Seeing Through the Smoke

Seeing Through the Smoke

White House Special Advisor Jared Kushner testified to the House Intelligence Committee last week regarding his role in the “Russian connection.” According to Adam Schiff, the California Democrat and ranking minority member of the Committee, “(Republican) Mr. Gowdy took the role as a second attorney for Mr. Kushner…” [1] Gowdy not only soft-pedaled his own questions, but prevented Democrats from asking tough questions and advised Kushner on what to answer.

This is the same Republican Trey Gowdy who took great pride in the interrogation of Hillary Clinton during the Benghazi hearings, and continues to this day to call for further investigation of the Clinton emails. He clearly has determined that his role is to deflect attention away from “Russia” and bring back the old tales of the past two years – the flaws of Hillary Clinton. Benghazi cost Congress over $5 million,[2] and estimates adding in the FBI’s email investigation drives the cost to over $20 million.[3]

Over the next several weeks, expect to hear from or about former National Security Advisor Susan Rice, former UN Ambassador Samantha Power, and perhaps even former Attorney General Loretta Lynch. This is all a part of the same smokescreen: let’s talk about the “good old Obama days” as a way of distracting from the reality of the Trump/Russian issue.

There is also a different screening operation going on, but this time aided by the “mainstream media” that the President has so often accused of “fake news.” The premise of this insidious argument: that the Russian “collusion” was in fact a plan by Russian Intelligence simply to create chaos. Russian agents DID make the contacts with the Trump campaign and administration that are slowly coming to light, but they did so NOT to arrange for campaign coordination, but simply to create the appearance of that conspiracy. Meanwhile the Russians DID manipulate the campaign, but the “Trump connections” are in fact simply to create more chaos in the American political system. There’s smoke but no fire, because the whole idea was to create smoke.[4]

This concept plays the Trump campaign/administration as unwitting participants in the Russian operation. They are not cooperators, colluders or conspirators; they are fools who fell for it. That makes them naïve, perhaps stupid, but probably not felons.

The third smokescreen is the ongoing chaos that IS the Trump Administration. With the firing of Preibus, the hiring of General Kelly (don’t we all trust a Marine Four-Star?) and the (temporary?) ascendency of Scaramucci to power, foul-mouth and all; it’s hard to keep focused on what’s going on.

This will get worse before it gets better. As the investigations (Senate, House, Mueller, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman) grow more intense, the counter-reaction will grow greater as well. It will be hard to stay focused, and it will make the US government seem to be even more disrupted. Whether there was a conspiracy or not, if Richard Engel of MSNBC is right, the Russians have achieved their goal: chaos.

[1] Gowdy Protects Kushner

http://washingtonjournal.com/2017/07/26/top-intel-democrat-just-accused-trey-gowdy-protecting-kushner-private-house-hearing/

[2] NPR Cost of Benghazi Investigation

http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/benghazi-committee-tops-5-million-in-spending/

[3] https://finance.yahoo.com/news/investigating-clinton-many-millions-were-211500881.html

[4] MSNBC – Richard Engel Reports

http://www.msnbc.com/rachel-maddow/watch/russian-goal-of-us-chaos-already-accomplished-1012666435586

 

To Re-Cap

To Re-Cap

We are six months into the Trump Administration. Late last night, the Affordable Care Act dodged a bullet by two votes (thanks to Murkowski, Collins, McCain and the Senate Democrats). Now hopefully they can find a way to actually govern instead of posturing.

We are deep into the investigation of the Trump Campaign’s connection to the Russian State – so deep that the Trump Administration is willing to do almost anything to change the subject – from calling for a Special Counsel to investigate Hillary Clinton and James Comey[1] to talking dirty to the Boy Scouts and the New Yorker[2].

It’s time to recap. What do we know, what do we think, and what do we hope?

We know that the Trump Campaign received significant and potentially outcome changing help from the Russian government in the form of social media manipulation and control, and the theft and release of Trump’s opponents’ electronic communications.  We know that the manipulation and hacks were not only widespread, but also targeted and sophisticated. We know that 17 US Intelligence agencies have “high confidence” that there were Russian Intelligence operations[3]. We know that President Trump still publically and consistently questions this intelligence finding.

We also know that the Russian Intelligence agencies probed the actual electoral databases of at least twenty-one states (and possibly more) in the 2016 election cycle, and breeched at least three, in Florida, North Carolina and Illinois[4].

We know that in the writing of the party platform at the Republican convention, the section calling for arming Ukraine with “lethal defense weapons” against Russia was watered down at the behest of the Trump campaign, to read “providing appropriate assistance.[5]

We know that members of the Trump Campaign were in contact with representatives of the Russian government throughout the summer and fall of 2016. This includes the famous meeting in Trump Tower on June 9th, with Donald Trump Jr., Campaign Manager Paul Manafort, and Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and several Russians with links to the Russian government; and also multiple meetings by Advisor Michael Flynn, Senator (now Attorney General) Jeff Sessions, and advisor Carter Page.

We know that members of the Trump Campaign was openly looking for “negative information” about Hillary Clinton, and demonstrated willingness to accept information from Russian government sources (as seen in emails by Donald Trump Jr.)

We know that campaign advisor Roger Stone bragged about contact with Julian Assange of Wikileaks and “Guccifer 2.0” during the campaign, even to go so far as predicting when the emails of Clinton Campaign Chairman John Podesta would be “dropped.” Wikileaks and Guccifer 2.0 were the websites where the hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign were released[6].

We know that there was a computer email server, registered to the Trump organization and in Trump Tower, which was in consistent and near exclusive communication with a server owned by Alfa Bank, a Russian bank that has close ties to the Putin regime. Analysis of those servers show activity increases corresponding to important events during the campaign. Both Alfa Bank and the Trump organization deny that there was a linkage and that they had any business connections, though metadata logs demonstrate a consistent pattern[7].

We know that Jared Kushner apparently was looking for ways to avoid US Intelligence surveillance after the election, asking the Russian Embassy if there was a way to establish secure communications through their facilities.

We know that President Trump has shown a consistent pattern of “being nice” to Vladimir Putin, and being unwilling to press against Russian aggressions.

We know that the Trump team, from Michael Flynn to Jeff Sessions to Jared Kushner; have a remarkably unclear memory of meetings they had with Russians and members of the Russian government.  We know that Kushner in particular has had to revise his SF 86 Security Clearance multiple times, and all seems to only admit to meetings when the evidence is put in front of them.

We also know that the Trump Administration has shown an apparent and ongoing desire to obstruct and stop the “Russia Investigation.” This was first demonstrated by the firing of FBI Director Comey, and continues with pressure from the President (via Tweets) on Attorney General Sessions to either quit of “un-recuse” himself so that he can protect Trump.[8] The Trump team also is raising questions about Special Counsel Mueller and his team, questioning whether they have “conflicts of interest,” and recently have begun attacks on Acting FBI Director McCabe, the default overseer of the investigation should Mueller’s team be fired.[9]

What we don’t have – direct evidence that the Trump campaign cooperated with Russian intelligence during the campaign. We know that they were willing to do so (at least Donald Trump Jr. was) but we don’t have evidence that they did – yet. We don’t have direct linkage of President Trump with Russian connections, though his micro-management style of his organization suggests he would know about what his subordinates did.

We don’t know yet, what the financial information about the Trump organization may bring. We know that Trump was known for playing “fast and loose” in the New York real estate market. One of the administration’s strongest protests is that the Mueller investigation should NOT be looking outside of the 2016 Presidential campaign. As Mueller was rumored to be asking for tax returns, all of a sudden Trump raised the heat on the Special Counsel.

We don’t have direct information about the “kompromat,” the potentially damaging information Russian Intelligence might have on the President. This might range from the amount of Russian money that has been invested into the Trump Organization (one potential reason for Trump’s unwillingness to reveal his taxes) to actual money laundering by Russian organized crime through Trump properties, to more salacious and immoral suggestions including sex trafficking.

What we can hope? That sooner rather than later, the Mueller investigation will begin to reveal what it has found. This is not just because it could be the beginning of the end of the Trump Administration, but, just as Watergate did over forty years ago, the scandal has gripped the nation, and paralyzed any other actions that the government might take. We can’t move on, with or without Trump, until we know.

Will it happen soon? Don’t hold your breath.

[1] WAPO – House Judiciary Committee Votes to probe Comey and Clinton

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/powerpost/wp/2017/07/26/house-judiciary-committee-votes-to-probe-comey-and-clintons-2016-campaign/?utm_term=.4419ae91f7c2

[2] New Yorker – Scaramucci Rant

http://www.newyorker.com/news/ryan-lizza/anthony-scaramucci-called-me-to-unload-about-white-house-leakers-reince-priebus-and-steve-bannon

[3] Time – Inside Russia’s Socia Medial War on America

http://time.com/4783932/inside-russia-social-media-war-america/

[4] Bloomberg – Russian Breach of 39 States

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-06-13/russian-breach-of-39-states-threatens-future-u-s-elections

[5] Business Insider – Republican Platform Changes on Ukraine

http://www.businessinsider.com/jd-gordon-trump-adviser-ukraine-rnc-2017-3

[6] CNN – Stone and Wikileaks

http://www.cnn.com/2017/03/20/politics/kfile-roger-stone-wikileaks-claims/index.html

[7] Slate – Trump Server Communicating with Russia

http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/cover_story/2016/10/was_a_server_registered_to_the_trump_organization_communicating_with_russia.html

[8] Vanity Fair – Sessions

http://www.vanityfair.com/news/2017/07/why-jeff-sessions-can-tell-trump-to-kiss-his-ring

[9] NYT – Session and McCabe

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/26/us/politics/jeff-sessions-trump-mccabe.html

 

The End of Reconstruction

The End of Reconstruction

It started with a political deal in 1876. The Democratic candidate, Governor Samuel Tilden of New York apparently won the election for President over Republican Rutherford Hayes, Governor of Ohio. Tilden won the popular vote by 50.9%, with 4,288,546 votes to Hayes’ 4,034,311. The apparent electoral vote total was 184 for Tilden and 165 to Hayes. At the time, 185 was the number needed for majority. There were two sets of votes sent from Florida, Louisiana, and South Carolina, and one disputed vote from Oregon, making a total of twenty votes in question.

Who was right, who was wrong no longer was the point. There was a deal to be made between the Southern Democrats and the Republicans that controlled Congress. The Southern Democrats agreed to cede all 20 votes, making Hayes the President, in return for the end of the military occupation of the South (from the Civil War) and political control of those states. The deal was made – and Tilden was left behind.

It was the end of Reconstruction, and the end of the Radical Republican dream of racial equality enshrined in the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution. Soon new laws were introduced in the South, the “Jim Crow Laws,” which guaranteed separation of the races and there was a steady movement towards discriminatory laws in both the South and the North. It took close to a century to undo the damage done by this deal.

This morning, in a “tweet,” the President of the United States began the undoing of the advances made by the LGBTQ community in the past decade. It didn’t take a nefarious committee of the Congress, it didn’t take a national discussion: President Trump picked up his phone, and removed the right and opportunity for transgendered folks to serve in the military. What about the estimated 1320 to 6630 transgendered who are already serving? What about the fact that those folks have served openly, because there were told they could,  now facing discharge? What about the newly graduated transgendered from the national military academies? They’re out.

With all of the craziness that goes on in the Trump Administration (this morning: the health care votes in the Senate, the cyber-bullying of the Attorney General, the firing of White House staff by Scaramucci, John McCain, and on and on) we shouldn’t miss this. The President is rolling back the advancement of LGBTQ rights. He’s doing it not through a Presidential order, not through a press conference where questions can be asked: no – only through a “tweet” which allows for no questions.

From a more global perspective the Trump administration represents a real turning point in the progress of human rights in the United States. It’s the “voting commission” and the national restriction of voting rights, the Education Department’s change on transgendered policy, the call of the Vice President for the teaching of the science of “creationism” versus the “theory” of evolution in school, the willingness of the President to remove Medicaid from 20 million to 30 million people. It all represents a “roll back” of rights, much like the end of Reconstruction.

Let’s hope it doesn’t take a century to fix.

 

PBS – The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow

https://www.pbs.org/wnet/jimcrow/stories_events_election.html

Rand Study – Transgendered in the Military

https://www.rand.org/news/press/2016/06/30.html

Atlantic – Sec’y of Defense Carter – allows transgendered to serve

https://www.theatlantic.com/news/archive/2016/06/transgender-military/489584/

Pence and Creationism

https://www.forbes.com/sites/shaenamontanari/2016/11/10/vp-elect-mike-pence-does-not-accept-evolution-heres-why-that-matters/

 

 

The Boy Scout Oath

The Boy Scout Oath

On my Honor, I will do my Best,

To Do My Duty, to God and my Country, and

To Obey the Scout Law.

To Help other people at all times.

To Keep myself physically strong,

Mentally Awake,

And Morally Straight.

Honor, Duty, Helping Others and Yourself: those are the keys to the Scout Oath. The Boy Scouts was established in 1910 to use the outdoors as a way to teach these principles. As an organization it has struggled with the changes of America. As a Scout myself in the 1960’s, the contrast between those ideals and the activism of the “sixties” was striking and confusing. I remember an indoor event at Hara Arena in Dayton, Ohio, where my troop was building a signal tower from logs and rope. As we worked, we listened to another troop’s project, a rock band, play “American Band” by Grand Funk Railroad (“…we’re coming to your town, we’re going to party it down, we’re an American Band…”.) We were enjoying the show, but the adult leaders literally ran to the stage to stop the music: it wasn’t considered the “Scouting Way.”

The Scouting organization has tried to catch up ever since. It took Robert Gates, Secretary of Defense under both George W. Bush and Barack Obama, to move the Scouts to recognize LGBTQ rights for Scouts and leaders. As President of the Boy Scouts from 2014 to 2016, Gates, an Eagle Scout (the highest rank a boy can achieve in the organization) understood that either the Scouts needed to move forward with our society, or be isolated and wither away.

Scouting is still struggling, as inner city kids find it irrelevant, and suburban kids are organized into travel sports. Today over 2.7 million youth and 950,000 adults are involved, down from 1970’s high of 6.4 million. It still provides kids opportunities to camp, learn life skills and learn to work together, as well as strong set of moral ideals.

One of the great experiences of Scouting is the opportunity to travel to a National Jamboree, where Scouts from all over the country come together for a week of camping together, doing activities, and getting the opportunity to know each other. It is a time of fellowship and renewal of Scouting ideals. It is a great honor to be asked to speak to the 40,000 assembled Scouts at the Jamboree. Certainly a President of the United States should at least recognize the Scouting ideals when speaking to the kids. It is his opportunity to emphasize both to the Scouts and to the nation the good that still comes from Scouting, and the importance of Duty, Honor, God and Country.

Unfortunately, this President doesn’t get it. He took the honor the Boys Scout’s gave him and used it to further his own political agenda. His address to the Scouts included promoting his health care plan, talking about his electoral win, slamming “fake news,” and demanding loyalty from his own subordinates. He even decided that it was appropriate to use profanity, and imply off color jokes. He also made the gross mistake of assuming that all Boy Scouts supported him for President and wanted him to “Make America Great Again.”

There were plenty of people around Trump to tell him how to behave (since he obviously didn’t know.) Cabinet Secretaries Zinke, Perry, Sessions and Tillerson are all Eagle Scouts. As Eagles they well know the traditions and ideals of Scouting, and they know exactly what role the President of the United States should take. Clearly he either never asked, or didn’t care.

The fact that the Boys Scouts of America asked the President of the United States to address their Jamboree shouldn’t reflect badly on the Scouts. Unfortunately, Donald Trump showed exactly what kind of man he is. He didn’t bother to do what was appropriate for the setting: instead, wrapped up in his own narcissism, he ignored the traditions of Scouting and insulted the organization and the Scouts by his political rant. Some say this is the Scouts’ fault, but the fault is that of America: we elected him.

 

Full Disclosure: Marty Dahlman, Eagle Scout, 1970

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Going to the Mattresses (So What Could Trump Do, Part II)

Going to the Mattresses

(So What Could Trump Do, Part II)

No, no, no! No more! Not this time, consiglieri. No more meetings, no more discussions, no more Sollozzo tricks. You give ’em one message: I want Sollozzo. If not, it’s all-out war: we go to the mattresses.

Sonny Corelone speaking to Tom Hagen in The Godfather

Sean Spicer is out as Director of Communications: Anthony Scarmucci is in. Marc Kasowicz is “taking a reduced role” as the President’s Attorney for the Russia Investigation: Ty Cobb is in. Attorney General Sessions has been “disloyal” to the President by recusing himself from the Russian investigation. The President’s legal team is “looking into” Special Counsel Mueller’s team for conflicts and for exceeding the “bounds” of the Special Counsel’s investigation. They also are researching what the President’s power to pardon entails.

It looks like the President is getting ready to “go to the mattresses.” Spicer, a long time part of the Republican establishment and friend of Chief of Staff Reince Priebus is leaving his White House position as Press Secretary and Director of Communications. His replacement is the ultimate “Trump loyalist”, Anthony Scarmucci, Wall Street entrepreneur. Scarmucci’s first words are: “I love the President. I am serving the President, the President’s agenda.” Priebus days may well be numbered as well.

Going to the mattresses: the President is getting ready to go to war over the Russia investigation. He’s not looking for expertise in issues, he’s really not interested in his ongoing issues agenda: he’s looking for loyalists who will stick with him through the fight that is about to begin. Let’s look into the crystal ball to see what may occur.

Trump would like to fire Sessions, not for disloyalty, but because Session’s recusal has rendered him unable to defend Trump. If Trump could fire Sessions, and appoint a new Attorney General who is clear of Russian connections, he would. Then he could order that Attorney General to fire Special Counsel Mueller. However, the US Senate would have to approve that appointment, and it seems unlikely that they would do so if the appointee wouldn’t commit to keeping Mueller.

So Sessions, stays in the job. Trump will wait until the Special Counsel investigation gets into the Trump business finances, then claim Mueller is out of bounds (and bring out any “dirt” his legal team has found.) Rod Rosenstein, Deputy Attorney General, is ordered to fire Mueller, and refuses. The next in line, the Solicitor General and the Associate Attorney General, also refuse, and all three are fired. The next in order is Dana Boente, US Attorney of the Eastern District of Virginia, and late acting Attorney General. He becomes acting Deputy Attorney General, fires Mueller, then heads back to Alexandria.

The Mueller investigation returns to the FBI, and the Special Counsel’s team goes back into private practice. Now it’s up to the Department of Justice to bring charges brought by the FBI, a much less likely prospect.

Meanwhile the Congressional committees are up in arms, claiming that Trump is obstructing justice. Trump uses Twitter to rouse his base, trying to keep the Republicans in line. Maybe that works, maybe not. Meanwhile the committees try to lever Manafort, Flynn, Don Junior and Jared Kushner to testify: trading immunity for their incriminating statements. The President “double-jumps” the committees by granting all of them pardons, telling the American people; “…this is the only way to end the witch hunt and get on with Making America Great Again.” Again, maybe this works, maybe not. If both of these moves work though, the President is clear until the elections of 2018.

Come 2018, if Democrats gain a majority in the House, impeachment would definitely be in the air. Should the House pass a bill of impeachment, it goes to the Senate. Two-thirds must agree to remove the President. If Republicans stay “in-line” then Trump survives, if they determine that he must go, then he resigns (saving the country the “agony” of an impeachment trial, and probably with an agreement with Pence that he receives a Presidential pardon.)

This strategy achieves several objectives for the Trump team. First, it will take years, if ever, for the final act of Presidential removal to occur. It delays, fulfilling the daily goal of “survive til tomorrow.” And, if Trump is able to hold his base, he may well be able to hold just enough of the Republican members of Congress to run the table and stay until 2020.

The question will ultimately fall to the Republican leaders of the Congress.   If they see that the conservative agenda items they have been dreaming about since 2008 are no longer an option, they may decide to cut Trump lose and try again with a Pence Presidency. Or, and one would hope, if they see that there is evidence of Trump’s illegal acts, perhaps they will stand up and do what’s right for the country for the right reason. They will show the courage of being more than just loyal to the President or the party, but loyal to the Constitution and the United States of America.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So What Could Trump Do?

So What Could Trump Do?

Last night the President of the United States gave a rambling interview to the New York Times. He made several statements that raised questions about what he intends to do. He voiced displeasure with the actions of Attorney General Jeff Sessions who recused himself from involvement in investigations about the 2016 campaign. Trump said he wouldn’t have appointed him if he known. He also placed a “ red line” on the Special Counsel’s investigation, stating that Mueller should not get into the Trump family finances. In addition, he claimed that there are multiple conflicts of interest in the Special Counsel’s office, though he wouldn’t reveal what they were (maybe later, just like the “tapes” of the Comey conversations.)

This raises the question: what would the President be willing to do to stop the Russia Investigation, what could he do, and most significantly, what would the possible outcomes of those actions be?

As William Mueller continues his investigation, clearly looking beyond “just” Russian connections to the Trump campaign, Trump has two paths to remove him and attempt to end his investigation. The first would be to order the removal of Mueller. The President does not have the direct power to fire Mueller, what he can do is order the Attorney General to do it. Since Attorney General Sessions is recused (and here’s the problem Trump has) that power devolves to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein (Trump had plenty to say about Rosenstein, the former Baltimore US Attorney, saying that “…there are very few Republicans in Baltimore, if any.”)

Should Rosenstein refuse to fire Mueller, Trump could fire him. That would move the authority to fire Mueller to the down the line in the Department of Justice; first to the Solicitor General, then the Associate Attorney General, and then US Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia in succession. This would be reminiscent of the “Saturday Night Massacre” of Watergate days, when Nixon ordered the firing of Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox, and the top two officers of the Justice Department refused to do it and were fired or resigned.

There is a second way that the President could end the Mueller investigation. The Special Counsel exists as a series of regulations within the Department of Justice. It is not a “law,” and since the President is ultimately in charge of the Department, he has the authority to alter or abolish those regulations. Therefore, President Trump could simply make the Special Counsel position disappear, thus ending that part of the investigation. While this gets the leaders of the Department out of the middle, it still might result in their resignation, and move the investigation back to the FBI.

Clearly firing or removing Mueller would be seen by many as the ultimate form of obstruction of justice. The investigation would continue through the FBI, and certainly one would hope that Congress (even Republicans) would take a dim view of that action, just as the Republicans did back in 1973. The Senate and House investigations would continue, and could lead to impeachment.

The President also has an unlimited power to “pardon” for Federal crimes. Pardoning is forgiving for crimes that may have been committed; once a pardon has been issued to a particular individual, all criminal action against the individual for those matters pardoned is ended. Despite “tweet chains” to the contrary, the ability of the President to pardon includes those who worked and campaigned with him even his family. There is no mechanism to restrict the pardoning power of the President during investigations.

So it is possible that President Trump could pardon Flynn, Manafort, and his children, for any crimes they may have committed involving Russia and the campaign. The biggest effect of such a pardon would be to remove the leverage that investigators, both Special Counsel and Congressional, have to gain testimony. Reaction to that action would be important, again, as the President depends on the Republicans in Congress to maintain their support. But, if the Congress moved to impeachment, there still is no precedent for “undoing” the pardons issued, and a great deal protecting the President’s power.

Presidential pardons have two restrictions: the President cannot pardon impeachments, and the President cannot pardon state offenses. So President Trump cannot prevent his own impeachment, and he cannot stop state or local investigations (such as the New York State Attorney General’s investigation into Trump finances.

Could President Trump pardon himself? It’s never happened. It certainly would be seen as an admission by some of guilt. If that didn’t trigger an impeachment process resulting in the removal of the President, nothing will. But all of that doesn’t mean he couldn’t do it. It certainly would put the country into a Constitutional crisis (if we aren’t in one already.) I would imagine that if President Trump did this, it would be soon followed by his resignation.

After reviewing the New York Times interview, President Trump presents himself as a man who will “go down fighting.” As the Special Counsel moves closer to the Trump finances and children, it would not be a surprise if he is fired. Since that only moves the investigations back to the FBI, the Presidential pardons would come next, with the President betting that his power base in the country would prevent the Republicans in Congress from moving towards impeachment. Ultimately it would still be the nation’s decision, with the final decision made in the Congressional elections in 2018.

New York Times – Trump Interview

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/19/us/politics/trump-interview-sessions-russia.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=first-column-region&region=top-news&WT.nav=top-news

Order of Succession – Department of Justice

https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2017/02/10/providing-order-succession-within-department-justice

Presidential Pardons

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/01/25/AR2009012501774.html

 

Shanksville

Shanksville

It’s summer in America, and for us it now means loading up the camper and heading out on the road. This week it’s Pennsylvania, and while today will find us in Gettysburg (where I can transform into the history geek I’ve always been) yesterday it was Shanksville.

Shanksville has a population of 232. It is a rural village in the hills and dales of the Laurel Highlands of Southwestern Pennsylvania. It is coal and farming  and definitely Trump country. And if that name sounds vaguely familiar, it should. Sixteen years ago the quiet little village of Shanksville was ripped out of rural tranquility and placed front and center onto the world stage of terror.

It was in a old strip mined field of Shanksville, Pennsylvania, that the fourth airliner hijacked on 9/11, United Flight 93, came hurtling into the ground at 543 miles per hour. It was bound for the Capitol Building in Washington, 19 minutes out, when the passengers decided that they were going to take control of history. They revolted on the plane, as passenger Todd Beamer was heard to say (on a airphone left connected) “Let’s Roll.” They tried to take control back, and ultimately brought the plane down.

It was an act of desperation, knowing from phone calls that the Pentagon and the World Trade Centers had already been hit, knowing that this was not a “hostage taking” exercise, knowing that they were in a flying bomb. It was an act of ultimate courage, willing to take the last chance, to at least choose their way of dying. It was forty passengers and crew versus four hijackers, and as the black box recording showed, the heroes succeeded in breeching the cockpit, as English and Arabic yells and curses mixed, and the hijackers, rather than be overcome, crashed the plane.

There are several memorials near Shanksville. The United States has created a Memorial and a Visitors Center near the crash site. The Memorial has low black limestone walls surrounding the debris field, and a high white memorial wall, names of the passengers and crew etched in stone, following the plane’s path of descent. In the center of the field, a boulder represents the covered impact zone, originally thirty feet deep, filled in as the final resting place for the fallen.

The Visitors Center gives a visual history of that day, from the clear blue skies that welcomed the children at the Shanksville school that morning, to the step by step realization that we were under attack, and finally the shocking assault from the sky. It is a National Monument to the heroic action of the forty, and it is an historical lesson so that the growing number of people who have no memory of 9/11 will learn. As Lincoln said, “…it is all together fitting and proper that we do this.”

Down the road is the Flight 93 Memorial Chapel. It isn’t mentioned at the National Memorial. It was an old church, turned into a grain barn, that after the crash a local priest determined to buy and create a space for those who wished to mourn, meditate, and remember. “Father Al” with help from the Hardys’ of 84 Lumber, remodeled the chapel in time for the first anniversary of the crash. It was where the families of the forty originally came. It is filled the not only with their memorabilia, but the gifts of thousands, from stained glass from a Jewish temple, to a US desert camo uniform from Iraq, to a United Airlines service cart. Outside, United’s own monument to the passengers and crew is placed. A memorial bell vintage 1861 is rung, loud enough to be heard at the crash site four miles away.

While the National Memorial represents the history and honor of the nation, the Chapel represents the heart and soul of the people of Shanksville. It is their ongoing gift to the families of the fallen, and also a memorial to their own loss of innocence.

With the political divide our nation is faced with today, where we can hardly stand each other across the chasm of differing beliefs, it is strengthening to realize that there still is an America where we can reach across our differences to unite. We can celebrate both the strength of the forty, and the strength of the folks in Shanksville in dealing with this tragedy. We can believe in America once again.

 

 

 

 

So Let’s Get This Straight

So Let’s Get this Straight

So let’s get this straight. After a week of “rolling revelations” from the Trump family, we finally have a sense of what went on leading up to the meeting June 16th, 2016 in Trump Tower. Here’s the cast of characters (reads like the first chapter of War and Peace.) Links for more information are at the end of the article.

Donald Trump Jr – eldest son of then Presidential candidate Donald Trump and a chief advisor to his father and the campaign.

Rob Goldstone – publicist for Russin/Azerbaijani Pop Star Emin Agalarov. Acquainted with Trump Jr since the 2013 Miss Universe Pageant in Moscow, which the Trumps owned.

Emin Agalarov – Russian-Azerbaijani Pop Star. Performed at the Miss Universe Pageant and has had continued his relationship with the Trumps. President Trump appeared in one of his pop videos.

Aras Agalarov –Azerbaijani-Russian construction billionaire, and close friend of Vladmir Putin. Agalarov not only has sponsored his son’s performing career, but also is a prime candidate for Trump construction deals in Russia. Trump Junior and Senior both know him from the Miss Universe pageant.

 Natalia Veselnitskaya – Russian attorney, and lobbyist in the United States against the Magnitsky Act. The Magnitsky Act is a series of US sanctions against individual Russians accused of committing “human rights abuses,” which included the death of Sergei Magnitsky in Russian prison. Putin hates the Magnitsky Act. She also was an attorney in the Prevezon case, where the Russian company that benefited from Magnitsky’s death laundered hundreds of millions of dollars through New York real estate. The Justice Department just settled the case for a $6 million penalty.

Rinat Akhmetshin – Dual American/Russian citizen, who served as a counter intelligence officer in Russian Army Intelligence before immigrating to the US. Akhmertshin is known as a “fixer” in Washington, an expert on finding negative information about companies or people. Akhmetshin has bragged about his ability to find emails that have been hacked.

Paul Manafort – Manager for the Trump campaign in the late spring and summer of 2016. Manafort also has documented connections with the Russian government, including political work in Ukraine to elect a pro-Russian president. Manafort ultimately left the Trump campaign when his foreign dealings were revealed.

Jared Kushner – Husband of Ivanka Trump, and a leading advisor to then candidate, now President Trump. Kushner also was deeply involved in real estate in New York City.

Yuri Chaika – Prosecutor-General of Russia. A close Putin ally (and law school classmate) met with Veselnitskaya (according to her) before she came to New York for the meetings with Trump Jr.

So here’s the story.

Goldstone sent an email to Donald Trump Jr. In the email he requested to set up a meeting with Trump Jr and a “representative of the Russian Government” (Veselnitskaya) having negative information about Clinton and the Democratic National Committee. Trump Jr’s reply: “I love it.”

Currently known to be in the meeting were: Trump Jr, Manafort, Kushner, Goldstone, Veselnitskaya, and Akhmetshin. At the writing of this, there are rumors of two more participants, perhaps Emir Agalarov and another member of the Trump family. Those are unconfirmed rumors.

Trump Jr states the meeting was less than thirty minutes. He claims that the discussion was not about Clinton and the DNC, but concentrated on the Magnitsky Act and Russia’s retaliation by banning US parents from adopting from Russia. Veselnitskaya and Akhmetshin have stated that a folder was given to Trump Jr, but the Trumps have not acknowledged that.

So what’s the take on this so far? I’m not addicted to too many television shows, but one that keeps me completely occupied is NCIS. The lead character, Gibbs, has a series of rules to live by. His Rule 39: there is no such thing as a coincidence.

The leaders of the Trump Campaign met with a Russian lawyer known for her connections to the Russian government. With her was a US/Russian citizen known for his abilities to run negative campaigns and get hacked emails. It seems unreasonable that this was all a cover to talk about the Magnitsky Act.

So that’s where things stand today, at least this morning. As this story has gone, I’m sure it will be completely different this afternoon!!!

On a different note; Vice President Pence fired the first shot of the 2020 Presidential primaries last week, calling out Ohio Governor John Kasich on Medicaid in front of the National Governor’s conference. A detailed look at the information shows that Pence got it wrong – but that wasn’t the point anyway. Let the games begin!!!

CNN – overview of Trump Meeting

http://www.cnn.com/2017/07/15/politics/russia-donald-trump-jr-meeting/index.htm

Natalia Veselnitskaya

https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2017/07/natalia-veselnitskaya-trump-junior/533670/

Rinat Akhmetshin

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/15/world/europe/rinat-akhmetshin-donald-trump-jr-natalia-veselnitskaya.html

Magnitsky Act

http://www.npr.org/2017/07/14/537247838/what-really-irritates-vladimir-putin-the-magnitsky-act

Prevezon Case

http://www.businessinsider.com/why-was-russian-money-laundering-case-dismissed-house-dems-2017-7

Yuri Chaika

https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2017/07/russian-crown-prosecutor/533295/

Gibbs Rules

http://www.nciswikia.com

 

I’m not a lawyer, but…

I’m not a lawyer, but…

The son of the Republican candidate for President, the campaign manager, and the son-in-law of the President chose to meet with a person they thought was a representative of the Russian government in order to get negative information about the Democratic candidate. They then denied that meeting for over a year, until the New York Times forced them to acknowledge it.

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/11/us/politics/trump-russia-email-clinton.html

It sounds incredibly shaky. It is completely unethical. Any normal politician would realize that it absolutely fails the risk/benefit analysis. Whatever they received in that meeting (and we only have Donald Junior’s word that there wasn’t anything) it wasn’t worth the very foreseeable outcome they are experiencing today. The question remains – was it a violation of Federal law?

Much as “never-Trumpers” and others would wish it, the actions by the three are not a “slam dunk,” “go directly to jail” event. However, there are several theories that would allow for Federal prosecution.

The first, and probably most far-fetched, is the Treason section of Article III, Section 3 of the US Constitution. Treason is closely defined as “giving aid and comfort” to the enemies of the United States. While participating with a foreign adversary in undermining the electoral process would seem to be doing exactly that, it is unlikely that Courts would see the current US/Russia relationship as one of enemies at war. Having said that, if in the end it is shown that the Trump campaign helped direct the ongoing Russian attacks, it could end up as an included charge.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/five-myths-about-treason/2017/02/17/8b9eb3a8-f460-11e6-a9b0-ecee7ce475fc_story.html?utm_term=.04219371583c

The second and likely charge, would be a violation of the Federal Campaign Laws. It is illegal for a campaign to accept money donated by a foreign citizen (or government.) The stretch in this charge, is that the Russians weren’t offering money, they were offering information. This would have to be regarded as an “in kind” contribution, an action that can be assigned a monetary value. If no other evidence is available beyond what has been published, then the charge would be “intent” to accept this contribution, and the charge would get pretty thin.

http://www.uky.edu/electionlaw/analysis/foreign-contributions-us-elections

The third possibility would require a lot more evidence that the Trump campaign was involved in directing the Russian attacks. Those actions began with a felony crime, the hacking of the DNC emails. The Trump campaign would have conspired with the Russians in the commission and/or use of those stolen documents, and therefore been involved in a pattern of corrupt practices. This could result in a “RICO” charge, like those used against organized crime.

http://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/content/rico-act.html

Finally, there is the “cover up.” While it is NOT illegal to lie to the media or the people, it IS illegal to lie under oath, to lie or misrepresent on Federal security documents, and/or to lie or misrepresent to Federal investigators. As occurred in the Watergate prosecutions, many of the charges in the Trump case may end up being the “cover up” rather than the base crimes.

https://fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/98-808.pdf

What about the President himself? As President of the United States, he is immune from criminal prosecution (though there is discussion as to whether he can be indicted.) He can be civilly sued (that’s what caught up Bill Clinton, lying under oath in a deposition.)  There are only two processes for removing the President, impeachment by the House of Representatives and conviction by two thirds of the Senate; or temporary removal from office under the 25th Amendment (a majority of the cabinet and the Vice President, and ultimately two thirds of the House and Senate.)

http://dahlman.online/index.php/2017/03/11/process/

We are (still) a long way from that.

 

 

 

An Ethical Dilemma

An Ethical Dilemma

It was 1995 here in little Pataskala, Ohio. There was a local fight between a small faction that wanted to take over the school board, and the “good guys” allied against them (guess which side I was on!!) It was ugly, at board meetings, in the newspapers, and even with threats of lawsuits (and challenges to duels!)

I was a participant in the fray, both as a teacher/coach, and an officer in the local teachers’ union. I awoke one morning to find a manila envelope wedged in my front door. I opened and read damaging material about one of the “bad guys,”  incredibly personal and intimate. It would decimate him and destroy their “cause.”

Was it true, or not? Was it someone settling a personal grudge? Did it matter, if it achieved the political goal of “beating the bad guys?”

In any kind of political career you make ethical decisions; weighing right versus wrong against cost versus benefit. Some aren’t a big deal: do you put signs up in the road right-of-way (technically illegal).  Some are tougher:  do you “go negative” in a campaign with facts against your rival (and how far do you go.) Some are even worse, do you accept the support of someone who clearly will expect something in return. And then there’s the ultimate question: are you willing to do anything and everything to win?

Donald Trump Jr, Paul Manafort, and Jared Kushner were faced with this kind of ethical question. A meeting was arranged with a Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, with the goal of getting “dirt” on Hillary Clinton. http://www.politico.com/story/2017/07/10/donald-trump-jr-russia-meeting-legal-danger-240370

A brief Google search would have found the linkage between Veselnitskaya and pro-Putin positions. A little further digging would have found that she represents some of Putin’s closer allies. Trump Jr, Manafort and Kushner walked into a meeting with a Russian with government connections at a time when the Trump campaign was pivoting to attack Clinton, and looking for a way to get it done (and Trump himself was calling on Russia to find Hillary’s 30,000 emails.) That this particular source (whether it was fruitful or not, we really don’t know yet) was so obviously linked to Putin’s regime should have warned them off. But they took the meeting, making the ethical decision that the benefits would be worth the cost.

If they got information “hacked” from the Clinton campaign and the DNC it was illegal. If they were searching for information from any source (especially foreign) to “get Clinton” they may have participated in a pattern of corrupt activity (RICO violation.) Either way, they showed they were willing to do whatever was needed to win.

So those were the ethics of the Trump campaign senior staff. They couldn’t have been so ignorant of campaign ethics and law especially with such a seasoned campaigner as Manafort in the room. No, they made a choice.

I made a choice too. Regardless of our political differences, I called the “bad guy,” met him at the local restaurant, and handed him the envelope. Though the information, true or false, would have changed the debate and destroyed him, I had good reason to believe it wasn’t true. It was a choice, one that I taught my students and my athletes: that cheating to win isn’t winning at all. I considered the consequences, and decided the results weren’t worth the cost.

We won our issue in the end, campaigning on the ideas we believed in. Perhaps the Trumps would have too. We’ll never know, and the price of   “winning at all cost” ethics may be their utter destruction.