Ethics Round-Up, 12/18/2019: The Day Before An Invasive Procedure Edition [UPDATED]


Even the satisfaction of knowing that the President reads Ethics Alarms, or at least thinks like I do…wait, that came out wrong. Anyway, today I expect to be uncomfortable, hungry and distracted, so who knows what might appear here today?

You were warned.

1. The Ethics Quote of the Day comes from ex-Marine and TV talk show host Montel Williams (who was very nice to me when I was on his show), on the “scandal” of some cadets flashing the dreaded “OK” sign during the Army-Navy Game:


“Both West Point and Annapolis are investigating, and it strikes me as defamatory that some in the media have branded these young people as racists without a shred of evidence. I understand that a handful of racists (perhaps living in their parents’ basements) attempted to co-opt the ‘OK’ sign as a symbol of white power … but that is not evidence that these kids were motivated by racial animus. We owe these young people, who had the courage to sign up to be part of the 1% who defend this democracy, better than this,”

I would say that we owe them better than even investigating such trivia. A ambiguous gestures are ambiguous, and no student, in a military academy or anywhere else  should have to defend or explain them. The students are entitled to the benefit of the doubt.  As with the “It’s OK to be White,” flyers, the rational, responsible approach by administrators is to ignore them, rather than to make a scandal out of nothing.

When will we see the first “It’s OK to make the OK sign” flyers? Heck, I may put some up myself…

2. Nah, there’s no progressive “war on Christmas,’ and there’s no mainstream media bias, either. And CNN’s Brian Stelter isn’t the most incompetent and absurd “media critic” since the term was coined! Imagine: Stelter asked on Twitter,

“Justice Neil Gorsuch is on “Fox & Friends” right now. The Q: How is it appropriate for a Supreme Court justice to try to goose sales of his three-month-old book by chatting on one of the most partisan shows on TV?”

More “Q’s”: Would it be appropriate for Gorsuch to chat on another network, like, say, CNN? Would “wtachdog” Stelter bitch about that? What does the level of partisanship of a show have to do with whether a Supreme Court Justice should appear there? Is there any rule or precedent holding that it is unethical for a sitting Justice to promote a book? (I’ll answer that one: no.)

Stelter’s whining wasn’t close to the most contrived objection to Gorsuch’s visit to the Fox and Friends couch, though. This was: Continue reading

Comment Of The Day On The Testimony Of Prof. Jonathan Turley

This is the first of three Comments of the Day I will post  authored by Glenn Logan. Glenn was an accomplished blogger himself before he hung up his blogging shoes, and here he among the  longest participating commenters Ethics Alarms has, and, obviously, an outstanding one. He has been on an impressive run, and I realized that I better catch up. All three of Glenn’s COTDs relate to impeachment (as well as several other excellent comments).

Here is Glenn’s first Comment of the Day, on Professor Turley’s testimony on impeachment, Part II, You can find the links to the entire statement here.

The crux of Turley’s argument is that the process has not discovered objective proof of the impeachable conduct alleged, assuming arguendo that the conduct alleged actually qualifies in a substantive way for the Constitutional requirement of “…high crimes and misdemeanors.”

Setting aside the intentions of the House Democrats and the Judiciary Committee, this entire episode has become an abuse of process, Kabuki theater designed to produce an impeachment trial. As to why, well, there are surely lots of plausible explanations and even on-the-record statements suggesting answers, but ultimately it doesn’t matter. What does matter is what future Houses will conclude from these proceedings, and I think that is largely driven by what happens in the 2020 election.

If it turns out that the Republicans win big because of the broad rejection by Americans of this entire process, the lesson will be that the wages of orchestrating an inevitably failed impeachment without broad political support from the electorate are punishment at the ballot box. The Republicans learned this lesson in the Clinton impeachment, and you would think the Democrats would have marked it well also.

But many of us suppose this current train wreck is being conducted by the Democratic base, who manifestly loathe Trump and would happily see him executed by firing squad, or hanged. If the Democratic politicians fail to deliver even a pro-forma impeachment of such a loathsome President, the Democrats (perhaps rightly) fear the base will abandon conventional political campaigns and go “full commie,” a situation which will fracture the party and perhaps reduce it to rump status. Continue reading

Written Statement of Prof. Jonathan Turley: “The Impeachment Inquiry Into President Donald J. Trump: The Constitutional Basis For Presidential Impeachment” [PART II]

( Part I is here.)

Professor Turley’s testimony continues…

B.  The Nixon Inquiry

The Nixon “impeachment” is often referenced as the “gold standard” for impeachments even though it was not an actual impeachment. President Richard Nixon resigned before the House voted on the final articles of impeachment. Nevertheless, the Nixon inquiry was everything that the Johnson impeachment was not. It was based on an array of clearly defined criminal acts with a broad evidentiary foundation. That record was supported by a number of key judicial decisions on executive privilege claims. It is a worthy model for any presidential impeachment. However, the claim by Chairman Schiff that the Ukrainian controversy is “beyond anything Nixon did” is wildly at odds with the historical record. The allegations in Nixon began with a felony crime of burglary and swept to encompass an array of other crimes involving political slush funds, payments of hush money, maintenance of an enemies list, directing tax audits of critics, witness intimidation, multiple instances of perjury, and even an alleged  kidnapping. Ultimately, there were nearly 70 officials charged and four dozen of them found guilty. Nixon was also named as an unindicted conspirator by a grand jury. The convicted officials include former Attorney General John N. Mitchell (perjury); former Attorney General Richard Kleindienst (contempt of court); former Deputy Director of the Committee to Re-elect The President Jeb Stuart Magruder (conspiracy to the burglary); former Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman (conspiracy to the burglary, obstruction of justice, and perjury); former counsel and Assistant to the President for Domestic Affairs to Nixon John Ehlichman (conspiracy to the burglary, obstruction of justice, and perjury); former White House Counsel John W. Dean II (obstruction of justice); and former special counsel to the President Charles Colson (obstruction of justice). Many of the Watergate defendants went to jail, with some of the defendants sentenced to as long as 35 years. The claim that the Ukrainian controversy eclipses Watergate is unhinged from history.

While the Ukrainian controversy could still establish impeachable conduct, it undermines that effort to distort the historical record to elevate the current record. Indeed, the comparison to the Nixon inquiry only highlights the glaring differences in the underlying investigations, scope of impeachable conduct, and evidentiary records with the current inquiry. It is a difference between the comprehensive and the cursory; the proven and the presumed. In other words, it is not a comparison the House should invite if it is serious about moving forward in a few weeks on an impeachment based primarily on the Ukrainian controversy. The Nixon inquiry was based on the broadest and most developed evidentiary in any impeachment. There were roughly 14 months of hearings – not 10 weeks. There were scandalous tape recordings of Nixon and a host of criminal pleas and prosecutions. That record included investigations in both the House and the Senate as well as investigations by two special prosecutors, Archibald Cox and Leon Jaworski, including grand jury material. While the inquiry proceeded along sharply partisan lines, the vote on the proposed articles of impeachment ultimately included the support of some Republican members who, again, showed that principle could transcend politics in such historic moments.

Three articles were approved in the Nixon inquiry alleging obstruction of justice, abuse of power, and defiance of committee subpoenas. Two articles of impeachment based on usurping Congress, lying about the bombing of Cambodia, and tax fraud, were rejected on a bipartisan basis. While the Nixon impeachment had the most developed record and comprehensive investigation, I am not a fan of the structure used for the articles. The Committee evaded the need for specificity in alleging crimes like obstruction of justice while listing a variety of specific felonies after a catchall line declaring that “the means used to implement this course of conduct or plan included one or more of the following.” Given its gravity, impeachment should offer concrete and specific allegations in the actual articles. This is the case in most judicial impeachments.

The impeachment began with a felony when “agents of the Committee for the Re- election of the President committed unlawful entry of the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee in Washington, District of Columbia, for the purpose of securing political intelligence.” The first article of impeachment reflected the depth of the record and scope of the alleged crimes in citing Nixon’s personal involvement in the obstruction of federal and congressional investigations. The article included a host of specific criminal acts including lying to federal investigators, suborning perjury, and witness tampering. The second article of impeachment also alleged an array of criminal acts that were placed under the auspices of abuse of power. The article addressed Nixon’s rampant misuse of the IRS, CIA, and FBI to carry out his effort to conceal the evidence and crimes following the break-in. They included Nixon’s use of federal agencies to carry out “covert and unlawful activities” and how he used his office to block the investigation of federal agencies. The third article concerned defiance of Congress stemming from his refusal to turn over material to Congress.

These articles were never subjected to a vote of the full House. In my view, they were flawed in their language and structure. As noted earlier, there was a lack of specificity on the alleged acts due to the use of catch-all lists of alleged offenses. Continue reading