Email #253: “alt-left”?

Condemnations of President Trump’s “many sides” response to fascist violence in Charlottesville is international.

UK Prime Minister Theresa May: “I see no equivalence between those who propound fascist views and those who oppose them.”

Scotland’s Conservative Party leader Ruth Davidson: “The President of the United States has just turned his face to the world to defend Nazis, fascists and racists. For shame.”

Germany’s Social Democratic Party leader Martin Schulz: “One must denounce Nazis definitively. What Trump is doing is inflammatory. Whoever trivializes violence & hate betrays western values.”

German Justice Minister Heiko Maas: ”It is unbearable how Trump now also glosses over the violence during the march of the right-wing protests in Charlottesville. Nobody should trivialize the anti-Semitism and racism of neo-Nazis. When it comes to right-wing propaganda and violence, there is nothing to relativize.”

Former Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni: “In Nazism, anti-Semitism and racism there are never two equal sides — only one side is evil. Period.”

Here in the U.S., members of your party are equally condemning.

Mitt Romney: “No, not the same. One side is racist, bigoted, Nazi. The other opposes racism and bigotry. Morally different universes.”

Governor John Kasich: “Pathetic. Just pathetic, isn’t it? This is terrible. The president of the United States needs to condemn these kinds of hate groups. The president has to totally condemn this.”

Senator Rubio: “Mr. President, you can’t allow #WhiteSupremacists to share only part of blame. They support idea which cost nation & world so much pain. When entire movement built on anger & hatred towards people different than you, it justifies & ultimately leads to violence against them.”

Senator Graham: “President Trump took a step backward by again suggesting there is moral equivalency between the white supremacist neo-Nazis and KKK members and the people like Ms. Heyer. Many Republicans do not agree with and will fight back against the idea that the Party of Lincoln has a welcome mat out for the David Dukes of the world.”

Senator Moran: “white supremacy, bigotry and racism have absolutely no place in our society, and no one – especially the President of the United States – should ever tolerate it. We must all come together as a country and denounce this hatred to the fullest extent.”

Senator Flake: “We cannot accept excuses for white supremacy and acts of domestic terrorism. We must condemn them. Period.”

Senator McCain: “There’s no moral equivalency between racists & Americans standing up to defy hate& bigotry. The President of the United States should say so.”

House Speaker Ryan: “We must be clear. White supremacy is repulsive. This bigotry is counter to all this country stands for. There can be no moral ambiguity.”

Rep. McCarthy: “the violence was a direct consequence of the vile and hateful rhetoric and action from white supremacists.”

Rep. Dent: “@POTUS must stop the moral equivalency! AGAIN, white supremacists were to blame for the violence in #Charlottesville.”

Even corporate CEOs are condemning the President as they leave his administration’s advisoary committees.

General Electric chairman Jeff Immelt: “The Committee I joined had the intention to foster policies that promote American manufacturing and growth. However, given the ongoing tone of the discussion, I no longer feel that this Council can accomplish these goals.”

JP Morgan Chase chief executive Jamie Dimon: “Constructive economic and regulatory policies are not enough and will not matter if we do not address the divisions in our country. It is a leader’s role, in business or government, to bring people together, not tear them apart.”

Campbell Soup chief executive Denise Morrison: “Racism and murder are unequivocally reprehensible and are not morally equivalent to anything else that happened in Charlottesville. I believe the president should have been — and still needs to be — unambiguous on that point.”

Former Medtronic CEO Bill George commented on the exodus: “It’s entirely stunning. He gave them great access. They’re on these councils, and all those industry committees are coming together. Now they’re saying, ‘I can’t tolerate this.’ This has never happened — not in my lifetime.”

NPR published a poll this morning finding that only 27% of Americans felt that the President’s response to Charlottesville was “strong enough.” Even 58% of Republicans believe the death of Heather Heyer should be investigated as an act of “domestic terrorism,” a term the President still refuses to use. This coincides with his lowest Gallup poll approval rating of 34%, the lowest of any president at the end of his first summer.

Despite the range and depth of these condemnations of the President, you have said nothing. It is not enough to condemn the fascists and KKK. President Trump says the blame falls equally on both sides, coining the term “alt-left” to describe the Charlottesville counter protestors who marched in moral defiance of the Unite the Right rally. By saying nothing, you are expressing agreement with the President’s opinion.

Your silence is morally repulsive.


Email #252: “a pardon for Sheriff Arpaio”?

On July 31st U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton ruled that former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio was guilty of defying a 2011 court order prohibiting racial profiling. Arpaio continued to instruct his officers to detain anyone they suspected might be in the country illegally, resulting in the detention of citizens and other legal residents. The judge found that he “willfully violated” the order with “flagrant disregard” by broadcasting “to the world and to his subordinates that he would and they should continue ‘what he had always been doing.’” Arpaio faces up to six months in jail—unless of course President Trump intervenes.

The President said over the weekend: “I am seriously considering a pardon for Sheriff Arpaio. He has done a lot in the fight against illegal immigration. He’s a great American patriot and I hate to see what has happened to him.” Although the White House is not confirming whether the President was serious, he retweeted a Fox News story about his intention to pardon Arpaio, possibly in the next few days. More inexplicably, the President retweeted a response to the Fox News link by another Twitter user on Tuesday: “He’s a fascist, so not unusual.” The retweet was deleted later that morning.

Whether the former sheriff is a “fascist” or a “great American patriot” is irrelevant. He broke the law and was found guilty. Why then is the President considering a pardon? Do you agree that law enforcement officials should have the ability to disregard court orders? You said last October:

“We are a nation of laws. That principle was important to our Founders, and it is rightfully at the very core of our government. In fact, as I travel the Sixth Congressional District, folks continually tell me about the importance of following the rule of law as the best way to govern our country. Too often they have seen laws ignored with little or no consequences for those who break them, and want this to change.”

Arpaio ignored the law, and now he needs to pay the consequences. Arpaio also campaigned for Donald Trump, perpetuating the debunked conspiracy theory that President Obama was not born in the U.S. even after Trump dropped the claim himself. If the President pardons him because he agrees with his racist policing techniques and is repaying him for his campaign support, in what sense are we a nation of laws? Regardless of how you personally feel about immigration policing and racial profiling, you are duty bound as a member of Congress and as the chair of the House Judiciary Committee to oppose the President’s threat to pardon Arpaio.

Email #249: “take our country back”?

Jason Kessler, a white supremacist co-organizer of the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, said: “We are going to make Charlottesville the center of the universe.” His promise has already come true since I am reading about the bloodshed through BBC articles from my family’s rental apartment in Amsterdam. Even J. K. Rowling tweeted a rally photo of men parading Nazi and Confederate flags together yesterday. That was before a white supremacist rammed his car into a crowd of anti-protestors, killing one person and injuring 19 others.

I can’t count the number of times my family and I have strolled down that same block of the Charlottesville walking mall. I assume you have been there many times yourself too. The President responded to this act of domestic terrorism by emphasizing that the violence was displayed on “many sides” and did not begin during his administration: “We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides. It has been going on for a long time in our country — not Donald Trump, not Barack Obama. It has been going on for a long, long time.”

Rather than correcting the statement, a White House spokesperson reiterated the President’s refusal to condemn the white supremacists specifically: “The president was condemning hatred, bigotry and violence from all sources and all sides. There was violence between protesters and counter-protesters today.”

But just two weeks ago, the President was bragging how he was willing to use the term “radical Islamic terrorism.” He mentioned you in the same sentence: “We’re also working with Chairman Bob Goodlatte on a series of enforcement measures — and he’s a terrific guy — to keep our country safe from crime and terrorism — and in particular, radical Islamic terrorism. A term never uttered by the past administration. Never uttered. Did anybody ever hear that term? I don’t think so. But you heard it from me.”

So why isn’t the President using the terms “white supremacist” and “domestic terrorism” now? Why isn’t he calling the attack in Charlottesville “radical Christian terrorism”? His tweets sound more like Hillary Clinton campaign slogans: “We ALL must be united & condemn all that hate stands for. There is no place for this kind of violence in America. Lets come together as one!” His “one” includes the KKK. Former imperial wizard David Duke said the Unite the Right rally was “going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump” and “take our country back.” Many carried Trump campaign signs. Charlottesville mayor Mike Signer rightly said of the President: “I do hope that he looks himself in the mirror and thinks very deeply about who he consorted with during his campaign.”

It’s a question you should ask yourself too. According to the statement you released yesterday, you are “deeply saddened and revolted by the hate and violence taking place in Charlottesville,” feel that the “racist and anti-Semitic views embraced by white supremacists have no place in our nation,” and “strongly condemn such detestable views against fellow human beings.” I agree and thank you for being far more direct than the President. But you and other GOP leaders must acknowledge that these white supremacists are core Trump supporters and their detestable views are growing with him in the White House. If they have no place in our nation, then what does that say about a President who needs their support?


Email #248: “adversarial”?

“The American legal system is adversarial and is based on the premise that a real, live dispute involving parties with a genuine interest in its outcome will allow for the most vigorous legal debate of the issues.”

That’s from Toni M. Fine’s reference guid American Legal Systems. I could quote a dozen other similar texts, since the statement is a common fact. As a graduate of Washington and Lee University’s Law School, you know that far better than I do. You also practiced law as a partner in your own firm, so you understand the adversarial nature of the legal system first hand. As a defense lawyer, you argued for your clients’ innocence, while prosecutors argued for their guilt.

You must also then know first hand the difference between factual and legal guilt. Though you must have known that some of your clients were factually guilty, it was still your job to do all that you could to prevent their being found legally guilty. An effective lawyer, whether defending or prosecuting, takes no interest in determining the actual truth or guiding a jury to a moral outcome. While this sounds unethical, it’s the bedrock of our legal system. If you or any other lawyer allowed personal judgements of truth and morality to sway your actions–and so not do everything in your professional power to persuade a jury of a defendant’s innocence regardless of their factual guilt–then you would be a failure as a lawyer.

While I know nothing about your career as a lawyer before you became a Representative in 1993, I assume you were no failure. I assume you took your adversarial duties quite seriously. I assume you set aside matters of truth and trusted in the larger system to produce the best results. You simply argued your position, right or wrong, knowing your opponents would do exactly the same, and then it would be up to the jury to decide. Sadly, what made you an effective lawyer has made you a destructive politician.

You entered Congress at a turning point in American politics, when Speaker Next Gingrich changed the norms of rhetoric to foster greater division between Republicans and Democrats. While party politics was always adversarial, the approach has grown to polarizing extremes in the quarter century that you’ve remained in office. You approach political issues with the intentional blindness of lawyer duty-bound to prosecute one side and one side only. If your side of the aisle holds a morally questionable position–the denial of health care to the poor in order to reduce taxes for the wealthy, for example–you argue with the same vigour as you do when claiming a moral highground. When the facts support your position, you use those facts in your arguments. When the facts don’t support your position, you ignore and obscure them. Both truth and morality then are irrelevant if neither determines your actions.

This paradoxically is the necessary and fully ethical attitude of a lawyer. But politicians are not lawyers. They do not represent sides. They represent their constituents, all of their constituents, regardless of party. Our district does not have two Representatives who go to Washington as adversaries who together create the best outcomes. We only have you. Even looking at the Congress as a whole, Republicans and Democrats should not treat each other as adversarial lawyers battling to win regardless of right and wrong. Your excellence as a lawyer has made you a harmful Representative. 



Email #241: Gay Pride Canal Parade

My family and I are visiting Amsterdam this week, and today the city is holding its annual Gay Pride Canal Parade. It’s the largest gay pride event in the Netherlands and one of the largest in the world. The tourist website says it draws over a half million spectators. I feel lucky that my wife, our teen-age son, our college-age daughter, and I will be among them this year.

Same-sex marriage has been legal in the Netherlands since 2000. They were alone then, but 23 other countries have followed since, including the U.S. in 2015. But you said in 2014: “I believe marriage should be between one man and one woman.” The Supreme Court said you were wrong. Has your opinion changed since then? Or do you still consider gay people to be less than human?

I wish you could be in Amsterdam today. The canal parade includes boats sponsored by the city, its police department, the national ministry of defense, the ministry of security and justice, and the military. You should especially see the one by gay Christians. Or do you still imagine that God condones your bigotry?

Email #239: “an excellent forum to come together”?

My family and I arrived in Amsterdam today and will be vacationing here until the middle of August. I looked at the Congressional calendar and I see that you are on vacation too. In fact you have the entire month off, five full consecutive weeks. It’s the longest Congressional recess of the year, more than double any other.

That’s why its traditional for members of Congress to hold town halls in August. According to the Tea Party Patriots website:

“During the month of August, the House and Senate will both be in recess, which means Members of Congress will spend a great deal of time working in their district offices.  This is a great opportunity for you and your local group to engage with the Member.  Town hall meetings are an excellent forum to come together as a community and ask questions about policy issues that affect everyone.”

The Tea Party Patriots recommend that community members organize town halls and then invite their Representatives to attend. But what if my member refuses to participate?

“If your representative will not participate in a town hall meeting, you may still want to host a town hall meeting. If you do host a town hall meeting without your representative, be sure to publish a press release and write a letter to the editor.  Mention that the people in your town came together to discuss a certain issue of mutual concern, but your Member did not want to participate.”

Community organizers in Roanoke followed each step of the Tea Party Patriots guide during the one-week Congressional recess last February when they held a town hall for you in Vinton. Your office said you couldn’t attend because you were visiting India. You also visited Bosnia, Albania, Macedonia and Greece during the one-week recess in May and so couldn’t attend a town hall then either.

Since you prefer to travel around the world rather than meet with your constituents in Virginia, you must have a lot of countries lined up for your five weeks of August. If Amsterdam is on the list, let me know. Maybe we can sit down in a coffee shop and discuss why you hate town halls so much.

Email #238: “The president wasn’t involved”?

President Bush’s chief ethics lawyer Richard Painter told The Guardian yesterday that President Trump committed obstruction of justice when he dictated Donald Trump Jr.’s statement claiming his meeting with the Russian lawyer was about adoption policy and not Hillary Clinton. Painter said:

“You’re boxing in a witness into a false story. That puts them under enormous pressure to turn around and lie under oath to be consistent with their story. I think it’s obstruction of justice.”

Before Monday, we were told that the President had no involvement in the statement. His lawyer, Jay Sekulow, said on July 12:

“The president didn’t sign off on anything. He was coming back from the G-20, the statement that was released on Saturday, was released by Donald Trump Jr. and, I’m sure, in consultation with his lawyers. The president wasn’t involved in that.”

Sukelow repeated the claim four days later:

“I do want to be clear — that the president was not involved in the drafting of the statement and did not issue the statement.”

But on Monday, the Washington Post reported oppositely:

“The strategy, the advisers agreed, should be for Donald Trump Jr. to release a statement to get ahead of the story. They wanted to be truthful, so their account couldn’t be repudiated later if the full details emerged. But within hours, at the president’s direction, the plan changed. Flying home from Germany on July 8 aboard Air Force One, Trump personally dictated a statement in which Trump Jr. said that he and the Russian lawyer had ‘primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children’ when they met in June 2016, according to multiple people with knowledge of the deliberations.”

And now, according to new Press Secretary Sanders, the President admits that he was involved:

“The president weighed in as any father would.”

According to the Washington Post, other advisers had warned the President against the statement he constructed:

“Now someone can claim he’s the one who attempted to mislead. Somebody can argue the president is saying he doesn’t want you to say the whole truth.”

This appears to be exactly the case–made worse by overt lies committed by the President’s lawyer on his behalf.

I would think that as Chair of the House Judiciary Committee, this would be of concern to you. But you have already demonstrated your complete disinterest in overseeing the Justice Department’s investigation into the Trump administration even though oversight of the Justice Department and its investigations is your primary responsibility. Still, forgive me if I ask yet again: how will you respond to this latest allegation?