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    Impeachment Hearings: What You Need to Know

    What eventful days it has been on Capitol Hill!

    On Tuesday, four witnesses testified over a span of 11+ hours discussing their insights into Trump’s request to have President Volodymyr Zelensky and his team investigate Joe Biden and his son Hunter’s involvement in the 2016 election—all allegedly resulting in Trump’s decision to withhold $400 million in Ukrainian military aid.

    The first called to testify by the Democrats was Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman—the US’s top Ukraine expert on the National Security Council.  Accompanying him was Jennifer Williams, one of Vice President Pence’s national security aides. She too was called by the Democrats.  Both listened to the July 25, 2019 call between President Trump and Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky. Colonel Vindman claimed Trump’s demands for Ukraine to investigate former VP Joe Biden were “inappropriate” and “likely to have significant implications for national security” (as reported by the New York Times). Jennifer Williams agreed that withholding Ukraine’s military aid was “damaging to Ukraine’s ability to confront Russian aggression” (Jennifer Williams via NYT).

    On Tuesday, Trump’s former special envoy to Ukraine, Kurt Volker, and Tim Morrison, the National Security Council’s former senior director for Russia and Europe, testified as witnesses submitted by Republicans. Volker mostly played the “I didn’t know anything” card while Morrison indicated that the July 25 call did not contain any wrongdoings or illegalities.

    Wednesday’s round of hearings brought an interesting twist—one Democrats have been anxiously awaiting from the very beginning. Gordon Sondland, ambassador to the European Union, testified against President Trump implicating that there was indeed a quid pro quo “With regard to the requested White House call and White House meeting,” (Gordon Sondland via NPR). Laura Cooper—a deputy assistant secretary at the Defense Department—then testified, defending the president saying, “there was no wrongdoing because the Ukrainians weren’t even aware that a hold was put on the aid” (NPR).

    Thursday concluded with Dr. Fiona Hill, the White House’s former top Europe and Russia expert, and David Holmes, a United States Embassy official located in Ukraine who happened to be a witness to a phone call between President Trump and Gordon Sondland (NYT). Dr. Hill essentially blamed Ukraine for meddling in the 2016 elections, not Russia. She and David Holmes also claimed that the name “Burisma” (a Ukrainian energy company) was actually code for investigating the Bidens (NYT). Holmes said he was under the impression that Trump’s reason behind withholding Ukraine’s military aid was an “expression of dissatisfaction” or “as an effort to increase the pressure on them to do so” (David Holmes via NYT).

    So what’s next? Even more—what does this mean for Trump in the 2020 election?  It remains to be seen if the House will impeach the president.  It’s a very serious and precedent setting decision we all hope will be considered carefully and fairly. However, as I explained in an earlier blog, our Founding Fathers predicted more than 200 years ago that House proceedings looking into impeachment were expected to be political circuses.  This past week has lived up to that prediction.  If the House does vote to impeach, the case will fall into the hands of the Senate where the charges will most likely be dismissed or President Trump will be formally acquitted.  Only a major bombshell will garner the 67 votes necessary to convict and remove the president.  As some commentators have asked, is the reality behind the House proceeding nothing more than an exercise by Democrats to keep Trump from being re-elected?  Will the new normal for presidents in parties opposite the majority in the House be forever looking over their shoulders at the prospect of impeachment for whatever political winds might bring?

    The sad news is we have to watch political theater as each side postures with constant insults and accusations.  For every person who testifies in support of impeachment, another testifies against it.  If it goes to the Senate and a trial is undertaken, we can expect even more partisan politics as the Republicans get their chance to make the rules.  That’s the bad news.  The good news is in November those who should be deciding the fate of Donald Trump, one-third of the Senate, and the entire House of Representatives will be in the People – the ultimate arbiters in our Constitution on who sits in the White House and on Capitol Hill.  You and me.  So let us make sure we vote and send whatever our message is to those sitting in Washington today about how we feel they’ve governed in the face of an immigration crisis, a crumbling infrastructure, a broken health care system, nuclear proliferation, trade imbalances, out of control spending, and more.

    Ask yourself this:  Do any of them deserve to be reelected?

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    A Reminder Regarding Freedom of the Press

    Kaitlan Collins, a CNN White House reporter, was recently informed that she was no longer welcome to participate in the “next event” which took place in the White House Rose Garden.  President Trump was unhappy by her questioning in an earlier press conference.

    Conservatives and the President may not like CNN and Ms. Collins any more than liberals dislike Fox News and its reporters.   But that is no foundation to deny press access to news conferences in or out of the Rose Garden.

    In a rare and refreshing example of solidarity, FOX News President and Executive Editor Jay Wallace said: “We stand in strong solidarity with CNN for the right to full access for our journalists as part of a free and unfettered press.”  Fox News anchor Bret Baier added,“[Collins’] questions were also Fox’s questions, and NBC’s questions, and ABC’s questions. And that’s partly why there’s been an unusual show of solidarity for this.”

    This shouldn’t be hard for the Administration to understand.  The principle has been part of our core beliefs for more than 250 years.  It’s the First Amendment to our Constitution: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

    While I imagine President Trump would like to distance himself from the Congress referred to in the clause, as our President, the rights guaranteed the press under the First Amendment should not be abrogated because of temper tantrums.  Let Ms. Collins back in.

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    Why Not Win with the Truth?

    New Jersey has a controversial Senate election this November. The likely challenger for incumbent Robert Menendez is Republican Bob Hugin, a former pharmaceutical executive. The ads have started. Problem is, they’re devoid of substance and filled with personal attacks.

    In particular, Hugin’s most recent ad is filled with lies. No doubt we’ll eventually see the same from Menendez. Such is the case with political advertising today – lies, misrepresentations, and no substance on the issues. Even when an issue is addressed, it’s in vague terms with no specific plan on how those issues will be resolved. God forbid if a politician actually tells you what they’re going to do. You have a right to know that before you enter the voting booth. And you should not vote for any candidate who is not clear on the specific direction he or she thinks is best for you.

    Unfortunately, today’s politicians think we’re all either right or left, conservative or progressive, or hawks or doves. How about intelligent and reasonable and sick and tired of the partisan politics played in Washington and State capitals while we continue to see no meaningful progress on important issues?

    Hugin, for example, attacks Menendez with accusation, based upon a Senate ethics probe and an indictment against Menendez claiming he used the influence of his office to benefit of a longtime friend and political supporter. In exchange, Menendez allegedly received expensive gifts, lavish vacations and more than $750,000 in campaign contributions. All that is public record so it’s fair game. But Hugin’s ads either state or most definitely imply that Menendez was guilty. That’s a lie. He has never been convicted of any of the allegations. And while I’m certainly not supporter of Menendez, he deserves better and Hugin needs to be more responsible before he will earn my vote and, hopefully, yours.

    Sadly, it will take little time for Menendez to start personal attacks on Hugin. Truth is, Hugin has his seen his share of controversy too. I’ll refrain from listing them. But I have no doubt Menendez will. And he’ll probably be just as misleading as Hugin.

    So it will be politics as usual. Lies, misrepresentations, and no substance. As Hugin says of Menendez, “New Jersey deserves better.” Mr. Hugin needs to know that New Jersey’s voters need better than him, too.

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    Pleading the Fifth and the Constitution

    The Russian investigation is an ongoing federal exploration that has been underway since before the November 2016 presidential election.  Each time a new name is revealed or leaked, that person is dragged into the spotlight of the House intelligence committee investigating President Trump’s ties to Russia.  Many of these people, most recently Fusion GPS (the firm that created the dossier of memos on the alleged Russian aid) and Carter Page (Former Trump policy advisor) plead their Fifth Amendment right.

    The fundamental underpinning behind this action is the Bill of Rights’ Fifth Amendment to our Constitution and its promise that “no person shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”

    The Bill of Rights assures us that the oppression and suppression that caused America to fight its revolution for freedom will never be repeated.  When anyone invokes these protections, it is not for us to be critical or judgmental.  Indeed, it is reason to celebrate and remember that such inalienable rights do not exist elsewhere in the world and are a blessing we must never forget.

    I applaud their right to assert the Fifth Amendment.  Properly exercising constitutional rights is not for me—or Congress—to judge.  It may make the job of Congress harder.  It may delay the investigation and make it more difficult to find some of the facts.

    But in a contest between efficiency and the Constitution, the Constitution must win.

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    DACA – Demystifying the Blame Game

    President Trump’s latest Executive Order rescinds (over the next six months) President Obama’s Executive Order known as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or DACA.  DACA provides protection from the deportation of children brought into this country illegally by their parents.    

    Congress now has six-months to pass legislation to replace DACA before it expires.  The arguments on both sides of the debate are strewn with emotion.  All of that, however, needs to be put aside.  We are simply not a country that deports children who have done nothing wrong and who have contributed to our society and economy as much as anyone born here.  Indeed, many have been more “model citizens” than all too many children who are citizens simply because they were lucky enough to be born within our borders.  Nor, as President Obama said, will deporting any of these children increase jobs or raise wages. 

    There are some facts, however, that media on both sides of the debate have largely ignored.  Those facts put President Trump’s decision into much needed perspective.

    A United States President cannot grant legal citizenship to anyone.  In the face of that reality, President Obama issued his DACA order effectuating a deferral of enforcement of existing laws.  In effect, he told prosecutors to prioritize deportation and focus on illegal aliens with criminal records.  And there were, and still are, more than enough illegal criminal aliens to keep authorities occupied for years.  But the point is that DACA is not a right because a President cannot grant such a right.  It was nothing more than an order from the President that prosecutors were to exercise their discretion and put deportation of DACA registrants on the back burner.

    What media also forgets is that President Obama issued DACA because Congress failed to resolve the issue after repeated tries.  So in frustration, President Obama issued two Executive Orders — DACA and the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA).  DAPA protected illegal aliens who parented children born in the United States.   In doing so, President Obama circumvented the failed legislative process. 

    In November 2014, President Obama attempted to expand DACA.  In response, Republican governors from twenty five states sued to enjoin implementation of DAPA and the expansion of DACA.  In February 2015, the federal court in Texas issued a preliminary injunction enjoining implementation of DAPA and blocking the expansion of DACA.  Eventually, the Supreme Court affirmed the decision in a 4-4 vote.  That vote was taken before President Trump’s nomination of Justice Neil Gorsuch was confirmed.

    President Obama’s original DACA order was not at risk in the case brought by the states under a procedural agreement.  Instead, the parties agreed to defer it for the time being and focus only on DAPA.  But the arguments cited in support of the demise of DAPA equally apply to DACA.  The basis for the DAPA injunction was the court’s finding that the states had a high likelihood of prevailing on their argument that Obama’s DAPA order was unconstitutional.  It’s the same legal argument used to enjoin the implementation of President Trump’s Executive Order allegedly targeting Muslim immigrants.  In both instances, the court said the President most probably exceeded his authority under the Constitution.  Near the end of President Obama’s term, the states also agreed to delay further proceedings until the Trump Administration had an opportunity to revisit President Obama’s order.

    Their deferral, however, did not come without a threat.  The states told the Administration that if by September 5, 2017, it failed to rescind the DACA order, the complaint (in the case that successfully enjoined DAPA) would be amended to challenge both the DACA and DAPA.  Many constitutional experts agree that if that were to happen, DACA would most likely fall.  And then we’d be left with nothing unless the judge in Texas decided to craft his own Solomon like solution.  If he chose to do nothing, chaos would ensue and God only knows what would happen.  So if President Trump had not acted, a Texas judge would have decided the fate of thousands of innocent children. 

    Thus, President Trump had a Hobson’s Choice – a choice where any decision is a bad one.  So under the states’ threat, Trump bought six months for Congress to act before the states add DACA to their suit and kids potentially get deported. 

    Others will now file suits, too.  But none of them are likely to reverse the Supreme Court decision affirming the demise of DAPA nor its precedent if applied to DACA.  So the writing is on the wall.

    No one can possibly want to deport a single kid who has DACA documentation.  Not even President Trump.  But President Obama exceeded his authority with DACA and DAPA just as much as President Trump exceeded his when he issued his immigration order targeting Muslims.  We can’t have it both ways. 

    So now Congress must act.  If it fails, President Trump says can reconsider and enter an order extending DACA.  In turn, the states will amend their complaint and DACA will likely fall. 

    It’s a mess with plenty of blame to pass around between two presidents who chose to ignore the Constitution and a Congress that can’t do its job.  And without Congressional action, the final decision may be left to a judge in Texas.

    So the message is simple: Congress, do your job and stop the rhetoric.  Pass legislation supporting DACA and DAPA.  America is fed up with your failed leadership.

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    Confederate Statues: Should They Have Been Taken Down?

    In the past few weeks there has been much debate on statues of Confederate soldiers, most notably of General Robert E. Lee. Should these statues stay, or be taken down?

    History is important to learn and remember—and often, not to repeat. I understand the idea of celebrating and honoring those in our history who stood for our principles—and not to honor those who did not, even when they were good people with bad ideas.

    Robert E. Lee was a great general, and a companionate man. However, he chose to defend the confederacy and slavery. That alone puts him into an entirely different category than someone like Ulysses Grant, who was also once a great general who fought during the late years of the Civil War, and then later became the 18th President of the United States. He was also allegedly a drunk. But, whatever his imperfections may have been, Grant never supported slavery.

    But where do we draw the line of what statues or paintings can and cannot be taken down?  While it may be acceptable to take down statues of Confederate heroes—those who fought for slavery —my question is: Why would we stop there?

    Presidents Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren supported the Indian Removal Act of 1830, where the U.S. systematically evicted thousands of Native Americans from their lands, and relocated them elsewhere—denying them their homes and heritage. Many died in the so-called “Trail of Tears.” Jackson and Van Buren supported something that today is viewed by most as reprehensible. Should their statues be torn down? Should Jackson, who was a general in the U.S. Army and annexed Texas, be removed from the $20 bill?

    At the outset of WWII, President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered the internment of Japanese Americans in the United States.  The forced relocation and incarceration in camps dislocated more than 110,000 people of Japanese ancestry, more than 60% of whom were U.S. citizens.  Virtually none of them had done anything wrong.  History teaches us that what Roosevelt ordered was a gross violation of civil rights and a cruel indictment of innocent people without any due process.  He essentially trashed the Constitution. However, he guided the country through most of the Great Depression and World War II, and is considered by many as one of the greatest U.S. presidents.  But his behavior towards thousands of innocent people begs the question: should we tear down the Roosevelt Memorial in Washington?

    Regardless of where you fall in this debate, the next question is who should be empowered to make the judgment on what stays up, and what gets torn down?  I suggest that debate belongs in our local town halls and municipalities —they are the ones who will know that is the best for their communities. Instead of making it a federal or statewide issue, let us leave the decisions to the towns that built the statues for their residents.

    In the end, the problem with tearing down statues – Confederate or otherwise – is that it creates a collision between raw emotions and deep, philosophical issues worthy of intelligent debate. The two never mix well and more often than not present the proverbial Hobson’s Choice where the conclusions by both sides do more to feed the controversy and the divisive (and sometimes violent) discourse that follows.

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    Violence Begets Violence: Condemning the Acts in Charlottesville

    In the past, I have iterated on my blog about the right to peaceful assembly, and how violent assembly is an act that is contemptible and condemned in our Constitution.  After the events that took place in Charlottesville—and since then, in other cities around the country—I would like to once again bring this conversation forward.

    From the Bill of Rights, First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States:

    “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

    What happened in Charlottesville, including the death of an innocent woman through an extremely violent act, was abominable. Americans must understand that it is their God-given right to a peaceful protest. Once that peace is thrown out the window, they must be severely reprimanded for any violent actions that occur on their behalf, especially if those violent actions include the death of another human’s life.

    You have the right to your voice—use it! And know that when you act violently, your government, local law enforcement, media, friends and family will respect neither you nor your views.  You forfeit that privilege.

    You may not believe that the pen and your voice are mightier than the sword, but history repeatedly shows  they are—and always will be. It worked in 1787 when we ratified a new government. And it works today, when law enforcement and government officials abide by, consult, and argue the meaning of the Constitution.

    Whatever the color of your skin, your gender, your political beliefs, your ideals—respect  what was given to you when you were born in this great country, honored you when you became a citizen, or simply helped you because you hoped to find a better life here, by not sinking low with violence and crime.

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    Nominating Justices: A Political Tool?

    In early 2017, President Trump nominated conservative Neil Gorsuch for the empty seat left by Justice Antonin Scalia. The seat had been left empty for over 400 days, due to the GOP blocking Obama’s nomination for Judge Merrick Garland. Meanwhile, Obama had appointed two other judges to the Supreme Court—Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan in 2009 and 2010, both in the Democratic party.

    Now, there are rumors flying that Justice Anthony Kennedy (a conservative, but crucial to swing votes) may part ways with his seat on the Supreme Court bench. If he were to retire, then President Trump will likely nominate another justice with conservative views and values.

    No doubt the Republican party can make progress in correcting fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution with appointments to the Supreme Court. But it is obvious on both sides of the aisle that nominating justices is just a political tool and that the needs of Americans are, once again, ignored.

    However, if you vote for me as president in 2020, I will not use my right to nominate justices as a political tool. It’s a sin of the past I have no intention of repeating. When the time comes, I’ll nominate whoever best suits the job—not whoever most agrees with me.

    Nominating SCOTUS justices for their politics is against my beliefs of bipartisanship and choosing the right person for the job. It would be just another example of the politicos in Washington getting caught up in partisan politics and ignoring the needs of Americans—an  example I am not interested in being a part of.

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    Interrogation Methods: Should We Use Waterboarding Against Terrorists?

    “[T]he law — has long been clear: Waterboarding detainees amounts to illegal torture in all circumstances. To suggest otherwise — or even to give credence to such a suggestion — represents both an affront to the law and to the core values of our nation.”

    Letter to Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, November 2, 2007 from Rear Admiral Donald J. Guter, United States Navy (Ret.) Judge Advocate General of the Navy, 2000–02, Rear Admiral John D. Hutson, United States Navy (Ret.) Judge Advocate General of the Navy, 1997–2000, Major General John L. Fugh, United States Army (Ret.) Judge Advocate General of the Army, 1991–93, and Brigadier General David M. Brahms, United States Marine Corps (Ret.) Staff Judge Advocate to the Commandant, 1985–88

    Waterboarding, mock executions, introducing hypothermia, and other forms of torture are forms of interrogation that are not within the federal guidelines for interrogating witnesses. But are these interrogation methods ones that the United States should consider using for terrorist detainees?

    As much as conventional politics may demand I consider these measures, I believe that they are barbaric and counterproductive in the same way that I cannot support the death penalty. It is also abundantly clear that those in the military who oversee proper policy on detained prisoners agree that waterboarding is illegal.

    That’s enough for me to conclude that, until someone gives me concrete evidence that such techniques like waterboarding work, I will not consider approving them. And even if such evidence were presented to me, I’m not at all certain I’d agree to allow them unless experts like the Generals and Admirals who wrote to Sen. Leahy in 2007 agree.

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    Is it time for a Constitutional Convention?

    There have been inklings of our government considering holding a constitutional convention. The last time that the United States of America had a constitutional convention was 1787. But is it time for one now?

    In order for a formal constitutional convention to form and propose amendments to the U.S. Constitution, two-thirds of the state legislatures—which totals to 34 states—must vote to do so.

    Calling a constitutional convention of the states into session is not a new idea. In 2016, political pundit and conservative radio show host Mark Levin suggested it in his book The Liberty Amendments: Restoring the American Republic. Levin knows how such things are done—he worked in the administration of President Ronald Reagan. But Levin’s movement failed to gain any traction under the Obama administration.  Nor is it likely to gain any momentum under President Trump.

    While some state governors endorse the idea to address issues of health care, immigration, and a balanced budget, too few take the suggestion seriously. Nor is Congress about to propose any amendments to the Constitution given the divisive, partisan manner in which it engages in the business and governing of America.

    According to the Washington Post in an April 2017 essay:

    “Many of us can point to one constitutional provision or another that we believe we could improve upon if given a chance. But a convention could do great damage to a charter that, on balance, has worked pretty well for a pretty long time. To take such a risk on behalf of a stupendously unworthy cause such as a balanced-budget amendment would be foolhardy in the extreme.”

    I believe that a constitutional convention is not what America needs. No sensible American—Democrat or Republican—can endorse the changes that have been proposed the last time the idea was suggested. A constitutional convention would be a disaster—especially now, when there is so much at stake for us and the world.  Instead, it’s about time the individuals elected to hold office in Washington started engaging in the compromise and leadership the Founding Fathers envisioned.

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