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.”

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

The best predictor of AG Barr's behavior toward the Mueller report is Barr's past behavior

As we await the release of the redacted Mueller report, Mrs. Scriber, alerted me to the danger of trusting Barr to do the right thing. So I consulted some of my usual sources. Here’s a short version of what I found.

Trump and the GOP are chittering “no collusion”, “no obstruction”, “exoneration.” But all that is unwarranted in the absence of the Barr report (ok, Barr’s version of the Mueller report). And when it comes down on this Thursday, it might put a damper on the chitters. Then again it may not given Barr’s history.

Steve Benen (MSNBC/Maddow Blog) reports that Barr’s credibility faces new questions ahead of Mueller report’s release. Benen asks “there’s a question that lingers over the debate: why exactly are so many so quick to take Barr’s assessment at face value?”

The president’s allied attorney general has faced a series of legitimate questions about his credibility, stemming from years of controversies, his unsolicited memo criticizing the Mueller investigation, and more recently, his willingness to endorse a Trump conspiracy theory.

Yesterday, a new area of concern came to light. NYU law professor Ryan Goodman wrote at Just Security (Barr’s Playbook: He Misled Congress When Omitting Parts of Justice Dep’t Memo in 1989):

On Friday the thirteenth October 1989, by happenstance the same day as the “Black Friday” market crash, news leaked of a legal memo authored by William Barr. He was then serving as head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC). It is highly uncommon for any OLC memo to make headlines. This one did because it was issued in “unusual secrecy” and concluded that the FBI could forcibly abduct people in other countries without the consent of the foreign state. The headline also noted the implication of the legal opinion at that moment in time. It appeared to pave the way for abducting Panama’s leader, Gen. Manuel Noriega.

Members of Congress asked to see the full legal opinion. Barr refused, but said he would provide an account that “summarizes the principal conclusions.” Sound familiar?

Goodman’s piece is worth reading in its entirety, but to briefly summarize, Barr wrote a summary of an important document for lawmakers, and a few years later, it became obvious that his account omitted key conclusions from the original document.

In effect, Barr took a major legal report, used his discretion to remove relevant portions, and told lawmakers what he wanted them to know.

Three decades later, Barr has the Mueller report, which he’s already been accused of mischaracterizing for political reasons, and we’re waiting for his office to complete a redaction process before sharing the findings with the public.

Maybe the history is irrelevant. Maybe the attorney general will handle this in a perfectly responsible manner, the redactions will be minor and defensible, and the questions about his independence and credibility will be answered in a satisfying way.

But given the circumstances, it’s difficult to blame skeptics for having doubts.

I am one of those skeptics. You might recognize this old saying in psychology: the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. Benen’s report makes it clear that we should view Barr’s version of the Mueller report in the context of Barr’s past, and bad, behaviors.

The Arizona Blue Meanie (Blog for Arizona) provides more details about Barr’s past saying that William “coverup” Barr has a history of covering up illegal acts by Republican presidents.

A history of cover-ups? And we should trust Barr because …?

Jungle Justice - poacher killed by elephant and eaten by lions

A brief in Time magazine alerted Mrs. Scriber to this story. I’m using the CNN version, Suspected rhino poacher is killed by an elephant and then eaten by lions in South Africa.

Only a skull and a pair of trousers remained after a suspected rhino poacher was killed by an elephant and then eaten by lions in Kruger National Park, South African National Parks said.

The incident happened after the man entered the park Monday with four others to target rhinos, according to a parks service statement.

An elephant “suddenly” attacked the alleged poacher, killing him, and “his accomplices claimed to have carried his body to the road so that passersby could find it in the morning. They then vanished from the Park,” police said.

His family were notified of his death late Tuesday by his fellow poachers, and a search party set out to recover the body. Rangers scoured on foot and police flew over the area, but because of failing light it could not be found.

The search resumed Thursday morning and, with the help of added field rangers, police discovered what was left of his body.

Police say they arrested three men and seized guns following the alleged poacher’s death.

“Indications found at the scene suggested that a pride of lions had devoured the remains leaving only a human skull and a pair of pants,” the statement said.

Glenn Phillips, the managing executive of Kruger National Park, extended his condolences to the man’s family.

OK, I understand that economic circumstances drive poaching at all levels - from the guys who get rich selling rhino horns to Asians who believe stupid sh!t about rhino horns to the poachers on the ground doing it to feed their families. That said, I’m going off the rails and be politically incorrect for a few words. Here’s the score framed in The Law of the Jungle. Elephants 1, Lions 1, Rhinos 100s, Poacher zip, zero, nada. This guy knew exactly what he was doing was illegal. Add to the score list from Scriber: Sympathy zero.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Monday was indeed a day for mourning as the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris burned

Early yesterday afternoon (April 15) we started getting news flashes saying that one of the world’s great landmarks, Notre Dame in Paris, had caught fire, that its iconic spire had collapsed, and that, for a brief time, the fire fighters were not sure they could contain the fire - that is, save the rest of the structure (the twin towers). The good news is that they did contain the fire. Here’s part of the story in a few photos from the NY Times.

Notre Dame before the April 15 fire
Notre Dame before the April 15 fire.
Notre Dame interior
Interior of Notre Dame before the April 15 fire.
Spire burns
Notre Dame spire burns, collapses.
Notre Dame towers
Twin towers threatened but saved.
This was a heart-breaking event not only for Parisians but also for people around the world. The NY Times reported on the reactions to the fire in Fire at Notre-Dame Cathedral Leads to Expressions of Heartbreak Across the World.

A sense of loss pervaded the reactions, especially for the works of art and historical artifacts inside the cathedral. Built over two centuries and completed in 1345, it contained relics, priceless stained-glass rose windows and other prizes of France’s long Catholic history. It survived the French Revolution and two world wars. And now a fire, burning in the course of a spring afternoon, had left the cathedral’s admirers around the world stunned.

Mournday has us Mourning after the toons shed light on Trump does not want you to know

Nielsen loses soul
Kirstjen Nielsen loses her daemon

In the novel The Golden Compass and movie of the same name, people’s souls were manifest in dæmons who took the shape of other animals. For the young female lead, “Lyra’s dæmon was Pantalaimon, sometimes called Pan, whose final form took the shape of a male pine marten.”

A dæmon /ˈdiːmən/ was the physical manifestation of a human soul in Lyra’s world. Humans in other worlds had dæmons. However, they were invisible to those who had not learned the technique to see them.

Dæmons were able to hold different intuitions to their humans and reveal emotional responses to their surroundings that might not otherwise be obvious in their humans. Dæmons shared the same dreams as their humans and could communicate both verbally and non-verbally with them.

So getting separated from your dæmon was a very big deal. Those who would separate children from their families must have been separated from their dæmons - or else must have very nasty dæmons (as did Mrs. Coulter played by Nicole Kidman). Sad.

Check out this FanDom entry for more about The Golden Compass.

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).

  • The toonists this morning predict Nielsen will have some problems finding a job for which cruelty is not a prerequisite.
  • Speaking of dæmons, might Trump’s dæmon be Stephen Miller?
  • When it comes to discriminating against people of color, like father, like son.
  • What Barr says: “everybody gets to see the Mueller report.” What Barr means: “nobody gets to see the Mueller report.”
  • What Barr means by “redaction”: concealment.
  • Riddle: How many people does it take to redact shred a 400 page document?
  • The Munchkin at Treasury redefines “shall” to “maybe, might, or perhaps”.
  • What AOC says: “I’m fighting for your right to health care.” What Trump’s masses hear: “radical extremist peddles socialism.”
  • Images of black holes: Trump’s mouth. AntiVaxxer’s brains. Tax cuts for billionaires. American incarceration costs.
  • Next year’s form 1040R.
1040 revised

'Jobs, jobs, jobs' by the numbers - no credit for Trump

Trump is a habitual cherry-picker when it comes to taking credit or blame. If things are going well, he gloms onto the credit; if things are going badly, it’s always someone else’s fault. Employment is a case in point.

Here are State unemployment rates over the last 10 years, seasonally adjusted from the Buereau for Labor Statistics. I pulled the table into Excel, averaged over months per year per state and then averaged over states to get overall rates per year for the whole country.
Year Rate
2009 8.73
2010 8.89
2011 8.31
2012 7.51
2013 6.91
2014 5.94
2015 5.17
2016 4.81
2017 4.31
2018 3.91
From 2010 on, there is an almost perfect linear relation showing consistently lower rates, year by year. That trend includes Trump’s two years in office (2017 and 2018). So, on this analysis, there is nothing special about Trump’s economic policies that cannot be explained by a long-term economic trend begun during the Obama administration - no matter what Trump says.

Speaking of “jobs, jobs, jobs”, Professor Aaron Sojourner tweeted this interesting graph.

Jobs, jobs,jobs
Trump takes credit for Obama economics
It shows the number of jobs being added each year. Not surprisingly, given that job growth is inversely related to declining unemployment, the same kind of linear trend describes these data. The interesting thing is what Trump said/says about job growth. He was critical of employment stats during the Obama years, but then, once in office, he took credit for all of it. Those observations are based on the annotations on the graph. Observe how little Trump had to say about the economy during the Obama administration. Compare that to the explosion of comments about jobs during the two years of Trump.

Taken together, the employment statistics are a product of processes begun during the Obama years. Trump, the habitual liar, deserves no credit at all for any of it.

What is hiding in Trump's tax returns

The Tucson Daily Star featured this AP report on the ongoing battle over release of Trump’s tax returns: House Democrat, treasury chief bicker over Trump tax returns (in the print version titled “Key House Dem on Trump Taxes: Comply or else”.

WASHINGTON (AP) — A top House Democrat on Saturday ratcheted up his demand for access to President Donald Trump’s tax returns, telling the IRS that the law clearly gives Congress a right to them. The government’s failure to respond by an April 23 deadline could send the dispute into federal court.

Trump’s treasury chief, who oversees the IRS, cited “complicated legal issues” and bemoaned “an arbitrary deadline” set by Congress, while saying he would answer in that time frame

“no” means no

Trump has repeatedly rejected disclosure of his returns because they are “under audit.” Let’s do some fact checking. From the same Daily Star feature:

During the campaign, Trump said he wanted to release his returns but said because he was under a routine audit, “I can’t.” Being under audit is no legal bar to anyone releasing his or her returns. And after the November midterm elections, Trump claimed at a news conference that the filings were too complex for people to understand.

Asked repeatedly at a House hearing Tuesday whether any regulation prohibited a taxpayer from disclosing returns when under audit, [IRS Commissioner Charles] Rettig responded “no.”

While we’re at it, “shall” means shall

[Ways and Means Chair Richard] Neal, D-Mass., argues that a 1920-era law saying the IRS “shall furnish” any tax return requested by Congress “is unambiguous and raises no complicated legal issues” and that the Treasury Department’s objections lack merit.

The biggest question now, in my mind, is not whether IRS “shall” report those returns to Congress, but rather what is in those returns that Trump, via Treasury Secretary Mnuchin, is trying desperately to hide.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

U. S. tax code - produce Trump's tax returns or go to jail

Trump plays a deadly game of “tag, you’re it” - politically speaking.

Republican strategist Rick Wilson wrote “Everything Trump Touches Dies.” Here’s the review from Amazon.com:

Everything Trump Touches Dies: A Republican Strategist Gets Real About the Worst President Ever by Rick Wilson: Conversation Starters Rick Wilson uses his dark humor and biting analysis to examine the absurdity of American politics under Trump’s administration. The author exposes the damage Trump has done to the country, to the conservative movement, and to the Republican Party. Wilson also alerts his own party of the political disaster that leaves all the people involved with Trump with destroyed lives and reputations and sheds light on the parties responsible of giving him power. “Everything Trump Touches Dies” is a New York Times Bestseller. Ana Marie Cox from With Friends like These said about Rick Wilson that he has a wicked sense of humor and a charmingly perverse way of puncturing inflated egos.

So what does all that have to do with Trump’s tax returns? David Cay Johnston explains why some of those in Trump’s orbit have been tagged by Trump - and who have a lot to lose. (h/t AZ Blue Meanie) Here’s the Law That Requires Mnuchin to Turn Over Trump’s Taxes, or Lose His Office and Go to Prison. The law is clear, and it leaves no wiggle room. The consequences for breaking it include removal from public office and up to five years in prison.

Under Section 6103 of our tax code, Treasury officials “shall” turn over the tax returns “upon written request” of the chair of either congressional tax committee or the federal employee who runs Congress’s Joint Committee on Taxation. No request has ever been refused, a host of former congressional tax aides tell me.

There are no qualifiers in Section 6103 that shield Trump from delivering, in confidence, his tax returns to Congress. No wiggle room at all.

That you already know from previous posts here and in other news reports and blogs. Here’s what is new.

There is, however, a law requiring every federal “employee” who touches the tax system to do their duty or be removed from office.

The crystal-clear language of this law applies to Trump, acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, Mnuchin and Rettig, federal employees all.

The law says all of them “shall” be removed from office if they fail to comply with the request from Representative Richard Neal, the Massachusetts Democrat who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee.

Another provision in our tax code, Section 7214(a), provides that “Any officer or employee of the United States acting in connection with any revenue law of the United States… who with intent to defeat the application of any provision of this title fails to perform any of the duties of his office or employment… shall be dismissed from office or discharged from employment and, upon conviction thereof, shall be fined not more than $10,000, or imprisoned not more than 5 years or both.”

All these guys, “acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, Mnuchin and Rettig, federal employees all” and perhaps others are stuck. They cannot be courtiers loyal to Trump and also be assured of no jail time. Stay tuned.

Friday, April 12, 2019

When it comes to reporting Trump's tax returns to Congress, Treasury Secretary does not understand 'shall'

This was posted yesterday (April 12, 9:05 AM). The timing of this post is not critical given the prospect of an epic battle between the President and Congress.

In brief: (1) The Chairman of the House Committee on Ways and Means, wrote to the Treasury Secretary asking for several years of Trump’s tax returns. (2) The Secretary declined. That puts the Secretary against the law.

From the Merriam-Webster dictionary:

shall verb
\ shəl, ˈshal <br> Definition of shall
auxiliary verb
2b —used in laws, regulations, or directives to express what is mandatory

From the U. S. Code:

26 U.S. Code § 6103. Confidentiality and disclosure of returns and return information
(f) Disclosure to Committees of Congress
(1) Committee on Ways and Means, Committee on Finance, and Joint Committee on Taxation
Upon written request from the chairman of the Committee on Ways and Means of the House of Representatives, the chairman of the Committee on Finance of the Senate, or the chairman of the Joint Committee on Taxation, the Secretary shall furnish such committee with any return or return information specified in such request, except that any return or return information which can be associated with, or otherwise identify, directly or indirectly, a particular taxpayer shall be furnished to such committee only when sitting in closed executive session unless such taxpayer otherwise consents in writing to such disclosure. [emphasis added]

So, shall means shall. Secretary Mnuchin has no choice under the law. Actually, he does have a choice: to obey or to disobey. Apparently, according to the NY Times’ report, he chooses the latter.

Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, said in a letter to Representative Richard E. Neal, the Democratic chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, that the Treasury Department’s lawyers needed more time to assess the lawfulness of the request and expressed concern that it would be a violation of taxpayer privacy.

Mr. Mnuchin did not say how much time the review would take but conveyed concerns about whether Congress has authority to review the records.

That’s B. S. Congress has the authority. See above section from the U. S. Code. By proceeding in this way, Mnuchin risks jail time.

The Arizona Blue Meanie, as always, takes us through the above statute and the rest of the applicable law: Treasury Defies Law to Deny House Request for Trump’s Tax Returns.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

New Zealand bans automatic and semi-automatic weapons. Here's why the U. S. will not do the same.

Here’s an update on New Zealand’s response to the mass shooting a month ago from 538’s significant digits email.

119 to 1
The New Zealand parliament voted 119 to 1 to ban most automatic and semi-automatic weapons. The vote came less than a month after 50 people were killed in attacks on two mosques in Christchurch. The lone no vote came from the sole member of the libertarian ACT party. [Associated Press]

New Zealand MPs overwhelmingly back post-Christchurch gun ban. Snippets from the featured report follow.

New Zealand’s parliament has voted to ban military-style weapons, less than a month after 50 people were killed and dozens wounded in mass shootings at two mosques in the city of Christchurch.

A bill outlawing most automatic and semi-automatic weapons, and components that modify existing weapons, was passed by a vote of 119 to 1 in the House of Representatives after an accelerated process of debate and public submission.

The bill needs the approval of New Zealand’s governor general, a formality, before becoming law on Friday.

The prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, spoke emotionally during the bill’s final reading, telling of the traumatic injuries to the victims of the attacks on 15 March, whom she had visited in hospital.

Ardern, who has received international praise for her compassion and leadership since the shootings, was able to win rare bipartisan support for the bill, which makes it illegal to own a military-style semi-automatic rifle. …

The law includes a buyback scheme under which the owners of outlawed weapons can surrender them to police in return for compensation based on the weapon’s age and condition. Anyone who retains such a weapon after the bill passes into law faces a penalty of up to five years in prison. There are some exemptions, including for heirloom weapons held by collectors or for professional pest control.

Ardern said lawmakers had a responsibility to act on behalf of the victims. “We are ultimately here because 50 people died and they do not have a voice,” she said. “We in this house are their voice. Today we can use that voice wisely.

“We are here just 26 days after the most devastating terrorist attacks created the darkest of days in New Zealand’s history We are here as an almost entirely united parliament. There have been very few occasions when I have seen parliament come together in this way and I cannot imagine circumstances where that is more necessary than it is now.”

Ardern said there had been some opposition from firearms owners, but that the response to the proposed legislation had been overwhelmingly positive. “My question here is simple. You either believe that here in New Zealand these weapons have a place or you do not. If you believe, like us, that they do not, you should be able to believe we can move swiftly. An argument about process is an argument to do nothing,” she said.

And back here at home? Back in the USA? What have we done? We give our feeble and futile “thoughts and prayers” to our own victims of mass shootings. We, as a society, apparently believe that such weapons “have a place”. We keep recycling an “argument about process” and in the end we “do nothing.”

The Washington Post explains the politics behind why we “do nothing” in New Zealand just banned military-style firearms. Here’s why the U.S. can’t.. The causes range from the undue influence of the NRA to the disproportionate representation of rural states in the Senate. The Post concludes:

"The gun lobby has been very influential in convincing people the [Second Amendment prohibits any] form of gun control, which affects the politics over even modest measures,” said [Daniel] Webster [,director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research].

As a result, the United States is likely to remain an outlier on gun reform.

Whereas New Zealand’s prime minister was able to say, “Our gun laws will change,” without having to fear her government would fall apart, the response after the next U.S. mass shooting will continue to be: Our gun laws won’t change, but we can definitely offer thoughts and prayers.

Our inaction speaks volumes about American values. We value our guns more than the lives of our children. Shame on us.