• Amash is Wrong, Pelosi (So Far…) is Right on Articles of Impeachment

    May 26, 2019 // 1 Comment »


    Even as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi tries to put impeachment talk on the back burner within her own party, Justin Amash became the first Republican Congressman to call for it. This weekend on Twitter, as the Founders intended, Amash wrote “Mueller’s report identifies multiple examples of conduct satisfying all the elements of obstruction of justice, and undoubtedly any person who is not the president of the United States would be indicted based on such evidence.”

    Amash goes on to say impeachment simply requires “an official has engaged in careless, abusive, corrupt, or otherwise dishonorable conduct.”

    Of course tweets are not Articles of Impeachment to be voted on, Mueller’s Report specifically does not indict Trump for obstruction, the Report does not state the reason for not indicting Trump is because he is president, and the Constitution does not include “careless, abusive, corrupt, or otherwise dishonorable conduct” as grounds for impeachment.

    People may not like any of that, but those are the starting and ending points on impeachment and simply repeating an alternate version cannot change things. So this all may be little more than grandstanding by Amash.
    But alongside Amash’s tweets are dozens of similar bleats from politicians and blasts from the media demanding Trump be impeached. Cheerleaders gloat impeachment isn’t a judicial process but a “political” one, their main takeaway being less rigorous standards apply (Amash stated there is no obligation to show even probable cause a crime was committed to impeach, you can just accuse willy-nilly) and somehow that’s a good thing. Many express near-joy the constitutional requirement for impeachment, “high crimes and misdemeanors,” isn’t defined in the law so it can be anything a partisan House wants it to be heading into an election. Somehow that’s also a good thing for a democracy they otherwise see under threat.

    What the calls for impeachment show in amplitude they lack in detail, the specifics Trump must be impeached for. You know, like when a case goes to court instead of when one is trying to make headlines? The so-called best versions, as with Amash, simply refer back to Mueller’s own didn’t-reach-indictment non-conclusions and leave it there, as if the Report says something clearly it does not even say obliquely. The worst ramble about the end of democracy, damage to the Constitution, corruption, and cite the libretto from Hamilton as their snappy summation. What they all do, from Amash to Trevor Noah, is rely on assumed agreement with their audience Trump is guilty. Of something.

    The only specific pseudo-justification comes from a sub-group who kinda admits the Mueller “road map” is a bit fuzzy on actual guilt, but who sees impeachment proceedings as some sort of super-investigative process that would take another shot at finding chargeable crimes.

    This strategy becomes clearer when one looks at the real road map: Democrats and the media have been trying to remove Trump from office even before he took office. The Electoral College was going to not vote him in, or the Emoluments Clause or the 25th Amendment would shove him aside. The path forward jelled in early January 2017, even before the inauguration, as strategic leaks from the intelligence community pushed Russiagate to the fore. Trump was a Russian agent, the Manchurian Candidate. The nice folks in the Deep State would investigate, and their Report would segue smoothly into impeachment proceedings just in time for the 2020 election season.

    After the Report showed there was no collusion or conspiracy with the Russkies, the Democrats and media pivoted as one, literally overnight, claiming (failed) obstruction of a Report which cleared Trump of treason, that was the real crime all along. The only problem was the Report did not support obstruction as grounds for impeachment either. So in a wink of an eye, the new plan was for the House to subpoena documents, call witnesses, and conduct a re-investigation into whatever it was Mueller failed to uncover.

    This belief in the investigative magic of the House ignores the vast powers already brought to bear, including the surveillance which proceeded Mueller’s work and provided the fodder for those early perjury traps against Flynn, Papadopoulos, et al. Mueller used the threat of jail time to pressure people into cooperating, in the end producing little actionable material. The House thinking it will find the smoking gun Mueller missed also ignores the entrapment ops the FBI ran against the Trump campaign, which also produced little beyond excuses for more surveillance.

    The Democratic/media actions post-Report — making up their own versions of what Mueller meant to say — beg the question of why not just ask Bob Mueller? The White House is not blocking his testimony, and the House has not subpoenaed him. Still, no testimony is scheduled while “negotiations” take place between Mueller and the Committees. For a nation supposedly in crisis there doesn’t seem to be too much of a rush. The Report has been out for close to two months.

    Or maybe Democrats are not in a hurry to call Mueller because they don’t want to hear him answer why he did not indict anyone new. Maybe Dems don’t want to have Mueller say how early he realized the Steele Dossier was garbage but still kept silent? Maybe Dems don’t want Mueller talking about the origins of the Russia investigation? Maybe the Dems really don’t want Mueller to testify at all. Leave him off-stage, where they can put words into his mouth. Those are sharp questions when the simple answer, just ask Mueller, is replaced by a complex set of subpoenas and judicial challenges under the shadow of impeachment proceedings.
    And with that it is time to take a deep breath and consider what impeachment is really about.

    Impeachment allows Congress to overturn an election. And that is a very, very big deal. The Constitution vests ultimate power in The People. Throwing their choice out via impeachment is in a way the ultimate undemocratic act.

    What impeachment also is not is a midterm check of “fitness.” It is not a constitutional pause for a referendum on how the president is doing. It is not a way to resolve differences of opinion, policy or propriety. The Founders were well aware how parliamentary systems could easily expel leaders with votes of no confidence in such situations, and chose something very different for America. They gave great sanctity to having a president serve his full term. And in our entire history no president has been forced from office.

    Impeachment is also not a way to bypass other investigative tools to allow a partisan House to poke around inside a president’s decisions, pre-election business deals, and personal life, or to amass info short of actual impeachable evidence as campaign dirt on the public dollar.

    This final conception of impeachment, an expedient to get around Trump refusing to comply with various subpoenas, is particularly odious. The claim we are in a constitutional crisis because the White House is contesting document requests, what Nancy Pelosi calls Trump’s “self impeachment,” is nonsense. Contesting subpoenas thought to be too broad or irrelevant is an inherent part of due process and is nothing new or unique to the Trump administration. What would be unique is to open impeachment hearings as a work around to having the courts rule, as they anyways have, on the muscle-tussle between executive and legislative branches.

    The closest the United States ever came to forcing a president out of office was with Richard Nixon in 1974, and much is being made in 2019 that one of the charges against him was obstruction of justice. But the two are very different.

    Nixon’s obstruction had clear underlying crimes behind it, as Republican operatives broke into the Democratic National Headquarters at the Watergate building, and made a similar break in to Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office. The latter, often left out of “Watergate” history, was to gather blackmail material or discrediting information to use against the Pentagon Papers’ leaker.

    Amash is playing you with a straw man argument; anyone who went to law school, read the Mueller Report which explains this or Googled obstruction knows an underlying crime is not required. Underlying crimes are not necessary to charge obstruction per se, but their presence indicates the seriousness and depth of what obstruction sought to hide. In the absence of underlying crimes, i.e., in Trump’s case no collusion with Russia, you’re left to wonder what the president would have sought to obstruct the investigation for. Unlike in Nixon’s case, there was nothing for it to find. That raises the question of evil intent, the “why” which is necessary to charge obstruction. If there was no underlying crime why obstruct? The lack of underlying crime also raises the political stakes. The House really thinks it will be supported in trying to impeach the president over a… process crime?

    Nixon’s obstruction took the form of paying cash from a slush fund to the operatives to buy their silence or to have them commit perjury. Nixon sought information from the CIA to use against his enemies. He personally and unambiguously ordered a cover-up. His own White House counsel testified against him. Watergate burglar James McCord stated in writing his testimony, some of which was perjured, was compelled by pressure from the Attorney General. Audio tapes of Nixon actually committing these acts existed. Nixon defied a Supreme Court order to release the tapes, erased some especially discriminated audio “accidentally,” considered destroying the tapes entirely, fired the Special Prosecutor who drove that process, and attempted to seize control of the investigation via a new prosecutor in what has come to be called the Saturday Night Massacre. Now that is what real obstruction, and the evidence to prove it, looks like.

    All of the above preceded actual Articles of Impeachment. By the time the case was moving to the Senate for a decision, there was no need for pundits to speculate on road maps, no need for explainer articles, no dots left to connect, and Nixon was pressed to resign by a bipartisan group. It makes the current situation — a Report which does not charge obstruction, with no underlying crime, serving as the basis for the House to re-investigate those same non-events via a scattershot of subpoenas and testimony — seem silly.

    Nancy Pelosi is right to put the brakes on impeachment. Not because of some political calculation, but because turning the Constitution’s provision for over-turning an election into a hunt for dirt, or as a way around the check and balances of the courts, chips away at the foundation of democracy.

     

    BONUS

    I admire Amash for his principles. So I would very much welcome him laying out reasons for his opinion Trump committed an impeachable offense in obstructing justice, a conclusion Mueller, Barr, and Rosenstein did not reach. All Amash did was send out a couple of tweets. I, too, have read the whole Report, as have many others, and do not see chargeable crimes. So Amash needs to do more than tweet a conclusion because the clarity he sees in the Report text is not shared widely enough to allow him to just say trust me on this.

    Amash in his tweets also criticizing the Attorney General for writing a misleading summary of the Report. This is weak. We now have the Report, and so Barr’s summary two months ago is old, old news. The portions of the Report dealing with obstruction have few substantive retractions, and are apparently clear enough Amash himself has read them and concluded Trump is guilty. So explain why, Justin, and stop distracting with criticism of water passed under the bridge.

    Showing how far down the rabbit hole Derangement Syndrome can take someone, here an author is suggesting Congress arrest Attorney General William Barr for failing to hand over the full Mueller Report, or fine him. And if he doesn’t pay the fine, she suggests Treasury withhold his paycheck. Like someone with that illness that makes you involuntarily shout and curse at people, I really don’t think the people who write these articles understand how silly they look, and how the voters who struggle with healthcare, earning a living, and all that, hold them in contempt for being so out of touch.

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    Copyright © 2019. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

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    Posted in 2020, Democracy, Trump

    Diplomacy 101 Case Study: Singapore Summit

    July 4, 2018 // 15 Comments »

     

    While I can say there isn’t a formal class at the American State Department called Diplomacy 101, some training offered to new hires comes pretty close. Those basic tenets of statecraft, largely unchanged from Thucydides to Bismarck to Pompeo, are important to review in light of the widespread criticism of the Singapore Summit.

    You make peace by talking to your adversaries. Diplomacy is almost always a process and rarely a big-bang scale event. Steps backward are expected along with steps forward. Realizing America’s foreign policy goals often means dealing with bad people. As an American diplomat I purposely flattered and befriended gangsters in Japan to help American citizens in trouble, Irish Republican Army terrorists when a change in administration in Washington saw them eligible for visas, and militia leaders in Iraq who sought deals during the Surge. So has every diplomat, along with most intelligence officers and military officers. Many in the media have done exactly the same things to cultivate sources.

    The Etruscans, Ethiopians, Egyptians, Eritreans, and Everyone else from A-Z have been conducting diplomacy with adversaries of all flavors, titles, and moral standards since before the word was even invented by the French. A leader whose family has been the sole ruler of his nation for seven some decades, who controls nuclear weapons, whose nation has a seat at the United Nations and embassies in multiple countries around the world already meets any practical test of “legitimacy.” Kim’s nuclear weapons exist whether or not he meets a sitting American president, or ex-presidents Clinton and Carter, though the only chance those weapons may someday be gone rests in such meetings.

    Now protocol is always tricky. President Obama had no obligation to bow to the Emperor of Japan, but decided to convey respect; same with American male diplomats holding the hands of or exchanging kisses with their Arab counterparts; I kissed a lot of bearded men while on duty myself. Mistakes happen — Trump did not need to salute that North Korean general — but what matters most is the effect on your counterparts. No damage was done, and maybe even some additional humility was conveyed in a situation where offense could have easily derailed more important matters.

    Diplomacy 101 advises you can’t control how your adversary, or even your friends, will portray events. Signals to the international community are important, but if you get too concerned about controlling them you’ll end up advising your boss she better just stay in Washington. One expert writes, “Foreign policymaking is not an omnidirectional antenna that clearly emits messages in all directions, which are correctly interpreted and acted upon by the intended audiences. Indeed, refraining from pursuing diplomatic initiatives because of how an adversary might characterize that initiative is surely a signal of weakness. And in the case of North Korea, allowing the propaganda efforts of a totalitarian government to influence United States policy making priorities is just self-crippling.”

    It’s different with created messaging directed at your adversary, because nobody else matters. Much mockery was slathered on the video Trump played for Kim in Singapore, depicting him as a great leader facing a history-bending decision. The video was spiced full of symbols that resonate with Koreans, including sacred places and holiday images that mean little to outsiders. The audience was one man, and the video was designed to do one thing, speak to Kim in a visual language he understood. Diplomacy 101 suggests everyone else might stand aside, the way older folks should do when people say such-and-such a new dance song is good or bad, knowing they’re not the intended audience.

    Negotiations are rarely an even exchange. But how long will you sit at the table if someone else seems to win every hand? Everyone has to at least feel they can win, so they don’t have a reason to cheat, and thus stay in the game. Even when stakes are high the good news it’s hard to give away “the store.” The store in whatever form usually isn’t something that can be irrevocably stopped, boxed up for shipment, or destroyed forever. Never mind the checks, balances, and bureaucratic brakes built into something as complex as the United States government, or even what may appear to be mostly a one-man-rule system. Diplomacy 101 encourages a thoughtful approach to score keeping, knowing the score only really matters at the end anyway.

    Diplomacy 101 also reminds the most important purpose of a good first date is to make sure there’s a second. It doesn’t make sense to call it a failure if no marriage proposal follows dessert. Love at first sight is best left for the movies. A kiss goodnight is great, but international relations is a chaste process and demanding or expecting too much too early isn’t a long game strategy. Setting an artificial clock running alongside something as delicate as nuclear disarmament accomplishes nothing. Negotiations between the United States and the Soviet Union sometimes spanned administrations.

    Even failures are part of the process. William Johnson, a Foreign Service Officer who served as the State Department’s political advisor on special operations to the United States’ Pacific Command, explained to me “Diplomacy is often a series of failures, and in the best case, the failures become incrementally less bad, until sometimes the least spectacular failure is declared success. Diplomacy is a game where the goalposts are supposed to move, and often, to move erratically. Trump needs a plan, with specific goals, each laid out neatly in a set of talking points, not because he will attain those goals, but because he needs to figure out how short of them he can afford to fall or how far beyond them he can push his interlocutor.”

    A future Diplomacy 101 class may examine the Singapore Summit alongside President Richard Nixon’s summit with Chinese leader Mao Tse Tung. That 1972 meeting ended over two decades of isolation between the two nuclear-armed countries, and is universally hailed as brilliant diplomacy. But looking back, the main takeaway, the Shanghai Communique, is full of vague phrases promising to meet again, to somehow make “progress toward the normalization of relations,” and “reduce the danger of international military conflict.” The status of Taiwan, which had almost brought the Americans and Chinese to war, was dealt with in almost poetic terms, able to be read with multiple meanings.

    There was no timeline for anything. No specific next steps listed, though Nixon did agree to the “ultimate objective of the withdrawal of all U.S. forces and military installations from Taiwan.” Nothing about China’s horrendous human rights situation. Few details at all, and the biggest problem was treated obliquely. It took seven more years before full diplomatic relations were restored. Yet scholars see the visit as one of the most impactful ever by an American president, to the point where the term “Nixon to China” is now shorthand for a breakthrough leaders’ meeting.

    It is of course too early to fully assess the Singapore Summit, never mind to see if it will rank anywhere near the Nixon-Mao meeting. But we do know personal diplomacy has sometimes been the right strategy, and that Americans have met with dictators, nuclear-armed and not, before. Simply amending “But Trump!” to those and other realities of diplomacy does not change them. As the United States-North Korea relationship evolves, it is important to avoid valuing the sharp elbows of partisan politics over the earned lessons of Diplomacy 101. Class dismissed — for now.

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    Copyright © 2019. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

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    Posted in 2020, Democracy, Trump

    Dinner and a Speech with Daniel Ellsberg

    June 3, 2013 // 21 Comments »

    It was one of my great pleasures to have dinner with Daniel Ellsberg (and several others supporting justice for Bradley Manning) this week.

    Ellsberg is the prototypical whistleblower, a former Marine and serious government official supporting the government’s way until something– in Ellsberg’s case, learning the truth about U.S. conduct in the Vietnam War– so shocked his conscience that he was compelled to speak out. In Ellsberg’s case, that resulted in the “Pentagon Papers” and the landmark legal decisions defending the right of the New York Times to publish them. That those same legal rights are now under attack by the Obama Administration, and likely to figure significantly in the Manning case, just emphasized the importance of what Ellsberg risked his freedom to do.

    I wrote an open letter to Dan, tracing a small part of my own political awakening to his brave actions. Maybe worth a read.

    In person Dan proved to still be an amazing intellect at age 82. Though his hearing has faded, his mind is razor. Talking politics with him, from Lyndon Johnson to Bradley Manning, was like playing chess against Fischer, discussing writing with Steinbeck or shooting pool against Fats.

    Dan also possesses an amazing stock of jokes, some a bit naughty, which he tells with some skill. One involved a leprechaun (you had to be there) and Ellsberg slipped in and out of an Irish accent as effortlessly as he skewed Richard Nixon moments earlier.

    The next night I joined Ellsberg, Jesselyn Radack, Michael Ratner, Tom Drake, Ethan McCord and others at the Unitarian All Souls Church in Washington DC to speak out for justice for whistleblower Bradley Manning. Manning’s trial, after his three years of confinement, finally begins June 3. The speeches were followed by interviews with the BBC Radio World Service. The American media, who certainly profited from Manning’s whistleblowing, skipped the event.

    Sorry to brag a bit, but losing one’s job at the State Department isn’t all bad when you get opportunities like this.




    Video of the support Manning speeches.




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    Copyright © 2019. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

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    Posted in 2020, Democracy, Trump