Monthly Archives: September 2019

The Whistleblower Matter

First, here’s what’s officially known:

  1. Someone in the intelligence community recently made a report to ingelligence inspector general Michael Atkinson that a phone conversation between Trump and a foreign leader during the summer was ethically troubling.  The inspector general reported it to the acting director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire.  Maguire, after consulting with the Justice Department, has declined to turn over the report to the ingelligence committees in Congress, but Atkinson has notified them of the basic fact that such a report was made.  No specific leader or country is mentioned there.
  2. It is known that one of the leaders Trump spoke with during the summer was newly elected Ukrainian president Volodymor Zelensky.
  3. It is known that there was a U.S. military aid package intended for Ukraine that Trump ordered suspended before that phone conversation and ordered released sometime after it.
  4. Trump himself admits that in that phone conversation he mentioned his hope that the government would investigate the actions of Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden in Ukraine.
  5. As vice-president under Obama, Biden was getting after the government of Ukraine about its failure to prosecute corruption, and using aid packages for leverage.  He also demanded the dismissal of one particular prosecutor who was seen as indifferent to corruption.
  6. Biden’s son Hunter Biden was appointed to the board of a natural gas company called Burisma Holdings, getting $50,000/month, around the time that Joe Biden’s dealings with the Ukrainian government began.  Burisma’s hiring of Hunter Biden is regarded by many as a public relations move to give the company respectability after it had been facing some legal trouble.  (There is no evidence, however, to suggest that Joe Biden used his leverage to protect the company from legal trouble for the benefit of his son.)

Okay.  That’s what’s known.  Now, the further allegation that media outlets are piecing together from anonymous sources close to Trump is this: that Trump either implicitly or explicitly used the suspension of the military aid package as a way to pressure the president of Ukraine into helping him get dirt on Joe Biden, who of course is Trump’s primary political adversary, being the front runner in the Democratic primary elections.

Predictably, it’s the Democratic-controlled House where the committees are sharpening their claws for Trump.  In particular, it’s the Intelligence Committee, chaired by Adam Schiff.  Schiff wants the full complaint and the transcript of that phone conversation.

Trump, meanwhile, insists that he did nothing wrong and that the real scandal is about Biden.  And this whole affair may well cause Biden some political embarrassment.  But the chorus of Democrats demanding an impeachment trial for Trump is getting louder.  House Speaker Nancy Pelosi continues to insist that it can only happen with bipartisan support.

Politico report on the Biden connection, September 21, 2019

Politico report on the role of the inspector general, September 23, 2019

NPR report on the Bidens in Ukraine, September 24, 2019

NPR report on the allegations against Trump, September 23, 2019

And of course right here on this page, you can find constant updates from several different news feeds.  (FOX isn’t linked here, but those who want to hear FOX’s take on the affair surely know how to find it.)

Piece by a Former Cabinet Secretary Raising Alarms about Trump

Robert Reich, who served as secretary of labor under Bill Clinton, has just published a piece in The Guardian where he expresses the perception that Trump is dangerously irrational.  Obviously, there are some who would call the article an example of “Trump bashing.”  But I just have to say, the Trump presidency has forced me to reflect on this question:  would it be possible for us to have a president who was so obviously unfit to be president, so obviously an erratic and irrational personality, so obviously lacking in good intentions or any sense of the role of the president as a public servant, that it would be foolish for a professional scholar or journalist to say that there are two schools of thought on the question?  And that question is followed closely by another: do we, or don’t we, already have that with Trump?

But enough from me.  Here’s the article.  I urge you to give  it a read, and then feel free to post any thoughts you have on it.  Just please keep all interactions with each other friendly.


New Supreme Court Ruling on Asylum

An important part of the checks and balances component of the American political system is the fact that states and other parties are able to file suit in the federal courts to declare a presidential executive order illegal or unconstitutional.  In these past three years, Trump has been the subject of countless suits.  And while partisanism doesn’t always play the controlling role in the outcomes of such cases, a case can be made that it sometimes affects judges’ decisions.  Both the Supreme Court decision upholding Trump’s travel ban and the one allowing him to discharge transgender persons from the military were 5-4, with five Republican appointees outnumbering four Democratic appointees.

But the latest ruling by the Supreme Court appears to be 7-2, with Democratic appointees Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan voting on the president’s side.  This ruling doesn’t resolved the legal question in the case, but it allows Trump a free hand while the matter is being resolved, and also makes for a pretty good prediction of how the Supreme Court will resolve it if it gets there.

The issue is this: U.S. asylum laws allow any persons who wish to apply for asylum in the United States to do so.  And they can apply from either inside or outside of the country.  Trump, though, has issued an order that persons traveling through an intermediary country, such as Mexico, must first apply for asylum there.  He’s being challenged in court on this.  A federal district court judge in California issued a nationwide ban on this practice while the court hears the case; the 9th Circuit court of appeals scaled down the ban to apply only within that western district; and now the Supreme Court has struck down the ban on Trump’s policy while the case is in litigation.

In other words, while there is not yet a ruling on whether Trump’s order is legal, the order can be in effect.

Generally, when a court issues an injunction in a case that has not yet been resolved, it’s because that court regards the injunction as being consistent with the probable final ruling.  Thus, the California judge apparently regarded Trump’s action as illegal.  By the same token, the seven justices on the Supreme Court who lifted the injunction probably consider Trump to be within his prerogatives.  (Those justices did not elaborate on their reasoning, though the two dissenting justices, Ginsburg and Sotomayor, did.)

So at least on certain issues, Trump appears to have a majority of Supreme Court justices on his side.  There will always be limits to this–no Supreme Court justice is ever completely in the pocket of the president–but he does have something to celebrate, as do those who favor Trump and his policies.

Article in SCOTUS blog, September 11, 2019

Text of Supreme Court order and dissents

About the Bolton Departure

First, a quick review of what the position is.  The president’s national security advisor is part of the Executive Office of the President (EOP), that network of agencies of White House staff whose sole function is advising and assisting the president.  Most members of the EOP, including the national security advisor (head of the National Security Council), do not have to be confirmed by the Senate, but rather, are simply appointed by the president and serve at the pleasure of the president.

Now, three points need to be made about how things function when things are normal.

First, when things are normal, the president consults with advisors–members of the EOP, members of the Cabinet, and others–before announcing decisions.  The president typically listens to expert advice and then makes a decision.  Trump, in contrast, has shown a short attention span for expert briefings and advice and has been known to make decisions that take advisors by surprise; they sometimes learn of his decision on Twitter.

Second, when things are normal, the executive branch speaks with one voice.  Both Trump and his appointees have been known to criticize each other, express disagreement with each other, and complain about each other openly.  This was happening more and more in Trump’s relationship with Bolton.  And it should be remembered that a couple of years ago, when then secretary of state Rex Tillerson was negotiating with the government of North Korea, Trump was publicly announcing that he was wasting his time.

Third, when things are normal, a whole lot of fuss usually isn’t made over whether a departure was a resignation or a firing.  It’s usual for it to be announced as a mutual agreement.  It’s well known that if the president really wants an advisor or cabinet officer to stay, the advisor or cabinet officer will usually stay, so the fact that Bolton is going is information enough to make it clear that Trump wants him to go.  So for Bolton to offer his resignation and for Trump to accept it would usually be enough.  Here, however, they feel the need to quarrel over whether Bolton resigned or Trump fired him.

Now, about Bolton himself.  Bolton has been known as a war hawk, and the issues that he disagreed with Trump on tended to involve Bolton’s thinking that Trump was too ready to sit down and negotiate with an enemy, such as the Taliban and the leader of Iran.  So it could be said that it was a difference over policy.

But there remains a question:  Can Trump get anybody in there whose advice he will trust and listen to, not necessarily follow, but listen to and think about?  Trump seems to want to make decisions more on instinct than on expert advice, and while his instincts don’t always bring bad results, a lot remains to be seen about how well they work.  (In the case of North Korea, I don’t think Trump’s instincts have particularly made the situation either better or worse, but again, that remains to be seen.)

Politico article, September 10, 2019

Further commentaries at, September 11, 2019

Update: The Republican Won

In the special election in North Carolina for a seat in the House of Representatives, the Republican candidate, Dan Bishop, won.  The spread is about 4,000 votes: close enough to refer to it as very close, but not close enough for a recount, so it can be said outright that the Republican has won.

Under other circumstances, we probably wouldn’t be hearing about this at the national level.  It’s not going to change the balance of power in the House, and it will probably be scarcely remembered next year when the truly decisive elections take place.  However, it’s a psychological defeat for the Democrats, because the Democrats want to think there’s a blue wave, and while there may well be one, this election result suggests that the desired victories for next year aren’t going to be easy.

What’s at a high point now is the phenomenon of both Republicans and Democrats at the nationwide level being concerned with outcomes of elections all over the country.  A local election, even for a state legislature, is not longer a purely local affair, and elections for Congress, like this one, are not local affairs at all.  Both parties are determined to be in control after next year’s elections, and special elections this year are important to party morale, beyond their mathematical significance.

Article in, September 11, 2019


Third Democratic Debate Thursday Night

On Thursday night, September 12, 2019, the top ten Democratic candidates for president, as shown in the polls, will be together on stage for the third debate session.  Here’s a discussion of the outlook on the “NPR Politics” podcast:  If you watch or listen to it, please feel free to share your thoughts on the OpenLab message board.

There’s also a Republican primary–sort of.  Trump has three challengers, but the Republican party elites are doing everything they can to make sure they don’t get anywhere.  And these are the same party elites who, back in 2015-16, would probably have done everything to keep him from winning the primary if they’d known he stood a chance.  Story on NPR, September 9, 2019

Special Election in North Carolina on Tuesday

Congressional elections, of course, take place in November of every even-numbered year, and next year’s congressional elections are considered by both parties to be monumental.  But between those standard election days, there are always a handful of special elections to fill vacancies that open up.  In the present political climate, those elections are also treated as having high stakes, partly for their symbolic and psychological effects and partly because they may serve as bellwethers of which direction the country is going in.

Such an election is happening on Tuesday, September 10, in the 9th congressional district of North Carolina.  It’s been Republican-controlled for years.  In the present instance, the reason there’s a vacancy is that the 2018 results were declared void due to apparent ballot fraud.  So the present race has Republican Dan Bishop against Democrat Dan McCready.  And both parties are pouring a lot of money and effort into their respective candidates; the Republican has both Trump and Pence visiting the state to campaign for him.  The outcome looks to be extremely close, which is why both parties are trying to squeeze out every possible vote for their side.

The outcome won’t change the balance of power in the House, and it may well not even be widely remembered at election time next year, but at this present moment, psychologically, it matters a lot to both parties.

Article in, September 7, 2019

Bishop ad

McCready ad