In a way, you can’t blame conservatives for thinking the fix is in on impeachment. A broad swathe of the liberal intelligentsia has been hell-bent on removing Donald Trump from office since before Day One of his presidency. The worst among them seem to have taken a cue from Marlon Brando in The Wild One: What are the charges? “Whaddya got?”
Former labor secretary Robert Reich says we should impeach Trump for “abridging the freedom of the press” by … calling the media names and “choosing who he invites to news conferences.” In his rushed-to-publication tome, The Case for Impeachment, American University’s Allan J. Lichtman argues that Trump can be removed for the “crime against humanity” of global-warming skepticism.
Are these really the sorts of offenses that qualify as “high Crimes and Misdemeanors”? To divine the meaning of that phrase, it would help to have the guidance of a preeminent constitutional scholar — someone such as Harvard’s Laurence Tribe, whose treatise American Constitutional Law has been “cited more than any other legal text since 1950.”
Unfortunately, Trump’s election seems to have rattled Tribe hard enough to knock loose both his constitutional standards and his sense of proportion. The dean of con-law professors has spent the administration’s opening months frantically hurling charges at Trump, and managing mainly to impeach his own reputation in the process.
The Harvard Law professor’s arguments for removing President Trump from office have grown increasingly unhinged.
Impeachment “Should Begin On Inauguration Day,” Tribe declared in December; by January 28, he had concluded that Trump “must be impeached for abusing his power and shredding the Constitution more monstrously than any other president in American history” — pretty impressive for a man entering the second week of his presidency.
What’s funny about all this is, when it was Bill Clinton’s political life on the line, Tribe nearly threw his back out trying to raise the constitutional bar for removal. In his November 1998 testimony before the House Judiciary Committee, Tribe insisted that “an impeachable offense must itself severely threaten the system of government or constitute a grievous abuse of official power or both.” Perjury and obstruction to cover up an illicit affair weren’t nearly grave enough.
Hell, back then even murder was a close call in Tribe’s eyes, if the president did the deed himself, for personal reasons. In his testimony, Tribe emphasized the fact that “when Vice President Aaron Burr killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel in July 1804 … Burr served out his term, which ended in early 1805,” without getting impeached. “There may well be room to argue,” Tribe grudgingly conceded, that a contemporary president could be impeached for an extracurricular homicide — but that exception “must not be permitted to swallow [the] rule.” Whack a guy in Weehawken and we might have to let you get away with it; lie about him on Twitter, though, and you’ve got to go.
Charges of “Trump Derangement Syndrome” are often jus a debater’s dodge, used to change the subject from the president’s behavior to his critics’ alleged hang-ups. Spend any time following Laurence Tribe on social media, though, and you’ll begin to think of it as an actual, clinical condition.
It turns out that Donald J. Trump isn’t the only septuagenarian who’s too excitable to be trusted with a Twitter account. Tribe’s feed has become a “vector of misinformation and conspiracy theories on Twitter,” as Dartmouth political scientist Brendan Nyhan puts it. The distinguished professor of constitutional law has become a sucker for crackpot theories about the Trump-Russia connection, and a fan of those who spread them, such as “the incomparable Louise Mensch.” “Incomparable” is right. Mensch, the “paranoid bard of the age of Trump,” claims, among other things, that Vladimir Putin had Andrew Breitbart assassinated, and that “the Marshal of the Supreme Court” has notified President Trump of secret impeachment proceedings that are already underway. (I like to think that the mysterious “Marshal” sports a Stetson and swaggers around like Raylan Givens.)
More conventional grounds for impeachment emerged in May, when the president sacked FBI director James Comey over “this Russia thing.” As that story was breaking, Tribe took to the Washington Post op-ed page to insist that “Trump must be impeached” for obstruction of justice. Trump’s actions, Tribe argued, read like a replay of the charges against Richard Nixon: “making misleading statements to, or withholding material evidence from, federal investigators or other federal employees … [and] dangling carrots in front of people who might otherwise pose trouble for one’s hold on power.” “To say that this does not in itself rise to the level of ‘obstruction of justice,’” Tribe thundered, “is to empty that concept of all meaning.”
Not quite: Reasonable legal minds differ about whether Trump’s behavior rises to that level. Besides, those charges also read like a replay of the rap against Clinton. And as Tribe stressed during that imbroglio, whether obstruction is impeachable depends in part on how serious a thing the president was trying to cover up. It’s entirely possible that further investigation won’t yield evidence of collusion, and the entire episode will end up looking less scandalous than Clinton’s romp with Monica Lewinsky. By Tribe’s own indulgent standard, then, without “the threat of substantial harm to the nation required to establish a high crime or misdemeanor,” Trump should get a pass.
As it happens, the scope of the impeachment power is considerably broader than partisans such as Tribe led people to believe back when they were trying to save Clinton’s hide. But that’s the problem with tailoring your constitutional interpretations to the political needs of the moment: As Tribe put it in 1998, it’s “short-sighted … to approach the task of defining ‘high Crimes and Misdemeanors’ from a narrowly result-oriented perspective,” because you “may live to regret” the standard you’ve set when the presidency changes hands.Gene Healy is a vice-president of the Cato Institute and the author of The Cult of the Presidency.
Ted Galen Carpenter
Relations between Moscow and Washington continue to deteriorate over a variety of issues. Contrary to the expectations of Americans who favor a more conciliatory policy toward Russia (and contrary to the fears of those who believe that a confrontational stance is necessary), the frigid bilateral relationship during Barack Obama’s administration has not warmed under Donald Trump. The new president retreated from indications he gave during the 2016 presidential election campaign that he would reconsider the economic sanctions that his predecessor imposed following Russia’s annexation of Crimea and Moscow’s support for separatist forces in eastern Ukraine.
Beyond the administration’s policy retreat, Congress is in a militant, anti-Russia mood. The Senate just voted 98-2 to impose additional sanctions on Moscow in retaliation to the Putin government’s alleged interference in America’s 2016 elections. An avalanche of vitriolic denunciations of Vladimir Putin and Russian behavior in general preceded that vote and have been a staple of the media for months. Russian officials are reacting with growing resentment and anger to Washington’s mounting displays of hostility.
On one issue, Syria, bilateral tensions especially are flaring to an alarming extent. That animosity has been building for years. Obama administration officials openly backed the Sunni-dominated insurgency that has waged a war for nearly six years to oust Bashar al-Assad’s religious-minority (Alawite, Druze and Christian) regime. Moscow deeply resented the U.S. position, since the Assad family has been a long-time Russian geopolitical client. After seething for more than four years about Washington’s intrusion into a country that the Kremlin regards as part of Russia’s rightful sphere of influence, Putin deployed military forces in 2015 to back the beleaguered Assad government. With U.S. military personnel already operating in Syria to assist selected rebel factions, that move created an inherently dangerous situation.
It is better if Russia incurs the risks and suffers the negative consequences of geopolitical meddling than if the United States does so.
Matters have grown increasingly ominous. The most recent incident occurred just days ago when a U.S plane shot down a Syrian government fighter jet that was attacking U.S.-backed insurgents. Moscow responded with an announcement that it will now track coalition aircraft , including American planes, operating in Syrian airspace. That move was just one step short of threatening to shoot down any planes that seemed to be threatening Russian forces or their Syrian allies. The danger of a direct military clash between the United States and Russia over Syria is no longer the stuff of paranoid fantasies.
There are now two dueling policies regarding the bloody Syrian civil war. Moscow’s agenda is rather straightforward, if somewhat cold-blooded. The decision to send Russian forces into the conflict confirmed a determination to prop up Assad’s government. The Russians are concerned about two dangers if their besieged client falls from power. One risk is that Washington would become the leading outside player in Syria and move to eradicate Russian influence there and throughout the Middle East. The other well-founded worry is that radical Islamic elements will dominate any post-Assad government. That development would enhance the overall terrorist threat and boost hostile Muslim factions in Russia’s near abroad (especially the Caucasus and Central Asia) and even inside Russia itself.
U.S. leaders are—to put it mildly—indifferent to Moscow’s concerns. But while Russia’s Syria policy is straightforward and coherent, U.S. policy is a contradictory, incoherent mess. The Obama administration made it clear that Bashar al-Assad could not be part of any future Syrian government. At first, the Trump administration seemed inclined to reconsider that approach. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson initially indicated that Washington would no longer demand Assad’s removal. But just days later, a chemical attack occurred in rebel-held town. Trump immediately blamed Assad’s forces (despite conflicting evidence ) and ordered cruise-missile strikes against the Syrian air base that Washington alleged was the source of the attack. Tillerson subsequently stated that Assad must leave office before any political settlement could occur (essentially a return to the Obama policy), only to say days later that the Trump administration’s policy had not changed and that regime change was not part of the agenda. By this time, intelligent observers could be excused if they were totally confused.
That is hardly the only manifestation of U.S. policy incoherence regarding Syria. Washington’s attempt to calibrate support so that it strengthens so-called Syrian moderates has led to multiple embarrassing episodes. The Obama administration’s program to identify and train moderate military units was a $500 million fiasco that produced only a handful of fighters—most of whom were promptly captured by or surrendered to their adversaries. Other ventures fared little better. At one point a CIA-backed Syrian faction apparently engaged in combat against another faction that the Pentagon supported. More recently, Washington has been caught in a dilemma as fellow NATO member Turkey attacked Syrian Kurdish units that were battling ISIS with American assistance.
Russia is especially mystified at the U.S. flirtation with factions that are anything but secular moderates. One of those groups is the Nusra Front, at one time Al Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria. Former CIA Director David Petraeus openly advocated U.S. military cooperation with that organization. Other de facto U.S. rebel allies display more than few signs of being Islamists rather than moderates—even given a broad definition of the latter term. Moscow’s fury reached a new level in the past few weeks as the United States has launched air strikes against militias allied with the Assad regime in southeastern Syria. Russia asserts that those forces were battling ISIS and other militant factions, and that Washington’s actions play into the hands of Islamic terrorists.
Both the Kremlin and the White House need to make serious moves to defuse growing tensions before a potentially cataclysmic clash takes place between Russian and American forces in Syria. The bulk of the changes must come from the American side.
The United States should defer to Russia regarding Syria policy. Moscow has far more significant security interests at stake in Syria and the broader Middle East. Northern Syria lies barely 600 miles from the Russian frontier. Syria is some 6,000 miles from America’s homeland. In the process of deferring to Russia, Washington would also off-load the responsibility and risks onto the Kremlin.
It is doubtful that any outside power can truly bring an end to the fighting in Syria, much less restore a stable, united country. Such intervention thus far has bred only resentment and terrorist retaliation. It is better if Russia incurs the risks and suffers the negative consequences of geopolitical meddling than if the United States does so. Syria could well become another Afghanistan for Russia. That would be tragic, but it is preferable to Syria becoming another Vietnam or Iraq for America. And continued U.S. meddling in Syria certainly is not worth triggering a new cold war —and perhaps a hot war—with Russia. Yet that is the perilous path our nation is following.Ted Galen Carpenter, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and a contributing editor at the National Interest, is the author of ten books, the contributing editor of ten books, and the author of more than 650 articles on international affairs.
Jeremy Corbyn’s call for the requisition of empty luxury homes to rehouse the victims of the Grenfell fire is significant for confirming what many of us long suspected: the Labour leader holds the concept of private property, a necessary foundation of our prosperity and freedom, in disdain. Worse, he is willing to exploit horrific events to harness public support for such an agenda.
Those who studied the Labour manifesto in detail would not be surprised by this. Though unlikely to invoke sympathy for the affected, Labour promised new legislation requiring football club owners to offer shares to fans, and an effective government veto on banks closing branches. It also pledged to introduce a provision for workers to obtain the option to be a “buyer of first refusal” when their company is up for sale.
All of these would dilute the freedom to purchase, use and dispose of property. All start from the effective premise that the state is the de facto owner of all property, and able to intervene to decide what uses and sales are “socially beneficial”. All would add significant complexity and time to the cost of selling the businesses or properties affected, deterring private-sector investment.
Well-established private property rights are a necessary condition for prosperity.
Now we know the manifesto was the thin end of the wedge. On the pertinent issue of housing, Mr Corbyn has previously suggested extending the “right to buy” to the tenants of private landlords too — in essence, forcing property owners to sell at a discount. It’s hardly surprising then, given this and his “bash the rich” populism, that he feels so sanguine about exploiting this tragedy to even suggest the physical occupation of the property of others in Kensington.
But eroding freedom around property in this way would be dangerous. Well-established private property rights are a necessary condition for prosperity. Unless one can secure the gains from your labour or risk-taking, and guarantee the freedom to use those returns as you wish, then what is the point of working or investing?
The research of Hernando de Soto, the Peruvian development economist, has shown the vital importance of property rights in regards to housing, and how they aid the development of sophisticated financial markets. The ability to individually decide how to use our property guarantees our freedom too. If all property was owned or controlled by the government or some community, then the group of leaders in the form of the state would have complete control over us.
Clearly, there have been some situations in the past when mass mobilisation conflicts have led to the requisitioning of property in aid of the war effort. Local government uses compulsory purchase orders to buy out people’s land when there is a significant “public interest” as well.
But as utterly tragic as the Grenfell fire was, to suggest that the rehousing of up to 600 people is a level of emergency comparable to war is hard to sustain.
In fact, all of Mr Corbyn’s justifications for advocating such a policy are based on a broader critique of the social divisions in the area. In essence, the rhetorical question he himself answers is: “how can it be right that some people have nowhere to live when others leave homes empty?”
The real answer to the affordability crisis and the plight of people living in poor, cramped and dangerous conditions is obvious and well-known: we need to make more land available for the development of housing.
But rather than address the structural conditions of the land market and take on the vested interests that oppose new building and defend the arbitrary greenbelt, Mr Corbyn’s simplistic and foolish answer is that the state can steal property to decide who to house where.
No doubt the victims need adequate support. But the logical consequences of Mr Corbyn’s idea would be extremely destructive. Why could this justification for requisition not be applied to all homeless people or those living in bad conditions?
Who would decide to invest in new housing developments with such expropriation looming over them? What about when the same principle is applied to business property, or anything else owned by anyone that did not live up to Mr Corbyn’s vision of what was fair and equitable?
With Brexit looming, Britain needs to remain open to foreign capital and as attractive a destination as possible for investment. But Mr Corbyn’s Labour Party, newly emboldened with most of its MPs now seemingly singing from the same Venezuelan hymn-sheet, appears willing to put all that at risk as part of its hard-Left agenda. Chillingly, when confronted with the prospect that taking the homes of others would be illegal, a spokesman for Mr Corbyn told the BBC: “We’d find a way to do this if necessary.”
In Britain, we take institutions such as the rule of law and effective private property rights for granted. But countless examples through history and around the world show that they must be defended from pernicious ideologies such as the socialism that underpins Mr Corbyn’s agenda.
With a heightening frequency of terrorist attacks, the uncertainties of Brexit and the hard Left running riot following the election, Britain currently gives every impression of being on the ropes politically.
The environment is ripe for overt populism and Mr Corbyn is tapping into that anger. But one would hope that in suggesting the theft of property, Mr Corbyn’s team have overreached and the public will have seen the true nature of his ideology.Ryan Bourne holds the R Evan Scharf Chair for the Public Understanding of Economics at the Cato Institute.
**Written by Doug Powers
Nancy Pelosi’s pushing back against a few Democrats who seem to be recognizing that doing the same things over and over again and expecting a different result might not be a good long-term strategy:
Nancy Pelosi is shrugging off the calls from within her own party that she step down as House Minority Leader.
Ever since Jon Ossoff‘s failed effort to win the special election in Georgia, Pelosi has taken fire from colleagues who say that her leadership has led to too many Democratic Party setbacks. During a press conference today, Pelosi said she was “proud of the unity” within the party, and that her colleagues were welcome to “have [their] fun,” and say what they will whenever they discuss her in TV interviews.
“I love the arena. I thrive on competition and I welcome the discussion, but I am honored by this,” Pelosi said.
When Pelosi was asked if it was time for new House Democratic caucus leadership, she said she was “very confident” with her levels of support, and that “my timing is not about” her critics.
“We are paving a way for a new generation of leadership,” Pelosi said. “Again, I respect any opinion that my members have, but my decision about how long I stay is not up to them.”
At a press conference, Pelosi was asked to compliment herself and she ran with it:
The video cut off, but she’s still in the process of praising herself.
The Republicans are standing by Pelosi, for obvious reasons:
— NRCC (@NRCC) June 22, 2017
“Bipartisanship” at last!
**Written by Doug Powers