Could Trump Be Prosecuted for Leaks Under New Department of Justice Directive?

The still nascent presidency of Donald Trump is rife with controversies and scandals. His financial conflicts of interests and unsavory connections to Russia have dominated his short tenure in office. Additionally, he has produced no legislative accomplishments. Most notably, the failure of his efforts to kill ObamaCare went down in flames. He has made no progress on immigration, taxes, terrorism, or his lame-brained border wall.

Rod Rosenstein Fox New

However, Trump regularly signals what issues are of most importance to him. And judging by the frequency of his tweets, it has little to do with matters critical to the nation. Rather, he is variously obsessed with either the media, last November’s election, or the torrent of White House leaks. Most experts agree that leaks occur when an organization is in disarray. But in Trump World it is blamed on a shadowy conspiracy of “deep state” saboteurs.

On yesterday’s edition of Fox News Sunday, host Chris Wallace interviewed Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein (video below). Much of the segment specifically addressed the question of leaks and what the Justice Department intends to do about them. Wallace sought to follow up on remarks made last week by Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Those comments sparked some controversy for implying that journalists could be targeted for prosecution. Rosenstein walked that back a bit in the following exchange:

Wallace: Some of the people who engage in leaks, I don’t have to tell you, are not the members of the so-called ‘deep state’ or faceless bureaucrats inside intelligence agencies. They are White House officials. They are members of Congress. If you find any of them have committed these leaks – have disclosed classified information – will you prosecute?
Rosenstein: “What we need to look at in every leak referral we get, we look at the facts and circumstances. What was the potential harm caused by the leaks? What were the circumstances? That’s more important to us than who it is, than who is the leaker. So if we identify somebody, no matter what their position is, if they violated the law and that case warrants prosecution, we’ll prosecute them.
Wallace: Including White House officials and members of Congress?
Rosenstein: Including anybody who breaks the law.

If Rosenstein can be taken at his word, Donald Trump may be in even more trouble than previously thought. Leaks from any administration are made for a variety of reasons. It may be because someone is genuinely concerned about a course of action and has no other recourse to alter it. Sometimes a leaker is angling for position or acting out of vengeance. And sometimes leaks are deliberate attempts by the White House to disseminate information that it wants disseminated.

For example, Anthony Scaramucci, Trump’s short-lived communications director, recently outed his boss as a leaker. During an interview on CNN, Scaramucci defended Trump’s reluctance to concede that the Russians were responsible for hacking during last year’s election. He even offered “evidence” by way of an anonymous insider:

“You know, somebody said to me yesterday — I won’t tell you who — that if the Russians actually hacked this situation and spilled out those e-mails, you would have never seen it.”

That, of course, is grade AAA bullshit. Professional spies may be good at what they do, but they are not infallible. Scaramucci is suggesting that the Russians are so superior in their clandestine operations that their American counterparts are helpless yokels, incapable of facing off against the almighty Ruskies. But more important was what Scaramucci said next. After CNN’s Jake Tapper challenged Scaramucci’s hypocritical use of an anonymous source, the Mooch spilled the beans:

“How about it was – how about it was the President, Jake? I talked to him yesterday. He called me from Air Force One.”

So here we have a White House official admitting that the President was the source of a leak that disclosed inside information. Trump’s observations about the capabilities of Russian intelligence ought to be regarded as top secret. But this business was aired on national television at the behest of Donald Trump. On another occasion, Trump leaked classified data to Russian diplomats visiting the White House. This leak may have put intelligence assets of an ally at risk of discovery or termination.

Who knows what else the President might have leaked. Handing out information that advances the administration’s interest is an ago-old tactic. Dick Cheney did it to plant the lie that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. And Trump has his own media operation headquartered in the White House and led by Breitbart News chairman, Stephen Bannon. Remember, this is the same guy who used to call newspapers and pretend that he was a publicist working for, well, himself.

So if Trump is later found to be the source of leaks to the media, will the Department of Justice keep their word and prosecute him? That’s an open question for the time being. They have not been especially anxious to pursue criminal investigations of the President. And, of course, Trump remains poised to fire anyone he thinks is getting too close to the truth. In the end, it may only be possible to obtain justice with a truly independent counsel, or a Democratic congress. Stay tuned.

How Fox News Deceives and Controls Their Flock:
Fox Nation vs. Reality: The Fox News Cult of Ignorance.
Available now at Amazon.

YOU’RE FIRED: Trump Sacks U.S. Attorney Probing Fox News For Hiding Sexual Harassment Lawsuits

On Friday the White House announced that it was asking forty-six U.S. Attorneys to submit their resignations. They were further instructed to clear out their desks by the end of the day. Replacing staff at the Department of Justice is a routine part of most administration transitions. However, it is rarely done so ham-handedly without prior notice or opportunity to orient the replacements.

Preet Bharara Donald Trump

By acting so impetuously, Donald Trump is leaving numerous in-progress investigations without leadership or direction. They include cases involving terrorism, drug trafficking, civil rights abuses, and more. There is no reason to rush these lawyers out the door. Most are career attorneys who have served during both Democratic and Republican administrations.

One possible explanation for Trump’s hastiness could be something he saw the night before on Fox News. Sean Hannity demanded that anyone affiliated with the Obama administration be summarily dismissed ASAP. What he was advocating was nothing short of the purges conducted by old-school tyrannical regimes. Perhaps it’s a coincidence that Trump carried out the ideological cleansing the next day. But there is abundant evidence that Trump responds obediently to things he sees on Fox News.

Which makes the case of fired attorney Preet Bharara especially troubling. Bharara is the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. In that jurisdiction he has had responsibility for high profile prosecutions of organized crime, Wall Street corruption, and political malfeasance. He has a reputation for being thorough and non-partisan. He was even personally asked to remain by President-Elect Trump last November, which he agree to do.

What makes Bharara’s dismissal so controversial is that one of the cases he is currently investigating involves Fox News. Last month the New York Daily News reported that:

“The feds are conducting an ‘ongoing criminal investigation’ of Fox News Channel and whether Rupert Murdoch’s company hid from investors the payments it made to employees who alleged they were sexually harassed, an attorney alleged in court Wednesday.” […]

[Attorney Judd Burstein, representing former Fox News host Andrea Tantaros] “said Fox News’ payouts to female employees claiming sexual harassment are not disclosed in Fox’s Securities and Exchange Commission filings, which could be a violation of federal securities law.”

The ever-increasing number of former female Fox News staffers alleging sexual harassment is not just a moral atrocity. It also threatens to cost the network millions of dollars and loss of prestige. The current rash of scandals began with Gretchen Carlson and quickly spread to others including Andrea Tantaros, Juliet Huddy, and even Megyn Kelly. As such it’s pertinent to any analysis of the company’s fiscal health and they have a responsibility to inform investors. Fox News already lost its founder and CEO. Roger Ailes, as a result of the scandal.

To say the least, it is unseemly for Trump to shove Bharara out the door while he is working on such a sensitive case. Fox News is Trump’s most devoted media cheerleader, thus Trump has an incentive to shield them from legal jeopardy. And for this act of presidential protection to take place immediately after a plea from Hannity – Fox’s most adoring Trump fluffer – just compounds the inappropriateness.

How Fox News Deceives and Controls Their Flock:
Fox Nation vs. Reality: The Fox News Cult of Ignorance.
Available now at Amazon.

Bharara, as a matter of principle, refused to cooperate with the Trump purge. CNN reported that he would not comply with the request for a resignation. In effect, he dared Trump to fire him. And given Trump’s penchant for petty vengeance, that is exactly what Trump did. This opens the door for a replacement who Trump is already considering. Marc Mukasey is a lawyer who counts among his clients Fox’s ex-CEO Roger Ailes. Were he to assume the position, it is unlikely that the case against Fox News would proceed. This is how Trump drains the swamp.

CREEPING FASCISM: Trump Insults Another Judge In Ongoing Effort To Deligitimize The Judiciary

The rule of law is often touted as a cornerstone of democratic society. The United States regards equal justice under the law as a core value. Founding Father John Adams articulated this principle when he declared that we are “a government of laws, not of men.” None of this, of course, presumes that there is a tyranny of legal rhetoric. That’s why we have courts to adjudicate the meaning and scope of the statutes that govern us.

Donald Trump

Respect for the law is generally observed in a civil society. That doesn’t mean unquestioning agreement or forgoing the right to dissent. But it does mean appreciating the role of an independent judiciary. That’s a concept that Donald Trump has repeatedly trashed.

In a petty and insolent tweet Saturday morning, Trump demonstrated once again his contempt for the judiciary and for any form of disagreement with his autocratic authority. He was responding to a ruling by a Washington state judge that stayed his executive order barring people from seven majority-Muslim countries from entering the U.S. The order even included legal residents and those with valid visas and green cards. He tweeted:

For the record, Judge James Robart was appointed to the federal bench by George W. Bush in 2004. Consequently, Trump could not lash out reflexively at the “liberal” courts. But that didn’t stop him from demeaning the Judge Robart, and by extension the entire judicial system.

By labeling Robart a “so-called judge,” Trump is implicitly denying that he isn’t an actual judge. By some twisted illogic he is demoting Robart to some other status. Perhaps Trump thinks he’s a “fake” judge, or an “alternative” judge. Either way, the effect is to undermine his legitimacy and that of his ruling.

Furthermore, Trump’s assertion that the decision “takes law-enforcement away from our country” makes no sense whatsoever. The judge’s ruling is, by definition, a component of law enforcement. And how does a decision by a U.S. federal court take anything away from “our country”? In what jurisdiction would Trump place this authority?

What’s more, Trump’s assertion that the ruling is “ridiculous” defies reason. Which may be why he didn’t even bother to supply one. However, four other courts agree with Robart’s decision. Last week courts in New York, Virgina, Washington, and Massachusetts issued similar judgments. That portends trouble for any hope by the White House for overturning the stay or prevailing overall.

Trump has previously expressed his disdain for the law when battling a suit over his fraudulent Trump University. In that case a judge who was born in Indiana, but whose parents were from Mexico, was accused of being biased and unfit to preside due to his heritage. That was just another example of Trump diminishing the role of the judiciary for irrelevant reasons. Despite swearing never to settle, he eventually did just that. The plaintiffs won a massive $25 million in compensatory damages.

How Fox News Deceives and Controls Their Flock:
Fox Nation vs. Reality: The Fox News Cult of Ignorance.
Available now at Amazon.

The problem with Trump’s tweet cannot be overstated. It is common in totalitarian regimes for the government to assert dominance over its institutions. That applies to the legislature, the media, the military, and the judiciary. Trump’s comment reflects his view that the courts are, or should be, subservient to his will. It’s a view that reinforces concerns about his aspirations to dictatorship.

The judiciary is one of the last lines of defense to prevent a descent into tyranny. Hopefully they will stand strong against Trump and for the principles enshrined in the Constitution. And maybe the Democrats in the Senate will have the guts to block the confirmation of Neil Gorsuch, Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court seat that they stole. At the very least they should ask him whether he thinks Robart is a so-called judge.

UH-OH: DOJ Inspector General To Probe FBI’s ‘Improper’ Handling Of Clinton Investigation

When reviewing the most consequential events of the 2016 presidential election, one strikingly inappropriate action comes immediately to mind. Less than two weeks before the nation voted, FBI Directer James Comey violated a long-held principle of law enforcement. He released confidential and unsubstantiated data concerning an in-progress investigation of Hillary Clinton.

Comey Trump

Comey’s action gave Donald Trump’s campaign a jet-propelled boost at a time when it needed it most. And it left little time for Clinton’s campaign to respond or recover from the political harm. As it turned out, there was nothing of significance in the additional analysis that Comey initiated, but the damage was done.

Thursday morning the Inspector General’s office of the Department of Justice announced that it will be reviewing these events. Requests from member of Congress, outside organizations, and members of the public, spurred the IG to commence this review. According to the Huffington Post, the review will address several specific topics, including:

  • Allegations that Department or FBI policies or procedures were not followed in connection with, or in actions leading up to or related to, the FBI Director’s public announcement on July 5, 2016, and the Director’s letters to Congress on October 28 and November 6, 2016, and that certain underlying investigative decisions were based on improper considerations;
  • Allegations that the FBI Deputy Director should have been recused from participating in certain investigative matters;
  • Allegations that Department and FBI employees improperly disclosed non-public information;
  • Allegations that decisions regarding the timing of the FBI’s release of certain Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) documents on October 30 and November 1, 2016, and the use of a Twitter account to publicize same, were influenced by improper considerations.

These are the most salient issues that desperately need to be resolved. Comey’s behavior was suspiciously beneficial to one political candidate, and this investigation should explore any and all motivations. The IG’s review is being careful not to engage in further partisanship. Consequently, it’s also examining allegations that an assistant AG improperly disclosed non-public information to Clinton’s campaign.

How Fox News Deceives and Controls Their Flock:
Fox Nation vs. Reality: The Fox News Cult of Ignorance.
Available now at Amazon.

It remains to be seen what conclusions will be drawn when the review is complete. There could be consequences for Comey, or it could be swept under the FBI’s rug. Timing will also be critical. If this stretches too long into the Trump administration, and his anticipated purges at the DOJ are effected, then nothing of significance will result. Trump’s people will surely protect him and his allies in the FBI, including Comey. So stay tuned as this developing story continues to unfold.

Fox Nation vs. Reality: Obama ‘Seizes’ Control Of Courts By Following The Constitution

Hillary Clinton once said that if President Obama walked on water he would be criticized by Republicans for not being able to swim. Sadly, the point Clinton was making about the knee-jerk hostility of the right does not go nearly far enough. For example, this week the Fox News community website, Fox Nation, took a swipe at Obama’s judicial nominations with an article titled “Obama Seized Control Of ‘Second Highest Court’ In The Nation.”

Fox Nation

For more than 50 documented examples of blatant lies by Fox Nation,
Read the acclaimed ebook, Fox Nation vs. Reality, available at Amazon.

The Fox Nationalists cribbed this item from the ultra wingnut brigade at Newsmax, who nurtured a conspiracy out of the rather routine process of filling vacancies on federal courts. Writing for Newsmax, John Gizzi said that…

“In November, Obama effectively gained control of the 11-member court when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid triggered the ‘nuclear option’ — reducing the threshold needed to stop a filibuster from 60 votes to a simple majority.”

Putting this assertion into the context of reality, a state of consciousness that conservatives deliberately avoid, one would first have to recognize that Harry Reid only moved to modify the Senate rules because Republicans had abused them in an unprecedented manner. While filibusters were once employed as a last ditch effort to derail legislation that a member simply could not abide on principle, today’s GOP made it a routine procedure by filibustering virtually everything that came up for a vote. This was particularly egregious when it came to the confirmations of administration appointees and judges. It was a tactic aimed at gutting the authority of the executive branch of government that, for the first time in history, was headed by an African-American.

As a result of the filibuster reform, Obama’s nominees for judicial posts were able to be confirmed by a majority vote in the senate. This is sometimes called “democracy.” Subsequent to confirmation, however, Obama has no control over the decisions by his appointees who are independent and have lifetime tenure. So there is no truth to the assertion that Obama has seized control of anything.

Newsmax went on to quote the rightist Heritage Foundation lawyer, Hans von Spakovsky (a cartoon villain name, if there ever was one), complaining that by filling the court’s vacancies, it would then have a majority of jurists appointed by Democratic presidents. In the view of von Spakovsky that was some sort flaw that artificially prejudiced the judiciary. To the contrary, that is precisely how the Framers intended the system to work. Over time the courts would represent the political diversity of the populace as democratically expressed by their vote for the presidency.

All that Obama has done, with help from the senate, is to carry out his duties as stipulated by the Constitution. It is the president’s responsibility to place nominees before the senate for confirmation when a vacancy is created. There is no reference whatsoever to filibusters in the Constitution. So the charge that is being made that Obama has “seized control” of the courts is unarguably false. But that never stops Fox Nation from publishing such charges. In fact, it probably makes it all the more likely.

Bush League Justice Under Investigation At MSNBC

Dan Abrams will be hosting a series of programs this week focusing on the abuses of the Bush Administration, particularly with regard to the Department of Justice. This is an important subject that gets far too little play in the press, but impacts everything from civil rights to political corruption to First Amendment freedoms of speech and religion, and so much more. The article announcing the program, penned by Abrams, covers all of these issues with the indignation of someone who loves the law and the fair administration of justice. Here are some selected excerpts:

“‘Bush League Justice’ is a series (airing Monday-Thursday at 9 pm on MSNBC) that stems from my increasing frustration and outrage over how the Bush Administration has politicized the usually apolitical Justice Department.”

“…this President has flipped the goals and mission of the [Civil Rights] Division and allowed it to become a tool of the radical right […] almost half of the new hires in that department who had ‘civil rights experience’ had ‘experience’ only in defending employers or -fighting- affirmative action.”

“The President has effectively declared the right to disobey more than 750 laws. From the interrogation of prisoners to torture to investigations by U.S. officials in Iraq, President Bush has added a caveat that says, ‘I will only enforce this if.’ So he is effectively telling Congress thanks for your advice on this law, but I reserve the right to ignore this law.”

“Maybe the most obvious betrayal of the public trust has been politically motivated prosecutions. A University of Minnesota study conducted this year shows that for every elected Republican investigated during this President’s tenure, there were seven elected Democrats investigated.”

“This series is long overdue. The scandal with the firings of the U.S. Attorneys under Attorney General Alberto Gonzales exposed the underbelly of this administration’s penchant for putting politics over objectivity and qualifications.”

The tone set by Abrams is both surprising and promising. He does not have the reputation of a firebrand activist, but he is clearly expressing something heartfelt in these comments. He was trained as a lawyer and his father, Floyd Abrams, is one of the most respected First Amendment attorneys of the 20th century. So perhaps Dan’s genetics are kicking in.

These issues are desperately in need of a champion, someone who can do for justice what Lou Dobbs does for immigration. And the protection and preservation of our Constitutional liberties is far more important than the racist scapegoating that demagogues like Dobbs engage in.

We’ll see, as the series unfolds, if Abrams’ passion for the law results in a broadcast that forthrightly exposes Bush’s contempt for fairness and equality in the administration of justice. There is a cornucopia of criminal misconduct to explore produced by both intent and incompetence. The scandals of the Alberto Gonzales era at DoJ have fallen from the media radar, but they are just as toxic to our nation’s future as ever. The political firings of department attorneys, the distortion of the mission of civil and voting rights prosecutions, the hiring of more than 150 lawyers from Pat Robertsons Regent University, the justification for torture, the disrespect for Congress and the doctrine of equal powers, the debasement of the Supreme Court – all of these matters need to be remembered and acted upon if our democracy is to endure.

An honest presentation of the record is indeed long overdue. An honest presentation should put to rest the question of whether impeachment ought to be on the table. I hope that these programs will finally provide what has been sorely lacking from a somnolent media for the past seven years: an honest presentation.