Tag Archives: DOJ

Judge in Trump’s Pocket Played Like a Fiddle

“Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men even when they exercise influence and not authority.”

So wrote John Emerich Edward Dalberg-Acton, 1st Baron Acton, an English Catholic historian, politician, and writer who lived from 1834 to 1902. No better contemporary example of Baron Acton’s statement exists than Donald Trump. The same Trump who having falsely promoted the Big Lie that he was denied re-election due to massive voter fraud. The same Trump who directed a failed attempt to overthrow the government and install himself as president-emperor. The same Trump who stole multiple classified government documents and removed them to an insecure facility in his Florida mansion.

In the same fashion that he has conducted his entire life, Trump is now fighting desperately to stop the Department of Justice from indicting him for that theft. He is using the courts, aided by a judge he appointed, and issuing threats of violence if he is held accountable for his actions.

Word is that Trump pre-paid millions of dollars to induce a lawyer to represent him, given his long history of refusing to pay lawyers and others who worked for him.

This saga has many parts. I will try to simplify them.

*****

Let’s be clear about a few things at the outset. Trump made no mere “mistake” in removing top secret and other classified documents from the White House during his last days there. He meant to take them, meant to keep them and, most likely, meant to use them for personal profit. The documents and folders are clearly marked with classifications. No person with reasonably normal vision could have mistaken the nature of those documents.

Second, there is no evidence that Trump declassified the documents while he was president. None. Zero. There are elaborate procedures for declassifying documents and an evidentiary record of such actions would have been created. That record has not been produced because it doesn’t exist. The declassification defense is just another Trumpian lie being used by Trump’s lawyers to obfuscate and delay. Remember this question of declassification as you read on. It is the punchline of Trump’s latest “joke’s on you.”

None of this should surprise anyone who has been paying attention for the past five years.

Trump has shown time and again that he lacks respect for American institutions and the checks and balances that preserve our democracy. Trump’s interests are entirely transactional and acquisitive. His conduct in office repeatedly showed a complete lack of concern for national security. He regarded the documents from his presidency as belonging to him – his private property notwithstanding the federal laws on preservation of records. Indeed, Trump clearly did not regard the law, any law, as applicable to him. As he famously said, “I have an Article II, where I have to the right to do whatever I want as president.”

Third, Trump is no longer the President of the United States. His lawyers are as confused about that reality as Trump himself. Forms of address matter and referring to Trump as “The President” or “President Trump” is misleading. Trump is not the president. His term ended January 20, 2021. Of that there is no doubt.

Fourth, and finally, one of the basic tenets of legal argument is that you should not try to prove too much. I will explain below how that principle undermines Trump’s position.

The Chronology

The timeline is well known:

January 6, 2021 – Donald Trump, unable to establish a legal basis for remaining in office, sends a violent mob to stop the government from certifying the election of Joe Biden

January 20, 2021 – Joe Biden inaugurated as 46th President of the United States – Trump leaves the White House with many boxes of materials

Months pass – some classified documents are returned, others are withheld, and their existence denied

August 5, 2022 – Search Warrant approved based on showing of probable cause to  believe multiple serious crimes committed

August 25 – Court order approving release of redacted search warrant affidavit

The Search Warrant Affidavit

The original affidavit for the search warrant makes clear:

(1) DOJ is conducting a “criminal investigation concerning the improper removal and storage of classified information in unauthorized spaces, as well as the unlawful concealment or removal of government records;”

(2) after some boxes of documents were returned, it became clear that “there is probable cause to believe that additional documents that contain classified NDI or that are Presidential records subject to record retention requirements currently remain at the [Mar-a-Lago] in an unauthorized and insecure location. There is also probable cause to believe that evidence of obstruction will be found at [Mar-a-Lago];”

(3) there was also “probable cause to believe that the locations to be searched at [Mar-a-Lago] contain evidence, contraband, fruits of crime, or other items illegally possessed in violationof18 U.S.C. §§ 793(e), 1519, or 2071;”

(4) “Classified information of any designation may be shared only with persons determined by an appropriate United States Government official to be eligible for access, and who possess a “need to know;”

(5) “highly classified records were unfoldered, intermixed with other records, and otherwise unproperly [sic] identified;”

(6) repeated requests for return of classified documents were made for more than six months before the National Archives was informed that 12 additional boxes of records were found;

(7) the initial 15 boxes of documents contained 184 documents bearing classification marks;

(8) Trump’s lawyer told DOJ the former president “has absolute authority to declassify documents;” [but did not say that he had in fact declassified them]

(9) a Trump administration official publicly claimed, without proof, that Trump had declassified all the documents at Mar-a-Lago;

(10) DOJ thus concluded that “probable cause exists to believe that evidence, contraband, fruits of crime, or other items illegally possessed in violation 18 U.S.C. §§ 793(e), 2071, or 1519 will be found at [Mar-a-Lago].”

The Less-Redacted Search Warrant Affidavit

Following more legal filings, a less-redacted version of the search warrant affidavit was filed and publicly released. After comparing the two versions, very few new facts were revealed:

(1) the June 3 release of documents to DOJ was by prior arrangement with Trump’s attorney who represented in writing that there were no more classified documents remaining at Mar-a Lago;

(2) the June 3 release contained an additional 38 documents with various levels of security classification;

(3) Trump’s lawyer did not claim that the documents had been declassified;

 (4) DOJ soon learned about, and obtained, security camera footage covering the storage room in Mar-a-Lago but the affidavit material discussing that footage remains redacted.

Note again that the Trump counsel letter asserting the president’s “absolute authority” to unilaterally declassify documents stops short of asserting that Trump actually declassified any of the classified documents found at Mar-a-Lago. One of the most illuminating aspects of the arguments made by Trump’s lawyers is how careful they are to avoid asserting as fact that he declassified any of the seized documents while in office. They make much of his presumed powers to declassify but never say he did so. [Hint: this will soon become one of the most blatant deceptions of a willing dupe, the Trump-appointed judge to whom the case was assigned]

The Raid on Mar-a-Lago

DOJ subsequently raided Mar-a-Lago and took possession of many additional classified documents that Trump’s representatives had claimed were not there.

In keeping with prior Trump practice, a lawsuit was filed to delay the criminal investigation of Trump by seeking appointment of a Special Master to review all the documents. A Trump-appointed judge agreed, over DOJ’s strong objections, to appoint the Special Master and ordered DOJ to stop its criminal investigation.

Trump’s Judge Issues Bizarre Decision to Delay Criminal Proceedings

The judge’s order that reads more like a political polemic than a sound judicial evaluation of the competing claims about the documents. But it’s worth noting some of the findings made by the judge:

  • “based on the volume and nature of the seized material, the Court is satisfied that Plaintiff has an interest in and need for at least a portion of it”
  • Despite that statement, the court’s decision applied to all the seized documents
  • Trump would be “deprived of potentially significant personal documents, which alone creates a real harm”
  • Trump made no effort to show a particularized need for any of the seized personal materials that had been haphazardly stored in the Storage Room at Mar-a-Lago for many months, even after he knew DOJ was interested in them
  • Trump might suffer “unquantifiable potential harm by way of improper disclosure of sensitive information to the public”
  • No evidence was cited by the judge as to what “sensitive information” of a personal nature was in the documents and Trump cited none
  • “[Trump] has claimed injury from the threat of future prosecution.” This finding is astonishing. Judge Cannon is completely off the rails here – the threat of criminal prosecution is present in every criminal investigation and is, indeed, the purpose of document discovery which in this case was being conducted pursuant to a grand jury subpoena. If this threat were grounds for a Special Master review, such a review would be automatic in every criminal investigation, and it’s not.
  • “As a function of Plaintiff’s former position as President of the United States, the stigma associated with the subject seizure is in a league of its own. A future indictment, based to any degree on property that ought to be returned, would result in reputational harm of a decidedly different order of magnitude…. the Court takes into account the undeniably unprecedented nature of the search of a former President’s residence.”  Here the judge gives up all pretense and declares that Trump, as a former president, should have privileges accorded to no other citizen under criminal investigation.
  • This point is further established by the court’s later reliance on “[Trump’s] inability to examine the seized materials in formulating his arguments to date – the documents had been requested multiple times over many months during which Trump had ample opportunity to evaluate what he had. His failure to act should not confer an advantage in an argument about the equities of the situation.
  • The judge further cites “Trump’s stated reliance on the customary cooperation between former and incumbent administrations regarding the ownership and exchange of documents.” The judge claims to be unaware of the Fact that the Trump administration for an extended period refused to cooperate in the transition to the Biden administration. This cannot be true unless Judge Cannon has been living under a rock for the past few years. The refusal to cooperate was widely reported for an extended period.
  • Apparently determined to ignore the Fact of the classified markings on hundreds of seized documents, Judge Cannon treats everything as Trump’s personal material: “this is not a situation in which there is no room to doubt the immediately apparent incriminating nature of the seized material.”
  • Finally, the judge declares that the possibility of Trump’s having an interest in the comingled personal items seized is sufficient to warrant a Special Master for ALL the documents, including those marked classified! Trump’s decision to mingle the documents and later decline to examine them when demanded by DOJ is thus used as an excuse to give Trump a litigation advantage against the government.

This opinion will likely be the subject of law school examinations in future years as indicative of how judicial bias can undermine the rule of law. It almost certainly would receive a failing grade at any creditable law school if presented in answer to an exam question.

DOJ’s Motion for a Partial Stay

DOJ filed a motion for a stay of Judge Cannon’s order only as regards the classified documents and the ongoing criminal investigation related to the unlawful removal and improper storage of those documents. As to the seized classified documents, DOJ argued, among other points, that,

[Trump] does not and could not assert that he owns or has any possessory interest in classified records; that he has any right to have those government records returned to him; or that he can advance any plausible claims of attorney-client privilege as to such records that would bar the government from reviewing or using them.

[Trump], however, has no right to the “return” of classified records, which are not “his” property.… Classified records also are not “personal” to [Trump] and would not reveal any sensitive personal information.…. Accordingly, [Trump] has no cognizable “individual” interest in any classified records (or in having a special master review those records), and he cannot be “irreparably injured” if such records are not returned to him.

 Trump Claims Personal Ownership of Government Records

That should have been the end of it, but, as usual, Trump continued to argue. His response to DOJ’s motion for partial stay characterized the case as a “document storage dispute” in which “the Government wrongfully seeks to criminalize the possession by the 45th President of his own Presidential and personal records.”

That utter nonsense stands right alongside Trump’s continued lie that the 2020 election was stolen.

Trump’s lawyers then argued that Trump had the right, and by implication only [no evidence], had exercised the right to convert federal government classified documents into his personal documents:

 The [Presidential Records Act] accords any President extraordinary discretion to categorize all his or her records as either Presidential or personal records …. the former President has sole discretion to classify a record as personal or Presidential….

At best, the Government might ultimately be able to establish certain Presidential records should be returned to [the National Archive]. What is clear regarding all the seized materials is that they belong with either President Trump (as his personal property to be returned pursuant to Rule 41(g)) or with [the National Archive], but not with the Department of Justice.

Trump’s position at that point is that he simply cannot be criminally liable for mishandling documents of the highest secrecy classifications because … well, because he was president and well, he could, like he said, do whatever he wanted. Further, Trump’s argument is that the next president is powerless to uncover documents, including highly classified ones, that are evidence of a crime committed by the former president. That is not and cannot be the law.

If you’ve been following the “reasoning” closely, it has perhaps dawned on you that if Trump has the rights he claims to have – to convert secret government documents this personal property at will – then all other presidents must have had the same rights. Thus, for example, President Clinton could now assert personal ownership over documents that were classified during his presidency and compel their disclosure. Same for presidents Bush II, Carter, and Obama.

Trump’s argument, in addition to inconsistency with statutory and case law, proves too much and thereby violates a cardinal rule of advocacy. It should have been rejected outright.

Trump’s opposition to the DOJ motion for a partial stay also violates at least two other principles of advocacy. For example, he argues “the Government’s stance assumes that if a document has a classification marking, it remains classified irrespective of any actions taken during President Trump’s term in office.” But Trump’s team, following in the footsteps of the incompetents who failed in more than 60 attempts in the courts to change the outcome of the 2020 election, does not allege, yet alone prove, that he took any steps to declassify the seized documents while in the White House. Even if it were true that he had the powers he claims, he would have to show they were exercised. They weren’t and his lawyers know it. Their argument is pure sophistry.

The second, and closely related problem, is that Trump’s lawyers appear to believe he is still President of the United States. They refer to him in their legal papers as either the “former president” or as “President Trump,” whichever suits their claim of the moment. This is more sophistry. Trump is no longer president and has not been since January 20, 2021. He cannot, therefore, continue to exercise the powers granted to the president under the Constitution.

Consider for just a moment what the situation would be if Trump were right. President Biden would decide X policy as a matter of national security. Trump would countermand that policy, claiming he had the right to exercise the powers of the presidency indefinitely. Preposterous on its face.

Equally fatuous is Trump’s claim that he has the right to indefinitely restrict access to his “Presidential records” as defined in the Presidential Records Act. Putting aside that the statute cannot be construed to permit a president to conceal documentary evidence of a crime, the argument ignores 44 USC sec. 2202 that says, “The United States shall reserve and retain complete ownership, possession, and control of Presidential records….

Whatever else Trump may be, he is not the United States.” And his claim that “there still remains a disagreement as to the classification status of the documents” lacks even the rudiments of a viable argument. Matters are not “in dispute” just because one party, without factual basis, claims they are. We know that Trump has made a lifetime practice of bald-faced lying but his attorneys are subject to a higher standard, as is the judge.  They should be particularly sensitive to this because of the many failed attempts to overturn the 2020 election without evidence to support their outlandish claims.

Trump’s Judge Rejects DOJ’s Motion for Partial Stay

DOJ’s Reply In Support Of Its Motion To Stay Pending Appeal thoroughly eviscerates Trump’s claims that the Presidential Records in dispute are his personal property. Nonetheless, and unsurprisingly, Trump’s handpicked judge rejected DOJ’s position by giving full credence to Trump’s claim that “the record suggests ongoing factual and legal disputes as to precisely which materials constitute personal property and/or privileged materials …; and there are documented instances giving rise to concerns about the Government’s ability to properly categorize and screen materials.” The judge also continued to give controlling weight to Trump’s bootstrap argument that he “has not had a meaningful ability to concretize his position with respect to the seized materials.”

The judge should have said that Trump chose not to do so when the opportunity was readily available during the months of haggling with the government about whether he had classified documents and, if so, which ones. Instead, apparently because Trump is entitled to special treatment under the judge’s conception of the law, Judge Cannon simply gives Trump yet more opportunities to delay justice, opportunities no other citizen would have been granted.

The effect of Judge Cannon’s rejection is remarkable. He went to some lengths to describe the various investigative steps still open to DOJ while repeatedly foreclosing any reliance on the content of the seized classified documents. Worse, his decision means that the Special Master will have to decide whether the government properly classified the seized documents.

The decision gives no hint of how the Special Master is to make such determinations, but it seems certain this will require extensive inputs from the intelligence community, leading to further delays in the criminal investigation into which the judge has inserted the court. When the Special Master’s report becomes available, Trump will almost certainly challenge each adverse finding, leading to more opinions from the judge and appeals. Neither the Special Master nor the judge have any particular expertise in the decisions they will be making.

Among the on-going investigative actions permitted by the judge’s order are “as indicated in the September 5 Order, the temporary restraint does not prevent the Government from continuing “to review and use the materials seized for purposes of intelligence classification and national security assessments.” This logical inconsistency perfectly illustrates the travesty of the judge’s decision: the seized documents can somehow be used for further intelligence classification even as the Special Master, and eventually the judge himself, decide whether the documents were properly classified.

Another stunning misrepresentation by Judge Cannon resides in this remarkable statement:

“there has been no actual suggestion by the Government of any identifiable emergency or imminent disclosure of classified information arising from Plaintiff’s allegedly unlawful retention of the seized property. Instead, and unfortunately, the unwarranted disclosures that float in the background have been leaks to the media after the underlying seizure.”

The judge is more concerned about leaks from the government than about the national security implications of leaving the classified documents in Trump’s control.

In a final attempt to show his even-handedness, Judge Cannon notes:

Lastly, the Court agrees with the Government that “the public is best served by evenhanded adherence to established principles of civil and criminal procedure,” regardless of the personal identity of the parties involved …. It is also true, of course, that evenhanded procedure does not demand unquestioning trust in the determinations of the Department of Justice.

The problem here is that it is not the determination of the Department of Justice that are at issue. It is the determinations of the agencies that classified the documents in the first place. Rather than giving any presumption of validity to the government’s classifications, and without any attempt by Trump to show that the classifications were defective or overridden by an actual presidential decision, the judge has inserted the judiciary into a process it is incompetent to evaluate. The opinion reads like a sophisticated but unmistakable MAGA polemic on the evils of the federal government.

Hey, Judge – Fooled Ya!

Rather than spend more time analyzing the DOJ arguments against the judge’s bizarre and illogical decision, let’s leap ahead to the final step in which Trump, through his lawyers, springs the trap on Judge Cannon.

The judge’s order denying DOJ’s motion for a partial stay was issued September 15. The Special Master wasted no time thereafter. A letter from Trump’s lawyers states: “On September 16, 2022, Your Honor invited the parties to the above-captioned litigation to provide a docketed letter with suggestions regarding the agenda for tomorrow’s hearing.” Then this:

the Draft Plan [set out by the Special Master] requires that the Plaintiff disclose specific information regarding declassification to the Court and to the Government. We respectfully submit that the time and place for affidavits or declarations would be in connection with a Rule 41 motion that specifically alleges declassification as a component of its argument for return of property. Otherwise, the Special Master process will have forced the Plaintiff to fully and specifically disclose a defense to the merits of any subsequent indictment without such a requirement being evident in the District Court’s order.

The appropriate response to this astounding claim should be:

claims regarding declassification have been waived and no further action regarding them is required. The stay is lifted as to the classified documents and DOJ is free to use them in its criminal investigation as it chooses. Trump’s counsel have been more than a little too cute in their attempt to manipulate and delay these proceedings and the pending criminal investigation. Neither the Special Master nor the court will countenance further obfuscation. The Special Master is relieved of any duty to consider the classification of the classified documents. At a later date the court will consider whether Trump’s counsel should be sanctioned for their attempt to manipulate this proceeding for purposes of delay.

Recall that the presence of classified documents in the materials removed by Trump was known as early as February of 2022. https://wapo.st/3BPYXMs It is now late-September and Trump’s lawyers have exposed their delay strategy in the starkest terms. They baited Trump’s appointed judge who took the bait. Now he looks like just another sucker who was played by Trump. Trump’s loyalists in the White House have been lying and dissembling about Trump’s theft of classified documents for more than a year. Last year they claimed the boxes contained nothing but newspaper clippings. https://wapo.st/3Sesd4u

It’s past time for either the district court judge and/or the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals to declare an end to the Trump charade. It should not take long to confirm that the purloined classified documents are authentic and that, by itself, should be sufficient for the grand jury to indict Trump on multiple criminal counts.

Answers to Senator Mike Lee’s 8 Stupid Questions

On August 10, U.S. Senator, and Trump sycophant, Mike Lee published an opinion piece on, where else, Fox News, entitled, Trump raid leaves me with 8 important questions as a Senate Judiciary Committee member.  I am here to help. For the record, note that Lee twice clerked for Justice Samuel Alito, who famously wrote the majority opinion imposing his religious views on the country while overturning Roe v Wade.

See also https://shiningseausa.com/2022/05/05/justice-alitos-masquerade/

After reminding us he was a federal prosecutor, Lee poses his eight questions.

  1. Did Attorney General Merrick Garland personally sign off on this action?

Answer: A modest effort by Lee would have told him the answer. It’s clear now that Garland did sign off, reflecting awareness on the part of DOJ that its investigation at Mar-a-Lago was singularly important.

  1. Why break into the safe at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home rather than seize it, take it into custody, and seek a warrant to open it?

Answer: It’s unclear why Lee cares about this, but most likely it’s just part of the “Trump as victim” narrative that Republican sycophants constantly promote to show their loyalty to Trump, as opposed, you know, to loyalty to the country they swore to protect and defend.  The warrant governing the entire search almost certainly permitted the FBI to “break into the safe” if that is in fact what they did. You would have thought that Trump, faced with the “raid,” would have just opened the safe. Maybe he did. Lee wasn’t there. Or Trump refused to open it, so he could add to his victimization ploy.

  1. Why execute a search warrant rather than seek the items through an informal process such as a subpoena?

Answer: Lee is either deliberately ignorant or just plain stupid. Trump would never have complied with a subpoena and Lee knows that. Pursuing a subpoena would just have delayed everything, alerted Trump to the target of the investigation, and likely resulted in destruction of or further secreting of the evidence. Trump refused to answer Special Counsel Mueller’s questions, has claimed that everything he did is forever protected by some form of privilege and in general declared himself immune from, and superior to, the law. If Lee has not learned any of this, his “opinion” is worth exactly nothing. He just going along to get along with the Republican narrative that the man who led the attempt to overthrow the government on January 6 did nothing wrong.

  1. If this is genuinely about presidential records, why would the former President — who was in charge of declassifying documents — be subject to prosecution for retaining custody of the same documents? It’s important to note that classification authority belongs to the president of the United States — NOT to bureaucrats at the National Archives.

Answer: Senator Lee knows a lot less about the classification of federal government documents than he would have you believe. For a short course introduction, see https://twitter.com/MarkHertling/status/1557911337468133377  If you want to look further into General Hertling’s military chops, look at this: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mark_Hertling

  1. If this is the product of the growing political weaponization of federal law enforcement agencies, shouldn’t all Americans be outraged by the Democrats’ plan to hire an additional 87,000 federal agents?

Answer: Clever but no cigar. By characterizing this as a hypothetical, Lee leaves himself room to say, “I never said there was growing weaponization, etc.” But, of course, a claim of weaponization is exactly the message he intended to deliver.

Why he thinks the increased staffing for the Internal Revenue Service (that’s the 87,000 new employees) is relevant here will remain a mystery to all rational people. But if anyone wants to know, read this: https://wapo.st/3SOxMHZ And if weaponization is the allegation, perhaps Sen. Lee should do a little reading about the Trump administration, especially the last year or so. Might start with Betrayal, The Final Act of the Trump Show, by Jonathan Karl. Or these:

The Fourth Reich — It’s Them or Us https://bit.ly/3QIoCLy

Donald Trump — A Gangster in the White House https://bit.ly/3Po4kpB

Trump’s Documents – Trump’s Crimes https://bit.ly/3zMWik4

  1. How is this aggressive action defensible in light of the FBI’s and DOJ’s treatment of Hillary Clinton, who was never subjected to such an invasive intrusion of privacy, even though she mishandled classified material and destroyed evidence?

Answer: Sen. Lee should see a doctor about his memory loss. I will not waste time with this old, very old, line of Republican deflection, except to note that Secretary Clinton did not attempt to stage a coup to prevent the lawful and peaceful transfer of power. Oh, and DOJ’s (FBI’s Comey, remember him?) treatment of Hillary Clinton was likely to ultimate cause of her loss to Trump in the 2016 election.

  1. Why should we assume that the federal bureaucracy isn’t targeting Republicans when the FBI and DOJhave taken no action regarding flagrant violations of the law by pro-abortion extremists threatening Supreme Court justices at their homes?

Answer: Prosecutorial decisions about political protests are more than a little different than investigation of known crimes involving national security. And, just for the record, AG Barr’s records of using DOJ for Trump’s personal and political benefits is undeniable. We can match the good senator deflection for deflection, but it’s pointless. Trump removed documents from the White House that he knew had the highest security classification. Why? Republicans like Lee don’t care about the national security of their country. They are only interested in being seen by Trump as 100% loyal to him, just in case, you know, he becomes president again.

8. Did FBI Director Christopher Wray intentionally wait to carry out the raid until after his oversight hearing with the Senate Judiciary Committee last week? I asked him whether he was concerned with warrantless “backdoor searches” under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. He seemed unperturbed.

Answer: What if he did? Lee is a US Senator and can ask the FBI questions until he is blue (or is it red?) in the face.

Lee’s rant ends with his false hope that the FBI has been appropriately careful in handling the decision to raid Trump’s “home:”

If there’s something we don’t know, something that will clarify the reasons for the raid, then the FBI needs to articulate that justification soon as possible. If there isn’t, we’ve got problems at the FBI.

In this statement, Lee reveals his ignorance of how DOJ/FBI works OR, more likely, is just playing to the victimization/fears of the Trump base that somehow the federal government is out to get them. Senator Lee and most other people are not entitled to know every detail of criminal investigations, regardless of the target. Lee seems to forget, as he has forgotten his oath of office, that Trump is subject to the law the same as everyone else. The investigation of Trump is based on well-founded concerns of criminal behavior in a vast range precisely because, not instead of, his having been president. The reason is simple enough: if the president can commit crimes and not be called to account, the Constitution is meaningless and, as Benjamin Franklin feared, the republic is lost.

Trump May Skate on Obstruction of Justice

I am very sorry to report that the statute of limitations [SoL] has run against Donald Trump’s acts of obstruction of justice when he asked FBI Director James Comey to leave Michael Flynn alone. More on that in a moment.

First, I want to call to all readers’ attention the Lawfareblog at https://www.lawfareblog.com. For readers interested in, and able to tolerate reading lawyers’ opinions, this site has some of the most serious, law-focused discussion you will find anywhere regarding many of the key issues facing the country. As in the analysis of Trump’s obstruction conduct in the earliest known case, sometimes the lawyers’ analysis does not have a happy outcome. But it is always thought provoking, written by serious and accomplished people. Lawfareblog.com is a vast resource that I hope you will visit and support.

Now, back to the bad news. The article that addresses the Statute of Limitations issue regarding Comey and Flynn is at https://bit.ly/3LJqn9q. The SoL expired on February 14 with no action by the Department of Justice to hold Trump accountable for the first of at least 10 instances of obstruction of justice identified by Mueller. The Special Counsel took no action because he believed he was bound by the DOJ position that it could not indict a sitting president. Mueller also had a very narrow understanding of the job he has been given, as detailed in the compelling and important book, Where Law Ends, by Andrew Weissmann, one of Mueller’s chief deputies. I reviewed the book at https://bit.ly/3LENvWF

It is a remarkable work, and everyone should read it.

Mueller’s failure to act left it to the Garland DOJ to pick up the case after Trump left the White House. He didn’t. The running out of the SoL means that, regarding the Comey-Flynn episode, we are SOL. As more time passes, the SoL will foreclose, one by one, any possible accountability for the other nine cases Mueller identified and several that, in my opinion, he inexplicably missed.  See, for example, my extensive discussion of the Mueller Report on the obstruction of justice issues:

https://bit.ly/33zmPFI

https://bit.ly/3LDkdYB

https://bit.ly/3JDzIhf

https://bit.ly/3oYM7o7

https://bit.ly/3I52g2I

The Lawfare blog includes a heat map that graphically illustrates the threat posed by the calendar for 14 possible charges of obstruction (4 more than Mueller identified and more in line with my analysis). In thinking about the obstruction issues, it is important to understand that there are three crucial elements to conviction on any charge:

Obstructive Act

Connection Between the Act and an Active Investigation

Corrupt Intent

By the end of July 2022, DOJ will lose the ability to charge Trump with the two instances in which even Mueller thought were the stronger cases for proving obstruction.

Meanwhile, as Lawfare notes with concern, DOJ remains mute.

At this stage, it is not clear whether a single Department of Justice attorney has reviewed the Mueller report since Trump left office. And it’s not clear either whether anyone will before the statutes of limitations run down. In the absence of a statement from Garland, the public knows virtually nothing about the status of the Justice Department’s investigation into these potential acts of obstruction by Trump. We can only speculate as to what may be happening.

The balance of the Lawfare article consists of an analysis of five scenarios regarding DOJ’s posture. Lawfare admits this is all speculation – it must be since AG Garland is not talking. Many of the five scenarios are decidedly offensive but that doesn’t mean they aren’t correct explanations of what is happening – and, not happening.

Lawfare then makes a compelling case for the Attorney General to explain to the country what is going on regarding Trump’s obstruction of justice. Silence is the least acceptable path forward. Lawfare is right about this, I believe. Read it, I urge you, and judge for yourself.

 

Terrorism in the Air – Ban the Perps

This blog has twice addressed what the media and airlines continue to call “unruly” passengers who refuse to follow flight crew instructions: Time for Strong Action Against Unruly Air Travelers  https://bit.ly/3uyZn6w and An Anti-Masker Walked into a Bar …  https://bit.ly/3Jj9xMP

I have noted that the term “unruly” fails to describe the violent conduct of these, mostly, anti-maskers accurately and fully. The current of today’s post describes their behavior as terrorism. That, I submit, is closer to the truth. Bear in mind that these people are almost certainly among those who are fond of telling Black people to “just comply” with police instructions and, in effect, blaming them when they are killed. These events usually occur at traffic stops but there are many other examples. Yet, when these people board aircraft, knowing what the mask rules are, they chose not only to refuse compliance, but they physically assault flight attendants and other passengers.

I have advocated that the situation presents immediate grave dangers that should be addressed with aggressive, immediate and automatic enforcement of the law and common sense.

It is now widely reported that Delta Air Lines has written the Department of Justice to request government creation of a no-fly list for these terrorists. It’s about time.

The main reasons I believe that airlines have been hesitant to simply exchange the names and agree to ban these nuts from flying is the antitrust laws. Someone would no doubt accuse the airlines of conspiring to limit competition. While I don’t believe such a claim has merit, it would be expensive to defend and pointless in the end. The better solution is the one Delta has finally requested. It remains remarkable only that the entire industry has not joined immediately in this request.

I haven’t found the letter yet but continue to believe that a government-approved no-fly list is an excellent idea, although the same outcome could be achieved by DOJ issuing a Business Review Letter, a common technique permitting firms to propose courses of conduct that might raise issues and to ask DOJ to clear them in advance. This is not a subject on which competition is materially involved or that could possibly be jeopardized. It’s a problem of safety about which there should be no “competition.”

As for the administrative difficulties of managing such a list, remember that airlines have always been able to manage connecting flights involving not only their own flights, but also their flights in conjunction with other carriers’ operations. A no-fly list would be a piece of cake compared to that.

So, come on, DOJ, let’s not turn this into another endless investigation. Take the action Delta requests. As for the terrorists, it’s simple: just comply.

 

The Cat is Out of the Bag

When it was revealed that General and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mark Milley, had intervened in anticipation that Trump might use the military to keep himself in office, strong backlash was heard from some in the military, present and former. They appeared to believe that it was wrong for Milley to move independently of the president who was his commander-in-chief, regardless of his fears that Trump might act to subvert the election with military force or start a nuclear conflict and declare martial law.

That position was, I thought at the time, unbelievably short-sighted and mindless. Accepting that chain-of-command is important, I thought, and still believe, that General Milley is an American hero for seeing a fundamental danger to the country and acting to prevent it.

Now come three other generals (retired) arguing that “The military must prepare now for a 2024 insurrection.” https://wapo.st/3e8J6vH “We are chilled to our bones at the thought of a coup succeeding next time.”

I am too, and so should you be. We are facing the most serious threat to our democracy since the Civil War.

The case made by the generals is compelling:

  • Many of the insurrectionist mob on January 6 were veterans or, even more remarkable, active-duty military;
  • The commander of the Oklahoma National Guard refused to compel COVID vaccination of his Guard members because the Governor of the state said he should not follow the President’s directive;
  • “The potential for a total breakdown of the chain of command along partisan lines … is significant should another insurrection occur. The idea of rogue units organizing among themselves to support the “rightful” commander in chief cannot be dismissed;”
  • The real possibility exists that state Guard units will follow their political preferences if their candidate loses the next election;
  • Access to state arms repositories might be loosened to aid insurrectionists prepared to do battle;
  • Often ignored, the distraction of a violent domestic conflict over the election with a divided military would make the U.S. vulnerable to attack by international enemies;
  • We have passed the stage of mere strong political disagreement and must urgently prepare for worst-case scenarios, by, among other things, holding the leaders of January 6 to full accountability for their actions;

The generals who have spoken out about the danger have made several compelling proposals for preventive measures:

  • An immediate civics review for all uniformed and civilian military regarding the Constitution they have sworn to uphold and on the subject of election integrity, the laws of war and how to deal with illegal orders;
  • Re-inform members about the “unity of command,” so there is no question about who is in command;
  • “identify, isolate and remove potential mutineers” and “propagandists who use misinformation to subvert the chain of command.”
  • war-game the next potential post-election coup attempt to identify weak spots, debrief the findings and act to prevent breakdowns in the military and in connected civilian agencies.

A major step in support of this pro-democracy agenda involves the military and Department of Justice acting aggressively and urgently to hold accountable those who participated in and/or led and/or conspired to induce the attack on the Capitol. Regardless of what led people to involve themselves in what was a blatantly and unquestionably unlawful assault on the government, minds are not going to be changed any time soon.

The remedy for now is to make clear that the penalties for such conduct will be administered severely and promptly. Military who participated should be expelled from the service. They have no excuse for violating their oaths of loyalty to the Constitution. Similarly, the January 6 House Select Committee must adopt a sense of urgency and work continuously until its mission is completed.

Simultaneously, the Department of Justice must, with equal urgency, complete its investigations and indict the leaders in Congress and the former White House (and associated advisors) and elsewhere who participated in, conspired to incite or aided-and-abetted the January 6 assault. It should not take a week or more to hold in contempt individuals who refuse to comply with subpoenas or who falsely claim the Fifth Amendment while simultaneously proclaiming their innocence and make false accusations about the process.

Among the other obvious dangers here is that these investigations will drag on, the TrumpPublican Party will regain full control of the Congress (not dependent on the cooperation of people like putative Democrat Sen. Joe Manchin) and activity to investigate and hold accountable will be halted. If that happens, you can kiss our democratic republic goodbye, perhaps for good. The authoritarian goals of the TrumpPublicans are to entrench their power permanently. Democracy is at stake. Time is running out. Politics as usual is not good enough. If we do not act in the face of the threat, we will deserve what we get.

A Darkness in the Heart

A few days ago, Rep. Carolyn Maloney, Chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, releaseddocuments showing ex-President Trump’s efforts to pressure the Department of Justice (DOJ) to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.  https://bit.ly/35wq4uL Maloney’s release says, in part,

These documents show that President Trump tried to corrupt our nation’s chief law enforcement agency in a brazen attempt to overturn an election that he lost. Those who aided or witnessed President Trump’s unlawful actions must answer the committee’s questions about this attempted subversion of democracy.

This is not really new. Recall that on May 3, 2017, more than four long long years ago, I published, https://bit.ly/3vObOrS that included a 24-item list of indictable/impeachable offenses by Donald Trump. That was long before the March 2019 Mueller Report, laying out conclusive evidence of at least ten instances in which Trump obstructed justice. And longer still before the July 2019 phone call in which Trump threatened the President of Ukraine that he would withhold Congressionally-approved aid if Ukraine did not announce an investigation of Joe and Hunter Biden. See https://bit.ly/3vBQ7LF It was even longer before the January 6, 2021 Trump-inspired and Trump-led (“I will be there with you.”) attack on the Capitol, for which I recommended that Trump be indicted, arrested and charged with Sedition & Felony Murder. https://bit.ly/3q7iaSb

Thus, it comes as no surprise that unleashed Trump has once again committed multiple crimes. [An aside: this is not an exaggeration. I will soon be reviewing the extraordinary memoir, Where Law Ends, by Andrew Weissmann, the inside account of the Mueller investigation that reveals in horrifying detail the determination of Donald Trump to retain power and remain unaccountable to the people, including multiple crimes in office]

In a nutshell, as exposed in the released documents, here is how Trump attempted to subvert the Department of Justice in the wake of his 2020 election defeat [full details here; https://bit.ly/35wq4uL]:

Trump Sent Bogus Election Fraud Claims to Top DOJ Officials Minutes Before Announcing Their Promotions to the Top Two Spots in the Department

Trump Used Official White House Channels and a Private Attorney to Pressure DOJ to Urgently File a Supreme Court Lawsuit to Nullify the Election

      • The draft 54-page complaint demanded that the Supreme Court “declare that the Electoral College votes cast” in six states that President Trump lost “cannot be counted,” and  requested that the Court order a “special election” for president in those states.

Trump Enlisted Assistant AG Jeffrey Clark in an Attempt to Advance Election Fraud Claims; The White House Chief of Staff Pressured DOJ to Investigate Conspiracy Theories At Least Fives Times

 Examples [“Rosen” refers to then Deputy AG Jeffrey Rosen]:

      • On December 30, 2020, Mr. Meadows forwarded Mr. Rosen an email from Cleta Mitchell, a Trump advisor who later participated in a January phone call with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger.  During that call,  President Trump reportedly asked Georgia election officials to “find” enough votes to declare him the winner of the state.  The December 30 email contained allegations of “video issues in Fulton County.”  Mr. Meadows wrote to Mr. Rosen:  “Can you have your team look into these allegations of wrongdoing.  Only the alleged fraudulent activity.”
      • Later on December 30, 2020, Mr. Meadows emailed Mr. Rosen a translation of a document from an individual in Italy claiming to have “direct knowledge” of a plot by which American electoral data was changed in Italian facilities “in coordination with senior US intelligence officials (CIA)” and loaded onto “military satellites.”  This individual claimed that the true data, as well as sources within the conservative wing of the Italian secret service, confirmed that Donald Trump was “clearly the winner” of the 2020 election.

Further nuances and details about these sorry episodes were reported in the Washington Post. https://wapo.st/3q4tP49 One element of that recital is the repetition of “no comment” and no response to inquiries from the press about the narrated events. Even those Justice Department officials who were steadfast in declining Trump’s overtures to overturn the election are apparently unwilling to address the revelations in the emails released by the Oversight Committee. And, quite expectedly, Mark Meadows and Trump himself had nothing further to say regarding their blatant attempts to overturn the election.

 What Should Happen Now

Trump and all of the people involved in attempts to suborn the Department of Justice should be indicted under 18 USC § 371,arrested and tried. It’s past time to put a stop to Trump’s campaign to undermine the central fabric of our democracy.

The US Criminal Code, 18 U.S.C. § 371, if violated when two or more persons conspire either to (a) commit any offense against the United States, or (b) defraud the United States, or any agency thereof in any manner or for any purpose. Both offenses require the traditional elements of conspiracy: an illegal agreement, criminal intent, and proof of an overt act.

In Hass v. Henkel, 216 U.S. 462 (1910) the Supreme Court stated:

The statute is broad enough in its terms to include any conspiracy for the purpose of impairing, obstructing or defeating the lawful function of any department of government . . . (A)ny conspiracy which is calculated to obstruct or impair its efficiency and destroy the value of its operation and reports as fair, impartial and reasonably accurate, would be to defraud the United States by depriving it of its lawful right and duty of promulgating or diffusing the information so officially acquired in the way and at the time required by law or departmental regulation.

In Hammerschmidt v. United States, 265 U.S. 182 (1924), the Court elaborated:

To conspire to defraud the United States … also means to interfere with or obstruct one of its lawful governmental functions by deceit, craft or trickery, or at least by means that are dishonest. It is not necessary that the Government shall be subjected to property or pecuniary loss by the fraud, but only that its legitimate official action and purpose shall be defeated by misrepresentation, chicane or the overreaching of those charged with carrying out the governmental intention.

A multitude of later cases confirm the ongoing vitality of those early definitions.

Proof of conspiracy requires knowledge by the perpetrators that the statements were false. The claims made by Trump, Meadows and others acting on Trump’s behalf were not just obviously false but bordered on hallucinatory. Trump’s repeated claims that there was “no way” he lost Georgia, for example, have no plausible factual predicate and after sixty lawsuit failures, no plausible factual basis has been presented. Trump’s claims were a blatant attempt to both “interfere or obstruct legitimate Government activity” and/or to “make wrongful use of a governmental instrumentality.”

The Manual of Model Criminal Jury Instructions: 8. Offenses Under Title 18, referring to 18 USC § 371,  states,

A conspiracy is a kind of criminal partnership—an agreement of two or more persons to commit one or more crimes. The crime of conspiracy is the agreement to do something unlawful; it does not matter whether the crime agreed upon was committed….

One becomes a member of a conspiracy by willfully participating in the unlawful plan with the intent to advance or further some object or purpose of the conspiracy, even though the person does not have full knowledge of all the details of the conspiracy. Furthermore, one who willfully joins an existing conspiracy is as responsible for it as the originators.…

An overt act does not itself have to be unlawful. A lawful act may be an element of a conspiracy if it was done for the purpose of carrying out the conspiracy. The government is not required to prove that the defendant personally did one of the overt acts.

A conspirator may not defend on the basis that he believed in fantasies when he made claims he knew were unjustified. In this case Trump and his henchmen tried to enlist the personnel and resources of the nation’s top law enforcement agency to accomplish what they failed to accomplish in the election, knowing to a moral certainty that their claims lacked a basis in reality. The conduct in question occurred almost two months after the election and after numerous lawsuits throughout the country failed to persuade a single judge (including some Trump himself appointed) that there was any basis for claims of election fraud that could change the result. Even Trump’s Attorney General Barr publicly rejected the fraud claims.

I am not alone in advocating strong and prompt action to stop Trump’s continuing effort to overturn the election . Jennifer Rubin suggested the following in the Washington Post on [https://wapo.st/3wz0sJM]:

    1.  criminal investigation into post-election actions in which officials were pressured to change election outcomes, including attempts at DOJ and at state officials such as Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger,
    2. create strict guidelines for Justice Department attorneys regarding efforts to undo lawful elections, including whistleblower protections and mandatory duty to report such actions to Congress,
    3. sue to stop the bogus so-called “audits” in Arizona and elsewhere,
    4. develop federal legislation to strengthen the Electoral Count Act, such as requiring a supermajority to challenge electoral votes.

Rubin’s final recommendation is probably the most important: establish an election-monitoring program for 2022 and 2024 that will assign Justice personnel to prevent voter intimidation, measure wait times, observe election counting, receive complaints and, ultimately, render a report on the functioning of elections in all 50 states.  That’s the most critical because Republicans throughout the country are legislating changes in local election procedures to enable Republican-controlled legislatures and political appointees to control and even overturn election results.

Following Republicans’ uniform refusal to hold Trump accountable for any of his many crimes in office, it is now clear that the fate of the nation’s election system is under systemic attack. It is no exaggeration to say that Republicans are prepared, without compunction, to adopt totalitarian tactics to establish themselves as the permanent ruling party in American politics. They seem to believe that the majority of Americans will accept such actions in peaceful submission. That, I believe, is a fundamental misjudgment, the consequences of which are unimaginably horrible. Among many other things, the United States is no longer separated from its enemies by oceans that take weeks or months to cross. A violent civil conflict would expose the country to attacks from which it could never recover.

In any case, there is no reason to sit idly by while the Republicans attempt in plain view to subvert the Constitution and establish a Republican dictatorship under Donald Trump. Aggressive and immediate actions can prevent the unthinkable and avert more drastic measures later. Trump and his co-conspirators should be indicted forthwith. Time and opportunity are wasting.

DOJ Defends Trump’s Defamation of Jean Carroll

The Twitterverse is aflame with indignation at the news that the Department of Justice has filed a brief in the case of E. Jean Carroll v Donald J. Trump “in his personal capacity.” DOJ’s brief argues that, based on federal statutory law and multiple court precedents, Trump’s statements that Carroll was lying when she claimed he raped her, while offensive and potentially defamatory, were “within the scope of his employment as President” and thus the United States of America in its sovereign capacity may, indeed must, replace Trump as defendant and Trump’s attorneys as his representatives in the litigation.

This was a genuinely shocking development, especially considering that neither Trump nor any of his co-conspirators have been brought to justice in any way in connection with the January 6 assault on the Capitol that he inspired and directed, nor for any of the acts of obstruction of justice that were described in detail in the Mueller Report. While it’s obviously true that many of the mob that attacked the Capitol have been arrested and charged with various offenses, and others are being hunted as we write, the suspicion is that there were many senior Trump aides, likely including some members of Congress, who were guilty of conspiring to cause the insurrection/sedition of January 6. Many people around the country are outraged that the DOJ would undertake to defend Trump in the Carroll defamation case.

I am among those outraged Americans. At the same time, I am, or was, a licensed attorney and, therefore, had to take the time to read the cases cited by DOJ to try to understand the legal basis for its stunning decision to take over Trump’s defense. I have completed my review of DOJ’s brief and the cases cited and will now set out my views about them.

Preliminary Statement

The position outlined by DOJ amounts to a per se position. That is to say, given DOJ’s articulation of its theory of the case, it is almost impossible to think of a situation in which a sitting president, accused of defamation, responds with, we’ll assume, outright lies constituting blatant overt defamation of the accuser and such responses would not be determined to be within the scope of the president’s employment by the federal government.

I will try to explain why this is wrong. Considerable simplification is necessary. You can read DOJ’s brief in full here: https://bit.ly/3g2Vfnr

Background to DOJ’s Analysis

Under the  federal statute known as the Westfall Act [technically, the Federal Employees Liability Reform and Tort Compensation Act of 1988] bars tort claims against government employees acting within the scope of their employment. Instead, such claims must be brought under the Federal Tort Claims Act, but the catch is that unless the government consents to be sued, defamation cases are barred and, in effect, even though the plaintiff may have been defamed, there is no legal remedy. The District Court succinctly explained it this way:

the FTCA specifically excepts libel and slander cases from the United States’s consent to be sued. Thus, if this really is a suit against the United States, it is one to which the United States seemingly has not waived its sovereign immunity.

As the District Court also noted in the Carroll case,

Because the Westfall Act operates where a lawsuit could have been brought against the United States under the FTCA, the statutes share the same threshold requirements. Thus, in order for the Westfall Act to apply, the defendant must be an “employee of the Government” who was acting within the scope of his or her employment.

Because the goal of all this is to protect federal employees who are claimed to have committed torts  (civil wrongs, such as libel) from having to defend suits when the employees were acting with the scope of their employment, the Attorney General may certify that challenged conduct was indeed within the scope of employment and, therefore, the United States becomes the defendant in lieu of the employee originally sued and the DOJ takes over the defense.

Certifications can be challenged, however, and that is what has happened in the Carroll case. Under the Westfall Act, the question of “scope of employment” is decided according to the law of the state with the closest connection to the events in question.

You can read the District Court opinion here: https://bit.ly/3cs3Huw

Facts in the Carroll case

Carroll claimed in a book that was reported in New York Magazine that Donald Trump raped her in a department store in the mid-1990s. About two hours after the magazine published, Trump, on his own initiative, issued a statement denying that he knew Carroll, asserting that the report was false and designed to sell books. Shortly thereafter, in response to a press inquiry and in an interview, Trump expounded at length on his position that Carroll had fabricated the entire story.

Carroll sued Trump in New York state court, claiming defamation. After ten months of litigation, DOJ decided to step in, removed the case to federal court and certified the scope of employment necessary to invoke the Westfall Act.

DOJ’s Argument

To some degree, DOJ’s framing of the issues stacks the deck in its favor. That is what litigants do when they file briefs arguing for their preferred outcome. We should not, therefore, be shocked that DOJ did that here. There are, however, fair questions to be raised about the approach DOJ took in its analysis of the legal issues.

I will not discuss the threshold question whether the President of the United States is a “employee of the federal government.” Carroll argued the negative; DOJ strongly disagreed and, I believe, has the better argument on that question. A large part of its brief was devoted to that issue.

The critical issue remains whether Trump’s unilateral declaration that Carroll was lying about the alleged rape was within the scope of Trump’s employment as president.

DOJ describes the key question as “whether a high-ranking elected official subject to close public scrutiny acts within the scope of employment when making public statements denying and responding to serious accusations.” And,

The FTCA and Westfall Act, and the common law tort principles that they incorporate, recognize that in some instances employees will commit torts—including intentional torts—for which the employer bears responsibility, even when the employer disapproves of or expressly forbids the tortious conduct. Conduct that falls within the scope of employment for purposes of the Westfall Act thus need not be authorized or acceptable. Indeed, the premise of a scope-of-employment analysis is that a tort may have been committed. Under the Westfall Act, even conduct involving “serious criminality,” … or which runs “contrary to the national security of the United States,” … may fall within the scope of employment. In making and defending a Westfall Act certification, therefore, the Department of Justice is not endorsing the allegedly tortious conduct or representing that it actually furthered the interests of the United States….[case cites omitted]

… the question in a Westfall Act case is whether the general type of conduct at issue comes within the scope of employment. Speaking to the public and the press on matters of public concern is undoubtedly part of an elected official’s job.

Stated differently,

The key inquiry is whether the conduct at issue is of the type an official generally performs, rather than whether the particular allegedly tortious act was improper.

And,

in undertaking a scope-of-employment inquiry, a court must look to “the type of act” the defendant took, rather than its “wrongful character.”

And,

What matters is whether the underlying activity itself was part of the employee’s duties.

DOJ then makes the great leap, sliding past the fact, not disputed to my knowledge, that Trump initiated his public attack on Carroll in the first instance. It was not in response to media inquiries but occurred almost immediately after the New York Magazine publication of her book excerpt. That is why I put bold-face type on that fact earlier. DOJ:

When members of the White House media asked then-President Trump to respond to Ms. Carroll’s serious allegations of wrongdoing, their questions were posed to him in his capacity as President. Likewise, when Mr. Trump responded to those questions with denials of wrongdoing made through the White House press office or in statements to reporters in the Oval Office and on the White House lawn, he acted within the scope of his office.

This is critically important because the cases cited by DOJ are all distinguishable from the Carroll situation. In the opinion in Council on American Islamic Relations v Ballenger (444 F3d 659), on which DOJ heavily relies, the Congressman’s comments about CAIR were made in the context of an explanation why the Congressman’s marriage was dissolving currently which was a matter bearing on his ongoing conduct while in office. Trump’s comments, initially given of his own volition and not in response to media questions, were about events that happened more than two decades ago.

In Does 1-10 v Haaland (973 F3d 591) the statements made by the Congressman were “intended to convey the politicians’ views on matters of public interest to their constituents,” namely an incident at Lincoln Memorial between students and a Native American veteran. Clearly that is not what the Trump-Carroll dispute involves.

In Operation Rescue National v. U.S. (975 F. Supp. 92), “Senator Kennedy said, in part, that the proposed legislation was needed because “we have a national organization like Operation Rescue has as a matter of national policy firebombing and even murder …” The District Court found that that Kennedy’s comments were within the scope of employment because,

Senator Kennedy was providing political leadership and a basis for voters to judge his performance in office—two activities that public officials are expected, and should be encouraged, to perform,”…. In this sense, the Senator’s employer was his constituents and he served them by fully informing them of his views and working to pass legislation he believed would benefit them.. [italics added]

The Operation Rescue analysis is particularly interesting. The court flipped the employment relationship to one in which Kennedy was working for his constituents. If so, the “scope of employment” analysis that would substitute the United States for Kennedy should have failed.

The bottom line is that the DOJ analysis leading to its decision to replace Trump with the United States government is pedestrian. It fails to account for important differences in the Trump case from the precedents cited. And, worse, it creates a nearly per se rule that immunizes all future presidents from slanderous/defamatory statements about disputed matters without regard to the time when those events occurred. DOJ’s analysis is a license for a sitting president to defame people he may have harmed long before taking office. Trump accused Carroll of lying on three separate occasions at least. Under DOJ’s interpretation of the Westfall Act, he could have spent hours more on national television at his rallies and in other public statements attacking her credibility and, after all that abuse, she would have no effective remedy. The United States has not waived sovereign immunity for defamation and there is nothing to suggest that it intends to do so in the future.

Admittedly, the case law opens the door to this approach, but DOJ did not have to walk through it. Given Trump’s history of grifting at the expense of the government, and thus of taxpayers, it is painful to see the Department of Justice bend over backwards to continue putting resources at his disposal while giving him, and future presidents, an essentially free hand.

The legal precedents that make this possible should be closely re-examined. The Westfall Act should be amended to put at least some fences around permissible expression by a sitting president who already has enormous advantages in the fight for public opinion. What happened to Ms. Carroll, regardless of the truth of the underlying allegations, should not be repeated. Republicans would, no doubt, oppose any legislation that might prevent Trump from doing what he does. The only hope for rectifying this miscarriage of justice is to replace more Republicans with Democrats in Congress.

 

What to My Wondering Eyes Did Appear …

You likely recognize my slight modification of the iconic line from the poem, The Night Before Christmas, a/k/a, A Visit From St. Nicholas. It came instantly and unbidden to mind upon reading today’s Washington Post report entitled, Justice Department, FBI debate not charging some of the Capitol rioters. https://wapo.st/2KGv2hM

No, I am not making this up. The story was written by two highly accomplished reporters: Devlin Barrett and Spencer Hsu. As astounding and gut-wrenching as the story is, I take it for true.

The prosecutors’ discussions are assertedly based on a number of key ideas:

  1. About 800 people (+/- 100) entered the Capitol unlawfully; bringing so many cases could overload the local court;

Objection: The message from such nonsense is: “if you’re going to be part of an illegal mob action, be sure it’s a big one.” Is that really the message the FBI/DOJ want to send here?

  1. Some insurrectionists may only be guilty of “unlawful entry,” not having engaged in “violent, threatening or destructive behavior” – they merely went along with the crowd;

Objection: The perpetrators were not mere bystanders to a large-scale criminal event. They were active participants. “I just went along with the crowd that killed people and stole property” has never been a defense; why now? How do you discourage such conduct in the future if you decide to look the other way for most of the people involved?

  1. “The primary objective for authorities is to determine which individuals, if any, planned, orchestrated or directed the violence” – people who “planned and carried out violence aimed at the government” may face charges of seditious conspiracy, carrying a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison;

Hint for FBI/DOJ: good; go big with the charges for the planners; by the way, there is substantial provable evidence that the individual who orchestrated the violence was the president, Donald J Trump. Indict him.

  1. “…investigators are still gathering evidence, and agents could easily turn up additional photos or online postings that show a person they initially believed was harmless had, in fact, encouraged or engaged in other crimes.”

Another Hint for FBI/DOJ: What?? Harmless??? It is impossible to conclude rationally that any person who entered the Capitol with the mob on Jan. 6 was “harmless.” The harm began with the attack on the defending police force and continued unabated for hours. Those who entered knew they weren’t supposed to be there, saw the violence directed at the small police contingent in place to defend the Capitol and, based on extensive video, did nothing to try to stop the entry/violence that was perpetrated by the mob of which they were a part, even if they did not all directly engage in violence against the police, the building or its contents. Sacking the Capitol cannot be harmless.

  1. Some people may have done nothing but enter, look around and leave. If the only charge is unlawful entry, prosecutors might lose some cases. The exact quote in the story was: ““If an old man says all he did was walk in and no one tried to stop him, and he walked out and no one tried to stop him, and that’s all we know about what he did, that’s a case we may not win,”

Objection: So what? Irrelevant. Prosecutors are seriously concerning themselves with the remote possibility that a handful of the invaders said “whoopsie, this has gotten out of hand; think I’ll just wander on outside and watch the fun from there?” Every prosecutor, every trial lawyer, has lost some cases. It’s not a shame; happens to the best of them once in a while. Losing should be the last thing FBI/DOJ are concerned about here.

  6.  Most of the arrestees have no prior criminal records;

Objection: Utterly irrelevant; for every criminal, there is a first time. A first-time murderer is no less a murderer because he’s not murdered before. If this has any bearing, it’s at sentencing, but surely is not a factor in deciding whether to prosecute. Surely.

  1. “…defense lawyers … are contemplating something akin to a “Trump defense” — that the president or other authority figures gave them permission or invited them to commit an otherwise illegal act.”

Yet Another Hint to FBI/DOJ: this “defense” gets a good grade for clever and bold, but it’s wrong and thus no cigar. This is the point at which I seriously consider screaming obscenities. The president lacked authority to give anyone legally effective permission to force their way into the Capitol to interfere with the scheduled work of Congress. Being delusional may get you a reduced sentence, maybe, but it cannot and should not insulate you from self-evidently unlawful conduct. Believing the unbelievable (the election was stolen –Trump said so) is no excuse.

  1. In a remarkable double/triple entendre, or something, the argument is noted that Trump’s impending impeachment trial will “raise questions about the culpability of followers for the misinformation spread by leaders around bogus election-fraud claims rejected by courts and state voting officials.” Further,

It’s not a like a bunch of people gathered on their own and decided to do this, it’s not like a mob. It’s people who were asked to come by the president, encouraged to come by the president, and encouraged to do what they did by the president and a number of others,” said one attorney representing defendants charged in the breach who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss legal strategy.”

Objection: – this is the “I was too stupid to know how stupid I was…” defense. Or the “my president made me do it” defense. It speaks for itself, which is what lawyers say when they don’t know what to say. Defense lawyers may try this, which is their right, but this is not the basis for prosecutorial deference. If anything, it should inspire more aggression on the part of prosecutors.

  1. “For rioters with no previous criminal records or convictions and whose known behavior inside the Capitol was not violent or destructive, the government could enter into deferred plea agreements, a diversion program akin to pretrial probation in which prosecutors agree to drop charges if a defendant commits no offenses over a certain time period.”

Another Note: the article says this tactic “has been used before in some cases involving individuals with a history of mental illness who were arrested for jumping the White House fence. Criminal defense attorneys note there may be further distinctions between individuals who may have witnessed illegal activity or otherwise had reason to know they were entering a restricted area, and those for whom prosecutors can’t show such awareness.”

Objection: This is just a variant of “I didn’t know breaking into the Capitol with a raging, screaming mob breaking windows and attacking police was illegal.” It is, I suggest, preposterous even for Trump true-believers. It’s like the “Martians made me do it” defense deeply felt perhaps but just plain wrong. We cannot have a society in which people get away with crimes because they say they’re too ignorant to know what is right and wrong. Plead insanity if you think you can establish it, but this, again, is not a ground for prosecutors to lay off.

I close this part of the post with this final quote from the story:

“There is absolute resolve from the Department of Justice to hold all who intentionally engaged in criminal acts at the Capitol accountable,” Justice Department spokesman Marc Raimondi said in an email. “We have consistently made clear that we will follow the facts and evidence and charge individuals accordingly. We remain confident that the U.S. District Court for Washington, DC can appropriately handle the docket related to any resulting charges.”

We must certainly hope that Mr. Raimondi’s declaration is correct. This may be the most appalling story I have read about the justice system — ever.

I cannot get my mind around the idea that (1) the president of the United States calls a mob of supporters to Washington and, along with some family members and attorneys, urges the crowd to “walk down to the Capitol” (lying about his intention to join them), (2) for the avowed purpose of preventing final Congressional certification of the presidential election the president clearly lost AND (3) the people who follow his suggestion take the walk (over a mile, plenty of time to think about what they’re doing), (4) assault the Capitol police, (5)  join the mob forcing its way into the building through smashed windows/doors, (6) are present during multiple melees throughout the building including attacks on police, and (7) are allowed to simply walk out without impediment — are being considered for leniency by prosecutors.

Have we lost our collective minds? Is this the lingering product of Trump’s undermining of the Department of Justice? Let these people walk and they will just go home, laughing all the way. What happened to respect for law, never mind “law and order?” This was an insurrection against the government of the United States. People died. A police officer attacked by the mob died. Why aren’t “felony murder” charges appropriate (participation in the commission of a felony, where a death occurs during that felony, even if the defendant wasn’t the one who killed the victim)? Why isn’t felony murder being discussed? What is going on here?

Trump Goes Full Dictator

The president has been asked multiple times if he will respect the result of the vote and participate in the peaceful transfer of power that has been a hallmark of American democracy since the Founding. His chilling responses are, in essence, “only if I win,” just as he said before the 2016 election. In that election he made much of claims that the election was being “rigged” by Democrats against him. Little was known at that time about the support he was getting from Russia which wanted Trump to defeat Hillary Clinton at all costs. Of course, a significant majority of voters went for Clinton anyway. Trump’s squeak-by win was the product of a few votes in a few states favored by the Electoral College.

This time, Trump has gone all-in with his “election rigging” claims, focusing mainly on the on-going shift toward mail-in voting compelled by the COVID-19 pandemic crisis that the president himself has admitted he deliberately downplayed the danger and misled the public despite his early knowledge of how deadly and easily transmitted the virus was. Details in Bob Woodward’s Rage. Trump claims that mail-in voting, in which ballots are sent to all registered voters rather than the traditional absentee method that send ballots only to voters who ask for them, are inherently infected with fraud.

These assertions have no basis in history. Multiple states, including Republican-led states, have long used mail-in voting without material evidence of voter fraud. Paul Begala’s recent book, You’re Fired, The Perfect Guide to Beating Donald Trump, shares some compelling data on this subject. He reminds us of the Pence-Kobach voter fraud commission, ponderously named by Trump as the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity. Kobach was the lead horse in the Trump wagon train seeking evidence that voter fraud was rampant in the United States.

During its roughly seven-month life, the Commission came up with … nothing of substance. The pathetic history of this effort at voter suppression, inspired by Trump’s hurt feelings over having lost the popular vote in 2016, are set out at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Presidential_Advisory_Commission_on_Election_Integrity, including the finding by a federal magistrate that Kobach had engaged in “patently misleading representations” in a court dispute over document access.

Begala reports that the Bush administration had also tried to unearth voter fraud. Then Attorney General Ashcroft investigated hundreds of campaigns involving 197 million votes and prosecuted 26 people. In a study of 14 years of elections (1 billion votes), the Washington Post found 31 cases of actual or plausible voter fraud. For the 2016 election, a WAPO investigation revealed 4 published reports of fraud in an election with 135 million votes. Sidebar: one of those cases was someone who voted twice for … Donald Trump.

Begala observes that voter fraud involves a very small gain for the fraud-favored candidate (one incremental vote) whereas the perpetrator faces the prospect of federal prison. If you think that’s fanciful, recall Crystal Mason who cast a provisional ballot, which was never counted, in Texas while on federal supervised release following a prison term for tax fraud. She was sentenced to five years – five years – in prison for an uncounted vote when she had never been told of her disqualification under Texas law. https://bit.ly/3mVm4eI

Never deterred by facts, Trump and his enablers have been stoking the fears of massive voter fraud and other problems for months. As reported by Politico,

This past spring, President Donald Trump began a full-fledged assault on voting by mail, tweeting, retweeting and railing about massive fraud and rigged elections with scant evidence. Then the Republican apparatus got to work backing up the president. In the weeks since, Trump’s campaign and the Republican National Committee have taken to the courts dozens of times as part of a $20 million effort to challenge voting rules, including filing their own lawsuits in several battleground states, including Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Nevada. And around the time Trump started musing about delaying the election last week, aides and outside advisers began scrambling to ponder possible executive actions he could take to curb mail-in voting — everything from directing the postal service to not deliver certain ballots to stopping local officials from counting them after Election Day. https://politi.co/33ZERNl

The more recent developments are pretty well known, including the efforts of Trump’s Postmaster General, a man with zero experience managing the Postal Service, to slow down mail deliveries, removing automated mail-sorting machines, altering delivery schedules to force mail to be undelivered or delayed, and so on. This is classic voter suppression by other means in the face of a national health crisis that has, due in large part to the president’s lying, killed more than 200,000 Americans and left tens of thousands more with permanent, crippling organ damage.

We are now in the final two months run-up to Election Day. Trump is desperate. He is behind in almost every poll, including many  battleground/swing states and his lies/distortions/deflections have not moved the needle in his favor.

Then the question is put: will you respect the vote and participate in a peaceful transfer of power? His answer remains, in effect, NO.

Does he mean it? We would be foolish to think it’s just a ploy on his part, part of Trump’s bag of braggadocio that so excites his political base at rallies. When you ask someone, “what do you do?” and he answers, “I’m a thief,” you should believe him.

Trump’s campaign to undermine the legitimacy of the election is unrelenting, supported by Russia again, and like an elixir for his base. However, many of Trump’s key enablers, like Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, are falling behind their Democratic opponents and pleading for help from Fox Propaganda News viewers.

Remember Trump’s answer: ‘NO, I will not respect the election result because I know, in advance with the use of my mystical powers to see the future, that it will be unfair to me and I won’t stand for it.’ There are suggestions that he will order the U.S. military and state National Guard units to the polls, for the sole purpose of intimidating voters. His supporters in open-carry states have already appeared at some protests related to the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor armed with AR-15s and other weapons. They call themselves militias, but they are actually armed gangs who will not hesitate to participate in voter suppression in support of Trump’s white supremacy agenda.

Lastly, and most recently, in a now common apparent effort to bolster Trump’s claims of voter fraud working against him, the Justice Department announced it was investigating nine “discarded military ballots” that were cast for Trump in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania. https://cnn.it/2FZzo1a

The announcement is extraordinary in multiple respects: DOJ does not normally announce pending investigations absent compelling circumstances, especially if they may influence an election. That is true notwithstanding the astounding, history-changing decision by James Comey, then Director of the FBI, to announce a reopened email investigation of Hillary Clinton only days before the 2016 election. That decision, in which Comey overrode the advice of virtually everyone else at Justice, is recounted in Jeffrey Toobin’s True Crimes and Misdemeanors.

The initial announcement regarding the Pennsylvania ballots was wrong regarding how many votes were for Trump and had to be reissued. As noted by CNN, the disclosure of the candidate’s identity

immediately raised suspicions that the Justice Department was trying to furnish material that Trump could promote for political gain. Indeed, Trump and other White House aides used the information, even before it was made public, to attack mail-in voting. Election officials go to extraordinary lengths to protect ballot secrecy. It’s unclear how investigators figured out who the votes were for, and why they made that information public.

Not surprisingly, the federal inquiry was prompted by a request from the Republican District Attorney in Luzerne County; the DOJ attorney announcing the case is also a Trump-appointed Republican.

As usual with vote fraud cases, the “discarded” ballots are a tiny fraction of the “normal” voter turnout in Pennsylvania (6.1 million votes in 2016). Because the envelopes appeared similar to the ballot application envelopes, the story goes, the local officials decided to open them for fear of missing absentee ballot requests from the military, a problem that had cropped up in the last primary and, apparently, not cured.

This is, I believe, related to an ongoing problem with ballots, the requesting and use of which has become so complicated that many mistakes are made by ordinary voters whose votes are then rejected. This happens even in jurisdictions that have no history of voter suppression.

Another curiosity about this situation is that the investigation apparently had not yet learned who “discarded” the ballots or why. Yet, DOJ was most anxious to make public statements about the investigation and, it turns out, brief Trump in detail before the DOJ’s public announcement of the situation.

Trump spoke to Fox News Radio about it and the White House Press Secretary was informed and advised reporters before DOJ’s announcement.

CNN’s report continues:

Trump and Attorney General William Barr …have promoted debunked conspiracy theories and blatant disinformation to claim that mail-in voting leads to massive fraud. Election officials from both parties have rejected these claims and say there are tried-and-true safeguards prevent and quickly detect fraud.

The unorthodox Justice Department announcement is sure to fuel suspicion that Barr is using the Justice Department as a political weapon to help Trump’s reelection.

In recent months, Barr has aided Trump’s effort to label Democratic-run cities as “anarchist” strongholds, and has targeted Democratic-run states over Covid-19 deaths at nursing homes. Barr has also intervened in criminal cases to help prominent Trump allies.

David Becker, founder of the nonpartisan Center for Election Innovation, and a former DOJ attorney himself, said

the announcement didn’t say anything about the voters’ preferences in the down-ballot races, and that it said nothing about how the ballots were actually discovered.… to release a public statement with so little info, at the beginning of an investigation, is inexplicable, and law enforcement malpractice.

Becker was not alone in his condemnation of the early partial release of what amounts to political campaign material supporting Trump. For example,

It’s wildly improper, and it’s truly unconscionable,” said Justin Levitt, a former Justice Department official who is now a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. https://wapo.st/334NpDv

But, wouldn’t you know, the reality turns out to be quite different than the hysterical web of deceit and conspiracy that Trump and his sycophantic enablers weave. The discarding of ballots was a mistake by an inexperienced contractor, since fired. Another nothing-burger in the Trump pantheon of wounds and slights in the fantasy word he has concocted around voting fraud. https://cnn.it/2Sen7IV

Trump’s ongoing campaign to undermine confidence in the election, assisted by his Attorney General acting, and using the resources of the Justice Department, as de facto personal attorney for Trump and his re-election campaign. Barr’s involvements on behalf of the president and his enablers is so bad that more than 1,100 former DOJ officials publicly urged Barr to resign last February. https://n.pr/3hXHNPG

Trump’s plan seems clear. He intends to resist with every available tool, legal or otherwise, the outcome of the election. There are reports that his statements and claims have alarmed the generals in the Chiefs of Staff and in the Pentagon that they may be called on by Trump to intervene in the election. https://wapo.st/2Gawcj7 Trump would not hesitate to order the military to intervene if he thought that would save his presidency from electoral defeat.

In that case military leaders will have to choose between Trump and the Constitution – saying they’ll leave it to the courts will not suffice if Trump, as Commander-in-Chief, orders them to intervene on his behalf. And resignation, the other suggested option, will not work either. The decision-making authority would simply devolve down the chain of command until someone –- there’s always someone – says “I’ll give the order.” It will be someone least capable of leading but who is intoxicated by the power or the attention, however brief it may be.

Trump is half-way there. He has been asked repeatedly and continues to hedge: “we’ll see what happens.”

One suggested solution is that the Democratic vote must be so overwhelming that there simply is no basis for a claim of electoral fraud. A gigantic Blue Wave would be helpful, but it is no guarantee against a desperate man who has no allegiance to the Constitution or anything else beyond himself. Everyone should prepare for the worst. And, without fail, VOTE. VOTE like your country’s life and your own depend upon it. Because they do.

 

The Mueller Report – Where From Here?

It is more than curious that Attorney General Barr and Deputy AG Rosenstein were able, in a matter of hours, to conclude that the massive evidence accumulated in the Mueller investigation in fact established that Trump did not obstruct justice when the Mueller report itself, according to quotations provided by Barr/Rosenstein, found that the evidence was inconclusive and did not exonerate the president on the obstruction issue. Not only is the Barr/Rosenstein conclusion not supported by the material they did disclose, there was no explanation of why Barr/Rosenstein felt it was appropriate for them to make their exoneration statement when the issue of how much of the Mueller report will be disclosed is still unresolved. Put that on top of the statement from an unnamed but high-ranking DOJ official on Saturday that the Mueller report contained no further indictments. Why, and who, was in such a hurry to begin pumping up the “not guilty” narrative for Trump?

The foregoing suggests to me that, in addition to other high crimes and misdemeanors, Trump has succeeded in undermining the core integrity of the Department of Justice. At the same time, the media seem to have lost their minds entirely and are reporting the story as if it were written by Barr/Rosenstein on their behalf.

Unless and until, the Mueller report, and the evidence on which it was based, is disclosed, the case against Trump will remain open. The only excuses for redaction of the report and withholding the evidence involve clear national security, executive privilege and grand jury limitations. The public is entitled to know how Mueller arrived at the conclusion that events such as the Trump Tower meeting and the multitude of lies told by Trump personally and by his family and other enablers did not support a finding of collusion. The public is also entitled to a deep understanding of the basis for Mueller’s conclusion that the evidence on obstruction was inconclusive when Trump admitted to, for example, firing James Comey for a corrupt reason.

I expect that after Trump does his victory dance, claiming exoneration when the Mueller report itself found no conclusion on that issue was possible, he will take the same position on disclosure that he took with his tax returns. He first said he would release them, then refused. He said just the other day that the Mueller report should be publicly disclosed but now, on the strength solely of the Barr/Rosenstein summary, he will almost certainly reverse his position again.

The battleground will now shift entirely to Congress and perhaps the courts as the various open cases against Trump and the Trump organizations proceed. There is no reason to give up, as some people, in shock no doubt, have suggested. Making a case against a sitting president, aided by a political party that is 100 percent invested in protecting him, was always going to be hard and take a long time. Trump’s victory claim is itself based on a false representation about the Barr/Rosenstein summary of the Mueller recommendations. No surprise that he would lie about that since he has lied about so many other things.

Hopefully, this development will awaken the Democratic Party to the difficult road ahead. Already, before the issues are even remotely resolved and while the actual Mueller report is still a mystery, pundits are predicting an easy win for Trump in 2020. Were that to happen, democracy as it has been known in America for my lifetime and beyond would likely be destroyed, possibly for decades. We would then be faced again with the duty outlined in the opening words of the Declaration of Independence: “when in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands ….”

So let’s keep our wits about us and get about the business of planning and executing the political force that is necessary to fulfill not the ambitions of the plutocracy that now governs this country but the wishes and needs of the majority that voted against Trump in 2016 and can, with the right leadership and the right understanding, prevail.