Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:
The New York Times on a judge’s rebuke of Michael Flynn and President Donald Trump’s charitable foundation:
A bit of common sense and common decency intruded on Tuesday into the crazy world of Donald Trump.
In New York, the state attorney general announced that the president had agreed that the “charity” he used as a piggy bank has no reason to exist.
In Washington, a federal judge let a former top presidential aide know that you can parrot political spin or you can tell the truth, but you can’t do both to someone who can send you to prison.
Michael Flynn, Mr. Trump’s former national security adviser, appeared before Judge Emmet Sullivan to be sentenced to what he expected would be a term of probation, after pleading guilty to lying to federal investigators about conversations with the Russian ambassador. The office of the special counsel, Robert Mueller, had earlier filed a memo that said it would be right for Mr. Flynn to avoid prison after his extensive cooperation in the investigation of Trump ties to Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential campaign and after.
Then last week, in a memo about their client’s sentencing, Mr. Flynn’s lawyers implied that he had been tricked into lying and that the F.B.I. acted improperly in interviewing him — points raised by pro-Trump commentators elaborating on the president’s claims of being victimized by a witch hunt.
Judge Sullivan was having none of it.
“I cannot recall an instance of a court ever accepting a guilty plea from someone who did not maintain he was guilty,” Judge Sullivan said, “and I do not intend to start today.”
Chastened, Mr. Flynn told the judge that nobody tricked him, that he lied and that he knew he shouldn’t have.
The judge was not upset only about Mr. Flynn’s sneaky prevarication. He said he felt “disgust” at Mr. Flynn’s offenses, that a retired three-star general would lie to the F.B.I. “while on the physical premises of the White House,” and, acting as an unregistered agent of a foreign country, Turkey, while he was an adviser to Mr. Trump (to which he admitted but was not charged). It was a bracing reminder of the brazenness of his misdeeds and of the standards the public should be able to expect of those who serve them.
Realizing that Judge Sullivan was considering a term of up to six months in prison, Mr. Flynn accepted his offer to delay the sentencing for 90 days until he has completed his cooperation with the special counsel.
“Good luck today in court to General Michael Flynn,” Mr. Trump had tweeted first thing Tuesday morning.
“Thanks for nothing, Mr. President,” Mr. Flynn might have thought as he left court.
Mr. Flynn should be grateful the judge offered him the chance to come clean. By contrast, the Donald J. Trump Foundation, a charity that provided no charity, quite properly received none from the New York attorney general’s office.
Attorney General Barbara Underwood accused it of “a shocking pattern of illegality” that “amounted to the Trump Foundation functioning as little more than a checkbook to serve Mr. Trump’s business and political interests.”
Whatever money that remains will be disbursed under the supervision of Ms. Underwood’s office and the judge overseeing the continuing lawsuit her office filed in June, seeking $2.8 million in restitution and a ban on Mr. Trump and his three oldest children serving on the boards of other nonprofit organizations.
In a series of stories exposing the foundation’s true nature, The Washington Post found that its largest donation was to fix a fountain in front of the Plaza Hotel in Manhattan, which Mr. Trump owned at the time, that its funds were used to buy a portrait of Mr. Trump, and that it illegally provided political donations and paid for personal legal settlements.
All this comes just days after prosecutors announced that they believed that Mr. Trump had conspired with the owner of The National Enquirer and his fixer Michael Cohen to violate campaign finance laws by paying hush money to two women who said they had affairs with him. It’s also just been reported that prosecutors are investigating spending by the Trump inaugural committee. The president still faces lawsuits on the constitutionality of his enriching himself while in office. Meanwhile, the special counsel’s inquiry may be expanding rather than winding down.
It’s fitting that despite all his bluster and threats, a president who’s demonstrated such contempt for the rule of law is finding it so formidable.
That this goes to the essence of American governance was best summed up by Paula Duncan, the Trump enthusiast who was among the jurors who found Mr. Trump’s former campaign chief Paul Manafort guilty of fraud, even though she had hoped he wouldn’t be convicted.
Explaining her decision after the verdict, she told Fox News, “No one’s above the law.”
The Wall Street Journal on a judge’s ruling on the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate:
No one opposes ObamaCare more than we do, and Democrats are now confirming that it was designed as a way-station to government-run health care. But a federal judge’s ruling that the law is unconstitutional is likely to be overturned on appeal and may boomerang politically on Republicans.
Judge Reed O’Connor ruled for some 20 state plaintiffs that the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate is no longer legal because Republicans repealed its financial penalty as part of the 2017 tax reform. Recall that Chief Justice John Roberts joined four Justices to say ObamaCare’s mandate was illegal as a command to individuals to buy insurance under the Commerce Clause. “The Framers gave Congress the power to regulate commerce, not to compel it,” he wrote.
Yet the Chief famously salvaged ObamaCare by unilaterally rewriting the mandate to be a “tax” that was within Congress’s power. Never mind that Democrats had expressly said the penalty was not a tax. Majority Leader Roberts declared it to be so.
Enter Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who argues in Texas v. U.S. that since Congress has repealed the mandate, the tax is no longer a tax, and ObamaCare is thus illegal. Judge O’Connor agreed with that logic, and he went further in ruling that since Congress said the mandate is crucial to the structure of ObamaCare, then all of ObamaCare must fall along with the mandate.
We’ll admit to a certain satisfaction in seeing the Chief Justice hoist on his own logic. But his ruling in NFIB v. Sebelius was in 2012 and there is more at issue legally now than the “tax” issue in that opinion. One legal complication is that Congress in 2017 repealed the financial part of the individual mandate, not the structure of the mandate itself. Republicans used budget rules to pass tax reform so they couldn’t repeal the mandate’s express language.
The Affordable Care Act has also been up and running since 2014, which means so-called reliance interests come into play when considering a precedent. Millions of people now rely on ObamaCare’s subsidies and rules, which argues against judges repealing the law by fiat.
Judge O’Connor breezes past this like a liberal Ninth Circuit appeals judge handling a Donald Trump appeal. He’s right that Democrats claimed the individual mandate was essential to the Affordable Care Act. But when Congress killed the financial penalty in 2017 it left the rest of ObamaCare intact. When judging congressional intent, a judge must account for the amending Congress as well as the original Congress.
In any case, the Supreme Court’s “severability” doctrine calls for restraint in declaring an entire law illegal merely because one part of it is. Our guess is that even the right-leaning Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals judges will overturn Judge O’Connor on this point.
As for the politics, Democrats claim to be alarmed by the ruling but the truth is they’re elated. They want to use it to further pound Republicans for denying health insurance for pre-existing conditions if the law is overturned. Democrats campaigned across the country against Mr. Paxton’s lawsuit to gain House and Senate seats in November, and they will now press votes in Congress so they can compound the gains in 2020.
President Trump hailed the ruling in a tweet, but he has never understood the Affordable Care Act. His Administration has done good work revising regulations to reduce health-care costs and increase access, but the risk is that the lawsuit will cause Republicans in Congress to panic politically and strike a deal with Democrats that reinforces ObamaCare. This is what happens when conservatives fall into the liberal trap of thinking they can use the courts to achieve policy goals that need to be won in Congress.
The Washington Post on withdrawing all 2,000 U.S. troops out of Syria:
PRESIDENT TRUMP’S sudden move to yank U.S. troops out of Syria undermined at a stroke several foreign policy goals he has championed. The president promised to finish the job of destroying the Islamic State, but the withdrawal will leave thousands of its fighters still in place. He vowed to roll back Iran’s aggression across the Middle East, but his decision will allow its forces to entrench in the country that is the keystone of Tehran’s ambitions. He promised to protect Israel, but that nation will now be left to face alone the buildup by Iran and its proxies along its northern border.
The president’s top national security advisers had carefully developed and articulated a strategy of maintaining a U.S. presence in Syria until the Islamic State was beyond revival and Iran withdrew its forces — a plan they were defending up until this week. Mr. Trump has again demonstrated, to them and to the world, that no U.S. policy or foreign commitment is immune from his whims.
Mr. Trump claimed the Islamic State had been defeated, but that is not the view of the Defense and State Departments. Thousands of jihadist fighters are still in Syria and control splotches of territory in the Euphrates Valley. A U.S. withdrawal will give the extremists an opportunity to reconstitute, as they did in Iraq following the premature U.S. withdrawal ordered by President Barack Obama.
Until Wednesday, a prime talking point of senior national security officials was that, “if we’ve learned one thing over the years, (the) enduring defeat of a group like this means you can’t just defeat their physical space and then leave,” as the State Department’s special envoy for the global campaign against the Islamic State, Brett McGurk, put it last week. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said it another way in September: “Getting rid of the caliphate doesn’t mean you then blindly say, ‘Okay, we got rid of it,’ march out, and then wonder why the caliphate comes back.”
Mr. Trump has justified some of his most controversial decisions, including his continued support for Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, as needed to contain Iran’s threat to the United States and its allies. But the Syrian withdrawal hands Tehran and its ally Russia a windfall. Iran has deployed thousands of fighters and allied militiamen to Syria and aspires to create a corridor to Lebanon and the Mediterranean, as well as a new front against Israel along the Golan Heights. In reaction to that threat, Mr. Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, announced Sept. 24 that “We’re not going to leave (Syria) as long as Iranian troops are outside Iranian borders, and that includes Iranian proxies and militias.”
U.S. ambitions in Syria have never been backed by adequate resources, and a case could be made that neither Congress nor the American public were prepared to support the mission suggested by Mr. Bolton. But Mr. Trump’s decision appears to have been precipitated by the bellicose rhetoric of Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who last week threatened — not for the first time — a military operation against Syrian Kurds, even though U.S. troops are positioned around them. The autocratic Turkish ruler appears to have extracted multiple favors from Mr. Trump in recent days, including the sale of U.S. Patriot missiles and a promise to reexamine the possible extradition of his rival, Fethullah Gulen, from Pennsylvania. If Mr. Trump received anything in return, he hasn’t disclosed it.
The Syrian Kurdish forces, which have fought alongside the United States and played a crucial role in liberating most of eastern Syria from the jihadists, will be perhaps the foremost victims of Mr. Trump’s decision. Betrayed by Washington, they will now be subject to a military offensive by Turkey. The stab in the back will send an unforgettable message to all who are asked to cooperate with the United States in the fight against terrorism: Washington is an unreliable and dangerous partner.
The Orange County (California) Register on Mick Mulvaney as Trump’s choice for chief of staff:
President Trump has found a new chief of staff, albeit an interim one, in his director of the Office of Management and Budget, Mick Mulvaney.
That of chief is a terribly important post, perhaps government’s most consequential aside from that of his boss. In theory, at least, the chief of staff is the gatekeeper for everything the president does, everyone he sees, everyone he talks to on the phone.
Perhaps, though few would expect this to be the case, the arbiter of every time he sends out a tweet, and of what it should say.
A Washington insider, a former congressman, Mulvaney is in many ways ideal for the job. He wants it, badly, whereas others with similarly impressive resumes touted for the job have indicated a strong desire to spend more time with their families, from Vice President Pence’s staff chief Nick Ayers of Georgia to former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
Mulvaney shares the conservative values currently espoused by the president and was a founder of the House Freedom Caucus in 2013, the group that always taunted the Republican leadership, opposing much government funding, including debt limit increases and budget agreements made with the Democrats.
But he also, after Trump secured the Republican nomination in 2016, called the candidate “a terrible human being” who he only was voting for out of an even greater dislike of Hillary Clinton.
It’s not as if other presidential allies of today haven’t said bad things about him in the past. On the campaign trail, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz called his rival “a narcissist at a level I don’t think this country’s ever seen,” for instance.
But if you were the nation’s chief executive — or the CEO of a much smaller entity, for that matter — could you hire as your top aide and work with a person who had once dubbed you “terrible”?
Or does this kind of talk come with the territory in politics, where many strange bedfellows are made because of having to run in elections against once and perhaps future allies? Should Trump indeed elevate this practical choice for staff chief to permanent status immediately?
Los Angeles Times on banning bump stocks, which allow semi-automatic weapons to fire like machine guns:
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said Tuesday that it had finalized a rule reclassifying so-called bump stocks — the devices that can make a semiautomatic rifle fire nearly as quickly a fully automatic weapon — as machine guns, which makes it illegal to manufacture, sell or possess them. The agency said a year ago it had the authority to reclassify the devices, and President Trump — in the wake of the Parkland, Fla., school shooting — directed the ATF to speed up the process. Tuesday’s announcement — a rare bit of welcome news from the Trump administration — makes it official; White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters that owners of the conversion devices will have until March 21 to destroy them or turn them in to the ATF.
This is a good step. Unfortunately, it’s all but certain to be challenged in the courts, and it’s on shaky legal ground because of the way the new rule evolved. The Obama administration determined that because bump stocks have “no automatically functioning mechanical parts and (perform) no automated mechanical functions when installed,” they did not fit the definition of a machine gun in federal law, which meant the ATF lacked the authority to regulate them. Tuesday’s announcement, by contrast, hinges not on the technical specifications, but on the functionality. In essence, if it fires like a machine gun, it’s a machine gun. Cue the lawyers.
We hope the administration prevails in whatever challenges emerge, but the sure-fire way to resolve this would be for Congress to legislate bump stocks and related gadgets out of existence. Such devices serve no function other than to evade the strict congressional limit on machine guns by, as the ATF said, harnessing “the recoil energy of the semiautomatic firearm in a manner that allows the trigger to reset and continue firing” without the shooter having to pull the trigger for each shot.
A mass shooter in Las Vegas used bump stocks affixed to semiautomatic rifles to fire more than 1,000 rounds in a matter of minutes from a 32nd-floor suite of the Mandalay Bay Hotel into a crowd of some 20,000 people, killing 58 concertgoers and injuring hundreds of others. It was the largest single mass shooting in the modern era, drawing attention to bump stocks and sparking outraged demands by many — the Los Angeles Times included — that the devices be banned.
As welcome as this new rule is, it will do little to corral our national problem with gun violence. The vast majority of gun deaths come in ones and twos, led by suicides. …
But it is progress. And the president deserves credit for sticking with his promise to find a way to ban bump stocks. …
China Daily says telecommunications giant Huawei is a victim of U.S. panic attacks:
This year has not been an annus mirabilis for China’s Huawei Technologies Ltd, the world’s largest supplier of telecommunications network equipment and second-biggest maker of smartphones.
Although it has been constantly in the news and it is said there is no such thing as bad publicity, it has been making headlines because of the spurious claims it somehow poses a threat to the West, even world peace. It has never been explained exactly how.
In fact it is not because of anything it has done, but because its success has brought it into the crosshairs of the United States’ anxiety attacks against China.
Huawei is at the forefront of 5G technology. This latest generation mobile network technology promises to bring the much anticipated and heralded internet of things to life and the US is determined to be the 5G leader.
Not only because whichever country develops the technology that is adopted as standard will have a huge commercial advantage. But also because by setting the standard it will have a knowledge advantage.
As a result, first the US and then one after another its most obedient allies have blocked Huawei from entering their 5G markets on security grounds.
None of them have offered any specific justification for blocking Huawei. They just repeat their claim that the company poses a security risk. That is why objective observers have concluded that those countries are politicizing a commercial issue.
It sets a harmful precedent. What if other countries used the same excuse to block US companies (not confined to the telecom sector)? The US companies are very competitive in many fields, including those that could pose huge security risks, such as finance.
While Huawei will not go unscathed from being prevented from entering key markets, as a competitive player, it still has a vast market to access in other parts of the world. It has signed contracts to supply 5G equipment to 25 telecom carriers, and more than 10,000 5G base stations have been shipped.
In stark contrast to the US and its allies, India for instance, has invited Huawei to conduct 5G trials in the country and complimented it on the role it has played in helping to develop its telecom industry.
The efforts of the US and its allies to try to shield their companies against a Chinese competitor are politically motivated, not the result of a fact-based or transparent decision-making process. And they are counterproductive to the concerted efforts that are needed to ensure the security of 5G networks.
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