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  1. #4051

    Re: A Chronicle of our Descent to Hades

    The Justice Department’s Disgraceful Effort to Shield Trump From House Subpoenas
    Attorney General William Barr has fully embraced his role as the president’s personal attorney.

    On Tuesday, the Department of Justice filed a disgraceful amicus brief urging a federal appeals court to block the House of Representatives’ subpoena of the president’s financial records. There is no clear purpose for the brief other than a blatantly partisan effort to shield Trump from congressional oversight. It is a startling departure from the DOJ’s traditional independence and another sign that Attorney General William Barr views his job as running interference for the president.

    Donald Trump’s lawyers—his personal attorneys, not the DOJ—have been fighting this subpoena since the House Oversight Committee issued it in April. The committee sought eight years of financial records from Mazars USA, which provided accounting services to Trump. Congress has broad constitutional authority to investigate the president, and the Supreme Court has held that the judiciary must honor any subpoena with a “legitimate legislative purpose.” Trump’s lawyers argue that the committee’s subpoena lacks such a purpose, and was merely intended to “harass” the president. In its amicus brief, the Justice Department parrots this argument, framing the House’s subpoena as an effort to torment Trump by inspecting his finances for political gain.

    U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta rejected that argument in May. Mehta noted that the committee chairman, Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, had provided a memorandum detailing a number of legitimate reasons for the subpoena. Cummings wrote that the committee sought to learn whether Trump “accurately reported his finances to the Office of Government Ethics” so it could determine “whether reforms are necessary to address deficiencies with current laws.” The committee also wished to discover whether Trump “has undisclosed conflicts of interest that may impair his ability to make impartial policy decisions.”

    The House has already passed an ethics bill, H.R. 1, this year with provisions aimed directly at the executive. Lawmakers plainly have a “legitimate legislative purpose,” Mehta wrote, in probing the president’s ethics to decide whether these reforms are necessary and sufficient. Moreover, the committee wished to know “whether the President may have engaged in illegal conduct before and during his tenure in office.” It “is simply not fathomable,” Mehta wrote, “that a Constitution that grants Congress the power to remove a President for reasons including criminal behavior would deny Congress the power to investigate him for unlawful conduct—past or present—even without formally opening an impeachment inquiry.”

    Finally, the committee sought to learn whether Trump had complied with the Constitution’s foreign emoluments clause, which bars the president from accepting any gift from a foreign government without Congress’ consent. “Surely,” Mehta wrote, “incident to Congress’s authority to consent to the President’s receipt of Emoluments is the power to investigate the President’s compliance with the Clause.”

    Trump’s lawyers promptly appealed Mehta’s decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. A panel of judges for the D.C. Circuit is currently mulling whether Mehta got it right.

    The Justice Department had no reason to step in; Trump is amply represented by his own attorneys, and this matter does not require the defense of some federal law. To the contrary, the DOJ typically sits out such interbranch disputes, and it has no obvious interest in siding with the president against Congress here.

    But the DOJ filed an amicus brief anyway—weeks after oral arguments at the D.C. Circuit—and it is flabbergasting. The Supreme Court has repeatedly held that courts may not search for some covert illicit motive among committee members; if the committee states a “legitimate legislative purpose,” the judiciary must respect it. The DOJ ignores this rule. It argues that the House’s actions raise “the specter that members of the Legislative Branch are impermissibly attempting to interfere with or harass the Head of the Executive Branch.” And it calls for a “searching evaluation” of committee members’ motives.

    The DOJ argues that Cummings’ memorandum justifying the subpoena is “insufficient” because it was “not ratified by the full House.” It cites no authority for this proposition because it is made-up; the Supreme Court has never held that a committee’s subpoena is invalid until ratified by the full chamber.
    But even if that were the law, the DOJ has a problem: The full House already ratified the Mazars subpoena. In response to this fact, the DOJ claims that the House’s vote doesn’t count because “it did so only as part of a general authorization for pending and future investigations.” There is no precedent to support the argument that the House must ratify a subpoena with some unknown level of specificity; it is a blatant exercise in moving the goalposts. The DOJ is attempting to throw new roadblocks in front of the committee on the basis of its own pseudo-constitutional beliefs.

    But that’s not even the strangest part of the brief. The DOJ insists that the House cannot investigate Trump pursuant to its impeachment authority. Why? Because it hasn’t asserted “jurisdiction over” impeachment. In other words, the House’s constitutional power of impeachment lies dormant until someone declares an intent to impeach. Who, exactly, holds this mystical authority? A committee chair? The speaker? A majority of lawmakers, shouting in unison? Who knows? The DOJ does not say when the impeachment power officially kicks in, because it has concocted this rule out of thin air. Maybe Mehta was on to something when he wrote that it “is simply not fathomable” that the Constitution could (silently) limit the impeachment power so arbitrarily.

    The DOJ brief fares no better in its dismissal of Congress’ authority over emoluments. Again, the Constitution explicitly bars the president from accepting gifts from foreign states without Congress’ consent. But the DOJ argues that this power does not justify the subpoena because there’s no proof the House “is investigating the President with a view toward consenting to any undisclosed emoluments.”

    That is a lie. Cummings’ memorandum expressly stated that the House sought “to assess whether [Trump] is complying with the Emoluments Clauses of the Constitution.” If that weren’t enough—and it is—Cummings is also investigating Trump International Hotel to determine whether it grants Trump unconstitutional emoluments. Recognizing, perhaps, that the courts cannot rigorously scrutinize a committee’s stated intentions, the DOJ has chosen to pretend the committee never stated those intentions in the first place.

    Most gallingly, the DOJ urges the court to reject the legitimacy of the House’s legislative purpose by preemptively declaring its legislation unconstitutional. The DOJ writes that H.R. 1 and similar proposals do not deserve any “presumption of legitimacy” because they are probably illegal. It claims that the Constitution bars Congress from forcing the president to divest from his conflicts of interest. Thus, the House cannot investigate Trump to help it craft ethics reforms, since those reforms are unconstitutional.

    This argument is astonishing.
    Federal courts are forbidden from issuing advisory opinions on the constitutionality of pending legislation. A bill cannot be challenged in federal court if it is just a bill; this is Schoolhouse Rock stuff. Yet the DOJ is essentially asking the judiciary to declare a provision of H.R. 1 unconstitutional before it becomes law. This vast expansion of judicial power would constitute an advisory opinion on steroids. The courts would be obligated to gauge the legality of bills under consideration in Congress every time they are asked to quash a congressional subpoena. That is not and cannot be the law.

    Ironically, the DOJ’s amicus brief winds up making the opposite argument it intends to. The Supreme Court curtails the judiciary’s ability to quash congressional subpoenas for a reason. Once courts start inspecting lawmakers’ motives, they become entangled in the legislative process. It is not the job of judges to decide whether the House really needed to issue a subpoena; once a committee stated a “legitimate legislative purpose,” the courts must butt out. Otherwise, judges will wind up curbing Congress’ constitutional powers and effectively killing legislation before it passes. The judiciary is ill-equipped to determine just how much information lawmakers require to govern effectively.

    Still, counterproductive as the DOJ’s brief may be, it reveals the full extent of the department’s distortion under Barr. The Justice Department represents the United States, not the president himself, and it has no business putting its thumb on the scale of Trump in his fight against Congress. Barr may see the office of the attorney general as an outpost of the White House. He may see himself as a loyal foot soldier for Trump in his squabble with Democrats. But the Justice Department was never intended to be a weapon for presidents to wield against their political opponents. Tuesday’s brief degrades the institution, eroding its legitimacy for purely partisan goals.
    There is more stupidity than hydrogen in the universe, and it has a longer shelf life.”

    ― Frank Zappa

  2. #4052

    Re: A Chronicle of our Descent to Hades

    Trump just nixed his Denmark trip. Does he fear Obama will humiliate him?

    By Greg Sargent
    Opinion writer
    August 21 at 9:25 AM

    President Trump has now canceled his planned trip to Denmark, claiming he’s doing so because Denmark’s prime minister has shot down his “proposal” to buy Greenland. But is that the real reason he has nixed the trip?

    Some observers have offered another possible explanation: Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, plans to visit Denmark at the end of September, and Trump feared the contrasting optics.

    “Trump was scared of the likely contrast,” opined David Frum. “Trump knows Obama is bigger than he is, around the world as well as in the United States. That knowledge tortures Trump.”

    Several things are immediately striking about this episode. First, it’s a measure of how low we’ve all sunk that, in trying to explain why the president of the United States is making a consequential decision involving an official state visit, we’re forced to choose between two competing rationales that have nothing whatsoever to do with international diplomatic considerations or our national interest.

    Notably, the official reason for the cancellation is nearly as saturated in narcissism and megalomania as the “less” flattering Obama-oriented explanation is: Trump is either angry that Denmark Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen is not taking his suggestion seriously, or he’s embarrassed by it — or both.

    Trump might argue that he views acquiring Greenland as being in our national interest, of course. Indeed, The Post reports that officials had discussed offering Denmark an arrangement in which the United States takes over its annual subsidies to Greenland, apparently because of wariness of Chinese and Russian expansion in the Arctic.

    But even if this is so, Denmark and Greenland have declared they’re not interested in Trump’s idea, and Trump’s decision to cancel the trip on this ostensible basis is not rooted in any discernible sense of how this might be in our national interest.

    Leading figures in Denmark are pointing out that Trump’s conduct will complicate relations and make coordination on all manner of issues — from climate change to the Mideast — more difficult. There’s zero indication that Trump gave any thought to such consequences.

    The idea that Trump would be driven — at least in part — by fear of a contrast with Obama’s reception is deeply twisted, of course, and I don’t claim to know whether this is the case. But this brings us to the second striking thing about this affair: That this might be partly what’s motivating Trump’s cancellation simply cannot be dismissed.

    It keeps getting worse

    Everything we’ve seen from Trump makes it inescapable: An unflattering contrast with an Obama visit unquestionably would be something Trump wants to avoid.

    After all, Trump regularly bases major policy decisions on a zeal to undo whatever Obama did — as if blotting out the Obama presidency is a measure of his own success — even as Trump and his propagandists regularly go to extraordinary lengths to create the cult-like illusion that he’s loved everywhere.

    This includes claiming that polls showing his deep unpopularity are media fabrications and regularly inflating and obsessing over crowd sizes. Trump’s hypersensitivity to how he’s received extends abroad, too: After his trip to London, Trump claimed that large protests there simply never happened.

    So it’s at least plausible that one of Trump’s considerations in canceling the Denmark trip was Obama’s planned visit. Which brings us to an interesting tension in Trump’s approach to all these matters.

    A weird tension in Trumpism

    On one hand, Trump sometimes wears it as a badge of honor that his recklessness and bluster elicit anger and disdain from foreign allies. Last year, after Trump had that now-notorious meltdown at the Group of Seven meeting in Quebec and lashed out at our allies, Trump’s minions proudly circulated a viral photo of our allied heads of state angrily berating Trump as he stubbornly crossed his arms in defiance.

    This was supposed to show Trump willingly absorbing Euro-weenie elite contempt as part of his war against the globalists on behalf of the U.S. worker. But in reality, the rationales for Trump’s attacks on allies were mostly lies and inventions about our trade realities, offered as a pretext for sowing disruption in our international arrangements, for unclear reasons.

    More than a year after that meltdown, the worldview driving it — and shaping the propagandistic story his allies told about it — are now threatening to tip us into a recession.

    As an aside, that affair points to another possible explanation for the canceled Denmark trip: Trump is merely trying to sow international chaos, again for unknown reasons.

    Regardless, at last year’s G-7, Trump spun our allies’ disdain into a fabricated tale of his “America First” fearlessness. Yet Trump may now have canceled his trip to visit another foreign ally in part because he fears embarrassment and mockery, possibly in comparison with Obama.

    If that happened, you’d think Trump would easily spin it into support for his grand narrative. After all, Obama is a leading member of the globalist elite (see Trump’s 2016 closing ad) that Trump has throttled so heroically. Of course leading Denmark figures would greet Obama as a rock star, while treating Trump with supercilious disdain! That would just prove Trump has been right all along — he’s their scourge!

    But it’s reasonable to believe Trump fears this outcome. Indeed, even if Obama has nothing to do with this decision, this tension is everywhere: Trump outwardly appears to welcome our allies’ contempt, while simultaneously being infuriated when it embarrasses him, particularly in contrast with treatment of Obama.

    In the end, whether Trump’s rationale for the nixed trip is fear of Obama, or rage at his Greenland fiasco, or a desire to sow international disruption, at the core of Trump’s decision-making, moral emptiness and megalomania and total lack of concern for the national interest are all that’s left.
    There is more stupidity than hydrogen in the universe, and it has a longer shelf life.”

    ― Frank Zappa

  3. #4053

    Re: A Chronicle of our Descent to Hades

    The Justice Department Sent Immigration Judges A White Nationalist Blog Post With Anti-Semitic Attacks
    “The post features links and content that directly attacks sitting immigration judges with racial and ethnically tinged slurs,” a union chief said in a letter.

    Hamed Aleaziz
    BuzzFeed News Reporter
    Last updated on August 22, 2019, at 5:00 p.m. ET

    Posted on August 22, 2019, at 4:16 p.m. ET

    An email sent from the Justice Department to all immigration court employees this week included a link to an article posted on a white nationalist website that “directly attacks sitting immigration judges with racial and ethnically tinged slurs,” according to a letter sent by an immigration judges union and obtained by BuzzFeed News.

    According to the National Association of Immigration Judges, the Justice Department’s Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) sent court employees a link to a blog post from VDare, a white nationalist website, in its morning news briefing earlier this week that included anti-Semitic attacks on judges.

    The briefings are sent to court employees every weekday and include links to various immigration news items. BuzzFeed News confirmed the link to a blog post was sent to immigration court employees Monday. The post detailed a recent move by the Justice Department to decertify the immigration judges union.

    A letter Thursday from union chief Ashley Tabaddor to James McHenry, the director of the Justice Department’s EOIR, said the link to the VDare post angered many judges.

    “The post features links and content that directly attacks sitting immigration judges with racial and ethnically tinged slurs and the label ‘Kritarch.’ The reference to Kritarch in a negative tone is deeply offensive and Anti-Semitic,” wrote Tabaddor. The VDare post includes pictures of judges with the term “kritarch” preceding their names.

    Tabaddor said the term kritarchy is a reference to ancient Israel during a time of rule by a system of judges.

    “VDare’s use of the term in a pejorative manner casts Jewish history in a negative light as an Anti-Semitic trope of Jews seeking power and control,” she wrote.

    Tabaddor called on McHenry to take immediate action over the distribution of white nationalist content.

    “Publication and dissemination of a white supremacist, anti-semitic website throughout the EOIR is antithetical to the goals and ideals of the Department of Justice,” she wrote. The court, Tabaddor wrote, should immediately withdraw the email and issue an apology to all immigration judges, including those mentioned in the post.

    “Separately, EOIR should take all appropriate safety and security measures for all judges given the tone and tenor of this posting,” she wrote.

    After publication of this article, a DOJ spokesperson told BuzzFeed News the email briefing was compiled by a contractor and should not have included a link to the VDare post.

    “The daily EOIR morning news briefings are compiled by a contractor and the blog post should not have been included," the spokesperson said.

    A former senior DOJ official said that the email in question was "generated by a third-party vendor that utilizes keyword searches to produce news clippings for staff. It is not reviewed or approved by staff before it is transmitted."
    There is more stupidity than hydrogen in the universe, and it has a longer shelf life.”

    ― Frank Zappa

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