By Dan Peak
The Commoner Call (12/7/17)
Dear Fellow Readers,
The Trump-Russia collusion story continues to grow and, how about that: There really were Russians involved all along!
All the old Trumpian denials have crumbled:
- Claims of “no contact” is now old news as we are way, way past that.
- Assurances of “no collusion” is growing threadbare.
- Now we have Trump team, officials and lawyers promising that “nothing illegal” took place.
Collusion Maybe, But Nothing Illegal … yet
With the indictment of Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser, the battle of words has shifted to what happens next.
Opinions of what should happen vary:
- impeach Trump
- prosecute Trump
- make sure Trump is beaten at the polls
- arrest Obama for suggesting Trump not tweet (Lou Dobbs)
- No, really, honestly, just like Donny sez: Trump-Russia is fake news
The only option not so much in the debate is “Trump-Russia fake news”, that thread is pretty quiet at the moment. Even Trump’s defenders, apologists and lawyers are offering, “President cannot obstruct justice”, or various flavors of Trump being above and far, far beyond the law. What an argument, call it the Nixon defense: no accountability for something we don’t know about fully as yet?
Let’s consider the variety of opinions starting with that point – what is it Trump is denying?
Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson asks a simple question: What Is Trump So Desperate To Cover Up?
Here’s a question raised by all the Trump desperation: why so many lies and what is being covered up?
Even Trump supporters who will argue about minutia of law and charges brought to date against former indicted Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort , indicted long-term Manafort business associate and Trump campaign adviser Rick Gates, former Trump foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos who pled guilty and former Trump foreign policy adviser, Michael Flynn, who pled guilty to lying to the FBI, stop short when asked, “Why so many lies?”
“We know that President Trump and his campaign either colluded with the Russian effort to undermine U.S. democracy or tried mightily to do so. We know that Trump has apparently obstructed justice to try to halt investigation into what happened. What we don’t know is whether Congress, in the end, will do its sworn duty to protect the Constitution.”
It’s a reasonable question, given the Republican majority in the House and Senate, and the deflections and denials to date. Can Congress be counted on to do anything? Has the outlook changed with passage of the horrible tax package? Without violation of a specific federal statute, are we stuck at the level of “nothing illegal”?
“It is true that there is no federal statute against “collusion.” But a specific law is not necessary for citizens and their representatives in Congress to make a judgment: Is it acceptable for a presidential candidate and officials of his campaign to encourage an adversarial foreign power’s efforts to meddle in the U.S. election process — and then seek to reward that foreign power by easing sanctions? Yes or no?”
“I’m no fan of conspiracy theories, which usually fall apart under scrutiny; and I’m not interested in carrying water for the Democratic Party, which should have been able to beat Trump, who was manifestly unqualified and unfit, no matter what the Russians did. But what we have learned thus far is truly shocking.”
“Shocking” is the opinion of Robinson. The ‘ask’ here is an appeal to a higher morale authority, but in light GOP support for Roy Moore’s Alabama Senate campaign, is that our only hope?
Before we answer that question, consider this important Washington Post headline that is lost in current fervor of debate: Prosecutors Say Longtime Manafort Colleague Has ‘ties’ To Russian Intelligence.
Let’s keep in mind, we still want t0 – still need to – know what happened.
Special counsel Robert Mueller’s team is asking a federal judge to deny bail for Manafort. This is based on a new accusation of Manafort’s violation of bail by collaborating with a Russian colleague and long-term Manafort associate, to ghost-write articles meant to influence public opinion about Manafort’s case.
“In the four-page filing Monday, prosecutor Andrew Weissmann urged the judge to reject the bail deal, arguing that Manafort and a Russian colleague have been secretly ghostwriting an English-language editorial that appeared to defend Manafort’s work advising a Russia-friendly political party in Ukraine.
“They said Manafort worked on the draft as recently as last week with “a long-time Russian colleague . . . who is currently based in Russia and assessed to have ties to a Russian intelligence service.” They indicated they would file further supporting evidence under seal.”
So not just a Russian, but one that has long been suspected of ties to Russian intelligence.
“Prosecutors said the editorial Manafort was writing violated a court order prohibiting the parties in the case from making public statements outside of court that could influence jurors.
“The piece “clearly was undertaken to influence the public’s opinion of defendant Manafort,” prosecutors wrote, noting there would be no other reason for Manafort and the colleague to have it published under someone else’s name.
“The allegation is the first time that prosecutors have claimed any former Trump campaign official has had contacts with a Russian tied to that country’s intelligence services.”
Let us not forget Manafort’s many trips to Russia as reported in a recent edition of the Russia Monitor.
So many Russians, but maybe now a first confirmation of collaboration with a known Russian intelligence officer, though many have been questioned to date including a few attending the infamous June 2016 Trump Tower meeting held by Donnie Jr.
Charges and defense are within a context that is still evolving and evolving fast. But maybe there are sweeping defenses for Trump that make the debate of details less important?
There will be much made by Trump lawyers and enablers of sweeping powers that clear him of wrong-doing. Much like Trump’s sharing of high level intelligence about ISIS bomb-making skills learned from Israeli intelligence and shared with Russian foreign minister Lavrov and Russian ambassador Kislyak in the White House, the defense being, if the president shares intelligence, it’s no longer top secret – it’s Trump’s prerogative.
So Trump cannot obstruct justice?
“Why it matters: Trump’s legal team is clearly setting the stage to say the president cannot be charged with any of the core crimes discussed in the Russia probe: collusion and obstruction. Presumably, you wouldn’t preemptively make these arguments unless you felt there was a chance charges are coming.
“One top D.C. lawyer told me that obstruction is usually an ancillary charge rather than a principal one, such as a quid pro quo between the Trump campaign and Russians.”
Again, the fascinating part of Trump’s statements: if nothing happened, why offer a sweeping defense? Defense, one might ask, against what?
Also worth highlighting, the opinion that obstruction of justice by a president is “usually an ancillary charge”. As an example (from Wikipedia), the charges brought against Nixon were:
Watergate reporter Bob Woodward also offers his opinion that obstruction is a difficult route to holding Trump accountable for Trump-Russia collusion.
tells me this “is a legal thicket and really has not been settled”:
“I think a president can only be reached through impeachment and removal. But the House and Senate could conclude a president had obstructed, and conclude that was a ‘high crime.'”
But, as reported in Esquire, there are other lines of legal response to consider: Trump’s Defense Is Simple: The Rules Do Not Apply.
The most sweeping defense for Trump is that he is above the law.
“So the White House line is: The president can’t obstruct justice, and by the way he didn’t obstruct justice, which is why we felt the need to clarify that he can’t. It’s important to cover your bases.
“It’s also unclear how it’s “arrogant” to question whether the president just admitted to having committed a crime. It seems far more arrogant for Dowd to express this kind of sanctimonious outrage when citizens of a democracy question their elected political leaders, who, after all, work for them. Then again, Nixon seemed to work himself into a sanctimonious outrage before he declared being the president made you above the law—you know, like a king. With all this on his record already, is there really much doubt Trump would try to engineer the firing of current Special Counsel Robert Mueller, much like Nixon did with Cox?”
Can a president be above the law, as in King Trump? While considering the question, keep in mind, this is the White House engaging in a debate of what if any legal risk Trump might face – even while we still don’t have the full picture of what transpired with Trump-Russia. Clearly Trump knows there is more news coming our way.
In the realm of opinions about what should happen next, on the side of holding Trump accountable the authors of an opinion piece in The New York Times make a case for impeachment: Don’t Prosecute Trump. Impeach Him.
Much has been made of a Trump tweet from this past weekend:
“The tweet in question contained a seemingly explosive claim that sent critics of Mr. Trump into a frenzy: “I had to fire General Flynn because he lied to the Vice President and the FBI. He has pled guilty to those lies. It is a shame because his actions during the transition were lawful. There was nothing to hide!” If the president knew that Mr. Flynn had lied to Mike Pence and to the F.B.I. about his conversations with the Russian ambassador, then the president had knowingly obstructed justice when he asked the F.B.I. director James Comey on Feb. 14 to let “Flynn go” because he was a “good guy.” According to the president’s critics, Mr. Trump then escalated his obstruction by firing Mr. Comey because of the Russia inquiry.”
The huge takeaway here is that Trump was aware of Flynn having lied to the FBI before he asked Comey to go easy on Flynn. Every day we blow right past earlier Trump, Trump supporter and legal defense denials. It’s details, but important details. But is it enough? Are these disclosures damning to Trump?
“No responsible federal prosecutor would dream of stepping into a trial court with such a weak case. This is a tweet, hardly an admission of guilt. And on Sunday, Mr. Trump’s personal attorney, John Dowd, made the case even weaker when he said that he had ghost-written the tweet.”
So, a case too thin for charges of obstruction?
“But even if the facts rose to the level of obstruction, most legal scholars agree that prosecutors cannot bring charges against a sitting president. The Constitution imposes on the president the duty to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed,” which vests the authority to oversee all federal law enforcement. … Ever since the framing, presidents have enjoyed the right to drop prosecutions as a waste of resources. Indeed, this is the very theory that President Barack Obama raised when he unilaterally reduced the enforcement of the immigration laws under the Dreamers and Deferred Action for Parents of Americans programs.”
So many legal avenues of pursuit against Trump-Russia collusion head into uncharted legal waters. Hence – the authors advise that impeachment is the way to go forward.
“If Mr. Trump has truly impeded a valid investigation, Congress should turn to impeachment, which allows for the removal of a president for “high crimes and misdemeanors.” Impeachment does not require the president to commit a crime, but instead, as Hamilton explained in Federalist 65, encompasses significant misdeeds, offenses that proceed from “the misconduct of public men, or, in other words, from the abuse or violation of some public trust.” Such offenses, he said, “are of a nature which may with peculiar propriety be denominated political, as they relate chiefly to injuries done immediately to the society itself.”
Obstruction of justice? Impeachment? Are there other options?
On Tuesday The Guardian reported Trump’s Personal Banking Information Handed Over To Robert Mueller.
Much has been written about Trump’s relations with Deutsche Bank going back many years. And for that matter, Trump son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner’s long-term relationship with the bank has been a subject as well. To date the questions raised start with the fact that Deutsche Bank was fined $630 million for illegal $10 billion Russian money laundering
There have been many concerns raised about questionable business practices by the bank, but more specifically with regard to its lending relationship with both Trump and Kushner. The challenge to date, the bank has refused to cooperate, even ignoring House Intelligence Committee requests for information. But now Mueller has managed to garner cooperation from the bank:
“Donald Trump’s banking information has formally been turned over to , the special prosecutor who is investigating whether the president’s campaign conspired with the Kremlin during the 2016 presidential election.
“Deutsche Bank, the German bank that serves as Trump’s biggest lender, was forced to submit documents about its client relationship with the president and some of his family members, who are also Deutsche clients, after Mueller issued the bank with a subpoena for information, according to media reports. The news was first reported by , the German newspaper.
“The revelation makes it clear that Mueller and his team are investigating the president’s finances. Trump’s son-in-law and White House adviser, Jared Kushner, is also a client.”
So we have options of Trump legal risk with obstruction of justice, possible impeachment, but also accountability for his past business practices of many years.
One last point of view, it’s an interesting insight into the experience of sitting with the FBI and special counsel personnel answering questions about Trump-Russia collusion.
From interviews with some of those interviewed The Washington Post created a fascinating glimpse of what it is like Inside The Secretive Nerve Center Of The Mueller Investigation.
“People familiar with the Mueller team said they convey a sense of calm that is unsettling.
““These guys are confident, impressive, pretty friendly — joking a little, even,” one lawyer said. When prosecutors strike that kind of tone, he said, defense lawyers tend to think: “Uh oh, my guy is in a heap of trouble.””
A heap of trouble.
There are many views from both sides around what is next. But the statements and actions from both sides assure us that something happened; that there is something real and potentially very damaging around Trump-Russia collusion. There is risk for Trump, but likely far more to learn about damage and risk to our democracy.
Federal prosecution is a weak case at least at this stage. Obstruction of justice as a singular charge is a legal quagmire and usually part of a range of charges brought against a sitting president. Impeachment is a challenging case to make as yet.
But there is one more serious angle. If Trump is to stand for reelection, the best path to healing a divided nation may be to make sure Trump loses handily at the polls.
Given the damage and destruction Trump and his gang brings against us daily, the timing for reelection seems like an eternity.
But with each day, there is more news about Trump-Russia collusion. Special Counsel Mueller has only been working on Trump-Russia for about six months and already shows much progress.
Where next? The map is not yet complete.