Jim Geraghty of National Review and Greg Corombos of Radio America enjoy watching the Russians get barred from competing in the 2018 Winter Olympics because of an ongoing doping scandal, and they also get a kick out of the International Olympic Committee suddenly caring about corruption. They also shake their heads as Steve Bannon tries to discredit Mitt Romney’s denunciation of Roy Moore by saying Moore served in Vietnam and Romney avoided it by “hiding behind his religion.” And they scold Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake, who not only condemns Roy Moore but is contributing to liberal Democrat Doug Jones.
Archives for December 2017
Former federal prosecutor Andrew C. McCarthy says there is still no discernible evidence of any conspiracy between Russia and the Trump campaign, and he says special counsel Robert Mueller is effectively on a “fishing expedition” to find criminal behavior of some kind.
McCarthy is also explaining what a Trump attorney likely meant when suggesting the president cannot obstruct justice.
Mueller, a former FBI director, was originally tasked with an open-ended counterintelligence investigation to determine whether any outside forces interfered with the 2016 presidential campaign. However, Mueller’s mandate from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein came with no formal limits.
McCarthy says Mueller’s task was the opposite of how prosecutions normally function.
“The usual thing in the United States is that there’s a crime so we assign a prosecutor. Here, there’s no crime. We assign a prosecutor . We tell him to go find a crime,” said McCarthy.
And thus far, McCarthy says Mueller hasn’t found what he was hired to find.
“He’s gone about his investigation as a kind of broad fishing expedition within those very broad parameters. If they had a crime that was the predicate for this investigation, it would have been conducted a different way. But he wasn’t directed to investigate a crime. He was given this very broad mandate,” said McCarthy.
The investigation is receiving enormous coverage in the wake of Mueller indicting former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn for making false statements to the FBI in January.
McCarthy says many people assume this is a sign that bigger charges are coming for the likes of Jared Kushner, Donald Trump, Jr., and possibly even the president himself for colluding with Russia. He says that assumption is based on a flawed understanding of law.
“Collusion is kind of a loaded word. All it means is concerted activity. What prosecutors care about is conspiracy, not collusion. Conspiracy is an agreement to violate a particular federal law. In this case, the law that they’re most likely talking about is some form of espionage by the Russians targeting the 2016 election,” said McCarthy.
“I never thought they had a case on that. I haven’t seen anything to suggest it. What we’ve seen with the three sets of charges is quite the opposite,” said McCarthy.
He says from Paul Manafort and Rick Gates to George Papadopoulos and now Michael Flynn, there is still not a single charge related to the 2016 election.
“They’ve had charges against Manafort and an associate, Rick Gates, that had nothing to do with the 2016 election, and these two guys, Flynn and George Papadopoulos, who pleaded out to process crimes of lying to the FBI, charges not having anything to do with supposed collusion in the Russian effort against the 2016 election,” said McCarthy.
There were Trump campaign contacts with Russia, but McCarthy says the lack of any related charges is telling. He says Papadopoulos only being charged with making false statements likely means there is no conspiracy case.
“With [the Papadopoulos indictment], Mueller files a 14-page statement of facts explaining the offense, and collusion pours off every page of it. You have a meeting with people who say they are agents of the Russian government. He meets with someone who represents herself, apparently falsely, to be Putin’s niece. They’re talking about setting up meetings with the Russian regime, possibly setting up meetings between Trump and Putin themselves,” said McCarthy.
“Yet, after all of that, he pleads guilty to one count of lying to the FBI about when his first meeting with a Russian official was. The case against him, even though it’s immersed in collusion, doesn’t have anything to do with collusion in the 2016 election. That’s the sort of thing that’s led me to believe there’s no collusion case,” said McCarthy.
The Mueller prosecutors, however, are now coming under scrutiny. Peter Strzok was tossed from the team after anti-Trump statements were made public. Andrew Weissman is still on board despite a recently uncovered email in which Weissman praises then-Acting Attorney General Sally Yates for refusing to enforce President Trump’s first travel ban.
McCarthy says we should not be shocked that federal employees are politically liberal. He says that alone is not evidence of corruption, at least in this investigation.
“I need to see a lot more about Strzok before I jump to the conclusion that he let his political opinions – we all have them – interfere with the way he enforced the law. But I think there are a lot of very questionable judgment calls that were made in the Hillary Clinton case,” said McCarthy.
Among those concerns are reports that Strzok changed former FBI Director James Comey’s language, so that Sec. Clinton was not labeled “grossly negligent” in the way she handled her emails as well as the FBI’s decision not to charge Clinton aides Cheryl Mills and Huma Abedin for making false statements to the FBI during that probe.
As for the Russia investigation, other political and legal experts disagree with the argument that there is no whiff of a criminal conspiracy. They specifically point to the June 2016 meeting involving Trump, Jr. and Manafort and Russians who said they represented the Russian government and promised damaging information on Hillary Clinton.
Even though no damaging information was turned over, the critics contend the Trump’s campaign’s willingness to engage with the Russians that way proves it was willing and eager to go down that path.
McCarthy says that sort of activity might be unseemly but it’s not criminal.
“What a prosecutor is interested in is not collusion. A prosecutor is interested in conspiracy. That means you have to have an agreement to violate a law, and there’s no against taking information from the Russians about your political opponents
“Is it something you should do? No. Is it something we should endorse? No. But the narrow question for Mueller as a prosecutor is not whether it’s unsavory behavior. It’s whether it’s criminal behavior,” said McCarthy.
Democrats and the media are also actively wondering whether a recent Trump tweet suggests he knew about Flynn’s lies to the FBI before he fired Comey in May. Some believe it amounts to obstruction of justice, leading Trump attorney John Dowd to declare that the president cannot obstruct justice.
“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,'” Dowd told Axios.
McCarthy says on one hand it it “absurd” to claim a president cannot obstruct justice, but he says the president can legally derail virtually any investigation he wants, including deciding who should be investigated and which executive branch officials ought to be fired.
He says the issue get complicated when a president exercises those powers for what is perceived to be a corrupt purpose. But even then, McCarthy says the proper recourse is impeachment, not criminal prosecution, because a sitting president can always make it go away.
“Practically speaking, the president holds all of the Trump cards against being indicted. He can pardon himself and everybody else, which stops the investigation in its tracks. He can order the investigation to be dropped. He can fire the prosecutor. He can do all sorts of things to prevent him from ever being indicted,” said McCarthy.
Jim Geraghty of National Review and Greg Corombos of Radio America react to the U.S. Supreme Court allowing President Trump’s travel ban on six nations to go into effect while the courts sort out the legal challenges. Regardless of whether the ban is a good idea, U.S. law clearly gives the president the authority to do this. They also shudder as the Republican National Committee follows President Trump’s lead and jumps back in to help Alabama U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore. And they shake their heads as Michigan Rep. John Conyers says he is “retiring” from Congress and endorses his son in the race to succeed him.
President Trump announced Monday he was significantly reducing the size of two national monuments in Utah, infuriating environmentalists and leaving his supporters wanting the president to do the same in many other parts of the country.
Speaking in Utah, Trump announced he was reducing the monument designation at Bears Ears National Monument from 1.3 million acres to 220,000. He also reduced the monument footprint at the Grand Staircase-Escalante from 1.9 million acres to roughly one million.
The National Center for Public Policy Research is pushing for a very aggressive approach to rolling back national monument designations. Senior Fellow Bonner Cohen is gratified Trump went further than Interior Secrertary Ryan Zinke originally recommended.
“He has shoved that aside and has reduced the size of the two monuments in Utah far beyond that which Zinke originally proposed. I think that’s an important first step,” said Cohen.
“This is just a first step. There are other national monuments that were created in recent years, mostly by Presidents Clinton, Bush, and particularly Obama, that are gigantic national monuments,” said Cohen.
Clinton designated the Grand Staircase-Escalante monument in 1996 and Obama signed off on Bears Ears shortly before leaving office.
Cohen says the federal government grabs land with little to no regard to the impact on the local community.
“They were created with precious little, if any, input from local effected communities and were created for the sole purpose of putting these lands completely off limits to any economic use whatsoever, to the detriment of the local communities,” said Cohen.
Democrats and environmental activists are outraged by Trump’s decision, a develop Cohen says was entirely predictable and proves Trump is making the right choice. Cohen says the aggressive liberal use of the monument designation has little to do with the stated purpose of protecting sacred American Indian lands.
He says the real goal is to squelch American energy production.
“Many of these lands do in fact contain very valuable natural resources, which is precisely why the Clinton administration and the Obama administration created them in the first place. The goal was to create an artificial shortage of natural resources and to limit Americans’ access to their own very abundant natural resources,” said Cohen.
Not only that, Cohen says the use of national monument designations is illegal. He says the 1906 Antiquities Act, which gives the president designation powers, specifically instructs that the smallest parcel of land be cordoned off to protect Indian sites.
In addition, he says a 1963 law specifically gives Congress the power to add federal wilderness lands, but Democrats and environmentalists are using the Antiquities Act as a run-around.
“The environmentalists, working hand-in-glove with the Clinton administration and the Obama administration, found a way of using the Antiquities Act and turning it on its head,” said Cohen.
“It is a de facto wilderness designation, circumventing Congress in the process, and also circumventing the will of local communities, who are rarely consulted about any of this,” said Cohen.
Trump’s critics also claim his actions are unprecedented, that no president has ever rolled back the monument designations of a predecessor. Cohen says that’s simply wrong.
‘There’s nothing unprecedented about a president shrinking national monuments. It has happened 18 times before,” said Cohen, who says the federal government already owns 30-35 percent of all land in the U.S., including 83 percent of Nevada and 63 percent in both Idaho and Utah.
Cohen says he expects more announcements like this from Trump in the days to come.
“I sincerely hope, and I have reason to believe, that other actions will be taken in the not-too-distant future, meaning in the next few weeks,” said Cohen. “I believe what we saw today will be the first of several steps the Trump administration will do in ending the abuse of the Antiquities Act,” said Cohen.
Jim Geraghty of National Review and Greg Corombos of Radio America welcome the decision of ABC News to punish Brian Ross over his sloppy, false, and damaging report about when President Trump urged Mike Flynn to make contact with Russia – just the latest in a long history of shameful reporting by Ross. They also erupt as Republican Texas Rep. Blake Farenthold reportedly used $84,000 of taxpayer money to settle a sexual harassment complaint made by his former staffer. And they chronicle the liberal hysteria following the Senate vote on tax reform – including assertions that the vote killed America, that it will kill millions of people, and that it is akin to raping poor people.
The power struggle at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is an easy legal decision in favor of the Trump administration and Sen. Mike Lee says he hopes the change at the top will also lead to the bureau getting reined in or killed entirely.
Last week, CFPB Director Richard Cordray resigned from his post and handed the position to his deputy, Leandra English. The Trump administration claimed it has the power to name an acting director, and tapped budget director Mick Mulvaney to take over the job.
English then filed suit to block Mulvaney’s installation but a federal judge sided with the administration.
Sen. Lee, R-Utah, who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee, says this is a very simple legal question.
“The legal issues sound intricate but they paint a pretty clear picture, which is that Mick Mulvaney is in charge,” said Lee.
“There’s a law called the Federal Vacancies Reform Act. That law grants the president the power to appoint acting department heads. The idea, of course, is that the President of the United States, having been duly elected by the American people, should be able to choose someone who has been confirmed by the Senate to lead each department,” said Lee.
The CFPB was created through the Dodd-Frank financial reform legislation that was created on the premise of protecting Americans from predatory lenders and other shady financial professionals who helped lay the groundwork for the 2008 financial crisis.
Cordray, English, and their allies contend that the legislation allows the deputy director (English) to assume the job if the permanent director is absent.
Lee is not buying that interpretation.
“The problem with that argument is that Cordray isn’t really absent or unavailable because those words connote a temporary absence. Cordray has resigned. He’s not returning.
“Although she was his deputy, he’s no longer absent or unavailable in the sense in which that term operates and so the Federal Vacancies Reform Act applies. That gives the president the power to appoint a Senate-confirmed person to serve as acting director, and that’s Mick Mulvaney,” said Lee.
Lee isn’t sure if English will try her luck in another court but he’s confident she’ll lose in every forum.
English also argues that the CFPB was created to be fiercely independent of politics and therefore President Trump should not get to choose Cordray’s successor. Lee says the Dodd-Frank bill made no mention of bypassing the vacancies law for the sake of the CFPB.
He says that argument also bolsters his contention that the CFPB is unconstitutional.
“That would cause it to come ever further untethered from the Constitution. The executive branch of the United States government is supposed to be run by the President of the United States. If we’re going to set something up that is completely insulated from the American people, other than the judiciary, you end up with a problem,” said Lee.
And Lee believes it’s that unchecked power that Democrats are reluctant to give up.
“They’ve got a good thing going. They run this agency that has de facto lawmaking power and law enforcement power and law interpretation powers. They’ve taken all the branches of government and rolled it into this little mini-autonomous government. It’s one of the reasons I have so many issues with the CFPB.
“While it was created with the best of intentions, it was poorly designed. It was set up to be unaccountable. Ultimately, it’s an unconstitutional agency,” said Lee.
“They dress it up in terms of saying, ‘We want this up to operate outside the political winds of change. Think about what that means. What that means is they don’t want the American people to have a say in the operation of their own government as it relates to the CFPB,” said Lee.
Lee was encouraged by reports of Mulvaney being “appalled” by the power he now has in leading the CFPB.
“That is exactly the kind of person we want in an office like that as long as it continues to exist, which it shouldn’t in its current form. We want somebody in there that is appalled by the breadth, the scope of the unconstitutional powers his agency wields,” said Lee.
And what is the CFPB doing with this unaccountable power?
“[It has the power to] come up with new laws and new regulations governing reporting requirements, imposing new affirmative obligations legally on anyone who interacts with consumers or whether that’s ordering the consolidation or restructuring of this or that business. They’ve got all kinds of authority that is very susceptible to being abused.
“When they come up with new rules, those rules have the effect of generally applicable federal law. And yet it’s a law that’s put in place without the assent of anyone that’s been elected to public office. That’s very disturbing,” said Lee.
Lee is also bullish that this public spat over who should run the CFPB will spur momentum to kill or greatly reform the bureau.
“I’d like to see it either eliminated or to have its wings significantly clipped. I’d like to see it operate in a manner that leaves it accountable to oversight by Congress. Currently, its funding is provided not by Congress but through the Federal Reserve. So it’s not even accountable to Congress for the way it spends money.
“I think it needs to be operating in the capacity of an executive branch agency rather than a sort of fourth branch of government that’s super-powerful and that’s above the restraints imposed by the Constitution’s structure,” said Lee.
While Lee is not guaranteeing any legislative wins on this issue, he says a lot of his colleagues are ready to act.
“There’s a lot of appetite for doing so. I am reluctant anytime to predict anything in particular will certainly pass, but I will say there is a lot of appetite for doing it. We should be doing it. We ought to put it on a must-pass vehicle and get it passed,” said Lee.
Jim Geraghty of National Review and Chad Benson of Radio America raise an important question about the national debt as the GOP approaches the votes needed to pass new tax legislation. They also ponder some possible explanations for the verdict in the Kate Steinle case. And they consider some possible implications for the president in light of Michael Flynn’s guilty plea.