Afternoon Ethics Warm-Up, 2/17/18: Mueller And A Movie

Good afternoon..

1 Well, we have some exit poll results…on my integrity and denial question in the Mueller indictment post I started at 4 am, hence the late Warm-up. Based on the comments so far, I am going to be disappointed: the “Trump is guilty of something” crowd is, so far, arguing that an indictment statement including  “There is no allegation in the indictment that any American was a knowing participant in the alleged unlawful activity. There is no allegation in the indictment that the charged conduct altered the outcome of the 2016 election” means that the President’s election was illegitimate and that he is guilty of wrongdoing. We also have such jaw-dropping moments as a commenter praising the Mueller investigation for not leaking the indictments beforehand—wow. Leaks are unethical, and when a grand jury is involved, illegal. The leaking from the Mueller investigation and the Justice Department have been a national disgrace, and we are now at the point when government lawyers not breaking the law is deemed worthy of praise in some quarters.

Of course, we don’t know what was leaked. Since leaking grand jury testimony is so serious and always sparks its own investigation, I wouldn’t bet against reporters having been tipped off, but using the advance notice to prepare their “Trump’s still guilty!” responses.

A better example could not be found of how the the news media and the intentionally divisive partisan rhetoric of the past decade have caused a fracture in the ability of Americans to perceive facts unfiltered by confirmation bias. I find this disheartening. But exit polls are not always accurate…

2. An unexpected take on the indictments. Eccentric conservative blogger Da Tech Guy  had some interesting observations:

“Section 1 and section 24 notes that it’s against US law for “certain foreign nationals” to enter the US without a visa providing truthful and accurate information to the government. Apparently these laws don’t apply to dreamers and those who brought them…section 41 talks about identity theft including social security numbers; again, this could be a charge against the DACA kids…Section 85 completes the list, the illegality here is that they pretended to be Americans and didn’t register as foreign agents while doing activities that if done by Americans would be completely legal…Does that mean that DACA folks and illegals who have held political rallies will be indicted next?…Section 89-95 on count 2 and section 96 again notes identity theft and moving money via such theft., boy this could be an indictment of the illegal alien DACA crowd if they wanted. But they don’t.”

3. Ethics movie review! I watched Denzel Washington’s “Roman J. Israel, Esq.” twice last week, in part because it is a legal ethics movie, and in part because Washington’s portrayal of an idealistic autism-spectrum civil rights attorney whose ethics alarms get corrupted is so unusual for him. I’ll basically pay to watch Denzel play canasta. Continue reading

The Mueller Indictments: Observations And A Spin Report

Late yesterday afternoon the Justice Department announced that it had indicted thirteen Russians and three Russian companies for participation in a scheme to interfere in the United States political system. From the Justice Department website:

“The Department of Justice announced that a grand jury in the District of Columbia today returned an indictment presented by the Special Counsel’s Office. The indictment charges thirteen Russian nationals and three Russian companies for committing federal crimes while seeking to interfere in the United States political system, including the 2016 Presidential election. The defendants allegedly conducted what they called “information warfare against the United States,” with the stated goal of “spread[ing] distrust towards the candidates and the political system in general.”

The full 37-page indictment is here, giving citizens a rare example to read everything reporters know and to thereby be able to gauge exactly how accurate and fair their reporting is, if the citizens are so inclined. SPOILER ALERT: The spin efforts thus far have been staggering.

The press release also tells us in part:

According to the allegations in the indictment, twelve of the individual defendants worked at various times for Internet Research Agency LLC, a Russian company based in St. Petersburg, Russia. …Internet Research Agency allegedly operated through Russian shell companies. It employed hundreds of persons for its online operations, ranging from creators of fictitious personas to technical and administrative support, with an annual budget of millions of dollars. Internet Research Agency was a structured organization headed by a management group and arranged in departments, including graphics, search-engine optimization, information technology, and finance departments. In 2014, the agency established a “translator project” to focus on the U.S. population. In July 2016, more than 80 employees were assigned to the translator project….To hide the Russian origin of their activities, the defendants allegedly purchased space on computer servers located within the United States in order to set up a virtual private network. The defendants allegedly used that infrastructure to establish hundreds of accounts on social media networks such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, making it appear that the accounts were controlled by persons within the United States. They used stolen or fictitious American identities, fraudulent bank accounts, and false identification documents. The defendants posed as politically and socially active Americans, advocating for and against particular political candidates. They established social media pages and groups to communicate with unwitting Americans. They also purchased political advertisements on social media.

Also:

The Russians also recruited and paid real Americans to engage in political activities, promote political campaigns, and stage political rallies. The defendants and their co-conspirators pretended to be grassroots activists. According to the indictment, the Americans did not know that they were communicating with Russians.

Thirteen paragraphs into the release is this statement: “There is no allegation in the indictment that any American was a knowing participant in the alleged unlawful activity. There is no allegation in the indictment that the charged conduct altered the outcome of the 2016 election.”

Talk about burying the lede!

Observations: Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 1/27/2018: “If You Want It, Here’s How To Get It” Edition

Good Morning (and I hope you all feel better than I do).

1 Tide Pod Update: If you want more libertarians, here’s how to get them.  At the Fortune site, Harold I. Ziegler writes,

Recently, videos have circulated on social media showing teens deliberately eating Tide Pods laundry detergent packs. All of this is part of what some call the “Tide Pod Challenge.” These pods contain highly concentrated laundry detergent under pressure and explode when bitten into, releasing their toxic contents and causing rapid ingestion and inhalation of dangerous chemicals. In my capacity as a toxic chemical researcher and consultant, I have investigated and seen several instances of the horrendous consequences that result from laundry pack ingestion: permanent burning of the mouth, throat, digestive tract, and lung tissue, and in some cases even death.Procter & Gamble (P&G), the manufacturer of Tide Pods, as well as other companies selling laundry detergent packs, have acted in the past to stem the misuse of their products. But these safety measures have failed.

It’s clear that laundry pods as they currently exist are too dangerous to be sold to the public. If P&G and other manufacturers can’t figure out a way to reduce the more than 10,000 injuries they cause each year, laundry packs need to be taken off the market.

If there is a better example of the thought processes that create nanny states and push society to eliminate personal responsibility, accountability and autonomy from its values, I can’t think of it. If people persist in the “Hit Yourself In The Head With a Hammer Challenge,” ban hammers.  How do intelligent, educated people end up thinking like this? More amazing still is that a consultant can put out an addled argument like this one for public consumption—Wait! Harold’s opinions make people stupid, and we can’t seem to stop people from reading them! Using Harold’s logic, we better ban freedom of expression! Or Harold!—and still be able to persuade clients to pay for his advice.

2. But if it’s more white nationalism you want, here’s how you get THAT…San Francisco Acting Mayor London Breed, an African-American, was voted out at by her colleagues Board of Supervisors in favor of Mark Farrell, who is white. The Horror.  will replace her as interim mayor until voters select a new mayor in June. As soon as it became apparent that the first African-American woman to lead San Francisco, albeit only because the elected mayor died suddenly, was being replaced by a white male, black citizens in the room erupted with rage, with many leaving in protest, and others shouting, “Shame, shame, shame.” “This is war!” some shouted as the meeting ended.

Nice.

In related news, the Congressional Black Caucus announced that it will boycott the State of the Union speech. Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 1/24/2018: Demands, Denial, And Ethics Distortions

Good morning, crew!

1. Say please..…. A group of “Dreamers” blocked an entrance to Disneyland yesterday, as part of a protest demanding a Congressional OK for DACA.  I am willing to accept the will of Congress and the President if somehow the illegal immigrants who were brought here as children and never took the initiative to become compliant with the law get a break via DACA.  However, they are supplicants. The US has no obligation to accommodate their predicament. I don’t want any demands from them, and the more they demand, the less I am inclined to be sympathetic to their plight.

Ask nicely. Say please. Their sense of entitlement is redolent of the attitudes of the advocates of the usual, everyday, garden variety illegal immigrants. How dare the country we entered illegally enforce the law? If the “Dreamers” want to ask for a compassionate exception, I’ll listen, just as I’ll consider the pleas of panhandlers and homeless veterans. But don’t you dare tell me I have to give you a handout.  And as non-citizens, “the “Dreamers” have no basis to protest anything.

2. Is it news yet? If you had no inkling that the FBI somehow “lost” thousands of text messages sent between those lovebirds, FBI counterintelligence expert Peter Strzok and FBI lawyer Lisa Page,  at the exact point where their conversations and expressed desire to “stop” President Trump may have been especially interesting, you are not alone. There is an internal Justice Department investigation about the communications that went on during the extramarital affair, in part because both were involved in the Mueller investigation into whether there is some way that Democrats can find a legitimate reason to impeach President Trump. Strzok also helped lead the FBI’s probe of Hillary Clinton’s private email server—also now under renewed scrutiny, since more evidence suggests that it might have been rigged; did you know that?— and was initially involved in Special Counsel Mueller’s inquiry into Russia’s 2016 election meddling. Strzok was kicked off the task force after Mueller learned that there was smoking text message evidence that he detested the President, and Strzok and Page had texted about the need for an “insurance policy” against Trump being elected, creating a prima facie case that the investigation included supposed objective seekers of truth who had a political agenda. Page, Strzok’s secret squeeze, was also on Mueller’s team before returning to the FBI. That makes two potential anti-Trump moles. Continue reading

So…Carl Bernstein Really Thinks President Trump Is Innocent Of Collusion With Russia After Telling Us For A Year That He Is Guilty. Nice.

A bad month for Carl Bernstein: first the film Bernstein, Dustin Hoffman, is revealed as a sexual predator, and now the real one is revealed as a lying partisan hack.

Brava to Ann Althouse for catching this.

I’ll let Ann describe her own scoop…

I was stunned by this amazing slip this morning on CNN’s “State of the Union.” The moderator Dana Bash had this question:WOODWARD: You have to look at the crimes.

[T]he investigation has been going on for over a year, at least in the Justice Department, the FBI. We still don’t know about any evidence that the president knowingly colluded with Russia. Does that give the president’s claim that this is a witch-hunt some credence?

Bernstein’s answer:

“He believes it’s a witch-hunt. There’s no question he believes it’s a witch-hunt.”

What?! The only way that Bernstein can make those assertions about what Trump believes is if Bernstein is sure Trump is not lying. Trump knows what he did with respect to Russia, but he’s saying it’s a witch-hunt. Trump’s saying that it’s a witch-hunt could happen if: 1. He knows there’s nothing there (i.e., Mueller is searching for for something, like a witch, that doesn’t exist), or 2. He’s worried about something that he did and he wants to hide it. Bernstein’s remark excludes #2. But Bernstein doesn’t have access to the inside of Trump’s head, so why did Bernstein say that? I’d say Bernstein, on his own, knows that there’s nothing there, and he blurted out an answer without thinking about what he was saying about what’s in his own head.

Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 12/30/2017: Is Robert Mueller Biased? Are The Patriots Cheating Again? Is Larry Tribe Deranged? Is President Trump A Robot?

Good Morning!

(Nothing better than waking up to a light dusting of snow!)

1 When you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs…Alan Dershowitz, a Democrat and legal expert who has prominently avoided the ravages of anti-Trump mania that have crippled so many of his distinguished colleagues, tried to clarify several issues in the Mueller investigation on Fox News.

On Special Prosecutor Mueller personally and professionally: “I don’t think he’s partisan, I don’t think he cares whether the Democrats or the Republicans benefit from this.I think he’s a zealous prosecutor and if he were going after Hillary Clinton, he’d be going after her with as much zeal.”

On his investigative team: “Now that’s not true for some of the people on his staff. He should never have allowed these people to serve on this investigative staff, if they had the points of view that they’ve had towards Hillary Clinton and towards Donald Trump. That was a mistake…when you’re going after a president or a presidential candidate, you have to be ‘Caesar’s wife,’ you have to be above reproach, and he didn’t do a good enough job in vetting the people that he brought on to the prosecution and the investigative team, and that hurts his credibility.”

Correct, and obviously correct. So why is the White House and Fox News being criticized daily for questioning the legitimacy, fairness, objectivity, and independence of the investigation? It doesn’t matter if Mueller is personally fair and objective if he appoints biased and conflicted lawyers to do the work. That still means the investigation is compromised and untrustworthy. It also means that Mueller undermined the investigation exactly the way he could not afford to if he wanted its results to be accepted.

There is nothing inappropriate about those being investigated pointing out bias, incompetence and conflicts of interest by the investigators. Criticism of a legitimate complaint, backed up by facts, indicates that those critics  don’t care about bias, incompetence and conflicts of interest, if they lead to the result they crave.

2. Suspicion! Why would the NFL’s New England Patriots sign a washed-up, 39-year-old Pittsburgh Steelers veteran, James Harrison, with only one game left in the regular season, at a cost of about $60,000 for that game and for any play-off games the Patriots participate in? Harrison has barely played all season, is no longer a top performer, and was a discordant and disruptive presence in the locker room. Many sportswriters and fans believe that he is being paid by New England to be a turncoat, and to reveal  Steelers’ secrets that might provide an edge if the Patriots, as many expect, have to defeat Pittsburgh on the way to another Super Bowl. The Patriots have been caught cheating more than once. Would this be cheating?

I assume not, unless Harrison had an enforceable non disclosure clause that prohibited him from revealing Steelers plays and strategies even after he was no longer on the team. Indeed, it would be unethical for Harrison not to help his new team in any way possible. When New England signed him, they signed his body, mind and accumulated experience. Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 12/27/17: Height And Leadership, Among Other Things

 

Good Morning, all.

1  Fake news update. The news media’s daily efforts to poison public opinion against the President and everything connected to him is so—someone give me a new adjective,please, as I am sick of despicable, unconscionable,  outrageous, unforgivable, even unethical—reprehensible that I feel pulled into the position of having to defend Trump in order to defend basic ethical principles.

Newsweek featured this headline yesterday:

Melania Trump Orders Removal of Near-200-Year-Old Tree From White House

Those monsters! These crude Trumps, with no respect for history or tradition, trash everything they touch–even the famous magnolia Andrew Jackson planted in 1828, in honor of his late wife Rachel, who died before he took office. The Trump Hate Mob picked it up from there, with one tweeter sneering online,

“A rotten dying Iconic White House tree is representative not just of Trump’s brutal attack on Mother Earth & science, but it’s symbolic of everything that Trump has done to our sacred Democracy since taking office.”

The tree had to be removed, as even Newsweek explained if a reader got past the misleading headline, which many readers don’t…

CNN obtained documents from specialists at the United States National Arboretum, which determined the magnolia tree must be removed. The tree is “completely dependent on artificial support,” the document read.

The document said, “Without the extensive cabling system, the tree would have fallen years ago. Presently, and very concerning, the cabling system is failing on the east trunk, as a cable has pulled through the very thin layer of wood that remains. It is difficult to predict when and how many more will fail.”

Moreover, only part of the tree, and not “the tree,” is being removed. From CBS:

A “large portion” of the Jackson Magnolia, a tree that has been a South Lawn fixture since the 1800s, is being removed, the White House says. It had become a safety hazard after decades of decay…A substantial portion of the Jackson Magnolia will be removed …including one tree limb which will be conducted by the National Park Service, CBS News has confirmed.

(Look at the photo above. I bet you can guess which portion is being removed.)

Wait…one tree limb will be conducted? What’s that supposed to mean? And back to the Newsweek headline: what’s a tree doing in the White House anyway? It should have been removed centuries ago.

Fake news.

Also, news copy apparently written by monkeys at a keyboard… Continue reading

Ethical Quote Of The Month: David French

“For more than a year, I’ve been challenging conservative readers to look at Trump’s actions and imagine how they’d react if Democrats were behaving the same way — to apply the same standards to their team that they’d apply to their opponents. Now, I want to challenge my progressive readers: Consider how you would respond to the federal bureaucracy with the opposite ideological imbalance. Would you have confidence that it would apply the law and Constitution fairly? Would you be alarmed if you found that a senior FBI agent so biased and reckless was playing a key role in the investigation of a Democratic president?”

——National Review writer David French, in his article, “Peter Strzok’s story will hurt public trust in the federal government at the worst possible time.”

The Strzok story, an embarrassment to the Special Counsel’s inquiry, is just one more that the mainstream media has, in sequence, tried to ignore, spin, bury, and brush off as a “conservative” obsession.  French is a credentialed “Never-Trumper,”{ but he knows an appearance of impropriety, poor oversight and conflicts of interest when he sees them:

…Robert Mueller had months ago asked a senior FBI agent to step down from his role investigating the Trump administration. [He] was caught in an extramarital affair with an FBI lawyer. The affair itself was problematic, but so was the fact that the two were found to have exchanged anti-Trump, pro-Hillary Clinton text messages….

…This agent, Peter Strzok, also worked with FBI director James Comey on the Clinton email investigation. In fact, he was so deeply involved in the Clinton investigation that he is said to have interviewed Cheryl Mills and Huma Abedin, and to have been present when the FBI interviewed Clinton. According to CNN, he was part of the team responsible for altering the FBI’s conclusion that Clinton was “grossly negligent” in handling classified emails (a finding that could have triggered criminal liability) to “extremely careless” — a determination that allowed her to escape prosecution entirely. After the Clinton investigation concluded, Strzok signed the documents opening the investigation into Russian election interference and actually helped interview former national-security adviser Michael Flynn. In other words, it looks like a low-integrity, reckless, biased bureaucrat has played an important role in two of the most important and politically charged criminal investigations of the new century. Yes, it’s good that Mueller removed Strzok when he discovered the text messages. No, Strzok is not solely responsible for the conclusions reached in either investigation. But his mere presence hurts public confidence in the FBI, and it does so in a way that further illustrates a persistent and enduring national problem: America’s permanent bureaucracy is unacceptably partisan.

…It is to Robert Mueller’s credit that he took swift action against Strzok. It’s a problem that, as the Wall Street Journal observes, he “kept this information from House investigators.” For a critical mass of the public to have confidence in Mueller’s investigation, it must be as transparent and accountable as humanly possible. A proper investigation into Russian interference in our election is vital to the health of our democracy. A biased and opaque probe, however, will do far more harm than good.

French is bending over backwards to be fair, but he goes so far he may snap. Mueller must know his team, and he must understand, or one would think he would, that if he finds anything that justifies action against the President of the United States, it is essential that there be no hint of bias or partisan conflicts. How could he allow someone like this to play a key role in his investigation? The Wall Street Journal asked,quite reasonably,

Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team is emphasizing its ejection of FBI agent Peter Strzok immediately upon learning about anti-Trump texts he exchanged with another FBI employee, Lisa Page, before the 2016 election. But when did the FBI learn of the messages? …[W]hen did the FBI dig up and turn over that very first tranche? How long has the bureau known one of its lead investigators was exhibiting such bias? Was it before Mr. Mueller was even appointed? Did FBI leaders sit by as the special counsel tapped Mr. Strzok? In any case, we know from the letter that the inspector general informed both Messrs. Rosenstein and Mueller of the texts on July 27, and that both men hid that explosive information from Congress for four months. The Justice Department, pleading secrecy, defied subpoenas that would have produced the texts. It refused to make Mr. Strzok available for an interview. It didn’t do all this out of fear of hurting national security, obviously. It did it to save itself and the FBI from embarrassment.

Yet when the President made some derogatory tweets about the FBI, the news media as one treated it as if he were committing blasphemy. The tweet, as usual, were foolish and unprofessional. Trump was wrong to send them, as usual, but I don’t see how anyone can argue that the substance of what he wrote is wrong. Continue reading

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