SPECIAL COUNSEL MUELLER IS CONSIDERING WHETHER TO INDICT TRUMP FOR OBSTRUCTION OF JUSTICE, AND HE SHOULD DO SO

SPECIAL COUNSEL MUELLER IS CONSIDERING WHETHER TO INDICT TRUMP FOR OBSTRUCTION OF JUSTICE, AND HE SHOULD DO SO

As the Special Counsel’s investigation picks up steam, with the indictments of Paul Manafort and Rick Gates already filed and the guilty pleas with now cooperating witnesses Michael Flynn and George Papadopoulis publicly disclosed, Mueller’s team has amassed a wealth of information regarding President’s heavy-handed attempts to obstruct justice.

The avalanche of damning evidence of Trump’s obstruction of justice started with the firing of FBI Director James Comey on May 9, 2017 after direct attempts by Trump failed to extract from Comey a pledge of loyalty and a commitment to drop the FBI’s investigation of his former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn. There is also evidence that Trump pressured Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats to urge Comey to end his investigation into Flynn and his Russian connections, which was eerily reminiscent of former President Nixon’s attempt to use the CIA to derail the FBI investigation into Watergate and which ended up being included as part of the Articles of Impeachment against Nixon.

Despite the White House’s initial disinformation campaign to persuade the public that Comey was fired for other legitimate concerns, Trump could not resist telling NBC’s Lester Holt during a live interview on May 11, 2017 — two days after the firing — that Comey’s firing was due to “the Russia thing.”

If there was any doubt whatsoever that Trump fired Comey in order to try to quash the FBI’s and the Justice Department’s investigation of possible collusion between the Trump Campaign and Russian intelligence operatives to interfere with the 2016 election and to swing it in Trump’s direction, those doubts were dispelled when Trump told Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak and Sergey Lavrov, the Russian Foreign Minister, in the Oval Office on May 10, 2017,  the day after the firing of the FBI Director, that he had discharged “Nut Job” Comey in order to take “pressure” off the Russian investigation. Only Trump, the two Russian officials, and a Russian news representative were permitted to be in the Oval Office during this critical discussion, which also involved the disclosure of highly sensitive and classified information that the U.S. had obtained from Israeli intelligence about the Islamic State.

Two months before he fired Comey, Trump ordered White House Counsel Don McGahn to stop Attorney General Jeff Sessions from recusing himself from the Russia investigation, saying that he needed Sessions to provide active oversight over the Russia investigation in order to “protect him” and “safeguard” him. Mueller can persuasively argue that the only possible reason why Trump would be so desperate for Sessions to “protect” him was that Trump had something to hide from the federal prosecutors, and that he was desperately afraid that the investigation would lead into troubling areas regarding the underlying “collusion” investigation, or into collateral areas such as the Trump Organization’s heavy reliance on Russian money of suspicious origin in possible violation of U.S. money laundering laws.

After Comey was fired and replaced by Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe, who corroborated Comey’s testimony regarding Trump’s repeated requests for a “loyalty oath” from Comey, Trump pressured FBI Director Christopher Wray to fire McCabe, causing Wray to threaten to resign, according to news reports. Trump continued to berate McCabe in a barrage of twitter rants, until McCabe finally capitulated and announced his abrupt and early retirement from the FBI.

Trump is also reported to have ordered White House Counsel McGahn to fire Special Counsel Mueller, only to back down – at least for the time being- when McGahn threatened to resign.

The question being pondered by the Special Counsel’s office is what to do with all of this evidence of criminal obstruction of justice by Trump himself. Although the Justice Department issued two legal opinions in 1973 and 2000 during the investigations of Presidents Nixon and Clinton, concluding that a sitting President could not be indicted, there is nothing in the U.S. Constitution itself that explicitly says that. All that the Constitution says about the prosecution of the President is that, in Article I, Section 3, he (or she) is subject to prosecution after being impeached by the House of Representatives, and then convicted and removed from office by a two-thirds vote of the Senate.[1] It is silent on the issue of whether a President can be indicted before being impeached, or whether the two proceedings can take place simultaneously.

Legal memos prepared in 1973 for the Watergate Special Prosecutor and for Kenneth W. Starr, the Independent Counsel investigating allegations against President Clinton, reached the conclusion that a sitting President could be indicted if the evidence warranted it, which put both of these special federal prosecutors at odds with official Department of Justice policy.

Special Counsel Mueller, in consultation with Deputy Attorney Rosenstein, may well decide that the evidence of President Trump’s violations of the criminal obstruction of justice statutes is so compelling that the Grand Jury should be asked to return an indictment against him. President Trump’s lawyers will make an inevitable motion to dismiss the indictment on constitutional grounds, and that question will then finally have to be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.

In the alternative, if the Special Counsel merely ask the Grand Jury to issue a Report laying out the evidence against President Trump, or name President Trump as an unindicted co-conspirator in an Obstruction of Justice indictment, then they will be violating the sacred principle that “No man is above the law,” even a sitting President. Passing the buck to Congress to consider impeachment of the president is not a good option, since impeachment is, at its core, a political decision as to whether a sitting president who has demonstrated that he is unfit to fulfill the duties of the office should be allowed to complete his term or not. That decision (whether to impeach or not) may have little or nothing to do with the issue of whether a president has violated the criminal laws, and whether he should be prosecuted for violations of those laws “without fear or favor,” just like every other citizen.

[1] Article 1, Section 3 states: “Judgment in cases of impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any office of honor, trust or profit under the United States; but the party convicted shall nevertheless be liable and subject to indictment, trial, judgment and punishment, according to law.”

IN PRAISE OF THE 70s CROWD

hey used to refer to us behind our backs as “the over-the-hill” crowd. Adults in their 70s started “forgetting” their birthdays, and even fudging their ages on resumes for fear that they would be passed over for jobs due to “ageism,” the implicit bias against old people.

Not so much anymore. People in their 70s seem to be ruling the world, or at least much of it. Special Counsel Robert Mueller was appointed to perhaps the most important job of his life after he hit the age of 70, and his senior, Bernie Sanders, seemed driven through the Presidential primary campaign by a near-boundless source of energy at the ripe young age of 73. If only the DNC had not wanted to play it so safe, deciding to go with Hillary (no spring chicken herself). Who decided that a 73-year old unabashed Socialist couldn’t get elected as President? If a reality show star who apparently (according to Michael Wolff) can’t read and has the attention-span of a 6-year old with ADD on Ritalin can make it to the White House, then anyone can!

  1. To be sure, we are on the “back nine,” but that does not mean that we should be sidelined or counted out of the game. I recently went to see my orthopedic surgeon for a hip X-ray. I had been avoiding making an appointment for months – perhaps years – since I was in deep denial of the increasingly obvious reality that I needed a hip replacement. After all, I had run over 24 New York Marathons and completed some of them under 3 hours, which is fairly respectable for an aging amateur. But in recent years, I had joined the Achilles Team of disabled runners, where I would act as an informal “guide” to one or more of my permanently disabled running colleagues, who did not have the same surgical options as I did to “cure” my growing disability.

My orthopedic surgeon specialized in sports medicine. A large poster in his waiting room urged his patients to “Get Back In the Game.” When he informed me of the obvious, that I had been running with “bone on bone” for years, I asked him if a could still run marathons with the new hip. He just looked at me and slowly nodded. Not in a good way. But who knows. I may surprise him yet. You can no longer count us “old codgers” out!

No one reacts much anymore when they learn that I have a 10-year old son. A generation ago, I would have been shunned or whispered about as a “dirty old man.” But not anymore. One of my closest colleagues and contemporary has an 11-year old son. No big deal. In fact, did you know that Medicare will pay us, seniors, a bonus for raising a minor child? I didn’t know it at the time, and it wasn’t part of my financial planning for my “golden years,” but it certainly came as a pleasant surprise.

I also have several other children running up to the age of 38, which also is not that unusual these days. Of course, it usually takes two plus marriages, which is what happened in my case. My wife is somewhat younger, which you may have already surmised, but she got her hip replaced before me. Nothing to do with age, though. She had always been an avid skier and competitive tennis player. “Better to wear it out than rust it out,” she is fond of saying. Now we will have something else to share; yet another bond between us (new hips). In fact, with a new hip, doesn’t the average age of your body parts go down?

Our next youngest is 23, and he just completed his Marine basic training at Parris Island, South Carolina. These days, it is not unreasonable for me to expect actually to be around and functioning reasonably well (albeit in my 90s) if he spends his full career as a Marine and retires in 20 years.

And that brings us to Donald J. Trump, who seems to be giving all of us 70-somethings a bad name. Steve Bannon apparently told the author Michael Wolff that Trump “had lost it,” or words to that effect. The rest of the White House staff and close family members seem to concur. Sad as he often tweets, since he has never learned the fine art of emailing. There is an exception to every rule. Maybe someone should take that “big nuclear button” away from him before he hurts himself, and blows up the world in the process. If he were in a senior living facility, they would probably have already taken any real silverware away from him and issued him a spork. How could the American people have been so thoughtless as to have given an increasingly deranged man the nuclear codes?

Won’t somebody do something? After all, I wrote up a 20-year plan for myself on New Year’s Day, and I would like to be permitted the opportunity to execute that plan. Thank you very much.

TRUMP’S LAST-DITCH TO OBSTRUCT JUSTICE IS ALREADY IN MOTION: THE FIRING OF JEFF SESSIONS AND ROBERT MUELLER

The nation seems transfixed by the recent revelations in the book Fire and Fury about President Trump’s lack of mental competence and fitness to serve as President, but other than a few juicy tidbits – such as the fact that Trump likes to dine at MacDonalds because the food is pre-prepared and therefore less likely to be poisoned – there is really nothing new here. The fact that Trump is monumentally unfit and unprepared to carry out the duties of the Presidency has been plainly apparent to even the most casual of observers since Inauguration Day, when he gave his bizarre “American Carnage” speech and declared that the crowd size was “the largest ever.”

This is all very entertaining, but not terribly newsworthy. What does qualify as news, however, is the fact that amid this “witches brew” of chaos and controversy, the embattled White House appears to be starting a roll-out of its “nuclear option,” which is to try to stop the Special Counsel’s Russia investigation in its tracks by firing Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Deputy Attorney General Rob Rosenstein, and then Special Counsel Robert Mueller himself.

Trump may be crazy like a fox. Realizing that Muller has him in his cross-hairs, with Flynn and Papadopoulos cooperating with him, and Muller now having conclusive evidence that Trump himself drafted the fake story while returning from Europe on Air Force 1 about Don Jr.’s meeting with the Russians in Trump Tower on June 9, 2016, The Trump Team must be now painfully aware that the jig is up. Mueller now has enough evidence to make an Obstruction of Justice case against Trump, and probably also has enough to establish that senior members of the Trump team –if not Trump himself – colluded with the Russians to successfully interfere with the 2016 presidential election. We know this because there is now sufficient public evidence of this in press reports, and it can be safely assumed that about 70% of what Mueller knows about Trump’s collusion and obstruction efforts has not yet been made public.

The only way to stop the Mueller investigation and the additional indictments and plea agreements that are expected to be rolled out over the next couple of months is for Trump to try to blow up the entire process, just as embattled President Nixon tried to do with the October 1973 “Saturday Night Massacre” firing of Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox and the resignations of Attorney General Elliot Richardson and Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus.

To be sure, Trump and his remaining close advisors must realize that this is a longshot “Hail Mary” pass, which marked the beginning of the end for the Nixon Presidency, but he is rapidly running out of options. We know by now that he is temperamentally and emotionally incapable of just patiently waiting for the next shoe to drop from Mueller’s office, which could be an indictment of Jared Kushner, Don Jr. or other senior staff members or close family members, or he could just decide to roll the dice and either stop the Russia investigation in its tracks or go up in flames trying.

The expression “going nuclear” may not be a euphemism, now that Trump is in a name-calling contest with the equally unstable leader of North Korea over who has the biggest nuclear button. There has always been a persistent “Wag the Dog” theory that when the going gets tough for a President, then the best option is to start a war to distract the public’s attention from other issues, such as scandal at the White House. However, never before has anyone hinted or even considered that a President would literally use the nuclear option to get himself out of a jam. With Trump, however, everything has changed. Who can say with confidence that Trump will never push the “nuclear button” just to create a distraction from the Mueller investigation? No one, you say? I thought so.

 

But first the “political nuclear option.” On Thursday, two top House conservatives —  Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina, the chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, and Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, who sits on the House Judiciary Committee – called for Attorney General Jeff Sessions to resign. The Republican drumbeat for Sessions to step aside will undoubtedly intensify over the next several days, with the White House no doubt issuing statements to the effect that Sessions should never have accepted the job in the first place if he knew that he would have to recuse himself from supervision over the Russia investigation. Fox News and Devin Nunes, or some other White House loyalist, can also be counted on to make seemingly high-minded statements about the Justice Department being in “chaos” and that there is an urgent need for change in leadership so that an new Attorney General can “take back control” of the Department and make sure that the Special Counsel’s investigation does not “go off the rails” by investigating matters that were never intended to be investigated (such as the Trump Organization’s finances and massive Russian funding).

Even though watching the Trump White House’s attempt to undermine and then terminate Mueller’s Russia investigation will be much like watching a massive car wreck unfold in slow motion, the country must prepare itself as best as possible, just as we would if a huge tsunami were approaching. To paraphrase a recent statement by Rep. Elijah Cummings, this is truly a battle for the soul of our democracy. When the dust settles, there will be no innocent bystanders. Every citizen must now choose a side, and your children and grandchildren will be asking: “Which side were you on?”

IN PRAISE OF THE “DEEP STATE” JUSTICE DEPARTMENT

On Tuesday, President Trump started the new year off with a bang with a Twitter attack against the “Deep State” Justice Department. In attacking his own Justice Department, Trump was using code words (“deep state”) often used by right-wing conspiracy theorists to describe the permanent liberal cabal of government employees that is entrenched deep within the federal bureaucracy, which they believe are resisting Trump’s efforts to root them out and bend all of the federal agencies to his will.

Last week, Trump went so far as to assert during a New York Times interview that he had the “absolute right to do what I want to do with the Justice Department.” Sorry, Mr. Trump, you do not. That is not how the federal system works – at least not for the past 135 years.

The vast majority of FBI and other Justice Department employees are career law enforcement agents and attorneys who have been selected for their posts based upon merit, not on their party affiliation, connections or political ideology. Indeed, the U.S. Civil Service System dates back to 1883 and is designed to eliminate the ability of elected officials and political party operatives to decide who works for the federal government.

To be sure, the upper echelons of both the Justice Department and the FBI are White House political appointees, including FBI Director Christopher Wray, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and Deputy Attorney General Rob Rosenstein. However, beneath this upper crust, all Justice Department employees are hired based solely on their abilities and their merit, working diligently at their jobs without political interference or fear of retribution.

However, this does not mean that Justice Department employees cannot hold political opinions, vote, or make contributions to political candidates. Indeed, as Deputy AG Rosenstein recently explained to a Congressional committee, the political opinions and party affiliation of candidates for Justice Department positions are not taken into account in the hiring process. To do so would be a violation of the law. Under the 1978 Civil Service Reform Act, the “selection and advancement” for federal positions is “determined solely on the basis of relative ability, knowledge, and skills.” Nor, as Rosenstein has pointed out, can the Justice Department fire an employee for expressing personal political views, which is protected by the First Amendment, although the FBI did recently reassign FBI agent Peter Strzok from the Special Counsel’s Trump/Russia investigation to other duties when text messages by him that were disparaging of Trump were made public. Even though there is no evidence that such personal views by Agent Strzok influenced his professional work, his reassignment was entirely proper in order to avoid the appearance of impropriety or bias.

Trump appears to be persisting in his efforts to quash the Justice Department’s investigation of his team’s dealings with the Russians, even though those efforts have backfired to date. First, he tried to cajole then-FBI Director Comey into dropping the investigation of former NSA Michael Flynn’s Russia contacts during the campaign and the transition period. When Comey balked, Trump simply fired him. This strategy, however, had the unintended consequence of triggering the appointment of Robert Mueller as Special Counsel and an intensification of the investigation.

Trump has also bitterly criticized Attorney General Jeff Sessions for having recused himself on the Russia investigation, but Sessions, to his credit, has more or less stuck by his guns and refused to be pressured into resigning.

Now Trump’s allies in the press and in Congress have intensified their efforts to discredit and undermine the FBI and the Special Counsel’s office in the eyes of the public.  One of Trump’s opening salvos attacked the FBI as supposedly being in “tatters” and therefore not worthy of public respect.  By vowing to restore the FBI to its former glory, or making it “greater than ever,” it seems likely that Trump is laying the groundwork for a possible firing of Mueller or, at the very least, indelibly tainting the Russia investigation as a partisan “witch hunt.” If he succeeds in this effort, then he will be inoculated, he hopes, from the fallout of any additional indictments or plea agreements with present and former members of the Trump team, which could then be dismissed as further evidence that the “deep state” is engaged in a slow-rolling “coup ” to oust Trump from the White House.

Trump’s campaign to undermine and dishearten the FBI appears to have been at least partially successful, since FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, who has been one of the specific targets of the well-orchestrated assault on the FBI’s credibility, has announced that he will be retiring soon, even though he is only 49 years old. The FBI’s top lawyer, James Baker, was also abruptly reassigned last week.

If the Trump Administration and its allies continue on this course unopposed, they will have carried out their own “coup,” which will involve the politicization of the Justice Department for the first time in modern history, and the end of the Justice Department’s proud history of professionalism and political independence. The stakes could not be any higher.