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Monday, August 24, 2020

Just too selfish

Just too Selfish

Column in the Cambridge Chronicle

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Another take on Mueller: Republican.



With the dropping of charges against General Flynn and the Supreme Court’s hearing about the partial release of Grand Jury testimony gathered by Special Prosecutor, Robert Mueller, we are re-entering a focus on the Mueller investigation. Just how unbiased was Rober Mueller?
Robert Mueller, a lifelong Republican, has given great service to his party through his investigation of the Trump campaign and his report (Report On The Investigation Into Russian Interference In The 2016 Presidential Election) and his discussion of the report before Congress in July 2019. It is clear that Robert Mueller is not quite such a straight arrow as he is reputed to be.
This conclusion is based on four elements:

  • .      The failure to file charges on Finance Law violations (conspiracy with the Russians) following the June 9th 2016 meeting between Trump campaign representatives and Russian operatives
  •      The obfuscation so evident in his discussion of why the President was not indicted on obstruction of justice charges
  •      His delay in correcting Attorney General Barr’s misleading summary of the Mueller report
  •      His strangely inept behavior during his testimony before Congress.

No Campaign Finance Charges
From his report, it is clear that he bent over backwards not to indict two members of the President’s family (Donald Jr. and Jared Kushner) and the then manager of his presidential campaign, Mr. Manafort for receiving dirt about Hillary Clinton. Mueller levies no charges because he thought he would have difficulty providing proof of a crime because of the question of whether there was anything of value being offered to the campaign and whether the participants in the meeting knew that they were breaking the law. It was clear that if something of value had been received, it whould have ben reported and that receipt from a foreigner was forbidden.
Although the law specifies that value resides in what the participants expect to receive before the meeting took place.  He then went on to claim that there was no way to establish the value of what was offered to the Trump team. This despite the fact that before the meeting, the team was told that the information would incriminate Hillary and that it would be helpful to the Trump campaign.  Mueller’s second reason for rejecting the idea that something of value was received wass the fact that “no judicial decision has treated the voluntary provision of uncompensated opposition research or similar information as a thing of value that could amount to a contribution under campaign finance law.” We shall see later that Mr. Mueller was not so sensitive to a lack of judicial support.
Finally, he argues that he could not lay charges because the Trump representatives might not have known that they were breaking the law in asking for something of value from the Russians. Although ignorance of the law is usually no excuse, with campaign finance law, the potential wrongdoer must do so “knowingly and willfully.” Mueller thought that Trump’s team might be able to activate this defense, but surely that is a decision to be made by the defenders and not to be considered in deciding whether or not there is a case to be made.

Obfuscation on Obstruction of Justice
The saddest statement in the report comes in the introduction to the section on Obstruction of Justice. It reads: “Accordingly, while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”
There is one reason and one reason only why Mr. Mueller did not draw the conclusion the President was a criminal: Justice Department rulings and memoranda that a sitting president could not be indicted. However. This proposition has not been tested in Court. Mr. Mueller unlike the issue of value accepted the untested position. Clearly favoring the President.

Barr’s summary of the Mueller report
On March 22nd. 2019, Robert Mueller submitted his report, just under 500 pages in length, to the Attorney General, William Barr. Two days later, Barr released a four page letter giving his summary of the report and claiming that there was no collusion and no obstruction. On March 29th. Mr. Mueller wrote privately to the Attorney General protesting that Barr’s summary did not take into account the context and detail provided in the report. In other words the report was misleading the public. The information about Mueller’s concerns did not become public until April 30th. This, however, was moot as the redacted Mueller report had been released on April 18th. Thus for over three weeks, the Barr summary was the only information that the public had about what Mueller had found. The Barr misinformation set the frame for subsequent discussion and interpretation. Mueller failed to immediately scotch Barr’s misinformation. He played by the rules being unwilling to challenge his boss publically; the country lost.

Behavior at the Congressional Hearings
Mueller repeatedly said he did not wish to appear before Congress. However, as a good soldier, he appeared when called upon. However, his reputation as a sharp, well informed, legal firecracker did not survive his testimony. He was low key. He often appeared confused. He always declined to go beyond what was written in the report, and he never, never engaged in speculation. However, at least one message was clearly delivered: our elections are under attack by Russia and we need to take defensive actions before 2020.

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Lessons from Mueller


Lessons from the Mueller Report
(Report On The Investigation Into Russian Interference In The 2016 Presidential Election)
 

With the dropping of charges against General Flynn and with the Supreme Court’s hearing about the partial release of Grand Jury testimony gathered by Special Prosecutor, Robert Mueller, and with the recent opening of senate investigations, we are re-focusing on the Mueller investigation. There are some lessons for us still to learn from his report.

I will look in detail at several elements:
1.      Mueller’s failure to file charges for Finance Law violations (conspiracy with the Russians) arising from the June 9th 2016 meeting between Trump campaign representatives and Russian operatives
2.      The obfuscation and contortions so evident in his discussion of why the President was not indicted on obstruction of justice charges.

No Charges for violations of the Campaign Finance Laws.
From his report, it is clear that he bent over backwards not to indict two members of the President’s family (Donald Jr. and Jared Kushner) and the then manager of his presidential campaign, Mr. Manafort. As is well known, the three confidants of Mr. Trump, responded positively to an invitation from a Russian lawyer to receive some dirt on Hilary Clinton. Mr. Trump Jr. is quoted by Mueller as saying: “if it’s [sensitive high level information] what you say I love it especially later in the summer.”
Mueller levies no charges because he thought he would have difficulty providing proof of a crime because of the question of whether there was anything of value being offered to the campaign and whether the participants in the meeting knew that they were breaking the law. Anything of value would have to be reported as a donation to the campaign and donations from foreigners are explicitly forbidden.
Mueller’s discussion of value [Chapter 5.B.3.a, b. i, iii) concludes like a brief provided by a defense attorney rather than a statement of the grounds for or against prosecution. He does begin by describing the kind of information that would be valuable: law enforcement reports, classified materials, confidential information on a competitive bid, grand jury information, and relevant here, “in the public corruption context … the value the defendant subjectively attaches to the items received.” In addition, the Federal Elections Commission has stated that value also resides in political membership lists, mailing lists, state-by-state lists of activists, polling data, and campaign materials. The law also specifies that value resides in what the participants expect to receive before the meeting took place.  However, Mueller dismissed all of this claiming that there was no way to establish the value of what was offered to the Trump team. This despite the fact that before the meeting, the Trump’s team was told and believed that the information would incriminate Hillary Clinton and that it would be helpful to Donald Trump’s campaign.  Mueller’s second reason for rejecting the idea that there had been a violation of the Election Law based on the value of a gift was the fact that “no judicial decision has treated the voluntary provision of uncompensated opposition research or similar information as a thing of value that could amount to a contribution under campaign finance law.” The argument that compensation is required for the contribution to be a violation of the law seems bizarre.
Finally, he argues that he could not lay charges because the Trump representatives might not have known that they were breaking the law in receiving something of value from the Russians. Although ignorance of the law is usually not a defense, with campaign finance law, the potential wrongdoer must do so “knowingly and willfully.” Mueller thought that Trump’s team might be able to activate this defense so decided not to charge them. I would have thought that Manafort being both a lawyer and being the campaign manager should have been aware of the law and would have been worth charging.

Obfuscation on Obstruction of Justice
The saddest statement in the report comes in the introduction to the section on Obstruction of Justice. It reads: “Accordingly, while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”
There is one reason and one reason only why Mr. Mueller did not draw the conclusion the President was a criminal: Justice Department rulings and memoranda that a sitting president could not be indicted. Recently several judges have questioned the applicability of these memoranda because they “do not constitute authoritative judicial interpretation of the Constitution concerning those issues.” Note that Mueller was concerned about the lack of such a ruling in the case of uncompensated gifts to a campaign; this weighed in his decision not to bring charges.
Mueller identified ten events that gave prima facie evidence that Mr. Trump, as President, obstructed justice. These include pressure on the FBI to go easy on General Flynn, through the firing of FBI Director James. Comey, through the attempts to hide the purpose and outcomes of the July 9th. Meeting.
All clearly qualify as obstruction of justice.

Implications
From the whole report, we need to take Mr. Mueller’s warning seriously and erect cyber defenses against Russian interference. Both government, through election protection, and the private sector, through disabling bots, must do their parts.
Second, we must revise the election finance law so that it is harder for people to plead ignorance. At the very least, knowledge of the law should be assumed for the candidate, her or his family, the campaign manager, and the senior staff of the campaign.
Finally, the idea that the President cannot be indicted while in office needs intense scrutiny. Surely wrongdoing that increases the chance of a person becoming President should be indictable. Certainly the idea of Presidential immunity should be tested in the courts.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Failure to receive intelligence

We should not be at all surprised that  Mr. Trump's National Security Team was unwilling to pass up bad news (Susan Rice: TrumpPuts Russia First. New York Times, July 1, 2020: A25.

After all, back in April 2017, Generals Mattis and McMaster failed to tell Mr. Trump that he was wrong in his report of the direction in which a US aircraft carrier was proceeding (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/18/world/asia/aircraft-carrier-north-korea-carl-vinson.html).

Most organizations face the problem of information distortion as it goes up the hierarchy. Good chief executives make sure that they have multiple channels of information so that they get a rounded view of the situation they are facing.

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Friday, November 1, 2019

Impeach Trump!

Despite what Republicans say, it is clear that Mr. Trump has committed an impeachable offense (Few Defectors and No Sign That Either Side Will Give an Inch. New York Times, November 1, 2019: A1, A16).

What Mr. Trump has done in the Ukraine is much, much worse than Nixon's action in Watergate.  Trump and Nixon shared two high crises. Mr. Trump added a third.

Mr. Nixon's campaign team carried out a robbery at the Watergate apartment complex to get dirt on the Democratic party.  Mr. Trump asked the Ukraine government to provide dirt on the Democrats in two areas: Hillary Clinton's computer server and Joe Biden's son.

Mr. Nixon and his staff tried desperately to cover up their crimes; an obstruction of justice. Mr. Trump has resolutely put pressure on members of his staff and on members of the wider administration to refrain from responding to Congressional subpoenas; an obstruction of justice.

In addition, Mr. Trump undermined US policy goals by withholding military aid to Ukraine while it was under ongoing attacks by Russia; this is treason, the highers of crimes.

Mr. Trump should be impeached. He should be tried in the Senate. He should be removed from office.