Email #338: Congratulations on your retirement, Congressman

I began writing you daily letters almost a year ago. Although I have several more letters drafted on a range of issues that you will continue to influence until you leave office in December 2018, I will forego sending them. Since you have announced that you are retiring, I am retiring my personal letter campaign. Despite our differences, please accept my sincere wishes for a happy retirement.

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Email #337: “a wake-up call”

Many Republican have acknowledged the seriousness of Tuesday’s elections.

Rep. Dent said yesterday: “If this isn’t a wake-up call, I don’t know what is. Voters are taking their anger out at the president, and the only way they can do that is by going after Republicans on the ballot.”

Former Virginia Governor McDonnell said: “The enthusiastic left showed up tonight in big numbers, and that really determined the outcome.”

Republican Party of Virginia chair Whitbeck said: “I will be blunt: last night was a terrible night for our Party. We must quickly regroup and prepare for next year.”

Former Washington State Republican Party chair Chris Vance said: “Republicans are being obliterated in the suburbs. I don’t think the Republican Party has a future in any state like Washington or Virginia, or Oregon or California, or many other places, where the majority of the voters are from urban or suburban areas…  Among college-educated suburbanites, [Trump] is a pariah.”

While recounts will determine the final breakdown, it appears 15 seats in the Virginia House of Delegates have already shifted to Democrats. If Democrats win two of the contested recounts, they take control. In August, the liberal websites Blue Virginia and the Daily Kos considered this nearly impossible: “The problem Democrats have with this map isn’t that they have to hit a bullseye, it’s that they have to hit a bullseye many times in a row, with no margin for error. That’s why, as things currently stand, I’m rating the Virginia HoD Safe R.”

Regardless of the final outcome, the Democratic upsets are linked to President Trump and his policies and rhetoric.

Vietnamese immigrant Kathy Tran won a GOP seat by campaigning against the President’s anti-immigrant stance: “This was a clear rejection of racism and bigotry and hateful violence. People are hungry for a government that reflects the diversity of our communities.”

The President reversed military policy to prohibit transgender people from serving, and the transgender Democratic candidate Danica Roem defeated 13-term incumbent and self-declared “chief homophobe” Robert Marshall, who introduced a bill banning transgender people from using public restrooms of their choice. Roem said in her victory speech: “Discrimination is a disqualifier. This is about the people of the 13th District disregarding fear tactics, disregarding phobias . . . where we celebrate you because of who you are, not despite it.”

Of the 15 new seats won by Democrats, 11 were by female candidates, nearly doubling the total number of women in the House from 17 to 30. The President has been accused of sexual harassment by over 16 women, all of whom the President has called liars. Regarding the most recent allegation, he responded last month: “All I can say is it’s totally fake news. It’s just fake. It’s fake. It’s made-up stuff, and it’s disgraceful, what happens, but that happens in the — that happens in the world of politics.” Delegate-elect Jennifer Carroll Foy said she ran because of the “fear and anger and frustration” she felt toward the President.

Republican candidate Ed Gillespie attempted to distance himself from the President. According to Politico, Donald Trump “is the first president since Richard Nixon, who at the time was in the throes of the Watergate scandal, not to campaign in [Virginia’s] governor’s race.” But Gillespie still lost by 9%.

GOP strategist Mike Murphy said: “Donald Trump is an anchor for the GOP. We got that message in loud volume in Virginia. The ­canary in the coal mine didn’t just pass out; its head exploded.”

So far I haven’t heard anything from your office about the landslide election in your own state. Your press release yesterday instead bragged about your committee forwarding legislation to the House floor. Did you notice the election? Did you get the message too?

 

Email #336: “This is a tidal wave”

Your fellow Virginian Republican Rep. Taylor said of yesterday’s election results:

“I don’t know how you get around that this wasn’t a referendum on the administration, I just don’t. Some of the very divisive rhetoric helped prompt and usher in a really high Democratic turnout in Virginia. We need to have some looking in the mirror.”

The President tweeted early yesterday about the governor’s race:

“Ralph Northam will allow crime to be rampant in Virginia. He’s weak on crime, weak on our GREAT VETS, Anti-Second Amendment….and has been horrible on Virginia economy. Vote @EdWGillespie today! @EdWGillespie will totally turn around the high crime and poor economic performance of VA. MS-13 and crime will be gone. Vote today, ASAP!”

When it was clear that Northam had won by 9%, the President tweeted:

“Ed Gillespie worked hard but did not embrace me or what I stand for. Don’t forget, Republicans won 4 out of 4 House seats, and with the economy doing record numbers, we will continue to win, even bigger than before!”

But in Virginia, Republicans lost big. Not only did the full Democratic ticket win the three statewide elections, Democrats claimed historic victories in the House of Delegates.

Republicans currently dominate the House 66 to 34. Because of gerrymandered advantages, they were only expected to lose six seats this year, compared to the single seat they lost in the last election. Instead Democrats have taken 14 seats, with another three too close to call and headed for recounts. That means the best-case scenario for Republicans is only a 52 to 48 majority. The worst case: they drop to a 49-seat minority.

According to the nonpartisan Cook Political Report: “This is a tidal wave. It’s hard to look at tonight’s results and to conclude anything other than that Democrats are the current favorite for control of the House in 2018.”

President Trump claims Gillespie lost because he did not “embrace” him. But he lost because he could not distance himself enough from the President. Rep. Taylor says the Republican Party needs some looking in the mirror.

What do you see in yours right now?

Email #335: “scope of legitimate inquiry”?

By indicting Manafort and Gates for tax fraud and money laundering that began in 2006, special counsel Mueller has established that the scope of his investigation extends beyond June 2015 when the Trump campaign officially began and includes actions that were not part of the campaign. Similarly, special counsel Kenneth Starr indicted President Clinton for lying under oath about a sexual affair even though the focus of his investigation was the Clintons’ involvement in White Water real estate deals.

But despite this precedent, President Trump’s lawyer Jay Sekulow said on Saturday that he would challenge the legality of Mueller’s actions if he looked at anything beyond Russian collusion, such as the President’s real estate deals. Sekulow said:

“We’d view that as outside the scope of legitimate inquiry.”

The President believes so too. When asked by the New York Times in June whether Mueller looking at his finances and his family finances unrelated to Russia would be a breach of his charge, the President answered:

“I would say yeah. I would say yes… I don’t make money from Russia. In fact, I put out a letter saying that I don’t make — from one of the most highly respected law firms, accounting firms. I don’t have buildings in Russia. They said I own buildings in Russia. I don’t. They said I made money from Russia. I don’t. It’s not my thing. I don’t, I don’t do that. Over the years, I’ve looked at maybe doing a deal in Russia, but I never did one. Other than I held the Miss Universe pageant there eight, nine years … No, I think that’s a violation. Look, this is about Russia. So I think if he wants to go, my finances are extremely good, my company is an unbelievably successful company.”

Do you agree with the President and his lawyer that if Mueller discovers evidence that the President committed crimes that are unrelated to Russian collusion that Mueller should not make those crimes public and prosecute them? For instance, if, like his predecessor Kenneth Starr, Mueller discovers evidence that the President had a sexual affair, whether in Russia or elsewhere, and whether with underage prostitutes or consenting adults, should he depose the President and record his testimony under oath? If Mueller discovers evidence of tax evasion that is unrelated to Russian collusion, should he suppress it? What illegal activities should he ignore?

You supported the scope of special counsel Starr’s investigations at the start of your career; will you now contradict yourself and oppose special counsel Mueller’s scope at the end of your career?

Email #334: “laughingstock”?

President Trump tweeted last Wednesday:

“NYC terrorist was happy as he asked to hang ISIS flag in his hospital room. He killed 8 people, badly injured 12. SHOULD GET DEATH PENALTY!”

But the President also said to reporters:

“Send him to Gitmo. I would certainly consider that.”

Although Press Secretary Sanders referred to Sayfullo Saipov as an “enemy combatant,” the legal term used to describe Guantanamo prisoners, the President tweeted on Thursday:

“Would love to send the NYC terrorist to Guantanamo but statistically that process takes much longer than going through the Federal system . . . There is also something appropriate about keeping him in the home of the horrible crime he committed. Should move fast. DEATH PENALTY!”

Ironically, defense lawyers may now be able to use the tweet to move the case to a different jurisdiction and to avoid the death penalty if jurors are prejudiced by the President’s widely publicized comments. Andrew McCarthy explained in the National Review on Saturday:

“The Justice Department has an exacting process before the death penalty may be charged. The process is meant to impress on the judiciary — much of which is philosophically predisposed against capital punishment — that the attorney general seeks the death sentence only after extremely careful deliberation, which includes hearing a presentation from the defense. Now, since the attorney general answers to the president, Saipov’s lawyers will argue that the DOJ process is, shall we say, a joke and a laughingstock, the president having already ordered his subordinate to seek the defendant’s execution.”

Although the Justice Department does not treat the President’s tweets as official statements, they appear to have affected prosecutors too. Government lawyers submitted a criminal complaint against Saipov on Wednesday after the Justice Department’s national security officials approved the complaint, but then those officials tried to rescind their approval but could not because the complaint had already been submitted to the court. As chair of the House Judiciary Committee whose primary responsibility is oversight of the Justice Department, will you be writing to Attorney General Sessions to request an explanation for the attempted change and the circumstances that caused it?

As McCarthy alluded, the President also said last Wednesday:

“We need quick justice and we need strong justice — much quicker and much stronger than we have right now — because what we have right now is a joke, and it’s a laughingstock.”

Do you agree with that assessment? Press Secretary Sanders claimed afterwards:

“That’s not what he said. He said that process has people calling us a joke and a laughingstock.”

This is not true. Sanders altered the President’s statement. The only person calling us a joke and a laughingstock is the President himself.

This is also not the first time White House staff has altered the President’s words. On October 13, he said: “I went to Puerto Rico and I met with the President of the Virgin Islands… The Virgin Islands and the President of the Virgin Islands, these are people that are incredible people.” President Trump had met with Virgin Islands Governor Kenneth Mapp, and official White House transcripts changed the references to “the President of the Virgin Islands” to “the governor of the Virgin Islands.”

While I understand the wish to erase an embarrassing gaffe that makes the President look like a joke and a laughingstock, altering official statements is concerning. Although former Press Secretary Spicer said in June that the President’s tweets “are considered official statements by the President of the United States,” the Justice Department has argued in court that the President’s comments “may not accurately reflect the government’s position.” Based on revisions of the President’s words, it is unclear which of his statements even the White House accepts as official and reflecting government positions.

Since you oversee the Justice Department, could you please offer your own assessment of the U.S. justice system? Do you also consider it a “joke” and a “laughingstock”? If not, do you object to the President’s statement—or do you agree with his Press Secretary that he never said what he said? You wrote in August:

“Like the Ministry of Truth from George Orwell’s 1984, when the government removes facts and history from the past, citizens of today and the future cannot learn the vital lessons they would have otherwise imparted.”

Do you still stand by those words, or will they be revised too?

Email #333: “hopelessly compromised”?

Senate Majority Leader McConnell said yesterday that he doesn’t support any of the bipartisan legislation that would protect special counsel Mueller from being fired by  President Trump:

“There’s been no indication that the President or the White House are not cooperating with the special counsel. I think the view up here is let him do his job.”

But what about protecting the special counsel from you?

A member of your House Judiciary Committee, Republican Rep. DeSantis, introduced an amendment in August that would have ended funding to Mueller’s office after six months and curtailed its scope to events that took place after Donald Trump launched his campaign in June 2015. If the amendment had passed, it would have undermined last week’s Manafort and Gates indictments for years of tax fraud and money laundering that started before they joined the Trump campaign.

Former White House senior advisor Steve Bannon has been advocating for a reprisal of the amendment, discussing it with Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Laura Ingraham. According to Vanity Fair, Bannon spoke with the President after last Monday’s indictments, suggesting ways to hinder Mueller:

“Mueller shouldn’t be allowed to be a clean shot on goal. He must be contested and checked. Right now he has unchecked power.”

Now other Republican members of your House Judiciary Committee are attempting to obstruct the Mueller investigation. Reps. Gaetz, Biggs, and Gohmert are introducing a new resolution, arguing that special counsel Mueller “must step down immediately” because he is “hopelessly compromised.”

They claim that, after being appointed FBI Director by President Bush in 2001, Mueller remained during President Obama’s first term and so was therefore involved in the administration’s approval of the Russian company Rosatom’s purchase of controlling stocks in the Canadian company Uranium One in 2010. This is untrue. The Uranium One deal was overseen by a total of fourteen agencies, including Homeland Security and the National Security Council. The FBI was not involved.

Donald Trump said in June 2016 campaign speech:

“Hillary Clinton’s State Department approved the transfer of 20% of America’s uranium holdings to Russia, while nine investors in the deal funneled $145 million to the Clinton Foundation.”

His campaign repeated the accusation in October TV ads:

“So Hillary, if Russia is such a threat, why did you sell them 20% of our uranium? Are you a liar, or a traitor, or both?”

According to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the uranium could not be exported and remains under U.S. control.  It can only be sold to U.S. nuclear power plants, amounting to roughly 6% of our domestic uranium production. According to Assistant Secretary of State Jose Fernandez, who approved the deal on behalf of the State Department, Secretary Clinton was not involved in the decision. Uranium One founder Frank Giustra did donate $131 million to the Clinton Foundation, but he was no longer a part of the company and had divested all of his stocks in 2007.

Snopes.com rated the Trump campaign’s accusation as “False.” Politicofact.com rated it “Mostly False.” The Washington Post Fact Checker gave it “Four Pinocchios,” its worst rating. Regardless, if you and your House Judiciary Committee or any other Congressional committees wish to investigate these matters further, or if the Attorney General wishes to appoint another special counsel, I see no reason not to. The more oversight the better.

But there is nothing regarding the Uranium One deal that compromises special counsel Mueller and his investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia in the 2016 election. Like Steve Bannon, the Republicans on your House Judiciary Committee wish to obstruct not expand government transparency by interfering. While unprincipled, this is also a bad political strategy. Special counsel Mueller is significantly more popular than President Trump. Mueller has an approval rating of 58%, while the President’s is only 39%. And Mueller’s disapproval is 28%, while the President’s is 57%–more than double.

How do you predict American voters will perceive your Committee members’ attempts to stop Mueller? According to a CNN poll in September, the Republican Party dropped to an approval rating of 29%, its lowest since the poll began in 1992 when you were first taking office. You have literally never been less popular than you are right now. Do you think these Republican resolutions from your Committee are going to raise your approval or drop it still further?

Email #332: “benefit of hindsight”?

The day after the GOP released its tax plan last week, the first national poll showed that only 33% of Americans support it, while 50% oppose it. Though you have said it’s designed to help the middle class, 60% see that it favors the wealthy.

Why aren’t Americans coming together to support this bill? President Trump wrote in USAToday on October 22, the anniversary of President Reagan signing the Tax Reform Act of 1986:

“Republicans and Democrats came together to cut taxes for hardworking families in 1981, and again in 1986 to simplify the tax code, so that everyone could get a fair shake… We have the benefit of hindsight as we look back at the three decades since our country’s last major tax reform. We can see what worked and what did not.”

The President is right. Republicans and Democrats did come together in 1986, and we should use the benefit of hindsight to understand why that worked.

The 1986 Tax Reform closed loopholes, increased personal exemptions, increased standard deductions, and even increased the capital-gains tax, balancing the revenue lost from reduced corporate taxes and so keeping the deficit under control. This balanced approach resulted in the bill passing by wide margins, 292 to 136 in the House and 74 to 23 in the Senate. This was despite Democrats holding a majority in the House and nearly half the seats in the Senate—where they soon took a 5-seat majority in the elections held two weeks after the tax reform was enacted.

The so-called Reagan tax cut was a bipartisan bill sponsored by a Democratic senator and a Democratic representative and passed by more Democratic votes than Republican. When President Reagan signed it into law, he was surrounded by both Democrats and Republicans. Even opposition was evenly split with 11 Republicans and 12 Democrats voting against the bill. In the House, 86 Republicans and 74 Democrats opposed it too.

In contrast, the proposed Trump tax plan has attracted no Democrats and has already lost the votes of 21 Republicans, while others approved its budget blueprint while expressing serious misgivings. Instead of seeking bipartisan compromise, Senate Republicans enacted special budgetary rules that would enable a tax bill to pass by 50 instead of 60 votes–the same approach they applied to repealing Obamacare and failed. Instead of modeling the proposal on Reagan’s aisle-bridging and revenue-balancing approach, President Trump and GOP leaders are attempting to push through an exclusively partisan and deficit-expanding bill in a matter of weeks. The 1986 plan took nearly two years.

Why isn’t the GOP following President Trump’s advice and using the benefit of hindsight to see what worked then and so what is not working now?