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Sunday Political Brunch: How Critical is Comey? -- June 11 2017


(Charleston, West Virginia) – Like many people, I was fascinated this week with the testimony from former FBI Director James Comey. It gave some clarity about Russian meddling in our election, yet it needs to provide more clarity about Comey’s interactions with President Trump. I had a chance to interview one of the Senators from the Intelligence Committee after the fact, and found his perspective interesting. Let’s “brunch” on that and on other aspects of Comey's appearance this week:

“From Russia with Interference” – Despite a lot of teeth-gnashing in the electorate over the past six months about whether there was interference from Russia during the election, Comey put that question to rest. “The Russians interfered in our election during the 2016 cycle. They did with purpose. They did it with sophistication. They did it with overwhelming technical efforts. It was an active-measures campaign driven from the top of that government,” Comey said.

“Manchin Reaction” – Friday I interviewed Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV). Before he was ever Senator or Governor of West Virginia, Manchin served as Secretary of State, which is the chief elections officer in West Virginia. He knows a lot about running elections. "Well, first of all, I hope the American public walked away understanding how important this investigation is of the Russians; how determined the Russians have been in changing our way of life; how dogmatic they were, getting involved, trying to be involved in our process; to basically destroy the confidence level, we have in our democracy," Manchin said. Yes, this investigation is about what Trump and Comey said to each other, but it is much larger than that.

“Manchin on Meddling” – Senator Manchin is not a lawyer, but he does know something about being a political chief executive, especially in terms of what you can and can’t do. Assuming Comey is being truthful in saying Trump asked him to drop the investigation into fired National Security Advisor Michel Flynn, Manchin believes President Trump may have crossed an ethical line, but maybe not a legal line. "It's very concerning that anybody [Trump] at that level, whether when I [Manchin] was Governor, or as the President, that you're intervening with law enforcement, your investigations. That's something we were told never to do, and not be involved. Let the professionals do their job,” Manchin said.

“To Impeach; or, Not Impeach” – Last week, when I asked people whether Trump should be impeached, I received thousands of responses both for and against. But, this investigation is in its very early stages, and talk of removing the President may be premature. Senator Manchin said, "Anybody saying 'impeachment,' or using 'obstruction of justice' right now, let's just get the facts. Let's get the intelligence community to give us the facts. Let the facts take you to where the truth is. I think they're way ahead of their skis on that.”

“140 Characters or Less” – If the TV broadcast of the Comey testimony was the “air war,” then the social media response is the “ground war.” On Friday, President Trump tweeted, "Despite so many false statements and lies, total and complete vindication...and WOW, Comey is a leaker!" You can look all over Twitter and Facebook to find millions of opinions for and against the President. It’s a pitched battle to sway public opinion. To those who have called on President Trump to stop tweeting (including me), he’s not going to. It’s the new normal.

“Outside Forces” – During the impeachment of President Clinton, we nearly went to war with Iraq. By coincidence, there was a movie at the time about a President who tries to knock a personal scandal off the front pages by going to war. It was called “Wag the Dog!” A lot of people scoffed that the Clinton White House was life imitating art. It was an amusing analogy, but international incidents should not be treated so lightly. Given the terrorism in Europe and the missile launches from North Korea, you know Trump will be accused of creating a distraction if he retaliates. But those threats are very real, and how the President responds is critical, even if the public takes a cynical view.

“Tale of the Tape” – Were conversations between President Trump and then-FBI Director Comey recorded? During Watergate, the Oval Office tape recorder became the smoking gun. The House Intelligence Committee has now set June 23 as a deadline for the White House to produce any audio recordings, if they even exist.

“Why All of This Matters” – As we witnessed during the Nixon and Clinton scandals, Washington, D.C., came to a grinding halt, and nothing significant got done. While I believe these current investigations need to move forward in a bipartisan manner, they should not turn into a wild goose chase that paralyzes the country.

What are your takeaways from the Comey testimony and the President’s response? Just click the comment button at www.MarkCurtisMedia.com.

Mark Curtis, Ed.D., is a nationally known political reporter, analyst, and author based in West Virginia.

© 2017, Mark Curtis Media, LLC.

Photo courtesy: CBSnews.com/Getty Images

Sunday Political Brunch - June 4, 2017: Is Impeachment Really an Option?


(Charlotte, North Carolina) -- I was all over the place this past week on my political travels, and I was curious about one thing: Is the talk about impeaching President Trump really serious, or is it just partisan chatter? Let’s “brunch” on that this week.

“To Impeach; or Not To Impeach?” – When this started brewing a few weeks ago, with little-known Members of Congress calling for impeachment and obscure city councils passing resolutions, I thought the talk was crazy. Today, I will give it the evaluation of "possible, but not probable." I’m not sure that any single action by the President would warrant impeachment, but some in Congress might rather evaluate the collective body of his actions since he has been in office.

“Would a Republican Congress Turn? – The biggest argument I hear against impeachment is whether a Republican Congress would impeach a President of its own party? At first blush, I said "No"; but, upon further review, I would give it a "Maybe," and here’s why. House Republicans won control of that chamber on their own seven years ago. They don’t owe any allegiance to Trump, nor are they in his debt. Party loyalty is no guarantee. Besides, if Republicans moved to get rid of Trump, you wind up with former Representative Mike Pence (R-IN) in the White House. He spent 12 years in the House and is still highly regarded there.

“Past History as an Indicator” – Republican President Richard Nixon was heading toward impeachment by a Democrat-controlled Congress. Democrat President Bill Clinton was being impeached by a Republican-led Congress. (Nixon and Clinton met in a rare photo op, above). But there were significant differences in both cases. Nixon finally resigned because of pressure from within his own party. Senators Barry Goldwater (R-AZ) and Hugh Scott (R-IA) were among those who went to the White House and told Nixon he was done. On the other hand, only five House Democrats bolted on Clinton, and no Senate Democrats supported his ouster (plus, a few Republicans were opposed, too). In effect, you need support in both parties to boot a President.

“The Real Issue Here” – I get it; a lot of people don’t like President Trump because he “tweets” too much, and makes blunt comments that offend a lot of people. Sorry, but those are not grounds for impeachment. But, if he truly pressured then-FBI Director James Comey to drop an investigation into former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn’s business dealings with Russia, then we have a whole different kettle of fish. The concern is whether such a request constitutes obstruction of justice. We’ll know more when Comey testifies before Congress June 8th.

“Does This Sound Familiar?” – To be clear, President Nixon was never impeached; but the House Judiciary Committee did approve articles of impeachment, including the charge of obstruction of justice. Nixon was not being charged with the Watergate burglary, but rather for the cover-up that ensued. Fast forward to 1998, when the House did impeach President Clinton for obstruction of justice – not for having an affair with Monica Lewinsky, but rather for interfering in the subsequent investigation, including a charge of perjury for lying under oath to a federal judge. Here we are again, the third President in forty-three years who could face an obstruction charge.

“The Numbers are Against It” – Per the U.S. Constitution, you need two-thirds of the U.S. Senate to vote "yes" to expel a President. Let’s assume for a moment this is just a partisan fight. With 52 Republicans and 48 Democrats (including two independents) in the current Senate, you would need 19 Republicans to bolt their party. That’s a tough call. Remember: Unlike the House, where the Republicans won on their own, Republican control of the Senate is very much because of Trump’s coattails. Had he not carried U.S. Senators back into office with his upset wins in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and North Carolina, control of the Senate would have fallen to Democrats. Paybacks are huge chits with which to cash in.

“Why All This Matters?”—In previous columns, I have talked about major investigations in Washington, D.C., and how they can bring governing to a grinding halt. Can you name a major accomplishment of President Nixon once Watergate was in full swing? Can you name a major initiative by President Clinton once the whole Lewinsky scandal erupted? I can’t either. The only other Commander in Chief we had under the impeachment microscope was President Andrew Johnson in 1868. He survived removal from office by one vote. From what I’ve read, his administration was paralyzed and under siege and got little done in the turmoil. While he survived impeachment, Johnson was not nominated for a second term, but later won a seat in the U.S. Senate.

Given what you know today, should President Trump be impeached, or not? Please tell us why by clicking the comment button at www.MarkCurtisMedia.com.

© 2017, MarkCurtisMedia, LLC

Photo courtesy: Time Life Pictures/White House/Getty Images

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