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Despite Pro-Choice Ruling, Supreme Court Still Threatens Abortion Rights

On Monday, abortion rights yet again narrowly survived another trip to the U.S. Supreme Court, with the majority holding that Louisiana's law requiring physicians to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital was unconstitutional. Chief Justice John Roberts sided with the liberal wing of the court, but his concurrence makes clear he still supports making abortions very difficult to get.

Louisiana's admitting privilege law was nearly the exact same restriction Texas had enacted in 2013. That law was the subject of a case, Whole Women's Health v. Hellerstedt, that the court decided four years ago.

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Republicans Seek To Ban Telemedicine For Abortion Services

At a time when telemedicine is becoming both more available and more necessary because of the coronavirus pandemic, Republicans are working to ban telehealth procedures for medication abortions.

Lack of access to telemedicine for abortion services may mean that people can't get abortions until later in pregnancy or possibly not get them at all.

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Anti-Abortion Politics Blocks Research On COVID-19 Vaccine

Donald Trump is angling for a cure to the coronavirus outbreak, but thanks to his hardline anti-abortion stance, he’s not interested enough to allow government researchers to use fetal tissue to help fight the virus.

Fetal tissue is obtained with the consent of people who have abortions, making it a frequent target of anti-abortion politicians.

A government immunologist at a National Institutes of Health laboratory has been asking the NIH to lift the ban on fetal tissue research during the pandemic. The Trump administration imposed that ban last year, despite the fact that fetal tissue research is vital.

Trump is very eager to show the world that the United States has a vaccine for the coronavirus. He reportedly tried to get a German company to make a vaccine for America only, an effort the German government wholeheartedly rejected.

On Thursday, he did a press conference where he bragged about a potential vaccine, a claim the FDA had to immediately rebut, noting that it hasn’t approved the drug for that use.

But the one thing he won’t do, apparently, is allow a promising line of research to continue because it relies on fetal tissue.

Researchers who spoke to the Washington Post explained that nongovernmental scientists have made significant strides using fetal tissue in research on coronaviruses similar to COVID-19. Those researchers have offered to work with the NIH to infect to run experiments on potential treatments.

However, none of that can happen because one of Trump’s key goals is appeasing anti-abortion hardliners. That was evident from his choice of Mike Pence as his running mate, and together he and Pence have decimated abortion access,  including barring Title X federal funds going to any organization that even discusses abortion with patients.

High-profile anti-abortion groups such as the Susan B. Anthony List have gotten unprecedented access to the White House to push a radical anti-abortion agenda. This underpins the recent campaign by Trump and Republican lawmakers to promote lies about later abortions being akin to “infanticide,” along with the recent flurry of “abortion survivor protection” bills meant to threaten doctors who perform the procedure.

In actuality, fetal tissue research is highly regulated. The National Institutes of Health provides guidance on how fetal tissue may be obtained and used. There are federal laws that specifically prohibit acquiring or transferring any fetal tissue for profit. Anyone that supplies fetal tissue has to show that informed consent was obtained when the tissue is collected.

Using fetal tissue a new idea. Researchers have used it since the 1930s and fetal tissue led to developing a polio vaccine. It’s also been used to test the efficacy of the German measles vaccine.

In an ironic twist, fetal tissue is also used to help understand fetal development, and may ultimately result in a decrease in miscarriages. Fetal tissue has been used in research to help treat immune system mismatches between the mother and fetus, detect genetic and metabolic diseases in the fetus, and to help develop techniques to treat hypertension and heart disease in mothers.

However, in June of last year, the Health and Human Services Department abruptly ended the ability of scientists to use fetal tissue in medical research. Those researchers were looking into diseases like cancer, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s — diseases that affect millions of Americans.

Now, Trump’s anti-abortion obsession is blocking research into a cure for a deadly pandemic.

Watchdog Outfit Sues Over Kellyanne’s Violations Of Hatch Act

If Donald Trump won’t address the repeated Hatch Act violations of his senior adviser Kellyanne Conway, maybe the courts will do it for him.

Watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics just filed a lawsuit seeking to hold Conway accountable for her dozens of violations of the Hatch Act, the federal law prohibiting government employees from campaigning while acting in their official government capacity. The group is asking a federal district court to require the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, an independent federal investigative and prosecutorial agency, to comply with the law and file a complaint.

All of this is necessary because Conway hasn’t just broken the law, she’s absolutely reveled in breaking the law. And why wouldn’t she? After violating the Hatch Act at least 50 times on her Twitter account alone, she suffered no consequences whatsoever. In fact, she was emboldened by the charge that she broke the law, declaring in on Fox News in June that she had “First Amendment rights” to violate the act.

The special counsel’s office is charged with investigating violations of the Hatch Act. Under law, when it finds a violation, it is required to file a complaint with the Merit Systems Protection Board. That’s because, while the office investigates the violations, Merit Systems Protection Board is the agency that can discipline, fine, and fire employees that violate the act.

As CREW points out in its complaint, federal statutes don’t give the special counsel’s office the discretion to decide not to refer a Hatch Act violation to the board. If it finds that a government employee has broken that law, it must present the complaint. There’s a narrow exception for government employees who were confirmed by the Senate. In that case, the office must present the complaint to the president instead.

In the case of Conway, the special counsel’s office has ignored that law. That’s even though, as CREW notes, the office “deemed Conway’s violations so egregious that they warranted the disciplinary action of her removal from federal service.” With that, it was required to forward a complaint because Conway is not an employee who was confirmed by the Senate. She’s just an adviser to Trump.

But instead of sending the complaint, in June 2019, the office punted and sent the matter directly to Trump, telling him she should be removed from her federal job “immediately.”

Unsurprisingly, Trump said he wouldn’t discipline or fire Conway, saying the special counsel’s office was “trying to take away her right of free speech, and that’s just not fair.” For her part, Conway mocked the referral, declaring, “Let me know when the jail sentence starts.”

Of course, Conway does have the right to free speech — just not while on the clock as a federal employee, paid by taxpayer funds. Put another way, Americans aren’t supposed to be paying Conway to campaign for Trump. But that’s exactly what Conway does.

She does media interviews in her official capacity as adviser to the president, and during those interviews made partisan statements about a number of Democrats, including presidential candidates Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, and Cory Booker. She also uses her Twitter feed to tweet about Trump’s campaign rallies, including using his MAGA slogan, and to attack Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

All of these things are clearly forbidden under the Hatch Act, and career federal employees have been disciplined for much less flagrant behavior.

CREW isn’t asking the court to take any action against Conway or Trump. Indeed, what they’re asking for is quite modest. They’d like the court to order the Office of Special Counsel to file a complaint with the Merit Systems Protection Board about Conway, as required by law. This doesn’t even mean any discipline would be issued against Conway, as once the complaint is filed, it is up to that agency how they choose to address the matter. CREW is also asking the court to order the special counsel’s office to end its current policy of not filing complaints about any presidential appointee, even if that appointee is not confirmed by the Senate.

The current head of the the special counsel’s office, Henry Kerner, is a lifelong Republican who worked for deceased Sen. John McCain and Reps. Darrell Issa and Jason Chaffetz before being appointed by Trump to lead the office. Under Kerner, the office has been firm in its recommendations against Conway but also clearly wants to leave what happens up to Trump. That’s not the law, and CREW shouldn’t have to sue to get the the special counsel’s office — or Conway — to follow the rules.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.

Feds Probing Giuliani On Possible Lobbying, Campaign Violations

Rudy Giuliani is reportedly under investigation. Again.

This time, according to Bloomberg News, it’s for alleged campaign finance violations, a failure to register as a foreign agent, and possibly for bribing foreign officials.

This round of investigations may be separate from the Southern District of New York’s (SDNY) investigation into his Ukraine dealings, which also spawned an investigation by three different congressional committees. In that instance, prosecutors want to know if Giuliani broke any lobbying laws. They also are looking into whether he committed any crime in trying to force the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, out of her post.

Additionally, Bloomberg reports that federal prosecutors are looking into a conspiracy charge. One official also indicated that Giuliani’s activities “raise counterintelligence concerns as well” but that those things wouldn’t likely result in a criminal charge.

It’s unclear from Bloomberg’s reporting whether this latest round of potential charges is from the previously-reported investigation or whether the SDNY has two files open on Giuliani.

As a result of the probes into his behavior, Giuliani has been forced in recent weeks to assemble a legal team to represent him. The New York Times reported, however, that, despite having a “wide range of close associates — including former prosecutors and judges — who could have taken him on as a client,” Giuliani has struggled to convince several prominent law firms and high-powered attorneys to work with him.

“[A]t least four prominent attorneys declined for various reasons, according to people familiar with the matter,” the Times reported earlier this month. “…Mr. Giuliani’s connection to Mr. Trump, his unpredictability and his recent history of outbursts in his frequent television appearances could make him a challenging client. Lawyers who are solo practitioners were concerned that Mr. Giuliani, who is known to have difficulty delegating, would try to manage his own case, according to a person close to Mr. Giuliani.”

Giuliani was left to hire a person who had once been his intern when Giuliani was U.S. attorney. That lawyer, Mark Costello, also came close to representing Michael Cohen.

Cohen, Trump’s previous personal attorney, is currently serving prison time for campaign finance violations.

 

Published with permission of The American Independent.

Trump Aides Worked With GOP Activist Who Sought To Rig Census

The House Oversight and Reform Committee has obtained evidence showing that the Trump administration worked hand-in-hand with a GOP activist to try to rig the 2020 census.

Thomas Hofeller, who died last year, was a Republican activist who specialized in gerrymandering and redistricting. In 2015, he conducted a study that determined that having a citizenship question on the decennial census would disadvantage Democrats and be “advantageous to Republicans and Non-Hispanic Whites.”

During litigation over the Trump administration’s attempts to justify adding the question to the 2020 census, allegations appeared that Hofeller’s study had been instrumental in the administration’s decision to push for the question. The Justice Department flatly denied this, saying that the study “played no role” in the matter.

Now, the House Oversight Committee says it has material showing that the Trump administration began strategizing about how to add a citizenship question almost immediately after Trump took office — and, in the summer of 2017, worked directly with Hofeller to do so.

Mark Neuman, who was a member of the Trump transition team and a former adviser on census issues, provided information about his contacts with Hofeller during the time the administration was discussing how it could get the citizenship question on the census.

In August 2017, Neuman, then an adviser to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, communicated directly with both Hofeller and his business partner, Dalton “Dale” Oldham, about how to best phrase the citizenship question. Neuman asked both men to review language in a letter Neuman was sending to request the addition of the question.

Neuman’s letter offered the unfounded rationale the DOJ would later use to justify the question — to ensure compliance with the Voting Rights Act — and he wanted to make sure Hofeller and Oldham thought the language was correct. Both Oldham and Hofeller agreed the language was fine.

At every turn, Hofeller sought to advantage Republicans by minimizing participation by voters of color and Democratic voters. He didn’t do this in the shadows. On the contrary, Hofeller was ubiquitous in his efforts to ensure Republican control at any cost. When he passed away in 2018, one obituary said he “may be more responsible for the Republican majority in Congress than any other single person in modern politics.”

Over the years, Republicans paid him millions of dollars for his services.

Hofeller helped draw a highly gerrymandered map in North Carolina. He was hired by the conservative Washington Free Beacon to assess whether it would advantage Republicans to draw political maps based on a subset of the population — American citizens of voting age — rather than a state’s total population. He worked as the redistricting director for the Republican National Committee.

Trying to rig the census was just a logical progression for Hofeller. In the Trump administration, he found a willing ear for his efforts. And now the House Oversight committee has proof the administration formed a partnership with Hofeller as well.

Published with permission of The American Independent.

IMAGE: Wilbur Ross departs Trump Tower after a meeting with Donald Trump in New York, November 29, 2016. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

Pompeo Skirting Legality With ‘Official’ Trips To Kansas

It looks like Secretary of State Mike Pompeo may be violating the Hatch Act.

Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), the top-ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, asked the Office of Special Counsel to look into whether Pompeo’s repeated trips to Kansas violate the act.

The Hatch Act bars executive branch employees from using government resources for partisan purposes, such as campaigning while on the clock. But it appears Pompeo may be doing just that.

Since March of this year, Pompeo has made three trips to his home state of Kansas. That might not be unusual, but these were framed as official trips, not Pompeo just visiting. Combine this with the fact that Pompeo may very well be considering a Senate run back home — he’s already got the backing of prominent Republicans like Senate Leader Mitch McConnell — and it looks a lot like those trips home are to promote Mike Pompeo, not the interests of the United States.

Menendez’s letter to the OSC shows Pompeo’s most recent trip looked an awful lot like a campaign stop, or at least like someone exploring a run for office. He participated in a workforce development roundtable, met with students at Wichita State, and visited a private aerospace company.

Menendez’s letter also reminded the OSC of its own opinion that specifically found that “any action that can reasonably be construed as evidence that an individual is seeking support for or undertaking an initial ‘campaign’ to secure a nomination or election to office” counts as a candidacy under the Hatch Act. In other words, even if this is just Pompeo exploring his options, doing it on taxpayers’ dime, and time, likely runs afoul of the law.

As secretary of state, Pompeo’s duties are focused outside the United States, not within it. He should be racking up international miles. Hillary Clinton flew nearly a million miles and visited 112 countries during her tenure as secretary of atate, as did John Kerry during his. Instead, he seems to be exploring a Senate run at the behest of Republicans who don’t want former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach to run, as it looks like Kobach would almost certainly lose.

Though this time Pompeo’s travel is for his own political benefit, it’s not the first time that his domestic travel has been scrutinized. In March of this year, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) called for an investigation into Pompeo’s frequent trips to 2020 battleground states such as Iowa, Kansas, and Texas. CREW said Pompeo’s insistence he wasn’t traveling to those states to bolster Trump’s reelection prospects rang hollow.

If Pompeo did indeed violate the Hatch Act, he’s got a lot of company in this administration. Just look at counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway, who has violated the Hatch Act at least 50 times on Twitter alone. Or HUD official Lynne Patton, who used her official government Twitter account for political tweets. Given that neither Conway or Patton have suffered any real consequences for their behavior, don’t expect Pompeo to be scared by the idea he might be guilty of violating the law.

Published with permission of The American Independent.

Indicted Giuliani Associate Parnas May Claim ‘Executive Privilege’

In a move that is as brazen as it is odd, Lev Parnas — one of Rudy Giuliani’s two associates arrested earlier this month — has raised the possibility the White House could invoke executive privilege in his case.

This is in spite of the fact that Donald Trump has said he doesn’t know Parnas or his codefendant, Igor Fruman.

Parnas’ attorney, Edward MacMahon Jr., told the judge overseeing the case that the White House might invoke the privilege over some of the evidence gathered because Parnas was using Giuliani as a lawyer at the same time Trump was.

For Trump to invoke the privilege in this instance would seem to stretch the idea to the breaking point. Executive privilege is generally described as “the right of the president and high-level executive branch officers to withhold information from Congress, the courts and ultimately the public” concerning some national security needs and when it is in the public interest to protect the privacy of White House deliberations.

The idea behind the privilege is that the executive branch needs to be able to discuss crucial matters with some level of confidentiality about those deliberations. It’s difficult to see how that could be extended to anyone who happens to have the same lawyer as the president.

That is unless Trump and Giuliani were indeed working hand-in-hand with Parnas on Trump’s Ukraine scheme. Given that pictures have surfaced showing Parnas being photographed with Trump, posing with Ivana Trump, and attending events with Giuliani all around the country, that may very well be true.

In a normal presidency, it would be highly unusual for the White House to say that privilege should stretch to cover any illegal acts allegedly committed by Parnas, who is charged with using straw donors to funnel money into U.S. elections and pressuring politicians to remove the ambassador to Ukraine. However, Trump made a blanket assertion of executive privilege for everything related to the Mueller report, used it to stop Congress from getting material about his census citizenship question, and barred former White House counsel Don McGahn from talking to Congress. He seems quite comfortable stretching privilege well past what logic would dictate.

Prosecutors haven’t said they agree with the possibility that privilege could be invoked. Still, the government is already using a “filter team” to review whether any material should be kept from prosecutors because of attorney-client privilege. Now, we just have to wait and see whether Parnas has damning enough information or documents that Trump will step in and deploy executive privilege.

Published with permission of The American Independent.

‘Not Qualified’: Trump Pushing Inexperienced, Ultra-Right Judicial Nominee

Another unqualified Donald Trump judicial pick, Justin Walker, is making his way through the Senate.

Given the makeup of the Senate and the GOP’s unyielding commitment to agreeing to any of Trump’s nominees, no matter how unfit, there’s every reason to believe he’ll be confirmed. His nomination just cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee with unanimous support from the GOP in spite of his lack of qualifications.

Walker, who Trump nominated to the federal bench for the Western District of Kentucky, is only 37 years old, which means he could be on the federal bench for 40 years or more. He doesn’t bring any real experience to the court, but he does bring modern conservative credentials: He was instrumental in discrediting Dr. Christine Blasey Ford during the confirmation hearings for Justice Brett Kavanaugh. During those hearings, Walker did over 70 media hits to defend Kavanaugh and attack Ford.

His defense of Kavanaugh isn’t surprising. Walker clerked for Kavanaugh when he was still on the D.C. Circuit and then went on to clerk at the Supreme Court for Justice Anthony Kennedy. That might sound impressive on its face, but Walker didn’t really ever practice law after his clerkships.

That’s a large part of why the American Bar Association (ABA), which rates all federal judicial picks, declared Walker “not qualified” to serve on the bench. His actual legal resume is embarrassingly thin. When he filled out the Senate Judiciary Questionnaire, he was forced to admit he has never served “as sole or chief counsel in any case tried to verdict or judgment.” He did go on to say that he had been an associate counsel at only one federal criminal jury trial.

Typically, the ABA looks for at least 12 years of trial or litigation experience. In the case of Walker, the ABA said it was “challenging to determine how much of his ten years since graduation from law school has been spent in the practice of law” and that he lacked “any significant trial experience.”

In contrast to the nonpartisan ABA, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has tried to characterize Trump’s pick of Walker as “unquestionably the most outstanding nomination that I’ve ever recommended to Presidents to serve on the bench in Kentucky.”

While Walker doesn’t have any experience that would warrant him serving on the federal bench, he does have substantial experience pushing Republican talking points.

He hates Obamacare and penned an article for the ultra-conservative Federalist Society arguing that Kavanaugh should be confirmed because he also reliably hated the Affordable Care Act. He doesn’t want federal agencies to use their powers to protect workers or the environment. He’s previously called himself a “tax-cutting, Iraq-invading Republican.”

This administration often favors ideology over experience, and Walker is the latest example.

Published with permission of The American Independent.

Trump-Appointed Judge Tried To Shield His Taxes

At the first opportunity, Judge Neomi Rao tried to do what Donald Trump put her on the second-most powerful court in the country to do: run interference for Trump.

On Friday, the D.C. Circuit issued a ruling in Trump v. Mazars. That’s the case about whether Trump can stop his accounting firm, Mazars, from giving his tax returns to the House Committee on Oversight and Reform as part of its investigation into Trump’s finances.

The Oversight Committee has argued that its investigation underpins a larger inquiry as to whether Congress needs to amend disclosure and ethics rules. Trump has contended the committee has no right to investigate him because it’s looking at his underlying criminal behavior, and it should only be able to do that in an impeachment proceeding.

The majority of the court didn’t buy that at all, holding that “[c]ontrary to the President’s arguments, the Committee possesses authority under both the House Rules and the Constitution to issue the subpoena, and Mazars must comply.”

Rao — whom Trump picked to replace Brett Kavanaugh after he was elevated to the Supreme Court, despite credible allegations of attempted rape — disagreed.

She penned a 67-page dissent that is untethered from actual law and serves only to prop up Trump’s reasoning. It’s not a big surprise that a judge who had no previous judicial experience, is a rape apologist, and brags about gutting regulations would side with Trump.

Rao’s underlying conclusion is exactly what Trump says: that he can’t be investigated by Congress outside of an impeachment hearing.

Of course, Trump is refusing to cooperate with the impeachment proceedings as well, but that’s another matter. Rao writes that “[t]he most important question is not whether Congress has put forth some legitimate legislative purpose, but rather whether Congress is investigating suspicions of criminality or allegations that the President violated a law. Such investigations may be pursued exclusively through impeachment. The House may not use the legislative power to circumvent the protections and accountability that accompany the impeachment power.”

In case her stance wasn’t clear enough, elsewhere in the dissent she writes that “[w]hen Congress seeks information about the President’s wrongdoing, it does not matter whether the investigation also has a legislative purpose. Investigations of impeachable offenses simply are not, and never have been, within Congress’s legislative power.”

These statements not only have no basis in law, but Rao makes no attempt to say that they do — and the majority opinion calls her out on it, noting her dissent “identifies nothing in the text, structure, or original meaning of Article I or Article II of the Constitution to support such a sweeping rule of legislative paralysis.”

Rao’s stance, the majority says, would mean that “Congress must either initiate the grave and weighty process of impeachment or forgo any investigation in support of potential legislation.”

It’s that “legislative paralysis” that is precisely what the Trump administration is going for. He’s declared that House committees can’t investigate him because it touches his underlying crimes. In other words, his — and Rao’s — argument is that if a House oversight investigation turns up criminal behavior on the part of the president, it just has to stop investigating.

The majority points out that Supreme Court precedent already says otherwise and that “a congressional committee which is engaged in a legitimate legislative investigation need not grind to a halt whenever … crime or wrongdoing is disclosed.”

Rao’s dissent also deliberately mis-frames what the Oversight Committee is doing. She states that, by trying to get Trump’s tax returns, the Committee is seeking “to reconstruct whether the President broke the law.”

While the net effect of getting Trump’s tax returns may be a determination that he broke the law, the committee is investigating whether any of his actions warrant strengthening ethics and oversight rules — a task wholly within the legislative purview. The existence of impeachment cannot possibly mean that a House committee must immediately commence impeachment the minute its members suspect wrongdoing.

Rao’s stance is absurd on its face, but it also highlights a key problem with the Trump era. The laws didn’t anticipate a president who would be gleefully, continually, and openly engaged in wrongdoing. The Congress and the courts didn’t anticipate that a possible defense to Trump’s crimes might be an assertion that he cannot be investigated for those crimes the minute anyone in the House suspects he has committed a crime.

This victory at the D.C. Circuit is sweet but may be short-lived. Trump can ask the entire court to rehear the case, or he could appeal directly to the Supreme Court. Unfortunately, there he likely has at least four solid votes — Justices Neil Gorsuch, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Kavanaugh — who will share his view that he cannot be investigated.

That leaves Chief Justice John Roberts, who has already proven, when gutting the Voting Rights Act, that he’s willing to overturn key constitutional provisions without saying what part of the Constitution is actually violated.

Published with permission of The American Independent.

Did Trump Ask China To Investigate Warren Too?

It turns out Joe Biden isn’t the only political rival Trump wants investigated.

On Thursday, Trump brazenly told reporters that “China should start an investigation into the Bidens because what happened in China is just about as bad as what happened with Ukraine.”

Later that night, CNN reported that Trump had already spoken with Chinese President Xi Jinping — months ago — about both Biden and fellow 2020 candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).

On June 18 of this year, Trump had a phone call with Xi and discussed the political prospects of Warren and Biden. This was around the time Warren had started gaining ground in national polls.

There isn’t much more in the way of details on Trump’s call with Xi, perhaps because the White House moved the record of the call to the same highly classified codeword system that it moved the Ukraine call to, after officials were alarmed by the contents of that call.

Not content to ask foreign governments to meddle in United States elections again, Trump also took time during the June 18 phone call to throw Hong Kong under the bus.

According to CNN, Trump told Xi he’d keep quiet about the Hong Kong protests while trade talks between the United States and China were happening.

Warren has since called on Trump to release the transcript of the June 18 call saying “it’s outrageous that any president would sell out the people of Hong Kong behind closed doors.”

Meanwhile, Trump officials continue to pretend that Trump’s actions are normal diplomacy. White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham issued a statement saying that “[w]orld leaders need to be able to speak freely in their conversations with the President — that is a key component to effective diplomacy.”

Grisham also claimed that Trump’s conversations with world leaders “are always appropriate.”

The comment recalls President Richard Nixon’s famous statement to David Frost in a 1977 interview after he’d left office: “Well, when the president does it, that means it is not illegal.”

Published with permission of The American Independent.

Photo credit: Gage Skidmore

On Fox News, Giuliani Talked Of ’Tapes’ And Soros Conspiracies

Not content with making the rounds of the Sunday shows, Rudy Giuliani decided to spend Monday night on Fox with Sean Hannity. One might think that in the far friendlier confines of Hannity’s show, Giuliani might have managed to come across as slightly less erratic and unhinged, but you’d be wrong.

To Giuliani’s credit, he has found new conspiracy theories to allege, and they’re even weirder than his previous attempts. He told Hannity that he has “overwhelming” proof that Hillary Clinton and the Democrats cooperated with Ukrainians, with the order to do so coming directly from Obama. However, he’s talking about January 2017, when Donald Trump had already won the election, so it’s unclear what all this alleged spycraft would have accomplished.

When asked if he would respond to the subpoenas issued by the House Intelligence, Foreign Affairs, and Oversight and Reform Committees, Giuliani mused that he would go if he could bring “videotapes” and “tape recordings.”

Giuliani also informed Hannity that if he didn’t investigate Ukraine, he’d be “guilty of malpractice.” No malpractice rule requires attorneys to investigate anyone, and there certainly isn’t one that covers Giuliani’s ham-handed attempts to undermine former Vice President Joe Biden as he runs for election in 2020.

Nothing was as incoherent as Giuliani’s new Soros conspiracy. Giuliani claimed there was “a company involved” run by Soros “that was closed down to cut off all of the proof the additional proof, of just how far the Democrats went in corrupting the 2016 election and corrupting the [sic] Ukraine.” No evidence has been provided of such a company.

Hannity didn’t disappoint either, telling his viewers that if they love their country, this is “an all hands on deck moment” and is “about our way of life.” He warned the Democrats are “attempting to remove a duly elected president based on nothing but a manufactured crisis.” This neatly ignores that impeachment is a constitutional authority granted to the House.

He also insisted that Biden was the person who had engaged in some corrupt quid pro quo, but its entirely unclear what he’s talking about. And finally, Hannity also traveled some familiar ground, saying that Hillary Clinton rigged her own primary and then pivoted to something new: The world is less safe because Trump can’t call up world leaders without the phone call leaking. Of course, those calls to world leaders were Trump demanding that other countries assist him with his personal vendettas and half-baked conspiracy theories, not negotiations about world peace.

Giuliani is going to be everywhere in the media for the next several months. And every time he gets airtime he’s going to spout baseless and harmful conspiracy theories. Of course, Fox will always have him on, but everyone else should wise up.

Published with permission of The American Independent.

Pompeo Changes Email Classification To Harass Clinton Staffers

Trump is facing impeachment and desperate for a distraction. Luckily, his State Department has just given him one: reopening the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails.

Never mind the fact that Clinton was cleared twice by the FBI in 2016.

The State Department is currently focusing on as many as 130 officials who emailed Clinton during her time as secretary of state. This includes even those in low-level jobs whose emails were simply forwarded to Clinton.

Former officials and employees are also being informed that emails they sent have been retroactively deemed classified.

The probe was started in 2017 shortly after Trump appointed his first secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, but then appeared to go fallow. It was revived in August of this year when former employees and official started receiving letters about emails sent years ago.

Current Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is likely quite amenable to the probe. He was fixated on Benghazi as a member of the House of Representatives and aggressively went after Clinton over the issue.

This is all part of what both current and former officials call “an extraordinary crackdown” by an administration which has “left the security of its own information vulnerable to foreign surveillance.” The State Department has insisted that this is standard protocol and “nothing to do with who is in the White House.”

That claim is questionable at best. The current occupant of the White House routinely violates classified information protocols. He gave classified information to the Russian ambassador one day after firing former FBI head James Comey. He reportedly even rattled the CIA so much they had to extract a high-level spy from Russia for fear Trump would blow their cover.

And the Ukraine scandal that led to the current impeachment proceedings against him hinges, in part, on Trump officials improperly storing material on a classified server to hide the content of Trump’s phone calls with world leaders.

Trump isn’t the only one in this administration that has trouble with classified information. At least seven Trump administration officials have used their personal email accounts for official communications. Notably, that includes both son-in-law Jared Kushner and daughter Ivanka.

Specifically, Ivanka was found to have sent hundreds of emails about official government business to and from her personal email account. And Kushner was found to have used chat apps like WhatsApp to conduct official business, reportedly including conversing with foreign leaders like Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Published with permission of The American Independent.

IMAGE: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (left) and President Donald Trump (center).

Former Intel Chief: Trump’s Ukraine Move Is ‘A Gift’ To Putin

At every turn, Trump likes to ingratiate himself to Vladimir Putin, so it isn’t entirely unsurprising that Trump has indicated he may block military aid to Ukraine, as part of why Ukraine needs that money is to push back against Russia.

Trump has indicated he wants to review whether to send the $250 million in military aid Ukraine is slated to receive. Senior officials have said this is in keeping with Trump’s overall desire that foreign aid is given to those countries which pay their “fair share.”

There’s something a bit darker at work here, however. Ukraine receives military aid because the Pentagon has assessed that the separatists in the east of Ukraine are backed and armed by Russia. So, Trump’s desire to harm Ukraine’s efforts in that arena can easily be seen as an attempt to cement his ties with Putin further. It’s likely no coincidence that this comes at the same time Trump has been agitating to let Russia back in the G-7, a body it was expelled from for annexing Crimea from Ukraine. What better way for Trump to show he’s backing Putin than to undermine Ukraine?

Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper is sounding the alarm too. When asked by CNN host Jim Sciutto if the move was a “gift” to Russia, Clapper said, “Absolutely.” He went on to say that this issue is “particularly sensitive” in light of Trump’s relationship with Russia. Further, Clapper noted, it’s difficult not to connect this move with the push by Trump to bring Russia back into the G-7.

At least one Russian official has already applauded Trump’s move. Leonid Slutsky, the head of the Russian State Duma Foreign Affairs Committee, praised Trump for doing his “due diligence” and then pivoted to saying the Ukrainian government was corrupt and it is “important for the US administration to make sure that the funds are used for their intended purpose and are not just stolen.”

It isn’t like this is an entirely new move for Trump. While running for president, he may have participated in altering the platform of the GOP campaign to weaken support for U.S. aid to Ukraine. It was a move that Trump’s now-disgraced former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, worked toward for years.

Now, thanks to Trump’s willingness to harm Ukraine in order to cater to Russia, it looks like Manafort and Putin both might see their wishes come true.

Published with permission of The American Independent.

USDA Cuts Enforcement Of Animal Welfare Under Trump

Under Trump, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has curtailed its investigations into animal welfare. That means things like puppy mills aren’t getting investigated at all.

Puppy mills are awful. As the Humane Society explained, a puppy mill is “an inhumane high-volume dog breeding facility that churns out puppies for profit, ignoring the needs of the pups and their mothers” and the puppies are often “sick and unsocialized.” They’re precisely the sort of thing that should be regulated out of existence, but the Trump administration is basically turning a blind eye to those and other animal welfare abuses.

ABC News reported that data from the USDA’s animal welfare division shows that investigations have plummeted in the years Trump has been in office. During the last year of Obama’s presidency, the division issued 1,320 warnings. By 2017, that number had dropped to 523; and by 2018, it was down to 193. Similarly, in 2016, the division opened 239 cases, but that dropped to only 15 cases in the first three quarters of 2018. To put this into perspective, there are approximately 10,000 puppy mills currently operating in the U.S.

The USDA gave two reasons for the startling decline in enforcement. First, it says it has fewer inspectors and had to stop doing routine inspections during the government shutdown. Next, it argues this is a specific policy choice — the department decided to focus on assisting facilities with compliance by letting them correct problems before issuing a citation. There’s just one problem with that: The USDA’s own internal watchdog says it doesn’t work.

In theory, helping educate breeders about the laws should result in more compliance with the rules, but it doesn’t. Puppy mills and other pet dealers just go on to violate more laws.

The administration is so uninterested in enforcing animal welfare laws that they even took USDA inspection reports, which documented animal abuse, offline early in 2017. These didn’t just cover puppy mills and other pet dealers; they covered zoos, factory farms, research laboratories, circuses, and more. Without that information, journalists can’t investigate and animal welfare organizations can’t help protect animals. Members of Congress have asked for the inspection reports to be restored, but the USDA has ignored them.

It’s tough to imagine that even an administration as awful as Trump’s would be just fine with puppy mills, but here we are.

Published with permission of The American Independent.

Justice Department Seeking To Block Trump Critics On Twitter

A federal appeals court told Trump he couldn’t block users on Twitter, but he isn’t going to take no for an answer. He’s now appealed the decision to the entire 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals, asking the full court to reconsider the case.

In July, a three-judge panel ruled that the plaintiffs in the case had a First Amendment right to engage in speech — via Twitter — with Trump on Twitter, upholding an earlier district court decision. Though Trump’s Twitter handle, @realDonaldTrump, pre-dates his election, he uses it as a vehicle for official pronouncements, including announcing the firing of officials and imposing the ban on transgender people serving in the military.

Because of that, people have the right to interact with him, even if they disagree with him. Put another way, the government couldn’t ban a newspaper that was critical of Trump or stop someone from criticizing him by protesting outside one of his rallies because people have the right to criticize and protest. They even have the right to try to make sure the president himself is aware of those criticisms.

But Trump hates that idea. He wants his Twitter to be a place where he can air his grievances, bully others, and scream about fake news. But he can’t stand anyone talking back to him in anything but a flattering way.

Because of that, the Department of Justice (DOJ) is spending taxpayer money to argue, confusingly, that they must defend Trump’s Twitter account because his account “is his personal account and will remain his handle after he leaves office.”

This is called trying to have it both ways. On the one hand, the government is arguing that this is a matter of “exceptional importance” to the government — in other words, that they’re representing Trump in his official capacity as president. On the other hand, the very crux of their argument is that they need to represent Trump so he can keep his blocklist for his personal Twitter account once he’s no longer president.

The DOJ absurdly compared Twitter to Trump’s “personal residence” and argued that Trump could certainly block someone from his house, even if he gave official statements there.

Of course, Twitter is not a house. It’s a public platform, and it’s one that Trump is using for political communication. Trump has also called for Twitter to be more tightly regulated, making it more akin to a public utility like electric companies. That argument may come back to haunt him. It’s awful hard to say that on the one hand Twitter is a vehicle available to everyone and must be regulated to allow all viewpoints, and on the other hand, argue the president is so delicate he must be shielded from competing viewpoints.

In the end, this is just the behavior of a bully. Trump can dish it out, but he can’t take it.

Published with permission of The American Independent.