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Fox News Judge: Yes, Trump’s Misconduct Is Impeachable

The revelation last weekend by Michigan Republican Congressman Justin Amash that he believes the Mueller Report accuses President Donald Trump of impeachable offenses has ignited firestorms in both major political parties on Capitol Hill. Amash’s argument is simple and essentially unassailable, though his fellow congressional Republicans don’t want to hear it and Democrats don’t know what to do with it.

Here is the backstory.

When special counsel Robert Mueller delivered his report to Attorney General William Barr, it was a 448-page tome that effectively summarized nearly two years of work and nearly two million pages of documents in an effort to establish whether elements of the Russian government interfered with the 2016 presidential election, and, if so, whether the Russians had any American collaborators in the Trump campaign.

The investigation of Russians and potential American collaborators expanded because of personal behavior of President Trump, which was aimed at delaying or derailing Mueller’s investigation. Thus, when the Mueller Report reached Barr’s desk, it was in two volumes — the first was about the Russians and the second was about the president.

Mueller found 127 communications between Trump campaign officials and Russian agentsbetween June 2015 and November 2016 — Trump publicly said there were none — and as a result of those communications, the campaign came to expect to receive “dirt” on Trump’s principal opponent, Hillary Clinton, from the Russians. The dirt arrived in the form of hacked emails, but Mueller and his team were unable to “establish” the existence of a criminal conspiracy between the Russians and the Trump campaign.

Mueller indicted Russians for interference, and he found evidence of a criminal conspiracy, but not enough evidence to prove the conspiracy case to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt.

The second volume of the report addressed 10 instances in which the president himself attempted to interfere with Mueller’s work. Such attempted interference, when done for a corrupt purpose — such as protecting himself or his friends from the reach of the FBI — constitutes obstruction of justice. Here is where the Mueller Report and Barr’s response to it get a bit dicey.

The more serious and clearly criminal of these obstruction events consists in Trump instructing those who worked for him in the White House to put documents containing material falsehoods into government files that were about to be subpoenaed, and instructing the same folks to lie to FBI agents. Mueller did not seek an indictment of the president on these crimes because he knew that Barr, his boss, would not permit one. The reasons Barr has given for not permitting the indictment are legally troublesome; they constitute a very narrow reading of the obstruction of justice statute and a misapplication of Department of Justice policy.

Barr has not permitted Mueller to seek an indictment of Trump because Barr reads the obstruction statute as letting Trump off the hook because he was not charged with conspiracy to collaborate with the Russians — the original crime Mueller was investigating. That view of obstruction — an innocent person cannot legally obstruct an FBI investigation of himself — has been rejected by nearly all law enforcement, including by Barr’s own DOJ prosecutors.

Barr also would not permit an indictment of Trump because of what he says is the general DOJ policy against indicting an incumbent president. But the DOJ policy barring the prosecution of a president allows a sealed and secret indictment of the president and post-presidential prosecution because, contrary to what President Richard Nixon believed, the president is not above the law.

We know that Mueller’s obstruction allegations — which have not been effectively contradicted by the White House — constitute not only crimes but also impeachable offenses. We know that because when Nixon asked John Ehrlichman and H.R. Haldeman, his principal aides, to lie to a grand jury, and when President Bill Clinton asked Betty Currie, his White House personal secretary, to lie to FBI agents, the House of Representatives — either through the House Judiciary Committee by direct vote — approved articles of impeachment against both of them for obstruction of justice.

This is Amash’s argument: The special counsel found evidence of obstruction of justice by the president, and historically presidential obstruction of justice is an impeachable offense. This is a legal narrative, not a political one. But it has heretofore not been articulated publicly by any Republican officeholder, until Amash courageously did so last weekend.

The Nixonian argument that the president can do no wrong was soundly rejected by the lessons of Watergate and Nixon’s reluctant resignation, but it has reared its head again. No serious legal thinker — not even an attorney general bent on protecting the president — can make it with intellectual honesty or a straight face.

On the other side of the congressional aisle are bitterly divided House Democrats. Some of them see Trump’s obstruction of justice as criminal and impeachable, and they add to that his refusal to abide lawful congressional subpoenas. Presidential rejection of congressional subpoenas was also an article of impeachment voted against Nixon.

Most Democratic congressional leadership thinks impeaching a popular president would be fruitless, and might even help Trump solidify his base. These folks have argued that impeachment should not be undertaken, no matter how criminal or impeachable his documented behavior, without a broad bipartisan consensus in support of it.

Has Donald Trump committed impeachable offenses? Even if he has, should the House move toward impeachment? Is the failure to consider impeachment a tacit ratification of Trump’s criminal behavior? Is there a duty to impeach? Is temporary presidential popularity a free pass to avoid the legal consequences of presidential criminal behavior?

Who beside Justin Amash will effectively address these questions?

IMAGE: Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI), the first Republican member of Congress to call for Trump’s impeachment.

On ‘Impeachable Conduct,’ Justin Amash Is Right

Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) thinks Donald Trump is guilty of “impeachable conduct,” and he is absolutely right. Impeachable conduct is whatever the House of Representatives decides it is, a point the president’s defenders and some of his critics seem determined to obscure.

The House impeached Bill Clinton for lying under oath about oral sex, and the conduct described in special counsel Robert Mueller’s report is more troubling and consequential, even if it does not amount to a crime that could be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. When Amash, a five-term Michigan congressman, became the first Republican legislator to make that point, the reaction revealed how determined his colleagues are to evade their responsibilities.

Mitt Romney, the Utah senator and former Republican presidential nominee who a month ago said he was “sickened at the extent and pervasiveness of dishonesty and misdirection” detailed by Mueller, this week praised Amash’s “courageous statement” but added that he disagreed with his conclusion. Romney argued that “you just don’t have the elements” to “make a case for obstruction of justice.”

The Mueller Report actually makes a strong case that at least some of Trump’s attempts to interfere with the investigation of Russian efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election involved the three elements of obstruction: an obstructive act, a nexus to an official proceeding and a corrupt intent. When Trump tried to stop the FBI investigation of his former national security adviser, repeatedly demanded Mueller’s removal, pressed White House counsel Donald McGahn to deny that Trump had tried to fire Mueller, urged his attorney general to take control of the Russia investigation and limit its scope and discouraged witnesses from cooperating with it, he arguably met all three criteria.

Mueller unambiguously rejected the view, advocated by Trump’s lawyers and Attorney General William Barr, that the president cannot obstruct justice by exercising his otherwise lawful constitutional powers, which include control of the Justice Department. But even if you accept that theory, it does not cover Trump’s public and private attempts to influence the testimony of witnesses such as McGahn, his former lawyer Michael Cohen and his former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort.

The fact that Trump’s frequently clumsy efforts to impede federal investigations were mostly unsuccessful (mainly because of resistance by his underlings) does not get him off the hook, as attempted obstruction is also a crime. Nor does it matter that Mueller ultimately found no evidence that anyone in the Trump campaign illegally conspired with Russian agents. Trump himself did not know the answer to that question in advance, and in any case, he may have been motivated by a desire to prevent revelations that could prove embarrassing and politically damaging.

More to the point, as Amash noted, the “high crimes and misdemeanors” that justify impeachment extend beyond provable statutory violations to abuses of power that betray the public trust. Trump’s own lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, last year conceded that it “would just be unthinkable” for Trump to pardon himself, which “would lead to probably an immediate impeachment,” even though the Constitution imposes no limits on that power.

Congress might reasonably conclude that a president who uses his powers to protect himself in a less dramatic way — say, by repeatedly interfering with an investigation of his own actions — is unfit for office. Perhaps the norm of avoiding even the appearance of such interference is worth preserving, whether or not it is legally required.

Romney argues that impeachment would be unwise in terms of “practicality and politics,” as “the American people just aren’t there” and the Republican-controlled Senate, which would conduct the trial that follows impeachment by the House, “is certainly not there either.” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who is discouraging her fellow Democrats from pursuing impeachment, seems to have reached a similar conclusion.

It is hard to argue with that political calculation. But members of both parties may come to regret the signal they are sending about the sort of presidential behavior Congress is willing to tolerate.

Jacob Sullum is a senior editor at Reason magazine. Follow him on Twitter: @JacobSullum. To find out more about Jacob Sullum and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.

Dissident Republican Amash Suggests Manafort Covered Up Russia Collusion

Reprinted with permission from Alternet.

Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan has drawn widespread criticism from fellow Republicans for calling for the impeachment of President Donald Trump. But the conservative Michigan congressman isn’t backing down, and on Thursday, Amash took to Twitter and reiterated his call for impeachment in a thread containing at least 20 tweets — including a few discussing the role that Trump’s former 2016 campaign manager, Paul Manafort, plays in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s final report for the Russia investigation.

Amash covers a lot of ground in his thread, noting that two associates of the president — Manafort and Trump’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen — have both “been convicted for offering false information.” And according to Amash, “Manafort’s lack of cooperation” during Mueller’s investigation “left open some significant questions, such as why exactly he provided an associate in Ukraine with campaign polling data, which he expected to be shared with a Russian oligarch.”

With that assertion, Republican Amash is touching on something that few, if any, Democrats have been saying: that Trump, in his obstruction, may have actually been successful in covering up a crime. Mueller’s report raises a question as to why Manafort, in 2016, was sending polling data to Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska via Ukraine-born political consultant Konstantin V. Kilimnik.

In his thread, Amash also noted that Mueller’s report “describes a consistent effort by the president to use his office to obstruct or otherwise corruptly impede the Russian election interference investigation because it put his interests at risk.”

Trump, Amash writes in his thread, “had an incentive to undermine” Mueller’s probe—which “threatened to uncover information, including criminal activity, that could put Trump’s interests at risk” and “revealed criminal activities, some of which were committed by people in Trump’s orbit.”

One of those people is Cohen, who, Amash points out, is now serving a three-year sentence in federal prison for, among other things, committing a “campaign finance violation on Trump’s behalf.”

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy is among the Republicans who reacted angrily to Amash’s call for impeachment, claiming during a Fox News appearance that Amash “votes more with Nancy Pelosi than he ever votes with me”—which is wrong. Amash has a very conservative voting record.

Trump himself has angrily responded to Amash’s call for impeachment, denouncing him as a “loser” and “a total lightweight” on Twitter:

Trump accused Amash of not reading Mueller’s report, but the Michigan representative has said that before calling for Trump’s impeachment, he had read the redacted version of the report in his entirety. And since the Mueller report doesn’t contain many pictures, Trump himself is unlikely to have read any part of it that hasn’t been featured on cable news.

Republican Rep. Amash Calls For Impeachment Of Trump

Reprinted with permission from Alternet.

Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan posted an incisive tirade against President Donald Trump and his administration on Saturday afternoon, becoming the first Republican lawmaker to call for impeaching the commander in chief as a result of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.

And in the process, he displayed a more cogent, compelling and thoughtful grasp on the findings laid out in the Mueller report and the requirements for impeachment than most top Democrats have shown. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), who called for impeachment shortly after reading the report, has been one of the most influential and outspoken Democrats on the topic.

To be sure, Amash is not a typical Republican. He has been strongly critical of Trump in the past, and if anyone were to make a list of GOP lawmakers who’d be most likely to support impeaching Trump, Amash would certainly be at the top of the list. His decisive turn against the president isn’t a sign that the rest of his party will soon come to the same conclusion. Still, it was notable how forcefully and emphatically he made his case.

He began by announcing his forceful “principal conclusions” from the report, echoing the language Attorney General Bill Barr used to shape public opinion about Mueller’s findings:

1. Attorney General Barr has deliberately misrepresented Mueller’s report.

2. President Trump has engaged in impeachable conduct.

3. Partisanship has eroded our system of checks and balances.

4. Few members of Congress have read the report.

“I offer these conclusions only after having read Mueller’s redacted report carefully and completely, having read or watched pertinent statements and testimony, and having discussed this matter with my staff, who thoroughly reviewed materials and provided me with further analysis,” he said.

It was interesting, but effective, that Amash focused first on Barr’s deceptions. It was important because of how the Mueller report has been so grossly misrepresented by Republicans, the media, and even some Democrats — all led by Barr’s initial spin.

“Barr’s misrepresentations are significant but often subtle, frequently taking the form of sleight-of-hand qualifications or logical fallacies, which he hopes people will not notice,” wrote Amash.

Impeachment, he said, is warranted when an official commits “high crimes and misdemeanors,” a phrase which he reads to imply “conduct that violates the public trust.” By this standard, the Mueller report shows Trump’s behavior was impeachable — despite Barr’s attempts to convince the public otherwise.

He noted, too, that he agrees with the hundreds of former federal prosecutors who have said that Trump’s actions outlined under the analysis of obstruction of justice in the report would have resulted in the indictment of any other person. And the standard of proof, he argued, is not even as high for impeachable offenses as it would be for a criminal showing. Congress only needs to conclude that the official carried out “careless, abusive, corrupt, or otherwise dishonorable conduct.”

In one of his most compelling and important points, Amash emphasized the dangers of not impeaching the president, something top Democrats like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Judiciary Committee Chair Jerry Nadler seem to have ignored:

He also included a mild critique of some Democrats calling for impeachment now, saying, “We’ve witnessed members of Congress from both parties shift their views 180 degrees—on the importance of character, on the principles of obstruction of justice—depending on whether they’re discussing Bill Clinton or Donald Trump.”

But the most scathing critique was his argument — which is practically undeniable — that on this matter, most lawmakers aren’t actually well informed.

“Few members of Congress even read Mueller’s report; their minds were made up based on partisan affiliation—and it showed, with representatives and senators from both parties issuing definitive statements on the 448-page report’s conclusions within just hours of its release,” he concluded. “America’s institutions depend on officials to uphold both the rules and spirit of our constitutional system even when to do so is personally inconvenient or yields a politically unfavorable outcome. Our Constitution is brilliant and awesome; it deserves a government to match it.”

IMAGE: Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI), official portrait.