Putin, Trump, and Moscow Mitch: An Unholy Alliance

The United States is and has been under attack by Putin’s Russian Federation. This isn’t news to informed citizens; it’s been in the public domain for years now. However, as time passes and more investigations unearth the vast scale and severity of Putin’s hostile acts against this nation, the national security apparatus has never been more sure of what the Russians did in 2016, what they’re doing now, and what they intend to do during the 2020 presidential election.

The Russian threat


Putin has plotted and deployed a cyberwar on two fronts against the United States. The first front involves infiltrating our electoral systems to gather intelligence on American voters, and probing for vulnerabilities in the technical infrastructure that facilitates electoral regulation and administration. If the Russians find just a single exploit in a single state, they’ll have the ability to sabotage the outcome of the 2020 election.    

The second front is an insidious and highly-targeted campaign to influence the election by infecting the very fabric of our society. This is dispensed mostly through social media. There’s literally an army of cyber soldiers –manifested by humans and artificial intelligence– whose task is to corrupt the hearts and minds of American voters. This is carried out by fake news campaigns: attacking candidates unfavorable to Russian interests while promoting candidates favorable to Russian interests. 

An example of this type of interference is the 2016 hack on the Democratic National Committee’s (DNC) network. They stole tens of thousands of emails from the DNC. Some of these emails were released via DCLeaks in the summer of 2016. However, what’s most revealing about their intentions was the timing of their release. They saved nearly 20,000 emails mined from the personal gmail account of John Podesta, chairman of Hillary Clinton’s campaign. These emails were systematically released in October 7, 2016, just 30 minutes after news outlets began running Trump’s infamous Access Hollywood tape, which featured Trump bragging about sexually assaulting women. At the time, the Access Hollywood tape was widely thought –even from within the Trump campaign– to ruin Trump’s bid for the presidency. However, the release of Podesta’s emails served as a timely distraction which saved Trump’s candidacy. And for the rest of the month, to keep the attention on the emails and off the Access Hollywood tape, Wikileaks portioned out daily email releases until the end of October, nearly a week before Election Day. Wikileaks accomplished this feat by working with a hacker, at the time, only known as “Gucifer 2.0.” During the Mueller investigation, it was revealed that the Gucifer 2.0 persona was actually an operation carried out by Russia’s modern-day KGB, the Russian military intelligence agency GRU. 

The Russians manufacture propaganda and disperse it on social media platforms. Their propaganda is spread by unwitting Americans, thinking they’re viewing factual news based in reality. They also paid for advertisements on these platforms to ensure their propaganda reaches a wider audience. 

The Russians, as seen in 2016, are especially interested in targeting swing districts. These are districts that are especially unpredictable since the political party affiliations amongst the electorate are neck and neck. Flipping swing districts, one district at a time, would have the most significant overall impact on a state’s Electoral College votes. 

After the 2016 presidential election, every single one of our intelligence agencies investigated, concluded, and concurred that Russia interfered in the election. The Mueller investigation not only corroborated what the intelligence agencies found, but compounded on it. The Mueller team was able to convict 26 Russian nationals, as well as three Russian companies who conspired to influence the 2016 presidential election. Mueller dedicated an entire volume of his report –nearly 200 pages– to Russian Interference, and as the report concluded, “The Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election in sweeping and systematic fashion.” 

And over 2 ½ years later, investigators are still uncovering just how large a web the Russian’s managed to weave. The Senate Intelligence Committee, just a little over a week ago, released a bipartisan report that concluded the Russians targeted the electoral infrastructure, as well as voter registration databases, in every single state in America.

Why Trump and McConnell refuse to protect American elections


Putin attacked the lifeblood of American democracy –the electoral process– in 2016. The evidence is not only overwhelming, it’s indisputable. It was the first major cyberattack perpetrated against the United States during a presidential election, and it wasn’t a singular event. They are intent on striking again in 2020. However, the two most powerful men in the country, Trump and McConnell, are refusing to act, which is a clear and present threat to national security.

The problem starts with Trump. Despite the overwhelming body of evidence that proves Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election, he still refuses to even acknowledge it. In fact, he’s continuously sided with Putin over the 2016 election interference. He’s literally taken the word of a brutal dictator over the word of the democratic institutions in his own country. It’s not only the disturbing fact of taking the word of a hostile foreign power over our entire national security apparatus, he values Putin’s word over some members of his own administration. 

Just this week, Trump had a phone conversation with Putin. On Thursday, a reporter posed the question to Trump, “Mueller said last week that Russia is interfering in U.S. elections right now. Did you raise that with Putin?” Trump responded, “You don’t really believe this, do you?” The reporter retorted, “He said it last week. Did you raise it?” Trump then said, “We didn’t talk about it.” Trump then went on to lie about Mueller’s testimony and made crude comments about Mueller’s acuity during his testimony. 

Trump’s unwillingness to acknowledge Russian interference isn’t out of ignorance. It’s due to two main reasons: pride and greed. His fragile ego can’t accept the fact he didn’t win solely based on his electability. Therefore, any inference of election interference implies he’s quite possibly an illegitimate president. 

Then there’s greed. He knows the Russian’s gave him, at the very least, an edge in an already tight election –an election in which he lost the popular vote by nearly three million votes. Since being elected, Trump’s highest approval rating was 46% and his average approval rating is 40% (Gallup). By all metrics, he’s an unpopular president amongst the majority of the American people. It’s reasonable to assume Trump doesn’t think he could be reelected without Russian interference. And therefore, he’s willing to betray the sanctity of American democracy in order to get himself reelected. There are other unconfirmed factors that may also be at play. He has a long, documented history of having financial and business ties to Russia. During the 2016 campaign, he was actively trying to close a deal with the Russian government (i.e. Putin) to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. There’s also the possibility of the Russian’s having compromising material against him.

Enter Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell. He’s ruled over the Senate like a dictator –continuously blocking bills from reaching the Senate floor for a vote. This is especially true when it comes to the election security bills: he’s blocked nine over the past two years. On July 25th, he blocked two election security bills in a single day.

McConnell’s refusal to allow duly-elected members of the U.S. Senate to vote on an election security bill has branded him with a moniker that’s unlikely to fade away: Moscow Mitch. McConnell hasn’t been happy with his new nickname, which prompted him to justify his decision to block the bills by saying, “I’m not going to let Democrats and their water carriers in the media to use Russia’s attack on our democracy as a Trojan horse for a partisan wish list of items.” 

These so-called partisan “wish-list items” include making paper ballots a requirement, the protection to audit elections to ensure no indications of sabotage were present, ensuring states and local governments have the resources needed to update and maintain the integrity of electoral infrastructure, among other protections. These items aren’t ideological, they’re common-sense protections against the foreign interference that’s already happened. 

The only conclusion that can be made is McConnell understands Putin wants Trump and Trump-supporting members of Congress in power. Therefore, allowing these protections to be put to a vote and likely passed as law, has the real potential to damage GOP electoral prospects in 2020. There’s only one conclusion to be made: McConnell is open to Russian interference as long as it benefits his party.

After McConnell’s most recent election security bill block, Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee said, “Russia’s biggest ally in its quest to infiltrate elections again is Mitch McConnell.” He also added, “I believe foreign, hostile actors are going to make what happened in 2016 look like small potatoes compared to 2016.” 

Justin Amash (I-MI), who was a lifelong Republican up until a little over a month ago when he began speaking out against Trump’s obstruction of justice as documented in the Mueller Report. Amash was the only Republican member of the House to speak out against Trump’s criminality. He was outcast for doing so, and feeling dissatisfied with the Republican Party’s complacency with Trump’s behavior, he left the GOP and became an Independent. Amash tweeted about the McConnell situation, “There was a time when the GOP establishment hated Donald Trump. They then realized they could use a man like this—unprincipled, transactional, shameless—to push their agenda. McConnell and McCarthy are giddy about Trump. Conservatives in Congress are the ones privately horrified.” 

The Washington Post columnist, Dana Milbank, called out McConnell’s obstructive conduct in a piece entitled, Mitch McConnell is a Russian Asset. In the piece, Milbank wrote, “[McConnell is] arguably more than any other American, doing Russian President Vladimir Putin’s bidding.”

Conclusions


It’s a seriously dangerous prospect that the two most powerful men in the country are willing to look the other way while a hostile foreign power ramps up their election-interference machine. This is not being done for any misguided political ideology, it’s being done to maintain power. The promise of democracy is that power is vested in the people, and it’s the people who have the power to elect our leaders into positions of power, as granted by the constitution. 

This is beyond McConnell choosing party over country; he’s choosing power over the integrity of our democracy. Trump and McConnell are, in one way or the other, in bed with Putin, and our national security is at risk because of it. They can hug the flag and wear their American-flag lapel pins, but it’s merely a facade. These men aren’t patriots, they’re treacherous politicians willing to win at all costs –even if it means selling out their country to a foreign adversary.

As George Washington once warned, “Against the insidious wiles of foreign influence … the jealousy of a free people ought to be constantly awake, since history and experience prove that foreign influence is one of the most baneful foes of republican government.”

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.

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.

An American Crisis

The federal government of the United States is in the midst of a constitutional crisis. Some would have you believe the crisis was instigated by angry Democrats, seeking revenge for their loss in the 2016 presidential election. This is disinformation being perpetrated by the Trump-GOP-Fox propaganda machine. Despite what they want the country to believe, the truth is out there for anyone willing to seek it.

The Essence of the Constitution


Our system of government, as well as our highest ideals, are prescribed in the the United States Constitution. It’s the supreme law of the land; it supersedes all other laws within our country, states, and territories.

The constitution laid out a framework for governing by installing three co-equal branches of government: the legislative branch (i.e. Congress), the executive branch (i.e. the Presidency), and the judicial branch (i.e. the Supreme Court).

Article I of the constitution assigns the powers and responsibility for the legislative branch. Article II assigns the powers and responsibility for the executive branch. Article III formed the Supreme Court, which is responsible for interpreting and ruling over contestations to the constitution.

These branches are equal by law, so one may not overpower the other. The founders were wary of a single president becoming too powerful, so they ensured the Congress and Supreme Court had the authority to check and balance the Presidency.

Every government official, both elected and appointed, swear an oath before entering their respective office. The protection and defense of the constitution is the basis for the oath. The act of taking an oath gives weight to the priority and importance of the constitution.

The President’s oath is to “…preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.” Members of congress swear a similarly-worded oath, “… [to] support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic…”

The Road to the Constitutional Crisis


After Donald Trump took the presidential oath of office, there were many who thought his bullying and brash campaign antics would dissipate and he would –as all presidents have done before– rise to the occasion, putting aside pettiness and vindictive behavior for the good of the country. There were many who thought he would temper the furor of his base and become a leader for all Americans. As we’ve seen, this has not happened.

One of Trump’s first attacks was against the free press. He despised any news coverage that wasn’t favorable to him. He’s attacked the press consistently throughout his presidency, going as far as calling them “the enemy of the people” on numerous occasions. The press is protected under the First Amendment of the constitution. This wasn’t a constitutional crisis yet because he wasn’t actively trying to censor them. He has, however, done his best to discredit the press with the intention of manipulating the public’s trust in the greatest democratic institution outside of the federal government. The press is referred to as the “fourth estate,” as a way of symbolizing its critical role to our democracy; acting as an unofficial fourth branch.

The Russian government’s attack on our democracy is a fact. Before there was a special counsel investigation, 17 of our intelligence agencies (e.g. FBI, CIA, NSA, etc.) confirmed Russia had interfered in our election. When sources began reporting contacts between the Trump campaign and the Russian government, the FBI initiated an investigation.

It wasn’t long before Trump fired James Comey, the Director of the FBI. Comey was the top law enforcement official investigating the Russian interference, as well as the potential that the Trump campaign had a role in it. Soon after Comey’s firing came the firing of the Acting Director of the FBI, Andrew McCabe. With the federal government in a state of crisis due to the firings of the heads of the agency tasked with investigating the president, the questioning of the rule of law had to be answered to maintain the public’s trust in the federal government.

Jeff Sessions, Trump’s original attorney general, was compelled to recuse himself from the FBI investigation since he was a member of the Trump campaign. Therefore, the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, took control of overseeing the investigation from the Department of Justice. He appointed Robert Mueller as the special counsel, tasked with taking over the FBI’s investigation.

After nearly two years, the Mueller team completed their investigation. A 448-page report was submitted to the current attorney general, Bill Barr. Two years of round-the-clock investigating by a team of some of the country’s best lawyers, investigators, and analysts was summed up in a 4-page summary in merely two days.

We would later learn that the Barr summary was a misleading document intended to obscure and minimize Mueller’s findings. Barr held the report for a month, claiming he needed time to make redactions. This gave the Trump administration time to use the Barr summary as a way of swaying public opinion. Trump boasted he had been “exonerated” and most of the country was either confused or misled to believe the investigation was a “witch hunt” as Trump has often described it.

After the redacted report was submitted to the public, it became evident that Barr’s farce was beginning to crumble, along with Trump’s claims of exoneration. In congressional committees, the public saw firsthand that Barr was not forthcoming in his testimony. He told the Congress that he didn’t know how Mueller felt about his summary. This was a lie. The New York Times and Washington Post obtained letters Mueller had written to Barr in the days following the release of the Barr summary. In those letters, Mueller did express his feelings about the memo. He wrote that the summary didn’t “…fully capture the context, nature, and substance of this Office’s works and conclusions.”

The Constitutional Crisis


With the revelations in the redacted Mueller Report, there was real concern among congressional Democrats that Trump was abusing his presidential powers. Mueller found 10 instances of possible obstruction of justice in his report.

Barr was called to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee. If anyone wasn’t sure of Barr’s intent before the hearing, they were after. In his testimony, he contradicted the report’s findings. He was evasive and unforthcoming with his carefully-worded, though sometimes tongue-tied, testimony. It was clear he was supporting and defending Trump’s interests, rather than impartially serving as the country’s attorney general. Barr was scheduled to testify before a House congressional panel the following day. He refused to appear. He hasn’t appeared before Congress since.

For the past 40 years, every president has voluntarily made their tax returns public –every president until Donald Trump. Presidential candidates voluntarily release their tax returns as an act of good faith, showing the public exactly where their money is coming from and to whom they may be indebted to. It’s meant to expose, and therefore prevent, any conflicts of interest.

Trump has been using the excuse for years now that he can’t release his tax returns because he’s under audit. Regardless of whether or not that’s true, which it likely isn’t, federal law states that the Congress can obtain the tax returns of any American –including the president. So, in the middle of the Barr controversy, when a House committee –exercising their constitutional duty of oversight over the executive branch– requested Trump’s tax returns from the Department of the Treasury. Steve Mncuchin, Trump’s Treasury secretary, missed the deadline for turning over the tax returns and has since said he will refuse to turn them over, saying it “lacks any legitimate legislative purposes.” This excuse has no merit since it’s the purpose of the Oversight Committee to perform oversight.

The House Oversight Committee also sent out subpoenas to Capital One and Deutsche Bank for Trump’s financial records. This was done in order to get more information on Trump’s business ties, particularly with foreign entities, which is again to ensure Trump isn’t compromised due to conflicts of interest. Since Trump can’t order a corporation to refuse the subpoenas, he resorted to suing Elijah Cummings, the Chairman of the Oversight Committee. This will tie the matter up in the courts –a tactic Trump is infamous for.

The House Judiciary Committee issued a subpoena to testify to Don McGahn, Trump’s former White House Counsel. McGahn was a key witness to many of the obstruction of justice instances in the Mueller Report. On May 2, 2019, Trump declared he wouldn’t allow McGahn to testify before the committee.

The Judiciary Committees also issued subpoenas to obtain the full, unredacted Mueller Report, along with all of the report’s underlying evidence, but that subpoena has also been ignored by Barr. Trump has claimed executive privilege over the entire Mueller Report and all of its underlying evidence. The power of executive privilege is used by presidents to keep sensitive information from being made public so the government can function without being impaired. This is a nonsensical argument since the information has already been uncovered and made its way into the report. It’s akin to trying to put the proverbial toothpaste back in the tube.

In response to Barr’s refusal to appear before the House Judiciary Committee and his disregard for congressional subpoenas, on May 8, 2019, the committee voted to hold Barr in contempt of Congress. The contempt charge will soon be brought to the floor for the entire House to vote on.

On that same day, May 8th, the Republican-controlled Senate Intelligence Committee issued a subpoena to Donald Trump, Jr. in reference to the now infamous Trump Tower meeting he had with Russians during the campaign. Donald Trump, Jr. has since remarked that he may ignore the subpoena or exercise his Fifth Amendment right to not incriminate himself.

After the vote to hold Barr in contempt of Congress, the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee declared, “We are now in a constitutional crisis.”

Why a Constitutional Crisis is Serious


If the Congress is consistently and blatantly being defied by the Trump administration, then the sanctity of the constitution is at risk –our whole system of government is at risk. If the power of the Congress is being nullified by the Trump administration, and it’s permitted to stand, we’re no longer a democratic republic. Chairman Nadler touched on this after the contempt vote, “Now is the time of testing whether we can keep a republic, or whether this republic is destined to change into a different, more tyrannical form of government.”

This should be a grave concern to all Americans, regardless of political ideology. The Senators and Representatives in Congress are our elected officials. They’re there to represent the People. Therefore, an attack on the Congress is an attack on the People. If the Congress is reduced to a non-binding body and is losing power, the Trump administration is absorbing those powers.

We cannot permit these tyrannical acts to go unchecked. Democracies aren’t made of steel; they’re made of glass. All it takes is a few cracks until the whole system of government comes shattering down. A millennia ago, Plato warned that democracies are a prelude to tyranny. Our founders understood this, and designed the constitution accordingly, but if the constitution isn’t protected, defended, and ultimately enforced, Plato’s warning will become a realized prophecy.

The founders and revolutionaries used both the pen and the sword to fight for their independence, breaking the monarchical bonds of the British Empire. Blood has been shed by millions of Americans fighting for values like freedom and justice. If our elected representatives have little or no power, then our freedom is slipping away. If our system of justice is being used to protect and defend the president, there’s no longer justice for all. If this constitutional crisis becomes a constitutional calamity, we’ll be living in a very different country, as will the untold millions who come after us.

The Citizen’s Guide to Impeachment

Impeachment has been in the air, to one degree or another, since Donald J. Trump took office. Much of it has come from his political opponents and ordinary citizens, disapproving of his conduct while serving as President of the United States.

However, since the public release of the Mueller Report on April 18, 2019, talk of impeachment has reached a fevered pitch, and for good reason.

There’s strong and objective arguments to be made for impeachment. However, this particular article will delve into the history, process, and implications of impeachment.

Constitutional History


In 1787, the founders debated over the design of the federal government at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. They formed a federal government comprised of three co-equal branches: the legislative (Congress), the executive (Presidency), and the judicial (Supreme Court).

The founders were fearful of the ramifications of having a corrupt, immoral figure clothed with the immense power of the presidency. In fact, they were so concerned with the potential of a tyrannical leader, they discussed the idea of impeachment before they even formed the constitutional basis for the presidency (Article II of the U.S. Constitution).

The founders agreed upon a set of criteria for what would would constitute an impeachable offense. This is described in Article II (i.e. executive branch), Section IV of the constitution:

“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.”

The language used by the founders is meant to be ambiguous to a degree, ensuring future generations would have a constitutional foundation to build upon to suit the needs of the times.

Impeachment Process: The House


Congress has a constitutional responsibility to provide oversight over the presidency –it’s part of the “checks and balances” every American child learns about in school. The United States Constitution was designed so each branch would have the power to check and balance the other branches.

The impeachment process is initiated in the House of Representatives. If there’s suspicion or evidence that the president may have committed an impeachable offence(s) –as described in the constitution– there are two ways the House can initiate impeachment proceedings: (1) an individual House member could formally issue a resolution for impeachment, or (2) the “House could initiate proceedings by passing a resolution authorizing impeachment.1” The latter is more likely to occur than the former.

In modern history, the Judiciary Committee has been the congressional committee authorized to initiate impeachment proceedings. If the committee decides the charges against the president are worthy, the committee advises the House majority leader (i.e. the Speaker of the House). It’s then up to the House majority leader to bring the articles of impeachment to the House floor for a vote. A majority vote is required to pass the articles of impeachment.2 If more than 50% of House members vote in favor of impeachment, then the proceedings move up to the Senate.

Impeachment Process: The Senate


Once the House passes the articles of impeachment, the Senate will subsequently conduct a trial. The trial has all the trappings of a traditional legal trial: there’s a team of prosecutors and a team of defense attorneys, with each side using cross-examination and the calling of witnesses, among other legal methods.

The House appoints members who act as prosecutors. These members are traditionally from the House Judiciary Committee. The president has the right to appoint his own attorneys to mount a defense. The impeachment proceedings are presided over by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.3 And it’s the members of the Senate who act as the jury.

When the trial has concluded, the Senate will typically convene in private –just as a traditional jury does. In order to convict the president, a two-thirds “supermajority” is required. Since the Senate is comprised of 100 Senators, this means 67 Senators would have to vote to convict. If the supermajority is reached, the president is automatically removed from office.

Conclusions


The process of impeaching a president is essentially a two-step process. The House votes to pass articles of impeachment, which is akin to an indictment. The Senate then holds a trial with appointed House members acting as the prosecution and the president’s personally-appointed lawyers acting as the defense. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court is the presiding judge, and the Senators are the jury.

It’s possible for a president to be impeached, but not convicted. In fact, the two former presidents –Andrew Johnson (1868) and Bill Clinton (1998)– to have articles of impeachment passed against them were not convicted by the Senate and therefore remained in power. President Richard Nixon evaded the impeachment process by resigning in 1974.

While the impeachment process requires grounds for treason, bribery, high crimes (i.e. felonies), and/or misdemeanors, it’s a political process and not a criminal process. This means even if a president is convicted in the Senate, they will not be criminally charged and sentenced. The ultimate fate of a convicted president is removal from office. There is, however, still the possibility of criminal charges being filed against a president once the the president returns to being an ordinary citizen.


References

  1. History of Impeachment – The Official House of Representatives Website
  2. How the Impeachment Process Works – The New York Times
  3. Impeaching a President – The Law Dictionary (thelawdictionary.org)   

Correction: The original version of this article had an incorrect release date for the Mueller Report (April 14, 2019). The report was released to the public on April 18, 2019.

Trump: A President of His People, by His People, for His People

The United States is the government “of the people, by the people, for the people,” and therefore the President of the United States is obligated to be president to all the people.

All presidents have been members of political parties: Democrats and Republicans form our modern two-party system. When presidential candidates are on the campaign trail, they will often go on the offensive against their opponent and their opponent’s political views. There’s nothing nefarious about this; they’re rallying their base to their cause and trying to gain the support of those still undecided.

However, once Election Day ends and a new president is chosen, it’s been a long-standing American tradition for the president-elect to tone down the partisan rhetoric and rise to their position not as president of their political party –but to cast aside the polarization of political parties– and ascend as the President of the United States, representing the welfare and interests of all the people.

THE RISE OF PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP


With the 2016 election of Donald Trump, the president-to-all tradition has become a thing of the past. When his opponent for the presidency, Hillary Clinton, conceded in the early morning hours of November 9th, 2016, President-elect Trump gave his victory speech.

Despite waging one of the most callous presidential campaigns in American history, his victory speech indicated he would rise above the callousness and carry on the president-for-all tradition:

“Now it’s time for America to bind the wounds of division; have to get together. To all Republicans and Democrats and independents across this nation, I say it is time for us to come together as one united people. It’s time. I pledge to every citizen of our land that I will be president for all Americans, and this is so important to me.”

BREAKING THE PLEDGE


It didn’t take very long for President Trump to break his pledge. In fact, the pledge was broken before he was even inaugurated. In the month after the election, President-elect Trump gave nearly a dozen post-election victory rallies. All of these victory rallies were held in states that casted their electoral votes to Trump.

On January 20, 2017, the day of Trump’s inauguration, he already filed the paperwork for his 2020 reelection, earlier than any president in American history. And, as we have learned, this isn’t a matter of Trump being clerically expeditious. Instead, he was paving the way to perpetually conduct political rallies for his supporters.   

His first post-election campaign rally was held on February 18, 2017 in Melbourne, FL –a re-election rally being held less than a month after being sworn into office. Trump held rallies at least once a month for the remainder of 2017, and with increasing frequency, continues to hold them.

A PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED BASE OF AMERICA


President Trump’s post-election rallies were no different than his pre-election rallies. The rallies were used, at least in part, to water the seeds of discord that he had planted in his pre-election rallies. They were used as a vehicle to keep his base engaged and enraged, using polarizing rhetoric against his perceived enemies. He used the platform to both mock and discredit his perceived enemies. This, by design, made Trump’s enemies his supporters’ enemies, which only served to make his supporters more fervent. He is their dark shepherd and they are his flock.

In a recent news analysis, Peter Baker, chief White House correspondent for The New York Times, wrote an article asserting President Trump has done away with the president-for-all tradition, “Mr. Trump does not bother with the pretense. He is speaking to his people, not the people. He has become, or so it often seems, the president of the United Base of America.”

As a result of unfavorable reporting, one of the first American institutions attacked by Trump was the free press. The press hasn’t often been viewed favorably by former presidents, but their frustrations were usually controlled and relatively based on reason (e.g. in times of war, a president wouldn’t want the press hurting the war effort with unfavorable reports).

With Trump, he openly expresses his disdain toward the press, going so far as to call them “the enemy of the people,” which is incredibly dangerous rhetoric for a president to be using. The free press is protected by the First Amendment. Their purpose is to inform the public, so the public is capable of making informed decisions. Therefore, Trump’s rhetoric undermines the lifeblood of democracy: reliable information.

Unfortunately, “the enemy of the people” language wasn’t a one-time occurrence. He’s made the accusation dozens of times: at rallies, in interviews, on Twitter, etc. As recently as February 20, 2019, Trump tweeted, “The New York Times reporting is false. They are a true ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE!”

Trump has also used inflammatory rhetoric against Democrats. He’s mocked Democratic members of congress, making up nicknames for Democrats he’s targeting at the moment. The nicknames aren’t new for Trump. He’s been doing it since he started his 2016 presidential bid. He’s had nicknames for his GOP primary opponents, and he’s even referred to members of his own administration with these juvenile nicknames.

The extent of the president’s common decency is virtually non-existent. Having poor decency is one thing, but making serious accusations against Democrats is something else entirely. When he felt Democrats weren’t clapping enough during his 2018 State of the Union address, some days later he told his supporters at a rally:

“They were like death. And un-American. Somebody said ‘treasonous.’ I mean, yeah, I guess, why not? Can we call that treason? Why not?”

For a president to use the word “treason” in reference to Democrats not applauding him is deeply troubling for a democratic society. These are senators and representatives who were put into power by the citizens of their respective states and districts in the United States –the country Trump was elected to lead. So it’s not only an attack on the Democratic members of congress themselves, it’s also, in effect, an attack on the citizens who elected them.

CONCLUSIONS


As Peter Baker wrote in his recent analysis on Trump, “He is speaking to his people, not the people.” How should the 71,791,044 Americans –53.3% of those who casted a presidential ballot in 2016– feel about the fact we have a president who is openly partial to a portion of Americans and not all Americans? We should be justifiably concerned.

It’s not as if his supporters make up a majority of the country. He received 46.7% of the popular vote, which means most Americans did not vote for him. Since becoming president, polling data has been even more unfavorable. Based on Gallup polling, the average job approval rating for Trump is 40% (based on his 820 days in office).

Trump and his followers have a symbiotic relationship: Trump receives power and adulation; his followers receive their political showman at rallies and on Twitter, and a perceived ally in the White House. The problem is the rest of the country –the majority of the country– has no ally in the White House. You only need to look as far as Trump’s Twitter account to understand that if you’re not siding with him or praising him, you’re against him.

America’s always had to deal with the consequences of elections, but these consequences have virtually always been focused on policy positions. With the rise of Trump, we’ve had to deal with a set of much different and darker consequences: a threat to our democratic institutions and the normalization of rhetoric and behavior that was once unbecoming of a president.

The president’s inflammatory rhetoric is used to create division within our country. He doesn’t aim to mend the discord; he aims to sow more seeds of it amongst his supporters to reap the political benefits gained from a group of people who’ve been misled and disinformed.

Our country has experienced times of national crisis before. With the election of Abraham Lincoln, southern states began seceding from the Union, which inevitably led to the Civil War. Lincoln’s fight was founded on domestic policy and morality. While it’s unlikely we’re facing an impending civil war, we can still learn from what leadership looks like from a man who was president to all in a time of great civil strife–even reaching out to the very people who pledged their allegiance to a rebel force.

And so, it’s fitting to close on the words of Abraham Lincoln’s first inaugural address:

“I am loath to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

Update: After writing this article, Donald Trump made another “enemy of the people” statement against the free press: “The Washington Post and New York Times are, in my opinion, two of the most dishonest media outlets around. Truly, the Enemy of the People!”

Importance of a Free Press

The First Amendment to the United States Constitution gives American citizens a variety of protections, focusing on the freedom of speech and expression.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

First Amendment to the United States Constitution

The First Amendment grants the following protections:

  • Freedom of religion
  • Freedom of speech
  • Freedom of the press
  • Freedom to peaceably assemble
  • Freedom to petition the government to address grievances

HISTORY


When the Constitutional Convention convened in 1787, the idea of constitutional amendments were proposed as a way of protecting the civil liberties of American citizens. The first ten amendments became known as the Bill of Rights –amendments specifically drafted to guarantee the civil liberties of American citizens.

Initially, there was some debate as to whether or not it was necessary to even include amendments. Some founders didn’t think the federal government would ever become big enough to warrant them, believing the constitutions of individual states would suffice. However, there was significant opposition to the proposed constitution from the states, which was a problem since the federal government needed state governments to ratify the constitution.

James Madison, revered as “the father of the constitution,” was initially in the no-amendments-necessary camp. His mind was changed by his mentor, Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson was famously wary of a powerful, centralized federal government. Amending the constitution with a Bill of Rights would ensure the civil liberties of citizens were protected at the federal level. So, in 1789, when the constitution was submitted to the states for ratification, it included the Bill of Rights.

FREEDOM OF THE PRESS


‪The very fact the founders decided to grant protection to the free press is indicative of the value and importance they attributed to it.‬ The constitution was created as a blueprint for how to best deploy a representative democracy. It was critical that the constitution would not only provide a framework for governance, but also to embed protections to ensure its survival. The freedom of the press is the most important protection since without it, citizens wouldn’t be informed that their other liberties were in danger.

IMPORTANCE OF THE PRESS


The power of the government comes from its citizens: government by the people, for the people, and of the people. It’s the people who elect their representatives, senators, and president. And it’s therefore imperative that the people are well informed to make the decisions that affect not only their lives, but also the lives of their fellow Americans. It’s the press who’s tasked with gathering, vetting, and delivering information to the people.

We have the three co-equal branches of government and each is responsible for checking and balancing the others. The executive, legislative, and judicial branches are the pillars that hold our democracy in place. The press –that is, the summation professional journalists– serves as the fourth pillar of our democracy. The press is sometimes referred to as the fourth estate for this very reason. It’s not an official branch of government; it’s an independent institution. Calling it the “fourth branch” would be unfitting, but calling it the “fourth estate” is a way of equally conveying both its importance and independence to our democracy.

The free press is the guardian of the people. It keeps a watch on the corridors of power, ensuring those who wield the power are holding true to their oaths of office. We, as the people, need to know when an individual or institution is not acting in our best interest. The press doesn’t have the power to dispense justice, but it does have the power to investigate immoral or unethical actions. They report their findings to the people, which includes the people who do have the power to dispense justice.

It’s our civic duty to stay informed by using reliable press sources. If we’re not getting reliable information we cannot make reliable decisions. And it’s our decisions that shape the future of our democracy.


Quotes on a Free Press


“Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost.”

Thomas Jefferson

“Knowledge will forever govern ignorance; and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.”

James Madison

“Freedom of conscience, of education, of speech, of assembly are among the very fundamentals of democracy and all of them would be nullified should freedom of the press ever be successfully challenged.”

Franklin D. Roosevelt