Monday, May 6, 2019

The Constitutional Crisis Over the Mueller Report

This is my first post of this year.  And for good reason.  I could not fathom that 63 million Americans voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 election.  Or that almost 90 percent of the Republican Party still backs Trump.  I thought it best to wait for the Mueller Investigation to be completed before posting to this political blog again.

In the meantime, life went on as usual.  The Press kept Democrats informed of how the Mueller Investigation was going.  Meanwhile, Fox News kept Republicans informed of well Trump was running the country.  Trump himself was still upset that Attorney General Jeff Sessions had recused himself, and finally, he fired Sessions in November 2018, appointing Matthew Whittaker as the Acting Attorney General.  Whittaker's sole qualifications for the job was that he publicly acclaimed that Trump did not either collude with the Russians or obstruct justice.

The Trump Administration, however, was already working on promoting someone else for Attorney General:  William Barr, who had served as Attorney General under Bush 43, and aided him during the Iran Contra Affair.  Barr's primary qualifications for becoming Trump's Attorney General is that he firmly believed that a President could not obstruct justice.  In fact, he advertised for the job circulating a nineteen-page memo around the Justice Department arguing that Trump could not be charged with obstruction in the performance of his executive actions.   The Republican-controlled Senate confirmed Barr as the Attorney General on Feb 14, 2019.  The stage was now set.  Democrats and Republicans were still awaiting the completion of the Mueller Investigation.

On March 22, 2019, Attorney General Barr announced that Robert Mueller had submitted his full report on the investigation to the Justice Department.  And on March 24th, Barr released a four-page summary of the principal conclusions of Mueller's findings.  Barr reported that Mueller's investigation "did not find that the Trump campaign or anyone associated with it conspired or coordinated with Russia in its efforts to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election." Barr, however, as we found out later, muddied the waters with respect to announcing the results of the Obstruction of Justice investigation.  Mueller, for reasons not stated by Barr, did not reach any legal conclusions as to whether any of Trump's conduct described in the report constituted a crime.  Mueller simply listed Trump's actions in ten situations where obstruction may have occurred.  And Mueller said that "while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him."  Since Mueller did not come to a legal conclusion, Barr felt it was his duty to make the legal determination.  In his summary Barr wrote:
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and I have concluded that the evidence developed during the Special Counsel's investigation is not sufficient to establish that the President committed an obstruction-of-justice offense.  Our determination was made without regard to, and is not based on, the constitutional considerations that surround the indictment and criminal prosecution of a sitting President.
Barr went on to reason that since the President was not involved in a crime related to Russian election interference, that Trump's actions, "many of which took place in public view," could not be construed as obstruction.  Republicans were delirious.  Trump was ecstatic!  No collusion! No obstruction!  Soon, Trump and the Republicans turned vindictive, calling for investigations of "the treasonous politicians and government officials who initiated the investigation."

Barr said he needed time to get the necessary portions of Mueller's report redacted before he could release the Mueller Report to Congress and to the public.  For three weeks all the public heard was "No collusion. No obstruction.  Collusion Delusion."  When the redacted Mueller Report was finally released on April 18th,  Democratic Congressional leaders loudly complained that Barr had misrepresented the results of Mueller's investigation.

The House Committees, now controlled by the Democrats, were determined to consider the evidence of the Mueller Report and continue their investigations of Trump and his administration. And they requested the unredacted version of the report. But as far as Trump and the Republicans were concerned, the investigation was over.  Barr had ruled in favor of the President.  Game over.

All hell broke loose the night of April 30th, 2019.  The Washington Post and then the New York Times leaked a March 27, 2019 letter that Robert Mueller had written William Barr.  Mueller memorialized the letter by submitting it through official channels.  In his March 27 letter,  Mueller mentioned a March 25th letter he had sent to Barr which contained redacted introductions and summaries that Mueller wanted Barr to release to Congress and to the public.  Barr refused to release the introductions and summaries.  Mueller further complained that Barr's four-page summary of March 24th "did not fully capture the context, nature, and substance" of Mueller's work."  Mueller warned that Barr's summary and the subsequent confusion over the results of the Mueller Investigation "threatens to undermine a central purpose for which the Department appointed a Special Counsel: to  assure full public confidence in the outcome of the investigations."

Attorney General Barr appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee on May 1st.  He was assailed by the Democratic members of the Committee, but supported by the Republican members of the Committee, some of whom called for reopening investigations of Hillary Clinton's Email Server, as well as calling for an investigation of how the Russian investigation was initiated in the first place.

Attorney General Barr was scheduled to appear before the House Judiciary Committee the next day, May 2nd, but did not appear.  Barr also ignored a House subpoena to provide Congress with an unredacted version of the Mueller Report that was due on Monday May 6th.  The House Judiciary Committee was scheduled to vote on Wednesday, May 8th on whether to hold Barr, the Attorney General of the United States, in Contempt of Congress.

In the meantime, the Trump Administration cited executive privilege to forbid current and former Trump Administration officials from testifying in Congressional Oversight Investigations.  Moreover, the Trump Administration has refused to honor all subpoenas for records requested for Congressional Oversight Investigations, in effect stonewalling Congress's Constitutional Oversight Responsibilities.

And that is the Constitutional Crisis.  The Trump Administration's decision to ignore Congressional subpoenas effectively thwarts the constitutional responsibility of the Legislative Branch (Congress) to provide oversight over the actions of the Executive Branch.  Being charged with Contempt of Congress currently has no teeth. Moreover, the Trump Administration figures it will be a slow, slow process, probably all the way up to the 2020 election, if Congress seeks redress through the courts.  If a Trump Administration official is charged and convicted of Contempt of Court, what is stopping Trump from pardoning the official?

And that is how things stand as of the week of May 6, 2019.  The House Judiciary Committee is working behind the scenes to set a date for Robert Mueller to testify before the Committee possibly as soon as the 15th of May.  There are several issues that only Mueller can resolve.  Did Mueller agree with Barr's decision to exonerate Trump? Did Mueller decline to charge Trump with obstruction because of the Justice Department's policy that a sitting President cannot be indicted?  Did Mueller provide the results of the obstruction investigations as a road map to impeachment? Why didn't Mueller issue a subpoena to force Trump to testify before the Grand Jury?  Did Barr curtail the investigation in any way?

Getting Mueller to testify should upset the judicial apple cart of the Trump Administration.  Once Mueller testifies, public outcry should negate Barr's Summary of misrepresenting Mueller's findings, and Trump will once again be in the hot seat.  But voting him out of office will be a far better alternative than trying to impeach him.  The Republican Party has stooped so low that they might always be "for Trump" and never again be "for Country."

It is at this crossroad in American history that we should look back forty-five years to the Watergate break-in and the Watergate Tapes.  In 1974, the Watergate Grand Jury identified President Nixon as an unindicted co-conspirator of the Watergate break-in.  Special Prosecutor Jaworski obtained a subpoena from the grand jury ordering President Nixon to turn over the tapes relating to forty-two Presidential conversations.  President Nixon claimed executive privilege and the case was eventually expedited all the way to the Supreme Court.  One Supreme Court Justice, William Rehnquist, recused himself because he had previously served as Assistant Attorney General in the Nixon Administration.  The other eight Supreme Court Justices ruled unanimously that executive privilege was not absolute and that the needs of a judicial court overrode that privilege.  Jaworski had proved that the tapes likely contained evidence of wrongdoing on the part of Nixon: the Nixon-Haldeman tape, the smoking gun that led to Nixon's resignation.   Will the Supreme Court have to step in again?  And will the two Trump appointees recuse themselves?

Friday, December 21, 2018

Can and Will the 116th Congress Override a Presidential Veto?

     Donald Trump will not sign a CR or a budget bill unless it contains billions of dollars to build his wall.  And the government is about to be shutdown.  House Speaker Ryan didn't have the gumption to put the CR up for a vote.  Instead he sent a bill to the Senate which contains the billions of dollars Trump demands for his wall.  The Senate will not pass Ryan's bill.  And the government will shutdown.
     Incoming House Speaker Pelosi can't wait until Jan 3rd to retake the gavel!  Once the 116th Congress is in session, Pelosi, Schumer and McConnell might negotiate and reach a settlement, but I doubt that it will contain the billions of dollars Trump demands to build his wall.  Sooner or later, McConnell will have to stand up to Trump.  And I believe the majority of Republicans in the Senate will follow his lead. 
     In the House, I believe House Speaker Pelosi will be able to pass a CR or budget bill.  And when Trump vetoes the bill, I believe Pelosi will be able to convince 53 of the remaining 198 Republicans to override Trump's veto.
Schumer and McConnell will have the necessary votes to override Trump's veto as well. Wishful thinking? Maybe.... Let governance begin!

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

The Fifth Risk

The Fifth Risk is the fourth political book about Donald Trump that I have read and reviewed this year.  The first book was Michael Wolf's Fire and Fury about the infighting in Trump's White House.  The second book was Craig Unger's House of Trump, House of Putin about Trump's business dealings with the Russian Mafia.  The third book was Bob Woodward's  Fear:  Trump in the White House in which Woodward gives the reasons why Americans have to fear while Trump is still in the White House.  The fourth book, The Fifth Risk by Michael Lewis, is the scariest one of them all.  This book is all about the transition of power from the Obama Administration to the Trump Administration––or specifically, the lack of transition.

One of the people Lewis interviewed for his book was John MacWilliams, Chief Risk Officer at the Department of Energy (DOE).  MacWilliams had made a list of the biggest risks in the DOE that the incoming Trump Administration would face.  And he was prepared to spend weeks briefing them to make sure they were aware of the biggest risks. But nobody showed up to be briefed.  Lewis quotes MacWilliams:  "There are things you want to know that would keep you up at night.  And I never talked to anyone about them."

MacWilliams informed Lewis of the five biggest risks within the Department of Energy:

A Broken Arrow, the term for an accident with nuclear weapons, is on the top of the list.  We have had nuclear accidents before, but so far safety mechanisms have prevented disaster.

North Korea.  MacWilliams said that there were signs that the risk of an attack from North Korea was increasing, and not necessarily a nuclear attack at that; it could be a chemical attack.

Iran is somewhere in the top five of the biggest risks.  The Iran deal approved under Obama was designed by scientists in such a way that, with absolute certainty, prevented Iran from building a nuclear weapon without our knowledge.  MacWilliams emphasized that Iran building a nuclear weapon was not the risk.  The risk was that "the President of the United States would not understand his nuclear scientists' reasoning about the unlikelihood of the Iranians obtaining a weapon, and that he would have the United States back away foolishly from the deal." And that is what happened!

The Electrical Grid.  MacWilliams said that the safety of the nation's electrical grid was high on the list of risks since the electrical grid was extremely vulnerable.  He placed electricity on the necessity scale as equal to food and water.

The Fifth Risk:  Lewis and MacWilliams discussed  risks in general and then agreed that the risk we should most fear is not the risk that we can easily imagine.  It is the risk that we don't.  And when Lewis asked MacWilliams what the fifth risk was, all MacWilliams said was "Project management."

The blurb on the flap of the dustjacket of The Fifth Risk begins with a question that says it all:  "What are the consequences if the people given control over our government have no idea how it works?  Compound that risk by the fact that nobody seemed to care.  They would run the government like a business!

Donald Trump did not feel he needed to have a transition team.  And he certainly did not want to spend any money funding it!  He even said to Chris Christie,  who volunteered to be Transition Chief, "Chris, you and I are so smart that we can leave the victory party two hours early and do the transition ourselves."  But that did not happen.  What did happen was Christie was fired as Transition Chief, reportedly by Jared Kushner.  Moreover, Christie's entire transition team of 300 people were dismissed as well.

Outgoing President Barack Obama was very pleased with the orderly transition that President George Bush had arranged for all the government departments.
And he planned on giving incoming President Donald Trump an orderly transition as well.  That did not happen.  Obama's people were ready and waiting to give Trump's people detailed briefings. But hardly anyone showed up for the transition briefings at any of the departments.  Where Obama had sent 30 people to the  DOE to receive briefings from Bush's people, Trump sent only one person to the DOE,  Thomas Pyle, a former lobbyist who wrote "editorials attacking the DOE's attempts to reduce the dependence of the American economy on carbon."  Pyle spent one hour in a meeting with outgoing Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and several other DOE officials, asked no questions, took no notes, and never asked to see anyone in Obama's administration again.  And according to Lewis, the Secretary of the DOE, Rick Perry, had never been briefed on a single DOE program a year after Trump had taken office.

One thing the Trump Administration did do before the Inauguration was to rid all the departments of Obama appointees, 137 of them in the DOE alone, replacing them with Trump loyalists. Lewis notes that the woman who ran Obama's energy policy analysis unit was replaced by Eric Trump's brother-in-law.

Lewis methodically presents more of the same for the other departments as well.  The Fifth Risk:  Project Management, the scariest risk of them all.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Sermon on the Mount of Trump

From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land.  From this moment on, it’s going to be America First.  Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs, will be made to benefit American workers and American families.  We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies, and destroying our jobs.  Protection will lead to great prosperity and strength....

When you open your heart to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice.  The Bible tells us, “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity.”  We must speak our minds openly, debate our disagreements honestly, but always pursue solidarity.
When America is united, America is totally unstoppable.

There should be no fear––we are protected, and will always be protected. We will be protected by the great men and women of our military and law enforcement and, most importantly, we are protected by God....

Donald Trump, Inaugural Address, January 20, 2017

Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.
Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?

Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.

A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.

Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.

Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.

Matthew 7:15

Monday, October 8, 2018

Ford v Kavanaugh: Veritas Valebit

Having exaggerated his nervous and voluntary tension to the pitch of abuse, almost to vice, it is impossible that the American should amuse himself as we Latins do, who hardly conceive of pleasure without a certain relaxation of the senses, mingled with softness and luxury . . . [The Americans'] pleasures seem, in fact, to imply, like their ideas and their labors, something unrestrained and immoderate, a very vigorous excitement, always bordering on violence, or, rather on roughness and restlessness.  Even in his diversions, the American is too active and too self-willed.  Unlike the Latin, who amuses himself by relaxation,  he amuses himself by intensity, and this is the case whatever be the nature of his amusements, for he has very coarse and very refined ones.  But a few sketches from nature will explain better than all the theories that kind of nervousness, and, as it were, fitful sharpness in amusement, if we can use that word which is synonymous with two of the least American things in the world, –– unrestraint and repose.
                         A Fearful Game by Paul Bourget (1893)

 These words were written by the French author Paul Bourget (1852-1935) during his tour of America in 1893. These words are the first paragraph of an article that described how Americans played a game of football at Harvard on November 30, 1893.  But these very words could have been written in 1982 as well.  And they could have pertained to any game an American male played, including the game of sexual conquest.

Bourget's essay, "A Fearful Game," was included in a series of articles first published in the New York Herald, and then in a book, Outre-Mer:  Impressions of America in 1895.  William Bentinck-Smith included Bourget's essay in the 1955 edition of The Harvard Book:  Selections From Three Centuries.

My copy of The Harvard Book is a Prize Book that was awarded by the local Harvard alumni to a student at Fairfax High School in Los Angeles, California who displayed "excellence in scholarship and high character, combined with achievements in other fields."  On the front cover is the old Harvard seal, "Ve Ri Tas" (Truth) in three books, surrounded by "Christo Et Ecclesiae,"  (For Christ and the Church).   The word, Veritas, soon stood alone on the seal, thanks to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, who wrote a poem by that title in 1880, the last line of which was "let thy earliest symbol be thy last."

There is an excellent article about the history of Harvard's seal in the May 14, 2015 issue of the Harvard Gazette.  And the title of the article was "Seal of Approval."

Bret Kavanaugh no longer has the seal of approval from Harvard Law School; he can no longer teach there.  And more than 2400 law professors across the country, including a retired dean of Harvard Law School, signed a letter opposing Kavanaugh's confirmation.   Yet, the United States Senate confirmed Judge Kavanaugh to take a seat on the Supreme Court of the United States of America.

Bret Kavanaugh appeared on Fox one night before the last confirmation hearing, and presented a choir boy image of his life in high school and college.  His yearbook says different, as do witnesses who have yet to be interviewed by the FBI, including some of his Harvard classmates.  And when confronted during the hearing, Kavanaugh testified under oath that "devil's triangle" was a drinking game, and "boofed" pertained to farting.  As for the sexual accusations, he followed Trump's defense: deny, deny, deny.

The FBI had its hands tied in the interview of witnesses regarding the accusations of sexual assault against Bret Kavanaugh by Christine Blasey Ford and then Deborah Ramirez.  But sooner than later––after the midterms–– Veritas Valebit: truth will prevail.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Fear: Trump in the White House by Bob Woodward

Fear: Trump in the White House by Bob Woodward is the third book about Donald Trump that I have read this year.  Fire and Fury was an account of the infighting inside the Trump White House during Trump's first 100 days.   House of Putin, House of Trump was a roadmap of Trump's business ties with the Russian Mafia going back 40 years.  Fear is a record of events and conversations that confirm that Americans have reason to fear while Donald Trump is still in the White House.

Woodward figured he would be writing a book about President Hillary Clinton.  But two weeks before the election, he gave a speech in Fort Worth, Texas to 400 mostly white executives of a software company who were from all over the country.  Woodward asked for a show of hands for whom they would vote for in the Presidential election: ten pairs of hands went up for Hillary; over 200 pairs of hands went up for Donald Trump.  Woodward didn't know why, but he figured the polls had to be skewed.  Two weeks later, Donald Trump was elected the President of the United States of America.

"Real Power is––I don't even want to use the word––fear."  Donald Trump made that statement to Bob Woodward and Bob Costa in an interview on March 31, 2016.  Woodward uses Trump's statement as the epigraph of this book.  And he uses it again as a Trump quote on the back cover, with an image of Trump doing a fist pump.  Moreover, Woodward uses Trump's words, "Real power is fear," on three different occasions in the book.

On page 175, Trump was giving advice to a friend who had admitted bad behavior towards women.  Real power is fear.  Trump told him that it was all about strength.  Never show weakness.  Never admit.  "You've got to deny, deny, deny and push back hard on these women."

On pages 274 and 275, Woodward provided an insight into Trump's philosophy regarding tariffs and trade deals.  Trump wanted to impose a 25 percent steel tariff and Gary Cohn was trying to talk him out of it.  Trump said,"we'll try it.  If it doesn't work, we'll undo it."  Cohn said "You do something when you're 100 percent certain it will work, and then you pray like hell that you're right.  You don't do 50/50s with the U.S. economy."

Still on pages 274 and 275,  Woodward said that Trump wanted to blow up the NAFTA deal and renegotiate it.  Trump's philosophy was "to get yes, you first had to say no."  Cohn warned that it was too risky: "That either works or you go bankrupt."  To Trump, Cohn thought, bankruptcy was just another business strategy.  And Trump had gone bankrupt six times. Real power is fear.

On page 300  Woodward wrote about Trump's foreign policy, which Trump believed he was winning.  Iran was under intense pressure, Pakistan was afraid that it might lose our aid, and South Korea was going to bow to Trump's demands for new trade talks.  Then there was North Korea.  Woodward writes that Trump's tweets about who had the biggest Button "may have come close to starting a war with North Korea in 2018."  Woodward continues, "The public never learned the full story of the risks that Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un took as they engaged in a public battle of words."  Real power is fear.  

On the next page, Woodward repeats a tweet from Colin Kahl, former deputy assistant secretary of defense under President Obama:
Folks aren't freaking out about a literal button.  They are freaking out about the mental instability of a man who can kill millions without permission from anybody.
Throughout the book, Woodward matter of factly reports certain actions the White House staff took to prevent Trump from causing  harm to our country.   And Woodward repeats their opinions of what they think of Trump, from calling him an idiot, to having the understanding of a fifth or sixth grader.

Woodward ends the book with Trump's lawyer John Dowd still believing that Trump did not collude with the Russians or obstruct justice, but resigning because Trump would not follow his legal advice about talking to Mueller.  The last paragraph of Woodward's book is worth repeating:
But in the man and his presidency Dowd had seen the tragic flaw.  In the political back-and-forth, the evasions, the denials, the tweeting, the obscuring, crying "Fake News," the indignation, Trump had one overriding problem that Dowd knew  but could not bring himself to say to the president:  "You're a fucking liar."

Yes, real power is fear.  And I am afraid.
                        Jerry Morris

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

House of Trump, House of Putin: The Untold Story of Donald Trump and the Russian Mafia

House of Trump, House of Putin: The Untold Story of Donald Trump and the Russian Mafia by Craig Unger is the second of three books about Donald Trump that I have acquired this year.  It is a hard read in that the author is methodical in investigating and tracing forty years of Donald Trump's business relationships with the Russians, many of whom are members of the Russian Mafia.

Unger's book begins with a congratulatory announcement that Deputy Vyacheslev Nikonov, Molotov's grandson, made to the Russian State Duma, the equivalent of our House of Representatives, on election day, November 9, 2016:
"Dear friends, respected colleagues!" Nikonov said.  "Three minutes ago Hillary Clinton admitted her defeat in US presidential elections and a second ago Trump started his speech as an elected president of the United States of America and I congratulate you on this."
If that isn't an acknowledgement of Russian interference in our elections, I don't know what is.

Ten days before his inauguration, Donald Trump tweeted, "Russia has never tried to use leverage over me.  I HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH RUSSIA - NO DEALS, NO LOANS, NO NOTHING!"

In the first few pages of his book, Unger declared that Trump had everything to do with Russia.  Unger promised that his book would show:

     That Trump allowed his Trump-branded real estate to be used  by the Russians for money laundering.

     That Trump was $4 billion in debt when Russian money bailed him out, revived his business career, and helped launch his venture into politics.

     That Trump provided a home in Trump Tower for members of the Russian Mafia and that they worked out of Trump Tower.

     That Trump was the subject of one or more Soviet intelligence operations that likely produced kompromat (compromising material) regarding his sexual activities.

     That in James Clapper's words, Trump is a "Russian asset" serving Vladimir Putin.

Trump has repeatedly said that he has had nothing to do with Russia.  But at the end of his book, Unger identifies fifty-nine Trump connections to Russia. And Unger details the actions of these Russian connections throughout the book.

After reading this book, and reviewing the sources and documentation cited, I  have to wonder why Trump was never charged with anything in his forty years of doing business with the Russians––money laundering for sure; a likely reason why he refuses to release his tax returns.  I am astounded by Trump's brazenness: that he believes anything he does or has done is above the law.  I am confident, however, that all will be revealed when Mueller completes his investigation, and Donald Trump will finally pay the piper.


Here's my review of the first of the three books about Trump that I acquired this year,  Fire and Fury:  Inside the Trump White House by Michael Wolff.

I am currently reading Fear: Trump in the White House by Bob Woodward.  It was no accident that Fear was published on the anniversary of 9/11.  Americans do need to be afraid (here's my review of Fear...)