With the steady stream of controversies swirling around the White House, there has been little attention given a highly disturbing report that the Obama Administration engaged in previously undisclosed and violations of the Fourth Amendment. Just a few days from the 2016 election, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA) reportedly raised a highly unusual alarm over the creation of “a very serious Fourth Amendment issue” by possibly unconstitutional surveillance conducted under President Barack Obama. If true, this should be given equal attention to the other stories crowding our front pages and cable coverage. The Obama Administration has a well-documented history of abuse of surveillance and stands as one of the most antagonistic administrations toward privacy in our history. Indeed, if true, many of the former Obama officials currently testifying against the Trump Administration were responsible for a far broader scope of abusive surveillance programs.
This morning’s news is again filled with a new and troubling disclosure out of the Trump White House. Various news organizations are reporting that President Donald Trump spoke to Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and National Security Agency Director Adm. Michael Rogers about the Russian investigation and asked them to publicly deny evidence of cooperation between his campaign and Russia. I was on Morning Joe today and once again cautioned about declaring a prima facie case of obstruction (as many have done on CNN and other networks) in the absence of facts satisfying the elements for that crime. While it is obviously something of a buzz kill, there still is not sufficient evidence (even if these accounts are true) to support an indictment.
Below is my column in The Hill Newspaper on the chorus of commentators suggesting that the Comey memo is compelling evidence for either a charge of obstruction of justice or an actual impeachment. I have been cautioning against such sweeping assumptions. Obstruction is a crime and crimes have elements. The elements are not satisfied by this memorandum. Yesterday senators revealed that Rod Rosenstein suggested that he was already informed that Comey would be fired before he wrote his memorandum supporting termination. That would not materially alter the legal analysis. Rosenstein’s memo confirms that he believed that Comey should be fired. He had met with Comey and clearly left with reservations over his continued fitness for the position. The fact that Trump may have made what Rosenstein thought was the right decision for the wrong reason is marginally relevant. Comey’s immediate boss was not supporting his retention. Moreover, Trump’s conflicting statements do not improve the case for prosecution. It it true that Trump has contradicted his staff and seemingly himself. Yet, Trump has insisted that he felt Comey was doing a poor job and yesterday he reaffirmed his position that he never asked Comey to drop the Flynn investigation. However, even if he said such an incredibly inappropriate thing, it would not meet the standards of obstruction for the purposes of a criminal charge in my view. In other words, this is a question of law not fact and the law is not on the side of those calling for criminal counts or articles of impeachment.
Critics increasingly sound like my kids when we drive across country and start to chant “are we there yet?” before we are even a block from the house. Many view a criminal charge or impeachment as the only hope for America. However, neither the criminal code nor Article II were meant as post hoc political options for unpopular presidents. Indeed, both are designed to be insulated from public distempers and passions.
None of this means that this is not a valid basis for investigation. It is. Moreover, the White House staff appears encircled like a wagon train on the Plains with no ammunition and no nearby fort. The difference is that they seem encircled by their own president who continued to prevent any movement to better ground. What is fascinating is that Trump appears intent on creating the most self-incriminating appearance without evidence of an actual crime on his part.
Here is the column:
Below is my column in USA Today on President Donald Trump’s disclosure of highly classified information to the Russians in his controversial meeting after the firing of James Comey. While the Administration issued a series of categorical denials of the underlying stories as “false,” the next day it appeared to acknowledge that Trump did in fact reveal the information. As discussed below, it was a wise decision not to repeat the initially misleading statements to Congress. The intelligence was reportedly generated by Israel, which did not give permission to the President to make the disclosure to the Russians. Since the New York Times and Washington Post did not say that Trump released “sources and methods,” it now appears that the White House is not claiming that the stories were false. It is the latest example of denials from the White House which then lead to embarrassing reversals over the course of the coverage. The only good sign is that the White House saw that the false account was raising serious problems and reversed course the next morning. However, the familiar pattern has taken its toll on the Hill where members were conspicuously absent this time in defending the President.
There has been comparatively little coverage of an allegation voiced by Sen. Rand Paul that another Senator confided in him that he was also subjected to surveillance under the Obama Administration. Paul previously voiced his belief that he may have been the subject of surveillance and asked the intelligence committee for confirmation of any such evidence. The surveillance of members of the Senate would raise extremely serious questions on the abuse of surveillance authority and threat to the independence of Congress. If this is untrue, I would have expected a reassuring denial to be issued. Even if the Senators were not the target of surveillance, it would be highly troubling if the government monitored conversations with members of Congress.
Below is my column in the Hill Newspaper on the Comey termination and comparisons to the Nixon presidency. Those analogies deepened this weekend after the President repeated that he thinks that they should just get rid of the daily press briefings that have been such a central part of White House operations for decades. What is most striking is how, again, the White House has engineered its own undoing. Many people had called for Comey to be fired, particularly Democrats. However, the timing and manner of the termination has created yet another scandal for the Administration. Only 27 percent of citizens support the decision according to a NBC/Wall Street Journal poll. The growing credibility crisis has made the appointment of a Special Prosecutor (or even the resurrection of the Independent Counsel Act) a priority for many. While I have been a dissenting voice regarding the need for a Special Prosecutor, the Comey debacle has changed my view. The public deserves an independent investigation into these allegations and related issues. Perhaps people will be satisfied with the FBI investigation under a new director, but the last week has been so damaging to public confidence that the need for an independent investigation is obvious. Having said that, I am still unsure of the major crime being investigated under the facts that are currently known. For the moment, this Administration appears intent of self-incriminating actions in the absence of an actual crime.
Here is the column:
The testimony of Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe on Thursday grabbed headlines in his direct contradiction of the White House claim that former FBI Director James Comey has lost the support of career agents. McCabe made clear that the rank and file were (and remain) entirely supportive of Comey. However, I thought the most interesting aspect of the hearing was a brief discussion of the 2016 decision not to prosecute Hillary Clinton. McCabe, who is viewed by many Republicans as having problematic links to the Clinton camp (through his wife who ran for office with their financial support), said that the failure to indict Clinton produced “vocal” opposition from the agents investigating her conduct.