Posts Tagged ‘Bill Clinton’

Can Trump achieve what others couldn’t?

March 6, 2018


Every US president to set foot in the White House in recent years tried to propose — or did propose — a plan for peace between the Arab states and Israel, except for Barack Obama, who was preoccupied with the matters of other regions.

In US President Donald Trump’s kitchen, we can smell an almost impossible mission being prepared: A new peace project. President Trump has put the closest person to him, his senior advisor and son-in-law Jared Kushner, in charge of it. He has also appointed a special envoy for this purpose, Jason Greenblatt, who has started endless journeys to pave the way for the new project.

Without enough clues, we can’t judge whether or not he will succeed. We all know that no one succeeded before, to the point where achieving comprehensive peace compares to the mythical rise of the phoenix.
Nevertheless, we remain open to optimism. Who knows? It could happen, just like winning the lottery — a very remote yet possible chance.

The requirements for success are available today. The regional climate, in particular, is better prepared than it was during the days of Camp David in the 1970s, the Madrid Peace Conference in the early 1990s, and the infamous Oslo Accords. It is also certainly better than the climate during which the peace talks in Taba, Wye River, Wadi Araba and others took place.

Everyone is waiting to learn the details of US president’s project and see whether or not he can succeed where his predecessors have failed.

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

Why do we believe today’s political climate is suitable for a major peace project?

A wide range of changes have taken place in the Arab region. The people who were most hostile toward the previous peace projects and were keen to sabotage them are now out of the game. These include Saddam Hussein, Muammar Gaddafi, Bashar Assad, and Palestinian left-wing parties. Moreover, the Muslim Brotherhood has been excluded from political power in Egypt and weakened in Sudan, while Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s rule in Iran stands on shaky ground, plus the Tehran regime is involved in Syria and Iraq, and is bound by the nuclear accord and conditional sanctions waivers.

I will not consider the defeat of terrorist organizations like Al-Qaeda and Daesh because they were not part of the equation in the first place and did not seek to sabotage previous peace projects.

However, the absence of forces opposed to peace does not mean today’s Arab world is eager for reconciliation. Arabs are simply not thinking of reconciliation or discussing it, instead they are preoccupied with grave issues: Three major wars in Syria, Libya and Yemen, in addition to tensions and extensive security confrontations in areas surrounding the three wars.

Even this climate that is non-hostile — or indifferent — to peace in Palestine is not enough without a fair peace project. Is there anyone preparing a real peace plan? A plan that is close to Bill Clinton’s, which won the approval of many, including skeptics, but was not applied due to the reluctance of the Palestinian leadership at the time and Israel’s later refusal to have it proposed again.

This will be a difficult task for Kushner; a young, ambitious man who is close to Trump and has unique relations with Jewish powers in Israel and with a number of Arab leaders.

Even though the Palestinian cause is no longer a pressing issue, despite the ongoing pain and suffering of Palestinians, Kushner was the one to put it on Trump’s list of interests while the world is distracted by Syria, Iran, Libya and Daesh.

Everyone is waiting to learn the details of Trump’s peace project and I am part of the long queue that doubts the possibility of its success. For half a century, the world’s leaders have failed to achieve peace between Arabs and Israel, and it won’t be an easy task now that Trump has agreed to relocate the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem at no charge.

Nevertheless, we will wait, listen and judge the project at the right time.

— Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is a veteran columnist. He is the former general manager of Al Arabiya news channel, and former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat. Twitter: @aalrashed.


Mark Penn: When Did America Lose Its Backbone?

March 6, 2018

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When did America lose its backbone? How did we become a nation of whiners?

This is the country that saved the world from Adolf Hitler, rebuilt Europe with the Marshall Plan, blockaded Cuba to prevent Soviet missiles in this hemisphere and knocked back the Taliban after 9/11. We have the world’s greatest military and largest economy, with almost 30 percent of all economic activity despite having only 5 percent of the world’s people.

The North Korean regime is one of the worst on earth on every score, from the way it treats its people to the complete lack of human rights. Human Rights Watch and the United Nations say that its lack of human rights is “without parallel in the contemporary world. They include extermination, murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape … and other sexual violence … There is no independent media or religious freedom.” Plus, the U.N. now reports North Korea is in league with the Iranians, supplying them with chemical-weapon components.

The president, in a policy that echoed previous presidents, laid down a bright line that North Korea cannot have nuclear weapons with intercontinental ballistic missiles. He has added fresh sanctions to North Korea, worked with the Chinese to put pressure on the North, and said in no uncertain terms he means business.

Incredibly, a gaggle of politicians and editorial boards then condemned the president for going overboard. Most Americans now think that we are too tough on North Korea, even while agreeing it’s a heinous rogue regime that cannot be allowed to hold onto nukes. Where is the backbone of America to stare down and isolate this dictator? Rather than support a tough policy to which past presidents gave lip service, elites ran for cover, attacking America for taking a “dangerous” approach to this madman.

Iran has never stopped spreading regional terrorism, has continued to hold onto hostages and is using the Syrian civil war to establish new military presence abutting Israel. The Iran nuclear deal was rammed through despite minority support in Congress and almost no public support at all. The minute that the president suggests standing up to Iran, possibly decertifying the deal, the press goes wild and the elites say we can’t waste the benefits of this incredible deal, even if it allows the Iranians to build intercontinental ballistic missiles and sell their oil on the world marketplace while chanting “Death to America” and repressing their own people.

Another issue the president raised was that NATO members needed to pay their fair share of the collective defense. Again, the press and elites portrayed the president as abandoning the entire NATO alliance, parsing every word in every speech. It turned out that nothing happened other than that our allies, especially the Germans, agreed to up their contributions.

Then, the president said he was going to move the U.S. embassy in Israel to, of all places, its capital. Every other recent president said he was going to do that, but didn’t. Elites and the media sounded the alarm, again, that the entire Mideast would be in flames in no time. Once again, nothing happened and the world moved on.

Now, this same president has suggested raising some tariffs on steel and aluminum. I can’t say whether, overall, it is a good or a bad policy, and the auto and aircraft industries are rightly concerned, but it is a policy meant to benefit workers in some of the hardest-hit areas of the country as opposed to big business, which just received hundreds of billions of dollars of tax breaks. In addition, it is well documented that China is dumping steel in America, costing us jobs here, and so we need a wedge to solve, not ignore, that problem.

Once again, the media and elites have the fire trucks rolling down the streets in full alarm, fearing trade wars, as though the U.S. has the weakest economy on the planet. The U.S. economy is the strongest it has been in more than a generation. The huge trade deficits we run with trading partners like China mean that it’s those countries which are dependent on America’s competitive weakness to create jobs, not the other way around.

Time and time again, the pattern is the same — America seems to be afraid to take on dictators, theocratic regimes, partners who take advantage of us and countries with beggar-thy-neighbor economic policies. The fear of challenging these losing arrangements is so high that, rather than support our country, elites wind up supporting dictators and others who have found America, in the last 25 years, to be an easy mark.

The country has gone through some incredibly sobering experiences, from the loss of the Vietnam war, the morass in Iraq and Afghanistan and the 2009 financial crisis, that have left our national consciousness scarred. Americans have always been a can-do people, and yet these events have so battered the national psyche that today’s reflexive reaction to advancing our interests seems to be fear rather than confidence.

We can’t let past failures prevent us from standing up for what is right, challenging the status quo or establishing bargaining chips to use to negotiate better deals. Regardless of who is president, we have got to stop the endless whining that reinforces a cycle of fear and paralysis. It’s a real world out there and we need to strengthen that part of our national character that has always enabled this country to stand tall and be the one reliable fighter and righter of wrongs in a world that is always producing the next dictator, the next moocher state, and the next ideology that threatens to plunge everything into chaos.

Mark Penn is chairman of the Harris Poll and was pollster and senior adviser to Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton from 1995 to 2008.


Dems: Bill Clinton too toxic to campaign in midterms

February 14, 2018

One of the party’s top surrogates has been effectively sidelined by the #metoo movement.

Bill Clinton is pictured. | AP Photo
And in this political environment, Bill Clinton campaigning anywhere would amount to him campaigning everywhere, forcing Democrats around the country to answer for what they think of colleagues appearing with him. | Patrick Semansky/AP Photo

Democrats are looking to embrace the #MeToo moment and rally women to push back on President Donald Trump in the midterms—and they don’t want Bill Clinton anywhere near it.

In a year when the party is deploying all their other big guns and trying to appeal to precisely the kind of voters Clinton has consistently won over, an array of Democrats told POLITICO they’re keeping him on the bench. They don’t want to be seen anywhere near a man with a history of harassment allegations, as guilty as their party loyalty to him makes them feel about it.

“I think it’s pretty tough,” said Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), vice chair of the House Progressive Caucus and one of the leading voices in Congress demanding changes in Washington’s approach to sexual harassment. His presence “just brings up a lot of issues that will be very tough for Democrats. And I think we all have to be clear about what the #MeToo movement was.”

After booting Sen. Al Franken precisely because they wanted to draw a clear contrast with Trump, Democrats across the party’s ideological and geographical spectrum acknowledged the political trouble that any appearance with Clinton would cause.

“I value the assets of what the Clintons can bring. He did a lot for Georgia when he was president,” added Georgia Democratic Chair DuBose Porter, treading delicately. “He carried Georgia. The personal side that is now being highlighted, we’ll have to measure.”

Privately, many Democratic politicians and strategists are harsher and firmer: Don’t come to their states, and don’t say anything about their campaigns. They are still worried about saying it out loud, but they don’t want him now, or maybe ever. They know Republicans would react by calling them — with good reason — hypocrites.

And in this political environment, Clinton campaigning anywhere would amount to him campaigning everywhere, forcing Democrats around the country to answer what they think of colleagues appearing with him, and whether they would do so themselves.

It’s a huge change from eight years ago, when Clinton made over 100 appearances for Democrats during the 2010 midterms as the most in-demand presence on the campaign trail. In his reelection campaign two years later, former President Barack Obama anointed Clinton his “explainer-in-chief.”

Clinton’s likely absence on the stump this year comes amid major demand for high-profile surrogates this year — from Obama, who’s expected make select appearances, to Joe Biden and the full crop of 2020 prospects, who are likely to be all over the place in the thick of election season. Even Hillary Clinton will do some targeted campaigning.

All this reluctance about him would be a surprise to Clinton himself, who, according to a person familiar with his plans, has already received a number of preliminary requests from campaigns for advice and events. He’s had a few conversations with candidates, but hasn’t initiated the calls, the person said. Clinton, the source said, is for now focused on his foundation work that included a tour last week of hurricane damage in the Virgin Islands and Dominica, and getting ready for the spring rollout of a mystery novel he wrote with James Patterson.

Anyway, Clinton wouldn’t even start to evaluate political stops until much closer to the election, the person said.

“President Clinton has been diligently working on his book. He’s also been focused on the work of his foundation,” the Clinton source said. “So beyond a few requests for support and advice from a few candidates, he hasn’t spent much time on the midterms.”

“People call me all the time [to ask] if I can talk to him, put [their] requests in,” said James Carville, the former Clinton strategist who remains close with him.

Carville said he believes the former president will do some campaigning, but given Clinton’s age — 71 — and other factors, “it can’t be like it used to.”

But “there are people who want him, I promise you,” Carville said.

Several Democratic campaigns have already polled Clinton’s popularity in their races, weighing whether to take the risk of inviting him out. Others say they’d love to see him chip in, so long as he sticks to New York, at closed-door fundraisers for them where no photographs of them together are taken.

“People are crass about it and will look to see where his numbers are,” admitted one Democratic member of Congress who is in a tough race and is anxious about going public embracing or trashing Clinton. “He’s still Bill Clinton, and he’s still a draw to certain segments of the party.”

“Depending on the audience, there will definitely be people … [who] will be uncomfortable,” said Rep. Grace Meng (D-N.Y.). But there will also “definitely be people who want to see him.”

A Gallup poll in December had Clinton’s national approval rating at 45 percent, down 5 points since the end of the 2016 campaign, and a 52 percent disapproval. Those were his lowest numbers recorded by Gallup since he left office in 2001.

A variety of congressional Democrats were visibly uncomfortable about discussing Clinton. When approached, some of them asked nervously whether he was actually considering campaigning in the midterms.

Democratic operatives ducked the question, while several close allies of Clinton declined interview requests on the topic.

In an interview earlier this year on the party’s strategy for the midterms, Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez — who has not been in touch with Clinton the way he has with Obama and other top Democrats — took a diplomatic approach.

“Bill Clinton’s a former president of the United States, and in his administration, we took an economy that was in the tank and built an economic engine that had been unparalleled. Did he make significant mistakes? Of course he did,” Perez said. “People will make judgments race by race about who are the best surrogates to come down and advocate.”

Uranium One Is a Curious Case

February 14, 2018



By Holman W. Jenkins, Jr.
The Wall Street Journal
Feb. 13, 2018 6:26 p.m. ET

President Obama sought better relations with Russia, in keeping with the policy of presidents at least since FDR.

He acceded in 2010 to a Russian government desire to acquire a company whose assets included a Nevada uranium mine on the widely accepted grounds that economic interdependence helps relations stay on a productive path. And, by the way, Russia cannot cart a uranium mine in Nevada back to Russia. If its national security were ever jeopardized, the U.S. could always seize the mine. So that’s not an issue.

Would it have been embarrassing for the Obama policy if it were known that the uranium assets the Russian government sought to buy had been accumulated by Canadian entrepreneurs working closely with Bill Clinton ? That the Clinton Foundation received $145 million in pledged contributions from people associated with these transactions? That Mr. Clinton had been paid $500,000 for a speech in Moscow?

Yes. It would have raised political difficulties for Mr. Obama’s Russia policy. It would have harmed the reputation of his secretary of state, Hillary Clinton. How would such knowledge have flavored a multiagency review in charge of approving the mine deal, inevitably tinged by Obama political interests? Hard to say.

The scandal would likely have remained a political one, not a legal one. But who knows? The Watergate truism that it’s not the crime, it’s the coverup should really be modified. Once any kind of investigation is launched on any pretext, a crime can always be found. That’s a given. Not to relitigate Mrs. Clinton’s emails, but if the FBI didn’t find a basis to charge her aides with obstruction and evidence tampering, it’s only because it didn’t want to. Or take Donald Trump : Any prosecutor should hang up his spurs who can’t find something in Mr. Trump’s checkered business history, starting with federal Title 16, Chapter 1, Subchapter b, Part 23, Section 23.3: “Misuse of the terms ‘hand-made,’ ‘hand-polished,’ etc.”

A slight nuance, of course, is that the Clintons ’ conflict-of-interest baggage was born of exploiting their politically-earned celebrity, and not the other way around. Whether he meant it or not, Mr. Trump recognized and met expectations when he said, on taking office, he no longer would concern himself with the businesses he left behind. He had a much bigger job now. Though Mrs. Clinton would certainly have been expected to say something similar if she were elected president, she would also have been semi-obliged to insist that the Clinton Foundation was but an extension of her lifelong devotion to public service, which she would be continuing in the White House.

As history records, of course, Uranium One is the scandal that didn’t happen, or is happening only belatedly. The Clinton Foundation connection did not become known. Its dealings did not become fodder for partisan opposition to President Obama or his Russia policy. Only recently have we become aware of a new and piquant fact. What if it had been known that the FBI was sitting on a case involving demonstrable malfeasance (bribery and kickbacks) by the Russian company’s U.S. arm? What if an eyewitness who had helped crack the case told the FBI (as he now claims he did) that Russian uranium executives had spoken openly of currying favor with the Clinton Foundation to advance their U.S. business?

The Nevada mine transfer would have been a lot more politically controversial at the time than it was. The Obama Russia rapprochement might have run aground earlier than it eventually did when Russia in 2014 seized Crimea. Mr. Obama might have come to see his secretary of state, Mrs. Clinton, as a political liability.

Which makes it interesting that the FBI, under its then-chief Robert Mueller, appears to have sat on the case—only getting around quietly to announcing a plea deal with the Russian executive five years later, in 2015. It is not necessarily wrong for the FBI to consider the impact on national-security policy of any criminal case that it intends nevertheless to pursue to conviction. But the fact remains: The FBI handled the Uranium One matter in a manner that avoided making immediate trouble for the policy and political interests of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

Which means, if a few thousand voters in the upper Midwest had woken up on a different side of the bed in November 2016, the agency’s treatment of Uranium One might be one more subject of investigation by a GOP congress of President Hillary Clinton. Along with: the Steele dossier; the Steele dossier’s role in an FBI application to spy on Trump associate Carter Page ; the FBI’s handling of the Clinton email case; the FBI’s investigation (still under way) of a questionable mixing of government and Clinton Foundation business at Mrs. Clinton’s State Department.

In other words, a Clinton presidency would likely be swallowed up in investigative chaos no less than the Trump presidency. There was an awful lot of baggage to go around among the headliners of the 2016 presidential race.

Trump media three times more negative than for Obama, just 5 percent positive

December 28, 2017
The media’s coverage of President Trump has been overwhelmingly negative, more than three times more critical than the initial coverage of former President Barack Obama and twice that of former Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton.The Pew Research Center said that the early coverage of Trump was 62 percent negative. By comparison, Obama’s coverage was just 20 percent negative.

“About six-in-ten stories on Trump’s early days in office had a negative assessment, about three times more than in early coverage for Obama and roughly twice that of Bush and Clinton. Coverage of Trump’s early time in office moved further away from a focus on the policy agenda and more toward character and leadership,” said Pew.

The report about the harsh media coverage was included in Pew’s year-ending report titled “17 Striking Findings From 2017.

The media story reviewed the tone of coverage of Trump’s first 60 days in office and found that just 5 percent was “positive.”

By comparison, Obama’s coverage was 42 percent positive.

Paul Bedard, the Washington Examiner’s “Washington Secrets” columnist, can be contacted at

Democrats Are Walking Into a Trumpian Trap — Living in the “House of Outrage”

December 15, 2017


Doug Jones supporters celebrate victory. Credit Bob Miller for The New York Times

Take a walk with me, dear reader, into the yard, down the street — anywhere, really, just so that we can step outside of our house of outrage. It’s a roomy house, with space for everyone from woke progressives to disillusioned conservatives. It’s a good house, filled with people united in a just and defiant cause. It’s a harmonious house, thrumming with the sound of people agreeing vigorously.

And lately, we’ve started to believe we’re … winning.

We breathed relief Tuesday night when Roy Moore went down to his well-earned political death, like Jack Nicholson’s Joker at the end of Batman. We roared when Robert Mueller extracted a guilty plea from a cooperative Michael Flynn, and the investigative noose seemed to tighten around Donald Trump’s neck. We cheered when Democrat Ralph Northam trounced Ed Gillespie after the Republican took the low road with anti-immigrant demagogy.

It’s all lining up. Democrats have an 11-point edge over Republicans in the generic congressional ballot. The president’s approval rating is barely scraping 37 percent. Nearly six in 10 Americans say the United States is on the “wrong track.” Isn’t revenge in 2018 starting to taste sweet — and 2020 even sweeter?

Don’t bet on it. Democrats are making the same mistakes Republicans made when they inhabited their own house of outrage, back in 1998.

You remember. The year of the wagged finger and the stained blue dress. Of a president who abused women, lied about it, and used his power to bomb other countries so he could distract from his personal messes. Of a special prosecutor whose investigation overstepped its original bounds. Of half the country in a moral fever to impeach. Of the other half determined to dismiss sexual improprieties, defend a democratically elected leader and move on with the business of the country.

Oh, also the year in which the Dow Jones industrial average jumped by 16 percent, the unemployment rate fell to a 28-year low, and Democrats gained seats in Congress. Bill Clinton, as we all know, survived impeachment and left office with a strong economic record and a 66-percent approval rating.

If nothing else, 1998 demonstrated the truth of the unofficial slogan on which Clinton had first run for president: It’s the economy, stupid. Prosperity trumps morality. The wealth effect beats the yuck factor. That may not have held true in Moore’s defeat, but it’s not every day that an alleged pedophile runs for office. Even so, he damn well nearly won.

1998 also showed that, when it comes to sex, we Americans forgive easily; that, when it comes to women, we don’t always believe readily; and that, when it comes to presidents, we want them to succeed. However else one might feel about Mueller — or, for that matter, Ken Starr — nobody elected them to anything.

Which brings us back to Trump. Democrats may like their polling numbers, but here are a few others for them to consider.

The first is 3.3 percent, last quarter’s annual growth rate, the highest in three years. Next is 1.7 percent, the core inflation rate, meaning interest rates are unlikely to rise very sharply. Also, 4.1 percent, the unemployment rate, which is down half a percentage point, or nearly 800,000 workers, since the beginning of the year. Finally, 24 percent, which is the rise in the Dow Jones industrial average since Trump became president — one of the market’s best performances ever.

Democrats will find plenty of ways to explain that these numbers aren’t quite as good as they sound — they are not — or that we’re setting ourselves up for a big crash — we might well be — or that the deficit is only getting bigger — it is, but so what? Politically speaking, none of that matters. Trump enters 2018 with a robust economy that will, according to the estimate of the nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation, grow stronger thanks to the tax bill.

What about the outrage over the president’s behavior? Kirsten Gillibrand and other Senate Democrats have called on Trump to resign following new accusations of sexual harassment and assault. Good luck getting him to agree. Tom Steyer and other liberal plutocrats want the president impeached and thrown out of office. Good luck electing 67 Democrats to the Senate.

Every minute wasted on that whale hunt is a minute the Democrats neglect to make an affirmative case for themselves.

Which leaves us with Mueller. All of us in the house of outrage are eager for the special counsel to find the goods on the president and Russia, obstruction, financial shenanigans, anything. The clues seem so obvious, the evidence so tantalizingly close.

Yet we should also know that the wish tends to be the father of the thought. What if Mueller comes up short in finding evidence of collusion? What if the worst Mueller’s got is one bad tweet that, maybe, constitutes evidence of obstruction? And what if further doubts are raised about the impartiality of the investigation? The president’s opponents have made a huge political bet on an outcome that’s far from clear. Anything less than complete vindication for our side may wind up as utter humiliation.

Dear reader, I too live in the house of outrage, for all the usual reasons. Just beware, beware of growing comfortable in it. As in 1998, it just might turn out to be a house of losers.

Donald Trump Is Not Constitutionally Immune from an Obstruction of Justice Charge

December 11, 2017

By DAVID FRENCH December 4, 2017 2:42 PM @DAVIDAFRENCH

National Review

Earlier today one of Donald Trump’s lawyers, John Dowd, made a rather remarkable assertion. He declared that the “President cannot obstruct justice because he is the chief law enforcement officer under [the Constitution’s Article II] and has every right to express his view of any case.”


This statement is wrong. To be clear, the president’s power under the Constitution limits the president’s vulnerability to obstruction of justice charges, but it does not end it.

For example, our own Andrew McCarthy wrote about some of those limits today: The FBI and the Justice Department are not a separate branch of government; they are subordinates of the president delegated to exercise his power, not their own.

Even on Comey’s account, Trump did not order him to shut down the Flynn investigation, even though he could have. Trump could have ordered an end of the Russia counterintelligence investigation, but he did not.

He could have pardoned Flynn, which would effectively have ended the FBI’s criminal investigation — beyond any possibility of review. We can stipulate that these would have been sleazy things to do, potentially damaging to national security, and still grasp that the president had the undeniable power to do them. Similarly, the president had undeniable power to fire the FBI director.

You can argue that his reason was corrupt, but the truth is that he didn’t need a reason at all — he could have done it because it was Tuesday and he felt like firing someone; he could have done it because he figured that the Justice Department’s criticism of Comey’s handling of the Clinton emails investigation gave him the political cover he needed to dispense with a subordinate he found nettlesome.

The point is that even if the president hoped that cashiering Comey would derail an investigation he was addled by, it was wholly in Trump’s discretion to fire the director. Moreover, firing the director did not derail the Russia investigation; it has proceeded apace under the director whom Trump appointed to replace Comey. Let’s assume for the sake of argument that the president cannot violate a federal statute by exercising powers guaranteed the president by the Constitution.

He is not, however, above the law when acting outside of his Constitutional authority. With that in mind, read the key language of the most relevant federal statute, 18 U.S.C. Section 1505: Whoever corruptly, or by threats or force, or by any threatening letter or communication influences, obstructs, or impedes or endeavors to influence, obstruct, or impede the due and proper administration of the law under which any pending proceeding is being had before any department or agency of the United States, or the due and proper exercise of the power of inquiry under which any inquiry or investigation is being had by either House, or any committee of either House or any joint committee of the Congress— Shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than 5 years or, if the offense involves international or domestic terrorism (as defined in section 2331), imprisoned not more than 8 years, or both. (Emphasis added.)

As the head of the executive branch of government, Trump has the power to fire an FBI director. He has the power to exercise the prosecutorial discretion to order federal law enforcement agencies to drop an investigation. He possesses an immense pardon power. He does not, however, possess the power to order any federal agency to reach a specific conclusion in its investigation.

In other words, he does not have the constitutional authority to “corruptly” put his thumb on the scales of an investigation to dictate that the investigation vindicate him or his associates. Thus, if Trump isn’t just seeking the end of the investigation but rather the total vindication of his campaign, he is barred from “corruptly” influencing the relevant proceeding (or Congressional investigation.) For example – and to hearken back to both the Nixon and Clinton impeachment counts – he can’t manipulate witnesses into giving false testimony (Clinton allegedly provided grand jury witnesses with false information knowing that they’d transmit that false information to the grand jury).

There are limits to his ability to conceal evidence. He obviously can’t direct subordinates to lie to the FBI. But what about his decision to terminate Comey? Clearly, if he terminated Comey because Comey failed to follow a lawful presidential directive – even if that directive was foolish or self-serving – then it’s specious to argue that a federal statute can criminalize the exercise of a constitutional power for a constitutionally-acceptable purpose.

For example, if Trump truly fired Comey for refusing to publicly declare the fact that Trump wasn’t personally under investigation, then that action may be unwise, but it is lawful. If, however, Trump fired Comey for not clearing Flynn because Trump wanted the FBI to vindicate his senior team, then Trump would have used his constitutional power as part of an effort to deceive the American people. Given the scope of the president’s constitutional authority over Comey, I still do not believe the firing alone can meet the legal definition of obstruction of justice.

However, since impeachment is a political process – not a legal adjudication of violations of federal statutes – evidence of malign intent could certainly transform the termination into an abuse of power sufficient to support an article of impeachment. In fact, given the various legal and constitutional complications involved in prosecuting president, I agree with Andy.

The likely course of action even if Mueller believes Trump violated criminal law isn’t a criminal indictment but rather a report articulating the grounds for impeachment. In such a case, however, the legal argument over an alleged statutory violation would be just as important as the political, historic, and constitutional arguments over the definition of high crimes or misdemeanors.

My own view is that there is yet insufficient evidence to bring an obstruction claim against Trump – either as an article of impeachment or as a count in a federal indictment. The Comey firing, however, should not be viewed in isolation. It may represent one key component of a comprehensive effort to corruptly influence relevant proceedings or investigations. Let’s not forget, Trump didn’t just fire Comey, he misled the American people about his reason for firing the FBI director.

Judging from his tweet this weekend, he also misled the American people about his reasons for forcing out Flynn. He also was reportedly directly involved in drafting a misleading statement about his son’s meeting with purported Russian operatives during the campaign.

His administration has time and again made false public statements about its Russian contacts.  As the Flynn guilty plea demonstrates, it’s one thing to mislead the American people, it’s another thing to lie to the FBI. As we’ve watched the administration get caught in falsehood after falsehood over the Trump campaign and transition team’s numerous contacts with Russian officials or purported operatives, it’s premature for any person to definitively declare that there exists insufficient evidence that Trump violated the law.

Any person making that declaration now is, at best, offering an educated guess. But there is one thing that we can definitively declare. Trump is not above the law, and that law includes statutes prohibiting obstruction of justice.

Read more at:

Can a president obstruct justice?

December 11, 2017

Yes, but not by doing any of the things we know Trump to have done.

Speculation about Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation has turned toward obstruction of justice—specifically, whether President Trump can be criminally prosecuted for firing James Comey as director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation or for earlier asking Mr. Comey to go easy on onetime national security adviser Mike Flynn. The answer is no. The Constitution forbids Congress to criminalize such conduct by a president, and applying existing statutes in such a manner would violate the separation of powers.

The Constitution…


Editorial: Yes, the president can obstruct justice, said Senate GOP

  • Quad-City Times editorial board

Yes, the president can obstruct justice. Just ask the nine Republicans still in the U.S. Senate, including Chuck Grassley, who voted “guilty” when then-President Bill Clinton was accused of obstruction in 1999.

And that’s true no matter how badly those very same Republicans now don’t want to talk about it.

The long-debated issue came to a head this past week when an attorney for President Donald Trump, John Dowd, summoned the ghost of Richard Nixon during an interview with Axiom.

 “… the president cannot obstruct justice because he is the chief law enforcement officer and has every right to express his view of any case,” Dowd told the news site.

Dowd’s provocative statement follows a slew of charges filed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller against members of Trump’s inner circle, who just couldn’t seem to stop meeting with Russian operatives during the campaign. Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, a close Trump aide and political confident, recently pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI. In response, Trump basically admitted on Twitter that he knew Flynn wasn’t honest with investigators when he canned former FBI Director James Comey, who refused to acquiesce to the president’s request to back off on the Flynn investigation, according to Comey’s congressional testimony. 

The legality of Dowd’s position has been debated for decades. The U.S. Constitution does not clarify if a sitting president can face prosecution. During the Watergate scandal, Nixon was listed as an “unindicted co-conspirator” during the court proceedings. But obstruction of justice was the first and key charge in the list of impeachable offenses drafted in the House. Nixon left office before the House could actually impeach him.

In 1999, Clinton’s administration was ablaze with the Monica Lewinsky scandal. The GOP-run House sent two indictments against the Democratic president to the Senate, including an obstruction of justice charge. The Senate failed to convict Clinton on either charge, splitting 50-50 when a two-thirds majority was required. But that also means 50 senators — universally Republicans — determined that a U.S. president can obstruct justice.

Of those 50, nine still sit in the Senate. They are Mike Crapo, Mike Enzi, Thad Cochran, Jim Inhofe, Orrin Hatch, John McCain, Mitch McConnell and Pat Roberts. Two more — Jeff Sessions and John Ashcroft — are, or have been, attorneys general in GOP administrations. 

In both instances, presidents were tried in Congress, not the courts. Still, each case represents a moment when a sitting president was charged, in a legal proceeding, with obstructing justice. But, unlike the court system, impeachment is a wholly political event. 

What’s clear is that congressional Republicans don’t want to talk about Dowd’s under-construction defense amid Mueller’s probe. Grassley’s vote in 1999 is a testament in black-and-white that, at least when the other side is under investigation, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee believes a president can obstruct justice. Yet, this past week, a straight answer was not to be had when Grassley’s staff were asked about Dowd’s assertion that, like a king, a president is immune from the rule of law. That silence was made even more notable in the wake of Sen. Diane Feinstein’s allegations that Grassley — with his desire to remake the federal courts for a generation in Trump’s image — has no interest in probing Trump too deeply. Instead, he’s more concerned with yet another probe of Hillary Clinton, on Wednesday blasting Democrats on the Judiciary Committee for resisting his push for yet another diversion from Trump’s legal perils. 

But a direct rebuke of Dowd’s assertion from the likes of Grassley and his peers is necessary, regardless of how badly Republicans want to protect the White House. Silence sets precedents that are sure to outlive us all. It would further erode basic democratic norms that separate republic from monarchy. It would, in very real terms, be another example of a Congress willing only to stand for the rule of law when it suits partisan ends.

Local editorials represent the opinion of the Quad-City Times editorial board, which consists of Publisher Deb Anselm, Executive Editor Autumn Phillips, Editorial Page Editor Jon Alexander, Associate Editor Bill Wundram and community representative John Wetzel.


On whether the president can obstruct justice

  • New York Times

You know you have a problem when you’ve been president for less than 11 months and you’re already relying on Richard Nixon’s definition of what’s legal.

On Monday morning, Axios reported that Mr. Trump’s top personal lawyer, John Dowd, said in an interview that the “president cannot obstruct justice because he is the chief law enforcement officer” under the Constitution and “has every right to express his view of any case.”

This will come as news to Congress, which has passed laws criminalizing the obstruction of justice and decided twice in the last four decades that when a president violates those laws he has committed an impeachable offense.

In 1974, the first article of impeachment drafted by the House of Representatives charged President Nixon with “interfering or endeavoring to interfere with the conduct of investigations by the Department of Justice of the United States, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the office of Watergate Special Prosecution Force.”

A quarter-century later, President Bill Clinton was impeached by the House for, among other things, having “prevented, obstructed and impeded the administration of justice” and for having “engaged personally, and through his subordinates and agents, in a course of conduct or scheme designed to delay, impede, cover up and conceal the existence of evidence and testimony.”

Now let’s see if those descriptions apply to President Trump.

On Saturday morning, in the wake of the bombshell guilty plea by Michael Flynn, the president’s former national security adviser, for lying to F.B.I. agents about his communications with Russian officials late last year, Mr. Trump tweeted, “I had to fire General Flynn because he lied to the Vice President and the FBI.”

Recall that the original justification for Mr. Flynn’s firing was simply that he had misled Vice President Mike Pence; otherwise he had done nothing wrong. That’s the case Mr. Trump made the day after Mr. Flynn’s firing, when he allegedly tried to shut down the F.B.I.’s inquiry into his campaign’s connections with Russian officials by telling James Comey, who was then the F.B.I. director, in a private Oval Office meeting, “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go.”

In May, Mr. Trump fired Mr. Comey, telling Russian officials in the Oval Office the next day that firing Mr. Comey had relieved “great pressure” on him, and referring to Mr. Comey as a “nut job.” In an interview with NBC, Mr. Trump said, “When I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, ‘You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story.’”

It was bad enough for the president to attempt to interfere in any way with a law enforcement investigation of one of his top aides. But with Saturday’s tweet, Mr. Trump admitted that he knew Mr. Flynn had committed a federal crime at the time he fired Mr. Comey for refusing to stop investigating him. To most people with a functioning prefrontal cortex, it sure sounds like Mr. Trump is admitting to “interfering or endeavoring to interfere with the conduct of investigations” and to “impeding the administration of justice.”

Mr. Dowd confused the country further by saying he had drafted Mr. Trump’s tweet himself — a bizarre claim for a lawyer to make about a statement that incriminates his client. Then he outdid himself with his assertion to Axios that it is not possible for the president to obstruct justice. The argument, as far as it goes, is that the president is the nation’s highest ranking law enforcement officer and has the constitutional authority to supervise and control the executive branch, which includes making decisions about investigations and personnel.

But Mr. Trump didn’t just try to shut down some random no-name case; he tried to shut down an investigation into his own campaign’s ties to the Russian government’s efforts to swing the 2016 election in his favor. As that investigation keeps revealing, Mr. Trump’s top associates have repeatedly been untruthful about their contacts and communications with Russian officials.

In Saturday’s tweet, Mr. Trump also wrote, “It is a shame because his actions during the transition were lawful. There was nothing to hide!” If there were truly nothing to hide, if these talks with Russians were all just part of a normal presidential transition process, then why all the lying?

Any child could tell you the answer: People lie when they know they’ve done something wrong. Mr. Flynn and others in Mr. Trump’s campaign and transition team were secretly trying to undermine United States foreign policy as private citizens — which is not just wrong, but a criminal violation of the Logan Act. Worse, the policy being undermined was President Barack Obama’s punishment of a foreign adversary for interfering in an American election, and the underminers — Mr. Trump’s team — were the very people who benefited most directly from that interference.

For some historical perspective, Richard Nixon once again proves useful. In the closing days of the 1968 presidential campaign, Mr. Nixon ordered H. R. Haldeman, later his chief of staff, to throw a “monkey wrench” into the Vietnamese peace talks, knowing that a serious move to end the war would hurt his electoral prospects. Mr. Nixon denied that he did this to the grave; Mr. Haldeman’s notes, discovered after his death, revealed the truth.

Meanwhile, as the evidence of both subterfuge and obstruction continues to grow, Mr. Trump’s tireless spinners and sophists are working to convince the American public that it’s all no big deal. This is an embarrassing and unpersuasive argument, but it’s not surprising. At this point, they have nothing else to work with.

Moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem Is Not a Disaster

December 9, 2017

But the Trump administration needs to walk a very fine line with Palestine and Arab states.

President Donald Trump holds up a proclaimation that the U.S. government will formally recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel on Dec. 6, at the White House. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

President Donald Trump holds up a proclaimation that the U.S. government will formally recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel on Dec. 6, at the White House. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Few issues in the Middle East are more evocative than Jerusalem. Arab leaders’ public responses to U.S. President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital this week have been swift and negative, at least in part because they had little forewarning of what was coming and could not afford to look like they were conceding Arab, Palestinian, and Muslim rights in the city and its holy site.

The irony is that what the president said does not concede those rights and claims. His recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital reflects a reality that it is the seat of Israel’s government and that, for the Jewish state, Jerusalem will always be its capital — there is no other city that could be. For Palestinians, they too no doubt cannot envision any city but Jerusalem as the capital of their state, if and when it emerges from moribund negotiations. The president’s statement does not rule that out: On the contrary, he said that the United States is not taking a position on “the specific boundaries of the Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem, or the resolution of contested borders.” Those questions, he said, “are up to the parties involved.”

Given Arab and Palestinian concerns and the potential for Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran, and al Qaeda to distort what the United States is doing to foment rage and violence, it is essential that the Trump administration’s message be clear and consistent about not prejudging the outcome of the status of Jerusalem. Maintaining message discipline has not been the hallmark of the Trump White House, but it is crucial now. No stray tweets allowed.

Maintaining message discipline has not been the hallmark of the Trump White House, but it is crucial now. No stray tweets allowed.

The stakes are too high, particularly if the president’s decision is not going to play into the hands of the enemies of peace.That means repeating and reinforcing President Trump’s main theme in his speech: that the United States is drawing a distinction between acknowledging the reality that Jerusalem has been Israel’s capital since 1949, and the need for negotiations to resolve all the respective claims that Israelis and Palestinians have, including questions related to Jerusalem. Israelis and Palestinians must resolve these issues directly and without outside interference.

There is a logic to this duality. Israel’s prime minister and parliament are located in the part of Jerusalem that is not contested, and there is an honesty in ending the fiction that the city is not the Israeli capital, which has gone on for close to 70 years. At the same time, given the centrality and potentially explosive nature of Jerusalem, it is vital not to appear to be pre-empting the ability of the parties to determine boundaries of the city and whether it will or will not be a capital for two states. Already Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh has called for an uprising, and the violent riots today in the West Bank signal that anger over the president’s declaration can be further exploited — which also helps to explain Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s declaration that the United States can no longer play the mediator’s role.

Because there is an emotional lens through which all parties perceive Jerusalem, any decision can be misrepresented by extremists and produce violence. And if the United States appears to be closing the door on Jerusalem or simply adopting the Israeli position that all of Jerusalem should be under Israeli sovereignty, it may allow the jihadis and the rejectionists to hijack this highly sensitive issue. They, of course, will leap at the opportunity to create a provocation against the United States and against America’s Arab and Palestinian partners — especially Abbas and King Abdullah II of Jordan. The administration needs to keep in mind the pressures both of these leaders are likely to be under.

One practical step the Trump administration could take to reduce their ability to exploit the president’s decision is to have senior U.S. officials appear on every Arabic-speaking news outlet and explain what this decision is and what it is not. The announcement, they should underline, is about recognizing what no one questions: that any peace deal would end with Israel maintaining its capital in at least part of Jerusalem. That would help make clear the administration’s contention that it is not putting its thumb on the scale against Palestinian interests in Jerusalem — the United States continues to insist that the basic issues related to the future of Jerusalem, the questions of sovereignty, and competing Israeli and Palestinian claims must be subject to negotiations before there can be a peace agreement. Both elements of this message need to be a mantra, repeated to Arabic audiences by top U.S. officials in the weeks ahead, including by Vice President Mike Pence when he visits the region.

Both elements of this message need to be a mantra, repeated to Arabic audiences by top U.S. officials in the weeks ahead, including by Vice President Mike Pence when he visits the region.

This is the best hope for strengthening the hands of the Arab and Palestinian leaders who must resist the efforts by those like Hamas who will seek to distort the reality and claim that Jerusalem has been given away — and who clearly want to provoke violence and greater polarization. It can also begin to change the environment in a way that allows Abbas and his negotiators, such as Saeb Erekat, to walk back from some of their statements about ending the peace process and the American role in it.

Conveying this message is not just important to avert violence, but also to ensure that the plan that the Trump administration intends to present to the Israelis, Palestinians, and Arab countries is not dead on arrival. The reason former Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama invoked the waiver was not because they lacked courage but because they believed this would deny the Palestinians and the Arabs the political space they needed to make hard decisions for peace, thus rendering its achievement more difficult. President Trump argued in his statement that they were wrong. If he wants to prove he is right, he will first need to make clear that their interests and rights have not already been conceded — and then present a credible peace plan, including on Jerusalem.

Dennis Ross is the former American envoy to the Middle East and counselor at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

David Makovsky is the Ziegler Distinguished Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, where he directs the Project on the Middle East Peace Process. In 2013-2014, he served in the Office of the Secretary of State, where he was a senior advisor during the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations. He just released a high-tech interactive map called Settlements and Solutions.


Roy Moore’s Liberal Enablers

December 5, 2017

If he wins, he can thank Al Franken and Jimmy Kimmel among others.

Bill Clinton and Al Franken during a rally at the University of Minnesota, Oct. 10, 2014.
Bill Clinton and Al Franken during a rally at the University of Minnesota, Oct. 10, 2014. PHOTO: JEAN PIERI/ASSOCIATED PRESS

When Alabamans go to the polls a week from now in a special election to choose their next senator, not even Mrs. Roy Moore will be rooting as hard for her Republican husband as the junior senator from Minnesota, Al Franken.

The reason is simple. Mr. Franken knows that if Mr. Moore takes his Senate seat, it becomes less likely the former “Saturday Night Live” comic will have to relinquish his. And therein lies a larger tale about how the liberal opposition to Mr. Moore may be backfiring.

Until this race, plausible accusations that a candidate had engaged in sexual conduct with girls as young as 14 would be enough to sink most any man. Coming as these charges do amid a national sexual reckoning that has already brought down many powerful men hitherto thought untouchable, they ought to be even more potent.

But Mr. Moore is not sinking. To the contrary, at last check the Real Clear Politics polling average gives him a 2.6-point lead. A CBS News poll released this past weekend has him up by 6 points.

If Mr. Moore does win, it will be despite calls by Republicans and conservatives for him to step aside. The calls have come from Republican leaders such as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan, among others.

Then again, the remaining GOP support, including that of Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey and now President Donald Trump, may carry more pull. Mr. Moore further benefits from the backing of the evangelical community, many of whose pastors have stuck with him.

But there’s another potent force in this race, which gets little media attention. These are the liberals who are enabling him. Let’s run through a short list:

• Bill Clinton . Remember the argument “It was only sex”? Or reporter Nina Burleigh saying she’d be happy to give then-President Clinton oral sex “just to thank him for keeping abortion legal”?

Some who backed Mr. Clinton now recognize that their unqualified support through all his lies and bad behavior leaves them in a poor position to lecture others about how to treat women, or why policy should not trump character. Now they are throwing Mr. Clinton under the bus to try to regain the moral high ground. How persuasive must Alabamans find this?

• Doug Jones. He is the Democrat in the race. When your rival is credibly accused of sexual misbehavior with underage girls, the race is yours to lose. And yet Mr. Jones is doing his best to do just that, over a classic Democratic blind spot: abortion.

Alabama is one of America’s most pro-life states. Mr. Jones might have expanded his appeal by opting for the Bill Clinton formula of “safe, legal and rare,” or supporting popular restrictions such as the ban after 20 weeks. Instead, Mr. Jones has opted for the Hillary Clinton view that abortion must be sacrosanct. If he ends up losing, abortion will be a big reason.

• Al Franken. On the hypocrisy front there’s plenty on all sides to go around. Still, it has to be hard for Alabama Republicans not to notice that they are being called on to reject their guy at a time when Democrats are keeping theirs.

• Jimmy Kimmel. Mr. Kimmel recently dispatched a comedian to heckle Mr. Moore at a rally at the Magnolia Springs Baptist Church. He succeeded in disrupting the event. Mr. Kimmel and Mr. Moore then got into a Twitter tiff after Mr. Moore suggested Mr. Kimmel put up his dukes, and Mr. Kimmel accepted.

Mr. Kimmel and his audience have had some good yucks at the expense of the local yokels. But again, just a guess that this may not be playing as well in Alabama.

• The national press corps. When Donald Trump tweets about “fake news,” the smart set groans. But just this weekend, ABC News suspended Brian Ross for reporting, falsely, that retired general Mike Flynn would testify Mr. Trump asked him to reach out to the Russians during the campaign, when it was in fact after he’d been elected president. At nearly the same time America learned that the top FBI agent on Robert Mueller’s team investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election had exchanged pro-Hillary/anti-Trump texts with an FBI lawyer with whom he was having an extramarital affair.

And then liberals wonder at a CBS poll finding that 71% of Alabama Republicans don’t believe the allegations against their candidate. They may well be wrong about Mr. Moore and his accusers, but is their skepticism really that difficult to understand?

Now we are entering the final week of the race. Perhaps sensing a Moore victory, President Trump Monday morning offered an unconditional endorsement, tweeting that “we need Roy Moore to win.” But Mr. Trump’s endorsement hasn’t always been dispositive: Remember, Mr. Moore is the GOP’s candidate because Alabama Republicans in the primaries rejected the man the president endorsed.

So if Mr. Moore does find himself Alabama’s newest senator next Tuesday night, it may be as much the fault of those who opposed him as those who supported him.

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