Still Waiting for Mueller to Testify to Congress

The Trump extravaganza of issues keeps expanding exponentially, but short of a noteworthy military conflict, I’m still most concerned if and when Special Counsel Robert Mueller will testify to Congress.  I’ve heard May 15 bandied about for a testimony date, but nothing from Mueller about that.

At the moment, my sense is Trump is winning the message game, asserting that the report’s lack of indictments clear the president.  From what I’ve gleaned from many who have read the report, the actual picture is much less flattering.  Even incriminating if you believe over 700 federal prosecutors who have signed a joint letter to that effect.

But we need Mueller to testify in order to substantiate that, as well as showing Attorney General Barr has misinterpreted the findings to the public.  Which in turn has allowed Republicans to parrot it’s a done deal.  Let’s move on.

Linked here is a story from CBS news that delve’s into the question of whether Trump can stop Mueller from testifying once he leaves office (no public date set yet).

I would say the basic conclusion is that while Trump might be able to limit Mueller’s comments to only what he said in the report on the basis of executive privilege, even that argument might not prevail.  In any case, it looks like it comes down to Mueller’s willingness to testify and I can only hope he wants to set the record straight enough to overcome his preference to remain out of the public eye.

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The Report is Out but I’m Still Waiting for Mueller to Speak

…..  Because I want him to clarify what some of his statements mean.  The 400+ page report is divided into two sections, one on “conspiracy” and the other on “obstruction of justice”. The Trump narrative reduces the report to “no collusion”, “no obstruction.”  But as with everything Trump, his depiction vacillates between being not quite true, to just plain false.  This is especially true as to the second section on obstruction.

First, on the “collusion” aspect, Mueller does not use that word, but instead “criminal conspiracy”.   The former is not a legal term, despite its constant use by Trump and the media;  the latter is a legal term with several hurdles to overcome in order to indict.  Therefore, one could collude quite a bit without actually committing the crime of conspiracy.

There is plenty of evidence that the Trump team and the Russians played off each other in ways that may not be judged criminal conspiracy, but still were improper, especially for a presidential candidate.  Trump’s team clearly welcomed Russian efforts that would help him, even if they did not exactly “conspire” with them.

Still, Mueller states at the end of the first section that he could not find sufficient evidence to indict………..points for the Trump team.  But of key significance, Mueller does not make the same claim in the second section on the obstruction of justice.  Instead, he states clearly that a lack of indictments here should not be seen as an “exoneration” of the president, listing 10 episodes that could be seen as obstruction.  The AP has summed up this aspect so well I will quote them at length:

“THE FACTS: The special counsel’s 400-plus-page report specifically does not exonerate Trump, leaving open the question of whether the president obstructed justice.

“If we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the President clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state,” Mueller wrote. “Based on the facts and the applicable legal standards, however, we are unable to reach that judgment.”

The report identifies 10 instances of possible obstruction by Trump and said he might have “had a motive” to impede the investigation because of what it could find on a variety of personal matters, such as his proposal to build a Trump Tower in Moscow.

“The evidence does indicate that a thorough FBI investigation would uncover facts about the campaign and the President personally that the President could have understood to be crimes or that would give rise to personal and political concerns,” the report states.

In explaining its decision, Mueller’s team said reaching a conclusion on whether Trump committed crimes would be inappropriate because of a Justice Department legal opinion indicating that a sitting president should not be prosecuted.  It nevertheless left open at least the theoretical possibility that Trump could be charged after he leaves office, noting that its factual investigation was conducted “in order to preserve the evidence when memories were fresh and documentary material were available.”

“Accordingly, while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him,” the report states.”

I highlighted that section above in blue because it raises a curious, likely confusing point that has not been dwelt upon in the media for the most part.  Mueller seems to be saying that the Justice Department’s rule against indicting a president while still in office prevented him from making a decision on obstruction indictments, as that would exceed his mandate.  But he could preserve evidence for possible future investigations, such as the House is undertaking now.

Mueller has been or will be invited to speak to House committees.  I expect him to attend willingly and figure he will be asked to clarify points I have just raised.  I’m looking forward to it.


P. S.  Michael Smerconish, one of my favorite TV political hosts, did concentrate on this very issue this morning, so if you want to know more about this, go to his website and look for a picture of Trump on the top right:   https://www.smerconish.com/home

Or, if you already have had enough of this, just wait for Mueller to testify in a couple of weeks or so, because he will likely clear up many questions the report raises.

A Preface to the Upcoming Mueller Report

Amidst the usual Trump provoked Loonie Tune “news”,  the Mueller report will finally be made public some time next week according to Bill Barr, Trump’s recently appointed Attorney General.   Barr was Attorney General for the first Bush administration, and has had a sterling legal reputation, so he’s not simply a Trump lackey.  However,  he has voiced and written opinions that favor Trump’s view of presidential power and he has done enough as AG for Trump to make Democrats suspicious of his intentions.

First he put out four pages of what he calls a “bottom line” result of the investigation.  It high lights the fact the report does not announce any new indictments.  Music to Trump’s ears no doubt, fitting well with his long time mantra “no collusion” and “no obstruction”.

However, the “obstruction” issue isn’t as clear cut as that of “collusion”, as Barr indicates by quoting Mueller:  “The Special Counsel states that ‘while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.’ ”  There was evidence on both sides.

Since Mueller did not take a stand on the obstruction issue, Barr stepped in and concluded no charges were warranted.  Whether Barr had a right to do that is an open question.

Bottom line Trump can claim to be innocent, by legal standards.  But that does not mean he did not do many bad things, just not bad enough to meet our high standards for a crime.   Even in terms of collusion, it may be that the Trump team is revealed to be a collection of clowns, made unwitting tools by the Russians.

Not guilty of conspiracy but of being arrogant fools who endangered our national safety and weakened our position as a nation of laws not individual whims. These possibilities are what prompt the Democrats to press for a full release to Congress.

The report will be redacted for at least four legitimate reasons, like national security. The big question is how big that redacted portion will be.  The Democrats think it will be too much, information held back because it will be embarrassing to the president rather than for one of the stated reasons.

In addition to that four page report and a couple of letters added for clarification, Barr has made statements at two congressional hearings that indicate he also intends to take a look at the origins of the Mueller report, because he believes some “spying” had taken place.  Barr also used the term “unauthorized surveillance,” but he held on to the term “spying” when pressed  by a committee member.

It is possible that Barr’s “look” at the origins of the investigation will exonerate the FBI, but at the moment he seems to be offering more support for Trump’s witch hunt accusations.

So, now we wait until the report is released next week.  I hope the above helps you better understand the fireworks likely to erupt.


P. S.  –– If you want to become an expert for yourself on Barr’s four page summary you can find it here.

Affordable Care Act – Some Perspective

Richard Milhous Nixon, 37th President of the U...

Richard Milhous Nixon, 37th President of the United States (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Affordable Care Act is reportedly about 2700 pages.    I wonder how many people have actually read the whole thing:  1,000, 10,000, ten?  Given its complexity, how can John or Jane Q Public hope to understand the issues at all?  It seems good to start with someone whose life’s work has been in the area of health care reform,  Stuart Altman.  He has been an adviser and architect of health care reform policy for five U.S. presidents — both Democrat and Republican.

In short, he figures to know as much as anyone about our health care controversy, so I have linked you to an 11 minute video interview of him, which figures to be more illuminating than anything I have say.  Still, that will not prevent me from adding my two cents (or maybe four if you figure inflation in) in future posts.

Here are a few points Altman makes in the video:

  • Developing a uniquely American health care system has been an evolutionary process beginning with President Teddy Roosevelt over 100 years ago.
  • While the Obama plan is based largely on the Romney plan in MA, both have their roots in a plan Altman worked on during the Nixon administration, which Senator Teddy Kennedy almost backed.
  • Most of the Obama’s program’s costs and benefits do not kick in until 2014.  Over a 10 year period additional costs are “projected” to be counter balanced by additional savings.
  • Even if  the ACA plan is rolled out as projected, more changes will need to occur in our health care system to really get costs under control.  A key to real savings is to replace the “fee-for-service” model now used, which rewards providers to simply do more. We need a model  with incentives to be more efficient and make better choices.

So, at your convenience take a gander at the video and I’ll see you Tuesday or whenever you get back.

A Method to My Madness

Amusing Ourselves to Death

Amusing Ourselves to Death (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Dear Readers,

For most of you, I have no idea, of course, when you began reading this blog and whether you see any rhyme or reason in what I ‘m doing.   Today I’ll try to help with that.  Broadly what I’m about is indicated in In A Nutshell to your  left.   If you read my initial post:  Welcome Aboard – I expand that further and than further still in my HEY! page listed above to your left.

In my initial post I describe my sinking feeling about where we are headed as a nation politically and economically, resulting from various causes:  economic problems, political polarization and the demolition of public trust and the foundations of knowledge through spin, downright lies,  and poor government decisions.

After that, the posts have meandered around a lot, but they have remained within adjacent neighborhoods, in my mind at least.

If we are to save our ship of state, we need to be able to reduce our polarization, so we can actually talk about real solutions to our huge problems.  The other side of that coin is to develop bipartisan efforts, which I mean in the broadest sense possible, not just between the two parties, whose bipartisanship is often at the lowest level, primarily for show and often a bad idea.  This bipartisanship includes developing a deeper understanding of the causes of our ideological conflicts, as suggested by Jonathan Haight and referred to in my post Reflecting on Our Righteous Minds.  Those  with whom we disagree vehemently may not really be such bad people after all.

To reduce our polarization we also need to redevelop trust in common sources of information.  Right now, those on the left have their sources and those on the right have theirs.   “Everyone is entitled to his own opinions,” Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously said, “but not to his own facts.”  Unfortunately, facts and their relationships are often not clear cut, but instead open to interpretations which themselves are colored by our values.

Beyond honest differences in opinion, are dishonest ones, where facts are manipulated to mislead.  Trust and truth are attached at the hip, but we need hip replacements at this point since political operatives spin truths every which way until they  break both our trust and our confidence that we can discern the truth.

And our media is only theoretically helpful in sorting all this out.   Sure, the internet, etc. gives us access to more information than ever before, but who has the time or attention to sort it all out, except the professional political wonks.  I’m an amateur wonk who spends many hours per week trying to get some clarity, and I barely have a glimpse here or there.  And I have the time because I’m an old bachelor with a slim social life, but what about more regular folks, with rich social lives and families, kids to raise, careers to develop (or maybe these days hunting for any kind of employment)?

So what regular souls have the time?  And our mainstream media  is primarily interested in attracting viewers/readers, which inclines them towards entertaining more than informing (I do a little dance here and there, myself).   The dilemma is you can’t inform someone if you can’t get their attention.  On the other hand, if the attention is primarily focused on entertainment, as might be the case with, say, the Huffington Post, does the attention matter much?

So, my main themes are:   1)  Moving from polarization to bipartisanship 2)  Redeveloping a  common trust in sources of information as being truthful  3)   Battling spin through fact checking services and whatever else we can come up with….  (Glenn Kessler, fact checker for the Washington Post, challenged both presidential candidates weeks ago to each give a 15 minute speech without a single misleading statement.  I think he’s still awaiting a response).

Also,  4)  Reshaping our mainstream political media to offer us much more in the way of insights into our overall situation.  In contrast, let’s say, to their daily obsession of sorting the tea leaves called polls to decide decisively whether Mitt or Barack might be ahead by a  few potential votes  somewhere in America today until the voters change their minds tomorrow.  So stay tuned.   Now that I think of it, maybe my watching TV news and commentary is just a bad habit, for the most part.  Maybe reshaping isn’t the issue, but replacing.

And, last but not least, perhaps foremost of all,  is the ever burgeoning influence of money in politics, but I’ll leave that category alone until I address it in a post some day.

So, I have organized my posts around these  categories just mentioned which are listed in the side bar to the left, along with a few others, such as  amusements.    I view entertainment as our contemporary opium of the masses, and I’m speaking of the middle class masses as well.  I recall a book published in the 1980s:  Amusing Ourselves to Death, which becomes more relevant every day.

Hardly any of us want to think about or talk politics, but when it comes to entertainment, it’s a completely different story.  My post:  Harnessing the Power of Boobs was not irrelevant to politics.   Boob viewing is one form of entertainment.  And like entertainment in general these days, they prompt much more interest than politics.  Not that it’s a fair contest when it comes to boobs, but if politics cannot recapture the interest of millions to the point of at least a fractional amount of the time  we invest in entertaining ourselves, well……..

We might not amuse ourselves to death, but our democracy will die.