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.
In a stinging defeat for the Trump Administration, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit has upheld an injunction on the Trump Administration’s immigration order. The Fourth Circuit is widely viewed as one of the most conservative circuits and has proven the most deferential to national security powers by the Executive Branch. Indeed, the government often openly forum shops in pushing national security cases through the Eastern District of Virginia and ultimately the Fourth Circuit. The 10-3 vote is an impressive victory for the challengers and now sets the case for the long-awaited petition to the Supreme Court. The court did not spare the rhetorical bite, observing that the order “speaks with vague words of national security, but in context drips with religious intolerance, animus, and discrimination.”
There has been a chorus of commentators saying that the invocation of the Fifth Amendment by former national security advisor Michael Flynn leaves only immunity as the unlikely option for Congress. This was stated repeatedly on CNN last night. (I was supposed to go on Anderson Cooper and I was going to correct that view but the terrible massacre in England obviously took priority in coverage). The fact is that there is an obvious option: move to hold Flynn in contempt. The case law is not a clear cut as commentators have suggested on the “act of production doctrine.” Moreover, Congress has an institutional interest in pushing back on such invocations if it does not view the production as testimonial.
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.
I have previously criticized Northwestern University President Morton Schapiro for his lack of support for free speech on campus. Unlike the University of Chicago across town, Schapiro has been leading the calls for limiting speech deemed to be a “microaggression” or offensive. (For full disclosure, I am a graduate of both Northwestern and Chicago). His lack of commitment to free speech has made him popular with some groups while alarming free speech advocates. That concern was heightened this week when Schapiro defended his efforts to give protected “safe spaces” on campus and said that some offensive speech should be considered a form of “assault.” The comments further distinguish Schapiro was one of the most hostile university presidents toward free speech principles in the country. His pandering to those demanding speech codes and regulations should be an embarrassment for the university, which remains one of the world’s premiere academic institutions. He has taught his students well. Soon after the publication of his latest remarks, student groups shutdown a speaker and a class on immigration. It appears that even classes must now adhere to the mob rule at Northwestern.
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:
We have been writing about the enculturation of anti-free speech values in college students across the country. The most recent incident occurred at the California State University where assistant professor of public health professor Greg Thatcher is shown on a videotape wiping out the pro-life statements written in chalk by members of Fresno State Students for Life. Thatcher supports his students who destroyed the messages before his arrival (those students said that their teacher gave them permission to destroy the free speech of other students). Thatcher’s attitude and open contempt for free speech is chilling. It is also now the subject of a free speech lawsuit filed against him in his personal capacity.