OurWeek In Politics (8/19-8/26/18)

Here are the main events that occurred in Politics this week:
1. Two of President Trump’s Aides Convicted For Various Crimes

Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and Trump attorney Michael Cohen were convicted on various charges this week.

On August 21, Michael Cohen, President Trump’s longtime personal attorney, admitted Tuesday to violating federal campaign finance laws by arranging hush money payments to adult film star Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal “at the direction” of then-candidate Trump. In entering the plea, Cohen did not specifically name the two women or even Trump, recounting instead that he worked with an “unnamed candidate.” But the amounts and the dates all lined up with the payments made to Daniels and McDougal. In total, Cohen pleaded guilty to five counts of tax evasion, one count of making false statements to a financial institution, one count of willfully causing an unlawful corporate contribution, and one count of making an excessive campaign contribution. Cohen could have received up to 65 years in prison if convicted of all charges. However, as part of his plea deal, Cohen agreed not to challenge any sentence between 46 and 63 months. The deal does not involve a cooperation agreement with federal prosecutors.

In addition to the conviction of Michel Cohen, Paul Manafort, President Trump’s former campaign chairman, was also convicted in his financial fraud trial on August 21, bringing a dramatic end to a politically charged case that riveted the capital. The verdict was a victory for the special counsel, Robert Mueller, whose prosecutors introduced extensive evidence that Manafort hid millions of dollars in foreign accounts to evade taxes and lied to banks repeatedly to obtain millions of dollars in loans. Mr. Manafort was convicted of five counts of tax fraud, two counts of bank fraud and one count of failure to disclose a foreign bank account. The jury was unable to reach a verdict on the remaining 10 counts, and the judge declared a mistrial on those charges. Kevin Downing, a lawyer for Manafort, said the defense was “disappointed” by the verdict and that his client was “evaluating all of his options at this point.”

Overall, the reaction to the conviction of two of President Donald Trump’s closest confidantes was mixed. In a statement to the press, Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani said “There is no allegation of any wrongdoing against the President in the government’s charges against Mr. Cohen. It is clear that, as the prosecutor noted, Mr. Cohen’s actions reflect a pattern of lies and dishonesty over a significant period of time.” Additionally, President Trump was quick to criticize the integrity and legal skills of his former lawyer, Michael Cohen, saying on Twitter that “anyone looking for a good lawyer should not retain the services of Cohen.” President Trump also used the announcement of the indictments as another opportunity to criticize the Mueller probe, calling it a “Witch Hunt” and stating that its only purpose is to delegitimize his Presidency.

At the congressional level, both Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), gave no reaction to the indictments, perhaps signaling a reluctance on the part of senior Republican Party leaders to openly criticise the President during the lead-up to the Midterm elections. On the other hand, members of the Democratic Party were quick to comment on the indictments and denounce the Trump Administration for its actions. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), a frequent Trump critic and a potential presidential contender in 2020, called for legislation to protect Mueller instead of pursuing impeachment proceedings. “I think that what Congress needs to do right now is we need to make sure that special prosecutor Mueller is fully protected from being fired by Donald Trump,” Warren said during a CNN interview. Additionally, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) issued a statement denouncing Trump but did not call for impeachment, saying it is “not a priority” and that Democrats should instead focus on the president’s actions and allow Mueller to complete his investigation.

2. Senator John McCain Dies At 81

Senator and 2008 Republican nominee John McCain died late last week after being diagnosed with an incurable form of cancer one year ago.

John McCain, who endured six years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam before becoming the 2008 Republican presidential nominee and serving Arizona for nearly 36 years in Congress, died On August 25 at age 81. Destined to be remembered among the political giants of American history, McCain disclosed in July 2017 that he had been diagnosed with a deadly form of brain cancer called glioblastoma. McCain was a two-time presidential candidate, losing the GOP nomination in 2000 to then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush and the general election in 2008 to Barack Obama. The unsuccessful White House bids were spotlight moments in a long political career that began with his election to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1982. After two terms, McCain ascended to the Senate in 1986, replacing legendary Republican Senator Barry Goldwater. McCain was easily re-elected to the Senate in 1992, 1998, 2004, 2010 and 2016 and became chairman of the influential Armed Services Committee in 2015.

Despite the fact that he generally aligned with Neoconservatives on foreign policy and called for increased US military intervention in the Middle East, John McCain developed a reputation as a moderate Republican overall. For example, McCain was a champion of efforts to reform the campaign finance system, culminating with the McCain-Feingold Campaign Finance Reform Act of 2002, sought to eliminate the practice of Congressional “earmarks,” and opposed Republican efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) in 2017. Most notably, McCain emerged as an outspoken critic of the Trump Administration and the shift towards Fascism by many Republicans, stating that Trump’s actions do not represent the core values the Republican Party holds and threatens to place the US on the wrong path in the realms of both domestic and foreign policy.

Due to his reputation as a rare voice of moderation in an increasingly divisive political atmosphere, politicians on both sides of the aisle have expressed sadness over John McCain’s death. Despite the fact that they both clashed on numerous occasions, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said that “John McCain’s life shone as a bright example. He showed us that boundless patriotism and self-sacrifice are not outdated concepts or clichés, but the building blocks of an extraordinary American life.” Additionally, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) mentioned that John McCain’s “dedication to his country was unsurpassed” and that he was “never afraid to speak truth to power in an era where that has become all but rare.” Former Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush also praised the life and legacy of one of their strongest political rivals, calling him a “man of deep conviction and a patriot of the highest order” and stating that he is an embodiment of “the ideals for which generations of Americans and immigrants alike have fought, marched, and sacrificed.” In contrast to the praise even many of his strongest opponents offered,  President Donald Trump had a muted reaction to McCain’s death, refusing to issue a statement praising McCain’s life and opting to not fly the flag at half-staff (which is the typical custom of the President to do when a member of Congress dies in office) in honor of McCain.

The death of John McCain also raises an important question of which political party will be in control of Congress after the Midterm election. Due to McCain’s death, the Senate is now effectively tied, with Vice President Mike Pence being the tie-breaking vote. The fact that the Senate is this close may prevent much of the Trump Administration’s agenda from passing and give the Democrats a greater chance at winning full control over the Senate. With regard to McCain’s replacement, Arizona Governor Doug Ducey has announced that he may appoint a replacement who has a similar political outlook to President Trump. Due to the fact that President Trump is highly unpopular in Arizona (and will likely lose the state assuming that he will run for re-election n 2020), the appointed candidate to McCain’s seat will likely not win a full-term.

3. Trump Administration Announces Plan to Roll-back “Clean Power Plan”

President Donald Trump this week announced his intention to roll-back the “Clean Power Plan,” as well as other Obama-era environmental regulations.

On August 21, the Trump administration revealed a plan to scale back an Obama-era rule designed to cut planet-warming emissions from the nation’s power plants. The proposal from the Environmental Protection Agency will reportedly hand authority to states to create their own rules for coal-fired power plants. That would give states the option to impose looser restrictions that allow utilities to emit more greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and other pollutants — or to defer taking any action. The measure also stands to relieve pressure on the coal industry, a sector President Donald Trump has vowed to revive. Coal miners have seen their fortunes fade as coal-fired plants retire ahead of schedule, under pressure from cheap natural gas and falling prices for renewable energy projects.

More stringent regulations implemented in 2015 by former President Barack Obama put stress on the coal industry by requiring power plants to undertake expensive upgrades or shut down. President Obama’s signature Clean Power Plan established the first nationwide rules for carbon emissions. It set emissions goals for each state and gave them many options to reduce climate pollution, with the goal of cutting the nation’s emissions by 32 percent below 2005 levels. The new plan from the Trump Administration does not set a hard goal for nationwide emissions reductions, according to reports. It is projected to allow 12 times more greenhouse gas to be emitted over the next decade than under the Clean Power Plan and asks states to focus on requiring coal plants to take steps to run more efficiently. In contrast, the Clean Power Plan allowed states to meet their goals by taking measures that would push coal out of the energy mix, including adding more solar and wind farms or converting coal plants to natural gas facilities. The Trump plan would also give states a chance to forgo creating any new rules by allowing them to explain why they do not need to take action. It is possible that several states (namely Ohio, Kentucky, West Virginia, Tennessee, and Arkansas) could pursue that option, given significant opposition to Obama’s plan.

The proposal by the Trump Administration to gut the Clean Power Plan has resulted in a major outcry by environmental groups and represents another effort by the Administration to gain political support in the Appalachian and Ozarks regions of the US (both of which are regions in which fossil fuel production is a major industry). Additionally, the actions will contribute greatly to the problem of global warming. “These are the two biggest sectors of the economy that contribute to greenhouse gases in the country and are just hugely significant in terms of emissions,” said Janet McCabe, the Environmental Protection Agency air chief under President Obama. “The science is just getting clearer and clearer every day,” McCabe said. “I don’t know how many times people need to hear that we’re having the warmest summer on record or how many storms people need to see. This is no fooling.”

4. Iran Sues US in ICJ Over Reimplementation of Sanctions

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif announced this week that his country intends to sue the US in the ICJ regarding its unilateral decision to reinstate sanctions specifically meant to weaken the Iranian economy.

On August 26, Iran filed a lawsuit with the UN International Court of Justice (ICJ), arguing that the US has violated terms of a 1955 Treaty governing economic relations between both countries regarding the fact that it has re-instead sanctions against Iran over its alleged nuclear program. The treaty was signed by US President Dwight Eisenhower and Iranian Prime Minister Hossein Ala‘ two years after the US, UK, and Israel orchestrated a coup that removed Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh from power. The primary purpose of the agreement was to strengthen the Iranian economy after the Shah assumed more powers after Mossadegh’s overthrow. When presenting the case before the ICJ, a lawyer from Iran said the US is promoting a policy “intended to damage” Iran’s economy, companies, and people, and that its actions are “plainly a violation” of the treaty. On the other hand, the US said the ICJ has no jurisdiction regarding its disputes with Iran and that the provisions of the 1955 agreement do not apply to the current Iranian government.

The ICJ is expected to hold public hearings until August 30 and is expected to issue its final ruling at the end of September. Based on the language of the treaty and the fact that the Iranian government has not explicitly renounced the agreement, the court will determine that it is still binging and that the US has an obligation to abide by its provisions. Because it has previously ignored other court ruling regarding Iran, the US will likely not abide by the court’s decision and will continue its imposed sanctions against Iran

 

the author

Matt is a student at Seton Hall Law School and graduated from Monmouth University. Matt has been studying and analyzing politics at all levels since the 2004 Presidential Election. He writes about political trends and demographics, the role of the media in politics, comparative politics, political theory, and the domestic and international political economy. Matt is also interested in history, philosophy, comparative religion, and record collecting.

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