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Excerpts from recent editorials in newspapers in Illinois

December 18, 2018

Dec. 14, 2018

Chicago Tribune

Why Americans need Mueller’s verdict on Trump

In May 2017 when special counsel Robert Mueller began his investigation of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, the country strapped in for a long, strange trip. Destination? We’d know when we got there.

Mueller was tasked with finding any coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign, plus pursuing “any matters” arising from the investigation. So far, Americans have heard lots about those other matters, including serious legal trouble for Trump associates Michael Flynn, Michael Cohen and Paul Manafort. But no evidence has come to light yet proving collusion between the campaign and Russia to swing the election for Trump.

Much of the recently expended oxygen was over Cohen’s guilty plea for campaign finance violations. Court papers reveal Cohen’s also been sharing with Mueller’s team his knowledge of “core Russia-related issues.” The same goes for Flynn. He’s been so helpful that Mueller recommends Flynn not get prison time for lying to FBI agents about his conversations with the Russian ambassador.

There are at least two reasons for Trump to be worried about the direction of the special counsel’s investigation. The first is that Mueller’s mandate is so broad. Typically, law enforcement authorities identify crimes and then pursue the culprits. Mueller, in effect, is working the opposite strategy. He was pointed in the direction of a coterie of campaign-related suspects — and, by association, the president — then was given permission to bore down as deep as he chooses to find crimes. Those crimes include lying to the investigators.

Mueller is already responsible for a slew of indictments and convictions. He hasn’t finished, and with each step he takes, the shadow of scandal lengthens over Trump’s presidency. The special counsel faces no time limit on his activity. He works independently from the Justice Department. When does Mueller wrap up? When does he determine he’s no longer building a larger case but simply rooting out felonies as a means to its own ends? When Mueller says so, probably.

The risk of a special counsel probe becoming a perpetual prosecution machine is why the Tribune Editorial Board looks skeptically at calls for these independent investigations. They can get out of hand. Such mechanisms should be employed rarely, in situations where there’s compelling evidence of a serious crime when normal law enforcement channels aren’t available because of a conflict of interest. Mueller’s probe passes our test because Russian meddling is a threat to democracy and because Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, who had been leading the investigation.

If the first reason for Trump to be worried about his presidency is the breadth of the special counsel’s mandate, the second reason is his own reckless conduct. After all, Trump himself is the reason Mueller is all up in the president’s grill. If Trump had maintained discipline and allowed Comey to conclude the FBI investigation, there’d be no special counsel. But Trump couldn’t help himself, fired Comey, blabbed about it and now can be reasonably accused — at least in the public’s mind — of obstructing justice.

Once in swing, Mueller’s investigation was empowered to pursue “any matters.” In one major step, Mueller referred an investigation of Cohen to federal prosecutors in New York. That’s what led to Cohen’s guilty pleas on charges including campaign law violations for arranging payoffs to women who said they had affairs with Trump. Cohen implicated Trump in that crime, but the president denies it.

Proof of such reckless behavior by Trump could lead to his impeachment. Are there more allegations of crime in Trump’s orbit for Mueller to identify? Will Trump be accused directly of illegal activity? These are questions Trump wakes up pondering each day and then rails about on Twitter — instead of focusing intently on his other responsibilities as president.

To Trump and his supporters, the Mueller investigation is a witch hunt. To foes of the president, Mueller appears to be making their case that this president is unfit to hold office. To the detriment of the entire country, Trump’s administration appears distracted and prone to chaos. Getting caught in the sights of a long-running special counsel probe is a terrible look for a president.

Mueller is a trustworthy figure pursuing a legitimate assignment. He needs the independence to conclude his investigation on his own timeline, and then disclose the results. But the sooner he finishes, the better off the country will be.

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Dec. 16, 2018

A migrant girl dies at the border. She was no terrorist, Mr. President

The little girl, 7, was vomiting and burning up with a fever. She had just completed an exhausting, dangerous journey with her father from Guatemala to America’s southern border with Mexico on Dec. 6.

More than eight hours after being taken into custody by U.S. Border Patrol in a remote area of the New Mexico desert for entering the U.S. illegally, the girl started having seizures. She died later at a children’s hospital in El Paso, Texas.

Jakelin Amei Rosmery Caal Maquin and her dad were in search of a better life. Nothing more. And, by and large, that’s the case for most migrants moving toward our nation’s southern border. They are risking their lives making punishing treks through Mexico, and sometimes across American deserts, to escape poverty, violence or both in their home countries.

President Donald Trump doesn’t want you to see them in that light. He wants you to believe, based on nothing, that they bring “large-scale crime and disease.” He wants you to see terrorists.

“People are pouring into our country, including terrorists,” Trump said Tuesday in a meeting with soon-to-be House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer to make a case for a border wall. “We have terrorists. But we caught 10 terrorists. These are over the last very short period of time — 10. These are very serious people. All of our law enforcement have been incredible, but we caught 10 terrorists, these are people that were looking to do harm.”

He told a lie, as he does. Ten terrorists have not been caught at the southern border. The State Department said in 2017 it had no credible information that any member of a terrorist group had traveled through Mexico to reach the U.S., and it expressed more concern about terrorists infiltrating the U.S. through Canada. But the latter won’t help Trump gain support for his southern border wall, so he doesn’t go there.

The White House responded callously to the Guatemalan girl’s death. Spokesman Hogan Gidley told the Washington Post, “Does the administration take responsibility for a parent taking a child on a trek through Mexico to get to this country? No.”

Spoken like a man who, much like his boss, doesn’t grasp the despair migrants face in their home countries.

Beyond that, the girl’s family is disputing statements from U.S. officials that she had not been given anything to eat or drink for days when she was picked up.

To be sure, there are plenty of questions to be answered by the Border Patrol and the Department of Homeland Security. When did officers realize the girl was sick? Was she really malnourished and dehydrated? How long did it take to get her medical care?

Border Patrol agents should never forget how fragile life can be for road-weary migrants. That message is lost on our president.

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Dec. 5, 2018

The (Champaign) News-Gazette

Term limit for Pelosi

U.S. House Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has — once again — showed why she’s a consummate manager of her party’s caucus.

After lengthy negotiations with party dissidents, Pelosi secured their support for her election as speaker next month by agreeing to limit herself to serving a maximum of two terms (four years).

As a consequence, Pelosi gets what she wants — a powerful and important post — while Pelosi opponents get what they want — a foreseeable end to Pelosi’s tenure and an opportunity for a younger generation of Democrats to move up the power ladder.

Democrats won control of the House from Republicans in the Nov. 6 election. But the majority that will take office in early January wasn’t solidly behind Pelosi’s bid to return to the speaker’s post.

Last month, she won majority support from the caucus. But her numbers were considerably short of unanimous.

To be elected speaker, Pelosi needs 218 votes, and she fell short of that total by about 20 votes.

Since then, she’s been making deals with various dissenters to get their backing.

Last week, she wrapped up the matter by accepting what she had refused to accept heretofore — a limit on her tenure.

The limit is four terms — eight years. But it’s retroactive, and Pelosi already has served two terms — four years. That means she has two more terms to go before being required to step down.

The proposal still has to be approved by the full Democratic caucus, and that’s no sure thing. But Pelosi has said she will abide to the term limit agreement “whether it passes or not.” ″

“I am comfortable with the proposal,” she said.

Not all top-ranking Democrats are.

Pelosi is 78, and two other members of her leadership team — U.S. Reps. Steny Hoyer and James Clyburn — are 79 and 78, respectively.

That’s way too old for the younger turks who are tired of the party’s super-senior citizens blocking their way up the ladder.

But the seniors aren’t tired of leading, as Hoyer indicated when he said he wants nothing to do with the agreement Pelosi negotiated.

“She’s not negotiating for me,” said Hoyer, who obviously has ambitions to succeed Pelosi.

Whether she is or is not doesn’t matter at this point.

Hoyer can wage his fight for power when the time comes.

Meanwhile, Pelosi has secured a return to the speaker’s post, something that won’t bother Republicans at all. They use her as the face of the Democratic Party, a tactic that works sometimes and doesn’t work others.

Among the leaders of the anti-Pelosi rebellion was Illinois Democratic U.S. Rep. Bill Foster.

Immediately after Pelosi announced the agreement, Foster and the other dissenting Democrats issued a statement pledging their votes to her for speaker.

The group stated that “our agreement will make lasting institutional change that will strengthen our caucus and will develop the next generation of Democratic leaders.”

That may be. But the arrival of the new generation — whenever that is — will be too soon for the older generation that holds — and wants to continue to hold — power for as long as possible.

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