Archives for April 2019

Congress should be ready to arrest Attorney General Barr if he defies subpoena

Robert Reich writes:

On Sunday, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee threatened to subpoena Attorney General William P. Barr if he refuses to testify this week about the Mueller report.

But a subpoena is unlikely to elicit Barr’s cooperation. “We’re fighting all the subpoenas,” says the President of the United States.

In other words, there is to be no congressional oversight of this administration: No questioning the Attorney General about the Mueller Report. No questioning a Trump adviser about immigration policy.

No questioning a former White House security director about issuances of security clearances. No questioning anyone about presidential tax returns.

Such a blanket edict fits a dictator of a banana republic, not the president of a constitutional republic founded on separation of powers. [Continue reading…]

Mueller objected to Barr’s description of Russia investigation’s findings

The New York Times reports:

Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel, wrote a letter in late March to Attorney General William P. Barr objecting to his early description of the Russia investigation’s conclusions that appeared to clear President Trump on possible obstruction of justice, according to the Justice Department and three people with direct knowledge of the communication between the two men.

The letter adds to the growing evidence of a rift between them and is another sign of the anger among the special counsel’s investigators about Mr. Barr’s characterization of their findings, which allowed Mr. Trump to wrongly claim he had been vindicated.

It was unclear what specific objections Mr. Mueller raised in his letter. Mr. Barr defended his descriptions of the investigation’s conclusions in conversations with Mr. Mueller over the days after he sent the letter, according to two people with knowledge of their discussions. [Continue reading…]

Trump pushes to designate the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist group


The New York Times reports:

The White House is pushing to issue an order that would designate the Muslim Brotherhood a foreign terrorist organization, bringing the weight of American sanctions against a storied and influential Islamist political movement with millions of members across the Middle East, according to officials familiar with the matter.

The White House directed national security and diplomatic officials to find a way to place sanctions on the group after a White House visit on April 9 by President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt, for whom the Brotherhood represents a source of political opposition. In a private meeting without reporters and photographers, Mr. el-Sisi urged Mr. Trump to take that step and join Egypt in branding the movement a terrorist organization.

Such a designation imposes wide-ranging economic and travel sanctions on companies and individuals who interact with the targeted group. The president responded affirmatively to Mr. el-Sisi, saying it would make sense. Some of Mr. Trump’s advisers have interpreted that as a commitment, officials said.

But the proposal has prompted fierce debate within the administration, including at a senior-level meeting of policymakers from various departments convened last week by the White House’s National Security Council, the officials said. [Continue reading…]

In 2017, William McCants and Benjamin Wittes wrote:

The idea of designating the Brotherhood has been kicking around a long time and is part of a larger enthusiasm, which Trump certainly shares, for a kind of civilizational battle against “radical Islam.” Trump’s idea has lots of detractors. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Yaroslav Trofimov worries that “Blacklisting the Brotherhood has several pitfalls,” mostly related to the fact that the group “still retains millions of supporters. Outlawing the Brotherhood could complicate U.S. relations with critical allies in the region,” he writes—most notably Turkey.

Nathan Brown and Michele Dunne likewise warn that a designation is:

more likely to undermine than achieve its ostensible purpose and could result in collateral damage affecting other U.S. policy goals. The greatest damage might be in the realm of public diplomacy, as using a broad brush to paint all Muslim Brotherhood organizations as terrorists would be understood by many Muslims around the world as a declaration of war against non-violent political Islamists—and indeed against Islam itself.

But there’s at least one other reason why Trump should stay his hand on a Brotherhood designation: It would be illegal.

The Brotherhood as a whole, in several different respects, does not meet the criteria for designation under the statute. That’s why, despite pressure from governments like Egypt and the UAE over a protracted period of time, it has not been designated to date under any of the previous three administrations. Barring a change in statute that would almost certainly render the material support law unconstitutional, a designation, notwithstanding the ferment for it, would not be lawful today either, even under a Trump administration. [Continue reading…]

At Trump golf course, undocumented employees say they get systematically cheated when told to work extra hours without pay

The Washington Post reports:

His bosses at the Trump country club called it “side work.”

On some nights, after the club’s Grille Room closed, head waiter Jose Gabriel Juarez — an undocumented immigrant from Mexico — was told to clock out. He pressed his index finger onto a scanner and typed his personal code, 436.

But he didn’t go home.

Instead — on orders from his bosses, Juarez said — he would stay on, sometimes past midnight. He vacuumed carpets, polished silverware and helped get the restaurant at Trump National Golf Club Westchester in Briarcliff Manor, N.Y., ready for breakfast the next day.

All off the clock. Without being paid.

“It was that way with all the managers: Many of them told us, ‘Just clock out and then stay and do the side work,’ ” said Juarez, who spent a decade at the golf club, before leaving in May 2018. “There was a lot of side work.”

Allegations that workers were routinely shortchanged on their pay at President Trump’s suburban country club are now the subject of an inquiry by the New York attorney general, whose investigators have interviewed more than two dozen former employees. [Continue reading…]

Why Trump wants to prevent Deutsche Bank from sharing his financial records

The New York Times reports:

Over two decades, Deutsche Bank lent Donald J. Trump billions of dollars, even as his tarnished financial record put him off limits for most of Wall Street.

“You are a great friend,” Mr. Trump wrote to his Deutsche Bank contact in 1998. “We have a great relationship,” he said in 2013. “They are totally happy with me,” he declared three years later.

Now, Deutsche Bank is putting the president on the defensive.

Lawyers for the bank have spent months cooperating with investigators from two Democratic-controlled congressional committees, which issued what one lawmaker called a “friendly subpoena” to the bank in mid-April. The bank could end up sharing decades of his personal and corporate financial records.

That prospect prompted Mr. Trump to file a lawsuit in federal court in Manhattan on Monday in an attempt to block Deutsche Bank and another financial company, Capital One, from sharing documents. Mr. Trump’s lawyers said the subpoenas had no legitimate purpose and were an attempt to pry into his finances for political gain.

The heads of the two committees that issued the subpoena, Representatives Maxine Waters and Adam B. Schiff, called the suit “meritless” and an attempt to obstruct congressional oversight. [Continue reading…]

Social rejection doesn’t only hurt — it kills

Elitsa Dermendzhiyska writes:

The psychologist Naomi Eisenberger describes herself as a mutt of a scientist. Never quite fitting the mould of the fields she studied – psychobiology, health psychology, neuroscience – she took an unusual early interest in what you might call the emotional life of the brain. As a doctoral student at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), Eisenberger found it curious that we often describe being rejected in terms of physical pain: ‘My heart was broken’, ‘I felt crushed’, ‘He hurt my feelings’, ‘It was like a slap in the face’. More than metaphors, these expressions seem to capture something essential about how we feel in a way that we can’t convey directly. And you’ll find similar ones not just in English but in languages all over the world. Eisenberger wondered why. Could there be a deeper connection between physical and emotional pain?

In a landmark experiment in 2003, Eisenberger and her colleagues had test subjects strapped with virtual-reality headsets. Peering through goggles, the participants could see their own hand and a ball, plus two cartoon characters – the avatars of fellow participants in another room. With the press of a button, each player could toss the ball to another player while the researchers measured their brain activity through fMRI scans. In the first round of CyberBall – as the game became known – the ball flew back and forth just as you’d expect, but pretty soon the players in the second room started making passes only to each other, completely ignoring the player in the first room. In reality, there were no other players: just a computer programmed to ‘reject’ each participant so that the scientists could see how exclusion – what they called ‘social pain’ – affects the brain.

Physical pain involves several brain regions, some of which detect its location, while others, such as the anterior insula (AI) and the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (dACC), process the subjective experience, the unpleasantness, of pain. In fMRI scans of people playing CyberBall, Eisenberger’s team saw both the AI and the dACC light up in participants excluded from the game. Moreover, those who felt the most emotional distress also showed the most pain-related brain activity. In other words, being socially rejected triggered the same neural circuits that process physical injury, and translate it into the experience we call pain. [Continue reading…]

Music: Dr Lonnie Smith — ‘It’s Changed’

 

Donald Trump committed crimes

Benjamin Wittes writes:

I spent the week after the release of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report going through it section by section and writing a kind of diary of the endeavor. My goal was less to summarize the report than to force myself to think about each factual, legal, and analytical portion of Mueller’s discussion, which covers a huge amount of ground.

Here are five conclusions I drew from the exercise:

The president committed crimes.

There is no way around it. Attorney General William Barr’s efforts to clear President Donald Trump, both in his original letter and in his press conference the morning of the report’s release, are wholly unconvincing when you actually spend time with the document itself.

Mueller does not accuse the president of crimes. He doesn’t have to. But the facts he recounts describe criminal behavior. They describe criminal behavior even if we allow the president’s—and the attorney general’s—argument that facially valid exercises of presidential authority cannot be obstructions of justice. They do this because they describe obstructive activity that does not involve facially valid exercises of presidential power at all.

Consider only two examples. The first is the particularly ugly section concerning Trump’s efforts to get then–Attorney General Jeff Sessions to “unrecuse.”

The alleged facts are simple enough. According to Mueller, the president asked Corey Lewandowski to convey a message to Sessions. It was a request that Sessions reassert control over the special counsel’s investigation, make a speech in which he would declare that the president didn’t do anything wrong and that the special counsel’s investigation of him was “very unfair,” and limit the special counsel’s investigation to interference in future elections. Lewandowski asked a White House staffer to deliver the message in his place; the staffer in question never did so.

A few factors are important to highlight here, all of them aggravating. Lewandowski was not a government employee, so this was not an example of the president exercising his powers to manage the executive branch. Indeed, Trump very specifically did not go through the hierarchy of the executive branch. He tried to get a private citizen to lobby the attorney general on his behalf for substantive outcomes to an investigation in which he had the deepest of personal interests. What’s more, the step he asked Lewandowski to press Sessions to take was frankly unethical. Sessions was recused from the Russia probe because he had an actual conflict of interest in the matter. In other words, the president of the United States recruited a private citizen to procure from the attorney general of the United States behavior the attorney general was ethically barred from undertaking.

But it gets worse, because Trump did not merely seek to get Sessions to involve himself in a matter from which he was recused. He wanted him both to limit the scope of the investigation and to declare its outcome on the merits with respect to Trump himself. This action would have quite literally and directly obstructed justice. Limiting the jurisdiction of the special counsel to future elections would have, after all, precluded the indictments Mueller later issued for the Russian hacking and social-media operations. It would have precluded the prosecutions of Paul Manafort, Michael Cohen, Mike Flynn, George Papadopoulos, and Rick Gates, as well. Nor is there any real complexity here with respect to Trump’s intent. As Mueller reports, “Substantial evidence indicates that the President’s effort to have Sessions limit the scope of the Special Counsel’s investigation to future election interference was intended to prevent further investigative scrutiny of the President’s and his campaign’s conduct.”

As a criminal matter, this fact pattern seems to me uncomplicated: If true and provable beyond a reasonable doubt, it is unlawful obstruction of justice. Full stop. [Continue reading…]

Beto O’Rourke is the latest Democrat to make climate change central to his campaign

BuzzFeed reports:

Beto O’Rourke on Monday pledged to spend trillions to combat the climate crisis in the first major policy proposal of his presidential campaign, making him the latest Democrat in the 2020 race to embrace climate change as a top issue.

“The greatest threat we face — which will test our country, our democracy, every single one of us — is climate change,” O’Rourke told supporters in a campaign email.

His plan, starting day one in the White House, would include spending a record $5 trillion on climate action over ten years and mandating the US reduce its emissions to net zero by 2050. (This means the nation, by mid-century, would no longer be emitting more climate pollution into the atmosphere than it was pulling out of it through trees and other ways.)

“This is one more demonstration that if you want to be a serious candidate, having a real plan to tackle climate change is essential,” Derek Walker, vice president for US climate at the Environmental Defense Fund, told BuzzFeed News. [Continue reading…]

As security officials prepare for Russian attack on 2020 presidential race, Trump and aides play down threat

The Washington Post reports:

In recent months, U.S. national security officials have been preparing for Russian interference in the 2020 presidential race by tracking cyber threats, sharing intelligence about foreign disinformation efforts with social media companies and helping state election officials protect their systems against foreign manipulation.

But these actions are strikingly at odds with statements from President Trump, who has rebuffed warnings from his senior aides about Russia and sought to play down that country’s potential to influence American politics.

The president’s rhetoric and lack of focus on election security has made it tougher for government officials to implement a more comprehensive approach to preserving the integrity of the electoral process, current and former officials said.

Officials insist that they have made progress since 2016 in hardening defenses. And top security officials, including the director of national intelligence, say the president has given them “full support” in their efforts to counter malign activities. But some analysts worry that by not sending a clear, public signal that he understands the threat foreign interference poses, Trump is inviting more of it. [Continue reading…]