Yesterday the House of Representatives voted to authorize the rules to continue an impeachment inquiry into the actions of the President of the United States with respect to Ukraine. It is a sober moment for our nation and it should be a reason for each of us to pause and to think about the ramifications of this action.
Contrary to what some have publicly stated, this was not a vote to impeach. The vote pertained to the conduct of the public fact gathering portion of the proceeding. Should the House decide that the president did in fact conduct himself in a manner contrary to the Constitution, they will draft Articles of Impeachment. The entire House then votes to approve or disapprove each of the Articles. Should one or more Article pass, the Senate then holds a trial, presided over by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and votes to convict or acquit the president on each Article.
So far, the majority of Republicans in the House have made a mockery of the proceedings. At the direction of the president, they are spreading lies and misinformation about the investigation. This included storming a classified conference room to “expose” the “secret” proceedings. Not mentioned is that over 40 Republican Congressmen already had access to those proceedings and indeed participated in them to the fullest extent. Yesterday, they went to the House floor to decry the inquiry as akin to secret trials held in the Soviet Union. It is shameful and dishonest behavior on their part.
Now reports indicate that Mr. Trump will monetarily support the election campaigns of Senators that promise to vote against any Articles of Impeachment. He will withhold supporting funds from those that do not. We used to call this bribery.
The Impeachment Inquiry rules incorporate everything that the Republicans asked for with public hearings. Everything. And the rules approved yesterday afford the president more leeway and ability to participate than either set of hearings involving President Nixon or President Clinton.
The process should be fair and open. But here’s the deal. We all already know the basics of what happened. The president, his Acting Chief of Staff, and his personal attorney have all been on television telling us exactly what happened. A long parade of career diplomats and military officers followed with contextual information that indicates just how wide-spread and long-planned the effort to extort the Ukrainian government actually was. It was an old-fashioned shake down. The president wanted “dirt” on his main political rival and to have the Ukrainian government fuel a conspiracy theory that the Russians did not really interfere in the 2016 election. Rather, it was a set up by the Democrats to undermine Mr. Trump’s campaign run from, wait for it, Ukraine. Both conspiracy theories have been long ago debunked by our entire intelligence service and by several of Mr. Trump’s own political appointees.
In exchange for made-up information fabricated by Mr. Trump and his henchmen, the president would release nearly $400 million in aid that Ukraine needed to fight off Russian backed separatists. While Mr. Trump ran his crazy mob scam, Ukrainians were dying on the battlefield. Mr. Trump undermined Ukrainian security and our own national security for his personal domestic political goals. He used taxpayer money to extort another country to interfere in our domestic elections for his benefit. This was not a government effort to eliminate corruption generally. There is no such effort or policy in this administration unless the only country in the world that is corrupt is Ukraine and the only people in Ukraine that were corrupt was the Bidens.
It was not just one “perfect” phone call either. The parade of witnesses deposed by the House committees (there were three committees involved) described a long-term, many pronged, concerted effort to run the scam. The phone call was the result of months of heavy pressure outside of normal diplomatic channels to get Ukraine to fabricate lies to help the political fortunes of Mr. Trump.
There is also the little matter of the president standing on the White House lawn and encouraging China to interfere in the 2020 election, just as he publicly asked Russia to interfere in the 2016 election.
We already know all this. (Although, I suspect that it is only the tip of the ice berg.)
The House of Representatives is focused only on his egregious behavior regarding Ukraine. They are not considering impeachment based on his status as an unindicted co-conspirator for money laundering and campaign violations regarding payments to a porn star and a Playboy model. They are not trying to impeach him for the 110 known contacts between his campaign and Russians during the 2016 election. They are not drawing up Articles for the 10 clear cut unlawful efforts to obstruct justice during the Mueller Investigation. They are not contemplating impeaching him for the over 13,500 documented lies to the American people.
Equally important, we all know that a president cannot be impeached because we disagree with his policies. We cannot impeach a president because of an obnoxious personality. We can impeach a president when our national security is put at risk through an abuse of power.
In my opinion the facts surrounding the Ukraine shakedown are not in dispute. Please note that the Republicans are not defending Mr. Trump by disputing the facts or by providing an explanation of his actions. They are only attacking the process, and now that process is of their own design. If they had a factual basis to defend the president, they would use it. They have no facts on their side.
If the facts are not in dispute then the only remaining question is whether they meet the standard of “high crimes and misdemeanors.” I think that they do, in the context of presidential abuse of power — the major concern of the Founding Fathers — and obstruction of justice by refusing to turn over documents and witnesses lawfully subpoenaed by Congress.
Some argue that with elections about a year away the president should not be impeached but rather the people should decide Mr. Trump’s fate through the ballot box. I think that argument is illogical. Mr. Trump was trying to interfere with the 2020 election after we already know that there was interference in the 2016 election. He knows better. More to the point, how can we be sure that the 2020 election is legitimate if we already know that Mr. Trump is trying to stack the deck in his own favor? He is already trying to steal the 2020 election. We know this. Why allow it to happen?
Likewise those that argue that this is just the Democrats trying to undo the 2016 election should take another look. The inquiry is not about the 2016 election. It is about what is happening now to influence the 2020 election. It is not about the past, it’s about the future.
For those that argue that Mr. Trump was out of line to extort the Ukrainians, but that his actions did not rise to the level of an impeachable offense I merely ask, where is that line? How much can a president put national security at risk before we say that it is too much? How far can a president abuse the power of the office before we say that it was abused too much? Whether or not the Senate convicts Mr. Trump on any charges — and I believe that inevitably there will be Articles of Impeachment approved in the House — it is important to put a Constitutional marker down that such behavior is not acceptable and that there are consequences to ignoring the law.
It is a sober day when an impeachment proceeding is necessary. No one should take joy in the process. It is also a sad day when an entire political party turns into a cult of personality and publicly attacks a Constitutional process while many of those same politicians privately agree that the leader of the cult abused his power.
There is no telling how events will unfold between now and the end of the year. I only know that it will be a tough time for our country.
For those that take even the most cursory notice of events on the daily news, you have no doubt heard that the president once again broke the norms of presidential behavior by, again, using his office for personal gain. He will stop at nothing if it serves his personal interests. He has yet to see any consequences to his actions and is increasingly emboldened to do whatever the heck he wants to do — legal or not.
He already moved beyond the boundaries of ethical and moral behavior. Now that he sees no consequences from the Mueller Report and has an Attorney General that has decreed the president is above the law — any law — while in office, he sees nothing that can slow him down, much less stop him, from pursuing whatever he wants to do.
The only possible way to put a check on his actions is to impeach him, and the Democrats are dithering and wringing their hands in an ineffective effort to provide oversight of Mr. Trump’s presidency. So far they’ve brought a butter knife to a grenade fight. Mr. Trump has refused to provide any documents or to allow any testimony from anyone that he deems a possible threat to his reign. Across the board. Including hum-drum, every day just-trying-to-do-business subjects. Total non-cooperation.
That may be about to change.
The latest insult to the office, to our country and to all of us as citizens involves the president’s efforts, aided and abetted by his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani (who has no role in the government or the administration, a fact that will become significant) to get a foreign power to interfere in the 2020 election. Sound familiar?
As briefly as possible, the entire situation came to light when the president instructed his Acting Director of National Intelligence (DNI) to break the law. Also known as obstruction of justice. (Note that Mr. Trump fired the DNI and the Deputy DNI last month.) That came about because an intelligence official turned in a complaint to the Inspector General (IG) of the Intelligence Community — who, by the way, was appointed by Mr. Trump — stating that the president interacted with the head of a foreign government in a way that was detrimental to the interests of the United States. The specifics of the claim are classified. The law requires that if the IG finds the complaint credible and urgent that it must (“shall be”) be turned over to the Intelligence Committees of the House and Senate. The Acting DNI refused based on directions from the Executive Branch. The IG went to Congress and explained what happened and stood by his initial determination that it should go to Congress. The Acting DNI continues to refuse to turn it over.
I predict that the president will release a transcript of his conversation that will be spun to show he didn’t do what is alleged. Firstly, we know we cannot trust Mr. Trump to be truthful, therefore how do we know it is the actual transcript? Secondly, and more importantly, the transcript is not nearly as important as the original whistle blower complaint. That document would give a fuller story and put the events in context. The Administration has no intention of turning that over. In itself, that to me is evidence that something serious occurred that Mr. Trump does not want us to know about.
In short, since then we have learned from Mr. Trump and Mr. Giuliani themselves, as well as from wide spread reporting in the Washington Post, New York Times and Wall Street Journal, that the complaint involves the President of Ukraine who Mr. Trump tried to bully (eight times according to reports) into finding “dirt” on former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter. We learned today that Mr. Trump withheld needed military funding and aid for Ukraine totaling nearly 400 million dollars. The reporting alleges that Mr. Trump wanted the dirt before he would release the money. Congress had authorized the money in two different bills early this year. Over the summer inquiries began to build as to why the money had not been made available to the government of Ukraine, currently locked into a shooting war with Russia. (Russia! Again!)
In sum, Mr. Trump wanted the Ukrainian government to interfere in the 2020 election by supplying information (whether true or not, more on that in a minute) on Mr. Biden and his son that the Trump Campaign could use to slime the individual Mr. Trump most fears as his opponent in the election. In exchange, he would release the money Congress appropriated (yet another presidential abuse of the power invested by the Constitution in the Congress) to help the Ukrainians defend themselves against Russia — who annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and is trying to obtain more Ukrainian territory.
Mr. Trump and his allies are trying to make the focus of the story about Mr. Biden and corruption. (Kind of hits close to home when the president’s children are trotting around the world doing business with their father’s permission and help, spending taxpayer’s money for Secret Service protection and other expenses.)
The thing is, the Ukrainians already investigated the allegations against the Bidens and guess what? There is nothing to it. No corruption. No undue pressure. Nothing. And if you listen closely to Mr. Trump and his lackeys, they present no evidence that anything is amiss. Just innuendo and questions as to why no one is looking into it. (BECAUSE THEY ALREADY DID!) And don’t forget that Mr. Trump is on the record with over 12,000 lies since taking office.
I do not give Mr. Trump or his campaign any slack regarding their involvement with Russia during the 2016 campaign. (“Russia if you’re listening….”) But maybe one could make a case that they did not know what they were doing.
That does not fly in this situation.
The President. Of the United States. Used the full authority and weight of his office — himself, in his own voice — to try and convince a foreign state to interfere in our election against a specific opponent in exchange for funds desperately needed for their protection.
This alone is an impeachable offense. Abuse of power and obstruction of justice.
However, add it to the list of other impeachable offenses and one would think that the House of Representatives has to act. The Mueller Report defines ten times Mr. Trump obstructed the investigation of his involvement with Russia in 2016. Over one thousand former federal attorneys — Republicans and Democrats — publicly stated that they would have prosecuted any other citizen with that evidence. The U.S. Attorney of the Southern District of New York lists him as an unindicted co-conspirator in election campaign fraud when he paid off two mistresses to keep them from speaking up before the election. And on and on and on.
When do we put a stop to the madness? The more he gets away with, the more emboldened he is to do more. We are still over a year from the election. Anyone that thinks Mr. Trump won’t try every illegal dirty trick in the book to stay in office is not paying attention. At the risk of sounding like I am hyperventilating, I can envision our very democracy at stake.
The Republicans, led by Senator Mitch McConnell (Tr-KY), a.k,a. “Moscow Mitch” are now a wholly owned subsidiary of Trump, Inc. Perhaps my biggest disappointment, even shock, is that not one Republican Senator, or Congressman, has said “enough”! According to multitudes of reports, in private conversations many elected Republicans worry because they do not like the way Mr. Trump operates and see him as a threat to our country. Yet, not a peep. To stay silent is to be a co-conspirator. They are aiding and abetting a president that is out of control. Not a patriot among them.
As I get ready to publish this, it appears that later today the Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) will announce a preliminary impeachment inquiry.
Mr. Trump may not realize he has crossed a line in the sand. The American people will not stand for his shenanigans forever.
But if we do, God help us all.
Throughout his campaign and then during his reelection rallies as president, Mr. Donald J. Trump continually declared that he would build a wall along the border with Mexico and that Mexico would pay for it. Time after time this was his go-to rally cry to fire up his base.
There is only one problem. Mexico supplied exactly zero pesos to build his wall.
Signaling that his wall promise was a scam, in January, 2017 Mr. Trump signed Executive Order 13767 that directed the federal government to begin building the wall using U.S. government funds. No construction began because the funding was not there and it was unclear where funds for a wall existed.
Please remember that the Republican Party controlled the White House and both houses of Congress for two years, including 2017. No funds were appropriated because the majority of those in Congress, including Republicans, realized that the wall was a terrible waste of money.
Also recall that in a compromise move, the Democrats in Congress offered Mr. Trump over 20 billion dollars for his wall in exchange for permanent legal status for the “Dreamers” (those under DACA, the Deferred Action For Childhood Arrivals order). Mr. Trump was for it before he was against it. He walked away without a deal.
Switching tactics, Mr. Trump shut down the government for 35 days at the end of 2018 and into 2019, the longest in American history, holding the country hostage to get funding for his wall. Congress held firm. Still no wall.
Trying yet again, in February, 2019 Mr. Trump declared a National Emergency using a loophole in an act passed during the Cold War intended to be used in a fast breaking real time emergency. He tried to use that as the vehicle to move funds to build his wall that had not been appropriated for that purpose. That move was blocked by a bipartisan vote in both houses of Congress. Mr. Trump vetoed that bill and Congress did not override his veto.
Efforts in the courts effectively blocked construction by precluding any use of appropriated funds not intended for the wall. In July of this year, on a 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court allowed the use of 2.5 billion dollars in funds on the border while legal proceedings continue.
Many Constitutional experts assert that Mr. Trump’s use of these funds for a wall violates the spirit and letter of the Constitution which clearly gives the power over financial expenditures to the Congress. Article 1, Section 9, Clause 7 of the Constitution says “No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law.” In 2019 Congress specifically forbade the use of federal money for the wall.
To date, no new wall, fence or other barrier exists. There have been upgrades to existing fences and barriers that needed repairs.
Yesterday the Trump Administration revealed that the Department of Defense (DOD) would divert 3.6 billion dollars from DOD construction projects to be used on the wall. These were not nice-to-have items. Many of the projects were needed to repair or replace infrastructure damaged by natural disasters. Among them are:
- 400 million dollars for rebuilding military structures in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands as part of the recovery from damage following Hurricane Maria.
- 17 million dollars for Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida to rebuild following severe damage from Hurricane Michael.
- 770 million dollars intended to help our NATO allies by building facilities for U.S. forces to operate in response to expanded Russian adventurism in Europe. Specifically, the European Deterrence Initiative is a response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and annexation of Crimea. I would bet Mr. Vladimir Putin is glad to hear of this change.
- Several projects to rebuild substandard schools on military bases.
- And on and on for bases in Utah, North Carolina, Arizona, Kentucky, Virginia, Maryland, Hawaii, Alaska and other states.
In addition, the Trump Administration is re-allocating nearly 300 million dollars from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), and the U.S. Coast Guard even as Hurricane Dorian bears down on the mainland.
Besides being a dangerous precedent for future presidents who are thwarted by Congress and declare a National Emergency to get their funding anyway, it is also bad policy.
These construction projects that are now “deferred” run the danger of never being built. The Trump Administration says that future appropriations bills will pick up the funding for these needed repairs and new construction. The Democrats in Congress and some Republicans, although they mostly remain as the silent majority, argue that they will never appropriate funds for those projects because they don’t have to — they already did it and cannot appropriate funds that they already appropriated. (And you thought Alice in Wonderland had some strange characters.)
What makes this entire bizarre episode so sad is that there is only one reason that this is happening. Mr. Trump fears the voters in 2020 that he promised in 2016 would get a wall. As his signature promise, if he fails to deliver, he will be shown to be as weak and unable to govern as he actually is. This diversion of funds is a perverted use of presidential power to further the ambitions of a single person for his own gain.
It is probably only the beginning of the bizarre and Constitutionally dubious actions this president is likely to take to further his own personal goals as the election gets closer. Mr. Trump does not have the best interests of the country as his guiding light. He only cares about himself.
As I am sure you know, on Sunday Mr. Donald J. Trump sent out a series of racist tweets about four Congresswomen of color. Besides putting forth lies about who does or does not love their country, and other blatantly bizarre statements concerning a Congresswoman’s “love” for al-Qaeda, for three days (and counting) he used the most basic of racial and ethnic slurs by telling them to go back to where they came from.
This should not be surprising. Mr. Trump has a record of racist statements and actions dating to the 1970’s when he and his father were sued by the federal government for discrimination in the renting of apartments in a building in Queens, New York. The list of other racist statements and actions over the decades is way too long to recount here. However, since declaring his candidacy for president the number of such incidents have increased. As president, Mr. Trump seems to have settled on attacking women of color. Such attacks include the mother of a Marine killed in action, the wife of a soldier killed in action, various Congresswomen of color prior to this incident, and numerous others. For some reason, he thinks that’s a good thing to do.
The president is a racist.
Some may argue that I cannot possibly know what is in his heart. That is true, I do not. I do know that his recurring actions and words show that he is a racist. White nationalists say that he is one of them. They recognize what they see. To paraphrase an old saw, if he walks like a racist, quacks like a racist and looks like a racist, he’s a racist.
Sadly, however, many of us already knew this and are profoundly disappointed in his actions, but not surprised. What is surprising is that the entire Republican House and Senate members — save a few countable on one hand — support his racism. Don’t take my word for it. Yesterday the House voted to condemn the president’s remarks. Only four Republicans voted for the condemnation and one former Republican did so. One of the four is the only African-American Republican in the House. The vast majority of Republicans, in the House and Senate, are white men. There is one African-American Republican Senator.
The Republicans lack of a back bone makes me sad for our country.
Mr. Trump is fully in control of the Republican Party and good men and women that used to stand up for what was right now meekly submit to his will — and in some instances loudly support his every deed — including the most basic of hurtful phrases. “Go back.” Those two words convey hate for the “other.” Hate for people with “funny” names or who don’t look like northern Europeans. It means that you do not belong here with “real” Americans, no matter how long you and your family have lived in the United States. It separates you. It is meant to demean. It is hateful. Words matter. And only four Republicans put what was right over the fear of a Tweet from Mr. Trump. In my book, if you stand up for a racist by actively supporting his words and actions, then that makes you a racist.
Mr. Trump took this course on purpose. There was no attempt to “explain what he really meant” or to clarify, or to otherwise soften his words. In fact he doubled and tripled down on his remarks by going out of his way to repeat them over and over. It is entirely possible to disagree on a policy statement or a political agenda as I do with much of what the four Congresswomen under attack are pursuing. What is not okay is using racial and ethnic smears to personally attack other American citizens duly elected to their office.
Why is he doing this?
Three reasons come to my mind. First, this is his re-election campaign strategy. He and his fellow Trumpist politicians want these four freshman Congresswomen to be seen as the face of the Democrats. He will campaign that they represent the “true” Democrats and that if any Democrat is elected you will have people with funny names and darker skins running the country into the ground. Remember that he started his run for the presidential nomination with the birther movement that claimed President Barack Obama was not a U.S. citizen and followed it up with his first speech from Trump Tower announcing his candidacy by calling Mexicans rapists and murderers. It is a cynical and divisive deliberate strategy. It is a naked manipulation of people’s fears and emotions. It will get worse, especially since he sees no consequences to his actions. Republican politicians rolled over and now have no stomach for standing up to him. Probably, many will emulate him in their own campaigns, further dividing our country and demeaning our values.
Second, he is appealing to his base — and “base” may be the most correct term as he is using the basest of strategies to look for re-election in 2020. I knew there were racists in our country, I just did not know there were so many. And no, I don’t think every Trump supporter is a racist, but I fail to see how any policy he espouses or judge he appoints cancels out his obscene behavior that demeans the office he holds and besmirches the values of our entire country. Our country is an idea, a set of values, the search for “a more perfect union,” and not one based on ethnicity or who our ancestors might have been or the color of our skin.
Third, he is covering something up. Mr. Trump has a penchant for capturing the news cycle when he does not want us to look too closely at some other action or circumstance. My guess is that the circle around him and Mr. Jeffrey Epstein — the industrial level child sex trafficker — is getting tighter and smaller. They were known to hang together in the 1990s and early 2000s. Indeed, in 2002 Mr. Trump is quoted in New York magazine saying that Mr. Epstein is a “terrific guy” and that “he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side.” How young? Mr. Trump hosted a party at Mar-a-Lago where he and Mr. Epstein were the only two male guests. All the others were young women flown in for the party. On Monday a bail hearing for Mr. Epstein was held in New York that included testimony from two of the young girls he abused. Is it possible that Mr. Trump was too personally involved with Mr. Epstein and his evil life style, even has the president says he “is not a fan”? “When you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.”
The President. Of the United States. Is using the most vile and divisive words and actions to open old wounds and make new ones for his own personal gain. And 98% of elected Republicans and millions of people think that is okay.
Historians will look back on this period and mark it as the end of the Republican Party. The Republicans will be right up there in the pantheon of failed political parties with the Whigs and the Know Nothings from the 19th century. The only question is how much damage to our country will they allow before they collapse.
In the meantime, we are in big trouble as a country. We lost our soul when this man became president. Every day we endure a new attack on our values and our Constitution. I fear that Mr. Trump has lowered every bar of common decency and that his words and actions put people’s lives in danger.
When does it end?
The Constitution is under attack. An attack so brazen that it is likely to do significant long-term damage to our country’s ideals, values, mores, and the rule of law.
Mr. Donald J. Trump is in full attack mode trampling on all that we used to hold dear. In the meantime, the House and the Senate, Republicans and Democrats alike, sit idly by either endlessly filled with angst over what they should or should not do (hello Democrats!) or aiding and abetting the president in his relentless pillaging of our Constitution (I’m talking to you Republicans).
I just do not get it. Why is no one acting?
While wringing their hands over whether to begin impeachment proceedings against the president, the Democrats worry about the political implications for the 2020 election. They fear that starting impeachment proceedings will hand Mr. Trump a victory in the next election. I fear that by not acting — hey guys! remember that you won an historic election in 2018 because the majority of voters wanted you to put a check on his shenanigans? — they will hand Mr. Trump the election. Part of their logic is that with the Republican controlled do-nothing cowering Senate Mr. Trump would never be convicted. Perhaps. However, the calculation should be that spelled out in the Constitution — there is abundant evidence that he indeed committed “high crimes and misdemeanors” — and not some political calculation on who will or will not get elected as a result. Politics should not play a part in a decision to impeach or one not to impeach.
Congress! Do your job! Nay, it is more than do your job. It is do your duty to uphold the Constitution. Anything less is dereliction of that duty.
What more does it take? Everyday there is a new assault on our values and our laws. The list is too long to enumerate here, but remember a few of Mr. Trump’s greatest hits.
- “Individual 1” — Mr. Trump’s lawyer Mr. Michael Cohen is serving three years in jail for, among other crimes, violating election laws by paying hush money to two mistresses of Mr. Trump’s to stay silent about their affairs because it could impact the election. The judge in the case, Judge William H. Pauley III said in open court in New York that Mr. Trump directed his attorney (Mr. Cohen) to commit a federal felony. He is essentially an unindicted co-conspirator in the case.
- Obstruction of Justice — In his report, which he followed up with a remarkable public statement from the Department of Justice building, Special Counsel Robert Mueller made it abundantly clear that if the president had committed no crime, he would have so reported. As he said in the report and in his remarks, “if we had confidence that the President clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said that.”
- Russia interfered with the election to aid Mr. Trump — In his report and remarks, Mr. Mueller makes it abundantly clear that the Russians did interfere with the election. A fact that the President resolutely says did not happen. As Mr. Mueller noted, “Russian intelligence officers who were part of the Russian military launched a concerted attack on our political system. The indictment alleges that they used sophisticated cyber techniques to hack into computers and networks used by the Clinton campaign. They stole private information, and then released that information through fake online identities and through the organization WikiLeaks. The releases were designed and timed to interfere with our election and to damage a presidential candidate. And at the same time, as the grand jury alleged in a separate indictment, a private Russian entity engaged in a social media operation where Russian citizens posed as Americans in order to interfere in the election.”
- Collusion — According to the Mueller Report, members of the Trump Campaign met over 100 times with Russians known to be agents of, or to have connections to, the Russian government, including the famous Trump Tower meeting in the summer of 2016. As we all know, the word “collusion” was never used in the Mueller Report. However, yesterday the president said that he would collude again with a foreign power given the chance. In an interview with ABC news in the Oval Office no less, he said in response to a question about receiving damaging information from a foreign power that he would take it. “I think you might want to listen, there’s nothing wrong with listening. If somebody called from a country, Norway, ‘we have information on your opponent.’ Oh, I think I’d want to hear it. It’s not interference, they have information. I think I’d take it. If I thought there was something wrong, I’d maybe go to the FBI. If I thought there was something wrong. But when somebody comes up with oppo research, right, they come up with oppo research.” When asked about FBI Director Wray’s testimony to Congress that any political campaign should report foreign interest in that campaign, Mr. Trump replied, “The FBI Director is wrong. Because, frankly, it doesn’t happen that way in life.”
- Actively undermining the Constitution — As explained in a Washington Post opinion piece by Mr. George Conway and Mr. Neal Katyal — both conservative attorneys — on Tuesday the Trump lawyers filed a brief to prevent turning over documents relating to Mr. Trump’s taxes and other financial dealings. Without getting too far into the legal weeds (although maybe all of us should start doing so), the basis of the Trump argument is that Congress has no oversight authority with respect to the president. In particular, the brief argues, Congress has no business “trying to prove that the President broke the law.” They say that the Executive Branch holds the power under the Constitution for law enforcement, therefore Congress can do nothing. This of course denies our country’s history where Congress has exercised oversight, including investigations of law breaking, since its founding.
- Active law breaking — Today, White House Adviser Kelly Anne Conway was found to have consistently and continually broken the Hatch Act. (The Hatch Act prohibits political activities and speech while acting in a government position.) The opinion handed down by the independent Office of the Special Counsel (OSC) says that she should be fired from her position. (It is worth noting that the head of the office was nominated by Mr. Trump and confirmed by voice vote in the Senate.) The response from the president and Ms. Conway is to scoff at the law and the OSC finding. As Ms. Conway put it when previously asked about her actions under the Hatch Act “Blah, Blah, Blah. If you’re trying to silence me through the Hatch Act, it’s not going to work. Let me know when the jail sentence starts.”
In a country where we like to say that no one is above the law, the president and his advisers are. Mr. Trump could indeed shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and get away with it as he famously said during the campaign.
I think that we all must remember that Mr. Trump and the president are the same person. I only say this slightly tongue in cheek. What I mean is that we have become so accustomed to Mr. Trump’s outrageous statements — perhaps even amused by them — for so long including before he even considered running for president that they tend to get lost in translation. Mr. Trump saying such things is harmless. The President of the United States saying them is incomprehensible. Or at least it used to be. There is no longer gravitas in presidential statements. There is no longer acceptance of presidential pronouncements as true or binding. There is no longer respect for the office from nations around the world. There is no longer a presumption that the president will follow the Constitution. All of that may be ignored by our fellow citizens. Just remember, however, that he still has the power. And the unencumbered use of that power to follow one of his harebrained ideas could be devastating. Those that know him from long before his presidency say without hesitation that he will do anything to help himself. Anything. Think about that with someone with Mr. Trump’s mind set and the president’s power.
Even Mr. Mueller believes the president is above the law. Certainly Attorney General Barr thinks so. Re-read Mr. Mueller’s remarks last month about his report. He explains in detail why there was no indictment of the president. While a president may be investigated, he said that “under long-standing Department policy, a President cannot be charged with a federal crime while he is in office. That is unconstitutional. Even if the charge is kept under seal and hidden from public view—that too is prohibited. The Special Counsel’s Office is part of the Department of Justice and, by regulation, it was bound by that Department policy. Charging the President with a crime was therefore not an option we could consider.”
So there you have it. The president is above the law. Mr. Trump knows it. We can expect his behavior to become increasingly autocratic as he continues to eviscerate Congress. (Note the increasing instances of declaring a “national emergency” to circumvent the will of Congress concerning Mexico, Saudi Arabia, immigration, arms sales, tariffs, and other actions.)
But, but…. Mr. Mueller did point out that there is a way to hold a president accountable. In his spoken remarks he said “the opinion says that the Constitution requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting President of wrongdoing.”
In other words, impeachment.
Negative precedents are being set almost daily by this administration and especially by the president himself. We as a country will have to live with future presidents that hold themselves above the law should this president get away without being held to account. Whether or not he gets re-elected the precedents he sets, left unchallenged, will stand.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is the most powerful elected official in the land behind only the president. She must use that power under the Constitution to articulate why Mr. Trump’s actions are not only abhorrent on their moral face but also that they are crimes.
The president is a criminal. We must hold him accountable. Do your duty.
Several events last week disturbed me to my core as I realized the depths that Mr. Donald J. Trump and his administration will go to protect him from the rule of law and any sort of accountability. One of the prominent warning signals came in the form of Attorney General William Barr’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee. In case you missed the live broadcast of his appearance, I will point out that it was not just what he said in response to questions but also how he said it. He was clearly annoyed that any Senator would question his decisions or his power as the head of law enforcement in the United States. Perhaps more chilling was his unadulterated and unabashed pro-Trump posture. He is no longer the Attorney General of the United States, or even the attorney charged with protecting the presidency as an institution. He clearly and forcefully defended Mr. Trump, the man, and not the president, the office.
Among many startling elements of A.G. Barr’s comments regarding the Mueller Report are what I see as the three most egregious points:
- The most troubling and news worthy defense of Mr. Trump by A.G. Barr was his insistence that the president is above the law. You read that correctly. In response to a question on obstruction of justice — and the fact that if Mr. Trump was successful in carrying out the obstruction, then that could be the reason that no conspiracy to work with the Russians was proved — Mr. Barr stated that under the Constitution the president has the authority to oversee investigations (including those involving the president) and therefore has the authority to shut them down. Thus, there can be no obstruction even if the president stops an investigation into himself because it is within his power. He further argued that this is especially true if the president thought the investigation “was not well founded” or “groundless.” The president has the ability to declare it so. “The president does not have to sit there, constitutionally, and allow it to run its course.” And there you have it. All the president has to do is say that there is no reason to investigate him and then no one can investigate him. (I assume a “hoax” is “not well founded.”) The Attorney General believes the president is above the law. (For info, Article I for the proposed impeachment of Richard Nixon was obstruction of justice.)
- The second most troubling aspect of A.G. Barr’s testimony is that he waffled mightily in response to a question as to whether the president or any one else at the White House asked him to investigate others. The context was a section of the Mueller Report that indicated Mr. Trump pressured the Department of Justice (DOJ) to re-open an investigation of Secretary Hillary Clinton and others of Mr. Trump’s political opponents after the election. He finally answered “I don’t know.” Right. (As Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) pointed out, that’s not something one might forget.) It used to be a bipartisan agreement that a president using his office to investigate a political opponent on purely political grounds was an abuse of power (Article II of those brought against Mr. Nixon).
- The third most troubling comment was the confirmation by A.G. Barr that Special Counsel Mueller objected to the characterization of his report put forward by Mr. Barr on 24 March. In his statement summarizing the results of the Report he claimed that Mr. Mueller found no criminal evidence of conspiracy or obstruction. When the report was finally released, we found that was not true. Mr. Mueller wrote to Mr. Barr three days after his March summary to object to the characterization of his work. “The summary letter the Department sent to Congress and released to the public late in the afternoon of March 24 did not fully capture the context, nature and substance of this Office’s work and conclusions.” Some Senators think that Mr. Barr lied in his previous testimony when he said that he had not heard any objections from Mr. Mueller when in fact he had already received and read the letter.
There were more, but then you can read it for yourself.
Let’s put a few more developments from recent days out there to paint a picture. Consider the following:
- In an on-air discussion with Sean Hannity of Fox News Mr. Trump said of the Mueller Investigation, “This was a coup. This was an attempted overthrow of the United States government.” Incredibly — although I don’t know why I continue to be surprised — Representative Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), the House Minority Leader, used the same word in response to a reporter’s question.
- The Trump Administration asserted that it will fight or ignore any House subpoena. They are also going to court to stop subpoenas of other entities where Congress is seeking information about the president and possible financial ties to other governments or foreign entities. “We’re fighting all the subpoenas.” (Contempt of Congress — refusing subpoenas — was Article III of those against Mr. Nixon.)
- Mr. Trump still does not acknowledge Russian interference in the 2016 election. According to the Mueller Report there were 251 contacts between Trump campaign officials and Russian-connected operatives including 37 meetings in person or via Skype. At least thirty-three campaign officials and advisers held the meetings or were aware of such meetings. Recall that the Mueller Report concluded that “the Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election in sweeping and systematic fashion.”
On Friday, Mr. Trump and Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin held a nearly ninety minute phone call. Mr. Trump did not confront Mr. Putin about the attacks. President Obama may have been asleep at the switch and not done all that he could as his administration learned the breadth and depth of Russian intrusion, but he did talk directly to Mr. Putin to warn him against further meddling. He also imposed sanctions against Russia (which are the ones that presidential adviser Michael Flynn got into trouble over for calling the Russian Ambassador and saying that Mr. Trump would lift them). President Obama also expelled 35 Russian diplomats from the US and shut down two of their facilities in the US. Yet in his ninety minute conversation with Mr. Putin, Mr. Trump did not even bring up the Russian actions except to say that he and Mr. Putin did not collude and Mr. Putin should know because he was the one who was supposed to have done it. They then agreed that it was a hoax. You can’t make this stuff up.
So what does all of this mean?
When taken in their totality it means that we have a president with no boundaries, no oversight, and no sense of what is right. Mr. Trump still has not been held accountable for any of his outrageous actions and must surely think that the preponderance of evidence indicates that he never will be. Most certainly not by the Republicans in the Senate and not by the Attorney General. In fact, should someone, somehow initiate proceedings against the president, we already know that his A.G. says he can shut it down because, well, just because he can if he wants to.
It is also clear that Mr. Trump will not take Executive Action to stop Russian interference in the 2020 election. Although various agencies are working to shore up our defenses, there is no national level coordination and planning under way to prevent further meddling. Indeed, Mr. Trump and others in his administration implied that he would take their help again in 2020.(Russia if you’re listening…)
I think that the evidence above also indicates the Mr. Trump believes that the purpose of the federal government is to do his bidding and therefore he will not hesitate to use the full power and strength of the U.S. government to take down his political opponents. Apparently he will do so with the willing acquiescence of the A.G. and Republicans in the House and Senate.
Talk of coups really scares me. Do the president and the leader of the Republican Party in the House really think that the Mueller Investigation was an attempted coup? Stop and think about that for a moment. Anyone that threatens this president’s sense of well-being is a direct threat to him. Really? A coup? If they actually believe that then there is nothing he will stop at to prevent losing his power. And who will stop him? The House is being ignored (A.G. Barr won’t even show up to testify about the Mueller Report and his role in its release). No oversight there. The Senate trembles in its boots that one of their Republican colleagues will be the subject of a nasty Tweet. No oversight there. The Attorney General is now the personal defense attorney for Mr. Trump. No oversight there. The fix is in.
How far will he go? Declare martial law for some other self-created crisis? Nullify a close election he loses? Suspend the election because he Tweets out that the Democrats are attempting a coup? I am not sure what he is capable of doing.
Do I sound like a wing nut conspiracy dealer with too much time on his hands? I hope so.
And yet, the things I’ve mentioned above happened in only a matter of days. In other administrations, Republican or Democrat, there would be a major reaction to such a clear threat to our norms and national well-being. Sadly, most people just dismiss it as business as usual.
One theory floating around is that Mr. Trump and his advisers and supporters in Congress are pushing the Democrats in the House as hard as they can so that they are left with little recourse except for impeachment. Improbably, the Republicans think that an impeachment proceeding against Mr. Trump will help his approval ratings and “guarantee” his re-election in 2020. To them there is no down side as they know that the Senate would never convict him of the Articles of Impeachment. If that is the plan, how much further will the administration overflow the banks of good government to create a flood of institutional indignities to force the issue?
I worry that we are in the midst of the creeping destruction of our Republic. It is taking place in slow motion and in public so that most people who are rightly concerned with the day-to-day effort of just going to work, to school and of trying to keep food on the table don’t see it. Like everything associated with this president, it is hiding in plain sight.
“You don’t even have to be convicted of a crime to lose your job in this constitutional republic. If this body determines that your conduct as a public official is clearly out of bounds… Impeachment is not about punishment, impeachment is about cleansing the office. Impeachment is about restoring honor and integrity to the office.” — Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.)
“The president of the United States looked 270 million Americans in the eye, and lied, deliberately and methodically. He took an oath to faithfully execute the laws of this nation, and he violated that oath. He pledged to be the nation’s chief law enforcement officer, and he violated that pledge. He took an oath to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, and he willfully and repeatedly violated that oath.” — Mitch McConnell (R-Ky)
“There is one standard of justice that applies equally to all, and to say or do otherwise will undermine the most sacred of all American ideals. [The] President has committed federal crimes, and there must be a reckoning, or no American shall ever again be prosecuted for those same crimes.” — John Thune (R-S.D.)
“As of April 27, including the president’s rally in Green Bay, Wis., the tally in our database stands at 10,111 (false or misleading) claims in 828 days.” — Washington Post
Have Republicans finally seen the light and figured out that Donald J. Trump is unfit for office given the clear-cut references to obstruction of justice in the Mueller Report? Hardly.
The quotes above refer to the impeachment proceedings against President Bill Clinton in 1999 and the fact that our current president has lied over 10,000 times since taking office. The hypocrisy speaks for itself.
And yet, the talk of impeachment — should Mr. Trump be impeached or not — focuses only on the disagreements within the Democrat Party. Not a word on the Constitutional duty for oversight and the rule of law from any Republican. The closest that any Republican now in office came was a statement from Senator Mitt Romney (R-Ut). Mr. Romney did not speak of impeachment or make a case that Mr. Trump should resign. He merely said that he was “sickened” and “appalled” by the actions of those in the Trump administration and campaign “including the president.” No reference as to what the consequences should be, but at least it was something. He was, of course, immediately attacked for his statement. After that, crickets.
And it gets worse.
“And you look at what Russia did — you know, buying some Facebook ads and try to sow dissent and do it, and it’s a terrible thing but I think the investigations and all the speculation that has happened for the last two years has had a much harsher impact on democracy than a couple Facebook ads….I think they said they spent about $160,000. I spent $160,000 on Facebook every three hours during the campaign. So if you look at the magnitude of what they did and what they accomplished, I think the ensuing investigations have been way more harmful to our country.” — Jared Kushner commenting on the Mueller Report
We have come to a place where a (the?) Senior Adviser to the President, downplays the fact that a foreign adversary interferes in our election and that he believes that the investigation of that fact was a bigger threat to our democracy. Oh, by the way. He got his facts wrong, and he failed to mention criminal activity hacking into the DNC data base and stealing damaging emails. But I suppose that is to be expected from this administration.
And it gets worse yet.
When the president’s personal lawyer was asked about the Mueller Report’s findings of Russian interference in the election during an interview on CNN he said, “There’s nothing wrong with taking information from Russians.” When given a chance to clarify his statement he said, “There’s no crime. We’re going to get into morality? That isn’t what prosecutors look at, morality.” So in the course of the Trump campaign we’ve gone from there was no contact with the Russians, to maybe there was contact but it was to talk about orphans, to if there was contact with the Russians there is nothing wrong with it, to we did contact the Russians but everybody would have done the same, to yes, of course we were in cahoots with the Russians, what’s wrong with that?
And it gets even worse.
According to the New York Times then Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Kirstjen Nielsen tried to bring up cyber security and Russian (and other foreign adversaries) interference in the 2020 election. She was thwarted by Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney who told her not to bring it up in front of the president. She was told that Mr. Trump equates any discussion of Russian interference in the 2016 election as questioning the legitimacy of his election. As a result, there have been no Cabinet level meetings on the subject and no presidential level directives to prepare to defend the country against future attacks. So much for the president upholding his oath of office. Additionally, I will take a quick note to remind everyone that the DHS is not primarily focused on immigration. At least it wasn’t until this administration. It is involved in counter-intelligence work, cyber security and many other areas vital to our country to protect it from real threats to our security, not manufactured border crises.
Mr. Trump is the biggest threat to our democracy of any president in my lifetime, and possibly ever. My lifetime includes the presidency of Richard M. Nixon. He at least had certain standards that even he would not dismiss. A scoundrel yes, but a scoundrel with at least some understanding of what our country stands for. There were lines even he would not cross. Mr. Trump knows no boundaries and now he is aided and abetted by Republicans in the House and Senate that apparently have no boundaries either. Somehow they have made a pact with the devil that they will support and defend anything Mr. Trump does or says in order to get a tax cut and conservative judges on the federal courts. It seems nothing else matters.
By their actions and words it is clear that the Republican Party no longer has any intellectual or moral underpinnings. Their sole reason for being is to defend the president, no matter what. The Republican Party in Washington ceased to exist. Trumpism prevails.
To me this is not a matter of policy or a matter of Democrats just not liking the president. Like has nothing to do with it. Mr. Trump is destroying the moral fabric of society and deliberately stoking fear and loathing in order to achieve his own ends.
All presidents deserve thoughtful criticism and reasonable people can reasonably disagree on a given policy. This is more than that.
Please tell me that you would hold Mr. Trump’s actions, words, and demeanor up to your children as an aspirational goal you would be proud to see them achieve. If you cannot do that, then why do we tolerate it in our president? What happened to our desire to see a person of great character as the leader of our country?
And please, spare me the “what abouts.” Not all of our presidents or party leaders have been icons of virtue, but can you truly say that anyone of them in our lifetime was worse than Mr. Trump? This is not a “it happens on both sides” issue. It is not.
While the Democrats move to and fro tearing themselves apart contemplating their collective navel as they try to decide whether and how to hold Mr. Trump accountable under their duty as sworn to in an oath to protect and defend the Constitution, Republicans sit smugly on the sidelines appearing systematically to kiss Mr. Trump’s — well, you know. Not a leader among them.
We get so caught up in the day-to-day travesty known as the Trump Administration that we lose sight of the forest for the trees. Everyday brings a new outrage. It is hard to keep up. Step back sometime and think about the totality of his destructive work. Taken as a whole, he is a one man wrecking crew with his advisers and apologists in Congress gleefully sifting through the wreckage.
We now know who Mr. Trump is and little about him surprises me any more. He outrages me, yes, worries me, yes, but not much new in his spiel. What worries me more is that so many people go merrily along with him hoping that some day it will make their lives better. Where is the evidence for that? Apparently, the motivation for Republicans in Congress and those working for him in the White House is power. Pure unadulterated power.
I wonder how they manage to look at themselves in the mirror each morning. Shameful.
(With a bow in the direction of Steve Schmidt, the former campaign manager for Senator John McCain’s presidential bid, for the title.)
Last night the president gave a speech to the nation about the alleged crisis on our southern border. Lots of figures and statistics continue to be thrown around to support the president’s desire to build a wall. Most are misleading or purposely distorted in order to support his campaign pledge. Whether you support the wall or not, here are the facts provided by Mr. Trump’s own administration and other independent sources. We can disagree on the best way to provide border security, but it should be a fact based discussion. With the emotion removed it becomes a different situation.
- Mexico will not pay for the wall. Claims that the new U.S., Mexico, Canada trade agreement (NAFTA by any other name with a few improvements) will result in Mexico “essentially” paying for it is false. Whether or not the new agreement changes the balance of trade between the U.S. and Mexico, that money does not go into the U.S. Treasury. And the U.S. Senate has yet to take up the new agreement so it is not in force. No time-table for ratification is set.
- 800,000 American federal workers are out of a pay check come Friday. There are hundreds of thousands of more American workers without pay checks that support the Federal government or that provide services to the government that are without pay checks and will not get back pay.
- Claims that the number of migrants crossing the border are unprecedented are wrong. According to the U.S. Border Patrol, there were 303,916 apprehensions at the border in 2017. That is the lowest in 45 years. In 2018 there were 396,579. A slight increase, but significantly lower than the 1.6 million apprehended in 2000.
- The southern border is not the primary way that undocumented immigrants enter the country. According to the Department of Homeland Security, in 2017, 606,926 people were in the country illegally by over staying their visas. That is roughly twice the number from the southern border. 101,281 of those who did not leave when their visa expired were from Canada.
- According to the U.S. State Department, “there was no credible evidence indicating that international terrorist groups have established bases in Mexico, worked with Mexican drug cartels, or sent operatives via Mexico into the United States.”
- According to the U.S. government, in 2017, 2,554 official encounters in the U.S. occurred with people on the terrorist watch list (which does not mean they are terrorists as it is often a case of mismatched names or other glitches). Of those, 2,170 attempted to enter through airports. NBC news reports, based on a DHS report to Congress, that the “roughly 4,000” terrorists cited by Trump Administration officials that were stopped were from around the world, not at the southern border. This includes stopping some before they get on an airplane overseas. Again this refers to people on the watch list, not necessarily actual terrorists. In the first half of 2018 exactly six immigrants were stopped at the southern border for being on the list. In the same time frame, forty-one were stopped at the Canadian border.
- Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) personnel deported 5,872 suspected gang members in 2018. ICE does not break down which gangs these people belong to so it is impossible to know how many belong to MS-13. Additionally, some of those in the mix that were deported were not actually members of gangs. It is likely that the number of MS-13 gang-bangers arrested by ICE is in the hundreds. The total number of gang members deported in 2018 is less than one percent of those entering legally and then staying in the country illegally.
- Any murder or rape is a tragedy. Keep in mind that statistics consistently show that immigrants — legal or illegal — are far less likely to break the law than those born in the United States.
- According to the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) about 90% of the heroin entering the U.S. comes through Mexico. Frankly, no one knows exactly how much enters the country each year. However, DEA reports that the very large majority of it comes through legal ports of entry by land, sea and air.
- The vast majority of non-U.S. citizens attempting to enter the U.S. do so at legal ports of entry. Under U.S. and international law, those seeking asylum must be taken at their word that they are in danger of their lives, or persecution in their native lands until a hearing is held to adjudicate their claim. Not everyone crossing the southern border seeking asylum is granted it. Current administrative processes at the border result in extremely long wait times (it could be months) to enter through a port of entry. This induces desperate people to try to cross illegally and then to turn themselves in to authorities. This happens quite often and in peaceful ways. Whether the individuals entered legally or illegally, if they ask for asylum, under the law, they must be heard.
Here is my opinion.
What is really at stake is Article I of the Constitution. In what is known as the “vesting”clause, all legislative authority is given to the Congress, including appropriations and authorizations to spend money. Note that it comes before Article II that gives executive power to the president. Article III creates the judiciary.
In his first two years, Mr. Trump did not have a Congress that would put a check on his whims, desires and plans. Now he does with Democrats controlling the House of Representatives. On their part, the House is exercising their Constitutional power of the purse to establish that they are a co-equal branch of government and do not have to give in to the president on every issue. Frankly, it is about time. Missing in action is Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) who got burned by the president’s promises in December and refuses to get involved to end the shutdown. It is likely that in short order (a few days to a week) Republican Senators will start to come over to the Democrat’s plan and Mr. McConnell will have to bring the Democrats’ bills to the floor to again pass what they already did just before Christmas.
Remember that the bills passed by the House last week are exactly the same as those already passed by the Republican controlled Senate. Because a new Congress was installed last week, all bills not passed by both Houses need to start over.
The government shutdown over the wall has nothing to do with border security. All sober government officials, Republican or Democrat, support border security. They differ on how our money and resources should be spent to protect and regulate the border.
The wall is a political stunt. The president backed himself into a corner and when a bipartisan deal was presented to him (including the bill passed in the Senate just before Christmas), after agreeing to it, he caved to right-wing pundits and proudly proclaimed that he would own the shutdown. That he and many of his advisers did not understand that when a shutdown goes into effect it means the government shuts down, hurting countless thousands of people across the country, is a story for another day.
It appears that there are three ways this situation can be resolved. Mr. Trump caves. The House and Senate get together and pass veto proof bills to fund the government. Finally, Mr. Trump may follow through on his threat to declare a National Emergency, mobilize the military and use Department of Defense funds to build his wall. This last move is that of an autocrat. It is Despot 101. Create a threat where one doesn’t exist, declare an emergency, mobilize the military, bypass the democratically elected legislature and take steps to curtail any opposition.
And all of it is based on a big lie. I cannot think of a more dangerous scenario.
While many of us were busy with family and friends during the Thanksgiving weekend, spending time appreciating what we have and treasuring the value of those around us, the President of the United States took no time off from his argumentative, derisive, self-centered approach to his office. Whether in the White House or at his gold-plated palace at Mar-a-Lago, he hit on topics wide and far. He raged against the independent judiciary, taking on Chief Justice John Roberts in the process, he stated that no one should worry about the troops on the Mexican border missing Thanksgiving with their families, and many topics in between. His most troubling comments came last Tuesday when he released a statement about the U.S. relationship with Saudi Arabia and the brutal murder and dismemberment of U.S. resident and Washington Post reporter Jamal Khashoggi.
As you remember, Mr. Khassoggi was lured into the Saudi Embassy in Turkey and tortured, murdered and dismembered by a hit squad sent to do the deed by the de facto head of the Saudi government Mohammad Bin Salman, commonly called MBS by those that want him to be a positive factor in the future development of Saudi Arabia. Those that know the truth know that he is a reckless and ruthless autocrat bent on solidifying his own power as the Crown Prince in order to ensure that he has complete domination as the future king of Saudi Arabia.
Released on White House letterhead, this is the complete transcript of the statement, a statement that could only have been written by the president himself given the syntax, grammar and punctuation therein. We would be lucky if it only exhibited poor writing skills, but instead it runs counter to everything the United States stands for during the last seventy years or more.
The world is a very dangerous place!
The country of Iran, as an example, is responsible for a bloody proxy war against Saudi Arabia in Yemen, trying to destabilize Iraq’s fragile attempt at democracy, supporting the terror group Hezbollah in Lebanon, propping up dictator Bashar Assad in Syria (who has killed millions of his own citizens), and much more. Likewise, the Iranians have killed many Americans and other innocent people throughout the Middle East. Iran states openly, and with great force, “Death to America!” and “Death to Israel!” Iran is considered “the world’s leading sponsor of terror.”
On the other hand, Saudi Arabia would gladly withdraw from Yemen if the Iranians would agree to leave. They would immediately provide desperately needed humanitarian assistance. Additionally, Saudi Arabia has agreed to spend billions of dollars in leading the fight against Radical Islamic Terrorism.
After my heavily negotiated trip to Saudi Arabia last year, the Kingdom agreed to spend and invest $450 billion in the United States. This is a record amount of money. It will create hundreds of thousands of jobs, tremendous economic development, and much additional wealth for the United States. Of the $450 billion, $110 billion will be spent on the purchase of military equipment from Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and many other great U.S. defense contractors. If we foolishly cancel these contracts, Russia and China would be the enormous beneficiaries – and very happy to acquire all of this newfound business. It would be a wonderful gift to them directly from the United States!
The crime against Jamal Khashoggi was a terrible one, and one that our country does not condone. Indeed, we have taken strong action against those already known to have participated in the murder. After great independent research, we now know many details of this horrible crime. We have already sanctioned 17 Saudis known to have been involved in the murder of Mr. Khashoggi, and the disposal of his body.
Representatives of Saudi Arabia say that Jamal Khashoggi was an “enemy of the state” and a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, but my decision is in no way based on that – this is an unacceptable and horrible crime. King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman vigorously deny any knowledge of the planning or execution of the murder of Mr. Khashoggi. Our intelligence agencies continue to assess all information, but it could very well be that the Crown Prince had knowledge of this tragic event – maybe he did and maybe he didn’t!
That being said, we may never know all of the facts surrounding the murder of Mr. Jamal Khashoggi. In any case, our relationship is with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. They have been a great ally in our very important fight against Iran. The United States intends to remain a steadfast partner of Saudi Arabia to ensure the interests of our country, Israel and all other partners in the region. It is our paramount goal to fully eliminate the threat of terrorism throughout the world!
I understand there are members of Congress who, for political or other reasons, would like to go in a different direction – and they are free to do so. I will consider whatever ideas are presented to me, but only if they are consistent with the absolute security and safety of America. After the United States, Saudi Arabia is the largest oil producing nation in the world. They have worked closely with us and have been very responsive to my requests to keeping oil prices at reasonable levels – so important for the world. As President of the United States I intend to ensure that, in a very dangerous world, America is pursuing its national interests and vigorously contesting countries that wish to do us harm. Very simply it is called America First!
There is so much wrong, facts as well as policy, that it is difficult to know where to start. Let’s start at what should have been the beginning, the death of Jamal Khassoggi. Instead of starting with that fact, he does not address his brutal murder until the fourth paragraph, coming even after he has to congratulate himself on his trip to Saudi Arabia. To add injury to insult, he repeats the canard that Mr. Khassoggi was “an enemy of the state and a member of the Muslim Brotherhood.” Even the Saudi government did not state that he was, after a trial balloon using that as a mitigating factor was vehemently denounced by multiple countries around the world. Mr. Trump brings it in as if it was some acceptable reason for murder. One of the president’s typical tricks. He paints someone negatively and then denies doing so saying that he didn’t say that, they did.
Even more troubling is Mr. Trump’s denouncing the American media as the “enemy of the people” and then using the term “enemy of the state” to describe a murdered journalist. No subtlety there, Mr. Trump just gave every dictator and two-bit autocrat in the world the green light to eliminate any journalist that they designate as an “enemy.”
As I and countless others have pointed out, the president grossly exaggerates the so-called “record amount of money” the Saudis will spend and invest in the United States. So far the Saudis only committed to spending about 14 billion dollars for a missile defense system. The other “hundreds of billions” of purchases and investments are only possibilities, ideas or something for an unspecified future. There is nothing on paper to justify the claims made by the president. Certainly, there is nothing to support the claim that any of it will “create hundreds of thousands of jobs.” The idea that the Saudis would spend that money buying Chinese or Russian goods and military equipment is, in a word, preposterous. Since World War II the Saudis sought out and continue to use U.S. training, equipment, spare parts, ammunition and logistical support for their military. They can not and would not turn to any other country over night to spend money on military items.
Once again for the record, Mr. Trump seems to be influenced by no other world events since the 1973 oil embargo when it comes to assessing the impact of Saudi oil on the market. The U.S. is a larger producer of oil than Saudi Arabia (thanks to fracking and shale oil, but that’s another story). The entire Saudi economy (and all of those claimed purchases and investments in the U.S.) depend on oil. They can impact prices, but not to the extent that Mr. Trump claims. Indeed the crown jewel of ARAMCO refineries, the national Saudi oil company, is in the United States in Port Arthur, Texas. Would they really cut off oil shipments to their own refinery? (The products from the refinery ship to many places in the world, not just the United States.) And oh by the way, the Saudis do not work “closely with us and have been very responsive to my requests to keeping oil prices at reasonable levels – so important for the world.” They do what is best for them. Lower oil prices right now, according to economic analysts, are due primarily because the impact of the embargo on Iran was minimal (its oil is still mostly on the market), the world economy has not expanded as quickly as expected and thus demand is lower, and other economic reasons, not Mr. Trump’s relations with the Saudis.
I could go on and on debunking the myths and out right lies in Mr. Trump’s statement. You get the idea. Here is the worst part in my opinion. The President of the United States clearly states that “it could very well be that the Crown Prince had knowledge of this tragic event” but that it doesn’t matter to the president because their money and the price of oil is more important than upholding human rights, American values and freedom of the press. Yet another signal to any dictator or would be autocrat that not only will we allow journalists to be killed if they are an “enemy of the state” but that if you pay us enough money, we’ll look the other way. Unbelievably, the president finishes his statement by saying “maybe he did, and maybe he didn’t!” (are we in the fifth grade?). In other words, it just doesn’t matter.
Anyone that reads the paper and follows this story knows that the preponderance of evidence is that Mr. Khassoggi was murdered and that the Central Intelligence Agency of the United States calculates that there is the highest probability that the Crown Prince was behind the entire sordid affair. (That is about as close as the CIA will come to saying he all but dismembered the guy himself.) Not to worry. Mr. Trump assures us that he personally talked to the Crown Prince and to the King and that they “vigorously deny any knowledge of the planning or execution of the murder.” Just as he accepted President Vladimir Putin’s vigorous denial that Russia interfered with the 2016 election, despite the conclusion of the entire intelligence community of the United States.
Once again, as happens in case after case after case with Mr. Trump, he refuses to believe what he does not want to believe and will look for any out available be it an opinion expressed on Fox News, a piece on an alt-right blog, or “the word” of ruthless dictators and autocrats. Merely deny any wrong doing and the best intelligence agency in the world cannot convince him of anything else. If one doubts that words have consequences when spoken by the president, consider that Mr. Trump continually belittled U.S. intelligence agencies because they were wrong about WMD in Iraq in 2002. This weekend the Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia used that same argument to say that the CIA’s conclusion that the Crown Prince was involved in murder was wrong.
The real reason Mr. Trump will not come down hard on Saudi Arabia and especially the Crown Prince is because he likes them. More accurately, he liked the way that they played him during his visit to Riyadh and treated him, literally, like visiting royalty. He has a misguided view of the Saudi ability, or desire, to help solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They can act as a counter weight to Iran, but not without U.S. backing which could suck us into a war that we do not want. In particular, Mr. Trump frequently expressed his appreciation to the Saudis for bailing him out of one of his many bankruptcies. Likewise his son-in-law Jared Kushner has particularly close ties with the Crown Prince and his company was also intimately involved with Saudi bail outs in the past.
Make no mistake about it. I am not advocating for breaking diplomatic or military ties with Saudi Arabia. The world is indeed a dangerous place and we should use all assets at our disposal to promote our national security interests. That said, Mr. Trump speaks as if the Saudis hold all of the cards. They do not. We have vastly more leverage over them than the other way around if Mr. Trump had the ability to utilize the advantage. He either chooses not do so (because of his personal financial ties?) or is lost in the 70’s with a misguided view of the world, or he is incompetent.
There are numerous ways to make clear our disgust and dissatisfaction with Mr. Khassoggi’s murder. Here are only a few examples of actions we could take:
- Sanction the Crown Prince or parts of his world-wide investments and hurt him where it counts. The 17 Saudis Mr. Trump says we sanctioned include 15 relatively low-level security (hit?) men. Those assessed by the CIA as primarily responsible for ordering the murder are not sanctioned.
- Stop supplying the Saudi military in Yemen. The U.S. is providing assistance that, should it be with held, would severely limit their ability to continue the war in Yemen. The United Nations assesses the situation in Yemen as the biggest humanitarian crisis taking place in the world. Their calculations indicate that roughly 85,000 young children have died of hunger during the war. About 2 million are homeless. 22 million are in need of assistance, especially food. 1.1 million suffer from diarrhea and cholera. The war is portrayed as a proxy war with Iran to stop Islamic terrorism but in fact, Mohammad Bin Salman intervened in a civil war for his own purposes. Iran supports the opposition but the Saudi involvement is far larger, bloodier and indiscriminate in hitting civilian targets.
- Push Mohammad to actually get involved in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and take concrete steps to help the Palestinians form a functioning government and offer substantive proposals for resolving the situation. Put some of that oil money to use providing for investment in the West Bank and to raise the average Palestinian out of the depths of poverty. (Fun fact: Many mid-level to upper-level bureaucrats in Arab countries are of Palestinian heritage. They make the countries run. The Arabs have no desire to resolve the situation because it is a convenient scapegoat for distracting their own people by providing a cause to rally around and to continue to rant against Israel.)
- Stop the Saudi economic and diplomatic attacks on Qatar. (The headquarters for U.S. forces in the region are in Qatar and it is the location of the largest U.S. air base in the region. Mr. Trump supports the Saudi assault on the integrity of Qatar.)
- Stop Mohammad from meddling in Lebanon. (Last year he kidnapped the Prime Minister of Lebanon while he was in Saudi Arabia, forced him to resign and held him hostage until world diplomatic pressure caused his release. Theoretically this was to put pressure on Iran and to lessen the influence of Hezbollah in Lebanon.)
These are but a few ideas off the top of my head. I am sure the regional experts at the State Department and CIA could come up with many more. Instead, the United States capitulated lock, stock and barrel to the murderous whims of a 33-year-old autocrat in the Middle East.
The president’s statement is really “Saudi Arabia First!” Bipartisan efforts in the Senate to make Saudi Arabia feel the pain are talked about, but only time will tell if they can get a bill together during the lame duck session coming up given all the rest of the issues they have to deal with in the interim. Realistically, it could be months before the Congress takes action, if at all. Meanwhile, the Crown Prince goes his merry way having learned the lesson that he can con Mr. Trump out of anything with a little flattery and some money.
The President of the United States betrayed American values. He pretends that the facts are unknowable but asserts that they are irrelevant in any case. He bases his decision on a widely discredited claim that they are spending hundreds of billions of dollars in the U.S. and keeping oil prices low, when in fact, the Saudis are espousing a cut in their oil production in order to try to increase prices. He disparages the victim by falsely hinting that he was a member of some terrorist network, a claim originally floated by Mohammad in a phone call to the White House and then denied when the world condemned the allegation as totally false. (Parts of Mr. Trump’s statement were clearly word for word restatements of things the Saudi Crown Prince told him.) He belittles and ignores the best analysis by his own intelligence agencies. He shows the worst of his talents and little disposition to take appropriate actions if it does not meet his personal needs, desires and perceptions. Again, Mr. Trump demonstrates that under his leadership, the United States is weak.
In short, Mr. Trump sold out the United States and our values. Dictators and autocrats around the world now know that they can kill journalists with impunity if they flatter the president and pay enough money.
The United States is fast losing its place in the world as a leader. Congress must act to rectify this situation and to set the standard that we will not forsake our values or place in the world for a few dollars more.
It has been a busy week. First the good news.
For the third time I was an Election Judge (poll worker, but sworn in as a judge in this state because of the decision-making that may be needed). Once again it was a very long day with no respite, but worth it. At our location, everyone, Republican, Democrat or Unaffiliated, was uniformly cheerful, friendly, and appreciative of their role to play in our democracy. It was refreshing in the current era to see the best parts of our republic.
In my state, Maryland, one of the “bluest” in the country, we re-elected a Republican Governor for the first time in decades. At the same time, the Democrat controlled state legislature gained more seats for the Democrats and voters re-elected our Democrat Senator and Representatives. I consider that a positive sign as well. In the first year of the Governor’s term, he tried to push legislation through that did not have the support of the representatives. At the same time, some of the legislation the Democrats wanted was turned back by the Governor. The same old story? In this case, no. Both the Governor and the legislative leaders realized that nothing would be accomplished if they didn’t — wait for it — compromise on the issues. That does not mean it was all unicorns and rainbows, there were some knock down, drag out battles over certain issues. On the whole, however, both parties recognized that compromise was necessary in order to accomplish meaningful results. Consequently, most of those involved, including an unheard of for this state second term for a Republican Governor, returned to office. (To put it in perspective, he is only the second Republican Governor in Maryland since Spiro Agnew — Richard Nixon’s first Vice president. The last two term Republican Governor was Theodore McKeldin first elected in 1951.)
I was looking forward to writing an entirely positive piece in this space and was feeling better about the state of affairs in our country after the election. After all, the House would now have oversight over the excesses of the Executive Branch for the first time in two years.
It lasted less than twenty-four hours. Then came the bad news. In duplicate.
Wednesday night another mass shooting of innocent victims occurred. This time in Thousand Oaks California, considered the third most safe city in the country, according to FBI statistics. Mostly students out for a break in the routine and a little dancing were gunned down. Another needless tragedy that is becoming increasingly too common. According to the Gun Violence Archive, this was the 307th mass shooting in the U.S. in 2018. (They define a mass shooting as four or more people shot in one incident — not necessarily all deaths.) Another in a long line of sad days for too many families and for all of us as citizens. Perhaps the new Congress will finally address common sense gun laws that are supported by a majority in the country across all party lines.
Earlier that day the president gave what can only be described as a bizarre press conference that was either an attempt at showing that he would not change his habits and methods despite a significant defeat at the polls or a deliberate attempt to be bizarre in an effort to change the news cycle away from the success the Democrats had at the polls.
More significantly, he fired (yes, fired, when the president asks for a resignation it is not a voluntary action to resign) Attorney General Jeff Sessions Wednesday afternoon. It was not so surprising that he did so, as he had been saying he would for well over a year, but it was unsettling that he did so less than twenty-four hours after the polls closed. To some extent, it is what it is. I was no fan of Mr. Sessions, but I did respect that he stood up to the president over the ongoing Mueller investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and possible obstruction of justice by the president. Mr. Sessions did the right thing to recuse himself in accordance with the ethics of the situation and the rules of the Department of Justice (DOJ). Mr. Trump never got over the fact that someone in his administration did the right thing. He constantly asked where was “his Roy Cohn” — an Attorney General that should defend him personally and shield him from investigations, rather than work for the American people in upholding the principles of the Constitution. (You may remember that Roy Cohn was Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer and mentor. Mr. Cohn started his public career as Senator Joseph McCarthy’s Chief Counsel during the Army-McCarthy hearings in 1954. Mr. Cohn is the person responsible for teaching Mr. Trump to always “hit back twice as hard” against any accusations and “deny, deny, deny” — never apologize or admit to a mistake.)
The real bad news was not necessarily in the departure of Mr. Sessions. The shocker was the person Mr. Trump named as his successor. Mr. Trump’s intent to stop the Mueller investigation is reflected in his choice.
In a move that many Republican and Democrat Constitutional scholars consider against the law, Mr. Trump got his Roy Cohn by appointing Matthew Whitaker as the Acting Attorney General. Mr. Whitaker is not a Senate confirmed official, which is the basis for many scholars and experts to consider his appointment to be illegal. The normal sequence of events would be for Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to become the Acting Attorney General. Conceivably, Mr. Trump could have appointed another Senate confirmed official as the Acting AG but he did not do that. Why, you ask? I do not know what goes on in Mr. Trump’s mind, but I can guess.
This is a bit down in the weeds, which I think Mr. Trump believes most people don’t care about, but this turn of events is serious and with long-lasting impact. I will attempt to explain why, as succinctly as possible.
Mr. Rosenstein has been the supervisory official for the Mueller investigation. Mr. Trump has been at odds with him for nearly two years about that investigation. He wants to put someone into the DOJ as Acting AG in order to have someone in place to over rule Mr. Rosenstein and to inhibit, if not derail or eliminate, the Mueller probe before it indicts one of his family (the odds are high that Mr. Donald Trump Jr. is in Mr. Mueller’s sights) or comes back with a report saying that the Trump Campaign did conspire with the Russians to influence the election and then Mr. Trump obstructed justice in an attempt to cover it up and/or protect his family and business interests.
Legal scholars not only think Mr. Whitaker is an invalid appointee, but they also mostly agree that should he stay in the position, he must recuse himself from overseeing the Mueller investigation because of his extensive public remarks stating that he does not believe anything happened between the Trump Campaign and the Russians. Oh, and that there was not obstruction of justice. Unfortunately, before being briefed on the investigation or before talking to the ethics attorneys in the DOJ, Mr. Whitaker has expressed that he will not recuse himself. Of course not. Mr. Trump would not have appointed him if he did. Preposterously, today Mr. Trump claimed to reporters that he did not know Mr. Whitaker, even though Mr. Whitaker often accompanied or replaced Mr. Sessions in many meetings with the president. Reportedly, since the president did not like Mr. Sessions, Mr. Whitaker often spoke to the president in his stead. My view is that some kind of quid pro quo was reached between Mr. Trump and Mr. Whitaker. The former would appoint him Acting AG with some kind of follow on appointment in the future and the latter would make sure Mr. Mueller and his investigation was severely inhibited or ended. Such an arrangement of course would be illegal and further the case for obstruction of justice.
They are birds of a feather, however. Mr. Trump is well-known for his scams, such as Trump University that took in millions of our fellow Americans money based on promises never delivered. It was forced to close down and Mr. Trump paid a hefty fine. Mr. Whitaker was on the Board of Directors of a firm that the Federal Trade Commission labeled a “scam,” shut down and fined millions of dollars. Additionally Mr. Whitaker sent threatening emails to some who complained that they were scammed. So, they have that in common.
Mr. Whitaker has been especially clear in his remarks regarding the Mueller investigation and the circumstances surrounding the president. He is right in line with the president that there is nothing there and that it is politically motivated. In fact, he has opined that the “real” investigation should be of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee (DNC). Here is what will happen, in my view.
- Mr. Whitaker will severely limit funding for the Mueller investigation which will curtail further work without having to actually dismiss him and effectively end the investigation.
- Mr. Whitaker further will limit Mr. Mueller’s work by prohibiting a subpoena of the president to force him to answer questions and will limit any other new avenues of investigation. (The Acting AG overseeing the investigation must approve all significant elements of the Mueller probe.)
- Mr. Whitaker will appoint a new Special Counsel to investigate Mrs. Clinton and the DNC in an effort to distract from the Mueller investigation and to give the president a new “caravan” to attack in an effort to distract the American public.
All of this will happen quickly, so that the new Democrat majority in the House has no chance to stop it before taking over in January 2019. Mr. Trump must be feeling trapped between the rock (Mr. Mueller) and a hard place (the incoming Democrats in the House). He will act out in any way possible to protect himself, his family and his business interests. He probably feels that with Mr. Whitaker as the Acting AG, he can dictate which actions the DOJ should take and how Mr. Whitaker can act to protect him. This is dangerous new territory for our country. Firing Mr. Mueller directly will cause a political firestorm that may backfire on Mr. Trump. Instead there will be delays, obfuscation and a slow strangling of the Mueller probe. The real question is how senior officials in the DOJ, starting with Mr. Rosenstein will react to this affront to our Constitution. Do they resign in mass? Do they soldier on doing the best that they can under stifling circumstances?
What about the Republicans in the Senate? Will they find a spine and stand up to the president at last? Are there any Republicans left in the Senate or have they all become Trumpists? I see little hope as Senators such as Lindsay Graham (Trumpist — SC) have gone from saying that firing Mr. Sessions would not be tolerated to supporting Mr. Trump’s action to remove him.
“If Jeff Sessions is fired, there will be holy hell to pay. Any effort to go after Mueller could be the beginning of the end of the Trump presidency, unless Mueller did something wrong.” — Lindsay Graham in July 2017
“What I’ve been saying for months is every president deserves an attorney general they have confidence in and they can work with.” — Lindsay Graham in November 2018
I am not picking on Senator Graham as his remarks reflect the change in almost every Republican in Washington today. They changed from executing their oversight role to a becoming a rubber stamp of all things Trumpian, even as it defies what they say they’ve stood for their entire lives.
So for a few hours Tuesday night, I felt good about the future of our country. I still feel good about it in the long run. A few short hours later I realized that in the short run, we have a crazy ride ahead of us that will threaten the very fiber of our country. I think we will survive based on the goodwill I experienced Tuesday, but it is not going to be easy or pretty.
Hang on for a crazy trip over the next two years. It’s gonna be wild, baby!