Democrats wrestle with Trump probes
By LISA MASCARO and STEVE PEOPLES
Sunday, March 24
WASHINGTON (AP) — For many Democrats, Robert Mueller’s investigation has long stood as their best, last chance to take down President Donald Trump before the next election.
The summary of Mueller’s report released on Sunday not only lacked that punch, it now forces a moment of reckoning over how far to take the investigations ahead.
It’s a delicate issue heading into the 2020 election, where Democrats are balancing the wishes of the liberal, anti-Trump base and the threat of Republicans accusing them of ginning up political witch hunts.
After the summary revealed Mueller found revealed no evidence of Russian collusion, Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale blamed Democrats as having “lied” to Americans and taking them “on a frantic, chaotic, conspiracy-laden roller coaster.”
The new landscape leaves Democrats on Capitol Hill and on the presidential campaign trail facing a more complicated path forward.
For weeks, they have worked to set expectations, assuring restless liberals across the country that Mueller’s work was the beginning, rather than the end, of the inquiries.
Facing pressure from the base to dig deeper into Trump’s personal and professional issues, Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill are mounting their own far-reaching congressional probes into the Republican president before and after he took office. And with only a summary of Mueller’s report released by Trump’s hand-picked attorney general so far, they’re threatening to subpoena Mueller’s full report and promising an onslaught of high-drama hearings.
But that intense focus on probe is raising some concerns that it could prove a distraction.
One of the many 2020 presidential candidates, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg, called Sunday’s findings “further evidence that it would be a mistake for Democrats to think that the way for the Trump presidency to end is by way of investigation.”
Trump became president in part because Democrats in 2016 made the contest too much about him, and not enough about voters, Buttigieg said on MSNBC. He called on his party to stay focused on issues important to people’s everyday lives, such as the economy, racial justice and climate change.
Another contender disagreed with those calling for Democrats to move on. “If the investigation into that attack was covered up or obstructed, there has to be accountability and a reckoning,” Beto O’Rourke told reporters Sunday in Las Vegas.
Most of the other Democratic contenders offered a far simpler message, calling for the release of Mueller’s full report — a safe play, politically, as polls show Americans are largely on their side. The House voted overwhelming last week to release it, 420-0.
Still, it’s unclear how far Democrats can go in pursuing the investigations that are being demanded by the base of their party without alienating the wide swath of more centrist voters Trump is trying to keep close ahead of the 2020 election.
Democratic strategist Brian Fallon said it won’t be tops on the agenda for presidential candidates or those running for Senate. But he said Democrats are on solid ground as they push for release of the report and conduct oversight voters demanded while also focusing on the kitchen table issues — health care, climate change — important to voters. It’s the same blueprint Democrats used when voters gave the party control of the House in the midterm election.
“I don’t think the public expects Congress to be shrinking violets,” he said. “They expect Democrats to pursue oversight and not go overboard.”
Liberal activists are already preparing for nationwide protests should the Trump administration not release the full report or appear to be hiding key evidence. After waiting two years for damning evidence on the Republican president, the Democratic base is unlikely to let the issue fade quietly away.
“There is an enormous amount of energy behind this,” said Democratic strategist Zac Petkanas. “And I think people should not underestimate what a White House cover-up will unleash if they decide to hide one word of the report or underlying evidence. We are at the beginning of a long fight to ensure that there’s not a cover-up.”
For Democrats in Congress, pursuing the investigations on their own now is a risky strategy.
In Mueller they had a truth-teller beyond reproach, whose credentials and bipartisan backing gave the questions swirling around Trump more than an air of credibility. Democrats put him “right next to Jesus,” cracked Republican Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio on Sunday. Republicans, for the most part, backed Mueller’s work.
As Democrats go it alone with congressional investigation, they lose that stamp of impartiality and expose themselves to Trump’s constant cries of “presidential harassment.”
“What will now follow is mainly political harassment leading to, perhaps, a futile impeachment exercise,” Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas tweeted.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has drawn criticism from some in the party for her reluctance to pursue impeachment — she has said Trump isn’t worth it. The speaker views impeachment as politically fraught unless Democrats have the groundswell of public opinion behind them. Front of mind is her experience during the Republican drive to impeach President Bill Clinton, which voters saw as overly partisan, especially once the independent counsel’s report was released, and contributed to GOP electoral losses.
Instead, Pelosi frames the investigations ahead as Congress exerting its constitutional duty to the necessary checks and balances on the executive that voters want. Democrats are sweeping beyond the Russia probe into the president’s potential conflicts — his tax returns, financial dealings, Trump Hotel — in the tangled intersection of business and politics.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., a member of the Judiciary Committee and co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said this is perhaps an “unparalleled” moment in the country’s history and Mueller’s work is just the start.
“I don’t think there’s a risk of overreach when you talk about criminal acts — multiple criminal acts — conducted by the top people around the president of the United States,” she said. “We have to lay it out for ourselves and lay it for the people and see where it leads us.”
But the political risks for Democrats loom large. Trump’s team flashed a newly emboldened offensive strategy after years of playing defense.
“Hang in there Dems,” White House aide Dan Scavino tweeted after the report was released, “ya all have SIX more YEARS of TRUMP.”
Follow on Twitter at https://twitter.com/lisamascaro and https://twitter.com/sppeoples
State Representative David Leland
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: MARCH 12, 2019
As Popular Vote Compact gains momentum, Ohio takes a second look
Leland says move ensures that popular vote winner is the one elected President
COLUMBUS—State Rep. David Leland (D-Columbus) tomorrow will push his House colleagues in the House Federalism Committee* to pass House Bill (HB) 70, his legislation to have Ohio join the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, a group of states that pledge their entire Electoral College delegation to the winner of the national popular vote during the general election.
Leland’s first hearing on HB 70 in the Ohio’s House Federalism Committee comes as states like New Mexico and Colorado have passed similar bills through their House and Senate, respectively.
Leland said the bill will ensure “true democracy” in America by ensuring the presidential candidate that receives the greatest total of votes is the candidate that ends up in the White House.
“If we are going to have a true republic, with elections that can be viewed by all Americans as completely legitimate, we should be a part of this National Popular Vote compact and finally ensure that the person with the most votes is the one that is elected President,” said Leland.
The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact would allow for states to award their Electoral College votes to the winner of the national popular vote for president without a constitutional amendment. Instead, it would allow states to award all electoral votes to whichever candidate wins the popular vote – the vote of the people.
“This change is long overdue. Two of the last three presidents have entered office without having won a majority of the popular vote nationwide,” added Leland. “Our current framework undermines the will of the people by not guaranteeing that every voter in every state matters in every presidential election.”
Since 2007, 12 states and the District of Columbia – a total of 172 electoral votes – have joined the compact. If HB 70 passes, the compact’s electoral total would jump to 190 electoral votes out of the 270 required for a majority. The bill was first introduced in Ohio in 2016.
March is a Mix of Winter & Spring Weather Conditions
Get Ready, Ohio! Severe Weather Awareness Week is March 17-23
COLUMBUS, OH — As part of a coordinated effort with the Ohio Committee for Severe Weather Awareness (OCSWA), Governor Mike DeWine has proclaimed March 17-23 as Severe Weather Awareness Week and encourages all Ohioans to learn what to do to protect themselves from spring and summer weather hazards, including home emergencies.
“Ohio’s weather can be unpredictable, so it’s important to be prepared,” said Governor DeWine. “Ohio has already had two tornadoes this year, along with extremely cold weather, heavy snowstorms, and flooding that resulted in a state of emergency in nearly two dozen Ohio counties. Ohio’s Severe Weather Awareness Week is an ideal time to learn about severe weather preparedness and get ready.”
Governor DeWine proclaimed a state of emergency on Monday for the following 20 counties impacted by damaging flooding last month: Adams, Athens, Brown, Gallia, Guernsey, Hocking, Jackson, Jefferson, Lawrence, Meigs, Monroe, Morgan, Muskingum, Noble, Perry, Pike, Ross, Scioto, Vinton and Washington. The emergency proclamation authorizes various state departments and agencies to coordinate state and federal response and to assist local government in protecting the lives and property of Ohio residents.
“As we have seen this winter, severe weather, such as tornadoes and flooding, doesn’t keep a calendar. We need to know of all the weather hazards that can impact our state and how to prepare and protect ourselves,” said Ohio Emergency Management Agency Executive Director Sima Merick. “Every minute counts in a disaster, so we encourage you to plan now so you’re prepared. Make emergency plans for the different hazards that can impact your household. Practice tornado and fire drills. Make emergency supply kits for your home or for your car, in case you need to evacuate. Additionally, consider purchasing flood insurance.”
During the weather safety campaign, the state of Ohio will participate in a statewide tornado drill and test its Emergency Alert System on Wednesday, March 20 at 9:50 a.m. During this time, Ohio counties will sound and test their outdoor warning sirens. Schools, businesses and households are encouraged to practice their tornado drills and emergency plans.
What Can Ohioans Do During Severe Weather Awareness Week?
Prepare for Weather and Home Emergencies. Homes, schools and businesses should update their safety/ communications plans. Practice tornado and fire drills. Replenish supplies in emergency kits. Be informed – Know the risks about the different disasters and hazards that can affect families where they live, work and go to school. Include children in emergency planning.
Know Ohio’s Weather Hazards. Ohio’s spring and summer weather hazards include tornadoes, thunderstorms, floods, and even snowstorms through early spring. Visit the OCSWA website: weathersafety.ohio.gov to view current Ohio weather and to review severe weather safety and preparedness information.
Know the Difference between Storm Watches and Warnings. Ensure that everyone knows the difference between a Tornado Watch and a Tornado Warning. A tornado watch means conditions are favorable for the development of tornadoes. A tornado warning is issued when a tornado is imminent or occurring. If a tornado warning is issued for your area, do not stop to take photos or shoot video. Seek safe shelter immediately. OCSWA Spring & Summer Weather Terms
During tornado drills or actual tornado warnings, remember to DUCK!
D – Go DOWN to the lowest level, stay away from windows
U – Get UNDER something (such as a basement staircase or heavy table or desk)
C – COVER your head
K – KEEP in shelter until the storm has passed
Many Ohio counties have outdoor warning sirens that sound during severe storm and tornado warnings. During storm watches or warnings, listen to your NOAA Weather Radio or your local news for current weather conditions and information.
People also receive notification of severe weather and other emergencies through their cellphones and mobile devices. Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) are emergency texts sent by authorized government alerting authorities. WEAs can notify you of storm warnings, local emergencies requiring evacuation or immediate action, AMBER Alerts, and Presidential Alerts.
NATIONAL SURVEY OF EMERGENCY DEPARTMENT MANAGEMENT OF SELF-HARM HIGHLIGHTS SUCCESSES, ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT
ONLY 15 PERCENT OF HOSPITALS SURVEYED ROUTINELY PROVIDED ALL RECOMMENDED SAFETY PLANNING ELEMENTS
Columbus,OH – 03/13/2019
Approximately half a million patients in the United States arrive in emergency departments (EDs) after deliberate self-harm annually. In the short term following the ED visit, these patients are at high risk for repeated self-harm and suicide.
In a study published today in JAMA Psychiatry, researchers at Nationwide Children’s Hospital describe the results of a national survey to evaluate how frequently evidence-based management practices are used in EDs when treating patients who present for self-harm.
“The emergency department plays a critical role in treating not only the physical injury but the behavioral health concerns that led to self-harm,” says Jeff Bridge, PhD, director of the Center for Suicide Prevention and Research in The Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s, and lead author on the study. “Improving their emergency care is a key focus of national strategies to reduce the suicide rate, but we don’t know all that much about ED management of self-harm.”
The survey was mailed to a random sample of 665 ED nursing directors among 2,228 hospitals with five or more self-harm visits in the prior year. Most of the EDs sampled were urban, non-teaching hospitals with high mental health staffing.
Overall, the EDs regularly provided five of 10 specified self-harm management practices. EDs most commonly assessed for current and past suicidal thoughts/behaviors and access to lethal means. In fact, EDs assessed the first two more than 90 percent of the time. However, providing elements of safety planning varied widely, with only two of six elements provided more than half the time.
Components of a good safety plan include an individualized plan to restrict access to lethal means, employing internal coping strategies and accessing available social supports and activities.
“Safety plans are essential to the wellbeing of patients who are at risk for experiencing a mental health crisis,” adds Dr. Bridge.
Among the hospitals surveyed, patients in the ED as a result of self-harm were often (79 percent) given a list of professionals or agencies to contact in a crisis, and just over half (52 percent) of patients received education about recognizing the warning signs of suicide. Only 15 percent routinely provided all the recommended safety planning elements.
“Emerging evidence suggests that safety planning in combination with structured telephone follow up can significantly reduce suicidal behaviors after ED discharge,” said Dr. Bridge. “This is a specific area where quality improvement efforts in the ED management of self-harm could have an important impact on improving patient outcomes.”
The study authors say that future research should evaluate specific aspects of ED interventions for deliberate self-harm and their likelihood to reduce the risk of repeated self-harm and suicide.
Study co-authors are affiliated with The Ohio State University, Columbia University, University of Pennsylvania, and City University of New York.
Responsible reporting on suicide and the inclusion of stories of hope and resilience can prevent more suicides. You can find more information on safe messaging about suicide here. If you’re feeling suicidal, please talk to somebody. You can reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to Crisis Text Line at 741-741.
18th Annual Mohican Wildlife Weekend returns to Richland County
MANSFIELD, Ohio – Visitors can experience the habitats of birds and bats, learn about fly-fishing and more at the 18th Annual Mohican Wildlife Weekend, April 26-28, 2019. Celebrate wildlife habitat, heritage and natural history and choose from 12 program sites across Ashland and Richland Counties. Sites will offer workshops and demonstrations to interest beginners and experienced naturalists alike. The entire family will enjoy the fun and educational weekend.
This year’s theme is Pick Your Path, a joint event with local environmental education groups that seek to raise awareness about the importance of the outdoors and outdoor education. Many thanks to Fin Feather Fur Outfitters for supporting the event as the corporate sponsor.
Site educational offerings include birding boat tours, bird photography, nature crafts, wagon tours, bat and owl demonstrations, fly fishing demonstrations and much more. There are more than 30 sessions to choose from. While registration is not required for any of the programs, some programs have limited space and will be first come, first served. Tickets must be purchased for the birding boat tours.
Be sure to attend the Welcome Reception from 6 p.m.-7 p.m. on Friday, April 26 at Mohican State Park Lodge & Conference Center. Raffle tickets will be available for purchase. Sign up to be included on the mailing list. Friday evening’s featured speaker will be Tom Arbour, Land & Water Trails Coordinator for the Ohio Division of Natural Resources (ODNR) Division of Parks & Watercraft. Tom will outline how trails have the potential to help all Ohioans conserve and enjoy Ohio.
Program sites are the Gorman Nature Center, Malabar Farm State Park, Mohican State Park and Lodge, Wolf Creek Grist Mill, Ohio Bird Sanctuary, Mohican Outdoor School, Pleasant Hill Lake Park, Charles Mill Lake Park, Byers Woods, Shelby Wetlands and Landoll’s Mohican Castle.
For more information, check out www.mohicanwildlifeweekend.com. *For event updates and alerts, text MOHICANWILD to 888777 (Standard messaging rates apply).
For lodging and area tourist information contact:
Ashland Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, 877-581-2345
Mohican-Loudonville Visitors Bureau, 877-266-4422
Destination Mansfield – Richland County, 800-642-8282
A destination unlike any other, Mansfield and Richland County, Ohio offers unusual travel adventures and experiences, such as spending the night in a haunted former state prison where Hollywood blockbuster movies are shot, world-class motorsports, skiing, hiking, biking, golf, and loads of other outdoor adventures attract families and visitors of all ages. Complete visitor information and free visitor guides are available at DestinationMansfield.com or by calling (800) 642-8282.
Trump and obstruction of justice: An explainer
March 26, 2019
Author: David Orentlicher, Professor of Law and Co-Director, Health Law Program, University of Nevada, Las Vegas
Disclosure statement: Between 2002 and 2008, David Orentlicher served in the Indiana House of Representatives. He ran for Congress in 2015 as a Democrat.
Partners: University of Nevada, Las Vegas provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.
Special counsel Robert Mueller did not find evidence that Trump or his campaign colluded with the Russian government to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
But Mueller, who submitted his report to the Department of Justice on March 22 after nearly two years of investigation, did not determine whether the president had obstructed justice during the FBI’s investigation into his campaign.
“While this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him,” the special counsel stated.
Mueller’s report has not been made public, but Attorney General William Barr does not share Mueller’s uncertainty about an obstruction charge. In a March 24 letter to Congress summarizing Mueller’s findings, Barr said he saw insufficient evidence to establish that the president had obstructed justice.
Democrats want to make their own determination about the evidence. They are now demanding that Barr’s office release Mueller’s report by April 2.
Truthfully, obstruction of justice is a complicated matter. As a law professor and one-time elected official, here’s my explanation of the crime – and its possible application to the president.
What is obstruction of justice?
According to federal law, obstruction occurs when a person tries to impede or influence a trial, investigation or other official proceeding with threats or corrupt intent.
Bribing a judge and destroying evidence are classic examples of this crime.
Other actions may constitute obstruction, too, depending on the context. And some actions that look like obstruction of justice may not be, because the law requires an intention to obstruct as well.
President Trump did many things to influence investigations into him and his aides – but did he do so with “corrupt” intent?
After the FBI’s investigation of Russian election interference revealed that national security adviser Michael Flynn had lied, for example, Trump allegedly told FBI director James Comey, “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.”
Flynn ultimately pleaded guilty of lying to the FBI about his conversation with Russia’s ambassador – an obstruction of justice crime – and is awaiting sentencing.
Soon after, Trump fired Comey, who was overseeing the FBI’s Russia probe.
How to determine criminal intent
That behavior may constitute obstruction of justice, but only if Trump pressured and later fired Comey for “corrupt” – meaning willfully improper – reasons.
Determining intent in an obstruction of justice case is often quite challenging for prosecutors, and it requires subjective judgment.
If Trump fired Comey in an effort to prevent the FBI from discovering incriminating information about him or his campaign, that would be “corrupt.”
Alternatively, Trump may have distrusted Comey because he thought he handled the FBI’s investigation of Hillary Clinton poorly, and consequently fired him. That would be his right as head of the executive branch of government.
The president has offered both explanations for dismissing Comey.
In a May 2017 interview with NBC News, the president said, “Regardless of recommendation, I was going to fire Comey” because of “this Russia thing.”
A few minutes later he said he fired Comey because “he’s the wrong man for that position.”
The objective of Trump’s statement to Comey about “letting Flynn go” is similarly ambiguous.
If the president was merely stating his hope that Flynn would escape the investigation unscathed, it would not constitute obstruction. But if this was Trump’s way of ordering Comey to clear Flynn, it would.
Other evidence of obstruction
Sometimes a single action or statement, standing alone, does not constitute obstruction of justice. But, when taken together with other actions, it creates a pattern of behavior that demonstrates corrupt intent.
For example, Trump publicly attacked Mueller, his investigation and other federal investigations into his campaign more than 1,100 times between March 2018 and Feb. 14, 2019, according to The New York Times.
Trump has the constitutional right to mount a “vigorous defense” to potential criminal charges and, under the First Amendment, to voice his opinions.
But the president’s behavior toward Comey looks more damning when viewed alongside his efforts to discredit the special counsel’s work.
Obstruction can occur even without collusion
Because it can be so difficult to discern a person’s intent, prosecutors often charge obstruction combined with other related charges.
In 1974, when the House of Representatives filed charges against President Richard Nixon as part of the impeachment process, it accused him of obstructive conduct that also violated other laws, including his authorizing payments to buy the silence of potential witnesses – bribery.
Nixon resigned and was given a presidential pardon for these crimes.
Similarly, in 1998, when the House of Representatives impeached President Bill Clinton on obstruction charges, it also charged him with perjury. He was acquitted on both counts.
While other charges are common in obstruction cases, they are not required. A person can be guilty of obstruction even when they are not trying to cover up their other misconduct.
This is important in Trump’s case because, in Barr’s view, if the president did not collude with Russia – as Mueller concluded – then there was nothing to obstruct.
“The evidence does not establish that the President was involved in an underlying crime related to Russian election interference,” Barr wrote to Congress, “and … the absence of such evidence bears upon the President’s intent with respect to obstruction.”
Legally, however, obstruction can still occur even in the absence of an underlying crime. President Trump might have interfered in the FBI and special counsel investigations not to protect himself from collusion charges but to protect members of his family or inner circle.
Ultimately, seven Trump operatives were indicted during Mueller’s investigation.
What happens next?
If Congress receives the full Mueller report, lawmakers will assess all evidence gathered during the 22-month special counsel investigation and together with their own investigation, make a determination about whether Trump obstructed justice.
They may agree with Barr that Trump did not intend to obstruct justice. But if there is a strong case that he committed that crime, Trump likely won’t face charges while in office because Department of Justice guidelines state that sitting presidents should not be prosecuted.
If obstruction charges are merited, therefore, Congress would have to raise them during an impeachment proceeding – a process House Speaker Nancy Pelosi so far opposes.
Alternatively, Trump could be charged with obstruction after he leaves office.