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?

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Email #326: “smoking gun”?

You said last Tuesday: “It is not every day in congressional investigations that we find a smoking gun. Here, we have it.”

The “gun” was Justice Department emails from 2014 regarding the use of money that it obtains from corporate wrongdoers that settle lawsuits by paying fines. You said these “internal DOJ documents” show that “the donation provisions were structured to aid the Obama administration’s political friends and exclude conservative groups.” The emails specifically show that this structuring was accomplished by Associate Attorney General Tony West who was thanked by groups who received funds.

Attorney General Sessions ended the “slush fund” last June, saying:

“When the federal government settles a case against a corporate wrongdoer, any settlement funds should go first to the victims and then to the American people — not to bankroll third-party special interest groups or the political friends of whoever is in power. Unfortunately, in recent years the Department of Justice has sometimes required or encouraged defendants to make these payments to third parties as a condition of settlement. With this directive, we are ending this practice and ensuring that settlement funds are only used to compensate victims, redress harm, and punish and deter unlawful conduct.”

I agree with the Attorney General, and I thank you for leading the House Judiciary Committee in this worthwhile investigation that produced useful results.

However, I am confused by your statement about the rarity of “smoking guns.” It seems the Trump administration has provided several that the House Judiciary Committee is choosing to ignore.

According to official Oval Office documents, President Trump said to Russian foreign minister Lavrov and Russian ambassador Kislyak on May 10, 2017: “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. I’m not under investigation.” That was the day after the President fired Director Comey.

Like Associate Attorney General Tony West’s emails, the statement contradicts the administration’s official claims, specifically that the FBI Director was fired not because but despite his leading an investigation into the Trump campaign’s possible collusion with Russia.

The difference of course is that West is several tiers down the administration hierarchy. The equivalent would be if you had discovered White House emails from President Obama directing the Justice Department to give settlement funds to leftwing organizations. And even if such documents existed, the severity of the misbehavior would be significantly lower. It would not, for example, constitute obstruction of justice and possible grounds for impeachment.

But technically your statement is true. Your House Judiciary Committee did not find this “smoking gun” in its “congressional investigation” because your committee is not holding an investigation into the firing of Director Comey even though oversight of the Justice Department is your primary responsibility.

Instead you’re reading emails from 2014.

At this rate of oversight, will you begin investigating the current administration in 2020?

Email #325: “impartiality”?

Once again I agree with your stated principles. You said Tuesday in a press release announcing a joint investigation by the House Judiciary and the House Oversight committees:

“The impartiality of our justice system is the bedrock of our republic and our fellow citizens must have confidence in its objectivity, independence, and evenhandedness. The law is the most equalizing force in this country. No entity or individual is exempt from oversight… Congress has a constitutional duty to preserve the integrity of our justice system by ensuring transparency and accountability of actions taken.”

But what in your opinion is the greatest threat to American confidence in the impartiality of the Justice Department? What subject requires your most immediate attention and exercise of your constitutional duty?

“Decisions made by the Department of Justice in 2016 have led to a host of outstanding questions that must be answered.”

And of all of the decisions the Department made last year, you list only four, all regarding the FBI investigation of Hillary Clinton’s emails. Even the stated goals of your new investigation seem oddly limited:

“The Committees will review these decisions and others to better understand the reasoning behind how certain conclusions were drawn.”

Admittedly, I too would like to better understand former FBI Director Comey’s decision. I wrote to you about this in January days before President Trump took office:

“The Justice department announced yesterday it’s investigating FBI Director James Comey’s actions during the campaign. What steps will you be taking to investigate him too? As you obviously know, Comey broke against decades of tradition and against all legal and professional advice when he revealed that he was reopening the FBI case into Hillary Clinton’s emails. He did this less than two weeks before the election, and Clinton’s polls, which were averaging far above Trump’s, immediately dropped. Comey announced less than two days before the election that the investigation was closed again, but Clinton’s polls never recovered to their previous levels. Given that Trump won his three upset states by under 1% each, there’s an obvious case to be made that Director Comey not only interfered in the election but actually caused its outcome. Since the Hatch Act makes any election interference a crime and since you are the Chair of the House Judiciary Committee, I assume you are already investigating the Director. I am, however, confused why you haven’t spoken about this yet. Your silence creates the impression of your putting your party allegiance above your Congressional and ethical responsibilities. When will you make a statement regarding Director Comey?”

Your response has taken nine months and follows a full-year after the actual incidents. Comey’s letter was dated October 28, 2016–a year from today. Should we expect the same reaction time for your other investigations into the Justice Department? The President fired Comey on April 9, 2017. Will you begin investigating that potential obstruction of justice in April 2018?

Although I agree that these incidents remain relevant, your focus on them now and your continuing refusal to investigate other more pressing concerns undermines an appearance of integrity. You look like a Trump ally, trying to divert attention away from the administration’s current misconduct.

Not only does this undermine your stated principles, it’s an ineffective political strategy. When calls for impeachment mount over winter and spring, you will not be able to assume a posture of principled resistance. Your refusing to parallel your Republican counterparts in the Senate Judiciary Committee and join the House Oversight Committee in investigations of the Trump administration already create an appearance of extreme partisan bias. Now by focusing yet again on the Clinton emails—the top political topic of last year’s election—you further erode any appearance of impartiality. If you next ignore evidence of impeachable offenses and refuse to proceed with articles of impeachment, you will secure your position in our history books as a partisan stooge.

Is this how you want to be remembered?

Email #312: “the very core of our system of government”?

You praised President Trump’s elimination of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals because you said it was an “unlawfully-contrived program.” You said President Obama had “used his ‘pen and phone’ to overstep his authority and unilaterally rewrite our nation’s laws” in a manner that was “wholly unconstitutional” and compromised “the rule of law.”

Obama created DACA in 2012 after the nearly identical DREAM Act failed to pass in the Senate. The administration stopped deporting illegal immigrants who matched the proposed DREAM Act criteria anyway. You responded with the Preventing Executive Overreach on Immigration Act, saying: “President Obama declared war against the Constitution by changing our immigration laws on his own and Congress today began its fight against this unprecedented power grab.”

When the courts blocked Obama’s immigration order, you applauded: “The case of United States v. Texas is fundamentally about preserving the separation of powers and its outcome will have drastic implications for our Republic… I am hopeful that the Supreme Court will stop President Obama’s lawlessness so that we protect the Constitution and the intent of the Founding Fathers that the legislative branch, which reflects the will of and is accountable to the American people, makes the laws, not the President.” Due to the death of Justice Scalia, the Court deadlocked in a 4-4 decision.

But you demonstrated your continuing commitment to this issue by creating the House Judiciary Committee’s Task Force on Executive Overreach last January, correctly noting that “presidents of both parties have aggrandized their power and usurped Congress to legislate from the Oval Office. This is not a Republican or Democratic issue; it’s an American issue and touches the very core of our system of government.” You said the Task Force “will study this troubling trend and also look for solutions to prevent the executive branch from exceeding its constitutional authority. The separation of powers and its checks and balances are designed to protect individual liberty and we must ensure that it is preserved for future generations.”

And now President Trump has given the Task Force a lot more to study.

The President tweeted last week: “Since Congress can’t get its act together on HealthCare, I will be using the power of the pen to give great HealthCare to many people – FAST.” He then used that power to issue executive orders that violate provisions of the Affordable Care Act. He said during the signing: “I just keep hearing repeal-replace, repeal-replace. Well, we’re starting that process.”

But as you have so forcefully argued in the past, no President has the power to create legislation and no President has the power to alter or repeal legislation once it’s been created by Congress–including in this case the Affordable Care Act. By the standards you applied to President Obama, President Trump’s “lawlessness” and “power grab” is usurping Congress too.

Fox News reported: “President Donald Trump is taking his first steps to fulfill his vow to dismantle Obamacare on Thursday, signing an executive order that … would allow consumers to buy short-term policies, which don’t have to comply with Obamacare’s protections for those with pre-existing conditions.”

The Wall Street Journal says the executive orders “initiate the unwinding of the Affordable Care Act, paving the way for sweeping changes to health-insurance regulations by instructing agencies to allow the sale of less-comprehensive health plans to expand.” The newspaper also said the President was “using his authority to accomplish some of what Republicans failed to achieve with their stalled congressional health-care overhaul.”

President Trump’s “Obamacare relief” orders follow the same steps and executive abuses that you so vigilantly opposed under President Obama. After his party failed to pass the legislation he wanted, the President is using his pen to overstep his authority and unilaterally rewrite our nation’s healthcare laws. According to you past arguments, President Trump’s directives to bypass ACA provisions and create unlawfully-contrived healthcare associations are wholly unconstitutional and compromise the rule of law.

The only difference is political. You opposed the DREAM Act, and so it was simple for you to oppose DACA. But you supported ACA repeal bills, and so you agree with the goals of the President’s executive orders. While I empathize with the difficulty and irony of your position, anything short of a condemnation of President Trump with the same vigilance and vigour that you condemned President Obama’s “war against the Constitution” will expose you as an unprincipled hypocrite.

As much as I have disagreed with so many of your past actions, I am sincerely hopeful that you will rise to this situation and place the Constitution before your political party. As you said, the very core of our system of government is at stake.

Email #310: “it’s not ideology”?

As chair of the House Judiciary Committee, you have been vigilant about providing oversight of the executive branch’s investigations and prosecutions of crimes committed by immigrants. You have written multiple letters to the Justice Department and Homeland Security about the presence of MS-13 gang members in cities across the country. You argue that membership in MS-13 should be grounds for deportation regardless of whether an individual has been convicted of an actual crime. You say: “it is time to send the message that this behavior will simply not be tolerated.”

While I support your goal of protecting Americans against criminal violence, I am confused why you apply that goal so selectively.

A May 2017 Joint Intelligence Bulletin of the FBI and Homeland Security was titled: “White Supremacist Extremism Poses Persistent Threat of Lethal Violence.” The report is unclassified and now available online, but since you are chair of the House Judiciary Committee whose top responsibility is the oversight of the FBI and Homeland Security I assume you read it last spring. It warns that “small cells within the white supremacist extremist (WSE) movement likely will continue to pose a threat of lethal violence over the next year.” It documents six attacks “that involved the opportunistic targeting of racial or religious minorities.” The crimes were committed by “members of racist skinhead groups” and “Klan members.” More alarmingly, “WSEs were responsible for 49 homicides in 26 attacks” since 2000, “more than any other domestic extremist movement.”

New FBI Director Christopher Wray, who was confirmed with overwhelming bipartisan support in August, told the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee that there are about 1,000 domestic terrorism investigations currently underway and that 176 domestic terror subjects have been arrested in the last year. He said: “Our focus is on violence and threats of violence against the people of this country. That’s our concern — it’s not ideology.”

Your focus on crimes committed by immigrants, however, does appear to be ideological. Last May, President Trump claimed that MS-13 has “literally taken over towns and cities of the United States.” But the White House, the Justice Department, Homeland Security, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement could not provide any evidence to support that claim. Instead, ICE reported in May that its annual anti-gang operation included the arrests of a total 104 MS-13 gang members nationwide. While I applaud those arrests and any other efforts to combat criminal organizations regardless of the immigrant-status of their members, 104 is a smaller number than 176. Yet your focus has been overwhelmingly on MS-13 with no attention on the WSE threats identified even the same month that the President lied about MS-13.

You responded to MS-13 by sponsoring the Criminal Alien Gang Member Removal Act, but what have you done in response to WSEs? Isn’t it time to send the message that this behavior will simply not be tolerated too? Or is your goal to fuel anti-immigrant fears within your voter base? If so, you must approve of the President’s tweet last week: “Ralph Northam,who is running for Governor of Virginia,is fighting for the violent MS-13 killer gangs & sanctuary cities. Vote Ed Gillespie!”

While the President’s lie about MS-13 “literally” taking over town and cities in the U.S. might be called a mere hyperbole, his claim that Northam “is fighting for” MS-13 exceeds even that low bar. Worse, the President is not emphasizing “killer gangs” generally but a tiny subsection specific to Latino immigrants. MS-13 membership is estimated at 10,000, but the FBI documents a total of 33,000 street gangs in the U.S. with a total membership of 1.4 million.  Of the 1,378 gang members arrested by ICE, less than 1/13th belonged to MS-13. And 933 were U.S. citizens–even though you and the President highlight MS-13 in order to argue that illegal immigrant criminals are threatening our nation because our border security has failed. It hasn’t.

Unlike the FBI, which sets aside ideology to focus on all threats, you exploit MS-13 while ignoring the proportionately greater threat of the white supremacist extremist movement–one with far deeper roots right here in Virginia. You have said that the “primary duty of the federal government is to keep Americans safe.” If so, you are hypocritically failing that duty by placing politics above all else.

 

 

Email #308: “different standards for the well-connected”?

White House advisor Ivanka Trump was investigated for fraud in 2012 for misleading prospective Trump SoHo condo buyers by intentionally inflating sales numbers. According to ProPublica, prosecutors in Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr.’s office spent two years building a case against Ms. Trump and her brother Donald Trump Jr. that included emails revealing their awareness that their figures were false. But District Attorney Vance dropped the case after meeting with President Trump’s personal lawyer Marc Kasowitz. Kasowitz, who had already donated $25,000 to Vance’s election campaign, then made a second donation of $50,000 after the case was dropped. Vance is now returning both donations. Kasowitz claims: “I have never made a contribution to anyone’s campaign, including Cy Vance’s, as a ‘quid-pro-quo’ for anything.”

While it is entirely possible that the district attorney dropped the case for reasons other than bribery originating from President Trump on behalf of his children, the appearance of bribery and obstruction is troubling. You have also said that you feel “troubled” when “there seems to be a different standard for the well-connected.” Since there is no one more well-connected than a member of the Trump family, and since the dropped fraud case suggests a very different standard for them, you must feel troubled now too.

Will you therefore fulfill your responsibility to oversee the executive branch and hold a House Judiciary Committee hearing to investigate these allegations? Or are you not troubled by different standards when the well-connected are fellow Republicans?

Email #290: “the Committee made a commitment”?

On June 21, Democrats on your House Judiciary Committee wrote to you, reminding you that:

“At the beginning of this Congress—under your leadership and pursuant to your amendment to our oversight plan—the Committee made a commitment to conduct oversight into allegations of misconduct by executive branch officials. We ask you to respect that commitment, and schedule hearings with the leadership of the Department of Justice and the FBI without delay.”

After listing the wide and growing range of allegations, they stated:

“In our Committee meetings, you have expressed reluctance to investigate these matters because “the House and Senate Intelligence Committees are also conducting investigations.” It falls to us—and not to the intelligence committees—to examine questions about obstruction of justice, the dismissal of the FBI Director, and any attempt to influence or pressure the leadership of the Department of Justice. Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Chairman of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, agrees with us on this point, and our Senate counterparts are already working with Special Counsel Mueller to lay out the next steps of their investigation.

“At other times, you have expressed unwillingness to debate these questions because “investigations into these matters are ongoing.” We appreciate the sensitivity of the work of the Special Counsel, but nothing about an ongoing investigation prevents us from acting responsibly and conducting our own oversight… the investigation into Secretary Clinton’s use of a private email server did not prevent you from asking either the Attorney General or the FBI Director about the case—long before the investigation itself had concluded.”

It has now been three full months since your committee members wrote to you, and I am not aware of your responding to this request or any of the specific concerns it addresses. Although I would think you would owe members of your own committee an explanation for your inaction, as one of your many concerned constituents, I know you owe me one.

Your committee members are not condemning the President or any other member of the administration. They are not asking to begin impeachment proceedings. They do not want to interfere with Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation. They just want to do their jobs. Why don’t you? Why have you reduced the once vigilant House Judiciary Committee to a puppet of the executive branch it should be overseeing?