Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:
The Brunswick News on the investigation into the shooting of Ahmaud Arbery:
Many questions have been understandably raised about how the investigation into the shooting of Ahmaud Arbery unfolded. Why did the Glynn County Police Department not hand the case over to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation considering one of the suspects, Greg McMichael, was a former county officer? What part did the Brunswick District Attorney’s Office play in the investigation since McMichael was also a former investigator for the office?
These questions became even more confusing over the weekend when the district attorney and county commission, which was acting on behalf of the county police department, gave different accounts of what happened. Even with the differences, it is easy to look at both versions and see where head-scratching decisions were made.
Let’s start with the county police. The county’s official statement said the reason the county police didn’t involve the GBI right away was because none of the officers working the case were with the department when Greg McMichael worked with the department from 1982 to 1989. That was an incredibly shortsighted and naive decision by the individual who made it. The county didn’t say who made that decision, leaving out a key detail in this puzzle.
The stink of impropriety would still be on the public’s mind, even if none of the people involved in the investigation didn’t work with McMichael when he was with the department. It isn’t hard for someone to assume that he got preferential treatment because he was a former county police officer.
This investigation needed to be free from all implications of bias. It should have been turned over immediately to the GBI, something that has since been acknowledged by the interim county police chief Jay Wiggins, who was not chief when the shooting occurred.
The district attorney’s office also made a questionable call when it comes to perception of bias. While district attorney Jackie Johnson told The News the two assistant district attorneys recused themselves when contacted by police, police still needed legal advice. According to Johnson, that’s when she requested an attorney from the Ware County district contact police.
The only problem with that scenario was that George Barnhill, the Ware district attorney, had a familial connection to an assistant district attorney in Johnson’s office. We have to imagine that Johnson knew about that connection and still thought it was best to contact Barnhill, who met with police the day after the shooting.
That decision is just as myopic as the county’s decision not to hand over the investigation to the GBI. In trying to keep this investigation as bias free as possible, choosing someone who has a connection to the Brunswick District Attorney’s Office to provide legal advice for the police when one of the suspects is a former investigator for the DA was not the wisest decision.
Who is to blame for the lack of action in the Arbery death has become the latest salvo in a political battle between the county and the district attorney’s office that has been waged since the scandal surrounding the joint narcotics task force emerged in 2019. The result of that conflict has made the Golden Isles look like a backwards community in the eyes of the nation.
Even if you take the word of the county or the word of the district attorney’s office as gospel in this matter, it is clear missteps were made on both sides. Instead of playing the blame game, both sides should acknowledge their mistakes. The two must work together to ensure justice.
The Los Angles Times on Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s tweet on reopening his car manufacturing plant despite stay-at-home orders in Alameda County, California:
Elon Musk is a billionaire who will, on occasion, tweet ridiculous things, act impulsively, display a prodigious ego and act as if the law doesn’t apply to him. And now he’s throwing a tantrum that threatens the state’s ability to move safely and smartly out its current lockdown.
It would be great if we could just ignore Musk as he broadcast his sometimes trenchant, sometimes bizarre musings to 34 million Twitter followers. (“I am selling almost all physical possessions. Will own no house.”) But he’s also the leader of Tesla and Space X, which employ thousands of people.
On Monday, Musk defied Alameda County health department orders and reopened Tesla’s electric car manufacturing plant in Fremont, tweeting Monday afternoon, “I will be on the line with everyone else. If anyone is arrested, I ask that it only be me.” Insisting that Gov. Gavin Newsom had given “essential” businesses permission to reopen, the company said on its website Saturday that it would restart the Fremont factory in keeping with a plan developed in consultation with county officials and modeled after its “smooth and healthy” operations in Shanghai.
The problem is that Alameda County hasn’t signed off on that plan. Instead, county health officials have said they’d like Tesla to hold off for a few days until they see results from the county’s first steps to ease its shelter-in-place order. That delay seems reasonable, given how volatile the pandemic has been. Nevertheless, it was too much for Musk; on Saturday, he tweeted that he was “moving Tesla’s headquarters and future programs” to Texas or Nevada “immediately,” and the company sued the county for allegedly violating its constitutional rights to due process and equal protection under the law.
We get it, it’s hard out here for an entrepreneur! And for everybody else. Unemployment is skyrocketing and the economy is in free-fall, largely because of the restrictions that were designed to prevent COVID-19 from overwhelming the healthcare system.
But getting back to the pre-coronavirus status quo won’t be easy, given the risk that the pandemic will flare up again and force more lockdowns. That’s why the decisions on which businesses and activities resume when need to be made by people who are accountable to the public, not billionaire CEOs who threaten to pull up stakes when they don’t get their way. Or any business owners who, like Musk, consider themselves better judges of the public good than the government.
Newsom’s May 4 executive order explicitly gives local governments the authority to adopt more restrictive COVID-19 measures than the state’s orders where necessary. Alameda County’s steps need to be reasonable, and it needs to get businesses open as soon as it is safe to do so. But that’s the county’s call to make, not Musk’s.
The Washington Post on the Supreme Court enforcing subpoenas to view President Donald Trump’s financial records:
The battle over President Trump’s financial records lands in the Supreme Court on Tuesday as the justices hear arguments on whether the firms that have handled Mr. Trump’s finances must turn over documents to the House and New York District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., each of which has issued a valid subpoena. The court should insist that these subpoenas finally be respected.
After the Democrats won a House majority in 2018, committees issued subpoenas to Mazars USA, an accounting firm, and Deutsche Bank, which lent money to Mr. Trump’s businesses. The president sued to prevent these firms from complying. Despite failing to convince lower courts that the House subpoenas should be ignored, the document handover was delayed while the dispute is litigated.
Meanwhile, Mr. Vance convened a New York grand jury to investigate potential violations of state law, which also subpoenaed Mazars. Once again, Mr. Trump’s lawyers failed to convince any lower courts that Mazars should refrain from turning over its documents, but the subpoenas remain unenforced.
Mr. Trump’s lawyers argue that the House has no legitimate legislative purpose but wants to turn itself into a law enforcement body. But then, in fending off the district attorney’s subpoena, Mr. Trump’s lawyers turn around and argue that the Constitution allows only Congress, not state or federal law enforcement officers, to hold the president to account while he is in office. The upshot is that nobody could hold the president responsible for wrongdoing he may have committed before he took his oath.
In fact, both the House and Mr. Vance have legitimate claims. Congressional subpoena power is broad, stemming from both its oversight and lawmaking roles, which are often linked. Even if House lawmakers intend primarily to scrutinize Mr. Trump’s financial history, judges must not discount the possibility that their findings could lead to new laws — say, White House ethics rules, campaign disclosure requirements or sanctions designed to dissuade foreign actors from influencing the next election. The nation has a paramount interest in a well-informed Congress.
Mr. Vance’s case is even easier. Mr. Trump relies on a Justice Department policy that the president cannot be charged while in office to argue states can’t charge, either. Even if that logic held, it would not imply that state prosecutors cannot seek evidence. Mr. Vance points out that if he is denied the power to subpoena even third parties for records relating to the president’s history, that could equate to granting the president permanent immunity for past crimes, as evidence might be uncollected or lost during the president’s tenure.
The Supreme Court previously declared that President Bill Clinton had to comply with coercive process in the Paula Jones lawsuit, a federal civil case that concerned his activities before he took office. The justices cannot easily turn around and declare Mr. Trump immune from state criminal judicial process regarding his past behaviour.
In neither the House nor the Vance case is the president himself required to do anything. Compliance would not burden the executive branch or implicate privileged material. It would mainly offend Mr. Trump’s unease with any and all scrutiny.
The Japan News on the relationship between the United States and China:
The confrontation between the United States and China has disrupted international co-operation indispensable for dealing with the new coronavirus. Unless the world’s two major powers join hands, it cannot be expected that infections will be contained and the world economy will be revived.
What is important now is for each country to share information on the virus and establish an international co-operative framework for the development of vaccines and therapeutic drugs. Controversy between the United States and China over the source of the infection has hindered such moves.
Of course, China bears the greatest responsibility.
The first place in the world where the virus spread was the Chinese city of Wuhan. At the end of last year, a local doctor who had promptly warned of an emergency was punished by the local government. It cannot be denied that China’s tendency to conceal information has led to the outbreak in Wuhan and its spread worldwide.
When, where, and how did the virus originate and spread? Deeper discussions based on scientific data would be effective in preventing a recurrence. The World Health Organization plans to send experts to China to investigate.
China should accept the investigation as soon as possible. It is necessary for Beijing to provide all materials useful for the research, while not limiting what is subject to the investigation.
U.S. President Donald Trump and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo continue to argue with China, claiming that a laboratory in Wuhan is the source of the disease. China denies the claim, saying there is no scientific evidence, thus continuing tit-for-tat accusations.
The United States is the most infected country in the world and has a long way to go before the situation settles. It is important to determine the source of the virus, but Trump should focus on domestic measures first. He can’t complain if people accuse him of using the tactic of criticizing China, while hinting at taking measures of retaliation such as imposing tariffs, as a way of drumming up support.
The global supply chain has already been hit. The world is not in a situation for the United States and China to continue their trade friction. Officials in charge of the two countries’ trade talks held a phone conversation on Friday. It is said to be the first official talks in about four months. They should deal with the matter more swiftly.
Trump calls himself a “wartime president,” while Chinese President Xi Jinping also calls the situation a “people’s war.” They may have likened the current state to a war, regarding it as a crisis that requires broad co-operation from the public.
Trump compared the pandemic with the Imperial Japanese forces’ attack on Pearl Harbor and the 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, saying the new virus is “really the worst attack we’ve ever had.”
Infectious diseases are not conflicts between countries. No military power is used. Expressions such as “attack” and “war” can cause people to lean toward condemnation of other countries, forgetting that the enemy is a virus. Leaders should avoid such easy analogies.
The Wall Street Journal on former President Barack Obama’s comments on the “false statements” case of former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn:
Barack Obama is a lawyer, so it was stunning to read that he ventured into the Michael Flynn case in a way that misstated the supposed crime and ignored the history of his own Administration in targeting Mr. Flynn. Since the former President chose to offer his legal views when he didn’t need to, we wonder what he’s really worried about.
“There is no precedent that anybody can find for someone who has been charged with perjury just getting off scot-free,” Mr. Obama said in the Friday call to about 3,000 members of the Obama Alumni Association. The comments were leaked to Yahoo News and confirmed by Mr. Obama’s spokeswoman to the Washington Post and other outlets. Mr. Obama added: “That’s the kind of stuff where you begin to get worried that basic—not just institutional norms—but our basic understanding of rule of law is at risk. And when you start moving in those directions, it can accelerate pretty quickly as we’ve seen in other places.”
Even discounting for Mr. Obama’s partisan audience, this gets the case wilfully wrong. Mr. Flynn was never charged with perjury, which is lying under oath in a legal proceeding. Mr. Flynn pleaded guilty to a single count of lying to the FBI in a meeting at the White House on Jan. 24, 2017 that he was led to believe was a friendly chat among colleagues.
As for “scot-free,” that better applies to former President Bill Clinton who lied under oath in a civil case and was impeached for perjury but was acquitted by the Senate. We understand why Mr. Obama wouldn’t bring that up.
We doubt Mr. Obama has even read Thursday’s Justice Department motion to drop the Flynn prosecution. If he does ever read it, he’ll find disconcerting facts that certainly do raise doubts about whether “our basic understanding of rule of law is at risk,” though not for the reasons he claims.
Start with prosecutorial violation of the Brady rule, which Mr. Obama knows is a legal obligation that the prosecution must turn over potentially exculpatory evidence to the defence. Yet prosecutors led by special counsel Robert Mueller didn’t disclose that the interviewing FBI agents at the time didn’t think that Mr. Flynn had lied about a phone call with the Russian ambassador.
Worst of all, as a legal matter, is that they never told Mr. Flynn that there was no investigative evidentiary basis to justify the interview. The FBI had already concluded there was no evidence that Mr. Flynn had colluded with Russia in the 2016 election and had moved to close the case. James Comey’s FBI cronies used the news of Mr. Flynn’s phone call with the Russian ambassador as an excuse to interview the then national security adviser and perhaps trap him into a lie.
All of this was moved along politically by leaks to the media about Mr. Flynn’s phone call with the Russian. The U.S. eavesdrops on foreign officials as a routine, but names of innocent Americans on those calls are supposed to be shielded from review to protect their privacy. Yet senior Obama officials have had to acknowledge that they “unmasked” Mr. Flynn’s name and others in their last months in power. Then, what a surprise, news of Mr. Flynn’s call and its contents pop up in the Washington Post. Did someone say “institutional norms”?
All of this raises questions about the role the Obama Justice Department and White House played in targeting Mr. Flynn. We already know the FBI had opened up a counterintelligence probe into Mr. Flynn and other Trump campaign officials, yet it had come up with no evidence of collusion.
Donald Trump’s victory increased the chances that this unprecedented spying on a political opponent would be uncovered, which would have been politically embarrassing at the very least. Targeting Mr. Flynn—and flogging the discredited Steele dossier—kept the Russia collusion pot boiling and evolved into the two-year Mueller investigation that turned up no evidence of collusion.
This among other things is what U.S. Attorney John Durham is investigating at the request of Attorney General William Barr. Maybe that’s why Mr. Obama is so eager to distort the truth of the Flynn prosecution.
The New York Times on U.S. Attorney General William Barr’s decision to drop the charges against Michael Flynn:
“History is written by the winners,” William Barr, the attorney general, said Thursday when asked how he thought future generations would assess his decision to drop all criminal charges against Michael Flynn, President Trump’s former national security adviser, who had pleaded guilty twice to breaking the law. “So it largely depends on who’s writing the history.”
In service to Mr. Trump, Mr. Barr is abusing his power not to write, but to erase, some of the most important lessons of American history.
The Watergate scandal, with its revelations of how dangerous a renegade White House could be, led to reforms meant to ensure an independent Justice Department, one faithful to the law rather than to the Oval Office.
The nation had seen firsthand how much harm a president with no respect for the rule of law could do — particularly when he used the Justice Department, under a compliant attorney general, to protect allies, punish adversaries and cover up wrongdoing.
Among the key reforms were stronger transparency and ethics rules, like the creation of independent inspectors general to root out waste, fraud and abuse in the executive branch. (Mr. Trump has been firing inspectors general he thinks are not loyal to him.) There were also new limits on presidential power, like the Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act. (President Trump broke that law last year, according to the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office, when he withheld hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid to Ukraine.)
To Mr. Barr, these reforms were obstacles to a vision of a virtually unbound executive. For decades, he has pushed to give presidents — Republican presidents, anyway — maximum authority with minimal oversight. In a 2018 memo criticizing the Russia investigation, he argued that the president “alone is the Executive branch,” in whom “the Constitution vests all Federal law enforcement power, and hence prosecutorial discretion.” For the attorney general, that discretion includes cases involving the president’s own conduct.
If you’re having trouble distinguishing Mr. Barr’s vision of the presidency from the rule of a king, you’re not alone. “George III would have loved it,” said Douglas Kmiec, who led the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.
“Bill Barr’s America is not a place that anyone, including Trump voters, should want to go,” wrote Donald Ayer, who served as deputy attorney general under the first President Bush. “It is a banana republic where all are subject to the whims of a dictatorial president and his henchmen.”
Bill Barr’s America is the one we’re now living in. The Justice Department, in the midst of a presidential campaign, has become a political weapon.
Having absorbed the lessons of Watergate, mainstream Republicans once balked at the politicization of the Justice Department — even by Republican presidents. When President George W. Bush’s attorney general Alberto Gonzales fired eight United States attorneys because they were not aggressive enough in prosecuting Democrats, the outrage was bipartisan, and he was forced to resign.
But today’s Republicans, who could be most effective in defending the integrity of American justice, appear either too afraid of Mr. Trump or too eager for short-term partisan advantage to confront the danger to the country.
Mr. Barr’s decision to drop the charges against Mr. Flynn may be his most egregious abandonment of his role as the public’s lawyer, but it’s certainly not the first. Last year, barely a month after he was confirmed to his post, he stood before the American people and misrepresented the contents of the long-awaited report by Robert Mueller, the special counsel who investigated ties between the Trump campaign and the Russian government in 2016.
The report itself, at 448 pages, documented extensive evidence of those ties, as well as multiple instances of lying and obstruction of justice by Mr. Trump and other top government officials. Mr. Barr’s four-page summary claimed the opposite — that Mr. Mueller had found no collusion or obstruction of justice. Mr. Mueller protested, and yet weeks passed before Americans could see the report themselves and discover just how much Mr. Barr had twisted its findings to benefit Mr. Trump.
In March, a federal judge called Mr. Barr’s characterization of the report “distorted” and “misleading,” and said his “lack of candour” called his credibility into doubt.
But Mr. Barr didn’t stop there. He also rejected a report by the Justice Department inspector general finding that there was sufficient evidence to open the Russia investigation. He referred to the investigation as “spying” and ordered a criminal inquiry into its origins. He intervened in the prosecutions of two of Mr. Trump’s top advisers, Mr. Flynn and Roger Stone, for whom he recommended a lighter sentence than his own prosecutors had sought. And he declined to open a criminal investigation into last fall’s whistle-blower complaint against Mr. Trump, saying it did not qualify as an “urgent concern.” The complaint ultimately led to Mr. Trump’s impeachment.
Last month, Mr. Barr went on Fox News and called the Russia investigation “one of the greatest travesties in American history,” and said, “We’re not dealing with just mistakes or sloppiness, there was something far more troubling here; and we’re going to get to the bottom of it.”
With these remarks, Mr. Barr appears to have violated Justice Department policy against publicly discussing current investigations. His insistent attempts to undermine the legitimacy of the Russia investigation and absolve Mr. Trump of any wrongdoing also appear to violate department policy against taking any actions that could be seen to have a partisan political purpose, especially in an election year.
The damage Mr. Barr is doing extends beyond policy violations. He has weakened the morale of the department by undercutting career prosecutors — men and women who devoted their lives to the rule of law. Four of them quit the case against Mr. Stone, who was convicted of federal crimes including perjury, wire fraud and witness intimidation, when Mr. Barr intervened to ask for a lighter sentence. Another quit the case against Michael Flynn shortly before the department filed its request with the court to drop all charges.
President Trump couldn’t be more pleased. He has shown little sense of the law, other than that whatever it is, he must be above it. He has never given the slightest hint he thinks the Justice Department exists for a reason other than to protect his interests. And no wonder, since he took his cues from President Richard Nixon himself. “I learned a lot from Richard Nixon, don’t fire people,” Mr. Trump said on Thursday. “I learned a lot. I study history.” One of the most important lessons? “He had tapes all over the place. I wasn’t guilty, I did nothing wrong. And there are no tapes.”
The Associated Press