Public Policy

Mueller Report: Trump Cleared, Media Condemned

Heritage Foundation - 15 hours 6 min ago

The Mueller report was finally released this week and it’s good news for President Donald Trump and all Americans who believe in the sanctity of our elections.

But it’s bad news for those, some in the media, who want to believe the president is a treasonous crook.

The released and lightly redacted report by the special counsel found that Russians did try to manipulate the 2016 election, but that the president and the Trump campaign had nothing to do with it.

As for allegations of obstruction of justice, Attorney General William Barr addressed them in a press conference.

“The report recounts 10 episodes involving the president and discusses potential legal theories for connecting those activities to the elements of an obstruction offense,” Barr said. “After carefully reviewing the facts and legal theories outlined in the report and in consultation with legal counsel and other lawyers, the deputy attorney general and I concluded that the evidence developed by the special counsel is not sufficient to establish that the president committed an obstruction of justice offense.”

Some analysts and pundits had a particularly hard time with Barr’s press conference, accusing him of being in the president’s pocket, even questioning his character.

You can’t make it up. Pundits are analyzing the amount of times Barr said the word “collusion,” and others are calling the press conference a “political commercial.”

The bottom line is, the Mueller report should be the final act in the Russia collusion saga. After years of nonstop media coverage, it appears allegations against the president and his 2016 campaign were overblown.

You would think the response to the Mueller report would be relief, not disappointment.

The post Mueller Report: Trump Cleared, Media Condemned appeared first on The Daily Signal.

Categories: Public Policy

Hungary Is Key to Shoring Up NATO Alliance

Heritage Foundation - Fri, 2019-04-19 11:50

Closer ties with the countries of Central Europe are a national security policy priority for the Trump administration—and a long-overdue return to the policies of President George W. Bush after years of neglect by the Obama administration.

Within NATO, these countries are reliable allies, and within the European Union, they form a bloc friendly to Washington.  

Twenty years ago last month, Hungary, Poland, and the Czech Republic became members of the NATO. It was a historic reversal, moving from the Warsaw Pact to NATO, and a great affirmation of their independence from Soviet/Russian domination.

In his March 13 speech at the 20th anniversary commemoration, U.S. Ambassador to Hungary David Cornstein recalled that Hungarians in 1999 voted by 85 percent in favor of joining NATO.

On the sidelines of the celebration in Washington of NATO’s 70th anniversary, Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Peter Szijjarto and U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan signed an updated defense cooperation agreement, building on the established status of forces agreement and military assistance from the U.S.

“Security conditions have changed significantly in recent decades,” Szijjarto said. The new agreement would ensure that NATO remains “the world’s most successful and strongest military alliance in the future.”

One of the areas not envisioned in the original agreement, however, was the surge in Russian cyberwarfare and information warfare, nor the Russian incursion in Ukraine, which abuts Hungary.

According to Cornstein:

At the moment, close to 1,000 Hungarian soldiers are serving side by side with allied troops in NATO, [the European Union], and multilateral peacekeeping missions that make our countries safer.

To make the alliance stronger, Hungary is actively modernizing its military and purchasing NATO-compatible equipment, and is on track to meet its NATO commitment to spend 2% of its [gross domestic product] on defense.

Hungary is hosting the Heavy Airlift Wing at Papa Air Base, which provides critical support to NATO operations.

Hungary is also home to NATO’s Center of Excellence for Military Medicine and the NATO Force Integration Unit.

And we welcome Hungary’s initiative to host a NATO Regional Special Operations Command Center and establish a NATO Multi-National Division Central that will further facilitate NATO coordination and operations in the future.

An additional reason for advancing U.S.-Hungarian relations was provided by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in February during his visit to Budapest, the first such high-level visit in many years.

Pompeo warned the government of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban not to get too close to China and Russia, both of whom are showing keen interest in splitting up NATO. 

The United States is not the only game in town these days. In other words, it’s very much in the interest of both the United States and Hungary to get their priorities straight.

Closer U.S.-Hungary ties are a major step in the right direction.     

The post Hungary Is Key to Shoring Up NATO Alliance appeared first on The Daily Signal.

Categories: Public Policy

In Wisconsin, School Choice Has Unexpected Benefits

Heritage Foundation - Fri, 2019-04-19 11:26

Elisha Doerr would not have had an opportunity to attend Wisconsin Lutheran High School, a Milwaukee-based private boarding school, if it weren’t for a school choice program.

The school’s excellent curricula and the religious community were valuable to Doerr, 18, who now attends Harvard University and is deciding between majoring in government or computer science.

Raised in rural Waupun, Wisconsin, with six younger siblings, Doerr’s choice for a superior education in his hometown appeared limited.

His parents, who had homeschooled Elisha, looked at Wisconsin Lutheran High School for its religious affiliation, but they needed financial assistance to send their son there.

“With there being seven kids in my family and just having gotten a mortgage on our house that we just moved into,” Doerr said in an interview with The Daily Signal, “it didn’t seem particularly feasible to try to go to a private school that we were hoping to go to without getting some sort of financial support.”

Wisconsin Lutheran is one of 129 schools that are part of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, launched in 1990 to provide alternatives to troubled public schools.

The program had 28,917 participating students in kindergarten through 12th grade during the 2018-19 school year. Under the program, a school receives a state aid payment on behalf of the eligible student and parent or guardian.

Before Doerr could get into the school voucher program, his parents first had to save money in an education savings account to cover his freshman year.

Doerr’s parents saw the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program as giving them control of their son’s education. The student’s father, a Lutheran pastor, had ties to Wisconsin Lutheran and wanted his son to grow not only academically but spiritually.

Commonly referred to as the nation’s first modern school choice initiative, the Milwaukee program provides vouchers to students from lower-income families for use in attending private schools.

Doerr’s parents gained the flexibility to decide what was best for him.

Before the Doerrs’ experience, though, Milwaukee lawmakers had some disagreements in the mid-2000s about the future of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, which had not been analyzed since 1995.

Two researchers evaluated the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program after pitching the idea in 2007 to then-Gov. Jim Doyle, a Democrat in office from 2003 until 2011, and legislative leaders who wanted to reduce funding for the program.

The researchers were Patrick Wolf, a professor in the University of Arkansas Department of Education Reform, and Corey DeAngelis, a former student of Wolf’s who now is an education policy analyst with Cato Institute, the libertarian think tank based in Washington, D.C.  

“There was a group of legislators who wanted to put additional restrictions on the program, and there [was] a group of legislators who wanted to raise the cap on enrollment and expand the program,” Wolf told The Daily Signal in a phone interview about the paper that resulted.

The Wisconsin lawmakers, he said, “came to a compromise” that included calling for an evaluation of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program.

Initially, the research by Wolf and DeAngelis focused on analyzing test scores from 2007 to 2012, but “test scores are not everything that we want from a child,” Wolf said in the interview. They found the program had positive effects on reading scores and a neutral effect on math scores.

Wolf and DeAngelis decided to look beyond test scores and also evaluate school vouchers for their impact on character. The result was what Wolf and DeAngelis say is the first research report on the effect of school choice on reducing crime.

The report, released Feb. 26 and titled “Private School Choice and Character: More Evidence from Milwaukee,” found an intersection between greater school choice and less crime committed by young adults.

“We took a representative sample of participants in the [Milwaukee Parental Choice Program] and carefully matched them to similar Milwaukee public school students, and then tracked their outcomes over time,” Wolf said.

The two researchers found that students who took advantage of the school choice program committed fewer crimes than their counterparts in public schools. Specifically, students committed 53% fewer drug crimes and 86% fewer property crimes.

The study also found that 38% fewer paternity suits were filed once students reached their mid-20s. When difficulty in identifying a biological father occurs, lawsuits can be used to force child support payments.

Asked what could have contributed to the results beyond curricula, Wolf said the religious component in many private schools may have had a deep influence. Most teachers in public schools are stifled by regulations, he suggested:

It could be because of the religious environment that many of these schools foster. The majority of the schools participating in the program have a religious affiliation. And so maybe just going to school with a religion, you make it a lot easier to instill these values in the students. Public schools are limited in the values they can communicate to students.

What does Doerr think was the advantage provided by Wisconsin Lutheran High that a traditional public school could not provide?

“The interactions with the teachers, like having chapel every day and knowing that they’re of the same faith as you,” Doerr said.

Doerr said his parents valued this specific experience through the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program the most.

Although academic success helped him become a Harvard freshman, he said, he and his parents gained the power to customize his education.

The post In Wisconsin, School Choice Has Unexpected Benefits appeared first on The Daily Signal.

Categories: Public Policy

Case Against Accused USS Cole Bomber Stalled Again

Heritage Foundation - Fri, 2019-04-19 11:19

The trial against the al-Qaeda terrorist accused of killing 17 American sailors in the attack on the USS Cole—which was was hit by explosives while harbored in Yemen in 2000—suffered a serious setback this week.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit issued a decision in the Guantanamo Bay military commissions’ case that will complicate, if not derail, the government’s efforts to bring Abd Al-Rahim Hussain Muhammed Al-Nashiri (hereinafter Nashiri) to justice.

The court threw out (vacated) all orders of the military judge—Col. Vance H. Spath—from November 2015 because he should have recused himself from the case when he applied for post-retirement employment as an immigration judge.

His conduct created a “disqualifying appearance of partiality.” The court’s reasoned and thorough decision, if not overturned, forces the government to re-group and decide how (or whether) to move forward with a case that has dragged on for years.

A Complex Case

The case is complex and has a long history. The first military commission case against Nashiri fell apart in 2009 for a variety of reasons. The government brought a second case against him in 2011.

As of March 2017, there were 436 substantive written motions, 327 of which were argued orally. The commission had received testimony from 33 witnesses in more than 58 hours of testimony. The government provided over 265,930 pages of discovery to the defense.

According to the government brief in this appeal, during the four years that Spath presided over the case, he “issued approximately 460 orders.” Given the time Spath has been on the case and the ruling from the D.C. circuit, about half of his orders (230) are now vacated.

A member of al-Qaeda, Nashiri is a citizen of Saudi Arabia, and one of the 14 high value detainees brought to the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in September 2006 from CIA custody during the George W. Bush administration. He is held by the United States government as a law of war detainee.

According to the U.S. government military commissions website, Nashiri was charged in 2011 with murder, attempted murder, conspiracy, and other crimes out of an attempted attack on the USS The Sullivans in January 2000, the attack on the USS Cole in October 2000, and the attack on the MV Limburg in October 2002.

In total, 18 people were killed and almost 50 were injured in those attacks. If convicted, Nashiri could receive the death penalty.

A colonel in the Air Force Judge Advocate General’s Corps, Spath was the judge in Nashiri’s case from July 10, 2014, until Aug. 6, 2018. During his four years on the case, he issued approximately 460 written orders. After six years of pretrial proceedings, Spath announced in March 2017 that the parties should prepare for the trial in 2018.

On Nov. 19, 2015, while he was presiding over the Nashiri case, Spath applied for a job with the Department of Justice as an immigration judge. He did this, despite the fact that the DOJ was involved in the case, having detailed an experienced attorney to assist with the prosecution.

According to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, Spath “never disclosed the fact of his application, much less its details, to Al-Nashiri or to his defense team.”

In his application, which came to light through a Freedom of Information Act request by the Miami Herald, Spath highlighted his “five year of experience as a trial judge,” that he had been “handpicked” to preside over the military commissions case against Nashiri, and he even included, as the D.C. Circuit noted, “a writing sample … he issued in Al-Nashiri’s case.”

Spath got an offer of employment from the DOJ to serve as an immigration judge in March 2017 with a start date of Sept. 18, 2017.

Spath requested a start date of May 15, 2018, but the DOJ demurred, stating that it would “hold his paperwork and contact him again in January [or] February, 2018.”

He was eventually informed that he could start on July 8, 2018, and a new judge took over the Nashiri case in August 2018.

In the summer of 2018, one of Nashiri’s appointed defense counsel heard that Spath had been pursuing a job as an immigration judge while he was presiding over Nashiri’s case.

The defense team filed a discovery request to pursue this, but the government refused to provide any information, according to the court’s opinion, “calling the reports ‘unsubstantiated assertions’ and arguing that the ‘defense request offers no basis to believe that the former presiding military judge has applied for a position with the [Justice Department] or even contacted the [Justice Department] regarding employment.”

A week later, the Associated Press ran a story about Spath’s appointment as an immigration law judge, and included a photo of Spath next to then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions during a welcoming ceremony for new immigration judges.

Nashiri’s lawyers filed an appeal to the Court of Military Commissions Review, or CMCR, requesting discovery and vacating Spath’s rulings, claiming that his conduct “created a disqualifying appearance of bias.” On the same day the CMCR denied the motion, the Justice Department announced the investiture of the “largest class” of immigration judges “in the agency’s history,” including Spath. After more appeals, the case ended up at the D.C. Circuit.

The Court’s Holding

Turning to the issue of judicial ethics and impartiality, the court noted that “judges must preserve both the reality and appearance of impartiality,” and they “shall disqualify themselves in any proceeding in which their impartiality might reasonably be questioned.”

Those rules apply to military commissions’ judges, and focus “not on whether a military judge harbored actual bias, but rather on what would ‘appear to a reasonable person … knowing all the circumstances.’” The question to be resolved, noted the court, was whether an average citizen would “reasonably question a judge’s impartiality.”

The court held that Spath’s conduct fell “squarely on the impermissible side of the line.” Noting that “judges may not adjudicate cases involving their prospective employers,” the court found that the “attorney general himself is directly involved in selecting and supervising immigration judges,” that the DOJ detailed “one of its lawyers to prosecute Al-Nashiri,” and the attorney general “plays an important institutional role in military commissions.”

The attorney general, the court continued, “was a participant in Al-Nashiri’s case from start to finish.” The challenge that Spath faced was “to treat the Justice Department with neutral disinterest in his courtroom while communicating significant personal interest in his job application.”

Spath undermined his apparent neutrality by stressing his role in the Nashiri case in his job application, and refusing to disclose his application to the defense, according to the court.

And to add insult to injury, the court noted that the very judge the CMCR and the government suggested should hear the appeal of one of the contested matters in the case was herself “engaged in apparently undisclosed employment negotiations with the Justice Department during the pendency of this very case.”

After explaining why it decided to vacate all orders Spath issued from the date he applied to the DOJ, the court made this sobering observation:

Although a principle so basic to our system of laws should go without saying, we nonetheless feel compelled to restate it plainly here: criminal justice is a shared responsibility. Yet in this case, save for Al-Nashiri’s defense counsel, all elements of the military commission system—from the prosecution team to the Justice Department to the CMCR to the judge himself—failed to live up to that responsibility.

In conclusion, the court noted that it did “not take lightly the crimes that Al-Nashiri stands accused of committing,” but that this case required an “unimpeachable adjudicator all the more important.”

The court’s ruling leaves the government in the unenviable position of re-starting the case from Nov. 19, 2015, if it can. It gives legal scholars who have repeatedly criticized military commissions more ammo to argue that they are a failure and should be ended.

It is clearly a victory for Nashiri’s defense team, and is yet another heartbreaking setback to the families of the victims who are yearning for justice.

The post Case Against Accused USS Cole Bomber Stalled Again appeared first on The Daily Signal.

Categories: Public Policy

Physician-Assisted Suicide Comes to New Jersey. Here’s Why It’s Badly Misguided.

Heritage Foundation - Fri, 2019-04-19 11:02

In becoming the ninth jurisdiction to legalize physician-assisted suicide, New Jersey has unleashed a Pandora’s box on its residents—and the poor, weak, and disabled will suffer the most.

The Medical Aid in Dying for the Terminally Ill Act was signed into law by New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat, after it narrowly cleared both chambers of the state Congress.

As of Aug. 1, 2019, terminally ill patients with a prognosis of six months or fewer will now be able to self-administer lethal concoctions of drugs in order to take their own lives.

Murphy claimed in a statement that this bill would “[provide] terminally ill patients and their families with the humanity, dignity, and respect that they so richly deserve at the most difficult times any of us will face.”

This could not be further from the truth.

Physician-assisted suicide directly attacks human dignity; it is anything but compassionate.

Death is neither a solution nor a treatment for human suffering. Once we accept suicide as therapeutic, who qualifies for treatment becomes a moving target.

When a country legalizes physician-assisted suicide, it is only a matter of time before the government expands who will receive suicide assistance instead of suicide prevention.

In Canada, a hospital for sick children has unveiled a plan for how to terminate the lives of terminally ill kids, with or without parental consent. In Europe, many countries have even begun to practice euthanasia, i.e. the non-voluntary killing of patients.

Even in countries still standing at the top of the slippery slope, physician-assisted suicide ultimately undermines efforts to provide more people with compassionate and ethical end-of-life care.

The introduction of physician-assisted suicide, according to Heritage Foundation health care expert Bob Moffit, ultimately prevents the most vulnerable populations from having access to quality, ethical end-of-life care.

As the demand for end-of-life care continues to increase, physician-assisted suicide emerges as a cheap alternative to appropriate palliative or hospice care.

In this scenario, it is the poor, the uneducated, and the socially marginalized who are most likely to be pressured into taking their own lives. These are the same populations who are the least likely to have someone else advocate on their behalf for proper care.

Physician-assisted suicide does not promote human dignity. Instead, it normalizes subpar and unethical care for those who are most vulnerable.

That is why disability groups like Not Dead Yet are at the forefront of the movement pushing back against physician-assisted suicide. In fact, the organization describes physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia as “deadly forms of discrimination against old, ill, and disabled people.”

Proponents of physician-assisted suicide claim that so-called safeguards—such as signed declarations of intent, waiting periods, and multiple witnesses—will prevent misuse.

However, all of these safeguards are subject to abuse. Besides, no safeguard can overcome the first premise of physician-assisted suicide, that this practice assumes that some lives are not worth living.

Physician-assisted suicide efforts like this latest law out of New Jersey are counterproductive. They prevent policymakers from focusing on how to expand ethical end-of-life care at the expense of human lives.

That is why we must continue to oppose physician-assisted suicide wherever it is found and take action to change hearts, minds, and laws when it comes to end-of-life care. 

This bill is not the end of the fight. It is only the beginning.

The post Physician-Assisted Suicide Comes to New Jersey. Here’s Why It’s Badly Misguided. appeared first on The Daily Signal.

Categories: Public Policy

Committee on Foreign Investment May Not Be Able to Handle Its Exploding Caseload

Heritage Foundation - Fri, 2019-04-19 10:25

The Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. is often compared to a black box. Investors may be aware of what it does, but few know what really goes on inside.

The nine members of the committee, drawn from various federal agencies, are in charge of reviewing foreign investments to determine whether or not they may pose a threat to U.S. national security.

Glimpses of the committee’s activities are largely limited to what’s reported in its annual publications and the occasional breaking news story—such as the recent report that the committee wants Beijing Kunlun Tech Co. Ltd. to sell its dating application, Grindr.  

It can be difficult to keep up with the committee given limitations on the information that is shared publicly—especially given its obligation to protect investors’ proprietary information as well as information sensitive to U.S. national security. Still, the limited information that becomes available can help inform investors of potential hurdles and costs they may face when seeking the committee’s blessings.

Over the last few years, the number of cases that have come under review by the committee has increased. Between 2008 and 2016, investigations tripled to 79 cases from 23. And investigations have since tripled yet again: The committee conducted more than 230 investigations in 2018. The duration of reviews have lengthened as well.

The increase in both number and length of reviews has spread committee members’ resources thin. This increases the likelihood of delay in reviews and increasing costs for investors. Costs include legal fees, as well as the opportunity costs of delayed investment.

The slower pace of review—coupled with the uncertainty of getting a deal approved—has led more businesses to include a Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. clause in their acquisition contracts in case something were to go awry. 

These are the concerns of investors. Yet, in Washington, lawmakers are concerned that the committee is not doing enough, that it should engage in reviewing more types of investments than it currently examines.

Last year, Congress passed legislation authorizing the committee to expand its reach. The Foreign Investment Risk Review Modernization Act now allows the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. to review a wider range of investments that may be of concern to U.S. national security. This includes investments that may place Americans’ personal identifying information at risk (like Grindr) or create new cybersecurity vulnerabilities (like Cofense Inc.). The act also expanded the definition of what constitutes “foreign control.”

As a result of these legislative changes, the committee expects its annual caseload to quadruple, to over 1,000. If the committee lacks sufficient resources to deal with this significant increase in investment reviews, it could be costly for investors. It could also have a lagging effect on this administration’s wish to increase foreign investment in the U.S. Neither outcome would be good for U.S. economic growth.

So how can investors be confident that the committee will get the resources it needs?

While not a perfect measure, the annual budget request of each member’s agency is one possible indicator.

Below is a snapshot of requests from Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. members to become compliant with the Foreign Investment Risk Review Modernization Act:

The Department of the Treasury is requesting an additional $5 million to become complaint with the Foreign Investment Risk Review Modernization Act. It spent $6 million in fiscal year 2018 on the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S., $15 million in fiscal year 2019, and is now looking to spend $20 million in fiscal year 2020.

The Department of Defense wants an additional $1.4 million. The Pengaton’s Office for Acquisition and Sustainment spent $3 million in fiscal year 2018 on the committee. This increased substantially to $22.9 million in fiscal year 2019 in anticipation of committee reform. Now, the Pentagon is looking to spend $24.3 million in fiscal year 2020.

The Department of Justice is requesting $1.3 million more than its current $3.7 million.

The Department of Commerce seeks an additional $3.4 million; the Department of Energy an additional $4.9 million; the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative an additional $1.1 million; and the State Department an additional $2.2 million. 

Treasury is also requesting $20 million for a committee fund. Most of that money ($13 million) would go into building a new public-facing portal and a case management system that will help coordinate and ease the review process. Another $5 million from the fund would be available to help fill the funding gaps of other committee members. 

Not including what it will cost the Department of Homeland Security and Office of Science and Technology Policy to become compliant with the Foreign Investment Risk Review Modernization Act, this comes to total of $39.3 million.

Treasury expects to offset some of its request with $10 million they project to collect in committee filing fees—a new aspect of the committee installed by the Foreign Investment Risk Review Modernization Act and another potential cost investors should be wary of.

On a more positive note, the Foreign Investment Risk Review Modernization Act will allow the committee to expedite reviews of seemingly benign investments so that it can give more problematic investments a thorough review.

While we may never truly know whether the committee has the funds it needs, looking at these budget requests is a good place to start.

The post Committee on Foreign Investment May Not Be Able to Handle Its Exploding Caseload appeared first on The Daily Signal.

Categories: Public Policy

Despite Differences, Civil Discourse Is Still Possible

Heritage Foundation - Fri, 2019-04-19 10:07

America is divided. Nobody is listening to anyone else. All we want to do is have our own cognitive biases confirmed.

America is doomed to an ideological civil war along racial, sexual, class, and religious divides. The best we can do is retreat to our own ideological bunkers and brace for the coming war.

There’s nothing we can do to stop it. Or is there?

I’m sure you’ve heard this kind of naysaying before, and to be fair, it’s not entirely unfounded.

There are certainly significant divisions in our political landscape, more so than there have been in many years. But that has more to do with the rise of “outrage culture” on both the right and the left than it does with inherent deep divisions among Americans.

Ironically, it is often the people who yell the loudest about our terrible division who are the very same thought leaders who push increasingly rigid and uncompromising ideologies.

It has become quite popular to decry today’s division with one hand and fight viciously for one’s own team with the other. Being an ideologue is sexy at the same that decrying our deep divisions is fashionable.

But are these grim depictions really indicative of mainstream American culture? Or even of the so-called future intellectual elite?

A few weeks ago, I joined about a dozen of my fellow interns at The Heritage Foundation’s Young Leaders Program to meet with a group of interns from the Gloucester Institute’s Emerging Leaders Program, a program designed to strengthen the communications skills of young Latino and African-American college students.

We entered into a conversation about race relations, the state of the black community in America today, and what we as the future leaders of America should do to help communities that are struggling.

This past weekend, we met again, this time at a hotel convention center in Arlington, Virginia, to continue our conversation. Specifically, we focused on policy solutions to problems in health care, school choice, and criminal justice.

The first thing I personally noticed was how warmly both groups greeted each other. We remembered students from the other group, and we were all happy to see each other again.

The dialogue got underway much more quickly this time, as we dove right into discussions about how we as young Americans should fix the problems we see in today’s society.

School choice is an issue that Heritage sees as vitally important for the betterment of low-income communities, especially in large cities.

Heritage’s stance on this issue is very clear: We think that the more choice parents have in where their children attend school, the better off those children will be in the long term.

Danielle Merwin, a member of Heritage’s Young Leaders Program, summed up our position well.

“We concluded that the federal government cannot possibly know what is best for individual students and that only parents truly know what best suits their child,” she said.

If you talk to advocates or even staffers on Capitol Hill, they would have you think that school choice is a partisan issue. Clearly, that isn’t always the case. Young leaders on both the right and left can agree that the choice of where students attend school should be left as much as possible to the parents.

The participants shared policy insights in between group discussions. (Photo: The Heritage Foundation)

I engaged in a lengthy discussion about health care, and how we as conservatives and liberals alike should proceed to ensure that the system we put in place is both fair and effective.

This conversation was sparked and guided by stories. We all told of our own experiences dealing with the American health care system, both for our own needs and for the needs of loved ones.

We were unable to reach as neat a consensus as the school-choice group, but we were still able to come to a few points of commonality.

First among them: Individuals have widely varying levels of need when it comes to health care. I am a healthy male in my early twenties. I can expect to need to spend far less on health care than my grandfather, who is in his eighties.

On the other hand, one of the Heritage Foundation employees participating in our conversation pointed out that she has a pre-existing heart condition, which requires her to pay thousands out of pocket even after insurance.

Any system of assistance must be built in such a way as to be flexible enough to accommodate the varying needs of all Americans. We also agreed that the current system is too slow, too complicated, and not transparent enough.

These are specific concerns that can be targeted and addressed through legislation.

Emerging thought leaders on both the right and left were able to come to agreement on these issues after only a two-hour lunch. Imagine what we could do with six years in Congress.

If there is a message of hope, it is this: As divided as America may sometimes seem, we have far more in common than we think. Despite our disagreement, we are all Americans.

Despite the dire words of talking heads on national television, after our conversations between The Heritage Foundation’s Young Leaders Program and the Gloucester Institute’s Emerging Leaders Program, I firmly believe that the future of America’s politics is not just hopeful, it may even be bright.

The post Despite Differences, Civil Discourse Is Still Possible appeared first on The Daily Signal.

Categories: Public Policy

A ballooning federal debt no one is talking about 

John Locke Foundation - Fri, 2019-04-19 04:00

The only thing more worrying than the federal government’s recent announcement that the debt had reached $22 trillion, or 104 percent of GDP, was that it generated such little attention.   

In the 1980s and 1990s, by contrast, the issue was a central feature of the national conversation. Congressional leaders from both parties crafted a series of procedural innovations designed to keep the debt in check. These included the 1985 Gramm-Rudman-Hollings plan that triggered automatic cuts and the George H.W. Bush budget — famous for his “no new taxes” line — that increased revenue and established a pay-as-you-go requirement to any proposed new spending.   

Ross Perot thrust the topic to the center of the 1992 presidential campaign. The debt was then around $4 trillion, but Perot, despite finishing third, received 19 percent of the popular vote and forced the next president’s hand on fiscal issues. President Clinton pursued cuts in defense and domestic spending and increased taxes on high earners, corporations, fuel, and Social Security.  In concert with his sworn enemy, Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich, the president pushed through Congress a budget that enjoyed a surplus between 1997 and 2001.   

Presidents George W. Bush and Obama were interested in other matters —prosecuting the War on Terror and health–care reform among them. But at least they periodically discussed deficits and the debt. Bush reduced the deficit to just $161 billion in 2007 — less than what it had been in 1983 — despite Iraq and Afghanistan. Then the financial crisis hit. Still, by the time he left office Obama had reduced the deficit by two-thirds from the huge $1.4 trillion level it attained in 2009.    

Now we have given up. Democrats are uninterested in the fiscal policy of the Clinton years. The Committee for a Responsible Budget estimates Medicare for All, a policy wildly popular among the party’s 2020 presidential candidates, will cost around $3 trillion annually.  That is roughly 75 percent of the current budget. The estimated price tag of the Green New Deal — a grab bag of quasi-socialist policies loosely related to environmental concerns and sponsored by Sen. Edward Markey of Massachusetts and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York — is astronomical. American Action Forum calculates it will blow a $50 trillion- to 90 trillion-dollar hole in the federal budget over 10 years — and that excludes the plan’s pernicious effects on the broader economy.       

Worse, the Democrats seem to have come up with an economic model to justify their ambitions. Modern monetary theory asserts the magnitude of debt doesn’t matter because countries print money and can therefore always pay creditors. Policy makers just need to be cognizant of inflation. To prevent overheating they can tax and issue bonds.   

The Republicans used to check Democratic profligacy. President Eisenhower helped produce two years of surpluses during his presidency. Known traditionally as fiscal conservatives, Republicans became less concerned with debts and deficits during the 1980s. Even President Reagan, however, despite his commitment to winning the Cold War and embrace of supply-side tax cuts, periodically touched the brakes on the deficit. He signed strategic tax increases into law in 1982, 1984, and 1987. 

President Trump has absolutely no inclination to worry about debt and deficits. The 2017 tax bill has assisted economic growth a little, but in the short term at least has reduced revenue. He also lacks discipline on the spending side. In a purely symbolic gesture, the president has asked his cabinet secretaries to reduce their departments’ expenditures. The large cuts he has proposed to agencies like the EPA and State department in his 2020 budget are unrealistic. 

Trump has increased military outlays significantly. He wants a border wall with Mexico that will cost about $60 billion. In the meantime, he will not even contemplate desperately needed reform to Medicare and Social Security. Left untouched, the big entitlement programs will cripple the budget over the next several decades. 

Trump is running the country as he ran his original business. Real estate relies on debt, not equity. Borrowing permitted the president to accumulate properties in the expensive and generally healthy New York City market. So long as their paper value continued to grow, all was good.   

Unfortunately, the American economy doesn’t work that way — at least it has not for the past decade. We are in a prolonged period of slow growth and meager increases in productivity. As the size of our obligations to creditors grows, so our ability to pay them cheaply and with promises of future benefits diminishes. Debt service costs are currently 10 percent of expenditures, and in 2023 they will be larger than the defense budget. Every one percentage-point loss in GDP growth costs the government about $10 billion. As U.S. interest rates decline, foreign investors look elsewhere for returns. We are slowly falling into a fiscal death spiral. 

 Andy Taylor is a professor of political science at the School of International and Public Affairs at N.C. State University. He does not speak for the university. 




Categories: Public Policy

Mueller Report Proves Russian Collusion Claim Is a Hoax

Heritage Foundation - Fri, 2019-04-19 03:01

The Heritage Foundation’s Hans von Spakovsky analyzes the redacted report about the findings from special counsel Robert Mueller, and why it’s time to investigate why President Donald Trump was ever suspected of collusion in the first place. Read the transcript, posted below, or listen to the interview in the podcast:

We also cover these stories:

  • Democrats are trying to get Mueller to testify in May.
  • North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed a bill that protects the lives of abortion survivors.
  • New York City is actually losing residents for the first time in recent years.

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Kate Trinko: Joining us today to discuss the newly released Mueller Report is Heritage Foundation’s Hans von Spakovsky, a legal expert. Hans, have you looked at the report? What are your takeaways?

Hans von Spakovsky: Yes, I’ve been skimming through it all day, putting my speed-reading lessons to work.

Trinko: It’s only 400 or so pages, right?

von Spakovsky: Right. The key thing that I get out of it is that, remember when the Attorney General William Barr sent his letter to Congress in which he basically gave what the conclusions of the report were? One, there was no evidence of any collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government and two, there was no obstruction of justice.

There were a lot of claims by Democrats, including people like Jerry Nadler, who’s head of the Judiciary Committee, that, “Oh, well, we don’t believe you. We think you’re leaving things out.”

Well, reading through the report, it’s very clear that Barr was 100% accurate in his summary of it and that the two-volume report—half of which is the Russian collusion claim, the other half is the obstruction of justice claim.

No one can read that and come to any conclusion other than the whole Russian collusion claim was a hoax. There was just nothing to that at all. And none of the actions that were taken by the president could be considered obstruction of justice.

Now, it’s very clear when you read it, and you see they relate some of the internal conversations in meetings at the White House about this, it’s clear the president was very angry. But that is a sentiment that I think most people would share if they’ve been falsely accused of a crime and that’s exactly the situation here.

The key thing is that he took no official actions of any kind that could in any way actually be considered obstruction of justice.

Daniel Davis: Yeah. On that point, the report says that he gave orders to do things that were not obeyed, so Mueller says, quote, “The president’s efforts to influence the investigation were mostly unsuccessful, but that is largely because the persons who surrounded the person declined to carry out orders or accede to his requests.”

So it’s kind of a moot point then because it didn’t happen, but is that even a crime if he tried to get them to break the law but they didn’t?

von Spakovsky: No, I don’t think so, particularly because, and this is something that General Barr and others have talked about, is that it’s very clear when you read the report that he had no corrupt intent.

And what I mean by that is it’s one thing if you act because you’re innocent and you don’t believe the government should be investigating you because you haven’t committed a crime. That’s very different from having a corrupt intent to interfere with an investigation because, in fact, you did commit a crime and you want to cover it up.

Davis: So legally there’s a distinction there?

von Spakovsky: There is a distinction and they talk about the fact that the president’s anger over this makes it clear to General Barr that there was no corrupt intent with any of his hot talk, if I can call it that, over what Bob Mueller and others were doing.

And again, key point there, remember there were no restrictions placed on Bob Mueller. He had all the resources he needed, he had 19 lawyers, 40 FBI agents, and he did a very comprehensive, wide-ranging investigation.

I’ve already heard some folks claiming, “Well, he didn’t have everything he needed to do a complete investigation.” Again, that’s just not correct.

Trinko: The report says that President Trump did try to remove Mueller, or presumably a special council, but that people didn’t follow his orders … it didn’t happen. Is that telling or significant?

von Spakovsky: I don’t think so when it comes down to the obstruction of justice charge. It didn’t happen and the investigation was completely and thoroughly done. So again, I just don’t see how you could bring an obstruction of justice charge and the attorney general agrees with that assessment.

Davis: The report also said that Trump was asked a lot of written questions by Mueller and that Mueller was sort of unsatisfied with those answers.

I’ll just read from the report here. Mueller says, “The President stated on more than 30 occasions that he does not recall or remember or have an independent recollection of information called for by the questions. Other answers were incomplete or imprecise.”

It sounds like maybe he just got good legal advice.

von Spakovsky: It could be, and so what that Mueller wasn’t satisfied with that? That’s just Mueller’s claim. He hasn’t proved in a court of law that somehow those answers were untruthful. So again, I don’t pay much attention to accusations by a prosecutor who in the end concludes there’s not enough evidence for a prosecution.

Trinko: Liberals are calling for Mueller to testify before Congress—

von Spakovsky: Right.

Trinko: … in May. Is that a good idea? Is that something he should do? What do you think?

von Spakovsky: Well, he can do it, but if Democrats think they’re going to somehow get something out of it more than they’ve already gotten in his report, I think they’re going to be sadly disappointed.

If they believe that Mueller’s going to come up with some kind of smoking gun that’s not in the report, I just don’t believe that. I think Mueller put everything he could into that report and they’re just not going to discover anything else.

Trinko: That’s a real problem for all the liberals with the Mueller tattoos and all that other stuff, there’s going to be no smoking gun.

Davis: But it seems like there’s enough in this report for both sides to really build a narrative. Trump clearly has the no collusion and no criminal charges, no indictment, but Democrats do have what seemed like the president potentially trying to undermine the investigation, although that didn’t happen. What do you think is the political fallout?

von Spakovsky: I actually don’t think, from the standpoint of an ordinary American, that there’s going to be much fallout because I think the ordinary American will look at what happened and say, “Boy, if I was falsely accused of a crime in my neighborhood or at my work, I would have been just as angry and just as frustrated as the president.” And I also probably would have wanted to tell off the prosecutor who was investigating me with no valid reason to do so.

Davis: In light of the fact that they found no collusion despite two years of efforts, a huge amount of manpower, and financial resources, frankly, applied this, they’re talking about looking into further the spying on the Trump campaign and how this whole thing began.

Do you think there needs to be much more of a investigation and why they even thought there was collusion to investigate in the first place?

von Spakovsky: The answer to that is yes, and the reason being that people should not forget that this did not start off as a regular law enforcement investigation, it started off as a counterintelligence operation. Because, in fact, what the FBI did is they went to the secret FISA Court. That’s the court set up by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

That’s the court that our intelligence agencies and the FBI go to when they suspect there’s a foreign spy in the United States and they want to, for example, initiate secret electronic surveillance.

There are certain evidentiary standards you have to meet to justify that and never before in the history of the United States has a counterintelligence operation been opened, sanctioned by a court against a presidential campaign.

And now that we know that in fact there was no basis for the claims that were being made and the claims that were used to open up the investigation, we need to find out: Was there actually a sufficient basis? Was there sufficient evidence for them to open up the investigation?

If there wasn’t, then people at the FBI and DOJ abused their law enforcement powers and not only do they need to be punished for that, but we need to be sure that never happens again.

Davis: As Sen. Lindsey Graham has pointed out, usually when those FISA investigations happen, it’s to protect the American entities and they will notify them and say, “Hey, these Russians or whoever are trying to spy on you,” but that never happens. So, it certainly allows for the possibility that there was some foul play.

von Spakovsky: Yeah. I have to say I heard the senator say that and I have to agree with him, that makes what happened highly suspicious to me.

If the FBI had knowledge that Russians were contacting the campaign, and as we now know in many efforts, there were many efforts where they were disguising themselves and trying to fool folks into not realizing they were Russian, why didn’t they go to the campaign and warn them about it?

Davis: Right. So how does this investigation into the FISA warrant happen? Does the attorney general now launch this or does Senator Graham have a special investigation?

von Spakovsky: Well, they both could happen at the same time because obviously the Senate and the House intelligence committees, and the judiciary committees, potentially, have jurisdiction over this.

But, in fact, if I was the attorney general, I would appoint a special inside task force. Not a special council, but a group of lawyers on the inside who can take a look at this and examine all the documents, interview the FBI agents and original DOJ lawyers involved, and find out did they actually have a real basis for opening up the investigation?

Trinko: Hans, thanks so much for making time and pulling away from the 400-page tome to talk to us today.

von Spakovsky: Sure, thanks for having me.

The post Mueller Report Proves Russian Collusion Claim Is a Hoax appeared first on The Daily Signal.

Categories: Public Policy

Why People Aren’t Fleeing This Central American Country in Caravans

Heritage Foundation - Fri, 2019-04-19 03:01

LIBERIA, Costa Rica—In the ongoing U.S. debate about immigration, the Central American countries of Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala are mainly in the news because many of those crossing our border from Mexico are from these nations. Why isn’t Costa Rica experiencing a similar mass exodus?

I put the question to President Carlos Alvarado Quesada. In an email response he writes in part, “8 percent of our GDP is dedicated to education and our main resource is the human talent and well-being of the people who live in our country. Next Monday, for example, we will celebrate 150 years of primary education for free for all kids in the country.”

Many of those fleeing other Central American countries claim to feel threatened by gangs and crime. Costa Rica has had a lower crime rate than others in the region, but that may be about to change.

According to the Costa Rica Star newspaper, the government and tourism industry started paying more attention to crime when “two female foreign tourists were killed in two days last year, and a third was raped a week later, all near Tortuguero National Park.” The Costa Rican homicide rate has been rising steadily. There were 603 murders in 2017, although figures are lower than in other Central American countries.

Costa Rica is experiencing its own immigration challenge. The New York Times reported last September:

Since mid-April, when Nicaragua erupted in a violent political crisis that has left hundreds dead and crippled the economy, Nicaraguans have been leaving their country en masse—some fleeing a crackdown by President Daniel Ortega against his opponents, others—newly unemployed—desperately looking for work. Many thousands have headed to Costa Rica …

In fact, writes, “Costa Rica has the highest percentage of immigrants in Central America, according to the study Labor Market and Social Policies, of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).”

Tourism is the main economic driver here. The government is concerned any perception it is unsafe to visit might cause serious financial harm.

The Heritage Foundation’s 2018 economic freedom rankings place Costa Rica 61st under the category “moderately free,” although Alvarado references The Economist, which ranks his country “among the strongest 20 democracies in the world.”

While acknowledging The Economist’s ranking, Anthony Kim of The Heritage Foundation comments:

The country needs deeper institutional reforms for more dynamic development of a broader private sector. Despite progress, excessive government bureaucracy still discourages entrepreneurial activity, slowing the pace of privatization and fiscal reform. Widening budget deficits have put public debt on an upward trend, just to name a few economic policy shortcomings. Costa Rica can do more in terms of implementing pro-growth policies and needed economic reforms.

Not many people are leaving Costa Rica. It has the lowest emigration rate in Central America and one of the lowest in Latin America and the Caribbean. And though the unemployment rate is 9.30% and about 20% of the population lives in poverty, Costa Ricans stay put.

Part of the reason may be a new anti-poverty program introduced by the previous president, Luis Guillermo Solis. Its goal is to pull at least 54,600 targeted families out of poverty.

The plan combines previous welfare benefits that have been, reports The Tico Times, “distributed through 30 separate programs, administered by 20 different agencies.” Families are to be assessed according to their needs and not a-one-size-fits-all formula. Job training and education scholarships are part of the plan so that poverty doesn’t become a life sentence.

Alvarado, 39, and a center-leftist, has different priorities. The major issue in the last election was same-sex marriage. The former president opposed it, while Alvarado supports it.

Alvarado is also a disciple of the climate change movement. His goal is to achieve zero net carbon emissions by 2020.

How a small country like Costa Rica—or even a larger one like the United States—can affect the globe’s naturally changing temperatures—especially when major polluters like China, India, and, yes, the United States aren’t doing much to reduce carbon emissions—is never addressed. For the left, intentions count, not results.

Crime control and maintaining a vibrant tourist industry seem to be better and more attainable goals than changing the climate and promoting same-sex marriage.

(c) 2019 Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

The post Why People Aren’t Fleeing This Central American Country in Caravans appeared first on The Daily Signal.

Categories: Public Policy

Key Takeaways From the Mueller Report on Trump and Russia

Heritage Foundation - Thu, 2019-04-18 18:36

The final report by special counsel Robert Mueller found no evidence of a conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin, but details in the 448-page document provide fodder for congressional Democrats who want more investigations.

The lightly redacted report released by the Justice Department states that President Donald Trump feared appointment of a special counsel would mean the “end” of his presidency.

But it does not say conclusively that the president tried to obstruct the probe, and Attorney General William Barr determined that the evidence did not support criminal charges.  

House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., said Thursday that Barr will testify May 2, and that Mueller himself will testify shortly after that.

Nadler said congressional investigations will continue.

Trump aide Kellyanne Conway said the administration would like to see a thorough accounting of how the investigation commenced, apparently based entirely on the “dossier” compiled by a former British spy, Christopher Steele, as opposition research targeting Trump as a presidential candidate.

“Investigating the investigators is something some of the investigators think would be a good idea,” Conway told The Daily Signal, but declined to say whether she thought criminal offenses occurred.

“If you’re going to scream about transparency and accountability and investigations for two years, than I’ve got 22 months to wait to see how we got here in the first place,” she said.

“When the president says it should never happen to another president again, let’s see how we got here. How did it start?”

Here’s a look at key passages and findings from the special counsel’s report on his 22-month investigation, including instances in which Trump appeared to want to obstruct the probe.

Outstanding Questions on Obstruction

Muller presented a pattern of behavior by Trump and his associates that seemed hostile toward the Russia investigation, which the president routinely called a “witch hunt.”

But, as Barr already had announced last month, the special counsel didn’t make a determination that the actions constituted obstruction of justice.

“Because we determined not to make a traditional prosecutorial judgment, we did not draw ultimate conclusions about the president’s conduct,” the Mueller report states, adding:

The evidence we obtained about the president’s actions and intent presents difficult issues that would need to be resolved if we were making a traditional prosecutorial judgment. At the same time, if we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the president clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state. Based on the facts and the applicable legal standards, we are unable to reach that judgment. Accordingly, while this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.

The report also says, “The President’s efforts to influence the investigation were mostly unsuccessful, but that is largely because the persons who surrounded the President declined to carry out orders or accede to his requests.”

>>> Read the Mueller Report

In most instances, the Mueller report noted, Trump aides declined to take actions to impede the investigation—including firing the special counsel, as then-White House counsel Don McGahn thought he was told to do.

The report refers to the month after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, who at the time was overseeing the Russia probe:

On June 14, 2017, the media reported that the Special Counsel’s Office was investigating whether the President had obstructed justice. Press reports called this ‘a major turning point’ in the investigation: while Corney had told the President he was not under investigation, following Corney’s firing, the President now was under investigation. The President reacted to this news with a series of tweets criticizing the Department of Justice and the Special Counsel’s investigation.

On June 17, 2017, the President called McGahn at home and directed him to call the Acting Attorney General and say that the Special Counsel had conflicts of interest and must be removed. McGahn did not carry out the direction, however, deciding that he would resign rather than trigger what he regarded as a potential Saturday Night Massacre.

The reference was to President Richard Nixon’s firing of Justice Department officials who declined to fire special prosecutor Archibald Cox during his investigation of the Watergate scandal.

Barr, who took office Feb. 14, and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, a veteran of the Justice Department, decided that such evidence did not warrant prosecution, particularly without an underlying crime.

The Mueller report addresses the lack of an initial crime.

“[U]nlike cases in which a subject engages in obstruction of justice to cover up a crime, the evidence we obtained did not establish that the President was involved in an underlying crime related to Russian election interference,” the report says. “Although the obstruction statutes do not require proof of such a crime, the absence of that evidence affects the analysis of the President’s intent and requires consideration of other possible motives for his conduct.”

It later adds that “many of the President’s acts directed at witnesses, including discouragement of cooperation with the government and suggestions of possible future pardons, took place in public view. That circumstance is unusual, but no principle of law excludes public acts from the reach of the obstruction laws.”

>>> Related: Attorney General Says Mueller Found No Collusion, but 10 Instances of Possible Obstruction

Mueller also addressed the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel policy that indicting a sitting president would greatly inhibit the executive branch.

But the special counsel threw what some Democrats might seize on as a significant bone in their efforts to impeach the president for offenses that may include obstruction of justice.

“The conclusion that Congress may apply the obstruction laws to the president’s corrupt exercise of the powers of office accords with our constitutional system of checks and balances and the principle that no person is above the law,” the Mueller report says.

The report lays out potential areas of trying to influence the investigation, 10 of those after Trump became president.

During the 2016 campaign, the report notes, Trump “denied having any business in or connections to Russia, even though as late as June 2016 the Trump Organization had been pursuing a licensing deal for a skyscraper to be built in Russia called Trump Tower Moscow.”

Trump’s Reaction to Special Counsel

Trump’s first attorney general, Jeff Sessions, recused himself from overseeing any investigation into the Russia matter because he had a role in the Trump campaign.

After Rosenstein appointed the special counsel following Trump’s firing of Comey, Trump became concerned, according to testimony obtained by the Mueller team.

The report states that Trump told aides, “Oh my God. This is terrible. This is the end of my Presidency. I’m f—ed.'”

Conway told reporters outside the White House she never heard or observed the president expressing such concern. She suggested the press corps “move on” now that the investigation found no evidence of conspiracy with Russia.

The president turned his anger on Sessions, saying: “How could you let this happen, Jeff?”

Trump demanded that Sessions resign as attorney general, but when Sessions submitted his resignation, the president didn’t accept it. Sessions’ resignation letter, released Nov. 7 when Trump forced him out, was not dated.

The special counsel’s report also describes how McGahn declined to fire Mueller after he got the June 2017 call from Trump at home, during which the president said Mueller “must be removed.”

On another front, the report says Trump urged Sessions to “unrecuse” himself from the Russia probe.

Trump “met with Sessions in the Oval Office and suggested, according to notes taken by a senior advisor, that if Sessions unrecused and took back supervision of the Russia investigation, he would be a ‘hero.’”

Trump asked campaign aide Corey Lewandowski to deliver a message to Sessions to limit the Mueller probe only to how to prevent Russian meddling in future elections. Lewandowski never delivered the message, the report says.

After news reports that Trump had asked McGahn to seek Mueller’s ouster, the report says:

The president reacted to the news stories by directing White House officials to tell McGahn to dispute the story and create a record stating he had not been ordered to have the Special Counsel removed. McGahn told those officials that the media reports were accurate in stating that the President had directed McGahn to have the Special Counsel removed.

Manafort, Cohen, and Flynn

After the ouster of national security adviser Michael Flynn in January 2017, the report notes, Flynn deputy K.T. McFarland “declined to draft an internal letter stating that the president had not directed Flynn to discuss sanctions” with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

Trump also sought to prevent the disclosure of emails between his eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., and a Kremlin-connected lawyer at Trump Tower in New York. The lawyer had claimed through an intermediary that she had dirt on Hillary Clinton.

The report also notes Trump’s reactions in the cases of Flynn, one-time campaign chairman Paul Manafort, and a redacted name.

The president’s lawyer asked Flynn’s lawyer to let Trump’s team know if the president was implicated in anything. When Flynn’s lawyer declined, the report says, “the president’s personal counsel said he would make sure that the president knew that Flynn’s actions reflected ‘hostility’ towards the president.”

The report notes that Trump “praised Manafort in public, said that Manafort was being treated unfairly, and declined to rule out a pardon.”

Finally, it cites problems with regard to Trump personal lawyer Michael Cohen, who began cooperating with prosecutors, telling them that he lied to Congress about plans for a Trump Tower Moscow in 2015.

“Cohen also discussed pardons with the president’s personal counsel and believed that if he stayed on message he would be taken care of,” the report says. “But after Cohen began cooperating with the government in the summer of 2018, the president publicly criticized him, called him a ‘rat,’ and suggested that his family members had committed crimes.”

Contacts With Campaign and Russia

The Mueller probe found no evidence of a Trump-Moscow conspiracy, but said the campaign expected to benefit from Russian meddling in 2016:

Although the investigation established that the Russian government perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency and worked to secure that outcome, and that the Campaign expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts, the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.

The Mueller report notes contacts with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government beyond the Trump Tower meeting:

The Russian contacts consisted of business connections, offers of assistance to the campaign, invitations for candidate Trump and Putin to meet in person, invitations for campaign officials and representatives of the Russian government to meet, and policy positions seeking improved U.S.-Russian relations. Some of the earliest contacts were made in connection with a Trump Organization real-estate project in Russia known as Trump Tower Moscow.

Leaving Open Possibilities

Still, the Mueller report left open some hope for anti-Trump Democrats, who had held their breath for evidence of collusion.

“The investigation established that several individuals affiliated with the Trump campaign lied to the [special counsel’s] office, and to Congress, about their interactions with Russian-affiliated individuals and related matters,” the Mueller report says.  

It notes the special counsel won convictions of campaign adviser George Papadopoulos, Flynn, and Cohen for lying to investigators.

“Further, the office learned that some of the individuals we interviewed or whose conduct we investigated—including some associated with the Trump campaign—deleted relevant communications or communicated during the relevant period using applications that feature encryption or that do not provide for long-term retention of data or communications records,” the report says, adding:

In such cases, the Office was not able to corroborate witness statements through comparison to contemporaneous communications or fully question witnesses about statements that appeared inconsistent with other known facts. Accordingly, while this report embodies factual and legal determinations that the Office believes to be accurate and complete to the greatest extent possible, given these identified gaps, the Office cannot rule out the possibility that the unavailable information would shed additional light on (or cast in a new light) the events described in the report.

The post Key Takeaways From the Mueller Report on Trump and Russia appeared first on The Daily Signal.

Categories: Public Policy

Elegy for a Fallen Spire

Heritage Foundation - Thu, 2019-04-18 18:23

It’s not about what we can say to mark a tragedy like the burning of Notre Dame. It’s about what we can’t.

“There certainly are few finer architectural pages than this façade … a vast symphony in stone … the colossal work of one man and one people, all together one and complex, like the Iliads and the Romanceros, whose sister it is … a sort of human creation, in a word, powerful and fecund as the divine creation of which it seems to have stolen the double character,—variety, eternity.”—Victor Hugo, “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.”

Our society communicates in sound bites.

For every news flash, every major event, give us two minutes and we’ll have compressed our reactions into 280 characters, ready to share with the world. But on Monday, when the Notre Dame de Paris burned, our responses sounded flat and shallow.

They sounded flat because we no longer know how to relate to the past.

We live in a culture that idolizes progress.

This progressive mindset tells us that we are constantly improving, and that we live far better than our forebears did.

Our technology is so much more advanced, and our understanding of science and the world around us more nuanced. We cycle through popular philosophies and ideas and political theories, constantly optimizing, discarding the ideas of yesterday for the hypotheses of today.

Because, as we all know, today marks the pinnacle of human history—at least, until next week.

What we don’t realize is how tightly our obsession with progress is woven into the fabric of our lives.

Why, after all, would we want to keep anything permanent when we’re constantly improving anyway?

To hang onto the past is to miss out on a better tomorrow.

We generate content and merchandise that will disappear as quickly as we make it, and that we will supplant with something shinier, more compelling, more functional.

At home, we surround ourselves with things we know will be replaced with the new and improved versions in a couple years. We drift from city to city, following new careers and new opportunities, never growing too attached to any apartment or house, swapping out friends like sets of keys, forgetting names and addresses with every move.

Athwart the stream of progress and change are monuments like Notre Dame, a resounding contradiction to the claim that today will always be better than yesterday. World wonders like the cathedral, relics of the past, stand above and beyond the constant tweaks and improvements and ebbs and flows of the modern age.

Somehow, despite their age and their outdated architecture, they endure. And even after so many centuries, Notre Dame continues to inspire us, in ways we can’t quite put into words.

It’s a strange inconsistency in our worldview: Even as we believe we ride the cresting wave of human history, we assume we’ll never create anything as great or as enduring as the geniuses of the past did. It wouldn’t even occur to us to try.

And yet on Monday, we found ourselves face to face with an event that forced the chisel and the carving tools into our own hands.

The fire that consumed Notre Dame demanded that we say something that would reflect the scope and weight of 850 years of history, something that would describe the loss of a spire in flames.

We were called upon to acknowledge that this seemingly unchanging bulwark of time, of art, of history, at the end of the day, is just like us. It, too, is beholden to the passage of time. It, too, is transient.

But unlike everything else in our lives, we know it follows different rules. We know we can’t really replace it. And we certainly know we can’t improve it. We’d have no idea where to start.

Far be it from us to engage with the enduring.

Our ever-changing society doesn’t give us the tools or the mental framework to comprehend what Notre Dame means, or what we just lost.

It’s in that moment we come face to face with the complete failure of our culture’s worldview.

Since we have no vocabulary for the past, we have to fall back on the vocabulary we do have and understand: the language of a tragic news story or of a personal disappointment, something that feels terrible for the moment but will get fixed in a little while, or will be forgotten after a couple more news flashes and distractions.

Yet the whole time we try to talk about what happened, every time we shake our heads and murmur “terrible” or “so sad,” in the back of our minds, we have a vague, uncomfortable sense that that’s not what we mean at all. That we’re missing what’s really happened here.

But what else is there to say? When the weight of the past is thrust upon our shoulders, what are we supposed to do?

That is Notre Dame’s challenge to the progressive man.

Notre Dame doesn’t just contradict our culture by standing against the march of progress; it connects past, present, and future by expressing truths that never change.

The cathedral endures as an icon of humanity because it reaches into the past, building on the Greco-Roman tradition, and invoking the depths of the Christian faith, telling of the grandeur of heaven, and the beauty of an eternal God reaching down to show mercy to a sinful world.

Even if we don’t know the names of the craftsmen, we can hear what they’re telling us, through almost a thousand years of stonework and time.

The fire in Notre Dame reminded us that monuments of the past can and will pass away one day.

But the inverse is true as well: The transience of Notre Dame can also remind us of the transience of the craftsmen who built it.

Like us, they spoke words nobody will remember, and like us, they made things that have long been lost to time.

The craftsmen of the cathedral had the same limits we do today. The only thing that distinguishes them from us is how they drew on the wisdom of the past to express truths that never change, and how they sought to tell those truths in a way that would last for generations to come.

That is how they created a monument that endures, and how the power of Notre Dame’s message echoes through a future that its creators could never have imagined.

Temporary men told a story in stone, wood, and glass that still speaks to us. It’s up to us not to just listen to the message, but to learn how to build upon it; how to reflect in our own lives the truths that Notre Dame proclaims.

It’s our job now to maintain a connection to the past, and do our own part to extend that connection well beyond tomorrow. To learn the lessons the artists, writers, and philosophers of the past can teach us, and to do our own part to better understand and testify to the truths they tell.

Fire, war, and time may destroy the wonders of the past, but they can’t destroy the truths those wonders express. Not as long as you are there to continue the tradition that came before you.

When your heritage calls on you, as it did on Monday, you can draw your response from that well.

That is where you will find what to say.

The post Elegy for a Fallen Spire appeared first on The Daily Signal.

Categories: Public Policy

I Was Born at 29 Weeks. That’s Why I’m Pro-Life.

Heritage Foundation - Thu, 2019-04-18 17:14

“My body, my choice.” This is a common slogan among those who are pro-choice.

It’s a handy little slogan. Any pro-choice woman can use it to immediately shut up a pro-life man, since his opinion doesn’t count, no matter the merits of his argument.

But what about my story?

On March 29, 1997, my parents were driving through Minnesota when my mom suddenly began having contractions. Immediately, they drove to the hospital, and two days later I was born—11 weeks early.

When my mom gave birth to me at 29 weeks, I weighed just 2 pounds and 15 ounces, though I soon dropped down to 2 pounds and 9 ounces. The doctors had delayed my birth as long as possible to allow my lungs to develop. Those extra two days were the only reason I came out breathing on my own.

I needed a feeding tube at that stage because babies born that early don’t know how to suck. Other than that, there were no complications and no problems. For this, I praise God. I just needed more time to develop.

After a five-week stay in the hospital, my parents brought me home, and I’ve lived a normal, healthy life ever since.

Zach Mettle after being released from the hospital. (Photo: Zach Mettle)

Back to the slogan, “My body, my choice.” Someone who is pro-choice might say my views are irrelevant because it’s only the woman’s body that is affected and not my “male” body.

But what if my mother had lived in one of the nine states or the District of Columbia, where a woman can obtain a legal abortion up to the moment of birth? What if, instead of driving to the hospital, my mom had driven to an abortion “clinic” where, in nine states, she could have legally killed me?

Does my opinion not matter, even though it was me should would have been killing?

Think about it. In nine states plus D.C., a woman can legally abort her baby who is more developed than I was when I was born. And even in states with bans in place at a certain gestational age, some states have created loopholes so broad that a woman can get an abortion up to the time of birth for virtually any reason.

The left often says a baby isn’t a person until they are viable and can survive outside the mother’s womb. Let’s say that’s the case, and that a baby becomes a person when they are viable.

Can we not all then agree that abortion should be illegal after 24 weeks, when a baby is considered “viable?” Why should it be legal to kill a baby who is as developed, or is more developed than I was at birth?

Does my opinion not matter, even though it was me should would have been killing?

Recently, New York passed a law expanding access for women to have an abortion in the third trimester, after 24 weeks.

Now, for years the left supported a woman’s right to an abortion, but they wanted it to be safe, legal, and rare. Remember that language? Hillary Clinton, when campaigning for president in 2008, said that abortion should be “safe, legal and rare, and by rare, I mean rare.”

Since then, the left has moved backward.

Michelle Wolf, in a horrifying display to rational people, performed a “Salute to Abortion,” saying, “If you want an abortion, get one!” while tossing confetti from a party hat.

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, in a recent town hall event with Fox News, was asked if he believed a woman should be able to abort her child up until the time of birth. He answered that “at the end of the day, the decision over abortion belongs with a woman and her physician,” and no one else.

Total barbarism.@BernieSanders again horrifically endorses killing fully-formed infants up until birth: “I think it’s rare. It’s made into a political issue. But at the end of the day I believe that the decision over abortion belongs to a woman & her physician.” #BernieTownHall

— Lila Rose (@LilaGraceRose) April 16, 2019

Sanders is apparently OK with a mom driving to an abortion clinic instead of a hospital to kill their baby at 29 weeks—of the full 40 weeks for that matter—rather than give birth to a live and fully healthy baby.

Indeed, the United States is one of only seven countries to allow elective abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. If this shocks and dismays you, it should. And if you want to do something to change this, you should.

Here are a couple suggestions on ways you can take action.

First, go see the new movie “Unplanned” in theaters. It is a very well done movie that simultaneously presents the truth of abortion, while encouraging a culture of forgiveness and love.

Second, raise your voice to elected officials. There are a number of pro-life bills sitting in Congress that would protect life, but are not moving with the speed they deserve.

I am forever grateful for my mother who cared for and provided for me, especially since I was born so early. I pray we all work for an America where every child has a chance at life—a chance that I am so thankful for.

The post I Was Born at 29 Weeks. That’s Why I’m Pro-Life. appeared first on The Daily Signal.

Categories: Public Policy

Why the ‘Free the Nipple’ Win in Court Is a Loss for Women

Heritage Foundation - Thu, 2019-04-18 16:57

A federal appeals court thinks there’s no difference between a man’s bare chest and a woman’s naked chest—and, despite what some feminists are saying, that’s bad news for women.

Ignoring the real biological differences between men and women strips women of our rights to physical privacy. And even as more and more women are speaking out about their experiences of sexual harassment, the ruling of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit—that’s likely to be appealed to the Supreme Court—tells them that those experiences are not legitimate.

As part of the #MeToo movement, women have shared wrenching personal stories of sexual harassment, ranging from unwelcome comments and touches to the extreme of rape.

Thousands of women have related stories of the trauma they experienced because of unwelcome looks, comments, and physical contact with their breasts. These women know, innately, that their breasts are intimate, sexual parts of their bodies, and when their breasts aren’t respected, women suffer serious emotional harm.

But on Feb. 15, the federal court upheld an injunction that prohibits the city of Fort Collins, Colorado, from enforcing a law that prohibits females 10 years old and older from going topless in public.

After Fort Collins passed the ordinance, members of a group called Free the Nipple–Fort Collins sued, arguing that the law violates the equal protection clause of the Constitution because it establishes different standards for men and women. In a 2-1 ruling, the 10th Circuit agreed.

The 10th Circuit’s ruling assumes that perceptions of and sexual responses to particular body parts are socially constructed, and when anti-nudity laws differentiate between men’s and women’s bodies, it is solely because of social stereotypes.

Under the 10th Circuit’s opinion, girls just emerging into womanhood can now walk around in Fort Collins topless. Allowing a 10-, 12-, or 14-year-old girl to walk to school topless tells her a lie about her own body. It tells her that her breasts are no different than a man’s—and, therefore, that she shouldn’t feel any more delicacy about exposing her breasts than a boy would. That puts her in grave danger both physically and emotionally.

Put bluntly, the court thinks that there is no essential difference between a man’s bare chest and a woman’s bare chest. If that’s true, a woman who feels more assaulted by an unwanted look, comment, or touch on her breasts than she would by a comment or touch on her hand or arm is responding to social conditioning, not to anything essentially intimate about her breasts.

Put bluntly, the court thinks that there is no essential difference between a man’s bare chest and a woman’s bare chest.

It also means that women who experience trauma from harassment targeting their breasts are just buying into harmful, regressive stereotypes about their own bodies.

Any woman who has experienced being categorized by the shape and size of her chest knows this is nonsense. Far from being a triumph for women’s rights, this ruling sets up a dangerous precedent, undermining legal respect for women and girls and stripping away crucial protections.

In its original defense of the ban on female nudity, the city of Fort Collins brushed aside the reality that women’s bodies are different than men’s, arguing that the ban was important because topless women might lead to distracting driving.

In other words, the ban was about male lust. It had nothing to do with protecting women’s privacy or affirming that female bodies deserve legal protection.

Everyone involved in this case is operating from the assumption that we women are just oddly shaped men. No one has even considered the possibility that there is something different—fundamentally, biologically, essentially different—about women’s bodies that merits protection.

Everyone involved in this case is operating from the assumption that we women are just oddly shaped men.

But there is something different, and despite what Free the Nipple campaigners claim, denying that basic, natural difference does not empower us. It endangers and impoverishes us.

But even more, this narrative robs women and girls of a true sense of our womanly power and dignity. Women’s breasts are not the same as men’s. Women have the unique, inimitable ability to create and nurture life with our own bodies.

Our breasts are a vital part of that work—a work that is intimately connected with sexuality. Men’s breasts, on the other hand, aren’t involved in creating or sustaining life. In that sense, they are not special.

Regrettably, the 10th Circuit’s ruling effectively asserts that our uniquely female biological capacity to give life isn’t all that special either. The court tells women that there’s nothing distinctive about our bodies.

This is a lie. As the Supreme Court correctly saw in United States v. Virginiaaffirming legal equality for the sexes does not require us to ignore real differences.

Affirming legal equality for the sexes does not require us to ignore real differences.

Writing for the majority in that decision, which concluded that the Virginia Military Institute must accept both male and female cadets, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg noted that, due to biological differences, privacy needs were nonetheless essential: “Admitting women to [Virginia Military Institute] would undoubtedly require alterations necessary to afford members of each sex privacy from the other sex in living arrangements … ‘because of physiological differences between male and female individuals.’”

The laws and social mores that treat women’s bodies as different from men’s bodies are not illusory. They are based in reality, and we go down a dangerous path when we ignore those differences.

The court’s decision to condemn this ban on female nudity leaves no principled line of defense for any ban on public nudity—and that should definitely get our attention.

Bans on public nudity are based in the belief that the naked body is a precious, intimate thing that should only be shared in situations of trust and safety. Eliminating bans on public nudity communicates that nakedness is not that big of a deal—a message that has serious consequences for women’s rights.

Ask a woman who’s experienced physical abuse from a man: Is it a big deal for her to be naked in a man’s presence? Overwhelmingly the answer is “yes.” But according to the 10th Circuit’s logic, it shouldn’t be.

That’s the same logic that leads people to advocate for the elimination of sex-specific privacy facilities, such as bathrooms, showers, and locker rooms.

The court’s decision to condemn this ban on female nudity leaves no principled line of defense for any ban on public nudity.

Their argument is that biological sexual differences are irrelevant; what matters is how individuals identify. So, if a man identifies as a woman and wants to be naked in a shower or locker room with women, it should be no big deal, and women who feel like it is have to simply deal with it.

Women want equality of opportunity in all aspects of life—and, as we’ve heard over and over again, they want their privacy, experiences, and bodies respected. The 10th Circuit’s decision demeans those things.

Far from advancing women’s rights, it eliminates them. The ruling is truly offensive for the way it trivializes women, telling us that we are no different than men—just men with oddly shaped bodies.

It ignores our powerful capacity to create and nurture life, and it forces us to define our bodies in relation to men’s, rather than celebrating the profound, beautiful uniqueness of our female form.

The post Why the ‘Free the Nipple’ Win in Court Is a Loss for Women appeared first on The Daily Signal.

Categories: Public Policy

The Fight Over Trump’s Tax Returns Will End Up in the Supreme Court. Here’s Why.

Heritage Foundation - Thu, 2019-04-18 13:56

Should elected officials be allowed to gain access to the federal income tax returns of American taxpayers? When President Richard Nixon tried to do this to get dirt on his political opponents he was deservedly condemned and Congress passed a law in 1976 to bar the practice. But now Democrats want to ignore that law to get their hands on President Donald Trump’s tax returns.

Section 6103 of the Internal Revenue Code guarantees the confidentiality of all our tax returns—yours, mine, and even Trump’s.

A recent Congressional Research Service report notes that federal officials are prohibited from disclosing taxpayer returns and information without the taxpayer’s consent. Criminal penalties apply to unauthorized disclosures.

According to the Congressional Research Service, Congress passed this provision because of “revelations that President Nixon sought to use tax return information for improper purposes.”

What improper purposes? Partisan politics.

But while Democrats vilify Republican Nixon for using the power of government to go after opponents on his infamous enemies list, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal, D-Mass., is being hailed a hero by his party for following in Nixon’s footsteps.

Neal has written Internal Revenue Service Commissioner Charles Rettig demanding copies of the tax returns filed by Trump and eight of his companies for the last six years.

Trump lawyer William Consovoy has contested that demand, contending in an April 5 letter that Neal’s demand is illegal and “the IRS cannot legally divulge” the Trump tax returns.

The court fight over whether Congress can get the Trump returns is complicated, as I will explain below. It’s virtually certain to wind up in the Supreme Court.

If I had to bet on who will ultimately win the court fight, I would put my money on Consovoy, a well-known and skilled Supreme Court litigator.

Interestingly, in 1986 a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia supported the law keeping tax returns private, finding in the case of National Treasury Employees Union v. the Federal Labor Relations Authority that taxpayer privacy is “fundamental to a tax system that relies on self-reporting.”

The judge was right.

Few people had heard of that judge in 1986, but you’ve likely heard her name in more recent years. She got a big promotion and is now Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. If she winds up hearing the case dealing with the fight over the Trump tax returns, it will be interesting to see if she sticks with her position of 33 years ago, or adopts a different position to strike a blow against Trump.

The House Democratic majority that took control of the chamber in January is clearly more interested in investigating every aspect of Trump’s life than legislating.

Getting Trump’s tax returns has become a crusade for many Democrats—especially now that special counsel Robert Mueller has concluded Trump and his campaign didn’t collude with Russia to get elected in 2016.

Neal notes that an exception to the general rule of privacy for tax returns allows the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee—that’s him—to request tax returns or information about the returns.

Democrats are claiming this exception gives Neal the absolute right to get the Trump returns, with no exceptions. But that’s a gross oversimplification.

If tax return information requested by the Ways and Means chairman includes information that can identify the taxpayer, it can be provided only when the requesting committee is “in closed executive session.”

Both the Congressional Research Service and Trump attorney Consovoy point out that the committee can exercise its power under this law only in the context of its constitutional oversight and investigative authority. This is a critical distinction.

The committee’s power is “subject to the same legal limitations that generally attach to Congress’ use of other compulsory investigative tools,” the Congressional Research Service observes. It adds: “Notably, the inquiry must further a ‘legislative purpose’ and not otherwise breach relevant constitutional rights or privileges.”

Consovoy cites numerous court decisions holding that legislative “investigations” like Neal’s must have a legitimate legislative purpose. Congress doesn’t have a “stand-alone” investigation power.

In a 1957 case, Watkins v. U.S., the Supreme Court told the House Un-American Activities Committee that “there is no congressional power to expose for the sake of exposure” and especially not the “private affairs” of individuals.

Furthermore, according to the high court, Congress can’t use its investigation to act like a “law enforcement or trial agency”—or, as Consovoy put it in a follow-up letter to the Treasury Department Monday, like “a junior-varsity IRS, rerunning individual examinations or flyspecking the agency’s calculations.”

The point is that the House committee has no power to conduct its own examination and audit of any individual taxpayer—be it the president or anyone else.

Audits are a function of the executive branch, not the legislature. Congress can’t, as the Justice Department opined in 1981, intrude “on the Executive Branch’s function of executing the law.”

Neal claims that his legislative purpose in demanding the president’s tax returns is to determine “the extent to which the IRS audits and enforces the Federal tax laws against a President.”

As chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, has the same authority under this statutory provision as Neal. But he’s not on board with Neal’s request, saying that it “doesn’t make sense when taken at face value, because you can’t take it at face value.”

Consovoy points out several facts to debunk Neal’s claim that the congressman just wants to review IRS enforcement of “Federal tax laws against a President.” He notes that Neal:

  1. Hasn’t requested the tax returns of any other president.
  2. Is demanding tax returns from before Trump became president.
  3. Has asked no questions of any kind about IRS policy and procedures when the agency is auditing presidential tax returns.
  4. Hasn’t even waited for the IRS to finish its “ongoing examinations (and any resulting appeals)” dealing with Trump’s tax returns.

Consovoy makes a strong case that there is no legitimate legislative purpose driving Neal’s demand, which means the demand to see the Trump tax returns is outside the constitutional authority and power of Congress.

Rather, Consovoy writes, Neal’s “request is a transparent effort by one political party to harass an official from the other party because they dislike his politics and speech … and they want to use the information to damage him politically.”

The Treasury Department must determine whether to comply with Neal’s demand. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has said his agency is consulting with the Justice Department “given the unprecedented nature of this request” to ensure the agency is complying with the law and to avoid “potentially weaponizing the IRS.”

Neal, by the way—who chairs one of the most powerful committees in the U.S. House, with extensive power over the American economy, private industry, and taxpayers—has never disclosed any of his tax returns, although he claims he will eventually.

Apparently, Neal believes the public’s need to know doesn’t extend to him.

What will happen now with the Trump tax returns?

We don’t have the ultimate answer, though Trump has a far stronger case than most of the media are portraying. But don’t expect to be reading through the president’s complex returns anytime soon on the Internet. There will be a long court battle ahead with important implications about the protections for the privacy of all tax returns—including your own.

Originally published by Fox News

The post The Fight Over Trump’s Tax Returns Will End Up in the Supreme Court. Here’s Why. appeared first on The Daily Signal.

Categories: Public Policy

Trump’s Veto of Yemen War Resolution Protects US Security Interests

Heritage Foundation - Thu, 2019-04-18 13:40

President Donald Trump rebuffed congressional efforts to withdraw U.S. support from the war in Yemen on Tuesday, vetoing a bill that would have forced the U.S. to cease support for the Saudi-led Arab coalition fighting against Iran-backed Houthi rebels.

In his veto statement, Trump explained:

This resolution is an unnecessary, dangerous attempt to weaken my constitutional authorities, endangering the lives of American citizens and brave service members, both today and in the future.

Trump clearly had strong legal, constitutional, and policy reasons for exercising his veto.

For starters, his statement challenged the use of the War Powers Act as a basis for the legislation, S.J. Res. 7, because U.S. military forces were not directly engaged in hostilities in Yemen apart from occasional military operations against al-Qaeda and associated forces, which were explicitly exempted from the legislation. As the president said:  

This joint resolution is unnecessary because, apart from counterterrorism operations against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and ISIS, the United States is not engaged in hostilities in or affecting Yemen.

Trump also sought to protect his constitutional authority as commander-in-chief of the armed forces, as have many past presidents confronted with war powers challenges. His veto statement declared:

S.J. Res. 7 is also dangerous. The Congress should not seek to prohibit certain tactical operations, such as in-flight refueling, or require military engagements to adhere to arbitrary timelines. Doing so would interfere with the president’s constitutional authority as commander-in-chief of the armed forces, and could endanger our service members by impairing their ability to efficiently and effectively conduct military engagements and to withdraw in an orderly manner at the appropriate time.

A Blunt Instrument That Rewards Iran

Trump’s veto is also strongly justified on policy grounds. The Yemen war resolution from Congress is a blunt instrument that could have inflicted severe collateral damage on a range of U.S. national interests in the Middle East.

It would have resulted in abandoning allies that are fighting in Yemen to defend themselves and to restore the internationally recognized government of Yemen, which was ousted by Iran-backed Houthi rebels in 2015 in a bloody coup that violated a U.N.-brokered ceasefire.

The Trump administration has already stopped the aerial refueling of Saudi warplanes involved in the Yemen conflict and called for a negotiated settlement. But the United States cannot afford to desert its allies and hope for the best. Undermining the Yemeni government and the Saudi-led coalition would make U.N.-brokered efforts to reach an acceptable political settlement much more difficult.

It is no secret that many in Congress saw the vote as a means of punishing the Saudi government for its involvement in the death of Jamal Khashoggi last October. But the measure would have punished not just Saudi Arabia, but also the government of Yemen, and other countries fighting against the Houthis in the Saudi-led coalition: the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Senegal, and Sudan.

An end to U.S. support would also benefit Iran, the Houthis’ chief source of support. Iran has sought to transform the Houthi Ansar Allah movement into the “Hezbollah of Yemen”—a permanent threat to regional stability and security that directly conflicts with U.S. interests.

Iran has illegally transferred sophisticated ballistic missiles, drones, and remote-controlled boat bombs to the Houthis, who have used them to target cities, airports, and other civilian targets in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Given the potential consequences of the U.S. abandoning its allies, it’s no wonder the Pentagon and State Department strongly pushed for continued support for the Saudi-led coalition.

Congress lacks the votes to override Trump’s veto, so his policy will stand. The House approved the measure earlier this month by a vote of 247-175, and the Senate voted last month to approve it 54-46. 

Nonetheless, the Trump administration must remain on guard against the same damaging restrictions being repackaged in future legislation.

For more on this topic:

Congress Must Address Saudi Human Rights Issues Without Undermining U.S. Security

Senate Vote on War in Yemen Risks Undermining U.S. and Yemeni Interests, While Boosting Iran’s 

Ending US Military Support for Saudi Arabia in Yemen Would Trigger Dangerous Consequences 

Chaos Will Erupt in the Middle East If U.S. Leaves YemenU.S. Should Encourage a Settlement in Yemen to Defeat Al-Qaeda and Contain Iran

The post Trump’s Veto of Yemen War Resolution Protects US Security Interests appeared first on The Daily Signal.

Categories: Public Policy

Tackling Questions About Colorado’s Red Flag Law and the Second Amendment

Heritage Foundation - Thu, 2019-04-18 13:18

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, a Democrat, signed into law a bill this month that allows a person to be temporarily disarmed if a court finds that he or she poses a significant risk of harm to self or others.

This makes Colorado the 15th state to enact such a law, known in Colorado as an extreme risk protection order and colloquially as a red flag law.

The state Legislature’s push for red flag legislation came after a man with a long history of untreated mental health problems shot and killed a 29-year-old sheriff’s deputy, Zach Parrish, who responded to 911 calls regarding a mental health crisis.

We have long noted that untreated serious mental illness plays a key role in suicides and acts of mass public violence, including those committed with firearms.

Red flag laws can play an important role in combating these types of firearm-related violence, but such laws must also respect due process protections, be limited in duration, and refrain from broadly undermining the Second Amendment rights of gun owners who aren’t a danger to themselves or others.

Every state’s red flag law is different, and some are unquestionably worrisome. But how do claims against Colorado’s law stack up against reality and reason?

Below, we’ve addressed some of the common concerns raised about Colorado’s red flag law. In truth, the law—while not perfect—is well-crafted to intentionally avoid many of the problems normally seen in these types of laws.

1. Is it “Gun Confiscation?”

No. The term “gun confiscation” rightly evokes fear among law-abiding gun owners that the government will impose broad-scale civilian disarmament like that seen in Australia and the United Kingdom. Laws that severely diminish the ability of citizens to keep and bear arms commonly used for lawful purposes are an affront to the Constitution.

But this law doesn’t seek to impose broad restrictions on all gun owners. Instead, it creates a legal process to temporarily disarm only those specific individuals who are determined by a court to meet objective criteria for dangerousness.

Under the statute, a law enforcement officer, family member, or household member (such as a roommate or domestic partner) may petition a court to hold a hearing over whether a person poses a significant risk of danger to self or others, and then temporarily revoke his or her right to purchase or possess firearms because of that risk.

A petitioner may request an emergency 14-day order if the risk for harm is “in the near future,” or a yearlong order if the risk is significant but not necessarily imminent. In either case, if the order expires without a new hearing being held and the order renewed, the individual’s firearms must be returned within three days and his or her name removed from any lists of disqualified persons, at no cost to the individual.

The same three-day mandate for the return of a person’s firearms applies to the expiration of yearlong orders, as well.

Moreover, the law explicitly states that this type of red flag order doesn’t count as a disqualifying mental health commitment under federal law. As soon as the order expires, the person is free to exercise his or her Second Amendment rights again without undergoing additional restoration processes.

In other words, this law doesn’t impose general prohibitions on all gun owners, but allows for temporary restraints on individuals who are genuinely a risk to personal or public safety, and only for the length of time that they pose a risk.

2. What About Due Process?

No person’s constitutional rights should be revoked, even temporarily, without first affording him or her meaningful due process protections. Colorado’s law generally ensures that the process for restricting firearm access via a red flag law has the same protections in place as its process for involuntarily committing someone to mental health treatment.

Once a petition is filed for a yearlong order, the court must hold a hearing within 14 days.

There, the defendant is entitled to legal counsel and the full array of due process protections for a civil commitment hearing—including the right to testify, to present evidence, and to cross-examine witnesses.

The burden of proof is on the petitioner to show by clear and convincing evidence that the individual is a significant risk of danger because of his access to firearms.

If the petition is for a 14-day emergency order, the hearing must be held within one court day, but it may be done without the defendant present.

The burden of proof is also lower, at a preponderance of the evidence. However, the petitioner must show that the risk of harm is in the “near future,” and must seek a full-fledged hearing for a yearlong order or else the emergency order expires after 14 days and the individual must have their firearms returned.

Orders don’t renew automatically, and any petitioner who requests a renewal must again show that the person is still a significant risk of danger.

If a petition is granted, the defendant may later request that the court remove the order before its expiration date and show that he is no longer a risk of danger.

It is common in all civil and criminal procedures for the person appealing a decision to bear the burden of proof.

In short, there is nothing out of the ordinary or fundamentally lacking in terms of due process prior to the temporary restriction of an individual’s rights under this law.

3. What About Actually Treating Them?

Some opponents of the law argue that it merely “kicks the can down the road” by taking away a person’s guns without actually treating them. While this is certainly a valid criticism of some red flag laws, Colorado’s law makes a commendable effort to integrate its red flag law with the existing mental health framework.

Under the law, whenever a temporary or yearlong order is granted, the court must also evaluate whether the individual meets the criteria for an emergency mental health assessment or for court-ordered mental health treatment.

Regardless of whether the individual meets that criteria, the law mandates that he be provided with resources regarding behavioral health treatment options, presumably as a means of facilitating his ability to later demonstrate a more stable and less violent frame of mind.

4. Aren’t Red Flag Laws Dangerous for Cops?

Law enforcement officers often respond to dangerous situations, and there is no practical difference between serving a red flag order, serving a normal arrest warrant, or taking someone into emergency protective custody when they’re in the middle of a mental health crisis.

If anything, the red flag law allows mentally unstable people to be disarmed before they actively engage in violent behavior directed toward themselves or others.

It’s already the case that untreated mental illness is major cause of concern for responding officers, with one 2012 analysis finding that at least half of all physical attacks on police officers are by mentally ill individuals—many of whom are untreated.

The goal of red flag laws, however, is to disarm these individuals and reroute them toward proper treatment before they ever reach a crisis stage. This ultimately makes cops and communities safer from potentially volatile situations, not less safe.

To be sure, reasonable people can debate whether certain aspects of Colorado’s new law should be altered as a matter of policy.

For example, should the order last for only six months instead of a year?

Should people who knowingly file baseless petitions in order to harass someone face additional criminal penalties?

Would it be a good idea to ensure that all records of a petition are expunged if the court doesn’t grant it, or that granted petitions are sealed after a certain period of time?

These are all useful questions, but they don’t mean the law is fundamentally flawed or constitutionally unsound. The truth is that Colorado lawmakers did a laudable job of taking into consideration and addressing very real concerns raised about past versions of this bill.

It’s true that anti-Second Amendment rhetoric is an ever-present force in recent years. But we needn’t condemn laws that, like Colorado’s, correctly focus on the underlying causes of firearm-related violence without broadly infringing on the rights of all gun owners.

The post Tackling Questions About Colorado’s Red Flag Law and the Second Amendment appeared first on The Daily Signal.

Categories: Public Policy

Netanyahu’s Re-Election Is a Win for Israel and the US

Heritage Foundation - Thu, 2019-04-18 12:58

The dust has settled, the votes have been counted, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been re-elected to serve Israel for a record-setting fifth term.

The Jewish people have once again placed their trust in a prime minister who has guided their nation to unprecedented success while simultaneously defending it against a slew of powerful enemies both near and far.

This re-election is a victory for Israel. It helps ensure that the Jewish state will continue to thrive in the coming years.

Israel is a raucous young democracy whose parliamentary system requires constant shifting to assemble coalitions, so its national elections are always interesting. Netanyahu’s achievement of re-election this many times is nothing short of incredible, and it speaks to his unparalleled abilities as a master politician.

However challenging the political landscape within Israel may be, Netanyahu has used his skills as an adept orator and pragmatic strategist to cement his legacy and place in Israel’s history. Keep in mind that this has happened despite the recent cloud cast by indictments alleging corruption. Time will tell whether or not the charges eventually derail Netanyahu’s career or cast a permanent stain on his legacy.

Yet, Netanyahu is not merely a talented politician; he is also an excellent leader. While every political figure has his or her critics, there is no denying the many fruits that Bibi’s tenure has yielded for Israel throughout the years, from staggering economic development to a sober and measured foreign policy that continuously expands its roster of allies. Israel has emerged as a key player on the world stage, and Netanyahu’s leadership is a primary cause.

Despite its small size, Israel’s economy is booming. The tiny nation is the third-largest producer of companies traded on Nasdaq. By fostering a rich startup culture, Israel has become an international trailblazer in medical research, technology, and pharmaceuticals.

In recent weeks, Israel’s national hospital, Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer, was named one of the top 10 hospitals in the world. I have visited Sheba and observed modern-day miracles taking place on a near daily basis.

Netanyahu is precisely the seasoned and resilient leader that Israel needs right now, as the stakes for the country’s security have never been higher. Israel is surrounded by increasingly radical and dangerous neighbors, living under constant threat from surrounding foes who want to see it destroyed and its people harmed.

Fortunately, Netanyahu has cultivated a true friendship with President Donald Trump, who understands the immense value in our strategic alliance with Israel and is prepared to protect it. Israel is the only true democracy in the entire Middle East and the most reliable U.S. ally in a tumultuous region, so its relationship with the United States is of the utmost importance.

Unlike President Barack Obama, who naively and cynically rushed forward into a nuclear deal with the terror-sponsoring regime in Iran, Trump understands that the deeply flawed contract was detrimental to U.S. national security and global peace.

As he promised to do as a presidential candidate in the 2016 election, Trump canceled the Iran nuclear deal, ending the disastrous policy of providing economic relief to a despotic theocracy hell-bent on acquiring the world’s most destructive weapons.

As Netanyahu has correctly noted, never before has Israel had a more committed friend in the White House. In fact, Trump recently acknowledged Israel’s right to the Golan Heights—a territory gained from Syria in the Six-Day War of 1967, which had Israel fighting for survival. Trump also fulfilled a pledge to move the U.S. Embassy to its rightful place in Israel’s capital city, Jerusalem.

In word and deed, Trump has honored the historic partnership between Israel and the United States of America.

With the knowledge that Israel has a committed and trustworthy friend in Washington, Netanyahu’s re-election guarantees that the close ties between Israel and the United States will not just survive but thrive.

Look to Israel in the coming years to continue its advancement as a beautiful, liberty-loving nation that is the eternal homeland of the Jewish people and a beacon of light and positivity in an otherwise tumultuous part of the world.

Having met Netanyahu on various occasions, I can attest to his brilliance and deep love for his country. It is not surprising to see that he has yet again captured the hearts and the votes of the Israeli people and earned their trust to serve once again as prime minister.

I am very happy to congratulate Netanyahu on his hard-fought victory and am confident he will continue providing smart and strong leadership for the wonderful nation of Israel.


The post Netanyahu’s Re-Election Is a Win for Israel and the US appeared first on The Daily Signal.

Categories: Public Policy

Attorney General Says Mueller Found No Collusion, but 10 Instances of Possible Obstruction

Heritage Foundation - Thu, 2019-04-18 12:06

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s report highlights 10 episodes that could be construed as obstruction of justice, although his investigation found no underlying conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Russian government to affect the outcome of the 2016 presidential election.

Attorney General William Barr held a press conference Thursday morning to lay out the conclusions of the special counsel’s 22-month probe and to explain how he, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, and the Mueller team decided what to to release.  

Barr noted that he and Rosenstein disagree with some of Mueller’s legal theories regarding possible obstruction of justice by President Donald Trump, but followed them in determining there was no basis for criminal charges.

The attorney general repeated the phrase “no collusion” several times.

Barr explained that although some information in the Mueller report was redacted, it was for established legal reasons such as to protect grand jury material and ongoing investigations, and no redactions were based on executive privilege.

The president’s White House and personal lawyers had a chance to review the report but did not seek redactions, nor did Trump cite executive privilege to shield information, Barr said.

Certain congressional leaders will be granted access to the report without any redactions except for some grand jury information, he said.

Trump addressed Barr’s press conference during a White House event saluting “Wounded Warriors.”

“They’re having a good day. I’m having a good day too,” Trump said. “It’s called no collusion, no obstruction.”

As veterans who were his guests smiled and laughed, the president’s audience applauded.

Trump again called for looking into how the probe of his campaign and his associates began. 

“We do have to get to the bottom of these things, I will say, and this should never happen,” Trump said. “This should never happen to another president again, this hoax. It should never happen to another president again.”

Before his White House event, Trump referred to the megahit TV series “Game of Thrones” in a Twitter broadside aimed at Democrats and others who have hounded him.

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 18, 2019

Barr said he plans to answer further questions before Congress and also said he does not object to Mueller’s appearing before and taking questions from Congress. Mueller was not present at the press conference.

“That’s the bottom line,” Barr said, adding:

After nearly two years of investigation, thousands of subpoenas, hundreds of warrants and witness interviews, the special counsel confirmed that the Russian government sponsored efforts to illegally interfere with the 2016 presidential election, but did not find that the Trump campaign or other Americans colluded with those efforts.

The attorney general’s letter to congressional leaders in late March had revealed that Mueller found no conspiracy between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign, but was less clear about potential attempts by the president to obstruct the investigation.

“The report recounts 10 episodes involving the president and discusses potential legal theories for connecting those activities to the elements of an obstruction offense,” Barr told reporters Thursday. “After carefully reviewing the facts and legal theories outlined in the report and in consultation with legal counsel and other lawyers, the deputy attorney general and I concluded that the evidence developed by the special counsel is not sufficient to establish that the president committed an obstruction of justice offense.”

Barr continued:

Although the deputy attorney general and I disagreed with some of the special counsel’s legal theory, and felt that some of the episodes did not amount to obstruction as a matter of law, we did not rely solely on that in making our decision. Instead, we accepted the special counsel’s legal framework for the purposes of our analysis, and evaluated the evidence as presented by the special counsel in reaching our conclusion.

Barr noted that Trump “faced an unprecedented situation” as he took office and was “frustrated” by opponents’ allegations of collusion, but “the White House fully cooperated with the special counsel’s investigation.”

The attorney general expressed gratitude to both Rosenstein—who previously oversaw the special counsel’s investigation—and to Mueller for how he conducted the probe.

“Thanks to the special counsel’s thorough investigation, we now know that the Russian operatives who perpetrated these schemes did not have the cooperation of President Trump or the Trump campaign or the knowing assistance of any American for that matter,” Barr said. “That is something [for which] all Americans can and should be grateful.”

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Categories: Public Policy