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Archive for October 11th, 2017

Undisclosed deal guaranteed Roy Moore $180,000 a year for part-time work at charity

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Shawn Boburg and Robert O’Harrow Jr. report in the Washington Post:

Former Alabama judge Roy Moore, a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, once said publicly that he did not take a “regular salary” from the small charity he founded to promote Christian values because he did not want to be a financial burden.

But privately, Moore had arranged to receive a salary of $180,000 a year for part-time work at the Foundation for Moral Law, internal charity documents show. He collected more than $1 million as president from 2007 to 2012, compensation that far surpassed what the group disclosed in its public tax filings most of those years.

When the charity couldn’t afford the full amount, Moore in 2012 was given a promissory note for back pay eventually worth $540,000 or an equal stake of the charity’s most valuable asset, a historic building in Montgomery, Ala., mortgage records show. He holds that note even now, a charity official said.

A Washington Post review of public and internal charity documents found that errors and gaps in the group’s federal tax filings obscured until now the compensation paid to Moore, whose defeat last month of President Trump’s choice for Republican nominee in the Senate race will likely embolden far-right challengers to the party’s mainstream incumbents. Moore is the front-runner in the race to fill the seat vacated by Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

The charity helped Moore thrive – financially and otherwise – after his ouster from the state’s Supreme Court in 2003 for refusing to remove a Ten Commandments monument from the courthouse. The group has filed scores of legal briefs in cases involving conservative Christian issues, but it was in many ways built around Moore himself.

At a time when Moore was running for other public offices in Alabama, the charity kept him in the public eye and helped establish a nationwide network of donors while he took on controversial positions against same-sex marriage, Islam and the separation of church and state. Over the years, it has provided him with health-care benefits, travel expenses and a bodyguard, documents show.

The Foundation for Moral Law’s website routinely promoted Moore’s speaking engagements and his book, “So Help Me God: The Ten Commandments, Judicial Tyranny, and the Battle for Religious Freedom.” In his last two years as president, as fundraising dwindled, Moore’s compensation amounted to about a third of the contributions to the group, tax filings show.

The charity has employed at least two of Moore’s children, although their compensation is not reflected in tax filings. Moore’s wife, Kayla, who is now president, was paid a total of $195,000 over three years through 2015.

Moore’s charitable and political activities have also overlapped in significant ways. The former longtime executive director of the charity now serves as Moore’s campaign manager. The charity retained the same fundraising firm used by three of Moore’s most recent campaigns for state office, public records show.

An Internal Revenue Service audit of the Foundation for Moral Law’s 2013 finances, provided by the charity, concluded that it left out information about fundraising and other activities on its public tax filings and also identified discrepancies between those filings and its internal books. The IRS wrote that the issues “could jeopardize your exempt status.” . ..

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Written by LeisureGuy

11 October 2017 at 2:07 pm

Impeachment Standards and the Case of the Demagogue

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Bob Bauer writes in Lawfare:

argued here recently that the president might find himself accountable in an impeachment inquiry for actively deceiving the public by denying Russian interference in the 2016 election. There is clear precedent: Richard Nixon’s lies to the public about Watergate were the subject of one article of impeachment approved by the House. In Donald Trump’s case, he has falsely stated that the concerns about Russia are a “hoax” when he knows from intelligence briefings that the opposite is true. He took the deception a step further by helping to draft Donald Jr.’s false statement about his Trump Tower meeting with Kremlin-linked Russian representatives offering to support the Trump campaign. As in Nixon’s case, Trump would likely answer for these falsehoods in an impeachment proceeding that would include other counts against him. But he would answer for them all the same.

Since my Sept. 27 essay, a number of readers have asked me whether it could possibly be true, or healthy for a democratic process, that a president’s words—his speech acts—might fall within the zone of impeachable offenses. It is useful and important to engage with these concerns.

In doing so, I would take my previous argument a step beyond the case of a president who lies about a matter like the Russia investigation, a criminal matter with grave national security implications. A president who is a demagogue, whose demagoguery defines his style of political leadership, is subject for that reason to impeachment.

Wordsand the Case of the Demagogue

The objection to impeachment based on a president’s speech goes generally as follows: The talk of politicians is—for all sorts of reasons—loose, imprecise and not infrequently hyperbolic. At worst, the rhetorical excess to which many are prone can rise to the level of incontestable falsehoods, but there is always disagreement about whether specific claims are false. To police irresponsible or false political speech, and in particular to subject the wayward presidential speaker to the risk of impeachment, would invite dangerously destabilized politics. So, it is one thing to hold a president accountable for words associated with a criminal act, such as the obstruction of justice, but it is out of bounds to so lower the barrier to impeachment that the lying president faces losing his office.

To answer these concerns, the first order of business is to dispose of the notion that words may never form the basis of impeachable conduct. In Federalist No. 65, Hamilton defines an impeachable offense as one that inflicts “political” injury on a democratic society; it is not hard to imagine a chief executive who, by his or her speech, achieves this level of harm. An openly racist president would fall into this category. So would one who lied about the reasons for taking the country to war.

We need not rely on hypotheticals. The Nixon case is precedent on this question. The House Judiciary Committee approved an article of impeachment citing Nixon’s publicly stated falsehoods about the Watergate break-in and his actions to investigate it, as violations of his constitutional oath to take care to faithfully execute the laws and his office. There is, then, no basis for the claim that words alone cannot justify the institution of impeachment proceedings.

Then there is the demagogue, who is also a liar but whose falsehoods are not solely or even always self-protective; they are the basic material out of which he builds his politics. Demagogues deceive in order to succeed, to advance their own interests, in the service of which they display contempt for any limits, such as legal restrictions or ethical norms, that would get in their way. The Framers were deeply concerned about the demagogue. The first of the Federalist Papers sounds the alarm about the “perverted ambition” of the political schemer who “hopes to aggrandize themselves by the confusions of their country.” This concern with demagoguery also shows up in the last of the papers, No. 85, linked to its threat to the constitutional order—to the “despotism” that may be expected from the “victorious demagogue.”

James Madison also worried about the elevation of “unworthy” leaders who would have “very great powers” and against whom the polity should be “effectually guarded.” He was eventually consoled that the “infirmities” of popular election would be “corrected by the particular mode of conducting it” and that the country would be protected from “ambitious or designing characters,” such as the demagogue. While the trust was a “high one, and in some degree perhaps a dangerous one,” Madison reasoned, the Constitution provided the remedy of impeachment for high crimes and misdemeanors “at all times,” in addition to the requirement of an election every four years.

The challenge is to identify with reasonable precision when a leader has departed from the accepted, rough-and-tumble rhetorical practice—from the standard license afforded politicians’ speeches and utterances—and has become a demagogue. Too often the label of “demagogue” is attached to any politician tagged as a “populist” in one sense or another. A skilled populist orator, stirring an audience to resent entrenched, wealthy interests, is always in danger of being denounced in these terms. The criticism is facile, failing to distinguish between a powerful advocate for a coherent populist program and a demagogue who mouths populist slogans. As Jan-Werner Mueller points out in his fine book on populism, “there was no populism in ancient Athens; demagoguery perhaps, but no populism.” The two are not the same.

The late historian Allen P. Sindler, evaluating the legacy of Huey Long, offered a useful distinction between the statesman—the sort of “worthy” president Madison had in mind—and the demagogue: The statesman “socializes the [popular] complaint, and to some degree he intellectualizes the complaint to a higher plane of awareness, and calls for a revision of some part of the social, economic, or political framework as the necessary solution.” In other words, he is engaged in constructively communicating with the electorate; he is inviting the use of reason and engaged argument, promoting collective deliberation and informed choice. By contrast, the demagogue “personifies the complaint, intensifies the ongoing irrational elements or merely relieves tension by expressing feeling.” In so doing, he attempts to seduce his followers into “an emotional attachment” to him, to “his person.”

The Sindler definition gets at the key element in the conduct of the demagogue, which is the manipulation of language to attract and maintain popular support in service of the demagogue’s unbounded self-interest. The leadership function has become pathologically personalized; personal ends and ambitions are of primary importance to the demagogue. His self-interested ends justify the use of virtually any means—or at least any he could hope to get away with.

Among the consequences is the demagogue’s resistance to institutional and legal limits on that power. In Michael Signer’s words, the demagogue may, as he sees fit, “threaten an outright…break with established rules of conduct, institutions, and even the law.” When an adversary demanded that he heed the state Constitution, Huey Long infamously responded: “I’m the Constitution around here now.” To violate or circumvent the law, the demagogue believes that he requires only the proclaimed validation of the “people” who stand behind him. As James Fennimore Cooper wrote in his 1838 essay “The Demagogue,” it is in “affecting a deep devotion to the interests of the people” that the demagogue claims justification to put those interests “before the Constitution and the laws.”

The demagogue’s aims lead relentlessly toward the maintenance of high-pitched rhetoric and its ready escalation. He is, after all, a leader charged with giving effect to the popular will that he personifies and defending against the barriers wrongly erected against it. If constitutional laws and legal limits must give way, so too must the objections and opposition of adversaries. The demagogue specializes in lashing out. As Arthur Schlesinger Jr. noted of Long, “vilification was his particular weapon.” Joseph McCarthy, another classic American demagogue, specialized in personal attacks guided by a belief that, as his leading biographer has written, he was required to “bludgeon anyone who disagreed with either his methods or his conclusions.”

Of course, many politicians may slip into demagogic speech on specific issues or during election campaigns. The fully fledged demagogue is, however, that kind of politician and leader: Demagoguery constitutes his style of political leadership, a style irreconcilable with the oath to execute his office in trust for others. This is the source of massive political “injuries…done immediately to the Society itself” identified in Federalist No. 65. Theorists who have taken up the subject of the demagogue agree on the seriousness of the damage. So a progressive student of demagoguery, Michael Signer, can agree with the prominent conservative scholar Harvey Mansfield that the demagogue is an “enemy” of democracy.

The Senate’s censure of Joseph McCarthy illustrates the costs of demagoguery and is an example of an institutional response. McCarthy was, of course, a chronic liar: He famously and routinely ignored facts and fabricated others. He was ravenous for publicity and ruthless in its pursuit. He showed scant concern for constitutional or legal limits, and he observed no limits in his attacks on his adversaries and disdain for opposing points of view.

Responding to McCarthy in 1953, former President Harry Truman defined “McCarthyism” as the “rise of the demagogue” who thrived on the “corruption of truth” and “the abandonment of the ‘due process’ of law.” And in calling for McCarthy’s censure, an early and eloquent opponent, Sen. Ralph Flanders of Vermont, urged the Senate to defend itself from “demagogy [sic].” When the Senate did censure McCarthy, it included among the charges his demagoguery, in particular the “abuse” packed with falsehoods that the senator showered on Senate investigating committees and their members. This, the censure resolution stated, had contributed to his obstruction of the “constitutional processes” of the Senate. The injury to these processes was accomplished by words. His offense, Dwight D. Eisenhower wrote years later, was that he was a “vicious demagogue.”

If Congress saw in a president what Truman and the Senate denounced in McCarthy, would it not be able to consider removal from office by impeachment? McCarthy inflicted extensive damage on the political process with his falsehoods: whipping up animosities and divisions that undermined considered public debate and deliberation; trampling on individual constitutional rights; disrupting the functioning of the legislative branch; and seeking to intrude into matters within the jurisdiction of the executive. The Senate acted to isolate and disarm him, and for that purpose censure was sufficient, even if expulsion was an option.

The censure of McCarthy ended his career and his national political influence. While the demagogic executive is not within the grasp of Senate disciplinary rules, he or she is subject to impeachment, and it is not clear why Congress would be unable to meet head-on through the impeachment process the same danger of demagoguery posed to the democratic process; a danger that lawmakers would not tolerate in their own institution.

Resistance to this conclusion may stem, in part, from a tendency to legalize the impeachment process. Perhaps some take comfort in holding the definition of an impeachable offense as close as possible to the elements of a legal violation. Charles Black’s guidance shows how a blinkered legalism can impose unwarranted limits on an otherwise balanced, careful judgment about the scope of Congress’ impeachment power. On the one hand, Black was certain—and right—that impeachable offenses were not necessarily violations of law. On the other, he was adamant that lawyers must lead the congressional deliberation because “impeachment is a matter of law, foursquare and all the way.” If it takes Congress takes this view of the grounds for impeachment, it might mistakenly conclude that the closer presidential misconduct is to discrete open-and-shut legal violations, the more suitable it would be for redress through impeachment.

It is possible that President Nixon’s encouragement, commission and cover-up of actual crimes pushed perceptions of the impeachment process toward this legalized model. Nixon’s case was straightforward. The Framers intended a process more complicated and subtle, one fully open to evidence of corruption or unfitness that was “political” nature. Commentators, Black included, have generally recognized this. Black three-pronged test for impeachable offenses covered those which were (1) which are extremely serious, (2) which in some way corrupt or subvert the political and governmental process, and ( 3 ) which are plainly wrong in themselves to a person of honor, or to a good citizen, regardless of words on the statute books. “Extremely serious” misconduct tending to “corrupt or subvert the political or governmental process” certainly more than sufficient to cover the case of the demagogue. This may not be the easy case, but a great deal rests on confronting it.

Another concern about the impeachment of the demagogue merits note: Its possible misuse to settle disagreements over policy or express frustrations with executive performance. The charge of demagoguery would then take the place of, and operate much like, the offense of “maladministration” that the Framers omitted from the impeachment clause. A number of writers have built something like this into their definition. In other words, they have superimposed on the clause a consideration of the deleterious policy effects of demagogic leadership. Sindler, for example, sees in the personalized attachment of follower to demagogue the obstruction of “any group awareness of either the real sources of their discontents or the real areas of solution.” This could suggest that the ouster of the demagogue could be a battle over what should be accepted to be a “real” policy problem or solution.

We need not go there. The offense of the demagogue is not any professed policy goal or political program, but the pursuit of political glory through rhetoric built on lies, vilification, and disregard for the laws and norms of democratic self-governance. The demagogue may accomplish his or her particular harms largely, even primarily, with speech, and this speech—the practice of demagoguery—marks out the territory of this kind of political leader. But those anxious about any speech-centered justification for the impeachment of the demagogue might also keep in mind that the politics of demagoguery is a politics hostile to limits on the fulfillment of ambition, self-glorification and the pursuit of power. Contempt for limits is the breeding ground for their violation. For the demagogue, the assault on limits need not stop with words, and he history of demagoguery offers ample examples, such as the case of Huey Long, where it did not.

Fear of “Lowering the Bar” for Impeachment

Doubt about words alone creating the basis for an impeachment action usually goes hand in hand with conviction that the bar to impeachment should be kept very high. The bar-lowering consideration rests on the democratic implications of an elected president losing office other than by defeat at the polls. But, as noted, there is also anxiety about the shock to the system–the destabilizing effects–of turning an executive out of office in this way.

This argument fails to give due weight to . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

11 October 2017 at 2:05 pm

Kellyanne Conway denies ever saying ‘fake news’ as Trump attacks NBC

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Is it an actual requirement that White House aides continually lie? Judy Kurtz reports in The Hill (and there’s a video at the link):

Kellyanne Conway claims she doesn’t use the term “fake news,” saying her beef with the media is “incomplete coverage.”

“I’m a person in the West Wing who’s never actually uttered the words ‘fake news,’ ‘enemy of the people,’ ‘opposition party,’” Conway, a White House senior adviser, said Wednesday during a discussion at Fortune magazine’s Most Powerful Women summit in Washington.

“I don’t speak that way,” Conway said, responding to a question from Fortune’s Pattie Sellers about whether President Trump’s tweeting has added to “division and rancor” across the country.

Trump, who has used “fake news” to describe media outlets including The New York Times, The Washington Post and CNN, has recently turned his ire on NBC News following its reports that Secretary of State Rex Tillersononce referred to him as a “moron.”

After NBC published a follow-up story on Wednesday claiming the insult came when Trump told officials he wanted to increase the military’s nuclear arsenal tenfold, the president lashed out on Twitter, going so far as to suggest challenging NBC’s license to broadcast.

“I think we need a full and free press in our nation, of course,” Conway said.

“But with that freedom comes responsibility,” she said. “So my grievance is never about fake news. I talk about incomplete coverage.”

“What I’m concerned about is that this president — and I hear this from people who did not vote for him and from people who don’t always cover him fully and fairly either — so there is a concern they’ve literally never seen a president covered this way,” Conway said.

When pressed on whether she’s ever used the term “fake news” — a phrase made famous by Trump on the campaign trail to rail against media coverage — Conway repeated, “I don’t speak that way.”

Conway has, however, classified at least a few stories as “fake news,” writing on Twitter last year and in March:

And also:

https://twitter.com/KellyannePolls/status/803501614678020096

Written by LeisureGuy

11 October 2017 at 1:50 pm

House Democrats Push for Tougher Oversight of Regulators’ Conflicts of Interest

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Robert Faturechi reports in ProPublica:

A group of House Democrats introduced a bill on Wednesday that would require federal officials to disclose any potential conflicts of interest before they implement significant changes in U.S. regulations.

The lawmakers said the legislation is intended to alert the public if those involved in the decisions, including the president and his top advisers, would personally profit from revising or replacing the rules.

“President Trump ran and campaigned on this idea of draining the swamp,” said the bill’s author, Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I. “We see, in fact, he has filled the swamp with people who have deep business interests and may be using their positions in the government to advance their financial interests.”

Among those who would have to project how much they would personally benefit from any particular regulatory changes are members of the new deregulation teams Trump has installed at federal agencies. The groups are tasked with weakening or eliminating government rules found to be overly burdensome for businesses.

The Congress members cited a recent investigation by ProPublica and The New York Times revealing that members of these deregulation teams have deep industry ties and are reviewing regulations their previous employers sought to weaken or kill. Appointees include lawyers who represented businesses in cases against government regulators, staff members of political groups raising so-called dark money and employees of industry-funded organizations opposed to environmental rules. At least four were registered to lobby the agencies they now work for and at least two may be positioned to profit if certain regulations are undone.

Federal agencies have defended their deregulation teams, saying appointees are adhering to strict ethics rules and generally avoiding topics that would narrowly affect recent former employers. The Trump administration has said its deregulatory push is necessary because similar reviews of existing rules by past administrations were not rigorous enough.

Cicilline’s bill, co-sponsored by Reps. John Conyers, Raul Grijalva, Lloyd Doggett, Gerry Connolly and Peter DeFazio — all Democrats — would require “an assessment and quantification” of the conflicts of interest for any major regulatory action. The report would disclose any possible personal benefit for the president, his senior advisers and members of the deregulation teams, along with the heads of the agency issuing the rule, the Office of Management and Budget and the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs.

Though ProPublica and the Times have identified nearly three dozen deregulation team members with potential conflicts, a full vetting of industry connections has been difficult because some agencies have declined to provide information about the appointees — in many cases, not even their names.

Cicilline was among a group of Congress members who wrote a letter to the White House in August calling on the administration to release the names of all deregulation team members as well as documents relating to their potential conflicts of interest.

He said they have received no response. “This sadly has become the practice of this administration to routinely ignore members of Congress. That’s very disturbing to me and other members,” Cicilline said.

The congressman does not yet have any Republican support for his legislation, which would be needed for it to pass. “One would hope that shining light on this would be a bipartisan issue,” Cicilline said. Members of the House Republican leadership didn’t immediately return requests for comment.

The deregulation teams are part of Trump’s push to cut red tape across government, and have created a new avenue of influence for industries trying to kill rules they say hurt profits, depress job creation and raise prices.  . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

11 October 2017 at 1:09 pm

The government isn’t very good at keeping track of how often the government kills people

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Radley Balko reports in the Washington Post:

The National Vital Statistics System (NVSS) is supposed to keep track of how Americans die. It’s an important tool for assessing trends in disease, behavior and public safety, both currently and for historians. But NVSS gets its data from other government agencies, which in some cases get them from others. Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising, but when it comes to tracking deaths caused by government — in this case, people killed by law enforcement officers — government agencies are doing a pretty lousy job. The Guardian reports:

Over half of all police killings in 2015 were wrongly classified as not having been the result of interactions with officers, a new Harvard study based on Guardian data has found.

The finding is just the latest to show government databases seriously undercounting the number of people killed by police.

“Right now the data quality is bad and unacceptable,” said lead researcher Justin Feldman. “To effectively address the problem of law enforcement-related deaths, the public needs better data about who is being killed, where, and under what circumstances.”

Feldman used data from the Guardian’s 2015 investigation into police killings, The Counted, and compared it with data from the National Vital Statistics System (NVSS). That dataset, which is kept by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), was found to have misclassified 55.2% of all police killings, with the errors occurring disproportionately in low-income jurisdictions.

I suspect this is largely because the NVSS has been using FBI data on police killings, and thanks to the databases kept by the Guardian and The Washington Post, we now know that the FBI figure has been off by about 50 percent or so. That’s because despite the fact that police agencies were required to report the number of times their officers killed someone, there was no enforcement mechanism, so many didn’t bother. This rendered the data essentially useless. We’ll know more about trends in this area once the Post and Guardian databases are up and running for several years. . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

11 October 2017 at 1:00 pm

Trump’s threat to the First Amendment

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Jennifer Rubin in another good post this morning:

President Trump’s supporters have reveled in his and his administration’s assault on the media. Trumpkins were thrilled when then-chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon declared the media to be the “opposition party.” Any unfavorable news could be written off as “fake news.” With the mainstream media discredited, Trump could keep his supporters loyal and his opponents on defense. Republicans officials, out of fear or indifference or mutual disdain for the media, haven’t objected. Just blowing off Trump. Just being Trump. What could he actually do?

Well, lots, actually. The Post reports:

President Trump attacked NBC News on Wednesday, dismissing as “pure fiction” an explosive report that he had sought a massive increase in the nation’s nuclear arsenal.

On Twitter, Trump also raised the possibility that he would support stripping the broadcast licenses of news networks that report what he believes to be inaccurate information. The tweets came after NBC News reported that Trump purportedly told senior national security advisers during a meeting last summer that he favored what amounted to nearly a tenfold increase in nuclear weapons.

No president has publicly threatened to shut down a media outlet for unfavorable coverage. This is beyond the pale, further evidence that Trump seeks to emulate the thugs around the world like Russian President Vladimir Putin (whose alleged killing of journalists Trump once wrote off, because “our country does plenty of killing, too”), Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (whom he congratulated after a vote that outside observers found rife with irregularities) and Rodrigo Duterte, president of the Philippines (whose “drug war” Trump praiseddespite thousands of extrajudicial killings). House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.), Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), self-styled libertarians such as Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), self-proclaimed constitutional conservatives such as Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), high-minded “thought leaders” such as Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), once-independent and intellectually honest think tanks such as the Heritage Foundation and the entire retinue of Beltway right-wing groups that castigate the left nonstop would be horrified if a Democratic president ever suggested such a thing.

The threat acts to intimidate but also to signal to his executive-branch underlings, especially the Federal Communications Commission, that it is open season on Trump’s critics. You may recall how horrified the right was when they concluded that President Barack Obama’s hyper-partisanship created an “atmosphere” whereby the Internal Revenue Service was politicized and incentivized to go after conservative groups. Well, Obama never hinted that the IRS to shut down a conservative group; Trump has done more than hint that press outlets may face retribution for criticism.

Pass a resolution condemning the president’s moral equivocation over Charlottesville? Would be a “partisan hack-fest,” says Ryan! Investigate emoluments or self-enrichment by a president getting rich off his office? No time for that. Condemn politicizing the bureaucracy to go after perceived liberal critics? They’ve got tax reform to deal with! . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

11 October 2017 at 10:53 am

Sarah Huckabee Sanders and her lies about Sen. Corker

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Sarah Huckabee Sanders is perfectly willing to bear false witness and falsely disparage a Senator of her own party. She claims to be a devout Christian but apparently is unaware of the Ten Commandments, or at least the commandment that forbids bearing false witness. Jennifer Rubin has a good column this morning on Sarah’s mendacity:

The Hill reports:

“Senator Corker worked with Nancy Pelosi and the Obama administration to pave the way for that and rolled out the red carpet for the Iran deal,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said at a briefing.

Corker’s office said the claim is “not true” and that the Tennessee Republican opposed the Iran deal and worked with lawmakers to craft a bill ensuring Congress could review the deal, against the Obama White House’s wishes.

Sanders’s allegation is preposterous. Corker assumed the chairmanship of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in January 2015. At a hearing that month, he explained that Iran had defied international restrictions and he expressed displeasure that the administration was speaking about “dismantling” rather than destroying centrifuges, allowing it to resume its program at a later date. (“We have talked about dismantlement, and we have concerns of what dismantlement now means.”) He expressed concerns about how the deal would affect research and development. He added, “The agreement itself doesn’t speak at all to ballistic missile development. These are significant concerns for all of us. … [And the Iranians] still are stiff-arming the [International Atomic Energy Agency] relative to access to many of their facilities, which obviously continues to cause us to have great concerns about their trustworthiness.”

Throughout the run-up to completion of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, as the Iran deal is known, Corker and other GOP senators expressed dissatisfaction with concessions made by the Obama administration. In March 2015, he issued a series of warnings. “I am concerned our negotiators may be cutting corners and overlooking significant issues as they rush headlong into a deal,” he said. “Our nation and the world would be much better off if they would slow down or pause to ensure that if a deal is reached, it will be enforceable, hold Iran accountable, and be strong enough to stand the test of time. Especially with all of the turmoil in the region today, a bad deal is far worse than no deal. These negotiations will affect many generations to come, and should be done with the soberness and pragmatism that acknowledges its importance.”

Although the administration insisted that the deal would not be a treaty subject to confirmation, he maintained that Congress be given the chance to review the deal. To that end, he crafted and got veto-proof agreement on the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act. This was strenuously opposed by the White House and Democratic senators who supported the deal. The very senators who now seek to use Corker’s Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act to gain leverage over Iran complained that no review process other than treaty ratification would be possible. (If Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) had his way, there would be no review mechanism at all.) At the time, Corker explained, “Without this bill, there is nothing stopping the president from bypassing the American people, immediately waiving sanctions imposed by Congress and unilaterally implementing an agreement with Iran. This legislation ensures the president will submit an agreement to Congress for review and a vote.”

At a hearing in June 2015, he focused on one of the main concerns of the deal, one even more valid now than at the time. “As we begin to look at how to evaluate a prospective nuclear agreement, we cannot ignore that the lack of coherent American leadership in the region has left a vacuum that will continue to be filled by violence,” he said. “Without defined, committed engagement to counter Iranian regional aggression and to support our partners, the need for American involvement will continue to grow as conditions deteriorate.” He criticized idea of  upfront relief from sanctions. He observed that access to “$150 billion potentially overtime and having a growing economy [will] cause them to be even more strident in the region. Do you accept the view that the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism, a nation that has directly contributed to the deaths of thousands of Americans would somehow reform their behavior after being enriched and empowered for pursuing an illegal nuclear program?”

When the JCPOA was completed in July 2015, Corker was among the leading critics, pointing out what he felt were flaws in inspections, sanctions relief and the “snapback” provisions, and he flatly rejected the notion that it was the JCPOA or war. On the day the deal was announced, he stated:

Throughout these negotiations, I have expressed significant concerns to the administration about the crossing of red line after red line as we have moved from a goal of dismantling Iran’s nuclear capabilities to managing its proliferation. I want to read the agreement in detail and fully understand it, but I begin from a place of deep skepticism that the deal actually meets the goal of preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. … Iran continues to be the lead sponsor of terrorism in the world and relieving sanctions would make the Tehran regime flush with cash and could create a more dangerous threat to the United States and its allies.

He continued to speak out against the deal, lobby colleagues and rebut the administration’s claims. In a GOP weekly radio address in August 2015, he declared:

Rather than ‘end’ Iran’s nuclear program, this deal allows them to industrialize it over time — with our approval. Instead of the once promised “anytime, anywhere” inspections, this agreement gives Iran nearly a month of advanced notice to hide any evidence of developing a nuclear weapon. “And this deal won’t allow a single U.S. inspector on the ground, relying on an arm of the UN to conduct those inspections. … Over the next decade, it will gain hundreds of billions of dollars of additional funds. And we will have paved the way for Iran to have an internationally-approved nuclear program. Iran will go from a weakened state to an economically-robust country, without being forced to change any of its roguish, destructive behavior.

The president has said repeatedly that this is a choice between accepting this deal or going to war. It is not. Throughout the negotiations, the administration routinely asserted that ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’ and threatened to walk away if necessary. So clearly there was always another option for the White House — and it wasn’t war.

You can agree or disagree with his arguments, but the claim that he rolled out the red carpet for the deal is a baseless lie. One wonders how that smear came about. Is the administration simply flailing? Is the administration still confused about the deal, the decertification process and the arguments as to its flaws? This administration is unique in its lack of concern for facts and in its willingness to misrepresent reality.

We cannot trust the administration’s rhetoric because it misleads, intentionally or not, constantly. Why trust this administration and empower this president unilaterally to put the United States in violation of the deal (by decertifying the JCPOA and then reinstating existing sanctions)? An administration this erratic, unreliable, inept, uninformed and dishonest must operate on a short leash.

Moreover, nothing we have seen from this administration suggests it has the skill, finesse and credibility to decertify the JCPOA and deftly negotiate a better deal without wrecking the JCPOA, as Kori Schake of the Hoover Institution explains: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 October 2017 at 10:49 am

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