Call your Senators and Representative and urge them to demand that Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker recuse himself from overseeing Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. Read More
Trump has forced Sessions’ resignation and installed a Trump lackey, Matt Whitaker as Acting Attorney General, despite views by both liberals and conservatives that the appointment is inappropriate and unconstitutional.
Whitaker has a long and shady history of publicly criticizing the Mueller investigation and acting as a Trump lackey. The nationwide Trump Is Not Above the Law group implemented its “break the glass” protests due to the threat Whitaker presents to the Mueller investigation if he does not recuse, and hundreds of events protesting Whitaker overseeing Mueller were held on Thursday night.
Whitaker needs to be recused from overseeing Mueller investigation.
Else Trump’s picking him is an affront to the rule of law.
Whitaker wrote piece celebrating Comey’s firing and criticizing appointment of special counsel for Russia probe:
Numerous state Attorneys General, former prosecutors and constitutional scholars have demanded that Whitaker recuse from overseeing the Mueller investigation. It seems clear from Whitaker’s previous comments that he is a Trump lackey who has prejudged the outcome and is prepared to cripple Mueller’s probe.
Trump has handpicked an unqualified “Trump loyalist” to strangle Mueller’s investigation of his campaign. Trump is not a king. In America, nobody – not even the president – is above the law.
This is [NAME] and I’m a constituent in [ZIP].
I urge [Sen/Rep____] to demand Matt Whitaker recuse himself from overseeing Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation.
He has publicly & harshly criticized the investigation and is recommending Mueller’s budget be slashed.
Brett Kavanaugh is a U.S. Supreme Court justice. That means now there is a clear five conservative justice majority which could work to systematically gut constitutional rights. But, all is not lost. There are two possible solutions to the Kavanaugh appointment: 1) impeachment; and 2) increasing the number of SCOTUS seats. Impeachment, though, presents serious difficulties. The better solution is the second option: Democrats should seek to increase the number of seats on the Court.
If the Democrats regain the majority in the House of Representatives on November 6, should they consider impeaching Kavanaugh on the basis of his compromised Senate confirmation hearing testimony? They could try, but impeachment will likely fail to result in Kavanaugh’s removal.
The problem is the bifurcated impeachment process under the Constitution. While the House can bring articles of impeachment against a federal judge and officially “impeach” him/her by a simple majority vote, that only means the process moves to the Senate for a trial to determine if removal from the bench is warranted. For Kavanaugh to be removed, 2/3rds of the Senate or at least 67 senators must vote to convict. That will be a difficult hurdle to meet. It would require the election of many more Democrats and the votes of several Republicans. In the current polarized political climate, that seems like an impossible task.
Is there another recourse? Or do we have to wait until conservative justices retire and a Democratic president is in office to appoint more liberal justices? There is another option, and it may provide a stable, effective, long term solution to the problem of an anti-democratic Supreme Court.
Increasing the number of seats on SCOTUS
With Kavanaugh’s appointment, there are currently five solid conservative justices and four liberal justices on the Court. Kavanaugh replaces Anthony Kennedy, who was the swing justice on the Court occasionally siding with the liberal justices to render progressive decisions. Kennedy, for example, wrote the majority decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, the case in which the Court held that the right to marry is a fundamental due process right which states could not deny to same-sex couples. We have little indication, however, that Kavanaugh could play a similar role as a swing justice. It’s more likely that he could become the most conservative justice on the Court.
Since 1970, Justices have served on the Court for an average of 26 years. Given the relative youth of the conservative justices, Kavanaugh’s appointment could mean a rock-solid conservative majority for at least the next decade, perhaps even longer. While Chief Justice Roberts may evolve to become a swing justice ala Kennedy, that is something that cannot be counted on.
To prevent a firm conservative bloc on the Court from radically rewriting constitutional protections, once the Democrats control Congress and the Presidency, they should pass legislation to increase the number of justices on the Court from the current number of nine. A Democratic president then could appoint at least one new liberal justice to the Court and erase the conservative majority.
Is this even possible as a legal matter? Yes. There is nothing in the Constitution that requires the Court to consist of nine seats. The Constitution is silent about this issue. It has been Congress who has determined the number of seats on the Court. When the Supreme Court was first established in 1789, Congress provided for five associate justices and one chief justice for a total of six justices. Since then, the number of seats on the Court has changed multiple times. The last change occurred in 1869 when the present number of nine was set. Bottom-line, there nothing inherently inappropriate politically about changing the number of Court seats.
A question remains-how many additional seats should be added to the Court? Adding two additional seats to bring the number up to eleven total seats seems entirely reasonable. Eleven is the number frequently suggested when legal commentators starting discussing this possibility immediately after Kennedy announced his retirement. The number is not unusual. When a federal circuit appellate court sits as a full panel, a total of eleven judges hear a case. Thus, if a Democratic president could appoint two additional liberal justices to the Court, that would create a liberal majority.
Adding two seats may be warranted to make up for the seat lost when Mitch McConnell refused to call a vote on Merrick Garland resulting in Neil Gorsuch ultimately being appointed. If Garland had been appointed, even with Kavanaugh’s appointment, the Court would have a 5-4 liberal majority. It may also be warranted to make up for Kavanaugh’s confirmation despite the allegations of sexual assault, his misleading testimony before the Judiciary Committee, and serious questions about his judicial temperament. The “remedy” for those arguably illegitimate appointments would be adding two justices to give liberals a 6-5 majority.
One argument against increasing the number of justices is that, once the number has been changed by one party, that could start a never-ending war in which both parties will change the number of seats whenever they are in power. So, the fear is if the Democrats change the number of seats from nine to eleven this time around, the next time the GOP are in power, they’ll increase the seats from eleven to thirteen to add two conservative justices onto the Court. Then in response, when the Democrats are in power, they would respond by increasing the number to fifteen, and so on. That would be a disaster for the Court. Constantly changing the number of SCOTUS seats would undermine the Court’s stability and legitimacy.
That is a reasonable and legitimate concern.
I offer two responses. The first solution is for Congress to change the number of seats by legislation and then codify that number into the Constitution via amendment. However, that solution is unlikely given the difficulty of the constitutional amendment process.
The second solution? I suggest that the Democrats increase the number of seats by just one to create an even numbered, ten justice Supreme Court. Why? Because a ten justice Court will create ideological balance among the justices, make it difficult to overturn established constitutional rights, lessen polarization between liberal and conservative justices, and make it politically difficult to change the number of seats in the future.
So, let’s say in 2021, the Court remains split with five conservative justices and four liberal ones. An additional seat is added. If a Democratic President is given one additional justice to appoint, that would mean there would be five liberal and five conservative justices on the Court. There would be ideological balance.
If the Court is deciding a case and it splits along partisan lines, it would split evenly, 5-5. What happens when there is a tie between the justices? It means that the lower court ruling is affirmed and there is no binding Supreme Court precedent on the issue. A tie would also mean a Supreme Court decision would not be overruled. If five justices wanted to overrule Roe v. Wade while five justices did not, the tie would mean Roe would be upheld.
A ten justice court effectively requires a supermajority on the Court to render binding precedent. And when the Court is split 5-5 ideologically, for there to be binding Supreme Court precedent, you would need a bipartisan supermajority which includes either one liberal justice or one conservative justice joining the majority. Otherwise, there would be status quo among Supreme Court precedent and lower court rulings would be upheld. For the foreseeable future, then, a ten justice Court would prevent it from radically subverting precedent and engaging in unfettered judicial activism.
Moreover, by increasing the number of seats by only one and creating an even number of justices, the argument that it is a blatantly partisan move is neutralized. The argument would be that the addition of one justice is to make up for the unfair and illegitimate blocking of Merrick Garland’s appointment by the GOP Senate, and therefore is not a partisan power grab, but a move to create balance on the Court. Opponents would not be able to argue that the Democrats are trying to “pack the Court.”
Increasing the seats to ten would also make it politically difficult for future Congresses to change the number of seats. Any attempt to change the number would seem blatantly partisan and either party would need a compelling reason to upset the balance on the Court. There likely would be vigorous political blowback from voters of all political persuasions.
Additionally, along with adding one seat to the Court, the Senate could change its voting procedures as permitted by the Constitution. The Senate could enact two procedural rules to apply in the future: A rule requiring sixty votes in the Senate to change the number of seats on the Court, and a rule requiring sixty votes to confirm a Supreme Court justice. The Senate could also insert a provision that requires a supermajority to change or repeal both of those rules. All of that together would make it procedurally difficult to muster up the votes to change the number of seats on the Court.
Ultimately, for a ten justice Supreme Court to become reality, what is needed is a Democratic majorities in the House and Senate and a Democratic president. It also means starting the conversation now about this issue and laying the groundwork for political support. That means democratic participation & civic engagement. It means calling members of Congress, exercising the right to free speech, vigorously engaging in public discourse, and of course, voting. Implementing a remedy to neutralize an anti-democratic Supreme Court depends on We The People.
The fight for the Supreme Court is not over. It’s only just beginning.
Reginald Oh is Professor of Law at Cleveland-Marshall College of Law, Cleveland State University. He teaches Constitutional Law, Civil Procedure, and Legal Profession. His scholarship has focused on 14th Amendment Equal Protection issues of racial equality and racial discrimination. He has published in the Wisconsin Law Review, U.C. Davis Law Review, and Fordham Law Review.
As its confrontation with the West grows, Russia’s use of the elements of blackmail, both veiled and direct, in its diplomacy is increasing. In general, threats and fear-mongering are some of the main tools of the Putin’s regime, primarily in domestic policy, where they serve as essential means of ensuring the loyalty of the population. However, the Kremlin is not averse to using the same tactics beyond its borders as well, trying to win concessions from Western leaders. Let’s look at the main types of Putin’s blackmail inside and outside Russia.
This is perhaps the oldest and most popular form of blackmail used by the Kremlin against its own population. For the last several years, the state has been persuading Russians that any mass protests, let alone attempts at revolution, will inevitably lead to a bloody civil war, the details of which are vividly described by propaganda. The fear caused by these images is one of the pillars of Kremlin propaganda, not only scaring people off any future attempts to change the government, but also forcing them to consolidate around the “national leader” in the present.
The fear of civil war in Russia is also used as an instrument of pressure on Western leaders. The main argument here is “the unpredictable consequences of chaos in a vast territory that possesses nuclear weapons.” This idea is clearly being pushed in an open letter from Andrei Kortunov to the “composite Washington acquaintance” published on the website of the Carnegie Moscow Center:
“It appears then that current American policy brings Washington away from, not nearer to, its goal of regime change in Russia… Be honest, John, are you able to predict the concomitant global and regional risks, the risks for U.S. interests and security? We both remember well that the world was fortunate in 1991 to avoid violent turmoil in a nuclear superpower state… It’s not at all obvious that the same thing will happen next time. Won’t you agree that the current Russian military-security establishment somewhat differs from the old Soviet nomenklatura and will hardly acquiesce to collective political suicide?” warns the author.
In addition to the threats of civil war in Russia, the Kremlin is actively trying to spread the same fears in other countries, in particular in the United States. As noted by the Washington Post, on the eve of the presidential election of 2016, Russia tried to provoke a “color revolution” in the event of Donald Trump‘s defeat, which would eventually inevitably turn into a civil war. Trump, in turn, gratefully picked up this blackmail, threatening in advance with non-acceptance of the election results, and declared their “falsification” before any vote, calling on his supporters to start mass protests if he loses.
After the election, blackmail with a possible civil war in the United States by Russian propaganda continued, but its goal now was to stop Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller‘s investigation of Russian intervention and to prevent possible impeachment. In particular, in the American Russian-language media, the topic of the inevitable “angry reaction of Trump voters” is being predicted in the event an impeachment procedure is started and it is often mentioned that continuing the investigation could lead to violence and disturbances in the streets, and therefore, “everything possible should be done to prevent it.”
Simply put, the Russian media warns in plain text that even if Trump is really guilty of illegal ties to the Kremlin, law enforcement agencies and Congress shouldn’t attempt to impeach him in order to avoid a “civil war”, and therefore even if the crime is confirmed it should be overlooked. The fear of a possible civil war in the United States is sometimes thrown into the English-language information space, and some American experts unconsciously broadcast it, often without even realizing that they are playing into the hands of Kremlin propaganda.
In fact, the chances of a bloody civil war in Russia itself, much less in the United States, are close to zero. Extremist groups in the United States are certainly strong enough to organize protest actions and even bloody clashes, similar to those observed in Charlottesville in August 2017, but they are not so powerful as to unleash a full-fledged war. In the United States, as in other democratic countries, even with all the conflicts that exist in those societies, there is confidence in the institution of elections, fundamental freedoms are considered to be unshakable, and individual states are fairly independent of the federal authorities in legislative terms. This significantly reduces the influence of political events at the federal level on the lives of ordinary people, and hence it reduces their desire to react violently to these events.
A civil war inside Russia is also unlikely. The mentality of the majority of Russians is characterized by inertia, excessive reliance on the state, a deep-rooted fear of “losing Russia” as a country and an increased level of conformism combined with a low ability to self-organize. Most Russian political scientists are inclined to believe that a regime change in the country will occur not as a result of a sudden revolution, but as a result of the gradual degradation of power, that is, as a result of the change of elites, or, as some would say, a “palace coup”.
Such a coup would certainly lead to the weakening of the elites and consequently a shakeup of the repressive mechanism (or at least the loss of its former legitimacy in the eyes of the population). Such tendencies can lead to an intensification of the protest wave and, as a result, to the need of the new authorities to reckon with popular discontent. However, it is very likely that after certain concessions from the “post-Putin” elites, this discontent will decline, and the main battlefield will not be in the streets, but in the corridors and towers of the Kremlin. In the event of such a scenario, Putin’s propaganda prepared the following type of blackmail – the fear that Putin will be replaced by even more radical followers, who will inevitably increase repression inside the country and make their foreign policy even more aggressive and unpredictable.
Blackmail with the radical successors
This type of threat is not stated directly but spread by subliminal messaging to both Russians and foreigners. Russian TV shows, in which politicians and political scientists call their opponents obscene words, provoke fights and call for the destruction of entire countries; terrorist “militiaman” Girkin-Strelkov, who at the beginning of the Russian aggression in Ukraine was predicted to play the role of the informal people’s leader; military analysts, prophesying that the role of the new opposition leader will be taken up by the left radical and supporter of the continuation of the expansion of Russia in the post-Soviet space Sergei Udaltsov; the head of the Russian Guard, General Viktor Zolotov, who publicly challenged corruption fighter Alexei Navalny to a duel — all this is intended to convince Putin’s opponents that the current Russian president can still be negotiated with, while those who will replace him will be beyond reason.
The fear of a possible military dictatorship in Russia, headed by one of the radical and completely uncontrollable security officials, is a reality among the European establishment. Regardless of whether there will be a change of power in the Kremlin through the official appointment of a “successor” or a coup, it is obvious that the power of the special services in the country is so strong that Putin’s place will most likely be taken by another representative of the recently strengthened security force or, in the best case, someone from the opposition controlled by this clan. However, it is wrong to assume that the power of such a “successor” will be absolute. Any person who takes Putin’s place will not have his charisma, and he will find it difficult to maintain the balance created by Putin between the interests of the oligarchs and the security forces.
In fact, judging by the latest trends in the Russian economy, discontent of the “oligarchic” clan with the current Kremlin’s course is growing. The oligarchs close to Putin came under a double blow – first, from Western sanctions, and secondly, from the Kremlin, which is trying to circumvent the sanctions by nationalizing the assets of those close to it.
This nationalization is carried out under various pretexts, including under the guise of the “financial recovery” and reorganization procedures conducted by the Central Bank. The reason for the implementation of such procedures are violations and even crimes revealed during an audit, but, as financial analysts note, the strangest thing is that criminal cases against former owners are never initiated. Thus, the only logical explanation for this behavior by the authorities is an attempt to remove assets from under the sanctions, without attempting to punish their owners, who, despite all their crimes, have done nothing against Putin personally. Such procedures affected, in particular, Oleg Deripaska, and some other Russian oligarchs.
In turn, the majority of oligarchs are not ready to easily give up their savings to the state that has already brought them so many problems, and therefore, according to media reports, are trying with all their might to withdraw their money not so much from Western sanctions as from the process of nationalization in their homeland. These trends indicate increased friction between Kremlin hawks and the more moderate part of the Russian elites seeking to restore relations with the West and hastily transferring their money out of Russia. The Kremlin, in turn, transparently hints through propaganda programs that Russians who own property abroad are becoming an easy target for recruitment and the FSB can destroy these recruited “traitors” in any country in the world.
Solving all the above-mentioned conflicts is done in a “manual mode” through the Putin-built system. In general, the whole vertical power structure in Russia and the mechanism for resolving many key issues are built in the same mode. After Putin, this vertical will begin to crumble, and the conflicts between the various “power structures of the Kremlin” are likely to escalate. And let’s not forget about the centrifugal tendencies on the part of the regions, which can also manifest themselves “after Putin”, and about the possible intensification of protest mood. The new leader will need to win national trust, and repression alone will not help here.
As noted above, a full-fledged revolution in Russia is unlikely at this stage, but the system will weaken considerably, and security officials will most likely have to make certain compromises with the oligarchs, or perhaps even with some representatives of the liberal opposition. This may not lead to significant changes in Russia at first, but it is likely that such Russia will no longer be able to continue its aggressive foreign policy in the post-Soviet space and interference in the affairs of Western countries. Such a situation can give Western leaders and the democratic opposition in Russia the very “window of opportunity” that some opposition leaders are waiting for.
At this stage, a lot will depend on the position of the West and on whether the leaders of the free world have enough wisdom to accurately support genuine oppositionists, not to declare with ease a new “reset” while the security services in one form or another retain control over the country, not trust pseudo oppositionists and build protection mechanisms that prevent Putinism comeback in any form.
Periodically, Moscow decides to resort to nuclear blackmail as a way to force Western countries to make certain concessions. One of the first threats on this topic was Dmitry Kiselev’s famous statement that “Russia is capable of turning the United States into radioactive ash.” The next case of exacerbation of direct nuclear blackmail was observed before the presidential elections in the United States. Then, the leading propaganda media openly stated that a nuclear war in the case of Hillary Clinton‘s victory would be almost inevitable.
For example, in October 2016, Russian programs, one after another, showed TV specials devoted not only to the quality of bomb shelters but also to the technology of anti-missile defense. On the official channel of the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation, a twenty-minute story was released under the loud title “Obama threatens Russia!”, In which it was directly stated that the USA is “the enemy of humanity”. At the same time, the famous Russian journalist Alexander Sotnikpublished on his page in social networks a post from a woman claiming that children in a Moscow school were being scared with the prospect of a nuclear war with the USA and death in case of Hillary Clinton’s victory in the presidential election.
The latest vivid example of blatant nuclear blackmail is the threat voiced personally by Vladimir Putin in the World Order-2018 film devoted to him. To the direct question of the leader Vladimir Solovyov about the possibility of using nuclear weapons, Putin replied that he was ready to deliver only a “retaliatory strike”. However, he acknowledged:
“Yes, it will be a global catastrophe for the world, but why do we need such a world if Russia is not there?”, in effect openly stating that he is ready to destroy the planet in a nuclear war if he feels a similar threat to his country. It is significant that the film included, as an afterword, the notorious excerpt from the message to the Federal Assembly, in which Putin demonstrates new types of weapons as a “response to the United States on their withdrawal from the ABM Treaty.
Moreover, most analysts agree that we are dealing with a gigantic bluff designed to force the West to make concessions to Russia. The Russian opposition politician Vladimir Milov has the same idea.
“The entire campaign is designed for specific powerful individuals in the United States, those who are particularly sensitive about the issue of cooperation with Russia on nuclear nonproliferation. In America, this theme holds a special place in national security policymaking,” he explained.
According to Vladimir Milov, there is a large stratum of people in the American establishment that is ready to forgive Moscow any antics as long as they continue their cooperation in the nuclear field.
“Putin wants to scare these people, and thus create additional pressure in the highest echelons of US power such that “Making peace with Russia is necessary, otherwise we will lose out on nuclear cooperation. It is in this community that nuclear issues have always been prioritized above all others. It is precisely these specialists that Putin wants to frighten. But, apparently, he no longer scares them,” believes the Russian opposition member.
In addition to direct threats, Russia demonstratively “pours” weapons into the border regions, primarily the occupied Crimea and the Kaliningrad region, without hiding their readiness to use at least tactical nuclear weapons. On December 8, 2017, at the “Ukraine’s Century of Struggle to Secure Independence” conference in Washington, the President of the Potomac Foundation, Phillip Karber, called the nuclear threat from the Crimea to be one of the elements of the Russian “hybrid war”. Leonid Polyakov, former Deputy Defense Minister of Ukraine, Chairman of the Expert Council of the Center for Army Research, Conversion and Disarmament (CARCD), also stresses that Russia still refuses to sign the treaty on the reduction of tactical nuclear weapons.
At the same time, on July 7, 2017, the head of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, Viktor Muzhenko, at the joint meeting of the Military Scientific Council of the Armed Forces of Ukraine and the National Academy of Sciences said that Russia was working to restore the capacity to deploy nuclear ammunition in the occupied Crimea. Even earlier, in December 2016, the leader of the Crimean Tatar people, people’s deputy of Ukraine Mustafa Dzhemilevsaid in the European Parliament that the Russians had already brought nuclear weapons to the Crimea.
Belarusian experts also do not rule out that Moscow may achieve the use of tactical nuclear weapons in the region. It seems that the use of tactical nuclear weapons is the only at least remotely realistic threat out of all types of Kremlin blackmail. True, some experts call it a bluff, noting that such intimidation failed in 2015, when, despite all the threats, NATO deployed its troops in the Baltic countries on a permanent basis.
Another type of nuclear blackmail from Moscow is blackmail on behalf of others, that is, the threat to use its influence on individual authoritarian regimes in order to increase the escalation of their confrontation with the West. This includes, first of all, the blackmail of the United States with the North Korean nuclear threat. The first ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary of Russia to the United States, Anatoly Antonov, was the first to undertake this thankless mission. During his speeches in Northern California in early December 2017, he repeatedly said that Russia is the largest nuclear power and can help in negotiations with Pyongyang.
“Russia is a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council and the world’s second largest nuclear power. We are ready to offer our assistance in negotiations with the DPRK, as we too are concerned about the growing nuclear potential of North Korea,” said Antonov, struggling to convey to the audience the idea that the United States cannot do without Russia’s help in resolving the North Korean crisis. By the way, the well-known Russian publicist Andrei Piontkovskylater called this tactic “the Kremlin’s nuclear offshore.” At the same time, the Kremlin did not propose any concrete ways to solve the problem, except for abstract words about “the need for a diplomatic settlement”. The main goal of Putin’s veiled blackmail was only to show the indispensability of Russia in resolving the crisis and the resulting need for the United States to abandon sanctions and restore relations with Moscow.
Then others, including highly respected Russian publicists, began to express the same idea, trying to convey a clear message to the West and China: in case of introduction of full-scale sanctions against North Korea without considering Moscow’s opinion, Russia will use its influence on Pyongyang to strengthen North Korean nuclear blackmail.
Blackmail with terrorist attacks
This type of blackmail is primarily highlighted by the above-mentioned Andrei Piontkovsky, who, in his publications, expressly states that Moscow is using its influence on Islamic terrorists, directing them against the United States in order to later suggest the need for cooperation in exchange for security.
“You must first and foremost cooperate with the Kremlin, otherwise they will continue to blow you up.” That was the narrative developed by Putin’s propaganda and his foreign agents after the Boston Marathon terrorist attack by the Tsarnaev brothers. Any American prosecutor, journalist or politician who wanted to understand the truth about the Tsarnaevs’ terrorist attack, can be assured that “the Boston fuse had been ignited a long time ago” (Novaya Gazeta, April 27, 2013). Before carrying out his act of terrorism, the elder Tsarnaev spent eight months of 2012 in Russia, under the strict control of the FSB. He did not sneak out of Russia to America through some hidden backchannels, but he flew openly through Sheremetyevo airport… Tsarnaev would never have dared to carry out such an act if he had not been absolutely sure that he would be completely safe in Russia, that he was going to friends and handlers,” – said the Russian publicist.
Other experts have repeatedly warned about Russia’s ties with radical Islamists. For example, the president of the Eastern Partnership Institute (Israel), Rabbi Abraham Shmulevich, is certain: the fact that Russia uses ISIS terrorists in its games is beyond doubt. According to him, over the years, Russian security forces have literally forced not only militants from the North Caucasus and other regions of Russia into the Middle East, but even peaceful opposition. The most famous of these figures were the former commander of the riot police of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Tajikistan Gulmurod Khalimov, who joined ISIS in May 2015, and the Islamic preacher Nadir Abu Khalid (Nadir Medetov), who also swore allegiance to the Islamic State in 2015.
“ISIL relies on the flow of people, especially since Russia supplies them with very valuable personnel. In fact, we have a mutually beneficial alliance between Russian special services and Islamic terrorists. Against this backdrop must be placed the recent terrorist attack in New York, committed by an expatriate from Uzbekistan, and the Tsarnaev brothers, and other terrorist attacks in France… The destabilization of Europe and the increasing flow of refugees to the West are certainly beneficial to Moscow,” explains Shmulevich.
This type of blackmail is the most realistic of all listed. Moreover, certain facts lead one to suspect that Russia, in this case, embodies the same threats that it hints at in talks with disagreeable Western politicians. However, this in no way means that Western leaders should allow themselves to be led by such a “mafia” style of foreign policy. As for the other forms of blackmail, as already noted, almost all of them are a deliberate bluff aimed at intimidating any opponents of Vladimir Putin inside and outside the country.
The high road is littered with potholes and pitfalls, hairpin turns and sheer cliffs.
But I am struggling to stay upon it.
Every day we are assaulted by voices from our political discourse which broadside our sensibilities and threaten to send us careening over the edge of the chasm. Shakily, we try to maintain equilibrium and forge ahead on the course of liberty.
But these days, let me tell you, it ain’t easy.
The voices screech: The caravan is invading our country, bringing disease, criminals and Middle Easterners!, hardly attempting to hide their completely unfounded and preposterous conspiracy theory that women and children essentially walking from Honduras to the United States and asking for asylum; human beings hoping to escape destitution, rape and almost certain death; mothers who are simply desperate to find a safe home in which to raise their children; and impoverished migrants engaged in an arduous, several thousand mile journey; are all not only somehow clandestinely harboring terrorists, but are also looking to invade America, attack us, infect us, and destroy our way of life.
Soros and the Democrats are funding the caravan! Globalists are looking to bring America to its knees! they shriek, using the same type of well-worn and baseless anti-Semitic tropes that were employed to falsely accuse the Jewish Rothschild family of similar nefarious activity for centuries. It seems that not only are the Jews to blame for these alleged ills, but they are simultaneously funding the very terrorists who would likely kill them above all others merely because they are Jewish. It is truly baffling that people truly think that George Soros, a man who gives millions of dollars to human rights groups, is responsible for funding terrorism. But then, he is a “globalist” (interpretation: Jewish). And I suppose it’s a lot easier to create a boogeyman for people to fear rather than to solve immigration issues by enacting policies that eliminate destitution and the violence which surrounds it.
The Democrats are evil! Lock them up! It’s the fault of the press, the REAL enemy of the people! the voices cry, echoing the president while ignoring the fact that the media simply reports what Trump says.
He, and he alone, is responsible for his words. So when he makes wild, unsupported claims and then admits there is no proof to back them, it is not the fault of the media, but him. When he chooses to applaud violence, as he did during a Montana rally when he praised a sitting congressman for assaulting a reporter, that is not the fault of the media, but him. When he vilifies the opposing party, that is not the fault of the media, but him. And when he calls the press the enemy of the people, as he did even while one of his supporters was sending pipe bombs to news networks, that is not the fault of the media, but him.
Indeed, if he is supposed to be the coach of Team America, and he tells his players that it’s okay to hurt people, he can’t feign innocence when his Team follows his instructions.
The same message applies to his constant undercurrent of antisemitism and racism. Those voices told us that Hey, Jared and Ivanka are Jewish, so OF COURSE Trump would be a great friend of Jews! And hey, African-Americans have NOTHING to lose! It is true that he moved the American Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, and this has been very popular among many Jews. But it is also true that this gesture has not had any discernible positive effect on the peace process or improved Israeli-Arab relations, and it does not address the meteoric increase of anti-Semitism in America. Nor has lower unemployment among people of color helped preserve their right to vote or generated a higher percentage of income for them, relative to white employees in similar jobs. Plus, since Trump began his political career he has retweeted white supremacists, praised neo-nazis as “fine people”, attacked George Soros with those same ignorant, anti-Semitic conspiracies (even while Soros was ALSO being targeted with pipe bombs), constantly used the term “globalist”, called himself a “nationalist” (you can fill in the preceding word “white”) and spoke of s***hole countries in Africa. If, by the way, you don’t believe my argument that such statements are anti-Semitic and racist, feel free to research the views of the Anti-Defamation League, who blames Trump’s words for setting the scene for the massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. Or you can ask David Duke of the Klu Klux Klan, who is unsurprisingly ecstatic about Trump’s verbiage.
Of course, members of Congress have predictably hopped right onto the Trump racist bandwagon. After the Kavanaugh hearings, Senator Chuck Grassley repeated the lie that protesters were being paid by George Soros. This week House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy issued a derogatory tweet about Soros and other Jews trying to buy the midterm elections. Arizona Senate candidate Martha McSally even said she’d rather talk about the caravan than healthcare; tell me, which do YOU think would have a greater impact on her constituents? And a Connecticut GOP ad featured a Jewish Democratic candidate clutching money while grinning widely. Combine these sentiments with the purely false allegations that Soros is funding the caravan! which is threatening the sanctity of our borders! We must send the troops! and you have the toxic combination which lit the fuse that led a maniac to slaughter 11 Jewish people. While in their synagogue. Praying.
A cynic would say that their thoughts and prayers unfortunately could not protect them. Perhaps a Congress not beholden to the NRA or cowed by Trump–one that actually took action to stem gun violence and dangerous, inflammatory rhetoric–might have.
Not to be outdone, in the Florida gubernatorial race, we have Trump disciple Ron DeSantis. After having already likened his African American opponent Andrew Gillum to a monkey, benefitted from racist robocalls made by nazis, and run a commercial where he teaches his infant son to “build the wall”, he revels in Trump’s racially charged lies about Gillum’s record. Is it then any coincidence that a DIFFERENT maniac tried to shoot African-American people? While in their church? Praying? And that when prevented from doing so, he fulfilled his heinous destiny by murdering two African-Americans at a local supermarket instead?
I wonder if those victims and their families felt like they had nothing to lose?
Between the attacks on Muslims, Central and South Americans, African-Americans and Jews, it sometimes feels like we have ripped the plaque with the famous Emma Lazarus poem right off the Statue of Liberty.
But the awful irony is that while tired, poor, huddled masses yearning to breathe free are literally marching to our southern border, we are sending troops to stop them as if they were some sort of marauding horde. Indeed, we will have roughly the same amount of troops near Mexico as we currently have in Iraq–to keep us safe from the scourge of desolate, plaintive immigrants legally applying for asylum, I suppose.
Meanwhile, the president plays favorites with his immigrants: he has said he prefers people from countries like Norway and suggests he has the power to ignore the Constitution when it tells us that persons born here are automatically granted citizenship. Is it any wonder that racist crimes and actions have soared since he took office?
Perhaps our new message on the lady in the harbor will be: Welcome to Trump’s America. Nice to see “our kind of people”. Here’s your AR-15. Please select your grievance and act accordingly.
But what about the left! carry on those voices. They threaten violence! They’re mobs! Yes, Maxine Waters encouraged supporters to heckle Republicans in public spaces. Yes, Hillary Clinton said Democrats cannot be civil with the GOP, and Eric Holder suggested, rhetorically only, that we kick the Republicans when they’re down. These statements are not helpful, to be sure. But comparing them to Trump’s “I’d like to punch him in the face”, “take him out on a stretcher”, retweeting a video wherein he bodyslams a media outlet and all the many other examples of him actively promoting violence is outright ludicrous. First, the Democrats didn’t advocate actual violence.
Being uncivil isn’t the same as telling others it’s okay to hurt people. I can be rude to my neighbor without assaulting him.
Plus, their statements lack the power of the presidency. They don’t hold rallies in the White House encouraging people to chant disparagingly about their opponents and CNN. Their occasional utterances don’t have constant TV coverage where they repeat intemperate, focused rants against their supposed “enemies” virtually every day, thereby encouraging the radicalized to act. They also don’t call their opponents (much less the press) “enemies”. And they don’t blame the victims of violence for not having armed guards, or wearing the wrong clothing, or failing to keep a sharp lookout for gunmen while trying to speak to G-d, or whatever other murky, disjointed thoughts rattle around the president’s brain and manifest themselves on Twitter.
But how can you, a Jew, support Arabs who may very well hate Israel, and why don’t you support the President when he calls to ban them, and to ban Muslims! Ask the voices. Don’t you want to protect America!?!
My response is this: Protecting America is exactly what I AM doing. Because America isn’t about keeping people out of the country based on where they’re from, or who they like and hate, or what their skills are, or how they pray. It’s about people being created equally and endowed with the rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It says so right there in the national instruction manual. Our country was founded on precepts like equality, freedom and escaping the yoke of oppression. That’s why the founding fathers started the revolution. That’s why we had a civil war. That’s why African-Americans fought so hard during the civil rights movement, and women for suffrage. That’s why I speak out, for groups that cannot in today’s world use their own voice, because Oh my G-d! they’re coming after us! So if I endorse policies which exclude people for those reasons, I am not only failing to protect America; I instead am actively working to destroy it.
We all know that our Constitution protects the freedom of religion and secures equal protection under the law. For over 200 years, people from all walks of life came to this country so they could live, and work, and pray, and have families, in safety and in peace. My ancestors were no different. Neither were yours. And there is no evidence that the current group of asylum seekers plan to harm the United States, whether they come from Honduras or Yemen. None. Despite what the president and Fox news might say. To this day, I believe, there has not been one single act of terrorism committed by an immigrant from any of the countries whose citizens the president has banned from emigrating here. If you want to debate the merits and problems with the immigration system, by all means, have at it. It definitely needs to be updated. But not based on unfounded fear and irrational xenophobia.
Fact is, the story of immigration IS the story of America. Every group that came here, hoping to take advantage of those same opportunities that the members of the Middle East countries and the caravan want, was vilified for seeking refuge here. The Irish. The Polish. The Chinese. The Jews. They are vermin looking to infest our beloved country! shouted the voices when those groups came, spewing the same type of shameful venom we hear many of our national leaders saying today. And by actually living in America, in the melting pot of a multicultural society, both natives and newcomers learned what other cultures and religions were really like, and were not only able to coexist together, but they even began to thrive, not in spite of but because of each other.
History has proven time and time again that the newest immigrants aren’t infiltrators. Instead, they become the vital new blood that every nation needs.
In this way we discover that Guatemalan refugees are no different than African-Americans, or Jews, Muslims, Catholics, Hindus, or anybody else: they just want to live in peace and watch their children thrive.
But another part of the reason I support them is that I know how this story ends. Today, it’s the caravan. Tomorrow, it’s back to the Muslims. The next day…well, perhaps they’ll go after the trade unionists.
So I struggle to stay on that moral straight and narrow path. I tune out the voices, and try to listen to the harmonies of my better angels, hoping to do the right thing for people of all origins and orientations. And I lie awake at night, worried about the future which befalls the country I hold so dear to my heart.
And that is why on November 6, I will exercise my right, as a United States citizen, granted to me at birth, to vote. To stop bigotry. To end hatred. To counter xenophobia. To drown out the naysayers and cacophonous disharmony that has spread like a pestilence across the United States.
It is time to hear voices that sing a new song. It is time to listen to a chorus which crafts new harmonies. It is time to create our own sounds to overcome those who wish to drown out honesty and compassion, freedom and equality.
It is time to vote blue.
Please, join our chorus, and let’s sing while walk the road.
President Trump’s financial ties to foreign governments and leaders have once again come under scrutiny as Trump equivocates on the United States response to the murder of Saudi journalist and critic, Jamal Khashoggi, even as calls grow from Congress for retaliatory sanctions against the Saudis responsible for the murder. Trump continues to raise questions about his motives as he provides cover to the Saudi government and the Saudi Royal Family by backing their shifting explanations and disavowals of responsibility by Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman Al Saud (“MBS”) for the Khashoggi murder despite a widely held skeptical response. The criticism and dialogue about whether President Trump is primarily motivated by United States policy interests or his own financial interests in his response to Khashoggi’s murder have taken a familiar path to that of his prior reactions to international events: the focus has been on possible issues of ethics and violation of the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause arising from conflicts of interest in Trump’s business dealings with the Saudis. Such focus misses a much more consequential legal dimension to this issue: were President Trump to use the Presidency to block sanctions or other United States government action against the Saudis in response to the Khashoggi murder on the basis of Trump’s financial ties to the Saudis, it would violate Federal Anti-Corruption laws, constitute a felony, and stand as an enumerated Constitutional basis for impeachment. The same is true for other instances in which the President may have taken government action because of or for his personal enrichment over the public interest.
From his actions in response to Russian interference in the 2016 election to the favorable change in U.S. treatment of the Chinese ZTE Corporation, the issue of public corruption by Trump for his personal enrichment from foreign powers is one that runs through the Trump Presidency.
It arguably represents the greatest threat to the Presidency, but has yet gone without the level of scrutiny given to his conflicts of interest and whether such conflicts violate the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause. With the real possibility of Democratic control of the House of Representatives and its investigatory powers looming, President Trump’s ability to evade the open question of whether he is engaging in public corruption may be coming to an end.
How then do we know if President Trump has violated anti-corruption law? Consider the following indisputable facts: (1) President Trump is a Federal Official, (2) he has knowingly and intentionally received personally financial benefits from the Saudis through Saudi business with the Trump Organization, and (3) he has or will take official acts as President in relation to the Saudis. These facts alone represent all but one requirement for criminal violation of the principal Federal Corruption Law, Bribery of Public Officials and Witnesses, 18 U.S.C. Section 201. Blocking sanctions proposed by Congress or a federal agency, failing to complete an investigation under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act as required by law, if ordered by Congress, or ordering or pressuring others in his Administration to do so, would meet even the stringent requirements for an “Official Act” set by the Supreme Court in McDonnell v. United States, the landmark and widely criticized case limiting the breadth of the principal United States criminal anti-corruption statute on the basis of a narrow reading of what constitutes an “Official Act”. The only open question under the Bribery of Public Officials law is: What motivates Trump’s actions?
If Trump were to block sanctions or other adverse action against the Saudis in response to the Khashoggi murder because of the financial benefits he received from the Saudis, President Trump will have satisfied all requirements of the Bribery of Public Officials law and committed a felony: Bribery and/or illegal acceptance of gratuities.
Under the same set of facts, so too would President Trump commit Honest Services Fraud under 18 U.S.C. Sections 1343, 1346 and 1349, and violated the Hobbs Act, 18 U.S.C. Section 1951.
It is a familiar pattern of events, and under strikingly similar facts the same legal result is met with respect to President Trump’s refusal to implement lawfully mandated sanctions against the Russian Federation under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), having personally received benefits from the Russian Federation, including in the course of Russian interference in the 2016 Presidential election on behalf of Trump; and Trump causing the removal of United States’ penalties on ZTE Corporation, a large Chinese-owned telecommunications company from a bill then pending in Congress, thereby ending a then seven year imposition of penalties on ZTE, contemporaneous with the Chinese government granting valuable intellectual property rights to President Trump’s daughter and White House Advisor, Ivanka Trump. The only element of the crimes not fully established by publicly available facts from credible sources is knowledge by Trump that the things of value were provided to him for or because of acts he may take or has taken as President and/or Trump’s intent to act as President for or because of what was given to him. But on multiple occasions, President Trump has provided evidence of his state of mind and that his personal enrichment from the Saudis does in fact influence his political positions. In a campaign speech in 2015 he said, “Saudi Arabia, I get along with all of them. They buy apartments from me. They spend $40 million, $50 million. Am I supposed to dislike them? I like them very much.” Similarly, in 2016, on the same day that the Russian Federation first began hacking the Democratic National Committee, Trump, referring to then Democratic Presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s emails, stated: “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.”
Exactly two years ago. “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.” pic.twitter.com/0nLJlcfixK
Why then has there not yet been serious consideration of how President Trump may have violated these laws in his dealings with Russia and China, and now possibly with respect to the Saudis and the murder of Khashoggi? For one, the legal difference between conflicts of interest and criminal corruption are not well understood outside of a small group of legal experts specializing in this area of the law. President Trump’s conflicts of interest and whether the conflicts violate the Emoluments Clause has been the subject of considerable attention and underlie civil claims in two lawsuits now making their way through the courts. But conflicts of interest are not the same as corruption. The difference, in short, is that conflicts of interest are relationships deemed to inherently present strong temptations to commit corruption (acting in favor of one’s personal interests at the expense of the interests one is duty-bound to represent) and thus are prohibited as unacceptable risks in certain circumstances; In contrast, corruption is committed when a public official acts on a conflict of interest in favor of their own personal interest over those to whom the official owes a public duty, the citizens. Acting on a conflict of interest is treated much more severely under the law than mere conflicts. The “penalty” for a federal official holding a conflict of interest is usually voluntary termination of the relationship or position that poses a conflict. The penalty for corruption in violation of the Federal Anti-Corruption laws is up to 15 years in prison; and impeachment and removal from office under Article II of the Constitution (together with Treason, the only enumerated grounds for impeachment).
There is also a broadly held misunderstanding of the nature of what constitutes bribery and corruption under federal law.
A bribe does not need to be the proverbial suitcase filled with cash. United States law prohibits the giving and receiving of anything of value , directly or indirectly, in return for official action; and under the gratuities clause of 18 U.S.C. 201(c), there does not need to be a quid pro quo as for bribery under Sec. 201(b), mere knowledge by Trump that the Saudis provided benefits or financial gain to him for or because of their wanting official acts by Trump or to thank him for a past act, and his acceptance of such benefits or gain would constitute a felony, even if he never takes action or had already taken action in return for the gratuities.
The value can take any form, tangible or intangible. It can be as intangible as an opportunity or good will, or it can be tangible financial gain like increased business, such as the Saudis spending a reported $270,000 to reserve rooms at the Trump Hotel in Washington D.C. in 2017 and patronizing Trump hotels in New York and Chicago over the past year, reported to represent the difference between increased business in such hotels and decreased business overall in Trump’s other hotels during the same period, and purchasing Trump properties (as they have done and which has been well documented). Nor does the bribe have to be provided contemporaneous with the official taking action in return. The value provided as a bribe can be a “stream of benefits”: as the Supreme Court explained in the McDonnell case, bribes can be “payments, loans, gifts, and other things of value” given for an official to take action “on an as-needed basis, as opportunities ar[i]se, to” act in return for the bribe. Thus, the payments by the Saudis to the Trump Organization in 2017, 2018, promises of future business with the Trump Organization (an indirect means of provided the improper payments), and the campaign benefits provided by the Russian beginning in 2016, would under federal law all fall within the definition of “anything of value” in return for official acts once President Trump was in office.
In addition to the Bribery of Public Officials and Witnesses law, 18 U.S.C. Section 201, the principal Federal Anti-Corruption laws used to prosecute bribery and public corruption in the United States include the Hobbs Act, 18 U.S.C. Section 1951; and Honest Services Fraud/Conspiracy against the United States.
The Hobbs Act, 18 U.S.C. Section 1951, prohibits public corruption as a form of illegal extortion, and is frequently used to charge officials for bribery. The Hobbs Act defines extortion as “the obtaining of property from another, with his consent . . . under color of official right.” The prosecution of bribery as a form of extortion stem from “common law, [under which] extortion was an offense committed by a public official who took ‘by color of his office’ money that was not due to him for the performance of his official duties. Extortion by the public official was the rough equivalent of what we would now describe as ‘taking a bribe.'” Id.
Public corruption is also prosecuted as Honest Services Fraud. As defined under the broad federal conspiracy laws, “[a]ny ‘scheme or artifice to defraud’ includes a scheme or artifice to deprive another of the intangible right of honest services.” 18 U.S.C 1346. The law operates under the principle that the public holds the right to honest services from public officials and official acts taken on the basis of personal financial enrichment or in exchange for or because of a bribe or kickback deny the public of such right.
Both the Hobbs and Honest Services Fraud have been used to prosecute public corruption where 18 USC 201 is unavailable and/or where evidence does not fully support the requirements of 18 USC 201. For example, perhaps critically in the case of President Trump, Honest Services Fraud does not specifically require that the public official charged accepted the bribe while already in office; it is sufficient that the bribe taking official carried out an official act in exchange for the bribe while in office; thus, if the financial benefits Trump received from the Saudis (or Russia and/or China) before his inauguration formed the basis for his actions with respect to the Saudis (or Russia and/or China), it would constitute Honest Services Fraud.
Up to now, President Trump has managed to avoid both serious legal examination and investigation of whether he has violated federal anti-corruption laws in his dealing with foreign powers; quite possibly the corruption equivalent of Trump’s braggadocios line in his campaign routine: shooting someone on Fifth Avenue in broad daylight and getting away with it. But with his [mis]-handling of the Khashoggi murder refocusing light on the ethical and legal dimensions of his financial ties to the Saudis and the prospect of a Democratic majority in Congress after the mid-term elections with investigatory powers to uncover all relevant facts and the will to do so, time may well be running short on this act.
* * *
Luke Brussel, J.D., University of Pennsylvania Law School (1999), teaches corruption law and investigations at Fordham University School of Law in New York and practices financial crimes law and compliance. He was formerly the Global Head of Anti-Corruption with General Electric and Corporate Counsel, Chief Compliance Officer with Cengage Learning. He has previously published on Law & Economics and financial crimes.
 Pub. L. 114-328, subtitle F. The Magnitsky Act provides for punishing individuals responsible for gross human rights violations by freezing their assets and/or banning travel to the U.S. by such individuals. Were such sanctions imposed on MBS or other members of the House of Saud, it would cripple his ability to use and manage his vast financial wealth and send a clear and powerful message to the international community that actions like the Khashoggi murder will not be tolerated.
See McDonnell v. United States, 136 US 2355 (2016), holding that an “Official act” under the United States Bribery of Public Officials and Witnesses law, 18 U.S.C. Section 201, and as applied to Honest Services Fraud and the Hobbs Act, is “any decision or action” by a government official on any “focused and concrete …. formal exercise of governmental power” whether taken directly by the government official or indirectly, for example, by “using his official position to exert pressure on another official to perform” any action or make a decision.
 The improper benefit, or bribe, “may consist of money, property, services, or any other act….” United States v. Kemp,500 F.3d 257 (3d Cir. 2007).
Id. at 282“[A] conviction under [18 U.S.C. 201] may be based on … benefits to the public official or to a third party whom the official favors….”
United States Attorneys’ Criminal Resource Manual 2041.
 See also Kemp at 282, “Payments in violation of the statute may be made with the intent to retain the official’s services on an ‘as needed’ basis, so that whenever the opportunity presents itself the official will take specific action on the payor’s behalf.”
 See, for example, McDonnel: The United States charged then Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell with six counts of Hobbs Act extortion and one count of conspiracy to commit Hobbs Act extortion, in addition to three counts of honest services fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit honest services fraud, for “accepting payments, loans, gifts, and other things of value [from the CEO of a Virginia company] in exchange for ‘performing official actions on an as-needed basis, as opportunities arose, to’” aid the CEO in obtaining government action favorable to his company’s products.