Bad Day For Trump’s Immigration Ban And Trump Conflicts Of Interest

There were two setbacks for the Trump administration today. The more significant was an appeals court ruling against Trump’s travel ban:

A three-judge federal appeals panel on Thursday unanimously refused to reinstate President Trump’s targeted travel ban, delivering the latest and most stinging judicial rebuke to his effort to make good on a campaign promise and tighten the standards for entry into the United States.

The ruling was the first from an appeals court on the travel ban, and it was focused on the narrow question of whether it should be blocked while courts consider its lawfulness. The decision is likely to be quickly appealed to the United States Supreme Court.

That court remains short-handed and could deadlock. A 4-to-4 tie in the Supreme Court would leave the appeals court’s ruling in place.

I’ve seen some Trump supporters write this off to a decision of a liberal court. Note that this three judge court ruled unanimously on the issue, including a judge appointed by George W. Bush. (The other two were appointed by Carter and Obama). This ruling was not partisan, considering how blatantly Trump’s Muslim ban violates the Constitution.

Also today, Kellyanne Conway was “counseled” after she broke ethics rules in promoting Ivanka Trump’s products while speaking at the White House.

The White House on Thursday said a top adviser to President Trump had been “counseled” after using a television appearance from the West Wing to promote the clothing and jewelry line sold under the brand of Trump’s daughter…

Experts quickly seized on Conway’s remarks as a direct violation of Office of Government Ethics rules. Don W. Fox, a former OGE general counsel and now the office’s acting director, said Conway’s statements were “jaw-dropping” and “a clear violation of rules prohibiting misuse of public office for anyone’s private gain.”

Peter Schweizer, who has worked closely with Trump chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon and wrote a book, “Clinton Cash,” that was critical of donations to the Clinton Foundation, said, “They’ve crossed a very, very important, bright line, and it’s not good.”

“To encourage Americans to buy goods from companies owned by the first family is totally out of bounds and needs to stop,” Schweizer added. “Clearly, the Trumps feel some of this is related to politics. But whether that’s true or not, these marketing battles need to be fought by Ivanka and her company. They cannot and should not be fought by government employees and the White House.”

I imagine that being  Conway being “counseled” is comparable to when Hillary Clinton was told that she should be using a government server for her email when she was found to be ignoring this rule. Hopefully Conway pays more attention. More importantly, hopefully the entire Trump administration pays more attention–perhaps starting with Donald Trump releasing his income tax returns.

Realistically this is a relatively trivial incident. If anything, being promoted by Conway might even further reduce Ivanka’s sales, which have been suffering by the poor opinion about her father. What is more important are the vast conflicts of interest present in the financial interests of Trump’s family (along with the financial interests of some of his cabinet appointees).

Most of the examples will probably turn out to be more mundane actions in which government actions might benefit Trump’s business holdings. One of the more interesting examples was repeated in the same article linked above:

The Conway episode followed other instances in which Trump’s political rise and his presidency have provided a promotional platform for the family businesses.

On Monday, first lady Melania Trump filed a lawsuit accusing a British news company of publishing an inaccurate story that hurt her ability to take advantage of a “once in a lifetime opportunity” to build her brand of jewelry and accessories. The lawsuit said that the August 2016 article, which falsely suggested Melania Trump had once worked for an escort service, damaged her ability to build “multimillion dollar business relationships for a multi-year term” and damaged her brand during a time when Trump “is one of the most photographed women in the world.”

Trump’s Incompetence And Mental State Alarm Washington

Donald Trump continues to show both his bigotry and his incompetence in his attacks against the federal judges ruling on his travel ban. The Hill reports:

Trump argued the law gives him broad powers to control who enters and leaves the U.S.

“A bad high school student would understand this. Anybody would understand this,” he said.

Yes, a bad high school student very well might be fooled into thinking that Trump is right. Fortunately judges who went beyond high school to study law are more likely to understand how Donald Trump is violating the law and violating the Constitution.

If we can trust Huffington Post as a source, reportedly his own staff is alarmed at Trump’s conduct. Leaks include the content of a rather strange 3 am call:

President Donald Trump was confused about the dollar: Was it a strong one that’s good for the economy? Or a weak one?

So he made a call ― except not to any of the business leaders Trump brought into his administration or even to an old friend from his days in real estate. Instead, he called his national security adviser, retired Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn, according to two sources familiar with Flynn’s accounts of the incident.

Flynn has a long record in counterintelligence but not in macroeconomics. And he told Trump he didn’t know, that it wasn’t his area of expertise, that, perhaps, Trump should ask an economist instead.

The story goes on to describe how leaks are becoming commonplace because of government officials who are alarmed by Trump’s bizarre conduct:

Unsurprisingly, Trump’s volatile behavior has created an environment ripe for leaks from his executive agencies and even within his White House. And while leaks typically involve staffers sabotaging each other to improve their own standing or trying to scuttle policy ideas they find genuinely problematic, Trump’s 2-week-old administration has a third category: leaks from White House and agency officials alarmed by the president’s conduct.

“I’ve been in this town for 26 years. I have never seen anything like this,” said Eliot Cohen, a senior State Department official under President George W. Bush and a member of his National Security Council. “I genuinely do not think this is a mentally healthy president.”

There is the matter of Trump’s briefing materials, for example. The commander in chief doesn’t like to read long memos, a White House aide who asked to remain unnamed told The Huffington Post. So preferably they must be no more than a single page. They must have bullet points but not more than nine per page.

Earlier in the week, Glenn Thrush and Maggie Haberman of The New York Times reported on the isolation of Donald Trump and difficulties faced by the Trump administration in its first two weeks:

Aides confer in the dark because they cannot figure out how to operate the light switches in the cabinet room. Visitors conclude their meetings and then wander around, testing doorknobs until finding one that leads to an exit. In a darkened, mostly empty West Wing, Mr. Trump’s provocative chief strategist, Stephen K. Bannon, finishes another 16-hour day planning new lines of attack.

Usually around 6:30 p.m., or sometimes later, Mr. Trump retires upstairs to the residence to recharge, vent and intermittently use Twitter. With his wife, Melania, and young son, Barron, staying in New York, he is almost always by himself, sometimes in the protective presence of his imposing longtime aide and former security chief, Keith Schiller. When Mr. Trump is not watching television in his bathrobe or on his phone reaching out to old campaign hands and advisers, he will sometimes set off to explore the unfamiliar surroundings of his new home…

The bungled rollout of his executive order barring immigrants from seven predominantly Muslim countries, a flurry of other miscues and embarrassments, and an approval rating lower than that of any comparable first-term president in the history of polling have Mr. Trump and his top staff rethinking an improvisational approach to governing that mirrors his chaotic presidential campaign, administration officials and Trump insiders said…

Cloistered in the White House, he now has little access to his fans and supporters — an important source of feedback and validation — and feels increasingly pinched by the pressures of the job and the constant presence of protests, one of the reasons he was forced to scrap a planned trip to Milwaukee last week. For a sense of what is happening outside, he watches cable, both at night and during the day — too much in the eyes of some aides — often offering a bitter play-by-play of critics like CNN’s Don Lemon.

Until the past few days, Mr. Trump was telling his friends and advisers that he believed the opening stages of his presidency were going well. “Did you hear that, this guy thinks it’s been terrible!” Mr. Trump said mockingly to other aides when one dissenting view was voiced last week during a West Wing meeting.

But his opinion has begun to change with a relentless parade of bad headlines.

Can a president whose reading is limited to single page memos make the changes needed to turn this around, or will he become increasingly isolated, perhaps to the point of talking to the pictures on the White House walls like Richard Nixon in his final days in office?

Clinton Ordered To Provide Written Testimony Regarding Use Of Private Email

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Hillary Clinton might never get past the email scandal. The New York Times reports that a federal judge has ordered her to provide written testimony:

A federal judge on Friday ordered Hillary Clinton to provide written testimony under oath about why she set up a private computer server to send and receive emails while secretary of state, ensuring that the issue will continue to dog her presidential campaign until the eve of the election.

In a brief ruling issued on Friday afternoon, the judge, Emmet G. Sullivan of Federal District Court in Washington, approved a motion by the conservative advocacy organization Judicial Watch to pursue its vigorous campaign to expose Mrs. Clinton’s use of the private server. In addition to requiring her testimony in writing, the judge allowed the group to depose a senior State Department aide who had warned two subordinates not to question her email practices.

Both the the State Department Inspector General report and the FBI statement on the investigation revealed considerable impropriety on Clinton’s part, even if the FBI did not recommend criminal prosecution.

It was also revealed yesterday that Hillary Clinton had told the FBI that she used private email on the advice of Colin Powell. Powell denied any recollection of the conversation and expressed disapproval of the use of private email for classified information.

In an update to a post from earlier in the week, the sailor who tried to use the Hillary Clinton defense for mishandling classified information was unsuccessful. He has been sentenced to one year in prison. There were many differences in the cases, but the most significant is that he was a lowly Navy sailor and Clinton is in line to be Commander in Chief.

Adnan Syed, Subject of Serial Podcast, To Receive New Trial

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If you listened to Season 1 of Serial, this will be major news. If you didn’t, the case probably won’t matter to you. The podcast looked at the case of Adnan Syed, who was convicted of murdering his girl friend, and cast doubts as to his guilt. The publicity from the podcast led to a reexamination of the case. Today a Baltimore judge vacated his conviction and granted him a new trial. The Baltimore Sun reports:

A Baltimore judge on Thursday ordered a new trial for convicted murderer Adnan Syed, adding a new chapter to a two-decade-old case propelled to international attention by the popular “Serial” podcast.

Syed, now 35, has been serving a life sentence since 2000, when he was convicted of killing ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee the year before. The body of Lee, a classmate of Syed at Woodlawn High School, was found buried in Baltimore’s Leakin Park.

Retired Judge Martin Welch, who had denied Syed’s previous request for a new trial, vacated Syed’s conviction Thursday and said questions about cell phone tower evidence should have been raised by his trial team.

The ruling came four months after a hearing that also featured testimony from an alibi witness who had been featured in “Serial.”

The podcast was downloaded millions of times, drawing legions of devoted fans who scrutinized the case online.

Good News From Supreme Court On Abortion & The Typical News On Trump and Clinton

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It was a good day with regards to reproductive rights as the Supreme Court struck down a law in Texas designed to restrict abortions by imposing absurd requirements on abortion clinics designed to make it too difficult to operate.  The New York Times reports:

The Supreme Court on Monday struck down parts of a restrictive Texas law that could have reduced the number of abortion clinics in the state to about 10 from what was once a high of roughly 40.

The 5-to-3 decision was the court’s most sweeping statement on abortion rights since Planned Parenthood v. Casey in 1992. It applied a skeptical and exacting version of that decision’s “undue burden” standard to find that the restrictions in Texas went too far.

The decision on Monday means that similar restrictions in other states are most likely also unconstitutional, and it imperils many other kinds of restrictions on abortion…

he Supreme Court on Monday struck down parts of a restrictive Texas law that could have reduced the number of abortion clinics in the state to about 10 from what was once a high of roughly 40.

The 5-to-3 decision was the court’s most sweeping statement on abortion rights since Planned Parenthood v. Casey in 1992. It applied a skeptical and exacting version of that decision’s “undue burden” standard to find that the restrictions in Texas went too far.

The decision on Monday means that similar restrictions in other states are most likely also unconstitutional, and it imperils many other kinds of restrictions on abortion..

One part of the law requires all clinics in the state to meet the standards for ambulatory surgical centers, including regulations concerning buildings, equipment and staffing. The other requires doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital.

This law came from Republicans who claim to both oppose over-regulation of business and government take-overs of health care.

The New York Times also points out that the Court has leaned left with eight members when it avoids a tie.

Otherwise it was a typical day. Donald Trump said more stupid things, this time calling Elizabeth Warren a racist. Plus we have further evidence that Clinton was lying about her email as more examples were found of work-related email which appear to have been destroyed with the email Clinton claimed was personal. These stories come after too many examples of Donald Trump saying stupid things to list, and a similar report on Clinton’s email three days ago.

Implications Of The Death Of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia

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Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was found dead at a Texas ranch where he was staying while on a hunting trip at age 79. He was appointed to the Court by Ronald Reagan in 1986. His conservative rulings have had a profound, and negative, effect on the country during that time.

The legal and political ramifications are likely to be enormous. The next several months could be dominated by a fight over confirmation of Obama’s appointment, likely expanding the range of issues which the presidential candidates must discuss over the next several months. Voters might think more about issues such as reproductive rights and voting rights, which could be greatly influenced by the balance of the court, during the election year.

Republicans might try to prevent any Obama appointee from being confirmed hoping that a Republican could be elected an make the next choice. Such obstructionism might also backfire against the Republicans, along with demonstrating how many of their views are not accepted by a majority of Americans. It is also possible that Democratic Senators will block right wing choices should there be a Republican president in 2017.

For the current year (and possibly beyond) this means one less conservative vote on matters the Supreme Court is now considering, including  abortion rights,  affirmative action, and another challenge to Obamacare. I also wonder to what degree Scalia was able to influence any swing justices to side with the conservatives. There is also the possibility of some matters coming down to a four to four tie.

The Washington Post had an article in December suggesting that  tie votes on the court, due to a vacancy, will favor liberals, even if the author doesn’t seem happy with that prospect:

Thanks to a wealth of recent Democratic appointments on the lower courts, letting the Supreme Court go down to eight justices would favor liberals. Conservatives wouldn’t like the regime of liberal rulings that would govern in most of the nation without Supreme Court oversight. And the prospect of liberal dominance may actually stiffen the spine of the historically more accommodating Senate Democrats…

A Supreme Court vacancy would favor liberals, because an eight-member court would often divide 4 to 4, affirming the decisions of the predominantly liberal lower courts.

Ties would be most common if the vacant seat belonged to swing voter Kennedy. If Scalia were the one to leave, Kennedy’s conservative tilt would sometimes generate the ties, barring the occasional walkabout from Chief Justice John Roberts. And if Ginsburg or Breyer left, Kennedy would side with the three remaining liberals often enough to sometimes tie the court in important cases. In addition to his much-touted vote for same-sex marriage in Obergefell v. Hodges, Kennedy has voted with the liberals in civil rights and environmental cases, to rein in partisan redistricting and to grant Guantanamo prisoners the right to challenge their detention.

A tied Supreme Court traditionally issues a per curiam, or unsigned, decision affirming the ruling of the lower court. So under an eight-member court that regularly produced split decisions, each circuit would be like a little Supreme Court of its own. Obama has overseen a significant transformation of the federal courts, with nine circuits now dominated by Democratic appointments and only four by Republicans. On really important cases, the circuit courts are likely to meet en banc, with most or all of the judges sitting, meaning raw numerical dominance will always matter.

The 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th circuits, where conservative decisions would stand in the case of Supreme Court ties, mostly cover red states in the South and Midwest. Only some of the Great Lakes states are caught offsides. Meanwhile, the blue states on the coasts, along with purple Western states such as Colorado, are in liberal circuits. But here’s the kicker: Since most of the circuits are controlled by liberals, much of the conservative heartland is marooned in blue circuits. Arizona, Idaho and Montana are in the much-reversed liberal 9th Circuit. The entire Southeast, from Virginia to Florida, is covered by two circuits liberalized by Obama appointees. One liberal circuit, the 10th, has just one reliably blue state, New Mexico.

Update: Mitch McConnel says that a new justice should not be chosen until after the election.  SCOTUSbLog has more on cases currently under consideration. President Obama is about to speak as I am typing this, and is expected to say he will be nominating someone despite GOP objections.

Head Of Organization Spreading False Claims About Planned Parenthood Indicted By Texas Grand Jury

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There was an unexpected turn of events in a grand jury investigation in Texas regarding the bogus charges against Planned Parenthood. The grand jury not only declared there was no wrong doing on the part of Planned Parenthood, but indicted the director of the group which spread the debunked claims that Planned Parenthood was selling fetal tissue.  The Washington Post reports:

Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson said David Daleiden, the director of the Center for Medical Progress, faces a felony charge of tampering with a governmental record and a misdemeanor count related to buying human tissue.

Sandra Merritt, one of Daleiden’s employees, was also indicted on a charge of tampering with a governmental record.

The grand jury cleared Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast of any wrongdoing.

“We were called upon to investigate allegations of criminal conduct by Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast,” Anderson said in a statement. “As I stated at the outset of this investigation, we must go where the evidence leads us. All the evidence uncovered in the course of this investigation was presented to the grand jury. I respect their decision on this difficult case.”

Republican candidates were not happy. Think Progress quotes some of them.

Supreme Court To Decide On Texas Anti-Abortion Law

Planned Parenthood

Republican efforts in recent years to restrict access to abortion have generally been at the state level (along with debunked attacks on Planned Parenthood), but now the Texas law will have national significance with the Supreme Court deciding to hear the case. The New York Times reports:

The Supreme Court on Friday agreed to hear its first major abortion case since 2007, one that has the potential to affect millions of women and to revise the constitutional principles governing abortion rights…

The case is a challenge to a Texas law that would leave the state with about 10 abortion clinics, down from more than 40. Such a change, the abortion providers who are plaintiffs in the case told the justices, would have a vast practical impact.

“Texas is the second-most-populous state in the nation — home to 5.4 million women of reproductive age,” they wrote in their brief urging the court to hear the case. “More than 60,000 of those women choose to have an abortion each year.”

The case concerns two parts of a state law that imposes strict requirements on abortion providers. It was passed by the Republican-dominated Texas Legislature and signed into law in July 2013 by Rick Perry, the governor at the time.

One part of the law requires all clinics in the state to meet the standards for “ambulatory surgical centers,” including regulations concerning buildings, equipment and staffing. The other requires doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital.

Officials in Texas said that the contested provisions were needed to protect women’s health. Abortion providers responded that the regulations were expensive, unnecessary and intended to put many of them out of business.

Think Progress has debunked claims of supporters of this law that the strict requirements are reasonable:

Yet, while these may seem like health regulations at first glance, they do little, if anything, to actually advance women’s health. As the Texas Hospital Association explains, for example, “thousands of physicians operate clinics and provide services in those clinics but do not have hospital admitting privileges.” Hospitals provide care to women who experience complications during an abortion — complications, it should be noted, that are extraordinarily rare — regardless of whether the physician who performed the abortion has admitting privileges or not. Similarly, the ambulatory surgical center requirement applies even in abortion clinics that do not perform surgeries — many abortions are induced by medication alone. The laws, in other words, impose burdensome and expensive restrictions on abortion clinics even when those restrictions bear no relationship whatsoever to advancing women’s health.

There is little doubt that these restrictions were written by opponents of the right of a woman to control her own body, with the goal of making it harder for women to obtain an abortion by causing multiple clinics which provide abortions to shut down. Opponents of the law expect that those clinics which do remain will be limited to the metropolitan areas of Austin, Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston and San Antonio. This will leave many women in Texas without a nearby site to obtain abortions.

Justice Department Brief Saying Clinton Could Destroy Personal Email Means Very Little

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Clinton apologists who have been cherry picking statements to defend her have another claim which I’m sure we will hear about endlessly, even if it doesn’t mean much of anything. Justice Department lawyers, basically doing their job in defending the Obama administration from a suit filed against them said, “There is no question that former Secretary Clinton had authority to delete personal emails without agency supervision — she appropriately could have done so even if she were working on a government server.”

This doesn’t really change anything. First of all, this is an argument made by attorneys whose job it was to protect the State Department from the FOIA suit. Having this statement made does not mean that the judge hearing the case will accept this view.

This argument also is peripheral to the main points of the email scandal. Yes, there is no question under ordinary circumstances that Clinton could have deleted any personal email. However, we are not dealing with ordinary circumstances. It has already been well-established that Clinton violated rules in effect as of 2009 when she used her private server exclusively for government business and when she failed to turn the email over to be archived while in office. References to previous fact check articles on this, along with statements from Justice Department and State Department officials who confirm Clinton violated the policies, have been posted previously including here and here. Among other statements, the top Freedom of Information Act official at the Justice Department has clearly stated that Clinton was in violation of the rules

This is also not an ordinary situation as it has already been established that email related to Libya and terrorism has been altered and has been among the email which Clinton deleted claiming to be personal. While normally a government employee can legally destroy personal email, it is up to the judge in the case to decide if this is altered by her violation of the rules regarding use of private email and by the fact that she has deleted non-personal email among the email claimed to be personal.

Even if Clinton manages to get away with this through any legal technicalities, it does not absolve her for the unethical conduct exhibited, along with the other policies she has violated. Getting around this on any legal technicalities would be damaging to concepts of government transparency and the Freedom of Information Act. This would not affect the other unethical actions and violations of government policy by Clinton, or the other court cases and investigations in progress.

News Briefs: Donald Trump, Kim Davis, and Tom Brady

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A few brief comments on items in the news today:

Donald Trump signed the pledge that he will support the Republican candidate and not run as a third party candidate. He says, “no circumstances under which I would tear up that pledge. … I have no intention of changing my mind.” However, there is no way to hold him to it. It is not as if they could penalize him by taking away delegates at the convention if he loses the nomination and goes decides to run as an independent. At the moment Trump has a strong lead in the polls. The question remains as to whether the party will unite behind someone else as the weaker candidates are driven from the race.

By now I’m sure that everyone has heard that Kim Davis is to be jailed for contempt of court for refusing to obey the law and issue marriage certificates for same-sex couples. Republicans, who see religious liberty as the freedom to impose their religious views on others, are upset with this. GOP candidates including  Mike Huckabee and Rand Paul are coming to her defense. The main reason I am bringing this up is that I’m seeing a lot of comments on social media suggesting that the logical move would be to fire her. She is an elected official and cannot be fired.

The other major legal decision of the day was that a federal judge has thrown out the four game suspension of Tom Brady over deflategate. The NFL is appealing the decision.