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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.)

 

 

 

Poll: Most Parents Oppose Rapid School Reopening

Numerous local school systems around the country are plowing ahead with plans to resume in-person instruction despite growing evidence that children are just as capable of spreading the coronavirus as adults.

Classes were set to begin on Monday in Baker County, Florida. Masks for students will be optional, not required. "It looks like it's back to normal this morning, honestly," a local television reporter observed as parents dropped their kids off in the morning. Many students wore no face coverings.

The Trump administration and the GOP have pushed for full reopening of schools for months."Schools in our country should be opened ASAP," Donald Trump tweeted in May. "Much very good information now available."

"SCHOOLS MUST OPEN IN THE FALL!!!" he reiterated on July 6.

"The science and data is clear: children can be safe in schools this fall, and they must be in school this fall," demanded Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ) on Aug. 1.

"I believe our schools can, and should rise to the occasion of re-opening for in-person education this fall," agreed Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) two days later.

"The CDC and Academy of Pediatrics agree: We can safely get students back in classrooms," tweeted House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) last Tuesday.

But while Scalise, Mike Pence, and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos have all cited the American Academy of Pediatrics in their arguments for reopening, a new study by the group and the Children's Hospital Association raises red flags about how safe that will be.

Their report found 338,982 reported coronavirus cases in children as of July 30 in the United States. Between July 16 and July 30, the nation saw a 40% increase — 97,078 new infected children.

Last week, a high school student in an Atlanta suburb posted a photo online showing few students wearing masks in a crowded school hallway. Since that time, at least six students and three adult employees in the school have reportedly contracted the coronavirus, and the school temporarily has switched to online classes.

Another Georgia school district has already seen at least 13 students and staff members test positive since reopening a week ago.

A recent study in South Korea found that children aged ten and older spread the coronavirus at the same rates adults do. A separate study in Chicago suggested young kids might also be effective spreaders.

These contradict the false claims made by Trump and his administration that kids have an "amazing" near immunity to COVID-19.

"If you look at children, children are almost — and I would almost say definitely, but almost immune from this disease, so few. They've got stronger, hard to believe, and I don't know how you feel about it, but they have much stronger immune systems than we do somehow for this," Trump told Fox News on Wednesday.

"You got to open the schools. They have a stronger immune system even than you have or I have," he told Barstool Sports on July 23. "It's amazing. You look at the percentage, it's a tiny percentage of one percent. And in that one case, I mean, I looked at a couple of cases. If you have diabetes, if you have, you know, problems with something, but the kids are in great shape." Children have made up nearly nine percent of all cases, even with schools mostly closed.

And DeVos incorrectly said in a July 16 interview, "More and more studies show that kids are actually stoppers of the disease and they don't get it and transmit it themselves."

In early July, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued guidelines for how schools could operate more safely during the pandemic.

Trump publicly ridiculed the guidelines, dismissing them as "very tough & expensive" and "very impractical."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.