Stop the Impeachment Fishing Expedition

By David B. Rivkin Jr. and Elizabeth Price Foley

Feb. 14, 2019, in the Wall Street Journal

As William Barr begins his term as attorney general, House Democrats are aiming a “subpoena cannon” at President Trump, hoping to disable his presidency with investigations and possibly gather evidence to impeach him. Mr. Trump fired back in his State of the Union address: “If there is going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be war and investigation.” To protect the presidency and separation of powers, Mr. Barr should be prepared to seek a stay of all congressional investigations of Mr. Trump’s prepresidential conduct.

The president is not one among many, as are legislators and judges. Crippling his ability to function upsets the constitutional balance of power. For this reason, the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel has repeatedly concluded that a sitting president may not be indicted or prosecuted. The same logic should apply to congressional investigations.

Congress is targeting Mr. Trump’s actions before becoming president because there are well-established constitutional limits, grounded in separation-of-powers doctrine, on its ability to investigate his official conduct. In U.S. v. Nixon (1974), the Supreme Court recognized a constitutionally based, although not unlimited, privilege of confidentiality to ensure “effective discharge of a President’s powers.” In Nixon v. Fitzgerald (1982), the justices held that presidents and ex-presidents have absolute immunity against civil liability for official presidential acts.

Executive immunity for prepresidential activity is less clear. In Clinton v. Jones (1997), which arose out of Paula Jones’s accusation that Bill Clinton sexually harassed her while he was governor of Arkansas, the justices reasoned that Ms. Jones’s lawsuit could proceed because the burden on the presidency objectively appeared light. Specifically, because only three sitting presidents had been sued for prepresidential acts, the justices thought it “unlikely that a deluge of such litigation will ever engulf the presidency.” Read more »

Another IRS free-speech scandal

By David B. Rivkin and Randall John Meyer

November 23, 2018, in the Wall Street Journal

The Internal Revenue Service infamously targeted dissenters during President Obama’s re-election campaign. Now the IRS is at it again. Earlier this year it issued a rule suppressing huge swaths of First Amendment protected speech. The regulation appears designed to hamper the marijuana industry, which is still illegal under federal law although many states have enacted decriminalization measures. But it goes far beyond that.

The innocuously named Revenue Procedure 2018-5 contains a well-hidden provision enabling the Service to withhold tax-exempt status from organizations seeking to improve “business conditions . . . relating to an activity involving controlled substances (within the meaning of Schedule I and II of the Controlled Substances Act) which is prohibited by federal law.” That means that to obtain tax-exempt status under any provision of the Internal Revenue Code’s Section 501—whether as a charity, social-welfare advocacy group or other type of nonprofit—an organization may not advocate for altering the legal regime applicable to any Schedule I or II substance.

Marijuana is a Schedule I substance, meaning the Food and Drug Administration has found it has “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.” Schedule II drugs include such widely prescribed medications as Adderall, Vyvanse, codeine and oxycodone. The IRS can deny tax-exempt status to any organization that seeks to improve the “business conditions” of a currently prohibited activity involving these medications. That could include simply advocating for a change in the law or regulation forbidding the possession, sale or use of marijuana or other Schedule I substances. It would also encompass advocacy for relaxing the regulatory regime currently governing the production, distribution or prescription of Schedule II medications.

The rule does not apply to all speech dealing with the listed substances, only that involving an “improvement” in “business conditions,” such as legalization or deregulation. Efforts to maintain restrictions or impose additional ones are fine by the IRS. This is constitutionally pernicious viewpoint discrimination. As the Supreme Court stated in Rosenberger v. University of Virginia (1995): “When the government targets not subject matter, but particular views taken by speakers on a subject, the violation of the First Amendment is all the more blatant.”

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Why Mueller can’t subpoena Trump

Donald Trump’s lawyers have signaled he won’t agree to a voluntary interview with special counsel Robert Mueller. If Mr. Mueller insists, he will have to subpoena the president. To enforce a subpoena, the special counsel would have to go to court and meet a highly exacting standard, showing what he wants and why he needs it. He would be unlikely to succeed, given that Mr. Trump already has cooperated extensively with the investigation, producing 1.4 million documents and making dozens of White House staffers available for interviews.

The leading precedent is a 1997 opinion, In re Sealed Case, by the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. The case involved the independent counsel investigation of former Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy, who was accused of receiving unlawful gifts. The independent counsel sought to obtain sensitive documents produced in the course of an internal White House inquiry. These materials involved the preparation of a report to then-President Clinton himself. Although Mr. Clinton had directed that most of the materials be provided, he asserted executive privilege to withhold some items.

At issue in particular was information regarding whether Mr. Clinton should discipline or fire Mr. Espy, who did resign. To justify producing such sensitive materials involving “the exercise of [the president’s] appointment and removal power, a quintessential and non-delegable presidential power,” the court required the independent counsel to demonstrate with “specificity” why he needed the materials and why he could not get them, or equivalent evidence, from another source. (Mr. Espy was acquitted in 1998.)

Mr. Mueller’s initial charge was to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. But his investigation has expanded to cover whether Mr. Trump has obstructed justice. The president’s critics say his obstructive acts include urging then-FBI Director James Comey to “go easy” on former national security adviser Mike Flynn, subsequently firing Mr. Comey, and his public criticism of Mr. Mueller, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

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What consequences lie ahead for the President’s Lie of the Year?

Transcript of David Rivkin’s appearance on Bill Bennett’s Morning in America radio show on November 18, 2013.

BILL BENNETT: David, it looks like the President lied [when he said], “if you like your plan you can keep it.” Is there any way to take legal action against the President’s administration or HHS [Dept. of Health and Human Services] for this deception?

DAVID RIVKIN: Well no, if somebody in the private sector has done that, there will be all sorts of criminal and civil options, but you cannot prosecute the President under any of those statutes. The price that he has to pay is the political price and, unfortunately, he’s not going to pay the full price, given the way the media and national Democrats are looking at it. It also, frankly, further undermines the trust of the American people in the government.
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Your DNA and your First Amendment

The FDA is blocking 23andMe’s genome service. But the real target is free speech.
 

By David Rivkin Jr. and Andrew Grossman 

Did you know that you cannot be trusted with knowledge of your own genetic background? That’s what the Food and Drug Administration decreed late last month when it ordered 23andMe to stop marketing its Personal Genome Service.

23andMe is at the cutting edge of mass-market genomics. For $99 the company tests a saliva sample to identify genetic markers that correspond to various conditions and predispositions, as well as ancestry. Based on these markers, the company produces a report describing genetic health risks and inherited traits, along with citations to the research that backs up its analysis and the current scientific “confidence” for each point.

The FDA does not claim that 23andMe is a scam or could cause direct injury. Instead, its concern is that people using the genome service may begin to self-manage their treatments. Essentially, the agency wants to “protect” patients from knowing about their own health.
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Digging the NSA Out of the Snowden Storm

The National Security Agency’s surveillance hasn’t changed. Washington has.

By Mike Pompeo and David B. Rivkin Jr.

Former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden’s leaks have subjected the NSA’s surveillance programs to unprecedented attack, raising the possibility that Congress will not be able to pass the 2014 Intelligence Authorization bill needed to provide congressional guidance on a host of crucial national-security issues. It would be lamentable if the entirely legal and invaluable NSA surveillance program became more of a political football than it already is.

Some proposals would hamstring the NSA’s ability to obtain, store and analyze information, while forcing disclosures of now-classified operations. Balancing the intelligence community’s need for secrecy with the public’s appetite for disclosure is always difficult in a democracy. But the NSA’s programs have from the start been tailored to balance constitutional requirements, statutory authorizations and operational needs. What’s different today is not how we collect intelligence, but the new and extreme legal and policy arguments against doing so.
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