James Comey: You’re Fired… Now What?

“That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.” — United States Declaration of Independence

Folks, the time might be near at hand. Today, following a second day of testimony by former Attorney General Sally Yates, Donald Trump saw fit to fire now-former FBI Director James Comey. Why? Purportedly, because James Comey acted inappropriately in revealing the details of the investigation into Huma Abedin’s email server weeks before the election, and because of his mendacious testimony about that server, saying yesterday that Abedin had forwarded “hundreds and thousands” of emails to her husband–the infamous Anthony Weiner– in her roll as Secretary Clinton’s Chief of Staff. The number, in fact, is not more than a “handful.” There are two major points here: first, Trump had praised Comey’s decision to release this information about the Abedin investigation from the point of his election, through the inauguration and beyond. It is not as though Trump recently became aware of this choice, or had denounced it all along. Along similar lines, the ongoing investigation into whether Comey’s actions violated the law is not nearly complete– it is, in fact, not expected to be complete until the end of the year (MSNBC). Thus, this is neither the beginning of this investigation, nor the end. It certainly seems strange that Trump would fire an FBI Director for taking actions that he praised, before an investigation into his actions had concluded. Second, James Comey, for all of his well-known faults, is a man who has been known throughout his career for his precision in testimony. “A handful” of emails is nowhere near thousands, and there is absolutely no way that James Comey did not know the real number as the Director of the FBI entering Congress to testify– not for the first time– on his decision to release that information and the Trump/ Russia connection. And, let’s all be honest– there is very little chance that he mistook “a handful” for thousands– a man known for evasiveness in testimony would simply have answered with “no comment” if the number had escaped him. While perjury is a crime in itself, this thought process leads to a more disturbing conclusion: James Comey lied, on purpose. And today, he was fired—and certainly not for the reasons stated, because any thinking human is capable of seeing that Trump did not fire Comey because Comey handed him an advantage in the election. So then, why? The logical progression of these events is that Comey, who had helped Trump in the election and engaged in a partisan witch hunt against Hillary Clinton against the mandate of his office, has been working with the President for some time. So today, when Trump asked him to fall on the sword so that he could nominate a new Director who would be more willing to stretch the boundaries of the law, he did. This is, of course, speculation, but as the expression goes, “if the shoe fits…”

Let’s not forget, James Comey was due back in session to testify further on Thursday—a testimony that has now been cancelled. And now, Trump will be able to appoint a new director of the Federal Bureau of Investigations, who will take over the investigation into the Trump campaign’s collusion with Russia. If precedent holds, the appointee will be grossly underqualified, and probably have Russian ties of his own. Then—assuming the nominee is approved by the Senate, the new FBI Director will have access to absolutely everything pertaining to the Trump/Russia investigation, and the authority to make decisions about how, or if, that investigation proceeds. It is not an exaggeration to say that if Trump is successful in appointing an inside man to this position, he will have effectively placed himself beyond the reach of the law. This cannot be allowed to occur.

Representative Jerry Nadler (D-NY) called these circumstances “a constitutional crisis worse than [Watergate].” He is not wrong. This is the time to demand an independent special prosecutor to continue this investigation, prior to the appointment of a new director—at which point there is a very reasonable fear that evidence, and the investigation itself will be destroyed. If Congress allows such a nominee to take control of the FBI, we have lost control of our country.

With this, it is time, I think, to organize a March for Impeachment. Do not get me wrong, I support and appreciate the efforts of the Women’s March, the March for Science, and all the various protests that have occurred since the election, however, the time for single-issue protest in this venue has come and passed. The very fiber of this nation is at risk and we the people, regardless of party and interest group affiliation, must stand up to defend it, and demand that those who allege to represent us defend it as well. If not, we may soon be faced with the very real choice of living under the control of a government that operates outside of the laws on which it was founded, or attempting to follow the suggestion of our Founding Fathers.

I am sure that there will be plenty more to talk about in the coming days, but until then: stay informed, stay alert, and stay safe.

Strike on Syria, and Domestic Chaos: The Events of April 6, 2017

Today is one of those days where if you do not have endless hours with which to peruse the news, you might find yourself tempted to throw your hands in the air, bury your head in the sand, and hope that nothing blows up. I’m here to say that you definitely should not do that. Instead, we’re going to break this down.

  • Trump Strikes at Syria: a day after US Ambassador Nikki Haley threatened unilateral action against Syria on the floor of the United Nations, and mere hours after President Trump’s first official press statement on the subject, the United States Navy launched 59 Tomahawk missiles at a Syrian air field. Thus far the only confirmed hits have been equipment. Information about human casualties has not been made available. This act came, purposively, following a chemical attack in northern Syria, in which at least 86 people died, most likely from exposure to Sarin gas. The Syrian government, headed by President Bashar al-Assad has denied responsibility for this attack, though Assad has been accused of using chemical weapons in the past. This is, of course, a breaking story, but several talking points have rapidly emerged. First, the word in Washington is that Russia was warned ahead of the strike– now the question is, by whom, and for what purpose? And finally, when President Trump unilaterally authorized this strike– an attack on a military base of a recognized sovereign state could very reasonably be called an act of war, one that would require the approval of Congress to pursue– did he overstep the authority of his office? While President Obama made several strikes against the Islamic State in his tenure as President, those acts were permissible by virtue of the Authorization for Use of Military Force, which gave the President authority to act as s/he sees fit in the pursuit of known terrorist organizations in the wake of the attacks of September 11th, 2001. Assad’s regime is not a recognized terrorist organization, but one of a sovereign nation. This proved a barrier to President Obama in 2013, when he sought Congressional approval for air strikes in Syria. Congress would ultimately sit on the resolution until it was rendered obsolete. This renders President Trump’s claim yesterday that Obama’s unwillingness to act in Syria led to the chemical attacks both baseless and absurd, but also calls into question the entire legality of tonight’s acts. While President Trump can seek “retroactive approval” from Congress in regards to these strikes, the question remains: what was so urgent that he could not seek such approval ahead of time, when he had time to warn Russia? This question becomes slightly more ironic in light of this tweet, sent out by Donald Trump in 2013:

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  • Senate Goes Nuclear: with a 55-45 vote, the filibuster–both against nominee Neil Gorsuch, and as a tool to force bipartisan consensus–is dead. The moment of the rule change marked the beginning of 30 hours of debate, after which the Senate will initiate the confirmation vote sometime Friday. Amid all of the known controversy surrounding Judge Gorsuch that I discussed in my recent post, it was also recently revealed that he plagiarized parts of his book The Future of Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia (2006).  If plagiarism can disqualify a student from admission to graduate school, it should disqualify a nominee from admission to the Supreme Court. Right now, the most important thing that members of The Resistance can do is contact your Senators and tell them to vote “no” Friday.
  • Nunes Recuses Amid Ethics Investigation: after a discussion with House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), House Intelligence Committee Chair Devin Nunes (R-CA) has temporarily recused himself from the Committee, pending its Russian investigation. He will be replaced by Representative K. Michael Conaway (R-TX). This news comes in conjunction with an announcement that the House Ethics Committee would be investigating whether Nunes made “unauthorized disclosures of confidential information” in his visit to the White House to review documents that prompted calls for his ouster. Nunes denied the charges in a brief press conference, claiming they were “false, and politically motivated.” Upon completion of his written statement, Nunes declined to answer questions.  Paul Ryan voiced support for Nunes’ decision to step aside, admitting that the Ethics investigation could prove to be a distraction in the Intelligence Committee’s probe. 
  • Chinese President Xi Jinping Visits Mar a Lago: finally, on an already chaotic day, Palm Beach, Florida received Xi Jinping, President of the People’s Republic of China. Shortly afterwards, and in what appeared to be a well-calculated power play, President Trump landed in Florida as well. Thus far the only clear commentary on the meeting is that it has been pleasant, but one can imagine that the two major topics under discussion are trade, and North Korea. Trump has promised a stronger trade policy after invoking the word “rape” to describe his impression of the present state of trade between China and the United States– commentary that I and others disavow as both tone-deaf and inaccurate in its representations. Tension over those comments, however, may well be put aside in favor of cooperative action in the face of repeated North Korean missile launch attempts in recent weeks. While this could be an issue of concern to the United States and the world as a whole in coming years, do not be surprised if these missile launches begin to be used as points of distraction in the following weeks, depending on the outcome of the air strikes in Syria. It appears the Trump Administration is looking for opportunities to demonstrate its willingness to use force, and North Korea could be presented as such under the correct circumstances.

Before wrapping up, I feel compelled to discuss President Trump’s press conference following the air strikes on a level that has less to do with reporting. The President, speaking much more slowly than usual in what seemed a relatively ineffective means of superimposing gravity, discussed the “tiny babies” who died in the chemical attacks. He is correct to describe these war crimes as an atrocity. That said, let’s not pretend this was any measure of sincerity: this is the same man who created a blanket ban of Muslim entry into the United States not once, but twice in his first hundred days as president. He did not care about the babies dying in the Middle East until they provided a convenient justification for his agenda, any more than his administration cared about rape until they could find one instance of an undocumented immigrant committing a sexual assault and politicize it to validate their xenophobia. If there is anything more deplorable than his overt ambivalence towards everyone other than himself and his inner circle, it is his willingness to feign empathy to advance his purpose.

Finally, it is important to acknowledge that attacks such as these have the very real potential to inspire or justify radical beliefs and acts in response. We have a responsibility to do and be better than this. That said, it is also necessary to recognize that retaliation is a strong possibility– stay safe and stay aware.

— This is the ALF, signing off.

The Cabinet: Who They Are and What We Know; The First Hundred Days Series Part 1

Hello all,

This is the first installment in my opening series: The First Sixty Days. With new news breaking daily, it is difficult to keep track of each and every one of the scandals and conflicts of interest within the Trump administration. Thus, I have consolidated them into one document for reference purposes in an effort to ensure that these events are not forgotten.

Heads of Department:

  • Linda McMahon– Small Business Administrator: a woman whose political experience begins and ends with two failed senate campaigns in Connecticut, and whose business experience is limited to helping run a multi-million dollar professional wrestling company, and who donated a total of seven million dollars to pro-Trump Super-PACs in the months leading up to election is now in charge of Small Business.
  • Betsey DeVos– Secretary of Education: a woman with no education background whatsoever whose family has donated over eight million dollars to Republican Super-PACs, and who is in favor of deregulating and privatizing public school, and who has claimed that guns may have a place in some schools as a defense from “grizzly bears,” is in charge of deciding issues of school choice– decisions that drastically affect the opportunities of disabled students to receive equal education.
  • Alexander Acosta– Nominee for Head of the Department of Labor: a man who made a deal with billionaire Jeffery Epstein in a child sexual abuse case– the same Jeffery Epstein who stood as a co-defendant with President Trump in a case where both men stood accused of rape and unlawful imprisonment of a child, until the case was suddenly and inexplicably dropped in November.
  • Scott Pruitt– Head of the Environmental Protection Agency: a climate change denier who remains unconvinced of the effects of carbon dioxide on the environment is now in charge of deciding emissions regulations. The Oklahoma State Bar Association is also now considering an investigation to determine if he committed perjury during his confirmation hearing in regards to his now-confirmed use of a private email server in his capacity as Oklahoma Attorney General.

National Security:

  • Steven Bannon–Chief Strategist and National Security Council “Principles Committee” member: former chairman of Brietbart– an alt-right blog with no journalistic integrity–and a white nationalist with no government experience is sitting in a position generally reserved for high ranking members of the United States Armed Forces.
  • Sebastian Gorka– “Deputy Assistant” and “Terror Advisor” to the President and the National Security Council: a man with a very unclear title–and therefore an unknown amount of oversight– and position who has been accused of being a member of an international Nazi organization, whose only response to the charge was to qualify that he was not a “full” member– effectively, that he had never taken the sworn oath of allegiance, although he inherited and continues to claim the title of association.
  • Michael Flynn– former liaison to the Trump Campaign and former National Security Advisor: a man who had several unsanctioned conversations with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak–a man known to United States Intelligence to be a covert operative for the Kremlin– in which he attempted to renegotiate sanctions imposed by the Obama administration in direct violation of the Logan Act, committed a felony by lying to the FBI in the process of an investigation, and then registered ex post facto as a foreign agent to Turkey– a piece of information allegedly known to the Trump campaign prior to his appointment. It should also be noted that one of the meetings between Flynn and Kislyak took place at Trump Towers, so the President’s assertion that he was not aware of the conversations, while not directly disprovable, certainly deserves a degree of suspicion.

The Campaign:

  • Ralph Shortey, former manager of the Trump Campaign in Oklahoma and an Oklahoma State Senator: arrested on charges of engaging in child prostitution and transporting a child for the purpose of prostitution, following years of work with a local YMCA youth program that is now under investigation, Shortey’s resignation from his position as a lawmaker has been demanded by the pubic, but not received.
  • Paul Manafort, former Trump Campaign manager (succeeded by Steve Bannon, below): a former employee of a Russian oligarch, received ten million dollars a year in exchange for his work on behalf of the Kremlin agenda in the years 2006-2009. According to Sean Spicer, Manafort’s most significant role in the campaign was his organization of the Republican National Convention– an event at which Sergey Kislyak was present (in staunch contrast with general precedent regarding foreign diplomats and party conventions) and later had an unsanctioned conversation with then-Senator Jeff Sessions.

The Inner Circle:

  • Mike Pence, Vice President: the same man who said that “mishandling classified information is a crime” in regards to the now-closed FBI investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server has been found to have used a private email server in his role as Governor of Indiana. While he has claimed that comparisons between his use of a private server and Clinton’s are baseless because the state information he was discussing was not sensitive, the emails were found to have contained enough classified information to be ineligible for a public records request.
  • Reince Priebus, White House Chief of Staff: a man who reached out to the FBI, attempting to pressure the agency into denying the existence of an investigation into any connection between the Trump Campaign and Administration and any Russian interference in the 2016 election–an investigation that was later revealed to be both legitimate and ongoing.
  • Rex Tillerson, Secretary of State: the former CEO of Exxon Mobile and recipient of the Russian Order of Friendship in 2013, who broke precedent by failing to appear at the annual State Department Human Rights presentation and is now intending to bypass the upcoming NATO meeting in favor of a trip to Moscow.
  • Jeff Sessions, Attorney General: a man who, in his confirmation hearing for the highest legal office in the executive branch committed perjury by his own definition, stating unequivocally he “did not have any communications with the Russians” in spite of two meetings with the aforementioned Sergey Kislyak– once in his official capacity as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and once at the Republican National Convention, a trip he billed using personal campaign funds and therefore cannot be dismissed as Senate business. (On an aside, Kislyak, who did not attend the Democratic National Convention, was only briefly seen at the RNC– long enough to talk to several Trump surrogates, but not long enough to participate in any official, sanctioned capacity.) Sessions has since recused himself officially from any Russian investigations, but that did not stop him from requesting the resignations of all remaining United States Attorneys on the same day the American Civil Liberties Union filed an ethics complaint against him for his misleading Senate testimony. Among those from whom resignations were requested was one Preet Bharara, the one United States Attorney who refused to resign and was later fired, and who, interestingly, was originally promised to be allowed to remain in his post under the Trump administration. Also of note, Bharara, prior to his dismissal, had been investigating a Russian money laundering scheme– the key witness of which mysteriously fell from the fourth floor of his apartment in Moscow days ago, prior to court hearings both in Russia and the United States.

If it seems odd that I chose not to include the President himself in this account, it is because his conflicts of interests and foreign ties are so deep as to deserve a separate evaluation, which will be forthcoming. I also intend, as another part of the First Sixty Days Recap Series to recall the executive actions and legislative intentions of the President, so stay tuned for that in the coming days. Finally, as the Gorsuch hearings continue and the House of Representatives moves forward with a vote on the American Health Care Act, look for summary posts on those proceedings in the near future as well.

If you found this blog post useful, or know someone who might, please give it a follow and a share. Information is the greatest weapon of the resistance, we must disseminate it as frequently and effectively as possible if we hope to succeed in the face of a government that appears intent upon suppressing truth.

This is the ALF, signing off.

House Intelligence Committee: Public Testimony on Russian Interference Day 1

Well, well, well. I just managed to get the settings on this blog configured in time for an incredibly slow news day… 😉

Right. Now that you all have passed the sarcasm test, today was an absurd day in United States politics. It was a split-screen full-day circus, with the House Intelligence Committee beginning their investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 Presidential Election and the Senate Judiciary Committee beginning their confirmation hearings for the Honorable Neil Gorsuch, nominee to the United States Supreme Court. If that scheduling feels like a sleight of hand trick, that’s because it most likely is– to say nothing for the vote scheduled on the American Health Care Act (AHCA) later in the week.

While the confirmation hearings for Judge Gorsuch will become incredibly relevant tomorrow and throughout the week, today’s nearly five hours of opening statements were not particularly newsworthy as compared to the concurrent processes in the House Intelligence Committee, so that will be our focus for this evening.

FBI Director James Comey and NSA Director Michael Rogers sat before the Committee in nearly six hours of testimony covering Russian hacking and interference, intelligence leaks, the Trump campaign and administration, and the President’s inflammatory claim that President Obama had his “wires tapped” in Trump tower during his candidacy.

To begin at the end, so to speak, both Comey and Rogers made clear that neither the FBI nor the NSA had uncovered any evidence to suggest that President Obama had ordered any unlawful surveillance of Trump Towers or the then President-elect. James Comey continued, saying he had also been authorized by the Department of Justice to say that none of their offices had any evidence to substantiate the claim either. This conclusive answer to what seemed an obvious question from the start–at least to anyone with even a moderate working knowledge of the rigorous standards that preclude FISA warrants– comes after everyone from Paul Ryan, house majority leader, to Mitch McConnell, senate majority leader, to myriad democrats and republicans alike denying–or at least failing to support–the claim over the past number of days. Thus, the Senate, the House of Representatives, and the apparent entirety of the United States Intelligence community all agree that such surveillance did not occur. The only parties who remain unconvinced are those in the White House. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer once again defended the claim today following the testimony of Comey and Rogers on the matter, insisting that there still may be more to the story. Meanwhile, the rest of us are more than ready to close the book on this one– other than to say that the President of the United States using the power of his office to knowingly defame the character of another public figure seems to violate the “faithfully execute the Office of the President” part of the Oath of Office, and certainly qualifies as a civil tort, but ultimately the pursuit of this is nothing more than a distraction in light of the real information presented in Committee today.

The story of the House Intelligent Committee today may as well have been A Tale of Two Cities: on the one hand, Democratic members focused in on the story of Russian interference in the election process and any possibility of collusion with the Trump campaign and administration, while on the other, Republicans focused their lines of questioning on leaks emerging from the intelligence committee. Briefly– leaks are a very real problem, and have the potential to endanger national security if not addressed. That said, Russian interference in our democratic process is a real and already existing threat to National Security, and should be acknowledged as the main priority.

The biggest story of the day happened fairly early on in Committee: James Comey stated unequivocally that Russia “engaged in a multifaceted campaign of active measures to undermine our democracy in order to hurt [Clinton] and help [Trump].” He stopped just short of referring to this multifaceted campaign as an “act of war,” but that did not prevent several democratic representatives from using the phrase. Comey also confirmed that the FBI is “investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government, and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts.” This confirmation came after Comey reiterated that the FBI generally does not comment on ongoing investigations except in “rare circumstances” where it is “in the public interest.” (The irony of this following his willingness to discuss what was already known to be an inconclusive investigation into Huma Abedien’s server days before the election cannot be ignored, but at least he found a shred of consistency.) Later, when pressed by Peter King, (R-NY2) Comey also declined an opportunity to deny that there was existing evidence of collusion–while instructing the Committee and viewers alike not to read into a statement that clearly came with a whole shipping crate full of subtext– and Brad Wenstrup (R-OH2) was able to get him to admit that in order to begin such an investigation into President Trump as the FBI is conducting, there would need to be a “credible allegation” or “reasonable basis” for such a probe.

Finally, to add a shred of humor on top of what was, generally speaking, an incredibly victorious day for the resistance… Donald Trump was, naturally, tweeting about the Committee hearings through his usual “alternative-fact” lens. A few hours into the testimony, the President tweeted from his official @POTUS account:

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Following a recess, Representative Jim Hines (D-CT4) made the brilliant decision to ask Comey and Rogers whether the tweet represented an accurate account of their earlier statements–note that the attached video, while unaltered, is cut off before several significant qualifying statements from the two aforementioned men. They diplomatically, but unequivocally agreed that the tweet was “not quite right,” and clarified that they did not “have any information on the subject [of potential collusion between the Trump administration and Russia].” While I generally find the President’s tweets to be abhorrent, they certainly provided an ample opportunity for some real-time fact checking and message clarification today– something desperately needed in a day and age where every word is twisted into a false and self-aggrandizing narrative designed to benefit the White House.

The real questions now are:

  1. What further information will emerge in classified sessions of the Committee and in the course of this investigation, and what consequences will emerge from such information?
  2. Should the government continue with business as usual, including the confirmation hearings for Judge Gorsuch, in the face of testimony that the President of the United States and his cabinet are under investigation for potentially colluding with a foreign power to undermine the sanctity of our democracy?
  3. And, how will President Trump and his apologists spin a live testimony? It becomes difficult to claim “fake news” when the entire country is watching a firsthand account.

It seems, finally, that there may be more answers than questions on the horizon. Until then– stay tuned, keep your eyes open, and keep resisting.

This is the ALF, signing off.