Tag Archives: impeachment

Criminality and being “right”

Old Man with Wings

It’s very difficult to follow hockey when the Trump impeachment is going on. I wasn’t able to follow the Clinton impeachment back in the 90s, but what’s happening right now is a great learning experience if not a historic event which would probably be discussed in law schools in the future. It’s quite engrossing, especially with the brazenness of the government officials (and non-government goons) protecting Donald Trump and the bravery of the long-time career officials who tried to function amid all of the chaos but have no choice now but to call out illegal behavior. What’s even more engrossing is the almost soap-opera aspect of all of the twists-and-turns. Just a couple of hours ago, it was revealed that Devin Nunes, ranking member and the Republican lead of the House Oversight Committee, was linked with Lev Parnas, the Guiliani associate who was indicted for illegally directing funds from a foreign government to US officials. This puts an ethical dilemma on Devin Nunes and his role in the hearings into question since he is now implicated on the whole thing depending on how far the Democrats would push the issue.

It is all pretty compelling stuff. And the issues at hand are more serious, not just a man hiding his affair from his wife. I’m pretty sure I would’ve been tired of the whole Clinton impeachment drama after a couple of days. I don’t know how Jay Leno at the time stretched that out into a nightly comedy staple.

Although I’m often not happy with the weakness of the Democrats, I’m very pleased with how t he hearings are going. Today with Dr. Fiona Hill, we get to hear her say that the notion that the Ukrainians were the ones who hacked the 2016 elections and not the Russians is basically the product of Russian disinformation. This makes everyone perpetuating the stupid conspiracy theory, including Donald Trump, a tool by the Russian government. Yesterday, we heard Ambassador Sondland admit to the quid pro quo and name all of the major players in the attempt to pressure Ukraine into announcing a fake investigation into Trump’s political rival. Ex-Ambassador Yovanovitch provided more details regarding the conspiracy and was even subjected to harassment by the president in the middle of her testimony. And of course there’s Lt. Col. Vindman who testified to what he witnessed and remind everyone that in the end, despite of how low the state of politics around the world is now, he still believes that in his country, “right matters.”

And I think in the end, that’s what separates the good guys and the bad guys from the very beginning of the Trump nightmare to now. It’s the notion that right matters. It’s not the matter of whether something is illegal or not. It’s whether something is right… doing the right thing despite the limits of your role. And vice-versa, doing the right thing despite the ease and freedom you are given to abuse your power.

Sure the US government could ban people from the United States based on their religion according to the Supreme Court. But is it right? The US government could endlessly detain people attempting to apply for refugee status. But is it right? Even with the smaller things. Sure the president is entitled to spend most of his time in a golf course on the tax payers’ dime. But is it right? Evil has skirted on legality and it beat people down to being too tired to vigorously call out wrongdoing when evil is no longer hiding and what is happening is plainly illegal.

I think one of the biggest culprit of this is Mueller himself. He was tasked with rooting out Russian interference in the 2016 United States election and suspicious links between Trump associates and Russian officials. He had the ability to expand his investigation into other things related to the Trump organization in order to learn more about its criminality, but instead, he strictly focused on most limited of scopes. A number of Trump associates were indicted as a result of the investigation, but he didn’t even bother interrogating Donald Trump Jr. He was also happy to let Donald Trump mail in answers to an interview as if he was earning a degree online. Mueller stuck to what his role was. He stuck to his reputation of being a strict, no-nonsense actor… leaving the final conclusion of a Trump-Russian connection to House of Representatives and a Senate that won’t act on it. Right matters. But for Mueller, he decided to play it safe and stand by while Trump, Barr, and other right wing hacks proclaim that Mueller’s lack of firm conclusion exonerated the president. Mueller was a soldier and a hero, but I don’t think he has the courage of a whistleblower, the courage to stand up and point out wrongdoing if it means stepping out of your role.

Even House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has fallen into this same trap. She wanted to narrow the impeachment inquiry strictly on the conversations regarding Ukraine. Now she is free to do so, and expanding beyond the business with Ukraine could be seen as overstepping or a “witch hunt.” But with a creature like Trump, someone who makes impeachable offenses on Twitter during the hearing, doing the right thing is not sticking to your role and limiting yourself to the advantage of your enemies. The right thing to do is to be just as courageous as the whistleblower, be just as courageous as the witnesses. There are limits to one’s roles, but loving your country and upholding the oath of office sometimes requires going beyond that.

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The Smell of Gas

Chest_Pain

It’s been a long day of political theater regarding the Michael Cohen public testimony. People all over are posting and publishing their comments and analysis about the testimony. I’m a bit of a political junkie myself, so please allow me my scattered observations.

Donald Trump is currently in Hanoi, negotiating badly with the leader of North Korea. I read that he already dropped full accounting of North Korea’s nuclear program from the US’s demands. This could all just be the usual bad negotiation skills of Donald Trump, or it could be he’s distracted from the drama back in the US. This is like going on vacation and wondering if you left the stove on.

I wouldn’t blame the Republican members of the committee for focusing on attacking Michael Cohen’s credibility and not asking one question about Donald Trump, the reason why Michael Cohen is there in the first place. If the shoe was on the other foot, the Democrats would be attacking the credibility of the witness as well. My only problem is, their attacks were simply bad, bad politics. I think it did them more harm than good. Rep. Matt Gaetz, prior to the hearing, exposed himself to potential criminal liabilities by brazenly attempting to intimidate a witness several times. Rep. Clay Higgins, claimed to be a moron who has never heard of Michael Cohen since that day. I’m a Canadian living in Seoul. I know who Michael Cohen is. Rep. Mark Meadows brings in a black woman as a prop in the most tone deaf display of I-have-black-friends-therefore-I’m-not-racist. Rep. Paul Gosar was ineffective and stumbled around with his papers. And Rep. Jim Jordan was not only outwitted by Michael Cohen, he managed to outwit himself in the beginning by withdrawing himself out of his attempt to delay the hearing.

Really? Is this the best representative that people can have? Who sees their behavior and thinks, “Yes! I’m glad I voted for that guy!”? Why are these people and their ilk running the US?

And as much as they attacked Michael Cohen’s character, what spoke volumes was not his character, but his confessions which is backed up by evidence. See, evidence doesn’t need character. A 2017 check made out to Michael Cohen signed by Donald Trump, arranged by Trump Jr and Allen Weisselberg, Trump’s CFO, proving a criminal conspiracy that Donald Trump did give out hush payments during the 2016 campaign doesn’t need character. It tells its truth right there. And as Rep. Ro Khanna mentioned, it exposes all four men involved to federal and state prosecution, and to which only Michael Cohen will currently be in jail for.

Allen Weisselberg has been cooperating and not cooperating with authorities, so I really don’t know what will ultimately happen to him. Donald Trump, even if it’s apparent that he did commit crimes, Republicans will have to act in order to get him impeached, and I find that highly unlikely. They are truly a craven bunch compared to the more principled breed of Republicans who were compelled to move to impeach Nixon. That, and they are likely to lean on the Justice Department memo that you cannot indict a sitting US president. He can be impeached, but not indicted. So why impeach him then if he’s not indicted of any crime? (assuming Mueller doesn’t move to indict him) Even some Democrats would probably be wary of indicting a sitting US president.

As for Trump Jr, it seems that he’s quite vulnerable after the hearing. If the criminal conspiracy is proven, he’s got his fingerprints all over it. He might be let off with a presidential pardon on a federal level, but that doesn’t save him from the Southern District of New York which is looking into him as well. And it’s all speculation and fantasy for now, but if they did threaten jail time to Trump Jr (for starters. There’s still Eric, Ivanka, and Jared for a myriad potential different reasons), will that compel Donald Trump to step down in order to save his son? I’m thinking no. Donald Trump doesn’t look like the type who would save anyone except maybe Ivanka. And I’m not sure about Trump Jr. Maybe he would probably jump at the chance of being a MAGA martyr of sorts, or maybe he would flip on his dad. Speculations, but the drama is simply too much!

And as I’m writing this, Donald Trump’s schedule for his summit today has been suddenly cut short. Hmm… I wonder if something was on his mind.

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So Much for Justice

Narcissus

Judge Brett Kavanaugh should be disqualified simply for the fact that he can’t even appear intelligent in hiding his opinions. He repeatedly excused himself from answering questions by refusing to respond to hypotheticals, which I’m actually quite surprised that no one pointed out was the actual job of the Supreme Court. The highest court in the land is supposed to judge laws not only based on the facts of the case, but also on the precedent it would create, the hypotheticals.  This is why being a Supreme Court justice is a highly political position.  So for a nominee to refuse to answer whether a sitting president could be indicted on a crime based on the fact that the question is a hypothetical, seems like an abandonment of what a judge is required to do as well as a demonstration of disrespect to the hearing process.

I really admire Sen. Kamala Harris cornering him when he asked him whether he has discussed Robert Mueller’s investigation with any of Trump’s lawyers. His long equivocation in asking for specific lawyers’ names which eventually descended to an “I can’t recall” which the next day evolved into a “no,” is a glaring signal that this person is hiding things. Heck, the fact that there are documents hidden from members of the committee and public should disqualify him immediately. If it walks and talks like a shady and dishonest character, it probably is a shady and dishonest character.

And really, trying to explain to a room full of lawmakers repeatedly what a precedent means is amateur hour, not to mention condescending. It is Kavanaugh’s inartful attempt of wasting time.

As for the question of whether a sitting president could be indicted. Kavanaugh was part of the team that tried to bring down Bill Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky scandal. He asked the most personal and nonsensical questions regarding the affair. Back then, a president could not lie to save his reputation or his marriage, otherwise he should be impeached. Now that Trump is president, Kavanaugh is equivocating whether he could be indicted for more serious crimes. No one living in a democracy should allow for a president not to be indicted for crimes. That is what a democracy is. Obama should not be allowed to murder his chef the same way Trump should not be allowed to behead Stephen Miller without being prosecuted. Presidents are not kings; they are not above the law. The only question is whether it should be done while the president is in office or not, and whether Congress would impeach him and begin criminal prosecution.

In my opinion, despite all of this, I think Kavanaugh will be installed as a Supreme Court Justice. Republicans have the votes and their opposition is far too weak to stop his confirmation. There are simply no heroes among the Republicans, and no strong leadership among the Democrats. I really hope I’m wrong, because if Trump became president through several criminal acts (collusion, campaign finance violation, etc.), why would he be allowed to nominate an arbiter who would ultimately decide whether he could be indicted for crimes in an office which he gained through criminal means. It’s a turducken of legal fucked-up-ness.

BTW: Why aren’t lawyers, professors, and everyone involved in law protesting this? This is a brazen attempt to co-opt the judicial branch into an arm of the Republican Party. I’m not so naïve to think that it hasn’t been co-opted by politics in the past, but this is so brazen and the consequences are so great that it’s a wonder why aren’t more people outraged that this whole process is even allowed to take place.

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The Presidency in a Lon Fuller Cave

Vishnu.jpg

When is a criminal act a criminal act? I remember studying R v Dudley and Stephens.  In the case, four men were shipwrecked, and with little hope of making it to land and one of the men fallen into a comatose state, two of the men decided to kill and eat the dying man in order to survive. One of the men refused to participate. The case was a precedent in establishing that necessity doesn’t justify murder. If I remember correctly, it was also a test on the reaches of the law, and whether the fact that the men were lost at sea and therefore out of the reach of legal powers, makes the law inapplicable to them during the act, much like a legal Schrödinger’s cat.

This is somewhat related to the “Case of the Speluncean Explorers” written by Lon Fuller for the Harvard Law Review. It’s a though experiment where Fuller gives a hypothetical case of cave explorers who were trapped in a cave, and in order to stave of starvation, drew lots on who to murder and eat in order for the rest of the men to survive. He wrote about five judges’ differing opinions on the case. I would not explain all of the judges’ reasoning, but one judge argued for setting aside convictions since the “murderers” in the case were out of the reach of the laws of society and thus were in a state of nature and under natural law. Under natural law, rules are governed by reason, and it is only reasonable to kill one person in order for the rest to survive. The purpose of the law forbidding murder, which is deterrence, also doesn’t apply to them under such a state because A. they were in an extreme situation B. it could be argued that preventing one murder would lead to more deaths, and C. which legal authority would prevent the murder in such a state?

This brings me to the current issue of the growing case against Donald Trump. In order to hide possible collusion with Russia during the election, Trump may have committed several indictable offences already, committing crimes to cover up a crime. He may be tried for intimidating witnesses and obstruction of justice when he tweeted about James Comey after firing him and Sally Yates during her questioning. He may be guilty of obstruction of justice when he inquired about his own investigations, asked for the investigations to end, and fired people investigating him. And even asking for a loyalty pledge from his own investigator is obstruction of justice and a criminal conspiracy should Comey have agreed to pledge to Trump. There’s also him tweeting about the supposed tapes, which if they do exist, could also implicate him in whatever crime he’s trying to blackmail Comey with, or would make him guilty of obstruction of justice and destroying evidence should he say that he got rid of the tapes. This is just for the past couple of days. It doesn’t take into account the original issue of collusion with a foreign government as well as conflicts of interests regarding his businesses.

Now, with all of these low-hanging fruit, would someone try to remove Trump from office? I’m afraid the president of the United States is in Lon Fuller’s cave as well. The country is in an extreme state, and just like the laws of society could not touch the men in R v Dudley and Stephens while they were at sea or the men in the cave, no one can touch Trump unless the people in power are willing to look for a crime. By virtue of him being in power and with the Republican majority being tied to their party, Trump might as well be killing and feeding on people while stuck in lawless isolation. He could hand the nuclear codes and all state secrets to Vladimir Putin while kissing him in the mouth during a press conference and it won’t be an offense unless people are willing to call it so. So far, he seems to have gotten away with so many offenses but people are willing to look the other way and not punish him the way other normal citizen would rightly face consequences in a civil society (“grab them by the pussy” anyone?). Trump is out of the reaches of law at the moment. Someone please bring him back to where the rest of us are before he causes any more damage.

 

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South Korea’s Interesting Weekend

Goat 3

I was in the middle of the rallies on the presidential impeachment last Friday and last Saturday. I couldn’t really avoid it last Friday. The pro-Park Geun Hye supporters were marching in front of my building. There were riot police and everything. It wasn’t very violent when I went out for coffee, but three people ended up dying during the protest after it was announced that the decision to impeach the South Korean president would stand.

On Saturday, my wife and I decided to check out the celebration for the ousting of the president. It was in Gwanghwamun, the place where Koreans have been holding their weekly rallies to protest against the president. Like every week, there was going to be a concert, and my favorite Korean singer Jun In Kwon would be performing. I felt more comfortable going to the event, because it wasn’t so much a protest or anything but a celebration for what is a historic event for the peninsula.

What was a little scary however was that we had to pass by the pro-Park Geun Hye supporters on the way to the rally. They were all waving the South Korean flag and old-fashioned patriotic songs were blaring on speakers. The mood was dark, and my wife and I didn’t feel too comfortable walking past them, especially since we’re a biracial couple (despite the fact that many of the protesters were also waving the American flag). It was weird, the site of the Korean flag brought about an almost nefarious aura. The site of riot police and police barricades separating the two factions didn’t help ease the mood either.

The mood on the anti-Park Geun Hye side was celebratory. People were smiling. It felt like being surrounded by people whose collective burden was just recently been released. Of course, there were still angry calls for the former president to move out of the presidential residence and for her to be prosecuted.

On Sunday, most major Korean channels showed the president moving to her private residence. She was welcomed by her supporters, all waving the Korean flag. It was a strange affair. She was greeted by her party members, and she shook hands with them, all smiling, waving at her supporters. If I didn’t know the context or didn’t know Korean, I would’ve assumed she just got elected as president instead of being ousted. What’s more remarkable is that instead of addressing her supporters and the recent decision by the Supreme Court, she had a representative read a prepared statement saying the “the truth will come out.” I don’t know what this is possibly referring to. The highest court in the land already made a decision. If it’s referring to her impending criminal prosecution, she’d best not acknowledge it just yet.

I try to be impartial when it comes to the country’s politics, but the fact that the former president didn’t make a public statement immediately after the decision on Friday was very disappointing. She could’ve at least tried to unite the country and try to calm her protesters down. Perhaps people wouldn’t have died if she did. And the fact that she still hasn’t made a public statement is thumbing her nose at the justice system and not showing her supporters any respect. At least Nixon had the decency to make resignation speech. There have been talks about the country being divided, but truly, South Korea is not divided. Park Geun Hye enjoyed a 5% approval rating, and most of the country wanted her out. If there’s any division, I believe it’s just a division in the type of media people consume, with each side embracing their own set of facts and claiming the other side is fake news. It’s no different than other countries. But what would have helped make the country less divided, is if the former president called for unity after being impeached. At least recognize that the zeal partisan politics and distrust is at least part of what got her ousted.

I believe it’s going to be a long process, prosecuting the former president. There has been months of weekly protests, and I think it won’t take much for people to take to the streets again. It’s almost like a slow but magical form of direct democracy. It could get addictive.

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