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Why Congress Must Act Now to Protect Robert Mueller
By John Cassidy March 19, 2018
The issue isn’t whether President Trump is thinking about firing Robert Mueller: we can take that as a given. The issue is whether he thinks he would get away with it. Photograph by Stephen Hilger / Bloomberg via Getty
The United States may be on the brink of a constitutional crisis. After three days of Presidential attacks on the investigation being carried out by the special counsel Robert Mueller, it seems clear—despite a public assurance from one of Donald Trump’s lawyers that the President isn’t currently considering firing Mueller—that the Trump-Russia story has entered a more volatile and dangerous phase. As the tension mounts, it’s essential that Congress step in to protect Mueller before it’s too late.
It has been no secret that Trump would dearly love to fire the special counsel, and that he has little or no regard for the legal and constitutional consequences of such an action. It has been reported that, last summer, behind the scenes, he ordered Don McGahn, the White House counsel, to get rid of Mueller, and only backed down after McGahn threatened to resign.
Before this weekend, however, Trump had never explicitly attacked Mueller and his team in public, or called for the Justice Department to shut down the investigation. That uncharacteristic restraint surely reflected the influence of Trump’s legal team, which, for months, had been advising him that Mueller’s investigation would be completed in fairly short order, and that the best course of action was to cooperate.
“I’d be embarrassed if this is still haunting the White House by Thanksgiving and worse if it’s still haunting him by year end,” Ty Cobb, one of Trump’s lawyers, told Reuters, in August. By November, Cobb had modified his timeline slightly. But, according to the Washington Post, he was still optimistic that the investigation would “wrap up by the end of the year, if not shortly thereafter.” The Post story also said that Trump “has warmed to Cobb’s optimistic message on Mueller’s probe.”
It now seems clear that Cobb’s optimism was misplaced, and that Mueller isn’t nearly done. According to Monday’s Times, Trump’s lawyers met with Mueller’s team last week “and received more details about how the special counsel is approaching the investigation, including the scope of his interest in the Trump Organization.” Also last week, perhaps not entirely coincidentally, the Times reported that Mueller’s investigators have issued subpoenas to the Trump Organization for business documents, including some related to Russia. “The order is the first known instance of the special counsel demanding records directly related to President Trump’s businesses, bringing the investigation closer to the president,” the Times’ story said.
It is fair to assume that Trump wasn’t pleased with these developments, or with his lawyers. He probably felt that he had been misled. This was the context in which the attacks on Mueller began, starting on Saturday morning, when John Dowd, another of the Trump attorneys, e-mailed the Daily Beast. Referring to the Justice Department’s abrupt firing of Andrew McCabe, the former deputy director of the F.B.I., which was announced on Friday night, Dowd wrote, “I pray that Acting Attorney General Rosenstein will follow the brilliant and courageous example of the FBI Office of Professional Responsibility and Attorney General Jeff Sessions and bring an end to alleged Russia Collusion investigation manufactured by McCabe’s boss James Comey based upon a fraudulent and corrupt Dossier.”
Dowd’s unexpected statement inevitably sparked speculation that Trump might be preparing to order the Justice Department to close down the Mueller investigation. Asked whether he was speaking for Trump, Dowd initially replied, “Yes, as his counsel.” He later backtracked, saying he was speaking on his own behalf.
Later on Saturday, Trump joined the fray, tweeting, “The Mueller probe should never have been started in that there was no collusion and there was no crime.” On Sunday morning, Trump sharpened his attack, mentioning the special counsel by name for the first time in a tweet: “Why does the Mueller team have 13 hardened Democrats, some big Crooked Hillary supporters, and Zero Republicans? Another Dem recently added…does anyone think this is fair? And yet, there is NO COLLUSION!” On Monday morning, Trump was at it again: “A total WITCH HUNT with massive conflicts of interest!”
By that stage, a number of Republicans on Capitol Hill had publicly stated (with varying degrees of conviction) that the Mueller investigation should be allowed to proceed unimpeded. And Cobb, in a statement issued on Sunday night, had sought to dampen down all the speculation, saying, “The White House yet again confirms that the president is not considering or discussing the firing of the special counsel, Robert Mueller.”
Strictly on its face, this statement is not credible. Everything we know about Trump, including his order to McGahn last summer, suggests that the option of axing Mueller is often, if not constantly, on his mind. In an interview with the Times last July, he conveyed this publicly when he said that if Mueller investigated any of his businesses unrelated to Russia, he would have crossed a red line. Now it seems that Mueller has at least stepped on that line by demanding business documents from the Trump Organization, only some of which relate to Russia.
The issue isn’t whether Trump is thinking about firing Mueller: we can take that as a given. The issue is whether he thinks he would get away with it, or whether he takes seriously what the Republican senator Lindsey Graham said on Sunday, that such a move “would be the beginning of the end of his Presidency.” As the special counsel’s investigation approaches its first anniversary and closes in on what may well be Trump’s biggest vulnerability—his business dealings with foreign entities—Trump’s calculus appears to be changing.
In accusing some of Mueller’s team of being “hardened Democrats” and complaining about a “conflict of interest,” Trump appeared to be trying to establish some legal basis for shutting down the investigation. According to the special-counsel statute, “conflict of interest” is one of the grounds on which an attorney general, or acting attorney general, may remove a special counsel. (The others include incapacity, dereliction of duty, and violating Justice Department policies.)
While Trump didn’t identify which members of Mueller’s team he was targeting, some of his supporters have singled out Andrew Weissmann, a former organized-crime prosecutor from the Eastern District of New York, who reportedly made contributions to one of Barack Obama’s election campaigns and attended Hillary Clinton’s election-night party in November, 2016. Weissmann is working on the part of Mueller’s investigation that is looking into money laundering, and he also has a professional tie to the Trump world. In 1998, he signed the cooperation agreement between the government and Felix Sater, the colorful Russian-American businessman who was a U.S. intelligence asset and was also involved in developing the troubled Trump SoHo project and, during the 2016 election, in trying to secure financing for a Trump Tower Moscow.
One can understand why Trump might be nervous about experienced prosecutors like Weissmann digging around in his finances, and that’s why Congress needs to protect the special counsel against the President’s diktats. Under current law, there is no apparent redress if Trump can persuade someone at the Justice Department to fire Mueller for “good cause,” however specious that cause may be. There have been, however, two bipartisan bills put forward in Congress that would allow Mueller to challenge such a dismissal before a federal court consisting of three federal judges.
For months, these bills have been stalled in the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is under the chairmanship of Chuck Grassley, of Iowa. Over the weekend, even as a few Republicans, such as Graham and John McCain , emphasized the importance of allowing Mueller to finish his job, there was no sign of Grassley or any other prominent Republican leader agreeing to push through some legislation before Trump can act. The Washington Post reported that G.O.P. leaders “dodged direct questions … about the fate of the bills in light of the president’s Twitter tirade.”
In an informative post devoted to this issue at the Lawfare blog on Monday, Steve Vladeck, a professor at the University of Texas School of Law, noted that, for those Republicans who “actually want to ensure that the special counsel’s investigation continues unimpeded and don’t just want to look good to their constituents, there’s an easy way to do more than just threatening the president in tweets and talk-show interviews: Pass this legislation.” Vladeck’s argument is spot-on. When the history of the Trump era is written, it won’t be kind to this President’s enablers, and that applies to the passive enablers as well as the active ones.
John Cassidy has been a staff writer at The New Yorker since 1995. He also writes a column about po0litics, economics, and more for newyorker.com.
Former congressman says he’s had enough, publicly resigns from the Republican party over trump
By Jen Hayden March 19, 2018
Former U.S. Congressman Charles Djou (Hawaii) penned an open letter announcing he is resigning from the Republican party over their embrace of Donald Trump and his harmful anti-immigration platform, which has been embraced by the Republican party itself at this point. In a lengthy open letter on Honolulu Civic Beat, Djou lays out his reasons for leaving the Republican National Party.
Today, after much consideration, I abandon my party because I am unwilling to abandon my principles. I can no longer stand with a Republican Party that is led by a man I firmly believe is taking the party of Lincoln in a direction I fundamentally disagree with, and a party that is unwilling to stand up to him.
It disturbs me that the Republican Party under President Donald Trump is now defined as a party hostile to immigration. We are the leader of the free world, not because we are great (or need to be great again), but because we are good. […]
Civility is an inner trait of true character. Trump’s belittling of Sen. Jeff Flake and immature name-calling of Sen. Bob Corker reflect a weakness of character. Trump’s penchant for conspiracy theories, such as his assertion that Sen. Ted Cruz’s father was involved in the assassination of JFK, is disturbing. His poorly constructed stream-of-consciousness tweets are not only immature, but provide real harm to the stability of our democracy.
As President George W. Bush recently lamented, “Bullying and prejudice in our public life sets a national tone, provides permission for cruelty and bigotry, and compromises the moral education of children. The only way to pass along civic values is to first live up to them.”
Even George W. Bush gets it! He wasn’t a great president, but at least he had some values, some core principles to guide him. Trump’s only guide is his own fragile ego. But, Djou saved some of his harshest criticism for Republican leaders who stand idly by and/or enable Trump’s boorish, racist, misogynistic behavior:
But I am most disappointed by the failure of the GOP to clearly and consistently condemn Trump’s childish behavior. Sadly today, too many Republicans either applaud Trump’s tirades or greet them with silent acceptance. This leads to an implicit ratification by the GOP of Trump’s undisciplined, uninformed, and unfocused leadership as a core part of the Republican Party. This is something I cannot accept and will not be a part of.
Hopefully more Republicans like Djou will publicly denounce Donald Trump and help Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell find their spines. If it isn’t already too late.
Donald Trump and the New Dawn of Tyranny
By Timothy Snyder March 3, 2018
Timothy Snyder is Yale University’s Housum Professor of History and the author of On Tyranny
President Trump walks to the Oval Office at the White House, on Feb. 24, 2017. Mark Wilson—Getty Images
The Founding Fathers designed the constitution to prevent some Americans from exercising tyranny. Alert to the classical examples they knew, the decline of ancient Greece and Rome into oligarchy and empire, they established the rule of law, checks and balances, and regular elections as the means of preserving the new republic. Thus far, it has worked. But it need not work forever.
We might imagine that the American system must somehow always sustain itself. But a broader look at the history of democratic republics established since our own revolution reveals that most of them have failed. Politicians who emerge from democratic practices can then work to undo democratic institutions. This was true in the rise of fascism in the 1920s and 1930s, as well as during the spread of communism in the 1940s, and indeed in the new wave of authoritarian regime changes of the 21st century. Indeed, absent a truly decisive revolution, which is a rare event, a regime change depends upon such people — regime changers — emerging in one system and transforming it into another.
It is in this light that we should consider President Donald Trump and his closest advisers and spokespeople. Although they occupy the positions they do thanks to an election, there is little reason to believe that they support the American constitutional system as it stands, and much to remind us of authoritarian regimes changes of the recent past. A basic weapon of regime changers, as fascists realized nearly a century ago, is to destroy the concept of truth. Democracy requires the rule of law, the rule of law depends upon trust, and trust depends upon citizens’ acceptance of factuality. The president and his aides actively seek to destroy Americans’ sense of reality. Not only does the White House spread “alternative facts,” but Kellyanne Conway openly proclaims this as right and good. Post-factuality is pre-fascism.
The function of the press, as the Founding Fathers understood, was to generate the common knowledge on which citizens could understand and debate policy, and to prevent rulers from behaving tyrannically. Whether from the far right or the far left, the regime changers of the twentieth century understood that the media had to be bullied and deprived of importance. When Steve Bannon refers to the press as the “opposition,” or Mr. Trump calls journalists “enemies,” they are expressing their support for the demolition of the historical, ethical, and intellectual bases of the political life we take for granted. Indeed, when Mr. Trump calls journalists “enemies of the people,” he is quoting Joseph Stalin.
Since the end of the cold war, the new authoritarian regimes that have emerged in eastern Europe have taken the form of authoritarian kleptocracies: Russia is the most enduring example of this model; a revolution halted the development of a similar regime in Ukraine in 2014. The Founders, opponents of a British monarchy, were alert to the danger that government might serve to enrich a single family. The emoluments clause of the constitution confirms our common sense: no one can be trusted to defend the interests of citizens if his policy choices can make him richer. This president has not revealed the basic financial information about himself, but we know that he has business interests at home and abroad. Russians and Ukrainians have been quick to notice a familiar pattern.
If there is a common thread that links American political rhetoric from the 18th century to today, through the confrontations with fascist and communist rivals and into the 21st century it is the word “democracy.” Our practice has been imperfect, but the endorsement of the idea of rule by the people has been consistent, until now. This president has defied that norm. He has said almost nothing in favor of democracy or, for that matter, civil and human rights. He admires authoritarians. His one major comment on democracy was that he would contest the outcome of elections if they were not in his favor. That is opposition to democracy. Indeed, not recognizing election results and moving to take power anyway is what authoritarians do.
In recent authoritarian regime changes, in Poland and Hungary as well as Russia, the executive power has been able to sideline the judiciary and then humble the legislature. The idea of checks and balances is enshrined in our constitution, but of course also in theirs, is that none of the three branches of government can dominate the others. In denigrating judges, Mr. Trump attacks the geometry of the system. Once the courts are tamed, the legislature cannot defend itself, and we have authoritarianism. If legislators do not support the judiciary, then their turn for humiliation will come, and the laws they pass will be unenforceable. This has been the pattern in recent authoritarian regime changes around the world.
Right-wing authoritarians today use the threat or the reality of terrorism to seek and hold power. The one consistent policy of the Trump administration thus far has been to encourage a Muslim terrorist attack within or upon the United States. Everywhere the first executive order on refugees and immigrants was understood as directed against Muslims. The major consequence, most likely the intended one, is the alienation of Muslims at home and abroad. The proposal to move the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem is similar: it will never take place, so serves only to alienate and enrage Muslims. Michael Flynn is in the same category: though he was only national security advisor for three weeks, few Muslims will forget that he referred to their religion as a “cancer.” Modern authoritarianism is terror management, and so modern authoritarians need terror attacks: real, simulated, or both. As James Madison noticed long ago, tyranny arises “on some favorable emergency.”
The experience of the 21st century, as well as the experience of the 1930s, teaches that it takes about a year to engineer a regime change. To what, exactly? We cannot deduce, from the Trump administration’s destructive chaos and ideological incoherence, what the post-democratic American regime would be. We can be sure, however, that we would miss being free. The prospect of children and grandchildren growing up under tyranny is terrifyingly real. History can remind us of the fragile fundaments of our own democracy. But what follows now is up to us.
Timothy Snyder is a professor of history at Yale University and the author, most recently, of On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century.
TIME Ideas hosts the world’s leading voices, providing commentary on events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. Opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of TIME editors.
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EPA chief’s security detail on Italy trip cost $30,000: document
Reuters March 20, 2018
FILE PHOTO: Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt attends during a summit of Environment ministers from the G7 group of industrialized nations in Bologna, Italy, June11, 2017. REUTERS/Max Rossi
(Reuters) – The U.S. government spent over $30,000 on personal security for Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt during his trip last year to Italy, according to documents obtained by a watchdog group that said the spending was irresponsible at a time of budget cuts.
According to the document, obtained by the Environmental Integrity Project through a Freedom of Information Act request and shown to Reuters, Pruitt’s personal security detail racked up $30,553.88 in travel costs from June 5 through June 12, 2017, when Pruitt was in Italy for meetings at the Vatican and to attend a summit of foreign energy ministers.
Previous documents released by EIP showed the cost of Pruitt’s trip to Italy at $43,000, not including the security detail. The new documents, which include airfare and expenses for Pruitt, his career and political staff, and his security detail, put the cost over $80,000, EIP calculated.
“Mr. Pruitt’s trip to Rome last summer cost the taxpayers over $84,000,” said Eric Schaeffer, EIP’s director. “That’s a lot of money for Mr. Pruitt to tour the Vatican, pose for photos, and tell his European counterparts that global warming doesn’t matter,” he said.
Spending by top officials in the Trump administration has come under more scrutiny by critics at a time when federal agencies have been making sharp budget cuts. Lawmakers have also criticized Pruitt for frequently flying first-class, and for spending tens of thousands of dollars on a secure sound-proof telephone booth for his office.
EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox said the security detail “followed the same procedures for the G7 environmental meeting in Italy that were used during EPA Administrators Stephen Johnson, Lisa Jackson, and Gina McCarthy’s trips to Italy. EPA’s security procedures have not deviated over the past 14 years.”
It was unclear from looking at the document how many members were in the security detail, and no breakdown of the spending was provided.
EIP has been critical of Pruitt’s statements questioning the causes of global climate change and his efforts to roll back environmental protections.
EPA has said Pruitt has flown first-class as a security measure, and that the administrator does not make decisions relating to his security detail.
(Reporting by Valerie Volcovici; Writing by Richard Valdmanis; Editing by David Gregorio)
Baseball’s ‘wannabe environmentalist’ thrives with a fastball that doesn’t have any gas
Jeff Passan, Yahoo Sports March 13, 2018
MARYVALE, Ariz. – Of all the questions that distressed Brent Suter before the Milwaukee Brewers summoned him to the major leagues in 2016 – how his 85-mph fastball would play against the world’s finest hitters or how the rigors of big league life would suit him – only one vexed him enough to ask his Triple-A teammates: Could he bring his food tray?
Suter reached into his locker last week at the Brewers’ spring-training complex and pulled out Smart Planet’s collapsible Eco Meal Kit. He showed how its silicone bottom expanded and raved about the recyclable plastic fork-spoon combination that snapped into the cover. When his teammates tuck into pre- and post-game meals on Styrofoam plates, Suter opts for old reliable: the same reusable container that accompanies him from city to big league city.
“I’m a wannabe environmentalist,” Suter said, and in the world of Major League Baseball, populated disproportionately by conservatives compared to conservationists, the concerns over an $11 food tray were palpable. Suter, a Harvard graduate, didn’t want to paint a picture of himself any stuffier than the one his degree might.
He was, after all, a 31st-round draft pick who had ascended the Brewers’ organization on guile, deception and a fastball that, staying completely on brand, performed without gas. When he was drafted, Suter put on hold plans to join Teach for America, and over the next five years, he pitched too well for the Brewers to keep overlooking him. So up he and his tray came in 2016, and each has proven itself worthwhile ever since, with a 3.40 ERA in 103 1/3 innings and a likely starting rotation spot this season.
Suter’s interest in the environment started early in high school, when his mother rented “An Inconvenient Truth.” He started carrying a water bottle to lessen his use of plastic. He showered for 40 seconds or so on average. He studied environmental science and public policy in college and figured eventually he would wind up consulting companies on how to get greener. Last season, cognizant of farming’s harm to the environment, Suter stopped eating meat midseason. A rotator-cuff strain ended that experiment.
“I had to go back on meat,” Suter said. “Tough decision.”
Suter’s teammates do about everything that would be expected in a baseball clubhouse. He is called a tree hugger. Brewers starter Chase Anderson, a Trump supporter, occasionally refers to Suter as “Hillary.” In Suter’s rookie year, before hazing was outlawed, he wore a cheerleader’s outfit that was amended to note his love of recycling.
Milwaukee Brewers starting pitcher Brent Suter delivers in the first inning of a baseball game against the Pittsburgh Pirates, Monday, Sept. 18, 2017 in Pittsburgh. (AP)
“I’ve had teammates who just look at me and drop napkins in the trash,” Suter said. “And I go, ‘Noooo!’ And then I’ve had teammates who turn on an extra shower.”
What may surprise is that Suter also had teammates who love engaging with him in the sort of civil discourse that barely exists anymore. Over coffee and omelets, Suter, Anderson and minor leaguers Jon Perrin and Kyle Wren will discuss the environment, politics, philosophy, religion. Sometimes it’s the news of the day. Others it’s whatever they’re reading.
“This is one of the last places where you can talk openly about your background, what your beliefs are, have conversations with people from totally different backgrounds and even if you disagree, at the end of the day you still can be friends,” said Wren, a teammate of Suter’s for three years. “You’re still going out on the field and playing for each other. And I think that’s something our society has gotten away from. Just because you disagree doesn’t mean you can’t like each other.”
Currently, Wren is reading “The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels,” and he sent a picture of the book’s cover to Suter, who responded with an upside-down smiley-face emoji. Even if Wren finds himself the near-ideological opposite of Suter when it comes to the environment – he acknowledges climate change but doesn’t believe its dangers are imminent – their conversations stir something the game may not.
“When that cognitive dissonance hits you and you’re fighting it because it runs in conflict to your own beliefs,” Wren said, “I think that makes the world a better place.”
Wren has seen Suter’s influence first-hand. As he did at all of his previous minor league stops, Suter in 2016 offered to buy his teammates food trays. About 10 took him up on the offer, and half used them for the rest of the season.
“In the real world, just him doing that one thing, is he making a difference? It’s probably negligible,” Wren said. “But he’s principled. And I can respect the fact that he believes a certain thing enough to bring a recyclable lunch tray to the field. He says something about his life and lives it out.
“Even if he influences 30 people over the course of his life, that’s a lot of lives he’s changed. It can create a lot of exponential growth from his one decision to carry this lunch tray.”
The conversations invigorate Suter likewise, and the more time he spends in the major leagues, the likelier he’ll be to expand them to a broader audience. Baseball enforces a pecking order that tends to keep the most outspoken voices silent until success turns off the mute button.
“I love it so much,” Suter said. “I really enjoy the debates. We don’t attack each other or get personal. We just have our opinions and respect each other’s points.”
So when they go deep, Suter talks about the importance of water bottles: “They can save a ton of CO2.” He advocates for composting: “Not only is it good for the earth, but when you have food waste, you feel like it’s going to something good.” He encourages people to take shorter showers (while realizing the futility of this inside a postgame clubhouse). At very least, he says, don’t use running water while shaving.
The best, Wren said, came in 2016. It was so good that he screenshotted it for posterity. After he switched phones, the picture didn’t transfer over, but Wren swears that one day, out of nowhere, Suter sent him a text message that may sound farcical but was completely sincere and perfectly earnest.
“Hey,” Suter wrote, “you wanna go plant some trees today?”
Kris Kobach Really, Really Did Not Want You To See This Deposition. Read It Here.
Sam Levine, HuffPost March 19, 2018
The morning after Donald Trump was elected President, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach (R) wrote to an adviser on the president-elect’s transition team and told him that he had already started drafting a preliminary amendment to federal voting law. The amendment would alter the 1993 National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) to make it acceptable for states to ask people to prove they were citizens when they went to register to vote at a motor vehicle agency.
A few weeks later, Kobach traveled to Bedminster, New Jersey, to meet personally with Trump and some of his top advisers. As he was going into the meeting, Kobach was photographed holding a memo outlining a proposal for actions during the first year of Trump’s Department of Homeland Security. The 23rd item on the page, at the bottom of the memo, suggests amending NVRA to allow states to impose a proof of citizenship requirement.
As Kobach defends Kansas’ own proof of citizenship requirement, he has fought hard to block the public release of both the memo and his draft to NVRA. He has also fought having to answer questions under oath about both.
Those efforts were largely unsuccessful, as both a federal district court and the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals said he had to answer questions about them. Kobach sat for an hourlong deposition with the ACLU lawyers suing him last summer, a tape of which was played during trial in Kansas City earlier this month. A partially redacted transcript of that deposition provides a unique insight into Kobach’s conversations with Trump and efforts to change federal voting law to allow states to provide proof of citizenship.
In the deposition, Kobach says that his proposal to amend NVRA was merely a “contingency” should he lose the lawsuit against the ACLU. He said he broadly discussed the issue of noncitizens voting with Trump ― who began tweeting that illegal votes cost him the popular vote shortly after his meeting with Kobach ― but did not come up with a specific plan to impose a proof of citizenship requirement. He also said they talked about ways to incentivize states to impose a proof of citizenship requirement and that he had discussed introducing legislation to amend NVRA with Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) should he lose the case against the ACLU.
Read the full deposition here:
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