Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.

Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Tag:

Trump’s Corrupt Pardon Spree Has Just Begun

The power of the president to grant pardons as stated in the Constitution is unconditional, as President Donald Trump has observed. But as he prepares to bestow that favor on Roger Stone and perhaps other felons who have protected him, someone should advise him that a corrupt pardon is nevertheless a crime that can be prosecuted, if not overturned.

So Bill Clinton learned soon after he pardoned Marc Rich on the last day of his presidency, Jan. 20, 2001. Public anger exploded within days after Clinton granted a conditional reprieve to the infamous “fugitive financier,” who had skipped to a Swiss chateau, evading trial on charges of tax evasion, sanctions violations and conspiracy. Among those most infuriated by Clinton’s surprise decision were the federal prosecutors who spent years chasing Rich.

Suspicion centered on generous political and charitable donations by Rich’s ex-wife over a period of years to various Clinton campaigns and the Clinton Foundation. Mary Jo White, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, swiftly announced that her office had opened a criminal investigation of Clinton — the president who had appointed her. That probe continued for a few years under the watchful eye of James Comey, chosen by then-President George W. Bush to replace White.

No doubt Comey and his boss, then-Attorney General John Ashcroft — who had voted to convict Clinton in his Senate impeachment trial — would have relished indicting the former president. The investigation found no evidence of wrongdoing, however. Clinton’s actual motive was to reward then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, who personally called the Oval Office three times seeking a pardon for Rich in the midst of peace talks with the Palestinians. (As usual, under the “Clinton rules,” the former president’s eventual exoneration went unnoticed in major media outlets.)

But the immediate outrage over Rich’s pardon inflamed media outlets for weeks, setting the stage for both congressional and prosecutorial inquiries. Today the same politicians of both parties who screamed about Clinton are silent.

Have none of them noticed the massive flows of donor money surrounding the Trump pardons? Never mind the blatant influence peddling by former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and various other presidential cronies and supporters. If the Rich donations were suspect, what about the cash poured into Trump’s coffers by those seeking pardons and their advocates?

Dallas Republican donor Doug Deason and his billionaire father gave more than a million dollars to the pro-Trump America First PAC. Their generosity seems to have greased the pardon of David Safavian, a former federal official convicted of obstruction and perjury in the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal.

Casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and his wife, Miriam Adelson, have given more than $200 million to Republican causes, including at least $30 million to Trump-related committees in recent years and $500,000 to a defense fund for Trump aides coping with special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe. They asked that Trump pardon junk-bond crook Michael Milken and got their wish. (Mrs. Adelson also got the Presidential Medal of Freedom.)

And then there’s the Pogue family, also from Dallas, which forked over $85,000 last year jointly to the president’s reelection committee and the Republican Party — and got a gift-wrapped pardon for its patriarch, Paul Pogue, a construction magnate convicted of tax fraud. Pushing the Pogue pardon was former Sen. Rick Santorum, the Pennsylvania Republican who brayed loudly about the Rich case.

If the Trump pardons look sketchy, consider the fact that Trump simply ignored the Justice Department process that is traditionally employed in evaluating such requests. He knows that the law enforcement apparatus headed by Attorney General William Barr will let him abuse his power freely, while perhaps uttering a feeble protest. Or not.

We will soon see how far Trump will go in abusing the pardon authority. He appears to be preparing to do far worse than handing out clemency for cash. The judge who sentenced Roger Stone to almost four years in prison accused the dirty trickster of lying to “protect the president.” When Trump pardons Stone, Paul Manafort and others implicated in the Russia scandal, he will cap the most troubling cover-up in American history.

If Clinton was subject to investigation and possible prosecution, then Trump should be too.

To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore

A Fair And Balanced Impeachment Trial

When Mitch McConnell declares that the impeachment of President Donald Trump should follow the same rules and procedures as the impeachment of former President Bill Clinton, that must sound reasonable to many Americans. As the Senate majority leader puts it in his folksiest drawl, “Fair is fair.”

Leave aside the fact that McConnell — who swore an oath on Thursday before Chief Justice John Roberts to do “impartial justice” in that trial — has already told us that he isn’t an impartial juror. Let’s also try to forget for the moment that he regularly bends his own supposed principles and practices for partisan advantage.

If he were to really believe that Trump ought to be tried according to the same standards as Clinton, what would he and the Senate Republicans do?

First they would require this president to undergo several hours of questioning under oath, as Clinton did before the grand jury convened by independent counsel Kenneth Starr. Surely, McConnell — and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and a dozen of their colleagues — will recollect that Clinton spent four hours answering the questions of prosecutors and grand jurors regarding the Monica Lewinsky affair. (He had given six earlier interviews to prosecutors in other investigations.) Recorded on video, which the Republicans later released to the public, Clinton’s testimony was excerpted and played during the impeachment trial by the House managers.

Second, McConnell would demand that the president surrender all relevant documents on the Ukraine matter to Congress, along with the implicated aides and associates whom he has so far forbidden from testifying — including Vice President Mike Pence; acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney; former national security adviser John Bolton; Secretary of State Mike Pompeo; and sundry officials from the Office of Management and Budget, the Pentagon, the National Security Council and the State Department.

Only then would the current process begin to reflect the Clinton precedent cited by McConnell. That’s because in contrast to Trump, Clinton never tried to prevent his aides from testifying in any of the investigations mounted against him and answered every document request. Owing to Clinton’s cooperation, the Office of Independent Counsel compiled and delivered a multi-volume report on the Lewinsky affair to the House Judiciary Committee, which was used by House managers to guide their prosecution of Clinton in the Senate.

Back then, as one of the House managers, Graham argued strenuously for the Senate to call three witnesses including Lewinksy, who testified on videotape behind closed doors. Like Clinton’s grand jury testimony, those videotapes were available for use in the trial, and the House managers played dozens of excerpts of Lewinsky’s testimony on the Senate floor.

Now McConnell, Graham and other Trump toadies in the Senate notoriously object to calling any witnesses in the upcoming trial. Their clear preference would be to dismiss the impeachment articles without any trial. But the Republicans know they can’t get away with any such blatant cover-up, especially with new evidence continuing to erupt into almost every day’s news cycle. (Events of the past few weeks have proved again the sagacity of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who outplays her adversaries at every turn.)

So those are the parameters of a fair impeachment trial, if “fair” means anything remotely similar to the trial of William Jefferson Clinton. The conditions precedent to fairness don’t exist at present, but there is nothing stopping the Senate from ensuring a balanced and honest process, except the dishonesty and partisan bias of its leadership.

Oh, and there’s one more thing: Right now, the Republican leadership is reportedly mulling heavy restrictions on media coverage of the Senate trial, provoking protests from reporters. They also have yet to consent to televised coverage via C-Span’s cameras. During Clinton’s trial, there were no impediments on the press — and the trial itself can be seen in C-Span archives to this day.

That same standard of openness must prevail now, unless McConnell wants to be exposed as a fraud from the first whack of the gavel.

To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

Photo Credit: Matt Johnson

The Clinton Precedent: White House Must Release Trump’s Call With Zelensky

Now that Donald Trump has admitted that he urged Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate the Bidens in a July 25 telephone conversation, members of Congress are demanding that the White House release a transcript of that call. Although Trump himself suggested that he might release the transcript, leading administration figures pushed back hard on Sunday.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned that the transcript shouldn’t be released because “those are private conversations between world leaders and it wouldn’t be appropriate to do so except in the most extreme circumstances. There’s no evidence that that would be appropriate here at this point.”

Appearing on Meet The Press, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin went even further. “I think it would be highly inappropriate to release a transcript of a call between two world leaders…I think that those are confidential discussions, and that’s a difficult precedent.”

But there was a parallel situation that caused no difficulty for Republicans in the White House and Congress: the release in 2001 of three conversations between former President Bill Clinton and Ehud Barak, then the prime minister of Israel. The salient topic discussed by the two heads of state in those chats was a proposed pardon for oilman and financier Marc Rich, a fugitive from the US Justice Department then living in Switzerland.

Clinton’s decision to pardon Rich on January 20, 2001, during the final hours of his presidency, provoked a national furor and led to investigations by the House Government Reform Committee, chaired by Rep. Dan Burton (R-IN) and the U. S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Mary Jo White. Despite loud and insistent accusations by his critics, neither probe found evidence of bribery or any other wrongdoing by Clinton.

The Bush White House released those transcripts to Burton without delay, evidently not worrying much about any precedent that might be established concerning the confidentiality of communications with foreign heads of state. One key reason the release could proceed so rapidly was that Clinton himself chose not to contest the matter. He readily disclosed the contents of those conversations to both investigations. According to his personal attorney David Kendall, “We didn’t oppose the release of the transcripts of the Barak-Clinton conversations. We knew they confirmed our account.”

To reveal the contents of a telephone conversation between the president of the United States and a foreign head of state is undoubtedly a matter of utmost sensitivity. It is not a gesture to be undertaken lightly — and yet, as with the Rich case, the suspicions surrounding Trump’s possible abuse of his office to smear Joe Biden certainly require transparency. Where Clinton was subject to criminal and Congressional investigations, Trump could soon become the target of impeachment.

The difference is that Clinton didn’t oppose disclosure, even though he was then under investigation by an angry federal prosecutor and a hostile Congressional committee. In fact, the former president waived any and all claims of executive privilege with respect to the pardon investigations, including testimony by his former aides and all relevant White House communications.

So far Trump is not only withholding the July 25 transcript, but his legal counsel and Justice Department are unlawfully hiding the intelligence whistleblower’s complaint from Congress.

I discussed the circumstances of the release of the Clinton-Barak conversations — and the context of the Rich pardon bid — in Man of the World: The Further Endeavors of Bill Clinton (St. Martin’s Press, 2016):

While the House committee probe went on for months, the evidence that emerged substantiated none of the suspicions voiced by the chairman—and in fact came close to proving the opposite. Ultimately, what Burton’s machinations revealed was not a corruption conspiracy, but the unfolding diplomatic and political relationship that had impelled Clinton to issue the risky pardon.

When Clinton waived executive privilege to allow the testimony of Podesta, Bruce Lindsey, and Nolan, he simultaneously opened his ad- ministration’s archives—under the control of Bush White House lawyers—to the Burton committee investigators. Among the many Israeli officials and former officials who had contacted the White House on behalf of Marc Rich, as the press had already noted, was Ehud Barak, then Israel’s prime minister. Barak had reportedly discussed Rich with Clinton on at least two and perhaps three occasions. Armed with that scant knowledge, the Burton staffers made an unprecedented demand: They wanted the transcripts of notes recording the conversations between the two heads of state that had been taken down by [White House] stenographers.

While all such discussions between the president and other heads of state are recorded in that manner, virtually no documents in the White House would be considered more sensitive—especially involving the prime minister of Israel, and even more especially during a period of critical negotiations between the Jewish state and the Palestinian Authority. Transcripts of private conversations between the president and foreign heads of state are not routinely provided to congressional committees or anyone else, particularly not when the conversations had occurred only months earlier.

It was difficult to imagine a more blatant breach of the discretion expected by world leaders when they are on the telephone with the president of the United States.

Yet the Bush White House bowed to the committee’s request swiftly and even eagerly. Alberto Gonzales, the White House counsel, ensured that the written notes of three Clinton-Barak conversations concerning Rich—which had occurred on December 11, 2000; January 8, 2001; and January 19, 2001—were declassified, redacted, and released to Burton “at warp speed,” as one lawyer put it. (As a shining example of transparent government, this contrasted sharply with the obsessive secrecy that shrouded the following eight years of the Bush presidency.)

 

 

 

FBI Warning That Conspiracy Theorists May Pose Domestic Terror Threat

The FBI has issued a warning identifying several conspiracy theories aligned with Trump’s supporters as a domestic terror threat.

On Thursday, Yahoo! News reported on the existence of an FBI intelligence bulletin that was sent out in May identifying “conspiracy theory-driven domestic extremists” as a growing threat.

“The document specifically mentions QAnon, a shadowy network that believes in a deep state conspiracy against President Trump, and Pizzagate, the theory that a pedophile ring including Clinton associates was being run out of the basement of a Washington, D.C., pizza restaurant (which didn’t actually have a basement),” Yahoo! reported.

QAnon has been a staple of Trump’s raucous campaign rallies, with supporters holding up related signs and wearing QAnon-labeled clothing. Earlier in July, Trump praised a baby at his rally dressed in QAnon clothing.

“We find the Q movement empowering because it’s a lot of patriots that are following Trump when a lot of media is bashing our president,” Roman Riselvato, the child’s father, told Rolling Stone.

The FBI expects the numbers of conspiracy theory-driven extremists are likely to grow during the 2020 election cycle, the memo states.

Trump has often used the presidency to indulge in conspiracy theories. His past is littered with advocacy for outlandish and long disproven crackpot ideas, including most famously the “birther” claims against President Barack Obama.

Trump has also insisted that a rogue “deep state” operating from within the government and in agencies like the FBI has been attempting to undermine his presidency. The theory was first popularized by Trump supporter and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones.

Conspiracy theories have a prominent cheerleader with Trump in the White House, and now the FBI has warned the entire country that true believers of those debunked rantings can endanger American lives.

Published with permission of The American Independent.