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 #193: “historic policies”?

I am relieved that Attorney General Sessions’ testimony before the Senate last week clarified what had appeared to be potential perjury during his confirmation hearings in January when he incorrectly stated that he had not had contact with Russian officials during the campaign. He said during his new testimony:

“I have never met with or had any conversation with any Russians or any foreign officials concerning any type of interference with any campaign or election in the United States. Further, I have no knowledge of any such conversations by anyone connected to the Trump campaign.”

He also clarified why he recused himself from the Russian collusion investigation, citing a specific Justice Department regulation, “28 cfr 45. 2,” which he read aloud:

“‘Unless authorized, no employee shall participate in a criminal investigation or prosecution if he had a personal or political relationship with any person involved in the conduct of an investigation’ that goes on to say for political campaign and it says if you have a close identification with an elected official or candidate arising from service as a principal adviser, you should not participate in an investigation of that campaign… This is the reason I recused myself: I felt I was required to under the rules of the Department of Justice and as a leader of the Department of Justice, I should comply with the rules obviously.”

While both of these clarifications are essential, the Attorney General refused to provide other critical information. When asked to report conversations he had with the President regarding Director Comey and his firing, Sessions answered:

“I’m not able to discuss with you or confirm or deny the nature of a private conversation that I may have had with the president on this subject or others.”

He repeated his refusal, citing Justice Department policy as he did for his recusal:

“I’m not able to discuss with you or confirm or deny the nature of a private conversation that I may have had with the president on this subject or others. I know this will be discussed, but that’s the rules that have been adhered to by the Department of Justice as you know.”

However, unlike his citing of “28 cfr 45. 2,” when asked which regulation he meant, he could not answer but only insisted: “I am not stonewalling. I am following the historic policies of the Department of Justice.” What “historic policies”? Senator Harris pressed the point before being interrupted:

“Did you not ask your staff to show you the policy that would be the basis for you refusing to answer the majority–”

As chair of the House Judiciary Committee, and so as the individual most directly responsible for oversight of the Justice Department generally and the Attorney General specifically, could you please explain what “rules that have been adhered to by the Department of Justice” he could have meant? If no such regulations exist, could you please write to the Attorney General informing him so and request him to correct his misstatement?

I understand that you may personally agree with his refusal, but the question is on what grounds he refused. Also, in your legal opinion, if the Attorney General cited a non-existent policy as preventing him from answering a set of questions under oath, is that false testimony?

When he was a Senator during the 1999 impeachment trial, Sessions voted to convict President Clinton for making false statements under oath. A majority of the Senate did not agree, concluding that Clinton’s statement, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman,” while intentionally misleading, was not technically false.

During his hearing in January, Attorney General Sessions was asked:

“if there is any evidence that anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign communicated with the Russian government in the course of this campaign, what will you do?”

He answered:

“I’m not aware of any of those activities… I did not have communications with the Russians, and I’m unable to comment on it.”

While his original statement is explicitly false—he had communications with the Russians twice—he explained last week what he actually meant. The American public now needs to know what Attorney General Sessions actually meant when he invented a Justice Department regulation in order to conceal information regarding the President’s potential obstruction of justice.

Email #192: “nobody wants to hurt each other anymore”?

I want to thank you for your response to the shooting of Rep. Scalise. You said in a press release on Wednesday:

“This morning’s tragic incident has reverberated throughout the Capitol. My prayers are with Congressman Steve Scalise, a good friend, and all of those injured in this vicious attack. I ask that you also lift them up in your prayers. I thank the law enforcement officers who stand guard over the Capitol complex and protect Members of Congress, our staff, and visitors each day.”

Former Democratic Rep. Giffords, who was near-fatally shot in the head by a Tea Party activist in 2011, agreed when she announced the same day:

“My heart is with my former colleagues, their families and staff, and the US Capitol Police — public servants and heroes today and every day.”

I am also pleased that when Speaker Ryan said, “An attack on one of us is an attack on all of us,” the House rose to applaud. Even more importantly, Senator Sanders condemned the attack from the Senate:

“I have just been informed that the alleged shooter at the Republican baseball practice is someone who apparently volunteered on my presidential campaign. I am sickened by this despicable act. Let me be as clear as I can be, violence of any kind is unacceptable in our society and I condemn this action in the strongest possible terms. Real change can only come about through nonviolent action, and anything else runs counter to our most deeply held American values.”

President Trump issued a statement too:

“We are deeply saddened by this tragedy. Our thoughts and prayers are with the members of Congress, their staffs, Capitol Police, first responders, and all others affected.”

Thankfully, the President did not mar his statement of sympathy as he did in response to the ISIS attack in Iran earlier this month, when he said: “We grieve and pray for the innocent victims of the terrorist attacks in Iran, and for the Iranian people, who are going through such challenging times,” but then he unfortunately added: “We underscore that states that sponsor terrorism risk falling victim to the evil they promote.”

While I appreciate the President’s sentiment regarding the Alexandria shooting, I am also aware that it contrasts his previous rhetoric. “Part of the problem,” he said at a rally during his campaign, “is nobody wants to hurt each other anymore.” He mimed punching a protestor as he said, “I’ll beat the crap out of you.”

He repeated the point at another rally: “You know, part of the problem and part of the reason it takes so long is nobody wants to hurt each other anymore, right?” After a fight between protestors and supporters, he said: “The audience hit back. That’s what we need a little bit more of.”

At yet another rally, he said he wanted to “knock the crap out of them” and that he regretted “we’re not allowed to punch back anymore” like in the “old days” when a protester would “be carried out on a stretcher.”

While Rep. Scalise was literally carried out in a stretcher, I’m glad that the Congressional Baseball Game was still played the following day, selling twice as many tickets as planned and raising over $1 million for charity, with one of the injured police offers receiving a standing ovation after throwing out the opening pitch despite his crutches.

I also appreciated how you described the event in your e-newsletter column yesterday:

“At the Congressional Baseball Game, Members of Congress stood together on the field of Nationals Stadium as one and as an example for our country that our differences do not divide us. Whether you are a Republican, a Democrat, or your beliefs fall somewhere in between, we are all on the same team. We are all Americans.”

Thank you also for reminding your constituents of Rep. Giffords:

“As word of this incident and feelings of shock reverberated throughout the Capitol, many of us were reminded of just a few years ago when another colleague, Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, was attacked while meeting with her constituents in Arizona. The feelings of both of these days are a stark reminder that we, as a nation, must stand as one.”

Thank you for the even-handedness of your response. You expressed concern and grief for the injured without attacking Sanders, Sanders supporters, or any political opponents, while instead calling for bipartisan unity and strategically acknowledging a very similar attack to a Democratic Representative by a Tea Party member.

I hope this horrible event can serve as a positive turning point in American politics. While I am uncertain whether President Trump is temperamentally capable of leading us toward such positive change, I hope that you will continue to address the needs of our divided nation.

Email #191: “50-50”?

I read Wednesday that the independent counsel has been investigating whether the President committed obstruction of justice by interfering with the FBI. This of course contradicts the President’s repeated insistence that he is not under investigation. Before this news, prediction markets were giving President Trump only a 40% chance of completing his full term. PredictIt co-founder John Aristotle Phillips said: “It’s almost 50-50 that he won’t be in office by the end of 2018.”

Do you believe the impeachment process could move that quickly?

For President Nixon and the Watergate scandal, a Senate Select Committee was created in February 1973, began hearings in May, and issued its report in late June. The House didn’t pass its impeachment inquiry until February 1974, after which the House Judiciary Committee held its own investigation and hearings, culminating with the House impeaching President Nixon in July. He resigned in August, before the Senate began a trial.

For President Clinton and the Monica Lewinsky scandal, independent counsel Kenneth Starr was appointed in October 1997 and released his report in September 1998. The House Judiciary Committee began considering impeachment the same month. The House passed an impeachment inquiry in October and impeached President Clinton in December. The House process was slowed by November mid-term elections and Speaker Gingrich’s resignation after Democrats gained five seats despite predictions that Republicans would gain as many as thirty. The Senate cleared the President on all counts in January.

So for Nixon, the process, from report release to his leaving office, took roughly thirteen months, after four months for the initial investigation. For Clinton, the process, from report release to acquittal, took sixteen months, after eleven months for the initial investigation. Those total seventeen and twenty-seven months, and so average a little under two years. That gives those betting on President Trump leaving office by the end of 2018 reason to be hopeful.

But when did the clock start? The FBI confirmed in March that it was already investigating possible collusion between Russia and members of the Trump administration, but not of the President himself. Four Congressional committees are conducting similar investigations, but again not of the President. However, all five investigations could and almost certainly will include details about the President, and their scopes could expand. Kenneth Starr was appointed to investigate Whitewater real estate deals, but ended up deposing President about a sexual affair. There’s also no knowing when any of those investigations will be completed and their reports released.

So given the historical precedents, 50-50 sounds like pretty reasonable odds. How confident are you that the President will still be in office after the 2018 mid-terms? Since you will have completed your third term as chair of the House Judiciary Committee and your successor will take over in January 2019, do you predict you’ll be handing over the impeachment process too?

Email #190: “Russian fatigue”?

Yesterday the Senate passed a bill imposing sanctions on Russia for its interference in the election. It passed with overwhelming bipartisan support, 97-2. The bill also requires Congress to review any steps the President might take to alter those sanctions. You voted for similar legislation in 2015, requiring the same of President Obama regarding Iran sanctions. For that reason I assume you will be supporting the Russia sanctions bill when it comes before the House soon.

I am concerned though that the House has not been responding adequately to Russia. Last June, Speaker Paul Ryan, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Rep. Steve Scalise, and at least one other unidentified House Republican were recorded having a conversation about Russia. At the end of the conversation, McCarthy made a joke that Donald Trump was working for Putin. Some news sources have suggested that the comment was not a joke, but I have read the transcript and don’t believe it was said seriously.

But the conversation still concerns me, especially the content leading up to the unfortunate joke. Ryan had just left a meeting with the Ukrainian prime minister, who he called “a good guy,” “the anti-corruption guy” working on “amendments to the constitution” and “passing all these anticorruption laws” in order “to clean up their government.”

After Rodgers praised Ukraine for “fighting for their freedom, their independence,” Ryan repeated the prime minister’s opinion about Russia:

“people have said that they have Ukraine fatigue, and it’s really Russian fatigue because what Russia is doing to us, financing our populists, financing people in our governments to undo our governments, messing with our oil and gas energy, all the things Russia does to basically blow up our country, they’re just going to roll right through us and go to the Baltics and everyone else … So we should not have Ukraine fatigue, we should have Russian fatigue.”

Rodgers emphatically agreed, as she and Ryan described Russia’s “very sophisticated” and “maniacal” “propaganda war”:

“Russia is trying to turn Ukraine against itself.  Not just in Ukraine. They were once funding the NGOs in Europe. They attacked fracking … they’re doing this throughout Europe … this isn’t just about Ukraine.”

But when Ryan tried to say that “we” were the “only one taking a strong stand up against it,” Rodgers disagreed: “We’re not, we’re not, but, we’re not.” McCarthy then told Ryan the latest news: “The Russians hacked the DNC and got the opp research that they had on Trump.” Ryan seemed surprised, asking: “and delivered it to, to who?”

McCarthy answered: “There’s two people, I think, Putin pays. Rohrabacher and Trump.” The group laughed and he added, “Swear to God.” Ryan interjected into the continuing laughter four times: “This is an off the record. NO LEAKS! Alright?! This is how we know we’re a real family here. What’s said in the family stays in the family.”

It wasn’t until I read the transcript for myself that I realized that the conversation was explicitly about Russia interfering internally with democratic countries by supporting populist candidates as well as government insiders. The conversation also wasn’t based on conjecture but on specific concerns communicated by the prime minister of Ukraine, a country actively fighting Russia’s attempts to undo its government through corruption.

McCarthy joked about Rep. Dana Rohrabacher because of his support for Russia in Congress, but the FBI actually warned Rohrabacher in 2012 that Russian spies were attempting to recruit him. This is precisely what the prime minister said about Russia “financing people in our governments to undo our governments.”

McCarthy joked about Donald Trump because of his support for Russia on the campaign trail. Trump said in his first foreign policy address in April: “I believe an easing of tensions, and improved relations with Russia, from a position of strength only, is possible, absolutely possible.” We also now know that the Trump campaign had undisclosed phone and email contacts with Russia beginning in April, two months before McCarthy’s joke.

The conversation reveals that the GOP leadership was fully aware that Russian recruitment of western politicians was an immediate threat. Although Speaker Ryan’s attempt to keep the conversation “in the family” is excusable because there were no allegations of the Trump campaign colluding with Russia at that time, when those allegations rose in early January, the GOP leaders would have understood them in a radically different light than those of us in the general public. Knowing that Russia was actively financing populist candidates increases the need for a thorough investigation. But despite having this insider knowledge, the GOP leaders did not support an investigation and instead kept their knowledge “in the family.” They put politics first.

Since the Washington Post did not identify everyone present in the June conversation, could you please confirm that you were not present?

Would you also please detail when and to what degree you became aware that Russia was engaged in a strategy of recruiting and aiding western politicians, especially populist ones?

Do you agree that such knowledge should have stayed “in the family” of GOP leadership?

Where do you draw the line between political family and the larger family of our shared nation?

Email #189: “mean”?

The American Health Care Act is facing major opposition in the Senate. Republican Senator Burr said: “It’s not a good plan,” and that it was “dead on arrival.” The President reportedly called it “mean” yesterday.

That was true even before the addition of the MacArthur amendment allowed states to waive the essential benefits currently guaranteed under the Affordable Care Act. This is why Republican Senator Collins opposes the bill:

“while I would welcome some changes to improve the flexibility of plans that could be sold, we need to remember that the essential health benefits include substance abuse and mental-health treatment, which are critical to retain for my state given the opioid crisis. Preventative care, vaccinations for children save money in addition to saving lives.”

It’s hard to vilify a law that requires health insurance companies to cover such basic things as pregnancy, hospitalization, and prescriptions drugs, but Speaker Ryan has done his best, calling the ACA’s benefit list “arrogant and paternalistic mandates.” Under the AHCA, states would be free to allow insurance companies to underinsure patients by selling them cheaper, riskier packages that may or may not cover their actual needs.

This will attract young, healthy people, who are literally banking on not getting sick or injured. According to the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation:

“The people who liked their pre-ACA plans were mostly healthy people who wanted cheap limited plans (and see no obligation for risk-sharing). Those folks will like this. Everyone else: no.”

Everyone else includes those who don’t want to gamble their physical well-being and financial future on the blind hope that they won’t really need serious health care. Worse, researchers at the Center on Health Insurance Reforms at Georgetown University explain how the underinsured will actually harm others:

“The losers would generally be people who want to buy a comprehensive insurance policy. Because once you give carriers flexibility to design the benefit package, they will do so to attract healthy people. No chump insurance company is going to be out there offering a comprehensive package, because then they’ll be stuck with higher-risk enrollees.”

ConsumersUnion.org sees an even bigger problem:

“eliminating Essential Health Benefits would allow insurance companies to reinstate annual and lifetime limits on plans. Currently, plans cannot limit care that is part of the EHBs on an annual or lifetime basis. Such limits would be devastating for consumers with serious illnesses, like cancer.”

Timothy Jost, a health care expert at my school and your alma mater, Washington and Lee University School of Law, agrees:

“Since the ACA’s prohibitions of lifetime and annual limits and cap on out-of-pocket expenditures also only apply to essential health benefits, states granted a waiver would be able to define these protections as well. The changes to the lifetime and annual limits and to the out-of-pocket caps could potentially apply as well to large group and self-insured employer plans.”

Why then did you support the MacArthur amendment and vote for a health care bill that weakens health care? Were you so focused on partisan hatred of “Obamacare” that you sincerely did not recognize that the hastily assembled “Trumpcare” is worse?

The ACA, as you have repeatedly argued, is not getting the job done. The country needs a bipartisan solution. That’s only possible if leading Republicans like you explore options that ignore party lines and prioritize the needs of the uninsured and the over-charged. That’s an American problem. It needs a unifying answer.

Email #188: “a different standard for the well-connected”?

You said to me in a letter in January that the “men and women elected to represent the American people should be held to the highest standards.”

You said in a press release last October: “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.”

You said last summer that “none should be above the law” and that you were “troubled” that “there seems to be a different standard for the well-connected.”

I agree strongly with all of these statements.

Which is why I am so disappointed by your behavior regarding your speeding ticket in April. You were caught going 69 in 35 mph school zone. Though this is roughly double the limit and so reckless driving in an area especially dangerous for children, I understand that speeding tickets happen. I’ve had a few in my life too. I am more concerned that you then challenged the ticket in court and had it downgraded to avoid demerit points on your license.

The Roanoke Times reported that the amended charge is not standard for drivers with clean records as the county’s assistant attorney said. Regardless, the decision does not hold you “to the highest standards,” which you said elected officials should be held. As our Representative, you should be modeling the “importance of following the rule of law,” not using your experience and skill as a lawyer to reduce your punishment for violating one. Given your Congressional salary and multi-million net worth, the fine and court cost are certainly of “little or no consequence.” And as one of the most “well-connected” people in our district, you should be especially vigilant about not creating even the appearance of being “above the law.”

I’m confused why you didn’t simply pay the original fine and receive six demerit points for going more than twenty miles over the limit. Since you would have to receive another twelve points within the next year before being put on probation, the punishment would still have been inconsequential. But by challenging it and having it amended, you created the appearance of corruption. That would be true of any elected official. But since you are also the chair of the House Judiciary Committee, it shows startlingly poor judgment.

You owe your constituents an apology.