Category Archives: Uncategorized

The End of Life as We Know It

As an innately curious person, I read a lot: the Washington Post (all of it), excerpts from the New York Times and other news publications (courtesy of Apple iPhone) and, of course, many books. The books include much fiction, history and science. The history informs my understanding of the world in general, the fiction moves me in mysterious ways and the science … the science stuns and often frightens me.

I am currently plowing through Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs, subtitled The Astounding Interconnectedness of the Universe, by Lisa Randall, the Baird Professor of Science at Harvard, a member of the National Academy of Sciences, and on and on. She studies “theoretical particle physics and cosmology.” Professor Randall has a PhD from Harvard University and has held professorships at MIT and Princeton University. She has received honorary degrees from Brown University, Duke University, Bard College, and the University of Antwerp.

So, you might say, what’s this obscenely smart woman got to do with me or the “end of life as we know it?” Here is what.

Chapter 11 of Dark Matter is entitled “Extinctions;” it explains the five major mass extinctions that have been documented through the Earth’s roughly 4.5 billion-year existence, following the emergence of the first life (as revealed by fossils aged 3.5 billion years old). Chapter 11 has a subsection called “A Sixth Extinction?” I will not go on and on about this; rather, I will just set out some of the facts supporting Prof. Randall’s “very disturbing speculation” about what is happening right now to our planet, the only home humans will likely ever have.

During the past 500 years, 80 species of mammals, out of less than 6,000, have gone extinct.

That rate of mammal extinction is 16 times normal – in the last century the rate has increased by 32 times.

In the past century, amphibians have become extinct at a rate almost 100 times higher than before – 41 percent more are threatened now.

Extinction of bird species in the last century are higher than average by 20 times.

Changes in environmental factors now are similar to those that occurred during the Permian-Triassic Extinction some 250 million years ago.

Prof. Randall believes, as do almost all knowledgeable and qualified scientists around the world, that “Human influence is almost certainly largely to blame for the recent diversity loss.” Dark Matter (PB ed. 186)

80 percent of North American large animals were driven to extinction when Europeans arrived here.

These dramatic effects occur from a combination of pollution, land clearing that destroys habitat, overfishing, ocean acidification, species invasion and homogenization of animal populations.

Prof. Randall concludes the chapter with these observations:

Even if new species do emerge or conditions ultimately improve, a dramatically altered world is unlikely to be good for us as a species…. Life has evolved with delicate balancing mechanisms. It is not clear how many of these can be altered without dramatically changing the ecosystem and life on the planet. You would think we would have considerably more selfish concern for our fate – especially when so many such losses can most likely be prevented. After all, unlike the creatures 66 million years ago whose fate was determined by an errant meteoroid, humans today should have the capacity to see what is coming. [Dark Matter, PB ed. 188]

Sessions’ Testimony Evaluated – Part 3

In the previous post, I began reviewing the questioning by the Committee following Sessions’ opening statement. While this is “old news” in one sense, I believe Sessions will yet come to play an important role in the Trump-Russia saga; it is, therefore, appropriate to fully consider the issues raised by his testimony under oath before the Senate Intelligence Committee.

We left off the last post with a brief discussion of the inexplicable reality that Sessions claimed to have agreed with Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein in discussions prior to Sessions’ confirmation as Attorney General that Comey’s conduct as FBI Director was unacceptable, yet he never discussed the issue with Comey. Instead he, allegedly, waited until President Trump asked for recommendations from Rosenstein and Sessions regarding Comey’s status.

Of course, Trump subsequently stated in the Lester Holt interview that he had already decided to fire Comey because of the Russia investigation. One interpretation of this is that Trump set up Rosenstein and Sessions by asking for their recommendation when he didn’t need it, then used it as a cover which he subsequently blew due to his obsession with being seen as the all-powerful leader who needs no help from underlings in making important decisions.

Returning to the hearing, Senator Warner asked whether Sessions ever discussed with Comey what happened in the Comey-Trump meeting from which all others were asked to leave the room. Sessions never answered the question but did confirm that Comey was concerned about the meeting and that Comey’s recall of what he, Comey, said to Sessions about the meeting was consistent with Sessions’ recall.

This episode is concerning because it illustrates that these Senators, who have a critically important role to play as investigators, are perhaps not being properly supported by staff who should be passing them notes or whispering in their ear to assure that complete follow-up questions are pursued. Not all Senators are equally equipped to engage in effective cross-examination of evasive witnesses and should have some professional and timely legal help when it matters most.

One of the most interesting parts of the questioning related to Sessions’ justification for having recused himself from the Russia investigation but nevertheless participating in the firing of Comey. Sessions said the Russia investigation was just one of thousands underway and that he had a responsibility to manage the leadership of the Department of Justice and thus could, in effect, disregard the Russia investigation when making the leadership call.

There was considerable sparring between Senator Heinrich and Sessions regarding the latter’s refusal to answer questions about conversations with President Trump, to the point at which Heinrich flatly accused Sessions of impeding the Committee’s investigation:

you are obstructing that congressional investigation by not answering these questions, and I think your silence, like the silence of Director Coats, like the silence of Admiral Rogers speaks volumes.

Sessions then sought refuge in advice he claimed to have received from DOJ lawyers that Sessions’ preservation of Trump’s later ability to assert Executive Privilege was proper. Heinrich accepted that claim at face value without further exploration, wondering aloud why Sessions had not said that initially. Heinrich ended his examination with this statement:

I find it strange that neither you nor deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein brought up performance issues with director Comey, and, in fact, deputy FBI director McCabe has directly refuted any assertion that there were performance issues.

It is worth noting that after Heinrich implicated Coats and Rogers, Chairman Burr came to their defense, pointing out that Rogers had testified in closed session for two hours and that all questions could then have been asked of him. It appears that political kinship counts for more than truth seeking in these proceedings.

I am going to close this post with a long quotation of the Q&A between Senator King and Sessions, interspersed with my “English translation” of Sessions’ responses. The quote mainly speaks for itself.

SESSIONS: What we try to do, I think most cabinet officials, others that you questioned recently, officials before the committee, protect the president’s right to do so [assert Executive Privilege]. If it comes to a point where the issue is clear and there’s a dispute about it, at some point the president will either assert the privilege or not or some other privilege would be asserted, but at this point I believe it’s premature. [emphasis added]

KING: You’re asserting a privilege.

SESSIONS: It would be premature for me to deny the president a full and intelligent choice about executive privilege. That’s not necessary at this point.

In English, Sessions is saying that he is not going to answer, now or in the future, questions that might reveal anything about the President’s statements or statement made to the President unless and until two conditions are met: (1) “the issue is clear and there’s a dispute about it,” and (2) the President asserts some privilege related to it. Until then, Sessions rather than the Intelligence Committee will decide whether it is necessary to take the questions to the President and right now it’s “not necessary” so let’s move on.” And he gets away with it again.

King then asked Sessions for his view about Russian interference in the 2016 elections. Sessions’ answer is astounding for someone who had previously claimed he was responsible for managing the Department of Justice:

KING: Do you believe the Russians interfered with the 2016 elections?

SESSIONS: It appears so. The intelligence community seems to be united in that, but I have to tell you, senator king, I know nothing but what I’ve read in the paper. I’ve never received any details, briefing on how hacking occurred or how information was alleged to have influenced the campaigns.

KING: Between the election, there was a memorandum from the intelligence community on October 9th, that detailed what the Russians were doing after the election, before the inauguration. You never sought any information about this rather dramatic attack on our country?

SESSIONS: No.

KING: You never asked for a briefing or attended a briefing or ruled are the intelligence reports?

SESSIONS: You might have been very critical if I as an active part of the campaign was seeking intelligence related to something that might be relevant to the campaign. I’m not sure —

KING: I’m not talking about the campaign. I’m talking about what the Russians did. You received no briefing on the Russian active measures in connection with the 2016 election.

SESSIONS: No, I don’t believe I ever did.

4th Circuit Decision on Muslim Ban — Excerpts

Since most of my readers will not suffer the ordeal of reading the entire 205 pages of the 10 to 3 decision issued by the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in International Refugee Assistance Project v. Donald J. Trump, I have decided to make things easy for you by setting out my favorite quotations from the majority opinion and a portion of one concurring opinion. Obviously, I have been highly selective. The majority opinion is remarkably detailed and thorough, hard slogging even for a lawyer. Unlike the government, I freely admit that I am discriminating in favor of the plaintiff-winners in the case.

For context, the case was heard by the Chief Judge, and 12 of the remaining 15 judges on the court. The three dissenting judges were George H.W. Bush or George W. Bush appointees, but one of the majority on the decision was a George W. Bush appointee as well.

Here you go:

“The question for this Court, distilled to its essential form, is whether the Constitution, as the Supreme Court declared in Ex parte Milligan, 71 U.S. (4 Wall.) 2, 120 (1866), remains “a law for rulers and people, equally in war and in peace.” And if so, whether it protects Plaintiffs’ right to challenge an Executive Order that in text speaks with vague words of national security, but in context drips with religious intolerance, animus, and discrimination. Surely the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment yet stands as an untiring sentinel for the protection of one of our most cherished founding principles—that government shall not establish any religious orthodoxy, or favor or disfavor one religion over another. Congress granted the President broad power to deny entry to aliens, but that power is not absolute. It cannot go unchecked when, as here, the President wields it through an executive edict that stands to cause irreparable harm to individuals across this nation.”

….

“The Government has repeatedly asked this Court to ignore evidence, circumscribe our own review, and blindly defer to executive action, all in the name of the Constitution’s separation of powers. We decline to do so, not only because it is the particular province of the judicial branch to say what the law is, but also because we would do a disservice to our constitutional structure were we to let its mere invocation silence the call for meaningful judicial review. The deference we give the coordinate branches is surely powerful, but even it must yield in certain circumstances, lest we abdicate our own duties to uphold the Constitution.EO-2 cannot be divorced from the cohesive narrative linking it to the animus that inspired it. In light of this, we find that the reasonable observer would likely conclude that EO-2’s primary purpose is to exclude persons from the United States on the basis of their religious beliefs.”

….

“… when we protect the constitutional rights of the few, it inures to the benefit of all. And even more so here, where the constitutional violation injures Plaintiffs and in the process permeates and ripples across entire religious groups, communities, and society at large. When the government chooses sides on religious issues, the “inevitable result” is “hatred, disrespect and even contempt” towards those who fall on the wrong side of the line. Engel v. Vitale, 370 U.S. 421, 431 (1962). Improper government involvement with religion “tends to destroy government and to degrade religion,” id., encourage persecution of religious minorities and nonbelievers, and foster hostility and division in our pluralistic society. The risk of these harms is particularly acute here, where from the highest elected office in the nation has come an Executive Order steeped in animus and directed at a single religious group.”

….

WYNN, Circuit Judge, concurring:

“Invidious discrimination that is shrouded in layers of legality is no less an insult to our Constitution than naked invidious discrimination. We have matured from the lessons learned by past experiences documented, for example, in Dred Scott and Korematsu. But we again encounter the affront of invidious discrimination—this time layered under the guise of a President’s claim of unfettered congressionally delegated authority to control immigration and his proclamation that national security requires his exercise of that authority to deny entry to a class of aliens defined solely by their nation of origin. Laid bare, this Executive Order is no more than what the President promised before and after his election: naked invidious discrimination against Muslims. Such discrimination contravenes the authority Congress delegated to the President in the Immigration and Nationality Act (the “Immigration Act”), 8 U.S.C. § 1101 et seq., and it is unconstitutional under the Establishment Clause.”

 

Visiting the Holocaust Museum

For years, I have resisted visiting this museum, in part because I had read many books detailing the history of the Nazi takeover of Germany and its aftermath and, in part, because I knew how jarring it would be. When my wife announced Sunday morning that she had acquired time-entry tickets for that afternoon, I relented.

The museum is indeed a jarring experience. The faces of the visitors, many quite young and many very old, tell the tale. Seeing the photographs and films while hearing the voices of the men and women who perpetrated the most monstrous genocide in world history is not for the light-of-heart. The cruelty of it cannot be described; it has to be seen. Even then, it sometimes does not register because it is so alien to how normal human beings see other human beings.

There are many lessons to be taken away from the experience of the Nazis in Germany. I won’t pretend to be competent to state them all. Others have done so in words more memorable than anything I can offer. But I can, I think, draw one observation that, for me, was the dominant idea and the dominant sensation that impressed itself on me as I passed through the origins, the implementation and the end results of the Nazi worldview. This sensation does not diminish the horror and the outrage of the Holocaust in any way, but aside from profound revulsion at what was done in the name of racial purity, there is a practical lesson that has immediate relevance to the United States and indeed the entire world.

I am speaking of complicity. Understated somewhat in the museum displays is the historical reality that much of the world, and in particular and notably the United States, turned its back on the Jewish refugees who were trying to escape the Holocaust spreading across Europe in the 1930s. And there is the historical reality of appeasement, the belief that by giving Hitler some of what he wanted, he would stop the ruthless expansion toward world domination that he so clearly stated was his ultimate desire. Intelligent people concluded that another war with Germany was to be avoided no matter what, that Hitler could be sated with a few more pieces of territory, a few more subjugated populations. The world largely stood by and watched Germany roll over much of Europe. Citizens of some of the victim countries actually welcomed the Nazi invasion. By the time the United States actively intervened, it was almost too late. Millions died, millions, while governments around the world failed to act.

Now let us turn to the present. I have written about this before. See http://bit.ly/2qoDaYE. Visiting the museum brings the message into sharp focus. Many of the same tactics used by Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party are routinely employed by the President Trump, his acolytes in the White House and his appointees in the major Executive Department agencies. Trump’s attempts to delegitimize the independent media, calling them the “enemies of the people” are right out of Hitler’s playbook. That may seem harsh or over-wrought but the history is there to be seen. Holocaust-deniers are just like climate science-deniers in their capacity to block the truth in favor of more satisfying mythologies.

I won’t belabor this. I don’t know that Trump plans to replace the Constitution, but then again, we have seen him refer to it as “archaic” and “really bad for the country.” He has railed at the courts for decisions he opposed and generally appears to see the Constitution as an unjustified obstacle to his political agenda. He has many apologists who are quick to respond that “he really didn’t mean that” or “he is just frustrated; pay attention to his actions, not his words.”

But his words are his actions. Many people said the same things about Adolf Hitler’s words. Then they saw his actions and remained silent or joined the Nazi bandwagon.

The real point is that people of good will who value their freedom must not be complicit in Trump’s undermining of American institutions such as the free press. Silence is complicity as much as active cooperation. Both silence and active cooperation made Hitler’s rise to power possible. They have the same effect in our time. It is the moral responsibility of every person who believes in the ideals of the American way of life as enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the invitation inscribed on the Statue of Liberty to actively resist the Trump administration’s cynical effort to undermine those ideals.

You can do this by subscribing to the information sources at MoveOn.org, ACLU.org, Indivisible.US, PeoplePower.org, Dailykos.com, TakeCareBlog.com or any of the other major authenticated sources of real information about what the Trump administration is doing to undermine the quality of the air you breathe, the water you drink, and the freedoms you enjoy as an American. Sign the petitions, participate in the marches, stand up and fight back! If you know someone who voted for Trump, reach out to them and politely, without judgment or acrimony, try to reason with them using the facts and truths that are readily available. And then VOTE in 2018. There is no other way. Do not be complicit by your silence and your inaction.

As you leave the Holocaust Museum, you pass a wall inscribed with these words of Martin Niemöller, a Protestant pastor who openly opposed Hitler and spent seven years in Nazi concentration camps:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Nothing more to say.

Indictment of Donald J. Trump, President of the United States

BEFORE THE SUPREME COURT OF PUBLIC OPINION
& EQUAL JUSTICE FOR ALL

THE PEOPLE OF THE UNITED STATES
                        v.
DONALD J. TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES

INDICTMENT FOR HIGH CRIMES & MISDEMEANORS & ARTICLES OF IMPEACHMENT

COMES NOW, THE PEOPLE OF THE UNITED STATES,

Who have declared that all men are created equal in the eyes of the law and entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and

Who have adopted a Constitution and amendments in the belief that thereby a more perfect union could exist with a government of the people, by the people, for the people, and

Who, having considered the manifest and mounting evidence of incompetence and dishonesty repeatedly demonstrated by the sitting President and his appointed officials (hereafter sometimes referred to as “Trump”),

DO HEREBY DECLARE that Trump has violated his oath office by consistently failing to faithfully execute the office of president of the United States and failing to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States by engaging in the acts set forth below, among many others:

  1. Knowingly violated Article I, Clause 8 of the Constitution forbidding receipt of foreign-sourced emoluments by failing to separate himself from management of, and financial rewards from, his many private business interests which he and his family regularly promote to and receive from, at least indirectly, financial benefits originating with foreign business and government interests;
  2. Repeatedly signed Executive Orders found to be blatant violations of the Constitution (a) regarding immigrants/refugees from Muslim-majority countries without evidence that they would accomplish any meaningful security purpose and (b) threatening the withholding of federal funds from Sanctuary Cities;
  3. Repeatedly signed Executive Orders designed to permit uncontrolled air and water pollution while denying the validity of scientific method and rejecting without basis in fact or reason the multiply authenticated findings of climate scientists around the world;
  4. Lied repeatedly about important matters bearing on his credibility, including, but not limited to, his claim that former President Obama wiretapped Trump Tower in New York;
  5. Repeatedly lied about his intention to release his tax returns for public scrutiny and refused in fact to release them;
  6. Lied about his intention to appoint highly qualified people to his Cabinet, instead awarding Department Head positions to manifestly unqualified persons such as Betsy Devos at Education, Ben Carson at HUD, Scott Pruitt at EPA, Rick Perry at Energy and Jefferson Beauregard Sessions as Attorney General;
  7. Attempted to undermine the independent news media by attacking professional journalists, and the media companies that employ them, as purveyors of “fake news” and labeling them as “enemies of the people;”
  8. Wasted millions of dollars of taxpayer funds on unnecessary trips to his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida where he plays golf almost every weekend and conducts serious public business in non-secure facilities;
  9. Personally visited on a frequent basis hotel/resort properties bearing his name, thereby continuing to promote his business interests and encouraging private firms to use such properties for their business and his and his family’s ultimate enrichment;
  10. Falsely claimed that Department of Justice data proves that the majority of domestic terrorist attacks after 9/11 were committed by those from abroad, thereby facilitating hostility of Americans toward Muslims and toward foreign countries with significant Muslim populations to the detriment of American foreign policy and relations with those countries and their people;
  11. Repeatedly falsely asserted responsibility for private company decisions in matters such as the price of the Lockheed Martin F-35 and the Toyota investment in Kentucky;
  12. Falsely asserted that he has accomplished more in his first 100 days in office than any president in history, thereby undermining the trust of the people in the office of the president;
  13. Lied about his knowledge of the operations of WikiLeaks and repeatedly lied about his knowledge of the attempts by Russia to influence the 2016 election, including Russians collaborating with members of Trump’s campaign staff;
  14. Covertly interfered with the congressional investigations of the connections between the Trump election campaign and Russia;
  15. Misrepresented statements by political leaders, such as Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings, whom Trump claimed had said Trump “will be the greatest president in the history of this country.”
  16. Repeatedly lied about the size of attendance at his inaugural ceremony;
  17. Repeatedly misrepresented the share of the Electoral College vote he received and falsely claimed that he would have won the popular vote but for 3 million “illegal” votes cast;
  18. Demonstrated a thorough-going failure to understand history or geography, making such claims as that “Korea actually used to be a part of China;”
  19. Falsely attributed NATO’s anti-terrorism activities to his personal criticism of NATO for not fighting terrorism;
  20. Lied about the length and extent of his pre-election relationship with Steve Bannon;
  21. Demonstrated a serious lack of knowledge about international trade, falsely claiming, for example, that the trade deficit with China was more than $150 billion larger than in reality;
  22. Gave aid and comfort to authoritarian leaders around the world, including Vladimir Putin and Rodrigo Duterte;
  23. Repeatedly supported changes in law and federal policy to deprive elderly, infirm, disabled, poor and foreign-born persons of equal protection of the laws and due process of law, in violation of the Constitution of the United States.
  24. Threatened to shut down the federal government to get his way on budget cuts that will endanger the lives of Americans.

WHEREFORE, for good cause shown, proceedings for impeachment of Donald J. Trump should be commenced forthwith in accordance with the Constitutional provisions pertinent thereto, or in the alternative, removal proceedings should be commenced forthwith in accordance with Amendment 25 to the Constitution.

So it is written, so let it be done.

This Indictment and Articles of Impeachment are subject to amendment as additional facts are forthcoming.

 

Tax March DC 2017

Yesterday tens of thousands of Americans gathered in cities across the country to demand that the sitting President of the United States release his tax returns so that the country can decide for itself whether there are concerning ties to Russia, whether and where lie his continuing conflicts of interest resulting from failure to divorce himself fully from his business interests and how he and his family may benefit from changes in the federal tax code now being considered.

There are also many questions whether he has lied about his charitable giving, the scale of his earnings and others. Trump first said he would release his returns when the audits were finished. That excuse fails on multiple grounds. He signed the returns when they were filed and, as we all do, vouched for their accuracy and completeness. The audit may reveal issues with those criteria, or other failings, but the audit, which Trump could and likely would contest for years, is no excuse for withholding the returns from public scrutiny. As many of the signs at yesterday’s march stated: what is Trump hiding? T

he same question arises due to the Trump decision to withhold from public view the visitor logs to the White House. The proposed excuses for this latest example of secret government are security and privacy. The security question can easily be handled by time delaying the release or by masking names where there is a legitimate security reason for not disclosing a visitor to the White House. In an open democracy those should be few and far between. The privacy rationale is ludicrous coming from an administration that supports letting Internet providers sell the browsing records of their users.

For those interested but couldn’t attend a march personally, I have attached 116 images from the march in the District of Columbia which was massive. The photos from ground level do not fully reveal the size of the event nor, of course, the sounds.

Next up is the March for Science on Earth Day, Saturday, April 22. I urge you to join this march to convey to the administration that the people of this country are not going to accept the dismantling of the environmental protections that have been put in place to protect our life-essential air, water, bio-diversity and other natural elements critical to life on the one planet on which we can live. See this site for information:  https://www.marchforscience.com/

For Whom Is the Chair of House Intelligence Committee Working?

In a report published this afternoon in USAToday, http://usat.ly/2nojfXw, the chair of the House Intelligence Committee was attributed as saying that “communications involving members of President Trump’s transition group were “incidentally collected” by U.S. intelligence officials following the November election.”

According to the report, updated from its first publication,

“Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., did not identify other transition members swept up in the surveillance, adding that he has viewed “dozens” of such intelligence reports that appeared “legal” but perhaps “inappropriate.” “What I’ve read bothers me, and I think it should bother the president himself and his team, because some of it appears to be inappropriate,” Nunes told reporters at the White House after briefing the president on the findings. [Note that the original USAToday story included this line, “”I think the president is concerned and he’d like to see these reports.”] [Note also that Sean Spicer has been reported saying that Nunes spoke to the press before informing Trump]

The chairman said the intelligence reports were not part of a criminal investigation or the FBI’s ongoing investigation into Russia interference in the 2016 election. Rather, he said the collection was related to broader intelligence gathering activities.

….

Nunes also has rejected the president’s claims that Trump Tower had been wiretapped. And he said “none” of the newly disclosed surveillance was related to “any investigation of Russian activities or of the Trump team.” [emphasis added]

“Details about U.S. persons associated with the incoming administration—details with little or no apparent foreign intelligence value—were widely disseminated in intelligence community reporting,” Nunes told reporters Wednesday. Nevertheless, Trump, while meeting Wednesday with members of the Congressional Black Caucus, told reporters that he felt “somewhat” vindicated by Nunes’ statements.

” I must tell, you I somewhat do,” the president said. “I very much appreciated the fact that they found what they found, I somewhat do.” Before briefing the president, Nunes said he also notified House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., of the information. Nunes suggested that the information came from one or more whistleblowers. “It came through the proper channels and the proper clearances,” Nunes said. “This was information that was brought to me that I thought the president needed to see.”  He said the National Security Agency has been cooperative, but the FBI so far has not.

Nunes said the surveillance itself appeared to be legal — presumably through a warrant from Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court — but that the concern was what intelligence agencies did with that information. He would not rule out that senior Obama administration officials received the intelligence or that they were involved in the “unmasking” of the citizens identified in the reports. [Note that he can’t rule Obama’s officials “in” either] But he also re-stated his belief that Obama did not order the wiretapping of Trump Tower, as Trump himself has suggested in a series of March 4 tweets and subsequent public remarks.

“From what I’ve read, there seems to be some level of surveillance action — perhaps legal, but I don’t know that it’s right,” he said. Nunes said nothing he shared with the president was within the scope of the FBI’s investigation into ties between Russia and Trump associates. “The reports I was able to see did not have anything to do with the Russia investigation,” the congressman said. “The president needs to know that these intelligence reports are out there, and I have a duty to tell him that.”

The source of that duty is not clear. The chair of the House Intelligence Committee does not report to the President. I would think that in the midst of an on-going FBI investigation involving the President’s staff, present and former, and possibly the President himself (the investigation is in early stages), the chair would not go running to the President with every piece of information he discovers that he thinks helps exonerate the President or gives more ammunition for the thoroughly discredited claims that the former President Obama ordered electronic surveillance of Trump Tower. Moreover, Nunes concedes that the surveillance he claims to have discovered was legal. The basis for his suggestion that it was not “right” is not clear.

The first USAToday report also stated that “White House spokesman Sean Spicer characterized the Nunes’ information as “startling,” saying that it required additional investigation.” Clearly, Nunes’s disclosures have had the intended effect of bolstering the President’s team in promoting the false narrative that Trump Tower was surveilled.

This hasty action by the chair of the Intelligence Committee speaks volumes about the objectivity of the Republican-managed Committee’s involvement in the FBI investigation and is further compelling, indeed overwhelming, evidence for the need to appoint an independent prosecutor to oversee the investigation of the Trump-Russia connection.

The USAToday report goes on to quote Nunes thus: “I think the president is concerned and he’d like to see these reports.” And then this:

“The chairman said the reports and incidental collection of names were not part of a criminal investigation or the FBI’s ongoing investigation into Russia interference in the 2016 election. Rather, he said the activities were elated [sic] to intelligence gathering.”

I am not an expert in these matters but I’m having a hard time distinguishing between these disclosures by the chair and what the Trump administration, and the chair himself, have repeatedly decried as “leaks.” Apparently, the only bad leak is one that doesn’t help the false presidential narrative. Furthermore, if the documents reviewed by the chair were indeed related to “intelligence gathering,” why did he feel it was appropriate for him to rush to the White House with the information?

Despite all this hoopla, the report states that “Nunes also rejected the president’s claims that Trump Tower had been wiretapped. But he said “none” of the newly disclosed surveillance was related to “any investigation of Russian activities or of the Trump team.”  By disclosing this “unrelated information,” Nunes appears to have fed the President the talking points he needs to continue his discredited (by both the FBI and NSA) claim of wiretapping. Chair Nunes has, it seems to me, removed the last shred of doubt about his inability and/or unwillingness to lead a proper investigation into the President and his minions. He is too beholden to the President and way too anxious to exonerate him. What is required here is an independent leader of a serious investigation. Failing that, any ultimate exoneration by the Republican led House Intelligence Committee will be suspect.