WASHINGTON, May 7, 2018 — President Donald Trump took to Twitter Monday afternoon to reveal that at 2:00 pm Tuesday, he will announce whether or not the United States will remain a part of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, better known as the Iran nuclear deal.
I will be announcing my decision on the Iran Deal tomorrow from the White House at 2:00pm.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 7, 2018
“I will be I will be announcing my decision on the Iran Deal tomorrow from the White House at 2:00pm,” he wrote.
Trump is expected to announce that the United States will withdraw from the agreement, in which the Iranian government agreed to strict limits on its to develop a nuclear weapon — including a regime of inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency — in exchange for the United States, China, Russia, and the European Union — including signatory nations Germany and the United Kingdom — lifting the economic sanctions that had been leveled against Tehran in recent years as a result of that country’s pursuit of nuclear weapons.
Trump Has Long Opposed The Agreement
While Trump has twice bowed to the wishes of the U.S. foreign policy establishment by agreeing to certify that Iran is in compliance with the agreement, the president has long been opposed to the agreement — one of President Barack Obama’s signature foreign policy accomplishments — which he has repeatedly described it as “one of the worst deals ever made.”
Reports indicated that the decision to remain in the deal was a major source of tension between Trump and former National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, who was replaced last month by George W. Bush-era U.N. Ambassador John Bolton, a staunch opponent of the Iran deal.
Trump has not offered much in the way of specific reasons he considers the deal one of the worst ever made, and some Democrats have suggested his opposition to the agreement stems from a desire to undo anything accomplished by the previous administration. However a senior administration official explained that a major objection is the agreement’s sunset provision, which theoretically would allow Iran to resume work on a nuclear weapon after the agreement expires 15 years after its adoption.
However, Iran also implemented an “additional protocol” under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty — to which it is a signatory — which provides for inspections of any site which the IAEA suspects is being used for nuclear weapons production.
The World Weighs In
Trump’s announcement comes following a set of dueling lobbying efforts against and in favor of the deal by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel of France and Germany. While the latter two leaders made their pitch to save it in person late last month, Netanyahu followed with a televised presentation in which he revealed evidence of the extent of Iran’s previous nuclear program.
Under Netanyahu’s Likud Party-led government, Israel — which is widely believed to have a nuclear weapons capability itself — was staunchly opposed to the deal, which Netanyahu personally lobbied against during a 2015 visit to Washington, when he delivered a politically-charged speech against the deal to a joint session of Congress.
Netanyahu’s presentation, which appeared tailor-made to influence the notoriously television-loving Trump, prompted a statement from White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders that indicated a belief by the Trump administration that Iran “has a robust, clandestine nuclear weapons program that it has tried and failed to hide from the world and from its own people.”
However, after it was pointed out that the evidence revealed by Netanyahu only showed Iran’s past efforts towards a nuclear weapon, and that the International Atomic Energy Agency has certified that Iran is in compliance with the agreement, the statement was later corrected on the White House website to read: “Iran had a robust, clandestine nuclear weapons program that it has tried and failed to hide from the world and from its own people.
Sanders Says Kerry’s Advice Unwelcome
When asked on Monday about reports that former Secretary of State John Kerry — who recently met with Iranian officials in an effort to save the agreement — had urged President Trump to remain in the deal, efforts which Trump suggested was a violation of the Logan Act (which prohibits private citizens from engaging in diplomacy on the United States’ behalf), Sanders dismissed Kerry’s counsel as unwanted and unlikely to swap the president.
“I don’t think we’d take advice from somebody who created what the President sees to be one of the worst deals ever made,” Sanders said. “I’m not sure why we’d start listening to him now.”
Sanders also declined to answer questions about reports that the Trump administration had engaged an Israel-based private intelligence firm to dig into the background of some of the Obama administration staffers who’d worked to put the deal together, including former National Security Council spokesperson Ben Rhodes.
Neither Rhodes nor Kerry responded to BeltwayBreakfast’s requests for comment.
Appeals Court Says Trump Can’t Block Twitter Critics
WASHINGTON, July 9, 2019 — A three-judge panel of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals has found that President Donald Trump’s use of Twitter’s “block” feature against his critics violates the First Amendment because he uses his private Twitter account for official government business.
The unanimous decision upholds a prior district court ruling which rejected the Justice Department’s argument that Trump was acting as a private individual when he blocked several critics from viewing tweets on the @realDonaldTrump Twitter account.
“[The] First Amendment does not permit a public official who utilizes a social media account for all manner of official purposes to exclude persons from an otherwise‐open online dialogue because they expressed views with which the official disagrees,” Circuit Judge Barrington Parker explained.
Barrington, who was named to the Second Circuit by President George W. Bush, took care to note that the court did not consider whether elected officials could block users from a “wholly private” social media account.
“The salient issues in this case arise from the decision of the President to use a relatively new type of social media platform to conduct official business and to interact with the public,” he wrote.
Writing for himself and his colleagues — George W. Bush appointee Peter Hall and Obama appointee Christopher F. Droney — Barrington explained that the court found that Trump “has consistently used the [@realDonaldTrump] Account as an important tool of governance and executive outreach,” based on his use of Twitter to announce personnel actions, promote administration initiatives, and numerous statements from administration officials which concede that his tweets are official statements from the President of the United States.
The three judges were “not persuaded” by the Justice Department’s arguments that the President’s Twitter account is a private vehicle for his own use and not a public forum, that blocking an individual does not prevent a user from accessing Trump’s tweets, or that the tweets are exempt from the First Amendment under the “government speech” doctrine.
“We conclude that the evidence of the official nature of the Account is overwhelming. We also conclude that once the President has chosen a platform and opened up its interactive space to millions of users and participants, he may not selectively exclude those whose views he disagrees with.” he wrote.
When reached by email, Justice Department spokesperson Kelly Laco reiterated the government’s argument that Trump’s decision to block users from his personal Twitter account does not violate the First Amendment.
“We are disappointed with the court’s decision and are exploring possible next steps,” she wrote.
As Trump Tweets to Downplay Associates’ Felony Pleas, One Judiciary Committee Dem Says He Has “Ethics of a Mob Boss”
WASHINGTON, August 22, 2018 — In a series of tweets coming less than 24 hours after two of his closest associates from the 2016 campaign became convicted felons, President Trump praised one for refusing to cooperate with the Justice Department while simultaneously downplaying the seriousness of the other’s crimes and attacking him for accepting a plea deal from prosecutors.
“I feel very badly for Paul Manafort and his wonderful family. ‘Justice’ took a 12 year old tax case, among other things, applied tremendous pressure on him and, unlike Michael Cohen, he refused to “break” – make up stories in order to get a “deal.” Such respect for a brave man!” Trump wrote early Wednesday, shortly after tweeting out a suggestion that those looking for “a good lawyer” not retain Cohen’s services.
Trump’s morning “Executive Time” tweet storm came the day after what some have described as the worst day of Trump’s presidency. But if Trump thought Tuesday was bleak after Manafort — his former campaign chairman — was convicted of eight counts of fraud and tax evasion in the first of two criminal trials he is facing at the hands of Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his team, things got even bleaker when Cohen, his longtime attorney and fixer pleaded guilty to charges of bank fraud and campaign finance violations.
It is not known whether Cohen will cooperate with prosecutors, though his attorney, Lanny Davis, suggested in an interview on MSNBC that the former Trump lawyer had information to offer on the Russian government’s 2016 cyberattack against the Democratic National Committee.
Cohen charges result of ‘hush money’ payments
The charges against Cohen stemmed from his efforts to pay several women with whom Trump had had affairs in order to keep them from upending his electoral changes by going public. Cohen initially claimed he’d paid them with his own money until it was revealed that he’d accepted reimbursement from the Trump Organization.
Cohen, who once famously said he’d take a bullet for the president, took the deliberate step of implicating Trump directly during his plea hearing by reading a prepared statement in which he told U.S. District Judge Kimba Wood that he’d made the illegal payments “in coordination with and at the direction of a candidate for federal office.”
Trump pointed to Obama’s 2008 campaign as proof that Cohen had been treated unfairly, but experts don’t agree
Continuing to tweet Wednesday morning, Trump attempted to downplay the significance of Cohen’s transgressions and deflect attention to a familiar scapegoat — his predecessor.
“Michael Cohen plead guilty to two counts of campaign finance violations that are not a crime. President Obama had a big campaign finance violation and it was easily settled!” Trump wrote, referring to a $375,000 fine the Federal Election Commission levied in 2013 against then-President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign. The fine was for failing to file so-called “48-hour notices” for $1.8 million worth of contributions over $1,000 received during the last 20 days of the 2008 campaign.
In an interview with BeltwayBreakfast, House Judiciary Committee member Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., scoffed at the notion that Cohen’s crimes were in any way comparable to the violations the FEC settled with the Obama campaign.
“The halfhearted gesture at a technical campaign finance violation is an irrelevant distraction from whats going on here. Everybody agrees that technical violations of reporting requirements are dealt with as violations of administrative law, but deliberate violations and circumventions of material campaign finance requirements have always been treated as criminal.”
Raskin noted that the law prohibiting corporations like the Trump Organization from directly making campaign contributions — the Tillman Act — has been on the books since 1907.
“It’s very clear that if the corporation is coordinating with the candidate in its contribution that it should be treated as a contribution rather than an expenditure,” he said.
Renato Mariotti, a former Assistant U.S. Attorney and onetime candidate for Illinois Attorney General, told BeltwayBreakfast that Trump’s claims that Cohen’s violations could’ve been dealt with by the FEC as a civil matter are baseless.
“A federal judge would not have accepted Cohen’s plea if he was not pleading guilty to a crime,” Mariotti said in a text message, adding that Cohen’s attorneys, the Justice Department and the judge all concluded that Cohen had committed crimes and not a less serious violation of election law.
Raskin says US is in grip of ‘overwhelming political crisis’
While Raskin, who teaches constitutional law at American University, did not think Tuesday’s events had the makings of a constitutional crisis, he said the nation was in the grip of “an overwhelming political crisis that emanates from the White House.”
“This is a president who maligns and disrespects the law at every turn, it never would’ve occurred to him that there was something wrong with spending hundreds of thousands of worth of hush money on his affairs with pornographic stars and having his company pay for it,” said Raskin. “If everything Michael Cohen is saying turns out to be true, the president himself is implicated in willful campaign finance violations. Certainly, this is more than Bill Clinton telling one lie about a sexual relationship that he had.”
Raskin said that Trump — who once claimed to hire “the best people” — has developed “a staph infection that has spread entirely through his campaign and his administration,” leaving the president “up to his neck in the criminality of his associates.”
As for Trump’s continuing insistence that Manafort is “a good man,” Raskin suggested that Trump’s capacity for praise would only hold as long as his former campaign chairman refused to cooperate with prosecutors.
Raskin compared ‘The Donald’ to a Mafia Don
“The president brings the ethics of a mob boss to all of the criminality around him. If a particular operative stays putatively loyal, he will endeavor to reward them but if they tell the truth…they’re dead to him and he considers them part of the ‘rigged witch hunt and deep state conspiracy,” he said.
While Raskin observed that Trump “would certainly have no ethical scruples” about using his pardon power to reward Manafort for not helping Mueller’s team, he suggested that one of the president’s advisers might be waving him off from issuing a pardon that would obviously benefit him.
“Somebody at the White House obviously understands that the use of the pardon power in Trump’s own personal wars certainly invites demand for impeachment,” he said, “The use of the pardon for corrupt purposes would undoubtedly be seen as a high crime and misdemeanor by large numbers of people in Congress.”
Congressman Who Teaches Constitutional Law Says Trump’s Latest Tweets Reveal ‘The Mind Of A King’
WASHINGTON, June 4, 2018 – A Democratic congressman and constitutional law professor says President Trump’s latest tweets on the constitutionality of Robert Mueller’s probe into Russia’s election meddling, his pardon power and trade deficits represent “a brazen expansion of the president’s monarchical pretensions.”
“The president has revealed that he has the mind of a king,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., who has taught constitutional law at American University’s Washington College of Law since 1990. “Whether he’s a mad king or not is in the eye of the beholder.”
Raskin spoke with BeltwayBreakfast shortly after President Trump capped off a Monday morning tweetstorm by claiming the appointment of former FBI director Robert S. Mueller III as a special prosecutor was unconstitutional.
“The appointment of the Special Counsel is totally unconstitutional!” Trump wrote, adding that despite that, his administration “[plays] the game because I, unlike the Democrats, have done nothing wrong!”
Separate Tweets on pardon power and presidential authority on trade
In separate tweets – which the White House has said are official statements by the president – Trump also claimed that “numerous legal scholars” have said he has “the absolute right to pardon himself,” and that he will end trade deficits by negotiating deals to prevent “Mexico, Canada, China and others” from treating “U.S. farmers and other businesses” unfairly.
Raskin first weighed in on Trump’s claim that Mueller’s appointment was unconstitutional, noting that the tweet was so vague that it was unclear whether the president was arguing that only Mueller’s investigation was unconstitutional, or if he was referring to all investigations involving the appointment of a special prosecutor.
It would be hard for either argument to stick, Raskin said, in light of a 7-1 Supreme Court decision in 1988, Morrison v. Olson, upholding the 1978 Independent Counsel Act. That precedent empowered prosecutors like Kenneth W. Starr, the former independent counsel whose investigation led to Bill Clinton’s impeachment.
The 1978 law, Raskin said, was found to be constitutional even though it granted special prosecutors even more powers than Mueller, a mere special prosecutor, has under the regulations governing his appointment.
Trump’s claims are beyond that of the ‘unitary executive’ theory
Previous presidents have staked out an expansive view of executive authority under a constitutional theory known as the “unitary executive.” Such a theory claims that the constitution allows a president to directly control the entire executive branch.
But for Raskin, Trump’s latest argument amounts to a belief that “anything which offends him on any given day is unconstitutional,” which, to him, makes Trump sound less like George W. Bush and a lot more like France’s Louis XIV.
“Essentially we’ve arrived at the argument of ‘L’Etat, C’est Moi,’ he said.
In Raskin’s view, Trump’s assertions of such wide unfettered authority represent “a brazen expansion of the president’s monarchical pretensions,” and go against the very principles on which the United States was founded.
“The whole point of our revolution and our constitution was to reject monarchy. The president’s primary responsibility is to take care that the laws are faithfully executed,” he said.
“This president thinks that the laws simply don’t apply to him, and if he doesn’t like them, they’re unconstitutional.”
Legal scholars are not united in favoring Trump’s monarchical pretensions
Raskin further said Trump’s claim that numerous legal scholars say he has the absolute right to pardon himself was “clearly in contradiction of law and the constitution,” and that his proposed grant of clemency to disgraced Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich was “chilling.”
“Now the White House is arguing that there are no limits to the pardon power. They are essentially arguing that they can sell pardons and can promise people pardons for criminal conduct,” Raskin said.
“The only question is whether the proper response to a corrupt pardon is impeachment or prosecution, but it is clearly wrong to say that the president can sell a pardon or offer a pardon for corrupt purposes.”
Trump’s “monarchical pretensions” also extends to his use of a little-used national security law to unilaterally impose tariffs on many of America’s allies, Raskin added.
“Even if you grant the president wide authority under the various trade provisions, there still has to be some rational basis for his actions, that means there’d have to be some rational argument that national security is implicated,” he said.
Raskin called particular attention to Trump’s claim that trade deficits are evidence of bad trade deals, noting that the president’s idea of a good trade deal appears to be one that forces other countries to buy American goods.
“Befitting a king, Trump wants to return our economic and trade policies to the mercantilism of the 16th and 17th centuries,” he said.