Professor Jonathan Turley is a nationally recognized legal scholar who has written extensively in areas ranging from constitutional law to legal theory to tort law. He has written over three dozen academic articles that have appeared in a variety of leading law journals at Cornell, Duke, Georgetown, Harvard, Northwestern, University of Chicago, and other schools.
If there was ever a “nation” in the ordinary meaning comprising the Islamic State it is unquestionably moribund. The area reportedly controlled by the terrorist organization remains for the time down to one square kilometer, according to some reports less than six hundred meters square in Baghuz.
What actually has so far saved the jihadists from annihilation was that they interspersed themselves among civilian human-shields while Kurdish forces and allies exercise pause to protect the innocent. Thus remains the glory of the Caliphate, hiding among women and children to save itself.
Kurdish Commanding General Chiya Firat announced, “In a very short time, not longer than a few days, we will officially announce the end of IS’s existence.”
Since the onslaught of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) incursion to route the last remaining contiguous jihadist forces in Northern and Eastern Syria beginning February tenth, the Kurds discovered unexpected levels of civilians held by ISIS in the remaining occupied villages. Earlier last week escaping jihadists attempted to instill themselves among fleeing civilians, some going so far as to dress as women. Others tried a more open approach attempting to flee in open land only to be picked off one by one by US and Syrian Arab Army forces. Some did manage to escape and reconstituted themselves to perform IED attacks in a few towns in greater Syria.
Kurdish and US forces discovered ISIS excavated numerous tunnels to move its fighters but recently these tunnels serve a shelters and another means to hold civilians as hostages. A common and credible claim made by civilians who did manage somehow to escape was that jihadists have resorted to murdering civilians to frighten them into remaining as human-shields.
Clearly, the Caliphate verges on defeat but the great tragedy will be difficult for most to accept. We’re going to witness a massacre of many civilians of all kinds at the hands of the ultimate jihadists. A few ISIS fighters will come to some form of self-preservation and surrender but what will become of them?
The Kurds have openly complained for months, much more so since President Trump announced an abrupt withdrawal from Syria, that Western nations have stalled at repatriating their jihadist citizens captured by the SDF and YPG/YPJ. Many hundreds of unlawful combatant Europeans remain in prison. Their governments do not want them but just as equally seem to not know what to do after repatriation. The probability remains high that a great number will return to jihadist tendencies and thinking and with dozens of reported ISIS sleeper cells in several other nations the legacy of the soon-to-be-former Caliphate will remain a thorn in humanity.
I frankly do not see the Syrian population, especially in the Kurdish areas, having any nostalgia or sympathy for the jihadist cause in lands suffering the terroristic reign of ISIS. The terrorists brutalized the populous to such a horrific degree there will be no return to that form of “government”. There were several reports of Syrians converting to Christianity when these individuals experienced the ISIS form of Islam.
The fact that the Caliphate is moribund gives humanity something to celebrate. We continue to owe the Kurds a debt of gratitude for their instrumentality and defeating this evil. They certainly paid the highest price.
By Darren Smith
The views expressed in this posting are the author’s alone and not those of the blog, the host, or other weekend bloggers. As an open forum, weekend bloggers post independently without pre-approval or review. Content and any displays or art are solely their decision and responsibility.
We have another example of a parliament facilitating another eternal presidency. Egypt’s Parliament acted this week to amend the nation’s constitution to allow its current president, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, to remain in power to 2034. Much of the pretext lies in the familiar call of a need for greater control and monopolization of the presidency to secure promised “reforms” and “progress”.
Amendments to the constitution include extending the term of office for the presidency from four to six years and controversially includes a reset of the term limit clause of the currently sitting president, effectively providing al-Sisi the ability to serve until 2034.
Supporters of the amendments claim that the president needs more time to complete development projects and economic reforms.
Moreover, to further cement greater control, the presidency would now wield the ability to appoint judges and the public prosecutor as well as the establishment of a second chamber of parliament–the Council of Senators–two thirds of who’s members are appointed by the president.
The next step is review by a parliamentary committee followed by a second vote by the general membership. If approved a national referendum will follow several months later.
The views expressed in this posting are the author’s alone and not those of the blog, the host, or other weekend bloggers. As an open forum, weekend bloggers post independently without pre-approval or review. Content and any displays or art are solely their decision and responsibility.
Below is my column in The Hill newspaper on the known basis for an obstruction case against President Donald Trump. While much more has been learned since the appointment of the Special Counsel, there remains considerable doubt about a prosecutable case for obstruction.
Here is the column:
“The wicked flee when no man pursueth, but the righteous are bold as a lion.” Like all proverbs, this well known saying is often better understood in the abstract. Sometimes it is difficult to distinguish between “flight” and “fight.” From the perspective of his critics, President Trumpevidences guilt at every turn and in every tweet. For Trump, his moves are merely the result of being a “counter puncher” who attacks when he is threatened.
The question of perception goes directly to the heart of the obstruction allegations leveled against him. Indeed, for someone approaching these questions as a criminal defense lawyer, disputes over perception can be the death of a prosecution. Crimes must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. They cannot be purely matters of perception. That has been the case regarding the obstruction allegations made against the president.
I recently explored the status of the public evidence of collusion based crimes. It is now time to look at the status of obstruction of justice from information revealed in court filings, congressional investigations and witness statements. While special counsel Robert Mueller could offer new incriminating evidence in his final report, the evidentiary record remains strikingly anemic as a basis for criminal obstruction charges.
The issue is not optics but intent. Trump could not have created worse optics in his various actions and comments. He also acted inappropriately i reportedly pressuring officials to intervene either with Comey or to push to clear his name publicly. One of the most inappropriate moments came when Trump reportedly pushed Comey to go easy on Trump’s former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn. However, that incident is an example of how the same conduct can have widely different explanations. Trump can easily defend his statements as showing compassion for someone who had already resigned in disgrace. He was not reportedly asking for an end of the investigation.
Thus far, obstruction remains the bomb that never went off. Mueller has not been fired, Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker did not move to limit the investigation, and Trump has not pardoned key witnesses or associates before they could cooperate or testify. More importantly, any obstruction case must meet the elements of an obstruction crime, which usually involves obstructing a grand jury or destroying evidence. As I previously discussed, there are significant problems in shoehorning these facts into the criminal code and serious implications of stretching such definitions for future cases. Here are the most cited obstruction theories.
The firing of the FBI director
Before Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, some of us opposed the appointment of a special counsel absent a cognizable crime. The firing in May 2017 changed all of that. The result was predictable and catastrophic. Many of us, including some Republican congressional leaders, called for a special counsel to open an investigation. The president had supplied the very criminal allegation that had been missing in the collusion theories.
However, the obstruction theory tied to firing Comey has not improved with time. There were ample independent reasons to fire him. As the memorandum by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein had detailed, Comey was denounced by several former and current Justice Department officials for his poor judgment and violation of standard FBI procedures.
While former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe wrote that Rosenstein felt pressured to write the memorandum, Rosenstein has stood by his assessment of Comey and the basis for his termination. Moreover, after the firing, Trump took no action to stop or curtail the investigation and appointed Christopher Wray, who is widely praised for his independence.
Russian meeting and interview
The political damage from firing Comey was magnified the next day when Trump met with Russian officials in the Oval Office. This was followed by perhaps the most disastrous press interview in our modern presidential history. The May 2017 interview with Lester Holt of NBC News would do little for an obstruction case. Yet, Trump began by giving his reason for firing Comey as a “grandstander” who left the FBI in “turmoil.” It was only later that Trump made the infamous statement, “I said to myself, I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made up story.”
However, Trump already said that he had made up his mind on Comey. He declared, “I was going to fire Comey knowing there was no good time to do it.” Indeed, he said he knew that the timing “will confuse people” and that he might “lengthen the time” of the investigation. These comments can be defended as obfuscation rather than obstruction. What Trump said to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak present more of problem. He told the Russian diplomats the very next day after firing Comey, “I just fired the head of the FBI. He was crazy, a real nut job. I faced great pressure because of Russia. That is taken off.”
There is no question that Trump tied his firing of Comey to his desire to reduce pressure from the investigation. However, the statement would not be difficult for a defense attorney to address. Trump met with the Russians to restart relations between the United States and Russia. He can easily claim that he was trying to show that he would not be negotiating from a weak or vulnerable position. Trump will likely claim that he was assuring the Russians that he could cut any deal and was not in anyway hamstrung in going forward. Moreover, if Trump had sought to end the investigation, he failed to act along those lines in appointing the successor to Comey.
The Trump Tower statement
The Trump Tower meeting statement drafted by the president on Air Force One was yet another example of taking a hammer to his own head. He falsely suggested that the meeting was arranged to discuss the ban on Russian adoptions. It was, in fact, arranged for the express purpose of getting some promised evidence of criminal conduct by Hillary Clinton.
The statement, however, does very little to show obstruction. First, the question is, to obstruct what? The meeting took place in June 2016, long after the Russian email hacking operations were launched against the Democrats. It has no apparent connection to any collusion. Second, it does not constitute a crime to receive this kind of evidence from foreign sources or governments. No such evidence has been reported.
Finally, and most important, the obvious defense and likely truth is that Trump was “spinning” a negative story. He is not the first president to do so. The falsehood was the description of the purpose rather than the content of the meeting. Witnesses agreed that it ended shortly after it began when it became clear that the Russians only wanted to talk about adoptions. That is not worth much as evidence of obstruction of justice.
The tweets and attacks
The final evidence often cited is the litany of hostile and conflicting public statements made by Trump on Twitter and in interviews. Trump seems to encourage witnesses like Paul Manafort, Michael Cohen, and Roger Stonenot to cooperate with Mueller while attacking every negative disclosure. Trump has continued to make damaging comments despite the universal view among his lawyers that he only harms himself and his administration.
The problem is that these controversial statements are his political modus operandi, not just with the Russia investigation but on trade, immigration, foreign policy, and virtually every sensitive topic in the news. Trump also believes in a “deep state” conspiracy against him, a suspicion fueled by internal FBI emails showing open bias against him and his election. Trump proceeded to counter punch his way into an obstruction investigation, but these public comments would make for a poor prosecution against him.
For now, the obstruction theories against the president far outstrip the available evidence of the crime. Yes, Trump could not have worked harder to build a federal obstruction case against himself. Yet, as baffling as his conduct and comments have proven over the course of this investigation, Trump appears more guilty of obsessive rather than obstructive conduct.
Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University. You can follow him on Twitter @JonathanTurley.
Ron Shaich, founder of the Panera line of restaurants, attracted considerable media attention with his announcement that the company would open various pay-what-you-can restaurants in Dearborn, Michigan; Portland, Oregon; Boston, and Chicago. He called it his “test of humanity.” It may actually be a test of economics and the experiment failed. After nine years and huge debt, the restaurants will now close, according to Eater Boston.
Shaich heralded the concept of offering the same food but at a “suggested donation price” He added in a Ted Talk “Would people pay for it? Would people come in and value it?” The answer is that rational actors seemed to overwhelm altruistic actors when it came down to forking over money that could be eaten for free. The restaurants fell roughly forty percent short of even covering the cost of the meals.
Shaich and his staff quickly saw the breakdown of the plan as homeless swarmed the restaurants. Some locations had to limit homeless to “a few meals a week” though it is not clear how they determined people were homeless. Nevertheless, in a 2011 interview Shaich simply said that “We had to help them understand that this is a café of shared responsibility and not a handout.”
That still did not make the business plan viable. Moreover, Panera was attacked by people who said that it was hostile and that it used security officers to intimidate people. Others objected to shaming conduct by employees to make them feel like they were abusing the system. That was not part of the Ted Talk.
Shaich later stepped down as CEO and the stores began to close. He later admitted that “the nature of the economics did not make sense.”
When I was at the University of Chicago, Professor Milton Friedman used to tell students “The most important single central fact about a free market is that no exchange takes place unless both parties benefit.” He also said “there is no such things as a free lunch.” Well, I suppose Shaich has shown that you can have a free lunch . . . just not for long.
The Zambian government is under fire over its dubious claim that the mass killing the hippopotamus population in Luangwa Valley is an effort to cull or control the population. Wildlife experts have denounced the program as little more than a corrupt case for trophy business run by government officials. Dr Mark Jones, Associate Director of the International Wildlife organization, has said that the justification is transparently wrong. The government has changed its rational from excuses like controlling a nonexistent Anthrax epidemic caused by hippos to needing to cull the population.
Indeed, a recent article alleges that the cull was ordered after a threatened lawsuit from hunting outfits after officials allegedly violated a poorly-written contract signed with Mabwe Adventures Limited in 2016 — and then giving the right to sell trophy hunts to another hunting outfit Umlilo Safaris.
There are only 130,000 wild hippos left and there remains a huge market in Asia for their tusks as a substitute for ivory. Hippos are classified as “vulnerable” in the Red List compiled by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
I will again express my confusion on why there is such a thrill to these kills for trophy hunters. I am not sure of the trophy that is commonly obtained from a hippo. However, shooting a hippo with a high-powered rifle is about as challenging shooting cars in the airport parking lot. Yet, thrilled hunters are shown posing with the dead animals like they have achieved something truly grand in the killing giant herbivores.
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) noted an interesting twist for students who are celebrating Valentine’s Day at the University of New Orleans: any Valentine’s Card must be clearly platonic or risk a violation of the school’s rule against any “suggestive” note or communication. However, from a legal perspective, I would suggest the greater problem is not the Valentines per se but is the role played by that chubby figure Cupid.
By the strict language of the regulations at various schools, a question could be raised where the giving of a classic Valentine is a prohibited activity. After all, how do you send a Valentine card that is not in any way suggestive? UNO’s “Prohibiting Discrimination, Harassment, and Retaliation” policy classifies “sending suggestive or obscene letters, notes or invitations” as an example of “sexual harassment.”
On one level, Cupid himself is that the personification of a “drug-facilitated sexual assault.” Long before the invention of “date rape drugs,” Cupid was shooting people with magic arrows to make them amenable to love. After all, Cupid is the progeny (and dangerous mix) of the love goddess Venus and the war god Mars.
In reality, Cupid in early mythology often employed two different arrows with strikingly different objectives. The one with the golden point created uncontrollable desire while the one with a lead tip produced aversion and a desire to flee. That added element of violence does not help any image of a Cupid being distributed on campus.
Yet, he could also change himself into a bee to inject a mind-numbing drug through involuntary action:
Through this sting was Amor made wiser. The untiring deceiver concocted another battle-plan: he lurked beneath the carnations and roses and when a maiden came to pick them, he flew out as a bee and stung her.
Moreover, the Valentine card itself has been used as a means to express long harbored affections, often without invitation.
If Cupid is found in violation of such rules, he will have a difficult time defending himself because these terms are undefined, a long-standing objection from civil libertarians. Cupid or his messengers would simply be the subject of a complaint and can be convicted based on purely “circumstantial evidence”
“A violation can also be established if there is circumstantial evidence of retaliation. Typically this link can be demonstrated if the adverse action took place shortly after the protected activity or if the entity undertaking the adverse action was aware of the individual’s activity before taking the action.”
If Cupid hopes to find a defense in the definition of “protected activity” he will be disappointed. Protected activity is defined as “conduct or activity that is permitted or protected by state and/or federal law or University policy.”
Under the strict interpretation of these rule, Cupid is a violent, drug-inducing, habitual sexual harasser who prowls campuses with the assistance of predatory minions.
Paul Manafort added to his burgeoning record of alleged crimes and falsehoods this week with a decision from U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson that he had broken his cooperation agreement with Special Counsel Robert Mueller by making false statements and withholding information. The result could be devastating for Manafort who will now face sentencing without the benefit of the plea deal that he struck with Mueller. That could mean that, absent a pardon from President Donald Trump, Manafort could die in prison since he is looking at decades of potential jail time.
Jackson ruled that Manafort intentionally misled investigators on at least three matters. This included lying about his communications with Russian businessman Konstantin Kilimnik, a figure closely tied to Russian intelligence who was indicted by Mueller. He also allegedly lied about payments to a law firm and another unspecified matter.
While the ruling found that the Manafort did not lie on other subjects, including his communications with the White House, it leaves him in the worst possible position. He was previously convicted in Virginia on various counts and then pleaded guilty to other crimes in Washington. Those admissions will now be used against him without the benefit of a plea arrangement.
Manafort elected to divide the cases rather than face a single, unified trial. The reason may be that he believed the Virginia jury pool was better for him and he would succeed in defeating some of those counts or even secure a hung jury in his home state.
The problem for Manafort is these trials made it increasingly difficult to portray him as a victim. Indeed, the second trial involved allegations of money laundering and foreign lobbying as well as false statements to the FBI. The government is preparing almost three times the number of documents detailing his transactions and associations with an array of sleazy characters around the world.
Manafort’s dealings in the indictment include his involvement working on behalf of a pro-Russian faction in Ukraine. The prosecutors notably held back much of the evidence of Manafort’s Ukrainian dealings in the Virginia trial. Manafort was working for the interests of one of the most bloodsoaked and sinister figures in Eastern Europe — Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych — widely viewed as a Russian stooge who took over the government with the help of Moscow and ultimately did Moscow’s bidding. Yanukovych was accused of not only massive corruption, but also the murder of protesters and the arrest of political opponents. He accumulated an estimated net worth of $12 billion through alleged pilfering of Ukrainian funds. He ultimately fled to Russia.
When he fled into Russian exile, Yanokovych took away not only Manafort’s most important client but also the source of his wealth. Manafort’s opulent lifestyle now faced a serious downgrade. It was then, the government claims, that he began to lie to banks, the IRS and ultimately investigators.
In other words, Manafort is one of the least redeeming characters facing a sentencing and the last defendant who would want to do so without a prior sentencing agreement.
Manafort has been trying to play two-hands in this controversy: preserving a plea bargain will seeking a presidential pardon. He is now left with only a pardon as an escape from what could be a terminal sentence.
I will have the pleasure of speaking today at the University of Pennsylvania Law School on the evolution of presidential power in the United States. I will participate in a distinguished panel entitled “Presidential Power and the Current Crisis of Executive Authority” at 4:00 to 6:00 pm at Fitts Auditorium (3501 Sansom Street, Philadelphia). The event will be open to the public.
The topic is described as follows:
“Since 9/11, the growth of the national security state has brought with it an increasing struggle to maintain the legal and ethical boundaries surrounding executive authority, boundaries that help to define and protect democratic governance. In today’s political landscape, debates about the scope of presidential power have intensified, and they are likely to accelerate even more this year, as a divided Congress does battle over fundamental aspects of civilian leadership and the president continues to press an unprecedented vision of the powers of his office. Questions such as whether a sitting president may be indicted, whether the president’s pardon power under the U.S. Constitution allows the president to pardon himself, whether the president may use emergency powers to fund and build a border wall, will be contentiously debated and may even find their way to the U.S. Supreme Court this year.”
The panel will be moderated by Professor Claire Finkelstein, Algernon Biddle Professor of Law and Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Center for Ethics and the Rule of Law. The panelists will be:
Jonathan Turley – J.B. and Maurice C. Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law, George Washington University
Sanford V. Levinson — W. St. John Garwood and W. St. John Garwood, Jr. Centennial Chair, Professor of Government, University of Texas Law School Law School
Sharon Lloyd — Professor of Philosophy and Law, University of Southern California
Michael Skerker — Associate Professor of Leadership, Ethics and Law, U.S. Naval Academy
I have been a long critic of Trump former counsel Michael Cohen who lack of legal skills is only surpassed by his lack of legal ethics (here and here and here and here and here and here). Cohen is a serial liar and legal thug who committed various tax and fraud crimes worth millions. Cohen was given an absurdly low sentence by U.S. District Judge William H. Pauley III who feel for the latest sham pitch of Cohen. While a teenager will get twice as much time for robbing a store for $1000, Cohen got just three years for stealing millions and lying under oath. He then was called to appear before Congress and worked a new sham as the redemptive sinner. Yet, there is always a warning of Caveat Emptor that comes with dealing with Cohen: buyer beware. Cohen has now postponed testimony repeatedly in Congress. The latest excuse was his health — a claim that was refuted by a videotape showing him enjoying a night out on the town at an expensive restaurant the night before.
Cohen’s attorney, Lanny Davis told the Senate Intelligence Committee that Cohen had to postpone his scheduled Tuesday appearance “due to post-surgery medical needs.” Then a videotaped surfaced of Cohen enjoying himself at a swanky restaurant as captured by Christina Binkley, a reporter, at L’Anvenue.
Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr expressed frustration at the latest excuse. “He’s already stiffed us on being in Washington today because of an illness. You have, um — on Twitter, a reporter reported he was having a wild night Saturday night eating out in New York with five buddies. Didn’t seem to have any physical limitations. And he was out with his wife last night.”
The only thing surprising is that these members believed Cohen at all.
Now Cohen will likely try to limit questions and avoid a public hearing. He has been implicated in previously undisclosed scams and various people, including Donald Trump, have raised questions over whether Cohen withheld information from the Southern District to shield his father-in-law (who has long been accused of shady or criminal enterprises). Cohen’s biggest concern is not to commit perjury or implicate himself in new crimes. He hoodwinked the court — and Robert Mueller — in securing a sentence of a fraction of the sentence that he deserved. He is not going to risk that by suddenly be open and truthful.
In the end, he will have to testify solely because he will be in prison and unable to join his friends smoking cigars or eating at fancy restaurants.
Yale is being sued in a class action brought by three female students who allege that fraternities create a hostile environment for women. Anna McNeil, Eliana Singer and Ry Walker object to the parties and atmosphere created by such fraternities. In their filing, they tell the court that “they have been shocked, disappointed, and disturbed by the prominent role that the Fraternities play in the campus social scene.” Many would note that there is not one social scene at Yale and that these students can simply avoid Frat parties and activities. That may be the response of the Court, which could view this as an effort in part to force Yale to curtail parties that these students do not want to attend. The filing objects to the very structure and role of fraternities on campus.
The women insist that fraternities are the most popular locations for parties and that this popularity marginalizes them from fully socializing on campus:
“Yale’s fraternities are dominant social institutions on campus. Fraternities throw the largest parties and often host vulnerable first-year students. Women and non-binary students at Yale lack comparable spaces in which to host events and socialize. Yale’s sororities, for example, are prohibited from hosting parties by their national organizations. Most other student organizations lack the money and space to host regular social gatherings.”
The plaintiffs seek to fundamentally change the fraternities and their role on campus, citing other universities which have barred fraternities as discriminating institutions based on gender:
“In so doing, Yale has fallen behind peer institutions. For example, in May 2016, Harvard banned student participation in single-gender “final” clubs and Greek organizations. According to Rakesh Khurana, Dean of Harvard College, the College recognized that “the discriminatory membership policies of these organizations have led to the perpetuation of spaces that are rife with power imbalances . . . . In their recruitment practices and through their extensive resources and access to networks of power, these organizations propagate exclusionary values that undermine those of the larger Harvard College community.” Unmoved, Yale has failed to match the progress of its historic rival.”
Some of us have been critical of the move by Harvard against these student organizations. Indeed, the list of complaints in this filing begs the question on why these students should force such changes rather than avoid these parties and activities. Yale’s is a remarkably diverse community with many different groups. It is pluralistic like society at large. That is the world that these students will have to join in time. While universities should actively address sexual harassment and discrimination, they should also allow students to engage in associations of their choosing, particularly off-campus.
The dean of Yale College, Marvin Chun, may have expressed the likely view of a court when, after a review of campus culture, he stated “I condemn the culture described in these accounts; it runs counter to our community’s values of making everyone feel welcome, respected, and safe. I also offer some plain advice about events like these: don’t go to them.”