Comey Firing, Intel Leak and More

For several days I’ve been mulling over what I might say about this presidential action – the firing the FBI director. Although when I started this blog last November I did not think about hirings and firings as part of what I would review, now it seems obvious that this type of presidential action can be even more consequential than the other official acts such as executive orders, memoranda, or proclamations.

With this president, it is going to be important to pay some attention to nominations, hirings and firings. His consistent obeisance to autocratic governance demands close scrutiny of everything he does.

Needless to say, the firing of the FBI director has received voluminous media coverage. And, it will continue to be a central story for some time to come as part of the Russian hacking of the election investigations. What more is there to say than what is already being said? Maybe calling the firing of Comey a clear signal that autocratic rule is a real and present danger is not a completely original statement, but I do not think enough journalists are connecting the dots yet.

One of the best writers on authoritarianism I follow, Masha Gessen, has written another excellent article entitled The Autocrat’s Language. It is well worth reading for a better understanding of what we are encountering in this presidency.

I would also like to see more serious treatment of the total unfitness of this man to serve in any capacity of government. For some reason, the media are reluctant – too much so, in my opinion – to delve into the mental health issues. One reason seems to be they feel like they have to follow the ethics rules of the mental health profession (not diagnosing a person who is not a patient) or the “Goldwater Rule”. That is an utterly bogus argument. Journalists do not have to be professionals in another discipline to write about it. Even if more journalists would write about the psychologists and psychiatrists who have publicly declared POTUS 45 to be a malignant narcissist or otherwise mentally ill, it would help. It is important for more of the general public and especially more members of Congress to be better informed on the grave dangers we now face because of a mentally ill man in office.

I’ve written some earlier about this here, but I have kept a now three-week old article about mental health professionals’ comments at a Yale conference in my Pocket list so when I got back to writing about this topic I would have it available as a reference. It confirms my own observations from following election coverage last year and myriad journalists, writers, etc. since. This man is mentally incapable of any semblance of normal behavior.

Just yesterday a different speculation surfaced again. It is not the first time I have seen concern about POTUS 45 having advancing stages of Alzheimer’s disease, but maybe with this speculation we will finally see more journalists beginning to delve into the mental health angle.

The recent blurting out by POTUS 45 of some “code-word” intelligence to the Russians in the Oval Office is a prime example of an unhealthy mind, whatever the illness, that is a serious danger to the nation and in fact to civilization. [Ed. note: It looks like I may need to add another category of presidential actions for monitoring – unilaterally declassifying classified information.]

POTUS 45 should never have been nominated, let alone elected. It is imperative that we as citizens continually contact our senators and representatives to urge their action to initiate proceedings for impeachment. Given that Republicans hold the power positions right now, they are the ones we need to keep reminding as forcefully as we are able that they are responsible to the nation as a whole not just their constituents or “base”. Nothing short of the survival of this democratic republic is at stake. We must not wait for the 2018 election to “sort things out”.

1st Signing Statement

What happened? As far as I can tell, there were few high-profile national media reports noting the first official signing statement by this president. It could be my own “controversy fatigue” resulting from trying to follow this president’s executive actions has contributed to my missing this earlier, but at least I finally woke up. After more or less on a whim deciding to check for signing statements, I found this one.

I now have only a vague recollection of reading or hearing something about medical marijuana and federal law enforcement, but I seem to remember it as a decision of the Justice department rather than the president. Anyway, upon signing the appropriations bill to extend funding of the federal government, POTUS 45 attached a signing statement.

Before posting my thoughts here, I decided to do some cursory looking at some previous appropriations bills and any accompanying signing statements to see how frequently such statements were issued and to see if other presidents (and their legal counsels/Justice Departments) had objections with some of the laws’ provisions.

It turns out signing statements are fairly common for appropriations bills and it appears sometimes for very good reasons. Some provisions in these omnibus bills are obviously inserted to secure certain legislators’ votes in favor of the bill whether or not they are wise or even legal provisions. When provisions are unconstitutional, they should be flagged. Most often the presidential objections have to do with limitation of the power of the president. That is true of this signing statement as well.

However, this statement includes some sections that are less justifiable. For example, the following paragraph:

Division B, section 537 provides that the Department of Justice may not use any funds to prevent implementation of medical marijuana laws by various States and territories.  I will treat this provision consistently with my constitutional responsibility to take care that the laws be faithfully executed.

I read this to mean “You (Congress) may say we cannot spend money to stop implementation of state laws allowing medical marijuana, but I intend to ignore that part of this appropriations bill under the guise of “faithfully executing laws”.

There are other equally or more alarming parts of this current statement. It makes me wonder why this was not a bigger story on May 5 and the days following. So far my best answer to that question is the media were too focused on the threats to shut down the government to pay close attention to the bill itself or the signing statement that came with it. It’s almost as if as soon as it passed both houses of Congress the media breathed a sigh of relief and moved on to other things.

It looks like I am going to have to pay closer attention to the Statements and Releases section of the White House website even if it means wading through a bunch of stuff of far less interest or relevance to my relatively focused blog.

Official Title:

Statement by President Donald J. Trump on Signing H.R. 244 into Law

Signing statement dated May 5, 2017

Two Executive Orders May 11

Two radically different topics, but only one having any real potential for improving anything.

The order on cyber security is, in my view, the most important, but much of it is just a call for yet more reports withing 90 or 120 days. Some of the verbiage in the order implies there is little coordination and a significant amount of obsolete equipment/operating systems/software in the executive branch currently. If that is accurate, portions of this order are long overdue. I believe cyber security is the most significant problem the government faces right now and any focus on making improvements in that regard should be supported by everyone. Some provisions in the order, however, appear to be thinly veiled means of padding the pockets of some businesses/industries.

The order establishing a commission on election integrity is a far more troubling one. It is completely unnecessary and smacks of being another in a long line of “actions” to throw some red meat to the base. Along with the unveiling of this order, announcement of those appointed to head it up make it clear to me any results forthcoming from this entity will not have anything to do with real integrity in elections and much more to do with how to enhance vote suppression.

Official Titles:

Executive orders signed May 11, 2017

Antiquities Act Review

I’ve been expecting to see this one because of media coverage of the pending order. Business wins again, this time at the expense of National Monuments.

The Antiquities Act dates back to 1906 signed by Theodore Roosevelt and allows for establishment of national parks and monuments.

This executive order calls for the Secretary of Interior to review all designations since January 1, 1996 “…where the designation covers more than 100,000 acres, where the designation after expansion covers more than 100,000 acres, or where the Secretary determines that the designation or expansion was made without adequate public outreach and coordination with relevant stakeholders…” claiming a need to give “energy independence” a more prominent position in designation of sites set aside for monuments or parks.

Within 120 days of the order a report is due to the president, but one designation in particular must be reviewed and reported on within 45 days – Proclamation 9558 of December 28, 2016 (Establishment of the Bears Ears National Monument).

I do not think it is difficult to predict the ultimate result – undesignation of the most recently established site noted above, at a minimum.

Official Title: Presidential Executive Order on the Review of Designations Under the Antiquities Act

Executive Order dated April 26, 2017

Attack on Syrian Air Base

The official report to Congress of the military action in Syria, as required by law when a president takes unilateral military action, is finally available for public view. In it the president cites the War Powers Resolution (Public Law 93-148) as his authority for taking this action.

After reading the resolution cited, I do not believe this action – bombing property in a sovereign nation not currently at war with the United States – is covered. The three tests for a president to take action are: 1) after declaration of war, 2) specific statutory authorization, or 3) a national emergency created by attack on the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces. I do not believe any of these apply in this case.

While the use of poison gas is never justifiable, this military action response is, in my view, not constitutional and also may violate international law. It certainly violates the U. N. Charter.

An early review of the legality of this action written by Marty Lederman on his blog dated April 6, 2017 (and posted just a couple of hours after the incident itself) is a useful analysis of the legalities in this instance. The nuances discussed in his post are quite interesting, as he cites other colleagues and their points of view, including Harold Koh, who believes there is now a “customary exception” to the U. N. Charter provision for humanitarian reasons.

At this point, I am not persuaded the military actions in Syria ordered by POTUS 45 are legal. If they are acceptable, we are in grave danger for yet another war to erupt.

Official memorandum title: A Letter from the President to the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the President Pro Tempore of the Senate

Presidential Memorandum dated April 8, 2017

New Office of Innovation

I find the executive order creating a new Office of American Innovation to be a smoke screen allowing for access to the president by his cronies through a new official channel. Ironically, the promise to reduce the size of government is ignored by adding yet another office to the already bloated bureaucracy with this action.

The first thing to understand is this new office is cover for giving his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, full access to the power of the presidency. The title “Senior Advisor to the President” skirts the laws requiring cabinet officers and other key positions to be reviewed by the Senate via the “advise and consent” provision. Nepotism is now fully operational with no apparent will by the Republican party to even raise an eyebrow.

I do not expect anything of significance to be available for the public to see, review, or comment on as a result of the work of this office. If anything, it will only produce closely held ideas on how to dismantle the government or seriously damage its effectiveness, that we will only see or become aware of after the fact. Talk about a shadow government – this creates a shadow presidency.

This looks a lot to me like POTUS 45 does not like or want the actual job of the president and is seeking ways to delegate all the “hard stuff” so he only has to do the schmoozing and golfing.

Official Title: Presidential Memorandum on The White House Office of American Innovation

Executive Order posted March 27, 2017.

Dismantling the Executive Branch

Yesterday the president signed another executive order – this one about “Reorganizing the Executive Branch”. Just reading the order itself, without paying attention to context and influences on the president, one could easily conclude it is a good, prudent effort to streamline government operations. I will freely admit there is likely plenty of waste and redundancy in the executive branch that could be cleaned up, but I cannot ignore the context here.

A fairly brief order, it directs the Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to gather ideas (for 180 days) and propose a reorganization plan (by another 180 days) to give to the president. It allows for the potential of drafting appropriate new legislation to accomplish the tasks proposed.

The order appears to me to be a very thinly disguised directive to propose an ambitious plan to effectively dismantle much of the Executive Branch of the federal government. I come to that conclusion not only from the language in the order itself, but also knowing the chief advisors – Bannon and Miller in particular – have the goal of destroying the federal government. Additional evidence for my conclusion can be found in the appointments to various cabinet positions. Many of them have publicly called for elimination or radically reducing the effectiveness of the very departments they are now charged with leading. I won’t go into detail here on these appointments, but this order clearly gives them the room to do just what they want.

Quoting from the order:

(e) In developing the proposed plan described in subsection (c) of this section, the Director shall consult with the head of each agency and, consistent with applicable law, with persons or entities outside the Federal Government with relevant expertise in organizational structure and management.

Sounds reasonable. But no mention of convening meetings that include more than one agency head (when one of the stated goals is to consolidate “duplicate” activities in different agencies) is a major red flag. And, again one has to read between the lines, but consulting with people outside the government with “expertise in organizational structure and management” very probably means POTUS 45’s hand picked cronies. I would not be surprised if ALEC* has a big hand in this as well.

If the Director of the OMB delivers the plan on the timeline stated, in about a year we will know how much of the executive branch of the federal government is intended to be left standing.

* American Legislative Exchange Council here exposed for what they are.

Official title of the order: Presidential Executive Order on a Comprehensive Plan for Reorganizing the Executive Branch

Executive order posted March 13, 2017.