Below is my column in the Hill newspaper on the continued speculation over President Donald Trump delaying or cancelling the 2020 election. This conspiracy theory first appeared shortly after Trump’s election and became the rage when Vice President Joe Biden predicted that Trump would try to halt the election (and try to steal the election through the Postal Service). Despite the overheated coverage, Trump did not try to delay the election. He cannot delay the election. He asked a question of whether it should be delayed, which Congress can legally do. However, as I said immediately after the tweet, it is a question that is politically absurd and legally unfounded. However, the only thing more ridiculous was the response to this eleven-word question. It is all part of the panic disorder that seems triggered by Trump tweets on a daily basis.
Below is my column on the recent hearing before the House Judiciary Committee with Attorney General William Barr. The hearing was widely ridiculed after Barr was repeatedly prevented from answering questions. It was a great disappointment. I just testified on the Lafayette Park controversy and many of us were waiting for a month to hear from Barr directly on the details, particularly the statements of many in the media that the Park area was cleared to allow President Trump to take a picture in front of St. John’s Church. Democratic members continued to refer to that as a fact (as has many in the media) despite the federal agencies supplying information that shows that the plan was approved days before and the order was given with no knowledge of the photo op. Yet, on repeated occasions Barr tried to supply times and dates, Democratic members immediately “took back the time” and even got angry when he tried to answer. The same is true on other controversies. We lost an opportunity to actually answer these questions. Yet, after repeatedly blocking Barr from answering, Speaker Nancy Pelosi called him a “Blob” at the hearing. He might seemed less blob-like if Democrats allowed him to speak. Instead, the hearing was an example of how Congress will work tirelessly not to find answers when a narrative is too good to check.
President Donald Trump has continued his dogmatic and potentially dangerous advocacy of the use of hydroxychloroquine despite recent studies questioning its benefits (and possible risks) as a treatment for COVID-19. One doctor who disagrees with these reports, including some out this week, is Dr. Stella Immanuel. Immanuel’s views however have been censored by Facebook and Twitter after her video was removed as false information. That brought an attack from Trump over censorship and the President has encouraged action from Congress which is looking this week at the issue. However, Dr. Immanuel called upon a higher source for intervention. She has warned the companies that Jesus will shutdown the companies unless her video is restored.
Below is my column in The Hill on the recent disclosure of a document showing that the FBI used an agent to gather information for Crossfire Hurricane during campaign briefings of Trump during 2016. The document directly contradicted the long-standing denial that the investigation to Russian collusion was ever used to gather intelligence on Trump or his campaign. At the same time, the credibility of the Steele Dossier was further undermined this weekend with the release of new information that Steele misrepresented the sources and information used as the basis for this report, which was funded by the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee. The source for the most alarming allegations was revealed as Igor Danchenko, 42, as confirmed to The New York Times, He was not the “Russian-based” source claimed by Steele and the FBI learned that Steele took third-hard rumors and presented them as hard intelligence in the report used to help justify the Russian collusion investigation. This source was used in the last two renewal applications to the FISA court as a “truthful and cooperative” and “Russian-based,” according to the Justice Department Inspector General report found. So it turns out that the primary “source” of Steele’s dossier was “not a well-connected current or former Russian official, but a non-Russian-based contract employee of Steele’s firm.”
None of this has made any difference to the coverage. On ABC Sunday, George Stephanopoulos had Chris Christie as a guest but his involvement in the very meeting discussed in the document did not merit a single question from the host. In the meantime, Democratic leaders, who once mocked the idea of any investigation of Trump or targeting of the campaign, now say that it really doesn’t matter. Rep. Eric Swalwell says that it was actually “the right thing to do.”
As I discussed in a column this weekend, Democratic members have spent years mocking allegations that there was any spying or surveillance of Trump or his campaign by the FBI. That was just a conspiracy theory. Now however there is proof that the FBI used a briefing in August 2016 of then candidate Trump to gather information for “Crossfire Hurricane,” the Russia investigation. It turns out that it did not really matter after all and Rep. Eric Swalwell did not miss a step. He simply declared that such targeting of the opposing party and its leading presidential candidate was the right thing to do. That’s it. A conspiracy theory suddenly becomes a commendable act. Continue reading ““They Were Right To Do It”: Swalwell Praises FBI For Using Campaign Briefing To Investigate Trump [Updated]”→
We have previously discussed how President Donald Trump has repeatedly asserted constitutional authority that he does not have in dealing with the pandemic. The President routinely ignored the principles of federalism in such claims of control over states in their internal health and policing decisions. He is not alone. Cities like Portland have demanded that federal officers leave the city and stop making arrested. While there are legitimate questions raised about the conduct of federal officers in putting people into custody and the use of force in Portland, those concerns related to the use of federal powers, not the basis for those powers. The federal government has full authority to protect federal buildings and to carry out arrests for federal crimes in any city. Current reports coming out of the White House appear to refer to surging law enforcement personnel, not sending military personnel. That would be constitutional if used for protect federal assets or enforce federal laws. That is the flip side of federalism. But how about the recent claims that the President is about to take over policing from cities like Chicago? The answer is that such a federal deployment without a request from the governors would be unwise but would be legal. However, there are practical and legal reasons why such any massive deployment is unlikely.
I have recently been highly critical of reports that Rep. Iihan Omar (D., Minn.) has given up to one million dollars in campaign funds to her own husband’s company, one of the long-standing loopholes for corruption in Washington. Omar has been highly controversial for her positions and statements but this should be a matter that unifies people across the political spectrum. However, the attention of her colleagues has not been on closing this loophole but instead on lashing out at her recent call for the “dismantling the whole system of oppression” in the United States from its economic to political structures. A resolution, introduced by Rep. Andy Biggs (R., Ariz) would denounce Omar for having “a documented history of expressing anti-American sentiments.” The resolution is a mistake that undermines both free speech and democratic values. It should be withdrawn. Continue reading ““Anti-American”? House Members Move To Condemn Rep. Omar In Resolution”→
I recently received a letter contesting my statements concerning Attorney General Bill Barr in columns (here and here and here and here) and congressional testimony (here and here). The letter is from Ralph Nader, Lou Fisher, and Bruce Fein. I have known all three signatories for many years and I have the utmost respect for them. They offer detailed and thoughtful disagreements with my past statements and the record of Attorney General Bill Barr. I asked them if they would allow me to share their arguments with the blog and they have agreed to do so. As with the prior posting of Professor Morrison, I strongly encourage you to consider the analysis from three of the most influential minds in Washington.
These are figures who require little introduction. They are well known throughout the world for their contributions to the law and public policy. Ralph Nader is as legendary figure who has fought his entire life for consumer protection, environmental protection and good government. He has run for president repeatedly (indeed I voted for him) and is widely viewed as one of the most influential figures in the world on public policy. Lou Fisher spent four decades at the Congressional Research Service and is widely regarded as one of the most influential figures in the shaping of congressional legislation and policies. He is widely regarded as one of the foremost experts on constitutional and congressional issues. Bruce Fein was a high ranking Justice Department figure in the Reagan Administration and has been one of the most influential conservative voices in print and television for decades. He is known for his independent and principled analysis of legal and constitutional issues.
As I stated in Attorney General Barr’s confirmation, he comes to this position with long-established and robust views of executive privilege and powers. While I have long disagreed with him on many of these issues, I view many of the current controversies to reflect policy and interpretative differences, not ethical or criminal or impeachable misconduct. I do not agree with presumptions made about his improper motivations or designs in carrying out his duties, for a second time, as Attorney General of the United States. Despite my many friends on the other side, my view has not changed. Nevertheless, people of good-faith can disagree and that is precisely what is offered by Messrs. Nader, Fisher, and Fein (sounds like a great law firm!)
Below is my column in the Hill newspaper on the commutation of the sentence of Roger Stone and the objections from various commentators and politicians that it was an unprecedented abuse of this constitutional power. The political outcry was predictable but it was also accompanied by an ahistorical treatment in Congress and the press. Many leaders lined up to cast the first Stone comment on how it was an unprecedented act despite their own relative silence during past abuses of presidential clemency. Speaker Nancy Pelosi declared that the commutation was “an act of staggering corruption” for someone who “could directly implicate him in criminal misconduct.” House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff declared that the commutation left him “nauseous.” Of course, Pelosi, Schiff, and other Democrats seemed to have greater stability and intestinal fortitude after Bill Clinton’s pardoning of his own brother (Roger Clinton), a fugitive Democratic donor (Marc Rich), or his longtime friend (Susan McDougal) who was convicted in an investigation that implicated both Bill and Hillary Clinton. Likewise, Mitt Romney seemed to echo Toobin’s view (below) in declaring this an “unprecedented, historic corruption” when “an American president commutes the sentence of a person convicted by a jury of lying to shield that very president.” However, Romney long heralded his respect and support of President George H.W. Bush despite Bush’s executive clemency actions for six former senior government officials implicated in the Iran-Contra scandal, including former Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger. Bush himself was implicated in that scandal and some alleged was protected by their silence. Nevertheless, this Society of Historical Revisionism appears to be expanding with members expressing utter shock at the notion of a president abusing the pardon power. There were no calls for investigations or new legislation from these politicians at the time. So, to paraphrase John 8:7, let he or she “without sin among you,” cast the first Stone criticism.
Fifty years ago, Ford Motor Company started production on the Pinto, a car that was billed as the be-all, end-all for the automotive industry. The only problem was that the car seemed to burst into flames if it hit a mid- to large-sized squirrel. The Pinto’s combustibility did not stop its advocates from pushing its use until it finally was pulled from the roads.
The Pinto came to mind this week with the reappearance of a poorly conceived product from the legal world: the Trump bribery theory. Various legal experts have insisted President Trump could be prosecuted or impeached under bribery laws, including for his dealings with Ukraine. I have written repeatedly that this theory was discredited by controlling case law, and I testified against its use as an article in the House impeachment hearing last year. As Ralph Nader once said about the Chevrolet Corvair, this theory is “unsafe at any speed” on Capitol Hill. The decision to pull out this discredited theory of bribery is just the latest example of choosing combustibility over credibility in legal analysis. The difference is that when unstable automotive products are exposed, they are taken off the road. Unstable legal products just keep rolling along.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi declined to condemn the destruction of a statue of Christopher Columbus in the city of Baltimore (where she was born and raised) yesterday in the latest example of politicians enabling such mob action with their silence. When asked about a mob pulling down the statue and dumping it in the harbor (with no interference from police), Pelosi simply declared “People will do what they do.” Indeed, they will when leaders refuse to condemn their conduct. Her comment explains why a recently arrested supporter of Antifa declared that they are winning in the campaign to destroy statues and memorials. Update: Maryland Governor Larry Hogan blasted Pelosi for being out of touch with her comments. Rather than pander to the most extreme elements of these protests, Hogan insisted “while efforts towards peaceful change are welcome, there is no place in Maryland for lawlessness, vandalism, and destruction of public property.”
Rep. Iihan Omar has been much in the news for her extreme positions on defunding police departments and yesterday calling for the dismantling of not just the American economy but the political system. In declaring her support for sweeping legislation yesterday, Omar railed against the American economic and political systems as a “system of oppression” and insisted that we cannot allow people to “prioritize profit without considering who is profiting.” That question however is now being raised in growing ethical concerns over Omar giving her husband’s company a massive amount of her campaign funds. This has been an issue that I have written about for over two decades as a legal but corrupt practice. The two stories show once again that the only defining element in Washington greater than irony is hypocrisy in both of our political parties. Update: Omar may have given as much as one million dollars to her husband’s company.
In Washington, U.S. District Judge Timothy J. Kelly has ruled against the Trump Administration in its important “third-country asylum rule” — prohibiting undocumented immigrants from claiming asylum in the United States if they did not first try to claim it in a country they passed through on their way to the U.S. border. The ruling is yet another example of how basic failures to follow procedure or submit supporting evidence has hampered the rollout of major policy initiatives. Kelly was not questioning the underlying deference to the Administration or the ultimate merits. Rather as in the recent loss before the Supreme Court under DACA (or the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program), the court found that the government had failed to satisfy the minimal requirements of the Administrative Procedure Act, or APA. Since the start of the Administration, there has been a lack of attention to detail and basic procedure that has resulted in a series of technical violations. It has incurred losses that were not only avoidable but easily avoidable with adherence to the governing case law on the APA.
This afternoon, I am testifying on the hearing on the controversy surrounding the clearing of Lafayette Park on June 1, 2020. I was called to appear to address the underlying legal and constitutional standards governing such mass demonstrations. For roughly 14 years, I was one of the lead counsels in the World Bank litigation that helped establish guidelines and case law governing such operations. I have been critical of the force used to clear the park as well as the attack on a team of Australian journalists covered the protests.
The operation to clear the Park began two days before with the plan to install fencing. By Monday, a small barrier was in place around the park itself and the clearing operation was to push back the crowd to a perimeter to allow the higher fencing to be installed beyond the range of debris or objects. The crowd was pushed back to I St. from H St. by the line of officers. (The hearing title and the testimony refers to the “Lafayette Park” or “Lafayette Square Park” generally. In fact, the immediate park was closed off and we are discussing the operation to clear the area for the installation of the higher fence).
As I state in the testimony, I believe the order to clear the area would be found lawful. It is the level of force (and a charging of the line of officers) that is likely to be the focus of any court. I still do not see the need for this level of force in the use of batons and pepper spray.
Last year, in columns and testimony, I chastised the Democrats for the shortest investigation on the narrowest grounds with the thinnest record of any presidential impeachment in history. The insistence of impeaching by Christmas doomed any chances of a compelling impeachment case. It appears now that one person agrees with that assessment: former National Security Adviser John Bolton. I referenced Bolton and his upcoming book as one of the reason why a little more time could vastly improve and expand the House case. Bolton said that he simply wanted a court to refer the privilege claim, which could have been accomplished easily in the time wasted by the House (including the long delay in sending the articles of impeachment to the Senate). In response, the Democratic leadership is lashing out at Bolton for refusing to come forward despite his offer to do so after a federal judge heard the privilege claim.