Article 2 of the articles of impeachment against Richard Nixon charged him with:
Using the powers of the office of President of the United States . . . in violation of his constitutional oath faithfully to execute the office of President of the United States and, to the best of his ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States, and in disregard of his constitutional duty to take care that the laws be faithfully executed, has repeatedly engaged in conduct violating the constitutional rights of citizens, impairing the due and proper administration of justice and the conduct of lawful inquiries, or contravening the laws governing agencies of the executive branch and the purposed of these agencies.
Among the particulars was this:
This conduct has included one or more of the following:
- He has, acting personally and through his subordinates and agents, endeavoured to obtain from the Internal Revenue Service, in violation of the constitutional rights of citizens, confidential information contained in income tax returns for purposed not authorized by law, and to cause, in violation of the constitutional rights of citizens, income tax audits or other income tax investigations to be intitiated [sic] or conducted in a discriminatory manner.
Today, the Washington Post has reported that:
President Trump has personally pushed U.S. Postmaster General Megan Brennan to double the rate the Postal Service charges Amazon.com and other firms to ship packages, according to three people familiar with their conversations, a dramatic move that probably would cost these companies billions of dollars.
I am certain that Trump’s apologists will seize on the phrase “and other firms” to argue that Trump was only attempting to push a policy that would reduce the federal government’s deficit.
Five days ago, I suggested a quick way to get to at least part of the truth in the Trump/Daniels matter by suggesting documents that the White House press corp could demand be released by Trump. At the time, I assumed that Michael Cohen’s limited liability company, Essential Consultants L.L.C., was a shell entity formed exclusively for the single purpose of hiding the payments going to Daniels. As of today, thanks to Ms. Daniels’ attorney, Michael Avenatti, we now know that Cohen used Essential Consultants for numerous transactions with connections to Russian oligarchs and involving over $4.4 Million.
Avinatti is about as shameless a self-promoter as, well, as Trump himself. Not surprisingly, he reminds me of the young F. Lee Bailey when Bailey was in his prime. He often promises, in breathless tones, more than he can deliver. But not tonight. Again, I provide a link to his press release of this afternoon. Take a look. The degree of specificity is amazing. This evening, the NYT confirmed most of the facts set forth in the release. Even if 1% of what’s in there is true, Cohen has some major league problems. And, if Cohen has some major league problems, well, I don’t have to tell you the rest.
One cannot “avoid compliance with the subpoena merely by asserting that the item of evidence which he is required to produce contains incriminating writing, whether his own or that of someone else.” U.S. v. Hubbell, 530 U.S. 27, 36 (2000). Moreover, it is questionable whether a single-member LLC, such as Essential Consultants, can even assert the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination. Lila L. Inman, Personal Enough for Protection: The Fifth Amendment and Single-Member LLCs, 58 Wm. & Mary L. Rev. 1067 (2017). All of the documents and instruments evidencing the payments described in Avinatti’s release would, without any question, be properly subject to a subpoena in an appropriate proceeding. What then would be an “appropriate proceeding”?
There is no question that a Congressional inquiry is appropriate here. Let’s not put too fine a point on this. We have a president who, because of his associations (Manafort, Flynn, etc.), could never pass a background check for a security clearance. Now, we have evidence that suggests that Trump’s personal attorney was deeply involved financially with Russian oligarchs. The same attorney paid off a porn actress on Trump’s behalf.
This is no longer a question of some technical violation of campaign funding laws. Rather, the question has now become: Is the President of the United States compromised because Russians funded the Daniels payoff? Can Congressional Republicans continue to look away from what may very well be the greatest scandal in U.S. history?
There’s a tendency – obviously from Trump and his lickspittles, but also from usually sensible outlets such as VOX – to claim that today’s indictments are “good news for Trump” because, while they mention that some Americans, including some people on the Trump campaign, were unwitting purveyors of Russian fake news, they doesn’t charge any American with consciously collaborating with the Russian attempt to undermine our election.
This reflects in part an elementary failure of logic: obviously, “Some Americans were duped” does not imply “No American conspired.” And in fact the indictment recites that the three entities and thirteen individuals charged had “known and unknown co-conspirators.” Deputy AG Rosenstein chose his words carefully when he said, twice, that “there is no allegation in this indictment” aboutÂ collusion, rather than saying that the investigation hadn’t found collusion.
But Matt Yglesias makes a different and possibly more important point, which might be unpacked as follows:
* The indictment charges a series of crimes.
* Presumably Mueller has evidence of those crimes.
* Donald Trump, Devin Nunes, Chuck Grassley, and others have been denying that such crimes had been committed, and doing their utmost to interfere with attempts to investigate them: denouncing the investigation as a “witch hunt;” firing Comey; trying to discredit Mueller, his team, and the FBI agents working with him; demanding criminal prosecution of Christopher Steele for blowing the whistle.
* Mitch McConnell used threats to prevent Obama from exposing the crimes while they were being committed.
* Insofar as it can be shown that any of those folks were aware of the truth, and of the import of their actions, they can be charged with obstruction of justice, even if the actual criminals can’t be extradited and therefore never face trial.
We’re much closer to the beginning of this investigation than to its end. Fasten your seat belts; it’s going to be a bumpy ride.
There’s an old Yiddish expression that translates roughly:
“Never argue with a fool. People might not be able to tell the difference.”
That’s good advice, and the fact that I ignore it too often is, I confess, an error and a fault.
But there’s also an old English expression of equal authority:
“In for a penny, in for a pound.”
So having foolishly engaged via Twitter with Prof. Ann Althouse of the University of Wisconsin Law School, and having attracted counter-fire not only from the good Professor herself but from her even less adept colleague Prof. Glenn ReynoldsÂ of the University of Tennessee Law School, it seems wise, just this once, to respond at some length. Don’t read on unless you have a prurient interest in folly, or in trolling, the bastard child of folly born of its occasional dalliance with intellectual dishonesty.
Since an unsustainable situation won’t go on forever, it seems that something will have to put an end to the Trump (mal)Administration. But what?
He could be removed from office by impeachment and conviction, and that’s obviously the right course of action. But – for the moment – it’s equally obviously infeasible politically.
He could also – once Mueller has done his job – be indicted for and convicted of a variety of crimes, but there’s some doubt as to whether a sitting President can be indicted. (I think he can, since the Constitution does not protect him as it protects Members of Congress, but there’s no precedent and therefore no authoritative statement of the law.)
On the other hand, he could clearly be indicted for state crimes by state prosecutors, and the New York AG might have the nerve to do it and the skill to obtain a conviction. That little-discussed option might be the actual outcome, but it’s not on the horizon right now.
I wrote this today in response to an editorial decrying “Two Presidential Candidates Stuck in the Past.”
Thank you so much for continuing the Times’s pattern of false equivalence between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton which did so much to elect the former and besmirch the latter. Trump’s pathological need to tell whoppers at campaign rallies instead of governing is not at all the same as Clinton’s factual answers to a reporter’s questions. There is no doubt that James Comey’s October surprise re-opening of the e-mail investigation damaged her election prospects, nor is there any doubt that Russia interfered on her opponent’s behalf, though direct complicity by the Trump campaign has yet to be proven.
The editors’ instruction to Clinton to stop talking about the election sounds a lot like, “Women should be seen and not heard.” I look forward to your issuing a similarly stern warning to Bernie Sanders, who continues to peddle his fraudulent claim that Clinton “stole” the primaries by defeating him. Until you do, I’d be grateful if you’d stop pretending that Clinton’s telling the truth is somehow the same as Trump’s lying.
My friend Jeremy Paretsky – whose sermon on the knowledge of God was posted here some time ago – is now the Sub-Prior (administrator) of a small Dominican Order house in New York. Â A man who works for him – a legal permanent resident of the United States, the father of two natural-born U.S. citizens – just had a deeply troubling experience with Donald Trump’s “unshackled” ICE. He was stopped for no reason other than his appearance, treated rudely, manhandled, held for interrogation for 90 minutes, and finally released without any apology or explanation other than that the stop was “routine”: which implies that it could be repeated at any time.
In the movies of my childhood, the cold-faced men demanding “Your papers, please” had German or Russian accents. Â I preferred it that way.
This event makes me think that whatever the shackles were, they need to be put back in place. Â Fr. Paretsky’s letter to Sen. Gillibrand follows. Â I can provide his contact information to any journalist or lawyer who would like to follow up.
The good news is that Sen. Gillibrand has offered to help. The bad news is that the victim of this outrage – I repeat, a legal permanent resident of this country, who has been accused of no wrongdoing of any kind – is too afraid to allow his name to be used. Â In the United States of America.
Footnote Do you routinely carry documents proving that you’re a U.S. citizen? Neither do I.
So what does Donald Trump mean when he says he wants to “get rid of and totally destroy the Johnson Amendment”?
Trump always talks about “churches,” but the proviso, inserted in the tax code in 1954, forbids all tax exempt non-profits (organized under Internal Revenue Code section 501(c)3, and therefore referred to generically as 501(c)3 organizations) from contributing to political campaigns.
If the law were changed to exempt churches only, the courts would have to decide whether than created an unconstitutional “establishment of religion,” but it doesn’t require a law degree to see that allowing tax-exempt churches to attack tax-exempt Planned Parenthood by running campaigns against politicians who take positions favorable to reproductive rights, but forbidding Planned Parenthood from defending itself, would be grossly unfair.
Moreover, churches – unlike most other non-profits – aren’t required to disclose their donors. So allowing them to serve as campaign vehicles would not only convert them into tax-deductible super-PACs, it would allow unlimited amounts of hidden money to come into politics. (Citizens United and its progeny have already severely weakened disclosure rules.) Disclosure has been, until now, regarded as an invaluable protection against corruption. If Trump gets his way, any individual, privately-held corporation, partnership, or LLC could purchase influence with unlimited, undisclosed, tax-deductible campaign contributions simply by laundering them through a church, or even a fake “church” organized solely as a pass-through for bribes. (Again, for religious-freedom reasons, the IRS is very wary of deciding that a group calling itself a church isn’t really a church: the New Testament rule “wherever two or three are gathered” about covers it.)
But wait! It gets worse. If churches can gather money without disclosing their donors – and obviously that degree of privacy protection is required for the free exercise of religion – and spend that money to run political campaigns, then the market is open for foreign as well as domestic corruption. The Russian, Chinese, Saudi, and Iranian governments would all, predictably, either find congregations already recognized by the IRS to use as front groups or incorporate new ones. Of course a group organized as a mosque might not be able to wield much influence without stirring up opposition, but nothing bars the Saudis or the Iranians from paying some stooges to set up a fake Baptist church. Nor is an outfit organized as a church for IRS purposes have the word “church” (synagogue, mosque, temple, whatever) in its name; many people would spot “Society of Friends” as meaning Quakers, but you and I could start a group tomorrow called “Truth Tellers,” incorporate it as a church, and then run political ads with the trailer “This message brought to you by the Truth Tellers.”
So, like most of Trump’s ideas, this one reduces mostly to corruption and the sacrifice of American sovereignty to foreign – especially Russian – influence. And of course that won’t keep the tame preachers of the Christian Right from backing him all the way.
1. The House Republican conference, in secret, voted overwhelmingly to dismantle ethics oversight so Members could more easily get away with corruption.
2. Bob Goodlatte and his accomplices knew this attempt was shameful; otherwise they wouldn’t have tried to do it with surprise and stealth.
3. The House GOP leadership claimed to be against it but was entirely willing to let it happen until the public outcry got too loud.
4. Trump’s flack endorsed it and even said that the House GOP had a “mandate” to do such things.Â (Why not? Didn’t Trump promise to “fill the swamp”?)
5. Trump himself didn’t speak out until the public blowback become overwhelming.
6. Even then, Trump didn’t say protecting crooks in the House was a bad idea. He even endorsed the false claim that the existing process was somehow “unfair.” Trump just saidÂ that he’d prefer that the House Republicans do other awful things first.
7. Nonetheless, the press is giving Trump credit he hasn’t earned. Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â
8. The proposal has been pulled for the moment, but the leadership is still committed to doing something later. Whatever that is won’t be good. Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â
9. The whole affair illustrates the culture of corruption that will permeate the government for the next four years, unless a wave election ends the Republican House majority in 2018.
10. But it also illustrates that pushback can work. Keep pushing!