With new Justice official, fate of Russia probe in question
By ERIC TUCKER and MICHAEL BALSAMO
Thursday, November 8
WASHINGTON (AP) — Attorney General Jeff Sessions was pushed out after enduring more than a year of blistering and personal attacks from President Donald Trump, who inserted in his place a Republican Party loyalist with authority to oversee the remainder of the special counsel’s Russia investigation.
The move Wednesday has potentially ominous implications for special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe given that the new acting attorney general, Matthew Whitaker, until now Sessions’ chief of staff, has questioned the inquiry’s scope and spoke publicly before joining the Justice Department about ways an attorney general could theoretically stymie the investigation.
Congressional Democrats, concerned about protecting Mueller, called on Whitaker to recuse himself from overseeing the investigation in its final but potentially explosive stages.
That duty has belonged to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who appointed Mueller and closely monitors his work.
The resignation, in a one-page letter to Trump, came one day after Republicans lost control of the House and was the first of several expected post-midterms Cabinet and White House departures. Though Sessions was an early and prominent campaign backer of Trump, his departure letter lacked effusive praise for the president and made clear the resignation came “at your request.”
“Since the day I was honored to be sworn in as attorney general of the United States, I came to work at the Department of Justice every day determined to do my duty and serve my country,” Sessions wrote.
The departure was the culmination of a toxic relationship that frayed just weeks into Sessions’ tenure, when he stepped aside from the Russia investigation because of his campaign advocacy and following the revelation that he had met twice in 2016 with the Russian ambassador to the U.S.
Trump blamed the recusal for the appointment of Mueller, who took over the Russia investigation two months later and began examining whether Trump’s hectoring of Sessions was part of a broader effort to obstruct the probe.
The investigation has produced 32 criminal charges and guilty pleas from four former Trump aides. But the work is not done, and critical decisions await that could shape the remainder of Trump’s presidency.
A Kremlin spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, on Thursday called Mueller’s investigation a “headache” for U.S. authorities but said it “has nothing to do with us,” and he declined to comment on Sessions’ departure.
Mueller’s grand jury has heard testimony for months about Trump confidant Roger Stone and what advance knowledge he may have had about Russian hacking of Democratic emails. Mueller’s team also has been pressing for an interview with Trump. And the department is expected to receive a confidential report of Mueller’s findings, though it’s unclear how much will be public.
Separately, Justice Department prosecutors in New York secured a guilty plea from Trump’s former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, who said the president directed him to arrange hush money payments before the 2016 election to two women who said they had sex with Trump.
Trump had repeatedly been talked out of firing Sessions until after the midterms, but he told confidants in recent weeks that he wanted Sessions out as soon as possible after the elections, according to a Republican close to the White House who was not authorized to publicly discuss private conversations.
The president deflected questions about Sessions’ expected departure at a White House news conference Wednesday. He did not mention that White House chief of staff John Kelly had called Sessions beforehand to ask for his resignation. The undated letter was then sent to the White House.
The Justice Department did not directly answer whether Whitaker would assume control of Mueller’s investigation, with spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores saying he would be “in charge of all matters under the purview of the Department of Justice.”
Rosenstein remains at the department and could still be involved in oversight. He has previously said that he saw no basis for firing Mueller. Trump said Wednesday that he did not plan to stop the investigation.
Without Sessions’ campaign or Russia entanglements, there’s no legal reason Whitaker couldn’t immediately oversee the probe. And since Sessions technically resigned instead of forcing the White House to fire him, he opened the door under federal law to allowing the president to choose his successor instead of simply elevating Rosenstein, said University of Texas law professor Stephen Vladeck.
“Sessions did not do the thing he could have done to better protect Rosenstein, and through Rosenstein, the Mueller investigation,” Vladeck said.
That left Whitaker in charge, at least for now, though Democrats, including Rep. Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Chuck Schumer, said he should recuse himself because of his comments on the probe. Rep. Jerry Nadler, the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, said he wants “answers immediately” and “we will hold people accountable.”
Whitaker, a former U.S. attorney from Iowa who twice ran unsuccessfully for statewide office and founded a law firm with other Republican Party activists, once opined about a scenario in which Trump could fire Sessions and then appoint an acting attorney general who could stifle the funding of Mueller’s probe.
In that scenario, Mueller’s budget could be reduced “so low that his investigation grinds to almost a halt,” Whitaker said during an interview with CNN in July 2017 before he joined the Justice Department.
In a CNN op-ed last year, Whitaker wrote, “Mueller has come up to a red line in the Russia 2016 election-meddling investigation that he is dangerously close to crossing.”
Trump’s relentless attacks on Sessions came even though the Alabama Republican was the first U.S. senator to endorse Trump and despite the fact his crime-fighting agenda and priorities, particularly his hawkish immigration enforcement policies, largely mirrored the president’s.
He found satisfaction in being able to reverse Obama-era policies that conservatives say flouted the will of Congress, encouraging prosecutors to pursue the most serious charges they could and promoting more aggressive enforcement of federal marijuana law.
He also announced media leak crackdowns and tougher policies against opioids, and his Justice Department defended a since-abandoned administration policy that resulted in migrant parents being separated from their children at the border.
But the relationship was irreparably damaged in March 2017 when Sessions, acknowledging previously undisclosed meetings with the Russian ambassador and citing his work as a campaign aide, recused himself from the Russia investigation.
Trump repeatedly lamented that he would have never selected Sessions if he had known the attorney general would recuse himself. The recusal left the investigation in the hands of Rosenstein, who appointed Mueller two months later after Trump fired then-FBI Director James Comey.
In piercing attacks, Trump called Sessions weak and beleaguered, complained that he wasn’t more aggressively pursuing allegations of corruption against Democratic rival Hillary Clinton and called it “disgraceful” that Sessions wasn’t more serious in scrutinizing the origins of the Russia investigation for possible law enforcement bias — even though the attorney general did ask the Justice Department’s inspector general to examine those claims.
The broadsides escalated in recent months, with Trump telling an interviewer that Sessions “never had control” of the Justice Department.
Sessions endured most of the name-calling in silence, though he did issue two public statements defending the department, including one in which he said he would serve “with integrity and honor” for as long as he was in the job.
Sessions, who likely suspected his ouster was imminent, was spotted by reporters giving some of his grandchildren a tour of the White House over the weekend. He did not respond when asked why he was there.
Associated Press writers Jonathan Lemire and Mary Clare Jalonick in Washington and Ryan Foley in Iowa City, Iowa, contributed to this report.
Myths on Race and Invasion of the ‘Caravan Horde’
By J.P. Linstroth
Now comes the mid-term elections.
Perhaps what is most astonishing for me, as both an anthropologist and educator, is the level of racist discourse promoted by the current Trump administration against hapless refugees and the so-called threat they pose.
Indeed, Trump and his administration have focused on immigrants as a major threat to the security of nation. Such hyped-up racist rhetoric is completely false.
This vitriol against the caravan of Central Americans and Mexicans on their way to the US border was cruel electioneering, no more. These people are poor and are fleeing horrific violence in their home countries. Some of this violence has been caused by US policies in the region.
Nonetheless, Trump has staged the national guard at the border for photo opportunities of soldiers building coil wire fencing. Trump’s words of racist hatred have also inspired and summoned numerous paramilitary posses of armed militias to the US/Mexican borderlands.
Fear-mongering and racism against immigrants is nothing new in the history of the United States.
Toward the end of the 19th-century and at the turn of the 20th-century, many in the US promoted “Nativism”—an all-white America where good jobs belonged to Whites, not foreigners. This was the historical period known as the “Second-Industrial Revolution,” the “Gilded Age,” and the “Progressive Era”—a time of enormous economic transformation for the country through industrialization and urbanization.
Those on the West Coast blamed the loss of jobs and low wages on Chinese immigrants. This resulted in the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act by the US Congress in 1882. In 1907 there was also a “Gentleman’s Agreement” with Japan to restrict Japanese emigration.
By 1924 the US Congress passed the “Immigration Act,” thereby limiting immigration from Eastern and Southern Europeans such as those with Greek, Italian, Polish, and Jewish origins and banned Asians.
During the mid-nineteenth century, a huge wave of Irish immigrants came to the US because of the “Great Famine” (1845-1849) in Ireland. These Irish worked in the worst jobs possible. They built the railroads connecting the country to the West Coast, constructed canals, and provided cheap labor for much of northern industry. In this period, the Irish were viewed as dogs, drunkards, and non-human apes, barely considered White.
Conditions in manufacturing were generally deplorable for all new immigrants in the Gilded Age. Workers were not protected and required to work 14-16 hour days, six or seven days a week, nearly 365 days a year. Children worked too and were not required to attend school. A typical unskilled laborer at the time earned no more than $8-10 per week.
Upton Sinclair’s historical novel, The Jungle (1904), illustrates these hazardous conditions for immigrants in Chicago’s meatpacking industry—lost limbs and digits, no workman’s compensation, unsanitary conditions, and dangerous work.
In the Chicago Haymarket Riot of 1886, several German immigrants were unfairly accused of instigating a protest where policemen were killed. The injustice of the following trial was so evident that the governor of Illinois commuted some of the sentences of those accused.
Fear of immigrants, even American citizen descendants of some of them, was also evident during World War II with the racialized internment of Japanese-Americans into concentration camps. Some 100,000 Japanese-Americans were imprisoned between 1942 and 1945, preventing a non-existent threat.
Mythologies persist. Immigrants are easy scapegoats and targets because they often do not have a voice to protest such falsehoods against them.
Indeed, immigrants are often the hardest working populations under the worst conditions, wanting a better life for their families. We find this in new immigrant populations coming from Mexico and Central America to the United States today. These are people who work in the fields picking our fruits and vegetables, doing domestic work and caring for our children, laboring in meatpacking plants, working in landscaping and mowing our lawns, cleaning motel rooms, and preparing our food in the restaurant industry.
I have been advocating on behalf of the Guatemalan-Maya population in South Florida since 1990. Many of these immigrants arrived here from the genocide and civil war in Guatemala in the early 1980s where the US was indirectly involved, having trained the country’s military leaders in the School of the Americas and supplying the military junta with weapons.
During the 1980s the US intervened more directly in the civil wars in Central American countries like El Salvador and Nicaragua. Such US military interventionism was “justified” as against the spread of communism, yet caused greater instability in the region.
Moreover, US economic trade policies of the 1990s such as NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) have consistently undermined the economic opportunities of those living in countries like El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala. Employers in Central America have consistently violated minimum wage agreements and fair labor conditions.
These 5,000 people coming from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico pose no threat to the security of the United States. It will not be difficult to prevent them from crossing our border.
But the fake news created by the Trump administration will most likely persist in the American imagination:
· Our Pentagon says there is no threat of Middle Eastern terrorists amongst this caravan of mostly poor Central Americans.
· Nor was the Democratic Party responsible for organizing the caravan. Migrant caravans have been coming to the United States-Mexican borders for years under both Republican and Democrat administrations.
· Traveling in numbers makes the journey safer for these migrants. Often migrants are commonly victims of real threats of violence along the way—murder, rape, and robbery.
· Nor is the Honduran government financially supporting the caravan.
· And finally, these people cannot just return to their home countries and apply for political asylum there. They must be in the United States to apply for asylum and citizenship.
The situation in Central America is a humanitarian crisis on a large scale. It is a crisis largely caused by US policies in the region. We have often treated those south of the border as inferior peoples since the beginning of our imperialist aims in the Western Hemisphere with the Monroe Doctrine, then the Roosevelt Corollary, and US military interventionism over the last century throughout the Americas and the Caribbean.
Do not be fooled by Trump’s racist rhetoric. These immigrants are desperate human beings wanting survival for their families. They are not security threats. They should be protected and sheltered and given the same opportunities as our ancestors arriving at Ellis Island.
Rather, Emma Lazarus’ words (1883), should echo with everyone: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore.” This is the true America and the ideals we all hold dear.
J. P. Linstroth is a former Fulbright Scholar to Brazil. He has a PhD from the University of Oxford. He is the author of Marching Against Gender Practice (2015).
2 economic policies likely to change with Democrats in control of House
November 7, 2018
Professor of Economics, Colorado State University
Steven Pressman does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Colorado State University provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.
Perhaps the biggest surprise in the midterm elections was that, unlike 2016, there wasn’t one. Polls and pundits expected Democrats would take control of the House and Republicans would keep the Senate, and that’s exactly what we’re getting.
The likely result: two years of congressional gridlock on economic policy, which requires both houses of Congress to agree on the same legislation. So, we can expect that the status quo on economic policy will mostly prevail.
There are, however, two economic issues on which the election outcome will make a meaningful difference: trade and infrastructure.
One of the first items of business in January after the new Congress gets sworn in will be the United States-Mexico-Canada Trade Agreement.
The deal is intended to replace NAFTA, which President Donald Trump has threatened to withdraw from for several years. In reality, the new deal is little more than a slightly modified version of its would-be predecessor.
But before it can become the law of the land, Congress must ratify it, either by a majority vote by both houses or two-thirds of the Senate.
The USMCA’s chances were already far from assured before the Democrats took the House. Now its failure is very likely.
So what happens next?
The simple answer is not much. NAFTA remains in force. Ultimately I believe that’s a good thing for the U.S. economy because the new deal would likely shift auto industry jobs to Mexico.
With any luck, the USMCA defeat also convinces Trump to have second thoughts about his costly trade war.
But what if he tries to follow through on his threat to withdraw from NAFTA? Fortunately, most constitutional scholars say he can’t do so unilaterally. Were he able to, however, the consequences for the U.S. economy would be severe.
Roads, bridges and bipartisanship
Infrastructure, on the other hand, offers a rare opportunity for House Democrats and Trump to find common ground.
The signs of a crisis in America’s infrastructure are unmistakable: derailing and delayed trains, crumbling roadways, collapsing bridges, undrinkable tap water and a wastewater system that is a menace to public health.
The American Society of Civilian Engineers estimated that America’s “D+” infrastructure costs an average household US$3,400 annually. It also cost lives, as it did when a Minnesota bridge collapsed in 2007, killing 13.
In February, Trump proposed a fund to spend $1.5 trillion to fix the infrastructure mess, with the government putting up $200 billion and the private sector kicking in the rest.
While Democrats support infrastructure spending, the stumbling block in the Trump plan was the provision that the private sector would effectively own the roads and bridges that it builds.
While House Democrats may not support this plan, they would likely be willing to support something that mainly relies on just federal spending. And Republicans have a reason to go along as well: Infrastructure spending would boost economic growth, which is forecast to slow in 2019 – just before the 2020 elections.
While a few hundred billion dollars in spending won’t solve the U.S. infrastructure problem, it would be a good start. It would stimulate the economy and also make everyone’s lives more pleasant and less expensive – and may even end a little gridlock (pun intended).
SourcePoint Earns Seal of Excellence for Third Time
SourcePoint accepted the Standards for Excellence accreditation at the Ohio Nonprofit Excellence Awards presented by the Ohio Association of Nonprofit Organizations (OANO). As announced earlier this year, this is the third time SourcePoint has earned this special recognition, which accredits the organization through 2023.
The Standards for Excellence program identifies, benchmarks, and measures major areas of nonprofit governance and management. SourcePoint’s programs and services, management, fundraising, and financial practices were subjected to in-depth examination prior to earning the seal of excellence.