Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Thursday, November 8, 2018 1:19 pm

In which Trump moves on Sessions like a bitch

The day after the midterms, Dolt 45 fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions and replaced him with acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker. Now, granted, no one is going to miss Sessions; a Twitter wag described the firing as the first time that Trump had taken down a Confederate monument. But Trump had been expressing frustration for a long time that Sessions had recused himself from special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible money laundering, obstruction of justice and conspiracy of the Trump campaign with Russia to interfere with the 2016 election. This move offers Trump an opportunity to take more direct control over the probe because Whitaker has not recused himself.

This isn’t quite the equivalent of Nixon’s Saturday Night Massacre, but it’s not good. Sessions had been so close with the Trump 2016 campaign that he had had to recuse himself from Mueller’s investigation, leaving it the hands of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who appears to have given Mueller both adequate leeway and adequate funding to do his job correctly. (In fact, given the financial forfeitures of some of those Mueller has convicted, the taxpayers are more than $10 million ahead of the game on this investigation to date, and there’s probably more profit where that came from. That money doesn’t go directly back into the investigation, of course.)

But Trump has made clear that oversight responsibility for the investigation now will rest with Whitaker instead of Rosenstein. It’s worth noting that when a Cabinet secretary leaves office, his/her deputy — Rosenstein, in this case — normally would be appointed acting agency head. That didn’t happen here. And that’s not good at all. Consider:

  • Whitaker in 2017 said he didn’t see anything wrong with Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with Russians in Trump Tower:
  • Whitaker was associated with a D.C. nonprofit called Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust whose main goal in life seems to be ginning up bullshit criminal cases against prominent Democrats:
  • Whitaker said in 2017 that the Mueller probe was “going too far”:

A number of Democrats already have called for Whitaker to recuse himself. Worse for Trump, Rep. Elijah Cummings, the incoming Democratic chairman of the House Oversight Committee, already has said his committee will be looking into Sessions’s firing. One possible result could be a criminal referral to the Justice Department for obstruction of justice.

(Also, the Mueller investigation aside, Whitaker appears to be just the kind of bigoted jackass that progressive and moderate voters indicated on Tuesday they’ve had enough of.)

Now, a lot of people are presuming that Whitaker’s appointment means that Trump intends to fire Mueller. And, legally, Trump could. The question that that would raise would be whether such a firing would constitute obstruction of justice, as Cummings is hinting. I am not a lawyer, and I don’t know that there’s a solid legal consensus on this issue, but I’ve seen social media posts from three or four lawyers unrelated to one another who have said that the firing would be evidence of the “consciousness of guilt.” (Remember, the whole reason there’s an obstruction-of-justice investigation in the first place is that Trump fired FBI Director James Comey in 2017 and said that he had done so because of the FBI’s Russia investigation. The uproar over THAT firing led to the appointment of Mueller as special counsel.)

However, if Trump wants to slow or halt the probe, he has other options.

He can have Whitaker eliminate the wide latitude Mueller currently enjoys under Rosenstein, restricting the probe to certain isolated subjects and people to ensure that Trump and those closest to him face no federal criminal exposure. (Possible state crimes are a whole ‘nother issue, of course, and Trump has no control over those investigations.) Or he could just direct Whitaker to, in effect, defund the investigation. A number of folks on Twitter jokingly suggested a GoFundMe for the Mueller probe if that happens. I’d support that, although that money, like the forfeitures already received, under the law could not go into the probe without having been appropriated by Congress, which the GOP-controlled Senate ain’t gonna do. (UPDATE: The appropriations bill for FY19 having already been signed into law, Mueller’s office is fully funded — at about $10 million — through next Sept. 30.)

But Trump has fewer options than he thinks.

According to the experts at the Lawfare blog, Whitaker might have to recuse himself whether Trump likes it or not:

The relevant Justice Department guideline is Section 45.2 of Title 28 of the Code of Federal Regulations, which states that “no employee shall participate in a criminal investigation or prosecution if he has a personal or political relationship with” either “any person or organization substantially involved in the conduct that is the subject of the investigation or prosecution” or “any person or organization which he knows has a specific and substantial interest that would be directly affected by the outcome of the investigation or prosecution.”

Although the regulations do not indicate that Whitaker’s public statements alone necessarily require recusal, Whitaker has other connections to people whose conduct is at issue in the matter. For instance, the regulations define a political relationship as “a close identification with an elected official, a candidate (whether or not successful) for elective, public office, a political party, or a campaign organization, arising from service as a principal adviser thereto or a principal official thereof.” Rebecca Ballhaus of the Wall Street Journal reports that Whitaker chaired the 2014 Iowa state treasurer campaign of Sam Clovis, who went on to serve in the Trump campaign and administration and who, Ballhaus notes, is now a grand jury witness in the Mueller investigation. The Des Moines Register reported Whitaker’s chairmanship of Clovis’s campaign during the campaign itself. What’s more, in a text message to Ballhaus after Whitaker’s appointment, Clovis wrote that he was “proud of my friend,” referring to Whitaker, raising the question of whether there is a personal relationship as well.

There is an important process point here: Under the same Justice Department regulation mentioned above, Whitaker is obligated to seek guidance from career ethics attorneys regarding whether he should recuse. This is the process Jeff Sessions used in determining that the rules required that he recuse, and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein also sought guidance regarding his obligations, though Justice officials determined that his recusal was not required. If Whitaker either does not obtain an ethics opinion from career officials or if he departs from that guidance, that would be a serious red flag.

Also, Trump already knows that come Jan. 3, the House Oversight Committee will be looking into Sessions’s firing. And if Mueller gets fired, I would think that any of several House committees would be happy to subpoena him as an expert witness on Trump’s finances. Who knows where that could lead? (UPDATE: I’ve also seen it suggested that if Mueller gets fired, a House committee could hire him as an investigator.)

There even are a few current and incoming Senate Republicans willing to join hands with Senate Democrats long enough to protect the Mueller investigation, as Lawfare points out:

Mitt Romney, now the senator-elect from Utah, stopped short of calling for Whitaker to recuse himself, but said it is “imperative that the important work of the Justice Department continues” and the Mueller probe “proceeds to its conclusion unimpeded.”

The Maine Republican Susan Collins also stated that “it is imperative that the administration not impede the Mueller investigation,” adding that she is concerned that “Rod Rosenstein will no longer be overseeing the probe,” and that “Special Counsel Mueller must be allowed to complete his work without interference—regardless of who is AG.”

And GOP Senator Lamar Alexander said the Mueller investigation will continue.

I’ll admit I’m not optimistic. For one thing, even if all three stand their ground, the likeliest outcome of Tuesday’s election seems to indicate that Republicans would still hold a Senate majority, perhaps with the help of Vice President Mike Pence. For another, after the Kavanaugh confirmation, we now know what Susan Collins’s word is worth.

And, of course, there’s is the huge factor that Donald Trump consistently, almost predictably, acts against the best advice he gets and his own interests. Journalist Josh Marshall and novelist John Scalzi coined the term “Trump’s razor” for this phenomenon: Every option being otherwise equal, Trump will always make the stupidest possible choice. If I were a betting man, I wouldn’t often have lost had I consistently bet accordingly.

So I think Trump will fire Mueller and dare somebody to do anything about it. That puts Republican officeholders — at all levels — in a serious predicament, for, as Conor Friedersdorf observes in the Atlantic article linked above:

After Wednesday, elected officials in the Republican Party should have no doubt that Donald Trump will force them to choose in coming days, weeks, and months between loyalty to him and loyalty to the rule of law, between the public’s right to the truth and Trump’s efforts to hide it.

They’ve sworn an oath of loyalty to the rule of law. Let’s see how many of them meant it.

 

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Monday, June 18, 2018 10:15 pm

The crying of the lambs

First, listen to this:

That’s the sound of 10 Central American children, recently taken from their parents by the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol at the U.S. border with Mexico.

Listen again, dammit. That’s the sound of a human rights violation being committed in your name and with your tax dollars. That’s audio smuggled out of an office in which your government wouldn’t allow pictures, video or audio. What are they hiding?

They’re hiding a crime against humanity: the tearing of children from their parents, perhaps never to be reunited. Already, a sheriff’s deputy has been accused of sexually assaulting a 4-year-old girl and threatening her mother with deportation if she told police.

This administration started out in mid-2015 making brown people the enemy. It has only done more so since. In the tradition of murderous dictators before him, Donald Trump has insisted that would-be immigrants from Latin America aren’t human, but animals. And so we’re viciously ripping children, including nursing infants, from their parents. In many cases, the parents are being deported but the children kept here, for what nefarious purpose we’re left to guess. The policy is so distasteful that not only Democrat Rosalyn Carter but also Republican Laura Bush have criticized it.

Why? Republicans like to insist — lie — that this is the law of the land and has been since Bill Clinton. That’s horseshit. Although this was an option, it was one that Obama and Bush 43 alike refused to choose, not least because they had to know how bad it was and how bad it would look. This is happening because Attorney General Jeff Sessions invoked this policy in April 2018 (although it always had been part of the plan). Trump, despite claiming that Democrats must “change the law,” is Sessions’s boss and could overturn this policy with a phone call.

But he won’t, because he supports the policy. He supports it because he knows his base does: 58 percent of Republicans support it, as opposed to 5% of Democrats and 27% of independents. And he supports it because he believes he can use these kids as hostages to get funding for his border wall, which wouldn’t work and would only enrich his contractor buddies.

Overall, two-thirds of Americans oppose the policy. At least 48 Democratic senators have signed on to S. 3036, a bill that would overturn the policy, but at this writing not one Republican has signed on. (Jeff Flake and Lindsay Graham and Ben Sasse have expressed concern about the policy, but as usual none is putting his vote where his mouth is.)

At this writing, more than 2,000 children have been separated from their parents. And why? In many cases, the kids accompanied their parents as they came to the U.S. to seek political asylum from the violence in their home countries. Entering this country to seek political asylum is, Hello, absolutely legal.

But there’s a catch. Such immigrants must present themselves at a designated port of entry. And the Department of Homeland Security has been delaying immigrants on the Mexico side of the border for days on end at such ports, forcing some to seek to enter the country at places other than designated ports of entry.

Thus, immigrants fleeing gang violence and death squads are forced to commit a misdemeanor in order to try to enter our country. And it is on that “basis” that children are being separated from their parents. (Some children are taken from parents under the guise of getting a bath. You know where else did that? Auschwitz.)

And the current policy calls for prosecution in 100% of such cases, with parents being told that the only way they ever will see their children again is to plead guilty.

So far, roughly 2,000 kids have been separated from their parents, and that may be an undercount. Why is this bad? It isn’t just sad or inconvenient; it can do permanent brain damage to the children who experience it:

“It is a form of child abuse,” Dr. Colleen Kraft, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, told “CBS This Morning” co-host Gayle King. Kraft visited a Texas facility where children 12 years and younger are being held.

Kraft described seeing “very quiet” toddlers and one young girl under 2 years old “who was just sobbing and wailing and beating her little fists on the mat.”

“I was told that you couldn’t comfort or hold a crying child,” Kraft said. “And we all knew that this child was crying because she wanted her mother, and we couldn’t give that to her.”

Kraft explained how stress increases levels of cortisol, “our fight-and-flight hormones.”

“Normally that helps to protect us when there’s a dangerous situation. In the instance where children are separated from their parents, the one buffer they have against these fight-or-flight chemicals is gone and so these children are on red alert all the time and they’re not able to buffer these different hormones,” Kraft said. “And what this can do is disrupt the synapses and the neurological connections that are part of the developing brain.”

The American Psychological Association adds:

APA warned that trauma from family separation is a significant social determinant of mental and physical health, and referenced decades of documented research showing the harmful effects of parent-child separation on children and caregivers’ emotional and psychological well-being. APA implored the administration to reconsider this deleterious policy and commit to the more humane practice of housing families together pending immigration proceedings.

This is what is being done to children in our name. This is what Trump, lying, says is the result of a Democratic law. This is what we must do, says Attorney General Jeff Sessions, invoking Romans 13, despite the fact that the Bible says that unjust laws may not be obeyed, that the Torah says no fewer than 36 times that aliens must be treated hospitably and that Jesus, most famously in the parable of the Good Samaritan, constantly stresses hospitality; despite the fact that we are a secular republic and don’t use the Bible as a policy guide; despite the fact that Jeff Sessions’s own church says he’s wrong, wrong, wrong; despite the fact that a huge number of faith leaders from a wide variety of faith traditions agrees; despite the fact that Jeff Sessions ordered this to happen and Jeff Sessions could order it to stop. Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Neilsen even insisted, laughably, that the U.S. had no such policy …
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We do not have a policy of separating families at the border. Period.

… even as White House staffer Stephen Miller said that it was a simple decision.

Welp. This is who we are, America in 2018. When Trump took office, tried to ban Muslims, and got hit with a barrage of lawsuits, we proudly boasted, “First they came for the Muslims, and we said, ‘Not this time, motherf*ckers.'” But, somehow, we have gotten very quickly to well past “First they came for …”

The Nazis are here, America, right here in 2018. Wake up and fight back. That means voting Democratic, every race, every time, and getting as many people as possible to the polls to do likewise. Mueller isn’t going to save us. Trump isn’t going to get bored and resign, and the current, Republican-controlled House will never impeach him. This will only stop when we elect enough Democrats to Congress to put a stop to this hideous practice, which the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has denounced and which Amnesty International has called “nothing short of torture.”

We have roughly 150 days to the election. If enough Democrats win, we can put a stop to this and many other inhumane and ill-advised policies. But if we do not, we will slip, as Winston Churchill warned in 1940, into the abyss of a new Dark Age.

And we had better move fast, because go listen to that audio again. Those kids are already there.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017 8:07 am

A fledgling coup?, cont.

Looks like I went to bed too soon last night. I woke up a little while ago to learn that several staffers of the House Judiciary Committee worked with the White House on the wording of Trump’s executive order on immigration.

Now, the White House and Congress work together on legislation all the time, and much of that work is done by staffers. That much is totally normal. What’s not normal in this case is that 1) the staffers didn’t tell the committee chairman, Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., or their respective House bosses what they were doing, and 2) they signed a nondisclosure agreement about their work.

As Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo points out:

To be clear on one point, Goodlatte isn’t some moderate or softy. He’s an immigration hardliner. It’s unlikely he would have disagreed with at least the broad outlines of the executive order, though perhaps he might have disagreed with some of the particulars.

Still, as a result, Congress knew nothing about the order until the White House announced it on Friday, although work apparently began during the transition period after the November election. That’s not the kind of move that is likely to further a good working relationship between the White House and Congress, as Politico points out:

“Their coordination with the Hill was terrible,” said one senior GOP source on the Hill, who seemed flabbergasted that congressional Republicans didn’t receive talking points from the White House on the executive order until late Saturday night, about 24 hours after President Donald Trump signed it. “We didn’t see the final language until it was actually out.”

The fumbled roll-out serves as a cautionary tale to Trump officials who decide to go it alone in enacting controversial policies without help from Congress. Indeed, the lack of consultation has set off a wave of resentment on Capitol Hill. GOP insiders believe that the White House and Goodlatte staffers could have avoided the drama that unfolded over the weekend had they looped in relevant lawmakers on the front end.

The episode also has instilled a wariness among GOP aides about the White House.

“These executive orders were very rushed and drafted by a very tight-knit group of individuals who did not run it by the people who have to execute the policy. And because that’s the case, they probably didn’t think of or care about how this would be executed in the real world,” said another congressional source familiar with the situation. “No one was given a heads-up and no one had a chance to weigh in on it.”

When I read about this, I immediately wondered whether AG nominee Jeff Sessions, a bigot of long standing, had had something to do with it. Per Politico, I was right:

Insiders told POLITICO that the botched roll-out of the immigration executive order was coordinated for the most part by White House policy director Stephen Miller, a former Sessions staffer, and Trump senior strategist Stephen Bannon.

So why is this all a big deal? If you’ll recall, Congressional Republicans said during the presidential campaign that they would serve as a check on Trump’s worst ideas, just as the Constitution envisioned that Congress would do to the executive branch. But Trump and his staff now have demonstrated that they are willing to seek to bypass congressional oversight, just as they are defying federal court orders. And like all bullies, they’ll keep going until they get smacked.

We’re about to find just how constitutionally oriented the Republican Party is. Given the GOP’s voting record over the past 20+ years, I don’t think we’re going to like what we find.

 

 

 

Monday, January 30, 2017 6:48 pm

A fledgling coup?

Scary, and illegal, as Donald Trump’s executive order limiting immigration was, it was still a conventional policy initiative.

But there was nothing conventional — or legal, or constitutional — about what happened after a federal judge, Ann Donnelly in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn, issued a ruling on the order. (A federal judge in Alexandria, Leonie Brinkema, later issued a similar ruling in a similar action on behalf of some people who were detained upon arrival at Dulles International Airport near Washington, D.C. Brinkema’s order went further than Donnelly’s, mandating that those people at Dulles be allowed to talk with lawyers.)

Customs and Border Patrol agents kept stopping and preventing people covered by the executive order from entering the United States, detaining them in direct violation of the judges’ orders. CBP agents at Dulles, informed by representatives of the American Civil Liberties Union that the detainees were entitled to legal counsel, responded, “That’s not happening.”

That means one of two things: Either the judges will hold a federal official, likely someone with CBP, in contempt, or the rule of law is dead in this country. And I’m not sure even a contempt citation with actual jail time would convince the Trumpites not to do what they’re doing.

As Yonatan Zunger writes at Medium:

That is to say, the administration is testing the extent to which the [Department of Homeland Security] (and other executive agencies) can act and ignore orders from the other branches of government. This is as serious as it can possibly get: all of the arguments about whether order X or Y is unconstitutional mean nothing if elements of the government are executing them and the courts are being ignored.

Zunger asks whether this is the beginnings of a coup. When executive-branch officials directly disobey a federal judge’s orders, I think the answer is probably yes.

The judges’ rulings empower the U.S. Marshal’s Service to enforce those rulings. Were I Judge Donnelly or Judge Brinkema, I’d have whoever was overseeing the CBP at JFK Airport and Dulles, respectively, in jail, and possibly higher-ups as well.

And even if the judges did that, I don’t know whether it would be enough. I honestly do not believe the Trumpites are going to stop until they are forced to. And it is clear that the Republican Party in Congress, supposedly a check on executive power, does not have the will to force them to.

And if that didn’t bug you, consider this: Steve Bannon, the unreconstructed Nazi who is now Trump’s top advisor, has been given a seat on the National Security Council — and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the nation’s top military officer, has been booted out of the group.

My friend David Gwynn said this on Facebook:

Steve Bannon is basically your crazy alcoholic uncle who lives in a broken down trailer on the outskirts of Merced. And he tells the President what to do. This should frighten just about everyone.

This is true, but it’s even more appalling, as one member of the Facebook group Indivisible Concord posted:

Bannon has no government, intelligence, or high-level military experience; his experience is leading a propaganda outlet (Breitbart News) that peddles nationalist and white nationalist viewpoints.

This would be deeply concerning in and of itself. But one of the jobs of the NSC is to oversee a secret panel that authorizes the assassination of “enemies of the United States Government” – including American citizens. These targeted killings are fully authorized by law under the Congressional military authorization act following 9/11. There is no trial, no due process, and no public record of the decision or the assassination itself.

Just to recap the absurdity: the President of the United States has appointed a known propagandist, nationalist, and white supremacist to replace the highest military advisor in the country on a council that authorizes secret, legal, targeted killings of American citizens (and others) without due process.

And if you’re thinking, “Oh, they’d never do that to a U.S. citizen,” well, they already did, when President Obama ordered the extrajudicial assassination of Anwar al-Awlaki. I said at the time that Obama should have been impeached for it.

So, you folks who like to say, “If I’d been there back then, I’d’ve …,” here we are. It’s time to do whatever you would have done.

UPDATE, 8:06 p.m. 1/30: A federal judge in Los Angeles, apparently annoyed that ICE deported a man in violation of HIS order, has ordered ICE to go bring him back, per the L.A. Times. That’s good, but holding some people in contempt, too, would’ve been better.

UPDATE, 9:35 p.m. 1/30: Earlier today, Sally Yates, the acting attorney general, announced that the Justice Department would not defend Trump’s executive order on immigration in court. A few minutes ago, Trump fired her. He said in his statement that she had “betrayed the Department of Justice.” This is, of course, bullshit of the purest ray serene. She swore an oath to uphold the Constitution — not the Justice Department or any president or administration — and that’s what she did.

Trump and Bannon are basically claiming that they are the Constitution. This is officially the biggest constitutional crisis since Iran-contra, if not the 1973 Saturday Night Massacre.

UPDATE, 8 a.m. 1/31: Steve Benen at MSNBC reminds us of some fairly recent history. Scene: Sally Yates’s confirmation hearing in March 2015 after being nominated to the post of deputy attorney general:

At the time, none other than Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), now Trump’s nominee to be attorney general, reminded Yates that she’ll have to be prepared to stand up to the White House should a president urge her to do something she considers unlawful. From the transcript:

SESSIONS: Well. you have to watch out, because people will be asking you to do things you just need to say ‘no’ about. Do you think the attorney general has a responsibility to say no to the president if he asks for something that’s improper? [„,] If the views the president wants to execute are unlawful, should the attorney general or the deputy attorney general say no?

YATES: Senator, I believe the attorney general or the deputy attorney general has an obligation to follow the law and the Constitution, and to give their independent legal advice to the president.

Two years later, Yates did as she promised. For her trouble, Donald Trump fired her and accused her of “betraying” the Justice Department.

History will remember only one of them kindly.

Thursday, July 1, 2010 8:30 pm

He left out the hat and robe. FAIL.

Filed under: Aiee! Teh stoopid! It burns! — Lex @ 8:30 pm
Tags: , ,

Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., sketches Ranking Minority Member Jeff Sessions, R-KKK, during Elena Kagan’s Supreme Court nomination hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Franken also fell asleep, which I totally don’t blame him for because, as the committee member with the least seniority, he had to listen to everybody else talk before he got his turn and there hasn’t been any real drama in a SCOTUS confirmation hearing since Clarence Thomas in ’91. Not to mention the fact that senators don’t even ask real questions in these hearings anymore anyway, probably because not a damn one of ’em knows how.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010 9:52 pm

I’ll have what he’s smoking

Filed under: Aiee! Teh stoopid! It burns! — Lex @ 9:52 pm
Tags:

Sen. Jeff Sessions, the ranking minority member on the Senate Judiciary Committee, thinks Brown v. Board of Education and the Citizens United cases are very similar civil-rights cases.

Can we just go ahead and declare the entire state of Alabama a public-health hazard? Because that level of Teh Stoopid is lethal.

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