This week President Donald Trump again made headlines in denying that he ever mentioned Israel in his giving highly sensitive intelligence to the Russians. (The problem is that no one suggested that he had and the later statement appeared to reaffirm to the world that Israel was the source of the human intelligence from a spy inside ISIS. News accounts suggested that Israel might have been the source but no one suggested that Trump said it was Israel to the Russians). Now the Trump Administration is accused of leaking British intelligence to U.S. media in the aftermath of the massacre in Manchester. The British were reportedly irate and made a formal complaint over the violation of core protocols and protections for intelligence sharing. This is a very serious complaint and further undermines the core relationships that we rely on in the sharing of national security information. It should result in an immediate congressional investigation to determine what happened.
It appears that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has found relief from the pesky protesters of Western democracies. He gave an almost breathless account of how he didn’t spot nary one protester in Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, just tranquil silence of the Saudis. It could be that the Trump Administration found a country unanimously and enthusiastically supportive of its policies. It could also be that protests are generally unlawful in the Kingdom. The Saudis however are famous for public demonstrations of a different kind from beheadings to the image above of festive hangings.
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.
Last weekend we featured two articles (HERE and HERE) describing a controversy involving the forced use of chemical herbicides on an organic farm that according to County officials was out of compliance in controlling noxious weeds that were threatening neighboring farms and crops.
The 2,000 acre organic farm in North Central Oregon is facing what could be an existential threat to its operations after county weed control authorities sent notice mandating that the farm use chemical herbicides to eradicate weed growth.
I attended the public hearing held at the Sherman County seat located in Moro, Oregon. Due to a very high volume of interest expressed by residents and those outside the community, the venue was changed from the County Courthouse to a gymnasium at the Sherman County High School. There was a great deal of uncertainty manifest in this hearing with strongly held opinions on many sides and one can say with near certainty that the publicity generated caused turmoil in this small community. In fact, the concern was so great, that a number of law enforcement officials were dispatched to the area to provide security to address a worry that things might get out of hand. But in the end the two sides reached an agreement that precludes the forced use of herbicides–and offered both a carrot and stick for both parties to strongly consider.
The New York Times is reporting (and the White House has reportedly confirmed) that President Donald Trump made some truly disturbing comments in his controversial meeting with the Russians. Not only did Trump call former FBI Director James Comey “a real nut job” but told the Russians that the firing has taken pressure off of him in terms of Russia. The leaked summary will fuel the allegations that Trump fired Comey to try to shutdown the Russian investigation to relieve pressure on himself. While I have discussed my skepticism over the evidence of an actual crime by the President, Trump appears committed to leaving the greatest incriminating impression possible in such meeting.
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.