Curious Arguments

At some point children grow up. They develop logic. They can reason things out no matter what they “feel” at the moment. They may not do that often, but they can do that, and then they discover that sort of thing is rather useful. Other children “discover” logic – they begin to realize there’s such a thing and it might be useful, if they can fake it. They’ll come up with “logical” explanations of why they didn’t clean their room, or later, why they came home at dawn from that study session with friends. They’ll explain to their teacher the logical reason they didn’t do their homework. Later they might find themselves explaining to a cop the quite logical reason they were doing ninety in a thirty-five-miles-per-hour school zone. They’ve heard about logic. How hard can it be?

It’s hard. And then they grow up, and become clever, and learn how to make tricky arguments that really make no sense, but seem to make sense, and will make sense long enough to bamboozle just the right people, for a short time, but long enough to win the day. They’ll be long gone before anyone realizes that they’ve been had. They become lawyers. Donald Trump hires them, as Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern explains here:

As House Democrats remain divided over the wisdom of impeachment, Donald Trump’s lawyers have seized on their inaction to fight a subpoena seeking the president’s financial records. Their latest brief argues that, until the House officially puts impeachment on the table, the House Oversight Committee has no authority to subpoena this information. Trump’s lawyers are, in effect, daring the House to launch an impeachment inquiry – and betting that Speaker Nancy Pelosi will refuse to do it.

That is rather clever and this is the issue:

House Democrats have spent months asserting their authority to investigate the president, with relatively little to show for it. The House Oversight Committee issued a subpoena to Mazars USA, Trump’s former accounting firm, in April, requesting eight years of his financial records. Trump quickly intervened, asking U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta to invalidate the subpoena on the grounds that it falls outside Congress’ constitutional powers.

Mehta refused, citing a string of Supreme Court decisions that confirm the House’s authority to scrutinize the president. SCOTUS has long held that the “power to secure needed information” through subpoenas is “an attribute of the power to legislate.” Congress may also “inquire into and publicize corruption” and “maladministration” in government. Thus, courts cannot interfere with congressional subpoenas so long as they have some “legitimate legislative purpose.” Nor can courts demand that Congress provide some concrete link between a subpoena and future legislation, or search for a secret illicit motive among committee members. If the committee provides a legitimate reason for its subpoena, the courts must honor it.

And there is a legislative purpose here:

The House Oversight Committee declared that it sought Trump’s records to determine whether he “accurately reported his finances to the Office of Government Ethics” so it could decide “whether reforms are necessary to address deficiencies with current laws, rules, and regulations.” Because that goal clearly “falls within the legislative sphere,” Mehta ruled, he was obligated to treat the subpoena as valid. The committee also cited Congress’ duty to ensure that the president complies with the Constitution’s foreign emoluments clause, which Mehta found to be a legitimate reason for examining Trump’s finances.

But wait, there’s more:

The committee provided yet another justification for the Mazars subpoena, explaining that it wanted to learn “whether the President may have engaged in illegal conduct before and during his tenure in office.” This goal, too, Mehta wrote, is plainly legitimate, since the Constitution grants the House the sole power of impeachment. True, the House has not yet formally invoked this authority. But it “is simply not fathomable,” Mehta concluded, “that a Constitution that grants Congress the power to remove a President for reasons including criminal behavior would deny Congress the power to investigate him for unlawful conduct – past or present -even without formally opening an impeachment inquiry.”

Trump’s lawyers then offered their alternative logic:

Mehta “overstepped his institutional role by raising arguments the Committee never made.” And the committee never made this argument, Trump’s lawyers declared, because the House simply isn’t contemplating impeachment.

They offered this:

Speaker Pelosi has steadfastly denied that the House’s investigations are in any way related to impeachment. In March, she unequivocally told the Washington Post, “I’m not for impeachment.” In late May, the Speaker reiterated that “any suggestion that Democrats are planning to pursue impeachment ‘simply isn’t the truth.'” After she received the district court’s ruling in this case, the Speaker boasted that the Committee had prevailed despite “the fact the House Democratic caucus is not on a path to impeachment.” Just four days ago, the Speaker again told senior Democratic leaders that “she isn’t open to the idea” of impeachment, and Chairman Cummings “sided with Pelosi.”

Stern:

In other words, according to Trump’s lawyers, Pelosi’s refusal to launch an impeachment inquiry curbs the House’s ability to investigate the president. And until the House formally pursues impeachment, it will have no power to obtain Trump’s financial records.

Pelosi is being skittish, or careful. That was their opening. And this is their logic, and Cristina Cabrera reports this:

George Conway, the husband of senior White House advisor Kellyanne Conway, wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post on Wednesday calling for the impeachment of President Donald Trump.

Conway, an outspoken critic of Trump on Twitter, penned the op-ed with Georgetown law professor Neal Katyal in response to the President’s latest brief fighting the House Oversight Committee’s subpoenas. In the brief, Trump argues that Congress can’t investigate the President unless it’s for impeachment proceedings.

“It’s a spectacularly anti-constitutional brief, and anyone who harbors such attitudes toward our Constitution’s architecture is not fit for office,” Conway and Katyal write. “Trump’s brief is nothing if not an invitation to commencing impeachment proceedings that, for reasons set out in the Mueller report, should have already commenced.”

“Every principle behind the rule of law requires the commencement of a process now to make this president a former one,” Conway and Katyal write at the end of the column.

The op-ed is here and simply points out that these guys are saying that the Constitution is illogical, as they see it. Congress cannot simply look into things. They have to know exactly what those things are and what they might mean before they look into them, or something.

None of this makes much sense:

Kellyanne Conway has rarely commented on her husband’s comments on her boss except to say that she “disagrees” with him, when she once said Conway’s remarks were a “violation of basic decency, certainly, if not marital vows.”

Trump, on the other hand, has responded to Conway the way he usually reacts to criticism – repeated attacks consisting of “total loser!” and “husband from hell!”

But Trump is losing these battles:

The House Oversight Committee on Wednesday approved of a resolution recommending that Attorney General Bill Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross be held in contempt for not complying with subpoenas in the committee’s census citizenship question probe.

The 24-15 vote came some six hours after the meeting to consider that measure started. Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) joined Democrats in voting in favor of the resolution.

As the committee meeting was getting underway, the Justice Department announced that President Trump had asserted executive privilege over the documents the committee was demanding.

And now that too will go to court. How does any of this fall under executive privilege? It’s a mystery:

Among the materials the committee had subpoenaed are key internal documents from the period when the Trump administration was working with the Justice Department to craft a formal request to add the question to the 2020 census. The justification put forward in the request – that it would enhance DOJ Voting Rights Act enforcement – has been called pretextual by three federal courts, and there is ample evidence the administration had partisan reasons for including the question on the census.

The question stands to diminish the political representation and government resources allotted to more diverse, urban regions of country by discouraging immigrant communities from participating on the census.

It is also almost guaranteed that some red states will try to use the data that the question produces to fundamentally change the redistricting process. Non-citizens would be excluded from the count used to determine how districts are drawn, shifting political power to whiter, more rural regions of the country.

That seems to be the plan. Team Trump is hiding any documents on any planning here. And then there’s this:

Former White House Communications Director Hope Hicks will testify next Wednesday before the House Judiciary Committee as part of its investigation of the Mueller report’s findings.

As per a deal between Hicks and the committee, the White House Counsel’s Office will have an attorney present during her closed-door testimony, the Washington Post reported.

Hicks will be the first former White House aide to testify about the Russia probe before the committee, which under its chair Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) is conducting a wide-ranging investigation of the Trump administration.

In a statement, Nadler said that the committee would release a transcript of the interview after it occurred.

“Ms. Hicks understands that the Committee will be free to pose questions as it sees fit, including about her time on the Trump Campaign and her time in the White House,” Nadler said. “Should there be a privilege or other objection regarding any question, we will attempt to resolve any disagreement while reserving our right to take any and all measures in response to unfounded privilege assertions.”

This is going to be tense. Hicks left the White House last year to become a Fox News communications strategist out here in Los Angeles. Before that she knew everything about Trump, and before that she was a stunning young fashion model for Ralph Lauren and then Ivanka Trump’s fashion empire. She’s still young and pretty. Trump trusted her. Perhaps that was a bad idea:

Hicks cooperated with Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, and previously testified before the House Intelligence Committee.

An attorney for Hicks, Robert Trout, did not immediately return a request for comment. In a June 4 letter to Nadler, Trout said that Hicks would only turn over documents from the Trump campaign that were already in her possession. The White House and Presidential Transition Team had both claimed that other documents were under their control, and not Hicks’s, Trout asserted, limiting the amount of information she could turn over.

But she can still talk, and Trump is unhappy:

President Trump lashed out Wednesday against a widening web of congressional probes that demonstrated the limits of his strategy to declare victory and try to move past the 22-month special counsel investigation into Russian interference that has consumed much of his presidency…

Trump was unable to mask his anger with the congressional investigations during a photo op ahead of a bilateral meeting with Polish President Andrzej Duda in the Oval Office.

“I don’t know if you have this, Mr. President, but we have people that are totally out of control,” Trump told Duda, referring to Democrats. As he has before, Trump accused his political rivals of trying to undermine his presidency to “win the election,” and he professed that “the American public is not going to stand for it.”

How does he know? No one knows that, and Pelosi is dangerous:

While President Trump has declared repeatedly that Mueller found “no obstruction, no collusion,” Democrats, citing 10 instances of possible obstruction laid out in Mueller’s report, have continued to ratchet up the pressure on the White House through subpoenas, hearings and lawsuits.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has met Trump’s accusations of Democratic overreach, which Trump has termed “PRESIDENTIAL HARASSMENT!” on Twitter, by treading cautiously around the impeachment question but emphasizing, a senior Democratic aide said, that her caucus “will continue to legislate, investigate and litigate.”

“It’s not about Democrats or Republicans, partisanship or anything like that. It’s about patriotism,” Pelosi said in a closed-door meeting with fellow House Democrats, according to the aide. “We have to uphold the Constitution of the United States. And in order to do that we have to be ready. As ready as we can be.”

And the other party here is not ready:

Trump fought back by continuing to insist that Mueller’s report exonerated him and declaring that his administration had been “the most transparent presidency in history” – even though it has banned Trump’s former aides from responding to subpoenas and sought to prevent a private bank from turning over his financial records.

“There’s never been anybody so transparent,” Trump said, apparently referring to his team’s cooperation with Mueller’s investigation.

That doesn’t seem to be the case. The walls are closing in. The only thing left to do is to admit that it’s all true, the collusion and the obstruction, but if you look at things logically none of this was a big deal in the first place:

President Trump on Wednesday said he would consider accepting information on his political opponents from a foreign government, despite the concerns raised by the intelligence community and special counsel Robert S. Mueller III over Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

In an Oval Office interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, Trump also said he wouldn’t necessarily alert the FBI if a foreign country approached his campaign with “oppo research” about his Democratic challenger.

This was no big deal:

“I think you might want to listen; there isn’t anything wrong with listening,” Trump said. “If somebody called from a country, Norway, ‘We have information on your opponent,’ oh, I think I’d want to hear it.”

When Stephanopoulos asked the president whether he’d want that kind of “interference” in American politics, Trump pushed back on the word.

“It’s not an interference, they have information – I think I’d take it,” Trump said. “If I thought there was something wrong, I’d go maybe to the FBI, if I thought there was something wrong.”

But of course there’d be nothing wrong, unless there was something wrong:

Although Mueller did not find enough evidence to establish a criminal conspiracy involving the Trump campaign in his probe of Russia’s role in the 2016 election, his report said that the Russian government interfered in the election in a “sweeping and systemic fashion” and that Trump’s campaign was open to assistance from Russian sources…

Trump’s remarks go further than those of his son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner, who told Axios last week that he didn’t know whether he’d contact the FBI if Russians reached out again.

And they are likely to reignite a debate on the 2020 campaign trail and in Congress over what should be considered acceptable behavior by candidates – a debate that was unresolved by Mueller’s decision not to bring charges against any Americans related to Russia’s attack on the U.S. political system.

But this was no big deal:

Trump dismissed the idea that his son, Donald Trump Jr., should have told the FBI about his 2016 contacts with the Russians, including the Trump Tower meeting Trump Jr. hosted after he was promised damaging information about Democrat Hillary Clinton as part of a Russian government effort to help his father’s campaign.

“You’re a congressman, someone comes up and says, ‘I have information on your opponent,’ do you call the FBI?” Trump asked.

“If it’s coming from Russia, you do,” Stephanopoulos said, pointing out that Al Gore’s campaign contacted the FBI when it received a stolen briefing book in 2000 and that the FBI director said recently that the agency should have been notified when the Trump campaign received an offer of information on Clinton.

“The FBI director is wrong,” Trump said.

Not everyone would agree with that:

Trevor Potter, counsel to John McCain’s presidential campaigns, said that any candidate who takes intelligence from a foreign government would be compromised and left beholden to that country.

“The Founders feared exactly such foreign attempts to interfere in U.S. politics,” he said…

Democrats jumped on Trump’s remarks Wednesday and called for the passage of legislation to explicitly require candidates to disclose a foreign government’s help as it would campaign contributions.

“Does he not know the oath of office requires him to defend the Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic?” said Sen. Mark R. Warner (Va.), the highest-ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Warner said that if the president “does not have enough of a moral compass” to understand this is wrong, “perhaps we need legislation saying that there is a duty to report such offers of assistance to law enforcement. I just can’t understand this. I think every past presidential campaign – Republican or Democrat – would have recognized that obligation.”

Maybe so but Rick Santorum, one of CNN’s resident Trump defenders – CNN tries to be fair and balanced – in a panel discussion hosted by Anderson Cooper, also didn’t see what the big deal was:

“Well, I mean, let’s be fair,” the former GOP presidential candidate said when asked to comment on the controversy. “The president said he would listen, but he would also send it to the FBI. He said he would do both. The question is whether he should do both or simply refuse to get the information. But he did say he would turn it over to the FBI.”

When Cooper noted the president had actually seemed to waver on the idea of contacting the FBI, even arguing Wray was “wrong” to call for such foreign overtures to be reported, Santorum suggested Trump had simply been misunderstood.

“He has, sort of – as we all do, filler words that don’t mean what they say, like, ‘I think,'” Santorum attempted to explain. “So I took the president for his word that he would do both, which I think, I don’t think that’s necessarily inappropriate as long as he refers it to the FBI. As far as looking at the information, maybe he should and maybe he shouldn’t and I don’t think it’s a crime in looking at the information as long as you refer it to the proper authorities.”

Those were filler words:

After CNN legal analyst Laura Coates said candidates can’t legally solicit this type of help from foreign governments, Santorum objected, claiming the president had been commenting on an entirely different scenario.

“The president wasn’t answering questions about soliciting information, Stephanopoulos said if someone came to you and said ‘Hey, I have some dirt,’ and he was talking more colloquially,” the former Pennsylvania senator argued. “And the president’s words are often imprecise, and not necessarily, uh – that’s why he didn’t want to be interviewed with Robert Mueller because he tends to sort of ramble and talk about things more loosely.”

Santorum went on to insist that he never called the FBI when he received information and opposition research in the past, prompting Cooper to ask if he had ever gotten it from “Russia or Norway,” or any other foreign country.

Santorum acknowledged he hadn’t, saying, “If I knew that that information was coming from a foreign service, sure I would call the FBI.”

That defense of Trump was a disaster and this was more common:

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., a 2020 candidate for president, tweeted: “It’s time for Congress to begin impeachment hearings.”

Joe Biden wrote, “President Trump is once again welcoming foreign interference in our elections. This isn’t about politics. It is a threat to our national security. An American President should not seek their aid and abet those who seek to undermine democracy.”

“This is just the latest example of what Vice President Biden meant when he said that Mr. Trump is an existential threat to our country,” anti-Trump former CIA Director John Brennan wrote on Twitter. “‘Unfit to be President’ is a gross understatement. @realDonaldTrump is undeserving of any public office, and all Americans should be outraged.”

Wrote Virginia Democrat Rep. Don Beyer: “Trump just blew way past ‘no collusion,’ he’s broadcasting his willingness to receive help from a hostile foreign power in 2020. He’s glad his son didn’t call the FBI about Russian help and says he wouldn’t call them in 2020. Yes, we absolutely need an impeachment inquiry.”

David Frum says that might be the idea:

The president is confessing in advance that he would accept stolen information from a hostile foreign intelligence agency if it helped his presidential campaign…

This confession carries heavy implications, starting with the question of whether Donald Trump Jr. lied to Congress when he denied telling his father in advance about the famous June 2016 Trump Tower meeting, in which he believed a representative of the Russian government would be offering dirt on the Hillary Clinton campaign.

The Mueller report found that the Trump campaign desperately wished to collude with Russian intelligence—but concluded that there was insufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that anyone at the campaign actually had done so. But after three years and the special counsel’s investigation? Trump acknowledges that he would do it all again, if given a chance.

And that settles things:

Confessing a willingness to collaborate with foreign spies against his domestic political opponents is a hand-forcing move. The risks of proceeding with impeachment are still there. But the risks of not proceeding? Trump just forced us all to confront them in the most aggressively public possible way.

So, did Donald Trump at one point long ago “develop” logic – a way to think things through dispassionately and get things done – or did he “discover” logic – a useful trick to fool people and get what he wants. Apply logic. It’s the latter. Some kids don’t grow up.

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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1 Response to Curious Arguments

  1. Richard T says:

    In all the criticism of Nancy Pelosi’s caution, I haven’t read anything which might suggest she is working on the basis of give him enough rope and he will hang himself. With a Republican Senate controlled by the least scrupulous politician in living memory, it’s hard to criticise her approach.

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