The Rise of Barr and the Fall of Justice

In December 2018, President Donald Trump nominated William Barr to be the next attorney general. Trump’s original attorney general, Jeff Sessions, was cast out of Trump’s good graces after Sessions recused himself from all matters related to the investigation into the 2016 presidential election.

Sessions was a member of Trump’s campaign and therefore posed a conflict of interest, so he did the ethical thing and removed himself from overseeing any proceedings in the matter.

The Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein was then given the task of overseeing the investigation. Rosenstein was a career fixture in the Department of Justice, serving under three presidential administrations: George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump. When Rosenstein was overseeing the investigation, it was under the auspices of the Department of Justice and the FBI.

On May 3, 2017, Trump fired James Comey, the Director of the FBI. This threw most of the country into a state of panic: the President of the United States firing the head of the agency tasked with investigating him and his campaign.

As a country, we haven’t seen such a brazen act by a president since the Saturday Night Massacre on the evening of October 20, 1973. On that infamous night, President Richard Nixon, who was under investigation due to the Watergate burglary and subsequent cover-up, told his attorney general to fire the special prosecutor in charge of the investigation. The attorney general refused and tendered his resignation. Nixon then told his deputy attorney general. He also refused and resigned. Nixon finally approached the third highest-ranking official in the Department of Justice. He complied and the special prosecutor was fired.

After Trump fired Comey, the federal government was in a state of turmoil: the president had fired the man who was in charge of investigating him and his campaign. The parallels between the Saturday Night Massacre and the firing of James Comey were on the minds of the people who lived through the event and students of history.

On May 17, 2017, in an effort to restore confidence in the federal government –specifically maintaining the integrity of the rule of law– Rosenstein appointed Robert Mueller to the position of a special counsel . Rosenstein stated he “…determined that it is in the public interest for me to exercise my authority and appoint a special counsel to assume responsibility for this matter.”

Mueller was regarded as a legendary figure in Washington. He served as Director of the FBI for 12 years –the term limit for FBI directors is 10 years, but he was so well regarded that Obama extended his tenure for an additional 2 years. Mueller, though a registered Republican, was renowned for his independence, thoroughness, and integrity from Democrats and Republicans alike.

Trump was well aware of Mueller’s reputation. As we later learned from Mueller’s investigation, Jeff Sessions, who was called to testify before the Mueller team, described Trump’s initial reaction when he learned Rosenstein had appointed Mueller. After Sessions gave Trump the news, he “slumped back in his chair” and said, “Oh my God. This is terrible. This is the end of my presidency. I’m fucked.”

In his moment of despair, Trump didn’t know it at the time, but there was someone scheming outside of his administration, recognizing an opportunity: William Barr. On June 8, 2018, Barr penned an unsolicited 19-page memo to the Department of Justice. In the memo, Barr argued that Trump acted within his power to fire Comey. He criticized the premise for appointing Mueller and the investigation itself. He said Trump shouldn’t be subjected to testify about possible obstruction of justice offenses before the Mueller team.

Whenever Trump learned of the memo, it must have been music to his ears. Here was Barr, a former attorney general under President George H.W. Bush, writing what any reasonably-minded person would view as a 19-page cover letter for a job application. And lo and behold, out of the hundreds of eligible candidates for the position of attorney general, Trump just so happened to nominate Barr.

During his confirmation hearings, the memo was called into question. There were many Senators who believed it predisposed him to a conflict of interest in regards to how he would handle the special investigation. Nonetheless, Barr was confirmed by the Republican-controlled Senate. On February 19, 2019, Barr was sworn into office as the Attorney General of the Department of Justice.

As the new attorney general, Barr essentially became Mueller’s boss. Mueller was appointed as a special counsel, operating under the authority of the attorney general. There’s a different set of dynamics for a special counsel than for an independent investigator. When President Bill Clinton was being investigated for the Whitewater controversy, it was led by Ken Starr who was an independent investigator. Starr, as the title suggests, was free to investigate on his own terms, independently.

Mueller completed his nearly two-year long investigation and submitted his report to Barr on March 22, 2019. The Mueller Report is 448 pages long, not including all the relevant case files and underlying evidence. However, after only two days, Barr released a 4-page summary to the public, which gave Barr’s “principle conclusions” of the report.

Barr essentially wrote that Mueller determined there was no collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. He also wrote that Mueller was unable to find sufficient evidence of Trump obstructing justice. In the summary, Barr didn’t quote a single full-sentence from the report. He quoted only a few sentence fragments, which made some analysts suspicious.

The Barr summary set off a media firestorm. The most highly anticipated report –2 years in the making– had been completed, but was not yet released to the public. The only thing the press and the public had to base their initial impressions on was Barr’s summary.

Since the only insight into the Mueller Report was the Barr summary, it set a narrative of exoneration that spread across the country. The Washington Post’s headline read, “Mueller finds no conspiracy.” Similarly, The New York Times’s headline read, “MUELLER FINDS NO TRUMP-RUSSIA CONSPIRACY.” Trump told reporters, “It was a complete and total exoneration.” Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Trump’s press secretary, tweeted, “A great day for America and for President [Trump]. After two years of wild anti-Trump hysteria, the President and his millions of supporters have been completely vindicated.”

On April 4, 2019, The Washington Post reported that members of Mueller’s team expressed frustration over Barr’s summary, which is significant because Mueller and his team are known for being tight-lipped. There was not a single leak from the Mueller team during the investigation. A team member said,  “There was immediate displeasure from the team when they saw how the attorney general had characterized their work instead.”

On April 9, 2019, Barr testified before a congressional committee in the House. During the proceedings, Barr was asked by Representative Charlie Crist if he knew why Mueller’s team had expressed frustration with his summary. “No, I don’t,” Barr replied.

On April 10, 2019, Barr testified before the congressional committee in the Senate. Senator Chris Van Holden asked Barr if Mueller supported his conclusion that there wasn’t sufficient evidence to conclude that Trump had obstructed justice. “I don’t know whether Bob Mueller supported my conclusion,” Barr claimed.

The only people who would have access to the Mueller Report was the Attorney General’s office. Barr would take more than a month to release the report to the public. He said he needed time to make redactions, which at the time implied Mueller had not redacted his report for a public release.

After more than a month of having the narrative of the Barr summary seeping into the consciousness of the public, Barr set a date for the release of the redacted Mueller Report: Thursday, April 18, 2019.

The timing is significant because it was released on a Thursday, which was a strategic release in terms of muffling news coverage, being at the tail end of the work week, especially considering the report is 448 pages. It takes times to read and process that many pages, therefore revelations, scope, and context weren’t going to come out immediately. On April 18th Congress wasn’t in session, Passover was taking place, and the following day was Good Friday.

The public relations strategy for the report’s release isn’t limited to just timing. On the eve of the report’s release, the Department of Justice announced Barr would be holding a press conference on the morning of April 18th. The press conference was held before the report was even released, giving Barr another opportunity to rehash and reinforce the narrative being sold to the public.

A few hours after the press conference, the redacted Mueller Report was released to the public. In the ensuing hours, days, and weeks —as reporters, analysts, lawyers, and the general public had read the report— it became evident that Barr’s summary was at the very least misleading, and at worst a concerted cover-up to minimize the political fallout from the report’s findings.

On May 1, 2019, The Washington Post and The New York Times both reported that they had obtained copies of letters Mueller had sent to Barr in the days following the release of Barr’s summary. Mueller wrote the first letter to Barr on March 25, 2019, expressing concern that Barr’s letter had insufficiently portrayed the team’s conclusions. Mueller also attached a copy of the executive summaries he and his team had written, which summarized the report. This indicates that Barr didn’t need to write a summary; Mueller already wrote one.

The second letter was written just two days later on March 27, 2019. Mueller was much more direct in his second letter, saying the Barr summary “did not fully capture the context, nature, and substance of this Office’s work and conclusions. There is now public confusion about critical aspects of the results of our investigation.” Mueller also added, “[The Barr summary] threatens to undermine a central purpose for which the department appointed the special counsel: to assure full public confidence in the outcome of the investigations.”

Senator Van Holden, after learning of the existence of Mueller’s letters, has said that Barr’s testimony, claiming that he didn’t know what Mueller thought of the conclusions in his summary is “the most recent example of the attorney general acting as chief propagandist for the Trump administration instead of answering questions in a straightforward and objective manner. You now have a pattern of misleading conduct from the attorney general.”

With the revelation of the Mueller letters now surfacing, we have a much better understanding of what exactly was happening from the time Barr received the report from Mueller. Barr didn’t have to write a summary in the first place; Mueller and his team already prepared executive summaries. There was no need to wait for more than a month to release the report, which Barr claimed needed to be redacted. Mueller and his team had already made the necessary redactions. Moreover, Barr misled Congress and the American people when he claimed he wasn’t aware of Mueller’s opinion of his summary. Mueller wrote not one but two letters expressing his concern that the report’s findings were being mischaracterized.

Barr testified before the Republican-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee on May 1, 2019, but he was brazenly evasive and unforthcoming. He used delay tactics with some Senators, trying to run out their allotted time with answers lacking substance.

He was scheduled to testify before the House Judiciary Committee the following day, but informed the committee the night before that he refused to appear on their terms. Barr also chose to ignore a deadline set by the committee to provide an unredacted version of the report, as well as provide the underlying body of evidence gathered by the Mueller team.

Barr was not serving the interests of the American people; he was serving the interests of Trump. Instead of acting as the nation’s chief law enforcement official –upholding the rule of law– he’s acting as Trump’s defense attorney, manipulating the law.

We’re currently in the midst of a constitutional crisis. With Barr refusing to comply with congressional subpoenas, refusing to appear before committees, and snubbing deadlines, the attorney general is dismissing the legislative branch of the government. He’s not only broken his oath to protect and defend the constitution, he’s waged an all-out assault against Article I of the constitution.

Trump has instructed his White House officials to ignore subpoenas from the House. The Treasury Department has refused to turn over his tax returns. He’s suing Capital One and Deutsche Bank to prevent them from turning over his financial records to the congressional committees who subpoenaed them.

It’s easy to let the constant stream of news generated by this administration to desensitize and, as a result, normalize the daily attacks on our democracy, but it’s critical that the People don’t become jaded and complacent. With the legislative branch under attack, we’re just a step away from authoritarian rule. The founder’s warned us about the fragility of democracies. If we want to continue to live under a representative democracy, we cannot let the powers vested in our representatives to become null and void.

“Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.”

John Adams

Trump and Putin: The Greatest Mystery of Our Time

President Donald J. Trump attacks anyone who opposes him or holds him to account.1 Trump’s become infamous for his Twitter tirades against his opponents. If you’re a public figure, and you’re not openly supporting or praising him, his behavior exemplifies that he considers you his enemy.

Trump’s Attacks Against Americans and American Allies


Trump has attacked news organizations, individual journalists, television programs, American companies, state governors, mayors, Gold Star military families, actors and actresses, comedians, athletes, professional sport leagues, among many others.

He’s attacked our own democratic institutions. He’s attacked the Congress, the FBI, a handful of government intelligence agencies, federal courts, individual judges, whole states, U.S. territories, among many other government bodies.

These attacks aren’t limited to unfavorable news coverage, citizens, or Democrats speaking out against his conduct; he’s also attacked members of his own administration. When Jeff Sessions was Attorney General and recused himself from having any involvement in Russia-related investigations, he went on a long campaign of discrediting him. When Steve Bannon, a former senior advisor to Trump, was pushed out of the administration, he created a nickname for him: “Sloppy Steve.”

Putin’s Attack on America


With the sheer scope of his domestic and foreign attacks, you’d think there’s no one who could escape Trump’s raft. However, there’s been one prominent and astonishing exception: Vladimir Putin, the Russian president. Putin uses the title of “president” as a facade –he’s a dictator. Putin has a well-documented history of murdering political opponents, journalists, and even his own citizens.

Russia has been an adversary of the United States since the end of World War II. We were involved in a Cold War with the former Soviet Union for nearly half a century. The Cold War wasn’t always necessarily cold. The U.S. engaged in proxy wars with the Soviet Union (e.g. Korean War, Vietnam War, etc.). In 1962, when the Soviet Union was caught deploying nuclear missiles in Cuba, the world was on the brink of nuclear war.

When the Soviet Union was dissolved in 1991, there was a brief period of peace between the two powers. This all changed when Vladimir Putin became president in 2000. Since then, Russia’s become an oligarchy with Putin serving as its absolute ruler. In his eyes, the Cold War never ended, and as a result, has complete and utter disdain for the United States. His true intention is to bring Russia back to its Soviet “glory” days.

In recent history, Putin launched a “sweeping and systematic” attack on the lifeblood of our democracy –the electoral process– during the 2016 presidential election. Russia’s interference isn’t the opinion of a few intelligence analysts, it’s a well-established fact. The American people first received confirmation of Russia’s interference when every American intelligence agency (e.g. FBI, CIA, NSA, etc.) were in agreement that the attack had taken place. The recent release of the Mueller Report (Volume I) corroborated the fact that Putin’s massive cyber-warfare offensive happened.

We weren’t attacked with troops on the ground and traditional weapons of war. Putin aimed to divide and conquer with social engineering schemes and technology. Instead of firing a missle, Russia planted poisonous seeds within our society to sow discord, which ultimately led to social strife and division.

The Greatest Mystery of Our Time


We’ve seen Donald Trump’s willingness to attack his real or perceived opponents. His attacks against his opponents are graceless, unhinged, and ruthless. He’s had no trouble calling his own people “treasonous,” discrediting American institutions, and calling the free press the “enemy of the people.”

When you look at the history of American relations with Russia, and specifically Putin’s attack against the American people, any sensible person understands that Putin is our greatest adversary. And yet, Trump hasn’t made a single negative comment about Putin. In fact, to the contrary, Trump has not only made favorable statements and tweets about Putin, he’s literally sided with Putin on Russian interference in our election. He’s taken the word of a brutal dictator over our entire national security apparatus.

This leads any reasonably-minded person to ask reasonable and serious questions: If Putin is our greatest adversary, why isn’t he viewed so by Trump? Why would the President of the United States take the role as Putin’s defender? How could a president, who attacks his own citizens and institutions, care less about the attack waged against the country he swore to protect and defend?

With all of these unknowns, there’s one thing that’s certain: when the truth is uncovered, it will not be benign.

Reference:

  1. The 567 People, Places and Things Donald Trump Has Insulted on Twitter: A Complete List – The New York Times

The Citizen’s Guide to Impeachment

Impeachment has been in the air, to one degree or another, since Donald J. Trump took office. Much of it has come from his political opponents and ordinary citizens, disapproving of his conduct while serving as President of the United States.

However, since the public release of the Mueller Report on April 18, 2019, talk of impeachment has reached a fevered pitch, and for good reason.

There’s strong and objective arguments to be made for impeachment. However, this particular article will delve into the history, process, and implications of impeachment.

Constitutional History


In 1787, the founders debated over the design of the federal government at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. They formed a federal government comprised of three co-equal branches: the legislative (Congress), the executive (Presidency), and the judicial (Supreme Court).

The founders were fearful of the ramifications of having a corrupt, immoral figure clothed with the immense power of the presidency. In fact, they were so concerned with the potential of a tyrannical leader, they discussed the idea of impeachment before they even formed the constitutional basis for the presidency (Article II of the U.S. Constitution).

The founders agreed upon a set of criteria for what would would constitute an impeachable offense. This is described in Article II (i.e. executive branch), Section IV of the constitution:

“The President, Vice President, and all Civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.”

The language used by the founders is meant to be ambiguous to a degree, ensuring future generations would have a constitutional foundation to build upon to suit the needs of the times.

Impeachment Process: The House


Congress has a constitutional responsibility to provide oversight over the presidency –it’s part of the “checks and balances” every American child learns about in school. The United States Constitution was designed so each branch would have the power to check and balance the other branches.

The impeachment process is initiated in the House of Representatives. If there’s suspicion or evidence that the president may have committed an impeachable offence(s) –as described in the constitution– there are two ways the House can initiate impeachment proceedings: (1) an individual House member could formally issue a resolution for impeachment, or (2) the “House could initiate proceedings by passing a resolution authorizing impeachment.1” The latter is more likely to occur than the former.

In modern history, the Judiciary Committee has been the congressional committee authorized to initiate impeachment proceedings. If the committee decides the charges against the president are worthy, the committee advises the House majority leader (i.e. the Speaker of the House). It’s then up to the House majority leader to bring the articles of impeachment to the House floor for a vote. A majority vote is required to pass the articles of impeachment.2 If more than 50% of House members vote in favor of impeachment, then the proceedings move up to the Senate.

Impeachment Process: The Senate


Once the House passes the articles of impeachment, the Senate will subsequently conduct a trial. The trial has all the trappings of a traditional legal trial: there’s a team of prosecutors and a team of defense attorneys, with each side using cross-examination and the calling of witnesses, among other legal methods.

The House appoints members who act as prosecutors. These members are traditionally from the House Judiciary Committee. The president has the right to appoint his own attorneys to mount a defense. The impeachment proceedings are presided over by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.3 And it’s the members of the Senate who act as the jury.

When the trial has concluded, the Senate will typically convene in private –just as a traditional jury does. In order to convict the president, a two-thirds “supermajority” is required. Since the Senate is comprised of 100 Senators, this means 67 Senators would have to vote to convict. If the supermajority is reached, the president is automatically removed from office.

Conclusions


The process of impeaching a president is essentially a two-step process. The House votes to pass articles of impeachment, which is akin to an indictment. The Senate then holds a trial with appointed House members acting as the prosecution and the president’s personally-appointed lawyers acting as the defense. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court is the presiding judge, and the Senators are the jury.

It’s possible for a president to be impeached, but not convicted. In fact, the two former presidents –Andrew Johnson (1868) and Bill Clinton (1998)– to have articles of impeachment passed against them were not convicted by the Senate and therefore remained in power. President Richard Nixon evaded the impeachment process by resigning in 1974.

While the impeachment process requires grounds for treason, bribery, high crimes (i.e. felonies), and/or misdemeanors, it’s a political process and not a criminal process. This means even if a president is convicted in the Senate, they will not be criminally charged and sentenced. The ultimate fate of a convicted president is removal from office. There is, however, still the possibility of criminal charges being filed against a president once the the president returns to being an ordinary citizen.


References

  1. History of Impeachment – The Official House of Representatives Website
  2. How the Impeachment Process Works – The New York Times
  3. Impeaching a President – The Law Dictionary (thelawdictionary.org)   

Correction: The original version of this article had an incorrect release date for the Mueller Report (April 14, 2019). The report was released to the public on April 18, 2019.

A Brief History of How the Republican and Democratic Parties Swapped Ideologies

There has been much discussion regarding the Republican Party’s ideological transformation from its inception in the mid-1850s to its modern ideological platform. Unfortunately, most of the discussion comes from the misinformed, painting the Republican Party with a Lincoln-like grandeur while painting the Democratic Party as a historical villain.

In fact, much has changed from the time the party was established to the Republican Party we know today. There are some people in our country who push the false narrative that the Republican Party is still “the party of Lincoln.” This false narrative also serves to stain the modern Democratic Party with our greatest national sin and our greatest internal conflict: slavery and the Civil War, respectively.

ORIGINS OF THE REPUBLICAN PARTY


In 1846, the United States was split in half over slavery: it was illegal in the thirteen northern states and legal in the thirteen southern states. The southern economy was completely dependent on slave labor; the northern economy was fueled by the Industrial Revolution.

Since abolitionists didn’t yet have the power to take on the slave states, they tried to ensure that the U.S. territories would remain free. However, with the passing of the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854, slavery was now an option for the territories. This was the event that led to the founding of the Republican Party.

The Republican Party was founded on being anti-slavery, pro-civil liberties, as well as being in favor of economic reform. Within a few years of its founding, the Republican Party had its first president: Abraham Lincoln.

Before he even took the oath of office, slave states were already seceding from the United States. They feared Lincoln would not only prevent the expansion of slavery into other territories, but that he would seek to abolish it all together. Once the slave states started seceding, they had crossed the proverbial Rubicon. Lincoln had to fight to keep the Union intact, which led to the deadliest war in American history.

SWAPPING POLITICAL IDEOLOGIES


The Republican Party, originally a party in favor of a large and powerful federal government, would become the party of limiting the power of the federal government. The Democratic Party, in the Civil War and Reconstruction Era, opposed a large and powerful federal government and supported states’ rights.

This sounds strange to us today because it’s exactly the opposite of the modern Republican Party’s and Democratic Party’s respective ideologies. How did this happen? Well, as with any study of history, it’s complicated.

The following events played critical roles in completing the ideological swap:

  • During the Reconstruction Era, the Republican Party, which had always been a supporter of big government and big business –the two not necessarily being mutually exclusive– broke into different factions. Some Republicans had greater interests in big business than others, leading to more alternative viewpoints within the party. The factions within the party were at different ends of the political spectrum; some more progressive, while others more conservative.  
  • Around the turn of the century, William Jennings Bryan, a powerful Democrat, muddied the political waters between the two parties. He was in support of giving the federal government more power when it came to pursuing social justice. This gave the Democratic Party a more progressive faction, which was one of the first steps in its transition.
  • In 1901, Theodore Roosevelt (R) became president. He was a more progressive member of the Republican Party, at least as far as big business is concerned. He imposed sweeping regulations against massive business trusts, such as John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil. After serving his two terms, Roosevelt tried to make a political comeback, leaving the Republican Party and founding the Progressive Party (also known as the Bull Moose Party). While he didn’t succeed with his run, it did have consequences. The progressives Republicans in the party lost their influence and power within the party, which led to the Republican Party taking on more conservative leadership.
  • The ideological swap made a quantum leap when Franklin D. Roosevelt (D) became president in 1933. When he took power, the country was in the throes of the Great Depression. FDR created the New Deal, which was his strategy for economic recovery. It used the power of the federal government to impose regulations on banks and big business, financial protections for citizens, and created numerous federal programs to promote economic recovery. He also initiated a second wave of the New Deal which focused on social safety net programs, such as establishing the Social Security Administration.
  • In 1964, Lyndon B. Johnson (D) is president and civil rights is a major social issue. Johnson, being a Texan, was a southern Democrat. The southern Democrats (known as the Dixiecrats) were a powerful faction of the Democratic Party. They were pro-segregation and therefore opponents of civil rights. Johnson pushed for, and finally signed, the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This was the final shot across the bow for most white southern Democrats. As a result, the party was losing the support of white Americans in the south, but at the same time had gained the support of black Americans since the Democratic Party was now seen as the party leading the fight for civil rights.
  • With the democratic fallout in the south from the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Republican Party initiated the Southern Strategy. It appealed to the racist sentiments of southern whites –angry that their society was changing since black Americans now had the protection of civil rights, backed by the federal government. This paved the way for a mass exodus: turning southern Democrats into southern Republicans.

CONCLUSIONS


The ideological swap didn’t happen in one fell swoop. The swap wasn’t nefarious or conspiratorial, but simply a reflection of changing attitudes over long periods of time. It was a slow, incremental process swayed by the winds of history.

There’s a significant amount of misinformation and disinformation on this historical topic, which has been confusing the public’s understanding of the history of America’s two preeminent political parties.

The topic has been misunderstood for some time, but with the ascension of President Donald J. Trump, millions of Americans are operating under a different set of facts –“alternative facts,” as one Trump advisor put it. And it’s become a ripe source for propaganda peddlers who argue the Republican Party is still “the party of Lincoln,” the Great Emancipator and Savior of the Union. And using this faulty logic implies the Democratic Party is forever branded as the party of slavery. These are troubling times we live in when propagators of disinformation seek to distort history for their own personal or political gain.

So, the Republican Party being regarded as “the party of Lincoln,” while technically true since he was a republican, is nonetheless a misleading and manipulative statement. Lincoln’s ties to the modern Republican Party exists only in name and not by any meaningful ideological or rhetorical virtues.

“You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.”

Abraham Lincoln

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