Category Archives: Later, on politics

Something So Wrong: June 2017

  • On June 1, Trump announced that the United States would pull out of the Paris Accord, an international climate agreement signed by 195 countries. Trump said the agreement would impose unfair environmental standards on the United States. He said that it would “undermine our economy, hamstring our workers, weaken our sovereignty, impose unacceptable legal risks, and put us at a permanent disadvantage to the other countries of the world.” Under the non-binding accord, the US had pledged to reduce its carbon emissions by 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. The US also pledged to contribute $3 billion to help poor nations adapt to the effects of climate change, in part recognizing that the US and other wealthy nations have been the largest contributors to the greenhouse gas emissions that are responsible for the consequences of the changing world climate. Trump said that the US would “begin negotiations to reenter either the Paris Accord or a really entirely new transaction on terms that are fair to the United States, its businesses, its workers, its people, its taxpayers.”
  • On June 8, James Comey testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee. Trump fired Comey as FBI Director on May 9. In written testimony released before the hearing and in his oral testimony, Comey described a meeting with Trump on February 14 in the Oval Office. According to Comey, Trump met privately with him after asking others in the room, including the Attorney General, to leave. Trump told Comey that he wanted to talk about Mike Flynn. Flynn had resigned the day before from his position as National Security Advisor after making misleading statements about his contacts with the Russian ambassador. Comey testified that Trump told him that Flynn “is a good guy and has gone through a lot.” Trump said Flynn had not done anything wrong in speaking with the Russian ambassador. Trump said to Comey: “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.” In his testimony, Comey said that although Trump never ordered or directed him to drop the FBI’s Flynn investigation, he took it as a direction: “It is the president of the United States, with me alone, saying I hope this, I took it as this is what he wants me to do. I didn’t obey that, but that’s the way I took it.” Comey’s testimony raised the issue of whether Trump attempted to interfere with the FBI investigation or obstruct justice.
  • On June 16, Trump announced his Cuba policy, reversing efforts of the Obama administration to improve relations between the two countries. The new policy will make commercial dealings with Cuba more difficult and will limit the opportunity of US citizens to travel there. Trump said: “effective immediately, I am canceling the last administration’s completely one-sided deal with Cuba.” Although the details of Trump’s Cuba policy have yet to be written, Trump directed the Treasury Department and the Department of Commerce to draw up new regulations reversing the Obama policies.
  • On June 26, the Supreme Court granted a partial stay of two District Court preliminary injunction orders that had been upheld by the Fourth Circuit and Ninth Circuit Courts of Appeal. The lower court injunctions had blocked implementation of the administration’s March 6 executive order restricting immigration and refugees from majority-Muslim countries. The Court agreed to hear the consolidated cases in October. The Court granted the administration’s applications to stay the injunctions “to the extent the injunctions prevent enforcement of §2(c) with respect to foreign nationals who lack any bona fide rela­tionship with a person or entity in the United States.” Section 2(c) of the executive order directed that entry of nationals from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen be “suspended for 90 days from the effective date” of the order. The Court found that barring entry of foreign nationals who have “no connection to the United States at all” does not “burden any American party” and that the lower courts had not found that exclusion of such foreign nationals would impose any “legally relevant hardship” on the foreign national. The Court found that the Government’s national security interest was at its peak “when there is no tie between the foreign national and the United States.” The Court said “§2(c) may not be en­forced against foreign nationals who have a credible claim of a bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States.” The Court extended this reasoning to sections 6(a) and (b). These sections of the executive order suspend decisions on applications for refugee status for 120 days and suspend entry of refugees in excess of 50,000 for the 2017 fiscal year. The Court upheld the injunction with respect to refugees “who can credibly claim a bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States.”

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Something So Wrong: Hearing Comey

The morning after the drama of former FBI Director James Comey’s testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee on June 8, our local newspaper editorialized that the “key question” was whether anything the president said to him amounted to obstruction of justice. While most of the questions from Republican members of the committee seemed to focus on getting Comey to say that the president never ordered him to drop the Flynn investigation, the question of obstruction of justice is a distraction. Vladimir Vladimirovich must be chortling.

Republicans made much—as much as they could—of Comey’s report of the president’s words: “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.” The president, according the Comey’s notes, did not use the word “order,” and therefore the president’s defenders would have us concede there could be no obstruction of justice here.

But it is rather like a parent taking a child aside, looking him squarely in the eye and saying “I hope you will clean your room.” It would not take any higher powers of deduction than those naturally possessed by the average seven-year-old to know what the parent wanted—and expected—the child to do, or else. Nevertheless, the president’s attorney, Marc Kasowitz, insisted that the president “never, in form or substance, directed or suggested that Mr. Comey stop investigating anyone.”

The line of questions doggedly pursued by the Intelligence Committee’s Republicans is all about demonstrating their loyalty to the president, and ultimately, it is about earning political power. Loyalty is the coin of the Trump realm, and those members of Congress who prove their loyalty believe that they will be rewarded by having influence with Trump.

Obstruction of justice, let’s assume, is an impeachable offense. Maybe what the president has done in his less-than-five-months in office is probable obstruction. A case can be made that Trump’s “hope” in the circumstance of a tête-à-tête in the Oval Office was a direct order. Still, the Republican House of Representatives, where Democrats are outnumbered 237 to 193, is not about to impeach Trump. A whole lot more hell would have to break loose before we get to that unlikely place.

For now, all the overwrought debate about obstruction of justice diverts our attention from what is really important. The most haunting moment in the Intelligence Committee’s examination of James Comey was Comey’s level-eyed testimony about Russia’s campaign of interference in the election process in the United States:

“There should be no fuzz on this whatsoever. The Russians interfered in our election during the 2016 cycle. They did it with purpose. They did it with sophistication. They did it with overwhelming technical efforts. And it was an active-measures campaign driven from the top of that government. There is no fuzz on that.

“It is a high-confidence judgment of the entire intelligence community, and — and the members of this committee have — have seen the intelligence. It’s not a close call. That happened. That’s about as un-fake as you can possibly get, and is very, very serious, which is why it’s so refreshing to see a bipartisan focus on that, because this is about America, not about any particular party.”

The real key question is: what is the United States going to do about it? There is, so far, no leadership from the White House on this. There is no leadership from the Republican Party. There is no leadership from the Democratic Party. The public discussion should be about protecting the integrity of our elections—and not so much about obstruction of justice nor even about Trump campaign collusion with the Russians.

Comey testified that the president never asked him what the government should be doing to protect America against Russian interference in the election system. Trump believes that “the Russia thing” is “fake news.” By his own words, Trump fired Comey because of “the Russia thing.”

At least the Senate Intelligence Committee has taken on the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 elections as part of the committee’s mission. We can hope—in the strongest terms—that the committee will continue its investigation, wherever it might lead, but Congress needs to act and the president needs to care.

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