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Archive for December, 2019

Stanford law professor Pamela Karlan was off base to make a joke about President Trump’s youngest son, Barron, during yesterday’s House impeachment hearings, but she was the most persuasive and passionate of the three Democratic witnesses who said the evidence and testimony presented to the House Intelligence Committee warranted impeachment.

Here is the transcript of Karlan’s opening statement, with a couple of deletions for space…

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Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee:

Today, you are being asked to consider whether protecting…elections requires impeaching a President. That is an awesome responsibility. But everything I know about our Constitution and its values, and my review of the evidentiary record, tells me that when President Trump invited — indeed, demanded — foreign involvement in our upcoming election, he struck at the very heart of what makes this country the “republic” to which we pledge allegiance.

That demand constituted an abuse of power. Indeed, as I want to explain in my testimony, drawing a foreign government into our elections is an especially serious abuse of power because it undermines democracy itself.

Pamela Karlan

Our Constitution begins with the words “We the People” for a reason. Our government, in James Madison’s words, “derives all its powers directly or indirectly from the great body of the people.” And the way it derives these powers is through elections. Elections matter — both to the legitimacy of our government and to all our individual freedoms — because, as the Supreme Court explained more than a century ago, voting is “preservative of all rights.”

So it is hardly surprising that the Constitution is marbled with provisions governing elections and guaranteeing governmental accountability. Indeed, a majority of our amendments to the Constitution since the Civil War deal with voting and terms for elective office.

…But the Framers of our Constitution realized that elections alone could not guarantee that the United States would remain a republic. One of the key reasons for including the impeachment power was the risk that unscrupulous officials might try to rig the election process. At the Constitutional Convention, William Davie warned that unless the Constitution contained an impeachment provision, a president might “spare no efforts or means whatever to get himself re-elected.”

And George Mason insisted that a president who “procured his appointment in the first instance” through improper and corrupt acts should not “escape punishment, by repeating his guilt.” Mason was responsible for adding “high Crimes and Misdemeanors” to the list of impeachable offenses. So we know that that list was designed to reach a president who acts to subvert an election — whether it is the election that brought him into office or an upcoming election where he seeks a second term. Moreover, the Founding Generation, like every generation of Americans since, was especially concerned to protect our government and our democratic process from outside interference.

For example, John Adams expressed concern with the very idea of having an elected President, writing to Thomas Jefferson that “You are apprehensive of foreign Interference, Intrigue, Influence. So am I. But, as often as elections happen, the danger of foreign Influence recurs.”  And in his Farewell Address, President Washington warned that “history and experience prove that foreign influence is one of the most baneful foes of republican government.”

The very idea that a President might seek the aid of a foreign government in his re-election campaign would have horrified them. But based on the evidentiary record, that is what President Trump has done. The list of impeachable offenses the Framers included in the Constitution shows that the essence of an impeachable offense is a president’s decision to sacrifice the national interest for his own private ends. “Treason” lay in an individual’s giving aid to a foreign enemy — that is, putting a foreign adversary’s interests above the United States’.  “Bribery” occurred when an official solicited, received, or offered a personal favor or benefit to influence official action — that is, putting his private welfare above the national interest. And “high Crimes and Misdemeanors” captured the other ways in which a high official might, as Justice Joseph Story explained, “disregard…public interests, in the discharge of the duties of political office.”

Based on the evidentiary record before you, what has happened in the case is something that I do not think we have ever seen before: a president who has doubled down on violating his oath to “faithfully execute” the laws and to “protect and defend the Constitution.” The evidence reveals a President who used the powers of his office to demand that a foreign government participate in undermining a competing candidate for the presidency. As President Kennedy declared, “[t]he right to vote in a free American election is the most powerful and precious right in the world.” But our elections become less free when they are distorted by foreign interference.

What happened in 2016 was bad enough: there is widespread agreement that Russian operatives intervened to manipulate our political process. But that distortion is magnified if a sitting president abuses the powers of his office actually to invite foreign intervention. To see why, imagine living in a part of Louisiana or Texas that’s prone to devastating hurricanes and flooding. What would you think if, when your governor asked the federal government for the disaster assistance that Congress had provided, the President responded, “I would like you to do us a favor. I’ll meet with you and send the disaster relief once you brand my opponent a criminal.”?

Wouldn’t you know in your gut that such a president had abused his office, betrayed the national interest, and tried to corrupt the electoral process? I believe the evidentiary record shows wrongful acts on that scale here. It shows a president who delayed meeting a foreign leader and providing assistance that Congress and his own advisors agreed serve our national interest in promoting democracy and limiting Russian aggression.

Saying, “Russia, if you’re listening…?” You know, a president who cared about the Constitution would say, “Russia, if you’re listening, butt out of our elections!”

It shows a president who did this to strong arm a foreign leader into smearing one of the president’s opponents in our ongoing election season. That is not politics as usual — at least not in the United States or any other mature democracy. It is, instead, a cardinal reason why the Constitution contains an impeachment power. Put simply, a candidate for president should resist foreign interference in our elections, not demand it and not welcome it.

If we are to keep faith with the Constitution and with our Republic, President Trump must be held to account.

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Has anyone noticed that The Star has had some really outstanding stories lately?

Among others…

:: The five-part series on Missouri’s underfunded and beaten-down public defender system.

:: The co-opting of Independence Mayor Eileen Ware and other Independence City Council members by companies that sought, and got, multi-million-dollar contracts for projects either dubious or overpriced.

:: Missouri Auditor Nicole Galloway’s decision not to look into Sunshine Law transgressions during a more than year-long audit of former Gov. Eric Greitens.

:: Eric Adler’s Sunday story on wacko, rat-breeding Carol Dille, who has been making life miserable for her Westwood Road neighbors for almost 20 years.

I sure hope readers have been taking notice, but I wonder…I wonder because, unlike the years I was at the paper (the glory years, fortuitously, for me and my former colleagues), I no longer hear people talking about the stories that should jump out, should generate a buzz and should spark demands for change.

The business is now being assaulted from two sides. On one is the fake-news river, with its headwaters at the White House. On the other are the hedge funds and private equity firms that are hollowing out some of the biggest publicly owned newspaper chains.

At the center of that unholy sandwich are the reporters, feature writers, photographers, graphic artists, editors and, in some cases, publishers who are trying to continue delivering good and important news coverage to a dwindling and less interested public.

It is beyond frustrating for two groups — the dwindling audience and the reporters and others who are still trying to practice responsible journalism.

Although there’s been a wave of bad news lately, including strong indications that The Star’s owner, the McClatchy Co., is headed for takeover or bankruptcy, it took a long time for journalism to get where it is today.

Let’s take a ride back to the roots of corporate journalism.

When I arrived at The Star — actually the morning paper, The Kansas City Times — in 1969, The Star was owned by the employees. Every employee could buy stock and had the option of having money taken out of his or her paycheck to go toward purchasing shares of the company. I got on board right away, even though I didn’t jump in in a big way, mostly because I’d never purchased stock and didn’t know what it was all about.

In 1977, a publicly owned company called Capital Cities Inc., which owned newspapers, TV and radio stations, came knocking at the door, wanting to buy.

The question for the employees was whether to sell. I didn’t have much say in it because I had not accumulated much stock between ’69 and ’77. But there was a lot of money to be made by those who had been accumulating stock a long time, and they jumped at the opportunity.

CapCities, as it was called, was offering $2 for every $1 worth of outstanding stock, so many people became overnight millionaires. (CapCities paid about $100 million for The Star.)

Even I, with my meager number of shares, made a nice gain: I had $10,000 worth of stock, which turned into $20,000. I used the windfall to buy my first house, on Grand, just off 51st Street. I was happy about that, of course, but deep down I knew, like all my fellow employees, that the paper would never be the same. It would no longer be a family-type operation, with excellent job security and the “partnership” the paper enjoyed with its readers and subscribers. And the profits, which had been staying in Kansas City, would be going to CapCities’ headquarters in New York.

At first, things went well. CapCities brought in good managers and maintained a strong workforce. But, over time, the corporate roller coaster took its toll. In a stunning move, CapCities bought the ABC network (and its ESPN subsidiary) in 1985 for $3.5 billion. Then, in 1995, the Walt Disney Co. bought CapCities/ABC for $19 billion.

After the sale, Disney C.E.O. Michael Eisner came to The Star’s newsroom and told employees Disney would not be selling The Star, despite Disney’s previous lack of newspaper ownership…A year later, in 1996, The Star was on the block.

In 1997, Knight Ridder Inc., then the nation’s second-largest newspaper company, bought The Star, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, The Belleville (IL) News-Democrat and The Times Leader in Wilkes-Barre, PA, for $1.65 billion.

In a New York Times story about the sale, reporter Joseph B. Treaster wrote…

The deal solidifies Knight Ridder’s commitment to the newspaper business at a time when many rival publishing companies have been diversifying into broadcasting and other forms of communication. It also comes amid a continuing debate over how vulnerable newspapers may be to the Internet and other electronic media.

In June 2006, the month I retired, Knight Ridder, under pressure from a large, disgruntled stockholder, decided to sell all of its 32 daily papers and go out of business. Along came McClatchy, a company half the size of Knight Ridder. It paid an outrageous $4.5 billion for the Knight Ridder papers.

A New York Times story about that sale quoted Chuck Richard, an information industry analyst as saying, “McClatchy is a dolphin swallowing a small whale.”

The dolphin was never able to digest that whale, and now, to quote impeachment witness Fiona Hill, “Here we are.”

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