Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 12/5/17: Ethics Chaos Everywhere—Lawyers, Law Enforcement, Government, News Media. Is This A Great Country, Or What?

Good Morning, everybody!

1 Wait, What??? ABC has announced that suspended reporter Brian Ross will no longer handle stories involving President Trump after Ross returns from his suspension. The suspension, you will recall, was occasioned by his misreporting of a matter involving the Mueller investigation and causing a stock market dive as a result.

This makes no sense at all. Either Ross is a professional, competent journalist who can be trusted to report the news without allowing his biases to distort the facts, or he is not. If ABC deems Ross too unreliable and partisan to report on stories involving the President of the United States, then—can I say obviously?—is also too reliable to be a reporter at all.

In his weekly unhinged hate-rant against President Trump—this one claims that favoring “national security and sovereignty; economic nationalism; and deconstruction of the administrative state” proves the President is a Nazi—Charles M. Blow writes, “Trump’s continued attacks on the media — and on truth itself — is an attempt to weaken the watchdogs, to grease the skids toward more oligarchy, more authoritarianism, more fascism.”

Are even New York Times readers gullible enough to buy that absurd description of the news media any more? The Ross fiasco is only the latest in a chain of thousands, some more minor, many not, that prove beyond any reasonable doubt that the news media is not a respectable watch dog, and that truth is the farthest thing from its agenda. The op-ed page that Blow squats on is a daily display of deceit and anti-Trump propaganda. There has never been anything like it in the history of the legitimate press. The same day Blow’s screed appeared, Times editors went full race-baiter, publishing a column that cherry picked  black athletes, celebrities  and politicians the President has issued insulting tweets about, regardless of the topic or issue, to show that he’s obviously a racist. (For example, since the NFL player who stood during the Mexican national anthem while having Kaepernicked for weeks in games played in the U.S., the President tweeted criticism was racist.) My junior high school journalism teacher, who advised the student newspaper, would have flagged this is terrible journalism, but Timed editors think it’s just great,



2. Uh…NO.  John Dowd, Trump’s personal lawyer, argued in an interview with Axios  that the “president cannot obstruct justice because he is the chief law enforcement officer under [the Constitution’s Article II] and has every right to express his view of any case.”  This argument’s a loser, John. The last President who made the claim was Richard Nixon. It might be a good topic for a law review article, but this is way too close to “the king can do no wrong” for a country founded on te proposition that a kind was doing wrong.

Dowd had a strange day. Dowd said that that he wrote a weekend tweet from Trump’s account after Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his conversations with the Russian ambassador during the presidential transition.The Saturday tweet reads, “I had to fire General Flynn because he lied to the Vice President and the FBI. He has pled guilty to those lies. It is a shame because his actions during the transition were lawful. There was nothing to hide!” The tweet raised the question of when the President knew Flynn had violated the law; Dowd’s statement raised other questions.  How did he tweet for the President? Is his admission a way for the President to have plausible deniability, with his lawyer taking the blame? Trump runs his tweets through lawyers now?

If Dowd said he wrote the tweet and did not, that would be a serious breach of legal ethics.

3. Looks bad, is bad...Last summer, special counsel Robert Mueller fired Peter Strzok, one of the FBI’s top Russian counterintelligence experts, from his team of investigators after an internal investigation found that he sent text messages  showing a political bias for Hillary Clinton and against President Donald Trump. (What an idiot.) Strzok. we now learn, led the investigation of the Hillary Clinton email server as the No. 2 official in the FBI’s counterintelligence division.  Strzok, was revealed yesterday, was also the man who was responsible for changing “grossly negligent” to “extremely careless” in Comey’s final report on the Clinton email investigation. He was the agent who questioned Michael Flynn, too.

Incredibly, some left-tilting commentators read this embarrassing example of bias and conflict of interest as reflecting well on Mueller’s investigation. Why did the special counsel hide Strzok’s removal, then, all this time? Of course the fact that an open anti-Trump partisan was on Mueller’s team harms his investigation’s credibility. But this conclusion is being described as “conservative spin.”

Watchdogs, you know.

The most astoundingly lunk-headed reaction to the Strzok story, however came from “Meet the Press” host Chuck Todd, who really said this to a suddenly dumber nation:

“Let me throw up these headlines, an FBI agent was just removed from Bob Mueller’s team for anti-Trump texts. Now, when you read the details of this, Danielle, I have to say, part of me thought, wait a minute, are we bordering into thought police territory? Number one. But we can set that aside here. But it does give the President a PR tool here and to at least throw to his supporters saying, “Aha! Bias in the Mueller probe.”


  1. That IS bias in the Mueller probe.
  2. “Are we bordering into thought police territory?” As I have long suspected, powerful journalists in the US no longer know what a disqualifying conflict of interest is. Does the name “Mark Furmin” ring a bell, Chuck? Was the fact that he had previously displayed racist attitudes that called into question the legitimacy of his findings in the O.J. Simpson case another example of “thought police”? Well? Chuck? Hello??
  3. Chuck really shouldn’t throw up on the air…ick.

4. And following as the night follows day…Naturally, President Trump couldn’t let the FBI embarrass itself alone, and had to issue a superfluous tweet:

“After years of Comey, with the phony and dishonest Clinton investigation (and more), running the FBI, its reputation is in Tatters – worst in History! But fear not, we will bring it back to greatness”

The attack was inappropriate and unpresidential, as well as stupid. It is also true. Ethics Alarms documented the incomprehensible FBI interview of Hillary Clinton, with no oath required and no recording, and with the candidate represented by Cheryl Mills, an aide/ lawyer who was also involved in the acts being investigated. Then there was the FBI’s non-handling of the improper Bill Clinton-Loretta Lynch meeting just as the investigation of Bill wife was nearing a conclusion. Documents show that FBI officials were concerned solely about the leaking of details of the tarmac meeting, not about what was discussed and the  impropriety of the meeting itself. The agents wanted to know who blew the whistle on the suspicious liaison. In one email, for example, an FBI official writes “we need to find that guy.” An FBI official working on Lynch’s security detail even goes so far as to suggest non-disclosure agreements to keep the full facts from coming forth.

Like the Secret Service and the entire Justice Department, the FBI’s integrity, competence and ethics rotted way during the Obama Administration.



56 thoughts on “Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 12/5/17: Ethics Chaos Everywhere—Lawyers, Law Enforcement, Government, News Media. Is This A Great Country, Or What?

  1. This argument’s a loser, John. The last President who made the claim was Richard Nixon. It might be a good topic for a law review article, but this is way too close to “the king can do no wrong” for a country founded on te proposition that a kind was doing wrong.


    Alan Dershowitz did argue that certain presidential actions- namely, firing of personnel and shutting down criminal investigations- can never constitute obstruction of justice. Mueller’s investigation is one investigation that should be shut down. No police department would conduict such an investigation, given what originated the calls for it.

    Of course, it hardly needs to be written than ordering or encouraging subordinates to conceal evidence from criminal investigators, or bribing witnesses, would be obstruction of justice. Even promising to shut down a criminal investigation in exchange for concealing evidence from another criminal investigation would be obstruction of justice. (In such a case, it is the solicitation of concealing evidence, not shutting down the criminal investigation, that would constitute obstruction of justice.)

    • No police department would conduict such an investigation, given what originated the calls for it.


      Let’s say that during an election for Chief of Police one candidate is rumored to be funded by a notorious crime boss. These rumors are backed up by a reliable source of information for the police department. The candidate makes it part of his platform to go easier on this particular crime boss, and once elected, maintains that stance, going as far as to say the rest of the department is wrong about said crime boss committing a specific crime, and that he believes that crime boss when he says he didn’t do it. While this is going on it comes out that the new police chief had several employees in contact with this crime boss and his agents during the campaign, and they all lied about these contacts to some degree or another. One of these contacts involved his campaign staff meeting with someone they were told was sent by the crime boss and who had dirt on his opponent, though they swear no dirt was collected.

      You wouldn’t investigate this?

      I would.

      • No proof in a year, Chris. Not even a smoking gun. Hillary and the Democrats, however, appear to be dirty as hell regarding Russian interaction, and this is slowly coming back to bite them. After all, we know that Hillary DID rig an election in 2016…

        • Actually it can’t. There is no precedent or legal basis for the proposition that a completely legal act within the power of the office, done transparently and with abundant cause, can constitute obstruction of justice. And of course, with every passing day it is more apparent how much Comey deserved to be fired. This isn’t the most crack-brained of the Democrat bitter-ender impeachment theories, but it is close. The Russian collusion nonsense is way ahead, of course, then maybe emoluments. Having the bad manners to describe the news media as exactly as incompetent, biased, partisan and untrustworthy as it is is a bit behind, in 4th.

          • Ironically, when Obama used an executive order (later ruled ILlegal, as in unconstitutional), to obstruct enforcement of the immigration laws, that was literally obstruction of justice, the use of a Presidential power to block law enforcement.

            But the Republicans were not silly enough to call it that.

          • Wait, you think Comey’s firing was “handled transparently?” That’s hilarious. Go back and refresh your memory on the many contradictory explanations Trump and his people gave for both the causes and process of the firing, and then come back and tell me it was done transparently.

            • It was sufficiently transparent on its face. Comey was incompetent and untrustworthy. Trump can’t explain why he wants a glass of water the same way twice. By transparent I mean the most basic definition there is: it was open and not secret….unlike, say, Mueller’s firing of the rogue FBIO agent on his team, which occurred in August and is only now coming to light. THAT’S not transparent. Trumps reasons for firing Comey do not have to be transparent, since he needed to be fired no matter what Trump’s objections were, and because the President doesn’t need any reasons at all.

  2. 1. Ross is getting a second chance and being placed on probation, the way a lot of workplaces might do for an employee who screwed up, but who firing would cause more trouble than it was worth. ABC is banking that either Ross will straighten up and fly right, or he will refuse to accept this disgraced status and resign on his own. How do I know? I’ve been there, done that, when I was in private practice and the firm split, leaving me at the mercy of a partner who I disliked and who disliked me. He offered me lousy terms to remain, with the promise of revisiting them later on. He wasn’t revisiting boo, he wanted to make my remaining untenable so I’d quit.

    Yes, New York Times readers are that dumb. Partisanship and hate make you dumb, and they take their daily dose of it from Charles Blow just as surely as they drink their evening glass of overpriced Chablis while making crude jokes about Trump and congratulating each other on their great wit.

    2. Dumb. Just plain dumb.

    3. His name was Mark Fuhrman, but beyond that, exactly right. This probe is getting dirtier and more compromised every day, and it needs to be wrapped up. Trump doesn’t need it to become another Valerie Plame affair that goes on long past the point of proving anything, and he doesn’t need to let Mueller become the man who can come to him and say “weeeeell, this could be damaging or it could be nothing, it depends…”

    4. Of course those organizations lost their ethics and integrity over the past eight years. When the job of enforcing the law and protecting executives becomes the job of enforcing the law as Obama sees it and the job of protecting him and his flunkies, it becomes all about kissing ass to keep your job.

  3. #1 What ABC did with Brian Ross was to temporarily pander to the political right to put the fire out. What an ethical news company should have done was to fire Brian Ross and anyone in his immediate chain of command that promoted the fake news story he presented to the American people.

    “The media’s the most powerful entity on earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty innocent, and that’s power. Because they control the minds of the masses.” Malcolm X

    What we are dealing with is a media culture that is now nearly 100% propaganda where truth and facts are set aside in favor of assumptions and innuendo. The media is showing us their absolute arrogance; it seems that they truly believe that they know what’s best for everyone and we the people are just supposed to swallow it all like sheep. Is the media the puppet of the political left or is the political left the puppet of the media – who’s really in charge? Any way you look at it; watch out for the next candidate that the media whole heatedly supports, seriously folks, watch out! Whatcha wanna bet the next populists Democratic Presidential candidate (2020 maybe, 2024 more likely, or 2028 certainly) is a social justice warrior puppet that comes out of nowhere with a background that’s squeaky clean, heck they might already be in the process of whitewashing the background of their social savior.

    The laborious labor of dumbing down of America is now bearing its fruit.

    What’s the solution(s)?

    • ”the next populists Democratic Presidential candidate (2020 maybe, 2024 more likely, or 2028 certainly) is a social justice warrior puppet that comes out of nowhere with a background that’s squeaky clean”

      Like a pierced-n-tatted, perpetually offended Chauncey “Chance” Gardiner from “Being There?”

      They may be snowFLAKES, but together they’re an avalanche (snort!)

  4. #4 “Like the Secret Service and the entire Justice Department, the FBI’s integrity, competence and ethics rotted way during the Obama Administration.”

    I think all the above were already on slippery slopes before Obama; however, after Obama took office it seems like they were in ethics free fall with no safety net.

  5. On firing a recently-hired political reporter once it was learned that she’d had an affair with a politician, the late A. M. Rosenthal explained to the NYT staff: “Okay, the rule is: you can fuck an elephant if you want to, but if you do, you can’t cover the circus for the Times.”

  6. Apparently Strzok also interviewed Cheryl Mills & Huma Albedin, who were accused of lying, I mean, “giving false statements” about their knowledge of HRC’s private server.

    The result? A felony charge for Flynn and “Get Out Of Jail Free” cards for Mills & Albedin.

    Oddly enough, NBC & CBS didn’t deem this newsworthy.

        • According to your article:

          “Moreover, unlike the crime of perjury, the false statements statute means that a person can be punished for lying even if he was not under oath in an official proceeding, and even if he was not warned that lying would be punished.”

          So based on this, I don’t know why Flynn was charged and not Cheryl Mills & Huma Albedin (and possibly Clinton).

          • You’re accepting rumor and innuendo as fact.

            I have no way of knowing if they did lie, nor do you. People who claim they lied have a political motive to do so, but they weren’t there for the interviews and they know that the rumor would be repeated often enough to make anyone who dislikes Hillary Clinton to believe it.

            Flynn was charged because he lied and there was proof. And because he accepted a deal for that charge and probably any evidence and testimony he could provide against others, lest any larger charges be filed.

            • My response was more about the legal ramifications than the people committing the act. I accept no rumor or innuendo as fact, but your logic is sound. Assuming they did or did not lie, I would expect the FBI to have proof and this could easily answer the question of why they were not charged.

              I do know Clinton changed her story quite often, but I do not know what comments she made directly to the FBI.

            • “I have no way of knowing if they did lie, nor do you.”

              I do, I DO!!!

              ”People who claim they lied have a political motive to do so, but they weren’t there for the interviews”

              Perhaps we should toss it over to DoJ attorney David Laufman & Strzok because, like, you know; they were there.

              (bolds mine throughout)

              04/05/2016: “(Huma) Abedin did not know that Clinton had a private server until about a year and a half ago when it became public knowledge,”

              04/09/2016: “(Cheryl) Mills did not learn Clinton was using a private server until after Clinton’s [Department of State] tenure, […] Mills stated she was not even sure she knew what a server was at the time.”

              02/27/2010: “hrc email coming back — is server okay?” Cheryl Mills to Huma Abedin & Justin Cooper (server setter-upper/5th Amendment privilege copper)

              01/09/2011: Cooper to Abedin: “someone was trying to hack us […] Had to shut down the server,”

              Cooper also told the FBI that he discussed the server with Albedin when it was being set up….in 2009!

              Sooooooo, Mills wasn’t sure what a server was in 2016 yet asks about one over six year previously?

              And Albedin didn’t know about the HRC private server until it became public knowledge, yet discusses it over seven years previously?

              HeyZeus Alou, believing that convoluted timeline requires some serious WAYBACK MACHINE accompaniment, am I right?

              And didn’t Obama say pretty much the same thing? I guess they’re either both lying or both telling the truth.

              Based on past experience (“If you like your Dr.,” etc.) I think I’d tend toward the latter


                • Truth, stranger than fiction; there is such as thing as the “Wayback Machine.”

                  From Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 10/31/2017:
                  “Snopes (has) its history erased from (that calls itself the Wayback Machine) is an Amazon-owned service that stores copies of web pages and sites for posterity.

                  “Some pages and sites are not stored because they are not popular, are forbidden to crawlers, or are hard to save. But ‘has been excluded from the Wayback Machine.‘

                  ” is the first website I encounter that has been excluded. That means it has forbidden to crawl its site and demanded to take down already saved data.

                  ”That makes sense. Snopes is a fact checker – it checks facts to ensure they match the party line. In such cases, the party line is usually thin and changes frequently, so Snopes does not want 3rd parties to keep the history of changes. Think Orwell, 1984.”


            • I know that these people have lied; I know that they believe the ends justify the means, and I know they had great provocation to lie.

              Past experience guides my judgement about lying in this case, Val. If your side can take any little detail and make it impeachable, I can judge when your side lies.

              (Note that the GOP establishment is in this circle of self serving hypocrites.)

              The FBI was partisan just like the IRS was. Just like the EPA, or Justice, or name-your-department-here under Obama. This may have been true to some extent before Obama, but it got blatant in his tenure.

              Had I done what Hillary admits to doing, I would be under the jail. That sticks in the craw of most fly-over Americans, and it ain’t over yet. Folks are pissed about all of this. The great mass of non-political Americans see how your side treats our country, how infantile they act when they do not get their way, and no one can look over Mr and Mrs America’s shoulder in the voting booth, as was demonstrated in Nov ’16.

              If that dawning awareness were all, it would be bad enough for progressives. However, some on the right are beginning to use lefty tactics against the left. That way lies chaos.

              Progressives own this.

              • I’ve been looking for you and now it’s too late. There was a semi-decent Horatio Hornblower in space (with better pacing and fewer info dumps than Webber’s work) free in the kindle store over black friday but now it’s back to normal price.

                *Rant deleted*. You’re unwilling to see all that your side does that is so very wrong, you’d rather pretend that it’s people like me who are evil.

                • I’ve been looking for you and now it’s too late.

                  Title and author? Politics is all well and good, but a new author is worth gold.

                  You’re unwilling to see all that your side does that is so very wrong, you’d rather pretend that it’s people like me who are evil.

                  I see and agree (as I stated) that the GOP are as culpable as other politicians (they are all crooks, almost by definition, IMHO) so I do not understand your comment, Val. Conservatives have always brought down their own when they stray: it is as much a political weakness (much exploited by the Left) as a moral and ethical strength. Progressive have only rarely done this: the end justifies the means. Do you deny this? We can discuss and debate examples, if you wish. Might be enlightening for me to see your point of view. “Come, let us reason, you and I”

                  Neither did I call you evil. One is not necessarily ‘evil’ for bad choices and actions any more than one is ‘good’ for positive ones. (Much of what is wrong today is a result of ‘virtue signalling,’ which one uses to show one is ‘good’ while endorsing wrong)

                  Trump is flawed. He is human. Calling him for things others were given a pass for is an objective observation, and not politically biased.

          • ”I don’t know why Flynn was charged and not Cheryl Mills & Huma Albedin (and possibly Clinton).”

            The Clintons, et al, don’t give a toss what the “optics” of any of their shenanigans create:

            *Bill flying to convicted deviant friend Jeffy Epstein’s Perv Island.
            *Bill publicly whooping it up in Monte Carlo with porn stars.
            *HRC all but representing The Clintonista Slush Fund as SoS after agreeing not to.
            *HRC unilaterally deleting > 30000 emails from an illegal private server.
            *The Phoenix Tarmac meeting.
            *HRC telling the same 4 Pinocchio lie on National TV within a span of two days.
            etc., etc., etc., ad infinitum ad nauseum!

          • It gets worse…there is absolutely no prohibition against the FBI (or any other law-enforcement agency) lying to a subject in an interview.

            • ”no prohibition against the FBI (or any other law-enforcement agency) lying to a subject in an interview.”

              Thornton Melon (Rodney Dangerfield in “Back To School”) would say:

              “Jason, you don’t lie to me. You lie to girls.”

  7. “A Confederancy Of Dunces”! I believe this Black Plague of Trump Derangement Syndrome has addled the minds of the entire press corps with only a few exceptions.

  8. Wait a minute, wait a minute, wait a minute…

    This is a blog called Ethics Alarms. On the morning of the most blatant example of a national political party diving headlong into an ethical cesspool by supporting a credibly accused-of-child-molestation would-be Senator, and abandoning all pretense of acting from anything but power politics over morality – you lead with Brian Ross and Peter Strzok? And everyone follows suit?

    Listen, I’ve got no beef with your continued vigilance about holding the press to high standards, and you include the occasional complaint about Faux news along with the rest, but… this is just a bridge too far.

    In what universe of ethical issues does a leading political party’s craven giving in to all pretense of ethics not warrant even a mention in a blog on ethics?

    Why is your head not publicly exploding over the GOP’s entirely caving to Roy Moore, reversing weeks-ago pretend-to-care statements, especially so since Conyers just resigned and another Moore accuser calls him a flat out liar? Why is it not headline ethics news that an entire US political party is all-in in an overt attempt to put power politics over any ethical consideration?

    Enquiring minds want to know…

    • In truth, it’s the Saturday tweet that interests me most. The party that got behind Trump, got behind Moore, and water is wet.

        • Jack has covered this issue unless there is something new to discuss. He has stated that Moore on multiple occasions should have been rejected by the Republican party, elected, or appointed by the Senate. Furthermore, it is unfair for you to attack him this way. He might very well be mentioning it, but choose to give its own blog post or even if he doesn’t perhaps he believes what has been stated on the matter is all that should be stated on the matter. If you have a grievance with what he does on his own site, should have taken it up with him personally.

          • Sorry, meant to have posted here as reply:

            “Furthermore, it is unfair for you to attack him this way.”

            I know Jack, and Jack knows me, and I doubt he feels that I’ve “attacked” him. Certainly that’s not my intent. I think that the subject matter of his blogposts is perfectly fair game for discussion on the boards; he has always been pretty open about such discussions, and gives (at least) as good as he gets.

            That said, if Jack feels I unfairly “attacked” him, I’m sure I’ll hear about it from him.

    • Inquiring minds need to know that once a month I have to post my warm-up as I am preparing to drive downtown into DC against traffic to make my monthly ethics presentation to new DC bar admittees, so all of it is prepared in advance, with only minimal additions possible. I saw the GOP’s endorsement of Moore at about 7:55 am, or about five minutes before I had to leave, and I didn’t have my pants on.

      And that’s a fact. Just got home, and will try to post on the matter after a nap.

  9. #3, The media and various senators and congressman are breathlessly announcing that we are so close to Trump being charged with obstruction of justice. Yet, it is revealed that Mueller himself fired a trusted Comey subordinate. If the Special Counsel cannot trust Comey’s people, it is kind of ridiculous to speculate that there exists a case for obstruction because the President did not Comey himself.

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