Another day, another leak. The Wall Street Journal is reporting that it has seen a memo written by Rick Ledgett, the former deputy director of the NSA, detailing a phone call in which U.S. President Donald Trump NSA Director Admiral Mike Rogers to state publicly that there is no evidence of collusion between his campaign and Russia. It is the latest high-level official reporting a concerted effort by Trump to dispel allegations of collusion. While the Special Counsel is reportedly seeking to interview Ledgett, I still remain skeptical of the current facts being used as the basis for an obstruction case. As I previously discussed, Robert Mueller has hired at least one senior lawyer known for his unsuccessful effort to expand the scope of obstruction. However, this memo does not necessarily change the narrative on both sides of the controversy. There remains an obvious defense to a conventional obstruction claim – assuming the definition of the crime is not stretched beyond recognition to change the meaning of “corruptly influence.”
Last week, CNN filed a lawsuit seeking the famous Comey memos from the FBI, which is discussed in the column below in The Hill newspaper. The lawsuit could produce an official characterization of the status of the memos as either personal or FBI information. After this column was posted, Judicial Watch also filed a lawsuit seeking the memos which it maintained were the property of the FBI. The lawsuit states “Upon learning that records have been unlawfully removed from the FBI, you then are required to initiate action through the Attorney General for the recovery of records.” These lawsuits could prove vindicating or implicating for Comey. [Update: other news organizations have added additional lawsuits]
Here is the column:
Democrats are clamoring for the resignation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions this week in the wake of his testimony before the Senate. I fail to see the good-faith basis for these calls, particularly after his testimony. Sessions shot down the claims of a third meeting with Russians that was the subject of breathless media reports for days. He also did an excellent job in explaining the steps that he took in recusing himself, including declining to play any role in the Russian investigation long before his formal recusal. He was also on good ground in declining to discuss conversations with the President in the Oval Office. Despite the shock expressed by Democratic Senators, he is in a long line of cabinet members declining to disclose such presidential communications. Nevertheless, the Democrats were right that you should have a formal invocation of executive privilege before declining to answer questions from Congress. However, as discussed in the column below, that is not uncommon.
Yet, the Administration had just gone through a controversial hearing with top intelligence officials refusing to answer such questions and clearly knew that these questions were coming. What did not make sense in the testimony of National Security Agency director Adm. Mike Rogers and National Intelligence Director Dan Coats was their refusal to answer on the ground that it would be “inappropriate.” That makes no sense in isolation without an indication that the questions will be reviewed and addressed by White House counsel in whether executive privilege will be invoked. The same problem arose with the testimony of Sessions (which was magnified by the fact that the White House has been pummeled over the earlier hearing).
The White House should have simply invoked the privilege with regard to presidential communications in the Oval Office in advance while stating an intention to try to answer as many of the questions of the Committee as possible within those long-standing constitutional confines. It is not unheard of to decline to answer questions pending review but Sessions did not promise to have questions reviewed. If he does not secure an invocation (or permission to disclose), he would simply be refusing to answer questions of Congress which constitutes contempt of Congress. This is not necessary. The White House Counsel should have sent a letter in advance of the hearing either invoking or waiving privilege. Alternatively, he needs to send a letter to address the outstanding questions. Congress has a right to have its questions answered unless the White House claims privilege. Even with an invocation, Congress can overcome the privilege with a proper showing to a court. The process requires a firm answer from the White House on the basis for refusing to answer questions and it cannot be a categorical denial based on unease or discomfort.
Here is the column in the Hill Newspaper.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) is close to reaching a statistical zero for support. According to a new poll, Christie is supported by only 15 percent of voters. Given the error rate of standard polls, Christie is rapidly reducing his support to his immediate family. This is the lowest approval rating “for any governor in any state surveyed by Quinnipiac University in more than 20 years.”
This includes a now 81 percent disapproval rating. Yes, you read that correctly. Eighty-one percent disapproval.
President Donald Trump has pledged to reduce red tape and regulations for businesses in the United States. It is a worthy goal, but it has led to some curious decisions. For example, the Administration just tossed a new rule intended to limit the numbers of endangered whales and sea turtles getting caught in fishing nets. This rule however was supported by the fishing industry. Thus, this was a rare case where conservationists and corporations agreed. It was the Trump Administration that did not agree. Not only was the rule proposed by the Pacific Fishery Management Council had proposed the new regulation in 2015, but the federal government has been implementing the plan.
Missouri Representative Mike Moon (R-Ash Grove) takes a more literal meaning to the classic political pledge of a “chicken in every pot.” In a truly bizarre video below, the Republican legislator decapitated a chicken while discussing a special session and then pulled out its heart.