Email #200: “fishing expedition”?

I am pleased that the President voluntarily submitted a new, 98-page financial disclosure form months before he was legally required to and that the Office of Government Ethics released the form publicly this month. The inexactness of the form, however, emphasizes the continuing need for the President to release his tax records or provide other more detailed reports.

The form allows open-ended ranges, such as “over $50 million” for the value of one of the President’s golf courses. As a result, it reveals that the President owes at least $311 million in mortgages and loans, but possibly far more. (Of the 16 loans he reported, three are below $1 million, seven are below $25 million, one is below $50 million, and the remaining five loans are each above $50 million; how far above is unknown.) More importantly, the form does not reveal the identities of the President’s financial partners. We still do not know what individuals and institutions here and abroad have invested this money in his businesses. As a result, it is impossible to determine what business-related conflicts of interest the President has.

Although you previously identified oversight of the executive branch as one of your top priorities, you have refused requests by members of your own House Judiciary Committee to write to the White House requesting the President’s tax records. You said you could not support such a “fishing expedition.”

I appreciate that reasoning. Kenneth Starr turned the Whitewater real estate investigation into a “fishing expedition” when he deposed President Clinton regarding his unrelated affair with Monica Lewinsky. The House committee on Benghazi used its investigation to disclose Secretary Clinton’s inadequate email security, a topic which soon eclipsed the purpose of the probe.

Although you supported both of those previous “fishing expeditions,” I agree with your newly stated principle opposing such free-ranging probes. For that reason I ask that you lead a compromise approach to President Trump’s finances.

Could you request that the White House release copies of the President’s most recent taxes only to the House Judiciary Committee and only for a very limited period of time? The taxes would only be viewed by Committee members and with the explicit requirement that their content not be revealed publicly except in regard to specific topics identified in advance. More minimally, you could request the identities of all of the President’s business partners. This would avoid a “fishing expedition” while still accessing the most essential information for overseeing the President’s financial activity.

If you are unwilling to make these specific requests, what alternative approaches are you pursuing to oversee the executive branch regarding the President’s business conflicts of interest?

Email #194: “Trump’s gonna getcha”

Yesterday the body of 17-year-old Nabra Hassanen was found dumped in a pond in northern Virginia. The young woman was attacked as she was leaving her Dulles-area mosque early Sunday morning and killed with what detectives reportedly told her mother was a metal bat to her head. The suspected killer has been arrested, but the crime has not yet been officialy categorized as a hate crime.

The death of Ms. Hassanen continues a horrific pattern. On May 21st, “Alt-Reich Nation” member Sean Urbanski killed Richard Collins, an African American and U.S. Army lieutenant. On May 26th, white supremacist Jeremy Christian killed two and severely injured a third train passenger who attempted to stop him from attacking two Muslim women. Both incidents are being prosecuted as hate crimes.

The pattern did not begin there. Days after the election, President-elect Trump said he was “surprised to hear” his supporters were using racial slurs and threatening African Americans, Latinos, and gays. The President was still living in New York then, so he must also have been surprised to hear Police Commissioner James O’Neill report that hate crimes were

“up 31% from last year. We had at this time last year 250; this year we have 328. Specifically against the Muslim population in New York City, we went up from 12 to 25. And anti-Semitic is up, too, by 9% from 102 to 111.”

When asked why, O’Neil said:

“you’ve been paying attention to what’s been going on in the country over the last year or so and the rhetoric has increased, and I think that might have something to do with it.”

The Commissioner was referring to President Trump and his divisive campaign rhetoric.

The FBI also documented a 6% increase in hate crimes last year, especially against Muslims, and in the month following the election, the Southern Poverty Law Center documented over a thousand “bias-related harassment and intimidation” crimes across the country. The Anti-Defamation League found 1,266 cases of anti-Semitic harassment in 2016, compared to 941 and 912 in the two previous years. They’ve already found almost twice as many incidents so far this year as compared to this point in 2016.

The Southern Poverty Law Center website includes a recording left on a church’s answering machine:

“I think this is the gay church, that help gays that get kicked out of the country along with all the fricken Mexicans that are illegal that you guys are hiding illegally. I hope Trump gets ya. Trump Trump Trump. Trump Trump Trump. Trump’s gonna get your asses out of here and throw you over the wall. You dirty rotten scumbags. Hillary is a scumbag bitch. Too bad waaa waaa. Hillary lost. Hillary lost. Trump’s gonna getcha and throw you over the wall.”

37% of these criminals “directly referenced either President-elect Donald Trump, his campaign slogans, or his infamous remarks about sexual assault.”

As chair of the House Judiciary Committee, you have been especially vigilant about publicizing crimes committed by immigrants. But given your committee’s focus on crime and immigration policy, shouldn’t you be equally vigilant about crimes committed against immigrants and other minorities?

The KKK left a flier on my lawn last August—the same month that Donald Trump received the Republican nomination. They’re not the only white supremacists who voted for him because they think he represents their opinions. Because of that identification, false or not, the GOP has an enormous obligation to counter it.

KKK voters right here in the 6th district voted for you because you’re a Republican. That’s not your fault, but it is your responsibility. You consistently win by huge margins, so your job doesn’t depend on the racist vote. Though if it did, it would still be your moral responsibility to reject it. The KKK and other white supremacist hate groups are rising in our front yards. What are you doing to stop them? What steps are you taking to address hate crimes and the role our President and your party has played in their increase?

At least your colleague Rep. Comstock visited Nabra’s mosque yesterday before releasing a statement:

“We are heartbroken and horrified by the news of the brutal murder of a beautiful 17-year old girl. We know there is no greater pain for any parent and Chip and I extend our prayers to her family and loved ones at this difficult time and the entire ADAMS Center community. We commend the Fairfax County Police Department and the Loudoun County Sheriff’s office for their diligent work in apprehending the perpetrator. This case should be investigated and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

I assume we will be hearing your statement later today.

Email #173: “I simply don’t think he did”?

The Washington Post reported last week that President Trump asked Daniel Coats, Director of National Intelligence, and Michael Roger, Director of the National Security Agency, to make false public statements denying the existence of evidence that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to influence the election. Neither Coats nor Roger complied.

Although the President’s requests could be construed as evidence of obstruction, the White House responded that it “does not confirm or deny unsubstantiated claims based on illegal leaks from anonymous individuals.” But, like former FBI Director Comey, Roger documented the President’s request in an internal memo, which, along with eventual sworn testimonies, will likely be part of Congressional and FBI investigations.

My concern is whether some members of Congress are impartial enough to accept such evidence. Republican Rep. Trent Franks, a member of your House Judiciary Committee, publicly stated his bias last week:

“I don’t think the president told James Comey to end any investigation … I don’t think any memo would convince me. I don’t think any of us are going to be able to know that for sure. But I simply don’t think he did that.”

How can Rep. Franks serve on your committee if he allows his unsubstantiated opinions to outweigh documented evidence? If the Comey memo does not “convince” him, will he also disregard Comey’s testimony? Will he disregard the testimony of other FBI employees if they corroborate that the President asked Comey to end the Flynn investigation?

Republican Rep. Darrell Issa, another member of your House Judiciary Committee and the former chair of the House Oversight Committee, asked you to hold hearings on the President’s firing of Director Comey and “make sure that Mr. Mueller has the assets, the independence, and an understandable breadth of the initial investigation and a timeline that he anticipates based on his decades of experience.”

I agree with Rep. Issa:

“We need the facts. So let’s get the facts. This is the Judiciary Committee, this is a Justice Department issue. We’re talking about the guy who headed the FBI. And we’ve had concerns, frankly. As the Judiciary Committee, this is a Justice Department issue. I think we should obviously be involved.”

So why did you reject his request? Do you instead agree with Rep. Franks that personal opinions are more important than substantiated facts? Rep. Hakeem Jeffries told Real Clear Politics that he and other Democratic members of your Committee were “mocked” for suggesting that you investigate the President. Your official response at least appears civil: “I do not believe that it is the appropriate role of this committee to do [anything] other than to conduct oversight of the Department of Justice to be assured that they are doing their job.”

But why has your scope suddenly shrunk to the oversight of only the Justice Department when in November you assured voters it included “checking executive overreach”?

Do you feel that a president should be allowed to ask directors of national intelligence to issue false statements?

Do you feel a president should be allowed to tell Russian officials: “I just fired the head of the F.B.I. He was crazy, a real nut job. I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off”?

Do you sincerely believe you would not be openly condemning these behaviors if they had been committed by President Obama?

Do you sincerely believe you would not be using the House Judiciary Committee to investigate them if they occurred in a Democratic administration?

Although President Trump is at fault for placing you in an unreasonable position, it is your responsibility to rise above the politics of both parties and place the integrity of the House Judiciary Committee above all else.

You are currently failing to do so.

Email #127: “not good stuff”?

Republican Senator Jeff Flake said earlier this month:

“I expect people want someone who will say, ‘I’m voting with Trump on the good stuff and standing up to him on the not good stuff.’”

The senator expects correctly. And right now the top of “the not good stuff” list includes: 1) the disclosure of highly classified information to a country the U.S. intelligence community unanimously determined interfered in the election, 2) the firing of the FBI director for conducting an investigation into the Trump campaign’s collusion in that interference, 3) and an attempt to end the investigation into former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn through a direct request to the FBI director.

Like Senator Flake’s constituents, many of yours are waiting for you to stand up to the President on “the not good stuff” too. According to the director of the Federation of American Scientists Project on Government Secrecy, President Trump cannot be prosecuted for revealing sensitive intelligence:

“Instead, reckless disclosures by the president of classified information that damaged the national security, if they occurred, might be grounds for impeachment.”

Are you prepared to stand up to and impeach the President if investigations into the disclosure finds them to be reckless?

According to Harvard professor of law Mark Tushnet:

“Trump’s firing of Comey is not an obstruction of justice, so long as there is somebody to step in and continue the investigation.”

But this was before Director Comey released his February memo, documenting the President’s request to end the investigation:

“I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.”

Are you prepared to impeach the President if investigations find that his request to Comey was an obstruction of justice?

White House officials have denied Comey’s memo:

“This is not a truthful or accurate portrayal of the conversation between the president and Mr. Comey… The president has never asked Mr. Comey or anyone else to end any investigation, including any investigation involving General Flynn.”

The denail means someone is lying. If it’s shown to be the President, what actions will you take?

This stand-off and the rest of “the not good stuff” places the nation in general, Congress specifically, and GOP leaders especially in a difficult position. Secretary of State Tillerson was asked on NBC:

“What’s the line between service to the president and service to the country, sir? For you.”

Tillerson answered:

“I will never compromise my own values, Chuck. And so that’s my only line. And my values are those of the country.”

What is you answer?

Until now that line has been blurry. It was possible for you and other Republicans to serve President Trump and the country simultaneously. But the escalation of the President’s alarming actions undermines that possibility. As Professor Tushnet said:

“Maybe people didn’t realize this, but in fact the legal checks are not very strong. But there are also political checks on what the president can do, and we’re learning in real time whether those checks are effective.”

Are you willing to stand up to the President and show that political checks are effective? Republican Senator Rubio said over the weekend:

“If any president tries to impede an investigation — any president, no matter who it is — by interfering with the FBI … it would be not just problematic. It would be, obviously, a potential obstruction of justice that people have to make a decision on.”

What decision will you make? Which do you value more: your president or your country?

Email #166: “this important step”?

Thank you for your form letter regarding the President’s firing of Director Comey and the investigations into Russia’s interference in the election.

Like you, I also “support Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s decision to appoint a special counsel to lead an impartial investigation.” I am confused though why your May 17 press release, which is dated two days before your letter to me and uses some of the same language, includes the sentence: “I applaud the Trump Administration for taking this important step ….” As you stated above, the decision to appoint a special counsel was the Deputy Attorney General’s, not the President’s. According to news reports, Rosenstein did not even inform the White House prior to the announcement. The President also sharply criticized Rosenstein decision, telling reporters:

“I believe it hurts our country terribly, because it shows we’re a divided, mixed-up, not-unified country.”

He also tweeted:

“With all of the illegal acts that took place in the Clinton campaign & Obama Administration, there was never a special counsel appointed!”

“This is the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history!”

Your letter also states that “the House Judiciary Committee will continue to exercise oversight over this investigation as necessary.” Since you previously stated that calls for oversight by the Democratic members of your Committee were “unnecessary,” I’m not sure what you now mean. The only action regarding the investigation that you have taken as chair was to co-write a letter to the Justice Department about leaks of Michael Flynn lying. You were not concerned with the investigation itself but with the disclosure of details to news agencies. Is this what you mean when you say you “will continue to exercise oversight”?

It is also difficult to take seriously your ending promise: “Rest assured I will work to ensure this investigation is conducted in an impartial and appropriate manner.” While I am hopeful that Robert Mueller will behave as impartially and appropriately as he did as FBI Director under Presidents Bush and Obama, I do not understand how you will “work to ensure” that. Your May 17 press release shows the opposite. After falsely applauding the Trump Administration, you characterize the appointment of a special counsel as a step that “the previous Administration repeatedly declined to do in other matters.” Using the investigation of the Trump administration as an opportunity to criticize President Obama months after he has left office is hardly “impartial.”

We do, however, appear to agree that “Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign and alleged ties with Trump campaign personnel” need “a fair and independent investigation in order to root out the facts.” But it is in part because of your failure to meet the constitutional responsibilities of your office that such an investigation is only now underway.

Bob Goodlatte Replies about President Trump

Dear Mr. Gavaler:

Thank you for contacting me about President Trump’s decision to dismiss James B. Comey as Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and your concerns about ongoing investigations into Russian attempts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.  I appreciate hearing from you.

The FBI is the premier law enforcement agency in the world and it is critical to have a director who holds the trust of the American people. It is clearly the President’s prerogative to remove the FBI Director, as was recommended by the Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General of the United States.

However, I believe Comey’s dismissal should not impede an ongoing investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign and alleged ties with Trump campaign personnel.

I support Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s decision to appoint a special counsel to lead an impartial investigation. I believe Robert Mueller, who served as FBI Director and federal prosecutor for Republican and Democratic presidents, will carry out a fair and independent investigation in order to root out the facts. That is precisely what needs to happen.

Along with the special counsel’s independent investigation, Congress and the House Judiciary Committee will continue to exercise oversight over this investigation as necessary. on behalf of the Department of Justice, the House and Senate Select Committees on Intelligence are pursuing separate investigations to determine what level of interference the Russians did play in attempting to influence the 2016 election and what, if any, connections exist between the Trump presidential campaign and Russia.

Rest assured I will work to ensure this investigation is conducted in an impartial and appropriate manner.

I appreciate you taking the time to contact me. It is important to keep an open line of communication so I can best serve the interests of Virginia’s 6th District. I hope you will continue to be in touch as Congress debates issues of importance to the United States.

Sincerely,

Bob Goodlatte
Member of Congress

Email #165: “deals in Russia”?

Earlier this month, the President’s lawyers at the firm Morgan, Lewis & Bockius released a statement declaring that the President has had no significant business ties to Russia over the last decade and that his latest tax forms include no income from Russia at all. Unfortunately, their statement wasn’t accompanied by any documentation. Ironically, the statement itself suggests a Russian business tie. The firm was named “Russia Law Firm of the Year” in 2016 by the London legal publication Chambers & Partners. According to their own website, its lawyers are “well known in the Russian market, and have a deep familiarity with the local legislation, practices, and key players” and are “particularly adept” on “sanction matters.”

According to the 104-page financial disclosure form that President Trump submitted to the Federal Election Commission while he was a candidate, he has at least $315 million in liabilities, most of which are mortgages and loans for six properties: Trump Tower, 40 Wall Street, Trump National Doral, Trump International Hotel and Tower Chicago, and Trump Old Post Office. The financial disclosure form indicates that each property has a debt of at least $50 million, but it does not reveal what banks or other institutions provided the money. Since the President has broken his promise to release his tax records, Congress does not know which if any of these business ties constitute a conflict of interest. How can you fulfill your constitutional duty to oversee the executive branch without this information?

Fortunately news agencies have been doing some of your work for you. The New York Times reported in April 2016 “a $50 million investment in Trump SoHo and three other Bayrock projects by an Icelandic firm preferred by wealthy Russians ‘in favor with’ President Vladimir V. Putin.”  They also found a history of business ties dating to the 90s: “Trump has sought and received funding from Russian investors for his business ventures, especially after most American banks stopped lending to him following his multiple bankruptcies.”

Reuters reported in March “that at least 63 individuals with Russian passports or addresses have bought at least $98.4 million worth of property in seven Trump-branded luxury towers in southern Florida, according to public documents, interviews and corporate records. The buyers include politically connected businessmen, such as a former executive in a Moscow-based state-run construction firm that works on military and intelligence facilities, the founder of a St. Petersburg investment bank and the co-founder of a conglomerate with interests in banking, property and electronics.”

This would seem to contradict the claim the President made in February: “I can tell you, speaking for myself, I own nothing in Russia. I have no loans in Russia. I don’t have any deals in Russia.” The Reuters report also contradicts statements made from Trump family members. The President’s son Donald Trump Jr. said in 2008: “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets. We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.” Golf writer James Dodson reported to Vanity Fair that the President’s other son Eric Trump said over a game of golf that his family had access to $100 million from Russia to construct their North Carolina golf course. According to Dodson, Eric said: “we don’t rely on American banks. We have all the funding we need out of Russia… We’ve got some guys that really, really love golf, and they’re really invested in our programs. We just go there all the time.”

Eric Trump has since denied this, and I personally don’t consider Vanity Fair a very credible news source. But the story reveals how little verifiable information we have about the President’s business ties to Russia or anywhere else. This is why members of your Judiciary Committee presented a resolution of inquiry requesting additional financial information from the White House. You and all of the Republican members of your Committee voted against. You called it “premature.” That was in February.

Would you still call the resolution of inquiry “premature” now? Do you still insist that Congress does not need to see the President’s tax records?