Saturday, May 11, 2019

Getting into the weeds in impeachment

This is a companion piece to a posting on the same day: Crisis in American democracy: Time to impeach?

Here are the realities. To understand it means getting into some weeds.  There are some fundamental protections of American democracy hanging in the balance. The White House getting away with stonewalling Congressional subpoenas undermine guardrails our founders designed to protect us from an autocratic ruler, whether we call them a King, a strong man, a dictator, or an autocrat.  A White House who proclaims they are not subject to the law or to Congress is a near and present danger to democracy.  We now have an Attorney General, Trump's appointee,  Bill Barr, Trump's appointed attorney general, comes equipped with existing views that firing those investigating the President is not a conspiracy to obstruct, even if the act has a corrupt intent to protect his hold on power. Trump's  Barr believes the executive branch is the one to sit in judgment of  possible criminal activities of  their head, the  President, as he declares the Special Counsel Robert Mueller 'sReport  exonerates Donald Trump of obstruction of justice in spite of the report that provides evidence of at least ten attempts, or endeavors, to obstruct the  investigation into widespread  Russian interference in the 2016 elections.   The Justice Department's own manual based on numerous court decisions is that the accused does not need to succeed in obstructing justice, but only needs to "endeavor" to do it, but both Barr and the president's own attorney, Rudy Guiliani choose to ignore that fine point.   The techniques they are using are ignoring all House committee subpoenas and/or claiming executive privilege.

 We have seen this scene before. It is the Richard  Nixon anti-impeachment strategy all over again and we know how that turned out.  Legal experts say case law favors the Democrats. Unlike the Nixon history when Democrats controlled both the Senate and the House,, the Trump administration is counting on a GOP Senate majority and a more friendly Supreme Court to help them out.  Trump on other issues has viewed the Supreme Court as his ally since he appointed two of the justices with many views similar to his. Furthermore, since both Clinton and Watergate impeachment attempts, the rules have changed, putting the Department of Justice in charge of the special counsel investigation.

  Last week the issue came to a head in Congressional scrutiny of  Attorney General Barr and the dawning by those who read the latently released Mueller report that the president was not exonerated of obstruction of justice crimes as Barr had deceptively argued in his infamous March 24 “summary” of the report findings. Barr failed to appear before the House judiciary committee May 2 and has so far failed to turn over the unredacted the version of the Mueller report and the underlying evidence.  Wednesday, May 7,  Barr was to be charged with obstruction of Congress and the White House is claiming executive privilege on subpoenas as they play keep away of the full Mueller report from Congress. They are expected to use the same delay, obstruction tactic for the key witness in the obstruction of justice, White House Council Don McGahn, and testimony by Robert Mueller himself who thought his report would be going to Congress for the appropriate remedy. The Trump administration vows to fight every subpoena issued by the House of Representatives for administration witnesses to appear or documents to be produced. They fear above all TV coverage of witnesses testifying would give voters their own chance to decide for themselves who was lying.  Richard Nixon tried that same strategy, with the articles of impeachment including a charge of abuse of power as well as obstruction of justice. Regarding the crime of conspiracy,   Trump was indeed exonerated by Mueller.

 Impeachment is similar to a criminal indictment and the Senate holds a trial and sits in judgment with the power to send the President packing. The process does differ than a criminal indictment and requirements.  In impeachment, the articles (charges) the burden of proof is whatever the House says it is and it defines high crimes and misdemeanors. This is in contrast with a criminal investigation and prosecution.   The Mueller findings look for "proof beyond a reasonable doubt' to justify criminal indictments, but the Department of Justice and a ruling by their legal counsel do not permit the indictment of a sitting president. The remedy lies with Congress, the impeachment process, and indictment after the President leaves the office.

The key to much of this is the judiciary and how much their members honor the oath to support and protect the Constitution as opposed to swearing allegiance to Donald Trump.  An independent judiciary is the fundamental requirement of a democracy. The first step any modern-day wannabe dictator has used to make his once democratic country a rule by a person is to replace the judiciary with loyalists, thereby destroying the ability of courts to hold the strong man to existing laws of the land that are supposed to be applied equally to political friend and foe.  In democracies, an independent judiciary and the rule of law are entwined. In dictatorships, judges can be counted on to rule in favor of the great leader and against dissident voices. In spite of Trump and the Senate fellow travelers trying to fast track stuffing the courts with loyalists to Donald Trump, the only power still standing in the way of whether we are ruled by law or by a  self-serving person who decides what the law means, is an independent judiciary that we hope still exists.  Having successfully appointed two justices, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, to the highest court, Donald Trump seems to view the Court as his ally. He recently indicated he would expect them to protect him from impeachment or unfavorable rulings by lower courts and Congress. (The Constitution carefully excluded the Court from the impeachment process, except to chair Senate deliberations).

 Even so, the evidence in the Mueller report was there for all to read of multiple examples of how President Trump had obstructed the investigation into the Russian meddling in the 2016 campaign. Mueller carefully stated in his report the reason why the president was not indicted was because of a Department of Justice rules and a Department of Legal Counsel that a sitting president could not be indicted.  That left impeachment, a Congressional action, or prosecution after leaving the office to resolve.

Damning last week was an open letter by a bipartisan group of over 500  former prosecutors who not only said the evidence was there in the redacted Mueller Report for a criminal conviction. From the letter:
“Each of us believes that the conduct of President Trump described in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report would, in the case of any other person not covered by the Office of Legal Counsel policy against indicting a sitting President, result in multiple felonies charges for obstruction of justice..”

The friends of Trump have made some counter legal arguments that Trump cannot be accused of obstruction of justice because he was not obstructing an underlying crime and that, though he may have tried to obstruct the FBI investigation by firing the heads of the investigation, Comey and Mueller, he did not succeed.  The Department of Justice manual asserts that the accused only needs to have “endeavored” to obstruct justice, not that he succeeded, and that the obstruction of a criminal investigation alone is sufficient. The Mueller investigation was a criminal investigation.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Crisis in American democracy. Time for impeachment?

A version of this was published in the Sky Hi News May 15, 2019

We are now at a crisis time in American democracy with a president who believes he is above the law. A Justice Department rule forbids indicting a sitting President. That same President Donald Trump and his lawyers contend he and members of his administration can ignore the House and Senate subpoenas and are thus can deny the legislative branch its Constitutionally granted powers of oversight.  The principles involved and the exposure Congressional hearings will provide of the Mueller findings are moving me to support opening an impeachment inquiry.  How long that inquiry lasts can be managed. Whether that leads to a  House vote to impeach may or may not happen. That the  GOP dominated Senate would remove the President mostly like will not happen,  but for the sake of democracy, it is worth starting it.   Democracy dies in this electronic era when TV cameras are turned off because that is how voters learn who is telling the truth and get a sense of the seriousness of the issues. 

The strongest argument for impeaching the President is protecting the future of our American democracy that depends on adherence to the rule of law, not pledges of allegiance to the rule of a person. Congress needs to begin impeachment proceedings in order to live up to their obligations to protect us from the rule of a wannabe king, autocrat, or dictator,   who determines for himself what the law means to which he is bound.   Like it or not, politically expedient or not,  Donald Trump is pushing and shoving a reluctant House of Representatives to begin the first step in the impeachment process, an impeachment inquiry.  It is the most effective way to speed up and get favorable court judgments against the administration's stonewalling methods. If the courts rule against the Trump administration, and the Trump administration refuses to abide by the decision, then we have a full-blown Constitutional crisis that only an impeachment process or the next election can resolve.

Here is what is going on: The White House is trying to stop present and past members of the administration to show up to testify at televised Congressional hearings.  They are making a case evoking executive privilege to stop White House and Department of Justice past and present personnel to explain in greater detail verbally to the public what is already a matter of public record the Mueller Report and why and how they reached their conclusions. They are also refusing to provide the unredacted version and underlying evidence to the House, even if the House provides necessary secrecy protections required by law. Their strategy is to hope this all lands in court in order to drag out the power struggle until after the 2020 elections.  There is another way to speed up and obtain court judgments. It is to begin an impeachment inquiry. 

House Speaker  Nancy Pelosi, cooling talk of impeachment, has been making the argument that Donald Trump wants the House to begin impeachment so he can paint himself as a victim of his opposing political party that is engineering a "coup" to oust him from power. He is already asserting that argument, anyway, but beginning impeachment would only dramatize that ploy that appeals to his base who seem to believe and support everything the great leader says. However, their argument also appeals to those moderates and swing voters of the electorate who are not so much Trump hero worshippers, but who are sick and tired of the Washington games and would rather hear about health care, the economy, and immigration. 

 Yes, launching the first step in impeachment, a formal inquiry, is risky business.  The risks threaten both Democrats and Republicans. In fact, polls show impeachment approval splits along party lines. Even in the midst of impeachment rumblings, Bill Clinton's approval rating soared and Nixon was elected to a second term. There is a political risk involved, indeed.  On the other hand,  not to act risks setting precedents for the future that could destroy our democracy as we have known it and taken it for granted. The risk Trump takes is that more public exposure could also lead to greater approval by voters for impeachment. 

In the past  Courts have shied away from being involved in power struggles between the executive branch and Congress,  and they might do so in this current conflict if they are to rule on current subpoenas. If the House now dominated by Democrats, begin an impeachment inquiry,  the courts may then take the administration's refusal to adhere to subpoenas much more seriously as a Constitutional issue,  an attack on a Constitutionally permitted process.  What the Supreme Court will do is a question, as well, since Trump has added two loyalists to the bench and considers it "his" court.  By stonewalling subpoenas as they are now to drag out the court decision process past 2020 elections, the White House may force Congress to launch the impeachment process just to get the testimony they need to do their job of oversight so voters will have a clearer picture of Trump than they have now. 

These are inside the ballgame kinds of concerns, boring civics, and history lessons of why America came into being long forgotten since middle school and high school. Falling on deaf ears of most Americans is the constant beat of Democrats and a few independents that the president is not above the law or that balance of powers between the three branches of government is essential to protect us from rule by a person instead rule by the laws. Those who want to give all power to the President hope you, the voters, do not care or do not get it or owe it all to partisan politicians squabbling over power and control.  Trump's gamble is that if he loses the subpoena issue and administration witnesses are forced to repeat what they told Mueller before TV cameras, the public may "get the picture" and public opinion may become much more supportive of impeachment or will at least deny him his second term. The principles involved and the exposure Congressional hearings will provide of the Mueller findings are moving me to support opening an impeachment inquiry. Whether that leads to a vote to impeach may or may not happen, but for the sake of democracy, it is worth it. 

Monday, May 6, 2019

Barr's Mayday distress sparks a bigger mess

A version of this was published in the Sky Hi News on line 5/7/19

Update: May 8, 2019, Barr was charged with Contempt of Congress by House committee

The grilling Attorney General William Barr got from Senate Democrats in his appearance May 1 in Senate hearings must have been enough for him. Attorney General William Barr bailed out, failing to appear for a House  Judiciary Committee hearing the next day on the same subject,  special counsel Robert Mueller’s report about Russia's interference in the 2016 elections. Barr was accused by Senate Democrats of splitting hairs in semantic wranglings, and even outright lying to Congress in his testimonies May 1. Some  Democrats called for impeaching Barr for lying.

 Barr had objected to the House appearance May 2 because he did not want to be cross-examined.  Follow up questions by staff attorneys are a jeopardy he was not willing to face.  Barr objected to being cross-examined by House counsel that was not bound by a five-minute rule for questioning imposed on House members themselves. .Having House staff attorneys do the questioning is not an uncommon procedure when points of law are being argued or there is suspicion of someone lying.  Just ask Dr. Blasey Ford who got cross-examined by the Senate committee’s specially hired attorney in the Kavanaugh Supreme Court Senate confirmation hearings.

 Will any of this lead to President  Trump’s or Barr’s impeachment?  Speaker Pelosi is putting on the brakes for now even as she accused Barr of outright lying to Congress, as well as telling her caucus not to proceed for the impeachment of the President.  She has her eye on 2020 election strategy and impeachment would play into Trump’s hands in portraying himself as a victim.
Instead, the strategy of House Democrats is getting key players quoted in the Mueller Report to testify to repeat in a public hearing the same findings published in the report. This has a far more public impact than just hearing excerpts or reading a 448-page report.  Barr and Trump's media have spun and distorted the findings so effectively, public broadcast of hearings of testimony by the major players would dramatically inform a public of what the findings really were or meant. Today’s voters are more attuned to hearing it themselves than reading it in print and may get a better picture of who is telling the truth about Russian intervention in the 2016 election and whether the President obstructed justice by seeing and hearing those testifying. Polls show increasing public perception already damaging to President Trump.   58 to 60% of the public believe Trump has lied about the Mueller Report.   Another poll finds an even split over whether Trump committed crimes while in the White House and two-thirds of those polled are still not in favor of impeachment. Dramatic House hearings could tilt future polls, just as public testimony turned public views against Nixon in Watergate.

 Robert Mueller is scheduled to testify before the House Judiciary Committee meeting May 15 and Trump says he will not allow it.   Another key player is White House Counsel Don McGahn, who had spent hours testifying to the FBI. He is the key witness to some of Trump’s alleged obstruction of justice evidence.. Trump and his administration are trying to prevent them from answering a subpoena to testify in person, just as they have made it clear they will try to block any subpoenas to present documents and testimony before Congress Richard Nixon in Watergate tried the same tactic, but court decisions were ruled against him. We know how that saga ended.

  In questioning by Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md) and Rep. Charlie Crist (D-F) April 9, 10, 18 Barr had testified Mueller had not objected to his April 24 exoneration letter. Barr lied. He knew better. May 1 his lie was exposed. Barr had received a telephone call and two letters of record from Mueller, one made March 25, and with the March 27 letter later released by the Justice Department May 1, the morning of the Senate hearings. Special Counsel Robert Mueller wrote in the letter to Barr March 27 complaining on record about Barr’s March 24 statement characterizing Mueller’s report. He wrote:  "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. We communicated that concern to the Department on the morning of March 25. “
So, what can the Democrats do short of impeachment and besides holding public hearings?

Democrats can craft an amendment to the special counsel legislation to require a special counsel’s report to be released to the Attorney General and to Congress simultaneously in order to call out a misleading spin and reinstate a better balance of power between the Executive and Legislative branches..  They can charge Barr with Contempt of Congress, if not for lying, for failing to turn over the unredacted version of the Mueller report. A House vote on contempt charges is scheduled for Wednesday  Democrats can pursue by filing suits in the courts.  Whenever this makes it through the courts is anyone’s guess, but it is not out of the question it might be decided in the middle of the 2020 campaign.  No, Mr. President. This is not over.
.____________________________________________________________________________ Later in the May 1 Senate  hearings , Sen. Kamala Harris ’s masterful questioning  got Barr to admit that he had written his infamous March 24 letter, in which he ruled Trump was exonerated on both collision and obstructions of justice,  without reading the underlying evidence and that there had indeed  been a discussion by Trump of opening investigations into Hillary Clinton and other Democrats.
There is even a question if Barr had even read the report because under grilling he either feigned ignorance or was ignorant of Mueller’s finding that the Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort shared the campaign polling data with a suspected Russian operative, Konstantin Kilimnik. No wonder we observers of Russian interference in the 2016 campaign marveled at how the Russians understood American politics so well they could target their advertising and propaganda to key swing voters in rust belt states. We suspect we know now.
 Barr has made the claim that since Mueller did not indict the president for obstruction of justice, he, therefore, was exonerated, permitting Trump to claim he was exonerated on all counts. Not true. The reason stated clearly in Mueller’s report was that Mueller was bound by Department of Justice rules and opinion of the Office of Legal Counsel that a sitting president could not be indicted. Mueller indicated in his report that the remedy was impeachment or indictment after leaving office.

There is even a question if Barr  had  even read the report because  under grilling he either feigned ignorance or was ignorant of Mueller’s finding that  the Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort shared the campaign polling data with a suspected Russian operative, Konstantin Kilimnik. No wonder we observers of Russian interference in the 2016 campaign marveled at how the Russians understood American politics so well they could target their advertising and propaganda to key swing voters in rust belt states. We suspect we know now.

Monday, April 29, 2019

Trump's demagogic and hypocritical approach to women's health:

As southern states pass legislation to ban abortions or restrict them so severely abortions are virtually banned, they are hoping to cash in on Donald Trump's two anti-choice appointments to the Supreme Court.  Roe v Wade will now be put to the supreme test. Recently the cry was ban late-term abortions. Now it is banning all of them virtually or absolutely and punish those who assist or have them..

We will soon see if Donald Trump has swung to court so far to the right, a women's right to choose will be rolled back to the dark ages. One thing is certain. If Donald Trump is re-elected, he will have four more years and the opportunity to change the makeup of the court so that there is no doubt what the outcome will be.  

Donald Trump is no devout Christian. He is using the religious right for political gain. It is a demagogic and hypocritical approach to women's health.  In the meantime, Democrats who have both those who support a woman's right to choose and those who are far more conservative on the issue are struggling to craft a response, other than scaring suburban women. My suggestion is respect of those with differing beliefs, but do not make government the instrument of carrying out a religious belief not shared by 70% of the voters. We should care as much about the living as the unborn and as the South votes to ban abortions, Donald Trump's proposed budget slashes funds for Medicare, Medicaid and child nutrition programs.

Donald Trump at a Wisconsin rally this weekend: "The baby is born," Trump said. "The mother meets with the doctor. They take care of the baby. They wrap the baby beautifully, and then the doctor and the mother determine whether or not they will execute the baby. I don't think so."

This is my very personal view about choice. Having been married to a doctor, an OB-GYN, for over 50 years who practiced in both Catholic and secular hospitals, before he passed away he told me that he had never seen or heard of anyone performing, late-term abortions. No wonder. They are very rare.
Per the Center for Disease Control, abortions after the first 21 weeks of pregnancy constitute less than 1% of all abortions.

 That may be way beyond demagogue Trump's ability to understand or want to understand women's health care issues because he loves to rile up his core supporters. What Dr. Mike did know was that his patients before Obamacare did not always have the money to get prenatal care. He was old fashioned: he still served patients who could not afford services. He also was the first physician to attend a low-income health center in Denver's Five Points and in publicly funded Maternal and Infant care health centers in Denver's Hispanic west side. Donald Trump's budget proposes to cut funds for such health centers. Early health pregnancy health care and birth control, and most importantly, the health of his patients were his top priorities. Particularly at risk are minority women. African-American, , native Americans, and Alaskan natives have three times a rate of maternal deaths than do white women. .  If Trump wants to care for women and their unborn's health, he should stop fighting affordable health care for all.   

What about Roe v Wade? Trump's appeal to his Evangelical base that opposes any right of a woman to choose and has made it the litmus test for Supreme Court appointees, wants the government to ban abortions in any trimester. Currently, thanks to Roe v Wade, abortions are legal in the first trimester. or until viable.  I respect if I do not agree, for the right of those to hold religious views that oppose abortions period, and even those who believe birth control is murder.  I do not agree that the government should enforce their religious-based views on their behalf, nor do 71% of voters.

 The choice of whether or not to have an abortion is a painful one and one-third of women in the US face that choice. Though abortion rates are declining, at least one-fourth of women will have an abortion.

.  I honor those who choose to go through with an unwanted and unplanned pregnancy and opt to be a single parent. Being an "unwed mother" used to be a scarlet letter of social shame. It is no longer. It is, however, an economic burden that we should make it easier for them to bear with food assistance and affordable access to health care, minimum wage, and affordable daycare.   In my earlier life, I have also taken into our homes "unwed" mothers to be or had opted to be single moms.  I know the pain of giving up their baby for adoption because they could not face the shame back home and I know the financial pain they faced as single moms. I challenge the religious who oppose abortion to do likewise.  Those who believe such women deserve support should be the very ones who should be supporting maternal and infant care, nutrition programs, access to health care, and affordable childcare even if it is supported by government assistance. However, the very same who beat the drum for banning all abortions or access to birth control are often the same who oppose government support of those who choose not to have an abortion.  I fail to understand why those who profess to be so religious do not care about the living and health of women as much as they care for the unborn.    
President's Budget Proposes Cuts to Public Health Programs, Health Research, Medicare, and Medicaid
President's Budget Proposes Cuts to Public Health Programs, Health…

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Trump goes coup coup

A version of this was published in the Sky Hi Daily News May 1, 2019

After shouting to the world that the Mueller report exonerated  (cleared) him of both conspiracy with the Russians to tilt the 2016 election his way and of obstruction of justice, Donald Trump must have had a sobering moment when he realized that Mueller had not cleared him of obstruction of justice laid out at least ten instances of obstruction of justice committed by Donald Trump and his associates. Mueller then suggested  in  a footnote the remedy was either impeachment by Congress or indictment after he left office.

In his report, Mueller specifically wrote in plain English that Trump was not exonerated of obstruction of justice.  Trump must have hoped his followers had the same lack of reading comprehension skills he had, and they had not read the report themselves, either. In response, Trump played the victim card to explain to his core followers that the Mueller report and the FBI were engineering a coup d’état against him and now Congress wants to engineer another coup, too, by holding hearings that could lead to impeachment. For a prototype wannabe dictator that he is, a coup fits Trump’s view of government that exists for the purpose of putting him in power and keeping him there and a disdain for the rule of law, any investigations into his suspected wrongdoing, and the remedies holding him accountable that are written into our Constitution.  

The writers of our Constitution had a firm grasp of both English and world history and knew when tyranny reigned to the point of being unbearable or the king went off the rails into the land of incompetence, regime change was by a coup and sometimes a bloody one of palace intrigue and military force or civil war. The Game of Thrones is not all fiction.  Usually a coup d’état in modern times, especially in the recent past in South America, Turkey and Egypt, means the military steps in and ousts the person on the throne or presidential office. To avoid such bloody regime changes and to give the people’s representatives a voice in a democracy, our founders devised the impeachment process that is the law that rules.  The House would indict (impeach) and the Senate would convict. They laid out the rules and process, that would remove the president and others before the next election was held. Later the Constitution was amended to provide for removal with consent of cabinet members and much more. The FBI and the Office of Legal Counsel also had rules that prevented indicting a sitting president of a crime and Special Counsel Robert Mueller also followed that rule.  Trump’s appointed Attorney General Bill Barr was of a controversial and not widely accepted opinion that a president could not be convicted of obstructing justice since he was the head of justice and had the right to fire whomever he pleased. Those who disagree say a president could not get away with that that if he had a “corrupt” intent such as keeping himself in power.

To find evidence that could lead to prosecution or evidence of wrongdoing, a special prosecutor was appointed per federal statutes to conduct the investigation. Congress was also granted by the Constitution the power and duty to conduct their own investigations and issue subpoenas, just as they were empowered to impeach (indict) for “high crimes and misdemeanors” however they defined it and whatever the burden of proof they required.  The Supreme Court is cut out of the entire process except for chairing the Senate conviction proceedings.  Currently, Trump is stonewalling any subpoena and a Constitutional crisis is about to happen, with Trump claiming House hearings are conducting another coup attempt.  After the experience with the impeachment process of both Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton, changes were made to the process so that the special counsel had to report to the Attorney General. That process has been followed.  Trump loves to claim the whole investigation was illegal, but the letter of the federal law has been followed.

Donald Trump constantly claims even to today that the Russians did not help him get elected.  Mueller lays out in detail in over a hundred pages in his report and in earlier indictment court filings exactly how the Russians operated their propaganda targeting and methods of social media and spies on the US ground. It was not a matter of a few commercials, either. His conclusion: “The Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election in sweeping and systematic fashion.”      Last week, Maria Butina was sentenced to 18 months in prison for being a Russian spy who had made her way into the very top halls of the NRA to help with the Russian interference in the 2016 election.

  Whatever happened to the counterintelligence investigation? It was not included in the Mueller report. Also left out of the Mueller report because Mueller did not investigate it, was whether Donald Trump was beholden to the Russians because of financial entanglements or that there were tapes that would prove an embarrassment to him. It is still a mystery why Trump fawns over Russian president Putin prefers to take Putin’s word over our own intelligence services. Why does Trump  sync his foreign policy with Putin’s desire to make Russia great again, lifting sanctions against Russian incursions into Crimea and eastern Ukraine, and weakening NATO’s mutual defense agreement to stop those Russian  threatened  land grabs into NATO  member territory from Montenegro in the Balkans in the south to the Baltics in the north.


 To confuse his followers throughout the Mueller investigation, Trump had claimed there was no collusion, but Robert Mueller stated in his report that they never investigated whether there was collusion because that was not a term in the criminal statutes.  They investigated whether there was a conspiracy, a term in the criminal law meaning the participants got together and planned to commit a crime.  Mueller ruled no evidence of a conspiracy was found.  In a strange twist, Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer in this matter in a public comment asked in so many words, so what is wrong with collusion, benefiting by evidence or measures, supplied by a foreign government and in a sense justifying the commission of collusion and tacit implying collusion happened.

So long as the law enforcers  were “on his side”, they were seen by Donald Trump as  loyal members of his team, but if they investigated and found some damning evidence, they were a deep state out to get him and conduct a coup to oust him from the White House.  The FBI inadvertently helped him get elected when their then director James Comey twice announced publicly in the late summer and  again Trump ten days before the election than Hillary Clinton was under criminal investigation for alleged misuse of emails and a server (and later said in both instances, there was no evidence found).  At the same time in July 2016 a counterintelligence investigation was underway by the FBI and other intelligence agencies motivated by suspicion that Donald Trump and his campaign associates and his pro-Putin foreign policy had many unexplained contacts with Russian operatives. The FBI kept that investigation secret.   The Mueller report owed the opening of the counterintelligence investigation to a Trump campaign associates’ drunken conversation with an Australian diplomat, who then tipped off the FBI. The  counterintelligence investigation was folded into the Mueller investigation.  In short, the deep state helped Trump win, cleared him of conspiracy with the Russians, and yet did not clear him of obstruction of the investigation into the Russian connection.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Mueller's report exposes Trump's team of liars

A version of this was published in the Sky Hi News April 24, 2019

President Obama's administration was a team of rivals, but Donald Trump's was a team of liars.  Special Counsel Mueller's report was a treasure trove of information and evidence. It revealed the Trump administration associates and Donald Trump himself often trying to take the Special Counsel and Trump's loyal followers for fools with their lies. The game is not over in the matter of obstruction of justice. It is a may be game on. While Mueller did not find enough evidence to indict Trump and his associates with conspiring with the Russians to influence the 2016 election, he directly stated he did not clear (exonerate) Trump of obstruction of justice and lies were key in reaching that conclusion. 

The Mueller report contained a list of those who were Trump aides and associates indicted for lying: Mike Flynn, Michael Cohen, Alex van der Zwaan, Rick Gates, George Papadopoulos, and Paul Manafort.   The lies they told were either about contacts with Russians or obstruction of justice. 

How many times have we heard the President claim that Russian interference in the election was fake news or that the Mueller investigation was a witch hunt.? This was no BS, as Trump's most loyal supporters would like to believe.   Most of Volume One of the Mueller report is laying out the evidence of Russian interference. Mueller concluded, “The Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election in sweeping and systematic fashion.” 

One of the most frequent lines Donald Trump repeats is "There is no collusion" with the Russians to interfere in the 2016 campaign. If that was no outright lie, it was because he was committing deception by semantics.  Attorney General Bill Barr perpetuated this deception in his March 24   infamous exoneration letter and claimed numerous times  Mueller found Trump did not "collude" with the Russians.  Mueller went to pains in his report to point out that he did not even investigate "collusion" since that was not a legal term. Per Mueller: he investigated the "conspiracy", which has a standard of people plotting together. "In evaluating whether evidence about collective action of multiple individuals constituted
a crime, we applied the framework of conspiracy law, not the concept of "collusion." 

Rudy Giuliani, the President's lawyer and public advocate,  unintentionally agreed Donald Trump did collude. Guiliani just redefined "collusion" on MSNBC Monday as he tried to make a case that there was nothing wrong with taking information from the Russians to help Trump win. Come on, Guiliani, there is plenty wrong even with that when Trump's foreign policy was in synch with Russia's national interest, but not ours. Trump has been making Russia Great Again.  It may or may not be a tit for tat exchange of something of value, but Russia has gotten their payback in Trump's foreign policy goals, weakening NATO, recognizing Russia's takeover of Crimea, forgiving Russian incursions into eastern Ukraine, and lifting of sanctions against friends of Putin. The Russians did more than just exchange information. They also used that information to target their social media propaganda to shape gullible voter opinions in ways that helped Trump get elected. 

 The first half of the game, whether Trump conspired with the Russians,  may be over,  but the second half is yet to be played. Much. of the second volume of Mueller's report presents evidence and examples of lies regarding the obstruction of justice issue.( Obstruction of justice is a legal term meaning obstruction of the investigation.)  Per Mueller Trump himself lied various times about his orders to fire Mueller and claimed falsely he did not demand loyalty from FBI director Comey. His spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders added her two bits claiming the FBI rank and file was OK with Comey's firing when she never even contacted them. Trump lied about the Trump Tower meeting and his role in shaping public characterization of the meeting. 

Mueller's report left much grist for the impeachment mill since at least ten instances of obstruction of justice were listed. Per Mueller, "Our investigation found multiple acts by the President that were capable of exerting undue influence over law enforcement investigations, including the Russian-interference and obstruction investigations,” ... “The incidents were often carried out through one-on-one meetings in which the President sought to use his official power outside of usual channels. These actions ranged from efforts to remove the Special Counsel and to reverse the effect of the Attorney General’s recusal; to the attempted use of official power to limit the scope of the investigation; to direct and indirect contacts with witnesses with the potential to influence their testimony.”

 In a footnote on page ten, Mueller noted that due to a legal opinion by the Office of Legal Counsel and Department of Justice rules, though he could not indict a sitting president, Congress could still impeach the president or Trump could be prosecuted after he left office.  
 The use of those facts and evidence  regarding the obstruction issue will become the subject of House investigations conducted in public. Even more evidence could come to light if the redacted portions of the report or if the grand jury findings were published. Negotiations are now ongoing on the release of the full unredacted version to select members of Congress However grand jury findings may result in a long legal battle. 

Whether the impeachment process will begin will be more of a Democratic concern about strategy than a sense of duty to provide oversight or the facts presented by Mueller. The Senate in GOP hands will make removal of the president due to impeachment a nonstarter. At the least, expect the drama of the House committees to educate the public through public hearings and the witnesses they will call to testify.  As a burning campaign issue in 2020, the Mueller Report could have limited value.    There are many more issues of concern to voters than the Russian interference and Trump’s role in it.  Timing is also a factor. There are only 18 months until the 2020 election. 
What was of interest is that Mueller concluded the FBI had opened a counterintelligence investigation into Trump July 31, 2016, and kept that a secret, while blaring to the public their investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails once dismissed and again reopened ten days before the election. Explicitly in the Mueller report, the reason given for opening the counterintelligence investigation was Trump aide George Papadapolous ‘ drunken revelation to a foreign diplomat that the Russians had information damaging to Clinton and the release of the report by Wikileaks hacking of the Democratic National Committee. It was not the Steele dossier that triggered the investigation.  If the GOP Senate wants to bark up that tree, again, they may be wasting their time in conducting a vindictive, diversionary sideshow.

What was not in the Mueller report was the counter-intelligence findings part of the investigation. Was the President compromised by the Russians and did that cause the president to support policies that would make Russia great again? Why did he want to weaken NATO, lift Russian sanctions imposed by their takeover of Crimea and their stealth attack on Eastern Ukraine?  Did he owe friends of Putin,  money or did they have more dirt on his behavior, including financial hanky panky or something else? Mueller did not go there.  What we do know is that Trump pursued getting Russian approval to build his Trump tower Moscow well into his run for the GOP nomination. Or was Trump just Russia’s willing fellow traveler who was serving his own financial interests?

A very detailed analysis of Mueller's case for Trump's obstruction of justice.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Link to text of Mueller report

Saturday, April 13, 2019

If there was any spying in 2016, it was by Russians on American voters

A version of this was published on line in the Sky Hi News, April 17, 2019

Trump’s Attorney General Bill Barr tossed a plum to the Trump media this past week, first charging Trump enemies with “spying” on the Trump campaign in 2016 and then, within the same Congressional hearing redefined spying as “unauthorized surveillance “.  If there was any spying in 2016, it was Russians on American voters to help elect Donald Trump. It was not the FBI spying on President Trump. We do not have to wait for the delivery to Congress Thursday of the Mueller report, redacted or not, to learn of  Russia's activities. It has been spelled out in indictments of Russian active measures conducted by the Russian military and others from and in  Russia. However, the Mueller report we see might reveal more than was in the text of the indictments. 

 Barr admitted he had no evidence that either unauthorized surveillance or spying had occurred.  Later Barr tried to claim that unauthorized surveillance and spying were the same things.  They are not. My first reaction to Barr’s use of the term” spying ” is  that the word refers to acts committed by some foreign hostile power. confirms the foreign power element defining “spying” as” a person employed by a government to obtain secret information or intelligence about another, usually hostile, country, especially regarding military or naval affairs “ 
Barr’s conflating the two terms ignited a semantics war that is dangerous because it feeds the paranoid fantasies and conspiracy theories promoted by the right wing that the “deep state” was out to get Donald Trump by spying on him and Trump at once opined  that he was indeed spied
 upon. He reiterated his claim again and again that the Mueller investigation was illegal and a witch hunt.  The Mueller Special Counsel investigation was authorized by Acting Attorney General Rod Rosenstein per federal statutes 28 U.S.C. §§ 509, 510, and 515, and the parameters were established in the appointing document.

Those conspiracies promoted by Donald Trump and his followers have an ironic twist.   The same” deep state” actors, the FBI specifically, were also the same outfit that most likely got Donald Trump elected with their disclosure ten days before the election that the FBI had reopened a criminal case against Hillary Clinton.   At the same time, the FBI kept it a secret that a counterintelligence investigation had been opened into Donald Trump and his campaign. The effect was that the FBI was protecting Trump while hurting the candidacy of Hillary Clinton. If the FBI was a deep state out to prove Trump did something illegal, it was at least bi-partisan.   Last week, a Democrat, Greg Craig, former Obama White House counsel, was indicted for lying about his lobbying efforts on behalf of Russian/Ukrainian interests. He has pleaded not guilty.  This is a case stemming from the Mueller investigation. It related to Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign manager, a former political advisor to Russian/Ukrainian interests, who has begun a 47-month prison sentence for financial crimes he committed before joining the Trump campaign.

 The Russian hacks and thefts of  Democratic National Committee emails, receiving confidential polling data to help them target voters to swing the election to Trump, and having their spies on the US ground, are most definitely examples of spying on the United States.  The arrest of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange in England week once again reminded us of how the Russian espionage to uncover the DNC hacked findings, were relayed and released to the public through Wikileaks to impact the 2016 election. 

 Russians did more than just collect information, per Mueller indictment. They also employed their intelligence gathering results to control the political outcome of the US with their use of social media and advertising, including using Wikileaks as a vehicle. We were played by Russian operatives. The shocker is that the GOP  and Trump are quite alright with that,  impugning the integrity of Mueller who they once praised,  calling the entire investigation as illegal, and demanding Congress investigate the investigators attributing the findings to ulterior motives. It is not alright with me since I think who leads this country should be decided by US voters without being manipulated by some foreign power to further their national interests and using social media as the weapon of their attack.

Is there anything called authorized surveillance? Think back to when the GOP controlled Congress got into the weeds with the FISA court issue. The FISA court is a revolving panel of judges (currently all Republicans) who approve surveillance of US persons, and the FBI must provide evidence to the FISA court that surveillance is justified. The FISA court approved and renewed surveillance several times in the course of the FBI and counterintelligence investigation into Russian election activities.  The House Intelligence Committee then chaired by Republican Devin Nunes attempted to show the FBI had relied on a dossier prepared by UK former spy chief to show justification for the wiretap and did not disclose that to the FISA judges. Indeed the Steele dossier was referenced in the FBI’s filing in footnotes with the comment the dossier was unverified. The burden on AG Barr is now to show how surveillance was conducted on US persons, including the President, that took place without FISA authorization.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Betsy de Vos and her not so hidden agenda

Updated and revised: April 6, 2019

A version of this was published online in the Sky-Hi Daily News April 11, 2019

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos's proposed budget that would reduce the Department of Education by over $7 billion,  is cruel and possibly racist-tinged. Her budget eliminated all federal funding for Special Olympics while putting in her budget $5billion in tax credits for those funding vouchers for students to attend private schools. Public outcry caused Donald Trump to order her to reverse course on Special Olympics.

 Other cuts in federal funds remaining in her budget are harmful to programs which have helped low income and minorities, including, a program that operates after-school programs for low-income kids. Cuts also targeted programs that provide professional development for teachers and provide mental health services. The cuts in assistance to mental health services in the light of recent horrific school shootings are particularly disturbing. She also cut millions to literacy programs.

 This was only a budget proposal and the Democratic-controlled House would have stopped it, but it is an indication of where she sees her priorities: find a way to fund private education by reducing support of programs for the most vulnerable, those with disabilities, and those from low-income families. 

DeVos has a long established history of advocating taxpayer support of religious-based schools, private education, and charter schools. That may be music to Donald Trump's Evangelical base and school choice advocates, but it strikes a sour note with supporters of public education and civil libertarians.   In Michigan where her influence in shaping her favored education policy implementation has been extensive,  test scores dropped in math and reading. While her banner is school choice, in Michigan that choice has been of poorer educational opportunities.

DeVos has clearly stated that she intends to interpret laws to suit her religious agenda.  Her agenda has always been to get federal funding for religious-based education. The separation of church and state has always been a fundamental provision of the Constitution that forbids the government from establishing a state religion. Those opposed to public funding of religious-based schools cite this as a reason. DeVos' way around this is to give vouchers to parents to use wherever they wish. In 2002, the US Supreme Court in a 5 to 4 split ruled in favor of a voucher program in Ohio if it went to parents, not to schools, had a secular purpose,  and did not fund religious education.   

In recent Congressional testimony, DeVos also was charged with racism since she is reviewing department guidance that protected minorities from unequal disciplinary treatment in public education. Rates of disciplinary action against African Americans are much higher for the same infractions as White students. DeVoss has cited a source that concluded that certain racial groups had more behavior problems, so they needed more frequent discipline.   The question was not only would she permit treatment of  African American students differently, but she cut the budget for enforcement of civil rights by $1million.  Critics of private education note that private schools can pick and choose who they admit and are exempted from federal anti-discrimination laws so long as they do not receive federal money.  There are limits and permissions, however,  that vary from state to state,  particularly regarding religious preferences and sexual orientation.

 Charter schools have a great deal of bi-partisan political support.  While charter schools are publicly financed and are bound by anti-discrimination rules and law, in practice some have found a way around that standard by making the admissions application process difficult for minority families. Minority students also have a record of more frequent expulsions. Charter schools have also been found to discriminate against admitting  "hard" to educate kids with behavior problems, low achievement scores, and special needs by ignoring inquiries from their parents seeking admission.   Often charter schools are administered by for-profit enterprises.


In my blog posting 11/27/16, there was a more thorough discussion of vouchers for religious-based school based on an attempt to set up a program in Douglas County, Colorado. Below are some excerpts.
So what is wrong about those who support using taxpayer money vouchers in support of "religious education".  What is at issue is the separation of church and state in the Constitution and if funding religious schools violates that. provision.
There was an attempt in a Denver suburb, Douglas County, to allow vouchers to be used for religious based schools. The effort failed in a federal court.

On the other hand, the Supreme Court in a 5 to 4 split ruled in favor of a voucher program in Ohio if it went to parents, not to schools, had a secular purpose,  and did not fund religious education.


The Private Choice Test developed by the Court, for a voucher program to be constitutional was that  it must meet all of the following criteria:
  • the program must have a valid secular purpose
  • aid must go to parents and not to the schools
  • a broad class of beneficiaries must be covered
  • the program must be neutral with respect to religion
  • there must be adequate nonreligious options
However, the results have had mixed performance on student tests. From a public policy viewpoint, it has not been a great success.

From the public policy perspective, will students' education benefit?  We do have some experience with vouchers and the results are contrary to expectations of many. advocates of vouchers.  From the public policy perspective, Students using vouchers to attend private schools in Ohio performed significantly worse on state tests than their peers who remained in public schools, according to a new study. In Wisconsin, a study finds little or no indication that pupils in those Milwaukee public schools that have more school choice possibilities nearby made significantly greater year-to-year gains in primary school tests than pupils in other Milwaukee public schools. (

The conclusion from these experiences is that vouchers do not benefit the students so much as it satisfies ideological and political beliefs that choice that includes private schools is the most important criteria or that anything private is better than that which is government funded."

Posted on Facebook in the comment section of the posting of this was a very well expressed comment: by Maggie Orth.

"The problem with vouchers is that they create a baseline cost for education. Those who can only afford the vouchers will get crap. Those who can supplement will get more. Moreover, vouchers assume that working parents have the resources and time to weed through a complex marketplace-- just as Medicare vouchers do with seniors. I shudder to think of my poor parents who are struggling with my father's Alzheimer's trying to sort through "market-based Medicare options." The only thing education vouchers guarantee is a parent's right to indoctrinate their children and deny them access to ideas the parents don't like. There are facts in the world- like geology and science. If people think the US can be a world-class stable democracy and economy when people can teach their children whatever facts they want, they are very wrong."
The private elementary school average is $8,522 per year and the private high school average is $12,953