Email #82, Subject: “enemy of the American people”?

The President tweeted last week:

“The FAKE NEWS media failing  @nytimes@NBCNews@ABC@CBS@CNN) is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American People!”

He repeated the accusation on Friday, and Press Secretary Spicer held an invitation-only press conference that barred these major news organizations while giving access to less reputable ones. The Wall Street Journal, an extremely reputable organization with a slight right-leaning bias, stated afterwards:

“The Wall Street Journal strongly objects to the White House’s decision to bar certain media outlets from today’s gaggle. Had we known at the time, we would not have participated and we will not participate in such closed briefings in the future.”

I have considered descriptions of the Trump administration as “fascist” to be hyperboles. But this escalating attitude toward the media is alarming. Dr. Lawrence Britt writes in Fourteen Defining Characteristics of Fascism:

“Controlled Mass Media – Sometimes the media is directly controlled by the government, but in other cases, the media is indirectly controlled by government regulation, or sympathetic media spokespeople and executives.”

David S. D’Amato writes in Mussolini and the Press:

“Mussolini saw himself as a revolutionary and his government as a living embodiment of transformative new ideas. The transmittal of these ideas … was, to Mussolini’s mind, a primary responsibility of the Italian press. No such idea of adversarial journalism, of subjecting the actions of state to investigation and scrutiny, was to infect the minds of the nation’s newspaper writers and editors. Rather Mussolini contended that “Fascism requires militant journalism,” the country’s newspapers presenting themselves “as a solid bloc,” committed to “the Cause” and obscuring or outrightly burying any fact or story antithetical to it. Even more than post-factum censorship, Mussolini favored this kind of proactive steering of the press, hardly subtle and clearly defining his expectations as both military and civilian leader of the people. In Fascist Italy, social and political pressures—and the resultant self-policing by the media—were at least as important as actual legal proscriptions, probably much more important.”

While Donald Trump is no Benito Mussolini, his attitude toward the press is disturbingly similar. The morning after the election, you listed protecting “our constitutional freedoms” and “checking executive overreach” as two of your top six priorities. How then are you responding to the President’s increasing disregard for the First Amendment?


Email #81, Subject: “overseas”?

WDBJ reported that you sent them a statement in response to the town hall held in Vinton last Wednesday. The newscaster read your words as they appeared on screen:

“I’ve always made it my priority to communicate with the people I represent, and I strive to be in communities across the district as often as possible. … I appreciate the input of all of my constituents, and I am looking at their town hall meeting requests.”

The Staunton News Leader printed the same word-for-word statement a week earlier in response to their request that you comment on the fact that you haven’t held a town hall since August 2013. Did WDBJ misunderstand? The newscaster implied that the statement was new and a direct response to the Vinton event. Instead it is an older, form response written prior to the Vinton event and so a response to it in only the most generic sense.

WDBJ also stated: “We talked to his office and they said that they let organizers know last week that he would be on an overseas trip.”

I was in communication with organizers before the event, and though they said that your office refused their town hall invitation, they did not repeat any explanation for why you could not attend. While it’s possible they didn’t mention that you would be overseas, it seems more likely that they didn’t know. I only found out that you were in India from reading about it later online. I too sent you multiple meeting requests, but I heard nothing from your office. When I called directly, no one would give me any information about your schedule, certainly nothing about your traveling abroad. Your office consistently declines meeting requests without offering any explanation.

I of course understand why you would not want to advertise the fact that you were across the globe during “district work” week, especially given the extremes other members of Congress are taking to avoid their constituents. It does, however, create the impression that you would rather be anywhere on the planet than in a room with district 6 voters who your staffers didn’t hand pick.

The form-letter statement your staffers released on your behalf further deepens the impression of your remoteness and inattention. What does it mean that you are “looking at” town hall requests when you issue the identical statement after each request?  This is no more a sincere response than the automated emails I receive when I fill in the “Meeting Request” form on your website.

If you will not speak with voters, would you at least speak with WDBJ? There would be no crowds, no protest signs, just you and a newscaster asking you balanced questions. Will you at least agree to that?

Email #80, Subject: investigation priorities?

I read that you and Rep. Jason Chaffetz have written a letter to the Justice department requesting an investigation into the press leaks that lead to Michael Flynn’s resignation as national security adviser. Since you chair the House Judiciary Committee and Mr. Chaffetz chairs House Oversight, your joint letter has considerable weight. While I applaud your focus on the executive branch, I am confused by your choice of issues.

Leaks to the press that involve potentially classified information are a legitimate concern, but in this case those leaks revealed information that the administration was keeping from the public – and apparently even from the Vice President. Without them, Mr. Flynn would still be in his former position, despite his illegal actions and his vulnerability to Russian blackmail.

Mr. Chaffetz also likened your requested investigation to the FBI’s investigation into Hilary Clinton’s use of a private email server. This is an unfortunate comparison. While that investigation yielded no findings of illegal actions, it did influence the Presidential election. As you know, FBI Director Comey’s letter to Congress announcing his reopening of the investigation days before the election may itself have been illegal and so more worthy of a Justice department investigation.

Also, as you know, the President has broken his promise to release his tax records and so reveal his conflicts of interests. While his refusal is legal, it falls far below the “highest standards” you have endorsed for elected officials. Would you and Mr. Chaffetz ask Rep. Kevin Brady, chair of the Ways and Means Committee, to reconsider requests to seek the President’s taxes in order to determine his business ties to specific companies and countries?

While your letter regarding press leaks is reasonable in itself, its role in the larger political context creates the impression of an aggressively partisan attitude.  You seem to be using your role as Judiciary chair unfairly and, ultimately, unwisely. Given the negative national attention you received for your failed Ethics Office amendment last month, I had hoped you would shift to more centrist priorities. Your recent attempts to block communication between Immigration and Customs Enforcement and others members of Congress is equally disturbing, as is your refusal to respond to requests to investigate the President’s conflicts of interests.

You had the reputation of a reasonable, principled Republican concerned with doing the right thing. The deep damage you have done to that reputation in just two months is startling. I hope you will also consider the damage you are doing to the norms of bipartisan government. We have a polarizingly antagonistic President who routinely misrepresents facts and bends and breaks rules to achieve his goals. Your constituents expect and need far better from you.

Email #79, Subject: “nationwide thing”?

When a group of protesters met you outside a local restaurant recently, you told a reporter:

“This is a nationwide thing. This is not something that’s unique to the 6th District. This is going on in every single congressional district in the country. It’s organized by a national organization that is not happy with the outcome of the election. These are my constituents so they’re welcome to be here and express their opinions as well.”

First, let me acknowledge and thank you for that last sentence. It would be easy to disparage voters who disagree with you, but you instead supported their right to protest. The photograph even showed you standing outside beside the group, not hiding inside the building.

I am confused though by your opening statements. This is indeed a “nationwide thing” and certainly not “unique to the 6th district” and it really is happening “in every single congressional district in the country,” but why would you want to advertise that fact? At first I thought I was reading a quote from one of the protestors, bragging about the unprecedented massiveness of their anti-Trump movement.

Did you mention the ubiquity to mean that it’s not just you but all of the GOP Congress that’s under fire? If so, how does that make the situation any better for you? Either way you are facing the strongest opposition of your political career. Do you prefer that the rest of the GOP go down with you?

I am most troubled, however, by your middle statement: “It’s organized by a national organization that is not happy with the outcome of the election.” I assume you mean the Indivisible Guide, which I have read. But I read it well after I had begun writing and phoning and attending meetings with my elected officials. The guide was recommended to me by several people because they saw I was already so engaged.

So you seem to have reversed the order of influence. For me and literally everyone I know who is protesting, the guide is great reading that answered some questions that we were already asking. But no one I know is “organized by a national organization.” My group of friends began protesting before they heard of Indivisible, and they continue to protest independently of it.

If you sincerely imagine that this “nationwide thing” is under the control of a single organization, you are mistaken. I do see how that impression would be reassuring to you, since it implies a much smaller problem. Combatting a single organization, even one as unprecedentedly massive and coordinated as what you describe, would be far easier than combatting the spontaneous and simultaneous opposition of independently driven voters “in every single congressional district in the country.”

You and the GOP Congress are facing historic opposition, and you will continue to face it until you divide yourselves from the historic mistake of President Trump.

Email #78, Subject: “astroturf”?

I have heard accusations recently regarding anti-Trump protestors across the country. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, for example, said he knew that protestors at his town hall earlier this month were bused in from other districts in “a paid attempt” to influence him. Chaffetz, however, offered no evidence, and no evidence has been reported since.

Press Secretary Spicer made a similar claim: “It’s not these organic uprisings that we’ve seen through the last several decades. The Tea Party was a very organic movement. This has become a very paid, ‘astroturf’ type movement.”

I’m not familiar with the term “astroturf” in this context, but I assume it means that an apparently spontaneous grassroots movement is actually funded and orchestrated by a larger political organization. It’s perhaps ironic that Mr. Spicer should reference the Tea Party then, since that grassroots movement is so well-funded by billionaires Charles and David Koch.

Mr. Spicer also said that “protesting has become a profession now.” I don’t know whether this is true or not. I certainly haven’t met or even heard of anyone who has been paid to protest anything. Though I have to admit that before November, I wasn’t paying that much attention. My interest in politics was a lot like watching sports on TV. I rooted from the sidelines, but other than showing up on election day, I didn’t participate.

That changed the morning after the election. I now track political news daily, research issues, write and phone my members of Congress and state legislature, write letters-to-the-editor of the Lexington, Staunton, and Roanoke newspapers, and show up in person to my elected officials’ offices. I think I may be an example of an “organic” protestor.

So while I’m disturbed by the unsupported claims made by other members of the Republican party, I am pleased that I have not heard you make similar claims yourself. I’m certainly not being paid to write you a letter every morning, and apparently I’m not alone in contacting you. When I met with your communications director, she acknowledged that you have been receiving significantly more letters and calls since the new year. I read an estimate from Senator’s Kaine’s office that his letters and calls are up 900%.

Unlike other GOP members, you have not made the mistake of disparaging me and others like me as political mercenaries. Many, many of your constituents are part of a very new and very real grassroots movement sprouting in the Shenandoah valley. Astroturf busses and paychecks are not a part of it. I hope you fully recognize that.

Chris Gavaler

Email #77, Subject: “resolution of inquiry”?

At the end of the last Congressional session in December, members of your House Judiciary Committee requested that you schedule hearings on Donald Trump’s potential conflicts of interest. Given that you listed “checking the executive branch” as one of your top priorities after your reelection, I would have expected you to agree. Why did you not?

I read now that another member of Congress has filed a “resolution of inquiry,” making the same request. If I understand the rules correctly, you have fourteen days to discuss the resolution within the House Judiciary Committee or it automatically goes to the general floor for debate. Do you plan to take up the resolution or allow it to pass directly to the rest of Congress? I don’t know which is preferable, so I would appreciate your explanation of the process and where you stand on the resolution.

I do understand that you are in a difficult position. As a leading member of the GOP, you must feel pressure to support President Trump. As a member of Congress who has a duty to all of his constituents regardless of political party and to the principles of our democracy, you are also obligated by the Constitution’s three-branch system to prevent abuses of power.

No one is accusing the President of wrong doing, but since he has not disclosed his interests, it is impossible to know if or when his actions involve abuses. You are simply being asked to fulfill your duty as chair of the Judiciary committee and oversee the executive branch effectively. At minimum that requires gathering the necessary information.

Please support the resolution of inquiry.

Email #76, Subject: “dictatorial shenanigans”?

I was disturbed to read that you prevented Rep. Luis Gutiérrez from meeting with the director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. If I understand correctly, Mr. Gutiérrez was asked to leave by your staffers, even though he was the one who requested the meeting? The ICE director was originally going to meet with Mr. Gutiérrez and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, but cancelled. The meeting was then rescheduled with you running it and Mr. Gutiérrez and eight other Democrats barred from attending. You then announced that all future meetings with the ICE would have to be cleared by you first.

Mr. Gutiérrez stated afterwards:

“In 20-plus years, I have never heard of the Republicans controlling what meetings Democrats can have with officials of the Executive Branch and never had a staffer ask me to leave a meeting to which I am entitled to attend.  … The new mass deportation executive orders are unprecedented, but so are the lengths to which the Speaker and Chairman Goodlatte are going to control the information being disseminated to Members of Congress.  I expect such dictatorial shenanigans from the Trump Administration, but not from competent, compassionate legislators like Speaker Ryan or from legislators like Bob Goodlatte.”

Mr. Gutiérrez is a member of the House Judiciary Committee, which oversees immigration policy in the House, and a member of the Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security, as well as the Chairman of the CHC Taskforce on Immigration. Who better to meet with ICE? On what grounds are you excluding him? Although you chair the House Judiciary Committee and so oversee immigration policy in the House, you are not a member of the executive branch and so cannot give orders to ICE. The ICE director does not need your permission to schedule meetings. Your assuming that authority violates the Constitution’s three-branch system.

It would appear that you are excluding Mr. Gutiérrez solely because he is not a member of the Republican party. If so, this is a disturbing abuse of your power and a further erosion of the democratic norms of our government. If I have misunderstood the facts of the situation or the explanation for your behavior, please correct me immediately. Otherwise, your Virginia constituents, as well as Americans in general, deserve an apology.

And Rep. Gutiérrez deserves his meeting.