A Tragedy on the Rio Grande

This past week, a father and his daughter were found dead on the banks of the Rio Grande River. The photo, while disturbing and heartbreaking, is important for all Americans to see for themselves. 

The crisis at the border isn’t the “invasion” purported by the Trump administration, it’s a humanitarian crisis. The vast majority of migrants trying to seek entry to America aren’t gang members, drug dealers, or rapists. They’re human refugees seeking asylum from the danger, corruption, and poor economic opportunities of their native countries. 

Oscar Martínez, his wife Tania, and their barely 2-year-old daughter, Valeria, began their 1000+ mile journey from El Salvador. Before leaving El Salvador, the mother and father sold off what belongings they could to help facilitate their journey and build a small nest egg. They borrowed money from loved ones with the hope of one day buying a home in America. 

After making their way through Central America and Mexico, they eventually were within site of a U.S. port of entry. When they arrived, they saw that the bridge leading to the port of entry was packed with hundreds of other migrants. The human gridlock is due to a Trump administration policy known as “metering,” which took effect in May 2018. This policy essentially blocks a significant number of asylum seekers from entering the U.S. The administration claims they don’t have the resources to process asylum seekers, which then delays, prevents, or deters them from entering the U.S.  

In an act of desperation –having travelled so far and having what they envisioned as the promised land in sight– the father decided to circumvent the metering blockade. He and his daughter began wading in the waters of the Rio Grande, making their way to the Texas-side of the river. 

They initially made it safely across, but the father needed to go back for the mother who was waiting on the Mexican side. He left his daughter on American soil and began making his way to his wife. When his daughter saw him go back in the water, she instinctively went in after him. The father was able to get a hold of his daughter, but the current was too strong for him to make it back to safety. The river took their lives. Their bodies washed up on the banks of the Rio Grande. A photographer from the Associated Press was able to capture the tragic image.

This heartbreaking story is a microcosm for what’s happening at our southern border. The family was so desperate to make it to America, they literally died trying. And the mother is now a widow and childless. They were searching for safety, basic human rights, and opportunity, but it ended in tragedy. 

This family didn’t fit the derogatory and dehumanizing language often used by Trump. They weren’t gang members, drug traffickers, or rapists. They were a family who happened to be born and raised in a country that lacks the ability of ensuring the most basic and universal of human rights. They didn’t want to live like that anymore; they didn’t want their daughter to live and come of age in a place like that. 

We used to be a country that welcomed immigrants. The founding fathers were descended from immigrants. The very first migrants came to America in search of religious freedom. 

The European immigration boom of the 19th and early-20th centuries was triggered by oppressive governments and the lack of economic opportunity, among other tribulations –the very same reasons that motivated Oscar and Tania to come to America with their daughter. 

Donald Trump didn’t kill Oscar and Valeria, but his rhetoric and policies undoubtedly contributed to their fate. He uses dehumanizing rhetoric to refer to “illegal aliens.” His administration separates parents from their children. Once separated, the innocent children are treated with no care or compassion.

The photograph of Oscar and Valeria is disturbing to look at, but it’s important for Americans to see the consequences of their government’s actions. If the people don’t speak out about the atrocities, they will continue to happen. We’ve seen through modern history how impactful photographs can be. Hopefully, the photo of Oscar and Valeria will have that effect and their deaths won’t be in vain.


Trump: A Racist Then and Now (Part I)

Donald Trump has a long, documented history of being a racist. His racism, prejudice, and discrimination against minorities started long before his presidency, his 2016 presidential campaign, and before he was a household name.

The following instances are based on documented examples of Trump’s vile regard toward minorities. He’s used his power in real estate, his power of notoriety, and the power of the presidency to disenfranchise, vilify, and scapegoat minorities.

This article, however, will focus on Trump’s racist transgressions prior to his 2016 presidential campaign.

Racially-motivated housing discrimination


In 1973, the federal government sued Trump for racial discrimination against black New Yorkers who were seeking residence in his New York properties. Community groups were the first to raise flags on the discriminatory practices of the Trump Management Corporation. The federal investigation found evidence of a culture of discrimination at the corporation.

The feds discovered that black applicants had a “C” written on their applications, indicating they were a person of color. This was used as an internal indicator to turn down the applicant. However, most of the time, there wasn’t even an opportunity to fill out an application. Trump’s company would lie to black New Yorkers inquiring about properties, telling them their were units were unavailable.

Trump received a slap on the wrist for his amoral business practices. He was told to no longer discriminate against minorities seeking housing at his properties. He was also never required to admit to his discrimination.

Trump and his notorious lawyer Roy Cohn –infamous for working with Senator Joseph McCarthy during his communist inquisition and representing mobsters–  turned around and sued the federal government for $100M, claiming he was unjustly being investigated. Trump’s attempt at a countersuit failed. He eventually settled for not having to accept people who were on welfare as tenants.

However, while on a break from one of the countersuit depositions, Trump in private unabashedly told one of the federal lawyers, Elyse Goldweber, “You know, you don’t want to live with them either.”

Trump’s treatment of black casino employees


When Trump was involved in the casino business, he made racist comments about, and even segregate, black casino employees.

Based on reporting from The Guardian, John O’Donnell, a former president of Trump’s Plaza Casino, shed some light on Trump’s views of black people. Trump told O’Donnell, “Black people counting my money! I hate it. The only kind of people I want counting my money are short guys who wear yamakas every day.”

We also have the word of Kip Brown, a black man who worked at one of Trump’s casinos. Brown told a journalist from The New Yorker, “When Donald and Ivana came to the casino, the bosses would order all the black people off the floor.” Brown and the other black employees were confined to “the back” when Trump visited.

The Central Park Five


In April 1989, five teenagers –four black and one latino– were accused and charged with raping a white female jogger in Central Park. This ignited a social firestorm in New York City. Trump threw gasoline on the fire by publicly attacking the teenagers. He took out a full-page ad in The New York Times, with the heading “BRING BACK THE DEATH PENALTY. BRING BACK OUR POLICE.” The teenagers hadn’t even stood trial at the time the ad was published, but Trump used the incident to promote his public profile at the expense of the accused. By taking out such an ad, he was promoting the public execution of the teenagers before they even stood trial.

As depicted in Ken Burns’ 2012 documentary, The Central Park Five, the young teenagers were coerced into submitting false confessions. There was no physical evidence, no DNA linking any of them to the crime, and they repeatedly maintained their innocence after the initial false confessions.

Years later in 2001, the actual attacker, a serial rapist, confessed to the crime. His DNA matched the DNA found at the scene and confirmed he acted alone.

In 2002, the New York Supreme Court ruled to have their convictions vacated. As a result of their false imprisonment and the injustice they endured, they were awarded a record settlement of $41M.

To this day, Trump refuses to apologize for his public attacks against the then teenagers and the ad he took out calling for their execution. With the June 2019 release of the Ava DuVernay’s When They See Us, a Netflix miniseries about the case, Trump was asked as recently as June 18, 2019, about whether he regrets going after the teenagers. Trump said, “You have people on both sides of that. They admitted their guilt.”

This from the same man whose publicly supported convicted felons from his 2016 presidential campaign, such as Paul Manafort, who essentially engaged in treason against the United States. Manafort refused to cooperate in the Mueller investigation, so Trump floated the possibility of pardoning Manafort of his federal crimes. When Manafort was going to be moved to Rikers Island –the same abominable jail one of the Central Park Five teenagers was sent to– Trump’s Department of Justice, in an unprecedented act, intervened to ensure Manafort wasn’t sent to one of the country’s most notorious jails.

Birtherism


After President Barack Obama was elected to office in 2008, a racist conspiracy theory started to surface from the deplorable underbelly of American society. It purported that Obama wasn’t born in the United States, and therefore had a false claim to the presidency [Article II, Section III of the United States Constitution states only a “natural born Citizen” is eligible for the presidency].

Trump was the most vocal supporter of birtherism. He’d constantly call for Obama to submit his birth certificate. He also spread misinformation on Twitter, claiming he had an “extremely credible source” telling him Obama wasn’t a natural-born U.S. citizen. He made the rounds on right-wing media programs, reinforcing the racially-motivated conspiracy theory. He even called on hackers to check his “place of birth.”

The truth is Obama released his short-form birth certificate in 2008, but it didn’t stop Trump from relentlessly pursuing Obama’s origin of birth. Before Obama, no other president was ever accused of being born in a foreign country. The only thing that separates Obama from the previous 43 presidents is the color of his skin.

There’s no doubt that birtherism was born out of racism, and Trump was the public figure leading the movement. Birtherism was the seed that grew into Trump’s campaign for the 2016 presidential election.

The hypocrisy of Trump calling for Obama to release his [already released] birth certificate surfaced during his 2016 presidential campaign. While there’s no tradition for president’s releasing their birth certificate, there is a long-standing tradition of presidential candidates releasing their tax returns. During the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump refused to release his tax returns –something presidential candidates have been doing since Richard Nixon. Trump claimed he was under an IRS audit and therefore was unable to release them. However, there’s no way of knowing if he was actually under audit at the time. Moreover, there’s no law stating a presidential candidate cannot release their tax returns while under audit.

To this day, Trump hasn’t released his tax returns. In April 2019, the House Ways and Means Committee formally asked the Treasury Department to turn over the last decade’s worth of Trump’s tax returns. Congress, by law, has the right to request the tax returns of any U.S. taxpayer. However, after stalling for a month, Trump’s Treasury Secretary, Steve Mnuchin, refused to turn them over, saying it “lacks a legitimate legislative purpose,” which is one of a myriad of examples of the Trump administration actively obstructing justice by defying Congress.

Conclusions


These are just a few documented examples of Trump’s pre-2016 history of racism toward minorities. While there are those who try to underplay Trump’s race-baiting behavior as him simply blowing the proverbial dog whistle to American bigots, it’s simply not true. Trump doesn’t just appeal to the racist sensibilities of bigots, he is and has been a bigot all along.  

Trump: A Traitor in the White House

Donald Trump has admitted that he’s willing to accept information on his political opponents from foreign adversaries. This is the most treacherous statement made by a president in American history. It sent shockwaves across the country: the President of the United States openly admitted his willingness to accept dirt on his political rivals from adversarial powers. It’s a felony for a campaign or government official to accept anything of value from a foreign government or entity.

The Stephanopoulos interview


Trump is infamous for rarely giving interviews to actual journalists. The overwhelming majority of his interviews are conducted by Fox News. Most of which are designed to promote him. They’re not meant to press Trump for truthful answers to questions of substance. Fox News anchors, such as Laura Ingraham, go way beyond softball questions, tee-ball questions are much more fitting for these farcical interviews.

However, on June 12, 2019, when ABC News’ Chief Anchor, George Stephanopoulos, interviewed Trump in the Oval Office, Stephanopoulos asked meaningful and pointed questions regarding Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

Stephanopoulos asked about Donald Trump, Jr., who was testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee in reference to his Russian contacts leading up to the 2016 presidential election. This exchange led to Trump’s treasonous admission:

Stephanopoulos: But should [Donald Trump, Jr.] have gone to the FBI when he got that email? [The email being referred is an email he received saying a Russian national had dirt on Hillary Clinton]

President Trump: Okay, let’s put yourself in a position: you’re a congressman, somebody comes up and says, “Hey I have information on your opponent.” Do you call the FBI?

Stephanopoulos: If it’s coming from Russia you do.

President Trump: You don’t– I’ll tell you what. I’ve seen a lot of things over my life. I don’t think in my whole life I’ve ever called the FBI. In my whole life. I don’t–you don’t call the FBI. You throw somebody out of your office, you do whatever you do—

Stephanopoulos: Al Gore got a stolen briefing book. He called the FBI.

President Trump: Well, that’s different. A stolen briefing book. This isn’t– this is somebody who said, “We have information on your opponent.” Oh, let me call the FBI. Give me a break, life doesn’t work that way.

Stephanopoulos: The FBI Director says that’s what should happen.

Trump went on to say, “The FBI Director is wrong.” Mind you, this is Trump’s personally selected FBI director, Christopher A. Wray, who took over after the firing of James Comey.

This led to a series of specific questions about how Trump would respond to potential future offers of assistance from a foreign adversarial power:

Stephanopoulos: Your campaign this time around, if foreigners, if Russia, if China, if someone else offers you information on opponents, should they accept it or should they call the FBI?

President Trump: I think maybe you do both. I think you might want to listen, there’s nothing wrong with listening. If somebody called from a country, Norway, “we have information on your opponent.” Oh, I think I’d want to hear it.

Stephanopoulos: You want that kind of interference in our elections?

President Trump: It’s not an interference, they have information. I think I’d take it. If I thought there was something wrong, I’d go maybe to the FBI. If I thought there was something wrong. But when somebody comes up with oppo research, right, they come up with oppo research. Oh, let’s call the FBI. The FBI doesn’t have enough agents to take care of it, but you go and talk honestly to congressmen, they all do it, they always have. And that’s the way it is. It’s called oppo research.

The interview ended after Trump’s final statement.

A brief history of Russian interference and Trump-Russia collusion


Trump admitted he would accept campaign-aiding information from a foreign adversarial power if it was offered to him. Before the Mueller investigation ever started, journalists were reporting on the Trump campaign’s connections with the Russian government. After the 2016 election, every one of our intelligence agencies confirmed the Russians engaged in an act of cyber warfare against the lifeblood of our democracy: our electoral process.

There were also journalists breaking stories about collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, such as the now infamous Trump Tower meeting. This, coupled with federal investigators looking into the matter, led to the FBI initiating an investigation to look into any potential coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia. The FBI Director at the time, James Comey, was fired. Trump later admitted he fired him because of his unwillingness to back off Russia-related inquiries.

Comey’s firing set off a political firestorm in Washington. While the president does have the legal authority to fire an FBI director, the context and timing couldn’t have been more suspect. Trump’s former attorney general, Jeff Session, had recused himself from any matters related to the Russia investigation since he himself was part of the campaign. Therefore, the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, was tasked with overseeing the Russia investigation. Rosenstein appointed Robert Mueller to lead the Special Counsel’s Office. Mueller spent nearly two years investigating Russian interference, collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government, as well as numerous instances of obstruction of justice committed by Trump.

Mueller ultimately concluded that Russia engaged in a “sweeping and systematic” cyber warfare campaign against the United States. Mueller also uncovered over 140 contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian nationals.

For anyone who’s read the Mueller Report, there’s no doubt that the Trump campaign was in communication with Putin’s Russia. Some of the communications were done right out in the open. For example, during a press conference, Trump pleaded with Russia to find Hillary Clinton’s “missing emails.” Russia was listening and they complied with Trump’s request. Just a day after Trump’s appeal to a foreign adversary to dig up dirt on his opponent, Russian operatives hacked into Clinton’s personal email servers.

Before he even took the role of special counsel, Mueller’s hands were tied as far as indicting Trump. The Department of Justice has a guideline, which says a sitting president cannot be indicted for a crime. So, even if Mueller found undeniable evidence that Trump committed felonies, he couldn’t do anything about it. If Trump was caught on tape committing multiple felonies, he couldn’t do anything about it.

Mueller could, however, indict other people associated with the campaign and Russians involved in the cyber warfare. In the span of his investigation, he indicted, arrested, and/or convicted 34 individuals and 3 companies. Some of these individuals were Trump campaign members or associates and some were Russian agents.

Even though Mueller was unable to indict Trump, he was still able to investigate him. After two years, he released his 448-page report to the Justice Department. The report was redacted, but even with the redactions, a history of criminal behavior on Trump’s part is evident. The most damning evidence came from Volume II, which focused on Trump’s instances of obstruction of justice. Mueller found ten concrete examples of Trump attempting to obstruct the investigation. This includes obstructing behavior from Trump, such him instructing a White House staff member to destroy written records to Trump attempting to have his staff fire Mueller.

Mueller’s report is essentially a roadmap for the House of Representatives to use in impeachment hearings. He said as much during the statement he made before resigning from the Department of Justice: “…the Constitution requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting president of wrongdoing.”

Conclusion: Trump is willing to commit treason to get re-elected


After everything that’s happened in the past few years. All the confirmed reports of Russian interference and Russian contacts, which were all corroborated by the Mueller Report, taught Trump nothing. Even if he was truly ignorant of his campaign’s contacts with the Russians or was ignorant of the implications of appealing to an adversary to commit a crime against his political opponent, one would hope he would have at least felt deterred to engage in this kind of behavior in the future, but sadly that’s not the case. To make matters even worse, with his confession to Stephanopoulos, he’s even doubled down on his corrupt behavior. He’s open to accepting dirt on a political opponent from an adversarial power to benefit politically.

A foreign adversary wouldn’t provide information to Trump with no strings attached. They’re doing it to benefit their own geopolitical interests. The act of giving the Trump campaign information is a quid pro quo. It’s a transaction: Trump gets dirt on his 2020 Democratic challenger for president and then reciprocates by implementing or changing policies that will directly benefit the adversary. Therefore, Trump is willing to compromise our national security for his own personal, political, and possibly financial benefit.  

In response to Trump’s brazen admission, Ellen Weintraub, the head of the Federal Election Commission (FEC) said:

“Let me make something 100% clear to the American public and anyone running for public office: It is illegal for any person to solicit, accept, or receive anything of value from a foreign national in connection with a U.S. election. This is not a novel concept.”

Despite Trump brushing off calling the FBI if he was approached by a foreign adversary, the FBI’s own website contradicts Trump’s assertion. On the FBI’s “Contact Us” page, in the section “When to Contact the FBI,” one of the featured reasons to contact them is for: “Suspicious activities that you believe threaten national security, especially suspicious activity that involves foreign powers or foreign organizations.”

Trump, in his statement about the FBI director being “wrong” serves only to compound the entire situation. Aside from the fact he’s willing to publicly malign his handpicked FBI director, he also compromised the bureau’s efforts to counter Russian interference. It not only serves to demoralize the men and women of the FBI, but it also undermines the work they’ve been doing for years to safeguard our elections from foreign influence. Trump has literally encouraged foreign adversaries to interfere in the 2020 presidential election. This, in effect, would also apply to congressional campaigns. And if the president is willing to engage in this type of behavior, why wouldn’t a dubious congressional candidate as well?

The United States Constitution defines “treason” as:

“Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort. No person shall be convicted of treason unless on the testimony of two witnesses to the same overt act, or on confession in open court.”

United States Constitution. Article III, Section III

It’s not hyperbole to brand Trump as a traitor. It isn’t based on conjecture or hearsay –it’s based on his own words. Trump’s interview with Stephanopoulos is one of the most shameful moments in the history of the presidency. The integrity and honor of the presidency has never been lower.

Trump doesn’t serve the interests of the American people. He’s only concerned with his own personal, political, and financial interests. He swore an oath to defend and protect the constitution, but has repeatedly betrayed that oath.

It’s easy to become hypnotized by the daily chaos being reported out of the White House. However, it’s critical that this does not become normalized. The House needs to initiate impeachment hearings immediately. There’s a traitor in the White House and he needs to be removed.

Correction: Trump’s call for Russia to find Clinton’s “missing emailsoccurred during a press conference and not a campaign event.

The Quick Guide for Spotting Fake News

There’s a reason why Dictonary.com named “misinformation” last year’s Word of the Year. It’s because there’s been a dramatic influx of misinformation. Misinformation is defined as, “false information that is spread, regardless of whether there is intent to mislead” (Dictionary.com).

The internet is riddled with misinformation. Whether it be a lone individual, Russian shills or bots, political operatives, or politicians themselves: misinformation is everywhere. And with social media, a fake story –pushing the right buttons with the right audience– can quickly go viral.

The 2016 presidential election brought the term “fake news,” a form of misinformation, into the public’s consciousness. Donald Trump began calling any critical story about his campaign or himself, “fake news.” The audacity and irresponsibility of Trump dropping “fake news” into the American lexicon has served no one but himself. It distracts and misdirects the public’s understanding since he labels any critical story as “fake news,” which in and of itself, is fake news.

Strategies for spotting and avoiding fake news


Here are some simple strategies for detecting and avoiding misinformation:

  • Always get your news from trusted sources

There are many well-established news organizations that serve the public by providing fact-based information. The following news organizations are examples of trusted sources: The Associated Press (AP), PBS, The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Guardian, BBC, Reuters, USA Today, among others.

  • Get your news from more than one source

The best way to consume a news story is to read the story from more than one source. See how different news organizations are framing a story. Using multiple sources is the best way to feel confident that the story you are reading has been effectively investigated, analyzed, and vetted.

  • Understand the difference between news and opinion

In the news media world, there’s news and there’s opinion. The news is objective and based solely on the facts. Opinion pieces are subjective, but base their opinions on the facts.

  • Use fact-checking websites to discern fact from fiction

These sites are dedicated to taking a story and vetting it for factual information. If Donald Trump makes some kind of radical or ridiculous claim, you’re more than likely to find a fact-based analysis of the claim on these sites. They give you a full breakdown of the validity of the claim. They’ll provide you with an analysis of the statement, usually with a truth-scoring system (e.g. true, mostly true, mixed, mostly false, false). Some examples of fact-checking sites are: PolitiFact.com, Snopes.com, and FactCheck.org.

  • Be very wary of information on social media

This truth is under assault on social media more than any other place on the internet. You may see a news story on social media with a lot of likes or shares, which may lead some to assume the story is safe. This isn’t always the case. In fact, more often than not, people only read the headlines and like and/or share the story based on how it makes them feel. So, they’re sharing a story without ever reading it for themselves.

Twitter is generally a safer place to consume news since news organizations have their own verified accounts and promote their articles on the platform. Facebook, however, is a much darker place for getting solid information. This is why Facebook was a ripe target for Russia’s cyber attack during the 2016 presidential election, which was uncovered by journalists, American intelligence agencies, and the Mueller Report.

  • If you see a meme or inforgraph from an unknown source, it’s best to disregard it.

Social media is flooded with memes and infographs based on shaky facts if not outright lies. These “picture stories” are usually created in hybrid form of a meme and infograph. Unfortunately, it’s how a lot of social media users become misinformed on these platforms. The problem is compounded by the sharing feature: someone sees a provocative or sensational picture story, then shares it to all of their friends or followers, turning the victim of misinformation into a disseminator of misinformation.

  • Pay attention to the details

If you’re accessing a story from somewhere other than a news organization’s website (e.g. social media, text message, email, etc.), always check the URL. Make sure it’s not a cloned version of a website. If the URL says “.co” instead of “.com”, assume it’s suspect. If something feels off about the website, don’t take the risk. You could always verify the story is coming from a legitimate source by going to the organization’s website on your own.

Conclusions


Fake news is not a trend. It’s something we’ll all be dealing with for the rest of our lives. The genie is out of the bottle and it cannot be put back in. It’s possible to suppress fake news, but it’ll never be eradicated.

The United States House introduced legislation to deploy strategies for combating fake news (e.g. House Resolution 284), but the Republican-controlled Senate hasn’t cooperated with the resolution’s authors and it’s unlikely to introduce it to the Senate.

Without any regulation, we’re on our own. It’s therefore the responsibility of the news consumer to be aware of fake news on the internet. If there’s anything worse than ignorance, it’s misinformation. Not knowing a thing is better than being misled. Since fake news is the new normal, citizens must do their due diligence when consuming information. We all must be our own gatekeepers of information.

Mueller Translated: Start the Impeachment Hearings

On Wednesday, May 29, 2019, Robert Mueller broke his nearly two-year long vow of public silence. He announced the Special Counsel Office’s work is complete and tendered his resignation.

Since the release of his redacted report, there’s been infighting by Democrats on how to proceed, and spin from Republicans as to the report’s findings. Trump has attacked the Mueller Report on all fronts, yet still seems to promote the utterly false notion that the report exonerated him. And Bill Barr, Trump’s attorney general, misled the public on more than one occasion as to the report’s substance and overall conclusions.

Deciphering Mueller-Speak


Robert Mueller is a professional of the highest caliber. His reputation is steeped in qualities like integrity, honor, and fairness. He’s not a political player; he’s a professional. He doesn’t engage in hyperbole, and in his statement, never strayed from the carefully chosen words of his scripted remarks. Since we live in times of hyperbolic rhetoric, and Mueller has a strict code of conduct, we can’t mistake Mueller’s restrained statement as inconsequential. He’s never going to make an inflammatory statement, even if he may be thinking it. Therefore, we need to be able to read between the lines.

Mueller is the antithesis of Trump. While Trump will speak in an incoherent, impulsive, and stream-of-consciousness style, Mueller’s rhetoric is sensible and deliberate. Mueller speaks rarely; Trump speaks and tweets constantly. Mueller has morals and values; Trump is immoral and values only himself. Mueller speaks only on the facts; Trump lies so much the press can barely keep up with fact checking him.  

He hasn’t spoken publicly since he started his role as leading the Department of Justice’s Special Counsel’s Office. This naturally gives the times he does speak special meaning. He didn’t have to give a statement, but he did. This, in and of itself, should lead us to infer that he’s trying to communicate something important to the American people.

Mueller’s Statement Translated: Commence with the Impeachment Hearings


Mueller’s statement was brief, measured, and purposeful. There are two significant takeaways from his statement:

  • Mueller could not prosecute Trump even if he wanted to due to Department of Justice rules and guidelines. He was aware of this fact when he started, which influenced the way he conducted the investigation –knowing no matter what kind of crime was uncovered, he would never be able to indict a sitting president.
  • If Mueller had the evidence to clear Trump of criminal allegations, he had the power to do so –but he didn’t.

As counterintuitive as it may sound, it’s true that a sitting president cannot be charged with a crime. If Trump, as he once bragged about, hypothetically shot someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue, he technically couldn’t be charged with murder while he was a sitting president. This doesn’t mean he’s not culpable legally, however the criminal charges would have to wait until he left office.

Mueller, when speaking of the state of Trump’s criminality, said: “[if after completing the investigation] we had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so.” Mueller investigated 10 areas of possible obstruction of justice committed by Trump. Therefore, in those 10 areas, Mueller holds the opinion that there was undoubtedly wrongdoing committed by Trump, but due to the restriction of being unable to charge a sitting president, he couldn’t indict him. In reference to Trump’s wrongdoing, all Mueller could do was investigate it and write it down (i.e. the Mueller Report).

During his short statement, Mueller never used the word “impeachment,” yet in Mueller’s classically stark, subtle, and understated style of speaking, he said, “The constitution requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting president of wrongdoing.”

Mueller’s referencing the constitution’s section on impeachment:

“The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.”

United States Constitution; Article II, Section IV

While Mueller didn’t use the word “impeachment” in his statement, he did cite the remedy in Volume II of the Mueller Report. Impeachment is a political process and not a criminal process. From the start, Mueller knew his hands were tied in investigating Trump’s obstruction of justice from a criminal vantage point. Therefore, the only recourse is the political process of impeachment.

The vast majority of the Mueller Report is essentially a referral for impeachment. And Mueller’s statement was an appeal to Congress to initiate impeachment hearings. Mueller investigated and documented Trump’s wrongdoing, and then turned his findings over to Congress and the American people. Barr infamously issued a misleading summary on Mueller’s findings and then dragged his feet for nearly a month before releasing it. He did this in an attempt to manipulate public opinion.

In his statement, Mueller emphasized the importance of reading the report. He said he and his team selected their words “carefully.” He’s signaling that the evidence needed to initiate impeachment hearings are right there in the report.

Mueller and his team conducted their task with excellence and integrity. Nearly two years and not a single leak came out of the Special Counsel’s Office. The Mueller team did their job. Mueller gave the House the ammunition they need, and it’s now up to the House to use it.

Conclusions


For any rationally-minded person who read the Mueller Report, or at least understands the gravity of the areas of obstruction of justice, it’s clear this president has engaged in numerous acts of wrongdoing.

The world needs to see that we won’t stand for an amoral president. Future generations will judge us on how we dealt with this threat. Impeachment may not result in a conviction in the GOP-controlled Senate, but we need to establish that we did everything we could to fight back against injustice and hold this president to account.

When future generations ask what we did during these tumultuous times, nothing short of “we did everything we could” will suffice. This generation has a date with destiny, and the House needs to schedule it.

Propagandist-in-Chief

Last week’s article, Weapons of Propaganda, laid out the differences between disinformation and misinformation and its negative consequences on our democratic society. This week, Donald Trump has put the ideas and words of last week’s article into action. This isn’t something new; Trump engages in propaganda on a daily, sometimes hourly, basis. However, it’s important to take note of these deceptions as they’re happening.

The Winds of Impeachment


The winds of impeachment have been picking up in the Democratic Party, specifically in the House since it’s the House that must initiate the impeachment process. Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House, has been wary of starting the impeachment process. She hasn’t ruled it out, but has been reluctant to move too quickly. It’s not that she thinks Trump shouldn’t be subjected to the impeachment process, it’s the political calculus involved with an impeachment that she’s concerned about.

“If you come at the king, you best not miss,” is a quote from Omar Little, a character from David Simon’s masterpiece HBO series, The Wire. The substance of the quote is something that’s been at the forefront of Pelosi’s mind for awhile now. She’s aware that impeachment will be divisive for the country. She fears the possibility that impeachment hearings could garner public sympathy for Trump, as we’ve seen during the Bill Clinton impeachment process. This could have a negative effect on not only the 2020 presidential election, but also the 2020 congressional races.

However, the idea of Trump being viewed as a sympathetic figure by the American public has been disputed by many experts and analysts. Clinton’s Articles of Impeachment were founded on an inappropriate relationship with a White House intern. Most of the public viewed the Clinton impeachment as a political overreach. The case for Trump’s impeachment is much different both in substance and scope.

With the release of the redacted Mueller Report, which laid out nearly a dozen instances of possible obstruction of justice committed by Trump, there’s been an increase in congressional investigations in the House. The House has been trying to perform their oversight responsibilities, yet the Trump administration has been in a state of open rebellion against the legislative branch. They ignored attempts by House congressional committees to have access to pertinent persons and documents, and when they were left to resort to issuing subpoenas, the administration defied them.

All of these acts of defiance have put enormous pressure on Pelosi. She’s been lobbied by her own Democratic colleagues to initiate impeachment proceedings. In response to the lobbying efforts, on the morning of May 22, 2019, she met with the House Democratic Caucus to discuss their strategy for moving forward. It was ultimately decided they wouldn’t start impeachment hearings yet. She was able to convince her colleagues to be patient and wait for more facts to emerge from the many ongoing investigations.

After the meeting, Pelosi was asked by the press how they planned to proceed. She stuck with her stance on waiting for the investigations to churn up more facts, but made a weighty statement in three points, saying:

“We do believe that it’s important to follow the facts.”

“We believe that no one is above the law.”

“…and we believe the President of the United States is engaged in a coverup.”

The Democratic leadership from the House and Senate were scheduled to meet with the president later on that day. They’ve been engaged in back-channel discussions with Trump for the past few weeks in order to broker an infrastructure deal. The Democratic leaders said Trump implied he was open to working on the deal. He stipulated he wanted to see their infrastructure plan, so the Democrats prepared a document with a proposed strategy and budget.

When the Democratic leaders from the House and Senate arrived at the White House, it became clear they weren’t going to be discussing infrastructure. The curtains in the meeting room were drawn and there was no seat at the head of the table for the president, implying the meeting would be short and one-sided. When Trump entered the room he went off on a tirade, according to the Democrats who were present. Since he intentionally didn’t have a seat, he was in a literal position to speak down to the Democrats. The takeaway from the short meeting was Trump saying he would no longer be working with the Democrats while they were investigating him.

Meltdown in the Rose Garden


Directly after the meeting, Trump arranged for a press conference to be held in the Rose Garden. As the press waited for the president to walk out, it was clear to everyone there wasn’t going to be any announcement on an infrastructure deal. The pre-printed Mueller Report-related sign on the podium made his intentions clear: the sign, in part, read “No Collusion. No Obstruction.”

It’s obvious that the meeting with the Democratic leadership and the Rose Garden address that followed was never intended to be about infrastructure. Trump planned to go on the offensive all along (or on the defensive, depending on how you look at it). Why would there be a sign about the Mueller Report on the podium when the address was meant to be about infrastructure?

The Rose Garden address quickly turned into a tirade against all of Trump’s political opponents, both real and perceived. He went from one person and topic to the next, barely speaking a single sentence that wasn’t at least a partial lie.

Some Examples of the Disinformation Spread During the Rose Garden Address

  • “18 Angry Democrats,” as displayed on the the pre-printed podium sign. He made false claims about the Mueller team, saying they were all angry Democrats and were Hillary Clinton supporters. While it is true that a few members of the investigation had made financial contributions to the Clinton campaign, the claim that all members of the team were Democrats looking to take him down is disinformation. Robert Mueller himself is a lifelong Republican. The official who appointed Mueller as special counsel, Rod Rosenstein, another registered Republican. Moreover, the “No Obstruction” part of the sign on the podium is disinformation. Mueller uncovered nearly a dozen acts of possible obstruction of justice.
  • “I’m the most transparent president, probably in the history of the country,” Trump claimed. Trump is the least transparent president in the modern era, if not in history. He broke the decades-long tradition of presidential candidates releasing their tax returns in order to be transparent with the public, showing where their money comes from and whom they owe money to. Trump also declined to be interviewed by the Mueller team. Instead, he submitted carefully-prepared answers to Mueller’s questions, which were carefully constructed and combed through by his legal team. Trump’s Press Secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, has reached a historic low when it comes to holding press conferences. Press briefings are the main apparatus for demonstrating transparency between the White House and the public. As of today, there hasn’t been a press briefing in 45 days. There’s literally dust covering the podium in the Press Briefing Room.
  • Trump claimed, “I respect the courts. I respect Congress…” Since we’re in the middle of a constitutional crisis that’s currently being sorted out in the courts, this is another lie. He even contradicted himself in the same address when he said he would no longer be working with Congress while he’s being investigated. Most presidents, to one degree or another, have been under investigation, and it’s never stopped them from governing. In modern history, both Nixon and Clinton still worked with Congress when they were being investigated and even when Articles of Impeachment were being drawn up.
  • “I don’t speak to Russia about campaigns… it’s a hoax,” Trump insisted. This is another blatant lie. When Trump was on the campaign trail, he called on Russia during a campaign speech, “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 [Hillary Clinton] emails that are missing.” Well, they were listening because on that same day, Russian operatives made their first attempt at hacking Clinton’s personal email server. Moreover, in the Mueller Report, it was uncovered that there were at least 140 contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian nationals.
  • “I don’t do coverups. You people probably know that better than anybody.” One coverup most of the country is aware of is Trump’s efforts to buy the silence of the adult film actress, Stormy Daniels, whom Trump had an affair with. When the Trump campaign received word that she intended to go public, Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, brokered a deal on behalf of Trump to pay her $130,000 to keep quiet. Cohen is currently in federal prison, in part, since he violated campaign finance law by making the hush money payments on behalf of Trump. Cohen initially told investigators he paid Daniels off with his own money, which is partly true. However, it was arranged from the start that Trump would reimburse Cohen in installments of $35,000. During Cohen’s last public testimony to the House Oversight Committee, Cohen produced copies of the $35,000 checks, signed by Trump, some of which when he was President of the United States.

Propagandist-in-Chief


Since the events of May 22, 2019, Trump has been publicly attacking Pelosi. He called her “Crazy Nancy,” but then said he didn’t want to share nicknames, since he calls Bernie Sanders, “Crazy Bernie.”

Trump tweeted out a doctored video of a segment of one of Pelosi’s addresses this week, which made Pelosi appear to sound intoxicated or unwell. Trump tweeted the video out to his millions of followers with the caption, “PELOSI STAMMERS THROUGH NEWS CONFERENCE.”

When fact checkers pulled up the original video from C-SPAN, it was obvious the video had been slowed down to make it appear as though there was something wrong with Pelosi. The video went viral, being sent out en masse amongst MAGA supporters and right-wing figures. Rudy Giuliani also tweeted out the video, but deleted it once it became apparent it was doctored. Trump, however, has not deleted his tweet.

The person who created the doctored video of Pelosi was engaging in disinformation. Trump engaged in misinformation by tweeting the video out. In this case, his intentions were nefarious either way since his intention was to discredit Pelosi. This fact was sealed when he chose not to delete it from his Twitter feed after learning the truth. Therefore, this is an act of propaganda against Pelosi. The President of the United States openly engaging in propaganda against the Speaker of the House, the second in the line of succession.

Using the word “propaganda” is not hyperbole. It’s literally a dictionary definition of the word, which Dictionary.com defines as, “information, ideas, or rumors deliberately spread widely to help or harm a person, group, movement, institution, nation, etc.”

Trump uses a particular tactic in his dissemination of propaganda, using one-sided statements like “everybody knows,” “you people probably know better than anyone,” “you all agree.” He qualifies his lies with these false confirmations of consensus. In the example of the Rose Garden address, he’s largely speaking to members of the press –they don’t have the means to respond– it’s a one-way exchange of information, yet he creates the illusion that everyone is in agreement with him.

As the investigations continue and the possibility of impeachment hearings is becoming more and more likely, Trump will become more unhinged and more brazen. It’s critical that we don’t let these abuses of power to become normalized.

This week the courts have ruled to uphold both cases in which the congressional subpoenas were contested by the Trump administration. There are more subpoenas awaiting judicial review, as well as an appeal to one of the cases already ruled upon. This is how the system is supposed to work: checks and balances between the three branches of government. However, if the Trump administration defies the court rulings, then we’ll have entered uncharted territory. This constitutional crisis will turn into a constitutional calamity. Our form of government will no longer be a democratic republic; it’ll be a banana republic ruled by a tyrant.

The Rise of Barr and the Fall of Justice

In December 2018, President Donald Trump nominated William Barr to be the next attorney general. Trump’s original attorney general, Jeff Sessions, was cast out of Trump’s good graces after Sessions recused himself from all matters related to the investigation into the 2016 presidential election.

Sessions was a member of Trump’s campaign and therefore posed a conflict of interest, so he did the ethical thing and removed himself from overseeing any proceedings in the matter.

The Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein was then given the task of overseeing the investigation. Rosenstein was a career fixture in the Department of Justice, serving under three presidential administrations: George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump. When Rosenstein was overseeing the investigation, it was under the auspices of the Department of Justice and the FBI.

On May 3, 2017, Trump fired James Comey, the Director of the FBI. This threw most of the country into a state of panic: the President of the United States firing the head of the agency tasked with investigating him and his campaign.

As a country, we haven’t seen such a brazen act by a president since the Saturday Night Massacre on the evening of October 20, 1973. On that infamous night, President Richard Nixon, who was under investigation due to the Watergate burglary and subsequent cover-up, told his attorney general to fire the special prosecutor in charge of the investigation. The attorney general refused and tendered his resignation. Nixon then told his deputy attorney general. He also refused and resigned. Nixon finally approached the third highest-ranking official in the Department of Justice. He complied and the special prosecutor was fired.

After Trump fired Comey, the federal government was in a state of turmoil: the president had fired the man who was in charge of investigating him and his campaign. The parallels between the Saturday Night Massacre and the firing of James Comey were on the minds of the people who lived through the event and students of history.

On May 17, 2017, in an effort to restore confidence in the federal government –specifically maintaining the integrity of the rule of law– Rosenstein appointed Robert Mueller to the position of a special counsel . Rosenstein stated he “…determined that it is in the public interest for me to exercise my authority and appoint a special counsel to assume responsibility for this matter.”

Mueller was regarded as a legendary figure in Washington. He served as Director of the FBI for 12 years –the term limit for FBI directors is 10 years, but he was so well regarded that Obama extended his tenure for an additional 2 years. Mueller, though a registered Republican, was renowned for his independence, thoroughness, and integrity from Democrats and Republicans alike.

Trump was well aware of Mueller’s reputation. As we later learned from Mueller’s investigation, Jeff Sessions, who was called to testify before the Mueller team, described Trump’s initial reaction when he learned Rosenstein had appointed Mueller. After Sessions gave Trump the news, he “slumped back in his chair” and said, “Oh my God. This is terrible. This is the end of my presidency. I’m fucked.”

In his moment of despair, Trump didn’t know it at the time, but there was someone scheming outside of his administration, recognizing an opportunity: William Barr. On June 8, 2018, Barr penned an unsolicited 19-page memo to the Department of Justice. In the memo, Barr argued that Trump acted within his power to fire Comey. He criticized the premise for appointing Mueller and the investigation itself. He said Trump shouldn’t be subjected to testify about possible obstruction of justice offenses before the Mueller team.

Whenever Trump learned of the memo, it must have been music to his ears. Here was Barr, a former attorney general under President George H.W. Bush, writing what any reasonably-minded person would view as a 19-page cover letter for a job application. And lo and behold, out of the hundreds of eligible candidates for the position of attorney general, Trump just so happened to nominate Barr.

During his confirmation hearings, the memo was called into question. There were many Senators who believed it predisposed him to a conflict of interest in regards to how he would handle the special investigation. Nonetheless, Barr was confirmed by the Republican-controlled Senate. On February 19, 2019, Barr was sworn into office as the Attorney General of the Department of Justice.

As the new attorney general, Barr essentially became Mueller’s boss. Mueller was appointed as a special counsel, operating under the authority of the attorney general. There’s a different set of dynamics for a special counsel than for an independent investigator. When President Bill Clinton was being investigated for the Whitewater controversy, it was led by Ken Starr who was an independent investigator. Starr, as the title suggests, was free to investigate on his own terms, independently.

Mueller completed his nearly two-year long investigation and submitted his report to Barr on March 22, 2019. The Mueller Report is 448 pages long, not including all the relevant case files and underlying evidence. However, after only two days, Barr released a 4-page summary to the public, which gave Barr’s “principle conclusions” of the report.

Barr essentially wrote that Mueller determined there was no collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. He also wrote that Mueller was unable to find sufficient evidence of Trump obstructing justice. In the summary, Barr didn’t quote a single full-sentence from the report. He quoted only a few sentence fragments, which made some analysts suspicious.

The Barr summary set off a media firestorm. The most highly anticipated report –2 years in the making– had been completed, but was not yet released to the public. The only thing the press and the public had to base their initial impressions on was Barr’s summary.

Since the only insight into the Mueller Report was the Barr summary, it set a narrative of exoneration that spread across the country. The Washington Post’s headline read, “Mueller finds no conspiracy.” Similarly, The New York Times’s headline read, “MUELLER FINDS NO TRUMP-RUSSIA CONSPIRACY.” Trump told reporters, “It was a complete and total exoneration.” Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Trump’s press secretary, tweeted, “A great day for America and for President [Trump]. After two years of wild anti-Trump hysteria, the President and his millions of supporters have been completely vindicated.”

On April 4, 2019, The Washington Post reported that members of Mueller’s team expressed frustration over Barr’s summary, which is significant because Mueller and his team are known for being tight-lipped. There was not a single leak from the Mueller team during the investigation. A team member said,  “There was immediate displeasure from the team when they saw how the attorney general had characterized their work instead.”

On April 9, 2019, Barr testified before a congressional committee in the House. During the proceedings, Barr was asked by Representative Charlie Crist if he knew why Mueller’s team had expressed frustration with his summary. “No, I don’t,” Barr replied.

On April 10, 2019, Barr testified before the congressional committee in the Senate. Senator Chris Van Holden asked Barr if Mueller supported his conclusion that there wasn’t sufficient evidence to conclude that Trump had obstructed justice. “I don’t know whether Bob Mueller supported my conclusion,” Barr claimed.

The only people who would have access to the Mueller Report was the Attorney General’s office. Barr would take more than a month to release the report to the public. He said he needed time to make redactions, which at the time implied Mueller had not redacted his report for a public release.

After more than a month of having the narrative of the Barr summary seeping into the consciousness of the public, Barr set a date for the release of the redacted Mueller Report: Thursday, April 18, 2019.

The timing is significant because it was released on a Thursday, which was a strategic release in terms of muffling news coverage, being at the tail end of the work week, especially considering the report is 448 pages. It takes times to read and process that many pages, therefore revelations, scope, and context weren’t going to come out immediately. On April 18th Congress wasn’t in session, Passover was taking place, and the following day was Good Friday.

The public relations strategy for the report’s release isn’t limited to just timing. On the eve of the report’s release, the Department of Justice announced Barr would be holding a press conference on the morning of April 18th. The press conference was held before the report was even released, giving Barr another opportunity to rehash and reinforce the narrative being sold to the public.

A few hours after the press conference, the redacted Mueller Report was released to the public. In the ensuing hours, days, and weeks —as reporters, analysts, lawyers, and the general public had read the report— it became evident that Barr’s summary was at the very least misleading, and at worst a concerted cover-up to minimize the political fallout from the report’s findings.

On May 1, 2019, The Washington Post and The New York Times both reported that they had obtained copies of letters Mueller had sent to Barr in the days following the release of Barr’s summary. Mueller wrote the first letter to Barr on March 25, 2019, expressing concern that Barr’s letter had insufficiently portrayed the team’s conclusions. Mueller also attached a copy of the executive summaries he and his team had written, which summarized the report. This indicates that Barr didn’t need to write a summary; Mueller already wrote one.

The second letter was written just two days later on March 27, 2019. Mueller was much more direct in his second letter, saying the Barr summary “did not fully capture the context, nature, and substance of this Office’s work and conclusions. There is now public confusion about critical aspects of the results of our investigation.” Mueller also added, “[The Barr summary] threatens to undermine a central purpose for which the department appointed the special counsel: to assure full public confidence in the outcome of the investigations.”

Senator Van Holden, after learning of the existence of Mueller’s letters, has said that Barr’s testimony, claiming that he didn’t know what Mueller thought of the conclusions in his summary is “the most recent example of the attorney general acting as chief propagandist for the Trump administration instead of answering questions in a straightforward and objective manner. You now have a pattern of misleading conduct from the attorney general.”

With the revelation of the Mueller letters now surfacing, we have a much better understanding of what exactly was happening from the time Barr received the report from Mueller. Barr didn’t have to write a summary in the first place; Mueller and his team already prepared executive summaries. There was no need to wait for more than a month to release the report, which Barr claimed needed to be redacted. Mueller and his team had already made the necessary redactions. Moreover, Barr misled Congress and the American people when he claimed he wasn’t aware of Mueller’s opinion of his summary. Mueller wrote not one but two letters expressing his concern that the report’s findings were being mischaracterized.

Barr testified before the Republican-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee on May 1, 2019, but he was brazenly evasive and unforthcoming. He used delay tactics with some Senators, trying to run out their allotted time with answers lacking substance.

He was scheduled to testify before the House Judiciary Committee the following day, but informed the committee the night before that he refused to appear on their terms. Barr also chose to ignore a deadline set by the committee to provide an unredacted version of the report, as well as provide the underlying body of evidence gathered by the Mueller team.

Barr was not serving the interests of the American people; he was serving the interests of Trump. Instead of acting as the nation’s chief law enforcement official –upholding the rule of law– he’s acting as Trump’s defense attorney, manipulating the law.

We’re currently in the midst of a constitutional crisis. With Barr refusing to comply with congressional subpoenas, refusing to appear before committees, and snubbing deadlines, the attorney general is dismissing the legislative branch of the government. He’s not only broken his oath to protect and defend the constitution, he’s waged an all-out assault against Article I of the constitution.

Trump has instructed his White House officials to ignore subpoenas from the House. The Treasury Department has refused to turn over his tax returns. He’s suing Capital One and Deutsche Bank to prevent them from turning over his financial records to the congressional committees who subpoenaed them.

It’s easy to let the constant stream of news generated by this administration to desensitize and, as a result, normalize the daily attacks on our democracy, but it’s critical that the People don’t become jaded and complacent. With the legislative branch under attack, we’re just a step away from authoritarian rule. The founder’s warned us about the fragility of democracies. If we want to continue to live under a representative democracy, we cannot let the powers vested in our representatives to become null and void.

“Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.”

John Adams