Archive for the ‘Law and Justice’ Category

Trump’s business ties with Russian oligarchs

August 14, 2018

I probably should refrain from posting anything more about Donald Trump and the Mueller investigations until Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller issues his final report.  But having already posted on this topic, I find it hard to stop.  I continually feel the need to make new posts to clarify or explain or update my previous posts.

My present opinion is that if the Mueller investigation finds anything that Donald Trump or his inner circle have done that is worthy of indictment or impeachment, it is much more likely to be in their relationships with Russian oligarchs and mobsters than with Vladimir Putin or (knowingly) with the Russian FSB.

Trump’s whole business career was based on his relationships with corrupt American officials and organized crime figures.   The revival of his real state empire after the collapse of his casino gambling business was largely due to infusions of Russian money, as Donald Trump Jr. boasted in 2008.

Nobody that I know of has proved that Trump knowingly helped Russians launder money they got from crime or corruption, but the question is not only what he knew for a fact, but what he probably guessed and was expected to know, but made sure not to know.

If he or his family have done anything blackmail-able, my guess is that it has to do with business dealings with individual Russians.

LINKS

If Trump is Laundering Russian Money, Here’s How It Works by Garrett M. Graff for Wired.

Buyers with ties to Russia, former Soviet republics, paid $109 million cash for Trump properties by Anita Kumar for McClatchy newspapers.  In case you didn’t know, multi-million dollar real estate deals paid in cash are highly suspicious.

Secret Money: How Trump Made Millions Selling Condos to Unknown Buyers by Thomas Frank for BuzzFeed.  The author is a different Thomas Frank from the one who wrote Listen, Liberal! or What’s the Matter With Kansas?

Trump’s Russian Laundromat by Craig Unger for The New Republic.

The case for Julian Assange

July 25, 2018

The case for Julian Assange in a nutshell is that it should not be a crime to expose abuse of power by government.

The I Am WikiLeaks web site, established by the Courage Foundation, gives a more detailed account of Julian Assange’s life and work, and the various charges against him.  Courage has prepared  infographics that give the essence of Assange’s case.

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The rule of law and Julian Assange

July 25, 2018

The rule of law is a fundamental principle, at least as basic or maybe more basic than voting rights and freedom of the press.

This is part of our British heritage, going back to Magna Carta—the idea that nobody, not even the King, is above the law, and nobody, not even the humblest cottager, is below the protection of the law.

For us Americans, the rule of law was part of our Constitution even before we had a specific Bill of Rights.

The Constitution from the beginning has guaranteed the right of habeas corpus, which means the right of  arrested persons to be told what law they are accused of breaking, and forbid ex post facto laws, which declared things illegal after they were done, and bills of attainder, which declared certain persons outside the protection of the law.

I was shocked and disillusioned by how easily, after the 9/11 attacks, these fundamental principles were forgotten.

The Bush administration, the Obama administration and now the Trump administration claim the right to order the killing of anyone they deem a threat to the state, based on secret criteria and without accountability to anyone.

George W. Bush had a kill list.  Barack Obama called has a “disposition matrix”.  I don’t know what Trump calls it.  Most of us middle-class white Americans of have come to regard it as normal, possibly because we think only people with dark skins and Arab names will ever be on it.

I read a chilling article by Matt Taibbi about a journalist who figured out he is on the kill list, and is trying to get off it.  He doesn’t know what he is accused of nor how to appeal.

Julian Assange is in a situation in some ways similar to this journalist.  A grand jury has been meeting in Alexandria, Va., since 2010 to consider his case.  James Comey, when he was FBI director, and Attorney-General Jeff Sessions have said they intend to apprehend Assange.

Rep. Adam Schiff, ranking Democratic member of the House intelligence committee, has said he’s not interested in testimony from Assange until Assange is in custody.  Yet no charges against Assange have ever been announced.  If the grand jury has indicted him, those indictments are sealed.

Neither the US nor the UK government has been willing to say whether an extradition request is on file.

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In defense of Julian Assange

July 21, 2018

Suppose a government claimed the right to commit crimes, make those crimes state secrets and prosecute anyone who revealed them to the public.

Could you call such a government democratic?  Could you say its people enjoyed freedom of the press?

Yet that is what the U.S. government wants to do to Julian Assange.

Assange is the founder of Wikileaks, which makes it possible for whistle-blowers to reveal secret documents without their identity being traced.  Wikileaks publications revealed, among other things, the secret bibles of Scientology, censored videos of protests in Tibet, secret neo-Nazi passwords, offshore tax scams by Barclay’s bank, the inside story of the crashing of Iceland’s economy and texts of the secret Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations.

What got him into trouble was publication of information of crimes committed by the U.S. government, notably the killing of civilians in Iraq, and secret surveillance of the public by U.S. intelligence agencies.  That is why the U.S. government is determined to capture and imprison him.

The espionage laws are intended to punish those who give military secrets to a hostile foreign power.   In the case of Julian Assange, it is we, the people, who were given the secrets.  We are the supposed enemy.

A U.S. grand jury investigation of Assange has been ongoing since 2010.  It is widely believed that it has made sealed indictments against Assange.

He sought political asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in London in 2012 to avoid extradition to the United States.  Since March, the Ecuadorian government has cut him off from communicating with the outside world, except for his lawyers and Australian consular officials.

Reportedly the government is planning to expel him from the embassy, leaving him subject to arrest by British police and extradition to the USA.  There his likely fate will be imprisonment, probably for life, or execution.

What can be done to Assange can be done to anyone who reveals information the U.S. government wants kept secret.  Anyone who cares about freedom of the press, or their own freedom, should stand with Julian Assange.

LINKS

I Am WikiLeaks.

Ecuador Will Immediately Withdraw Asylum for Julian Assange and Hand Him Over to the UK. What Comes Next? by Glenn Greenwald for The Intercept.

Be Prepared to Shake the Earth If Julian Assange Is Arrested by Caitlin Johnstone.

Inside WikiLeaks: Working With the Publisher That Changed the World by Stefania Maurizi for Consortium News.  [Added 7/23/2018]

The War on Assange Is a War on Press Freedom by Chris Hedges for TruthDig.  [Added 7/23/2018]

When the shoe is on the other foot

July 17, 2018

Jack Goldsmith, who posts on the Lawfare blog, asked what will happen when Russia, China and Iran start naming and indicting U.S. officials for computer intrusions and interfering in their politics.

As the Snowden documents and David Sanger’s great new book and other books make plain, and as U.S. officials are wont to brag, the U.S. intelligence services break into computers and computer networks abroad at an astounding rate, certainly on a greater scale than any other intelligence service in the world.

Every one of these intrusions in another country violates that country’s criminal laws prohibiting unauthorized computer access and damage, no less than the Russian violations of U.S. laws outlined in Mueller’s indictment.

This is not a claim about the relative moral merits of the two countries’ cyber intrusions; it is simply a claim that each side unequivocally breaks the laws of the other in its cyber-espionage activities.  [snip]

Recall that President Obama boasted that U.S. offensive cyber capacities were the greatest in the world.

Sanger reports that “the United States remains the world’s stealthiest, most skillful cyberpower.”

Then consider:

  • The wide array of U.S. cyber intrusions abroad revealed by Snowden.
  • Olympic Games, the operation against Iranian centrifuges that Michael Hayden compared in significance to the use of nuclear weapons in August 1945.
  • The Shadow Broker leaks of many of the NSA’s offensive tools and what the NSA was doing with those tools.
  • The U.S. Internet Freedom program, which (among other things) provides cyber tools and training to activists in authoritarian nations with the aim of achieving political change there.
  • U.S. officials assisting and urging U.S. social media giants such as Twitter to help activists bring down foreign governments.

This is but a bit of the public evidence—surely a tiny sliver of the overall evidence—of U.S. “interferences” abroad using offensive cyber tools of various sorts.

This is not to say, Goldsmith wrote, that Robert Mueller is wrong to pursue his investigation or that we Americans should not be concerned about securing our computer systems.

But if we want other governments to change their behavior, we must be willing to admit and change our own.

LINKS

Uncomfortable Questions in the Wake of Russia Indictment 2.0 and Trump’s Press Conference by Jack Goldsmith for Lawfare.  Worth reading in its entirety.

How to Stop Russian Election Interference by Ian Welsh.

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Who’s afraid of Julian Assange?

May 16, 2018

The Guardian reported that Ecuador has spent more than $5 million on closed-circuit TV cameras, 24-hour monitoring and other surveillance of Julian Assange, who took refuge in their London embassy in 2012.

Every communication by Assange with the outside world was monitored and recorded.  Guardian reporters were given access to this information.  I imagine British and U.S. intelligence services also have access to it.

The thrust of the articles is what a nuisance Assange has become to the Ecuadorian government and how understandable it is that they want to get rid of their unwelcome guest.  I am sure this is true.  If I were president of a small, vulnerable country such as Ecuador, I would not wish to antagonize the United States and other great powers.

What the articles also show is Assange’s uncompromising loyalty to his self-appointed mission.  The government of Ecuador expected him to refrain from “interfering” with other countries’ politics.  Assange’s publication of confidential e-mails embarrassing to Hillary Clinton was regarded as a violation of that, as was his protest against the arrest of a Catalan independen

Then Assange went on to destroy any hope of a pardon from the Trump administration by publishing more confidential CIA information.  He published new information about Russian intelligence surveillance.  Like him or not, you can’t reasonably say Wikileaks is a tool of any government or political faction.

All of this shows that the campaign against Assange is political.  It is not about criminal justice.  No routine bail bond case would ever result in the huge and expensive effort mounted by the British and Ecuadorian governments to bring Assange under control.  Only the naive would think that his only risk is punishment for bail bond violations.

He is a lone individual, standing up to the world’s most powerful governments and calling them to account.  He is hated and feared for telling inconvenient truths.  How can anyone who cares about political freedom not defend him?  It is Assange’s enemies, not him, who have to justify themselves.

LINKS

How Julian Assange became an unwelcome guest in Ecuador’s embassy by Luke Harding, Stephanie Kirchgaessner and Dan Collyns for The Guardian.

Ecuador spent millions on spy operation for Julian Assange by Dan Collyns, Stephanie Kirchgaessner and Luke Harding for The Guardian.

Why does Ecuador want Assange out of its London embassy? by Dan Collyns for The Guardian.

The Guardian Rejoices in the Silencing of Assange by Craig Murray.  [Added 5/17/2018]

Ecuador Under Lenin Moreno: an Interview With Andrez Arauz by Joe Emersberger for Counterpunch.

Ecuador’s Ex-President Rafael Correa Denounces Treatment of Julian Assange as “Torture” by Glenn Greenwald for The Intercept.  [Added 5/17/2018]

JULIAN ASSANGE’S DEFENSE STATEMENT.  Statement to the Swedish prosecutor after questioning at the Ecuadorian embassy in November 14-15, 2017.

Understanding Julian Assange and US Media by Mike Swanson.  Good background on Wikileaks and older Wikileaks controversies up to early 2016.

The abandonment of Julian Assange

May 15, 2018

These may be the last days of Julian Assange.   He is under virtual solitary confinement in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, cut off from contact with the outside world, while the Ecuadorian government is reportedly discussing handing him over to the British government.

He faces arrest jumping bail in a case in which no criminal charges were ever brought, but his real offense has been to publish information embarrassing to U.S. military and intelligence services.

You would think that liberals, progressives and war protestors would rally to the support of Assange, but, for the most part, they don’t.

I know people who in their youth protested the Vietnam War and supported the release of the Pentagon Papers, but can’t forgive Assange for publishing inconvenient truths about Hillary Clinton—as if Clinton were an advocate of peace!

It is not as if the Trump administration considers Assange a friend.  Attorney-General Jeff Sessions said arresting Assange is “a priority.”   Mike Pompeo, former CIA director and now Secretary of State, called Wikileaks a “hostile intelligence service”, as if it were equivalent to a foreign government.

Assange is not a perfect person.  Who is?  He is a lone wolf who is not aligned with any of the established political parties or movements.  He sometimes expresses himself in offensive ways.  He hangs out with doubtful people.  A relentless propaganda campaign has uncovered everything he has even done that might seem to be wrong.

Grant for the sake of argument that everything said against him is true (which I don’t believe).  Weigh that against the hundreds of thousands of innocent lives taken in the wars of the Bush and Obama administrations, and in the wars we can expect to be waged in the Trump administration.

In Wikileaks, he has created a technology by which whistle-blowers can expose crimes and abuses without being hunted down and jailed.  This technology will live on when Assange the individual has vanished from the scene.

Assange’s possible fate is to be turned over to U.S. authorities, followed by execution or life imprisonment.  But that hasn’t happened yet.  If you care about peace, or if you care about freedom of the press, demand freedom for Julian Assange.

LINKS

Being Julian Assange by Suzie Dawson.  This is a review and rebuttal of most or all the accusations that have been made against Assange.

On the Silencing of Julian Assange, interviews with John Pilger and Christine Assange (Julian’s mother) for Consortium News.

Ecuador hints it may hand over Julian Assange to Britain and the US by James Cogan for the World Socialist Web Site.

People Lie to Themselves About Julian Assange to Justify His Persecution by Caitlin Johnstone on her web page.

Dems sue Russia, Wikileaks, Trump campaign

April 21, 2018

The Democratic National Committee is suing Wikileaks, along with the government of Russia, the Trump campaign and various Russians and Trump supporters, over the leaks of DNC e-mails during the 2016 election campaign.

They charge that, among other things, the leaks of the DNC e-mails violate laws protecting copyright and trade secrets.  If this was upheld, it would basically make a great deal of investigative reporting illegal—including much of the reporting on the Russiagate investigations.

The real crime of Wikileaks, now as in the past, has been to reveal inconvenient truths.

The Democratic party suing WikiLeaks for costing them the election is like an armed robbery convict suing a security camera company for getting him arrested.  The emails it published are 100 percent authentic and entirely undisputed, and they consist of nothing other than Democratic party big wigs talking to one another.

The documents published by WikiLeaks in 2016 showed an unquestionable violation of the DNC’s Impartiality Clause in the “us vs them” tone of the conversations in the more egregious DNC leaks, the Podesta emails showing that the DNC and the Clinton camp were colluding as early as 2014 to schedule debates and primaries in a way that favored her, and then-DNC Vice Chairwoman Donna Brazile acting as a mole against the Sanders campaign and passing Clinton questions in advance to prep her for debates with Sanders.

It also revealed more broadly incriminating facts about the Democratic party in general, including the Clintons taking bribes from Qatar and Morocco and knowingly accepting funds from political bodies that arm ISIS, an email showing how a CitiGroup executive was responsible for selecting Obama’s acceptable cabinet picks, and Clinton’s infamous “public position and a private position” statement.

Source: Caitlin Johnstone

Trying to reverse the outcome of the 2016 election is futile.  Democratic leaders would do better to concentrate on winning this year’s state and congressional elections, while meanwhile trying to curb President Trump’s unconstitutional use of executive power.

LINKS

Democratic Party sues Russia, WikiLeaks and Trump over election disruption by Sabrina Siddiqui for The Guardian.

Dems Sue WikiLeaks for Telling the Truth by Caitlin Johnstone.

The DNC’s Lawsuit Against Wikileaks Poses a Serious Threat to Press Freedom by Glenn Greenwald and Trevor Timm for The Intercept.  [Added Later]

Democratic National Committee’s Lawsuit Against Russia, WikiLeaks and Various Trump Associates Full of Legally Nutty Arguments by Mike Masnick for Techdirt.

Cure Worse Than Disease: Bill to Restrict Trump’s War Powers Actually “Endorse a Worldwide War on Terror” by Jon Schwarz for The Intercept.  [Added Later]

Senators Offer Up Unprecedented War Powers to President by Kelley Beaucar Vlahos for The American Conservative.

Four More Years: the Trump reelection nightmare and how we can stop it by Thomas Frank for Harper’s Magazine.

Truth, guesswork and Russiagate

April 7, 2018

The United States government claims we are under attack from Russia.  That is the justification for military buildup in Syria and along Russia’s borders, for waging economic war against Russia and sanctions against Russian individuals, and for a diplomatic campaign against Russia.

Before we blunder into a nuclear war, which would mean the end of the United States, the Russian Federation and much of the rest of humanity, we need to look at the basis for these claims.  Specifically, we need to assess the evidence for three claims: –

Ideally, I would advocate reserving judgement until the results of the Mueller investigation are in.  But official Washington, including the press corps and the top leaders of the Democratic Party, are acting as if the results are already in.

Thomas Jefferson once wrote that newspaper articles should be classified as truths, probabilities, possibilities and falsehoods.

Here is how I see the balance of truths, probabilities, possibilities and falsehoods:

∞∞∞

Vladimir Putin

Vladimir Putin stated several times in 2016 that he would be pleased if Donald Trump was elected, because Trump advocated better relations with Russia.

Why would he not?  Russia in 2016 was hard-pressed by U.S.-led economic sanctions and a U.S. military buildup.   Hillary Clinton was and is an extreme war hawk.

Putin is a ruthless operator with few scruples.   There is credible circumstantial evidence that Russian intelligence sources engineered a false flag terror attack in order to rally public sentiment against the rebel province of Chechnya.  There is strong evidence that Russian intelligence services murdered the dissident and human rights advocate Alexander Litvinenko.

So it is possible that the Russian government penetrated the Democratic National Committee computer files and published e-mails that embarrassed Hillary Clinton, or that individual Russian hackers did so with the knowledge and encouragement of the Russian government.

The reasons I have doubts this happened are (1) the FBI has never conducted its own examination of the DNC computers and (2) the FBI has never interviewed Julian Assange about his claim that he received the information from a whistleblower.   Why would they not do this?  Were they afraid of what they might find out?

Maybe the DNC was hacked by more than one person or group, acting independently of each other.

In any case, the result of the DNC e-mail hacks was to disseminate truthful information, which is not an act of war.

It also is possible that Russians used social media to try to influence the election.  But I don’t see how the 13 Russians who were accused of distributing social media ads under fake names could have had any impact.  If they were Russian intelligence agents, they were decoys to divert attention from a secret real campaign that so far as not been discovered.

If Vladimir Putin did try to engineer Donald Trump’s election, he must feel buyer’s remorse.  President Trump has approved weapons shipments to Ukraine, which goes beyond what President Obama ever did.  He wants to keep U.S. troops in Syria indefinitely to undermine Russia’s ally, Syria.  He is continuing the nuclear arms race against Russia.

Like President Obama, Trump talks about improving relations with Russia.   But like Obama, he so far has done nothing to make this happen.  Putin, with all his ruthlessness, is a defender of the status quo.  It is the U.S. government that seeks regime change in targeted countries, and that seeks military dominance in every important region of the world.

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Donald Trump, like other authoritarian nationalists, has long expressed an affinity for the authoritarian nationalist Vladimir Putin.   He also made a lot of money in business dealings with Russian oligarchs and organized crime figures in the New York real estate market.

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Maybe ‘Russian influence’ ads were just clickbait

February 19, 2018

A blogger called Moon of Alabama argued, plausibly, that the so-called “Russian influence” campaign was just individual Russians posting clickbait on the Internet to generate ad revenue.

His argument is consistent with the facts, as outlined in the indictment.   The only way to settle it would be if one of the 13 Russians charged by Special Prosecutor Robert S. Mueller would volunteer to come to the United States and stand trial, which is highly unlikely.

A lot of false news originates this way.  Somebody makes up something striking and posts it hoping to get a lot of views.

When I first read about Mueller’s charges, I thought that I had some more-or-less solid facts.   But, no.  I still can’t say I know what basis there is for the Russiagate charges, or if there is any basis at all.  It’s still the same wilderness of mirrors.   I feel I’m back where I started.

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Later [2/20/2018]  Re-reading the indictment, I am reminded that, if the allegations are true, this was a highly organized effort, much more than the typical individual Internet troll’s attempt to generate clickbait.   Most Russians in 2016 feared Hillary Clinton and were sympathetic to Donald Trump, so the effort could have had a dual purpose—to make money and undermine Clinton.

If I had it to do over, I would have pondered the indictment a little more and Internet commentary a little less, and written one post and not four.

Later [2/21/2018]  Well, maybe not so highly organized.  The more analysis I read, the less certain I feel of the basis for the Mueller indictments or anyting else.

LINKS

Text of the Grand Jury indictments.

Mueller Indictment – The “Russian Influence” Is a Commercial Marketing Scheme by Moon of Alabama.

Robert Mueller’s America—A Farce Wrapped in Hypocrisy by Publius Tacitus for Sic Semper Tyrannis.  [Added 2/21/2018]

A Lesson in Political Sociology for Robert Mueller, a Lesson in Warfare for Dimitry Peskov by John Helmer for Dances With Bears. [Added 2/21/2018]

The Fundamental Uncertainty of Mueller’s Russia Indictments by Masha Gessen for The New Yorker.  [Added 2/21/2018]

Russiagate and the Mueller indictments

February 17, 2018

Friday’s Grand Jury indictments of 13 Russians and three Russian organizations indicate that Russian meddling in the 2016 elections went far beyond mere Russian propaganda on social media.

But there were no charges of knowing collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian agents.

Russians allegedly entered the United States under false identities, impersonated Americans on social media and organized political rallies on behalf of fake organizations—all to promote the candidacy of Donald Trump or discredit his opponents.

They are charged with violating American laws on campaign financing, registration of foreign agents, identity theft and fraud.

All this is within Special Prosecutor Robert S. Mueller’s mandate to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 election.  He is not like a Kenneth Starr in the Whitewater investigation, fishing for anything that can be used against the President.

There’s no question that Vladimir Putin welcomed the candidacy of Donald Trump.   He promised to improve relations with Russia, and, as Putin said, why wouldn’t the Russian government welcome that?   That’s not evidence of a Trump-Putin plot to rig  the 2016 elections

If there really was such a plot, this would be grounds for an impeachment.   But this is so improbable as to be virtually impossible.

All the information that has come out about Trump campaign officials trying to set up meetings with Russians is, to me, evidence against collusion.   If the fix were really in, Trump would have ordered his underlings to stay as far away as possible from Russians.

The real problem is the way the Russiagate issue is being exploited politically.

It is being used as a justification for military confrontation with Russia in Ukraine, Syria and other countries.   A confrontation at worst risks an accidental nuclear war and at best creates a useless conflict which brings no benefit to Americans.

It is being used as a justification for censorship of Americans, particularly leftists, whose views supposedly serve the interests of Russia.  I suppose this would include me, as a blogger who voted for Bernie Sanders in the 2016 Democratic primary and the Green Party in the general election.  I think about the 1950s and 1960s, when progressives who supported civil rights or labor rights were accused of following the Communist Party line.

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Victim of neo-Nazi beating charged with assault

October 11, 2017

Zach Roberts, who took the photo above, and Greg Palast reported for Truthout:

African-American school teacher DeAndre Harris, victim of a beating by neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August [shown above], has been charged with assaulting the white supremacists who beat him with boards, iron rods, and brass knuckles.

That is correct.  Harris, who was shown being beaten close to death in photos released by Truthout and carried worldwide, has now been charged with the same crime as his attackers: “unlawful wounding.”

Several of Harris’ attackers remain on the run — and local and federal officials show little interest in going after them. Yet, the Charlottesville Police Department issued a warrant to arrest Harris on October 9.

Harris is accused of taking a swing at a neo-Nazi who tried to stab a friend of Harris with the staff of a flag pole holding a Confederate flag. On the advice of his lawyer, Harris was unable to be reached for comment.

Source: Truthout.

Harris suffered broken bones and had to have 18 staples put in his head, according to Truthout.

The right to self-defense is a basic human right—maybe the most basic of all human rights.   Some Southern states have “stand your ground” laws affirming the right to defend yourself with deadly force.   Surely no supporter of these laws would deny the right to defend oneself with your fists.

Imagine the reaction to the above photo if the man on the ground was white and his attackers were black.

LINK

Charlottesville Victim of Neo-Nazi Beating Charged With Assault by Greg Palast and Zach Roberts for Truthout.

Has Trump committed impeachable offenses?

September 25, 2017

Impeachable offenses, according to Article II, Section 4 of the Constitution, are “treason, bribery and other high crimes and misdemeanors”.

I happen to believe that President Trump is unpatriotic and dishonest, but I’m not convinced that he has committed an impeachable offense..

What Are Impeachable Offenses? by Noah Feldman and Jacob Weisberg in the current issue of the New York Review of Books, a good review of the law on the topic.

Feldman and Weisberg point out that, back in 1789, a “high” crime did not necessarily mean an extra-serious crime.   A “high” crime was a crime committed by a public official in the performance of their duties.

A crime committed by a President before taking office, even a very serious one, is not an impeachable offense unless it is, in some way, connected with actions while in office.

So even if it could be proved that Russian individuals or intelligence agencies tried to help Trump during the election, that would not necessarily be an impeachable offense.

An impeachable offense would be Trump, once in office, using the power of the Presidency to pay the Russians back for their help.

It also seems to me that a quid pro quo would be almost impossible to prove.

Take Hillary Clinton’s six-figure speaking fees for speaking to Goldman Sachs officers.  Was this bribery?   She challenged anyone to prove that she changed a single vote or made a single decision in return for these fees, and, of course, nobody could.

This was not bribery.   It is simply that the financiers approved of Clinton and her record.

Vladimir Putin made no secret of the fact that he approved of candidate Donald Trump’s hope for better relations between the United States and Russia if Trump were elected.

Maybe he helped Trump by means of leaking hacked e-mails or propagandizing for Trump on social media.   Maybe not.

But even if he did, that is a long way from bribery, treason or other high crimes and misdemeanors.  It is just that he felt good about Trump and his promises.

By the way, treason under Article III of the Constitution is fighting for the enemy or giving aid and comfort to the enemy in time of war.  An act of treason must be an overt act that is witnessed by two people, or is admitted in open court.

The United States has not declared war on Russia, so being friendly to Russia is no more treasonable that being friendly to Saudi Arabia, Israel, China or any other foreign country.

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Don’t underestimate Trump’s power to do harm

July 28, 2017

Because Donald Trump seems so undisciplined and ignorant, I continually underestimate his effectiveness.

I didn’t think he would be nominated.   I didn’t think he would be elected.   And sometimes I fool myself into thinking it is better to have Trump in the White House than somebody with the same agenda, but more competent.

This is a mistake.   In order to do good, you need not only good will, but intelligence and hard work, but that in order to do harm, all you need is malice.

Click to enlarge

>>>Donald Trump has left many key positions in government unfilled, but is moving forward at a rapid pace to nominate federal judges and U.S. attorneys.   The judges will be in office possibly decades after Trump is gone.   District judges and appeals court judges are almost as important as Supreme Court justices because most cases don’t reach the highest court.

Many of Trump’s executive orders have been blocked by court rulings.   Putting his own people on the bench lessens the likelihood that this will happen.

The bulk of his nominations have been in states represented by Republicans.   Customs of the Senate allow a Senator to block a judgeship nomination.   Concentrating on Republican states is smart because it means he can get a lot of his people approved before turning to the Democratic states.

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Irradiated U.S. veterans to get help from Japan

July 11, 2017

Former diplomat Peter Van Buren reported on his web log how the U.S. Department of Defense rejected claims by U.S. troops who were irradiated during rescue efforts at the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster.   It has fallen to a former Japanese prime minister to come to their aid.

Junichiro Koizumi

The U.S. Navy rushed thousands of troops to the scene in 2011 to help Japanese disaster victims, after an earthquake and tsunami caused meltdown of the Fukushima plant.

A few years later, hundreds of them began to report symptoms of radiation disease—rectal and gynecological bleeding, thyroid problems, leukemia and testicular and brain cancers, Van Buren said.  Some had worked in the area of the nuclear disaster, some had flown over it and some had drunk desalinated sea water from the contaminated ocean.

The U.S. Department of Defense, relying on information from the Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), said they couldn’t possibly have received high enough levels of radiation to be harmful.   Some 400 service members are suing TEPCO, but this lawsuit will take years to resolve, and seven of the plaintiffs already have died.

Former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, who left office five years before the disaster, has started a fund-raising appeal to raise $1 million to help the U.S. veterans pay medical bills.   Van Buren said Koizumi already has raised $400,000 through lecture fees.

As an American, I am grateful to Prime Minister Koizumi and ashamed of this example of U.S. government neglect of American veterans.

LINK

Abandoned by U.S. Government, Irradiated Servicemembers Turn to Japan for Help by Peter Van Buren for We Meant Well.

The heroism of Chelsea Manning

May 19, 2017

Chelsea Manning was recently released from Fort Leavenworth military prison after serving seven years of a 35-year sentence for revealing classified information on U.S. war crimes in Iraq and elsewhere.

Glenn Greenwald wrote a fine tribute to her in The Intercept.

In sum, though Manning was largely scorned and rejected in most mainstream Washington circles, she did everything one wants a whistleblower to do: tried to ensure that the public learns of concealed corruption and criminality, with the intent of fostering debate and empowering the citizenry with knowledge that should never have been concealed from them.

Chelsea Manning

And she did it all, knowing that she was risking prison to do so, but followed the dictates of her conscience rather than her self-interest.

But as courageous as that original whistle-blowing was, Manning’s heroism has only multiplied since then, become more multifaceted and consequential. As a result, she has inspired countless people around the world.

At this point, one could almost say that her 2010 leaking to WikiLeaks has faded into the background when assessing her true impact as a human being.

Her bravery and sense of conviction wasn’t a one-time outburst: It was the sustained basis for her last seven years of imprisonment that she somehow filled with purpose, dignity, and inspiration.

The overarching fact of Manning’s imprisonment was its enduring harshness. In 2010, during the first months of her detention in a U.S. Marine brig in Quantico, Virginia, I began hearing reports from her handful of approved visitors about the vindictive and abusive conditions of her confinement: prolonged solitary confinement, being kept in her cell alone for virtually the entire day, gratuitous, ubiquitous surveillance, and worse.

When I called the brig to investigate these claims, I was startled when a brig official confirmed to me, in the most blasé tones, their accuracy.

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The perilous precedent of impeachment

May 18, 2017

With the appointment of former FBI Director Robert Mueller as special counsel, we may get answers to the nature of the Trump-Russia relationship based on facts rather than evidence-free leaks based on anonymous sources with their own agendas.

Robert Mueller

Mueller by all accounts is an honest person and a dogged prosecutor, not committed to either political party.   He has a difficult dual mission.

One is to determine the precise natural of the relationship between Donald Trump and his minions with Russia and Russians.

The other is to determine whether any laws have been broken. These are related, but separate.

Conversations between Trump supporters and Russian diplomats are not, in and of themselves, illegal, but we the American people have an interest in knowing what they are.

Conversations between Donald Trump and former FBI Director James Comey about the investigation may have amounted to an obstruction of justice on the part of Trump, which would be an impeachable offense, but this does not throw any light on the alleged Trump-Russia relationship.

I oppose President Trump, but I am not willing to see him removed from office by any means necessary.

For one thing, his replacement will be Vice President Mike Pence, a person of greater maturity and emotional balance than Trump, but just as committed to war and Wall Street.

For another, any justification for removing Trump from office will be a precedent for getting rid of any future radical reformer who threatens the status quo.

The secret agencies of government, the leaders of the Democratic and Republican parties and the Washington press corps would be out to get a Bernie Sanders-type reformer even more than they are out to get Trump.

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The FBI never was chartered by law

May 16, 2017

I hadn’t known until today that the Federal Bureau of Investigation never was established by law.

President Theodore Roosevelt wanted to create a Bureau of Investigation within the Department of Justice, but Congress refused to act.  So Roosevelt just went ahead and established it by executive order.

So would President Donald Trump not only have the authority to fire the FBI director, but to abolish the FBI itself?

I would guess not, because Congress has appropriated money to fund the FBI and the President doesn’t have a line item budget veto.   And, as a practical matter, the FBI is too powerful and entrenched to be gotten rid of, even though its legal basis is shaky.

I learned about the FBI’s origins by reading an article by Mark Ames, editor of two on-line journals, Pando Daily and The eXiled.   In the article, Ames went on to review the FBI’s history of mass surveillance, suppression of radicals and political blackmail—well worth remembering.

There was a bill in the late 1970s to define—and thereby limit—the FBI’s powers, but it died in Congress.

LINK

The FBI Has No Legal Charter, But Lots of Kompromat by Mark Ames for The eXiled.

The real reason James Comey was fired

May 11, 2017

∞∞∞

The official reason given by President Donald Trump for the firing of FBI Director James Comey was his mishandling of the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s handling of classified information—a reason which, as I wrote in the previous post, was justified.

But most people take his real motive to be that fact that Comey is pressing forward with his investigation of ties of Trump and his supporters with Russia and Russians.

You can see this in Trump’s firing letter.  He wrote: While I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation, I nevertheless …

What would come logically after “I nevertheless…”?   Probably something like this: I nevertheless am under a cloud because of the FBI’s ongoing investigation of possible connections of my people with Russia.

Of course he wouldn’t and didn’t write this, but why mention the investigation at all if that wasn’t what was on his mind?

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Why James Comey should have been fired

May 10, 2017

The stated reason for President Donald Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey is that Comey bungled the FBI’s investigation of Hillary Clinton.

This is true.  Comey did bungle the investigation.

Comey’s FBI also is investigating possible Trump-Russia ties, and his firing smacks of President Nixon’s Saturday night massacre during the Watergate investigation.

James Comey

But the thing is, Comey is just as unfit as Trump says he is.

Trump said he acted on the recommendations of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Attorney General Jeff Sessions.  Rosenstein said Comey acted improperly last July by announcing the FBI had decided Hillary Clinton shouldn’t be prosecuted for having classified information on her private e-mail server.  Sessions said he agreed with Rosenstein.

Comey’s troubles began last June when ex-President Bill Clinton and Attorney-General Loretta Lynch spent an hour in conversation at an Arizona airport.   They were suspected of discussing the FBI’s investigation of Hillary Clinton’s e-mails, especially when Hillary Clinton, a short time later, said that, if elected, she would reappoint Lynch.

Soon thereafter Lynch said she would abide by the recommendations of the FBI and federal prosecutors, no matter what they were.   Comey evidently took this as a green light to announce the results of his investigation, which was a departure from standard FBI practice.

His worse blunder came shortly before the election when he reported he had discovered new Clinton e-mails on the server of her aide, Huma Abedin.  Although he later said this didn’t amount to anything, the negative publicity may have been a deciding factor in the election.

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The best way to sift the Trump-Russia allegations

March 7, 2017

The best way to deal with the suspicions and charges that the Trump election campaign colluded with Russians is to appoint a bi-partisan commission of respected individuals to investigate.

This commission should have full authority to read secret transcripts collected by U.S. intelligence agencies and any other classified information relevant to the case, and authority to publish such information as can be done with jeopardizing sources and agents.

It should have full authority to subpoena witnesses and require  testimony under penalty of perjury.

It is a federal crime for a foreign national to contribute to a candidate in a U.S. election, or for anyone to solicit or accept such a contribution.   This would most definitely include the contribution of secret intelligence information.

If a Presidential candidate knowingly accept foreign help, I would say it is an impeachable offense.

The charter of the bi-partisan commission should be to determine whether there is any evidence that the Trump administration violated federal election law.

Evidence would include transcripts of communications of Russian agents and testimony by Americans regarding secret meetings of Trump operatives and Russian agents, or documents and records in the Trump campaign acknowledging Russian help, or testimony of Trump campaign operatives.

Routine contacts between Trump supporters and Russian diplomats or business people, especially if in public or in front of witnesses, would not be evidence of violation of election laws.

Even past business relationships of Trump operatives or even Trump himself with corrupt Russian oligarchs or business operations would not be such evidence—although very interesting to know.

I think it important that such an investigation be carried out by respected individuals in a bipartisan commission, and not by a special prosecutor who would consider himself or herself a failure if they didn’t find grounds to indict somebody.

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Black parents hold ‘the conversation’

February 23, 2017

Hat tip to kottke.org.

I think this video speaks for itself.

Manning to be freed—in exchange for Assange?

January 17, 2017

Five days ago Julian Assange stated on Twitter that he would agree to be extradited to the United States if President Obama freed Chelsea Manning.   Today President Obama commuted Manning’s sentence, effective May 17.

Manning is the former U.S. Army Pvt. Bradley Manning who provided information to Wikileaks about military coverups.   He has served nearly seven years of a 35-year sentence, the longest term any American has served for leaking information to the public.

Among the information that he revealed were reports that civilian casualties in Iraq were higher than reported.  He also gave Wikileaks the video footage used below..

I don’t have any way of knowing whether President Obama’s decision to commute Manning’s sentence was done out of humanitarian feeling, or whether it was result of negotiations with Assange.

If it was Obama’s unconditional decision, he deserves credit for doing the right thing.

If it is part of an agreement to trade Assange for Manning, then all I can say is that Assange is a brave and honorable man, and Obama is not.

We’ll see what happens in May.  If Assange does surrender, we’ll see what President Trump does.

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Why the Electoral College result should stand

December 15, 2016

 The original idea of the Electoral College (Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution) was that Americans would not choose a President ourselves, but instead choose the leading citizens from our communities, and delegate the decision to them.

In that way, we supposedly would avoid self-seeking politicians and only choose individuals devoted to the public good.

This idea lasted through precisely one administration, that of George Washington.  From then on we had political parties and electors pledged to particular candidates—precisely what the Founders hoped to avoid.   This reality was reflected in the Twelfth Amendment.

Now certain opponents of Donald Trump, who claim to be followers of Alexander Hamilton, say that electors should ignore their pledges and exercise independent judgment.  This is a terrible idea.

I would be perfectly happy to delegate decision-making to someone I considered to be wise and good, but that is not what I did when I voted in the recent presidential election.   Most American voters don’t know the names of the electors they voted for.  I don’t.  If you do, you’re a rare exception.

I don’t think most Americans who voted for Donald Trump (or, for that matter, for Hillary Clinton) would be willing to see their decisions over-ridden by people they’d never heard of.   This is very different from the original idea of the Electoral College.  I think that Alexander Hamilton and the other Founders would think so, too.

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Rev. William J. Barber II on peace and justice

October 19, 2016

The Rev. William J. Barber II is pastor of Greenleaf Christian Church in Goldsboro, N.C., president of the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP and leader of a non-violent social justice movement called Historic Thousands on Jones Street.

The video above is his response on July 8 to the killings of black men by police in Baton Rouge and in St. Anthony,, MN, within a 24-hour period, followed by the killings of five police officers in Dallas.   The video below is from his address to the Democratic National Convention on July 28.

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