Mahathir justified in pulling out of Rome Statute


April 8, 2019

Mahathir justified in pulling out of Rome Statute

Opinion  |  S Thayaparan

Published:  |  Modified:

 

 

“And if we find whoever breaches the law – we don’t care who they are – we will take action, whether they are prince or pauper, we will take action. That is our stand.”

– Dr Mahathir Mohamad

COMMENT | If certain quarters assumed that “forcing” the Pakatan Harapan government to pull out of the Rome Statute was some sort of victory, reading the transcript of Mahathir’s press conference should be a reality check for them. If anything, the pugilistic response – even in defeat – is more of a slap in the face than anything in the Rome Statute.

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Some people are disappointed that Harapan pulled out of the Rome Statute. Some people are disappointed with the non-Malay political operatives for supporting this move. It makes the Harapan government look weak when the far right forces, in collusion with certain members of the royal houses, disrupt a democratically elected government from carrying out policy decisions.

Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah rightly points out that the deep state – my term is the deep Islamic state – is mounting a vigorous offensive to usurp the democratic process in Malaysia.

This anti-democratic element must feel great that they have managed to usurp the legitimate aspirations of people who voted for the Harapan government.

This anti-democratic element must feel great that they have managed to derail a democratic process in the name of race and religion

This anti-democratic element must feel great that they have managed to make the prime minister of this country bend to their will and, of course, the non-Malay political operatives sit silently while Malay power structures flex their muscles.

This may sound strange, but I have a lot of sympathy for Lim Kit Siang  when he says this decision was forced upon them. This Rome Statute fiasco was initiated by elements who are not democratically elected, but who have the influence to plunge this country into a protracted constitutional crisis that could derail any form of reform, however small.

While Kit Siang wonders how people’s minds could be poisoned, the reality is that the “people” had nothing to do with this. The Rome Statute issue was not fuelled by populist sentiment in the Malay polity, but rather the machinations of certain individuals to erode the legitimacy of a democratically-elected government.

There was nothing Harapan political operatives could say or do, which would mitigate the damage done by individuals who have a stake in the intersection between commerce and royal prerogative, which has had a deleterious effect on the political process, but which has been condoned by the Malay political elite (in collaboration with non-Malay power structures) since independence.

Which is why Anwar’s response to this plot to destabilise democracy was predictable and disappointing. Mahathir was not “wise” to withdraw from this. It is never wise to withdraw from something that Anwar admits “is good for reforms, transparency and rule of law”.

Claiming that some concerns should be “assuaged” is bone-headed since we know, Harapan knows and anyone with a smidgen of intelligence knows, that there were never any legitimate concerns, only the concerns of individuals who decided to challenge a democratically elected leader, using the toxic politics of race and religion.

This is the issue here. What we have is a member of a royal house leading the charge to usurp the democratic process. The only options were:

(1) Confront those institutions which are hampering reforms head-on by signing the statute and probably creating a manufactured constitutional crisis (a royal showdown), or

(2) Reminding those people that even if the statute is abandoned, they will still be held accountable for any malfeasance they commit and the false hope that their station in life protects them from legal consequences is just that, a false hope.

The only viable option is to play the shadow game until Harapan gets its acts together by demonstrating that, even without the symbolism of such international treaties, it is willing to carry out reforms which, so far, Harapan has lacked the backbone to do.

This is payback for the Malay political elite who, for years played this race and religion game, are now confronted by genuine democratic impulses of a Malaysian polity restless for real change and stymied by the very institutions they defended for years.

Now, if Bersatu is the sole protector of race and religion that it wants to be, then things would be different. Suddenly the people would be knowledgeable and those individuals whose agenda is to stir up trouble would be bereft of political influence.

This is why Bersatu strategists and political operatives have been texting and calling me, pointing to this situation as the perfect example as to why Bersatu needs to beef up its presence in Harapan.

The prime minister is on his own here. While I may have a little sympathy for the ruling Harapan elite, this is the fault of Malay power brokers who have weaponised institutions and religion for years against the rakyat.

For years they used the royal institutions for their own purposes. Now the royal institution is flexing its muscles to curtail the agenda of democratically-elected leaders because the reality is that Harapan does not have the majority of the Malay community behind them.

If you think the attacks against the prime minister is getting harsh, think back on the fascists’ attacks against someone like Fadiah Nadwa Fikri (above) who is being investigated by the Harapan state for comments made about royalty.

In order to take on the anti-democratic forces in this country, Harapan has to commit to serious reforms, many of which would lay bare the toxic confluence of religious, racial, royal and corporate power in this country.

They have to stop demonising citizens like Fadiah Nadwa and commit to an agenda of reform, which does not necessarily mean signing on to international treaties, but rather, legislating and creating policies that empower the people and not merely anti-democratic institutions.

If Harapan does this, it will not be forced to do anything by the anti-democratic forces in this country and Malaysians will come to understand that all roads lead to Rome.


S THAYAPARAN is Commander (Rtd) of the Royal Malaysian Navy. A retired barrister-at-law, he is one of the founding members of the National Patriots Association.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

On legal immigration, Trump might be right


April 7, 2019

On legal immigration, Trump might be right

by Dr . Fareed Zakaria

https://fareedzakaria.com/columns/2019/4/4/on-legal-immigration-trump-might-be-right

 

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President Trump’s threat to close the U.S.-Mexico border has confused even his allies. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) said it “would be bad for everybody.” Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) remarked, “I’m not sure that’s a particularly good idea, and I’m not sure it gets the desired result.” Most assume the threat is part of the usual Trump style — bravado and bluff — and will eventually get dialed back, and there are already indications that this is happening.

But on the broader issue of legal immigration, Trump seems to be shifting his position. In his State of the Union address in February, he said, “I want people to come into our country in the largest numbers ever, but they have to come in legally.” Immigration hardliners did not take this well.

The president has since reasserted the idea. The day after the State of the Union, Trump told reporters: “I need people coming in because we need people to run the factories and plants and companies that are moving back in.” And Politico reported this week that Jared Kushner is quietly developing a proposal to increase legal immigration into the United States.

If this is Trump’s new and improved immigration position, the president might find his way to a powerful compromise — real crackdowns on illegal immigration, coupled with reform and actual increases in legal immigration. This also happens to be a smart policy idea.

A recent essay in the journal International Security points out that by 2050, the United States is projected to be the only major world power with an increase in its population . The four authors, all university professors, tie this factor to more dynamic economic growth and also the United States’ continued ability and willingness to play a major military and political role.

The data on other major powers is striking. United Nations projections show that by 2050, China and Russia will have a 20 percent drop in people of working age. Germany’s working-age population will drop by 17 percent, and Japan’s by 29 percent. This will probably translate into slower growth, less economic vitality and greater passivity on the world stage, the report says.

The United States’ working-age numbers are set to rise by 12 percent in the same period. In fact, only three other major developed countries will see increases in their working-age cohort: Australia, Canada and Britain. But all four countries are expected to enjoy this boost only because of immigration. Without immigration, by 2050, the U.S. working-age population would actually shrink by 4.5 percent. Canada’s would plummet by 20 percent.

China, on track to be the greatest economic, political and technological competitor to the United States, faces a demographic challenge that’s even more dire than was previously anticipated. Last year, China’s birth rate fell to its lowest level since 1961, a year of widespread famine. It appears that the Communist regime’s efforts to reverse the nation’s long-standing “one child” policy have not worked. The Chinese Academy of Social Sciences said in January that for China’s population, “the biggest event in the first half of the 21st century is the arrival of negative growth,” according to the South China Morning Post.

Amid all the noise in this country about immigration, it’s easy to forget the big picture. Immigration means a more robust economy. It usually means younger workers, which translates into greater dynamism and more innovation. Most Nobel Prizes are awarded to scientists for work they did when they were young. Most companies are founded by people when they are young. Younger populations are more risk-seeking, adventurous and entrepreneurial.

Despite the rhetoric around it, legal immigration in the United States is actually not that high. Before he became chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, Kevin Hassett published a piece in National Review ranking wealthy countries on their ratio of new immigrants to total population in 2010. The United States had the third-lowest figure, higher only than Japan and France. Canada and Germany had more than twice as many new immigrants as a share of the population, and Norway and Switzerland had more than four times.

During the past two decades, many of the United States’ crucial competitive advantages have been copied by the world to the point that other nations do it better — with well-regulated market economics, technological investments, infrastructure, mass education. What does America have left to truly distinguish itself?

Over the past half-century, the United States has handled immigration better than most countries. It takes in people from everywhere, assimilates them better, integrates them into the fabric of society and is able to maintain an environment in which the new immigrants feel as invested as the old. This will be its core competitive advantage in this century.

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group
Washington Post
April 4, 2019

Deepest concerns over EU withdrawal of EBA scheme


March 28,2019

Content image - Phnom Penh Post

European Commissioner for Trade Cecilia Malmstrom launched the initial process to begin EBA withdrawal on October 4 last year. AFP

Dear Editor,

Both in my capacities as entrepreneur and as representative of the European business community in Cambodia I reiterate my attachment to European values and engagement to support Cambodia improve its human rights records.

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In this regard, jointly with human rights advocates and European Chamber of Commerce (EuroCham)​ members, I want to voice once more my deepest concerns in respect to the process to withdraw preferences offered to Cambodia under the Everything But Arms (EBA) scheme.

Trade preference is granted to the country as a whole not to individual operators, and suspension should be employed the same way.

The use of trade as leverage to restore human rights raises an ethical question as to whether a negative impact on businesses, workers and their families who are not responsible for the situation leading to the adoption of sanctions is a legitimate means to pursue foreign policy objectives.

Many entrepreneurs like myself, locals and foreigners, have contributed to the progress of human rights by further enhancing economic growth and socio-economic development for people here in Cambodia.

Together we share growing concerns over hard-won gains that could be imperilled, and the condition of the Cambodian people worsened by depriving poor people of jobs and endangering their livelihoods.

A withdrawal of EBA could produce results that run counter to other rights, like the protection of vulnerable groups of people and the promotion of basic human rights embedded in the UN Charter and human rights treaties.

In terms of identities and perceptions, a withdrawal of EBA unnecessarily increases the confusion as to the notion of “human rights” in Asia where there is a need for universal values to be entrenched.

Deepening human suffering comes from the manner in which actors pursue their objectives.

A disregard for impoverished communities is understandably perceived as a worrying feature.

Economic sanctions challenge the basic sense of right and wrong and create ambiguity about human rights.

As seen in the local newspapers, a Cambodian analyst stated: “Those who are happy to see sanctions should be ashamed. They can be protagonists of human rights, they are in fact the enemy of humanity.”

Seen as harmful and unjust by affecting ordinary citizens, and driving innocents into poverty, I join openly the ones that demand a refrain from using such measures for human rights, unless the EU can provide sufficient, consistent and coherent guarantees for the protection of the political, economic, social and cultural rights of affected communities.

Shouldn’t economic sanctions be proportional and only used in the most extreme cases?

Researchers have estimated the probability of success of such measures by analysing data from past cases.

In general terms, all international sanctions combined, scholars demonstrate a low probability of success in reaching their goals: five, 22 or 30 per cent.

A high probability of failure: between 65-95 per cent of the time.

Looking at the nature of sanctions, as of today, withdrawals of the US GSP scheme and EBA have not recorded a single case of compliance.

When reinstatements have occurred, they have not been driven by the target’s compliance.The probability of success is reduced to zero.

Looking at the goal of sanctions, in this case the restoration of a democratic environment, sanctions designed for this purpose are significantly associated with higher levels of democracy.

They rarely manage to instantly create liberal democracies, but more commonly some form of electoral authoritarianism, increasing prospects for future democratisation.

However, authors warn “these findings should not be taken as evidence to justify all types of sanctions in all contexts […] There are several examples of highly unsuccessful democratic sanctions in the past”.

In general terms, international sanctions have a counterproductive effect on democracy.

There may be an increase of repression in an effort to stabilise the regime and they can create incentives for the leadership to restrict political liberties and consolidate power.

In addition, target elites might respond by changing their priorities to military spending in order to enhance their coercive capacity.

I urge the EU to carry out an impact assessment of any trade measures to be taken in response to human rights violations and balance any negative impact on the local population and affected workers against its possible effectiveness in Cambodia.

As human rights are the stated primary objective of the process of withdrawal of EBA, coherence and synergy within the EU institutions to negotiate with stakeholders in Cambodia should take place effectively.

There is a need to shift away from a focus on trade to a focus on benefits and achievements in human rights.

I regret that the decision and process are led by the Directorate General for Trade – an increased role of the directorate generals specialising in human rights and development would be more appropriate.

They should play the lead role to address the human rights situation and their expertise can ensure these issues remain the main concern.

I believe the EU’s expertise in human rights, and whose approach is to deliver results on the ground by integrating lessons learned, can contribute to attaining the objective of democratisation.

In the present situation, the process to review Cambodia’s duty-free access needs to be transparent and based on European values.

In line with the Trade Commissioner’s vision of trade as a force for good in the world, I recall any action to promote human rights cannot be justified if it has a negative impact on human rights.

The EU needs to consider as a priority the rights and well-being of ordinary citizens, with particular attention paid to the most vulnerable populations.

They should not be sacrificed.

As the final decision will depend upon the judgement of the EU and in the absence of an impartial and independent body to monitor the progress of dialogue between the EU and the Cambodian government, I urge the EU to define realistic expected results, monitor progress toward the achievement of expected results, integrate lessons learned and report on performance in all transparency. In addition, the EU should not leave itself open to accusations of double standards.

When the EU threatened Cambodia on its failure to meet human rights provisions, the bloc was in a process to conclude the “most ambitious agreement ever made with a developing country” – Vietnam.

According to the 2018 Democracy Index, Cambodia ranks 125th and Vietnam 139th. According to the 2018 press freedom index, Cambodia ranks 142nd and Vietnam 175th.

The use of double standards when it comes to democracy and human rights is counterproductive for the EU, for the credibility of its external action and, most importantly, for the very principles it promotes.

If suspension is not consistently applied, as a result the activation of the withdrawal procedure in Cambodia will be seen as subject to political and economic considerations.

The EU’s EBA offers unilateral trade preferences to Cambodia but the EU’s FTA with Vietnam removes or reduces customs tariffs in bilateral trade.

It is obvious that EU economic interests are part of the decision to refrain from imposing economic sanctions.

In the past, the EU has also been criticised for being at the forefront of the practice of linking commercial objectives with political interests through the use of conditionality clauses.

A misunderstanding of the motives of decision-making on conditionality clauses with regards to human rights would undermine the government’s awareness that Cambodia’s steps to improve rights will lead to a positive outcome.

Transparency is mandatory and I contest the use of selective conditionality and the application of double standards.

Questions of human rights need to be dealt with objectively, regardless of any economic or political gain.

In terms of democracy and political rights, in some cases, incentives can be more effective and preferable to sanctions.

As a long-timer actor of the private sector, I acknowledge the negative influence of trade on labour conditions and environmental preservation.

In this regard, a withdrawal of EBA is likely to translate into a deterioration of labour conditions and may unfairly penalise workers, including those employed in European businesses in Cambodia.

Instead, to prevent and remedy against negative impacts of trade on human and labour rights, the EU should conduct a human rights impact assessment before granting trade preferences to a candidate country and during its implementation.

These assessments should be undertaken by independent experts, in consultation with civil society, including with representatives of communities affected by trade preferences.

Arnaud Darc,CEO of Thalias Hospitality Group, Phnom Penh

Send letters to: newsroom@phnompenhpost.com or PO Box 146, Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The Post reserves the right to edit letters to a shorter length.The views expressed above are solely the author’s and do not reflect any positions taken by The Phnom Penh Post.

The trials and triumphs of GE14, as seen by Kee Thuan Chye


March 26, 2019

The trials and triumphs of GE14, as seen by Kee Thuan Chye

 

I first noticed the name Kee Thuan Chye in the pages of the National Echo in the 1980s. He wrote about stuff that we categorise under “arts”.

I would skim the first few paragraphs to see if it would be worth reading. Often, his pieces would be spread over two pages. And although I was working in Penang at that time, I don’t remember meeting him then.

I really took notice of him, I must admit, not because of his writing but because of the names he had given his two children. I heard from a friend that they were named Soraya Sunitra Kee Xiang Yin and Jebat Arjuna Kee Jia Liang.

I immediately told myself: “I like this guy.”

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Let’s be honest, how many people put their money where their mouth is? We know of so many Malaysians who call themselves nationalists, we know of Malaysians who shout “Bangsa Malaysia”, we know of Malaysians who come up with slogans such as “Satu Malaysia”.

But do you know of anyone named, for instance, Raju Kee Najib bin Razif? Have you heard of anyone named Meena Mei Maznah bte Mahadzir? Do you know of anyone named Hadi Wee Subramaniam?

This guy wanted his children to identify themselves as Malaysians and, like the dramatist that he is, he did it – with flourish. Kee, I am certain, wanted to show he was a Malaysian not just by citizenship but also by his action.

And you can feel that Malaysianness in his latest book “The Peoples Victory: How Malaysians Saved Their Country.” The book is about one of the most momentous events in the life of the country – how voters rose up to kick out the long-ruling Barisan Nasional government against all odds on May 9, 2018.

I just finished reading the book recently, and it is chock-full of facts, opinions and emotions. Some of his sentences are very daring, too.

However, if you are interested in an unbiased, intellectual, political analysis of the 14th general election and events leading up to it, or an academic analysis of the BN’s loss and Pakatan Harapan’s win, this book may not be for you.

It is a simple story told in a simple, conversational style by an excited playwright who just realises that he and a host of like-minded people have just accomplished the impossible.

And you won’t just find the likes of Dr Mahathir Mohamad, Anwar Ibrahim, Lim Kit Siang, Mohamad Sabu, Lim Guan Eng, Najib Razak, Zahid Hamidi, Hadi Awang and the Election Commission in the story.

You will also find many ordinary Malaysians – some known to us, such as Zunar, and others who may not have made it into the book if not for their tweets or for galvanising people to come and vote. It includes such people as Sim Yen Peng who gave his Sabah and Sarawakian workers three days paid leave and air tickets to go back to vote, student Arveent Kathirtchelvan who started a petition addressed to the Yang di-Pertuan Agong for May 9 to be declared a holiday, Nizam Bakeri who started #CarpoolGE14 and Izzah Azura who started a Facebook crowdfunding platform to help those who needed money to travel home to vote.

This is also not a book by a man looking from the mountain with a wide, unattached perspective. No. Kee is not only telling the story, he is also in it – expressing his frustration and jubilation, recounting his earlier writings, and narrating his participation in Bersih rallies.

Kee is also unabashedly on the side of those wanting to replace the BN government. He is against the BN not because it is the BN but because its policies and actions over the years have divided Malaysians and eroded freedoms. And being a Malaysian – remember the names he gave his children? – Kee is angry and wants to set things right.

In fact, he told FMT, on April 4, 2018, just before the general election, that if the BN were to win with a huge majority, the rights of citizens would be further repressed.

“If BN gets its two thirds, that’s the end of Malaysia. It will bulldoze through anything it wants and the only reforms we’re going to see are reforms that will make the system work to BN’s benefit.”

In this, Kee was merely echoing the feelings of educated, urban Malaysians for whom freedoms are important.

Kee is also not a political writer, and, as far as I am aware, he has not worked in the news section of any newspaper, only the arts-related sections.

However, he still retains enough of his journalistic sense to provide balance when commenting on the words or actions of BN and PH leaders and when unfurling events in the book which he divides into three parts or acts, as he prefers to call them.

The curtain rises with Act 1 titled “Despair”.

“On May 5, 2013, hopes ran high that by the end of the day Malaysia would have a change of government.” He goes on to describe how the BN managed to win the 13th general election even though it lost the popular vote, and the rallies and events that followed.

It ends with the words: “If there was one word to describe the mood of the people at this point, it would have to be: Despair.”

Act 2, titled “Hope” opens with: “Despair turned to hope for the people on July 2, 2015.” Why July 2? Go read the book to find out. It’s worth reading and it only costs RM49.90. But here’s a hint: The first chapter of this Act is titled: “The Big Steal”.

Act 2 ends with: “They didn’t succeed in 2013. Would they succeed this time?”

Even though I knew Malaysians had succeeded in removing a repressive government, I read Act 3 titled “Euphoria” to find out. It starts with the words, “May 9 for a lot of people is a do-or-die day”, and goes on to talk about election night and a little of what transpired after that.

The curtain closes with these words: “So this was not just Mahathir’s victory, or Anwar’s or Kit Siang’s, or Mat Sabu’s or Guan Eng’s. This was a victory of the people. A victory of the Malaysian people.”

It reflects my sentiments too. In fact, two days after the general election, I had written that the real winners were the voters and that Malaysians had found their guts.

And guts is something Kee has plenty of. I have seen him speak up at the New Straits Times office, when we both worked at the Kuala Lumpur headquarters. If you read his books, especially this book, you will know that he is not afraid to speak his mind, and that he feels strongly about playing his role as a responsible Malaysian for the good of the nation.

And yes, I had named the Malaysian voter the Person of the Year for 2018 for finding his/her guts and ushering in a new era.

A Kathirasen is an executive editor at FMT.

The views expressed by the writer do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.

 

The Mueller Report Is a Test for the United States


March 27. 2019

The Mueller Report Is a Test for the United States

As the world looks on, it’s up to Washington to demonstrate the strength of its institutions.

Photographers outside the U.S. Justice Department in Washington on March 22, after special counsel Robert Mueller delivered his report to Attorney General William Barr. (Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)

Photographers outside the U.S. Justice Department in Washington on March 22, after special counsel Robert Mueller delivered his report to Attorney General William Barr. (Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)

There’s no question that the primary audience for U.S. special counsel Robert Mueller’s much-anticipated report, which he delivered to the Justice Department on Friday, is a domestic one. But around the world, foreign ministries and intelligence services will be watching how the United States responds to the findings for clues about the country’s strength.

While Russia’s successful intervention in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and President Donald Trump’s erratic behavior and manifest ignorance have already diminished any sense that the United States was immune to the vulnerabilities associated with demagogic populism that have strained other countries, the institutions of U.S. democracy have nonetheless held up reasonably well—so far. The reception of the Mueller report will be a test of those institutions and Americans’ level of faith in and commitment to them.

Let us acknowledge at the outset: In most other countries, the very idea of creating a genuinely independent special counsel would be as preposterous as the idea of riding a unicorn.

In most other countries, the very idea of creating a genuinely independent special counsel would be as preposterous as the idea of riding a unicorn.

In most places, the rule of law and independent institutions are not strong enough to withstand the political pressure of a leader attempting to avoid investigation. On this count, Mueller’s apparently diligent and professional handling of the process has likely impressed adversaries and reassured allies.

 

Now that his report has been delivered, it’s up to the United States to demonstrate strength on two main measures.

First, the domestic challenge: The attorney general and Congress should proceed according to U.S. laws and the Constitution (and their sworn duty to uphold it) in dealing with Mueller’s conclusions. The institutions of justice must follow the findings of Mueller’s report, not the president’s Twitter feed.

The institutions of justice must follow the findings of Mueller’s report, not the president’s Twitter feed.

Members of Congress should focus their efforts to examine the report’s findings and their implications through formal proceedings rather than through cable news appearances.

This is not to say that there should not be public discussion of the report: It will almost surely be released or leaked, and there will be a public debate about its findings. And the report is not the final word on these matters; other investigations continue and Congress has an ongoing oversight responsibility. But in response to Mueller’s findings, U.S. institutions must do their work and must be allowed to do so.

The eyes of the world will focus on whether Washington has kept to a rule of law process in addition to the inevitable political one. Furthermore, many observers may ultimately find themselves disappointed by the outcome of such a process. The world will judge them by whether they can separate that disappointment from their commitment to uphold the function of the institutions themselves.

Second, the foreign-policy challenge: To the extent that Mueller’s report adds new information to the already overwhelming and conclusive evidence of foreign intervention in the 2016 election, there must be additional consequences for implicated actors. Beijing will be watching. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will be watching from Pyongyang. The failure to mete out consequences will invite further foreign intervention. In addition, the United States must take purposeful, strategic action, some of it visible to would-be adversaries, to counter the threat of intervention in the 2020 elections. Mueller’s report may give Americans additional information on how foreign powers were able to sabotage a U.S. election. This may help supplement the good ideas that have already been put forward about how to protect the next one.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s regime will be watching this process especially closely.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s regime will be watching this process especially closely.

While on the one hand Putin and his cronies may be most concerned with findings that implicate them and could bring further consequences, the Russian leader will be watching the U.S. domestic process closely, too. And he will be looking to have his cynicism confirmed.

 

Even after years of working with Russian officials—when I was serving as U.S. ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, I may have been the only U.S. official to have a standing weekly meeting with my Russian counterpart—I still found myself taken aback at the depth and consistency of the cynicism that Russian officials would express in private. “None of this matters—it’s all theater that doesn’t matter,” one of them once told me; he was referring to diplomacy. He thought those of us trying to solve problems were cute (and not in a good way). Those officials never believed that we really believed in concepts like human rights or the rule of law. They thought that because they had a dark and zero-sum outlook on human relations, everyone else did, too. A commitment to institutions and universal principles was, in their view, all theater.

Cynics purport to look down on idealists. They derive self-satisfaction from the hypocrisy of others. But when U.S. institutions work as they are intended to work and defend the rule of law—that unnerves the cynics. It reminds them that their mediocrity and moral cowardice is a trap in which they are caught. The world is watching how the United States responds to the Mueller report. Let’s give the cynics reason for self-doubt.

Daniel Baer is diplomat in residence at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver. He was U.S. ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe from 2013 to 2017. Twitter: @danbbaer

The Mueller report explained: what we learned from Barr’s letter to Congress


March  27. 2019

The Mueller report explained: what we learned from Barr’s letter to Congress

What’s revealed by the attorney general’s summary of the Trump-Russia investigation? And will the report be made public?

 

Exterior shot of the White House
William Barr sent his summary of the Muller report to Congress on Sunday Photograph: Alex Wroblewski/Getty Images

Barr is still reviewing Muller’s report

William Barr: Although my review is ongoing, I believe that it is in the public interest to describe the report and to summarize the principal conclusions reached by the Special Counsel and the results of his investigation.

Barr immediately makes clear that his letter will only be a summary of the top-line conclusions from Robert Mueller’s 22-month investigation. At just four pages long, the letter makes no claim to outline the full substance of the special counsel’s findings, nor does it detail the evidence Mueller has amassed or the legal reasoning behind his decision making. Instead, we have the bare bones. Mueller had handed the full report to the attorney general less than 48 hours earlier, and Barr makes clear he is still reviewing its contents.

On the size of the investigation

In the report, the Special Counsel noted that, in completing his investigation, he employed 19 lawyers who were assisted by a team of approximately 40 FBI agents, intelligence analysts, forensic accountants, and other professional staff. The Special Counsel issued more than 2,800 subpoenas, executed nearly 500 search warrants, obtained more than 230 orders for communication records, issued almost 50 orders authorizing use of pen registers, made 13 requests to foreign governments for evidence, and interviewed approximately 500 witnesses.

Here, the sheer size of the Mueller investigation is laid bare for the first time. Although the cost of the Russia investigation has been public for some time, along with the 37 public indictments issued by Mueller, the scale of the evidence he has amassed has not been known. Barr is clearly alluding to how comprehensive the special counsel’s investigation has been. While the length of Mueller’s final report is not known, it is likely to be based on hundreds of thousands of pages of evidence. Democrats have made clear they want access to as much of the report and its underlying evidence as possible.

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The report does not recommend any further indictments, nor did the Special Counsel obtain any sealed indictments yet to be made public.

This is the first of Barr’s major announcements: Mueller will issue no fresh charges as the investigation wraps up. This is clearly good news for members of Donald Trump’s inner circle, including his son Donald Trump Jr, his son-in-law Jared Kushner and, indeed, for Trump himself. There had been speculation that a number of sealed indictments in the same district court handling the Mueller prosecution could relate to further indictments from the special counsel. This is now clearly not the case. However, other criminal investigations involving the president and members of his inner circle are ongoing, most notably in the southern district of New York. Barr makes no comment on the status of these proceedings.

On collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia

The Special Counsel’s investigation did not find that the Trump campaign or anyone associated with it conspired or coordinated with Russia in its efforts to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election. As the report states: “[T]he investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”

This is undoubtedly a pivotal conclusion of the investigation. Following almost two years of investigation Barr says that Mueller has found no evidence to prove that any member of the Trump campaign colluded with Russia during the 2016 election. He quotes only a partial sentence from the report to substantiate this.

Also of note here is Barr’s supplying a short definition of how Mueller defined collusion. Quoting directly from Mueller’s report in a short footnote, Barr says the special counsel counted collusion as an “agreement – tacit or express – between the Trump campaign and the Russian government on election interference”. This means that for any member of the campaign to be accused of colluding with Russia they would have had to have done so knowingly. Barr says that Mueller found two ways in which Russians interfered during 2016: a coordinated internet disinformation campaign and direct computer hacking. He provides no further details on the crimes themselves but further information on at least some of these actions has already been made public by Mueller through criminal indictments.

On obstruction of justice

The Special Counsel therefore did not draw a conclusion – one way or the other – as to whether the examined conduct constituted obstruction. Instead, for each of the relevant actions investigated, the report sets out evidence on both sides of the question and leaves unresolved what the Special Counsel views as “difficult issues” of law and fact concerning whether the President’s actions and intent could be viewed as obstruction. The Special Counsel states that “while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”

Barr briskly moves on to the last major revelation from Mueller: the special counsel was unable to decide whether Donald Trump obstructed justice during the investigation. Barr once again hangs a partial sentence quoted from the report making clear that Mueller did not completely clear Trump of obstruction. But the scant details make it impossible to understand the legal reasoning behind Mueller’s decision nor all the evidence taken into account to make it.

Conclusion on obstruction of justice

After reviewing the Special Counsel’s final report on these issues; consulting with Department officials, including the Office of Legal Counsel; and applying the principles of federal prosecution that guide our charging decisions, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and I have concluded that the evidence developed during the Special Counsel’s investigation is not sufficient to establish that the President committed an obstruction-of-justice offense.

This revelation is likely to be the most controversial, at least until more of Mueller’s report is released. It was Barr and his deputy Rod Rosenstein, both appointed to their positions by Trump himself, that decided the president should face no prosecution over obstruction of justice. Although Barr displays those he consulted with to make that decision and cites justice department guidelines governing the process, there is no escaping that the decision not to prosecute the president was made by one of his own cabinet members who has already privately described Mueller’s investigation of obstruction of justice as “fatally misconceived”.

Barr explains his decision not to charge Trump with obstruction

Generally speaking, to obtain and sustain an obstruction conviction, the government would need to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a person, acting with corrupt intent, engaged in obstructive conduct with a a sufficient nexus to a pending or contemplated proceeding. In cataloguing the President’s actions, many of which took place in public view, the report identifies no actions that, in our judgement, constitute obstructive conduct, had a nexus to a pending or contemplated proceeding, and were done with corrupt intent, each of which, under the Department’s principles of federal prosecution guiding charging decisions, would need to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt to establish an obstruction-of-justice offense.

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2019/mar/25/william-barr-letter-mueller-report

Barr provides a little elaboration on his decision not to charge Trump with obstruction. Critically, Barr makes the point that at least part of the reason Trump is not being charged is due to the lack of an underlying crime. That while there may be sound arguments for Trump obstructing justice, it was not itself a criminal act because there had been no crime in the first place.

There is also a suggestion from Barr here that while many of these potentially obstructive actions took place in public – it seems likely he is partially referring to Trump’s public comments on his decision to fire FBI director James Comey – there are others the public may not yet know about.

Will the public see the Mueller report?

As I have previously stated, however, I am mindful of the public interest in this matter. For that reason, my goal and intent is to release as much of the Special Counsel’s report as I can consistent with applicable law, regulations, and Departmental policies.

The attorney general concludes by making a commitment to making parts of Mueller’s report available to the public. There is, however, no commitment to a time frame, nor any indication of how much will be made available. Senior Democrats have indicated they will issue a subpoena for the full report if they are not satisfied with what Barr provides.

As the fall-out from the Mueller report unfolds …

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