Nel's New Day

June 14, 2017

Media Consumed by Sessions’ Testimony, Emoluments Clause Lawsuits

The most transparent—in some ways—action in Congress this week was the testimony of AG Jeff Sessions when he complained about “scurrilous” allegations, waffled on some answers, and claimed that “only the president can claim executive privilege.” The head of the Department of Justice doesn’t even know the law: both presidents and members of their administration can refuse to answer questions or even respond to subpoenas. Sessions passed along an erroneous perspective of executive privilege that Brian Williams falsely confirmed on MSNBC.  The AG found himself in a pickle with his false claim.

John McCain (R-AZ), a guest at the hearing because he is on another committee, complained about Kamala Harris (D-CA) who tried to keep Sessions from limiting her questions by talking nonstop. A notable Sessions quote to her is that being rushed “makes me nervous.” Chair Richard Burr allowed Sessions to take up time by grandstanding Harris’ (left) questions, the same way that he did last week in testimony by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. Sessions smirked when he was able to avoid her last “yes or no” question. He had preceded his stalling by vigorously stating, ”I am not stonewalling.” (It’s not good when a person has to deny this!) People being questioned know that senators have a finite number of minutes, and they can avoid embarrassing questions by stalling. Sessions insisted that he didn’t answer questions because DDT may want to declare executive privilege any time in the future.

Sessions declared that he was “following the historic policies of the Department of Justice” by not answering questions, but he could not cite any of these policies when Harris asked him about specifics.  Other senators brought up former AG Eric Holder’s refusal to discuss conversations with President Obama as precedent for Sessions’ refusals to answer questions, not a good idea because he was held in contempt. As Sessions pointed out, however, he was testifying in front of his “colleagues” so there probably won’t be a problem of that sort.

The male senators have a history of reprimanding only female senators. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) silenced Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) during confirmation hearings for Sessions and then complained, “Nevertheless, she persisted.”

Much of Sessions’ testimony was “I can’t answer that” and “I can’t recall.” But other parts were more revealing than that from James Comey, who released his information the day before the hearing.

  • Sessions claimed at the beginning of the hearing that he had no third meeting with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak but he started to hedge his answers about the issue throughout his testimony.
  • Sessions claimed that he had recused himself from all DDT ties to Russia the day after he was sworn into office, but there is a question why no one—not the public and not his associates—knew about the recusal for another month.
  • Sessions said he doesn’t know if Russia was involved with the presidential election because he didn’t read anything about the possibility except in the media.
  • Sessions covered for DDT by disclaiming Comey’s testimony, finally exploding into calling it a “secret innuendo.”

GOP senators may have covered for Sessions in the hearing, but Burr did request—very politely—further information and documents from him.

On the same day that Sessions gave his weak testimony, at least 196 Democrats in Congress sued DDT for violating the Emolument Clause, the part of the U.S. Constitution that prevents presidents from taking gifts from foreign nations without the approval of Congress. Like other lawsuits against DDT in connection with the Emoluments Clause, this one will ask that DDT reveal his business affairs and put his holdings in a blind trust or sell them. A court ruling for these members of Congress to proceed would make history as the first since the U.S. became a country.

Other lawsuits come from owners of businesses in Washington, D.C. competing with DDT’s hotels and restaurants and the states of D.C. and Maryland represented by their attorneys general because businesses are at a disadvantage. Soon after DDT’s inauguration, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) sued DDT on the same basis of the other lawsuits. There is no precedent for the suit, now pending in New York, but an argument for dismissing the case is lack of standing for the plaintiffs. Several examples of DDT profiting are listed in the lawsuit, including the lease for the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China that is due to expire during DDT’s term. Favorable terms for the rental could be a financial gift to the president.

Government lawyers contend that this prohibition doesn’t count for DDT. If a federal court decides whether the case can continue, the plaintiffs will request that DDT’s personal tax returns be publicly revealed.

Another media concern for the week is whether DDT plans to fire the special investigator selected by Rosenstein to investigate Russia–and probably DDT. Technically, he cannot do that, but he can fire Rosenstein and keep replacing him until he finds someone for the Justice Department who will then fire the investigator. Sessions has no control because he has recused himself, but he may violate the recusal as he has in recommending that James Comey be fired. At this time, the White House claims that there are no plans to get rid of the investigator because staffers begged him to do it, but DDT’s decision depends on who he talked with last.

Last week, DDT’s declaration of “Infrastructure Week” failed to draw attention from James Comey’s testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee. He tried the same thing this week with a focus on workplace development. At the same time, people are learning more about the workplaces that provide clothing for daughter Ivanka Trump’s business. Ivanka’s claim of “women’s empowerment” and “paid child care” rings hollow with the revelation that the women working in the factory manufacturing Ivanka-branded clothing make so little that they cannot afford to live with their children. Employees at the factory in Subang (Indonesia) earn $173 a month, the lowest legal wage in the entire country. The factory does give them an extra $10.50 if they don’t take time off for menstrual periods.

Workers making Ivanka’s clothes in China earned about $62 per week, below the legal minimum wage, and sometimes work 86 hours overtime a month with the legal limit at 36 hours. Since April, Ivanka has said that they no longer buy clothes from that factory—maybe because Indonesia is cheaper. That was the rationale for moving Ivanka’s shoe factory from China to Ethiopia last year: five Ethiopians at the Addis Ababa are paid the same as one Chinese worker.

Spearheaded by Ivanka Trump, the week focuses on promotion of expansion of apprenticeship programs. Will this allow lower pay than minimum wage so that Ivanka’s and DDT’s business purchases can come to the U.S.? The media has paid almost no attention, however, as Jeff Sessions, Russia, and lawsuits are swallowing up the news.

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