Tag Archives: appearance of impropriety

Were AG Sessions’ Comments In Las Vegas Unethical?

Ethics Scout Fred points me to a little noted episode in the increasingly fraught existence of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and asks whether the AG’s comments crossed ethical lines.

Let’s see…

During a speech about two weeks ago in Las Vegas in which he called for harsher prosecution of criminals and cooperation from local authorities as the federal government cracks down on illegal immigration, Sessions segued to the Cliven Bundy prosecution, and said, cryptically, of Nevada Acting U.S. Attorney Steven Myhre,

“I’ve got to tell you, it’s impressive when you have a tough case, a controversial case, and you’ve got the top guy leading the battle, going to court, standing up and defending the office and the principles of the law. I’m not taking sides or commenting on the case. Just want to say that leadership requires, a lot of times, our people to step up and be accountable.”

Supporters of the Bundy-led armed stand-off with federal authorities think that the Trump administration may sympathize with their anti-government stance, but Trump administration prosecutors are still seeking penalties for Bundy and his group.

Fred notes that “while Sessions is not responsible for how others take what he says, at least no more than any public speaker,  the effect of his remarks was to encourage lawbreakers,” based on the statement by Ashley Jones, a producer for radio show host Pete Santilli. Santili, a Bundy ally, is incarcerated pending trial in the case. Jones pronounced Sessions’ comments “a victory for us.”

Comments: Continue reading

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up: 7/3/17

Good Morning!

1. “He was right, dead right, as he sped along, but he’s just as dead as if he were wrong.” This was a refrain (from an actual epitaph) my Dad used to recite to hammer the principle into my head: being right is often not enough. I wonder if Chris Christie ever heard it? The Governor of New Jersey is vacationing with his family at a state beach he closed to the public , along with all state parks, as a result of a budget stand-off with the legislature. Technically and legally, he has every right to do this, since governors of the state have the use of a residence on that beach, and the detail that watches it when the Governor is in residence is not affected  by the government shut-down. Christie, in his trademark blunt manner, has responded to criticism by saying, in essence, “I’m governor and you’re not.” He’s right that he’s not taking a special privilege by using his residence when the beach is closed to the public. He’s right that he has no alternative to closing government services when the legislature doesn’t meet the statutory mandate for approving a budget. It doesn’t matter: he also has a duty to preserve trust in the government and democracy. His vacation in a place that he’s made off-limits to the public, no matter what the justification, has the appearance of impropriety, and more than an appearance of arrogance and a broken ethics alarm.

2. The big story yesterday—I can’t believe I’m writing this—was the President tweeting a silly tricked-out video purporting to show him wrestling CNN. This was, to anyone not determined, due to a near fatal level of confirmation bias and the Trump Hate Brain And Conscience Eating Amoeba, to interpret every word and act by this President as evidence of evil, a joke. Sure, it was also gloating, and trolling, and sophomoric, and unpresidential but the long, long list of talking heads and pundits who solemnly pronounced  this foolishness as “advocating violence against journalists” all revealed themselves as untrustworthy, dishonest, or hysterical. This kind of incompetent reaction is why Trump keeps doing this.

Our broken news media will have to be torn down before it can be restored to the objective and non-partisan institution a healthy democracy has to have to survive. If President Trump’s japery accomplishes this—I would prefer journalism to come to its senses internally, but that clearly is not going to happen—that’s a rich silver lining to the cloud of his Presidency. Continue reading

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Filed under "bias makes you stupid", Ethics Train Wrecks, Etiquette and manners, Government & Politics, Incompetent Elected Officials, Journalism & Media, Leadership, Race, Social Media

Responsible And Necessary: The Appointment Of A Special Counsel

The Justice Department appointed Robert S. Mueller III (above), a former F.B.I. director, as special counsel to handle the Russia probe.

I am reading conservative pundits fuming over this development for a number of reasons, some of them valid and troubling. However, there is no good argument to be made that a Special Counsel isn’t necessary now.

Assistant Attorney General Rod Rosenstein explained his decision to make the appointment (remember, he is acting AG in the Russian investigation, because Jeff Sessions was bullied and hectored into recusing himself, also unavoidable):

“In my capacity as acting Attorney General, I determined that it is in the public interest for me to exercise my authority and appoint a Special Counsel to assume responsibility for this matter.My decision is not a finding that crimes have been committed or that any prosecution is warranted. I have made no such determination. What I have determined is that based upon the unique circumstances, the public interest requires me to place this investigation under the authority of a person who exercises a degree of independence from the normal chain of command.”

Exactly. As for the last sentence, President Trump has no one to blame but himself. His own, typical, blundering, blathering ways created this atmosphere—that and “Deep State” leaks calculated to undermine him, and a news media feasting on those leaks like sharks on chum.

It is being argued that you can’t appoint a special prosecutor unless there is a finding that crimes have been committed. Here are the relevant sections of the law:

§ 600.1 Grounds for appointing a Special Counsel.

The Attorney General, or in cases in which the Attorney General is recused, the Acting Attorney General, will appoint a Special Counsel when he or she determines that criminal investigation of a person or matter is warranted and –

(a) That investigation or prosecution of that person or matter by a United States Attorney’s Office or litigating Division of the Department of Justice would present a conflict of interest for the Department or other extraordinary circumstances; and

(b) That under the circumstances, it would be in the public interest to appoint an outside Special Counsel to assume responsibility for the matter.

§ 600.2 Alternatives available to the Attorney General.

When matters are brought to the attention of the Attorney General that might warrant consideration of appointment of a Special Counsel, the Attorney General may:

(a) Appoint a Special Counsel;

(b) Direct that an initial investigation, consisting of such factual inquiry or legal research as the Attorney General deems appropriate, be conducted in order to better inform the decision; or

(c) Conclude that under the circumstances of the matter, the public interest would not be served by removing the investigation from the normal processes of the Department, and that the appropriate component of the Department should handle the matter. If the Attorney General reaches this conclusion, he or she may direct that appropriate steps be taken to mitigate any conflicts of interest, such as recusal of particular officials.

I don’t read the law so narrowly. The law requires that there be a determination that a criminal investigation is warranted, not that crimes have been committed. Continue reading

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Ethics Q & A On Obama’s Speaking Fees

Former President Barack Obama received a $400,000 speaking fee for an appearance at an A&E Network event  yesterday, just as controversy was building over Obama accepting the same fee to appear at a Wall Street firm’s conference.

What’s going on here?

The ex-President is cashing in, that’s what’s going on here. This has become standard operating procedure for former POTUSes, beginning with Gerald Ford, who was showered with criticism by Democrats and the news media for signing with the William Morris agency and picking up what was at the time considered obscene speaking fees from corporations and foreign governments. Ford’s fees are dwarfed by Obama’s, but then Barack is a much better speaker than the late President Ford was. (Almost anyone is.)

Jimmy Carter showed admirable restraint by not devoting his post-Presidency to enriching himself off of his years in office, but Ronald Reagan took some mega-fees to speak abroad. The Clintons, as we know too well, instantly went from rags to riches by selling their celebrity, an exercise that was especially dubious because Hillary was on the rise. Obama’s speaking fees are just one more step along the cashing-in path that both he and Michelle had already begun traveling with the astounding 65 million dollar deal the couple signed to write their biographies.

Some questions and answers on the ethics of Obama’s payday:

1.  Is Obama ‘s acceptance of all this money ethical?

In a vacuum, it’s hard to argue that it isn’t. He set a fee, and someone is willing to pay it. Hillary’s fee was $250,000; if she can get that much for her dry-as-toast delivery as a former Senator, Secretary of State and First Lady, Obama’s a bargain at $400,000. As a private citizen, he has the same right any of us do to sell his books and speeches at whatever the market will bear.

I, for example, get $37.56 for an hour long speech, and am glad to get it..

2. But it isn’t in a vacuum, right?

Right. Obama still has power and influence; he still promises to be a voice in the Democratic party. He’s not exactly a private citizen, and no ex-President is. Taking such a large payment from a Wall Street firm, after all of Obama’s rhetoric (and that of Bernie Sanders, the non-Democrat now being paraded as a leader of the Democratic party) condemning Wall Street has the decided whiff of hypocrisy about it. Not only, that, but as with Hillary Clinton and Bill, the payment of such jaw-dropping amounts for minimal service natural raises questions of pay-offs. Obama’s administration famously sought no criminal sanctions for Wall Street executives despite their  role in what Obama called “driving the economy into a ditch.” How do we know this wasn’t part of an installment payment to Obama for services already rendered, a quid pro quo? We don’t.

It is also hard to make sense out of those fees if they aren’t paying for something more than an hour long speech.

3. So these fees create “the appearance of impropriety?” Continue reading

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Comment Of The Day: “Ethics Dunce, Judicial Division: Arkansas Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen”

The post about the absurd Arkansas judge who saw nothing wrong with taking part in some anti-death penalty protest theater shortly after halting some scheduled executions. Can we say “objectivity”? Sure we can!

The impetus for Steve-O-in NJ’s Comment of the Day was what could be called dicta in the original post about the dubious role models for judicial conduct currently sitting on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Here is Steve-O-in-NJ’s Comment of the Day on the post, Ethics Dunce, Judicial Division: Arkansas Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen:

I agree that SCOTUS needs an ethics code, but, in all fairness, did Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, or Nixon ever attack the SCOTUS or a decision in a speech or an address? FDR was far more politically powerful than Obama ever could hope to be, but even he knew when to back off the SCOTUS. That said, I wonder if he knew from the get-go he was going to break the 2-term tradition and just wait the court out, as justices either died or retired and he replaced them with like-minded judges.

What do you think of an age limit for Federal judges, setting either 70 or 75 as a mandatory retirement age? Although Article III judges serve for the term of their good behavior, arguably that Article didn’t conceive of Federal Judges living well past 70 regularly and living and serving into their 80s and 90s uncommon but now certainly not unheard of. If we can revisit Presidential terms of office, which we already have, if we can revisit the Electoral College, which we already have once and some are asking us to again, and if many vocally want us to revisit both the First and especially the Second Amendments, all of these due to changing circumstances (breach of the 2-term custom, the emergence of political parties, alleged hate speech, and the evolution of firearms beyond single shot muskets) then arguably we can revisit Article III as well.

Continue reading

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Ethics Dunce, Judicial Division: Arkansas Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen

 

That’s the judge lying down. At least he wasn’t wearing his robe…

Arkansas circuit judge Wendell Griffen granted a temporary restraining order last week halting the Arkansas Department of Corrections from executing seven condemned prisoners within eleven days as it had planned, as Griffen barred the use of one of the ingredients in the lethal drug “cocktail.” A federal judge followed up quickly with anothee order likewise barring Arkansas from proceeding to execute anyone with a lethal injection. Mission accomplished,  Judge Griffen decided to reward himself by attending an anti-death penalty rally in which he participated with elan, playing a condemned prisoner lying prone on a lawn chair as if it was a gurney.

What fun! And what an idiot! No ethics alarms went off, despite the fact that he was flagrantly displaying his bias against the death penalty immediately after interfering with the state’s law enforcement based on a fair and objective interpretation of the law.

State officials were outraged, and argued that Griffen’s conduct proved that he was not capable of impartiality in capital cases. Ya think?

Yesterday the Arkansas Supreme Court pulled Griffen from all pending death penalty and lethal injection protocol cases. It also referred him to the state’s Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission to determine whether he violated the Code of Judicial Conduct.

Good. Continue reading

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Ethics Dunce: Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin

 

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin has pledged “not participate personally and substantially in any matter that has a direct and predictable effect on the financial interests” of his financial holdings, without obtaining an official waiver for doing so. He also had advance notice of how a Trump administration figure could breach ethics rules when Kellyanne Conway, in the course of criticizing organized boycotts of First Daughter Ivanka Trump’s merchandise line, blurted out  “Go buy Ivanka’s stuff!” during an interview on “Fox & Friends.”  The Office of Government Ethics and members of   the House Oversight Committee urged disciplinary action for Conway’s clear, if probably inadvertent, ethics violation. (None occurred. It should have.)

Never mind. During a C-Span broadcast interview last week, Secretary Mnuchin was asked for a movie recommendation (this was a set-up, but an easy one to duck), and said,

“I’m not allowed to promote anything that I’m involved in. So I just want to have the legal disclosure, you’ve asked me the question, and I am not promoting any product. But you should send all your kids to ‘Lego Batman.’ “

HAHAHAHAHA!!! ‘I’m not supposed to do this because it’s unethical, but I’ll do it anyway, because ethics rules are silly, the President doesn’t care about them, and besides, Kellyanne got away with it, and so will I!’ Continue reading

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