Democracy Has Prevailed.

February 21, 2020

Trump And The House Intelligence Committee

Recently, this hit the fan:
Intelligence officials warned House lawmakers last week that Russia was interfering in the 2020 campaign to try to get President Trump re-elected, five people familiar with the matter said, a disclosure to Congress that angered Mr. Trump, who complained that Democrats would use it against him.

The day after the Feb. 13 briefing to lawmakers, the president berated Joseph Maguire, the outgoing acting director of national intelligence, for allowing it to take place, people familiar with the exchange said. Mr. Trump was particularly irritated that Representative Adam B. Schiff, Democrat of California and the leader of the impeachment proceedings, was at the briefing.
Also, this:
After learning of that analysis, which was provided to House lawmakers in a classified hearing, Trump grew angry at his acting director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire, in the Oval Office, seeing Maguire and his staff as disloyal for speaking to Congress about Russia’s perceived preference. The intelligence official’s analysis and Trump’s furious response ­ruined Maguire’s chances of becoming the permanent intelligence chief, according to people familiar with the matter who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive matter.
Trump was angry at Maguire for "speaking to Congress" and for "allowing [the briefing] to take place.

Too bad he doesn't have a say in the matter. This was a briefing with the House Intelligence Committee (not the whole Congress) and the law clearly states that:
The President shall ensure that the congressional intelligence committees are kept fully and currently informed of the intelligence activities of the United States, including any significant anticipated intelligence activity as required by this title. [Sec. 501 (a)(1) of the National Security Act of 1947]
Nothing in this Act shall be construed as authority to withhold information from the congressional intelligence committees on the grounds that providing the information to the congressional intelligence committees would constitute the unauthorized disclosure of classified information or information relating to intelligence sources and methods. [Sec. 501 (2)(e) of the National Security Act of 1947]
He doesn't get to stop the Intelligence Community from briefing either congressional Intelligence Committee.

But the day is still young.

February 18, 2020

Character Test For AG Barr

A few days ago this happened:
More than 1,100 former prosecutors and Justice Department officials signed an open letter to Attorney General William P. Barr slamming him for flouting the long-standing principle that the White House (and its henchmen) should not intervene in specific criminal cases, as appeared to be the case in the Justice Department’s flip-flop on its sentencing recommendation for convicted presidential crony Roger Stone.
 From the statement we read:
All DOJ lawyers are well-versed in these rules, regulations, and constitutional commands. They stand for the proposition that political interference in the conduct of a criminal prosecution is anathema to the Department’s core mission and to its sacred obligation to ensure equal justice under the law.

And yet, President Trump and Attorney General Barr have openly and repeatedly flouted this fundamental principle, most recently in connection with the sentencing of President Trump’s close associate, Roger Stone, who was convicted of serious crimes. The Department has a long-standing practice in which political appointees set broad policies that line prosecutors apply to individual cases. That practice exists to animate the constitutional principles regarding the even-handed application of the law. Although there are times when political leadership appropriately weighs in on individual prosecutions, it is unheard of for the Department’s top leaders to overrule line prosecutors, who are following established policies, in order to give preferential treatment to a close associate of the President, as Attorney General Barr did in the Stone case. It is even more outrageous for the Attorney General to intervene as he did here — after the President publicly condemned the sentencing recommendation that line prosecutors had already filed in court.

Such behavior is a grave threat to the fair administration of justice. In this nation, we are all equal before the law. A person should not be given special treatment in a criminal prosecution because they are a close political ally of the President. Governments that use the enormous power of law enforcement to punish their enemies and reward their allies are not constitutional republics; they are autocracies.
As of this writing, more than 2,000 DOJ alumni have signed the statement.

And then, more recently, this happened:
A national association of federal judges has called an emergency meeting Tuesday to address growing concerns about the intervention of Justice Department officials and President Donald Trump in politically sensitive cases, the group’s president said Monday.

Philadelphia U.S. District Judge Cynthia Rufe, who heads the independent Federal Judges Association, said the group “could not wait” until its spring conference to weigh in on a deepening crisis that has enveloped the Justice Department and Attorney General William Barr.
Judge Rufe is a George W Bush appointee, by the way.

Oh, and, according to the article, 1,000 federal judges called for the emergency meeting.

Then there's this from Donald Ayer (United States Attorney and Principal Deputy Solicitor General in the Reagan administration and Deputy Attorney General under George H.W. Bush):
Bill Barr’s America is not a place that anyone, including Trump voters, should want to go. It is a banana republic where all are subject to the whims of a dictatorial president and his henchmen. To prevent that, we need a public uprising demanding that Bill Barr resign immediately, or failing that, be impeached.

February 17, 2020

Meanwhile, Outside (Climate Change, 60 Minutes, And Australian Arson)

According to the science at NOAA:
The global land and ocean surface temperature for January 2020 was the highest in the 141-year record, with a temperature departure from average of 1.14°C (2.05°F) above the 20th century average. This value was only 0.02°C (0.04°F) higher than the now second highest January temperature departure from average set in 2016. The four warmest Januaries on record have occurred since 2016, while the 10 warmest Januaries have occurred since 2002.
And here's a chart for those who wish to see one:

See that last column on the far right? That's where we are right now.

Last night, on 60 Minutes, there was a segment on the wildfires now burning in Australia.

Which, of course, triggered the denialists on twitter with tales of Australian arsonists.

Like this one:
Except, of course, it's the "arson is the cause" that's the false narrative here.
The fact is, hot, dry conditions allow for bushfires to escalate, regardless of how they are started. As we explained in 2017, in a story about wildfires in the western U.S., climate change doesn’t cause these fires, but it can exacerbate the hot and dry conditions that make wildfires more likely to develop and grow.
That first link leads to this article by the Australian Academy of Science and these few sentences:
An increase in warmer and drier weather means a higher number of days of high or extreme fire risk. Indeed, we’ve already seen an increase in high and extreme risk days in Australia over the past four decades. Along with more days of higher risk, climate change will also bring an extension of the fire season.
The AP:

A: Scientists, both those who study fire and those who study climate, say there’s no doubt man-made global warming has been a big part, but not the only part, of the fires.

Last year in Australia was the hottest and driest on record, with the average annual temperature 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit (1.5 degrees Celsius) above the 1960 to 1990 average, according to Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology. Temperatures in Australia last month hit 121.8 F (49.9 C).

“What would have been a bad fire season was made worse by the background drying/warming trend,’’ Andrew Watkins, head of long-range forecasts at Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology, said in an email.

Mike Flannigan, a fire scientist at the University of Alberta in Canada, said Australia’s fires are “an example of climate change.”

A 2019 Australian government brief report on wildfires and climate change said, “Human-caused climate change has resulted in more dangerous weather conditions for bushfires in recent decades for many regions of Australia.”
And so on.

February 6, 2020

Senatorial Courage (Mitt Romney) - And Senatorial Cowardice (Pat Toomey)

The only senator ever to vote to remove from office an impeached president who was a member of his own party said this on the floor of the senate yesterday:
The grave question the Constitution tasks senators to answer is whether the President committed an act so extreme and egregious that it rises to the level of a “high crime and misdemeanor.”

Yes, he did.

The President asked a foreign government to investigate his political rival.

The President withheld vital military funds from that government to press it to do so.

The President delayed funds for an American ally at war with Russian invaders.

The President’s purpose was personal and political.

Accordingly, the President is guilty of an appalling abuse of the public trust.

What he did was not “perfect”— No, it was a flagrant assault on our electoral rights, our national security interests, and our fundamental values. Corrupting an election to keep oneself in office is perhaps the most abusive and destructive violation of one’s oath of office that I can imagine.
Were I to ignore the evidence that has been presented, and disregard what I believe my oath and the Constitution demands of me for the sake of a partisan end, it would, I fear, expose my character to history’s rebuke and the censure of my own conscience.
And finally:
I will tell my children and their children that I did my duty to the best of my ability, believing that my country expected it of me. I will only be one name among many, no more or less, to future generations of Americans who look at the record of this trial. They will note merely that I was among the senators who determined that what the President did was wrong, grievously wrong.
And then he voted to remove Donald Trump from office.

Senator Mitt Romney, Republican from Utah, voted country over party. He voted loyalty to the truth rather than loyalty to Trump. Conscience over party.

Then there's Senator Pat Toomey, Republican from Pennsylvania. To defend his decision to acquit, he released a statement that read:
Today, I joined a majority of senators in voting to acquit President Trump. The Constitution sets a very high bar for impeachment and removal of a sitting president. While some of President Trump's actions were inappropriate, they did not come close to meeting the very high bar required to justify overturning the last election, removing him from office, and kicking him off the ballot in an election that has already begun. In November, the American people will decide for themselves whether President Trump should stay in office. In our democratic system, that's the way it should be.
Toomey gets something wrong at the end. He's implying that the process of impeachment and removal is somehow outside of "our democratic system" and that's exactly wrong. As it's written into the Constitution, it's a central part of the system (as a final legislative check on an out-of-control executive), and not an aberration of it.

To Toomey what Trump did was bad, just not bad enough for removal.

In his Philadelphia Inquirer Op-Ed, published before his vote to cover-up, Toomey wrote:
House Democrats' impeachment articles allege that President Trump briefly paused aid, and withheld a White House meeting with Ukraine's president, to pressure Ukraine into investigating two publicly-reported corruption matters. The first matter was possible Ukrainian interference in our 2016 election. [Links in original.]
That second link is very interesting as it links to the White House 171-page memo released in response to The House's impeachment. In it, we find this curious justification for dismissal:
III.Article I Fails Because House Democrats Have No Evidence to Support Their Claims.

A.The Evidence Shows That the President Did Not Condition Security Assistance or a Presidential Meeting on Announcements of Any Investigations.

House Democrats have falsely charged that the President supposedly conditioned military aid or a presidential meeting on Ukraine’s announcing a specific investigation. Yet despite running an entirely ex parte, one-sided process to gather evidence, House Democrats do not have a single witness who claims, based on direct knowledge, that the President ever actually imposed such a condition.
We now know that there was a witness "who claims, based on direct knowledge, that the President" actually did impose such a condition - former National Security Advisor John Bolton.

Bolton, however, was never heard by the Senate because Senate republicans (including Pat Toomey) voted against hearing any witnesses - thus giving more cover from Trump's grievously wrong actions.

His explanation is dizzingly circular:
Even if House Democrats' presumptions about President Trump's motives are true, additional witnesses in the Senate, beyond the 17 who testified in the House, are unnecessary because the president's actions do not rise to the level of removing him from office.
Since they already knew Trump's actions didn't rise to the level of removal, hearing any witness that could show otherwise was simply unnecessary. The fix is in. The republic suffers.

Two Senators, both republicans. One acted courageously and the other one was Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey.

February 3, 2020

Thought For The Day

From Joe Conason over at The National Memo:
Americans ought to thank Alan Dershowitz for his scintillating defense of President Donald Trump. Carried away on a crescendo of bluster, the retired Harvard law professor broadcast the true meaning of the acquittal preordained by crooked Senate Republicans: This president is exempt from any legal consequences, even if he seeks foreign assistance to rig his own election.
Of course, the minute there is a president from the Democratic Party sitting in the Oval Office the GOP's tune will, no doubt, change completely.

They will, no doubt, immediately evangelize to the nation on the wisdom of the constitutionally authorized checks and balances, the constitutionally authorized limits on presidential power and the constitutionally authorized co-equal branches of government.

At that point challenging them on their actions these past few weeks will only trigger blank stares and deflections to something else - anything else - in order to avoid any discussion of their own betrayals of the same Constitution they will be claiming to defend.