Email #174: “take the Fifth”?

“If you’re innocent,” Donald Trump said during an Iowa rally last summer, “why are you taking the Fifth Amendment?” He was condemning some of Secretary Clinton’s IT aides, saying that only criminals like “the mob take the Fifth.” The president’s former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn has since evoked the 5th Amendment to avoid self-incrimination while under oath before the Senate. Flynn has also refused to turn over subpoenaed documents, which is itself a crime.

Hypocrisy aside, I am concerned why the President is still supporting someone who is at the heart of multiple Russia investigations and who the Republican-led House Oversight Committee already condemned for breaking multiple laws. Politico reported that the President “stunned” aides inside the White House by saying he should not have fired him and that Flynn was still a “good man.” Another source said: “Trump loves him.”

While loyalty is a virtue, it appears the President values loyalty over law. Paul Krugman recently accused the entire Republican party of a similar bias: “nearly all Republicans in today’s Congress are apparatchiks, political creatures with no higher principle beyond party loyalty.” I would like to think that doesn’t describe you, but I don’t know how else to explain so many of your inconsistencies.

You, for example, said you agreed with the Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein’s recommendation to fire FBI Director Comey. “Almost everyone agrees that the Director made serious mistakes,” said Rosenstein, “it is one of the few issues that unites people of diverse perspectives.” He criticized Comey for his statements about Secretary Clinton last summer because Comey ignored a “longstanding principle: we do not hold press conferences to release derogatory information about the subject of a declined criminal investigation…. The Director laid out his version of the facts for the news media as if it were a closing argument, but without a trial. It is a textbook example of what federal prosecutors and agents are taught not to do.” Rosenstein also said Comey’s “letter to the Congress on October 28, 2016 … violated long-standing Justice Department policies and traditions. And it ran counter to … the proper way to conduct investigations during an election season.”

But in what sense do you agree with Rosenstein’s judgements? You strongly supported Comey’s letter at the time. You said in October:

“he thinks that given the fact that Mrs. Clinton has been traveling around the country for 3 ½ months saying that the FBI has cleared her of wrongdoing, that when there is new, and I believe, substantial information available why wouldn’t he tell the American people that this is still under investigation?”

That is the opposite of Rosenstein’s point. You supported what he later called “serious mistakes.” And on what basis did you say the reopened investigation had “new” and “substantial” information? You knew at the time that the source of emails—a PC owned by the husband of a top Clinton aide–likely included only duplicates of emails already reviewed. Did you “believe” based on wishful thinking? Or was your false statement a knowing misrepresentation designed to influence voters?

It seems you supported Comey’s decision in October because it aided your party, and it seems you supported Rosenstein’s decision in April also because it aided your party—even though the two decisions and your support of them are contradictory. Could you please explain what else than party loyalty could make you behave so inconsistently?

Or will you take the Fifth as you do with all of my questions?

Email #154: Michael Flynn

President Trump’s former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn appears to have misled multiple people while committing multiple crimes.

Because he is a retired military officer and the former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, Flynn may have violated the Constitution, which prohibits members of the government from taking money from other countries without permission from Congress. The House Oversight Committee concluded in April that Flynn received $45,000 for speaking at a Russian government television station gala in 2015 and $530,000 for lobbying for the Turkish government in 2016, and that he failed to report that money on his security clearance form, in which “knowingly falsifying or concealing a material fact is a felony which may result in fines and/or up to five (5) years imprisonment.” He also failed to register with the Justice Department’s Foreign Agent Registration Unit, which is an additional felony.

In March, after having already been fired from the Trump administration, Flynn revealed that he had been employed by Turkey from August to November, while he was also working as the Trump campaign’s principal foreign policy adviser. The administration stated that it had not known about Flynn’s foreign activities. But Rep. Elijah Cummings wrote to Vice-President Pence in November: “Recent news reports have revealed that Lt. Gen. Flynn was receiving classified briefings during the presidential campaign while his consulting firm, Flynn Intel Group, Inc., was being paid to lobby the U.S. Government on behalf of a foreign government’s interests.” This means that Flynn also violated President Trump’s executive order prohibiting lobbyists who become government employees from participating in decisions on issues they lobbied for.

President Obama also warned President Trump about Flynn days after the election, telling him that Flynn was under investigation for his potential role in Russia’s interference in the presidential race in favor of the Trump campaign. Flynn then spoke with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak on the day that President Obama imposed new sanctions on Russia for that interference. Flynn denied this, and the administration repeated that denial–even though acting Attorney General Sally Yates had informed the administration that recordings of Flynn’s conversation with the ambassador contradicted the account that Vice-President Pence said Flynn had given him. After President Trump fired Flynn three weeks later, Pence said: “I was disappointed to learn that … the facts that had been conveyed to me by Gen. Flynn were inaccurate.”

Although Flynn may have initially misled his fellow members of the Trump administration, I am concerned why they ignored the facts documented by Rep. Cummings, the Justice Department, and President Obama himself instead maintaining that Flynn had committed no felonies and had not discussed sanctions with the Russian ambassador until those facts were leaked to and reported nationally by the press.

As chair of the House Judiciary Committee, it is your responsibility to oversee the conduct of the executive branch, a duty you pursued rigorously during the Obama administration, especially in regard to Secretary Clinton’s inadequately protected emails. Oddly, you have expressed concern about only one aspect of this convoluted case: the White House leaks. While the unauthorized communication of classified information is significant, Flynn appears to have committed multiple crimes, and the administration appears to have been aware of those crimes while either doing nothing about them or, worse, covering them up. Sally Yates–who President Trump fired in January–was originally scheduled to testify before the House in March but was blocked by the White House on the grounds that the content of her testimony was privileged information. She did, however, testify before the Senate yesterday, stating that she had told the administration that “General Flynn was compromised by the Russians” and that the administration took no action.

Although Flynn is still being investigated and presumably will be prosecuted, what steps are you taking to hold the President accountable for ignoring the crimes committed by his National Security Adviser?

Email #118, Subject: “witch hunt”?

“When you are given immunity, that means you probably committed a crime,” Michael Flynn said last September when Hillary Clinton’s aides were granted immunity during the FBI’s investigation into her private email server. Donald Trump echoed the opinion: “The reason they get immunity is because they did something wrong, if they didn’t do anything wrong, they don’t think in terms of immunity. If you are not guilty of a crime, what do you need immunity for? Right.”

Flynn has since been forced to step down as National Security Advisor after reportedly misleading the administration regarding his communications with Russia, and now he has requested immunity himself to testify in the investigation of Russian ties to the Trump campaign. Like Flynn, President Trump now supports immunity: “Mike Flynn should ask for immunity in that this is a witch hunt (excuse for big election loss), by media & Dems, of historic proportion!”

I do not know if Flynn committed a crime, but the reversal is disturbingly hypocritical. Even the use of the phrase “witch hunt” is embarrassingly familiar. The Washington Post warned last November that “the GOP’s Clinton witch hunt could backfire.” The Guardian reported in July: “The tirades against Hillary Clinton at the Republican national convention this week have resembled a witch trial more than a political event.” And even former Secretary of State Colin Powell called the Benghazi controversy a “stupid witch hunt.”

I do not know if Clinton committed a crime, but I do know that FBI Director Comey concluded that she did not.  While this would seem to settle the issue, you were not satisfied, demanding in a letter to Comey: “What sets Secretary Clinton apart from [other] persons prosecuted for mishandling classified information?” You were also unsatisfied with her aides who received immunity, writing to the Attorney General for explanation for why “side agreements” were approved for their testimonies.  “Like many things about this case,” you said on TV, “these new materials raise more questions than answers.”

While some may characterize your actions toward Clinton as part of a “witch hunt,” I am willing to view them as part of your Congressional commitment to policing the executive branch. Or at least I would be if you applied equal vigilance to all executive investigations. You, however, have shown little interest in the spreading allegations that the Trump campaign may have colluded with Russia during the election.

While the mishandling of classified documents is criminal—you cited an example of an individual being fined and serving a two-month jail sentence—collusion with a foreign government to influence a Presidential election could be treasonous. I would think that given your vigilance in pursuing Secretary Clinton you would now feel an even greater duty to investigate the current administration.

Unless of course your motivations are not based on principles but simply politics. In which case, rather than fulfilling your role as chair of the House Judiciary Committee, you have been abusing it. Do you believe in the integrity of your office, or were you just a Hillary witch hunter as hypocritical as Flynn and the President?

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.