Monthly Archives: October 2017

Trump Listens to His Lawyers

It has been clear to me in both the campaign and the presidency itself that Trump does not do a lot of consulting with advisers about what is good strategy and good sense.  During the campaign, he only reluctantly let party advisers instruct him on which states to concentrate on with his speeches and rallies, and both before and after become president he has made lots of tweets that no responsible adviser would approve of.

But I do believe he listens to his lawyers.  He’s had to consult with lawyers all the time as a businessman, particularly as a crooked one, because it’s his lawyers’ job to tell him what he can and can’t technically get away with (which is all I think he cares about).  I am sure, for example, that his lawyers told him early on in the primary campaigns to stop encouraging supporters to beat up protesters and hecklers, since (as we see in Chapter 4 of the Sidlow text) encouraging “imminent lawless action” is not protected as free speech.  And now, as the Robert Mueller investigation proceeds, his lawyers have advised him to shut up about it in his tweets and to cooperate.

As I write this, it’s Sunday afternoon, and rumor has it that some new developments may break tomorrow.

New York Times article, September 28, 2017.

Trump’s own Twitter feed, posted here September 29, 2017, when the latest posts were about this subject..  For Trump, these new tweets are fairly restrained.  He talks about the Democrats, but not Mueller.  And that’s because of his lawyers.


Voter ID Laws: Two States, Two Outcomes


The legislatures of both Texas and North Carolina passed laws requiring photo ID to vote, and accepting only certain types of photo ID that whites are more likely to have than African Americans and Latinos are.  But the North Carolina law is dead, while the Texas law, which looked for a moment as if it might be dead, is now, at least for the moment, quite alive.

The North Carolina law was struck down by a circuit court of appeals as being racially discriminatory in its intent.  The Supreme Court refused to hear the state’s appeal, which means that the lower court ruling stands and the ID law does not.  (New York Times articles, July 29, 2016 and May 15, 2017.)  But in Texas, after a federal district judge struck that law down, the court of appeals in that circuit overruled the district court and, pending a final decision on the law (which hasn’t been made yet), is allowing it to go into effect.  (NPR report, August 23, 2017; Reuters report, September 5, 2017.)

Part of what is involved in Texas is that the legislature amended its original law to allow a person who has a hardship obtaining the required ID to cast a ballot while filing an affidavit attesting to the reasons why obtaining such ID poses such a hardship, with the admonition that a false statement amounts to the punishable crime of perjury.  For the lower court, that wasn’t good enough; for the upper court, at least in the preliminary round (because the merits of the case are still pending a decision), it was.

The states where restrictive voter ID laws are an issue are states where the Republicans are in control and where the Democrats, with varying degrees of optimism, hope to make some headway.  North Carolina stands out in that it was a swing state in the last election that actually looked good for Hillary Clinton for a while, though of course ultimately it went for Trump (and for the Republican Senate candidate as well).

At the same time that the federal courts are hearing voter ID cases, they’re also hearing cases involving racial gerrymandering, and North Carolina was on the losing side of such a case before the Supreme Court this past year: one of the rare instances where Clarence Thomas voted with the four liberals on a case that involved race.  (NPR report, May 23, 2017.)


Trump, North Korea, and the Limits of Checks and Balances

As we are all aware, Trump has been responding to North Korea’s saber rattling with saber rattling, and has even ridiculed Secretary of State Tillerson’s efforts at negotiating, which raises the question, is Trump going to drop a nuclear bomb on North Korea?

That leads to another question:  can he?  Does the president have the power, without consultation or concurrence with anyone else, to order the use of nuclear weapons against a foreign adversary?  The simple, and scary, answer to that question is yes.

As was explained in this NPR report on Tuesday morning, October 3, 2017, the only way that Trump can be stopped, if he orders a nuclear strike, is if Vice President Pence and a majority of his cabinet decllare (and this would have to move really fast, like within minutes) that his order for a nuclear strike shows he is unable to perform the functions of the president (by virtue of being crazy) and use the 25th Amendment to put Pence in office.  This requires a two-thirds vote from both chambers of Congress (still according to the 25th Amendment).  The wording looks pretty clear to me that such an extraordinary move cannot happen without Pence’s cooperation; the exact wording in the 25th Amendment is that it has to be decided by “the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide.”  Again, “the Vice President and.”

And this raises another obvious question:  Does Mike Pence believe that the country needs to be protected from the dangers of having a madman like Donald Trump for a president?  Unfortunately, from the point of view of many of us, it would not appear so.  After all, what is Mike Pence’s chief of staff doing today?  Talking to a roomful of donors about how Congressional Republicans who don’t support the Trump agenda need to be drummed out of office and replaced with Trump loyalists.  Politico story, October 3, 2017 .

I wish I could say that I think the people around Trump will do the right thing if and when they really have to, but what do I know?  I was sure things could never get this far, and yet they did.