Tag Archives: Richard Nixon

Tax returns? Give ’em up, Mr. POTUS

U.S. House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal has the law on his side, or so it would appear.

The Massachusetts Democrat is using his power as a congressional committee chairman to get his hands on Donald Trump’s tax returns. He is citing a statute that requires the Internal Revenue Service to hand over any request that comes from Congress.

The president’s lawyers say the chairman is overstepping his bounds.

C’mon. Let’s settle this thing.

Turn them over

Donald Trump has pledged to turn over the returns once the IRS completed a “routine audit.” That audit was under way in 2015. It takes three years to conduct a routine audit? I do no think so, no matter how “big” the numbers are that Trump has suggested.

It has been matter of political custom — not the law — for presidents to release their tax returns, to open them up for public review. The custom began in 1976 after the Watergate scandal had driven President Nixon from office.

We needed to know then — and we do today — how our presidents earn their income, to whom they might be indebted, and whether they are paying their fair share of taxes. They are, after all, demanding — along with Congress — that the rest of us pay our fair share.

I’m going to set aside for the purposes of this post any discussion of The Russia Thing.

I want to know all I deserve to know — which I happen to believe is a lot — about the president’s fortune. How he amassed it. I want to know whether he skirted federal tax law. I want to know about his debt obligations; after all, Trump said he is “the king of debt.”

None of this should be kept secret from the nation he was elected to lead. Donald Trump, though, is now going back on his pledge to release those returns. He has unleashed his legal team to fight Chairman Neal’s request for the returns.

If the president has nothing to hide — which he has declared many times — then he should have no difficulty showing us what those returns contain. Isn’t that what clean-as-a-whistle politicians do?

House doesn’t need a criminal charge to impeach, however . . .

Donald J. Trump put his cheesy side on full display at the Conservative Political Action Conference meeting today. He hugged Old Glory as he walked onto the stage before delivering a two-hour harangue filled with four-letter words and assorted demagogic statements about his foes.

OK, I say all that as a predicate for what I want to say next.

It is that Michael Cohen’s testimony this week before the House Oversight and Reform Committee opened the door to possible criminal charges being brought against the president of the United States. The president’s former lawyer/confidant dropped the names of individuals who might know a lot about Trump’s financial dealings and whether they involve possible criminality.

Why is that a big deal?

Let’s revisit an earlier inquiry into whether to impeach a president. In 1974, the House Judiciary Committee voted to impeach President Nixon on obstruction of justice and conspiracy charges related to the Watergate scandal.

I want to note that the committee did not impeach the president on the basis of any criminal charges. None had been brought. President Nixon did not break any laws before the House panel approved the articles of impeachment.

Republican lawmakers scurried to the White House and informed the president that he had no support in the Senate, where he would stand trial once the full House impeached him.

Nixon quit the presidency.

Twenty-five years later, the House of Representatives impeached President Clinton largely on the basis of a single criminal charge: perjury. The president lied to a grand jury that asked him about his relationship with the White House intern.

Donald Trump’s troubles appear to eclipse those that ensnared Clinton in an impeachment and a Senate trial (where he was acquitted). As for the Nixon impeachment inquiry, I just want to reiterate that the president was not charged with a criminal act.

This is my way of saying that Donald Trump might be wading into some mighty deep doo-doo.

No amount of flag-hugging is likely to do him any good.

‘I have never worked for Russia’

I suppose I’d never thought I would hear the president of the United States have to answer such a question.

“Have you ever worked for Russia?” came the question from a reporter.

Donald J. Trump — who had fielded that question from Jeannine Pirro on Fox News — didn’t exactly say “no” to Pirro. Then he had to say it to the reporter on the White House grounds.

I find it astonishing in the extreme that the president of the United States would ever ask the question. It has become necessary because of The New York Times story that disclosed that the FBI launched an investigation into whether Trump had become an “agent” of Russia. I just will not believe the FBI launched this probe because someone inside the J. Edgar Hoover Building wanted to “get” the president.

Do you recall the time Richard Nixon felt compelled to tell the nation that “I am not a crook”? He wasn’t very convincing at the time he said it in 1973. It turned out that while he wasn’t a “crook” in the classic definition of the term, he was corrupt enough to have to quit just ahead of a certain impeachment and trial by Congress.

This is the backdrop we might be facing yet again with the presidency of Donald J. Trump. He has called the NY Times report an “insult” and says the questions about whether he worked for Russia are “insulting.”

Meanwhile, special counsel Robert Mueller is finishing — reportedly — his report we hope will get to the truth about Trump’s relationship with Russia, if any exist. The president keeps telling us there is no relationship. He keeps yapping about the “hoax” and that Mueller is in the middle of a “witch hunt.”

It’s just frightening on its face that our head of state, our commander in chief is having to answer questions about whether he works for the nation’s No. 1 geopolitical foe.

Finish your work, Mr. Special Counsel Mueller.

We’re acting as ‘suckers,’ Mr. President?

Let me see if I can connect these dots.

Donald and Melania Trump jetted off early Wednesday to Iraq to visit with some of our troops there. It was the first visit by the president to a war zone since he took office in January 2017. Good show, Mr. President; I’m glad you went.

But then . . .

He declared that the United States was done being played as “suckers.” The president said this country wouldn’t be “suckered” any longer into defending other nations’ self-interest.

That was a bit of a head-scratcher for me. I cannot help but wonder what the troops in Iraq thought when they heard the commander in chief describe their hazardous duty as acting on behalf of a nation that had been “suckered” into sending men and women into harm’s way. Doesn’t that sound as though he is cheapening their work, that he is demeaning the danger they face?

I couldn’t help but think of how I might have felt in 1969 if President Nixon had come to Da Nang, South Vietnam, and told us that we had been duped into fighting a useless war. I cannot transport myself back to that time, but my gut tells me I well might have taken serious offense at such comments.

As for the current president, my belief is that the real “suckers” are those who believed they were getting a serious commander in chief when they voted for this guy in the first place.

‘Our Constitution works . . . ‘

Three words define for me the reason I remain optimistic about how the current tumult surrounding the president of the United States is going to end.

President Gerald Rudolph Ford took the oath of office on Aug. 9, 1974 and declared the following: Our Constitution works; our great Republic is a government of laws and not of men.

The 38th president took office under the most unusual circumstance this nation ever has experienced. His predecessor, President Richard Nixon, quit the office, giving the nation roughly 15 hours notice from the time he told us on national TV to the moment his resignation took effect the next day at noon.

We had just endured the most rigorous constitutional crisis in our nation’s history. Nixon resigned to avoid certain impeachment and virtually certain conviction of “high crimes and misdemeanors.”

Yes, our Constitution worked then. It will work now, matter where Donald John Trump’s troubles take him . . . and us.

Even out here in Trump Country where I live, there are rumblings of serious danger in store for the president. A special counsel, Robert Mueller. appears to be closing in on some matters that could produce actual indictments of the president’s closest advisers, even members of his family — and, yes, quite possibly the president himself.

Much of what transpires over time well might depend on how Trump responds to what could occur. Does he do something foolish? Does he issue pardons to indicted conspirators and then open himself up to demonstrable evidence of obstruction of justice?

The nation’s founders knew what they were doing when they drafted the Constitution. They built in a system of government that limits presidential power; they gave additional power to Congress; they also gave the federal courts power to rule on the constitutionality of laws and presidential actions.

Divided government is about to descend on Congress, with Democrats taking control of the House of Representatives. The White House and the Senate will remain in Republican control.

One of the many beauties of the government the founders created lies in the ability of Congress and, when needed, the courts to rein in an overzealous executive branch.

So, when the president makes noises about what might occur within the White House, he sends alarm bells clanging all over Capitol Hill and throughout the federal judiciary.

Yes, indeed, the Constitution works. President Ford spoke a fundamental truth to us in our moment of dire constitutional peril. It worked then. It works today.

Trump to attend 41’s funeral . . . won’t offer eulogy

I am tempted sorely to break my pledge to go soft on Donald Trump while the nation mourns the death of a great and good man, former President George H.W. Bush.

I’ll resist the urge.

However, I am compelled to take note that Trump will attend his predecessor’s funeral but won’t be one of the eulogists. It seems only natural that the current president would stand and pay public tribute to a former president. Not this time.

The late president’s family has asked former President George W. Bush, the great man’s son, to deliver one of the eulogies; also slated to talk will be former U.S. Sen. Alan Simpson, a Wyoming Republican along with former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and presidential historian Jon Meacham.

Donald Trump will be in the pew watching and listening.

It’s unusual for the current president to be passed over for such an event. However, I should note that the late Sen. John McCain made it abundantly clear he didn’t want Trump even to attend his funeral. The president stayed away.

There have been instances where political adversaries have honored their opponent. Perhaps one of the more fascinating tributes came in 1994 at the funeral of President Richard Nixon. One of the eulogists was President Bill Clinton, whose wife, Hillary, worked on the U.S. House Judiciary Committee staff as the panel was considering articles of impeachment against President Nixon — who I hasten to add asked President Clinton to speak about him at his funeral.

Trump and the Bush family have — to put it mildly — issues. The president has disparaged Jeb Bush as “low energy Jeb.” He has been harshly critical of Bush 43’s prosecution of the Iraq War. Most stunning of all, he actually mocked Bush 41’s signature “Points of Light” program that encourages voluntarism among citizens to do good work.

As for the late president himself, he once said he didn’t like Trump. He called him a “blowhard” and according to one of GHW Bush’s closest aides, the former president voted for Hillary Rodham Clinton in the 2016 presidential election.

So, you can get the picture that Trump and the Bushes are, um, not particularly close. Correct?

However, I am glad that Donald Trump will attend President Bush’s funeral. It’s the least he can do.

A pardon for Manafort? Consider the consequence

There’s a good bit of speculation afoot about why Paul Manafort, Donald Trump’s campaign chairman who pleaded guilty to felony charges and then agreed cooperate with special counsel Robert Mueller, would lie repeatedly to Mueller’s team.

Mueller is looking into whether Trump’s campaign “colluded” with Russians who attacked our election system in 2016. Manafort was thought to have a lot of answers to Mueller’s many questions. Then he lied, according to Mueller. Manafort blew the plea deal apart.

But . . . why? Some analysts suggest Manafort might be angling for a presidential pardon.

I have two words for them: Gerald Ford.

A presidential pardon is likely to explode like a volcano over the political landscape. Hey, come to think of it, if such an event results in Trump’s ouster, then I am all for it!

Back to President Ford. The president took office in August 1974 after President Richard Nixon resigned in the wake of the Watergate scandal. Barely a month in office, the new president issued a blanket pardon for any offenses his predecessor might have committed. He freed President Nixon from any prosecution.

Ford was vilified at the time for the pardon. He ran for election in 1976 and lost that year narrowly to Jimmy Carter. The pardon was seen at the time as a major contributor to the president’s defeat.

I was among those who criticized Ford at the time. Since then my views have changed about President Ford and the pardon. But the damage was done in real time.

If the current president thinks he is going to cover his backside from any incriminating circumstance by pardoning Paul Manafort, he is likely instead to purchase a whole basket full of political crises.

I am now wondering whether the president has any idea of what might transpire if he is foolish enough to take such an action.

Big crowds don’t necessarily mean big vote totals

I must offer a word of caution to Beto O’Rourke’s fans who take great pride in the size of the crowds the U.S. senatorial candidate is drawing as he stumps his way across Texas.

The Democratic challenger to Sen. Ted Cruz has my vote. I want him to win in a big way. Cruz hasn’t distinguished himself as a champion for Texas causes and interests; he’s more fixated on his own ambition.

Having said that, Cruz must be considered the favorite to win re-election. Yes, polling indicates a close race. However, Texas is a Republican state. O’Rourke has to to overtake The Cruz Missile quickly and open up a bit of a spread between the two of them.

How does he do that? Well, he is drawing big crowds at rallies in rural Texas. Let me caution O’Rourke’s faithful followers: Big crowds don’t necessarily translate to a winning trajectory.

Example given: the 1972 presidential campaign of Sen. George McGovern.

I was a campus coordinator for Sen. McGovern in my native Oregon. I had returned from the Army in 1970. I was disillusioned about our Vietnam War policy. I spent some time in the war zone and came away confused and somewhat embittered.

I wanted Sen. McGovern to defeat President Nixon. He drew big crowds all across the nation as he campaigned for the presidency. They were vocal, boisterous, optimistic.

My task in college was to register new voters. We got a lot of new voters on the rolls that year. I was proud of my contribution.

On Election Night, it was over … just like that. The president was re-elected in a landslide. 520 electoral votes to 17. He won about 60 percent of the popular vote.

The big crowds, including a huge rally in the final days in downtown Portland, didn’t mean a damn thing!

Will history repeat itself in Texas in 2018? Oh, man, I hope not!

When have we ever discussed presidential fitness?

I’ve been walking along this Earth for a lot of years. I’ve been watching politics for most of my life. For the life of me I cannot remember a national discussion that comes close to mirroring what we’re hearing at this time about the fitness of the man who serves as president of the United States.

We didn’t hear it at this level when President Nixon was mired in the Watergate scandal. We didn’t hear it in 1984 when President Reagan stumbled in his first debate with Walter Mondale, only to say at the second debate that he wouldn’t “exploit for political purposes my opponent’s youth and inexperience.”

These days, the discussion has turned to Donald J. Trump’s actual fitness for the job. There’s open discussion about invoking a constitutional amendment that would strip the president of his powers. There is talk among White House aides about the president’s “impulses” and whether this man has the capacity to understand the myriad complexities of his high office.

Am I missing something? I just don’t recall ever having this discussion at any time, at any level with our previous presidents.

And yet, here we are.

The White House is pushing back. Trump allies say the president is fully capable. They say he’s engaged in the nuance of policy. They’re condemning the “gutless coward” who wrote that anonymous op-ed published in The New York Times, the essay that talks about the theft of memos from Trump’s desk and the effort to protect the nation against the president’s more dangerous instincts.

Yes, Trump promised he would be an “unconventional president.”

Boy, howdy! The man has delivered on that promise.

Bigly!

When does POTUS become too much of a ‘distraction’?

You hear it all the time from public officials who get embroiled in public controversy or scandal, if you wish to call it that.

“I don’t want to become a distraction,” they say. “Being such a distraction makes it impossible for me to do my job. Therefore, I resign from this office to make way for public policy to continue without these other side issues swirling around.”

With that, I believe it’s fair to ask: When does a president of the United States of America himself become too much of a “distraction” for his agenda?

Let me say this straight up and straight out: I do not believe Donald J. Trump is going to resign. Nor do I believe he should quit … at least not yet.

A man nominated to join the U.S. Supreme Court testified today before the Senate Judiciary Committee. That’s a huge deal, yes? Then, kaboom! The New York Times publishes an anonymously written op-ed from a senior White House official saying that he or she is part of a team effort to protect the United States from the president’s more dangerous impulses.

This essay comes directly on the heels of a preview of a book, “Fear,” written by The Washington Post legendary Bob Woodward, that speaks to the interminable chaos, confusion and, yes, “fear” within the White House.

How does the president govern with all these, um, “distractions” threatening to swallow him whole.

President Johnson said on March 31, 1968 that he could not put his own political future ahead of the issues troubling the nation; he told the nation that “I will not seek, and will not accept the nomination of my party for another term as your president.”

Six years later, President Nixon spoke of distraction, too, as he tendered his resignation in the wake of the Watergate scandal. He couldn’t govern. He couldn’t move any legislative priorities forward.

What is the threshold? Where does it rest? When do these “distractions” become too much even for a president who calls himself a “stable genius” and a self-proclaimed expert on every issue known to the presidency?

These are questions that well might begin to boil to the top of the public discourse over what we’re witnessing in real time.