Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Cruising the Web

The left has really gone over the top in its reactions to the Senate tax bill that the GOP voted for this past weekend. Philip H. DeVoe has a round-up of the hyperbolic response by leftists ranging for accusations that it is murdering the poor, destroying America, and "akin to rape." Individuals seem to think that Republican senators are killing people and leaving them to die without health insurance. It is mass murder.

It's a peculiar mindset that seems to think that allowing people and businesses to keep more of their own money is akin to murder or rape. The bill didn't refuse people health care; it just repealed the individual mandate. People can still buy insurance; they just wouldn't have to pay a tax for choosing of their own free will not to buy insurance.

Nancy Pelosi has called the tax proposal "the worst bill in the history" of Congress. Oh, come on! Has she ever heard of the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law? That law forever retired the prize. Nancy "Pass the bill to find out what's in it" Pelosi purports to be worried about the rushed process and the impact on the deficit. Please. Remember how Obamacare was passed and what it did to the deficit?

Some of the logic of these wild accusations is that the tax package will lead to such severe future deficits that entitlements will have to be cut. These concerns would be a lot more believable if there had been a similar outcry on the left when Obamacare was enacted or while Obama's administration was adding approximately 9 trillion dollars to the national debt. According to the Joint Committee on Taxation, the Senate plan would add $1 trillion to the debt over ten years. Any addition to the debt is disturbing, but I am not impressed with Democrats who were rather blithe about adding 9 trillion over eight years to the debt under Obama are now suddenly worried about adding one trillion over ten years under Republicans. It sounds like a lot of partisan bias on both sides with Republicans more concerned when the debt comes from spending while the Democrats are more concerned about debt that comes from tax cuts.

Ramesh Ponnuru points to how Newsweek deliberately mischaracterized what Marco Rubio said in a panel with Politico. In that discussion at about the 22 minute mark, he says that the two requirements for bringing down the deficit are to improve economic growth and to bring entitlement spending under control. He goes on to talk about ways to reform Social Security and specifically says that he isn't talking about cutting it for those who are already retired or close to retirement, but for people of his age (he's 46 years old) or younger. All this is absolutely true and was true before Obama became president. Of course, Democrats cry that the sky is falling whenever anyone talks about these necessary reforms. Note that Rubio is talking about the debt in general. But this is what Newsweek said in its headline.
According to a Newsweek headline, “REPUBLICANS WILL CUT SOCIAL SECURITY AND MEDICARE AFTER TAX PLAN PASSES, SAYS MARCO RUBIO.” Previously the headline had “IF” in place of “AFTER.” Nicole Goodkind’s lead: “Florida Senator Marco Rubio admits that the Republican tax cut plan to aid corporations and the wealthy will require cuts to Social Security and Medicare to pay for it.”
NEwsweek sees fit to add in causation that Rubio didn't say.
He says that entitlements need to be reformed. He does not say that entitlements need to be reformed only, primarily, or significantly because taxes are being cut. He does not link the two topics. He does not say anything close to Goodkind’s paraphrase. He does not say anything close to either version of Newsweek’s headline.
We need to reform entitlements. It is mandatory spending, especially Social Security and Medicare that are driving government spending.
Over 80 percent of the increase in spending will be due to the rising costs of three areas of the budget: Social Security, major health care programs, and interest on the debt. Specifically, three-tenths of the increase will come from rising Social Security costs, one-fifth from rising Medicare costs, another tenth from rising Medicaid and ACA costs, and one-fifth from the rising cost of net interest.
So cheers to Rubio for being willing to broach this subject, but that doesn't translate into saying that such reforms stem from passing the tax bill. Deceptions like that are why so many people have come not to trust a lot of reporting. And that is unfortunate, but because we need to have reporting that we can trust. With our politicians presenting such a sorry spectacle these days, it doesn't help to have the media demonstrating that they're just as unreliable.

A lot of legal experts on the internet have questioned the whole idea of prosecuting Trump and his aides under the Logan Act, a law that was passed in John Adams' administration and under which no one has actually been convicted. There are substantive constitutional arguments that the law, which forbids private citizens from conducting their own foreign policy, is a violation of the First Amendment. The Logan Act was enacted in 1799. This was in the period of the Quasi War with France during which the Federalists enacted the Alien and Sedition Acts. Clearly, there was little concern for the First Amendment by the Federalists of that period. Just as we don't think the Sedition Act would be considered constitutional today, it's not clear that a ban on talking to foreign nations is constitutional under Freedom of Speech. Perusing the list of people who have been accused of violating the Logan Act, it seems more of a partisan charge to be leveled at someone from another party who is talking to foreign leaders. Think of accusations against George McGovern for traveling to Cuba in 1975 or Jesse Jackson going to Cuba and Nicaragua in 1984. Or accusations against Republican senators for publishing an open letter to the Iranian government during Obama's negotiations with Iran. But nothing ever came from all that fulminating about the Logan Act.

I always thought that the accusations about Logan Act violations were very thin gruel. However, Byron York details how opponents of Trump and the Obama administration made use of accusations of the Logan Act to kick off investigations into Trump.
At the time, top Justice officials suspected Flynn of violating the Logan Act, the 218-year-old law under which no one has ever been prosecuted, that prohibits private citizens from acting on behalf of the United States in disputes with foreign governments. Starting in the summer of 2016 and intensifying in the transition period, the Logan Act, while mostly unknown to the general public, became a hot topic of conversation among some Democrats. A number of lawmakers, former officials, and commentators called on the Obama administration to investigate the Trump team for a possible Logan Act violations — and to do it while Democrats still controlled the executive branch.

At the same time, inside the Obama Justice Department, it appears the Logan Act became a paramount concern among some key officials in the critical weeks of December 2016 and January 2017. Former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates has told Congress that the Logan Act was the first reason she intervened in the Flynn case — the reason FBI agents were sent to the White House to interview Flynn in the Trump administration's early days. It was that interview, held on Jan. 24, 2017, that ultimately led to Flynn's guilty plea.

In short, there's no doubt the Logan Act, a law dismissed as a joke or an archaic irrelevancy or simply unconstitutional by many legal experts, played a central role in the Obama administration's aggressive and enormously consequential investigation of its successor.
York then provides a long list of Democrats accusing Trump of violating the Logan Act and asking the FBI to investigate the allegations. After the leak published in the Washington Post in January about the conversations between Mike Flynn and Ambassador Kislyak, there were more calls for the FBI to investigate. It was those conversations that led to the FBI interview with Mike Flynn that led to Flynn's plea of lying to the FBI. The reason for interviewing FLynn was...the Logan Act.
In its version of the story, the New York Times reported that "Obama advisers" were concerned about the Flynn-Kislyak calls. "The Obama advisers grew suspicious that there had been a secret deal between the incoming [Trump] team and Moscow, which could violate the rarely enforced, two-century-old Logan Act barring private citizens from negotiating with foreign powers in disputes with the Unites States," the paper reported. The paper added that the Obama advisers asked the FBI if Flynn and Kislyak had discussed a quid pro quo, only to learn the answer was no.

So even though there was no discussion of a quid pro quo, and even though, as reported in the Post account, Yates knew there was "little chance" of actually bringing a Logan Act prosecution against Flynn — despite all that, [Deputy Attorney General and Obama holdover] Yates went ahead with the questioning of Flynn. And two days after that, Yates, along with an aide, went to the White House to tell counsel Don McGahn that there was a legal problem with the national security adviser.

Yates described the events in testimony before a Senate Judiciary Committee subcommittee on May 8, 2017. She told lawmakers that the Logan Act was the first concern she mentioned to McGahn.

It really is bizarre that the Logan Act has caused such mischief.
From today's perspective, nearly a year later, it has become apparent that, farfetched as it might seem, the Logan Act made it possible for the Obama administration to go after Trump. The ancient law that no one has ever been prosecuted for violating was the Obama administration's flimsy pretense for a criminal prosecution of the incoming Trump team.

And by the way, when it finally came time to charge Flynn with a crime, did prosecutors, armed with the transcripts of those Flynn-Kislyak conversations, choose to charge him with violating the Logan Act? Of course not. But for the Obama team, the law had already served its purpose, months earlier, to entangle the new administration in a criminal investigation as soon as it walked in the door of the White House.
Of course, Flynn shouldn't have lied to the FBI. He should have known better. But all this over a law that has never been used to convict anyone and hasn't even been used to indict someone since 1852, and is not regarded by many to be constitutional should have been the foundation of this entire investigation.

Add in Mueller's stonewalling of Congress and the belated revelation that one of Mueller's deputies, Peter Strzok, had to be let go for sending anti-Trump texts to his lover, for reasons to see the halo on Mueller to be tarnished. And it turns out that Strzok keeps cropping up as someone who played a key role in the investigation of Mike Flynn. The WSJ writes,
The Washington Post and the New York Times reported Saturday that a lead FBI investigator on the Mueller probe, Peter Strzok, was demoted this summer after it was discovered he’d sent anti- Trump texts to a mistress. As troubling, Mr. Mueller and the Justice Department kept this information from House investigators, despite Intelligence Committee subpoenas that would have exposed those texts. They also refused to answer questions about Mr. Strzok’s dismissal and refused to make him available for an interview.

The news about Mr. Strzok leaked only when the Justice Department concluded it couldn’t hold out any longer, and the stories were full of spin that praised Mr. Mueller for acting “swiftly” to remove the agent. Only after these stories ran did Justice agree on Saturday to make Mr. Strzok available to the House.
Cute how that spin works in Mueller's favor each time, isn't it? And we're just finding out now what a prominent role Strzok has played in this whole story. It took a couple of days for this to all come out.
This is all the more notable because Mr. Strzok was a chief lieutenant to former FBI Director James Comey and played a lead role investigating alleged coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia during the 2016 election. Mr. Mueller then gave him a top role in his special-counsel probe. And before all this Mr. Strzok led the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails and sat in on the interview she gave to the FBI shortly before Mr. Comey publicly exonerated her in violation of Justice Department practice.

Oh, and the woman with whom he supposedly exchanged anti-Trump texts, FBI lawyer Lisa Page, worked for both Mr. Mueller and deputy FBI director Andrew McCabe, who was accused of a conflict of interest in the Clinton probe when it came out that Clinton allies had donated to the political campaign of Mr. McCabe’s wife. The texts haven’t been publicly released, but it’s fair to assume their anti-Trump bias must be clear for Mr. Mueller to reassign such a senior agent.
So why has Mueller been stonewalling Congress when they asked questions about all this and basically anything else?
There is no justification for withholding all of this from Congress, which is also investigating Russian influence and has constitutional oversight authority. Justice and the FBI have continued to defy legal subpoenas for documents pertaining to both surveillance warrants and the infamous Steele dossier that was financed by the Clinton campaign and relied on anonymous Russian sources.

While there is no evidence so far of Trump-Russia collusion, House investigators have turned up enough material to suggest that anti-Trump motives may have driven Mr. Comey’s FBI investigation. The public has a right to know whether the Steele dossier inspired the Comey probe, and whether it led to intrusive government eavesdropping on campaign satellites such as Carter Page.
This isn't to say that Trump is exonerated just because we have doubts about the FBI's neutrality and how the investigation came about in the first place. Trump's tweets are stupid and do more to damage him and his legal position than shed any sort of light. He can't help himself and for every one useful tweet to his causes, he has about five tweets that are unpresidential and harm his agenda by distracting from what he's supposedly trying to accomplish. But he is right at least that the investigation is compromised if it keeps hiding things from the House's legitimate oversight.
Mr. Mueller’s media protectorate argues that anyone critical of the special counsel is trying to cover for Mr. Trump. But the alleged Trump-Russia ties are the subject of numerous probes—Mr. Mueller’s, and those of various committees in the House and Senate. If there is any evidence of collusion, Democrats and Mr. Mueller’s agents will make sure it is spread far and wide.

Yet none of this means the public shouldn’t also know if, and how, America’s most powerful law-enforcement agency was influenced by Russia or partisan U.S. actors. All the more so given Mr. Comey’s extraordinary intervention in the 2016 campaign, which Mrs. Clinton keeps saying turned the election against her. The history of the FBI is hardly without taint.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who appointed Mr. Mueller, is also playing an increasingly questionable role in resisting congressional oversight. Justice has floated multiple reasons for ignoring House subpoenas, none of them persuasive.

First it claimed cooperation would hurt the Mueller probe, but his prosecutions are proceeding apace. Then Justice claimed that providing House investigators with classified material could hurt security or sources. But House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes has as broad a security clearance as nearly anyone in government. Recently Justice said it can’t interfere with a probe by the Justice Department Inspector General—as if an IG trumps congressional oversight.

Here is another sign of the bias from Mr. Strzok.
The FBI agent who was fired from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation team for sending anti-Donald Trump text messages conducted the interviews with two Hillary Clinton aides accused of giving false statements about what they knew of the former secretary of state’s private email server.

Neither of the Clinton associates, Cheryl Mills and Huma Abedin, faced legal consequences for their misleading statements, which they made in interviews last year with former FBI section chief Peter Strzok.
Hmmmm. What could be the difference between Mills and Abedin lying to the FBI and Flynn doing so? Just take a guess. Here is what they lied about.
Along with Justice Department attorney David Laufman, Strzok interviewed Clinton herself on July 2, 2016. The pair also interviewed Mills, Abedin and two other Clinton aides, Jake Sullivan and Heather Samuelson.

Summaries of the interviews, known as 302s, were released by the FBI last year.

A review of those documents conducted by The Daily Caller shows that Mills and Abedin told Strzok and Laufman that they were not aware of Clinton’s server until after she left the State Department.

“Mills did not learn Clinton was using a private server until after Clinton’s [Department of State] tenure,” reads notes from Mills’ May 28, 2016 interview. “Mills stated she was not even sure she knew what a server was at the time.”

Abedin also denied knowing about Clinton’s server until leaving the State Department in 2013.

“Abedin did not know that Clinton had a private server until about a year and a half ago when it became public knowledge,” the summary of Strzok’s interview with Abedin states.

But undercutting those denials are email exchanges in which both Mills and Abedin either directly discussed or were involved in discussing Clinton’s server.

“hrc email coming back — is server okay?” Mills asked in a Feb. 27, 2010 email to Abedin and Justin Cooper, a longtime aide to Bill Clinton who helped set up the Clinton server.

“Ur funny. We are on the same server,” Cooper replied.

Mills and Abedin were also involved in an Aug. 30, 2011 exchange in which State Department official Stephen Mull mentioned that Clinton’s “email server is down.”

And in a Jan. 9, 2011 email exchange, Cooper told Abedin that Clinton’s server had been malfunctioning because “someone was trying to hack us.”

“Had to shut down the server,” wrote Cooper, who told the FBI in his interviews that he discussed Clinton’s server with Abedin in 2009, when it was being set up.
Sure sounds like they knew about the server then, doesn't it. But James Comey didn't think such a lie mattered.
Former FBI Director James Comey defended the Clinton aides’ inconsistent statements in a House Judiciary Committee hearing held on Sept. 28, 2016.

“Having done many investigations myself, there’s always conflicting recollections of facts, some of which are central [to the investigation], some of which are peripheral,” Comey told Jason Chaffetz, a former Utah congressman who served on the committee last year.
So there is lying and then there is lying. And one doesn't matter when it is a Democrat protecting Hillary Clinton. THere was definitely a motive for Cheryl Mills' lie, as Republican Jason Chaffetz has pointed out.
Former FBI Director James Comey defended the Clinton aides’ inconsistent statements in a House Judiciary Committee hearing held on Sept. 28, 2016.

“Having done many investigations myself, there’s always conflicting recollections of facts, some of which are central [to the investigation], some of which are peripheral,” Comey told Jason Chaffetz, a former Utah congressman who served on the committee last year.

sNOw we know which congressman used the secret slush fund to pay off a sexual harassment suit. It is Republican Representative Blake Farenthold.
The 2015 settlement reached by U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas, and a former aide who accused the congressman of sexual harassment was paid with taxpayers’ money, the lawyer for the former staffer said Friday.

“Any settlement paid under the Congressional Accountability Act is paid using federal dollars, which are taxpayers’ dollars,” Washington lawyer Leslie D. Alderman III told the USA TODAY Network.

Alderman represented Lauren Greene, who was Farenthold’s communications director until she was fired in July 2014. In December of that year, she filed a lawsuit in federal court accusing Farenthold of making sexually charged statements toward her and engaging in off-color behavior.

In her complaint, Greene alleged that another staffer had told her that "Farenthold had admitted to being attracted" to her and had said he'd had “sexual fantasies” and “wet dreams” about her.
The complaint also states that Farenthold had said during a staff meeting that “a female lobbyist had propositioned him for a ‘threesome.’ ” The court document further alleged that “Farenthold regularly drank to excess, and because of his tendency to flirt, the staffers who accompanied him to Capitol Hill functions would joke that they had to be on ‘redhead patrol’ to keep him out of trouble.”

Farenthold at the time called the salacious allegations "outrageous" and said they were the product of an unhappy former staffer. The suit was settled in November 2015 and the terms were not disclosed.

Through an anonymous source, the Washington, D.C., newsletter Politico reported Friday that the terms called for Greene to be paid $84,000.
Gross. Now Farenthold is saying that he'll pay for the settlement out of his own funds. He is now claiming that he didn't have any choice but to agree to have taxpayers pay for his lawsuit. Really? How sneaky the Congress was in writing this law!
The Congressional Accountability Act, created in 1995 to give Congressional employees a way to pursue harassment claims, requires Congress to use only those funds appropriated for "awards and settlements" brought under the law.
Are we ever going to find out who wrote this law? It would be nice if laws were like Google Docs where we could trace who wrote what part of a law. This guy should be forced to resign, just as John Conyers should. They're both sleazy operators and we don't need either of them in Congress. And it's rather poetic that there is one of these guys for each parties so we can get beyond partisanship and just stand on what is the right thing.