Good Morning, London!
1. Trump Trump Trump. You know, I was on a political Facebook page in 2016 where an idiot kept posting “Trump Trump Trump” despite everyone, including the moderator, telling him to cut it out. Eventually he was banned from the site. Unfortunately, there is no similarly simple solution to this problem when a combination of the Trump-hostile news media and the President himself forces a variety of ethics issues on me, when I would rather be musing about baseball, old sitcoms, and guys in lobster hats.
- The pardons. President Trump pardoned Dwight L. Hammond, now 76, and his son, Steven D. Hammond, 49, a pair of Oregon cattle ranchers who had been serving out five-year sentences for arson on federal land, which had sparked the armed occupation of a wildlife refuge in 2016. Naturally these pardons were attacked, because anything Trump does will be attacked. The resulting conflict brought widespread attention to anger over federal land management in the Western United States,and that’s a good thing. How can the federal government justify owning almost half of Western land?
As for the pardons, both men have served most of their sentences already, and not only were the sentences unusually harsh for their offenses, the cases had the whiff of political prosecutions about them. They were perfectly legitimate objects for Presidential pardons, but then so are hundreds of thousands of other cases. Presidents should issue as many pardons as possible, which means eliminating a lot of the red tape. So far, Trump has sucked the tape by cherry-picking beneficiaries in his own, eccentric, biased way, using his unique, unassailable Constitution-based power to court supporters, celebrities and particular constituencies—not that there’s anything wrong with that, as long as other deserving citizens also get pardoned, and really, all but the most unrepentant, vile and dangerous felons deserve mercy and compassion eventually. Unless the pardon power is used broadly and constantly, its blessings too often depend on who you know. In the case of the ranchers, for example, a large donor to Vice-President Pence lobbied for the pardons. Again, that doesn’t mean the pardons can’t be justified. It does mean the process is skewed by factors not related to justice or fairness.
I found this to be the most ethically intriguing paragraph in the Times story about Pence pal, tycoon Forrest Lucas, and his likely influence on the pardons:
“While other presidents have also gone ahead of Justice officials to pardon apparent allies, they have often waited until their final days in office to do so. Mr. Trump, by comparison, has issued high-profile pardons early and comparatively often — seemingly unconcerned by the appearance of leaning his ears toward those at the top.”
So is Trump being unethical in a more ethical fashion than his predecessors?
- Bad host, worse guest. The President’s derogatory comments about the British Prime Minister were indefensible, of course. We know how he thinks: Great Britain, as he has said, with justification, has made him feel unwelcome—that insulting “Trump baby” blimp over London is a real diplomatic low—and thus, in Trump’s rudimentary ethics system, akin to that of a lizard, the proper response is tit-for-tat. None of this is unexpected, and nobody who voted for Trump can say that they didn’t give him license to behave this way by electing him.
I do wonder now why I ever thought that he would react to being elected by moderating the very conduct that, in his mind and probably in reality, got him where he is today. My role model for him was President Arthur, who was about as different in character and background from Donald Trump as a human being could be.
I’m an idiot.
- NATO. Here, Trump is being subjected to double standards again. His complaints about NATO members ducking their financial obligations are fair, and President Obama made essentially the same complaint, except 1) he was a bit less blunt about it and 2) nobody believed for a second that Obama would actually do anything to address it. On this President Trump is correct: the United States has been played for patsies by the United Nations and NATO, and “not alienating our allies” is an unconvincing argument for letting the exploitation continue.
2. The Strzok hearing. Observations:
- The most damning aspect of the hearing was that Democrats actively sought to obstruct the inquiry—stall, prevent answers, use parliamentary tricks. I don’t understand this at all. They should be exactly as troubled by this key agent’s apparent bias and unprofessional conduct as Republicans are. Why were Democrats trying to protect and defend him?
Their duty was to get to the truth, not to help Strzok spin, duck, and cover.
- The same goes for the news media. Here was the ridiculous argument by the Washington Post’s Phillip Bump in a piece called “Peter Strzok just gave a hard-to-rebut defense of the objectivity of the Russia investigation’s origins”:
“In a written statement offered before he testified before the House Oversight Committee on Thursday, Strzok pointedly noted that there was no effort on his part to keep Trump from winning the White House — and, further, that he was one of only a few people who could have potentially leaked details from the investigation in an effort to block Trump’s victory.
‘In the summer of 2016,” Strzok wrote, “I was one of a handful of people who knew the details of Russian election interference and its possible connections with members of the Trump campaign. This information had the potential to derail, and quite possibly, defeat Mr. Trump. But the thought of exposing that information never crossed my mind.’
This is a nearly impossible point to rebut.”
Nonsense. It is incredibly easy to rebut. Stzok’s argument is that because he didn’t engage in Unethical Conduct A, it proves that he didn’t engage in Unethical Conduct B. Who knows how he may have used his influence and role within the Clinton and Russia investigations to try to defeat Trump? We know he deliberately delayed revealing the Weiner laptop emails, which ended up backfiring and harming Clinton, but that doesn’t mean his intent wasn’t to help her. “Possible connections”? “Possible connections” was the smoking gun we should applaud this guy for not illegally leaking?
So Stzok chose to try to block Trump by means that were not flat-out illegal and that might have landed him in prison. If he was among a “handful” of people who had information that was leaked, he would have been is serious jeopardy. Who does Bump think he’s fooling with this kind of phony “proof”?
- At one point, Strzok decided to wrap himself in the FBI flag, saying that the accusations against him “deeply corrodes what the FBI is in American society, the effectiveness of their mission, and it is deeply destructive.” Some in the hearing room applauded, and their names should be taken down. His cynical complaint can be translated as “How dare anyone question the integrity, objectivity and fairness of investigations operated by FBI agents who demonstrated strong bias against or for the potential targets of the investigation!”
What is deeply corrosive is the FBI and Justice Department giving power to a law enforcement official who is so unprofessional and untrustworthy.
- Rep. Louis Gomert (R-Tx) provoked a furious eruption from Democrats when he suggested that Strzok’s adultery and affair with fellow Justice Department employee Lisa Page called his honesty before the Committee into doubt. It was a rude and personal point, but a valid one. Is it reasonable to think that a man who would lie repeatedly to his spouse would lie to Congress? Sure it is.
Though Democrats love to claim otherwise, there is no clear division between personal ethics and professional ethics. Unethical people are unethical.
- On the other side, Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), a fair Democratic comp for Gohmert as both are hyper-partisan jerks who sully Congress by being members of it, actually said: “Mr. Strzok, if I could give you a Purple Heart, I would.”
Strzok was removed from the Mueller investigation and condemned by an inspector general. His conduct has permanently undermined the Mueller inquiry, and scarred the FBI. Yet to Cohen he is a hero. Nice.
Strzok’s defense is that we should trust him because he is a professional, despite such statements in his texts as saying that “we” will stop Trump from being President. The problem is that real, trustworthy professionals don’t behave as he did. His judgment and honesty are in question, and his comments evidenced bias by definition. Maybe he acted on that bias, and maybe he didn’t: it doesn’t matter. His involvement polluted the process, and the damage he did to the Mueller investigation is permanent and irreparable.
Two analogies are in order. When Mark Fuhrman was shown to have lied about his prior use of the word “nigger,” the Simpson murder investigation was immediately compromised. Fuhrman could have, and has, made the same claim Strzok made, and with equal believably: ‘What I say in personal conversations does not reflect my professional values.’ Maybe, maybe not. But the content of personal conversations that reveal bias undermine trust and credibility, and should.
Now let’s imagine that text messages were found in which Brett Kavanaugh wrote to a conservative friend, “Don’t worry. Once I get on the Supreme Court, we’ll take care of Roe v. Wade.” How would those Democrats now trying to protect Strzok interpret that?