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Columnists
Anrew P. Napolitano: The General and the President

This is a tale of FBI power misused and presidential trust misplaced.

Last week, retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, President Donald Trump’s confidant on matters pertaining to national security from June 2015 to February 2017 and his short-lived national security adviser in the White House, pleaded guilty in federal court in Washington, D.C., to a single count of lying to the FBI. Under the terms of his plea agreement, Flynn, who had faced nearly 60 years in federal prison had he been convicted of charges related to all the matters about which there is said to be credible evidence of his guilt, will now face six months.

What could have caused Robert Mueller, the no-nonsense special counsel investigating whether any Americans aided the Russian government in its now well-known interference in the 2016 American presidential election, to have given Flynn such an extraordinary deal?

Here is the back story.

During the FBI’s investigation of Russian meddling in the election, it became interested in Flynn’s communications with Sergey Kislyak, a KGB colonel (the KGB is now known by its post-Soviet acronym, FSB) masquerading as the Russian ambassador to the U.S.

After Trump won the presidency, Flynn became an important member of the presidential transition team. Between the election and the inauguration, Flynn spoke on the telephone with Kislyak five times. Because Kislyak was a foreign spy, as well as an ambassador, his communications with Americans were monitored by the FBI.

When Flynn agreed to be interviewed by the FBI in his West Wing office on Jan. 24, he probably did not know what the agents were looking for. Jim Comey was still the director of the FBI. Mueller had not yet been named special counsel. The FBI investigation into Russian meddling in the just-completed presidential election was in its infancy.

Prior to the interview, the FBI obtained the transcripts of Flynn’s conversations with Kislyak. The conversations themselves were not illegal. On the contrary, it is expected that an incoming presidential administration will begin to reach out to foreign leaders even before the new president is inaugurated.

When the FBI interviewed Flynn, it asked him whether he had spoken with Kislyak and, if so, whether they had discussed American sanctions imposed on Russian individuals as retaliation for Russian meddling in the election. Flynn acknowledged the conversations but denied that they had been about sanctions. The two agents interviewing him knew immediately that he was lying, because they had read the transcripts of his conversations.

Since the FBI knew the subject matter of the Flynn-Kislyak conversations, what was the purpose of the Flynn interview? And given that the conversations were lawful — as long as they occurred after Trump’s victory — why would Flynn lie about them? As well, given that Flynn once ran thousands of surveillance projects against high-level foreign targets, how could he not have known that the FBI knew what he had discussed with Kislyak before its agents walked into his office?

Did Flynn have anything to hide from his interrogators? If he did, he has no doubt since revealed it to the FBI, because his guilty plea requires full cooperation with the same special counsel team that prosecuted him.

Timing is everything. The question of whether the conversations occurred while Trump was a candidate and whether they involved the transfer of anything of value from the Russian spy to the American campaign adviser or vice versa — whether the campaign, through Flynn, helped the Russians in their meddling or the Russians gave helpful information to the campaign in exchange for something of value — is at the heart of Mueller’s mission to prove or dispel allegations that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia.

Three weeks after the FBI interviewed Flynn, Trump fired him. The publicly stated reason for the firing was a purported lie that Flynn had told to Vice President Mike Pence about his conversations with Kislyak. Last weekend, on the day after Flynn pleaded guilty, the president issued a tweet claiming that he fired Flynn for lying to Pence and to the FBI.

If Flynn was fired in February for lying to the FBI in January, then Trump was aware of Flynn’s lies and his likely prosecution for them when he asked Comey to back off the FBI investigation of Flynn and then fired Comey for not backing off. This is dangerous territory for the president.

Obstruction of justice is the interference with a law enforcement or judicial proceeding for a corrupt purpose. Thus, if the president knew of Flynn’s lies to the FBI when he asked Comey to back off Flynn, the existence of a presidential crime and impeachable offense depends on the president’s state of mind.

If the “back off Flynn” request was given because the president felt sorry for the general or because he had concluded that the FBI’s limited resources would be better utilized finding terrorists or arresting bank robbers, there was no corrupt motive. But if the motive for the request to Comey was fear of what beans Flynn might spill — about the president himself or his son-in-law, for example — that would be a corrupt motive, and the request would be a crime, as well as an impeachable offense.

Obstruction of justice is the rare federal crime that need not succeed to be criminal and prosecutable. It is also the rare federal crime that nearly all legal scholars agree is an impeachable offense. The president’s lawyers are not among them. They have argued that because the president is the chief federal law enforcement officer in the land, his decisions on whom to prosecute are final and always lawful. That sounds like former President Richard Nixon’s now fully discredited argument that “when the president does it, that means that it is not illegal.”

In America, the president is a public servant, not a prince. Is the president in legal hot water? In a word: yes.


Letter: Sex, lies and surprise

Editor:

The existing House of Representative rules do not allow for unauthorized spending; no funding without accountability, so WHO authorized this? Speaker of the House has the say on the rules and whether or not they are enforced, so, in regard to the heretofore secret taxpayer-bankrolled slush fund, which no one knew existed, it protected Congressmen from public exposure of sexual and predatory misbehavior, even though millions of hush-dollars were paid out.

I believe:

All disgraced public servants should immediately resign; all should be required to reimburse the taxpayer for any monies extended that allowed them to keep their cushy jobs and to keep deceiving us, their employers, and some restrictions or penalties should apply to their golden retirement parachutes.

In fact, this should be policy rule: if incriminated, you will be suspended; if proven guilty, you will IMMEDIATELY vacate, not just as the head of a committee but your entire seat in Congress.

Instead, a panacea is proposed for the good old American taxpayer to provide sex-education training, a bandage to excuse their misdeeds with no guarantee of future offenses-violation. It’s time to quit slapping their hands, or shaking a finger at them, and throwing a cover over their entire mess … it’s time to kick their butts, out of office.

It should not be our responsibility to take on the financial burden of teaching them common decency and morality which they should have learned at their mother’s/father’s knee, in church, or since most are lawyers, in the tutelage ethics portion of their college curriculum. They should pay for this themselves. (No one but me ever paid for continuing education classes for my profession.)

But education should not stop there. There is not a Congressmen in office who would not benefit from a mandatory class on the U.S. Constitution, its history, and the fact that we are a republic, not a democracy, and it is time we began living under its proper interpretation. Congressional corruption causes the American public to suffer, financially, morally and spiritually.

It is truly time to DRAIN the Congressional CESSPOOL.

Thelma Homer

Elko


Columnists
Commentary
Thomas Mitchell: What to do about wild horses? Part 2

In his newly published book, “Wild Horse Country,” writer David Philipps offers his suggestion for what to do about the overpopulation of wild horses in the West, which are overgrazing the open range: “The solution is mountain lions.”

Realizing that this will leave horse-huggers aghast and cause cattle and sheep ranchers to gasp, Philipps forges ahead, “For decades, the BLM has said the wild horse has ‘no natural predators.’ … But the same people who have long dismissed using predators to control horses as impossible have never made an attempt to understand it. They have likely been too busy rounding up and storing horses. If they took the time to look into the idea of mountain lions, they would see that research on the ground contradicts the conventional wisdom.”

Philipps came upon this audacious “solution” after visiting Dr. John Turner at his summer digs in Montgomery Pass near Boundary Peak and the California border west of Tonopah, where the researcher observed wild horses and their environs. Turner spends his winter months working in a lab researching fertility drugs such as PZP, which is being used experimentally to dart mares in an effort to keep herds in check.

The book notes that Turner first came to Montgomery Pass in 1985 intending to do research on herd dynamics that might aid fertility drug studies. Then he learned about mountain lions.

“The BLM was saying there was overpopulation and there was actually underpopulation, because the mountain lions were just going crazy. This was something totally new,” the book quotes Turner as saying. “The old timers around here knew cats were hunting horses, but no one in the scientific community really realized it was happening, or that it could happen.”

Turner told Philipps that the highly adaptive lions, which weigh from 100 to 180 pounds, had learned to lie in wait near watering spots and would spring on the backs of foals, sinking their claws into the flesh and biting the neck, severing the spine in seconds.

The researcher learned this by attaching radio collars to some lions and tracking them for five years. His team discovered that mature horses were too big for the lions but they found foal carcasses near watering holes. In some years nearly two-thirds of the foals were eaten. “You would have some lions eating a foal every other week or so,” Turner told the author.

Philipps also related that in 2005 a University of Nevada, Reno a graduate student started tracking wild horses in the Virginia Mountains. She managed to attach a radio collar to one mountain lion and follow it for 10 months, finding that 77 percent of the lion’s diet was horse flesh. Despite this, according to Philipps, the BLM expressed no interest in the findings.

Meanwhile, the Nevada Division of Wildlife is spending $200,000 this year to kill lions.

“The economic tangle of killing predators while storing horses is mind-boggling. The Bureau of Land Management warehouses thousands of horses each year,” Philipps writes. “Each of those horses costs on average $50,000 to capture, house, and feed over its lifetime. At the same time, we are spending millions to kill mountain lions in the West. It is fairly safe to say that every dollar spent taking out mountain lions in Wild Horse Country drives up the cost of storing wild horses.”

While Philipps’ solution has a certain appeal for being a natural population control method, we suggest that in an earlier chapter he reported an even better and more economically viable solution offered by a Eureka rancher. Besides, foals, calves and lambs probably taste the same.

In 2010 George Parman posted a letter on the Internet, “No, what we need to do, is to let the ranchers and the mustangers take care of the problem, just as they did in the old days, back when, along in the Fall a handful of cowboys would take their saddle horses — throw a bunch of grub and their bedrolls in the back of a pickup — and off they’d go to do a little mustanging. … The horses were automatically kept at reasonable numbers. It cost the taxpayer nothing. The best of the horses were put on the market for people to use and enjoy. The remainder of the older and less desirable animals were euthanatized via a facility that made good use of the end product. … The cattle had plenty to eat. The horses had plenty to eat. Wildlife did well.”

Both solutions make too much commonsense to ever be tried.