Email #73, Subject: “FAKE NEWS”?

In his press conference yesterday, the President said: “The news is fake because so much of the news is fake.” While the circularity is stunning, I am actually more concerned by another of his recent statements on the same subject, a tweet in which he linked to an article published at TheFederalist.org: “16 Fake News Stories Reporters Have Run Since Trump Won.” I had never heard of the website before, so I read the article and then researched the site. AllSides.com gives it a “Lean Right” rating, and MediaBiasFactCheck.com a “RIGHT BIAS”:

“These media sources are highly biased toward conservative causes. They utilize strong loaded words (wording that attempts to influence an audience by using appeal to emotion or stereotypes), publish misleading reports and omit reporting of information that may damage conservative causes. Sources in this category may be untrustworthy.”

To make sure the rating sites were not themselves biased, I also checked the bias of Mother Jones, which AllSides called “Left” and MediaBiasFactCheck “LEFT BIAS”:

“These media sources are highly biased toward liberal causes.  They utilize strong loaded words (wording that attempts to influence an audience by using appeal to emotion or stereotypes), publish misleading reports and omit reporting of information that may damage liberal causes. Sources in this category may be untrustworthy.”

Since Mother Jones and TheFederalist.org appear to be oppositely but equally untrustworthy, my concern is that the President is using such a site to make an argument that mainstream news sources such as CNN publish “FAKE NEWS.” AllSides gives CNN a “Center” rating, and MediaBiasFactCheck.com a “LEFT-CENTER BIAS”:

“These media sources have a slight to moderate liberal bias.  They often publish factual information that utilizes loaded words (wording that attempts to influence an audience by using appeal to emotion or stereotypes) to favor liberal causes. These sources are generally trustworthy for information, but may require further investigation.”

While any bias is concerning, CNN appears to be within a reasonable margin of error similar to other highly reputable news sources. For example, AllSides ranks the Wall Street Journal as “Center,” and MediaBiasFactCheck gives it a “RIGHT-CENTER BIAS”:

“These media sources are slightly to moderately conservative in bias. They often publish factual information that utilizes loaded words (wording that attempts to influence an audience by using appeal to emotion or stereotypes) to favor conservative causes. These sources are generally trustworthy for information, but may require further investigation.”

Why then is the President using a “highly biased” and “untrustworthy” source to discredit a “generally trustworthy” and slightly biased source?

I ask you because as chair of the House Judiciary Committee, you are an influential member of the Republican Party on matters of ethics. Have you attempted to counsel the President on the use of sites such as TheFederalist.org? Are you concerned that the President is being influenced by such biased information?

You said that you believe in bipartisan solutions, but how is any bipartisanism possible if the White House is so verifiably misinformed? If your call for bipartisanism is more than empty rhetoric, I ask that you take tangible steps to achieve it. I suggest beginning with a condemnation of biased sources such as The Federalist and Mother Jones, and an endorsement of centrist sources such as CNN and the Wall Street Journal.

Chris Gavaler

Email #68, Subject: business and politics?

In addition to breaking his campaign promise to release his taxes after the election and so reveal his conflicts of interests, the President has openly criticized the Nordstrom company for cancelling his daughter’s clothing line. This caused an immediate though brief drop in Nordstrom’s stocks. Press Secretary Spicer defended the President’s tweet, arguing that Nordstrom was attacking the President.

I don’t know if Nordstrom dropped the clothing line because of weak sales, fear of a boycott by anti-Trump buyers, or its own political differences with the President. Whatever their reason, however, they are within their rights. Kellyanne Conway, however, stepped well outside her rights as a White House spokesperson when she endorsed the clothing line: “Go buy Ivanka’s stuff, is what I would tell you. It’s a wonderful line. I own some of it. I fully — I’m going to just, I’m going to give a free commercial here: Go buy it today, everybody. You can find it online.”

Since government employees are barred from endorsing private businesses, Conway’s statement violates ethics rules. As you of course know, the Republican chair of the House Oversight Committee has reported Conway to the Office of Government Ethics. At first I thought this was the same Ethics Office that your failed amendment would have stripped of its non-partisan independence last month, but I believe that was the Office of Congressional Ethics, which of course could not reprimand, suspend, demote or dismiss Conway as the Oversight chair has demanded.

Given the poor national reaction you and your amendment received then, and your continuing role as chair of the ethics-focused House Judiciary Committee, as well as your stated reelection priority to check the executive branch, I am confused that you have not responded to either Conway’s or the President’s statements. Are you at all concerned about the White House’s merging of political and business interests? If not, would you please give your interpretation of the Nordstrom situation and explain what exactly for you would constitute an ethics violation? What more would Conway or the President need to do in order for you to criticize them?

Chris Gavaler

Email #63 , Subject: executive orders

In his first two weeks in office, the President has signed 22 executive orders. Presidents Bush and Clinton signed fewer than a third as many, but President Obama signed even more—something Donald Trump criticized in 2012 when he tweeted: “Why is @BarackObama constantly issuing executive orders that are major power grabs of authority?” That is my question for President Trump, especially when his executive orders have caused so much upheaval in the courts and civil protests.

Why are you watching these major power grabs of authority while doing nothing about them? You promised on November 9th that you would “check executive overreach.” I presumed you meant President Trump’s overreach, but is it possible that you were so surprised by the President’s election that you neglected to update your victory statement? Did you only include checking executive overreach in your list of six top priorities because you expected Hillary Clinton to be in the White House? While that would be both embarrassing and hypocritical of you, I have no other way of understanding your statement since your behavior consistently contradicts it.

Could you please issue a new statement updating and clarifying your position on executive overreach in light of President Trump’s first weeks in office?

Chris Gavaler

Email #61, Subject: “uphold our Constitution”?

A lot has happened since January 6th. That’s when you first responded to my concerns that President-elect Trump might violate the Constitution while you and the GOP-controlled Congress would do nothing to stop him. You assured me that there was no danger because of our three-branch government and your commitment to “uphold our Constitution and put the interests of the citizens of the 6th District of Virginia and the country as a whole above the interests of any individual or political party.”

I have since written to you several more times with even greater and more specific concerns about President Trump, including allegations of Russian blackmail, his refusal to release his tax records, and most recently his ban on seven Muslim-majority countries—a ban which federal judges have already declared illegal.

And yet, despite these developments, I received a nearly identical email from you yesterday. You changed one sentence. Your first letter read: “Donald Trump has been elected …” Your new letter reads: “As you know, on January 20, Donald Trump was sworn in …” Otherwise they are identical, even your use of future tense to describe the power President Trump “will” have.

But that power is no longer in the future. We are witnessing it daily. And we are also witnessing your daily failures to uphold your promise. Instead of checking the executive branch, you are putting the interests of your political party far ahead of our country as a whole. The President’s ban appears to be both illegal and unconstitutional, and yet you continue to praise it. His repeated refusals to divulge his conflicts of interests violate the norms of government, and yet you say nothing. Russian blackmail would be treasonous, but you have opened no investigation.

And when constituents ask for an explanation of your behavior, you update a form letter copied from a high school textbook.

Bob Goodlatte replies about Donald Trump

Dear Mr. Gavaler:

Thank you for contacting me regarding your concerns about President Donald Trump.  I appreciate hearing from you.

As you know, on January 20, Donald Trump was sworn in as the 45th President of the United States. I hope his presidency will be successful for our country and the American people.  As President, he will have the power to execute the law under Article II of the Constitution.  Likewise, Congress will have the power to write the law under Article I of the Constitution, and the Supreme Court will have the power to review the constitutionality of statutes and presidential actions.  Our constitutional system of three co-equal branches of government and a Bill of Rights therefore prevent one branch from assuming too much authority without a challenge from the other branches of government.

You have my assurance that I will continue to uphold our Constitution and put the interests of the citizens of the 6th District of Virginia and the country as a whole above the interests of any individual or political party.  I look forward to working with my fellow Members of Congress and the President to achieve solutions to the challenges our country faces.

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

Sincerely,

Bob Goodlatte
Member of Congress

Email #59, Subject: “government establishment”?

Although a majority of voters are not optimistic about President Trump’s ability to run the country, a majority still approve of his message. I just read a survey that reported that 72% agreed with this passage from his inauguration speech:

“For too long, a small group in our nation’s capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost. Washington flourished, but the people did not share in its wealth. Politicians prospered, but the jobs left and the factories closed. The establishment protected itself, but not the citizens of our country. Their victories have not been your victories. Their triumphs have not been your triumphs. And while they celebrated in our nation’s capital, there was little to celebrate for struggling families all across our land. That all changes starting right here and right now because this moment is your moment, it belongs to you.”

This confuses me because the GOP has controlled the Senate for the last two years and the House for the last six. You personally have been in office for a quarter century. You’ve been Chair of the House Judiciary Committee for three years, after already serving as Chair of the House Agriculture Committee while President Bush was in office. You are a leading and long-standing member of the establishment.

The President is identifying you and other current GOP leaders as the small group of flourishing politicians reaping the rewards of government. Is this why you are so hesitant to criticize him? Your balanced budget amendment would block his Great Wall and infrastructure plans. His claims of massive voter fraud are widely dismissed, but you support them. Even though his failure to release his taxes falls far below the “highest standards” you have previously championed, you have said nothing about his conflicts of interest. Is your strategy to so align yourself with the President that you avoid the criticism of his populist message?

Chris Gavaler

Email #55, Subject: “pleased” about the Muslim ban?

The GOP is uniting against the President’s Muslim ban. Why aren’t you joining them?

Senator Sessions stated during his appointment hearing for Attorney General: “I have no belief and do not support the idea that Muslims, as a religious group, should be denied admission to the United States.”

Republican Senators McCain and Graham also came out against the ban, stating their fear that the President’s “executive order will become a self-inflicted wound in the fight against terrorism,” bolstering recruitment by terrorists who claim the U.S. hates Muslims.

Republican Senator Sasse said we will lose our battle against jihadists if “we send a signal to the Middle East that the U.S. sees all Muslims as jihadis, the terrorists win by telling kids that America is banning Muslims and this is America versus one religion.”

Republican Senator Collins criticized the President too: “The worldwide refugee ban set forth in the executive order is overly broad and implementing it will be immediately problematic.”

Republican Representative Dent called the ban “unacceptable” and urged “the administration to halt enforcement of the order until a more thoughtful and deliberate policy can be instated.”

Republican Representative Amash said “a blanket ban represents an extreme approach not consistent with our nation’s values.”

Even Senate Majority Leader McConnell questioned the legality of the ban: “It’s hopefully going to be decided in the courts as to whether or not this has gone too far.”

But rather than joining your fellow Republicans, you instead stated: “I am pleased that President Trump is using the tools granted to him by Congress and the power granted by the Constitution to help keep America safe and ensure we know who is entering the United States.”

By evoking the Constitution and Congressional oversight, you are implying that the President’s decision is legal and not an example of “executive overreach,” a danger you previously identified as one of your top concerns. In fact, you listed “checking executive overreach” as one of your six priorities after your reelection in November. Why are you now abandoning it at a moment when the legality of a sweeping executive order is deeply in question?

We have never had a President in greater need of Congressional oversight. Please reconsider your endorsement of his Muslim ban. Congress must show a unified, bipartisan front against the President on this issue.

Email #52, Subject: voter fraud?

Yesterday I wrote to you, asking that you take a stance on the President’s claim that millions voted illegally in November. Later in the day I saw you on TV doing exactly that. To that degree you deserve credit. You are not ducking the issue. But I was confused to hear your imply that the President’s unsubstantiated claim have merit.  As I said yesterday, Speaker Ryan flatly and clearly denied the existence of any evidence. Fox News is reporting the same:

“multiple law enforcement sources told Fox News that there was no evidence to support Trump’s claims. Spicer said Tuesday that Trump’s claim was based on “studies and evidence.” Spicer did not provide hard data to back up the claim, citing only a 2008 study that called for updating voter rolls but did not conclude there has been pervasive election fraud.”

When you were asked, you said: “There’s a long history of voter fraud in this country.” That’s a true but irrelevant and intentionally obscuring statement. You then repeated a joke about Virginians wishing to be buried in a certain district in order to keep voting after they die. Again, irrelevant and obscuring. Finally, you referenced an unnamed group “affiliated” with the Democratic party registering dead people in our district 6 in 2016.  Are you saying this was done intentionally? Are you saying you have evidence of voter fraud or the verifiable intention of commiting voter fraud? Have people been arrested and charged? How many are being investigated? Voter fraud is a federal crime with a five-year prison term. How many are likely to be convicted?

The President made a shocking claim. Now you have made a shocking claim too. But your tone on TV was oddly light, like you were just mentioning a minor fact. Given that your first two responses were intetionally misleading, it’s difficult to take your third statement seriously. It seemed you were undermining trust in the American election process just to score a quick PR point for the President. You told me elected officials should be held to the “highest standards.” Did your own behavior yesterday live up to those standards?

 

Email #51, Subject: massive voter fraud?

When asked this week about the White House’s allegations of massive voter fraud, Speaker Ryan answered: “I’ve seen no evidence to that effect. I’ve made that very, very clear.” I’m impressed the Speaker is willing to contradict his party’s leader when he knows the President is wrong. That takes integrity. You, on the other hand, have said nothing. You’re the Chair of the House Judiciary Committee with a responsibility for overseeing ethics in the federal government, specifically overreach by the executive branch, and yet you have said nothing in response to the President’s statements. If you believe they’re true, say so. If you believe they’re false, so that instead. But understand that your silence is eroding public trust in your ability to govern and oversee properly.  It appears cowardly and cynical. It appears that you are willing to ignore lies from the executive branch as long as the executive branch doesn’t block your personal agenda. Take a stand. There is no issue more central to democracy than the legitimacy of our elections.

Chris Gavaler

Email #48, Subject: “unacceptable”?

Hundreds of thousands of people marched on Washington yesterday to protest Trump taking office. My wife and daughter were among them. As you know, the March was especially a response to the remarks the President made about sexually assaulting women. The tape documenting his statements came out during the campaign, but I read a recent survey that shows that 83% of Americans still remember it. Of them 61% were “upset” by it, and 91% considered his remarks “unacceptable.” I assume you are of the 83% who recall the tape. I am of the 61% upset by it. Are you also? And are you also of the overwhelming majority who condemn the President’s statements? If so, would you please make a statement expressing your disapproval? This is not a Republican vs. Democrat issue. Sexaul assault is a crime. Even if our President is innocent of it, his remarks openly promote it. You told me in an earlier letter that you feel elected officials should be held to the “highest standards.” To what standards are you holding President Trump?

Chris Gavaler