Donald Trump Misled By Fox About James Comey

There are two things which Donald Trump must do if he is to gain any degree of credibility–give up watching Fox and Tweeting every idiotic thing which comes into his head. (Okay, he probably needs to do even more than that, but it would be a start). It looks like Trump made a false charge against Comey based upon a misleading story he saw on Fox.

Philip Bump explained in greater detail, but the gist is that Comey gave a memo of a meeting with Trump to a friend. Comey also wrote memos on his meetings which contained classified information. Fox, and then Trump, then claimed that Comey broke the law by giving his friend a memo with classified information. However, the memo which Comey gave to the friend was not one of the memos which contained classified information. Comey had written a total of seven memos after nine meetings with Trump. Four of the seven memos are marked as secret or classified. This did not include the memo which Comey gave to the friend.

Jake Tapper has a report further showing that Trump’s attack was untrue:

The Columbia University Law School professor and confidant of former FBI Director James Comey refuted a charge by President Donald Trump and his advocates in the media Monday: that Comey shared classified information with journalists.

Daniel Richman, with whom Comey shared at least one memo — the contents of which Richman shared with New York Times reporter Michael Schmidt — said President Trump was simply wrong.

“No memo was given to me that was marked ‘classified,'” Daniel Richman told CNN. “No memo was passed on to the Times.”

Richman did share the contents of one memo, he said, but “the substance of the memo passed on to the Times was not marked classified and to my knowledge remains unclassified.”

Trump needs to learn that the claims made on Fox are often fictitious pieces of propaganda, and not things he should repeat or base his claims on. He certainly should not attempt to govern based upon what he hears on Fox.

Did Clinton Lose Because Of Being A Warmonger?

There are many theories as to why Hillary Clinton lost the election. The most likely involve her being the most conservative, insider candidate conceivable in a year in which voters wanted a change, promises from Donald Trump (regardless of  whether he could keep them) of jobs, contrasted to Clinton’s views on trade deals, the terrible campaign run by Clinton which failed to give any good reasons to vote for Clinton beyond her gender and the view that it was her turn, and Clinton’s dishonesty canceling out Donald Trump’s negatives. The Clinton camp is sticking to their fallacious claims that she lost due to factors such as Russia, James Comey, and misogyny.

While economic issues do appear to have been more important, Reason has found a paper which suggests an another issue was responsible for Clinton’s loss in a post entitled, Did Endless War Cost Hillary Clinton the Presidency?  

A new study attributes Donald Trump’s victory last year to communities hit hardest by military casualties and angry about being ignored. These voters, the authors suggest, saw Trump as an “opportunity to express that anger at both political parties.”

The paper—written by Douglas Kriner, a political scientist at Boston University, and Francis Shen, a law professor at the University of Minnesota—provides powerful lessons about the electoral viability of principled non-intervention, a stance that Trump was able to emulate somewhat on the campaign trail but so far has been incapable of putting into practice.

The study, available at SSRN, found a “significant and meaningful relationship between a community’s rate of military sacrifice and its support for Trump.” The statistical model it used suggested that if Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin had suffered “even a modestly lower casualty rate,” all three could have flipped to Hillary Clinton, making her the president. The study controlled for party identification, comparing Trump’s performance in the communities selected to Mitt Romney’s performance in 2012. It also controlled for other relevant factors, including median family income, college education, race, the percentage of a community that is rural, and even how many veterans there were.

“Even after including all of these demographic control variables, the relationship between a county’s casualty rate and Trump’s electoral performance remains positive and statistically significant,” the paper noted. “Trump significantly outperformed Romney in counties that shouldered a disproportionate share of the war burden in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

For myself, opposition to the warfare/surveillance state was a major criteria in voting. This is an area where my views overlap with those of the libertarians at Reason and was an issue in which they were closer to the views of the candidates from the left as opposed to Republican candidates. While Bernie Sanders stressed economic issues in the campaign, a major reason I voted for him was his opposition to both the Iraq war and the Patriot Act. Unfortunately the Democratic Party used McGovern era rules, and then further changed the rules in 2016, to basically rig the nomination for Hillary Clinton, who is both one of the most hawkish politicians on the political scene, and has a far right-wing record on civil liberties.

The post from Reason concluded by saying, “The paper by Kriner and Shen should be ample evidence that there will be space in the 2020 election cycle for a principled non-interventionist not just to run, but to win.” While I personally would like to see a candidate win based upon finally ending the wars begun under Bush, I am not so optimistic that this will be sufficient for a candidate to win.

On the other hand, I do prefer their attitude of encouraging candidates based upon principle as opposed to an effort described by Recode by Mark Pincus and Reid Hoffman to “hack” the Democratic Party. Their project, entitled  Win the Future (yes, shortened to WTF) plans to adopt planks based upon an internet vote:

To start, the group will query supporters on two campaigns: Whether or not they believe engineering degrees should be free to all Americans, and if they oppose lawmakers who don’t call for Trump’s immediate impeachment.

A group which seeks to reform the Democratic Party but currently doesn’t know what it stands for sounds too much like the Democratic Party of today.

Both Political Parties Have Abandoned Principle

The 2016 election was a low point in our politics, with each party totally abandoning principle. Donald Trump ignored key ideas of the conservative movement, while Hillary Clinton became the establishment neocon candidate, running for George W. Bush’s third term. Newspaper columnists have noted this, with each party vulnerable to criticism for a lack of principles.

At Politico, Bruce Bartlett wrote Trump Is What Happens When a Political Party Abandons Ideas:

…conservatives—who, after all, believe in liberty and a system of checks and balances to restrain the government to its proper role—have plenty of reason to be upset by those actions Trump has taken that transcend our traditional right-left ideological divide. He’s voiced not only skepticism of NATO, but outright hostility to it. He’s pulled America back from its role as an international advocate for human rights. He’s attacked the notion of an independent judiciary. He personally intervened to request the FBI to ease up on its investigation of a former adviser of his, then fired FBI Director James Comey and freely admitted he did so to alleviate the pressure he felt from Comey’s investigation. For those conservatives who were tempted to embrace a “wait-and-see” approach to Trump, what they’ve seen, time and again, is almost unimaginable.

And yet as surprising as this all has been, it’s also the natural outgrowth of 30 years of Republican pandering to the lowest common denominator in American politics. Trump is what happens when a political party abandons ideas, demonizes intellectuals, degrades politics and simply pursues power for the sake of power…

One real-world result of the lobotomizing of conservative intellectualism is that when forced to produce a replacement for Obamacare—something Republican leaders had sworn they had in their pocket for eight years—there was nothing. Not just no legislation—no workable concept that adhered to the many promises Republicans had made, like coverage for pre-existing conditions and the assurance that nobody would lose their coverage. You’d think that House Speaker Ryan could have found a staff slot for one person to be working on an actual Obamacare replacement all these years, just in case.

With hindsight, it’s no surprise that the glorification of anti-elitism and anti-intellectualism that has been rampant on the right at least since the election of Barack Obama would give rise to someone like Trump. Anyone who ever read Sinclair Lewis’ “It Can’t Happen Here,” which imagined a fascist dictator taking power in 1930s America, recognizes that Trump is the real-life embodiment of Senator Buzz Windrip—a know-nothing populist who becomes president by promising something for everyone, with no clue or concern for how to actually accomplish it. Windrip was“vulgar, almost illiterate, a public liar easily detected, and in his ‘ideas’ almost idiotic,” Lewis wrote. “Certainly there was nothing exhilarating in the actual words of his speeches, nor anything convincing in his

While  I might not agree in all of his goals, Bruce Bartlett did express ideas as to what he wants the Republican Party to represent. The Democratic establishment lacks such a vision. Hillary Clinton’s campaign suffered from never being able to express a good reason why she should be present beyond the mistaken view that it was her turn. Democrats have lost every special election, most recently in Georgia with a centrist campaign which failed to stand for anything. Their strategy is limited to attacks on Trump, and raising hysteria about Russia which has gained no political traction.

Dan Baltz wrote in The Washington Post that Beyond opposing Trump, Democrats keep searching for a message:

The loss in last week’s special congressional election in Georgia produced predictable hand-wringing and finger-pointing inside the Democratic Party. It also raised anew a question that has troubled the party through a period in which they have lost ground political. Simply put: Do Democrats have a message?

Right now, the one discernible message is opposition to President Trump. That might be enough to get through next year’s midterm elections, though some savvy Democratic elected officials doubt it. What’s needed is a message that attracts voters beyond the blue-state base of the party…

History says a president with approval ratings as low as Trump’s usually sustain substantial midterm losses. That could be the case in 2018, particularly if the Republicans end up passing a health-care bill that, right now, is far more unpopular than Obamacare. But Trump has beaten the odds many times in his short political career. What beyond denunciations of the Republicans as heartless will the Democrats have to say to voters?

Though united in vehement opposition to the president, Democrats do not speak with one voice. Fault lines and fissures exist between the ascendant progressive wing at the grass roots and those Democrats who remain more business-friendly. While these differences are not as deep as those seen in Trump’s Republican Party, that hasn’t yet generated a compelling or fresh message to take to voters who aren’t already sold on the party.

Hillary Clinton, whose rhetoric often sounded more poll-tested than authentic, never found that compelling message during her 2016 campaign. She preferred to run a campaign by demonizing Trump and, as a result, drowned out her economic platform. This was a strategic gamble for which she paid a high price…

The long-running debate over the Democrats’ message probably will intensify as the party looks to 2018 and especially to 2020. It is a debate that the party needs. Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg, writing in the American Prospect, sees a problem that goes beyond white working-class voters to those within the Democratic base who also were left behind by the post-2008 economic gains. He argues that the party’s problem is with working-class voters of all types, not just whites.

Greenberg has long been critical of the tepidness of the party’s economic message and puts some of the blame on Obama. He believes the former president’s economic message in 2012 and 2016 focused on progress in the recovery largely to the exclusion of the widespread pain that still existed. “That mix of heralding ‘progress’ while bailing out those responsible for the crisis and the real crash in incomes for working Americans was a fatal brew for Democrats,” he argues.

For progressives, the answer to this problem is clear: a boldly liberal message that attacks big corporations and Wall Street and calls for a significant increase in government’s role in reducing income and wealth inequality. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has been aggressive in promoting exactly that, as he did during the 2016 campaign, with calls for a big investment in infrastructure and free college tuition at public colleges and universities. He has said he intends to introduce legislation he calls “Medicare for All.”

Unfortunately, as has been the case in many articles of this nature which point out the lack of a message from the Democrats, Baltz ignored some key matters. Americans have become so accustomed to the wars started under George Bush and continued under Barack Obama that this was barely mentioned during the campaign. Even worse, Hillary Clinton has backed far further military interventionism than has been supported by Barack Obama–or George Bush and Dick Cheney.

It is sad that Reaganite Bruce Bartlett wrote that conservatives “believe in liberty and a system of checks and balances to restrain the government to its proper role,” but we see little concern among Democrats regarding these matters. Democrats don’t even think of opposing the increase in government surveillance and restrictions of civil liberties in the name of supposedly fighting terrorism. Neither major party candidate had any respect for First Amendment liberties, and Clinton has a far right record in backing restrictions.

With neither party standing for anything, we are seeing an unprecedented degree in dissatisfaction with both major parties, with a recent icitizen poll showing that, “seven in 10 Americans believe the two major parties do not represent them well and that a third party is necessary.” While Hillary Clinton calls third party voters crazy, showing a disdain for democracy in attacking voters for being unwilling to vote for her, this might be the only principled option unless the major political parties are reformed. One of the most vile arguments from establishment Democrats is that we must vote for the Democrats as lesser of two evils to stop Republicans while ignoring the evil promoted by their own party. This is a sick argument to say that we should have voted for a corrupt war monger like Clinton, endorsing her wars, right wing views on the First Amendment, and economic policies, while ignoring how she has used government positions to amass a fortune through influence peddling. Voting for the lesser of two evils over the years has only led to increasing how evil the nominees of both parties are.

Republicans Have Neither Tapes Of Trump/Comey Meetings Or A Viable Health Care Plan

Today we found that Donald Trump does not have any secretly recorded tapes of James Comey and the previously secret Senate Republican health care plan has been released. Neither was a surprise. If Trump had any tapes proving he was telling the truth, he would have already released them, and if there happened to be tapes which showed he was lying, he would never admit to having them. Also, as expected, the Senate plan includes deep cuts to Medicaid, decreases subside for lower income individuals, and increases costs for those who are older.

Barack Obama described the plan:

Simply put, if there’s a chance you might get sick, get old, or start a family – this bill will do you harm. And small tweaks over the course of the next couple weeks, under the guise of making these bills easier to stomach, cannot change the fundamental meanness at the core of this legislation.

I hope our Senators ask themselves – what will happen to the Americans grappling with opioid addiction who suddenly lose their coverage? What will happen to pregnant mothers, children with disabilities, poor adults and seniors who need long-term care once they can no longer count on Medicaid? What will happen if you have a medical emergency when insurance companies are once again allowed to exclude the benefits you need, send you unlimited bills, or set unaffordable deductibles? What impossible choices will working parents be forced to make if their child’s cancer treatment costs them more than their life savings?

To put the American people through that pain – while giving billionaires and corporations a massive tax cut in return – that’s tough to fathom. But it’s what’s at stake right now. So it remains my fervent hope that we step back and try to deliver on what the American people need.

It is far from certain that the Republicans can even pass this plan, despite using reconciliation so that they only need fifty votes. They can only afford to lose two votes, but four conservatives have already expressed reservations. From NPR:

Senate Republicans’ health care bill may already be on life support, with four key lawmakers announcing their opposition just hours after the GOP’s latest effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act was released.

“Currently, for a variety of reasons, we are not ready to vote for this bill, but we are open to negotiation and obtaining more information before it is brought to the floor,” Sens. Rand Paul, R-Ky.; Ted Cruz, R-Texas; Mike Lee, R-Utah; and Ron Johnson, R-Wis., said in a statement Thursday afternoon.

They cannot easily move further to the right to appease the conservatives as some more moderate Republicans already have their own objections:

Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., who faces a competitive re-election race in 2018, says he has “serious concerns about the bill’s impact on the Nevadans who depend on Medicaid.”

“As I have consistently stated, if the bill is good for Nevada, I’ll vote for it and if it’s not — I won’t,” Heller said.

Annie Clark, a spokeswoman for Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said the centrist has some misgivings about the bills as well.

Whether or not it passes, Republicans will now be able to tell their constituents that they have attempted to keep their promise to repeal and replace Obamacare. If their plan fails, the blame could be placed on Democrats and whichever Republicans vote against it, as opposed to the party as a whole. If that doesn’t work, McConnell could always take something from the Clinton playbook and blame Russia.

White House Plans Announcement On Whether Comey Tapes Really Exist

Donald Trump and James Comey have given a different account of what happened when the two met. Trump has suggested that he has tapes to verify his side of the story while Comey has said, “Lordy, I hope there are tapes” when the topic came up during his Congressional testimony.

This is just one aspect of the Russia investigations which have raised comparisons to Watergate.

The White House has been vague as to whether such tapes actually exist, but I noted this item from the Associated Press earlier today:

The White House says President Donald Trump is expected to make an announcement this week on whether any recordings exist of his private conversations with former FBI Director James Comey.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer says he expects an announcement “this week” on the possibility of tapes. Trump fired Comey in May and has suggested — but refused to confirm — that he may have tapes of his discussions with Comey. The FBI was investigating Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election and possible contacts with Trump campaign associates.

The House Intelligence Committee has asked White House counsel Don McGahn to provide an answer to the ongoing question about tapes by Friday.

It is hard to believe that the White House would actually release any tapes if incriminating, and risk suffering the same fate as Richard Nixon. In the unlikely event that there are tapes showing that it is Comey who was lying, I would expect Trump to be rushing to release them. At this time there is no evidence of collision between Trump and Russia to affect the election but there is considerable suggestion of obstruction of justice on his part. Tapes which were to show that Trump was telling the truth would take a lot of wind out of the investigations, but it is rather doubtful that this will be the case.

Trump Can No Longer Claim He Is Not Under Investigation

Donald Trump has now been forced to stop repeating his claim that “I’m not under investigation” and instead complain about being the subject of a “witch hunt.” The status changed with the report from The Washington Post yesterday that  Robert Mueller is now investigating Trump for obstruction of justice:

The special counsel overseeing the investigation into Russia’s role in the 2016 election is interviewing senior intelligence officials as part of a widening probe that now includes an examination of whether President Trump attempted to obstruct justice, officials said.

The move by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III to investigate Trump’s conduct marks a major turning point in the nearly year-old FBI investigation, which until recently focused on Russian meddling during the presidential campaign and on whether there was any coordination between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin. Investigators have also been looking for any evidence of possible financial crimes among Trump associates, officials said…

The obstruction-of-justice investigation of the president began days after Comey was fired on May 9, according to people familiar with the matter. Mueller’s office has taken up that work, and the preliminary interviews scheduled with intelligence officials indicate that his team is actively pursuing potential witnesses inside and outside the government…

Accounts by Comey and other officials of their conversations with the president could become central pieces of evidence if Mueller decides to pursue an obstruction case.

Investigators will also look for any statements the president may have made publicly and privately to people outside the government about his reasons for firing Comey and his concerns about the Russia probe and other related investigations, people familiar with the matter said.

Comey testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee last week that he was certain his firing was due to the president’s concerns about the Russia probe, rather than over his handling of a now-closed FBI investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server as secretary of state, as the White House had initially asserted. “It’s my judgment that I was fired because of the Russia investigation,” Comey said. “I was fired, in some way, to change — or the endeavor was to change the way the Russia investigation was being conducted.”

There is significant cause to investigate Trump for obstruction of justice, but it remains unclear as to the actual crimes committed. There has not been any evidence presented of actual collusion between Trump and Russia to meddle in the election results. While I am waiting to see the results of the ongoing investigations, I have suspected that such claims might not hold up. This has often been raised by supporters of Hillary Clinton who do not accept her role in her failed campaign, with Shattered revealing that Clinton devised the strategy of blaming her loss on Russia and others within twenty-four hours of her loss.

My suspicion has been that any obstruction of justice involves a combination of covering for members of campaign and financial dealings with Russia. Along these lines,  The New York Times does report:

A former senior official said Mr. Mueller’s investigation was looking at money laundering by Trump associates. The suspicion is that any cooperation with Russian officials would most likely have been in exchange for some kind of financial payoff, and that there would have been an effort to hide the payments, probably by routing them through offshore banking centers.

Regardless of the specifics of the investigation, the news that Mueller is investigating Trump makes it much riskier for Trump to fire Mueller. There were reports earlier this week that Trump was contemplating this, replicating the infamous Saturday Night Massacre when Richard Nixon fired Archibald Cox during the Watergate investigations. Such a move would increase the chances that even Republicans might consider impeachment to replace Trump with Mike Pence. Pence, incidentally, has now hired outside counsel himself to handle Russia probe inquires.

T.A. Frank Wants Hillary Clinton To Go Quietly Into The Night

There is considerable political polarization in this country, but there is one thing which many on the left and right can agree on–it is time for the Clinton’s to go away. Since running one of the most mismanaged political campaigns in history, burdened by an extraordinarily terrible candidate (herself), and losing to a candidate as terrible as Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton has been spending her time an an excuse tour to blame everyone except herself for her loss.

Clinton’s apology tour is harmful for at least three reasons. It leaves Democratic partisans in denial as to why they really lost, preventing necessary reforms in the party, has Democrats defending many of Clinton’s disastrous policies out of party loyalty, and inflames anti-Russian hysteria.

T.A. Frank asks the key question: Can Hillary Clinton Please Go Quietly Into The Night? Some excerpts:

There’s a fine line—or maybe not even so fine a line—between boosting morale and monopolizing the spotlight. One reason Bill Clinton was able to make a name for himself decades ago was that previous candidates had the grace to get out of the way. Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale and Michael Dukakis weren’t trying to place themselves at center stage during the campaign of 1992. The Clintons, by contrast, kept sticking around. When it comes to power, and a few other things, they can’t control their urges. As a friend of mine recently wrote to me in an e-mail, “They both had to be president?”

Even the name of Clinton’s PAC has a presumptuous ring to it. When someone has driven a bus off the road and hurled passengers out of their seats, it’s a bad time for the driver to stagger back to the wheel and call out “Onward together!” Onward, fine. Together, maybe not.

All of this would be easier to take if Hillary were on a crusade for a distinctive cause, in the manner of Bernie Sanders or Pat Buchanan or Jesse Jackson or Ross Perot. But when she offers her take on the world, she speaks in clichés and vague generalities like “progress” versus “turning back the clock.” Such teleological smugness (to which Barack Obama was likewise prone) doesn’t just attract the ire of conservatives; liberals can get miffed, too. Is “progress” on the side of expanding NATO or the opposite? Is it on the side of greater National Security Agency surveillance or of less? Is it in favor of immigration amnesty or high-tech border security? We all want to move forward, but maybe we’re not all facing Hillary’s way.

Even without a clear cause to illuminate them, Hillary’s beliefs could have been sharpened a lot just by explaining what, in hindsight, she felt Bill got right or wrong in his presidency. But she never offered up such a critique, nor, oddly, did anyone really press her to do so. Throwing open our markets to China as much as we did—that looked wiser back then. So did deregulating the financial industry. So did pushing for three-strikes laws. So did the bailout of Mexico. So did focusing on deficit reduction. So did high levels of immigration. So did humanitarian interventions in the former Yugoslavia. So did welfare reform. Bill’s calls, like all big calls, were controversial, but they were far more justifiable in light of the data we had at the time. But what about with the data we have now?

Negotiating a different landscape requires the Democratic Party to return to some basic questions. Times have changed. America is no longer a lone hyperpower triumphing amid squabbles about same-sex marriage. We’re an overstretched empire fighting about fundamental questions of economy and national identity. The Clintons see that, sort of, but they’re stuck in time. Worse, their network, which is vast and powerful and heavily dependent on them, is stuck in time, too. Precisely when those on the left ought to be negotiating today’s fault lines and creating new coalitions, Democrats are getting dragged back into last year’s fights and letting personal loyalties drown out thoughts about core principles. The indefatigability of the Clintons isn’t just a nuisance but a hindrance.

We can’t expect them to accept this, of course. Psychologist Martin Seligman, author of Learned Optimism, has famously observed that optimists tend to do better in life but exhibit more delusion. They tend to attribute failure to changing external factors rather than enduring internal qualities, blaming outside causes, not themselves. Hillary—who has been pinning her defeat on Comey and Vladimir Putin and the Democratic National Committee and Wikileaks and “a thousand Russian agents” and high expectations and the press and sexism and voter suppression and, for all I know, static cling—is a major optimist. That’s great for persistence and mental well-being. She’s ready to keep driving the bus. But it’s not so great for knowing when to quit. That’s where the passengers come in.

The Clintons were already too conservative for the era in which Bill was elected. By 2016, with the Republican Party being taken over by Trumpism, Hillary Clinton had become ideologically the conventional Republican candidate, supporting the neoconservative views of the Bush era. Hillary Clinton is totally out of place in the 21st century–too conservative for liberals who back principle over party but, having the Clinton name, will never be accepted by Republicans either.

Trump’s Restraint In Tweeting During Comey Testimony Did Not Last Long

One of the biggest surprises on the day James Comey testified before Congress is that Donald Trump’s lawyers were temporarily able to dissuade him from going ahead and responding on Twitter as he had previously planned. It had to be quite difficult considering how Comey was saying that Trump’s stated reasons for lying “were lies, plain and simple.”

After staying quiet during the testimony, Trump ultimately tweeted: “Despite so many false statements and lies, total and complete vindication…and WOW, Comey is a leaker!”

Trump is threatening legal action against Comey for releasing memos concerning the content of their meetings. Philip Bump looked into the legality of Trump retaliating against Comey:

President Trump’s declaration that the Thursday testimony of former FBI director James B. Comey was a “total and complete vindication” despite “so many false statements and lies” was the sort of brashly triumphant and loosely-grounded-in-reality statement we’ve come to expect from the commander in chief. It was news that came out a bit later, news about plans to file a complaint against Comey for a revelation he made during that Senate Intelligence Committee hearing meeting, that may end up being more damaging to the president.

As the news broke, I was on the phone with Stephen Kohn, partner at a law firm focused on whistleblower protection. We’d been talking about where the boundaries lay for Comey in what he could and couldn’t do with the information about his conversations with the president. Kohn’s response to the story about Kasowitz, though, was visceral.

“Here is my position on that: Frivolous grandstanding,” he said. “First of all, I don’t believe the inspector general would have jurisdiction over Comey any more, because he’s no longer a federal employee.” The inspector general’s job is to investigate wrongdoing by employees of the Justice Department, which Comey is no longer, thanks to Trump — though the IG would have the ability to investigate an allegation of criminal misconduct.

“But, second,” he continued, “initiating an investigation because you don’t like somebody’s testimony could be considered obstruction. And in the whistleblower context, it’s both evidence of retaliation and, under some laws, could be an adverse retaliatory act itself.”

In other words, Comey, here, is an employee who is blowing the whistle, to use the idiom, on his former boss. That boss wants to punish him for doing so. That’s problematic — especially if there’s no evidence that Comey actually violated any law that would trigger punishment…

“The constitutional right to go to the press with information on matters of public concern, as long as you’re not doing it in a way that will bring out classified information,” Kohn said, “the reason why that is protected constitutionally is that the courts — including the U.S. Supreme Court — have ruled that the public has a constitutional right to hear this information.” In other words, it’s constitutionally protected speech.

Trump now says he is willing to testify under oath about Comey’s statements. Bill Clinton was impeached for perjury related to relatively minor falsehoods unrelated to his performance as president. Any false statements made by Trump under oath with regards to the firing of the FBI Director should be an even more serious matter.

Comey’s testimony did not provide any evidence of collusion between Trump and Russia to alter the results of the election as many Democrats claim occurred, but did provide further suggestion of obstruction of justice. BBC News provided this analysis:

In one of those exchanges, the president said he “hoped” Mr Comey could “find his way” to dropping an investigation into then-national security adviser, Michael Flynn, a Trump ally who was under scrutiny over his ties to Russia.

We knew that already – Mr Comey made details of the meeting public several weeks ago – and Committee Republicans sought on Thursday to paint it as an innocent exchange: “I hope” was not an instruction, they said.

The former FBI director declined to offer his own opinion at the hearing on whether the president was attempting to obstruct justice, saying only that he found their exchange “very disturbing”. Whether the president had broken the law would be a matter for special counsel investigator Robert Mueller to decide, he said.

So what’s changed? Alex Whiting, a Harvard Law professor and former federal prosecutor, said the oral testimony gave new and legally significant insight into how Mr Comey interpreted the president’s words in the moment.

“The critical aspect of an obstruction case is assessing the intent of the speaker and whether it was corrupt,” Mr Whiting said. “People communicate with much more than words, and some of the best evidence for what a speaker meant can be how the speaker was understood at the time.”

Mr Comey’s testified on Thursday that he clearly understood Mr Trump to be pushing him to drop the inquiry. We also heard for the first time that the president cleared the room before making the remarks, removing even Mr Comey’s boss, the attorney general.

Added to that, Mr Comey, who has a long history of high-profile legal positions and who took meticulous notes directly after his meetings with the president, was a “dream witness”, Mr Whiting said. “I think if you take together his written and oral testimony together, he has now made a prima facie case of obstruction of justice.

Interpretation of the hearings comes down to whether you believe James Comey or Donald Trump. The suggestion that Trump might have tapes certainly did not scare Comey. The quote of the day out of the hearings was Comey saying:  “Lordy, I hope there are tapes.” If there are, my bet is that any tapes made by Donald Trump will be as devastating to him as the tapes made by Richard Nixon.

Is It A Violation Of First Amendment Rights When Donald Trump Blocks Critics On Twitter?

Blocking people on social media is commonplace, but what  happens when the President uses Twitter to make pronouncements on public policy and blocks those opposing? Is this just engaging in normal behavior on social media, or censorship? Some of those blocked by Donald Trump on Twitter are now protesting that their First Amendment rights are being violated. Bloomberg News reports:

President Donald Trump’s Twitter account is once again the subject of debate, as the Knight First Amendment Institute urged him to unblock individuals in a letter sent to the White House on Tuesday.

The institute, a nonprofit organization affiliated with Columbia University, said it believes his account is a “designated public forum” and threatened legal action if the president didn’t comply. In a letter addressed to Trump, his counsel, press secretary and social media director, the institute wrote on behalf of Holly O’Reilly and Joseph M. Papp, both of whom criticized the president on the social media platform in recent weeks and said they were blocked.

“The blocking of users from your Twitter account suppresses speech in a number of ways,” the letter stated. “Users who have been blocked cannot follow you on Twitter, and they are limited in their ability to view  your tweets, find your tweets using Twitter’s search function, and learn which accounts follow you. They are also limited in their ability to participate in comment threads associated with your tweets.” Replying to messages posted by Trump on Twitter, often in the form of a thread, is common practice on the platform, both by fans and detractors of the Republican president.

The article goes on to note that Sean Spicer has said that Trump’s tweets should be considered official statements, which lends credence to arguments that blocking someone from Donald Trump’s account is not the same as a regular Twitter user doing so. As I noted yesterday, Trump is expected to be live tweeting his views when James Comey testifies tomorrow.

One of those blocked by Donald Trump has an op-ed in The Washington Post explaining why she believes her rights have been violated:

Press secretary Sean Spicer said just yesterday that Trump’s tweets are considered “official statements by the president of the United States.” When Trump blocks people for disagreeing with him, he isn’t just deciding not to hear our voices; he’s cutting us off from receiving these official statements. So, by blocking people on Twitter, Trump is effectively removing the radio from his version of FDR’s fireside chats, or more accurately, closing the door of a Town Hall meeting to everyone except people who agree with or say nice things about him.

In March, a Virginia federal judge dismissed a lawsuit against Loudoun County for allegedly deleting a comment left by a local resident who criticized a decision not to appoint a special prosecutor. The judge ruled that the deletion was constitutional because the plaintiff had attempted to “hijack the discussion” in violation of a government social-media policy that permitted the removal of “clearly off-topic” comments. The case is on appeal.

The ACLU of Indiana last year filed lawsuits against three small cities in the state for allegedly censoring critical Facebook users. Before a judge weighed in, the cases settled with the municipalities agreeing to lift the Facebook bans on the users who went to court.

The First Amendment Institute’s letter focuses on Mr. Trump’s @realDonaldTrump account, which currently has 31.7 million followers. It makes no claims about the other main White House Twitter feeds, @WhiteHouse and @POTUS, nor does it discuss Mr. Trump’s predecessor.

The Obama administration said it never blocked people from following @POTUS. The former president’s @BarackObama account specified that it wasn’t part of the government but run by Barack Obama‘s political arm.

The article also quotes  Ken Paulson, dean of media and entertainment at Middle Tennessee State University:

It’s a novel and ambitious argument and certainly in the public interest, but also feels like a tough sell. Is the president’s Twitter account, established well before he was elected, a public forum where interactive free expression is expected or more like a newsletter, where the communication is all one way?

I do think municipalities that establish Facebook pages and invite citizen input are in fact establishing public forums, but I’m not sure that Donald Trump’s brief bursts of opinion are the same thing.

Propublica cited additional examples of pubic officials blocking critics on social media.

Donald Trump Planning To Live Tweet While James Comey Testifies

Twitter might turn out to be as damaging to Donald Trump as the White House tapes were to Richard Nixon during the Watergate scandal. Washington Post reporter Robert Costa has said in an interview on MSNBC that Donald Trump will live tweet when James Comey testifies before Congress on Thursday.

“I was just talking to some White House officials this morning and their view is that the president himself wants to be the messenger, his own warrior, his own lawyer, his own spokesman,” Costa explained. “Some outside people, some surrogates will be available.”

“But the president is expected to be tweeting on Thursday in response to Comey, not to stay quiet during the testimony,” he added. “Because he himself wants to be the one driving the process.”

It will pretty much be Donald Trump mishandling his own defense. It is easy to imagine Trump sending out tweets which will undermine any defense he should launch in the future. Because of the difficulties presented by Trump’s bizarre behavior, at least four top law firms have turned down requests to represent Trump. They were afraid Trump would not follow their advice–which undoubtedly would be for him not to say or tweet anything related to Comey’s testimony without first consulting with them.

Initially there were plans to set up a “war room” to handle matters related to Comey and to the Russia investigation. Mike Allen has described the plans, and how the plans were never completed. Ultimately the problem, like most problems in the Trump White House, exists because Trump shows no ability to actually run the White House. As Ezra Klein has discussed, Trump has no idea how to lead the Executive Branch:

Trump ran for office posing as a savvy corporate executive who would manage the government like a business. But since winning the presidency, he has proven alienated and confused by the government he runs. He criticizes it in public in ways that make clear he doesn’t understand how to manage it in private. Harry Truman famously had a sign on his desk saying, “The buck stops here.” Trump isn’t sure where the buck stops, or how to find it, or even whom to ask about it. He doesn’t run the government so much as fight with it.

“Trump sees ‘the Trump administration’ as himself, his Twitter account, Jared and Ivanka, and a few close staffers at the White House,” says Ron Klain, who served as chief of staff to Vice Presidents Joe Biden and Al Gore. “He will always think of everyone else as ‘the government’: some nameless force that does not answer to him, and that he does not manage in a conventional sense.”

This was predictable. Trump was never the omnicompetent CEO he played on television. His core business was licensing his name out to other people who actually ran businesses. He’s a genius marketer, not a genius manager. The “Trump” brand appeared on steaks, on vodka, on eyeglasses, on lamps, and on fragrances, to name just a few. But he didn’t run those companies or manage the people who did. He didn’t take responsibility for those products or those teams.

Sometimes the results were comical, as with Trump’s steak company. Sometimes the results were disastrous, as with Trump University, or those Florida condos. Sometimes he just made a quick buck, as with his line of neckwear. Trump was so successful as a marketer in part because he was unusually disinterested in the companies he endorsed…

Criticism of Trump is not limited to liberals like Klein. The normally Republican-friendly Wall Street Journal has an editorial which is highly critical of Trump. Some excepts, which deal with Trump tweets attacking London Mayor Sadiq Khan and then his travel ban:

Some people with a propensity for self-destructive behavior can’t seem to help themselves, President Trump apparently among them. Over the weekend and into Monday he indulged in another cycle of Twitter outbursts and pointless personal feuding that may damage his agenda and the powers of the Presidency…

Mr. Trump’s more consequential eruption was against Mr. Trump’s Justice Department. He was evidently responding to a segment on MSNBC’s “ Morning Joe ” about his executive order temporarily suspending immigration entry from six countries with a history of terrorism.

“People, the lawyers and the courts can call it whatever they want,” Mr. Trump wrote. “I am calling it what we need and what it is, a TRAVEL BAN!” Mr. Trump added that “The Justice Dept. should have stayed with the original Travel Ban, not the watered down, politically correct version they submitted to S.C.”

These comments are reckless on multiple levels. The original blunderbuss order was rolled out on the Friday night of Mr. Trump’s first week as President with zero public explanation and little internal vetting. White House staffers from the Steve Bannon wing preferred the stun-grenade approach, but Mr. Trump’s legal team convinced him to sign a legally bulletproof revision in March because they preferred to win in court…

In other words, in 140-character increments, Mr. Trump diminished his own standing by causing a minor international incident, demonstrated that the loyalty he demands of the people who work for him isn’t reciprocal, set back his policy goals and wasted time that he could have devoted to health care, tax reform or “infrastructure week.” Mark it all down as further evidence that the most effective opponent of the Trump Presidency is Donald J. Trump.

Most likely, tweeting about Comey’s testimony will similarly diminish his standing and undermine his case.