Category Archives: legal news

Sessions vs. Dowd over ‘obstruction of justice’?

Donald Trump’s lawyer, John Dowd, says the president “cannot obstruct justice” because the law exempts him from doing so.

Dowd said: The “president cannot obstruct justice because he is the chief law enforcement officer … and has every right to express his view of any case.”

Are you clear on that? Me, neither.

Oh, but now we have this tidbit regarding the attorney general of the United States, Jeff Sessions. Nearly two decades ago, when President Bill Clinton was being tried in the U.S. Senate after the House impeached him, Sessions — then a Republican senator from Alabama — said this while making the case to remove the president from office:

“The facts are disturbing and compelling on the president’s intent to obstruct justice.”

There’s more.

“The chief law officer of the land, whose oath of office calls on him to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution, crossed the line and failed to defend the law, and, in fact, attacked the law and the rights of a fellow citizen.”

Dadgum, man! Who’s right? The president’s personal lawyer or the attorney general?

Dowd is reaching way beyond his — and the president’s — grasp, in my view, in contending that Trump is immune from the obstruction of justice complaint, were it to come from the special counsel probing the Russian interference in our 2016 presidential election.

I disagree with what Sessions said in 1999 about President Clinton, but his statements on the record during that trial put him squarely at odds with what Trump’s personal lawyer is trying to peddle today. If an earlier president can be charged with obstruction of justice, then surely so can the current president face such a charge if one comes forward from the special counsel’s office.

This all begs the question from yours truly: What kind of legal mumbo jumbo is Trump’s lawyer trying to peddle?

Is this a nation of laws … or what?

If I understand Donald John Trump’s lawyer’s rationale correctly about whether the president can “obstruct justice,” I believe I have heard him suggest something quite dangerous and insidious.

John Dowd says the president’s role as chief of the executive branch of the federal government means he “cannot obstruct justice.” The president enjoys protection in Article II of the U.S. Constitution that others don’t get, according to Dowd.

He came to Trump’s defense after the guilty plea came from former national security adviser Michael Flynn over whether Flynn lied to the FBI about meetings with Russian operatives.

What I believe Dowd has said is that Donald Trump, as president, is above the law. He can do or say whatever the hell he wants without facing any criminal penalty, according to Dowd.

Let’s review quickly: President Nixon faced obstruction charges in 1974 when the House Judiciary Committee approved articles of impeachment against; President Clinton was impeached in 1998 on a number of allegations, including obstruction of justice.

I believe Trump’s lawyer is, um, wrong!

I also believe John Dowd might be talking himself into some serious trouble, right along with his highly visible legal client.

Actually, POTUS can ‘obstruct justice’

I am not qualified to argue points of law with a lawyer, but I’ll take a brief moment to challenge a political point that Donald J. Trump’s lawyer has asserted about the president of the United States.

John Dowd says that the president “cannot obstruct justice” because “he is the chief law enforcement officer under (the Constitution’s Article II) and has every right to express his view of any case.”

I beg to differ. Dowd is old enough to remember Watergate and the trouble that President Nixon got into when he sought to obstruct justice in that investigation.

Obstruction at issue

Indeed, the U.S. House Judiciary Committee’s articles of impeachment against the president included an accusation of “obstruction of justice.” Nixon was toast at that point.

He chose to resign the presidency rather than face certain impeachment in the House and virtually certain conviction in a Senate trial.

So, can Donald Trump “obstruct justice” if the special counsel determines he did so by firing FBI director James Comey over that “Russia thing”?

I believe he can.

Public shouldn’t foot the bill for these settlements

This one not only doesn’t pass the smell test, it is downright putrid in the extreme.

A Texas congressman reportedly paid an $84,000 settlement to a former staffer who sued him for sexual harassment. Where did Blake Farenthold, R-Corpus Christi, get the dough to pay the settlement? From your pocket. And from mine.

That’s right. Rep. Farenthold reportedly dipped into a taxpayer funded cash drawer to settle a dispute brought against a member of Congress who allegedly mistreated a female staff member.

Does it stink? Like a dirty dog!

According to Politico: House Administration Committee Chairman Gregg Harper (R-Miss.) told GOP lawmakers in a closed-door Friday morning meeting that only one House office in the past five years had used an Office of Compliance account to settle a sexual harassment complaint. Harper said in that one instance, the settlement totaled $84,000.

In a statement for this story, Farenthold would neither confirm or deny that his office was responsible for that $84,000 payout.

Let me venture a guess. Farenthold paid the settlement with the public’s money.

If I were King of the World, I would strip Congress of that Office of Compliance fund and force any member of Congress to pay any such settlement out of his or her pocket.

I am aware that Farenthold denies sexually harassing his former press aide. The Office of Congressional Ethics sided with Farenthold. See the Politico story here.

Still, if there’s going to be a settlement in a complaint filed against a member of Congress, I happen to dislike intensely the notion of dipping into taxpayers’ pockets to pay the bill.

This ex-prosecutor is ‘soft on crime’?

It’s Doug Jones vs. Roy Moore in the race to become Alabama’s next U.S. senator.

Many of us know about Moore: former two-time Alabama Supreme Court chief justice who was kicked out of office over ethical violations; the Republican now stands accused of sexually assaulting minors. These accusations have consumed the media in recent weeks and have created — at minimum — a competitive U.S. Senate campaign in reliably Republican red Alabama.

Jones is a bit of a mystery. He’s a former federal prosecutor. He’s a Democrat.

He’s also been called “soft on crime” by Donald J. Trump, who today all but endorsed Moore — his fellow Republican — for the Senate seat once filled by Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

But here’s the deal: Jones once prosecuted the monsters who blew up the 16th Street Baptist Church in 1963, the dastardly act of domestic terrorism that killed four African-American girls in Birmingham, Ala. He sent the two men — members of the Ku Klux Klan — to prison.

Is the president of the United States operating in the same universe as the rest of us?

Oh, wait! I think I know the answer!

‘Fine-tuned machine’ needs a serious lube job

The president of the United States has described his administration as functioning like a “fine-tuned machine.”

Such a description implies a thorough vetting of those seeking high-level government appointments, yes? Sure it does.

Why, then, did a Donald Trump nominee for the federal bench fail to report something that poses a potential conflict of interest? You know, that he is married to a senior White House lawyer.

Brett Talley failed to disclose that he is married to Ann Donaldson. Talley wants to be a federal judge; Donaldson works for an organization — the White House — that could face a challenge and appear in the very court where Talley presides.

Mr. President, we have a problem

Doggone it, man. Isn’t that a problem? What’s more, why didn’t Donaldson step forward and inform the White House judge-search team that there might be a problem with her hubby being seated on the federal bench?

And there’s an interesting back story, too. Talley wants an appointment to a judgeship that serves a district in Alabama, which is being tossed and roiled at this very moment by a scandal involving Roy Moore, the Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate who’s being accused of making improper sexual advances on underage girls.

Aw, what the heck. I digress … you know?

Talley also has never tried a case. His legal experience is quite limited and one can question whether he actually is qualified to preside as a federal judge.

Is this how the president finds the “best people” to serve the federal government? Is this how a “fine-tuned machine” operates?

Umm. No.

Trump’s Twitter fingers might muck up search for justice

Donald Trump’s Twitter fingers need to be tied up, rendered inoperable … maybe.

The president went bonkers the other day when a man rammed a rented truck into a New York City crowd. He said the suspect, an immigrant from Uzbekistan, should (a) be sent to Gitmo as an “enemy combatant” and (b) face the death penalty.

Oops, Mr. President. You shouldn’t say such a thing, given that you’ve already called the U.S. justice system a “joke” and a “laughingstock.”

The president walked back his Gitmo remark, but is holding firm to his view that the NYC drug-ramming suspect deserves to receive the death penalty. Legal analysts suggest that Trump’s tweet on that issue might complicate efforts to prosecute this guy. It could make it easier for the man’s legal counsel to obtain a lesser penalty if, of course, he gets convicted of killing those eight people in what is being called an act of terror.

The suspect is a radical Muslim who came here legally in 2010 and then professed allegiance to the Islamic State.

As the New York Times has reported: Presidents are typically advised never to publicly weigh in on pending criminal cases. Such comments can be used by defense attorneys to argue that their clients cannot get a fair trial — especially when the head of the executive branch that will prosecute a case advocates the ultimate punishment before a judge has heard a single shred of evidence at trial.

Of course, none of these concerns about the president’s idiotic Twitter rampages is likely to register with the man himself. He doesn’t care or doesn’t understand the potential consequences of his actions and public statements.

Weird.

Trump facing serious trouble

This probe into the “Russia thing” has taken a stern turn for the worse … if you’re the president of the United States of America.

Robert Mueller, the meticulous special counsel, has indicted two key Donald J. Trump presidential campaign aides on money laundering charges. The indictment against former campaign chairman Paul Manafort includes a charge of conspiracy against the United States — which makes me say “whoa!”

Now that Mueller has struck, the talk has surfaced yet again about what the president might do. The Hill reports that GOP senators are resisting calls from Democrats to protect Mueller from a possible firing by the president.

Senate grapples over indictments

Will he pardon Manafort and his deputy Rick Gates? Will he pardon George Papadopoulos, who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his Russia connection?

Ah, but will he actually fire Mueller?

I keep circling back to this notion that if the president is as innocent of colluding with Russian hackers as he insists he is, why would he do anything?

However, I am left to say “holy crap-ola!” If the president is going to do anything that smacks of obstruction — such as, oh, firing FBI director James Comey over that “Russia thing” — then he exposes himself to the full wrath of Congress.

You see, the president has developed universal loathing among Senate and House Democrats. His Republican alliance in both legislative chambers is showing serious cracks, too.

I am left, therefore — as an avid anti-Trumpster — with terribly mixed feelings about what I think the president should do. Does he take the foolish course and do something he will regret? Or does he just shut the hell up — for once in his adult life — and let the process run its course?

OK, here’s my preference.

Keep your big trap shut, Mr. President, and just let the special counsel — who was appointed by the Justice Department because you followed the voice of foolishness with the Comey firing — do what he’s been charged to do.

Judge to step aside … and avoid a donnybrook

Texans love electing officials to public office. Even judges.

We elect them on partisan labels, which I’ve long hated. But in more than 30 years watching judicial races unfold in Texas, it’s rare to find an incumbent judge who’s doing a good job on the bench receive three challengers in a partisan primary contest.

Accordingly, the news that Randall County Court at Law No. 2 Judge Ronnie Walker will forgo a re-election campaign next year shouldn’t come as much of a surprise.

He had three challengers awaiting him next spring. The very idea that Judge Walker would attract such an aggressive primary opposition made me wonder immediately: What has he done to incur this challenge?

We won’t have to answer that question directly as the Republican Party primary campaign for Court at Law No. 2 develops. The challengers won’t have Judge Ronnie Walker to kick around.

If I were still in the daily print journalism game, I would be inclined to ask all the challengers precisely why they chose to run against an incumbent judge. Randall and Potter County political history has revealed to me an extreme reluctance among the local bar association to challenge incumbents who are doing a good — if not great — job in administering justice.

An incumbent generally is doing a bad job on the bench to draw the number of challengers that Ronnie Walker attracted. That’s at least what I’ve noted over many years watching Texas judicial campaigns.

As the Amarillo Globe-News reported: Walker said he would “continue to maintain the high standards and quality of my court” through his term, which ends Dec. 31, 2018.

“I will always appreciate the support and confidence of the people of Randall County who voted me in office beginning Jan. 2, 2007, as the first and only judge of the newly created Randall County Court at Law No. 2,” he wrote in his statement. “Randall County jurors are the greatest, possessing an ideal blend of attentiveness, logic, reasonableness and fairness.”

Still, the question lingers: What — if anything — did this guy do to attract such a vigorous primary challenge?

Court brings cause for concern

Oh, brother.

Donald J. Trump is predicting he could get to fill as many as four seats on the U.S. Supreme Court.

How does that grab you? I’ll tell you the unvarnished truth: It scares the ever-loving bejabbers out of me.

The president already has picked Justice Neil Gorsuch for the highest court in the land; he replaced another conservative, Antonin Scalia, who died suddenly a year ago in Texas. Justice Anthony Kennedy is reportedly considering retirement. Who’s next? Might it be Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg? Try this one on for size: Justice Sonya Sotomayor.

Trump could swing court balance

That’s four of them. Kennedy is considered a “swing vote” on the court; Ginsburg and Sotomayor are part of the so-called “liberal wing.” Ginsburg’s health reportedly has been getting more frail over the years. Sotomayor, one of the court’s younger members, suffers from Type 1 diabetes, which could inhibit her ability to continue.

What might occur? Trump will get to appoint justices who’ll swing the court so far to the right that it could scare a whole lot more Americans than just yours truly.

I don’t know about you, but I’m going to send good-health vibes to Justices Kennedy, Ginsburg and Sotomayor. We need them on the highest court in the land to maintain some semblance of balance and reason.