Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 10/25/17: The Clinton Campaign’s Russian Dossier Connection, Her Lying Lawyer, And Jeff Flake

GOOD MORNING!

1 I have long been an admirer of Arizona Senator Jeff Flake, who is one of the few members of Congress, more’s the pity, who will stick to his principles even when they pit him against his own party. However, his freak-out and verbal attack on President Trump accomplish nothing positive (unless you consider making Democrats happy positive) and  at this point constitute pure self-indulgence and, yes, these words are coming up a lot lately, virtue-signalling and grandstanding. I have no sympathy for Flake, Senator Corker, or any other Republican leaders who stood by and allowed Donald Trump to hijack their party. The time for Flake to take a stand was last March, or even earlier. Ethics Alarms stated that the GOP shouldn’t have let Trump into the debates or on its ballot. I said that he should have been kicked out of the debates when he began trashing the party, and when he  became disgustingly boorish and uncivil. I explained that it could have and should have refused to nominate him by changing the rules. The party had a duty to the country to present a competent, trustworthy alternative to the corrupt, venal, dishonest candidate the Democrats were going to nominate: everyone knew who that would be. Instead, the GOP sold its soul. Jeff Flake now says that Trump is reckless, outrageous and undignified? Who didn’t know that? I assume the President’s  voters knew that. On Ethics Alarms, I wrote about those Trump character traits in 2011.

It is particularly galling for me to read Flake’s attack on Trump in the Washington Post today, which begins, “As I contemplate the Trump presidency, I cannot help but think of Joseph Welch.” In fact, it makes me want to scream helplessly at the sky. In this Ethics Alarms post, I invoked Welch’s famous televised slap-down of Joe McCarthy before the first Republican candidates debate, and concluded “If someone doesn’t at least try it, none of these 15 non-Trumps are smart enough to be President.” I wrote that on September 16, 2015. 

Senator Flake is like a Senator  going to Honolulu in December of 1942 and proclaiming that the Japanese can’t be trusted. He deserves no sympathy or support now.

He should have been reading Ethics Alarms.

UPDATE: My friend and frequent ProEthics collaborator Mike Messer called this “flake news.”

2. I haven’t had time to thoroughly unravel what yesterday’s revelation that Hillary Clinton’s campaign funded what became the infamous “Russian dossier” means. A couple of points, however,

  • I apologize to readers for not having the time to devote to Ethics Alarms that its mission requires. I don’t see anyone else on the web reliably examining the ethical implications of such stories.

I’m sorry. This is too important to be doing a half-assed job.

First among those reasons is paying a foreigner for opposition research for an American political campaign. Given Democrats’ argument that Russia’s interference on Trump’s behalf was beyond the pale, the Clinton camp and the DNC paying a Brit for information would seem somewhat problematic…Some on the right even alleged that Democrats paying Steele amounts to “collusion” with foreigners. But Russia-Steele comparisons aren’t apples-to-apples. The British after all are, unlike the Russians, America’s allies. Also, Steele was not acting as an agent of a foreign government, which is what would likely be required to prove collusion in the case of the Trump campaign and Russia.

“Somewhat problematic” is equivocation. The story is VERY problematic. Foreign governments are not supposed to interfere in U.S. elections. Blake’s implication that its sort of kind of okay for allies to surreptitiously interfere with our election is a flagrant rationalization, and the worst one of all, #22, “It’s not the worst thing.” Of course it is still “collusion,” whether the collusion is with Russia, the UK, or Tierra del Fuego.

  • Literally thousands of comments defending Clinton and the Democrats followed this article within an hour of when it was posted on WaPo’s website last night. The unavoidable conclusion is that these were largely from organized Democratic operatives who were primed and ready with rebuttal , since the party had been tipped off the story was on the way. I experienced the hoard of Hillary’s paid cyber-trolls last year in a few posts, notably the ones about Snopes’ pro-Hillary bias. I never made this explicit, but I will now: this practice is unethical, and no different in substance than the Russians paying Facebook to plant fake news, or authors having friends and relatives posting rave reviews of their books on Amazon.

Unless a commenter discloses that he or she is working for a principle and the opinion being offered is either paid or part of an organized effort, it’s a lie. As we all know by now, though many of us refuse to admit it, Hillary and the Clintons like lies. They work.

3.  There is a legal ethics angle related to the dossier story that I have had time to think about, since I’ve been thinking about it for over a decade.

Clinton campaign lawyer Marc Elias had emphatically denied to reporters that there was any connection between Clinton or the DNC and the dossier  The reports now indicate that not only did the Clinton team fund the opposition research,   Elias  handled the arrangements. This means he and his law firm, Perkins Coie lied.

Writing about this on his blog, law professor Jonathan Turley writes, “If Elias and Perkins Coie lied to the media about the role of the Clinton campaign and the DNC in the affair, such allegations fall into a murky area of legal ethics. ” Now Turley, who often–too often–resorts to weasel words—is equivocating. (He’s also writing carelessly: if they lied, it is no longer an allegation that they lied.) On this topic, there is nothing murky about legal ethics. If X is true, and a lawyer knows it is  true, he or she cannot assert that Not X is true, or that X is not true. A lawyer who does either has violated his or her state’s equivalent of ABA Model Rule 8.4 c (“A Lawyer shall not engage in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation” ) as well as Rule 4.1 a (“In the course of representing a client a lawyer shall not knowingly: (a) make a false statement of material fact or law to a third person; or (b) fail to disclose a material fact to a third person when disclosure is necessary to avoid assisting a criminal or fraudulent act by a client, unless disclosure is prohibited by Rule 1.6.”). Turley actually confirms this later in his post, so why he pronounced it murky is a mystery.

Elias can’t do what he did within the Rules. He can relay what his client says, even if it is false. He cannot assert himself what he knows isn’t true.

This isn’t a matter of controversy or debate, and it certainly isn’t “murky.”

33 Comments

Filed under Around the World, Character, Ethics Dunces, Government & Politics, Journalism & Media, Law & Law Enforcement, Professions

33 responses to “Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 10/25/17: The Clinton Campaign’s Russian Dossier Connection, Her Lying Lawyer, And Jeff Flake

  1. Neil Dorr

    Jack,

    “…Flake to take a stand was last March…”

    Flake has been a vocal critic of Trump since early in the campaign. I don’t know if it was as early as March (I’d have to check dates), but his issues with Trump and his policies are long-standing and well-vocalized.

    What should he have done that he didn’t do?

    • Bitching isn’t action. Mitt Romney took action. Flake should have led an organized effort to deny Trump the nomination. he should have stated that he would change his status to Independent if Trump led the ticket. He should have spoken up before the first debate.

      • Neil Dorr

        Jack,

        So because he didn’t lead a mob to storm the halls of Congress, he didn’t do enough?

        He ran on the ticket as a Republican opposed to Trump and it’s largely alienated him from his electorate since. He didn’t have to label himself in independent, the party base has already done that. Moreover, he’s a junior Libertarian senator running as a Republican — how much more maverick can someone get?. Finally, he DID speak out against Trump before the debate.

      • Neil Dorr

        Jack,

        You still haven’t corrected the article. The line stating “The time for Flake to take a stand was last March, or even earlier.” is false. He did take a stand firmly against Trump. If you want to argue he should have done more or should have been more vehement, that’s fine, but that isn’t what you said. A person with no knowledge of the surrounding events who read this article would be left with the impression Flake had been silent for months and is only now finally coming out against Trump. It’s fake news.

        In other (real) news, the following is a WONDERFUL critique of Flake that doesn’t misstate information:

        “Accurate though Flake’s political diagnosis might be, it can hardly be taken seriously as a form of public service when paired with his abandonment of the very power to do something about it. That merely makes him part of a growing problem: politicians who want us to believe that they are powerless, being pulled by forces beyond their control. Sadly, it’s one thing Flake and Trump actually have in common.”

        • Again, he did nothing to stop Trump. He said that he didn’t support Trump. That’s all. That’s not action, and that’s not blocking his nomination. I just wrote examples of what he could have done substantively, if he cared sufficiently at the time. I was clear: Flake, like the rest of the Republicans, opposed Trump but didn’t have the guts to say that he wasn’t qualified to run and that the GOP couldn’t nominate him. He took no stand. There were 15 competeitors for the nomination: none of them took a stand either. A stand was saying “This guy is not worthy of the nomination, and if the party nominates him, then I leave the party. Have the Senators say that, and Reince and Ryan have to take it seriously.

          • Chris

            So because he did nothing to stop Trump then, he should do nothing to stop Trump now?

            You say Flake is merely grandstanding, virtue-signaling, etc, and that his remarks “accomplish nothing positive.” Well, if his criticism of Flake accomplishes nothing positive, what exactly does your criticism of Flake for criticizing Trump accomplish?

            • You know, Chris, when you intentionally misstate what I said, I begin to see the point of your critics here who accuse you of being a troll.

              He can’t do anything to “stop Trump” now, and after he leaves the Senate, he will be able to do less than nothing. Trump is Presidents. I know deranged people like you think that there is a way to stop a President without beating him in a an election, but there isn’t. Stopping Trump required stopping him from becoming President.

              Read the blog description again. This is analysis, not public activism. People need to understand that Flake is no hero. Had he taken timely action when it mattered, he might have been one.

              • Chris

                Why did you read “stop Trump” to mean “stop Trump from being president?”

                Republicans worked to stop Obama during his entire presidency. Democrats worked to stop Bush. As it has been, so shall it ever be.

                The duty to “stop Trump” is much more pressing, as it is not just about stopping his political agenda, but stopping his corrosive effect on the culture. Flake’s comments are designed to do just that.

                That’s ethical behavior.

                • They accomplish nothing whatsoever. I was excruciatingly clear in the post. Senator Flake is like a Senator going to Honolulu in December of 1942 and proclaiming that the Japanese can’t be trusted. That’s exactly what he’s like. Flake doesn’t support Democratic policies. At least the Democrats’ opposition is based on a policy alternative. Does Flake prefer open borders? No. A leftist Supreme Court? No. The elimination of due process in universities? No. Submitting to NK blackmail? No. Gun confiscation? No. So what, exactly, at this point, does his grandstanding stand for? “I hate this guy.” Great, Jeff.

                  I know this is hard for progressives to grasp, but feelings aren’t actions. They aren’t ethical, either.

                  • Chris

                    Senator Flake is like a Senator going to Honolulu in December of 1942 and proclaiming that the Japanese can’t be trusted

                    Terrible analogy. We are not at war with Trump.

                    So what, exactly, at this point, does his grandstanding stand for? “I hate this guy.” Great, Jeff.

                    You are literally saying that Republicans who agree with Republican policy shouldn’t criticize Trump. You’ve been saying that all week. You are arguing, on a daily basis, that the president should be shielded from criticism. This is absurd.

                    I want you to point to the exact line from Flake’s speech that you find unethical. You didn’t include a single line from it in your post, so one is left to assume you don’t actually object to the content of Flake’s speech at all.

                    You object to Republicans criticizing Trump.

                    As you also object to Democrats criticizing Trump, what is there left to conclude but that you object to criticism of Trump?

                    • You are on the verge of a time out.

                      The point of the analogy has nothing to do with war. I’m not bothering to explain further: you either are being willfully obtuse or dishonest.

                      You are literally saying that Republicans who agree with Republican policy shouldn’t criticize Trump.

                      I have not said anything of the kind, literally or figuratively. Read the rules; putting words in my mouth is taboo.

                      You have until the end of the day tomorrow to either find a quote from me that clearly says Republicans shouldn’t criticize the President, or apologize for that false representation, or go to a time out for 7 days. Your choice. I suggest the apology. I have never said what you wrote, and have never thought it either.

                    • Maybe it would clear up Chris’ confusion if you made an imaginary statement, as though you were Jeff Flake, or Maxine Waters, or Ted Cruz or any legislator.

                      How would you criticize Trump? Would it be purely on policy matters or would it also be regarding conduct and demeanor?

                      I mean, I would guess criticism on policy matter is the only route.

                      I would think the only ethical way any legislator criticizes an executive regarding personality, attitude, demeanor or communication could ONLY occur if the entire legislative body acted after a vote for…what would be the best way to call it…? A censure? I don’t know. But it seems like any criticism of a non-policy nature would have to come as an actual ACT of the legislature in the form of a letter…?

                      Outside of that? I’m not sure it is individual legislator’s role in government to do so.

                    • Chris

                      Jack, of course you have criticized Trump yourself. So I apologize; you have not said that Republicans should not criticize Trump.

                      You and I disagree over the McCain comments; I say they’re valid critique, you say they were a low blow.

                      I guess my problem is that I don’t know what your standards are anymore. As I said, you did not provide a single quote from Flake’s speech to identify as unethical. Therefore, it seems like you are not objecting to the *content* of Flake’s speech at all, but merely its existence.

                      Your reasons for your objection do not make sense to me. His comments don’t *do* anything? Neither do your blog posts. All they do is inform the public and make an effort to persuade—and to your credit, I have seen them persuade myself and others, probably more than any other blogger I’ve ever followed. That’s what Flake was doing: attempting to persuade his fellow Republicans that Trumpism is a path to, as you’ve called it, a party of assholes and a nation of assholes.

                      Why is that wrong? Because he should have done it earlier? Certainly that’s a rationalization, or it should be. Failing to act ethically in the past is not reason to fail to act ethically in the present. Because Trump is already president? Flake isn’t arguing for impeachment.

                      Again: what is wrong with Flake’s *argument?* I don’t want to misuse the phrase “ad hominem,” but it seems like “Flake should have stood up earlier,” while perhaps true, doesn’t invalidate his argument. Are you saying Flake is simply the wrong person to make this argument? Is this ethical estoppel?

                      I am not trolling. I am trying to understand.

                    • ”We are not at war with Trump.”

                      Tell that to the other 99.9999984814782% of you and put it into practice yourself.

                      Could’ve fooled us.

                    • Chris

                      Maybe it would clear up Chris’ confusion if you made an imaginary statement, as though you were Jeff Flake, or Maxine Waters, or Ted Cruz or any legislator.

                      How would you criticize Trump? Would it be purely on policy matters or would it also be regarding conduct and demeanor?

                      This is a good idea, Tex. I would find that helpful.

                      I mean, I would guess criticism on policy matter is the only route.

                      I would think the only ethical way any legislator criticizes an executive regarding personality, attitude, demeanor or communication could ONLY occur if the entire legislative body acted after a vote for…what would be the best way to call it…? A censure? I don’t know. But it seems like any criticism of a non-policy nature would have to come as an actual ACT of the legislature in the form of a letter…?

                      Outside of that? I’m not sure it is individual legislator’s role in government to do so.

                      This I don’t get. Members of Congress have always criticized presidents on demeanor and communication—it’s just that they’ve usually only done this to an opposing party’s president. Of course, just because something has always been done doesn’t make it right, but this is honestly the first time I’ve ever seen the argument that doing so is wrong, which tells me this is an unconventional idea. Trump is almost certainly more deserving of criticism in these areas than past presidents, and the notion that members of Congress should simply say nothing on these matters strikes me as absurd.

              • Neil Dorr

                Jack,
                Or maybe Flake and others were fighting a tide that was coming in one way or another. Hell, you wrote countless articles on the subject prior to the election taking such a stand and did almost everything in your rhetorical power to demolish the man. Many other did as well. No effect. And yes, none of the major contenders on the Republican side made exactly the kind of statements you’re talking about, but there were a number of times the words “unfit to lead” were brought up or referenced. No effect. Even the Pope made statements against him (unethically, perhaps, but his voice carries weight with many). Still no effect.

                Those who support(ed) him (we/a)ren’t waiting for him to be un-masked or taken down in some grand, ethical swoop. Trump was upfront about the man behind the curtain all along, so most people didn’t care it was fake because the spectacle proved more fun.

                Like Flake, I’m done. No riot act, no trying to change from the inside. It’s all become yelling, and stupidity, and so many “I hate that we’re even talking about this …” rationalizations for all of it, that none of it seems real anymore. It’s the same cycle that goes nowhere. How is the fight over the red star widow and different than the controversy over the inaugural crowd size? Action, reaction, tweet, over-reaction, spin, echo chamber, repeat. Flake isn’t trying to be a hero; he’s just having one last say and dropping the mic.

                • Neil Dorr

                  Jack,
                  I can’t wait for your next “I can’t believe I’m getting pulled into this ..” rationalization piece.

                • As if this should be obvious: If we are trying to get public figures to be responsible when it matters, and not to wait until they are safe from consequences before they speak up with conviction, then stunts like Flake’s and Corker’s need to be called.what they are. My favorite was John McCain deciding the the Confederate Flag was inappropriate for a state after the South Carolina primary.

                  You seem unable to grasp the point of the post, much like Chris. The point is that kicking Trump on the way out the door is chicken shit. It doesn’t matter that what Flake says is true—everyone knew it was true in 2016. Because Flake knew it was true, he was one of about 200 Republican leaders who should have acted on the knowledge, and not just talked about it. He is in great part responsible for Trump getting to the White House. I don’t care to hear his bitching now. He’s not illuminating anything; he;s just venting.

  2. Neil Dorr

    Here’s a story from February of last year in which he spoke out against a Trump candidacy:

    http://www.phoenixnewtimes.com/news/arizona-us-senator-jeff-flake-says-now-hes-worried-about-donald-trump-8089465

  3. #2 if Twitter is any indication, the only thing Left-spinners want you to takeaway from this is that the Steele-dossier was initiated by Republican opposition to Trump. That’s all that matters, conversation ended.

    I can’t wait to see who focuses on that tidbit later today.

  4. Cntons manage to keep themselves in the news, one way or another. If only Senator Flake would denounce them as much as he denounces Trump.

  5. Cleophus

    Joseph Welch was a bitch. He got hoisted on his own petard so he started crying like a woman.

  6. Chris

    1. I really don’t understand what you think an ethical opposition to Trump should look like, Jack. Perhaps you are right that Flake should have done more to oppose Trump from the beginning, though it should be noted he did a hell of a lot more than most Republicans were willing to do. But that does nothing to answer the question of what Flake should do now to show his opposition Trump and his corrosive influence on the Republican Party and our culture at large, as you aptly described in a nation of assholes. I don’t know what else to conclude from your argument but that your answer to this question is “Nothing.”

    2. Foreign governments are not supposed to interfere in U.S. elections.

    This seems to be addressed by the WaPo quote. This wasn’t a foreign government.

    3. Yes, the lie is bad, and way worse than the actual offense, which is not actually an offense at all.

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