All posts by MPolitics

Interference in Elections? The View From Moscow

As U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller prepares to file a report of his findings in the investigation into Russia’s alleged role in the 2016 presidential election, pressure over how to handle his conclusions is building in the U.S. The Kremlin strongly denies meddling and says it is a victim of the U.S. political infighting. But what do Russian citizens know of Mueller’s work and the accusations? VOA’s Igor Tsikhanenka discussed the topic with experts in Moscow.

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Trump Signs Campus Free Speech Executive Order

President Trump is signing an executive order requiring U.S. colleges to reaffirm protection of free speech or risk losing federal research funding. The order is a sign of support to conservatives who say their voices have been stifled on liberal campuses. But civil liberty activists are concerned the move is politically motivated and see it as contradictory to Trump’s own attacks on freedom of speech. White House Correspondent Patsy Widakuswara has this report.

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AP Fact Check: Trump Falsely Says Mueller Appointment Biased

Seeking to discredit a highly anticipated report on the Russia investigation, President Donald Trump is attacking the appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller by falsely claiming it was biased and conflicted.

He suggested in remarks to reporters Wednesday that Mueller’s appointment was inappropriately made by the Justice Department and that Mueller arbitrarily decided “out of the blue” to put together the report as part of his two-year probe into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and possible coordination with the Trump campaign. That’s not the case.

Trump also falsely asserted the U.S. economy is the greatest ever and overstated the nature of his win in the 2016 race.

 

A look at the claims and the reality:

 

RUSSIA INVESTIGATION

 

TRUMP: “Again I say, a deputy, because of the fact that the attorney general didn’t have the courage to do it himself, a deputy that’s appointed appoints another man to write a report.”

 

THE FACTS: The attorney general at the time, Jeff Sessions didn’t lack courage in the matter; he lacked standing.

He recused himself from anything to do with the Trump campaign’s interactions with Russia because his work for the campaign placed him in a potential conflict of interest. It then fell to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to decide whether to appoint a special counsel, and he did.

 


 

TRUMP: “I know that he’s conflicted and I know that his best friend is Comey, who’s a bad cop.”

 

THE FACTS: Though James Comey succeeded Mueller as FBI director, and though they served together in the Bush administration, the men are not known to be social friends.

There is certainly no evidence, as Trump has repeatedly suggested, that they are “best friends.”

 


 

TRUMP, on the Mueller report: “It’s sort of interesting that a man out of the blue just writes a report.”

 

THE FACTS: Mueller didn’t wake up one day “out of the blue” and decide he wanted to write a report. It’s mandated under the regulation that spells out the grounds for his appointment and duties as special counsel.

 


 

2016 ELECTION

 

TRUMP: “I got 306 electoral votes against 223. That’s a tremendous victory. I got 63 million more — I got 63 million votes. And now somebody just writes a report?”

 

THE FACTS: He did not have as lopsided a victory over Democrat Hillary Clinton as he suggests.

 

Trump did indeed win nearly 63 million votes in the 2016 election, but it was fewer than the 65 million for Clinton, who won the popular vote after racking up lopsided victories in big states such as New York and California, according to election data compiled by The Associated Press. Clinton, however, lost the presidency due to Trump’s winning margin in the Electoral College, which came after he narrowly won less populous Midwestern states, including Michigan and Wisconsin.

 

As is typical, Trump also misstates the Electoral College vote. The official count was 304 to 227, according to an AP tally of the electoral votes in every state.

 


 

ECONOMY

 

TRUMP: “I want to see the report. And you know who will want to see it? The tens of millions of people that love the fact that we have the greatest economy we’ve ever had.”

 

THE FACTS: The president is vastly exaggerating what has been a mild improvement in growth and hiring. The economy is healthy but not nearly one of the greatest in U.S. history.

The economy expanded at an annual rate of 2.9 percent last year, a solid pace. But it was just the fastest in four years. In the late 1990s, growth topped 4 percent for four straight years, a level it has not yet reached under Trump. And growth even reached 7.2 percent in 1984.

 

Independent economists widely expect slower growth this year as the effects of the Trump administration’s tax cuts fade, trade tensions and slower global growth hold back exports, and higher interest rates make it more expensive to borrow to buy cars and homes.

 

 

 

 

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Mindful of History, Democrats Hold Off on Attempt to Impeach Trump

Democratic congressional leaders have, for the time being, ruled out pursuing impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump. That could all change depending on what is in the eagerly awaited report on the Russia investigation being prepared by special counsel Robert Mueller.

On his way to Ohio Wednesday, Trump told reporters outside the White House that the public should have access to the Mueller report. 

“Let it come out. Let the people see,” Trump said. “Let’s see whether or not it is legit.”

The decision by Democratic congressional leaders to pass on impeachment seems to be mindful of recent history, especially the Republican-led impeachment effort against President Bill Clinton in 1998.

In announcing her opposition to impeachment, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said simply that Trump “wasn’t worth it.”

Pelosi is sticking to her position despite pressure from liberal activists.

“Impeachment is a divisive issue in our country, and let us see what the facts are, what the law is, and what the behavior is of the president,” Pelosi recently told reporters at the Capitol.​

WATCH: Mindful of History, Democrats Hold off on Impeaching Trump

​Trump: ‘Great job’

For President Trump, the idea of impeachment is, not surprisingly, a non-starter.

“Well, you can’t impeach somebody that is doing a great job. That is the way I view it,” Trump said when asked about the issue in January.

Late last year, Trump told Reuters that he was not concerned about impeachment.

“I think that the people would revolt if that happened,” he said.

Trump’s Republican allies in Congress are also poised to leap to his defense.

“I don’t think it is good for the country,” House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy told reporters last week. “The Democrats made a decision (to want to impeach) on the day President Trump one.”

Some Democrats want to keep pushing, including former Hillary Clinton senior adviser Philippe Reines. Reines wrote recently in the New York Times that Democrats would be doing a “civic duty” to pursue impeachment.

“There is a mounting political cost to not impeaching Mr. Trump,” Reines wrote last week. “He will hail it as exoneration and he will go into the 2020 campaign under the banner, ‘I Told You So.’”​

Polls say no

Recent polls show most voters do not favor impeachment at this time. A Quinnipiac University poll earlier this month found that 59 percent of those surveyed do not think House Democrats should initiate impeachment proceedings against the president, while 35 percent support the idea.

Given that the 2020 election cycle is underway, Democrats may prefer to have the voters try to oust Trump during next year’s election, according to George Washington University analyst Matt Dallek.

“By the time impeachment proceedings were even to ramp up, you are talking about the end of 2019 or early 2020,” Dallek told VOA this week. “That creates its own complication because there is another remedy for removing a president and it is called the election.”

​Political risk

Democrats clearly recall what happened to Bill Clinton in 1998. Clinton lied about and tried to cover up his affair with intern Monica Lewinsky, which led to his impeachment by the House. Clinton remained in office after he was acquitted in a trial in the Senate.

Historically, impeachment has been a rare event. Clinton was only the second president impeached by the House. Andrew Johnson was the first back in 1868. Johnson avoided removal by a single vote in the Senate.

Presidential impeachments have been rare and that is by design, according to University of Virginia expert Larry Sabato.

“They (the founders) did not want presidents impeached and convicted and thrown out of office for minor offenses. They expected Congress to do it only in extreme circumstances.”

Republicans paid a price for the Clinton impeachment, losing five House seats in the 1998 midterm elections. And Sabato said that lesson could have resonance for Democrats today as they mull impeaching Trump.

“Given the fact that the Republicans took a wounded Bill Clinton and made him almost invulnerable for the rest of his term, it should serve as a warning to Democrats,” he said.

Experts also note that the damage to Republicans from the Clinton impeachment was not long-lasting. George W. Bush narrowly beat Al Gore in the 2000 presidential election, and the political fallout from Clinton’s scandal may have cost Gore the presidency.

​Senate obstacle

The biggest obstacle facing any impeachment effort of Trump is the Republican-controlled Senate. Democrats would have to bring over at least 20 Republican senators in any impeachment trial in order to get a conviction and remove the president from office.

A vote to impeach a president only requires a majority vote in the House, now controlled by Democrats. But in a Senate trial, it would take 67 of 100 senators to vote for conviction in order to remove the president from office, and Democrats concede that is not a possibility at the moment.

“It has less than zero chance of passing the Senate,” Sabato said. “Why would you go through all this in the House of Representatives, torpedo your entire agenda to impeach Trump in order to send it to the Senate to have him exonerated and not convicted?”

​Nixon case

President Richard Nixon was not impeached over the Watergate scandal in 1974, but the process was well underway. The House began impeachment proceedings through the House Judiciary Committee and was preparing to move Articles of Impeachment to the House floor when Nixon decided to resign.

Several Republican senators including Barry Goldwater went to the White House and made it clear to Nixon that he had lost Republican support and would not survive an impeachment trial in the Senate.

Some analysts predict that President Trump could face renewed calls for his ouster depending on the findings of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

“I think if the Mueller report indicates some serious wrongdoing by the president and his campaign, it really empowers Democrats to begin deliberating how to move forward with impeachment proceedings,” said Brookings Institution scholar John Hudak.

But other experts caution that it would have to be something quite serious for Republicans to even consider abandoning the president.

Given the lack of bipartisan support for impeachment at the moment, it does seem more likely that Trump will face the voters again in 2020 before he has to contend with a Democratic-led impeachment inquiry in the House.

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Acting Pentagon Chief Subject of Ethics Probe

The Pentagon’s Office of Inspector General has launched an investigation into allegations that Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan violated ethics rules by promoting his former employer, Boeing, while serving in the Trump administration.

The watch group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington filed an ethics complaint last week claiming that Shanahan had appeared to promote Boeing and disparage former competitors such as Lockheed Martin in his statements.

One example listed in the complaint was the allegation that Shanahan pushed the Pentagon to buy more Boeing-made F-15X fighter jets over other fighter jets made by Boeing’s competitors.

The Secretary’s office issued a statement Wednesday asserting that “Shanahan welcomes the Inspector General’s review.”

“Acting Secretary Shanahan has at all times remained committed to upholding his ethics agreement filed with the DoD.This agreement ensures any matters pertaining to Boeing are handled by appropriate officials within the Pentagon to eliminate any perceived or actual conflict of interest issue(s) with Boeing,” the statement read.

Shanahan served as deputy secretary of defense at the Pentagon after spending more than three decades at Boeing.

Replaces Jim Mattis

He stepped into the role of acting secretary of defense after former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis resigned on Dec. 20, saying in his resignation letter that President Donald Trump had the “right to have a secretary of defense whose views are better aligned” with his.

The president decided to replace Mattis before his expected resignation date, tapping Shanahan to take the post as of Jan. 1, 2019.

Shanahan has had to repel questions about potential conflicts of interest since taking office.

Last week, he told Congress he welcomed any such investigation into his actions at the Pentagon. In January, he called claims of favoritism “just noise.”

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Acting Pentagon Chief Subject of Ethics Probe

The Pentagon’s Office of Inspector General has launched an investigation into allegations that Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan violated ethics rules by promoting his former employer, Boeing, while serving in the Trump administration.

The watch group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington filed an ethics complaint last week claiming that Shanahan had appeared to promote Boeing and disparage former competitors such as Lockheed Martin in his statements.

One example listed in the complaint was the allegation that Shanahan pushed the Pentagon to buy more Boeing-made F-15X fighter jets over other fighter jets made by Boeing’s competitors.

The Secretary’s office issued a statement Wednesday asserting that “Shanahan welcomes the Inspector General’s review.”

“Acting Secretary Shanahan has at all times remained committed to upholding his ethics agreement filed with the DoD.This agreement ensures any matters pertaining to Boeing are handled by appropriate officials within the Pentagon to eliminate any perceived or actual conflict of interest issue(s) with Boeing,” the statement read.

Shanahan served as deputy secretary of defense at the Pentagon after spending more than three decades at Boeing.

Replaces Jim Mattis

He stepped into the role of acting secretary of defense after former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis resigned on Dec. 20, saying in his resignation letter that President Donald Trump had the “right to have a secretary of defense whose views are better aligned” with his.

The president decided to replace Mattis before his expected resignation date, tapping Shanahan to take the post as of Jan. 1, 2019.

Shanahan has had to repel questions about potential conflicts of interest since taking office.

Last week, he told Congress he welcomed any such investigation into his actions at the Pentagon. In January, he called claims of favoritism “just noise.”

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Trump Continues Rant on McCain in Ohio Speech

U.S. President Donald Trump has continued his string of attacks on late Sen. John McCain, saying during a speech in Ohio that he was never thanked for “giving [McCain] the kind of funeral that he wanted.”

Trump went on an extended rant about McCain, who died of brain cancer nearly seven months ago. It was the fourth time in five days the president made pointed, public criticisms of McCain, a decorated veteran of the Vietnam War and longtime U.S. Republican senator.

“I gave him the kind of funeral that he wanted, which as president I had to approve. I don’t care about this. I didn’t get a thank you. That’s OK,” Trump said during his speech.

“To be honest, I’ve never liked him much,” he added.

Trump was not invited to McCain’s funeral last year. The flag over the White House was left at full staff after McCain’s death until the administration was criticized by Democrats and Republicans.

Trump has renewed his attacks on McCain in recent days, blaming him for instigating the lengthy investigation of Trump campaign ties to Russia during the 2016 election, and later for casting the decisive vote that doomed Trump’s effort to overhaul national health policies that were the signature legislative achievement of his predecessor, former President Barack Obama.

During the president’s days-long rant, McCain’s supporters have fiercely defended him.

Republican stalwart U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson of Georgia lashed out at Trump in an interview Wednesday with Georgia Public Broadcasting. Isakson, who vowed at the time of McCain’s death to defend him to detractors, called the president’s comments “deplorable.”

Earlier, Isakson raised concerns about the message Trump was sending to U.S. troops by targeting McCain, a naval fighter pilot who was held as a prisoner of war in Hanoi for 5.5 years.

Meghan McCain, a regular on the morning talk show The View, said Wednesday her father would “think it was so hilarious that our president was so jealous of him that he [McCain] was dominating the news cycle in death.”

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Trump: Mueller Probe Report Should Be Made Public

President Donald Trump said Wednesday that Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s final report on his campaign’s possible collusion with Russia in the 2016 election should be made public.

But Trump again questioned the grounds for the nearly two-year-old investigation, which is also examining whether the president himself criminally obstructed the probe.

With expectations rising that Mueller will wrap up his operation within weeks after having already charged six Trump associates and over two dozen Russians, Trump said that the secret report to be submitted to the Attorney General Bill Barr should be revealed to the public.

“If you want to let them see it, let them see it,” Trump told reporters.

Trump questioned how Mueller — a man “out of the blue” who “never got a vote” — can be investigating him, given his victory in the 2016 election.

“I’m saying to myself, wait a minute, I just won one of the greatest elections of all time in the history of this country … and I have somebody writing the report who never got a vote, called the Mueller report. Explain that,” Trump said.

“Because my voters don’t get it. And I don’t get it. At the same time, let it come out. Let people see it.”

‘Confidential report’

Even so, that could be difficult. Under the rules of his May 2017 appointment, Mueller, a former director of the FBI, is to submit to Barr “a confidential report explaining the prosecution or declination decisions.”

That report, experts say, is unlikely to be revealed in the raw — it could have confidential data on people not charged, as well as top secret information on sources.

But Barr is also compelled to submit to Congress his own summary of the investigation, a report which could be made public.

Barr, who was a critic of Mueller before Trump appointed him attorney general in February, would not have to be as detailed as Mueller.

He could possibly leave out information that might be damaging to individuals like Trump, according to legal experts.

On the other hand, if Mueller finds criminal behavior by Trump and believes the evidence strong enough to support an impeachment motion by Congress, he could, with Barr’s permission, write a separate report making that case.

An important question then is whether Barr would permit that, and allow that report to be released.

‘Witch hunt’

Trump has repeatedly branded the Mueller investigation an “illegal witch hunt” over the past two years and labeled his team of investigators politically biased.

While Mueller has revealed little about how he views Trump and his family as possible targets of the investigation, the president and the White House have stepped up their political campaign to undermine the legitimacy of the investigation.

“No collusion, no collusion,” Trump declared Wednesday.

“I had the greatest electoral victory in the history of our country, one of them,” he said. “Tremendous success. Tens of millions of voters. Now somebody’s going to write a report, who never got a vote.

“We will see what the report says. Let’s see if it’s fair.”

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