Michael Flynn, President Trump’s former national security adviser, was fired weeks ago, but his ties to Russia keep raising questions this White House won’t answer and dark suspicions it can’t seem to dispel.
Representative Jason Chaffetz, Republican chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and Elijah Cummings, the committee’s top Democrat, got right to the point on Tuesday, saying Mr. Flynn may have broken the law by failing to disclose payments totaling over $65,000 in 2015 from companies linked to Russia. They included $45,000 received from Russian state television for a speech in Moscow; on the same trip, he attended the network’s gala, sitting at the elbow of President Vladimir Putin. With his background, Mr. Flynn clearly knew that the failure to disclose payments on his security clearance forms could have disqualified him for a sensitive national security role.
Mr. Chaffetz also said Mr. Flynn, as a retired general and former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, should have sought permission from the secretary of state and the secretary of the Army for his trip to Russia and for the payment. “I see no evidence that he actually did that,” Mr. Chaffetz said at a news conference on Capitol Hill.
Mr. Cummings said that the White House is stonewalling committee requests for documents related to Mr. Flynn’s hiring and firing, including records of his phone calls and correspondence. Mr. Chaffetz, amazingly, described the White House as “cooperative.” Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, later called the committee’s records requests “outlandish” and “ridiculous.” Which can hardly be called cooperative.
The fact remains, though, that a Republican committee chairman has said Mr. Trump’s first national security adviser concealed payments from Russia while Moscow was under investigation for meddling in the election, and that deepens an already serious problem for this White House.
After Mr. Flynn was fired in February, he disclosed that he’d been working as a foreign agent throughout the campaign, collecting more than $500,000 in consulting fees from a Turkish company with ties to both Ankara and Moscow. He registered as a foreign agent only after he left the White House.
These aren’t simple bookkeeping errors on Mr. Flynn’s part: Failure to disclose foreign payments is a federal offense that carries a potential five-year prison term. Richard Painter, White House ethics lawyer during the George W. Bush administration, wrote on Twitter: “US House must subpoena the docs. If no compliance, impeach. Zero tolerance for WH covering up foreign payoffs.”
If Mr. Chaffetz believes, as he said, that Mr. Flynn may have violated the law, he should unleash his committee’s formidable investigative powers. Yet he has declined to open an investigation, or subpoena the records the White House is withholding. Mr. Chaffetz said on Tuesday that he would defer to existing investigations by the Pentagon and the House Intelligence Committee. What’s really needed is a special prosecutor, because each time this administration is given a chance to clean up its Russia mess, it works instead to keep the facts under cover.
In the space of a little more than an hour on Tuesday afternoon, life was breathed into three separate and distinct potential investigations of the Trump administration.
First came the independent Office of Government Ethics’s recommendation that the White House should investigate Kellyanne Conway’s plug of Ivanka Trump’s fashion line and “consider taking disciplinary action.” The letter was first tweeted by the House Oversight Committee‘s Democrats at 2 p.m.
— House OversightDems (@OversightDems) February 14, 2017
A half-hour later, the Republican chairman of the Oversight Committee, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), announced a letter probing Trump’s apparent discussion of sensitive information out in the open this weekend at Mar-a-Lago.
Finally, a little after 3 p.m., Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said it was “highly likely” the Senate would deepen its Russia investigation after Michael Flynn resigned as Trump’s national security adviser and questions emerged about whether his December discussion of sanctions with Russia’s ambassador broke the law.
Here we go….
Good news: In two years, we’ll have a new president. Bad news: If we make it that long.
My “good” prediction is based on the Law of the Pendulum. Enough Americans, including most independent voters, will be so ready to shed Donald Trump and his little shop of horrors that the 2018 midterm elections are all but certain to be a landslide — no, make that a mudslide — sweep of the House and Senate. If Republicans took both houses in a groundswell of the people’s rejection of Obamacare, Democrats will take them back in a tsunami of protest.
Once ensconced, it would take a Democratic majority approximately 30 seconds to begin impeachment proceedings selecting from an accumulating pile of lies, overreach and just plain sloppiness. That is, assuming Trump hasn’t already been shown the exit.
Or that he hasn’t declared martial law (all those anarchists, you know) and effectively silenced dissent. We’re already well on our way to the latter via Trump’s incessant attacks on the media — “among the most dishonest human beings on Earth” — and press secretary Sean Spicer’s rabid-chihuahua, daily press briefings. (Note to Sean: Whatever he’s promised you, it’s not worth becoming Melissa McCarthy’s punching bag. But really, don’t stop.)
With luck, and Cabinet-level courage that is not much in evidence, there’s a chance we won’t have to wait two long years, during which, let’s face it, anything could happen. In anticipation of circumstances warranting a speedier presidential replacement, wiser minds added Section 4 to the 25th Amendment, which removes the president if a majority of the Cabinet and the vice president think it necessary, i.e., if the president is injured or falls too ill to serve. Or, by extension, by being so incompetent — or not-quite-right — that he or she poses a threat to the nation and must be removed immediately and replaced by the vice president.
Aren’t we there, yet?
Thus far, Trump and his henchmen have conducted a full frontal assault on civil liberties, open government and religious freedom, as well as instigating or condoning a cascade of ethics violations ranging from the serious (business conflicts of interest) to the absurd (attacking a department store for dropping his daughter’s fashion line). And, no, it’s not just a father defending his daughter. It’s the president of the United States bullying a particular business and, more generally, making a public case against free enterprise.
To an objective observer, it would seem impossible to defend the perilous absurdities emanating from the White House and from at least one executive agency, the Agriculture Department, which recently scrubbed animal abuse reports from its website, leaving puppies, kittens, horses and others to fend for themselves.
In a hopeful note, a few Republicans are speaking out, but the list is short.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz recently got a taste of what’s ahead for Republican incumbents. Facing an unruly crowd at a town hall meeting in Utah, the House Oversight Committee chairman was booed nearly every time he mentioned Trump. Even if many in the crowd were members of opposition groups, the evening provided a glimpse of the next two years. From 2010’s tea party to 2018’s resistance, the pendulum barely had time to pause before beginning its leftward trek.
Much more here.
The White House on Thursday “counseled” Kellyanne Conway, one of President Trump’s top advisers, in an unusual show of displeasure after she urged consumers to buy fashion products marketed by Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter. Legal experts said Ms. Conway might have violated a federal ethics rule against endorsing products or promoting an associate’s financial interests.
“Go buy Ivanka’s stuff is what I would say,” Ms. Conway said in a Thursday morning interview with Fox News, speaking from the White House briefing room. “I’m going to give a free commercial here: Go buy it today, everybody; you can find it online.”
Sean Spicer, the president’s press secretary, would not elaborate on what the counseling entailed.
Jason Chaffetz, the Republican chairman of the House Oversight Committee, said Ms. Conway’s comments were “wrong, wrong, wrong, and there’s no excuse for it.” Mr. Chaffetz — who so far had not acted on calls since Election Day to investigate ethics issues related to Mr. Trump — and the panel’s ranking Democrat, Elijah Cummings, formally asked the Office of Government Ethics for an inquiry.
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and Public Citizen, nonprofit advocacy groups, sent their own requests to the ethics office to investigate whether Ms. Conway’s comments went over the line. The director of the office, Walter M. Shaub Jr., has said publicly that the president needs to do more to separate himself from his businesses.
Federal ethics rules state that an employee of the government’s executive branch cannot use public office for personal gain or to endorse products or services on behalf of friends or relatives. Legal experts said Ms. Conway, whose title is counselor to the president, appeared to have violated that and possibly other conflict-of-interest rules, which do not apply to the president and vice president, but do apply to their staffs.
The president and the Trump Organization continue to be targets of criticism — and formal requests for investigation by Democrats in Congress — over potential conflicts of interest because of their global business operations. A particular focus of Democratic lawmakers in Congress is Mr. Trump’s lease with the federal government on the Old Post Office building in Washington, redeveloped as the Trump International Hotel. The hotel and Mar-a-Lago, Mr. Trump’s club in Palm Beach, Fla., are among the Trump properties critics see as profiting from a surge in interest because of his presidency.
Much more here.
Bruce Schneier is a security expert that I have cited before on the blog. For example, he is one of the participants in a debate now underway at the Economist regarding the efficacy of the TSA’s security procedures that I linked to below.
Schneier was scheduled to testify yesterday at a Congressional hearing on the TSA. But he was blocked from testifying at the request of the TSA.
On Friday, at the request of the TSA, I was removed from the witness list. The excuse was that I am involved in a lawsuit against the TSA, trying to get them to suspend their full-body scanner program. But it’s pretty clear that the TSA is afraid of public testimony on the topic, and especially of being challenged in front of Congress. They want to control the story, and it’s easier for them to do that if I’m not sitting next to them pointing out all the holes in their position. Unfortunately, the committee went along with them. (They tried to pull the same thing last year and it failed — video at the 10:50 mark.)
This is shameful. The purpose of a hearing is to learn. Not to censor.
- Gun-shy TSA gets critic booted from Congressional panel (arstechnica.com)
- TSA gets Bruce Schneier booted from House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform hearing (boingboing.net)
- TSA asks congressional panel to uninvite critic Bruce Schneier (news.cnet.com)
- Congress Capitulates To TSA; Refuses To Let Bruce Schneier Testify (yro.slashdot.org)
Darrell Issa, chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, has announced that the Committee will hold a hearing on January 18 to “examine the potential impact of Domain Name Service (DNS) and search engine blocking on American cyber-security, jobs and the Internet community” in light of SOPA proposals. He lists a roster of witnesses with actual technology skills. This contrasts with the virtual absence of such expertise in the formal SOPA hearings to date.
- Tech gets its day in Congress as SOPA fight continues (gigaom.com)
- Testifying Against SOPA (volokh.com)
- Geeks to Testify (Finally!) About SOPA Blacklisting Implications (wired.com)