Voice from the Past Trying to Tip the Scale?

Call me paranoid if you like, but the publication of a think-piece by Kenneth Starr leaves me more than a little disturbed. The article is entitled “Believe in the process” in the published Washington Post of June 16, 2017 and as “Firing Mueller would be an insult to the Founding Fathers” in the online version of the Post. http://wapo.st/2rDNAja

Starr, you may recall, was U.S. Solicitor General for President Bush (41) and served as independent counsel investigating various aspects of the Clinton presidency. His story can be seen at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ken_Starr.

Starr’s observations in the Post start off well enough, arguing that “the process, untidy and rancorous as ever, is actually working well” and that we need to “step back” and let the government finish its work. Referring to the present special prosecutor, Robert Mueller, Starr states the obvious: “the president would be singularly ill-advised to threaten, much less order, Mueller’s firing.” Starr adds that “Wisdom counsels strongly against unleashing a 21st-century version of the Saturday Night Massacre of Watergate-era infamy.”

Then, a funny thing happens. In what looks to me like a subtle attempt at gas-lighting. Starr writes:

Certainly, if Mueller wanders outside the bounds of professionalism and basic integrity, he can and should be fired. Concerns are already being raised – including about Mueller’s friendship with Comey and his staff-packing with anti-Trump partisans. He will be closely watched.

Maybe I missed it, but I haven’t noticed any “concerns” being raised about Mueller’s approach to the investigation of Trump-Russia or other possible criminal conduct by Trump and his administration. Virtually everyone who has addressed the subject has praised Mueller as a paragon of integrity and professionalism, someone beyond reproach.

Starr goes further, addressing Attorney General Jeffrey Sessions’ refusal, in testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee, to discuss any aspect of conversations with the president related to anything. Sessions asserted that the president should be given the questions and what amounts to an indefinite period of time to decide whether and how the questions can be answered. Starr flatly declares that Sessions “was on entirely solid ground in safeguarding the president’s right to invoke executive privilege.”

However, when Senator Kamala Harris tried to examine Sessions about why Sessions did not prepare for the inevitable questions about contacts with Trump, she was interrupted by Senator McCain waiving a verbal flag at Chairman Burr to stop Harris’ effort to get at that important question. Burr responded by effectively preventing further examination on that point. The question I have raised in other forums was, of course, not reached: why the previous intelligence leaders and Sessions’ appearance did not include White House counsel who could have advised on the spot about the assertion of executive privilege and the basis for it.

Then the Starr article gets even crazier and more troublesome. Starr goes on to say that “the early returns also suggest the absence of any Oval Office criminality.” He sells out on whether Trump’s “hope” that Comey would drop the Michael Flynn investigation was reasonably construed by Comey as a statement of presidential intention rather than a wistful wishing upon a star (no pun intended, but I do like it). Starr claims that “to hope that the director would abandon a line of inquiry is most naturally read as pleading and cajoling, but not as an order” and “in any event, at the time, Comey didn’t treat the president’s words as a directive.”

These declarations are astonishing in multiple ways that reflect an attempt by Starr to put his foot on the scale and add gravitas to Trump’s defense against obstruction of justice. There is no indication, other than Fox News and its like, that “early returns … suggest the absence of any Oval Office criminality.”

There are, I suggest, millions of Americans who believe just the opposite based on what has been disclosed thus far. Moreover, what Starr claims is the most “naturally read” thrust of the president’s stated “hope” is, in fact, downright silly, since Starr was not present to observe the president’s demeanor or fully evaluate the context. The notion that the president of the United States, known globally for his always-aggressive style, was effectively on bended knee before a man whose employment was in the president’s hands is facially absurd. And, of course, Starr ignores the most inconvenient fact, confirmed by Sessions, that Trump cleared the room before addressing his “hope” to Comey. Trump can’t begin to remember the last time he pleaded and cajoled to get his way.

Finally, there is Starr’s claim that since Comey at the time didn’t treat Trump’s words as a “directive,” the “pleading and cajoling” must not have been a directive. What would Comey have had to do to show that he took the words as a statement of what the president wanted and expected of him? Salute? Bow down? In fact, Comey went to his car and promptly wrote down what had transpired. And he asked the Attorney General to not leave him alone with the president in the future. That memorandum is now in the hands of Special Prosecutor Mueller. Starr would have us believe that Comey made the whole thing up, an act that even most of Comey’s principal adversaries seem to believe is inconsistent with both his character and long-time behavior.

I suspect we have not seen the last of Trump’s shadow team stepping forward to try to shore up the sinking ship that Trump has captained to near disaster. Newt Gingrich is another voice from the Republican past who is going to extraordinary lengths to sustain the president in his self-imposed hour of ever-deepening crisis. Gingrich for example, has stated that a president cannot, as a matter of law, commit obstruction of justice. http://bit.ly/2rFgD5N

Last time I looked, the United States was still a constitutional democracy. We do not have a king. We have not had a king since 1776 when we declared our independence and officially ended any allegiance to the King of England. Gingrich should refresh his memory regarding the U.S. Constitution.

It would not be surprising if more people like Starr and Gingrich join the proverbial circle of wagons around the White House. Even Vice President Pence is lawyering up. Give it your best shot, gentlemen. The cavalry is coming. But this is not a Western movie and the cavalry is not coming to save you.

C’mon People, It’s Called ‘School’ for a Reason

Admittedly, in the title of this piece I am playing off the TV ads for beach vacations at Ocean City, Maryland, but the underlying issue is serious. The June 10 Washington Post reported that “school administrators” at a Northern Virginia high school had forced two female Muslim students to bring notes from home to prove they were wearing hijabs (head scarves) for religious purposes. http://wapo.st/2srfAeb This reportedly occurred because the school has a policy against students wearing hats or other head coverings except for religious purposes. Apparently, the girls’ word was insufficient and there were repeated instances of administrator challenges, sometimes in front of other students.

Ultimately, the school “administrators” apologized and revised the policy so that students don’t have to prove any religious practice to wear a hijab. Fine, as far as it goes. But you can imagine where this kind of thing leads.

Why, for example, in the current fraught context of controversy spawned by the Trump administration over whether Muslims are welcome in the United States, would a non-Muslim student be forbidden from wearing a hijab as a demonstration of support for Muslims? What educational objective is secured by preventing such acts of good will among students? Suppose hundreds of students decided to wear a hijab to school one day to support their fellow Muslim students during Ramadan? What is the real problem here? Is it the same problem if Orthodox Jewish students want to wear a yarmulke to school?

Among the lessons of formal schooling are learning new things while you, hopefully, grow up. This surely includes associating with new people, not all of whom are going to be like you. Schools should be promoting more interactions among “unlike” students so that, as they continue to mature and enter the adult world, they are more open to and better prepared to deal with the myriad types of people with whom they will interact at work and elsewhere. This healthy process is enhanced, I suggest, by allowing students to “be different” if they choose to be.

The main qualification on “being different” in school would be the problem of disruption or, as it is often portrayed, “distraction” of other students. But the question there is really ‘who is responsible for the distraction?’ If it is merely a passive expression of difference (I’m wearing a hijab and you’re not), any distraction problem should be laid at the feet of the distracted student and not at the student who is merely different. This approach would not apply, obviously, if the issue were overt behavior such as, for example, making a speech in class when the students are supposed to be working quietly on math problems.

For the most part, if school administrators left the students alone to be themselves while acknowledging and showing respect for their differences, some of that likely would rub off on the students. On the other hand, the intervention of the school in ways that seem to disparage students’ separate and different identities is also noticed by students. What lesson do they take away from such episodes?

It might be argued by some that enforcing “no differences” rules is just another way of acclimating students to accept the fact that they will be subject to arbitrary rules from time to time. In a society already struggling with the tribalist tendency to associate only with those just like us, and to listen only to opinions with which we already agree, reinforcing the lesson of acquiescence in arbitrary rules is a mistake. Students should instead be encouraged to, peacefully but persuasively, challenge arbitrary rules that teach nothing of real use.

They are called schools for a reason – to learn and not to merely reinforce what parents already believe.

Trump Calls Comey a Liar – A Most Dangerous Game

Alternative Title: Rat in a Corner — Who You Gonna Believe?

It didn’t take long for President Trump to dispute the stunning facts set out in James Comey’s testimony on Thursday. Trump’s apparently strong conviction in his assertion that Comey lied under oath (and also has misled Special Prosecutor Mueller by providing him with false information about Trump’s conduct) may give some people pause. Trump even says he will speak under oath about the critical meetings with Comey but stops short of saying that he will stand cross-examination as Comey did.

Is Trump’s assertion another version of “I will definitely release my tax returns?”

I suggest that Trump has flatly disputed Comey’s narrative because he had no choice. Could he conceivably have remained silent in the face of the allegations that he pressured Comey to end investigation of Michael Flynn and lighten up on the Trump-Russia investigation? I suggest that the answer can only be ‘no.’ Trump’s silence would have been construed as acquiescence and that is one thing he cannot afford to do now that the suspicions about his conduct have become fixed.

Still, the question remains: who is to be believed? The answer is Comey and there are multiple compelling reasons for that conclusion.

First, it is not disputed that Trump directed other persons present to leave the room before speaking to Comey. Is there a plausible reason for this other than “I know what I am about to do is wrong and I don’t want witnesses to it?”

Second, Comey says he immediately wrote down detailed notes of what had transpired. This was done on a “classified computer” and thus can be verified as to date and time of creation. Comey obviously knows that. Is it plausible then to believe that he created a contemporaneous false narrative to destroy the President? Bear in mind that Comey’s written testimony before the Senate Select Intelligence Committee was based on those notes and that Comey gave the notes to Special Prosecutor Mueller before testifying?

Third, weeks ago Trump implied in a tweet that he might have “tapes” of the meeting(s) with Comey. Subsequently, he has refused to confirm that such “tapes” exist and his White House staff claims either not to know. After Comey’s testimony, in which he said he would welcome release of the tapes if they exist, Trump has continued to refuse to confirm the existence of the tapes. I suggest that this is a classic Trump negotiating tactic and that he has to be bluffing. Why? Because Trump had to know what actually happened during the Comey meetings and if he had “tapes” that would completely destroy Comey’s credibility and serve as major pushback against the Trump-Russia investigation, he would have released them by now.

Finally, there is the matter of general credibility. Comey has a distinguished career in law enforcement and is highly respected by anyone with a shred of objectivity and, reluctantly, by some who have sacrificed their credibility in support of Trump. Contrast that history with Trump’s history of lies before, during and after his election. There are lists of these all over the Internet, so I will not repeat them here. This comparison is “no contest” – Trump loses.

In the interest of balance, I do acknowledge, as I have in another post, that Comey made some mistakes in handling the Hillary Clinton email investigation, but these are not mistakes of credibility. They were mistakes of judgment. And, of course, there is the fact that the Clinton investigation mistakes worked to Trump’s advantage and may well have pushed Trump over the finish line in 2016. No joy for Trump in this.

Thus far, then, Trump is putting his credibility squarely on the line against Comey. Someone is lying, bigly. This looks like a losing proposition for Trump. Notwithstanding the weakness of Trump’s position, his political base, and the Republican Party co-conspirators and sycophants in Congress, continue to support him. They appear ready to do down with the ship.

From here on, the key for the country is for the Democrats in Congress and the Democratic base, regardless of preferences in 2016 (get over it), must engage in a relentless, all-hands-on-deck resistance to Trump’s agenda. Republicans will not move against Trump unless and until he is both failing as the chief executive of the country and conclusively humiliated as having engaged in obstruction of justice and lied about it.

Trump Obstruction of Justice – Who Decides?

So far as my research has revealed, one aspect of the James Comey hearing has not been directly discussed. I concede I may be overreacting or over-parsing what was merely a generic statement from Richard Burr (Rep. NC), the Chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. But if I’m not guilty of those errors, this is a point worth talking about.

When Burr opened the hearing yesterday, he said:

We will establish the facts, separate from rampant speculation, and lay them out for the American people to make their own judgment. Only then will we as a nation be able to move forward and to put this episode to rest.

That, I suggest, is fundamentally wrong. It makes a nice high-minded statement of democratic philosophy, but in the present context, it may reflect an intention to abdicate the true role of the Select Committee.

Certainly, that role includes uncovering, the truth about the connections between the Trump campaign, and possibly Trump himself, and operatives of the Russian Federation and the effects that had on the 2016 election. It also includes discovering whether the President attempted to undermine the investigation of those relationships by making inappropriate and/or unlawful demands on the then-Director of the FBI and, failing to get what he wanted, firing the Director.

The issue raised here is: what happens when the investigation and hearings are concluded? Burr’s statement implies that some vague plebiscite will then occur in which the American people will “make their own judgment” and that will end the entire affair. Of, perhaps, he means the Committee will make a report, which likely will not reveal all the classified information, and then leave it up to the next election to resolve the culpability of the President. If that is what the Chairman thinks, he has seriously misunderstood his Committee’s role.

In fact, there will be no plebiscite on the question whether Trump is guilty of obstruction of justice. While there will be on-going elections beginning this year, continuing through the 2018 mid-terms and on to the presidential election of 2020, none of those will directly judge in isolation whether the President tried to interfere with the investigation into the Russia connection and thereby committed the offense of obstruction of justice. The evaluation of that question belongs in the first instance to the Congress under its authority to impeach and convict the President for “Treason, Bribery, or other High Crimes and Misdemeanors.” U.S. Constitution, Art. II, sec. 4.

Burr’s Committee would play a central role in the impeachment process, as will the corresponding committee in the House of Representatives where impeachment proceedings must begin. U.S. Constitution, Art. I, sec. 2. The actual trial of any impeachment is a matter for the Senate. U.S. Constitution, Art. II, sec. 3. The requirements for impeachment and conviction are high, as they should be, and the penalties for the President are limited because the Founding Fathers were concerned that political maneuvering could be used to interfere with the President’s execution of his duties. It is also true, however, that the President, while given wide latitude in the conduct of the Executive Branch powers, may not commit crimes and assert “I am the President and no one can hold me to account.”

We must remain aggressively attentive to any effort by Congress, in any form, to sidestep its constitutional obligations to address the issues raised about the President’s conduct. If the investigations, including most importantly the independent investigation by Special Prosecutor Mueller, do not uncover wrongdoing, so be it. The President will then be judged at the ballot box on his overall performance. But if the President has committed, as the facts so far strongly suggest, obstruction of justice, that offense against the country must be taken up by the Congress and moved swiftly to conclusion. If the Republicans in Congress are going to look the other way on the President’s transgressions, they too will face the ultimate test in the elections to come.

Comey Testimony – The Bell Tolls ….

Appointment in Samarra

 A merchant in Baghdad sent his servant to the market.
The servant returned, trembling and frightened. The
servant told the merchant, “I was jostled in the market,
turned around, and saw Death.

“Death made a threatening gesture, and I fled in terror.
May I please borrow your horse? I can leave Baghdad
and ride to Samarra, where Death will not find me.”

The master lent his horse to the servant, who rode away,
to Samarra.

Later the merchant went to the market, and saw Death in
the crowd. “Why did you threaten my servant?” He asked.

Death replied, “I did not threaten your servant. It was
merely that I was surprised to see him here in Baghdad,
for I have an appointment with him tonight in Samarra.”

 This ancient tale appeared as the epigraph to the John O’Hara 1934 novel of the same name. I believe it refers to the unavoidable nature of judgment and the self-destruction of those seeking to avoid it. I was reminded of it today while listening to and watching most of former FBI Director James Comey’s riveting testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Overall, although I think Comey made some mistakes in handling the extremely difficult situation with which he was faced, I concluded that his narrative of the events was completely credible in virtually every detail. Comey was put in a very difficult spot by the President who was, on the face of it, the elected leader of the government. The decisions he had to make about whom to tell, who he could trust, in an atmosphere of uncertainty and suspicion created by the President’s own conduct, were hard ones. In retrospect, it is easy to criticize some of his choices but the critics are partisans looking to make a case to protect what they wrongly believe is their interest in propping up the President regardless of the cost to the country.

So, while Comey is not perfect, and likely made some mistakes along the way, it will be “no contest” between his credibility and that of the President, who is a demonstrated serial liar and fantasist. The Republicans will score some points along the way to the endgame but, stacked against the malicious conduct of the President, his history of mendacity and the multiple unexplained campaign contacts with the Russians, the game will go to Comey.

Let’s look at a few of the “defenses” suggested by the questions asked by Republican Senators in today’s hearing. One seems to be “you (Comey) didn’t tell the right people what happened, so it didn’t happen,” or, the alternative version of that: “you’re just as bad as he is, so what’s the problem?” To this, I think, the conclusive answer is that Comey told everyone he thought was trustworthy and that should have been notified. “Standing up to the President” was certainly a theoretical option but given the circumstances and the plain intent of the President’s importuning, it is not unexpected that Comey would have been super-cautious in the wake of the President’s prodding.

Finally, on this point, the fact that Comey didn’t object to the President’s face or tell the Attorney General (whom he accurately believed was about to recuse himself from the Russia investigation) does not logically defeat the statement that the President sought Comey’s agreement to an inappropriate and unlawful objective: stopping the Flynn matter and derailing the Russia investigation. Trump later confessed publicly that he fired Comey precisely to interfere with the Russia investigation. Even if Trump, as he asserted, genuinely believed he was a victim of a “witch hunt,” that was no excuse for his action in firing the leader of that investigation.

Another suggested defense was that Trump’s expression of “hope” that Comey would drop the Flynn investigation was just that, an expression of a personal desire, but not a directive. If all you had was a cold transcript of the conversation, that is a spin that could be placed on the words used. But, Comey testified that in the context and circumstances of the request, he took it as a demand for compliance that was totally inappropriate. If Trump had merely wanted to express his belief that Flynn was a “good guy,” he could have done that with witnesses in the room. But he cleared the room instead.

Could he have been more aggressive in his response? Surely, he could have, but it is not implausible to believe that he was indeed truly “stunned” by the unexpected request by the head of the government who had just cleared the room so there would be no witnesses. Instead of “standing up” to the President by challenging him personally, he quickly wrote a memo of what had happened so that there would be a contemporaneous record to support his version of the events. That is powerful evidence of the truth of what transpired, notwithstanding the claims of Trump’s lawyer that Comey’s testimony somehow vindicates the President. If Trump believes that, it is yet another example of how divorced from reality he is.

The third defense I heard was “You’re just mad because he fired you and you’re seeking revenge.” This claim fails on the facts, given that Comey, while still holding his job and having no reason to believe he would be fired, prepared contemporaneous memoranda of what happened in his private contacts with Trump. Comey’s testimony made clear he prepared the memos because he did not trust the President to tell the truth. No surprise there – the chickens have come home, as Trump’s history of lying and distortion returns, once again, to hurt him.

My personal favorite is Speaker of the House Paul Ryan saying that Trump “is new at this” and thus “he probably wasn’t steeped in the long-running protocols that establish the relationships between DOJ, FBI and White Houses. He’s just new to this” and “he is learning as he goes.” Nevertheless, according to the CNN report, “Ryan declined to comment on whether he thought it was appropriate for Trump to ask Comey to drop the investigation into Flynn.” http://cnn.it/2rGgcf4

They can’t have this both ways: yes, the President is an inexperienced neophyte who made mistakes but, no, I can’t say what he did was wrong. If Ryan had any credibility left, he sacrificed it on the Trump altar today.

Then there is White House Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders denying that Trump is a liar, flatly challenging Comey’s testimony: “I can definitively say the president is not a liar,” Sanders told reporters during an off-camera briefing at the White House. “I think it is frankly insulting that question would be asked.” http://politi.co/2rQpKCq

I am, of course, deeply reassured by Sanders declaring the President’s veracity “definitively.” Otherwise, we might question her conviction if not her judgment. More seriously, I am also wondering, of course, how she can be so sure of this, since neither she nor Sean Spicer seem to know what is going on at the White House most of the time. When asked, for example, about the existence of a White House taping system that would potentially support an earlier Trump tweet about “tapes” of his interaction with Comey, she said “I have no idea.”

No doubt that is true. White House staff generally continues not to know the answers to basic and important questions about the President’s conduct of the nation’s business. And the truth likely is they don’t want to know. Ignorance may be their only defense to complicity in the attempt to cover-up Trump’s obstruction of justice, as they, perhaps, recall that many of Nixon’s White House staff served prison terms for covering up the Watergate conspiracy.

Finally, there is the astonishing claim by Trump’s personal attorney that Comey violated some “privilege” arising from communications with the President. There is no privilege for obstruction of justice and, in any case, Trump has waived any privilege that might exist by his public comments on Twitter and elsewhere regarding the conversations with Comey. Again, they can’t have this both ways.

 

 

Hello, Darkness, My Old Friend — Where are the Musicians?

A recent story about Joan Baez speaking with protesters who accused her of betraying soldiers during the Vietnam War reminded me of something that has been nagging me for some time. Where are the musicians? We are locked in a fight for the political and moral well-being of the country but there is apparently no folk-music building around the struggle, no anthem for the truth we seek to find amid the torrent of lies, deceptions and self-dealing with which the Trump administration has disgraced the United States.

Everyone who lived through the ‘60s and the upheaval generated by the Vietnam War will recall the many artists who gave us some of our iconic folk and protest songs that were one of the defining elements of what came to be called the counter-culture. So far, at least, the RESISTANCE to the Trump administration has no such identifying music or musicians, though there are a number of familiar chants associated with the protest marches. There is also, I am told, some rap music that may fit the description of protest anthems but they seem unlikely to become widely known as representative of the broader issues involved in the Resistance to Trump and his enablers.

I, for one, miss the music. The lyrics of the Sound of Silence, the masterpiece by Paul Simon (©Universal Music Publishing Group), seem particularly apropos of our current circumstances:

‘Hello darkness, my old friend
I’ve come to talk with you again
Because a vision softly creeping
Left its seeds while I was sleeping
And the vision that was planted in my brain
Still remains
Within the sound of silence

In restless dreams I walked alone
Narrow streets of cobblestone
‘Neath the halo of a street lamp
I turned my collar to the cold and damp
When my eyes were stabbed by the flash of a neon light
That split the night
And touched the sound of silence

And in the naked light I saw
Ten thousand people, maybe more
People talking without speaking
People hearing without listening
People writing songs that voices never share
And no one dared
Disturb the sound of silence

Fools, said I, you do not know
Silence like a cancer grows
Hear my words that I might teach you
Take my arms that I might reach you
But my words, like silent raindrops fell
And echoed in the wells of silence

And the people bowed and prayed
To the neon god they made
And the sign flashed out its warning
In the words that it was forming
And the sign said, the words of the prophets are written on the subway walls
And tenement halls
And whispered in the sounds of silence’

White House Rejects Then Accepts Ethics Transparency

Another pointless dispute within the Trump administration appears to have been resolved. It was pointless because, one way or another, the information sought by the Government Ethics Office (GEO) – lists of lobbyists given waivers by the White House to work in the Executive Branch –was going to be discovered and reported. With who-knows-how-many former lobbyists showing up at government meetings and signing off on government documents, sooner or later their identities would have been uncovered and reported. In the meantime, this episode, as with many others, illustrates the propensity of the Trump administration toward secrecy regarding the public’s business that these people are supposedly performing.

The dispute is thusly stated. Eight days after taking office, President Trump signed an Executive Order entitled “ETHICS COMMITMENTS BY EXECUTIVE BRANCH APPOINTEES” that, among other things forbids, for 2 years from appointment, participation in Executive Branch activities involving “any particular matter involving specific parties that is directly and substantially related to my former employer or former clients, including regulations and contracts.” EO sec. 6. If an appointee was a registered lobbyist with the 2 years before appointment, the EO also bars participation, for 2 years from appointment, in “any particular matter on which [the appointee] lobbied within the 2 years before the date of my appointment or participate in the specific issue area in which that particular matter falls.”

The apparent purpose of this early EO was to show Trump’s commitment to ethics in government and the Executive Branch in particular. However, the broad sweep of the EO is limited by the definitions that apply and create potentially large loopholes. For example, “lobbied” is defined as “to have acted as a registered lobbyist.” EO sec. 2(m). Although “Lobbying activities” has the same meaning as that term has in the Lobbying Disclosure Act,” the EO excludes activities such as “communicating or appearing with regard to:  a judicial proceeding; a criminal or civil law enforcement inquiry, investigation, or proceeding; or any agency process for rulemaking, adjudication, or licensing, as defined in and governed by the Administrative Procedure Act, as amended, 5 U.S.C. 551 et seq.” EO sec. 2(n). Why such exclusions were necessary is something of a mystery since the Lobbying Disclosure Act, 2 USC sec. 1601, itself contains similar exclusions. Restating those exclusions may be presumed to have had some purpose other than confusion, but, again, this is not clear. In any case they exclude from the EO lobbyists who were hired to engage in activities on behalf of entities that may come before the Executive Branch, including the White House itself, on those same issues.

Moreover, the Lobbying Disclosure Act contains this exception: “The term “lobbyist” means, in English, someone retained to engage is “more than one lobbying contact” but not including “an individual whose lobbying activities constitute less than 20 percent of the time engaged in the services provided by such individual to that client over a 3-month period.” So, again in English, that means that a “lobbyist” is not subject to the EO at all if work for a particular client represented less than 20 percent of the total time devoted to that client’s interests during any quarterly reporting period, a test that could easily be met by a multitude of true full-time lobbyists with many clients. And, obviously, if one is not a “lobbyist,” there is no need to register as one under the Disclosure Act and there is no bar to working for the White House or one of the Executive Departments on any issue. This seems to leave a gaping hole for conflicts of interest in appearance if not in reality.

On top of those loopholes, the EO itself contains a formal waiver provision enabling “The President or his designee” to “grant to any person a waiver of any restrictions” otherwise contained in the EO. It was those waivers that the GEO wanted to see and that for some time the White House refused to disclose. After exchanges of challenging letters between the White House and GEO, the White House relented.

The Obama administration routinely released waiver information for similar actions from a restrictive policy on hiring of former lobbyists for Executive Branch work, but, for reasons that defy understanding, the Trump administration initially declined to follow suit. The objection to the jurisdiction of GEO seems absurd on its face and a needless resistance to transparency, another self-inflicted wound, in keeping with a general tendency of this administration to work in the shadows. And another reason for the electorate to distrust the motives of Trump and his enablers.