PHILADELPHIA — A small but growing number of dogs are being abandoned in and around a wooded section of the West Mount Airy area of Philadelphia — some of them found tied to trees or stakes. A few other dogs, as well as cats, are being dumped in other locations in Northwest Philadelphia, according to activists. The spate of creatures being discarded has worn on such people as Aminda Edgar, 45, a volunteer with the citywide nonprofit Green Street Rescue, which helps people adopt stray and homeless cats. She's also created her own nonprofit Familiar Hearts Animal Society, which finds foster and ...
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The former director of the federal Information Security Oversight Office broke down five "myths and misundertandings" about classification and public documents in a new analysis for Just Security.
"In the days since former President Donald Trump announced on his social media platform that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) had executed a search warrant at his home and business at Mar-a-Lago, there has been much discussion as to what authorities Trump has or had as a former president and what laws or regulations he may have violated by possessing documents with classification markings outside of proper controls," J. William Leonard wrote. "This has led to the repeating of many myths and misunderstandings, often by the former president himself, as to presidential authority relating to classified information. I spent over 30 years overseeing the proper handling of such information, initially in the Department of Defense and ending my government service responsible for the oversight of classified information within the entire executive branch as Director of the Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO)."
The first myth he addressed was Richard Nixon's infamous defense that "when the president does it that means it is not illegal."
"True that Nixon said it, but the idea is false. Our nation is founded on a fundamental rule of law principle that the United States has a government of law, not men," Leonard explained. "In the Federalist Papers, James Madison wrote: 'If men were angels, no government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.' It is in recognition of this aspect of human nature that our founders embraced the concept known as the separation of powers, intended to ensure that no one person can gain absolute power and stand above the law.
The second myth is that former officials are allowed to possess and/or disclose any information that has been declassified.
"False. Much of the unclassified information created by the federal government’s executive branch or otherwise in its custody is nonetheless sensitive and requires safeguarding or dissemination controls pursuant to and consistent with applicable law, regulations, and government-wide policies," he wrote. "Known as Controlled Unclassified Information, examples include information relating to federal taxpayers, witness protection, critical infrastructure protection and nuclear security. Both current and former government officials are subject to administrative or criminal sanctions should they improperly disclose or otherwise mishandle such unclassified information. Moreover, the unauthorized possession of certain controlled unclassified information such as Naval Nuclear Propulsion Information could be subject to prosecution under, among other statutes, 18 USC 793 of the Espionage Act, which does not mention classified information but rather applies to closely held national defense information the disclosure of which, if publicly known, could be used to the injury of the United States or to the advantage of any foreign nation.
The third myth is that the president has "absolute authority" to declassify information at will.
"Partly true, partly false. During and after his presidency, Trump has repeatedly made this claim. It is true that the president’s authority to classify and thus declassify information in the interest of national security derives from his Article II constitutional authority as commander-in-chief and the position of chief executive responsible for foreign relations. A Supreme Court decision — Department of the Navy v. Egan — is often used to assert unchecked presidential authority over classified information. However, there is information which is “classified” not pursuant to the president’s Article II authority but rather pursuant to statutory law," he wrote.
The fourth myth was Trump's claim he had a "standing order" that automatically declassified any document Trump took from the Oval Office.
"Absurd. While hypothetically true, this notion is implausible from a practical perspective," he wrote. "If the former president personally declassified information contained in documents removed to the White House residence, procedures should have been in place to notify the official who originally classified that information who in turn would have to have notified the potentially millions of individuals who derivatively classified or otherwise had copies of that same classified information. No such procedures appear to have existed during the Trump administration. As such, if Trump had, in fact, declassified the records in question, the original classifier and the myriad of authorized users of that information would remain oblivious to the fact that the information contained therein would no longer have the legal protections of the classification system."
The final myth was that former presidents have control over their White House records.
"False. Starting with the administration of President Ford, and in reaction to the Watergate scandal of the Nixon administration, in addition to the Federal Records Act, records of each presidential administration are controlled by the Presidential Records Act (PRA), depending upon which element of the White House is involved. In this Act, Congress made it clear that the American people, not the former president, owns the records and assigns responsibility to the incumbent president for the custody and management of his presidential records," he wrote. "In sum, records of a president that were used during official duties belong to the American people – not to the president – and decisions about declassification and access to those materials are made by professionals within the federal government with the continuing responsibility to ensure that any disclosures do not place the security of our nation at increased risk."
Prosecuting a president is divisive and sometimes destabilizing – here’s why many countries do it anyway
Criminal prosecution of former President Donald Trump and his allies could result from at least one of multiple investigations.
These include the Aug. 8, 2022, seizure of documents from his Florida home by the FBI, continued progress in a Georgia state investigation into Republican election tampering and the ongoing revelations of evidence presented by the congressional committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection.
While charging a former president with a criminal offense would be a first in the United States, in other countries ex-leaders are routinely investigated, prosecuted and even jailed.
In March 2021, former French President Nicolas Sarkozy was sentenced to a year in prison for corruption and influence peddling. Later that year, the trial of Israel’s longtime Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu related to breaches of trust, bribery and fraud while in office commenced. And Jacob Zuma, the former president of South Africa who was charged with money laundering and racketeering, will likely face trial in May 2023 after years of delays.
At first glance, prosecuting current or past top officials accused of illegal conduct seems like an obvious decision for a democracy: Everyone should be subject to the rule of law.
But presidents and prime ministers aren’t just anyone. They are chosen by a nation’s citizens or their parties to lead. They are often popular, sometimes revered. So judicial proceedings against them are inevitably perceived as political and become divisive.
This is partly why U.S. President Gerald Ford pardoned Richard Nixon, his predecessor, in 1974. Despite clear evidence of criminal wrongdoing in the Watergate scandal, Ford feared the country “would needlessly be diverted from meeting (our) challenges if we as a people were to remain sharply divided over” punishing the ex-president.
Public reaction at the time was divided along party lines. Today, some now see absolving Nixon as necessary to heal the nation, while others believe it was a historic mistake, even taking Nixon’s deteriorating health into account – if for no other reason than it emboldens future impunity of the kind Trump is accused of.
Our research on prosecuting world leaders finds that both sweeping immunity and overzealous prosecutions can undermine democracy. But such prosecutions pose different risks for older democracies such as France and the U.S. than they do in younger democracies like South Africa.
Strong democracies are usually competent enough – and the judicial system independent enough – to prosecute politicians who misbehave, including top leaders.
Sarkozy is France’s second modern president to be found guilty of corruption, after Jacques Chirac in 2011 for kickbacks and an attempt to bribe a magistrate. The country didn’t fall apart after either conviction. Some observers, however, say that Sarkozy’s three-year prison sentence was too harsh and politically motivated.
In mature democracies, prosecutions that hold leaders accountable can solidify the rule of law. South Korea investigated and convicted five former presidents starting in the 1990s, a wave of political prosecutions that culminated in the 2018 impeachment of President Park Geun-hye and, soon after, the conviction and imprisonment of her predecessor, Lee Myung-bak.
Did these prosecutions deter future leaders from wrongdoing? For what it’s worth, Korea’s two most recent presidents have so far kept out of legal trouble.
Overzealous prosecution versus rule of law
Even in mature democracies, prosecutors or judges can abuse prosecutions. But overzealous political prosecution is more likely, and potentially more damaging, in emerging democracies where courts and other public institutions may be insufficiently independent from politics. The weaker and more beholden the judiciary, the easier it is for leaders to exploit the system, either to expand their own power or to take down an opponent.
Brazil embodies this dilemma.
Ex-President Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva, a former shoeshine boy turned popular leftist, was jailed in 2018 for accepting bribes. Many Brazilians thought his prosecution was a politicized effort to end his career.
A year later, the same prosecutorial team accused the conservative former President Michel Temer of accepting millions in bribes. After his term ended in 2019, Temer was arrested; his trial was later suspended.
Both Brazilian presidents’ prosecutions were part of a yearslong sweeping anti-corruption probe by the courts that has jailed dozens of politicians. Even the probe’s lead prosecutor is accused of corruption.
Depending on one’s perspective, Brazil’s crisis reveals that nobody is above the law or that the government is incorrigibly corrupt – or both. With such confusion, it becomes easier for politicians and voters to view leaders’ transgressions as a normal cost of doing business.
For Lula, a conviction didn’t end his career. He was released from jail in 2019 and the Supreme Court later annulled his conviction. Lula is now leading the 2022 presidential race against current Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro.
Stability versus accountability
Historically, Mexico has taken a different approach to prosecuting past presidents: It doesn’t.
During the 20th century, Mexico’s ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, established a system of patronage and corruption that kept its members in power and other parties in the minority. While making a show of going after smaller fish for petty indiscretions, the PRI-run legal system wouldn’t touch top party officials, even the most openly corrupt.
Impunity kept Mexico stable during its transition to democracy in the 1990s by placating PRI members’ fears of prosecution after leaving office. But government corruption flourished, and with it, organized crime.
That may be changing, though. In early August 2022, Mexican federal prosecutors confirmed that it has several open investigations into former PRI President Enrique Peña Nieto for alleged money laundering and election-related offenses, among other crimes.
Mexico is far from the only country to overlook the bad deeds of past leaders. Our research finds that only 23% of countries that transitioned to democracy between 1885 and 2004 charged former leaders with crimes after democratization.
Protecting authoritarians – including those who oversaw human rights violations – may seem contrary to democratic values, but many transitional governments have decided it is necessary for democracy to take root.
That’s the bargain South Africa struck as apartheid’s decades of segregation and human rights abuses ended in the early 1990s. South Africa’s white-dominated government negotiated with Nelson Mandela’s Black-led African National Congress to ensure outgoing government members and supporters would avoid prosecution and largely retain their wealth.
This strategy helped the country transition to majority Black rule in 1994 and avoid a civil war. But it hurt efforts to create a more equal South Africa. As a result, the country has retained one of the world’s highest racial wealth gaps.
Corruption is a problem, too, as former President Zuma’s prosecution for lavish personal use of public funds shows. But South Africa has a famously independent judiciary. Despite pushback from some African National Congress stalwarts and several legal appeals, Zuma’s prosecution continues. And it may yet deter future misdeeds.
How mature is mature?
Israel is partly a testament to the rule of law – and partly a cautionary tale about prosecuting leaders in democracies.
Israel didn’t wait for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to leave office to investigate wrongdoing. But the court process was fraught with delays, in part because Netanyahu used state power to resist what he called a “witch hunt.”
The trial triggered protests by his Likud party. Netanyahu tried unsuccessfully to secure immunity and stall. He was even reelected while under indictment, and his trial is not over yet.
If Trump is criminally prosecuted, the process would reveal something fundamental about American democracy. Whatever the outcomes, they would be a matter of both law – and politics.
This is a substantially updated version of an article originally published on March 16, 2021.
Victor Menaldo, Professor of Political Science, Co-founder of the Political Economy Forum, University of Washington; James D. Long, Associate Professor of Political Science, University of Washington, and Morgan Wack, Doctoral Student in Political Science, University of Washington
Fox News host Laura Ingraham, a substantial supporter of former President Donald Trump, recently suggested that Americans might be prepared to move on as she argued a fresh Republican presidential candidate may fair better in 2024.
The television anchor made her remarks during a recent discussion with podcaster Lisa Boothe. When she appeared on Boothe's show, she admitted that she believes it may be time “to turn the page.”
“People conflate Trump with people’s overall sense of happiness in the country. Donald Trump’s been a friend of mine for 25 years, and I’m always very open about this on my show. But, you know we’ll see whether that’s what the country wants,” Ingraham said during an appearance on Boothe’s podcast.
“The country I think is so exhausted," she added. "They’re exhausted by the battle, the constant battle, that they may believe that, well, maybe it’s time to turn the page if we can get someone who has all Trump’s policies, who’s not Trump.”
According to Ingraham, Trump's play on populism in previous years may not be as appealing among voters in 2024. “The other problem is that it’s really not about Trump, right, this is about the views that Trump now brought to the floor for the Republican Party,” Ingraham said.
“They don’t like his views, they don’t like the fact that he called out the military for their failures, that he wanted us to pull out of Iraq and Afghanistan," she added. "That he wanted to treat China and our trade relationship with China in a much — it was smarter, but much different way than the globalists preferred. And they certainly didn’t like the fact that he sent all those illegal immigrants back to Mexico with that Remain in Mexico.”
Ingraham's remarks come soon after Trump's Mar-a-Lago property was searched by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).