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.
- The Washington Post story by Aaron Blake is transparently spinning for Hillary even as it breaks the story. My favorite is this part:
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.”