Good Friday Morning! The week is wrapping up with the major spectacle of former FBI Director James Comey’s testimony before Congress. I’ll walk through the highlights of that testimony this week. I’ll also highlight the reasons why Trump leaving the Paris Accords was the correct decision. And finally, I’ll wrap up with the rampant rumors I’ve seen the last few weeks involving the 25th Amendment. Links follow.
On a personal note, I’d like to announce to that I’ve taken a position with a conservative startup site called The Conservative Institute. I’ll be writing two analysis pieces for them a week, with plans to write more. I will continue writing this newsletter and provide you with top shelf analysis each week.
Former FBI Director James Comey testifies before the Senate
You can read Comey’s prepared statement before Congress here (7 pages long).
Overall, I’d describe Comey’s testimony as bad for Trump, and several others, but not fatally damaging. Comey provided no evidence of obstruction of justice. However, he did provide ample testimony of Trump disregarding abuses of power.
The primary objection people are making about Trump’s behavior is that it constitutes an obstruction of justice. Comey’s testimony portrays improper behavior by Trump, but nothing illegal. There are specific requirements for obstruction of justice, and this evidence simply doesn’t fit.
If the illegal act was intended to affect the future conduct of any person in connection with his/her participation in Federal proceedings or his/her communication of information to Federal law enforcement officers, it is covered by 18 U.S.C. § 1512. If, on the other hand, the illegal act was intended as a response to past conduct of that nature, it is covered by 18 U.S.C. § 1513.
There are two problems with saying Trump committed the criminal act of an obstruction of justice. First, he didn’t commit an illegal act. Trump never directed Comey to drop an investigation, nor did he order an inquiry to stop. You can INFER that maybe Trump meant that, but there’s no direct evidence. Nor is there direct evidence of intent.
He merely talked about how he liked people and hoped the investigation would go away. That’s not enough for these statutes.
Second, you won’t find any harassment or attempts to alter conduct. Notice in Comey’s testimony that he never says Trump did anything wrong, only that Comey felt something was wrong:
My instincts told me that the one-on-one setting, and the pretense that this was our first discussion about my position, meant the dinner was, at least in part, an effort to have me ask for my job and create some sort of patronage relationship. That concerned me greatly, given the FBI’s traditionally independent status in the executive branch.
It’s a he-said-she-said situation. Trump only has to respond that isn’t what he meant. And in fact, given how out of sorts the entire White House seems, this smacks of an incompetent President. There’s just as much evidence Trump was trying to treat this as his business: find loyal employees. There’s no proof of intent or wrongdoing.
Comey’s testimony continuously says that Trump was angry about wanting things to be clear that he wasn’t under investigation. Trump never seems to understand that the FBI had never investigated Trump. It seems clear that Trump doesn’t understand the inquiry or the process.
Trump’s staff needs to do a far better job of explaining the process and what is happening. It’s pretty clear from testimony across the agencies, FBI, CIA, and NSA that they have no evidence of collusion and never investigated Trump. Trump’s behavior matches an ignorance that his staff needs to fix.
None of this is to say Trump’s conduct was proper, in any way. A President shouldn’t speak to the head of the FBI, or any agency, in this manner. But there is a set line of what constitutes obstruction of justice. Comey’s testimony does not prove it. But it does look awful, just as Bill Clinton and Loretta Lynch’s “tarmac meeting” looked appalling:
Overall, one gets the impression that the president views himself less as the president of a constitutional republic and more as the dictatorial CEO of a private company. This is understandable, given his long experience in the private sector, but it’s unsustainable. President Trump has to better understand not just the separation of powers but also the constitutional and legal obligations of governance, or the turmoil surrounding Comey’s termination will be but the first of a series of controversies that could well shake his presidency to its foundation.
Comey’s testimony may not show anything substantive, but it doesn’t mean Trump is out of the woods. There are still questions that need answering by the special counsel investigation. The White House should not be concerned about the hits from Comey, but about what could come after Comey.
The Paris Accords were an unconstitutional power grab and did nothing for the environment
This piece is my inaugural column at the Conservative Institute. I cover why the Paris Accords are unconstitutional and do nothing for the environment. I also include what I believe the primary goal of the Paris Accords. Since I’m writing this story for them, I won’t cut and paste verbatim what I wrote.
My next piece publishes on Saturday.
The 25th Amendment: The new pipe dream of the anti-Trump crowd
One of the stranger things to pop up recently is the movement to remove Trump from office via section four of the 25th amendment to the US Constitution. Section four holds the distinction as the only clause in the Constitution never invoked. Here’s what it says:
Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President.
Thereafter, when the President transmits to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives his written declaration that no inability exists, he shall resume the powers and duties of his office unless the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive department or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit within four days to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office. Thereupon Congress shall decide the issue, assembling within forty-eight hours for that purpose if not in session. If the Congress, within twenty-one days after receipt of the latter written declaration, or, if Congress is not in session, within twenty-one days after Congress is required to assemble, determines by two-thirds vote of both Houses that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall continue to discharge the same as Acting President; otherwise, the President shall resume the powers and duties of his office.
There’s a lot of moving parts to this Amendment that I won’t get into, but the gist is this. The 25th Amendment was made for times when the President was incapacitated in some way, but still alive, and his incapacitation rendered him unable to perform his duties. In that scenario, the Vice President and other officers listed have to agree – together – that the President cannot perform his job.
The 25th was passed in 1967 to clarify the ambiguity of the chain of command in the event the President dies or is incapacitated. It’s a post-Kennedy assassination amendment.
Modern liberals argue that President Trump has a mental disease, like dementia, and that this prevents him from exercising the powers of his office. Their evidence consists of stories about Trump’s angry outbursts, or stories of Trump being forgetful, or entirely fake stories alleging serious health deficiencies.
Similarly, liberals are claiming the VP Mike Pence, Senate Leader Mitch McConnell, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, and Trump’s cabinet are all planning to oust Trump. There are always “high level” talks to use the 25th to move Mike Pence into the Presidency.
This is insane.
Legally, to think this is easy is crazy. No one knows how this would work out. Remember, we’ve never invoked this section. There’s no case law, statutes, or official positions on how this process works. Anyone and I mean ANYONE, writing about how this would go down is a liar. There’s only one official opinion I know of on this, and it’s a memo from the DOJ from 1985 (post-Reagan assassination attempt) – which isn’t binding.
Second, all of this is based on rumors and pure speculation by “internet-detectives.” The stories on “Trump’s health” remind me greatly of the stories about Clinton’s health. Most of the stories about Clinton’s health could be traced back to Russian Intelligence. It wouldn’t shock me to find similar sources on Trump (it would follow all the fake blackmail they’ve pooled together, as the FBI, NSA, and CIA have indicated).
The Kremlin-based stories specifically targeted susceptible target groups that would spread the disinformation. In 2016, these objectives were right wing news sites and social media users. Now, it wouldn’t shock me if the Russians are targeting anti-Trump elements on the left.
Remember, Russia’s purpose is to thwart America abroad and domestically by any means necessary, absent nuclear or full-scale war. Using political enemies to achieve these goals is a long Kremlin tradition.
The last thing to note is that if we invoke the 25th, the Constitutional crisis in this country would be unfathomable. It would be akin to a coup given the utter lack of evidence anyone has that Trump is mentally incapacitated. Trump, his family, and his supporters would actively fight such an attempt.
There is less than 0.01% chance that the 25th Amendment gets invoked. The fact that big name people are pushing it is highly disturbing. It’s an insane theory and isn’t serious.
Must read links and columns from the week
The following are excerpts from columns, essays, and articles I enjoyed over the week. Some of them I’ve forwarded along to family and friends.
After Comey’s Testimony, America Needs a Trump Exit Plan: The administration’s collapse is looking more likely – By Alex Keeney, The American Conservative
Note: I don’t necessarily agree with this piece. But I found it well-argued and thought-provoking.
James Comey’s day has come and there is still no proof that President Trump committed any impeachable offenses. However, even though Trump escaped this round alive, Comey’s statements about his weak character and lack of honesty have added new strength to the bombardment of scandal, incompetence, and declining public opinion that are threatening to topple the White House. Indeed, it feels like the fort just can’t hold— that we are now entering the stage of a war where the outcome is decided—where one side’s victory feels assured and the other’s, Trump’s, feels hopelessly doomed.
Historically, this is the time that the victor’s focus should switch from winning the war to winning the peace. This was the case at the Tehran Conference in February 1945, when Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and Joseph Stalin met to draw the lines of post-war Europe; and in December 1863, when President Abraham Lincoln issued his “10 percent” plan to begin Reconstruction in the South. Now, as the Trump presidency verges on foundering in a shipwreck of its own making, leaders need to ask the very same question: what will an America without Trump look like? And more immediately, if the Trump presidency is damaged beyond repair, what is the national exit strategy?
The importance of careful planning comes down to this point: with or without Trump in office, this country will still be divided. If Donald Trump drops dead, resigns, or is impeached tomorrow, the deep cultural fissures that put him in the White House will still live on.
Comey Wasn’t Investigating Trump — But Look Who Said He Was – By Dan McLaughlin, National Review Online
There are a number of important takeaways from today’s Comey hearings, but one of the big ones elaborated on a point I hit yesterday in discussing Comey’s prepared statement: Trump was never under FBI investigation during the time that Comey headed the FBI, Comey personally told Trump that three times, and Trump grew increasingly frustrated that Comey wouldn’t clear the “cloud” over his head by publicly saying so. Indeed, Trump’s explanation to Lester Holt of why he fired Comey is entirely consistent with this.
But with Comey’s repeated and emphatic testimony that Trump was not under investigation, we have some new revisionist history: wildly backtracking liberals and Democrats claiming that nobody ever said Trump was under FBI investigation. And this is simply untrue.
Donald Trump Wrote a Cookbook – by Brett Stephens, New York Times
Now lessons must be drawn.
For those who serve the president: The price of your diligence is his flippancy. The price of your efforts to protect him is his willingness to expose you. The price of your sacrifice — of time, profit, career and, in the long run, reputation — is his indifference. The price of your loyalty is his contempt.
For those who think the president’s character flaws can be softened, or overcome, by the caliber of his advisers: You can’t use water to put out a grease fire.
For those who believe that checks and balances will contain the damage that a president can wreak: Twitter. The president’s digital compulsions may be less obscene than Anthony Weiner’s, but they’re more consequential.
Twitter is the electric current that connects populist to populus, demagogue to mob, the short circuit by which representative government becomes irrelevant. Trump may have hurt his chances of winning five Supreme Court votes with a tweet that betrayed the insincerity of his own “politically correct” travel ban.
Note: This is an excellent piece on the shifting dynamics in communities and how people no longer know their neighbors or the people around them.
I grew up in a community where everyone knew everyone. Neighbors shared their trials and tribulations with each other, and if someone was down on his or her luck, the others came to their rescue and offered support. The USA is no longer that country. We are divided and afraid of one another.
I had hoped that when Barack Obama was elected we would not only continue our healing from sad historical periods (slavery, and the hard times of civil unrest), but our nation would also be united, blessed, and even better, for we are all Americans. Instead, it was further divided. The division is worse, tolerance is a forgotten word, and feelings are hurt over nothing. Shocking as it may be, it appears that people now think it is okay to take other people’s stuff, damage other people’s property, and even hurt other people physically.
I am glad I am this old so I don’t have to live in this cold, uncaring world for 50 more years. Many people appear to be shallow, immoral, intolerant, and hateful about their neighbor’s ideas about religion, politics, the color of their house, etc. I can’t believe these attitudes have taken root my lifetime, but they have. I have witnessed these changes. I am so devastated by these negative attitudes that it hurts my heart.
NSA’s Latest Leak Debacle Explained: No Intelligence Community leaker has ever been unmasked and arrested this fast—here’s why – by John R. Schindler, The Observer
The substance of what The Intercept reported leaves no doubt that GRU made serious efforts last summer and fall to influence our election. In particular, as part of a coordinated covert campaign against our political system, Kremlin cyber-agents sent spear-phishing emails to more than 100 local election officials just days before the November 8 election. At a minimum, this NSA assessment establishes that Vladimir Putin’s recent claim that his government “never engaged” in hacking Western elections was a bald-faced lie.
Although the leaked NSA report doesn’t attempt to assess how much influence this GRU operation had on the election of Donald Trump as our 45th president, it leaves little doubt that Kremlin meddling may have tainted the integrity of that election. Small wonder that The Intercept’s SIGINT scoop was the talk of Washington—and social media—by midday Monday.
However, that elation proved short-lived, since yesterday afternoon the Department of Justice issued a press release announcing the arrest of the very person who had leaked the above-Top Secret NSA report which The Intercept had posted only hours before. Here the spy-catchers got Monday’s real bombshell scoop. Although the DoJ press release did not state that the person in custody was the leaker, quick analysis of the case left no room for doubt.
Twitter is destroying America – by Damon Linker, The Week
When historians of the future try to make sense of the precipitous collapse in American’s liberal democratic norms and institutions during our era, they are bound to highlight the rise of Twitter.
I don’t just mean because it’s hard to imagine the demagogue-charlatan Donald Trump catching on in the way he did without him having access to an instant audience of millions with his Twitter feed. That’s important, but not decisive. The same can be said of the army of “propaganda bots” that Farhad Manjoo claims are turning Twitter into a “terrifying scourge on democracy.” That’s significant, too, but only a part of the story.
Far more fundamental is the way Twitter intensifies and amplifies pathological social tendencies among those who act within, report on, and write about the political world. It turns politicians, political staffers, reporters, editors, pundits, and analysts into petty, vain, childish, showoffy, hostile, vindictive, dogmatic, impulsive, careless versions of their best and most professional selves. This makes Twitter horrible for our politics and equally bad for journalism. The single best thing for both politics and journalism would be for Twitter to go out of business tomorrow.
Satire piece of the week
Breaking: Comey Hearing Confirms Whatever You Already Wanted To Believe – The Babylon Bee
WASHINGTON, D.C.—Explosive testimony from ex-FBI Director James Comey confirmed Thursday exactly what you already wanted to believe before you heard a word of what he had to say, news channels and websites across the nation frantically reported.
“Whether you think Trump is a Russian spy or that this entire thing was made up out of thin air by the Democrats, Comey’s testimony today has proven you right beyond a shadow of a doubt,” one pundit said, referencing several things the ex-director said during his dramatic interrogation before the Senate Intel Committee.
“We can finally wrap this up—you were right all along,” he explained, adding that any other news or evidence that comes out from this point forward will also, undoubtedly, serve to strengthen your already-entrenched opinion.
Experts also reported that if you need any further proof, just go to whichever websites you normally visit for your daily news, and they will assure you that Comey’s testimony is the nail in the coffin of anyone who disagrees with you about Donald Trump’s ties with Russia.
Thanks for reading!