Conclusion To The Written Statement of Prof. Jonathan Turley: “The Impeachment Inquiry Into President Donald J. Trump: The Constitutional Basis For Presidential Impeachment”

Jonathan Turley ended his epic testimony before the House Judiciary Committee with a flourish. His whole statement was remarkable, leaving no reasonable argument for impeachment standing—but then the now-insatiable desire to undo the 2016 election has never been rational, and it has relied, despicably, on the historical and legal ignorance of the vast majority of the American people. Turley provided an opportunity for responsible citizens to educate themselves: his language was easy and clear, and there were no pompous or especially academic turns of phrase. Nonetheless, few will read or watch the whole thing, allowing the news media, which has exceeded all previous villainy in this three-year long fiasco, to distort and minimize his patriotic achievement. To the degree that they succeed, it is do the detriment of the nation, and its future. Somehow, Turley makes this clear as well, yet does so without the kind of alienating condemnation that I, in his position, would be unable to resist.

No doubt about it, the professor is a far better scholar and advocate than I am, and a brilliantly talented teacher as well. Still, he made me feel good about the analysis I have been presenting here since 2016. I have studied Presidential history for a shockingly long time; I know my impeachment history well, and observed two of the three previous inquiries up close, live and carefully. I have been certain, certain, from the beginning that what we have seen here is an unprecedented crypto-coup, for virtually all the reasons Professor Turley explains. I’m glad to have the legal authority and the meticulous tracking of where the inquisition ran off the rails, but Turley validated the analysis I have  given readers here. That came as a relief and a confirmation.

It was naturally a special pleasure that the professor ended his testimony by referencing the scene in the video above, from “A Man for All Seasons,” my favorite ethics moment in any movie, and the clip most often used on Ethics Alarms. He also referenced the story of the Republican Senators who turned on their party and voted to acquit President Andrew Johnson, for me the most memorable chapter of “Profiles in Courage,” the book that introduced me to the topic of ethics when I was 12 years old. Turley quotes one of the Senators who was only slightly mentioned by credited author John Fitzgerald Kennedy, but it’s a stirring quote, and damn any politician or citizen who ignores its message.

Lyman Trumbull (R- Ill.) explained fateful decision to vote against Johnson’s impeachment this way:

“Once set the example of impeaching a President for what, when the excitement of the hour shall have subsided, will be regarded as insufficient causes … no future President will be safe who happens to differ with the majority of the House and two-thirds of the Senate …I tremble for the future of my country. I cannot be an instrument to produce such a result; and at the hazard of the ties even of friendship and affection, till calmer times shall do justice to my motives, no alternative is left me…”

Those who endanger the future of my country because of their unrestained anger, hate, confirmation bias, partisan loyalty, prejudice, need to conform, and yes, ignorance and their lack of education, are contemptible. Those who lead them in pursuit of power are worse.

[Turley’s entire statement, with footnotes, is here. The Ethics Alarms edited version is here (Part I); here (PartII); here (Part III); here (Part IV), and here (Part V.) The video is here.]

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V. CONCLUSION

Allow me to be candid in my closing remarks. I get it. You are mad. The President is mad. My Democratic friends are mad. My Republican friends are mad. My wife is mad. My kids are mad. Even my dog is mad . . . and Luna is a golden doodle and they are never mad. We are all mad and where has it taken us? Will a slipshod impeachment make us less mad or will it only give an invitation for the madness to follow in every future administration?

That is why this is wrong. It is not wrong because President Trump is right. His call was anything but “perfect” and his reference to the Bidens was highly inappropriate. It is not wrong because the House has no legitimate reason to investigate the Ukrainian controversy. The use of military aid for a quid pro quo to investigate one’s political opponent, if proven, can be an impeachable offense.

It is not wrong because we are in an election year. There is no good time for an impeachment, but this process concerns the constitutional right to hold office in this term, not the next.

No, it is wrong because this is not how an American president should be impeached. For two years, members of this Committee have declared that criminal and impeachable acts were established for everything from treason to conspiracy to obstruction. However, no action was taken to impeach. Suddenly, just a few weeks ago, the House announced it would begin an impeachment inquiry and push for a final vote in just a matter of weeks. To do so, the House Intelligence Committee declared that it would not subpoena a host of witnesses who have direct knowledge of any quid pro quo. Instead, it will proceed on a record composed of a relatively small number of witnesses with largely second-hand knowledge of the position. The only three direct conversations with President Trump do not contain a statement of a quid pro quo and two expressly deny such a pre-condition. The House has offered compelling arguments why those two calls can be discounted by the fact that President Trump had knowledge of the underlying whistleblower complaint. However, this does not change the fact that it is moving forward based on conjecture, assuming what the evidence would show if there existed the time or inclination to establish it. The military aid was released after a delay that the witnesses described as “not uncommon” for this or prior Administrations. This is not a case of the unknowable. It is a case of the peripheral. The House testimony is replete with references to witnesses like John Bolton, Rudy Giuliani, and Mike Mulvaney who clearly hold material information.

To impeach a president on such a record would be to expose every future president to the same type of inchoate impeachment. Continue reading

Whatever Day This Is Ethics Warm-Up, 11/30/2019: The Bonkers Left Thanksgiving Edition [CORRECTED]

What a week!

Until a minute ago, I had no idea what day this is, as is usual on Thanksgiving week, though it’s possible that fainting during Thanksgiving dinner and landing on my head has something to do with it. [Incidentally, before I get accused of an anti-Left bias (again), if the Right behaved half as bonkers this week as their ideological foes, I would have written about it.] 

1. What does it say about our media that two websites and a TV network feature a guy that writes things like this? What does it say about our society that he has an audience?

We stand on the precipice of losing our American character to the forces of authoritarianism and bigotry. For many people, this holiday season will be the last face-to-face encounter with family members before the most consequential election of our lifetimes. And yet, many people are desperate to pass the potatoes without starting any uncomfortable conversations.

The holidays are when your resistance is needed. Some of you have the opportunity to talk to Trump voters and assorted conservatives this weekend. Some of you will have the opportunity to talk to people who live in an echo chamber of Fox News commentary and Russian troll farms. To waste that opportunity because of your own hang-ups and Mommy or Daddy issues is criminal….You might not like conflict, but if you choose to break bread with Trump supporters and climate change deniers because you happen to be related to them, then conflict is required. Anything less is appeasement, and we’ve had far too much of that these past few years. So stiffen your spine, rehearse your talking points, and get ready to fry some turkeys in your family with your righteousness…

Take a traditional Thanksgiving Day football game. This may seem like safe, nonpolitical ground—so long as everybody agrees to not talk about Colin Kaepernick. But it won’t take long for Trump supporters in your family to say something racist, sexist, or plain nutty while watching the game. They’ll say a white athlete is just a “hard worker” while praising a black athlete’s “natural gifts.” They’ll champion a slur against Native Americans, masquerading as a nickname, on a holiday that commemorates the prelude to a continental genocide. They’ll make fun of the “egghead statisticians,” which will sound like they’re making a comment on football strategy, but actually they’re making an attack on science and math that will later fuel their climate change denier sensibilities. Or maybe they’ll just sit like lumps on the couch while women: prepare dinner, set the table, take care of the kids, clean up after dinner, serve dessert, and fetch them a beer.

In those moments, I think of the children. I think of the behavior that is being modeled for them. I think of the cultural messages they are learning as they’re being exposed to these “traditional” structures….

Who IS this lunatic? Why, it’s Elie Mystal, the race-obsessed, U.S. hating crazy who made “Above the Law” so unbearable to read that I have to go elsewhere for my big law firm gossip. Because he detests whites and the U,S, and of course the President, Ellie is now turning up on MSNBC and, of course, on “The Nation’s” site, where America-bashing thrives.He really, really thinks that white Americans, men and supporters of President Trump (Ellie is a man, but he calls himself Elie, so he has an out) are as he portrays, racist, sexist morons who must be vanquished. An equivalent stereotype for blacks would have them eating watermelon and fried chicken while they listen to the Mills Brothers sing “De Camptown Races.” The man just oozes with hate; almost as much hate as disinformation and progressive propaganda. Continue reading

It Is With Great Reluctance That Ethics Alarms Concludes That As Generally Repugnant And Vulgar The Term “Asshole” Is, Mayor Pete Buttigieg Is One.

If this was just disgraceful pandering, grandstanding, and shameless virtue-signaling, he would only  have proven himself to be a jerk—a big jerk, to be sure,  but still just a jerk. But it is far more.

The new fad contender for the Democratic Presidential nomination is returning thousands of dollars in donations because they came from two lawyers who had the audacity to represent Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh as he attempted to defend himself against the contrived  ambush accusation of a sex crime, made in a Congressional hearing  on national television, a ploy designed to destroy his reputation. Buttigieg’s campaign said that it will not accept funds from people who helped secure the justice’s seat on the Supreme Court. You know. Dirty money.

Buttigieg’s campaign had received $7,200 from Alexandra Walsh, and $2,800 from Beth Wilkinson, Walsh’s law partner. Both represented Kavanaugh during his Senate confirmation ordeal. As I have vowed to point out every time some ignoramus asserts that lawyesr must be punished for the character, conduct or beliefs of the clients they represent and are responsible or culpable in any way for what those clients have said or done (or NOT done), it is a core and essential principle of our legal system that such an assumption is not only wrong but dangerous. It threatens the right of every citizen to receive competent legal representation and access to our laws and other rights.

Here, once again, is my favorite ethics rule, from the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct:

(b) A lawyer’s representation of a client, including representation by appointment, does not constitute an endorsement of the client’s political, economic, social or moral views or activities.

Whether the target is Hillary Clinton, Ted Cruz, Elizabeth Warren, Harvey Weinstein’s defense attorneys (also here), Larry Tribe, Gitmo defense lawyers, or Clarence Darrow, Johnny Cochran, Leslie Abramson and other defense lawyers who defend murderers and worse, the false claim that lawyers who take on unpopular, repulsive or guilty clients have done anything less than protected  the Bill of Rights and the rule of law is either rank ignorance or a deliberate effort to reduce the civic literacy of the public.

Buttigieg isn’t a lawyer, but he is very well educated and has a reasonable claim to brilliance.  Thus he knows and understands what lawyers do, but is acting as if he does not, intentionally making the public stupid (or keeping it conveniently as stupid as it already is ) for his own benefit.

Despicable.

But that’s not all. Continue reading

Here’s A “War On Christmas” Angle I Was Not Aware Of….The War On Hannukah

In Portsmith, New Hampshire,  the UNH & Seacoast Chabad Jewish Center requested that a 9-foot  menorah be placed in Portsmouth’s Market Square during the eight days of Hanukkah this December (22nd-30th). Blogger Jeff Dunitz, whose platform is the excellent blog, The Lid, darkly predicts that Portsmith will soon be headed to “Fesivus” like neighboring Durham, which has banned the tree-lighting ceremony (yes, it’s a “holiday tree”) as well as the wreaths thatthe town had previously displayed on town light poles.  The town council appareently feared that they were too much of a Christmas reference. Town manager Todd Selig said the town might agree to hang something from the poles, “non-descript star,” to “add light and festivus” to the season.

Dunitz is offended by something else. Continue reading

Evening Ethics Update, 11/7/2019: Dr. King Is Un-honored, Virginian Republicans Are Non-Functional, Fox News Is Pro-Darkness, And Joy Behar Is Still An Idiot [CORRECTED]

Good evening…

1 . The progressive deterioration of the ridiculous Joy Behar. It’s clear the stress of engaging in issue debates for which she lacks the temperament, the education or the necessary data is stressing out Joy. On today’s edition of The View, some studio audience members who hadn’t received the memo that they were expected to only endorse the “views” of  the correct side of the political spectrum applauded guests Donald Trump Jr. and Kimberly Guilfoyle as they supported the President. Behar snapped at them, “This is not a MAGA rally!”  In such places there may be technically free speech, just not free non-conforming speech without abuse.

2. This makes no sense at all, nor is it ethical. Eric Ciaramella is the so-called whistle-blower who gave Rep. Adam Schiff the wisp of an excuse he needed to manufacture Plan S for removing the President, the supposed “quid pro quo” deal to make the Ukraine look for “dirt” on Joe Biden and his son. Lots of sources have published this—heck, I have—and no one has credibly denied it. In schoolyard terms, the cat is out of the bag. Nor is it in any way illegal for a news organization to publish what is increasingly public information. Okay, say he’s the “alleged” whistleblower.

Nonetheless, a Fox News executive sent out an email ordering Fox personnel, including hosts like Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham, not to mention the name on the air because the network “had not confirmed it.”

Fox News, as you know, is always so careful about the accuracy of what its talking heads say.

Fox News media ethics watchdog Howard Kurtz defended not releasing the name of the whistleblower, saying it would send a “chilling message” to whistleblowers in the future. What “chilling message?” That if you decide to fulfill your partisan goals and help your pals by trying to bring down a President with rumors and hearsay, you should have the guts to do it publicly and accept the consequences? It’s not the news media’s job to make things easy for whistleblowers, and it is especially not their job to pretend that information already being publicized is a mystery.

The background and professional connections of this “whistleblower”—he’s really a leaker—are relevant to his credibility and the legitimacy of the current impeachment push. The public has a right to know, and democracy dies in darkness. Continue reading

Thoughts Upon Reading The Comments To The Recent “Conscience Clause” Post

The comments on the recent post regarding the so-called conscience rule being voided in court generated the comments the topic always does. What follows is a relatively short, general post to frame the issues as clearly as possible.  Admittedly, when a post is titled “When Law and Ethics Converge,” perhaps I shouldn’t have to explicate with a post focusing on the difference between law and ethics. I strongly believe that conscience clauses undermine the law, and are unethical, as you will see.

Law and Ethics are not the buddies people think they are, or wish they were. If you look around Ethics Alarms, you see why. Ethics, as the  process by which we decide and learn what is good and right conduct, evolves with time and experience. A predictable cut of a society’s ethics are always going to be a matter of intense debate. Ethics are self-enforcing, for the most part and by nature, because being ethical should make us feel good.  Once an authority or power starts demanding conduct and enforcing  conformity, we are mostly out of the realm of ethics and into morality, where conduct is dictated by a central overseer that, if it is to have genuine authority, must be voluntarily accepted by those subject to its power.

Society cannot function on ethics alone. Without laws, chaos and anarchy result. Because chaos and anarchy are bad for everyone, no individual who has accepted the social compact may decide which laws he or she will follow and which he or she will defy—at least, not without paying a price, which is society’s punishment. In ethical terms, this is a utilitarian calculation: we accept laws that individually we may find repugnant, because allowing citizens to pick and choose which laws they will obey as a matter of “conscience” doesn’t work and has never worked. Ethics pays attention to history.

Thus it is ethical to obey the law, and unethical not to,  even if good arguments can be made that particular laws are themselves unethical. This is where civil disobedience comes in: if a citizen chooses to violate a law on a the basis of that citizen’s conscience or principle, the citizen also has to accept the legal consequences of doing so as an obligation of citizenship. Continue reading

When Law And Ethics Converge: Goodbye To The Trump Administration’s Unconstitutional and Unethical “Conscience Clause”

Today’s decision by U.S. District Judge Paul Engelmayer, voiding the Trump administration’s “conscience rule” that resuscitated the Bush Administration’s similar rule, is right on the law, and, more important for this blog, right on ethics. The Trump version, which was yet to go into effect,  allowed health-care providers to refuse to participate in abortions, sterilizations or other types of care they if they disagreed with them on religious or moral grounds.

It was an invitation to open-ended discrimination, and as objectionable in principle as allowing public accommodations to refuse to serve Jews, blacks or gays. This topic has been thoroughly explored on Ethics Alarms over the years, and I don’t have anything much new to say. In fact, perusing my various essays on the topic, my favorite is one that is so old, it was on the Ethics Alarms predecessor the Ethics Scoreboard (on which I am slowly making progress in my efforts to get it back online) and mentions Paris Hilton, working at Blockbuster, and an earlier incarnation of Colin Kaepernick in the NBA.

I wrote, in 2005, Continue reading