Writings and observations

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Almost all Republican members of Congress resist the idea of an independent commission to investigate the web of spy craft that undermined the integrity of the 2016 election. They argue that the House and Senate Intelligence Committees are up to the task.

They are wrong. However well-intentioned individual members, these committees cannot do the job.

One of the few Republicans to break ranks is Idaho’s Mike Simpson who has publicly advocated for a truly independent commission. The Washington Post and The Hill report that Simpson thinks members of the Intelligence Committees are “too involved” to do a proper job. He wisely suggests that we learn from history, observing that – in the early 1970s – many politicians were too quick to dismiss the notion that Nixon had done anything wrong.

I share the anger of others who are profoundly disappointed in Simpson’s vote to repeal the ACA and replace it with “Trumpcare” and his inclination to support the rest of the Trump agenda. But unlike other members of Idaho’s all GOP congressional delegation, Simpson will, on occasion, put country before party. This is such a time, and it is significant.

We must understand all ramifications of foreign interference in the 2016 election so that we can prepare to address new threats and make sure this never happens again. The appointment of a special counsel was a critical first step in the process. But a prosecutor’s focus is, necessarily, on past conduct. In order to prepare to thwart future meddling, an independent commission is needed. Creating such a commission will be a very heavy lift. It requires legislation – a bill passed by both houses of Congress and signed by the president.

Several polls show that a large majority of the American public supports creation of an independent commission. But Democrats alone don’t have the numbers to pass a bill. Only if enough Republicans summon the courage to follow Mike Simpson’s lead and join the Democratic minority will a bill establishing this commission pass in the House and Senate.

If and when that bill lands on his desk, there will be tremendous pressure on the president to sign it into law. If he vetoes the bill, we can reasonably conclude that he wants to bury the truth, that he has a lot to hide, and that he is unwilling to address the escalating threats going forward. Should the president veto such a bill, it would help confirm what a growing body of evidence strongly suggests – that he is, indeed, Russia’s errand boy.

But if Congress acts to establish an independent commission, it will be because a handful of Republicans, like Mike Simpson, finally stepped up to break the partisan log jam. Regardless of my adverse views on much of Simpson’s record, I acknowledge and applaud his leadership on this extremely serious matter.

But now it is time for Simpson’s actions to match his words. Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Pleasanton, has introduced a bill that would create a bipartisan, 12-member panel in the mold of the 9/11 Commission. Simpson should join his Republican colleagues Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan and Rep. Walter Jones of North Carolina as co-sponsors of Swalwell’s bill.

Last week, the Republican majority in the House blocked a move to bring Swalwell’s bill to a vote. Democrats are now gathering signatures on a discharge petition, which would trigger a floor vote if a majority of Congress signs on. That means they need 23 Republican signatures.

This is where the rubber meets the road for Mike Simpson. If Simpson co-sponsors Swalwell’s bill and signs the discharge petition, we will know that his show of independence is more than lip service. As the saying goes, “Actions speak louder than words.”

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Richardson

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The testimony given by former Acting U.S. Attorney General Sally Yates before the Senate Judiciary Committee permits the inference that President Trump knew, or should have known, that his National Security Advisor Lt. General Michael Flynn had been compromised by Russia.

Ms. Yates did not mince her words. She testified she told White House counsel Don McGahn that Michael Flynn lied when he said he had not talked to Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak about potentially lifting U.S. Sanctions on Russia. And, importantly, she also told the president’s counsel that Russia knew Flynn was lying, that Flynn was, in fact, vulnerable to blackmail.

Incredibly, it would seem that but for the leaks that resulted in the public knowing about Flynn’s lies, he would yet be sitting at the right hand of the president, whispering in his ear and — likely — in Putin’s. After all, it was not until the information became public – a full 18 days after Yates met with McGahn – that Trump fired Flynn, and even then praising him to the skies.

Sadly, but somewhat predictably, the GOP senators on the Judiciary Committee appeared more concerned about the leaks than they were about Flynn’s deception and duplicity. They were more worried about who it was that had given a reporter a truthful account of Yates’ meeting with White House counsel than they were about Flynn being in a position to undermine our nation’s security.

These GOP senators have allowed their priorities to become tragically skewed.

James T. Clapper, Jr., a former Director of National Intelligence, also testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee. He urged the senators to keep their eye on the ball, stating, “I think the most important thing that needs to be done here, is educate the electorate as to what the Russians’ objective is, and the tactics and techniques, and procedures that they’ve employed and will continue to employ . . . .” Clapper’s admonishment was on point, but it appeared to go unheeded.

By focusing on the leaks and not on the Russian attack on the integrity of our elections, these senators are intentionally, or unwittingly, aiding and abetting the Administration’s obfuscations, deflections, and scapegoating. What has long been called “the world’s greatest deliberative body” has, among its majority, charlatans who would sacrifice truth, justice – and, apparently, national security – on a partisan altar.

One thing is clear. Our president is unfit to serve. He is either complicit or incompetent, or both. Unless and until his Republican enablers decide to put country before party and get to the truth about Russia’s interference in our election, our republic is in jeopardy.

The story is told that, upon the adjournment of the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, a woman approached Ben Franklin and asked, “Well, Doctor, what have we got – a Republic or a Monarchy?” He replied, “A Republic, if you can keep it.” That caution has never been more relevant than now.

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Richardson

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Last week, a federal district judge blocked enforcement of President Trump’s executive order threatening to cut federal funding to “sanctuary cities,” those that do not help the federal government apprehend and deport undocumented immigrants.

In his ruling, Judge William H. Orrick of the Northern District of California explained that the president had attempted to usurp powers that belong to Congress – that he cannot, by fiat, impose conditions on federal funds.

That power belongs to Congress and, were Congress to impose conditions, it would have to ensure that the conditions were unambiguous; imposed before the funds had been accepted; and had a nexus with the federal program’s purpose. In other words, for Congress to condition a grant on a city helping the federal government apprehend and deport undocumented immigrants, the grant would have to have some connection with law enforcement or immigration.

Finally, and importantly, the financial inducement could not be coercive. That is to say that state and local governments cannot be commandeered to enforce federal law. As the judge noted, the administration clearly intended the executive order to be coercive. As support, he cited President Trump’s unabashed declaration that the executive order would be “a weapon” to wield against sanctuary cities.

The day the court announced its decision, Idaho’s junior Senator Jim Risch criticized the ruling, telling CNN’s Wolf Blitzer that it was the product of a “left-leaning judge.” Risch flatly predicted that appellate courts would reverse it. I think he’s wrong on both counts.

Frankly, this is a rather conservative decision. It upholds the constitutional principle of separation of powers and fortifies the Tenth Amendment which states, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

Republicans have long complained that judges have given the Tenth Amendment short shrift and that the growth of federal power has come at the expense of the states. How odd then that those Republicans who have long railed against federal meddling in traditionally local activities – like city policing – now champion that very thing.

Trump’s knee-jerk response to Judge Orrick’s ruling was to threaten to break up the Ninth Circuit. He talks as if he could accomplish this on his own, but once again he forgets that congressional action would be required. Of course, some members of Congress would like to see the Ninth Circuit carved up, but I think that’s a non-starter.

Exactly eighty years ago, Franklin Roosevelt was miffed at the judiciary. He put forward his “court-packing” plan, a blatant attempt to punish the Supreme Court for blocking his New Deal legislation and “pack” the court with additional justices who would shift the court’s philosophical balance and uphold his agenda. His plan, born of frustration, met with widespread bi-partisan opposition. The American people, who strongly supported Roosevelt’s agenda, nonetheless disapproved of such machinations.

Now Trump, in a fit of pique, hopes to intimidate the federal judiciary with ham-handed threats. His immature rants are likely to backfire. I expect the American people will become more – not less – protective of judicial independence. Federal judges should not be above criticism, but that criticism – especially when it comes from the president – should be directed to the wisdom, integrity, and intellectual honesty of their opinions, not because they refuse to rubber stamp the president’s political agenda.

If Trump thinks Judge Orrick is mistaken, he has a right to appeal the court’s decision to the Ninth Circuit. But, if he does appeal, I predict the Ninth Circuit and the Supreme Court – should it consider the case – would affirm Judge Orrick’s ruling. And I expect that Trump, in his ignorance of the Constitution, will continue to take actions that will be rebuffed by the judiciary. He will continue to lose – not only in federal court, but in the court of public opinion.

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Richardson

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Appearing on last Sunday’s morning news show hosted by the local NBC affiliate, Idaho’s junior senator showed himself yet again to be the most strident of partisans. James Risch, who is a member of the Senate Committees on Foreign Relations and Intelligence, embarrassed himself fawning over Trump’s international escapades. “America is back,” he crowed.

Really, Senator?

What about Trump lying about – or not knowing – the whereabouts of the “armada” he sent to provoke his North Korean counterpart? Certainly, that did little to instill confidence in our Asian allies.

What about his declaration that NATO was obsolete? Oh, never mind, that was just a rhetorical frolic during the campaign.

What about the utter hypocrisy of bombing Syria to punish Assad for the inhumanity of using toxic gas on his own citizens, while he himself would sentence desperate refugees to death by banning their entry into our country?

What about Trump’s much-touted border wall that treats our neighbor to the south as though all of its people are pariahs?

What about Trump’s total ignorance of history and diplomacy that leads him to declare in astonishment that Chinese-North Korean relations are “complicated.” Who knew?

What about Trump’s desire to blithely walk away from crucial international agreements, like the Iranian nuclear deal and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change?

And what about Trump’s gushing tributes to strong men in Russia and Turkey while refusing to so much as shake the hand of Germany’s Angela Merkel?

Examples of Trump’s utter incompetence in foreign affairs abound. Yet, Risch, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, loudly sings his praises.

No, Senator, America is not “back,” because we have a money grubbing, saber-rattling, know-nothing bully in the White House. If anything, America is “back,” because hundreds of thousands of Americans are resisting Trump’s bellicose, divisive rhetoric and his bumbling, truly dangerous agenda.

Even more troubling is the fact that Risch is a member of the Intelligence Committee, which is investigating the extent to which Russia meddled in our election and whether Trump and his team were complicit. Methinks a Trump lackey like Risch will not be fair or impartial, that he will decide Trump is in the clear no matter the evidence to the contrary. And, increasingly, it’s looking like there will be a mountain of evidence to the contrary.

If America is “back,” it is because even in ruby red Idaho ever more people are coming to understand that “leaders” like Risch are not leaders at all, but followers, timid souls who grovel before the likes of Trump. It’s time Trump’s fanboy recuse himself from the Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation. Sadly, we can’t trust Risch to put country before party.

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