What To Do When You're Stopped By Police - The ACLU & Elon James White
Know Anyone Who Thinks Racial Profiling Is Exaggerated? Watch This, And Tell Me When Your Jaw Drops.
This video clearly demonstrates how racist America is as a country and how far we have to go to become a country that is civilized and actually values equal justice. We must not rest until this goal is achieved. I do not want my great grandchildren to live in a country like we have today. I wish for them to live in a country where differences of race and culture are not ignored but valued as a part of what makes America great.
Thursday, February 28, 2019
"WASHINGTON — President Trump ordered his chief of staff to grant his son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, a top-secret security clearance last year, overruling concerns flagged by intelligence officials and the White House’s top lawyer, four people briefed on the matter said.
Mr. Trump’s decision in May so troubled senior administration officials that at least one, the White House chief of staff at the time, John F. Kelly, wrote a contemporaneous internal memo about how he had been “ordered” to give Mr. Kushner the top-secret clearance.
The White House counsel at the time, Donald F. McGahn II, also wrote an internal memo outlining the concerns that had been raised about Mr. Kushner — including by the C.I.A. — and how Mr. McGahn had recommended that he not be given a top-secret clearance.
The disclosure of the memos contradicts statements made by the president, who told The New York Times in January in an Oval Office interview that he had no role in his son-in-law receiving his clearance.
Mr. Kushner’s lawyer, Abbe D. Lowell, also said that at the time the clearance was granted last year that his client went through a standard process. Ivanka Trump, the president’s eldest daughter and Mr. Kushner’s wife, said the same thing three weeks ago.
Asked on Thursday about the memos contradicting the president’s account, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, said, “We don’t comment on security clearances.”
Peter Mirijanian, a spokesman for Mr. Lowell, said on Thursday: “In 2018, White House and security clearance officials affirmed that Mr. Kushner’s security clearance was handled in the regular process with no pressure from anyone. That was conveyed to the media at the time, and new stories, if accurate, do not change what was affirmed at the time.”
The decision last year to grant Mr. Kushner a top-secret clearance upgraded him from earlier temporary and interim status. He never received a higher-level designation that would have given him access to need-to-know intelligence known as sensitive compartmented information.
It is not known precisely what factors led to the problems with Mr. Kushner’s security clearance. Officials had raised questions about his own and his family’s real estate business’s ties to foreign governments and investors, and about initially unreported contacts he had with foreigners. The issue also generated criticism of Mr. Trump for having two family members serve in official capacities in the West Wing.
Mr. Kushner has spent this week abroad working on a Middle East peace plan. Among his meetings was one with Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia.
While the president has the legal authority to grant a clearance, in most cases, the White House’s personnel security office makes a determination about whether to grant one after the F.B.I. has conducted a background check. If there is a dispute in the personnel security office about how to move forward — a rare occurrence — the White House counsel makes the decision. In highly unusual cases, the president weighs in and grants one himself.
In Mr. Kushner’s case, personnel division officials were divided about whether to grant him a top-secret clearance.
In May 2018, the White House Counsel’s Office, which at the time was led by Mr. McGahn, recommended to Mr. Trump that Mr. Kushner not be given a clearance at that level. But the next day, Mr. Trump ordered Mr. Kelly to grant it to Mr. Kushner anyway, the people familiar with the events said.
The question of Mr. Kushner’s access to intelligence was a flash point almost from the beginning of the administration. The initial background check into Mr. Kushner dragged on for more than a year, creating a distraction for the White House, which struggled to explain why one of the people closest to the president had yet to be given the proper approval to be trusted with the country’s most sensitive information.
The full scope of intelligence officials’ concerns about Mr. Kushner is not known. But the clearance had been held up in part over questions from the F.B.I. and the C.I.A. about his foreign and business contacts, including those related to Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Russia, according to multiple people familiar with the events.
During the 2016 presidential campaign, Mr. Kushner was part of a group that met with a Russian lawyer who went to Trump Tower claiming to have political “dirt” on Hillary Clinton. And during the presidential transition, Mr. Kushner had a meeting with the Russian ambassador at the time, Sergey I. Kislyak, and the head of a Russian state-owned bank. When he applied for a security clearance, he did not reveal those meetings.
He later made several amendments to that section of his application, known as an SF86. His aides at the time insisted he had omitted those meetings inadvertently.
Mr. Kushner initially operated with a provisional clearance as his background check proceeded.
In an entry to Mr. Kushner’s personnel file on Sept. 15, 2017, the head of the personnel security division, Carl Kline, wrote, “Per conversation with WH Counsel the clearance was changed to interim Top Secret until we can confirm that the DOJ or someone else actually granted a final clearance. This action is out of an abundance of caution because the background investigation has not been completed.”
In a statement to The Times when Mr. Kushner received the clearance last year, Mr. Lowell said that “his application was properly submitted, reviewed by numerous career officials and underwent the normal process.”
During a review of security clearances in February 2018 that was prompted by the controversy surrounding Rob Porter, then the White House staff secretary, who had been accused of domestic abuse, Mr. Kushner’s clearance was downgraded from interim top secret to secret, limiting his access to classified information. At the time, Mr. Kelly wrote a five-page memo, revoking temporary clearances that had been in place since June 1, 2017.
That affected both Mr. Kushner and Ms. Trump, who told friends and advisers that they believed that Mr. Kelly and Mr. McGahn were targeting them for petty reasons instead of legitimate concerns flagged by officials.
Mr. Kushner and Ms. Trump both complained to the president about the situation, current and former administration officials said. In Mr. Kushner’s case, Mr. Trump would often turn to other aides and say in frustration, “Why isn’t this getting done?” according to a former administration official. On at least one occasion, the president asked another senior official if the person could sort out the issue. That official said no, according to this account.
Mr. Kelly did not believe it was appropriate to overrule the security clearance process and had brushed aside or avoided dealing with Mr. Kushner’s requests, a former administration official said. Mr. Kelly did not respond to a request for comment.
House Democrats are in the early stages of an investigation into how several Trump administration officials obtained clearances, including Mr. Kushner.
Mr. Trump’s precise language to Mr. Kelly about Mr. Kushner’s clearance in their direct conversation remains unclear. Two of the people familiar with Mr. Trump’s discussions with Mr. Kelly said that there might be different interpretations of what the president said. But Mr. Kelly believed it was an order, according to two people familiar with his thinking.
And Mr. Trump was definitive in his statements to The Times in the January interview.
“I was never involved with the security” clearances for Mr. Kushner, the president said. “I know that there was issues back and forth about security for numerous people, actually. But I don’t want to get involved in that stuff.”
A recent report by NBC revealed that Mr. Kline had overruled two career security specialists who had rejected Mr. Kushner’s application based on the F.B.I.’s concerns. A senior administration official confirmed the details laid out in the NBC report.
Mr. Kline was acting on the directive sent down by the president, one of the people familiar with the matter said.
The day that Mr. Lowell described Mr. Kushner’s process as having gone through normal routes, aides to Mr. Kushner had asked White House officials to deliver a statement from Mr. Kelly supporting what Mr. Lowell had said. But Mr. Kelly refused to do so, according to a person with knowledge of the events."
Trump Ordered Officials to Give Jared Kushner a Security Clearance - The New York Times
Wednesday, February 27, 2019
Tuesday, February 26, 2019
Sunday, February 24, 2019
"Why do black people still feel we have to retain white empathy at the expense of being truly empathetic to ourselves?
Michelle Obama was the highest-profile black American woman in the world for eight years. A poster advertising her memoir, “Becoming,” is seen in Warsaw earlier this month.
Photo by: Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto, via Getty Images
I happened to be finishing Michelle Obama’s memoir, “Becoming,” during her recent surprise appearance at the Grammys. She gave a short speech about music bringing people together — “whether we like country, or rap or rock, music helps us share ourselves,” she said. The timing felt appropriate — it’s Black History Month, and although the Obamas are now ensconced in that history, we are only beginning to truly examine their legacy.
Let me stress that I like Mrs. Obama. I very much identify with her. I, too, was born in the ’60s and grew up working class in a black family that saw higher education as the way forward. What’s always interested me about Mrs. Obama is how she created a modern narrative of black womanhood just by being herself. The most notable accomplishment of her memoir is that she shows how being consciously black and being an individual are not incompatible, but an ordinary state of being.
She is a soldier in the racial struggles that engage all black folks, but at the same time she is human — vulnerable, uncertain, thrilled to be in love, anxious to be liked. She is, for a time, comfortably middle class, too, which may be the most radical part of this narrative, because black folks who acquire money and prestige are assumed not to have any problems worth serious consideration (they are not, in other words, authentically black). Not so.
And yet reading “Becoming” made me realize, with a sinking heart, how much further we have to go before we routinely hear the whole story about black people's experience.
This becomes clear in those brief parts of the book that address two of the most controversial moments of the 2008 presidential campaign: Mrs. Obama’s remark on the campaign trail that “for the first time in my adult life I’m really proud of my country,” and the sermon by the Obamas’ longtime pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr., that the media boiled down to the epithet “God damn America.”
In the first case, Mrs. Obama maintains that she meant nothing racial, that she was not being unpatriotic, merely expressing gratitude for the volunteers and good energy of the campaign. In the second case, she condemns Mr. Wright as expressing a racial paranoia that exists on both sides of the color line — “the suspicion and stereotyping ran both ways,” is how she puts it — implying a kind of false equivalency that permeates our politics, especially around race. She dismisses such suspicion in her own relatives, who have lived through segregation and Jim Crow, as so much “cranky mistrust.”
That’s it? After giving the story of black people such loving examination, Mrs. Obama strategically shuts it down. She cannot or will not acknowledge how any black person voicing pride in country for the first time makes perfect sense. She cannot or will not acknowledge that Mr. Wright’s critique of America was part of the liberation theology tradition that includes Martin Luther King Jr., a great patriot.
The Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr. speaking to his congregation at the Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago in 2006.
Photo by: Jason Wambsgans/Chicago Tribune, via Associated Press
More important, these are critiques I’ve heard in many forms from ordinary black people. I can’t imagine Mrs. Obama hasn’t heard them, too, and doesn’t understand exactly where they come from.
The point is not that she has to completely agree with Mr. Wright. But in her disavowals, she’s making a political choice — not surprising, given the book and other projects that hinge on her popularity and “relatability.” That’s what’s so dismaying. As the highest-profile black American woman in the world for eight years, as a towering first, she has a rare chance — an obligation, in my mind — to broaden the national narrative of exclusion from a story of black striving and overcoming to a story of black discontent. That would be much more meaningful than any feel-good awards-show speech about the “unifying power of music.”
She could at least give our discontent the same consideration she gives to Iowa voters and military families and other groups whom she describes as having opened her eyes to the deepest meanings of being American. But we don’t get that here. Once again we are denied our fullness because of a (justified) fear it will be interpreted as anti-American. Mrs. Obama still follows the rule of assimilation: It’s more important to retain white empathy than to be truly empathetic to ourselves.
Mrs. Obama writes at one point that as a black first lady, her “grace would need to be earned.” She’s talking again about those rules of assimilation, of that familiar burden of having to be three times as good to even be given a chance. (This, of course, is a truth built into the whole phenomena of Black History Month.) Too bad she doesn’t add that, in their incredible forbearance, black Americans earned their grace long ago, as well as their residual resentments and frustrations built up over 400 years, which are dismissed by the mainstream as anger or crankiness.
Mrs. Obama does get it right in the title: More of the story of black Americans is being told than ever before, but there is still so much left out, often deliberately. It — and we — are still becoming."
Opinion | Michelle Obama’s Rules of Assimilation - The New York Times
"The ambitious plan has had a rocky start, but it has also changed the national conversation. That alone is reason to applaud it.
The editorial board represents the opinions of the board, its editor and the publisher. It is separate from the newsroom and the Op-Ed section.
It’s hard to believe, but worth recalling, that during the presidential debates in 2016, not a single question about climate change was put to Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. That, of course, was before a plague of hurricanes, droughts and savage forest fires in California and around the world captured the public’s attention; before Mr. Trump brought renewed focus to the very issue he had dismissed as a hoax by fecklessly rolling back nearly every positive policy thing President Barack Obama had done to address it; before a series of frightening scientific reports appeared last year, warning that the window of opportunity to ward off the worst consequences of a warming globe was quickly closing.
It was also long before anyone had seen a nonbinding congressional resolution calling for something called the Green New Deal, an ambitious plan to tackle climate change (and a lot else, too) that earlier this month burst like a shooting star upon the Washington political and legislative scene. The resolution — introduced by Ed Markey, a Democratic senator from Massachusetts, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a newly elected Democratic representative whose district covers parts of the Bronx and Queens — calls for a “10-year national mobilization” through giant investments in infrastructure and carbon-free energy. It has since won the full or partial allegiance of a half-dozen Democratic presidential hopefuls who pray that town hall participants or debate moderators will ask them what they think about global warming. Which in turn means that, whatever becomes of the plan, it will have moved climate change — a serious issue that has had serious trouble gaining traction — to a commanding position in the national conversation. That alone is reason to applaud it.
In name and concept, the plan is not new. The term Green New Deal appeared in a column in The Times by Thomas Friedman in January 2007, in which he called for a vast public and private investment program that would throw everything under the sun (including, actually, the sun itself) — wind, solar, nuclear power, energy efficiency, advanced research, tax incentives and a price on carbon — into a massive effort to build a more climate-friendly energy system while also revitalizing the American economy.
This is essentially what the Mr. Markey and Ms. Ocasio-Cortez had in mind when they rolled out their resolution on Feb. 7. Unfortunately, that rollout was anything but smooth, due largely to the bungling of Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s staff, which posted on her website a set of pugnacious and poorly written talking points (later disavowed) that scared even moderate Democrats. Apart from bold if probably unattainable objectives (a total transformation to renewable energy in 10 years), the talking points dismissed as unacceptable three strategies that many experts say are necessary to any solution: nuclear power, technology that allows fossil fuel plants to capture and store their own emissions, and market-based solutions like a carbon tax or the kind of cap and trade bill that Mr. Markey worked valiantly and unsuccessfully to get Congress to approve 10 years ago. The talking points made other dubious promises, including jobs even for Americans “unwilling” to work. The immediate result of this amateurish mess was to hand Mr. Trump and other climate deniers irresistible political talking points.
The actual resolution seems more measured. It speaks only of a 10-year mobilization effort to reduce carbon emissions, without giving an explicit deadline, and it is silent as to particular strategies, leaving nuclear, carbon capture and price signals very much on the table. It does not mention costs. Some experts believe that fully remaking the energy delivery system could run into the trillions of dollars; proponents argue that spending trillions now could save much more in damages later.
The idea of decarbonizing the economy is ambitious, commendable and urgent. In early January, for instance, came three hugely dispiriting reports. The Rhodium Group, a research firm, estimated that America’s carbon dioxide emissions, after a period of decline, had risen by 3.4 percent in 2018, even as a near-record number of coal plants around the country were retired. The main culprits were economic growth and rising emissions from factories, putting America’s vow to cut greenhouse gas emissions 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025 further out of reach, absent bold new policies or technological breakthroughs.
This bad news was followed by a study in Science finding that the oceans are warming at an alarming pace, 40 to 50 percent faster than the United Nations had estimated, putting corals and fisheries at even greater risk. If that were not enough, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences followed with a study predicting faster melting of Antarctica’s huge ice reserves.
These are not good signs, but Mr. Markey, ever the optimist, thinks there is no better time to put forth aggressive ambitions and solutions. Obviously, nothing will happen legislatively as long as the Republicans control the Senate and Mr. Trump sits in the White House. But the stars are aligned, Mr. Markey thinks, for a robust debate about a climate strategy that his party can take to the voters in 2020. The steady drumbeat of alarming reports, plus one climate-related multibillion dollar disaster after another, has raised public consciousness, which in turn increases public pressure on Congress to do something. In an exchange that went viral on Friday, a group of children pressed Democractic Senator Dianne Feinstein over her refusal to support the plan. “We’re the ones who are going to be impacted,” one of the children lamented.
Meanwhile, technological progress toward clean-energy solutions has been nothing short of remarkable, giving the lie to the old denier argument that clean energy inevitably means fewer jobs. Wind capacity has increased more than fourfold in the last decade. Solar power, while still a very small part of the total energy mix, has increased at an even faster rate. And prices for both have dropped to the point where they are increasingly competitive with fossil fuels. Ten years ago, an electric car was a curiosity; now more than a million have been sold in the United States.
For now, the nation must endure Mr. Trump’s boneheaded policies. The president has rejected the Paris agreement on climate change and rolled back Obama-era limits on carbon dioxide from coal-fired power plants and methane emissions from oil and gas facilities, while doing all he can to open more lands and waters to oil and gas exploration.
Last week, his administration made clear that it would proceed with plans to weaken fuel economy standards, despite strong objections from California and other states. In addition, The Times reported, he will soon form a special committee whose main purpose, it appears, is to challenge warnings from the Pentagon and intelligence agencies that global warming poses a threat to national security.
The immediate task facing the Democrats in 2021 — if they win control of the White House and Congress — will be to reverse Mr. Trump’s reversals. But even now, there are familiar policies that the Democrats, who control the House, can pass through key committees and the full House to force the Senate, and the nation, to debate them. These policies could go a long way toward meeting a goal of net zero emissions by midcentury, less than what the Green New Deal calls for but consistent with the recommendations of the United Nations. They could include a national electricity standard utilizing nuclear and carbon capture along with wind and solar; larger (and more consistent) tax incentives for electric vehicles; an infrastructure program that brings serious federal dollars to bear on improving efficiency in buildings and the electrical grid; major efforts to promote the sequestration of carbon in forests, farms and public lands — a critical component, which the Green New Deal recognizes, in any effort to pull carbon from the atmosphere.
Step-by-step measures like these will suit the political temperature of most House Democrats (only about 70 of whom have endorsed the Green New Deal), including the speaker, Nancy Pelosi, who gave even the toned-down resolution the back of her hand — “The green dream or whatever they call it, nobody knows what it is, but they’re for it, right?”
Whether such measures will satisfy the activists who have gathered around Ms. Ocasio-Cortez is another matter. After all, her talking points, as well as the resolution itself, speak also of providing higher education for all Americans; universal health care; affordable housing; remedies for “systemic injustices” among the poor, the elderly and people of color; and a federal job guarantee insuring “a family-sustaining wage, adequate family and medical leave, paid vacations and retirement security.”
Which raises this question: Is the Green New Deal aimed at addressing the climate crisis? Or is addressing the climate crisis merely a cover for a wish-list of progressive policies and a not-so-subtle effort to move the Democratic Party to the left? At least some candidates — Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota among them — seem to think so.
Read literally, the resolution wants not only to achieve a carbon-neutral energy system but also to transform the economy itself. As Mr. Markey can tell you from past experience, the first goal is going to be hard enough. Tackling climate change in a big way is in itself likely to be transformative. We should get on with it."
Opinion | The Green New Deal Is Better Than Our Climate Nightmare - The New York Times
Saturday, February 23, 2019
Friday, February 22, 2019
Wednesday, February 20, 2019
"Memo to President Trump and the Republican Party: This is what actual voting fraud looks like.
North Carolina election officials are detailing how a longtime political operative, working for a Republican candidate, conspired to steal last year’s election for the state’s Ninth Congressional District.
L. McCrae Dowless Jr. dispatched minions to collect absentee ballots from voters, fill them in, forge signatures and mail small batches from post offices near voters’ homes to avoid suspicion. Mr. Dowless’s effort is thought to have involved upward of 1,000 absentee ballots or request forms. The candidate he was serving, Mark Harris, has a 905-vote margin over the Democratic contender, Dan McCready.
At a hearing Monday of the state’s election board, its executive director shared the results of an investigation into how Mr. Dowless put together a “coordinated, unlawful and substantially resourced” effort to tamper with absentee ballots.
Witnesses involved in the fraud said Mr. Dowless encouraged them to give false testimony to obstruct the board’s investigation. One, Lisa Britt, who is Mr. Dowless’s former stepdaughter, provided investigators with a script she said Mr. Dowless gave her, which read: “I can tell you that I haven’t done anything wrong in the election, and McCrae Dowless has never told me to do anything wrong, and to my knowledge he has never done anything wrong. But I am taking the Fifth Amendment because I don’t have an attorney, and I feel like you will try to trip me up.”
Ms. Britt and other witnesses are painting a devastating portrait of a political schemer intent on undermining the electoral system.
This alarming situation in North Carolina should prove instructive for Mr. Trump and his party. For years, Republicans have been in a tizzy over voter fraud by noncitizens, which they claim is eating away at American democracy and helping Democrats. But, for some reason, they have been unable to scare up compelling evidence that such fraud exists beyond a handful of cases sprinkled here and there.
Take the recent hullabaloo in Texas. On Jan. 25, the Texas secretary of state sent out a list of 95,000 registered voters who had reportedly been identified as noncitizens. The methodology used to compile the list was opaque, and critics immediately questioned its accuracy. No matter. Republican officials went wild. The state’s attorney general, Ken Paxton, a fierce champion of voting restrictions, tweeted a “VOTER FRAUD ALERT,” claiming that about 95,000 people whom state law enforcement officials have identified “as non-U.S. citizens have a matching voter registration record in TX, approx 58,000 of whom have voted in TX elections. Any illegal vote deprives Americans of their voice.”
Not to be outdone, Mr. Trump flogged the list with characteristic finesse: “These numbers are just the tip of the iceberg. All over the country, especially in California, voter fraud is rampant. Must be stopped. Strong voter ID!”
But, like so many Republican tales of mass fraud, the claims soon crumbled. Within days, the secretary of state acknowledged that his list was chock-full of names improperly flagged for a variety of reasons. Of those people whose names were correctly flagged, it was unclear whether any had voted in a state election.
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The whole Texas tempest brings to mind the Kansas kerfuffle in which that state’s secretary of state, Kris Kobach, claimed mass fraud as justification for a strict voter ID law that went into effect in 2013. The law was challenged in court, and, last June, was struck down by a federal judge (appointed by President George W. Bush) who ruled that Mr. Kobach had provided “no credible evidence that a substantial number of noncitizens registered to vote,” and noted that “the court draws the more obvious conclusion that there is no iceberg; only an icicle, largely created by confusion and administrative error.”
Outside his home state, Mr. Kobach is best known for having led Mr. Trump’s preposterous voting “integrity” commission, which disbanded after eight months of scrounging, unsuccessfully, for any evidence of widespread fraud.
The current case in North Carolina should be of great interest to Republicans, who have spent much of the last decade dreaming up ways to restrict voting there. Just last year, state Republicans realized their longstanding goal of imposing a photo ID requirement for voting. That law immediately drew multiple lawsuits.
Once the election board wraps up its investigation, its five members — three Democrats and two Republicans — will vote on whether Mr. Harris should be allowed to take his seat or if a new election should be held. Their concern is not whether the candidate had knowledge of what Mr. Dowless was up to, but whether the election was sufficiently tainted to merit a new one. After just the opening day of testimony, the evidence certainly suggests the need for a revote, possibly along with a separate inquiry to determine how much Mr. Harris knew and when he knew it.
Even if the board upholds the election results, the House of Representatives then gets to have its say in the matter, possibly refusing to seat Mr. Harris.
Turns out, voting fraud is as real as Russia’s crusade to put Mr. Trump in the White House. It just looks nothing like what Republicans keep hitting the panic button over. Which tells you even more about Mr. Trump and his party than it does about the so-called perils of voter fraud.
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A version of this article appears in print on Feb. 20, 2019, on Page A26 of the New York edition with the headline: Election Fraud the G.O.P. Won’t Stress About. Order "
Opinion | Election Fraud the G.O.P. Won’t Stress About - The New York Times
Intimidation, Pressure and Humiliation: Inside Trump’s Two-Year War on the Investigations Encircling Him - The New York Times
"WASHINGTON — As federal prosecutors in Manhattan gathered evidence late last year about President Trump’s role in silencing women with hush payments during the 2016 campaign, Mr. Trump called Matthew G. Whitaker, his newly installed attorney general, with a question. He asked whether Geoffrey S. Berman, the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York and a Trump ally, could be put in charge of the widening investigation, according to several American officials with direct knowledge of the call.
Mr. Whitaker, who had privately told associates that part of his role at the Justice Department was to “jump on a grenade” for the president, knew he could not put Mr. Berman in charge because Mr. Berman had already recused himself from the investigation. The president soon soured on Mr. Whitaker, as he often does with his aides, and complained about his inability to pull levers at the Justice Department that could make the president’s many legal problems go away.
Trying to install a perceived loyalist atop a widening inquiry is a familiar tactic for Mr. Trump, who has been struggling to beat back the investigations that have consumed his presidency. His efforts have exposed him to accusations of obstruction of justice as Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel, finishes his work investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Mr. Trump’s public war on the inquiry has gone on long enough that it is no longer shocking. Mr. Trump rages almost daily to his 58 million Twitter followers that Mr. Mueller is on a “witch hunt” and has adopted the language of Mafia bosses by calling those who cooperate with the special counsel “rats.” His lawyer talks openly about a strategy to smear and discredit the special counsel investigation. The president’s allies in Congress and the conservative news media warn of an insidious plot inside the Justice Department and the F.B.I. to subvert a democratically elected president.
An examination by The New York Times reveals the extent of an even more sustained, more secretive assault by Mr. Trump on the machinery of federal law enforcement. Interviews with dozens of current and former government officials and others close to Mr. Trump, as well as a review of confidential White House documents, reveal numerous unreported episodes in a two-year drama.
White House lawyers wrote a confidential memo expressing concern about the president’s staff peddling misleading information in public about the firing of Michael T. Flynn, the Trump administration’s first national security adviser. Mr. Trump had private conversations with Republican lawmakers about a campaign to attack the Mueller investigation. And there was the episode when he asked his attorney general about putting Mr. Berman in charge of the Manhattan investigation.
Mr. Whitaker, who this month told a congressional committee that Mr. Trump had never pressured him over the various investigations, is now under scrutiny by House Democrats for possible perjury.
On Tuesday, after The Times article published, Mr. Trump denied that he had asked Mr. Whitaker if Mr. Berman could be put in charge of the investigation. “No, I don’t know who gave you that, that’s more fake news,” Mr. Trump said. “There’s a lot of fake news out there. No, I didn’t.”
A Justice Department spokeswoman said Tuesday that the White House had not asked Mr. Whitaker to interfere in the investigations. “Under oath to the House Judiciary Committee, then-Acting Attorney General Whitaker stated that ‘at no time has the White House asked for nor have I provided any promises or commitments concerning the special counsel’s investigation or any other investigation,’” said the spokeswoman, Kerri Kupec. “Mr. Whitaker stands by his testimony.”
The story of Mr. Trump’s attempts to defang the investigations has been voluminously covered in the news media, to such a degree that many Americans have lost track of how unusual his behavior is. But fusing the strands reveals an extraordinary story of a president who has attacked the law enforcement apparatus of his own government like no other president in history, and who has turned the effort into an obsession. Mr. Trump has done it with the same tactics he once used in his business empire: demanding fierce loyalty from employees, applying pressure tactics to keep people in line and protecting the brand — himself — at all costs.
It is a public relations strategy as much as a legal strategy — a campaign to create a narrative of a president hounded by his “deep state” foes. The new Democratic majority in the House, and the prospect of a wave of investigations on Capitol Hill this year, will test whether the strategy shores up Mr. Trump’s political support or puts his presidency in greater peril. The president has spent much of his time venting publicly about there being “no collusion” with Russia before the 2016 election, which has diverted attention from a growing body of evidence that he has tried to impede the various investigations.
Julie O’Sullivan, a criminal law professor at Georgetown University, said she believed there was ample public evidence that Mr. Trump had the “corrupt intent” to try to derail the Mueller investigation, the legal standard for an obstruction of justice case.
But this is far from a routine criminal investigation, she said, and Mr. Mueller will have to make judgments about the effect on the country of making a criminal case against the president. Democrats in the House have said they will wait for Mr. Mueller to finish his work before making a decision about whether the president’s behavior warrants impeachment.
In addition to the Mueller investigation, there are at least two other federal inquiries that touch the president and his advisers — the Manhattan investigation focused on the hush money payments made by Mr. Trump’s lawyer, Michael D. Cohen, and an inquiry examining the flow of foreign money to the Trump inaugural committee.
The president’s defenders counter that most of Mr. Trump’s actions under scrutiny fall under his authority as the head of the executive branch. They argue that the Constitution gives the president sweeping powers to hire and fire, to start and stop law enforcement proceedings, and to grant presidential pardons to friends and allies. A sitting American president cannot be indicted, according to current Justice Department policy.
Mr. Trump’s lawyers add this novel response: The president has been public about his disdain for the Mueller investigation and other federal inquiries, so he is hardly engaged in a conspiracy. He fired one F.B.I. director and considered firing his replacement. He humiliated his first attorney general for being unable to “control” the Russia investigation and installed a replacement, Mr. Whitaker, who has told people he believed his job was to protect the president. But that, they say, is Donald Trump being Donald Trump.
In other words, the president’s brazen public behavior might be his best defense.
Mr. Trump tried to shape the narrative around the resignation of his first national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn.
Photo by: Tom Brenner for The New York Times
The investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and whether the Trump campaign aided the effort presented the new White House with its first crisis after only 25 days. The president immediately tried to contain the damage.
It was Feb. 14, 2017, and Mr. Trump and his advisers were in the Oval Office debating how to explain the resignation of Mr. Flynn, the national security adviser, the previous night. Mr. Flynn, who had been a top campaign adviser to Mr. Trump, was under investigation by the F.B.I. for his contacts with Russians and secret foreign lobbying efforts for Turkey.
The Justice Department had already raised questions that Mr. Flynn might be subject to blackmail by the Russians for misleading White House officials about the Russian contacts, and inside the White House there was a palpable fear that the Russia investigation could consume the early months of a new administration.
As the group in the Oval Office talked, one of Mr. Trump’s advisers mentioned in passing what Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, then the speaker of the House, had told reporters — that Mr. Trump had asked Mr. Flynn to resign.
It was unclear where Mr. Ryan had gotten that information, but Mr. Trump seized on Mr. Ryan’s words. “That sounds better,” the president said, according to people with knowledge of the discussions. Mr. Trump turned to the White House press secretary at the time, Sean Spicer, who was preparing to brief the news media.
“Say that,” Mr. Trump ordered.
But was that true? Mr. Spicer pressed.
“Say that I asked for his resignation,” Mr. Trump repeated.
The president appeared to have little concern about what he told the public about Mr. Flynn’s departure, and he quickly warmed to the new narrative. The episode was among the first of multiple ham-handed efforts by the president to carry out a dual strategy: publicly casting the Russia story as an overblown hoax and privately trying to contain the investigation’s reach.
“This Russia thing is all over now because I fired Flynn,” Mr. Trump said over lunch that day, according to a new book by Chris Christie, a former New Jersey governor and a longtime Trump ally.
Mr. Christie was taken aback. “This Russia thing is far from over,” Mr. Christie wrote that he told Mr. Trump, who responded: “What do you mean? Flynn met with the Russians. That was the problem. I fired Flynn. It’s over.”
Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, who was also at the lunch, chimed in, according to Mr. Christie’s book: “That’s right, firing Flynn ends the whole Russia thing.”
As Mr. Trump was lunching with Mr. Christie, lawyers in the White House Counsel’s Office met with Mr. Spicer about what he should say from the White House podium about what was a sensitive national security investigation. But when Mr. Spicer’s briefing began, the lawyers started hearing numerous misstatements — some bigger than others — and ended up compiling them all in a memo.
The lawyers’ main concern was that Mr. Spicer overstated how exhaustively the White House had investigated Mr. Flynn and that he said, wrongly, that administration lawyers had concluded there were no legal issues surrounding Mr. Flynn’s conduct.
Mr. Spicer later told people he stuck to talking points that he was given by the counsel’s office, and that White House lawyers expressed concern only about how he had described the thoroughness of the internal inquiry into Mr. Flynn. The memo written by the lawyers said that Mr. Spicer was presented with a longer list of his misstatements. The White House never publicly corrected the record.
Sean Spicer, the former White House press secretary, overstated how thoroughly the White House had investigated Mr. Flynn.
Photo by: Stephen Crowley/The New York Times
Later that day, Mr. Trump confronted the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, in the Oval Office. The president told him that Mr. Spicer had done a great job explaining how the White House had handled the firing. Then he asked Mr. Comey to end the F.B.I.’s investigation into Mr. Flynn, and said that Mr. Flynn was a good guy.
Mr. Comey responded, according to a memo he wrote at the time, that Mr. Flynn was indeed a good guy. But he said nothing about ending the F.B.I. investigation.
By March, Mr. Trump was in a rage that his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, had recused himself from the Russia inquiry because investigators were looking into the campaign, of which Mr. Sessions had been a part. Mr. Trump was also growing increasingly frustrated with Mr. Comey, who refused to say publicly that the president was not under investigation.
Mr. Trump finally fired Mr. Comey in May. But the president and the White House gave conflicting accounts of their reasoning for the dismissal, which served only to exacerbate the president’s legal exposure.
A week after the firing, The Times disclosed that the president had asked Mr. Comey to end the Flynn investigation. The next day, the deputy attorney general, Rod J. Rosenstein, appointed Mr. Mueller, a Republican, as special counsel.
Instead of ending the Russia investigation by firing Mr. Comey, Mr. Trump had drastically raised the stakes.
Mr. Mueller’s appointment fueled Mr. Trump’s anger and what became increasingly reckless behavior — setting off a string of actions over the summer of 2017 that could end up as building blocks in a case by Congress that the president engaged in a broad effort to thwart the investigation.
On Twitter and in news media interviews, Mr. Trump tried to pressure investigators and undermine the credibility of potential witnesses in the Mueller investigation.
He directed much of his venom at Mr. Sessions, who had recused himself in March from overseeing the Russia investigation because of contacts he had during the election with Russia’s ambassador to the United States.
The president humiliated Mr. Sessions at every turn, and stunned Washington when he said during an interview with The Times that he never would have named Mr. Sessions attorney general if he had known Mr. Sessions would step aside from the investigation.
Privately, Mr. Trump tried to remove Mr. Sessions — he said he wanted an attorney general who would protect him — but did not fire him, in part because White House aides dodged the president’s orders to demand his resignation. The president even called his former campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, over the Fourth of July weekend to ask him to pressure Mr. Sessions to resign. Mr. Lewandowski was noncommittal and never acted on the request.
One of Mr. Trump’s lawyers also reached out that summer to the lawyers for two of his former aides — Paul Manafort and Mr. Flynn — to discuss possible pardons. The discussions raised questions about whether the president was willing to offer pardons to influence their decisions about whether to plead guilty and cooperate in the Mueller investigation.
The president even tried to fire Mr. Mueller himself, a move that could have brought an end to the investigation. Just weeks after Mr. Mueller’s appointment, the president insisted that he ought to be fired because of perceived conflicts of interest. Mr. Trump’s White House counsel, Donald F. McGahn II, who would have been responsible for carrying out the order, refused and threatened to quit.
The president eventually backed off.
Republican Representatives Lee Zeldin, left, Mark Meadows, Matt Gaetz and Jim Jordan launched an offensive against the Mueller investigation.
Photo by: Alex Wong/Getty Images
Sitting in the Delta Sky Lounge during a layover at Atlanta’s airport in July 2017, Representative Matt Gaetz, a first-term Republican from the Florida Panhandle, decided it was time to attack. Mr. Gaetz, then 35, believed that the president’s allies in Congress needed a coordinated strategy to fight back against an investigation they viewed as deeply unfair and politically biased.
He called Representative Jim Jordan, a conservative Republican from Ohio, and told him the party needed “to go play offense,” Mr. Gaetz recalled in an interview.
The two men believed that Republican leaders, who publicly praised the appointment of Mr. Mueller, had been beaten into a defensive crouch by the unending chaos and were leaving Democrats unchecked to “pistol whip” the president with constant accusations about his campaign and Russia.
So they began to investigate the investigators. Mr. Trump and his lawyers enthusiastically encouraged the strategy, which, according to some polls, convinced many Americans that the country’s law enforcement apparatus was determined to bring down the president.
Within days of their conversation, Mr. Gaetz and Mr. Jordan drafted a letter to Mr. Sessions and Mr. Rosenstein, the first call for the appointment of a second special counsel to essentially reinvestigate Hillary Clinton for her handling of her emails while secretary of state — the case had ended in the summer of 2016 — as well as the origins of the F.B.I.’s investigation of Mr. Flynn and other Trump associates.
The letter itself, with the signatures of only 20 House Republicans, gained little traction at first. But an important shift was underway: At a time when Mr. Trump’s lawyers were urging him to cooperate with Mr. Mueller and to tone down his Twitter feed, the president’s fiercest allies in Congress and the conservative news media were busy trying to flip the script on the federal law enforcement agencies and officials who began the inquiry into Mr. Trump’s campaign.
Mr. Gaetz and Mr. Jordan began huddling with like-minded Republicans, sometimes including Representative Mark Meadows, a press-savvy North Carolinian close to Mr. Trump, and Representative Devin Nunes of California, the head of the House Intelligence Committee.
Mr. Nunes, the product of a dairy farming family in California’s Central Valley, had already emerged as one of Mr. Trump’s strongest allies in Congress. He worked closely with Mr. Flynn during the Trump transition after the 2016 election, and he had a history of battling the C.I.A. and other intelligence agencies, which he sometimes accused of coloring their analysis for partisan reasons. In the spring of 2017, Mr. Nunes sought to bolster Mr. Trump’s false claim that President Barack Obama had ordered an illegal wiretap on Trump Tower in Manhattan.
Using Congress’s oversight powers, the Republican lawmakers succeeded in doing what Mr. Trump could not realistically do on his own: force into the open some of the government’s most sensitive investigative files — including secret wiretaps and the existence of an F.B.I. informant — that were part of the Russia inquiry.
House Republicans opened investigations into the F.B.I.’s handling of the Clinton email case and a debunked Obama-era uranium deal indirectly linked to Mrs. Clinton. The lawmakers got a big assist from the Justice Department, which gave them private texts recovered from two senior F.B.I. officials who had been on the Russia case. The officials — Peter Strzok and Lisa Page — repeatedly criticized Mr. Trump in their texts, which were featured in a loop on Fox News and became a centerpiece of an evolving and powerful conservative narrative about a cabal inside the F.B.I. and Justice Department to take down Mr. Trump.
The president cheered on the lawmakers on Twitter, in interviews and in private, urging Mr. Gaetz on Air Force One in December 2017 and in subsequent phone calls to keep up the House Republicans’ oversight work. He was hoping for fair treatment from Mr. Mueller, Mr. Trump told Mr. Gaetz in one of the calls just after the congressman appeared on Fox News, but that did not preclude him from encouraging his allies’ scrutiny of the investigation.
Later, when Mr. Nunes produced a memo alleging that the F.B.I. had abused its authority in spying on a former Trump campaign associate, Carter Page, Mr. Trump called Mr. Nunes a “Great American Hero” in a tweet. (The F.B.I. said it had “grave concerns” about the memo’s accuracy.)
Mr. Trump eventually shifted away from relatively quiet cooperation with Mr. Mueller’s investigators toward a targeted and relentless frontal attack on their credibility and impartiality.
The president became an active participant in the effort to attack American law enforcement. He repeatedly leaned on administration officials on behalf of the lawmakers — urging Mr. Rosenstein and other law enforcement leaders to flout procedure and share sensitive materials about the open case with Congress. As president, Mr. Trump has ultimate authority over information that passes through the government, but his interventions were unusual.
By the spring of 2018, Mr. Nunes zeroed in on new targets. In one case, he threatened to hold Mr. Rosenstein in contempt of Congress or even try to impeach him if the documents he wanted were not turned over, including the file used to open the Russia case. In another, he pressed the Justice Department for sensitive information about a trusted F.B.I. informant used in the Russia investigation, a Cambridge professor named Stefan Halper — even as intelligence officials said that the release of the information could damage relationships with important allies.
The president chimed in, accusing the F.B.I., without evidence, of planting a spy in his campaign. “SPYGATE could be one of the biggest political scandals in history!” Mr. Trump wrote, turning the term into a popular hashtag.
Most Senate Republicans tried to ignore the House tactics, and not all House Republicans who participated in the investigations agreed with the scorched-earth approach. Representative Trey Gowdy, Republican of South Carolina and a former federal prosecutor who had led Republicans in the Benghazi investigation, felt that figures like Mr. Gaetz and, in some cases, Mr. Nunes, were hurting their own cause with a sloppy, overhyped campaign that damaged Congress’s credibility.
Former Representative Thomas J. Rooney of Florida, a Republican who sat on the Intelligence Committee and retired last year, was similarly critical. “The efforts to tag Mueller as a witch hunt are a mistake,” he said in an interview. “The guy is an American hero. He is somebody who has always spouted the rule of law in what our country is about.”
But Mr. Gaetz makes no apologies.
“Do I think it’s right that our work in the Congress has aided in the president’s defense?” he asked, before answering his own question.
“Yeah, I think it is right.”
Ultimately, his strategy was successful in softening the ground for a shift in the president’s legal strategy — away from relatively quiet cooperation with Mr. Mueller’s investigators and toward a targeted and relentless frontal attack on their credibility and impartiality.
Mr. Trump hired Rudolph W. Giuliani as his personal lawyer last year.
Last April, Mr. Trump hired Rudolph W. Giuliani, his longtime friend and a famously combative former mayor of New York, as his personal lawyer and ubiquitous television attack dog. A new war had begun.
In jettisoning his previous legal team — which had counseled that Mr. Trump should cooperate with the investigation — the president decided to combine a legal strategy with a public relations campaign in an aggressive effort to undermine the credibility of both Mr. Mueller and the Justice Department.
Mr. Mueller was unlikely to indict Mr. Trump, the president’s advisers believed, so the real danger to his presidency was impeachment — a political act that Congress would probably carry out only with broad public support. If Mr. Mueller’s investigation could be discredited, then impeachment might be less likely.
Months of caustic presidential tweets and fiery television interviews by Mr. Giuliani unfolded. The former mayor accused Mr. Mueller, without evidence, of bias and ignoring facts to carry out an anti-Trump agenda. He called one of Mr. Mueller’s top prosecutors, Andrew Weissmann, a “complete scoundrel.”
Behind the scenes, Mr. Giuliani was getting help from a curious source: Kevin Downing, a lawyer for Mr. Manafort. Mr. Manafort, who had been Mr. Trump’s 2016 campaign chairman, had agreed to cooperate with the special counsel after being convicted of financial crimes in an attempt to lessen a potentially lengthy prison sentence. Mr. Downing shared details about prosecutors’ lines of questioning, Mr. Giuliani admitted late last year.
It was a highly unusual arrangement — the lawyer for a cooperating witness providing valuable information to the president’s lawyer at a time when his client remained in the sights of the special counsel’s prosecutors. The arrangement angered Mr. Mueller’s investigators, who questioned what Mr. Manafort was trying to gain from the arrangement.
The attacks on the Mueller investigation appeared to have an effect. Last summer, polling showed a 14-point uptick in the percentage of Americans polled who disapproved of how Mr. Mueller was handling the inquiry. “Mueller is now slightly more distrusted than trusted, and Trump is a little ahead of the game,” Mr. Giuliani said during an interview in August.
“So I think we’ve done really well,” Mr. Giuliani added. “And my client’s happy.”
Michael D. Cohen, the president’s former personal lawyer, told a judge that Mr. Trump had ordered him to arrange the payments to two women who said they had sex with Mr. Trump.
But Mr. Giuliani and his client had a serious problem, which they were slow to comprehend.
In April, the F.B.I. raided the Manhattan office and residences of Mr. Cohen — the president’s lawyer and fixer — walking off with business records, emails and other documents dating back years. At first, Mr. Trump was not concerned.
The president told advisers that Mr. Rosenstein assured him at the time that the Cohen investigation had nothing to do with him. In the president’s recounting, Mr. Rosenstein told him that the inquiry in New York was about Mr. Cohen’s business dealings, that it did not involve the president and that it was not about Russia. Since then, Mr. Trump has asked his advisers if Mr. Rosenstein was deliberately misleading him to keep him calm.
Mr. Giuliani initially portrayed Mr. Cohen as “honest,” and the president praised him publicly. But Mr. Cohen soon told prosecutors in New York how Mr. Trump had ordered him during the 2016 campaign to buy the silence of women who claimed they had sex with Mr. Trump. In a separate bid for leniency, Mr. Cohen told Mr. Mueller’s prosecutors about Mr. Trump’s participation in negotiations during the height of the presidential campaign to build a Trump Tower in Moscow.
Mr. Trump was now battling twin investigations that seemed to be moving ever close to him. And Mr. Cohen, once the president’s fiercest defender, was becoming his chief tormentor.
In a court appearance in August, Mr. Cohen pleaded guilty and told a judge that Mr. Trump had ordered him to arrange the payments to the women, Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal. Mr. Cohen’s descriptions of Mr. Trump’s actions made the president, in effect, an unindicted co-conspirator and raised the prospect of the president being charged after he leaves office. Representative Jerrold Nadler, Democrat of New York, who in January became the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, which has jurisdiction over the matter, said the implied offense was probably impeachable.
The president struck back, launching a volley of tweets that savaged Mr. Cohen and his family — insinuating that Mr. Cohen’s father-in-law had engaged in unexamined criminal activity. He called Mr. Cohen a “rat.” The messages infuriated Democratic lawmakers, who claimed the president was trying to threaten and intimidate a witness before testimony Mr. Cohen planned before Congress.
“He’s only been threatened by the truth,” the president responded.
Another attorney general takes office
As the prosecutors closed in, Mr. Trump felt a more urgent need to gain control of the investigation.
He made the call to Mr. Whitaker to see if he could put Mr. Berman in charge of the New York investigation. The inquiry is run by Robert Khuzami, a career prosecutor who took over after Mr. Berman, whom Mr. Trump appointed, recused himself because of a routine conflict of interest.
What exactly Mr. Whitaker did after the call is unclear, but there is no evidence that he took any direct steps to intervene in the Manhattan investigation. He did, however, tell some associates at the Justice Department that the prosecutors in New York required “adult supervision.”
William P. Barr was sworn in as attorney general on Thursday. Many officials at the Justice Department hope he will try to change the Trump administration’s combative tone toward the department, as well as toward the F.B.I.
Photo by: Sarah Silbiger/The New York Times
Second, Mr. Trump moved on to a new attorney general, William P. Barr, whom Mr. Trump nominated for the job in part because of a memo Mr. Barr wrote last summer making a case that a sitting American president cannot be charged with obstruction of justice for acts well within his power — like firing an F.B.I. director.
A president cannot be found to have broken the law, Mr. Barr argued, if he was exercising his executive powers to fire subordinates or use his “complete authority to start or stop a law enforcement proceeding.”
The memo might have ingratiated Mr. Barr to his future boss, but Mr. Barr is also respected among the rank and file in the Justice Department. Many officials there hope he will try to change the Trump administration’s combative tone toward the department, as well as toward the F.B.I.
Whether it is too late is another question. Mr. Trump’s language, and allegations of “deep state” excesses, are now embedded in the political conversation, used as a cudgel by the president’s supporters.
This past December, days before Mr. Flynn was to be sentenced for lying to the F.B.I., his lawyers wrote a memo to the judge suggesting that federal agents had tricked the former national security adviser into lying. The judge roundly rejected that argument, and on sentencing day, he excoriated Mr. Flynn for his crimes.
The argument about F.B.I. trickery did, however, appear to please the one man who holds great power over Mr. Flynn’s future — the constitutional power to pardon.
“Good luck today in court to General Michael Flynn,” Mr. Trump tweeted cheerily on the morning of the sentencing."
Sunday, February 17, 2019
People Power Action Event | PeoplePower.org LOCATION: Outside Federal Immigration Court 180 Ted Turner Dr SW Atlanta, GA 30303 DATE AND TIME: Monday, February 18, noon
LOCATION: Outside Federal Immigration Court 180 Ted Turner Dr SW Atlanta, GA 30303 DATE AND TIME: Monday, February 18, noon HOST: Stephanie Ali ATTENDEE COUNT: 11 attendees EVENT CATEGORIES: Other SIGN UP Email address* First name* Last name* ZIP Code* Mobile phone* SIGN UP FOR EVENT By submitting this form, you are agreeing to receive periodic updates from People Power and other ACLU channels.
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ACLU of Georgia is joining Georgia Alliance for Social Justice and a coalition of concerned organizations for a rally protest the unjust and likely illegal emergency declaration. This is being done as a part of a nationwide collaboration. ACLU of Georgia's Legal Director, Sean Young, will be speaking.
We will protest the immigration policies and the entire concept of the alleged need for a wall. We presently have over a dozen partners for this action that will center on the voices of our immigrant communities.
Saturday, February 16, 2019
Democratic party elites silence Ilhan Omar at their peril | Trita Parsi and Stephen Wertheim | Opinion | The Guardian
"This week Democrats plunged into two controversies that portend danger for the party as the 2020 election season begins. Both centered on freshman representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, who, not coincidentally, came to America as a Somali refugee and is now one of the two first Muslim women in Congress. Absent an open debate about the party’s values on foreign policy, Democrats are hurtling toward an election more divisive than the one in 2016.
First, on Monday, Omar criticized the influence of pro-Israel lobbyists on Capitol Hill, tweeting that Congress’s stance was “all about the Benjamins”. She was swiftly rebuked by the party leadership in tandem with Republicans, prompting her to apologize. Then, less than 48 hours later, Omar grilled America’s new envoy to Venezuela, Elliott Abrams, over his well-documented materialsupport for multiple Central American governments that committed mass killings and genocide in the 1980s. She also questioned his credibility, noting that Abrams had pleaded guilty to withholding information from Congress as part of his participation in the Iran-Contra scandal.
How did Democratic elites respond? Several pounced again – to defend the Trump administration’s backer of death squads against Omar’s pointed questioning. Kelly Magsamen, a senior official at the Center for American Progress, defended Abrams on Twitter as a “fierce advocate for human rights and democracy”. Likewise, Nicholas Burns, a 27-year diplomat who most recently advised former secretary of state John Kerry, praised Abrams as a “devoted public servant”. “It’s time to build bridges in America,” Burns wrote, “and not tear people down.”
If Democratic leaders were incredulous at Omar’s statements, rank-and-file Democrats were just as incredulous at their party leaders. Why, many asked, is it routine to criticize the influence of NRA money but almost forbidden to question the influence of Aipac money? On top of that, how could Trump’s neocon criminal be lauded as some sort of ally while Omar was treated as a pariah? A Twitter torrent caused Magsamen to delete her tweet and apologize.
Personalities aside, however, the episode is charged with significance for the Democratic party as a whole. Omar is not going away. She represents the party’s younger generation, a more diverse and progressive cohort that came of age in the war on terror. In the election of 2016, such voters balked at Hillary Clinton’s hawkish record and her courting of Never Trump neoconservatives. Now the divide is only wider and more entrenched. Democrats need to have a real conversation, immediately, about the party’s values and goals in foreign policy. Squelch it now and watch it resurge in 2020, with Trump the beneficiary.
“We share goals,” Magsamen wrote of Abrams. Do we? The outrage over her claim proved its falsity. What goals Democrats wish to promote in the world is now an open question, not settled dictum that thinktankers can impose from Washington. The Democratic base is no longer deferential, especially not when it is told that it has some obvious affinity with the man who covered up one of the bloodiest massacres in Latin American history, and went on to push the Iraq war inside the George W Bush administration.
Just what are the goals, and values, of those who have implemented decades of fruitless forever war and then close ranks when their worst members are asked accurate and relevant questions? The American people are wondering. The manifestations are everywhere, among young people in particular. Start with the sacred cow of American exceptionalism: millennials are the first age group to split evenly on whether the US is the world’s greatest country or no greater than others. They are increasingly ready to reckon with America’s past actions and confront hard choices going forward.
Young Democrats are not likely to agree that one violent misdeed after another is somehow acceptable as long as it is performed by the US or in the name of democracy or humanitarianism. Those were the rationales, now revived in defense of Abrams, that produced impunity for the Iraq war, a disastrous war of aggression. Ordinary citizens consistently display more skepticism of military intervention than do foreign policy elites. They are pushing their representatives to express the goal of peace. The election of Omar herself reflects this sentiment. And as a result of grassroots mobilization, the House this week, driven by progressives like Representative Ro Khanna, passed historic legislation to end US support for the Saudi war in Yemen.
The shift in the Democratic base is not limited to one episode. Democrats increasingly favor cutting the defense budget and imposing restraint on America’s military power. While elites assume that the US must maintain global military superiority as a matter of course, less than half of millennials deem it to be a very important goal. That is the lowest support on record, continuing a steady erosion since the second world war. Will political leaders engage the rising generation’s doubts, or will they insist that armed domination is a self-evident virtue for a country that is hurting at home and often spreads violence abroad?
On the Israel-Palestine conflict, it was Omar, more than her party elders, who represented the values of Democratic voters when she criticized the influence of money in politics and applied the point to America’s virtually unconditional support for Israel. The overwhelming majority of Democrats, about 82%, now say the US should lean toward neither Israel nor Palestinians. Even more dramatically, 56% of Democrats favor imposing sanctions or harsher measures against Israel if its settlements keep expanding. The mounting disaffection with Israel comes as the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, scorned Barack Obama and embraces Trump and other authoritarians. Yet Democratic leaders leapt to denounce Omar, giving her no benefit of the doubt for a poorly worded tweet. Critics must take care not to play into anti-Semitic tropes, but concern about lobbyist influence is legitimate and poised to intensify.
Democratic voters seek genuine alternatives, not the continuation of a one-party DC elite that assumes its right to rule and rules badly to boot. But the Democratic establishment is moving in the opposite direction. It has chosen to “build bridges,” all right – with the neoconservatives most directly responsible for calamitous policies and most diametrically opposed to the base. This decision has now culminated in the defense of criminals like Abrams who embody both the worst of American foreign policy and the impunity of those who make it.
More important is the bridge that is not being built. Years after neocons have been exposed to lack a popular constituency, actual voters in the party are being shut out and talked down to, as exemplified in the badgering of Omar. What are the progressives who put Omar, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and dozens of others into office to conclude about party leaders who would rather spurn them to make common cause with architects of the war on terror? Why are some in the party prioritizing bridge-building to washed-up neocons (in the Trump administration, no less) and not to new, mobilized voters?
The party’s divide is not insurmountable. Open dialogue can go a long way toward establishing the mutual respect that a party needs to maintain basic unity despite internal disagreements. The new generation of Democrats is, after all, the future of the party. But 2020 is fast approaching, and the bridge that needs building just got longer.
Trita Parsi is the author of Losing an Enemy: Obama, Iran and the Triumph of Diplomacy. Stephen Wertheim is a visiting assistant professor of history at Columbia University"
Friday, February 15, 2019
Thursday, February 14, 2019
"No, I wasn’t surprised last week, as most people apparently were, when Chief Justice John Roberts cast the deciding fifth vote to preserve access to abortion in Louisiana for at least a little while longer. In fact, I had predicted it (and I have witnesses).
Why? Not because I think the chief justice has developed a soft spot in his heart for the right to abortion. He has not. Not because he wants to minimize the Supreme Court’s role as a combatant in the culture wars. I think he does, but that’s not the point.
Rather, circumstances compelled the chief justice to stand up to a stunning act of judicial defiance.
The phrase summons the image of Gov. George Wallace standing in the schoolhouse door. What Chief Justice Roberts had on his hands was something less tangible but equally threatening to the rule of law: not defiance of judges but defiance by judges.
The voluminous commentary on what happened at the court last week has for the most part not fully conveyed the blatant nature of the lower court’s decision, on which the Supreme Court put a temporary hold to afford the plaintiffs — an abortion clinic and its doctors — the chance to file a formal appeal.
The court is the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, based in New Orleans and covering Texas and Mississippi along with Louisiana. Not surprisingly given its territory, it has been the location of numerous legal battles over abortion. The Trump administration has been spectacularly successful in filling seats on the Fifth Circuit. Five of the 16 active judges are Trump appointees. That places the Fifth Circuit at the leading edge of the coming wave of Trump judges (sorry, Chief Justice Roberts, I’m afraid that’s what they are), so it’s important to understand what is going on there.
The Louisiana law at issue, June Medical Services v. Gee, was enacted in 2014 as the Unsafe Abortion Protection Act. It requires doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the location where they practice.
If this sounds familiar, it’s because it is. Texas had passed the same law, part of the legislative arsenal amassed by a leading anti-abortion organization, Americans United for Life. These laws are enacted with the knowledge that doctors who perform abortions can almost never get admitting privileges, either because of objections to abortion by the hospital or the surrounding community or because so few abortion patients ever need hospitalization that the doctors can’t meet the minimum number of hospital admissions that some credentialing committees require. (It’s 50 per year in the case of one Louisiana hospital, while the doctors involved in the case went years without needing to hospitalize a single abortion patient.) The whole point of these laws is to destroy the abortion infrastructure — in the name of protecting women’s health.
The Texas law, upheld by the Fifth Circuit, succeeded in closing half the abortion clinics in the state before the Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, decided in June 2016 by a vote of 5 to 3. While the Louisiana law was being drafted, one anti-abortion leader in the state observed in an email to the bill’s sponsor that the Texas law was having “tremendous success in closing abortion clinics and restricting abortion access.” In signing the bill into law, Gov. Bobby Jindal declared it part of the effort “to make Louisiana the most pro-life state in the nation.”
Justice Stephen Breyer’s majority opinion in Whole Woman’s Health was a pointed rebuke to the Fifth Circuit for failing to subject the Texas law to adequate scrutiny. The appeals court had simply deferred to the Legislature’s claimed objective of protecting women’s health and had in fact barred any consideration of whether the law would actually do so. In fact, Justice Breyer wrote, the law conveyed minimal if any health benefit and would actually harm women by forcing longer waits and more crowded conditions in the remaining clinics that could meet the needless admitting privileges requirement.
Judge John W. deGravelles of Federal District Court in Baton Rouge applied the reasoning of Whole Woman’s Health in issuing a permanent injunction against Louisiana’s identical law. His ruling followed a six-day trial at which he took testimony on the sustained but fruitless efforts by the doctors to get admitting privileges; evidence on this point takes up 14 of the 63 pages of his opinion, issued in April 2017. Observing that it “provides no benefits to women and is an inapt remedy for a problem that does not exist,” Judge deGravelles concluded that this law, like the Texas law, placed an undue burden on women’s access to abortion.
The Fifth Circuit’s 2-to-1 decision overturning that ruling is a breathtaking piece of work. “We are of course bound by Whole Woman’s Health’s holdings, announced in a case with a substantially similar statute but greatly dissimilar facts and geography,” Judge Jerry Smith wrote for himself and Judge Edith Clement. What can that sentence — indeed, that premise — possibly mean? That Whole Woman’s Health concerned Texas while this case was about Louisiana? That’s like saying that the Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, recognizing a constitutional right to same-sex marriage, applied only to male couples and not to lesbians because it was a male couple who brought the case. (It’s worth noting that in the immediate aftermath of Whole Woman’s Health, the Alabama attorney general dropped the state’s appeal of its admitting privileges law, which had been struck down in Federal District Court. “While I disagree with the high court’s decision, there is no good faith argument that Alabama’s law remains constitutional in light of the Supreme Court ruling,” was the state’s lawyer’s honest appraisal of the situation.)
The Fifth Circuit’s contorted explanation for why the Supreme Court’s “close fact-bound balancing analysis” in Whole Woman’s Health wasn’t relevant to Louisiana succeeded only in showing that Louisiana women would in fact be worse off than the women in Texas, where most major cities still have at least one abortion clinic (many Texas clinics did not reopen after the Supreme Court’s ruling). The two judges who formed the Fifth Circuit majority also tried to show that the doctors could have obtained admitting privileges if only they had tried harder, a conclusion flatly refuted by the findings at trial but embraced by Justice Brett Kavanaugh in his opinion last week, dissenting from the Supreme Court’s vote to grant a stay of the Fifth Circuit’s decision. Justice Kavanaugh said the doctors should keep trying.
The dissenter on the Fifth Circuit panel, Judge Patrick Higginbotham, dissected the majority’s opinion and said the appeals court was repeating the very mistakes for which the Supreme Court had called it out in the Texas case. When the full Fifth Circuit took up the question of whether to rehear the case as a full court, six judges said yes and nine said no. Four of the nine were recent Trump appointees (the fifth Trump appointee on the court, Kyle Duncan, was recused). The law was scheduled to take effect last week. It will remain on hold for some months, as least, as the plaintiffs, represented by the Center for Reproductive Rights, file their formal Supreme Court appeal and the state gets the chance to respond.
While it takes the votes of five justices, a majority of the court, to grant a stay, as it did in this instance, adding a case to the court’s docket for a decision on the merits requires only four votes. It’s highly likely the court will grant review; if it doesn’t, the stay dissolves automatically and the law takes effect.
How will the Supreme Court decide the case?Despite my boast at the start of this column, I don’t claim omniscience about what comes next. The chief justice voted to grant the stay, in my estimation, because to have silently let the Louisiana law take effect without Supreme Court intervention would have been to reward the defiance that I’ve described here. When it comes to a full review on the merits, it’s a different game.
Chief Justice Roberts was in dissent in Whole Woman’s Health, along with Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas (Justice Antonin Scalia having died four months before). The deciding vote in the majority was cast by Justice Anthony Kennedy. Justice Kennedy’s successor, Justice Kavanaugh, chose sides last week. He might have provided some cover for the chief justice, but chose not to. We now know all we need to know about him.
We still don’t know all we would like to know about John Roberts, who remains an ambiguous figure after more than 13 years at the head of the American judicial system. With the lower courts moving rapidly even to his right, and the Trump administration beating at the Supreme Court’s door in one high-profile case after another, Chief Justice Roberts is entering a time of great testing, both of himself and of the institution he heads. Maybe his vote last week was a harbinger. Maybe it will come to be seen as an anomaly. In the space between those two possibilities, the country waits, holding its breath."
Wednesday, February 13, 2019
"The act of taking unauthorized, sexually intrusive photographs under someone’s clothing, known as upskirting, was officially criminalized Tuesday in England and Wales.
Upskirting Is Now Criminalized in the United Kingdom | Time