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Yes, Trump is target of 'presidential harassment'

Byron York

President Trump often complains that he is the victim of "presidential harassment" -- or, as he sometimes puts it, "PRESIDENTIAL HARASSMENT!"

"After more than two years of Presidential Harassment, the only things that have been proven is that Democrats and others broke the law," Trump tweeted on March 3. "Presidential Harassment by 'crazed' Democrats at the highest level in the history of our Country," he added later. "PRESIDENTIAL HARASSMENT! It should never be allowed to happen again!" he tweeted Feb. 7.

The president's adversaries, of course, dismiss his protests as self-interested whining. But the fact is, Trump has a point. He is the target of an extraordinary combination not just of federal law enforcement and congressional probes, but a long list of less-discussed but potentially consequential investigations by state and local prosecutors and regulators.

Together, it adds up to a pile-on of unprecedented proportions -- by and large the work of blue-state Democrats who stand to gain politically if their investigations succeed in crippling the president.

Recently the New York State Department of Financial Services, the agency that regulates the insurance business, issued what The New York Times called an "expansive subpoena" to Aon, the insurance broker for the president's companies. The agency leaped into action after former Trump fixer Michael Cohen told the House that Trump had at some point inflated his assets to an insurance company. Cohen, who has pleaded guilty to lying to Congress and faces serious questions about the truthfulness of his latest testimony, supplied no details.

None were needed. "The subpoena that was served on Aon contains no indication that the company or any of its employees engaged in misconduct," the Times reported. "Nor does it specify any possible wrongdoing that is the focus of the inquiry by state regulators." The subpoena demanded "a broad range of materials" related to Trump's dealings with Aon going back a decade, the Times said.

Also in New York, the State Department of Taxation and Finance announced last October that it is investigating Trump's taxes going back at least 20 years.

Speaking of state law enforcement, the recent New York attorney general race was virtually a contest to see which candidate could vow to go after Trump the most aggressively. In her victory speech, new AG Letitia James said of Trump, "I will be shining a bright light into every dark corner of his real estate dealings, and every dealing, demanding truthfulness at every turn."

Outside of New York, the attorneys general of Maryland and the District of Columbia are suing Trump, accusing him of violating the emoluments clause of the Constitution.

Then there is the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, based in Manhattan. Prosecutors there are said to be investigating the Trump Organization's finances, the funding of the Trump inauguration, and the funding of the Trump super PAC Rebuilding America Now.

The SDNY investigations hold a large place in the hopes of Trump opponents who fear Trump-Russia special counsel Robert Mueller might deliver an underwhelming report that does not make the case that Trump colluded with Russia to fix the 2016 election or that he obstructed justice in the aftermath. Indeed, a number of observers believe the SDNY probes pose a more serious threat to Trump than Mueller.

Does there seem something odd about that? In a recent email exchange, I asked Andrew Coan, a University of Arizona law professor, who is the author of the book "Prosecuting the President," whether there is precedent for a U.S. attorney's office conducting a wide-ranging, open-ended investigation of a sitting president. "The short answer is no," Coan responded. "I am aware of no comparable prior investigation."

On Capitol Hill, Democrats have long viewed Trump's tax returns -- his refusal to release them broke 40 years of precedent -- as a sort of Holy Grail of Trump investigations. "We have to have the truth," Speaker Nancy Pelosi said before the election. Now, the House Ways and Means Committee is reportedly preparing to demand the Treasury Department turn over the returns. The demand is based primarily on suspicion that Trump must have done something wrong with his taxes or he would have long ago released the returns. If Democrats get the returns -- and that is not guaranteed given the expected legal fight -- it's likely they will start even more investigations.

Beyond that, there is the House Judiciary Committee's recent decision to demand documents from 81 people associated with Trump -- a request so wide-ranging that even some Democrats worry that their party's investigators have overreached.

The point is, the scrutiny directed at the president from all sides -- not oversight of his administration or even investigations into his election -- so far exceeds anything in the past that it could well qualify as presidential harassment.

Democrats would no doubt respond that Trump is singularly corrupt, or that he brought it all on himself. He did not. What has happened is that Democrats, in Congress and in some key blue states, saw investigation as a way to weaken a president they never thought would be elected and want to ensure is not re-elected in 2020. And Trump, with the most extensive business history ever brought to the presidency, presented a lot of avenues of investigation. When he complains about harassment, he has a legitimate case to make.

Byron York is chief political correspondent for The Washington Examiner.


Editorial
At least enforce existing firearm laws

Gary Martin was exactly the kind of person that gun control background checks — a federal system now 25 years old — was designed to catch.

It failed. Again.

In Mississippi in 1994, Martin stabbed his girlfriend with a kitchen knife, beat her with a baseball bat, and warned "we are all going to die" if she left him. He should have never been able to buy a gun after that. But many years later, shopping for a gun in Illinois, Martin lied about his criminal past, and a federal background check missed his felony aggravated assault conviction and prison term in Mississippi for attacking his girlfriend.

Martin bought himself a Smith & Wesson .40-caliber handgun.

Illinois authorities later discovered the error and revoked Martin's firearm permit. But all that happened next was a letter from the state police telling him to give up his gun. Despite the state's tough gun laws, he didn't. Instead, in February, as he was being fired from a warehouse job in Aurora, Martin used his Smith & Wesson to kill five co-workers and wound five police officers before being shot to death.

Last week, two important pieces of gun control legislation passed the House of Representatives. One closes the so-called gun show loophole by requiring universal background checks, an idea favored by 85 percent of Americans. The other extends the background review period from three days to 10, allowing more time for disqualifying records to be found.

Both bills have an unlikely future in the Republican-controlled Senate. But improvements of any kind will ultimately fall short when existing laws are not vigorously applied. Americans can hardly be expected to get behind new gun laws when authorities keep bungling old ones.

The Brady Law of 1993, mandating the criminal-background check, has never been adequately enforced. (The National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS, administered by the FBI, was established in 1998 in response to Brady.)

Nearly 1.5 million people have been denied firearms under the system. But unlawful purchases still occur because agencies fail to provide NICS with necessary records or don't follow up when mistakes are made.

And people keep dying.

The Air Force failed to notify NICS about the criminal record of a discharged airman who then bought an assault-style rifle and killed 26 people at a Texas church in 2017.

Travis Reinking's guns were taken away in 2017 after a White House trespassing incident. Police gave them to his father, and investigators said Reinking later used one of them to allegedly murder four random people at a Waffle House near Nashville last year.

A report last year found 112,000 cases in 2017 where people lied about their backgrounds to buy a gun, a potential felony. Only 12 cases were prosecuted.

Of the 10,818 people in Illinois like Martin who had their gun licenses revoked last year, more than 8,000 kept their illegal guns. According to the Chicago Tribune, 10 people were arrested for the offense.

Some progress has been made. Last year, Congress passed legislation offering incentives to state and local agencies to improve NICS compliance. But the Justice Department told The Wall Street Journal that states have yet to submit millions of records to the FBI.

Federal record submissions have increased by 400 percent, but a requirement that military service branches like the Air Force do a better job of reporting criminal backgrounds has not been met. The Department of Homeland Security has also failed to abide by the law.

The nation is awash in firearms. The least that federal, state and local agencies can do is enforce existing laws preventing the violent and the mentally ill from acquiring guns.

-- USA Today


Editorial
Trump signs protections for Oregon public lands

(Tuesday), President Donald Trump signed into law a sweeping public lands package that passed the US House and Senate in February. Included in the nation-wide legislation is the Oregon Wildlands Act, the Frank and Jeanne Moore Wild Steelhead Special Management Area Designation Act, the reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, and many other public lands bills. The legislation was the first for Oregon to protect Wilderness and Wild and Scenic Rivers in nearly 10 years.

Representative Peter DeFazio and Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley championed the conservation legislation for years. The passage was lauded by business owners, conservationists and public lands enthusiasts across the country.

“Protected wildlands and waterways in Oregon are good for business, critical for great craft beer, and are part of our identity as Oregonians,” says Jamie Floyd, co-founder of Ninkasi Brewing Company. “That’s why we are ecstatic about the passage of the Oregon Wildlands Act, which will forever safeguard special places like Devil’s Staircase, the Rogue, Elk, and Chetco rivers and other Oregon treasures.”

Today’s authorization will designate the approximately 30,500-acre Devil’s Staircase Wilderness in the Oregon Coast Range northeast of Reedsport and safeguard 303 miles of rivers, including nearly 256 miles as Wild and Scenic Rivers, including the Molalla and Elk rivers and tributaries to the lower Rogue River. The bill will also permanently withdraw portions of the salmon-rich Chetco River, the drinking water source for the city of Brookings, from mining claims. The legislation also creates the 100,000-acre Frank and Jeanne Moore Wild Steelhead Special Management Area on the North Umpqua River, named after two legendary fish and wildlands advocates of the area.

“Oregon’s inventory of protected wildlands and waterways just got a huge boost, and is a testament to the conservation passion of Oregonians,” says Josh Laughlin, Executive Director of Cascadia Wildlands. “These are storybook landscapes that will be forever safeguarded from industrialization and will continue to provide clean water, recreation, carbon storage, and critical salmon and wildlife habitat at a time it is so desperately needed.”

Left out of the legislation during earlier negotiations was the 56,000-acre addition to the Wild Rogue Wilderness in the Siskiyou Mountains of southern Oregon and the creation of the Rogue Canyon and Molalla recreation areas. Conservation organizations continue to work with elected officials, business owners and community members to ensure these permanent protections are included in future legislation.

-- Cascadia Wildlands