Thursday, June 08, 2017

Cruising the Web

Now that we've seen Comey's prepared statement, there's something for everyone to hang a hat on. As Dan McLaughlin writes, at least Comey's statement backs up Trump's story that Comey did tell him he wasn't a target of investigation and that the investigation was a counterintelligence probe, instead of a criminal investigation. His first meetings that he writes about were the reassure him that they were investigating Russia's methods in planting the Russian hookers' story. Comey's testimony made it clear that the FBI's investigation of this story was not an investigation of President Trump and then when Trump asked him about the investigation. That was the context in which Comey was telling Trump that he wasn't a target of investigation. McLaughlin writes,
So, that’s the good news: Comey explodes the Democrats’ narrative that Trump was under criminal investigation for collusion with Russia, and confirms with specificity that Trump was telling the truth when he tweeted that Comey had told him as much on three occasions. The bad news, for Trump, is that Comey also details his mounting concerns about Trump’s heavy-handedness.
Comey makes clear that he was made uncomfortable by Trump's statement that “I need loyalty, I expect loyalty.” Finally, Trump said that he wanted "honest loyalty" and Comey replied that "You will get that from me."

Comey's statement about the discussion that Trump asked him about when the two of them were alone makes clear that the President was referring to the story of Flynn meeting with the RUssian ambassador and that Trump had let him go for misleading Pence. This is what Comey wrote about that moment:
I immediately prepared an unclassified memo of the conversation about Flynn and discussed the matter with FBI senior leadership. I had understood the President to be requesting that we drop any investigation of Flynn in connection with false statements about his conversations with the Russian ambassador in December. I did not understand the President to be talking about the broader investigation into Russia or possible links to his campaign. I could be wrong, but I took him to be focusing on what had just happened with Flynn’s departure and the controversy around his account of his phone calls. Regardless, it was very concerning, given the FBI’s role as an independent investigative agency.
That is the key conversation which has made many in the media and in the Democratic Party claim was obstruction of justice. That is not at all apparent from this summary. Trump's conversation with Comey about this was improper and evidence that Trump has no sense of the role of the executive when the FBI is in the middle of an investigation touching on the president's aides and family.

As Jonathan Turley writes, there is nothing in this statement to qualify for charging obstruction of justice or impeachment.
The release of former FBI director James Comey's testimony on Wednesday was received with the same breathless reactions that have long characterized coverage of the Russian investigation. CNN ran comments that the Comey testimony was nothing short of the Watergate tapes. The desire for some indictable or impeachable offense by President Trump has distorted the legal analysis to an alarming degree. Analysts seem far too thrilled by the possibility of a crime by Trump. The legal fact is that Comey's testimony does not establish a prima facie — or even a strong — case for obstruction.

It is certainly true that if Trump made these comments, his conduct is wildly inappropriate. However, talking like Tony Soprano does not make you Tony Soprano. Trump is not the first president to express dissatisfaction with an investigation by the Justice Department. Former president Bill Clinton made clear his own dissatisfaction with the investigations of his administration under then-Attorney General Janet Reno. It is no surprise that Trump wanted to see these investigations end. Indeed, he had a virtual hashtag to that effect.
Turley goes on to explain that the courts have mostly rejected applying the crime of obstruction of justice to an investigation rather than to a pending proceeding. Those, like James Clapper, who are making wild comparisons to Watergate are wide of the mark.
However, analogies to Watergate show little understanding of those articles of impeachment. The first article against President Nixon was an obstruction allegation, but it was expressly linked to actual and serious crimes, including the criminal break-in at the Watergate. The article specifically listed an array of personal actions taken by Nixon and his subordinates to procure false statements, obstruct investigators, and “to conceal the existence and scope of other unlawful covert activities.”

Ironically, those who want a criminal charge on this record are committing the very offense that they accuse Trump of committing: disregarding the law to achieve their desired goal. It would be a highly dangerous interpretation to allow obstruction charges at this stage. If prosecutors can charge people at the investigation stage of cases, a wide array of comments or conduct could be criminalized. It is quite common to have such issues arise early in criminal cases. Courts have limited the crime precisely to avoid this type of open-ended crime where prosecutors could threaten potential witnesses with charges unless they cooperated.

We do not indict or impeach people for being boorish or clueless ... or simply being Donald Trump.
Exactly. All this breathless reporting and commenting on this whole story is mostly hatred of Trump searching for an allegation to achieve what Hillary Clinton couldn't - keep him out of the White House. McLaughlin concludes,
The narrative the Democrats desperately want is that Trump is under FBI investigation for criminal activity that invalidates the 2016 election, and has committed impeachable offenses. The facts they actually have are a lot less sexy: a president who wouldn’t respect the FBI’s independence and couldn’t understand why the FBI Director couldn’t publicly exonerate him when he wasn’t under investigation. But those facts are ugly enough in what they say about Trump’s ability to run a government that inspires confidence in the impartial administration of justice.

As the WSJ writes,
But at worst Mr. Comey’s account of Mr. Trump reveals a willful and naive narcissist who believes he can charm or subtly intimidate the FBI director but has no idea how Washington works. This is not new information.
We might not like having such a man being president, but the WSJ is right - we knew that that was his character before the election.

The WSJ points out how skewed Comey's view of his job as head of the FBI really was.
Mr. Comey is describing an FBI director who essentially answers to no one. But the police powers of the government are awesome and often abused, and the only way to prevent or correct abuses is to report to elected officials who are accountable to voters. A director must resist intervention to obstruct an investigation, but he and the agency must be politically accountable or risk becoming the FBI of J. Edgar Hoover.

Mr. Comey says Mr. Trump strongly suggested in February that he close the Michael Flynn file, but after conferring with his “FBI senior leadership” he decided not to relay the conversation to Attorney General Jeff Sessions or any other Justice Department superior. If he thought he was being unduly pressured he had a legal obligation to report, and in our view to resign, but he says he didn’t because “we expected” that Mr. Sessions would recuse himself from Russia involvement.

Well, how did he know? Mr. Sessions didn’t recuse himself until two weeks later. Mr. Comey also didn’t tell the acting Deputy AG, who at the time was a U.S. attorney whom Mr. Comey dismisses as someone “who would also not be long in the role.”

This remarkable presumptuousness is the Comey mindset that was on display last year. He broke Justice Department protocol to absolve Hillary Clinton’s mishandling of classified material, without the involvement of Justice prosecutors or even telling then Attorney General Loretta Lynch. Mr. Comey’s disregard for the chain of legal command is why Mr. Trump was right to fire him, whatever his reasons.
Of course, Trump's behavior was inappropriate. Republicans who want to rush to Trump's defense should be fair enough to turn it around and try to imagine what they would have said if this were Obama or any other Democratic leader behaving this way. As David French writes,
There’s no serious argument that this is appropriate behavior from an American president. Imagine for a moment testimony that President Barack Obama or a hypothetical President Hillary Clinton had a similar conversation with an FBI director. The entire conservative-media world would erupt in outrage, and rightly so. The FBI director is a law-enforcement officer, loyal to the Constitution, not the president’s consigliere....

The testimony paints an ugly picture of the president. Trump’s interactions with Comey are excessive and bizarre (to the point of ordering everyone out of the Oval Office before making his request that Comey drop the Flynn investigation). Comey notes that he spoke only twice to President Obama, once when the president called him to say goodbye. By contrast, he had nine private conversations with President Trump in a mere four months.

To put this in perspective, the GOP was rightly outraged when Bill Clinton met privately — once — with Loretta Lynch during the Hillary e-mail investigation. Here we have evidence of multiple meetings where the president directly tried to influence the conduct of an FBI investigation. This is far worse and far better-documented misconduct.

Overall, one gets the impression that the president views himself less as the president of a constitutional republic and more as the dictatorial CEO of a private company. This is understandable, given his long experience in the private sector, but it’s unsustainable. President Trump has to better understand not just the separation of powers but also the constitutional and legal obligations of governance, or the turmoil surrounding Comey’s termination will be but the first of a series of controversies that could well shake his presidency to its foundation.

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Eugene Kontorovich, in arguing that Trump's travel tweets don't hurt the administration's arguments before the Supreme Court, makes an intriguing point about Trump's criticism of the DOJ for watering down the original executive order.
Finally, the tweets may actually bolster the government’s legal case (rather than purposefully undermine it, as Jack Goldsmith suggested). The tweets imply that Trump had little or no role in the drafting of the current executive order — the Justice Department is responsible. If we accept that, then any animus that may infect him would not attach to the order of which he is not the author, unless one is to say the administration is generally disabled from carrying out non-permissive immigration policies with respect to a quarter of the world’s nations. And if one does not take his statement that the Justice Department is responsible for the order to mean the most it can mean, how can one read his campaign statements for their maximal, and worst, possible meaning?

For conservatives who had very low expectations for President Trump, one thing we can be happy about are his judicial nominations. He just made 11 more nominations for federal courts and these nominations are earning praise from conservatives.

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And CNN had to correct their statement that Comey's testimony was going to refute Trump's claim that Comey had told him he wasn't under investigation. Oops. As Erik Wemple writes, CNN has gone totally overboard hyping up this story and, to mix metaphors, have gotten over their skis.
Former FBI director James B. Comey will be testifying before Congress on Thursday regarding his interactions with President Trump. That’s a big news story. Which means that at CNN, it’s a huge news story. There’s an on-air countdown clock, there are nonstop panels trianglulating the event, there’s everything that a 24/7 news channel can muster.

And now there’s a correction. A Tuesday story with four bylines carried this headline: “Comey expected to refute Trump.”

....On CNN’s air, analyst Gloria Borger put matters more starkly, saying, “Comey is going to dispute the president on this point if he’s asked about it by senators, and we have to assume that he will be. He will say he never assured Donald Trump that he was not under investigation, that that would have been improper for him to do so.”
And now they have to correct their story. But how many people have seen those reports on TV compared to how many people read their correction?

Timothy Carney explains why big companies might be more likely to support the Paris Climate Accord while small businesses are cheering Trump for pulling out. He lists the responses of quite a few CEOs condemned Trump's decision to remove the U.S. from the accords, positions that many environmentalists cheered as evidence of how wrong this decision was.
The unconsidered possibility here: The CEOs of America's biggest companies could have particular interests that don't align with the American economy as a whole.

Large multinational corporations might prefer a global regulatory regime that would simplify things for themselves while imposing tough costs on smaller competitors, reducing competition and raising prices. These big companies might also be well positioned to lobby for the right subsidies, the right mandates and the right regulations that give them a competitive advantage. U.S. consumers and small businesses lack that sort of reach into governments here and abroad.

The other odd idea from the climate deal's defenders is that somehow Paris provides a business opportunity that Americans would lose if we withdrew.

"Watching other countries take the lead in green technologies won't help Trump's promise to get America back to winning again," Rubin wrote. This was a favorite Obama line for the past eight years. "As long as countries like China keep going all-in on clean energy," President Barack Obama said, "so must we."

But it just isn't so.

China is a Communist-run government with a managed economy. They should not be our role model. The United Kingdom has largely abandoned its effort to win the green-energy Olympics. Spain's "green jobs" undertaking ended up costing jobs and was widely panned as a failure.

So chasing more centrally planned economies as they engage in a green-energy subsidy arms race would be a supremely stupid case of trying to keep up with the Joneses.

Of course, pursuing more green energy might make sense even without subsidies. Technologies that conserve energy are often good investments in their own right. U.S. businesses will be exactly as well positioned to pursue such innovation absent Paris membership as they would be under the accord — regardless of whether the treaty ended up imposing binding emissions constraints.

Trump sometimes makes the mistake of putting too much stake in the opinions of CEOs. On Paris, thankfully, he ignored their pleadings.

Catesby Leigh explains what is wrong becoming "even less appealing" and how it's with the proposed Eisenhower memorial in Washington.
If you’re looking for a textbook example of the Washington swamp Donald Trump vowed to drain, the Dwight D. Eisenhower National Memorial, designed by celebrity architect Frank Gehry and soon to be erected in the capital’s monumental core, has plenty to offer: the dubious memorial competition Gehry won, the incompetent sponsoring commission’s reliance on federal largesse rather than private donations, and pervasive official cluelessness about Gehry’s ill-conceived, very expensive, and very unpopular design. His over-scaled $150 million theme park is a self-indulgent travesty of a tribute to the D-Day commander and 34th president. To be situated across Independence Avenue from the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, the memorial will feature an enormous billboard—a stainless-steel decorated screen the architect calls a “tapestry”—that rises as high as the Lincoln Memorial and is well over twice as wide. Humility is not Gehry’s long suit. And it is odd, to put it mildly, that an architect internationally renowned for attention-grabbing structures that look like they’re dissolving or collapsing should have been chosen to design a presidential memorial.

Gehry’s design appeared doomed until last summer, when Ike’s four grandchildren abandoned their longstanding opposition—repeatedly cited by congressional opponents in denying the project construction funding—in exchange for alterations that, inconceivably, make it even worse. Congress has now provided $45 million in addition to the more than $65 million previously appropriated, and the Trump administration is on board, no matter that Gehry likened the president-elect’s oratory to Hitler’s late last year. The alterations have raised hackles among previously pliable review board members, delaying the final official approvals that the congressionally established Eisenhower Memorial Commission needs before it can break ground. The memorial’s recently anticipated completion date of June 6, 2019—D-Day’s 75th anniversary—is probably out of reach. But it’s going to get built.
I'll go see it when it's finally built, but it just doesn't sound very promising.
As far as Gehry is concerned, the grandchildren’s mangling of his narrative theme—the boy from Abilene who became a protagonist of the American Century—probably doesn’t matter too much. His overriding interest is in the screen, which comes about as close to a supersize chain-link fence as you could get in Washington’s monumental core. It so happens that Gehry, aside from being famous for cladding buildings in stainless steel or even titanium, is very hipped on chain link. Decades ago, he partially wrapped his own Santa Monica abode with it, and he wrapped a three-story parking garage at a downtown Santa Monica shopping mall with it, too. (The garage wrapping—emblazoned with the name of the venue, Santa Monica Place—is now history.) Gehry is focused on the memorial screen because steel is an industrial, non-traditional, outside-the-box, “real-world” material, and therefore imbued with an authenticity marble and limestone can’t match. The steel screen, in other words, is not about Ike. It’s about Gehry.
In introducing a new medium to a national presidential memorial, the screen will fulfill the perpetual modernist desideratum of pushing the envelope. What it will quite possibly violate is the requirement, under the Commemorative Works Act of 1986, that Washington memorials be constructed of “durable materials.” As always with such envelope-pushing, it will be someone else’s problem—in this case, the taxpayer’s—when bird droppings, dirt, leaves, trash, or ice accumulates on the screen and the cables begin to wear out. It’s uncertain that the technical tests run on mock-ups of the screen can accurately predict the structural performance issues that will arise over time or the maintenance that will be required. Mock-ups for I.M. Pei’s adventurous marble cladding system for the National Gallery of Art’s East Building (1978) were tested, too, and systemic failure occurred within 30 years, necessitating an $85 million reinstallation at taxpayer expense. Gehry’s screen is inevitably experimental, and for that reason runs afoul of the spirit, if not the letter, of the CWA requirement.
The competition was rigged from the beginning. It sounds like the commission picking the winner for the design was focused on getting a famous name to design the memorial rather than what that designer actually came up with.
From the outset, the commission was obsessed with a wheel-reinventing memorial larded with electronic documentary bling that would “engage and enthrall” visitors. The competition brief emphasized that “no language currently exists for a 21st-century memorial.”

The commission and its collaborators at the General Services Administration were not interested in an open competition. They focused not on designs, as is typically the case with memorial competitions, but on designers and their portfolios. Only established professionals were eligible, and only the seven semi-finalists had to submit sketches—merely suggestive—of an Ike memorial. More developed schemes were required from the four finalists. A jury of modernist design professionals (plus David Eisenhower) pronounced those schemes “mediocre,” but Gehry came out on top. The competition rules unquestionably tilted the playing field in his favor. Unsurprisingly, the competition attracted a risible total of 44 entries, compared with the Vietnam Veterans Memorial competition’s 1,421 and the World War II Memorial competition’s approximately 400.
I do like that the proposal will include a statue of this famous picture. FOr me, that would have been enough.
YOu can check out the website and see what Leigh means about the chain link tapestry and how it doesn't really say anything about Eisenhower.

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My older daughter, who lives in D.C., sends some stories to indicate how different people who live there are from the rest of the country. Bars are opening up early for people to come in and watch the Comey testimony on C-Span. I just can't imagine going to the bar at 10:30 AM to watch C-Span. You can go to Duffy's Irish Pub and get a special Covfefe cocktail. One blogger captures what will probably happen.

And the new status symbol is D.C. - waiting in long lines.
During the Cold War, Americans thought of the Soviet Union as an endlessly grim place. Nothing symbolized the land of not-plenty more than a long line of human beings in single file. Dental floss, chicken, bicycle seats—what was at the other end didn’t matter. Those long-suffering Brezhnev-era proles would have to accept their lot. By contrast, here in the land of the free, anyone could drive to Walmart and buy a year’s supply of toilet paper—and a couple of wheelbarrows to cart it home. Liberty meant not lining up like a bunch of sheep.

These days, consumer goods are apt to come straight to the house, freeing us from the hassle of even a run-of-the-mill wait at the Target checkout counter. But in certain culturally forward corners of Washington at least, we’ve had a distinct change in our attitude toward lines. They’ve become a sign that you’re one of the cool kids.

At envelope-pushing restaurants such as Rose’s Luxury, the waits can run hours for meals that might run upward of $250. At of-the-moment watering holes such as this spring’s cherry-blossom-inspired pop-up bar in Shaw, the throng of would-be drinkers of $13 cocktails snaked around the corner. Even with timed-entry passes, a trip to the Hirshhorn’s “Infinity Mirrors” show, which closed in mid-May, generally involved an infinity of standing around before being hustled through the startling exhibit. The list goes on.
I can't imagine any food that I would find so superb that I'd be willing to stand outside in the street for an hour or more. But for some of these places, people are getting there at 3:30 pm for a 5:30 pm opening. My daughters, who both live there in D.C., have told us about people hiring others to stand in line for two to three hours for them so they can get into one of the hip, trendy restaurants.

I guess that, as a public-school teacher, I have a higher value on my time than all these Washingtonians standing in line. Maybe if government workers in D.C. spend more time in bars watching C-Span and standing in line for dinner, they'll spend less time complicating our lives.