Day two --- the final day --- of the Questions phase in the Senate Impeachment Trial of Donald John Trump was perhaps best characterized by lead House Manager Adam Schiff on Thursday, when he described the new defenses offered by the White House Counsel's team as "a descent into Constitutional madness" and "the normalization of lawlessness." Those comments were echoed by the former chair of the Federal Election Commission, who joins us on today's BradCast. She called Trump's new line of defense as "insane". [Audio link to show is posted at bottom of article.]
On Wednesday, the first day of written Questions from the U.S. Senators, as read to both legal teams by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Trump's defense attorney Alan Dershowitz made an extraordinary argument: "If a President does something which he believes will help him get elected, in the public interest, that cannot be the kind of quid pro quo that results in impeachment." He went on to offer an analogy. "If a hypothetical President of the United States said to a hypothetical leader of a foreign country, 'unless you build a hotel with my name on it, and unless you give me a million dollar kickback, I will withhold the funds'." That, he said, would be an "easy case" and "purely corrupt". However, he continued, a more complex case was one where a President says: "I want to be elected. I think I'm a great President. I think I'm the greatest President there ever was and if I'm not elected the national interest will suffer greatly. That cannot be an impeachable offense."
In other words, he seemed to argue, it's just fine for a President to solicit a foreign power for help in an election (which is a violation of the law), so long as he or she believed it was in the best national interest for him or her to be elected. Dershowitz has spent a lot of time since those remarks, on Twitter and elsewhere, attempting to defend himself by saying that he did not say what he said. But he absolutely did say it, and so we share audio of some of his extended argument saying as much today, so you can hear it for yourself.
It wasn't the only way in which Trump's team of defense counselors moved the goal posts to accommodate his well-documented Abuse of Power, the basis for the first Article of Impeachment against him. Deputy White House Counsel Patrick Philbin on Wednesday astonishingly charged that "mere information" about a political opponent, even from a foreign source, "is not something that would violate the campaign finance laws."
“Apparently it’s okay for the President to get information from foreign governments in an election," House Impeachment Manager Zoe Lofgren responded with alarm. The California Democrat who worked on the Judiciary Committee during the Nixon Impeachment added, "That's news to me!" The new lines of argument from the President's team is what led Schiff to charge Trump's defense has become "a descent into Constitutional madness," adding "that way madness lies," before citing a similar, then-rejected defense from Richard Nixon who claimed "when a President does it, it's not illegal," before he eventually resigned the Presidency in disgrace. "Have we learned nothing in the last half century?," asked Schiff in response to Dershowitz today.
We share all of those assertions and counter-assertions today, before we turn to someone with no small amount of authority on all of this, ANN RAVEL, who served four years on the Federal Election Commission and as its Chair for two years before leaving her post in 2017. Prior to that, she chaired a similar state commission overseeing campaign finance matters in California.
"There are so many things wrong with [Dershowitz'] argument it's hard to know where to start," she tells me, charging that the claim that a quid pro quo is "somehow justified because it's important for the nation is ridiculous. It would be like saying, for any elected public official, that because it's so important for them to be re-elected that they can commit any criminal act. That's not what the framers of the Constitution intended with regard to the Presidency, and it's exactly why they have the laws relating to impeachment procedures."
"The law does not have an exception for people who think they are so important, that their worth is necessary for the whole country and therefore they can act with illegality and with impunity," she opines, before similarly torching Philbin's argument that there is nothing unlawful about soliciting a thing of value from a foreign power --- an express violation of campaign finance law.
Ravel, who is currently running for office herself in the California State Senate, laments the fact that "there is no FEC in existence now" with only three members currently seated on the six-person panel, and at least four required for a quorum to vote on enforcement of federal law. Similarly, she warns that Trump's Attorney General Bill Barr, responsible for overseeing criminal violations of campaign finance regulations, "is not acting as an Attorney General who would act with integrity to enforce the laws fairly and evenly. Instead, he seems to be biased in favor of assuring that he supports this President, so he remains in office I presume. As a result, we do not have any enforcement whatsoever of campaign finance laws."
Ravel offers alarming insight and a grim assessment as voting in the critical 2020 Presidential election begins just days from now in Iowa. "This is like sending a flare up indicating it's open season for illegality in our electoral process," she warns, along with many other thoughts, including on what she has come to learn about elections now that she is on the other side of the issue as a candidate herself. Running for office, Ravel tells me, has led her to be believe that "more constraints" are needed on electoral campaign finance, not less. She would like to see publicly financed elections in the future.
Finally today, we're joined by Desi Doyen for our latest Green News Report, with a few encouraging signs (though not nearly enough) on how some institutions are attempting to step up and deal with our worsening climate crisis, both in the U.S. and around the globe...
(Snail mail support to "Brad Friedman, 7095 Hollywood Blvd., #594 Los Angeles, CA 90028" always welcome too!)