obstruction? Not so fast.

Mr. Trump was quick to declare the report a total vindication.

But federal authorities went out of their way not to exonerate Mr. Trump.

Here I depart from the NY Times and present the text of the report’s conclusion from p. 182 of volume 2.

Because we determined not to make a traditional prosecutorial judgement, we did not draw ultimate conclusions about the President’s conduct. The evidence we obtained about the President’s actions and intent presents difficult issues that would need to be resolved if we were making a traditional prosecutorial judgement. At the same time, 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, we are unable to reach that judgment. Accordingly, while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.

(5) Evading an F.B.I. interview proved a successful strategy.

Mr. Trump repeatedly said he was eager to sit for an interview with Mr. Mueller’s team, despite his lawyers’ insistence that doing so would be a terrible idea.

The report makes clear why his lawyers were so worried about it. Mr. Mueller had a huge cache of unanswered questions, misleading and conflicting statements, and unexplained actions with which to confront the president. Sitting for an interview, the report makes clear, would have exposed Mr. Trump to far more problems.

(6) No conclusive evidence of conspiracy, but lots of reason to investigate.

Mr. Mueller makes explicit what Mr. Trump has repeatedly cast doubt on: Russia secretly manipulated the 2016 presidential election.

The investigation ultimately found no evidence that anyone from Mr. Trump’s campaign participated in that effort, but the report reveals in stark detail the many suspicious interactions that had the F.B.I. so worried. Many of those have been reported, but the report amounts to a compendium that helps explain the origins of the F.B.I. investigation, known as “Crossfire Hurricane.”

(7) Imagine reading this report cold.

Prosecutors describe a president who was preoccupied with ending a federal investigation, a White House that repeatedly told misleading and changing stories, and a presidential campaign that was in repeated contact with Russian officials for reasons that are not always clear.

Even though prosecutors concluded that didn’t amount to provably criminal conduct, the report is astounding in its sweep. Yet it is also a reminder of how much the public has learned over the past two years about Mr. Trump’s conduct.

If the American public or members of Congress were learning these things for the first time, the political fallout would normally be devastating. The consequences of the report remain to be seen, but if people are not surprised or shocked by the revelations, then Mr. Trump may have benefited by the steady drip of news stories he has so loudly criticized.

A damning portrait of a crooked president.

You don’t have to commit a crime, in the strictly legal sense, to be a crook, in the moral sense.

So, Mueller paints a damning portrait of the president is the summary by AP Washington Bureau Chief Julie Pace in this morning’s Daily Star. In brief:

To Donald Trump, the start of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation looked alarmingly like the end of his presidency. So he tried to stop it.

His months-long effort pushed the boundaries of presidential powers and the law, revealing a commander in chief consumed by self-interest and intent on having his top lieutenants lie or obfuscate on his behalf.

The fact that many refused to do so may have helped save Trump from being charged with obstructing justice.

Arguments for and against impeachment

Spoiler alert: I am not going to answer that for you. If you’ve gotten this far, I hope that you will agree that Trump deserves to be impeached and removed from office. It’s the right thing for Congress to do. However, there is a practical political counter argument. There is no real chance that the Republican Senators would do anything except vote for themselves and their party. So Trump would benefit from that selfish support. So should he be impeached?

Yes: Impeachment should be a no-brainer, no matter what the Mueller report says argues Jeffrey Engel (director of Southern Methodist University’s Center for Presidential History and co-author of “Impeachment: An American History.”). Engel says “Trump has none of the traits the founders thought essential for presidents.” Here are just a few snippets that Engel presents in support.

The Constitution’s authors wouldn’t have needed any summary of the special counsel’s report to know it was time to impeach the president. Neither would they have waited to see whether its full text provided evidence of criminal wrongdoing. The group that created our nation’s founding document would already have judged Donald Trump unfit for office — and removed him — because he’s repeatedly shown a dearth of the quality they considered paramount in a president: a willingness to put national interest above his own.

[A] willingness to put country before self is why [George] Washington’s presence lent legitimacy to the controversial convention, why delegates immediately voted him the presiding chair and why they ultimately designed the presidency with him in mind. Put simply, they trusted him and knew he would put America first.

Not every president would. “The first man put at the helm will be a good one,” Pennsylvania’s Benjamin Franklin assured the convention, probably nodding in Washington’s direction as he spoke. “Nobody knows what sort may come afterwards.”

So delegates designed a mechanism for removing a dangerous president, one who did what Washington never would: impeachment for “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.”

That pesky phrase, “high crimes and misdemeanors” has befuddled Americans ever since. It shouldn’t. The Constitution’s authors understood that impeachable treachery need not, in fact, be a literal crime at all, but rather a demonstration that a president’s presence harmed the body politic, the people, either through maliciousness or selfishness.

That the [Mount Vernon] property is not called the Washington Plantation is all you need to know about our nation’s first president. If today’s leaders wish to hold fast to the ideals of the Founding Fathers, to genuinely “protect and defend the Constitution,” as they have all sworn, they would do well to practice a bit of virtue, too, and do their duty to remove a selfish man from its highest post, no matter the personal or political cost. The men who chose Washington would have. Mount Vernon’s owner would have, too.

No: Moving to impeach Trump would only make him stronger argues Scott Martelle of the Los Angeles Times in this morning’s Daily Star.

As we all devour the two-volume, 448-page redacted Mueller report, we’d do well to keep in mind a political reality. In a more stable and responsible political climate, impeachment proceedings would have begun months ago when it became abundantly clear that President Trump was trying to influence the investigation into himself, his inner circle and his campaign.

That was an unmistakable attempt to abuse power to try to protect the president’s own interests, and it should not have been tolerated.

But we don’t live in that environment. And as damning as the report is, particularly the details about Trump’s willingness to accept the benefits of Russian hacking of emails and his efforts to obstruct special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, moving to impeach Trump now would only make him stronger.

Why? … Because the best and surest way to hold him accountable over his efforts to obstruct justice is to oust him in 2020. And Trump’s likely survival of an impeachment trial — Senate Republicans have made it clear they’re happy to give him cover for just about anything for the sake of the party — would give him a gift.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Obstruction of justice conclusion - maybe no crime, but certainly no exoneration

Following is the conclusion about obstruction of justice from the Mueller report, Volume 2, p. 182. (I obtained the entire file as a download from NBC News.)

IV. Conclusion

Because we determined not to make a traditional prosecutorial judgement, we did not draw ultimate conclusions about the President’s conduct. The evidence we obtained about the President’s actions and intent presents difficult issues that would need to be resolved if we were making a traditional prosecutorial judgement. At the same time, 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, we are unable to reach that judgment. Accordingly, while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.

I hand-copied the foregoing from the report because the PDF file provided by DOJ to the press and public is not selectable, not copiable, and not searchable.

AG colludes with WH about Mueller report

collusion noun
col·​lu·​sion | \ kə-ˈlü-zhən <br>
Definition of collusion
secret agreement or cooperation especially for an illegal or deceitful purpose
// acting in collusion with the enemy
(From Merriam Webster dictionary)

In the confirmation hearing for Attorney General, William Barr dodged the question of whether the Mueller report had been seen by Trump and/or White House personnel. Now, from this report by the NY Times, we know the answer. White House and Justice Dept. Officials Discussed Mueller Report Before Release.

Not all of Robert S. Mueller III’s findings will be news to President Trump when they are released Thursday.

Justice Department officials have had numerous conversations with White House lawyers about the conclusions made by Mr. Mueller, the special counsel, in recent days, according to people with knowledge of the discussions. The talks have aided the president’s legal team as it prepares a rebuttal to the report and strategizes for the coming public war over its findings.

A sense of paranoia is taking hold among some of Mr. Trump’s aides, some of whom fear his backlash more than the findings themselves, the people said. The report might make clear which of Mr. Trump’s current and former advisers spoke to the special counsel, how much they said and how much damage they did to the president — providing a kind of road map for retaliation.

The discussions between Justice Department officials and White House lawyers have also added to questions about the propriety of the decisions by Attorney General William P. Barr since he received Mr. Mueller’s findings late last month.

Mr. Barr and his deputy, Rod J. Rosenstein, determined that Mr. Trump did not illegally obstruct justice and said the special counsel found no conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia’s 2016 election interference. Mr. Barr told lawmakers that officials were “spying” on the Trump campaign, raised ominous historical parallels with the illegal surveillance of Vietnam War protesters and pointedly declined to rebut charges that Mr. Mueller’s investigators were engaged in a “witch hunt.”

Spokespeople for the White House and the Justice Department declined to comment. Mr. Barr, who plans to hold a news conference at 9:30 a.m. Thursday to discuss the special counsel’s report, refused to answer questions from lawmakers last week about whether the department had given the White House a preview of Mr. Mueller’s findings.

The Justice Department has not said when the report will be released. Lawmakers are expected to receive the report by midday, Representative Jerrold Nadler, Democrat of New York and the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said on Twitter.

Much is at stake for Mr. Barr in Thursday’s expected release, especially if the report presents a far more damning portrayal of the president’s behavior — and of his campaign’s dealings with Russians — than the attorney general indicated in the four-page letter he wrote in March. That letter generated anger among some members of Mr. Mueller’s team, who believed it failed to adequately portray the findings of their inquiry and have told associates that the report was more troubling for Mr. Trump than Mr. Barr indicated.

Justice Department rules do not require Mr. Barr to make the special counsel’s report public, and the attorney general’s defenders say he will fulfill pledges of transparency he made during his confirmation hearings to make as much of the document public as possible. Even a redacted report is likely to answer some of the outstanding questions about Russia’s attempts to sabotage the election; contacts between Kremlin intermediaries and the Trump campaign; and the president’s efforts to derail the investigation.

So, the Mueller report will trickle out in different versions but all of them will have Barr’s thumb prints on them - unless Congress prevails and gets the whole thing. And remember that Barr has a record of doing this kind of obfuscation - saying one thing about a report that says a totally different thing.

By the time you get this in your morning email, Barr will have made more pronouncements about a report that no one else, other than the White House, has seen.

Those contacts between Barr and the White House fits my understanding of collusion.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Hypocritical GOPlins like to get tax returns - just not those from Trump

They Say It’s Bad Now But Republicans Disclosed Private Tax Returns In 2014 reported the Huffington Post, saying They used the very same law to attack Obama officials that Democrats are hoping will shed light on Trump’s finances.

(h/t Daily Kos for Funny, Republicans used the Same 1924 Law a few years ago – AND Got the Tax Returns)

hypocrisy noun
hy·​poc·​ri·​sy | \ hi-ˈpä-krə-sē also hī- <br> plural hypocrisies
Definition of hypocrisy
1 : a feigning to be what one is not or to believe what one does not : behavior that contradicts what one claims to believe or feel
(From the Merriam Webster dictionary)

The GOP is guilty of multiple hypocrisies committed by multiple hypocrites, those who will say one thing and do the opposite of what they say (answers.com). Here is the evidence from Huff Post about the latest Republican hypocrisy - the dual standard for applying the law on release of tax returns.

“as wrong as it gets”

The Trump administration and its defenders in Congress argue that Democrats are breaking the rules in seeking the president’s private tax information.

“We should not be in a situation where individual private tax returns are used for political purposes,” Jay Sekulow, one of President Donald Trump’s private attorneys, said Sunday on ABC News’ “This Week with George Stephanopoulos.”

“When you have people in the Congress who, for political reasons, are trying to get access to someone’s tax returns, that’s as wrong as it gets,” Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) said Friday on C-SPAN.

Accusing Democrats of having “political” ― as opposed to legitimate oversight ― reasons for wanting to see Trump’s tax returns is the GOP’s main talking point these days.

And as talking points go, it’s an awkward one. Republicans themselves used private tax returns for political purposes just a few years ago, and they used the very same law that Democrats are now relying on to request the last six years of Trump’s tax returns.

Back in 2013, Republicans thought the Internal Revenue Service under President Barack Obama was mistreating conservative groups that wanted to be recognized as tax-exempt nonprofits. So they asked the IRS to hand over tax information for conservative groups such as Crossroads GPS as well as a few liberal groups such as Priorities USA.

Congress has the power to ask for copies of anyone’s tax return thanks to a 1924 law enacted as a check on corruption in the executive branch.

In 2014, after getting the documents on the groups they requested, plus tax info relating to several dozen other organizations, Republicans on the House Ways and Means Committee made it all public. They believed it showed that an IRS official named Lois Lerner had unfairly plotted to deny tax-exempt status to Crossroads GPS and other conservative groups. The committee included the documents as an attachment to a letter asking the Justice Department to prosecute Lerner. During a closed-door hearing, the committee’s Republicans voted to make the letter public.

The Justice Department declined to prosecute Lerner, and it ultimately turned out that the IRS had improperly picked on both conservative and liberal organizations.

It’s true that lawmakers have to have a legitimate purpose for obtaining and disclosing private tax information, according to George Yin, a tax professor at the University of Virginia School of Law. But in 2014, Republicans themselves “failed to satisfy this almost trivial, commonsense restriction,” Yin argued in a 2016 paper, which said that most of the private information the committee published was irrelevant to the claims against Lerner. By contrast, Yin wrote in a 2017 commentary, using the law to look at Trump’s returns in order to expose possible conflicts of interest is exactly what the law’s authors intended.

Trump is the first modern president not to divest from his businesses upon taking office and not to disclose a single year of tax information, which could reveal details about his income and how much tax he pays.

During a Ways and Means oversight hearing in February, Republicans invited Ken Kies, who formerly served as tax counsel for the committee, to testify about the law that gives Congress access to tax returns. Kies warned Democrats that according to his reading of the statute, disclosing private tax information ― even if it has been obtained through a legitimate request ― may be a felony punishable by up to five years in prison.

(See my previous post on sections of the U. S. code, U. S. tax code - produce Trump’s tax returns or go to jail.)

When Democrats asked Kies if Republicans had broken the law in 2014, he said they “absolutely” had.

Democrats have said they won’t rush to publicize any information they receive from the Treasury Department. The Trump administration, for its part, has hinted that it will not obey the law and will instead argue in court that Democrats don’t have a legitimate reason to get at the president’s private tax information.

In light of Republicans’ past tax disclosures, Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.) said Friday that the privacy defense is “pretty hypocritical.”