Trump declares himself the ‘chief law-enforcement officer of the United States’

President Donald Trump falsely designated himself the “chief law-enforcement officer of the United States” while speaking with reporters on Tuesday.

Attorney General William Barr is the chief law-enforcement officer of the US.

The president also acknowledged that he makes Barr’s job more difficult, referring to Barr’s remark last week that Trump’s tweets make it “impossible” for him to do his job.

“I do make his job harder,” Trump told reporters. “I do agree with that.” He added that he has “total confidence” in the attorney general.

Barr made waves last week when he told ABC News in an exclusive interview that the president’s tweeting put him in a tough spot.

“I’m going to do what I think is right,” Barr said. “And you know … I cannot do my job here at the department with a constant background commentary that undercuts me.”

“I think it’s time to stop the tweeting about Department of Justice criminal cases,” Barr said, adding that they “make it impossible for me to do my job.”

Most recently, Barr and senior leadership overrode the sentencing recommendation that career prosecutors handling the federal case against Trump’s associate Roger Stone made to a court last week. The announcement came after Trump tweeted that the initial sentencing recommendation was “horrible” and “unfair” to Stone.

The next day, Trump congratulated Barr for deciding to overrule the prosecutors, all of whom withdrew from the case or resigned altogether after senior DOJ leadership rebuked their recommendation.

“Congratulations to Attorney General Bill Barr for taking charge of a case that was totally out of control and perhaps should not have even been brought,” the president tweeted.

But Barr told ABC News that he had already decided to ask for a lesser sentence in Stone’s case before Trump tweeted.

The attorney general also said his main responsibility was to make sure the DOJ is free from political interference.

“And I have done that, and I will continue to do that,” Barr said.

Barr’s comments raised questions and prompted immediate skepticism, especially given that he has repeatedly capitulated to the president’s public demands since taking over as attorney general.

In addition to Stone, senior DOJ officials also intervened in the government’s case against former national security adviser Michael Flynn at Barr’s direction. And the attorney general recently appointed an outside prosecutor to review the charges against Flynn, who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI after his lawyer repeatedly pressured Barr to overturn the case, claiming it was a “miscarriage of justice.”

Barr also announced that the DOJ was setting up an “intake process” to vet the information that Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani collects from Ukraine against former Vice President Joe Biden, one of Trump’s 2020 Democratic rivals.

The announcement was perplexing, given that Giuliani is under investigation by the US attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York over his efforts to get foreign dirt on Biden.

The DOJ said in a letter to Congress the US attorney for the Eastern District of New York was coordinating “several open matters” related to the Ukraine controversy and that the US attorney in Pittsburgh would vet new information from Ukraine that comes from the public, including Giuliani.

[Business Insider]

Trump Openly Claims Authority to Direct Attorney General To Investigate Anyone He Wants

President Donald Trump addressed the latest kerfuffle-cum-constitutional crisis in a Friday morning tweet following Attorney General Bill Barr’s apparent intervention in the sentencing of Roger Stone.

Stone was found guilty of seven felony counts last November, including lying to Congress and witness tampering during the investigation into Russian intelligence and interference in the general election. As such, prosecutors recommended a seven to nine-year prison sentence, which Trump criticized vocally. Barr eventually intervened to recommend a lighter sentence, to which Trump tweeted his thanks.

In an interview with ABC News, Barr claimed that he would never be bullied by anyone (including the president) and criticized Trump’s tweets for creating a distraction. It is worth noting that, despite his claims otherwise, Barr appeared to do exactly what Trump had asked, eventually earning Trump’s praise. So that’s the context… still with me?

Ever one to jump on a news cycle, and get ahead of a story, Trump addressed this story obliquely, saying that he has the “legal right” to ask his attorney general to do anything in a criminal case.

“Trump just openly and explicitly stated that it’s perfectly within his authority to direct his Attorney General to open criminal investigations into anyone he wants,” offered Washington Post columnist Greg Sargent, in as a pure expression of what many will see as an open flouting of checks and balances in the U.S. government.

This is the very point made Thursday night on CNN by Jeffrey Toobin following a Washington Post report about this very concept. “The idea [James Comey] committed a crime is absurd. The person in a really perilous condition right now is the CNN contributor Andrew McCabe, who is under investigation from the U.S. Attorney’s office right now. And, you know, has had his case dangling out there. The president obviously wants Andy McCabe prosecuted and it’s just grotesque that you have the President of the United States behaving this way with the power of prosecution exercised in this way.”

The attorney general IS appointed by the president, then confirmed by Congress. And it’s not unusual for the top law enforcement official to work hand in glove with the sitting president. Many might read Trump’s tweet, however, as a rather foreboding omen of what may come to Trump’s political foes.

If he feels that someone has done him wrong, and he can direct the AG to serve as his own personal henchman (of which there is an abundance of evidence) then what is to keep him from seeking investigations into those he feels might threaten his reelection? Oh wait, he’s already done that.

[Mediaite]

Trump claims Pelosi ripping speech was ‘illegal’

President Trump claimed Friday that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) committed a crime by ripping up a copy of his speech at the State of the Union on Tuesday evening, a claim that was immediately disputed as false by legal experts. “I thought it was a terrible thing,” Trump told reporters at the White House before departing for a speech in North Carolina. “It’s illegal what she did. She broke the law.” Trump asserted that Pelosi was barred from ripping up the speech because it is an official document, later calling it “very illegal.”

Glenn Kirschner, a legal analyst and former federal prosecutor, disputed Trump’s claim, telling The Hill that a photocopy of a speech is not an official record.

“The federal law prohibiting the destruction of public records or government documents does not apply,” Kirschner said in a text message.

“No prosecutor with half an ounce of common sense would ever charge this case,” said Elie Honig, another legal analyst. “The law isn’t meant to criminalize destruction of copies of ceremonial documents.”

Trump on Friday also described Pelosi’s action as “very disrespectful to the chamber, to the country.”

Pelosi has said she tore up the speech in order to protest the “falsehoods” contained in the president’s State of the Union address and that she felt “very vindicated” by doing so.

The president’s remarks on Friday were his first public reaction to Pelosi’s ripping of his speech at the conclusion of his State of the Union address on Tuesday evening.

The president told reporters Friday that he didn’t know Pelosi ripped the copy of his speech until members of Congress remarked about it as he left the chamber.

White House aides have repeatedly criticized Pelosi for the move in recent days, though none have suggested her actions were illegal. White House counselor Kellyanne Conway told Fox News on Wednesday that she believed Pelosi should be censured.

“I think it shows you how petty and peevish and partisan the Democratic Party has come,” Conway said on Fox News. “And for all the people out there who fancy themselves the armchair psychiatrist trying to analyze certain people, they ought to shift their craft over to Nancy Pelosi.”

Trump has regularly attacked Pelosi over his impeachment by House, but their relationship plummeted to a new low this week following the State of the Union and the president’s acquittal in the impeachment trial by the GOP-controlled Senate.

When Trump entered the House chamber before his remarks, Trump also appeared to snub Pelosi, not taking her hand as she reached out to shake his as is customary at the beginning of the president’s joint address to Congress.

During two separate appearances on Thursday — including one at the National Prayer Breakfast when the House Speaker was sitting just feet away — Trump took a shot at Pelosi for invoking religion during his impeachment.

“Nancy Pelosi is a horrible person. And she wanted to impeach a long time ago,” Trump said during remarks from the East Room Thursday afternoon, disputing Pelosi’s claim that she prays for him. “She may pray, but she prays for the opposite. But I doubt she prays at all.”

[The Hill]

Reality

The assertion is rich given Trump’s well-documented penchant for ripping papers into tiny pieces after he’s done reading them. Politico reported in 2018 that White House aides could not convince the President to break his paper-ripping habit, so it became the job of career staffers in the records management office to tape official documents he’s torn into bits back together.

This all came from a tweet from conservative bullshit artist Charlie Kirk.

According to a fact check from the Tampa Bay Times:

The statute in question deals with the “concealment, removal, or mutilation generally” of records and reports. It sets a penalty for anyone who “conceals, removes, mutilates, obliterates, or destroys” any government record “filed or deposited with any clerk or officer of any court of the United States, or in any public office, or with any judicial or public officer of the United States.”

The statute also says that any person with “custody” of a government record cannot “willfully and unlawfully” conceal, remove, mutilate, obliterate, falsify or destroy it.

“The point of the statute is to prevent people from destroying records in official repositories like the National Archives or in courts,” said Georgetown Law professor Victoria Nourse.

Pelosi is in the clear, experts said, because her copy of Trump’s speech wasn’t a government record.

Media

Trump demands Justice Roberts dismiss ‘phony’ impeachment that ‘should not even be allowed to proceed’

President Donald Trump on Sunday suggested that Justice John Roberts should declare that impeachment charges against him are unconstitutional.

In an appearance on Fox News over the weekend, Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani first made the suggestion that Roberts could kick off the president’s impeachment trial by dismissing it.

“Great idea,” Trump wrote Sunday morning as he tweeted out video of Giuliani’s appearance. “This phony Impeachment Hoax should not even be allowed to proceed. Did NOTHING wrong. Just a partisan vote. Zero Republicans. Never happened before!”

[Raw Story]


Trump hits Senate for giving impeachment ‘credibility’ by holding trial

President Trump on Sunday tweeted that Republicans risked lending credibility to the impeachment inquiry brought by the House by holding a trial in the Senate.

The president said any proceedings in the Senate would be based on “no evidence,” and appeared to urge Senate Republicans to reject the idea of holding a trial at all.

“Many believe that by the Senate giving credence to a trial based on the no evidence, no crime, read the transcripts, “no pressure” Impeachment Hoax, rather than an outright dismissal, it gives the partisan Democrat Witch Hunt credibility that it otherwise does not have. I agree!” Trump tweeted.

Trump spent much of Sunday tweeting about the upcoming Senate impeachment trial, which, he wrote in one message, “should not even be allowed to proceed.”

“Why should I have the stigma of Impeachment attached to my name when I did NOTHING wrong?” he added in another tweet. “Read the Transcripts! A totally partisan Hoax, never happened before. House Republicans voted 195-0, with three Dems voting with the Republicans. Very unfair to tens of millions of voters!”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) have battled for weeks over the scope of the Senate impeachment trial, with Pelosi holding firm in her demands for McConnell to guarantee that witnesses will be called before she presents the Senate with the House-passed articles of impeachment.

Last week it was reported that McConnell had signed on to a measure that would allow the Senate to dismiss the House articles of impeachment without a trial.

[The Hill]

‘Maybe we will, maybe we won’t’: Trump doubles down on threat to take oil from Syria

Donald Trump has renewed his threats to forcibly steal oil from Syria, a move which experts say would amount to a war crime.

The president defended his decision to leave a small number of American troops in the war-torn nation after a general withdrawal in October by claiming they were only there to secure Syria’s oilfields.

“They say he left troops in Syria… do you know what I did? I took the oil,” he said during a Fox News interview.

“The only troops I have are taking the oil, they are protecting the oil.”

When the interviewer, Laura Ingraham, attempted to correct Mr Trump by insisting the soldiers were not there to take the oil but to guard the facilities, the president cut her off.

“I don’t know, maybe we should take it, but we have the oil. Right now, the United States has the oil. We have the oil.”

This is not the first time the erratic former business tycoon has publicly mused about stealing Syria’s oil reserves.

In October, shortly after his abrupt withdrawal of US forces and abandoning of their Kurdish allies in the region, Mr Trump said he wanted an American oil firm to fly in to tap Syria’s oil on behalf of the government.

“What I intend to do, perhaps, is make a deal with an ExxonMobil or one of our great companies to go in there and do it properly,” he said.

However, such a move would likely constitute pillage and looting, actions which have long been designated as illegal under international law and the rules of war.

The Geneva Convention, which the US is a signatory to, explicitly prohibits the looting of property during conflict, defining it as a war crime.

“The president appears to believe that the US can sell the oil, based on his statements in the past about Iraqi oil and Libyan oil … thinking that we can loot countries,” Benjamin Friedman, policy director at think tank Defence Priorities and adjunct professor at the George Washington University, told The Independent last year.

“I am sure people in the White House have tried to explain to him that is not how it works.

“Taking the profits from the sale of Syrian oil for the US treasury would be illegal. That would probably qualify as pillaging under the law.”

Ironically, experts say Syria’s oil fields are not much of a prize anyway. Even before the country descended in a chaotic civil war, it only produced about 380,000 barrels of poor-quality oil a day.

In 2018, after its production was several hampered by the conflict, it produced about the same amount of oil as the state of Illinois.

Before he entered the White House, Mr Trump had said several times that the US should have “taken the oil” from the other Middle Eastern nations its armed forces had intervened in, including Iraq and Libya.

Some commentators have speculated that defence officials desperate to persuade the president to permit some US forces to remain in Syria as a counter-balance to Isis and the Assad regime were forced to appeal to his oil obsession to gain his approval.

[The Independent]

Trump tells evangelical rally he will put prayer in schools

 U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday said his Democratic opponents would tear down crosses and pledged to bring prayer to public schools at a re-election rally to shore up evangelical support.

Trump spoke on the outskirts of Miami at the King Jesus International Ministry, a “prosperity gospel” church that teaches that the faithful will be rewarded with health and wealth on earth. 

“We are defending religion itself, it’s under siege,” Trump said. “A society without religion cannot prosper.”

More than 80% of white evangelicals voted for Trump in the 2016 election. But a crack in evangelical support opened up last month when the magazine Christianity Today wrote a blistering editorial on Trump’s “grossly immoral character.” 

Attendees, some of them wearing Trump’s signature red campaign hats, nearly filled the room, which the church says holds 7,000. Some raised their hands in a sign of praise and swayed while music played loudly over the speakers before the president entered the room. 

Pastors gathered around Trump on the stage for an opening prayer, while much of the audience remained standing with their hands aloft. 

In his speech, Trump mocked Democratic challenger Pete Buttigieg, the Indiana mayor, for having what he said was an unpronounceable last name, and told attendees Democrats were waging war against religion. 

“These angry radicals want to impose absolute conformity by censuring speech, tearing down crosses and symbols of faith and banning religious believers from public life.” 

He got a big reaction from the crowd when he promised to bring religion into U.S. schools. A clause in the U.S. Constitution prohibits the government from promoting one religion over the other, which means public schools don’t promote prayer or religious symbols. 

“Very soon I’ll be taking action to safeguard students and teachers’ First Amendment rights to pray in our schools,” Trump said. “They want to take that right along with many other ones.”

According to a 2019 survey here by the Pew Research Center, 43% of U.S. adults, or some 110 million people, identify with Protestantism; 59% of those, or 64 million are born-again or evangelical Christians. 

Christian support for Trump remained relatively constant from his inauguration until March of 2019, Pew Research shows. Some Christians believe that support has frayed since. 

Friday’s rally “is Trump’s desperate response to the realization that he is losing his primary voting bloc — faith voters,” said Doug Pagitt, the executive director of Vote Common Good, a progressive Christian group, on Friday.


[Reuters]

Trump floats taking case to Supreme Court to stop impeachment

President Trump on Monday questioned whether he and his allies could go to the Supreme Court to halt the House impeachment inquiry. 

Trump tweeted shortly after arriving in the United Kingdom for two days of NATO meetings that he had read House Republicans’ draft defense in which his allies insist there was no evidence of wrongdoing in Trump’s interactions with Ukraine.

“Great job! Radical Left has NO CASE,” Trump tweeted. “Read the Transcripts. Shouldn’t even be allowed. Can we go to Supreme Court to stop?”

The tweet marked the second time that Trump has raised the possibility of appealing his case to the Supreme Court to avert a possible impeachment. There’s no precedent for a president taking his impeachment case to the high court, and legal experts have previously said it’s unlikely the justices would hear such a case.

The president’s comments came as the impeachment proceedings enter a new phase while he is overseas meeting with world leaders and reflected the difficulty Trump will have restraining himself from weighing in on the House hearings while abroad.

Lawmakers on the House Intelligence Committee are expected to begin reviewing a draft version of the panel’s report summarizing its findings after private depositions and public hearings with a dozen current and former administration officials.

The committee will then vote Tuesday on whether to adopt the report, which would be sent to the Judiciary Committee thereafter.

The House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday will hold its first hearing in the impeachment inquiry, titled “The Impeachment Inquiry into President Donald J. Trump: Constitutional Grounds for Presidential Impeachment.” The panel will hear from legal scholars as Democrats weigh whether the evidence turned up in their weeks-long impeachment inquiry warrants the drafting of articles aimed at removing the president from office. 

The White House said it will not participate in the hearing, though it did not rule out taking part in future hearings.

House Democrats are examining whether Trump abused his office by pressuring Ukraine to pursue investigations that could benefit him politically, including by conditioning a White House meeting or aid for Ukraine to those investigations.

But House Republicans argue in their draft defense that the president’s actions were not politically motivated and that the evidence does not support Democrats’ assertions.

The president’s GOP allies at no point over the course of the 123-page document concede any wrongdoing by Trump, instead insisting that with proper context the administration’s actions were “entirely prudent.”

Trump himself has maintained that his much-scrutinized July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was “perfect.” On the call, Trump asks Zelensky to look into the Bidens and a debunked conspiracy theory about 2016 election interference.

Trump in April first tweeted that he would take Democrats to the Supreme Court if they tried to impeach him. That assertion came on the heels of former special counsel Robert Mueller releasing his full report on Russian interference in the 2016 election.

But legal experts cast doubt on the chances of the Supreme Court taking up such a case. They noted that the Constitution grants impeachment powers to the House and that Chief Justice John Roberts would be expected to preside over a Senate trial.

[The Hill]

Trump defends Yovanovitch attack: ‘I have freedom of speech’

President Trump on Friday defended his tweet earlier in the day attacking former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch in the middle of her public testimony in the House impeachment hearing, insisting he has the right to speak out.

“I have the right to speak. I have freedom of speech just like other people do,” Trump told reporters at the White House after making remarks on a health care initiative, adding that he’s “allowed to speak up” if others are speaking about him.

Pressed on whether his words can be intimidating, as Yovanovitch and Democrats have said, Trump said no.

“I don’t think so at all,” he said.

The remarks were Trump’s first public comments of the day, which has largely been dominated by testimony from Yovanovitch. As the former ambassador testified about a smear campaign by Trump’s allies to oust her from her post in Kyiv, the president took aim at her on Twitter.

“Everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad. She started off in Somalia, how did that go? Then fast forward to Ukraine, where the new Ukrainian President spoke unfavorably about her in my second phone call with him,” Trump tweeted. “It is a U.S. President’s absolute right to appoint ambassadors.”

In a stunning moment, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) interrupted questioning from his staff counsel to read the president’s tweet aloud to Yovanovitch and asked for her reaction.

“I don’t think I have such powers,” Yovanovitch said with a slight laugh. “Not in Mogadishu, Somalia, not in other places.”

Asked what effect Trump’s tweet might have on future witnesses facing pressure from the White House not to testify, Yovanovitch described it as “very intimidating.”

Democrats on the committee and elsewhere in the House equated Trump’s tweet to witness intimidation and suggested that it could be considered when mulling articles of impeachment later in the process.

The White House on Friday morning issued a statement that Trump would not be watching Yovanovitch’s testimony beyond opening statements. But Trump himself said that he had tuned in.

“I watched a little bit of it today. I wasn’t able to yesterday because we had the president of Turkey here, and I wasn’t able to watch much,” Trump said. “I watched some of it this morning and I thought it was a disgrace.”

Trump complained that Republicans were not given a fair shake, referencing an instance where Schiff stopped Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) from questioning Yovanovitch because the rules stipulated that only the ranking member or Republican counsel could ask questions during that period.

“It’s a disgrace and it’s an embarrassment to our nation,” Trump said.

Yovanovitch is the third witness to testify publicly in the House impeachment inquiry. Several other current and former administration officials are scheduled to give public testimony next week.

[The Hill]

Trump Wants Whistleblower’s Lawyer Sued ‘Maybe for Treason,’ Which Definitely Isn’t a Thing

President Donald Trump tried his hand at tort law on Friday by suggesting the intelligence community whistleblower “should be revealed” and that their lawyer should be sued “maybe for treason.”

“So the whistleblower is a disgrace to our country” Trump said. And the whistleblower, because of that, should be revealed. And his lawyer who said the worst things possible two years ago, he should be sued and maybe for treason. Maybe for treason, but he should be sued. His lawyer is a disgrace.”

It appears that Trump was referring to attorney Mark Zaid. The comments were made during a press assemblage on the White House lawn where the president also addressed the closed-door impeachment hearings and the state of the 2020 presidential race.

The suggestion of treason as a civil action, however, quickly sent legal commentators into a tailspin of eyebrow-raising ridicule.

First Amendment attorney and legal commentator Adam Steinbaugh noted: “you… you can’t be sued for treason.”

That’s true. Treason is a criminal charge. Suing someone is an action taken in a civil court. Criminal charges are leveled by the state. Civil actions–which we usually call lawsuits–are usually filed by the state or private individuals in an effort to obtain money or information.

Treason, in other words, is a suggestion that simply makes no sense whatsoever under the present circumstances. This isn’t an issue that’s subject to debate. There’s plainly and clearly no cause of action known as “treason” under any state or federal law in the United States. (And this probably shouldn’t even have to be explained.)

Under the laws of the United States, treason has a very specific and very limited definition. Per the U.S. Constitution, Article III, Section 3:

Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court.

There’s also a separate codification of treason under at 18 U.S. Code § 2381 which barely tweaks the constitutional definition and also assigns specific penalties for committing the criminal act.

No concept, provision or sleight of legalese that exists in the U.S. legal order would be capable of transmogrifying the above potential crimes into something that anyone could sue anyone else for. The point, now a bit belabored, is basically the end of the story.

Except for maybe the jokes.

“Treasonous infliction of emotional distress, dude,” offered Reason‘s criminal justice reporter C.J. Ciaramella. “Look it up.”

On Thursday, it should be noted, one of the intelligence community whistleblower’s attorneys sent White House Counsel Pat Cipollone a cease-and-desist letter demanding that Trump stop calling for their client’s identity to be exposed and to stop using “rhetoric that may endanger their life.”

“I am writing to respectfully request that you counsel your client on the legal and ethical peril in which he is placing himself should anyone be physically harmed as a result of his, or his surrogates’, behavior,” attorney Andrew P. Bakaj wrote.

The whistleblower’s attorney later laid it on the line:

In the best light, such statements seek to intimidate my client–and they have. As I am sure you are aware, my firm was in the process of coordinating with the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence to have my client deposed by congressional investigators. However, as a direct consequence of the President’s irresponsible rhetoric and behavior, my client’s physical safety became a significant concern, prompting us to instead state our willingness to only answer written interrogatories [questions].

Trump’s campaign to expose and smear the intelligence community whistleblower has, effectively, given the whistleblower pause about how and whether they should testify. Bakaj says that’s a crime.

“In light of this, it is reasonable to submit that your client’s activity constitutes a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1512, Tampering with a witness, victim, or an informant,” Bakaj continued. “Furthermore, because my client is a lawful whistleblower and a prospective congressional witness, any threats to influence, obstruct, or impede my client’s cooperation is a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1505, Obstruction of proceedings before departments, agencies, and committees. Finally, reprisal against my client for cooperating with a congressional inquiry would be a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1513, Retaliating against a witness, victim, or an informant.”

Despite this warning, Trump once again called for the whistleblower’s identity to be revealed.

The 45th president is arguably skilled at asymmetric attempts to muddy the waters and that’s as good an explanation as any for what happened on the White House lawn Friday morning. That doesn’t mean necessarily mean any of this is well-advised. 

Those most recent attacks on these attorneys and their clients are exactly the sorts of statements cautioned against in the cease-and-desist missive. They’re also the sort of statements that congressional investigators are likely to add to any eventual articles of impeachment.

[Law and Crime]

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