Category Archives: legal news

GOP facing a familiar set of impeachable standards

If it comes down to an impeachment of Donald J. Trump, many of the congressional Republicans who are defending him now will have to face down their former selves.

One of them is U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who in 1998 led the House impeachment team that brought charges against President Bill Clinton.

It was a time when then-Rep. Graham said that the House didn’t need to have a high crime and misdemeanor to determine whether a president had debased his high office. He made the case that President Clinton had debased and disgraced the office through his affair with a young White House intern.

It turned out that the GOP found a crime on which to impeach the president: perjury. Clinton spoke falsely to a grand jury about that relationship. House GOP members said that you just can’t allow a president to break the law.

If we now fast-forward to the present day we have another president who might have broken the law. He might have authorized illegal payments to two women to keep them quiet about sexual encounters he had with them.

Graham and other Republicans have reset the bar. It’s much higher now than it was when they had a Democratic president in their crosshairs.

However, even the president’s own lawyer — Rudolph Giuliani — says that Trump likely broke the law with the payments. Is that an impeachable offense? Will Republicans who once impeached a Democratic president for arguably an equal crime be able to do the same with a president from their own political party?

This is where we might be able to see what wires certain members of the House of Representatives.

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. We need to see the final report from special counsel Robert Mueller. Trump keeps insisting that Mueller doesn’t have anything. We’ll just have to see about that.

Sentencing reform might get trampled by Trump woes

I have a concern about a seriously important proposal from Donald Trump that might fall victim to the mounting legal troubles that are piling up around the White House.

The president has pitched a notion that needs congressional attention and approval. It is a plan to reform federal sentencing guidelines, giving federal judges some needed flexibility in sentencing defendants, particularly those who are convicted of non-violent drug crimes.

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has given the green light to legislation that would advance those reforms. Let’s hope it goes all the way.

I support fully the proposal that Trump has put forth, but my concern now is that it might get lost as Washington, D.C., gets swallowed up by the myriad legal difficulties arising from the Russia probe and questions about alleged conspiracy, collusion and campaign finance violations.

Federal judges have been hamstrung by mandatory sentencing policies. They have damn little flexibility in determining the sentences they can give to those convicted of federal crimes.

The president wants to change that policy. Indeed, he recently commuted the sentence of a woman who had spent too much time in prison even though she was a non-violent offender. Trump acted on a request from that noted prison reformer (and reality TV star) Kim Kardashian West. It was the right call.

Trump intends to reform the entire sentencing system, to which I say, “Go for it, Mr. President.”

I just don’t want it swept away in the rip tide that is developing over these other — increasingly dire — legal matters.

Is POTUS above the law?

Federal prosecutors are making some serious allegations against the president of the United States.

They are alleging that Donald Trump orchestrated the illegal payments to two women with whom he allegedly had sexual relations; the payments were made to keep them quiet about the encounters, which — quite naturally — Trump says never happened.

The allegations bring to mind a key question. Does the U.S. Constitution protect the president from indictment?

Trump in trouble?

I cannot pretend to be a presidential scholar, but I’ve read the document from beginning to end several times over many years. I am not at all aware of where it says in there that the president is immune from criminal prosecution if he commits an offense such as, oh, authorizing illegal payments to women with whom he took a tumble . . . allegedly!

Is it contained in Article II, the part of the U.S. Constitution that deals with presidential power and authority? Is it somewhere in any of the amendments that were added to the document? If it’s in there, someone will have to tell me where to look.

We keep hearing all the time that “no one is above the law” in this country. Does that include the president?

I believe that when we declare that the law excludes “no one,” that the president must be included in the masses of Americans who can, and do, face criminal prosecution if they mess up.

Trump sounding more guilty by the hour

I long ago quit imploring Donald J. Trump to stop using Twitter the way he does. It’s now an accepted — in some circles — method the president uses to communicate with us more normal Americans.

I now am looking at those tweet tirades in another light.

The more furious they become, the angrier, the more outlandish the outbursts, the more it looks to me as though the president’s nervousness is on display.

To be honest, Trump’s seeming anxiety over the progress of special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into the “Russia thing” is making me nervous. It’s beginning to frighten me at some level.

I don’t want the president to do something foolish, such as, oh, throwing out pardons left and right; or ordering the acting attorney general to fire Robert Mueller; or, God forbid, send our troops into battle in a “wag the dog” scenario that would divert/deflect attention from his political trouble.

My view of the president’s unfitness for the office he holds only has strengthened as the nation and the world have watched him writhe in anger at the so-called “witch hunt” I hope is drawing to a close.

Despite all the comparisons we made over the past week between Trump and the late George H.W. Bush, I am more concerned about the comparison between Trump and Mueller.

Trump’s hysteria stands in stark and telling contrast to the buttoned-up, tight-lipped, totally secret conduct of Mueller and his legal team. That the president would take to Twitter to blast Mueller as a partisan hack, a closet Democrat, a “friend” of fired FBI boss James Comey and, thus, intent on destroying his presidency is both laughable and disgraceful on its face. Mueller is a pro, he’s  Republican, he is a man of impeccable character and he’s trying to get to the truth behind all the allegations that have swirled around Donald Trump’s campaign and administration.

I only can conclude that the more Trump rants and roars at Mueller, the more culpable he appears to Americans who need to know the truth about their president.

William Barr next as AG? Here’s the big question . . .

William Barr, who served as U.S. attorney general during the final two years of the George H.W. Bush administration, is returning to lead the Justice Department. Donald J. Trump has said he will nominate Barr to succeed Matthew Whitaker, the acting AG.

Here, though, is the question I would ask him if I had the authority to ask it of the AG-designate: Will you commit to allowing special counsel Robert Mueller complete his investigation into whether the president’s campaign team colluded with Russians who attacked our electoral system in 2016?

The president has said repeatedly that former Attorney General Jeff Sessions should never have recused himself from the Russia probe, that he should have revealed he would do so before Trump nominated him. Trump saw Sessions’ recusal as a “betrayal” of the president, not understanding that the attorney general swears to uphold the law and does not swear to be loyal to the president. Sessions’ recusal was the deal breaker for Trump.

Meanwhile, Mueller has proceeded at full throttle. He has scored indictments, guilty pleas and is zeroing in on other key players in this investigation.

Barr needs to commit to allowing Mueller to conclude his investigation, which now has gone on for well more than a year.

Mueller is not the partisan hack that Trump accuses him of being. He is a former FBI director and a man of impeccable integrity. He needs to finish the job he has begun.

The next AG, and I’ll assume it will be William Barr, needs to let the special counsel complete his work, file his final report and then let the future take its course.

It is my fervent hope that Republican and Democratic senators who will question the AG nominee are on the same page as well.

Flynn gets the leniency he would have denied others

The Robert Mueller Drama has taken an astonishing turn.

The special counsel today recommended that former national security adviser Michael Flynn receive zero prison time as payback for the “substantial” contribution he has made in Mueller’s investigation into whether Donald Trump’s presidential colluded with Russians who attacked our electoral system.

What we don’t know is what Mueller gained precisely from Flynn, the key Trump aide who quit after 24 days as national security adviser. He had pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about what he knew about the campaigns contacts with the Russians.

Mueller, though, apparently has received a treasure trove of information from Flynn. Hence, the no-prison recommendation from the special counsel.

Think of the irony for a moment.

It was the same Michael Flynn who stood before the Republican National Convention in 2016 and led a chorus of chants to “Lock her up!” in reference to Hillary Rodham Clinton’s problems associated with her use of a personal email server while she was secretary of state.

Flynn had no problem yelling right along with the GOP faithful to throw Clinton behind bars. Due process? Who needs it? Not the Republican faithful or the retired Army lieutenant general who led their chants in Cleveland.

Flynn’s downfall after a distinguished career as an Army officer was shocking, but deserved. He did plead guilty to committing a felony, which was lying to the FBI about a criminal investigation.

I would give damn near anything to know what’s under the redaction marks in the sentencing memo that Mueller released today. For now I’ll settle for presuming that Mueller is still working on the details of what he has assembled for his final report.

Something tells me it’s likely to make the president squirm.

Avenatti’s standing takes a header? Too bad, dude

So now there are reports that a loudmouth lawyer is feeling the pain of a plummeting public standing.

Cry me a river, will ya?

The lawyer is one Michael Avenatti, who I believe is the least sympathetic public figure this side of Donald John Trump Sr. He represents — for now! — Stephanie Clifford, aka Stormy Daniels, the adult film actress/stripper who has alleged that she and the future president of the United States had a one-night fling about a dozen years ago. She got a $130,000 hush money check to stay quiet — about an event that Trump says didn’t happen. Go figure.

Avenatti has been a cable talk-show staple since Clifford/Daniels burst onto the scene. To be totally candid, this guy annoys me in the extreme. He shows up everywhere. He is on a first-name basis with all the leading talking heads. He clearly has established himself as being part of the most dangerous place on Earth: between Avenatti and a TV camera.

Well, now his stock is plunging.

Stormy Daniels says he isn’t representing her correctly. He is doing and saying things in public without her permission. Daniels says she is considering dumping him as her personal counsel.

What’s more, he was accused briefly of striking a woman in a “domestic dispute.” Avenatti, who is estranged from his wife, denied it vehemently. The local district attorney then decided to forgo filing a formal felony criminal charge against Avenatti. The Los Angeles city attorney’s office, though, is still pondering whether to pursue a misdemeanor case against him.

And then there’s this: Avenatti is — or was — considering running for president in 2020 as a Democrat. His modus operandi reportedly is to become the Democrats’ pit bull in a fight with Donald Trump.

If they go low, according to the Avenatti Doctrine, we go even lower; we fight ’em tooth and nail, hammer and tong; strap on the brass knucks; let’s get ready to rummmmmble!

I want this guy to vanish. I am tired of hearing his voice, of looking at his mug, of listening to him proclaim how he is always right and everyone else is always wrong.

Say good night, counselor.

Trump piles on more innuendo

Donald J. Trump’s list of unsubstantiated allegations keeps piling up.

The latest now is that special counsel Robert Mueller is forcing witnesses to lie about what they know regarding “The Russia Thing” that Mueller is investigating.

Is that what they call “suborning perjury?” Yep, it is. It’s also a patently ridiculous.

Trump goes wild

As usual, the president — who is the target of this probe — offers no proof, no evidence, no corroboration of what he is alleging. Hey, it’s old hat for this guy. He tossed out reckless innuendo so many times already it’s difficult to keep track of them all.

This is the latest example of the desperation that seems to be emanating from the president and his team. Indeed, the more he complains, whines and gripes about Mueller, the guiltier he sounds.

How about just letting the special counsel do his job, issue his report and let the public digest it all?

Sen. Grassley weighs in on Trump-Roberts ‘feud’

Donald J. Trump is continuing to beat the drum against U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, who is likely to show needed restraint. I trust he’ll let the president continue his infantile tirade on matters on which he knows next to nothing.

Trump called some U.S. troops stationed overseas and continued his tirade over criticism the chief justice made about the president’s reference to an “Obama judge.” He sought to inform the president that that federal judges are “independent” and not partisan. That, of course, fell on Trump’s deaf ears.

So, then this happened: U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley defended Trump, saying that Roberts didn’t criticize President Obama when the president in 2010 “attacked” Justice Samuel Alito during a State of the Union speech.

Good job, Mr. Chairman, except you got quite wrong.

President Obama didn’t “attack” Alito; he criticized the Supreme Court’s decision on the Citizens United case that opened up campaign finance to corporations, allowing them to spend unlimited amounts of money on political races. He stated his view that the torrent of money would further corrupt the U.S. political system.

Justice Alito famously shook his head while sitting in front of the president and muttered “not true.” Obama, I repeat, did not single any justice out . . . which is quite different from what Trump has done with the chief justice.

To be fair, Obama was wrong to criticize the court in that setting. Most of the justices were sitting in a group in the audience on Capitol Hill. Democrats in the chamber cheered the president; the justices had to take it. I said at the time — and I’ll repeat it here — that President Obama’s criticism was done in the wrong place and in the wrong setting.

There is no equivalence to be found in what Donald Trump is doing now and what Barack Obama did then. As Chief Justice Roberts, I hope he’s done commenting on this ridiculous spat that the president initiated with his ill-informed and ill-tempered remark about an “Obama judge.”

Did the chief justice fire a shot across his colleagues’ bow?

I remain fully committed to the proposition that the nation’s founders got it exactly right when they established a system whereby federal judges get lifetime appointments to serve in a co-equal branch of the U.S. government.

These judges are intended to be independent of political pressure from the presidents who appoint them.

Thus, I am wondering about U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts’ stern rebuke of Donald Trump’s implication that judges are beholden to the men who nominate them to the federal judiciary.

Roberts issued the rarest of rejoinders in reminding Trump that there are “no Obama judges, or Trump judges, or Bush judges or Clinton judges.” They are independent thinkers and adjudicators, he said.

I wonder if the chief justice didn’t actually fire a shot across the front of the rest of the federal judiciary as well, reminding his colleagues of the responsibility they all have to follow the law without regard to the president who nominated them.

I wonder as well if that lesson will be heeded, for example, by the two men Donald Trump has selected for the nation’s highest court: Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh.

Both men have pledged to follow the law and to be faithful exclusively to the U.S. Constitution, which they all have taken oaths to preserve and protect.

Donald Trump appears for all the world to be making the judicial system loyal to him, irrespective of what the law dictates. That is what I believe Chief Justice Roberts was seeking to address with his statement today.

And of course, the president isn’t taking the criticism quietly and respectfully. He is firing back at the chief justice. Trump said in a tweet: “Sorry Chief Justice John Roberts, but you do indeed have ‘Obama judges,’ and they have a much different point of view than the people who are charged with the safety of our country.”

Good grief, Mr. President.

Yes, judges have differing points of view. To say that they are beholden to partisan politicians steeps to cynical depths we haven’t seen before.

It is demagoguery, pure and simple.