The Trump Chronicles, Volume 111: At the Pleasure of the President, But For the People

Ever since Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from the investigation of possible Russian interference in the 2016 election, President Trump has hammered him.

If you google the phrase “trump criticism of sessions” you will get 34,800,000 hits. Basically Mr. Trump’s anger comes from the belief that the Attorney General works for him and should show more loyalty to him.

But here’s the problem: while Mr. Trump appointed Mr. Sessions, and while he serves at the pleasure of the President, he works for the American people. When he recused himself from the investigation he did the right thing. Mr. Sessions was involved in the Trump campaign and this would present a potential conflict of interest.

Mr. Trump’s lack of understanding of this difference is problematic. I’ve spoken about this before but Mr. Trump sees all government employees as working for him, not for the United States. Yesterday the New York Times ran an article that was written anonymously by a senior official that was critical of the President. Mr. Trump responded by calling this action treason.

And however we may feel about writing an anonymous opinion piece, this writer clearly writes from a place of serving the nation. I just hope he or she is not found out.

The Trump Chronicles, Volume 110: Real and Lasting Damage

Almost since the beginning of President Trump’s administration I’ve argued that he has shown a lack of respect for the office of president. Beginning with George Washington, our 1st President, all occupants of the Oval Office have recognized the power of the the office and their responsibility to act in the best interest of our nation. Simply put, the first 44 Presidents have known that they work for the American people, the American people do not work for him.

Until now. I’ve spoken before about how President Trump is a fascist who believes that we are his servants and (to quote French King Louis XIV (1638-1715), I am the state (or in French, “L’etat, c’est moi”).

His lack of respect for his office, or for that matter, the American people isn’t simply an inconvenience: he is causing real and lasting damage to our nation that will take a long time to fix.

In fairness, he’s done some things that won’t need to be fixed or will be easy to fix. The president has broad powers to pardon those convicted of federal crimes. As of today you can see a list of those he has already pardoned. I don’t agree with all of them, but these pardons don’t do any real damage to our nation.

Many of us worry about Mr. Trump’s eagerness to impose tariffs to protect American jobs and his false belief that we can win a trade war. In reality nobody wins a trade war and as I write this we are looking down the barrel of a nasty recession that will be caused by his protectionism. But the next President will have broad authority to repeal these tariffs and get us back on track.

But other of his moves will be harder to fix:

  • He Moved Our Embassy From Tel Aviv to Jerusalem: When the state of Israel was founded on May 14, 1948 they declared their capital as Jerusalem. At the time it was a partitioned city. Israel occupied the western half of the city and Jordon occupied the eastern half. When Israel occupied the whole city after the Six Day War in 1967 Israel began to pressure us to move our embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. And while American politicians have made promises to move our embassy, common sense has prevailed. Until now. Make no mistake: we are strong allies with Israel. But their occupation of East Jerusalem (and the whole of Israel) displaced Palestinians and enraged several Arabian countries. In the last several decades the United States (and much of the world) has encouraged Israel to negotiate with the Palestinians to develop a two state solution that would go a long way toward ending the conflict. Many of us imagined that when this happened we could move our embassies to both East Jerusalem (serving Israel) and West Jerusalem (serving Palestine). Because Mr. Trump has moved our embassy to Jerusalem he has removed a major incentive for Israel to work for this two state solution. Simply put, he has made peace in the Middle East dramatically harder. The next president will not easily be able to move our embassy back to Tel Aviv and it weakens our ability to broker long term peace.
  • His Opposition to Diplomacy is Crippling Our State Department: Mr. Trump does not like diplomacy and has shown his contempt for the State Department. He famously quotes Roy Cohn (1927-1986): “When the hit you, hit them back harder.” His first Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson was chosen because of his close relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Mr. Tillerson didn’t last long because, much to Mr. Trump’s horror, Mr. Tillerson actually tried to do his job. Mr. Tillerson’s fate was sealed when it became clear that he called his boss a moron. But during his time at State, Mr. Tillerson made it clear that anyone hoping to make a career in the State Department needed to look elsewhere. This led to resignations of long term employees and the refusal of good candidates to even apply for jobs. It’s often said in the military that we hire 2nd Lieutenants now because in 25 years we’ll need Generals. In other words we need to hire today for tomorrow’s leaders. But Mr. Trump’s war on diplomacy today will create a vacuum in the State Department long after he is out of office and likely dead. Second Lieutenants need 25 years experience to learn how to be Generals and entry level State Department employees need 25 years to learn to be ambassadors. The damage done to the state department will be felt for a generation.
  • Likewise He is Damaging Our Intelligence Service: We are protected by several agencies, among them are the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the National Intelligence Council and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (my apologies to anyone I missed). We have a tradition in this country that law enforcement and intelligence gathering agencies investigate wrongdoing whatever, whoever, and wherever and are free from partisanship. Again, they work for the American people and not the president. And again, this president doesn’t understand this. Because of the committed men and women in the agencies, we’ve known even before the 2016 election that Russia attempted to interfere with our democratic process. And they succeeded: they wanted to discredit Hillary Clinton because they wanted Mr. Trump to win the election. Every agency who has looked into this has concluded that they at least attempted to interfere. But Mr. Trump, seeing that this interference, continues to deny that it even happened. That’s right: last month he chose to believe Vladimir Putin’s denial over the evidence of the intelligence community. I guess there’s honor among liars.
  • He Has Made Xenophobia, Racism, and Mysogyny Great Again: This section could last for volumes. I first called him out on his racism at the beginning of his campaign where he called Mexicans rapists and drug dealers. His call to build a wall between Mexico and the United States (and not between Canada and the United States) shows this isn’t about immigration but skin color. During the campaign Candidate Trump was called out by Megyn Kelly for calling women fat pigs, dogs, slobs and disgusting animals.; he responded by attacking Ms. Kelly. All this has given a green light for others to do the same. The respected journal Scientific American (hardly a journal with an agenda) showed a correlation between Mr. Trump’s rhetoric and anti Muslim behavior. Prejudice once stirred is not easy to tamp down, and we can expect this behavior for a lone time to come.
  • Finally, He Wants Us To Ignore Truths That Place Him In a Bad Light: Much like the man who is caught cheating by his wife and says: “Who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes?” Mr. Trump wants us to believe him over what we know to be true. This past weekend his lawyer Rudolph Giuliani famously claimed that truth isn’t truth when asked why, if the President has nothing to hide, doesn’t he appear before Robert Mueller’s commission. But there’s more: Last month Mr. Trump spoke to the VFW and said this: “But remember, they have the biggest, best, strongest lobbyists, and they’re doing a number. Just stick with us. Don’t believe the crap you see from these people — the fake news.” By the way, I got this quotation from the White House web page. But here’s the thing: he’s trying to tell us that only he and his people are trustworthy and everyone else is “fake news.” And when he does this he is attempting to discredit our justice system. Trust in our government took hits 35 years ago after we learned that we had been lied to about Vietnam and Watergate and in some ways we’re still dealing with this. But Mr. Trump’s attempts to leverage this mistrust to save his own skin not only discredits hardworking, honest members of our government, it creates suspicion going forward. It makes their job more difficult the next time they need to investigate wrongdoing.

Our role here is clear: We the People need to gather, not in support of one man or one party, but to the truth. The men and women who devote their lives to ensuring justice, from the local sheriff to the Attorney General, need and deserve our respect. Starting now.

The Trump Chronicles, Volume 109: When Our Grandchildren Ask Us What We Did In the Face of Evil, What Will We Say?

In a previous post I wrote about the outrage many of us feel over the Trump administration’s draconian decision to tear families apart in his attempt to preserve the myth of racial purity in the United States. As an American it’s been hard to watch this happen.

I love America and I love our history, but learning about American history hasn’t always been easy. I’ve celebrated events like President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation that freed Southern slaves and mourned President Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066 that interred Japanese Americans during World War II.

I grew up in the 1960s and 1970s in Northern Virginia. It was an odd place as Virginia joined the Confederacy in 1861 but I lived in an area where most of the adults I knew worked for the federal government and were from somewhere else. I mistakenly believed that this insulated me from the sin of racism.

I was aware that Virginia had a long history of racial discrimination but I assumed it happened before I was born. But when I was in high school I learned that racial discrimination happened around me and I didn’t even notice. I saw the 2000 movie Remember the Titans with horror: it described the difficult nature of integrating a high school football team. It’s a true story that happened 20 miles from me when I was in middle school. The movie has a happy ending but there’s no way around the fact that some students like me and teachers like my teachers fought long and hard to keep racism in place. It was reprehensible and showed their cowardice.

Earlier this month I rejoiced to meet my 21 month old great nephew for the first time. As I look to his future I am filled with hope. But I’m also aware that some day he’s going to learn in history class that during his lifetime we were a nation that so vilified (admittedly undocumented) immigrants that tearing children from the arms of their parents was justified. He will learn that many of our leaders weaponized xenophobia for their own political gain and others went along for fear of losing their jobs.

I hope he asks us what we did when we saw these events happen and I hope we have a good answer. I hope we can tell him that we expressed our outrage, that we were willing to lose friendships, influence, and social standing to stand up for those who weren’t able to stand up for themselves. I hope we can tell him that we recognized that our ancestors came to this country for the same reasons and with the same hopes as these immigrants: to work hard, to make a better life for our children, and to find pride in calling us (and them) Americans.

The Trump Chronicles, Volume 108: Scott Pruitt, Swampmaster

President Trump famously ran on a belief that he would drain the swamp. And while I’ve written that draining swamps is a bad idea, it’s become a popular anthem.

There’s no standard definition of what “draining the swamp” means, I think we can all agree that the administration is going after those they believe aren’t serving us well. They come to Washington under the guise of serving us, but instead enrich themselves at our expense. They serve themselves instead of serving us.

Enter Scott Pruitt. President Trump nominated him to run the Environmental Protection Agency, an agency founded by Republican President Richard Nixon in 1970. He came to Washington with the intent of undoing many of the regulations put in place by President Obama but that’s not what I choose to write about.

Instead, he clearly used his position to enrich himself. The EPA director makes $210,654 per year and there are a few perks. Previous EPA directors have had little or no protection, but Mr. Pruitt demanded a large detail. There’s an excellent article here. It describes how he pulled EPA employees away from their jobs to protect him even though they had no training in this.

But it goes further:

  • He attempted to leverage his position to give his wife a Chick Fil A franchise
  • He ordered the construction of a soundproof phone booth in his office and charged taxpayers $43,000 for it.
  • He insisted on flying first class in clear violation of government policy. He argued that this was done for security reasons and claimed it wasn’t his idea. It appears that some of his seatmates were mean to him.
  • While we expect our representatives in Congress to spend time in their districts, members of the executive branch are expected to live here. Instead of finding an apartment in Washington, he paid $50 per night for a room at the home of the wife of an energy lobbyist. By the way, he fell behind on those payments
  • Mr. Pruitt’s primary residence is in Oklahoma and everyone understands that he might want to go home from time to time. But instead of paying his own way back he found way to make taxpayers pay for it. He told his aide Kevin Chmielewski to “find me something to do” that would make these trips official business. When Mr. Chmeilewski objected, Mr. Pruitt fired him.
  • His travel at taxpayer expense took him to places other than Oklahoma. Last year he traveled to Morocco. The article shows that the trip was set up by a lobbyist for Morocco, and this lobbyist was later offered a job at EPA. He also went to Italy where he spent most of his time as a tourist

Mr. Pruitt, Mr. Trump, and much of the Republican Party argue that he was hounded from his job because he was too good at what he did. He lost his job because he used his position to enrich himself. This is one part of the swamp I don’t mind draining.

The Trump Chronicles, Volume 107: That Pesky 14th Amemndment

A few days ago President Trump tweeted that those who enter the United States without documentation should be immediately deported without appearing before a judge. There’s only one problem with that: the Fourteenth Amendment in the U.S. Constitution. Here’s what it says:

No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

Two years ago next month then candidate Trump was asked if he has read the Constitution by the father of slain soldier Captain Humayun Khan. Clearly he has not. So Mr. Trump, let me school you.

This first section of the amendment is often called the “Due Process Clause.” This amendment became part of the Constitution on July 28, 1868 in the aftermath of the Civil War. The Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery but that didn’t go far enough. The Fourteenth insured that the newly freed slaves were granted citizenship by virtue of being born in the United States, but the amendment went further. It states that “any person” in the United States is protected from having life, liberty or property taken without due process. Not just citizens. Not just those here with documentation. Not just people we like. Not just people who look like us. Any person means just that: any person.

The president wants us to believe that those who come to our country without documentation want to hurt or destroy us. He’s a liar. Those who show up at our border are fleeing violence in their home countries. They are fleeing abusive relationships, drug violence, or worse. They want nothing more than a chance to live in a nation that protects everyone, that allows them to work hard to give their children better than they have. They seek the very things we take for granted. You can read an excellent article here about those seeking asylum.

We are a generous nation who has welcomed the ancestors of nearly everyone who reads this blog. This nation accepted all my ancestors who came here from Canada and Ireland. I live the American dream because of them. I pray they are proud of what I’ve been able to do.

And I suspect the president’s ancestors are horrified by him.

The Trump Chronicles, Volume 106: Going After Children? Really?

From the first day of his campaign President Trump has found traction in claiming that immigrants are ruining our country. From chanting the need to “build the wall” to claiming that Mexicans are rapists and drug dealers he’s said these things not because they are remotely true, but because people cheer at his rallies. It’s become wearying for those of us who care about the truth.

But now we’re seeing this ratcheted up to a whole new level. People who are fleeing violence in their own countries risk life and limb to come to the United States in the hopes of applying for asylum. Historically we’ve mostly been a safe haven for people fleeing violence and oppression. Overwhelmingly these asylum seekers have become Americans and have enriched our nation (take the Irish Potato Famine of the 1840s).

But nothing matters to this president more than the adulation of his base and in recent days he has demanded that families who arrive without documentation be separated from each other and children be removed from their parents’ arms.

To his credit, Attorney General Jeff Sessions admitted that this policy intends to discourage families from coming here. In other words he wants our government to be a greater terrorist threat than Central American gangs.

But not President Trump. His ongoing insistence to claim credit for things he didn’t do and duck responsibility for things he did is back. When asked about his zero tolerance policy he attempted to blame the Democrats.

In other words, “Don’t blame me. I’m only enforcing the laws.” That’s nonsense. Law enforcement always allows discretion. A murderer pleas guilty to the lesser charge of manslaughter. A police officer lets a speeder go with a warning.

Let me quote this from the New York Times on June 16, 2018:

In fact, there is no law that requires families to be separated at the border. There is a law against “improper entry” at the border, as well as a consent decree known as the Flores settlement that limits to 20 days the amount of time that migrant children may be held in immigration detention, which a federal judge ruled in 2016 also applies to families. A 2008 anti-trafficking statute — signed into law by a Republican president, George W. Bush — also requires that certain unaccompanied alien minors be transferred out of immigration detention in 72 hours. None of those laws or precedents mean that children must be taken away from their parents.

The first rule of the bully’s playbook is this: only bully those who can’t fight back. It’s hard to imagine a group less likely to fight back than families and fleeing violence. Mr. President, I hope you’re proud of yourself.

The Trump Chronicles, Volume 105: This Is Chamberlain and Hitler All Over Again

This past week we saw something most of us never expected: United States President Donald Trump met with Korean Dictator Kim Jong Un in Singapore. By any measure this meeting was important as North Korea (and its allies China and Russia) has been at war with South Korea (and its allies, including the United States) since 1950. In 1953 a cease fire was declared but there was never a peace treaty. US Presidents from Dwight Eisenhower to Barack Obama have wanted to declare peace but it’s never happened. This conflict found new urgency when North Korea announced in 2003 that it had developed nuclear weapons. Since then American Presidents Bush and Obama have struggled to find a way to deal with a dictatorship that willingly starves its own people in its quest to bully the rest of the world.

In the transition between administrations President Obama told President elect Trump that North Korea’s nuclear threat would be the most urgent problem he’d face. President Trump looked on this as his biggest opportunity for greatness. And to be fair, even those of us who have never supported President Trump would celebrate if he could end this conflict and bring North Korea into the 21st Century. We don’t want his people to continue to starve and we don’t want them to be led by a leader who craves a place at the adult table more than anything else.

These two leaders met and both came away from the meeting declaring victory. But here’s the problem: President Trump announced that North Korea is no longer a nuclear threat. But their signed agreement falls much shorter than the rhetoric. Both parties agreed to a remove nuclear weapons from the Korean Peninsula but it gives no timetable or ability to verify. Many of us find this problematic because North Korea has broken this promise before. Meanwhile, President Trump promised to cancel annual joint military exercises between the United States and South Korea in the event of North Korea aggression (even using the North Korean term “war games”).

So here’s the takeaway: Kim made a promise he’s broken several times while Trump made a promise that makes the rest of us less safe if North Korea follows its normal pattern.

As I’ve said, we’ve seen this before. In the 1930s much of the world looked to the rise of Adolf Hitler and recognized the possibility that Germany sought European domination. In 1938 British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain met with Adolf Hitler in the hopes of averting the war Hitler was clearly planning.

Hitler was effusive in promising Chamberlain that after taking parts of Austria and Czechoslovakia (with high German populations) he would leave the rest of Europe alone. Chamberlain returned to England promising “peace in our time.” Chamberlain and Hitler famously signed a non aggression pact.

Hitler played Chamberlain. On his return to England, Chamberlain, said this: “Now I recommend you to go home and sleep quietly in your beds.” Less than a year later Germany invaded Poland and that caught nobody off guard except Chamberlain.

I can’t help but think that Kim is playing Trump the same way.

The Trump Chronicles, Volume 104: America, We’re Being Gaslighted

The phrase “being gaslighted” comes from the movie Gaslight. In the movie a man manipulates his new wife by changing things and denying he was changing them, thereby making her think she was going crazy and her perceptions couldn’t be trusted. For example, he would change the intensity of a gaslight; when she noticed he denied it had been changed. Eventually she began to doubt her perceptions of reality and thought she was crazy, or at least that her beliefs cannot be trusted. She began to trust him, not because he was right, but because she doubted her reality.

I’m not sure that President Trump understands what “gaslighting” means, but I believe he’s using it to boost his popularity at the expense of the rest of us.

From the very beginning of his administration he’s denied that he or his campaign participated in Russia’s attempt to interfere with our democracy. He’s denied that, during the 2016 campaign, the Russians reached out to his people with the offer to gaslight the American people to vote for him, or at least against Secretary Hillary Clinton.

The facts prove otherwise and for the past year the administration has been under investigation by former FBI director (and Republican) Robert Mueller. President Trump and his minions spend phenomenal amounts of time claiming his investigation is a witch hunt and a waste of time.

But we’ve seen this thing before. In his 1974 State of the Union speech President Richard Nixon famously stated that “one year of Watergate is enough” to rousing applause from his party.

At the time President Nixon was being investigated for obstructing justice. He was accused of offering bribes to the men who were arrested on June 17, 1972 for breaking into the Democratic National Headquarters to plant listening devices that would allow them to listen in on telephone conversations. Nobody thought President Nixon ordered the break in but it was thought that he wanted to make sure that those who did order it wouldn’t be caught. Simply put he obstructed justice by offering to buy their silence.

It didn’t work. Neither did his call that “one year of Watergate is enough.” Seven months later, on August 7, 1974, he resigned when he recognized that he was likely to be impeached and removed from office.

President Trump, 38 years later, is attempting the same tactic. President Nixon attempted to divert attention from his actions by saying that there is nothing to see and the investigation should end. Like President Nixon’s actions, there is something to see.

I believe that President Trump and his campaign broke the law by asking a foreign country (Russia) to work together to create false accusations against Secretary Clinton and gaslight American voters to either vote for President Trump or not vote for Secretary Clinton. When the President insists that there is no collusion. I agree. It’s not collusion, it’s conspiracy.

If the Mueller investigation, 13 months after its inception, had found nothing he would have a point. But the investigation has led to these guilty pleas:

In addition 13 Russian nationals and Paul Manafort have been indicted. As a matter of fact, we’ve learned in the last few days that the Mueller investigation wants Mr. Manafort’s bail revoked because they have evidence that he asked others to lie to the Mueller investigation.

Criminal investigations don’t end because they went on for a fixed period of time. They end when it’s clear that all the guilty parties have been investigation.

The Trump Chronicles, Volume 103: North Korea and Why I’m Worried

Shortly after President Trump’s election in 2016 the president elect met with President Obama. It’s a custom and part of our tradition of peaceful succession. In that meeting President Obama told Mr. Trump that North Korea would be the most urgent problem he’d face.

Last month we learned that North Korean President Kim Jong Un offered to meet with President Trump.

I generally feel that talking is better than not talking but here’s my concern: No American president has ever met with the North Korean president and there is a great deal riding on these meetings (if they happen). In 2000 then Secretary of State Madeleine Albright met with Kim Jong Il, the current president’s father. In an excellent interview on National Public Radio’s Fresh Air the secretary spoke about how much they needed to learn and how much time it took to prepare for those meetings.

She (and I) raised the concern that Mr. Trump doesn’t feel any need to prepare. I’ve spoken about this a few times, most notably here that he doesn’t seem to value hard work. We know from his tweets that he spends much of the day watching TV.

But it gets worse. As I write this our Secretary of State has been on the job for several hours and we don’t have an ambassador to South Korea. Our previous secretary, Rex Tillerson famously decimated the State Department.

Simply put, when President Trump meets with Kim Jong Un it will take only a few minutes to recognize that our president is unprepared with no path toward being brought up to speed. Nobody on our side will know if the deal President Trump is negotiating will benefit us, or the world.

A few days ago Mr. Trump claimed that Kim Jung Un (Sorry, I don’t know if he’s Mr. Jung Un or Mr. Un) promised to dismantle his nuclear and missile program without condition. But there is reason to believe that North Korea looks on this as both North and South Korea eliminating nuclear weapons.

If Mr. Trump can misinterpret something like this, it’s not a stretch to think he can come out of negotiations with North Korea with a deal he thinks is good, but isn’t. He has famously bragged that he knows how to negotiate a deal. But he doesn’t seem to understand that negotiating a real estate deal isn’t nearly the same thing as negotiating world peace.

Say what you will about President Trump, but he has done wonders for my prayer life.

The Trump Chronicles, Volume 102: What We Can Learn From Attorney/Client Privilege?

Last week we witnessed an extraordinary event: President Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen had his homes and office raided by the FBI. They left with boxes of material. This rarely happens because communications between an attorney and client are protected and law enforcement normally can’t seize any communication between them.

This story grows each day, and I don’t doubt that by the time I publish this, it will be outdated. But I find myself fascinated by the discussion around the concept of attorney client privilege. Basically, it states that you can tell your lawyer (almost) anything and he (or she) cannot be compelled to share it, even in a court of law. We honor this privilege to allow a defendant to be candid and honest with his lawyer.

But like all rights, this privilege is not absolute. President Trump has complained (once again) that he is a victim when he clearly doesn’t understand the law. He famously announced that this was the end of attorney client privilege. He said this not because of any understanding of the law but because someone made a decision he didn’t like. There are exceptions to this privilege:

Attorney client privilege doesn’t apply if your attorney wasn’t acting as an attorney. Let me give an example: You’re hoping for a job but you know that a porn star (let’s call her Stormy Davis) might leak the fact that you had sex with her four months after your wife gave birth to your son, and your attorney paid for her silence. He wasn’t acting as your lawyer and that communication isn’t privileged.

Attorney client privilege doesn’t apply if the two of you were involved in a conspiracy to break the law. Let me give an example: If your client is running for office but knows that if the voters found out the truth about an affair he had with a porn star he likely wouldn’t get elected. You obstruct justice by paying off the porn star and compel her to sign an agreement that prohibits her from telling anyone the truth, thereby denying the voters a full understanding of your character.

Attorney client privilege doesn’t apply if the attorney knows in advance that his client will lie under oath (it’s called “suborning perjury”). Let me give an example: Your client tells you he intends to lie under oath by denying having an affair with a porn star when he previously told you he did.

Mr. Cohen’s homes and offices were served with search warrants and this happens only when law enforcement are able to convince a judge that attorney client privilege has been violated. We don’t know how it was violated, but stay tuned.