Trump Muddies the Waters; What Crime is He Hiding?

After a raucous election in which Republican rallies took to chanting “Lock her up! Lock her up!” for Hillary Clinton’s usage of a private email server and for her alleged failure to act to protect embassy personnel in Benghazi, the current vice president and president seem to have a lot to answer for.

Vice President Mike Pence, it has been revealed, was using an AOL email account to conduct state business, including discussing homeland security issues, while governor of Indiana. Donald Trump in his first weeks of as president gave the go ahead to a military incursion of Yemen which the Obama administration had deemed ‘not ready,’ and then tweeted (erroneous information about) a TV appearance while the raid was ongoing. A marine lost his life during that raid.

While I’m not sure that Hillary’s crimes rose to the level of ‘lock her up,’ the one thing I can agree with the chanters before the election is that it is absolutely crucial that we hold our politicians and officials to a stringently high standard of service and ethics, and if they break our trust, they should be fired, impeached, and sent to jail. Further, not that cushy ‘minimum security’ country club where we tend to send the cream of the crop. No, we need to send those who break public trust and put the blood and treasure of all Americans on the line to maximum security prisons and placed in general population.

Mike Pence used an AOL email account for sensitive state business – some of which approached the level of sensitivity of Hillary’s emails. That account was hacked, and his contact list got served with phishing emails claiming the governor and his wife were stranded in the Philippines and needed money to get back. Very soon after, Trump was chosen as VP candidate and joined the chants of lock her up. Is this a reason to put him in a maximum security prison? Probably not. It is enough to look him in the eye and call him a hypocrite.

For Trump, I think the situation seems a bit more dour. He approved the Yemen raid over dinner with his son in law. He did not seem to take the raid seriously while it was ongoing, as indicated by his tweets. And when it was over and a marine had died, he blamed the generals. No “buck stops here” for President Trump. Nope. His attitude is “they told me it would work.”

Is that enough to send him to prison? No. Probably not. Even if done casually and callously, ordering such raids is the job of the president, and the remedy is not electing him again, not putting him in prison. But again, I think it gives every American the right to look him in the eye and proclaim with confidence, “hypocrite.”

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But now we need to go a little deeper.

In 2009, after Barack Obama was sworn in as president, there were calls for investigations into possible war crimes and abuses of power perpetrated by members of the Bush administration. Not least of these was the very strong claim that the US had been lied into a war in Iraq that we have still not been successfully able to extricate ourselves from. Obama refused to conduct those kinds of investigations, saying that we needed to look forward, not back.

Switch to the present, and we have a presidency that is being dogged by implications that the Russians interfered in the election by hacking democratic email accounts and releasing a drip, drip, drip of just-damaging-enough information that it might have been able to sway the election. Then there is the plethora of appointments to his cabinet Trump has made who have Russian connections. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was awarded the Medal of Friendship personally by Vladimir Putin. And then there were pre-inaugural contacts made by members of the campaign to the Russians – a fact that has lost the administration General Flynn as National Security Adviser and caused Attorney General Jeff Sessions to recuse himself from any investigation of the administration of any wrong doing regarding the Russians.

And in the midst of all this, we have President Trump tweeting that President Obama in the last days of his administration was wiretapping Trump Towers, calling for an investigation, and implying that he would like charges pressed against the former president.

Trump is, if nothing else, a master at muddying the waters. On the face of it, without any proof being presented, it seems that he is trying to change the headlines from his own connection to the Russians, and his special treatment of them after the election. He has also failed to notice that there are broad implications to his claim.

  1. If true, then it is likely that the wiretaps would have been approved by the FISA court, and thus there would be credible evidence that there were justified. This would mean that there is credible evidence of criminal activity in the Trump campaign.
  2. If not true, then this means that the President is using a  bald-faced lie to distract from something that he would find embarrassing, or even an impeachable offense.

It is very likely that President Trump is feeling the heat for his words and deed since taking office. He is learning that being president is not at all the same as being a CEO. In a company, the CEO is as close to a king as you can be. The president, for all the limelight and influence, is much more constrained. There are limits on power and legal pitfalls everywhere, and your every public move is scrutinized.

In 2009 I was unhappy that Obama did not hearings into the Bush administration, even if they were just ‘truth and reconciliation’ hearings as had been done in South Africa after apartheid as a way of getting the truth out.  If credible charges could be brought, I would support hearings like this against Obama and Hillary as well.

But with Trump, I think that it will be necessary to hold criminal hearings and begin the real precedent of serving real punishment to public servants who break their public trust.