Menendez Trial Raises Thorny Issues
Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and his "campaign donor" Salomon Melgen are currently on trial for political corruption—the Senator for taking bribes and Melgren for paying them. Menendez argues that the "bribes" in exchange for pursuing legislation favorable to Melgren was "just ordinary politics—no worse than the actions of my many peers in Congress."
As a case in point, the Senator pointed out that "former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev) was able to fatten his bank account through 'sweetheart' real estate deals with one of his donors. And he inserted language in the Affordable Care Act in exchange for money from the drug companies. He wasn't prosecuted for any of this. Why am I being singled out?"
Prosecutor Peter Koski contended that Menendez "went outside the bounds of traditionally acceptable 'pay-for-play' bribery. Mr. Melgren doesn't live in New Jersey. The Senator can't pass off the favors he did as 'constituent services.' Former Senator Reid's land deals were all conducted with a Nevada resident and constituent. And the payments he received from the drug companies were in the form of campaign donations. That Senator Reid retired and can now pocket these campaign donations is irrelevant."
Kirk Ogrosky, the defense attorney for Melgen, called the distinctions between the actions of Senators Reid and Menendez "artificial. Mr. Melgren may not be a constituent of Senator Menendez in a geographic sense, but he is a constituent in a shared ethnicity. Both were part of the fellowship of Hispanic Americans. This trial is not only an attack on the two defendants, it is an attack on all Hispanics."
Whether Menendez should resign from office if he is convicted posed a difficult dilemma for his Party peers. Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) pondered the issue, observing that "on the one hand, a criminal conviction is not good for one's resume as a member of government. Given the fact that so many have been able to skate past the rules that would typically land a violator behind bars, a conviction in his case would signal an unusual degree of incompetence. I mean, the Clintons raked in hundreds of millions of dollars using the leverage of public office. This was a much bigger heist than Senator Menendez's petty larceny. Yet, neither of them are on trial nor likely to ever see the inside of a prison cell."
"On the other hand, there is no constitutional bar to an elected representative also being a convicted felon," Schumer continued. "Let's not overlook the fact that the Senator does represent the State of New Jersey. The voters there have a right to elect whoever they wish. Who is to say that he isn't the kind of person who best reflects the values and talents of that state's inhabitants?"
Dems in 15 States Sue Over Trump DACA Action
Democrat Attorney-Generals in 15 states plus the District of Columbia have filed suit against President Trump for his executive action overturning former President Obama's executive decree on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). Trump justified his countering executive decree by pointing out that Obama lacked the authority to unilaterally modify US immigration law. Trump's decree goes into effect in six months—a time span giving Congress the opportunity to handle the issue in a legal and constitutional fashion.
Nonetheless, the suing AGs described Trump's action as "illegal" and "unfair." New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman cast Trump's argument that only Congress can enact laws as "putting adherence to the law ahead of human decency. Whether President Obama had the legal right to enact DACA isn't as important as whether it was the right thing to do. We're hoping that the court will see past the legalities and confirm the fundamental justice of the DACA decree. These childhood immigrants are blameless. They have become accustomed to living in the United States. They shouldn't be punished for the crimes committed by their parents."
Schneiderman brushed aside the possibility that the suit may be premature since Congress may actually pass a law within the six-month grace period allowed by Trump's executive action. "No person's fate should be held hostage to a contingency that Congress will take timely measures to deal with an issue," he asserted. "We have all seen how little Congress has accomplished over the past eight months. It would be foolish to count on this body to respond in an expeditious manner to the artificial deadline imposed by President Trump."
For his part, Trump further muddled the issue by tweeting that he "may revisit the issue should Congress fail to act." This is the same rationale used by Obama when he stepped outside the bounds of his authority to institute the DACA program.
In related news, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmauel slammed Trump's DACA move and declared "our City will always remain a safe haven for those pursued by immigration authorities. The same is not the case for Mr. Trump himself. He is barred from entering and police have orders to use whatever force is required to see that he stays away."
Dem Drafting Legislation to Crack Down on College Freedom of Speech
Rep. Anthony Brown (D-Md) says he will introduce a bill that would require universities and colleges to define "acceptable speech" on campus. "On too many college campuses fresh-mouthed youths hide behind the First Amendment claiming that they have a right to air their unfiltered political views regardless of whether others might find them hurtful or outside the bounds of respectable opinion," Brown said. "They openly flout the 'free speech zone' restrictions that school officials have imposed in an effort to protect students from hearing offensive remarks. We've got to put a muzzle on these free-speech abusers."
Brown's proposed legislation would set up a program to award grants to schools that "properly control what, when, and where students are allowed to voice their unsolicited opinions. No student should have to fear that a walk between classrooms would expose him or her to the rantings of right-wing anti-government ideologues. Universities that develop speech codes and procedures that will silence anti-progressive elements from infringing on the rights of others to not have to hear disturbing contradictions to prevailing mainstream views should be financially rewarded for their enterprise. My bill will do that."
In related news, black caucus representatives at Harvard demanded that noted author and scholar Charles Murray be barred from speaking on campus—for public safety reasons. It's not that the mild-manner Murray will rouse a rabble of right-wing goons to cause trouble. The fear is that "this racist apologist will instigate an oppressed minority to attack him. We haven't read his books and we shouldn't be forced to allow him to speak."
More Comey Malpractice Unveiled
On top of last week's revelation that former FBI Director James Comey drafted an exoneration memo for Hillary Clinton before more than a dozen witnesses had been interviewed, this week it was disclosed that the famous "30,000 missing emails" were in the possession of the National Security Agency (NSA). And, it turns out, Comey declined to accept the NSA's offer to provide him with copies.
In defense of this refusal to receive evidence, Comey pointed out that "the decision not to prosecute Secretary Clinton was unanimous. As such, there was no reason to probe these emails. At best, we would have found that she was telling the truth that none of these emails dealt with government business. At worst, we would have found that she lied. This would have cast a serious pall of doubt over the reputations of those of us, including Attorney General Lynch and President Obama, who had already agreed that there would be no prosecution."
"I was the 'good soldier' following the orders of my superiors," Comey explained. "It is the Attorney General who determines which cases are worthy of prosecution. She, of course, must answer to the President. If he decides there is to be no prosecution then both she and I, as his subordinates, must obey. That I stepped up and took the heat for announcing there would be no prosecution was a heroic act of a loyal subordinate. I deserve praise, not persecution, as will become obvious when my book is published."
Justice Dept Declines to Press Charges Against IRS Official
Assistant Attorney General Kevin Boyd announced that the Trump Administration will not be pursuing charges against former IRS executive Lois Lerner for discriminating against conservative organizations seeking tax-free status from the Agency.
While conceding that Lerner's refusal to testify on the grounds it would be self-incriminating was, in effect a "smoking gun," Boyd insisted that "the prosecution of a government functionary for carrying out the wishes of the president would be excessively punitive and set a dangerous precedent. A person entering the ranks of an administration shouldn't have to be second-guessing every decision—is it right, is it wrong, is it legal or illegal. That would slow the gears by which the president's will prevails in the making of policy."
"Ideally, the chief executive is the one who should be held accountable," Boyd argued. "Difficult as this might be given that the president can order enemies to be killed, nevertheless, it is a basic principle of our Constitution. The proper remedy would be impeachment. Since the person responsible for the IRS' illegal acts is no longer in office the entire matter is now moot."
Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Tex), chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, called the decision not to pursue the case "terrible. It sends the message that the same legal, ethical, and Constitutional standards we all live by do not apply to Washington political appointees—who will now have the green light to target Americans for their political beliefs and mislead investigators without ever being held accountable for their lawlessness."