Tag Archives: FBI

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?

Experience Keeps a Dear School – Time to Call the Question

Ben Franklin famously said, “Experience keeps a dear school, but a fool will learn in no other.” He was all too prescient.

I have noted before that religion and other beliefs are a choice. We are not born to believe one religion or indeed any religion. Similarly, we do not inherently believe science or mathematics. We learn the content of these things by various means, come to understand that some have options (religion) and some don’t (science and mathematics, though many questions remain open in each domain). We choose what to believe. Our choices are heavily influenced by parents, social circles, schooling and other forces, but in the end we each decide what to believe and how to act. That’s what I believe. And thus, I choose to believe the following:

A. On January 6, 2021, following months of unsupported and false claims of voting fraud and stolen election, an unprecedented and intolerable series of events occurred.

B. The President of the United States summoned his most volatile supporters to Washington and directed them to attack the Capitol Building where the Congress was completing the constitutionally mandated task of validating, counting and accepting the Electoral College votes that would officially and finally end the election in which Trump was soundly defeated.

C. The attack was orchestrated and planned beforehand by various means, including social media, encrypted websites and chat rooms frequented by people who have chosen to believe that,

    1. Donald Trump is an honest, hardworking, dedicated public servant trying to do the right thing for all Americans;
    2. Trump’s decision to downplay the coronavirus as another Democratic hoax was correct, despite the ensuing deaths of more than 375,000 Americans;
    3. QAnon is real – the government is run by a secret “deep state” cabal of pedophiles and other miscreants, possibly including lizard-people, trying to destroy America;
    4. The election Trump lost was rigged and rife with fraud, despite the bringing of more than 60 failed lawsuits, despite the absence of actual evidence of fraud, despite the opposite conclusion of many of Trump’s staunchest allies (Attorney General Barr, for example) and despite the fact that to rig the election on the claimed scale would have to have involved many thousands of cooperating individuals in multiple states, including many Republican election officials.
    5. Despite numerous sources warning of the impending assault, multiple government security authorities concluded that a small force of Capitol Police, with limited equipment and unclear instructions/chain of command, could handle whatever might occur. When the attack quickly overwhelmed the limited opposing force, some of whom actively cooperated with the attackers, urgent appeals for additional help from nearby National Guard and other forces were either denied, delayed or simply ignored.
    6. While FBI and other law enforcement agencies are now arresting hundreds of riot participants, little meaningful light was been shed on how such a massive, widespread failure of security could have occurred, jeopardizing the lives of government officials high in the chain of presidential succession and numerous members of Congress who had publicly stated they intended to accept the Electoral College votes and declare Joe Biden, once and for all, the election winner.
    7. Republican members of Congress who voted against accepting the Electoral College results continue to resist accountability by Trump for the attack on the Capitol.
    8. Republican members of Congress who refused to accept the results participated through speeches and likely other means in inducing the attack on the Capitol.
    9. Those same Republican members refused to comply with House requirements to wear masks, likely resulting in COVID infection of multiple members who congregated with those Republicans in safe holding areas while police and reinforcements pushed the invaders out of the building.
    10. Those same Republican members of Congress have refused to cooperate with new House security measures intended to assure safety of Congress and staff, such as passing through magnetometers at entry doors.
    11. Most of those same Republicans voted “no” to the House resolution impeaching Trump for the unprecedented second time for inciting an insurrection against the government of the United States (see details at https://bit.ly/3nJK2cd)
  1. D. As a result of the foregoing, the nation’s capital city, preparing for the inauguration of Joe Biden & Kamala Harris, is a state of major defensive lockdown arising from well-founded fear that the insurrectionists inspired by Trump will return and use violence to try to prevent the inauguration from being completed.
  2. E. The sealed-off perimeter for the already limited inaugural activities has been vastly expanded and public transportation has already begun to be shut down in a wide area.
  3. F. National Guard presence is evident at multiple government buildings.
  4. G. Reports indicate a vast law enforcement mobilization in anticipation that it may be necessary to repel additional attacks by Trump’s supporters against the U.S. government.

That is where we are. The nation’s capital is under threat from an army of thousands of American citizens supported by multiple members of the Republican Party who have learned nothing from the recent experience and continue to align themselves with utterly discredited claims of election fraud and phantasmagorical claims that are suggestive of the most far-out science-fiction.

The claims of adequate preparation for the possible attacks is, of course, comforting. But, in my opinion, it is not enough. I believe the following:

  1. The Speaker of the House should immediately announce that any member of the House who refuses to wear a mask in the Capitol or who refuses to pass through magnetometers to assure they are unarmed will not be recognized to speak in the House chamber until they comply. If those members continue to disrupt the House through demands to be heard and other means, the Sergeant-at-Arms of the House should forcibly remove such members from the building.
  2. The federal government law enforcement leadership should publicly announce and, where possible, directly communicate to the putative leaders and participants of those threatening to renew the January 6 attack that they will be met with extreme physical deterrence. This means a warning that deadly force will be authorized – not tear gas and rubber bullets, but the full force of the police and military forces charged with protecting the city and the government from further insurrectionist actions.
  3. It is time to stop treating the Republican and Trump supporter insurrectionists like spoiled over-privileged children. They are adults making the most serious decisions to attempt to overthrow the government through force and violence. The fastest solution, with the least likelihood of mass casualties and destruction of the fabric of our democratic republic, is to employ force that will end the fight swiftly and definitively. As horrifying as that scene will be, it will far worse, I suggest, to engage in a repeat in the nation’s capital of the prolonged street conflicts that ensued during the conflicts in the wake of George Floyd’s murder by police and related cases.
  4. The U.S. government has not only the right but the obligation to defend itself and now is the time to make clear unequivocally that such defense will be mounted with full force against any who choose to challenge it through violence.

If you are horrified by this prospect, you should be. So am I. But think of what happens, or could happen, if the defense of the Capitol City and the government is insufficient to stop the insurrection before it can work its full destructive force. I chose to believe we have no other reasonable option.

Republican House Members Baying at the Moon

I have just finished reading the entire 235-page transcript of the Executive Session Committee on the Judiciary, Joint with the Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, U.S. House of Representatives, December 7, 2018 in which the Republican majority questioned James Comey, former Director of the FBI about the same set of issues related to his public statements during the runup to the 2016 election and to his explanation of why former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was not charged with criminal conduct related to her misuse of emails.

Suffice to say, the Republicans failed yet again to lay a glove on Comey, and I say that recognizing that many people, myself included, disagree strongly with his decision to tell the world, on the eve of the election, that the FBI had reopened its investigation of Clinton because of the discovery of a trove of her emails on the laptop of Anthony Weiner, husband of Clinton aide, Huma Abedin

After all the questioning and posturing, only two things emerged that are even interesting at this point in time.

One was the effort by Rep. Trey Gowdy, to compare unfavorably the treatment of Clinton regarding whether she had simply “made a mistake” and the treatment of President Trump and General Michael Flynn on the question whether on the question of his potential attempt at obstruction of justice by asking Comey to drop the Flynn matter. Recall that Comey immediately prepared a memo about Trump’s demand and shared it with senior people at the FBI.

In classic fashion for the Republicans, Gowdy suggested that a statement by former President Obama had stated, while in office, that “the target of an investigation that was ongoing simply made a mistake and lacked the requisite criminal intent.” Gowdy demanded to know whether Comey didn’t think that Obama’s statement was “potentially obstruction of justice.”

“Mr. Comey. I didn’t see it as — through the lens of obstruction of justice. I saw it as threatening our ability to credibly complete the investigation.

Mr. Gowdy. In what way?

Mr. Comey. The President of the United States offering a view on a matter or a case that’s under investigation, when that President is of the same party as the subject of the investigation and working for her election, would tend to cast doubt in reasonable people’s minds about whether the investigation had been conducted and completed fairly, competently, and independently…. It concerns me whenever the Chief Executive comments on pending criminal investigations, something we see a lot today, which is why it concerned me when President Obama did it.

Mr. Gowdy. Well, it concerns me too, Director Comey. I’m also concerned that people treat similarly situated people the same. And did you make a memo after President Obama said she made a mistake and lacked the requisite criminal intent?

Mr. Comey. He said that on FOX News.

Mr. Gowdy. Right.

Mr. Comey. I did not make a memo about the FOX News broadcast.

BOOM!

The second instance occurred when Jim Jordan made much about the fact that James Baker, then General Counsel of the FBI, had testified earlier that it was a unique circumstance that anyone would approach him directly with evidence of someone’s wrongdoing that the discloser claimed would warrant an FBI investigation. What Jordan did not do was acknowledge that Baker had in fact returned alter to clarify that he did remember another case, a completely different matter, in which precisely that had occurred. It was left to the Democrats (Ms.  Sachsman Grooms in this case, she being Deputy Staff Director for Rep. Elijah Cummings of MD) to ask what amounted to redirect questions to fully develop the record that the Republicans were trying to create with partial information from a prior hearing.

Overall, despite all the sturm und drang from the Republicans, it was the same old same old. This is not part of an investigation designed to get at the truth about some threat to the country. It is an entirely partisan attempt to buttress the President against the ugly truth that he tried to obstruct justice by directly asking the Director of the FBI to drop a criminal investigation involving the National Security Advisor that Trump had appointed. The hearing will resume on December 17.

Trey Gowdy, soon to retire from the House, has little time left to restore himself to the good graces of the President who tolerance for independent thought is below zero. Read the history of Trump-Gowdy here: “Trump allies gang up on Gowdy,” https://politi.co/2Lgl1SZ  It’s pretty amusing. We can expect more “fireworks” from the Republicans in the next round with Comey who must be getting pretty tired of answering the same stupid questions over and over. But that’s what the President’s sycophants do. They have nothing else.

Early Thoughts About the Judiciary Committee Hearing on Kavanaugh

Chairman Grassley opens the hearing with an apology for the way the witnesses have been treated. Then, he proceeds to undermine Ford’s position with commentary about Ford’s “secret” letter, complaining about Democrats’ handling of the letter, reciting statements submitted by witnesses adverse to Ford’s. This, Grassley argues, prevented investigation of Ford’s allegations. He also argues that the FBI investigation would have been useless, citing a statement from Joe Biden about how FBI investigation would have reached no relevant conclusions.

Then Grassley spends time promoting the credentials of the woman selected by the Republicans to examine Dr. Ford. Finally, he turns to attacking the other two women who have made allegations against Kavanaugh because they have allegedly not responded to requests for more information. This seems like another attempt to undermine Ford.

Ford struggles through her prepared testimony, on the brink of breaking down from the outset. She appears somewhat bewildered by the process details, which is understandable in that she has never testified before Congress. Dr. Ford’s attorney is engaged and supportive when she seems lost.

Under examination from Ms. Mitchell, Ford astutely suggests that an investigation of Kavanaugh’s employment history would help narrow the details of when the attack occurred. Chairman Grassley ignores this.

Sen. Durbin puts in record a long list of Kavanaugh classmates and others calling for an FBI investigation. Again, ignored. Grassley explodes at Durbin’s comments about the investigation issue, with Grassley claiming the committee could have conducted an investigation while preserving Ford’s privacy. If the situation were not so serious, this would be laughable, the declaration that the committee would have preserved Ford’s privacy while conducting an “investigation” in circumstances where the Republican majority is totally committed to confirming Trump’s nominee no matter what.

The Two Faces of Russian Election Interference

Sometimes there is something so obvious staring you in the face and, thus, entering your brain, and yet you just don’t see it. I just had that moment of startled recognition.

I awoke to the realization that, even assuming that Donald Trump did not collude with Russia in influencing the 2016 election (jury is still out), Trump’s sole interest in the subject appears to be establishing his personal innocence. Despite being the President of the United States, sworn to uphold the law, protect the Constitution and so on, Trump has shown no interest in getting to the bottom of what our intelligence apparatus has declared to be conclusive evidence of Russian interference.

Not only has Trump repeatedly denied his own complicity, but he has been a harsh critic of the U.S. intelligence community, about which he knows little or nothing. Trump’s interest in the subject of voter fraud seems entirely limited to proving that there was domestic cheating that resulted in Hillary Clinton receiving more popular votes than he did. We must wonder what he will do now that his “voter fraud commission” is being disbanded for gross failure to accomplish anything.

We can expect at least that he will continue the Trump Deflection Strategy, by continuing to harp on the newest sideshow involving missing text messages at the FBI and the debunked theory that a “secret society” was operating inside the FBI with the mission to destroy Trump and his presidency. You can’t make this stuff up.

Well, actually you can. Some people do. They write fictional mystery/espionage novels some of which are made into movies and make a lot of money on the false but entertaining stories of dark conspiracies, super-human government/anti-government agents running amuck until the “hero” makes a last-minute discovery and saves the country and/or mankind from the evildoers. Trump’s political base appears to live in that same world. They have smoothly transitioned from “Benghazi!” and “what about her emails?” to “what about the texts?” Looking at some of their tweets, they are convinced there is a “secret society” inside the FBI out to get Trump.

They may indeed be half right. Those who believe in the efficacy of prayer likely hope fervently that the FBI/Special Counsel investigation produces enough evidence to support impeachment of the President. Trump’s core base, however, refuses to be concerned in the slightest about the monumental inconsistency between Trump’s repeated declarations of personal innocence and his utter indifference to the possibility that a hostile foreign power, historically the proponent of everything reviled by Trump’s adopted political party, interfered in the election of the most important political person in the country.

For Trump, of course, there is no inconsistency because, if anyone benefited from foreign meddling, it was he and that’s just fine with him.  Trump is the only one that matters to Trump. I would not be surprised if, before his term ends (by whatever means), he does not demand that all written references to his person shall have the initial letter capitalized. You know … as in He, Him …. don’t bet against it. Time will tell.

Trump Presidency in Emergency Room

“Doctors” are not sure of survival. According to attending “physicians,” “The Trump presidency is on life support due to numerous self-inflicted wounds, compounded by an unrelenting history of lying that has left the President and his enablers lacking essential credibility to repair the damage. The most serious recent damage includes (1) the firing of FBI Director Comey, (2) the release of code-level intelligence to the Russians, (3) the effort to intimidate the fired FBI Director by mentioning, but refusing to prove, the existence of “tapes” of Trump-Comey conversations in the White House and now (4) the report that Comey prepared a contemporaneous memo reciting an overt attempt by Trump to ask Comey to drop the FBI investigation of Michael Flynn.”

A “doctor,” who asked not to be named so he could avoid being attacked by Trump’s bodyguard, noted, “This all reminds me of another patient we had here, many years ago. He kept saying “I am not a crook” and he too had a large family of supporters that eventually abandoned him as the evidence that he was a crook mounted.  He had no insurance because his credibility was also in the tank by then. Trump has exhausted his insurance by lying remorselessly throughout his campaign and since being inaugurated. Trumpcare will be no help. The president is in the high-risk pool now and even he can’t afford the premiums. The body politic can only withstand so much lying before it begins to fail. We may have reached the point of irreversible decline here.”

The hospital’s resident chaplain reportedly went to the hospital chapel and found Trump’s enablers on their knees praying for divine guidance and salvation. He said, “I heard a voice from the heavens whispering softly, “Here is the answer to your prayers: impeach him.”

For Whom Is the Chair of House Intelligence Committee Working?

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

According to the report, updated from its first publication,

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

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

….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One President at a Time

I recall that some years ago, during the Bush-to-Obama transition period, then President-Elect Obama was asked a question about some foreign policy issue that had emerged and responded with, as I recall it, “In this country we have one president at a time.” Thus, he declined the invitation to step publicly on the out-going-but-still-in-charge, administration of President Bush.

Contrast that with the conduct of President-Elect Trump and his crowd of Know Nothings. The issue du jour is the question whether the Russians, perhaps at the personal direction of Vladimir Putin, interfered with the presidential election through electronic hacking. Having expressly urged the Russians to do this during the campaign, Trump is hard-pressed to stand up to the Russians now. But there is another option. He could remain silent. He could defer, for now, to the sitting president of the country by keeping his mouth shut in public about this question that goes to the heart of the nation’s ability to conduct its democratic politics.

Instead, Trump suggests, via Twitter, that the Obama White House was fine with the Russian hacking as long as it thought Clinton would win the election. Then he has his attack dog, Kelly Ann Conway, publicly question the loyalty and integrity of the sitting president in this oh-so-classless statement: “If you want to shut this down and you actually love the country enough to have the peaceful transition in our great democracy between the Obama administration and the Trump administration, there are a couple people in pretty prominent positions — one is named Obama, one is named Hillary Clinton, since his people are trying to fight over her election still, they could shut this down.” In other words, Conway is, in essence, communicating that “we won the election and we don’t care what evidence exists of foreign interference; you, Mr. President, are so disloyal to the country that you put political gain ahead of the national interest in a smooth transition, the only thing that matters right now.” If there is any lack of love for country here, that stone must lay at Trump’s own feet for placing the interests of Vladimir Putin and his anti-democratic politics ahead of the interests of the United States.

Trump’s willful ignorance of foreign affairs is so profound that he may not even realize how damaging this type of public conflict can be. It gives aid and comfort to our enemies by dramatizing in public the conflicts within our own government. If he read a few books and actually tried to learn something before shooting off his mouth, it would do the country a great service.

The hallmarks of autocracy are showing in much of what Trump has said and done since the election. He has personally attacked American corporations and personally attacked individuals who voiced disagreement with his policies.  His transition team has demanded the names of government employees involved in climate change research (later retracted in the face of public outrage), and launched broad-based and factually-deficient attacks on the U.S. intelligence community (in the face of FBI concurrence in the CIA’s analysis of the Russian cyber-attacks) and made clear that anyone who opposes him risks being publicly excoriated by the President himself. This is one of the principal techniques that autocrats use to silence criticism and dissent, the hallmarks of free speech and the means by which a democracy tests and improves its ideas.

In the immediate aftermath of the election, Secretary Clinton’s supporters were told “it’s time to suck it up, accept the outcome and get behind the new administration. Support the success of the new leader, for the benefit of the country, they were told. Every day, and every new revelation, makes it that much harder to follow that advice. The Republican politicians who eviscerated Trump during the Republican primaries and the general election have largely lined up at Trump Tower to seek forgiveness, redemption and of course, jobs in the administration. Their dissent has been interesting to watch but so short-lived as to lack any moral foundation.

The evidence is mounting that Mr. Trump only understands how to run a company where he is the sole owner and the only voice that matters. The United States government is so much more complex, so vast in reach and faces such different and more difficult challenges that his experience as the “boss” on reality TV (whatever that is) and building a real estate empire is utterly and completely irrelevant. He has said he is too smart to need regular briefings from our intelligence experts, that he pretty much knows what he needs to know, getting most of his information from postings on the Internet. He had denied the legitimacy of the scientific consensus on climate change, endorsed the possibility of using torture and taken other positions in overt conflict with American values. He has reportedly “walked back” some of those positions since the election, but why should we believe anything a remorseless liar says? Apparently, Trump’s mother did not teach him the lesson of the Boy Who Cried Wolf.

The Rust Belt voters who turned to Trump after hearing his rhetoric about returning old-style jobs to the area are going to be bitterly disappointed when they discover the harsh truth that such jobs are not competitive and simply cannot be restored to their central place in our manufacturing plants of yesteryear. A thoughtful piece in the Washington Post just today explains that there are many more jobs available in the Midwest than there are qualified people to fill them:

“Although some companies and state programs will cover tuition bills, some workers, particularly those who have held the same job for decades, are hesitant to take them up on the offer, even if unemployment is imminent and the wages are competitive.”

As manufacturing evolves, skilled labor hard to find,” Washington Post, Dec. 16, 2016, at A14.

The problem of dis-employment due to technological advances that produce more with less human input is a major economic challenge for all advanced countries. The solution, like the solution to climate change, will not be found through promises of a return to the “old ways.” That is the stuff of fantasy, a cruel one at that, because it plays on the deepest anxieties of a lot of good people caught up in forces of change they don’t, and in many cases simply don’t want to, understand. Living a lie does not make it any truer.

Obama, with generosity of which he alone among political leaders seem still capable, continues to say that Trump and his “team” are still largely in campaign mode and have not yet come to grips with the realities of governance. That is how he appears to explain Ms. Conway’s remarks. He appears to believe genuinely that these assurances will indeed have a calming influence. We are a little over a month away from the inauguration when all the powerful instruments of government will be at the disposal of the Commander-in-Chief.

Those who still believe in democracy, who still believe that policy should be driven by facts rather than whatever people prefer to believe, who believe in science, who believe that a cornerstone of our freedom is the freedom to speak, write and perform without fear of chastisement, or worse, by the government … they must never yield in their active opposition to the degradation of American values. They must speak out and act up, remembering that the whole world is watching.