‘Prediction professor’ lays out eight reasons Trump could be impeached

Peter W. Stevenson, writing in the Washington Post:

American University Professor Allan Lichtman was one of the few professional prognosticators to call President Trump’s win in November.

Using his system of “Keys to the White House,” which postulates that presidential elections are essentially a reflection on the party in power, Lichtman said Trump was headed for the presidency. Then, just before the election, he doubled down.

And he made a second prediction, too (though, this time, without the benefit of his keys) — that Trump will be impeached before his time in office ends.

Now, he’s written a whole book explaining how that could happen, titled “The Case for Impeachment,” publishing on April 18. Lichtman lays out eight ways that Trump could get in trouble, set against the historic background of previous presidential impeachments. The Fix sat down with Lichtman at his office at American University in Washington to ask him about his most recent prediction. Our conversation, below, has been edited only for clarity and length.

The Fix: You were one of the only people who called Trump’s win before November — and then you doubled down on your prediction, just before the election, adding that you predict he’ll be impeached. Take me through that process.

Lichtman: First, in September of 2016, and then on a double down in October of 2016, I predicted, against all the pundits and all the pollsters, that Donald Trump would be the next president of the United States. And I have to tell you, I took a lot of flak for that prediction. A lot of people thought I was way off base.

One of the ones who noticed, though, was Donald Trump, who wrote me a note saying, “Congratulations on your prediction.” What he probably didn’t pay attention to was, at the same time, I also predicted that although Donald Trump would be elected, he would also be impeached, becoming the first president to be impeached, of course, since Bill Clinton.

Fix: Your official prediction for the winner of the election was based on a system of keys that you tested over decades, but this latest prediction, of his impeachment, while it’s still based on history, is not based on a refined system or science. So how do you back that up? Not just your gut instinct, what’s your actual evidence?

Lichtman: Well, my prediction of a Trump victory was based on my long-standing prediction system, the Keys to the White House, which I’ve used successfully for the last nine elections since 1984. My prediction of a Trump impeachment was not based on a formal scientific system, but was based on a deep study of the history of (impeachment), the process of (impeachment) and Donald Trump’s own history. He hadn’t become president yet! But he had a long history as a businessman and someone at least peripherally involved in politics. And I put all of that deep historical study together in my new book, “The Case for Impeachment.”

This book looks at the history of impeachment — cases like that of Andrew Johnson in 1868, Richard Nixon, who resigned before he was going to be impeached, Bill Clinton. It looks at how impeachment really works, which is quite different from the way most people think it does. You don’t actually have to commit a crime to be impeached. The House of Representatives basically decides what constitutes impeachment, and it could be any violation of the public trust, whether or not it’s a crime. And finally there’s great depth in Donald Trump’s history, and at least through mid-March, the events of his presidency. And it lays out, believe it or not, eight different grounds on why Donald Trump could be removed from office.

Fix: It’s not actually that uncommon for presidents to be impeached. While it’s certainly a political disaster, it’s not necessarily a national disaster for a president to be impeached either.

Lichtman: It’s not uncommon, and America’s framers kind of believed that impeachment was a critically important element of the Constitution — to be a check on a rogue president who they believe could otherwise smash through even the checks and balances built into our system. And counting Richard Nixon, who resigned before he certainly would have been impeached, one out of every 14 American presidents has faced impeachment. You know, gamblers have gotten rich betting much longer odds than that.

And impeachments have not been national disasters. If you look back at the impeachment of Andrew Johnson in 1868, it was good for the country, not bad, because Johnson had been obstruction to Reconstruction. He had been obstructing the integration of the newly freed slave into American life, and after being chastised by impeachment, even though he wasn’t convicted by the Senate, he moderated his policies.

After the impeachment of Bill Clinton, the presidency emerged stronger than ever. It wasn’t weakened — some might even say too strong. And of course, the near-impeachment and resignation of Richard Nixon removed a clear and present danger to our democracy from office. And I believe one of the reasons Trump is vulnerable to impeachment is that he shares many of the same traits as Richard Nixon, and poses the same kind of threat to our constitutional system, our liberties and our freedoms.

Fix: But right now, Republicans control both houses of Congress and the White House. Why would House Republicans impeach their own guy?

Lichtman: Well, they’re not going to unless the American people demand it. Yes, the power of impeachment is lodged in the U.S. House of Representatives, but they are the people’s house, and they are responsive to the people.

The Republican Congress could conceivably move to impeachment if they believe Trump is a liability to them, and remember, every member has to stand for reelection in 2018. And Trump has no long-standing relationship with these members of Congress. He hasn’t really been a mainstay of the Republican Party. And there is also the possibility that in 2018 you have a wave election, which gives Democrats control of the House and completely changes the political dynamic.

But barring that, understand, not all Republicans have to be in favor of impeachment. If Democrats want it, and two dozen Republicans, approximately, switch, you have enough votes for impeachment. All it takes is a simple majority.

And finally, remember: Republicans really don’t trust Donald Trump. He’s a loose cannon. But they love Mike Pence. He’s a down-the-line Christian conservative dream president for the Republicans in Congress.

More here.

Jeff Sessions, Unleashed at the Border

Via The New York Times Editorial Board:

Attorney General Jeff Sessions went to the border in Arizona on Tuesday and declared it a hellscape, a “ground zero” of death and violence where Americans must “take our stand” against a tide of evil flooding up from Mexico.

It was familiar Sessions-speak, about drug cartels and “transnational gangs” poisoning and raping and chopping off heads, things he said for years on the Senate floor as the gentleman from Alabama. But with a big difference: Now he controls the machinery of federal law enforcement, and his gonzo-apocalypto vision of immigration suddenly has force and weight behind it, from the officers and prosecutors and judges who answer to him.

When Mr. Sessions got to the part about the “criminal aliens and the coyotes and the document forgers” overthrowing our immigration system, the American flag behind him had clearly heard enough — it leaned back and fell over as if in a stupor. An agent rushed to rescue it, and stood there for the rest of the speech: a human flag stand and metaphor. A guy with a uniform and gun, wrapped in Old Glory, helping to give the Trump administration’s nativist policies a patriotic sheen.

It was in the details of Mr. Sessions’s oratory that his game was exposed. He talked of cities and suburbs as immigrant-afflicted “war zones,” but the crackdown he seeks focuses overwhelmingly on nonviolent offenses, the document fraud and unauthorized entry and other misdeeds that implicate many people who fit no sane definition of brutal criminal or threat to the homeland.

The problem with Mr. Sessions’s turbocharging of the Justice Department’s efforts against what he paints as machete-wielding “depravity” is how grossly it distorts the bigger picture. It reflects his long fixation — shared by his boss, President Trump — on immigration not as an often unruly, essentially salutary force in American history, but as a dire threat. It denies the existence of millions of people who are a force for good, economic mainstays and community assets, less prone to crime than the native-born — workers, parents, children, neighbors and, above all, human beings deserving of dignity and fair treatment under the law.

Mr. Sessions is ordering his prosecutors to make immigration a priority, to consider prosecution in any case involving “transportation and harboring of aliens” and to consider felony charges for an extended menu of offenses, like trying to re-enter after deportation, “aggravated identity theft” and fraudulent marriage.

He said the government was now detaining every adult stopped at the border, and vowed to “surge” the supply of immigration judges, to increase the flow of unauthorized immigrants through the courts and out of the country. He has ordered all 94 United States attorney’s offices to designate “border security coordinators,” no matter how far from “ground zero” they are.

Mr. Sessions and the administration are being led by their bleak vision to the dark side of the law. The pieces are falling into place for the indiscriminate “deportation force” that the president promised. Mr. Sessions and the homeland security secretary, John Kelly, have attacked cities and states that decline to participate in the crackdown. Mr. Sessions has threatened these “sanctuary” locales with loss of criminal-justice funding, on the false assertion that they are defying the law. (In fact, “sanctuary” cities are upholding law and order. They recognize that enlisting state and local law enforcement for deportation undermines community trust, local policing and public safety.)

More here.

Suburban G.O.P. Voters Sour on Party, Raising Republican Fears for 2018

Alexander Burns and Jonathan Martin, reporting for the New York Times:

A gray mood has settled over conservative-leaning voters in some of the country’s most reliably Republican congressional districts, as the party’s stumbles in Washington demoralize them and leave lawmakers scrambling to energize would-be supporters in a series of off-year elections.

While the next nationwide elections are not until 2018, Republicans have grown fearful that these voters are recoiling from what they see as lamentable conditions in Washington: a government entirely in Republican hands that has failed to deliver on fundamental goals like overhauling the health care system.

Early missteps by President Trump and congressional leaders have weighed heavily on voters from the party’s more affluent wing, anchored in right-of-center suburbs around major cities in the South and Midwest. Never beloved in these precincts, Mr. Trump appears to be struggling to maintain support from certain voters who backed him last year mainly as a way of defeating Hillary Clinton.

Interviews with Republican-leaning voters in four suburban districts — in Georgia, Kansas, Minnesota and New Jersey — revealed a sour outlook on the party. These voters, mainly white professionals, say they expected far more in the way of results by now, given the Republican grip on power in the capital. In opinion polls, they consistently give Mr. Trump mediocre approval ratings, even as he remains solidly popular with lower-income whites.

In the past, first-term presidents have suffered grievous losses in midterm elections, when their party’s voters have stayed home while the opposition party has marched to the barricades. Former President Barack Obama saw Democrats lose 63 House seats in 2010 after Republicans and disaffected independents stampeded to the polls and grumbling Democrats did not.

It is too early to say if the same dynamic is afflicting Mr. Trump. But already, Republicans have strained to prop up their candidates in a pair of special House elections in the areas around Atlanta and Wichita, Kan., both in districts that have voted overwhelmingly Republican in past congressional races.

Republicans spent nearly $100,000 in last-minute ads boosting Ron Estes, a candidate in Kansas, who won a relatively narrow victory Tuesday night as turnout from the party’s voters slumped. Wary national Democrats invested little money in the race, prompting criticism from activists seeking to fight Mr. Trump’s party on every possible front.

Republicans may face a tougher test next week in Georgia, where both parties have poured millions into contesting the seat vacated by Tom Price, Mr. Trump’s new health and human services secretary. At a well-tended shopping mall outside Atlanta, Eric Riehm, 48, said he was beginning to question the point of casting his ballot for Republicans.

“The vote seems to matter less and less, because nothing can be done, just like repealing Obamacare,” said Mr. Riehm, who works in information technology sales and voted for Mr. Trump.

That malaise cuts across regional lines: In the New Jersey district held by Representative Leonard Lance, a Republican, Joe Boyle, 61, said he took a dim view of Mr. Trump but still hoped he would turn things around.

Mr. Boyle, who said he usually votes Republican, faulted the party for failing to “do the homework” on health care, and criticized lawmakers for focusing on their own interests instead of forging bipartisan agreements.

“It’s all about ‘me,’ not about the better good of the overall population,” said Mr. Boyle, who recently retired as a marketing executive at Johnson & Johnson. Of Mr. Trump, he added: “He’s a mess.”

Where Democratic activists have flocked to off-season races, hustling to volunteer, donate money and quickly cast their ballots in early-voting periods, Republicans have seen no comparable energy on their side. They have taken special measures to drum up interest: In Kansas, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas held a last-minute rally to draw attention to the race, and Mr. Trump praised Mr. Estes on Twitter on Tuesday morning.

But in an illustration of the rising frustration among rank-and-file Republicans, Mr. Cruz received his loudest ovation when he rebuked his own party. “We have a Republican president, we have a Republican House, we have a Republican Senate — how about we act like it!” he demanded.

Much more here.

Court Approved Wiretap on Trump Campaign Aide Over Russia Ties

Via The New York Times:

The Justice Department obtained a secret court-approved wiretap last summer on Carter Page, a foreign policy adviser to Donald J. Trump’s presidential campaign, based on evidence that he was operating as a Russian agent, a government official said Wednesday.

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court issued the warrant, the official said, after investigators determined that Mr. Page was no longer part of the Trump campaign, which began distancing itself from him in early August. Mr. Page is one of several Trump associates under scrutiny in a federal investigation.

The Justice Department considered direct surveillance of anyone tied to a political campaign as a line it did not want to cross, the official added. But its decision to seek a wiretap once it was clear that Mr. Page had left the campaign was the latest indication that, as Mr. Trump built his insurgent run for the White House, the F.B.I. was deeply concerned about whether any of his associates were colluding with Russia.

To obtain the warrant, the government needed to show probable cause that Mr. Page was acting as an agent of Russia. Investigators must first get approval from one of three senior officials at the Justice Department. Then, prosecutors take it to a surveillance court judge.

And though the Trump administration has said Mr. Page was a bit player who had no access to the candidate, the wiretap shows the F.B.I. had strong evidence that a campaign adviser was operating on behalf of Moscow.

Both Mr. Trump and Mr. Page have called the investigation a “witch hunt” and said it was cooked up by their political rivals for speaking out against President Barack Obama’s policies. On Tuesday, Mr. Page said in an email that it “will be interesting to see what comes out when the unjustified basis for those FISA requests are more fully disclosed over time,” using shorthand for the court.

The F.B.I. declined to comment. James B. Comey, the F.B.I. director, has described the hurdles to obtaining an intelligence wiretap as a “rigorous, rigorous process.”

The wiretap of Mr. Page was reported by The Washington Post. The revelation followed months of speculation about such warrants against associates of Mr. Trump, an idea that was broached in November by Heat Street, a news and entertainment website that cited a pair of unnamed sources with “links to the counterintelligence community” in its report. Heat Street was founded by Louise Mensch, a former Conservative member of the British Parliament who emerged as a fierce critic of Mr. Trump, and it is owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, which publishes The Wall Street Journal and The Times of London.

The official who confirmed the warrant against Mr. Page did so on the condition of anonymity because intelligence wiretaps are classified.

The official was not aware of any instances in which an active member of Mr. Trump’s campaign was directly surveilled by American law-enforcement or spy agencies, though some Trump associates were swept up in surveillance of foreign officials.

That assertion was in line with previous statements by Obama administration officials, including James R. Clapper Jr., the former director of national intelligence, who said during a March 5 appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that the surveillance court issued no warrants either for the president or his campaign staff.

“For the part of the national security apparatus that I oversaw as D.N.I., there was no such wiretap activity mounted against the president-elect at the time, or as a candidate, or against his campaign,” Mr. Clapper said.

As part of the investigation, American intelligence agencies have examined wiretapped communications and phone records. Among those intercepts were conversations among Kremlin officials about contacts with people close to Mr. Trump, including Mr. Page, according to current and former American security officials.

A spokesman for Mr. Clapper did not respond for requests for comment. A spokesman for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence declined to comment.

Mr. Page, a former Moscow-based investment banker for Merrill Lynch who later founded an investment company in New York called Global Energy Capital, has been on the F.B.I.’s radar screen for years.

Much more here.

The Twitter mob serves a purpose. Bill O’Reilly and United prove it.

Kathleen Parker, reporting for the Washington Post:

Despite recent revelations that Fox News and anchor Bill O’Reilly had settled five complaints of sexual harassment against him to the tune of millions — his ratings went up.

A few days later, a United Airlines passenger was dragged from an airplane to make room for crew members on a full flight — and United’s stock initially went up.

And for this we pay good money?

The shock wasn’t so much that monetary values seem to increase in direct correlation to the diminution of moral values but that we’ve become passive bystanders to appalling behavior and allegations. Well beyond defining deviancy down, as the great statesman Daniel Patrick Moynihan once described our cultural devolution — we hardly know what it is anymore.

Which reminds me of another great social observer, author Flannery O’Connor. Frequently asked why Southerners write so much about freaks, she replied that it was because Southerners could still recognize them. Whether this was ever true is debatable only beyond the Confederate states.

What is true today is that social media has become the church lady and the party-line operator rolled into one. If somebody misbehaves, not just two people know about it. Within hours or minutes, millions do. Like a single organism endowed with the accumulated moral fortitude of human society, Twitter demands justice.

In viral videos of the airplane fiasco, passengers are heard protesting as security officials drag the man down the aisle toward the exit. But even their objections were relatively muted. Was this a one-off, crazy incident, they must have wondered? Or, was it just a matter of time until the blood-sucking, tentacled tripod machines in “War of the Worlds” reach down to select their next human cocktail to drain? But maybe that’s just me.

Still. It happened. Right here in the USA. On a plane. To a random guy.

United stocks rallied and the friendly skies were no wiser.

That is, until the outrage gathering on social media reached investors. By the time the market closed Tuesday, United’s shares were down 1.1 percent and the company had lost $255 million in market value — not because of the airline’s treatment of the passenger but because of investors’ loss of faith in the company’s ability to handle a crisis.

As for O’Reilly, o’really?

I was beginning to think I was the last person on the planet for whom mention of “O’Reilly” prompted the instant association to “loofah.” O’Reilly. Loofah. O’Reilly. Loofah. Yes, my fellow Americans, not only is O’Reilly a smug, sarcastic, windbag/anchor of the self-promoting commercial called “The O’Reilly Factor,” he is also allegedly a sex talker of some renown.

Thirteen years ago, O’Reilly settled with a “Factor” associate producer, Andrea Mackris, who sued for sexual harassment. Specifically, she alleged that in telephone conversations, he bragged about his global sexual exploits, encouraged her to release tensions with a mechanical aid, and spoke of a shower fantasy with Mackris and “that little loofah thing.” Later in the same conversation, for reasons unknown, she said he changed his terminology to that “falafel thing” — word of the day, eh? — which falls somewhat short of correcting the record.

Your Honor, I did not say her little loofah thing. I said her little falafel thing. There’s a big difference, you know.

The upshot of the Mackris and more recent Fox News scandals was that women were paid for their silence, in some cases quite well. Gretchen Carlson was awarded $20 million to settle her suit alleging that Fox News boss Roger Ailes sexually harassed her for several years. Ailes is gone; Carlson is rich.

Mackris was paid as well, though not nearly so well. The tapes she supposedly had that would have proved her case were never released, she faded into scandal history, and O’Reilly went on to become Fox News’s ratings god for reasons I’ve failed to glean.

Then #droporeilly was born and thousands of women shared their experiences with workplace harassment. At last count, more than 60 advertisers, including Jenny Craig, Advil and Mercedes-Benz, pulled their commercials from the show. Even O’Reilly is only as valuable as the bucks he brings in.

In a pre-Twitter age, the United event might have gone unnoticed by more than a few reporters who corralled a few passengers for interviews — if that. Pre-social media, allegations of O’Reilly’s brutish behavior might have been passed off as just-a-guy having some innocent fun.

Alas, and for good, the party’s over for boors and bullies. Except, of course, for the president of the United States.

FBI obtained FISA warrant to monitor Trump adviser Carter Page

Via The Washington Post:

The FBI obtained a secret court order last summer to monitor the communications of an adviser to presidential candidate Donald Trump, part of an investigation into possible links between Russia and the campaign, law enforcement and other U.S. officials said.

The FBI and the Justice Department obtained the warrant targeting Carter Page’s communications after convincing a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court judge that there was probable cause to believe Page was acting as an agent of a foreign power, in this case Russia, according to the officials.

This is the clearest evidence so far that the FBI had reason to believe during the 2016 presidential campaign that a Trump campaign adviser was in touch with Russian agents. Such contacts are now at the center of an investigation into whether the campaign coordinated with the Russian government to swing the election in Trump’s favor.

Page has not been accused of any crimes, and it is unclear whether the Justice Department might later seek charges against him or others in connection with Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election. The counterintelligence investigation into Russian efforts to influence U.S. elections began in July, officials have said. Most such investigations don’t result in criminal charges.

The officials spoke about the court order on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss details of a counterintelligence probe.

During an interview with the Washington Post editorial page staff in March 2016, Trump identified Page, who had previously been an investment banker in Moscow, as a foreign policy adviser to his campaign. Campaign spokeswoman Hope Hicks later described Page’s role as “informal.”

Page has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing in his dealings with the Trump campaign or Russia.

“This confirms all of my suspicions about unjustified, politically motivated government surveillance,” Page said in an interview Tuesday. “I have nothing to hide.” He compared surveillance of him to the eavesdropping that the FBI and Justice Department conducted against civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.

The White House, FBI and Justice Department declined to comment.

FBI Director James B. Comey disclosed in public testimony to the House Intelligence Committee last month that the bureau is investigating efforts by the Russian government to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.

Comey said this includes investigating the “nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts.”

Comey declined to comment during the hearing about any individuals, including Page, who worked in Moscow for Merrill Lynch a decade ago and who has said he invested in Russian energy giant Gazprom. In a letter to Comey in September, Page had said he had sold his Gazprom investment.

During the hearing last month, Democratic lawmakers repeatedly singled out Page’s contacts in Russia as a cause for concern.

The judges who rule on Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) requests oversee the nation’s most sensitive national security cases, and their warrants are some of the most closely guarded secrets in the world of U.S. law enforcement and intelligence gathering. Any FISA application has to be approved at the highest levels of the Justice Department and the FBI.

More here.

United Airlines quote of the day

“Airline executives will tell you they don’t view themselves as being service companies,” Mr. Harteveldt said. “They want Wall Street to view them as industrial companies, and they want consumers to view them as transportation providers. Customer service is just not what the airlines are about.”

You can see this in United’s initial response to what happened on Flight 3411: “I apologize for having to reaccommodate these customers,” Oscar Munoz, United’s chief executive, said in a statement dripping with all the warmth of a ransom note.

In a letter to employees, he repeatedly suggested that the customer, not the airline, was at fault. After all, the passenger was offered a bountiful $1,000 in United vouchers for his trouble. It was an offer he couldn’t refuse; as a United spokesman told The Times, the passenger was “asked several times, politely,” for his seat before anyone beat him up.

It took two days — and a plunge in United’s stock price — for the airline to offer a real apology. “I want you to know that we take full responsibility and we will work to make it right,” Mr. Munoz said in a statement on Tuesday.

Reported by Farhad Manjoo in The New York Times.

United Grapples With PR Crisis Over Videos of Man Being Dragged Off Plane

Via The New York Times:

United Airlines on Tuesday faced a spiraling crisis from videos showing a passenger being dragged off an airplane, as consumers threatened a boycott of the airline and lawmakers called for an investigation. By the afternoon, after more than a day of changing statements, United’s chief executive apologized and promised a review of its policies.

“No one should ever be mistreated this way,” Oscar Munoz, the company’s chief executive, said in a statement.

But the videos had already cast an unwelcome light not just on United, but on the airline industry’s efforts to maximize profits. As companies push to make money from baggage fees, seat reservations and other services that were once included with a basic plane ticket, the videos added the potential for an even harsher indignity: sitting in a seat with a ticket and getting physically ejected from the airplane.

The passenger, Dr. David Dao, was identified late Tuesday in a statement from his lawyers, who said he was undergoing treatment in a Chicago-area hospital for his injuries. Some videos had showed him with a bloody face.

On social media, the firestorm swept around the world. Chinese social media users accused United, which does a lot of business in the country, of racism by targeting Dr. Dao, who appeared to be Asian. In the United States, customers showed pictures of their United loyalty or credit cards cut into pieces. And lawmakers called for an investigation.

“The last thing a paying airline passenger should expect is a physical altercation with law enforcement personnel after boarding, especially one that could likely have been avoided,” the four top leaders of the Senate commerce committee said in a letter on Tuesday to Mr. Munoz.

The disturbing images of a passenger being violently ejected from an airplane by security officers rippled across a consolidating industry. Today, four major airlines account for about 80 percent of domestic air travel. In recent years, as the consolidation has increased, passengers have been forced into a host of policies that ding their wallet and their comfort.

But social media has proved to be a powerful outlet for complaints. United drew quick criticism for its initial response to the Sunday evening incident, with many people calling it tone deaf. On Monday, when Mr. Munoz apologized for having to “re-accomodate these customers,” the internet saw that as a joke. “Nice to know ‘re-accomodate’ on United now means ‘drag you violently out of your seat,’” one woman posted on Twitter.

A few hours later, United seemed to go on the offensive when it circulated a letter in which Mr. Munoz appeared to blame Dr. Dao, saying he “defied” the officers. Finally, on Tuesday afternoon, the airline changed course again, with Mr. Munoz saying that United would take “full responsibility” for the situation.

“Better late than never, but the sentiment certainly rings a bit hollow when it follows two previous failures and 36 hours of intense public pressure,” said Jeremy Robinson-Leon, a principal at the corporate public relations firm Group Gordon. “The back-against-the-wall, through-gritted-teeth apology isn’t generally a winning strategy.”

For United and Mr. Munoz, who just last month was named Communicator of the Year by PR Week, a trade publication, the videos have turned into a crisis. They come on the heels of another incident about two weeks ago in which the airline was forced to defend itself about what some saw as a sexist policy after it barred two teenage girls wearing leggings from a flight.

“It’s fair to say that if PR Week was choosing its Communicator of the Year now, we would not be awarding it to Oscar Munoz,” the trade publication said on Tuesday.

After tumbling during the day, United’s stock ended Tuesday down 1.13 percent.

Perhaps more than anything, the videos hit a nerve because they highlighted the ability of airlines to remove paying customers when the companies overbook flights.

* * *

United’s website says that when the airline cannot find volunteers, it will “deny boarding to passengers in accordance with our written policy on boarding priority.” Ms. McCarthy would not share the written policy.

She said its agents follow a protocol for determining who will be selected, aiming to avoid families traveling together and unaccompanied minors. United also tends to protect people with connecting flights, those with mileage status through frequent flier or credit card programs, fare buckets and “a whole number of things,” she said.

Ms. McCarthy said the protocol was followed on Dr. Dao’s flight. Three passengers got off the plane. But Dr. Dao did not give up his seat, and he was forcibly removed — dragged down the airplane aisle, his glasses askew, face bloodied — by several security officers.

One of the officers has been placed on leave, according to the authorities.

Susan Rice’s claim that Obama got Syria to ‘verifiably give up its chemical weapons stockpile’

Glenn Kessler, fact-checking for the Washington Post:

“We were able to find a solution that didn’t necessitate the use of force that actually removed the chemical weapons that were known from Syria, in a way that the use of force would never have accomplished. Our aim in contemplating the use of force following the use of chemical weapons in August of 2013 was not to intervene in the civil war, not to become involved in the combat between Assad and the opposition, but to deal with the threat of chemical weapons by virtue of the diplomacy that we did with Russia and with the Security Council. We were able to get the Syrian government to voluntarily and verifiably give up its chemical weapons stockpile.”
Susan E. Rice, then-national security adviser, in an interview with NPR’s “Morning Edition,” Jan. 16

In the wake of President Trump’s cruise-missile strike against Syria for apparent use of sarin nerve agent against civilians, many readers have asked The Fact Checker to examine this quote by former national security adviser Susan E. Rice. We had not fact-checked it previously, but it certainly raises questions.

Our colleagues at PolitiFact have already removed from its website a fact check that had rated this 2014 statement by then-Secretary of State John F. Kerry as mostly true: “We got 100 percent of the chemical weapons out.”

Rice’s comments were a bit more nuanced than Kerry’s but still are problematic. Let’s take a look.

The Facts

In her NPR interview, Rice acknowledged that the Syrian civil war was the administration’s biggest disappointment but she pointed to the removal of chemical weapons from Syria as an achievement. President Barack Obama scrubbed a planned attack on Syrian facilities — which planners believed would have left two-thirds of Syria’s chemical weapons intact — in exchange for a diplomatic solution that was to result in the removal of all chemical weapons.

Rice said: “We were able to find a solution that didn’t necessitate the use of force that actually removed the chemical weapons that were known from Syria, in a way that the use of force would never have accomplished. … We were able to get the Syrian government to voluntarily and verifiably give up its chemical weapons stockpile.”

But almost a year before Rice made those comments, Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. had told Congress that Syria had continued to use chemical weapons, such as chlorine, against its own people:

“We assess that Syria has not declared all the elements of its chemical weapons program to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). Despite the creation of a specialized team and months of work by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to address gaps and inconsistencies in Syria’s declaration, numerous issues remain unresolved. Moreover, we continue to judge that the Syrian regime has used chemicals as a means of warfare since accession to the CWC in 2013. The OPCW Fact-Finding Mission has concluded that chlorine had been used on Syrian opposition forces in multiple incidents in 2014 and 2015. Helicopters — which only the Syrian regime possesses — were used in several of these attacks.”

Just four days before Rice’s comments, the Treasury Department sanctioned Syrian officials for use of chlorine in warfare. “The Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons against its own people is a heinous act that violates the long-standing global norm against the production and use of chemical weapons,” said Adam J. Szubin, acting undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence. “Today’s action is a critical part of the international community’s effort to hold the Syrian regime accountable for violating the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and UN Security Council Resolution 2118.”

So what’s going on here?

An associate of Rice pointed to the phrase “known” in her comments: “We were able to find a solution that didn’t necessitate the use of force that actually removed the chemical weapons that were known from Syria.” More technically, this refers to Syria’s “declared” chemical weapons.

Before the deal was struck on Syria’s chemical weapons, French intelligence estimated that Syria possessed more than 1,000 metric tons of chemical warfare agents and precursor chemicals, including mustard blister agent, sarin nerve agent, and VX nerve agent. Ultimately, Syria declaredmore than 1,300 tons of those materials and they was removed through the efforts of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

“The last of the remaining chemicals identified for removal from Syria were loaded this afternoon aboard the Danish ship Ark Futura,” Ahmet Üzümcü, the director-general of the OPCW, announced in June 2014. “The ship made its last call at the port of Latakia in what has been a long and patient campaign in support of this international endeavor. Removing the stockpile of precursor and other chemicals has been a fundamental condition in the program to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons program.”

Obama, in a statement at the time, said: “Today we mark an important achievement in our ongoing effort to counter the spread of weapons of mass destruction by eliminating Syria’s declared chemical weapons stockpile.” But he added: “Serious questions remain with respect to the omissions and discrepancies in Syria’s declaration to the OPCW and about continued allegations of use.”

Generally, Kerry and other Obama officials were careful to slip in the phrase “declared” or “known” when discussing the removal of chemical weapons from Syria — although Kerry certainly flubbed it when he said “100 percent,” suggesting every weapon was removed.

So what about Syrian attacks involving chlorine? This is a so-called dual-use chemical with industrial uses, under the OPCW classification, and so it was not part of the deal with Syria. As for the recent sarin attack, either Syria held back some material or it created some new material since 2014, even though production facilities were supposed to be eliminated.

In 2015, Kerry slammed Syria for using chlorine in attacks against citizens, although Obama drew criticism for saying chlorine “historically has not been listed as a chemical weapon, but when it is used in this fashion, can be considered a prohibited use of that particular chemical.” Meanwhile, OPCW in 2015 and 2016 reported finding traces of sarin and VX nerve agent at Syrian facilities that had not been declared to inspectors or previously visited.

In July 2016, six months before Rice’s remarks, the OPCW director-general declared the agency “was not able to resolve all identified gaps, inconsistencies and discrepancies in Syria’s declaration and therefore could not fully verify that Syria had submitted a declaration that could be considered accurate and complete in accordance with the Chemical Weapons Convention.”

Kerry’s “exit memo” to Obama, released 11 days before Rice’s remarks on NPR, acknowledged that Syria continued to use “undeclared” chemical weapons. “Removing these weapons from Syria ensured that they could not be used — by the Assad regime or by terrorist groups like ISIL — but unfortunately other undeclared chemical weapons continue to be used ruthlessly on the Syrian people,” Kerry wrote. “While we have made progress, we cannot and will not rest until the Syrian people can no longer be gassed and terrorized by these vicious weapons.”

The Pinocchio Test

The removal of vast quantities of chemical weapons from Syria’s soil was indeed an achievement. When Obama contemplated attacking Syria, a major problem with his plan was that most of the chemical weapons would not have been destroyed.

But the Obama administration had a tendency to oversell what was accomplished, perhaps because Obama received so much criticism for not following through on an attack if Syria crossed what Obama had called “a red line.” We have a reasonable-person test here at The Fact Checker, and it’s doubtful many NPR listeners realized that “known” was code for the fact that Rice only was referring to chemical weapons stocks declared by Syria — or that chlorine weapons were not covered by the agreement.

The reality is that there were continued chemical-weapons attacks by Syria — and that U.S. and international officials had good evidence that Syria had not been completely forthcoming in its declaration and possibly retained sarin and VX nerve agent. Yet Rice said: “We were able to get the Syrian government to voluntarily and verifiably give up its chemical weapons stockpile.” She did not explain that Syria’s declaration was believed to be incomplete and thus was not fully verified — and that the Syrian government still attacked citizens with chemical weapons not covered by the 2013 agreement. That tipped her wordsmithing toward a Four.

Four Pinocchios

Republicans begin to fret about holding on to Tom Price’s Georgia seat

David Weigel and Travis Highfield, reporting for the Washington Post:

Republicans are becoming increasingly concerned about their ability to hang on to former Republican congressman Tom Price’s seat here in a wealthy, suburban district where restive Democratic energy has been surging since November’s election.

Democratic hopes rest on Jon Ossoff, a 30-year-old former congressional staffer and preternaturally on-message candidate. He has raised a whopping $8.3 million for the special election to replace Price in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District — more than anyone has ever collected to win this seat, which has not been represented by a Democrat for nearly four decades.

Ossoff is a first-time candidate who is leading the field of five Democrats and 11 Republicans in the April 18 special election. If he does not receive more than 50 percent of the vote in that race, the top two vote-getters will move on to a runoff on June 20.

The progressive and anti-Trump groups founded through the nonprofit Indivisible project after November’s election are plunging in to help him, and the liberal blog Daily Kos is channeling donors Ossoff’s way. Most of Ossoff’s money, $7.7 million, came though the progressive donation hub ActBlue. Republicans have tried to toxify him by raising the specter of meddling out-of-state liberals — only 6 percent of the money is from Georgia — but Ossoff points to his volunteers.

“The atmosphere in Georgia is electric right now,” Ossoff said in a short interview at his parents’ home. “Thousands of folks, many of whom have never been engaged in politics before, working together to make the statement that we think the country can only become stronger and more prosperous and more secure if we stick to our core values.”

Republicans, however, are fighting back, unwilling to easily cede a district that Trump won by 1.5 percentage points in 2016 — albeit down from the 23.3-point margin enjoyed by 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney.

Outside groups and the national Republican Party are spending millions on television ads that paint the Democrats as the hope of window-smashing anarchists who want Ossoff in Congress. Georgia Republican Party mailers darkly warn about Ossoff’s work for the Qatar-funded Al Jazeera TV network. (The mailers print the network’s Arabic name on a black background, resembling the flag of ISIS.) The National Rifle Association warns, in drawling radio ads, that Democrats want to “steal this election and your freedom.”

Asked about the attacks Friday, Ossoff paused, then rattled off adjectives.

“Predictable, cynical, partisan, negative politics, with a whiff of desperation,” he said.

Ossoff’s lead might also be artificially inflated. The number of Republicans running here means that the GOP vote is split, and no contender is likely to win the more than 50 percent of the vote needed to avoid a runoff. It’s possible that Republicans will unite around whoever emerges from their field.

It is also possible that the progressive energy kicked up because of Trump’s presidency could see its first real victory here in Georgia in the campaign to “flip the 6th.” The race will test Democrats’ strength in the kind of districts they need to win if they hope to retake the House in 2018 — mainly suburban areas that have become more demographically diverse.

More here.

Trump Must Get Congress’s O.K. on Syria

Bruce Ackerman, writing in The New York Times:

President Trump’s airstrike on Syria represents a foreign policy U-turn. The destruction of the Islamic State, not President Bashar al-Assad, had been Mr. Trump’s overriding objective. But this turnaround also has profound constitutional consequences.

It is up to Congress, not the president, to declare war; in 1973, Congress passed the War Powers Resolution to maintain its final say over the matter. Once a president initiates “hostilities” against a new enemy, the resolution gives him 60 days to gain congressional approval to continue his military initiative. If he fails to gain the approval of the House and Senate, he must stop his campaign within the next 30 days.

The president’s airstrike has set off the 60-day period. The resolution requires him to notify Congress and explain the attack’s significance. Is it a solitary action provoked by a terrible war crime, or is it a warning that President Trump will respond with future attacks when he believes, as he put it Thursday night, that a “vital national security interest of the United States” is at stake?

If the latter, the burden is on the president to convince Congress, and the country, that they should support his new war in the Middle East.

This is the first time President Trump has been obliged to squarely confront the War Powers Resolution. Up to now, he has simply been ordering attacks against enemies like the Islamic State that first became targets of President Barack Obama in 2014. In doing so, he has sidestepped the question of whether Mr. Obama’s military campaign against the Islamic State complied with the resolution.

Many legal experts say that it did not. I am part of a team challenging President Obama’s war initiatives in a case before the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. The case was brought by Capt. Nathan Smith while serving in Kuwait at the command headquarters of American military operations against the Islamic State. Captain Smith is asking the courts to reject the Obama administration’s argument that Congress’s approval of President George W. Bush’s wars against Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2002 sufficed to authorize its war of 2014.

President Obama’s claims of compliance fail to confront the fact that the authorization of force in 2001 was explicitly limited to organizations that participated in the Sept. 11 attacks, but that the Islamic State came into existence later; and that the authorization in 2002 focused on the threat to the United States posed by Saddam Hussein’s alleged possession of “weapons of mass destruction,” which later proved bogus.

* * *

The big question is how long the new authorization should last and how large should be its scope. If Congress takes the lead, perhaps President Trump will call it a success when he wins the express consent of the House and Senate for his first effort to transform American foreign policy.

But if political polarization continues to prevail on Capitol Hill, the sudden airstrike will serve as the shocking herald of a moment of constitutional truth. It will be up to President Trump to tell us whether he will comply with the Constitution and the War Powers Resolution, or assert his power as commander in chief to attack any country or organization he considers a threat to the “vital national security interest of the United States.”

We have been here before. In his torture memos, John Yoo, a lawyer for the Bush administration, notoriously asserted the authority of the commander in chief to violate statutory commands — only to see Presidents Bush and Obama repudiate his extreme assertions. But the present case is even more serious. However terrible torture may be, its victims number in the thousands. If the commander in chief may unilaterally begin new wars against new enemies whenever he wants, the resulting carnage can mount into the millions.

President Trump has no popular mandate to take this step. Throughout his campaign, he made it clear that it was “radical Islamic terrorists,” not secular autocrats like President Assad, who represented the great threat to national security. There is only one way for him to carry the country with him down a different path. This to obey the Constitution and the War Powers Resolution — and spend the next 60 days hammering out, in collaboration with Congress, the terms of a carefully considered authorization for the use of force against our new enemy.

If President Trump disdains this difficult task of democratic persuasion, and plunges ahead on his own authority, he will be forcing the country to the verge of a profound constitutional crisis.

No ‘Death Spiral’: Insurers May Soon Profit From Obamacare Plans, Analysis Finds

Reed Abelson, reporting for the New York Times:

In contrast to the dire pronouncements from President Trump and other Republicans, the demise of the individual insurance market seems greatly exaggerated, according to a new financial analysis released Friday.

The analysis, by Standard & Poor’s, looked at the performance of many Blue Cross plans in nearly three dozen states since President Barack Obama’s health care law took effect three years ago. It shows the insurers significantly reduced their losses last year, are likely to break even this year and that most could profit — albeit some in the single-digits — in 2018. The insurers cover more than five million people in the individual market.

After years in which many insurers lost money, then lost even more in 2015, “we are seeing the first signs in 2016 that this market could be manageable for most health insurers,” the Standard & Poor’s analysts said. The “market is not in a ‘death spiral,’ ” they said.

It is the latest evidence that the existing law has not crippled the market where individuals can buy health coverage, although several insurers have pulled out of some markets, including two in Iowa just this week. They and other industry specialists have cited the uncertainty surrounding the Congressional debate over the law, and the failed effort two weeks ago by House Republicans to bring a bill to the floor for a vote.

The House G.O.P. leadership went home for a two-week recess on Thursday, unable to reach a compromise between conservative and moderate members over the extent of coverage that should be required for the very sick.

If the markets were to falter without a resolution in Congress, the risk of eroding public opinion before the midterm elections next year is bound to increase. The latest monthly Kaiser Health Tracking Poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation showed that more than half of Americans now believe that the president and Republicans own the health care issue and may shoulder the blame for any failings. The survey reported that more than half now support the Obama health care law.

The S.&P. report also buttresses the analysis of the Republican bill by the Congressional Budget Office, which said the markets were relatively stable under the current law, contradicting some Republican assessments of volatility.

“Things are getting better,” Gary Claxton, a vice president at the Kaiser Family Foundation, said of the insurance markets. The foundation has been closely tracking the insurers’ progress.

Although it took longer than expected, the insurers appear to be starting to understand how the new individual market works, said Deep Banerjee, an S.&P. credit analyst who helped write the report. The companies have aggressively increased their prices, so they are now largely covering their medical costs, Mr. Banerjee said. They have also significantly narrowed their networks to include fewer doctors and hospitals as a way to lower those costs.

In 2016, the number of companies whose medical costs exceeded their premiums fell by half, to nine of the 32 Blue Cross companies included in the S.&P. analysis. The improvement signaled the potential for profit margins to increase. A few plans, notably Florida Blue, are already profitable. The report released on Friday did not include Anthem’s for-profit Blue Cross plans, which span 14 states.

Mr. Banerjee warned that the market is still fragile, and he said insurers needed more time to figure out how to make the business work. While the market is very much alive, he said, it is “still in critical care. It still needs time to improve.”

Much more here.

C.I.A. Had Evidence of Russian Effort to Help Trump Earlier Than Believed

Eric Lichtblau, reporting for the New York Times:

The C.I.A. told senior lawmakers in classified briefings last summer that it had information indicating that Russia was working to help elect Donald J. Trump president, a finding that did not emerge publicly until after Mr. Trump’s victory months later, former government officials say.

The briefings indicate that intelligence officials had evidence of Russia’s intentions to help Mr. Trump much earlier in the presidential campaign than previously thought. The briefings also reveal a critical split last summer between the C.I.A. and counterparts at the F.B.I., where a number of senior officials continued to believe through last fall that Russia’s cyberattacks were aimed primarily at disrupting America’s political system, and not at getting Mr. Trump elected, according to interviews.

The former officials said that in late August — 10 weeks before the election — John O. Brennan, then the C.I.A. director, was so concerned about increasing evidence of Russia’s election meddling that he began a series of urgent, individual briefings for eight top members of Congress, some of them on secure phone lines while they were on their summer break.

It is unclear what new intelligence might have prompted the classified briefings. But with concerns growing both internally and publicly at the time about a significant Russian breach of the Democratic National Committee, the C.I.A. began seeing signs of possible connections to the Trump campaign, the officials said. By the campaign’s final weeks, Congress and the intelligence agencies were racing to understand the scope of the Russia threat.

In an Aug. 25 briefing for Harry Reid, then the top Democrat in the Senate, Mr. Brennan indicated that Russia’s hackings appeared aimed at helping Mr. Trump win the November election, according to two former officials with knowledge of the briefing.

The officials said Mr. Brennan also indicated that unnamed advisers to Mr. Trump might be working with the Russians to interfere in the election. The F.B.I. and two congressional committees are now investigating that claim, focusing on possible communications and financial dealings between Russian affiliates and a handful of former advisers to Mr. Trump. So far, no proof of collusion has emerged publicly.

Mr. Trump has rejected any suggestion of a Russian connection as “ridiculous” and “fake news.” The White House has also sought to redirect the focus from the investigation and toward what Mr. Trump has said, with no evidence, was President Barack Obama’s wiretapping of phones in Trump Tower during the presidential campaign.

The C.I.A. and the F.B.I. declined to comment for this article, as did Mr. Brennan and senior lawmakers who were part of the summer briefings.

In the August briefing for Mr. Reid, the two former officials said, Mr. Brennan indicated that the C.I.A., focused on foreign intelligence, was limited in its legal ability to investigate possible connections to Mr. Trump. The officials said Mr. Brennan told Mr. Reid that the F.B.I., in charge of domestic intelligence, would have to lead the way.

Days later, Mr. Reid wrote to James B. Comey, director of the F.B.I. Without mentioning the C.I.A. briefing, Mr. Reid told Mr. Comey that he had “recently become concerned” that Russia’s interference was “more extensive than widely known.”

Much more here.