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Elizabeth Warren Proposes to Cancel Student Loan Debt!

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Dear Commons Community,

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Massachusetts senator and potential Democratic presidential candidate proposed a $1.25-trillion plan yesterday that would cancel most student-loan debt and make every public college free.

The plan, unveiled in a blog post, would cancel up to $50,000 each in student-loan debt for 42 million Americans, wiping it out entirely for three-quarters of those borrowers.

It would also allow any American to attend a two- or four-year public college “without paying a dime in tuition or fees,” Warren’s post said.

The senator dismissed as “nonsense” complaints that her plan, which would cost an estimated $1.25 trillion over 10 years, was unaffordable. The cost would be more than covered, she wrote, by what she called an “ultra-millionaire tax,” a 2-percent annual tax on the 75,000 families in the United States worth at least $50 million.  As reported in The Chronicle of Higher Education:

“The plan, which was welcomed by supporters as a bold move to eliminate crushing debts holding many families back, was criticized by others as a waste of money that subsidizes people who can afford to pay for college.

Warren said her plan would help reduce inequities of wealth between white and minority families. It would do that, in part, by canceling at least a portion of the debt of more than 95 percent of the nearly 45 million Americans who owe money on student loans, she said.

Warren added that her plan would stimulate economic growth and allow more people to buy homes and start small businesses. “Once we’ve cleared out the debt that’s holding down an entire generation of Americans,” she wrote, “we must ensure that we never have another student debt crisis again.”

The debt burden, Warren wrote, is a result of the government’s consistently putting the interests of wealthy people ahead of those of working families.

“Policy makers stood by as state after state pulled back on investments in public higher education and sent tuition soaring,” she wrote. “They stood by as for-profit colleges exploded, luring in students with false promises and loading them up with debt as their executives and investors raked in billions in taxpayer dollars. They stood by as employers demanded higher credentials while offloading the cost of getting those credentials onto workers.”

At a time when American families have more than $1.5 trillion in student-loan debt, the movement for some form of free college, which was pushed into the background after President Trump was elected, is once again picking up steam.

Democratic candidates have been staking out proposals; some would limit free tuition to two-year colleges or impose income limitations, while others would cover living expenses as well as tuition and fees.

Warren’s proposal drew mixed reviews on social media.

Mark Huelsman, a senior policy analyst at Demos, a left-leaning think tank, tweeted that Warren’s proposal would help ensure that the nontuition costs that create the biggest barriers for low-income students would be covered.

Donald E. Heller, provost at the University of San Francisco, criticized the plan on Twitter: “One of the worst #HigherEd financing proposals ever — millions of people would enjoy a huge consumer surplus they don’t need or deserve. Hopefully the other Dem candidates will do better.”

It would make more sense, Heller said in an interview yesterday, to use existing mechanisms like Pell Grants, which are based on financial need, to expand support for students. “But to sit here and allow the children of rich kids to go to the University of Michigan or the University of Virginia for free is absolutely ridiculous,” he said.

Sara Goldrick-Rab, a professor of higher-education policy and sociology at Temple University who has long championed free college, said it was wrong to consider tuition breaks to wealthier students as giveaways. They’re simply a political necessity, she wrote in an email.

“A former community-college student struggling with $5,000 in debt while raising two kids will get a smaller amount of debt forgiven under this program than a former Penn student now employed who might have $50,000 paid off,” she wrote, “but make no mistake about it, it will change the life of that former CC student and her kids, and not change the life of the Penn student nearly as much.

“But we won’t be able to get the former CC student loan forgiveness (or free tuition) without helping her wealthier counterparts,” she wrote.

Tiffany Jones, director of higher-education policy at the Education Trust, said that while the price tag on the Warren proposal is steep, “I don’t think you can touch issues of affordability and student success on the cheap, which is what a lot of people have tried to do.”

Pete Boyle, a spokesman for the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, said private colleges weren’t the only ones that could suffer under Warren’s proposal. State colleges in New England and other regions that rely on out-of-staters would lose those students if they could stay in their home states and attend college free, he said.

A spokeswoman for the American Association of Colleges and Universities called the proposal a “bold, far-reaching effort to make college more affordable,” but added that the association would “need to carefully examine the implications of such a plan.”

Warren’s proposal is interesting and raises the ante on college affordabilty.

Tony

Nancy Pelosi Again On Impeachment!

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Nancy Pelosi on Impeachment

Dear Commons Community,

Last month, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was adamant that she did not think it politically wise to impeach President Trump.  She said that she would not pursue impeachment against President Trump because it would be too divisive and “he’s just not worth it.”

“I’m not for impeachment,” said Pelosi in an interview with the Washington Post  : “Impeachment is so divisive to the country that unless there’s something so compelling and overwhelming and bipartisan, I don’t think we should go down that path…”

In light of the release of the Mueller Report last week, there is new pressure on her and the Democrats to move to impeachment. Confronting a Democratic divide over the findings of the special counsel, she urged her caucus yesterday  to hold off impeaching President Trump for now, even as she denounced the “highly unethical and unscrupulous behavior” that she said had dishonored his office.

Her comments, outlined in a letter to House Democrats and a subsequent conference call with them, seemed designed to increase support for the investigations already begun, rather than impeachment. But the conference call exposed the persistent divisions that Ms. Pelosi is trying to bridge, as several Democrats questioned the cost of not beginning the impeachment of Donald J. Trump.  As reported in the New York Times:

“Some House Democrats are convinced that impeachment proceedings would be doomed to fall short of removal from office and therefore would only help the president politically. Others argue that failing to impeach would effectively signal to this president and his successors that serious misdeeds will be tolerated by a legislative branch fearful of political consequence.

Ms. Pelosi tried to convince her colleagues that they have tools to hold Mr. Trump to account without impeaching him. Underscoring Ms. Pelosi’s approach, the Democrat-led Judiciary Committee announced as the call began that it had subpoenaed Donald F. McGahn II, the former White House counsel and one of the central figures of Mr. Mueller’s report, to appear at a public hearing in late May. The hearing, the committee’s chairman told colleagues, would be the first in a series of public sessions showcasing possible obstruction of justice, abuses of power and corruption in the Trump administration.

Representatives Suzanne Bonamici of Oregon and Steve Cohen of Tennessee raised another possibility: voting to censure the president, the people on the call said.

“We have to save our democracy. This isn’t about Democrats or Republicans. It’s about saving our democracy,” Ms. Pelosi told the 172 members who participated in the 87-minute conference call, keeping the possibility of impeachment alive. “If it is what we need to do to honor our responsibility to the Constitution — if that’s the place the facts take us, that’s the place we have to go.”

Some young voices in the new Congress appear ready to push them there — and they are not going away.

“We must begin impeachment proceedings and investigate if the president committed impeachable offenses,” Representative Ilhan Omar, Democrat of Minnesota, wrote on Twitter just before the call.

For now, House Democratic leaders appeared to have enough leeway to pursue investigations without formally convening impeachment proceedings. Representative Maxine Waters of California, the chairwoman of the Financial Services Committee and one of the most vocal proponents of impeachment, said her support for trying to remove Mr. Trump from office was no secret, but added that she would not push other members or outside liberal groups to join her, according to the people on the call, who spoke anonymously to share details from a confidential discussion.

And Representative Brad Sherman, another Californian who has supported impeachment in the past, endorsed Ms. Pelosi’s approach.

But Representative Val B. Demings of Florida, a former police chief who sits on the Judiciary Committee and spoke on the call “as a 27-year law enforcement officer,” said she was grappling with the severity of Mr. Mueller’s findings. She signaled that she might be open to moving to impeachment more quickly.

“While I understand we need to see the full report and all supporting documents, I believe we have enough evidence now,” she said. She added, “We are struggling to justify why we aren’t beginning impeachment proceedings.”

Representative Jared Huffman of California urged colleagues to think not just about the political downsides of impeachment but also of the implications of not impeaching Mr. Trump, according to three people on the call.”

It is my opinion that Pelosi and the Democrats should not move to impeach Trump as despicable as he is as president.  The more important goal for the Democrats is to win the presidential election in 2020.  Impeachment is potentially a loser for them and for the country.

Tony

 

Hundreds of Catholics Killed in Bomb Attacks in Sri Lanka!

Bodies lay in St. Anthony’s Shrine in Colombo after bombings in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday. Reuters.

Dear Commons Community,

Yesterday on Easter Sunday, Catholic churches and hotels visited mostly by tourists were bombed killing hundreds of innocent people.  The death total was estimated at 290 as of this morning and rising.  As reported by the New York Times:

“ The clock hands on the steeple of St. Anthony’s Shrine were stuck at 8:45 a.m., the exact moment when the first suicide bomber’s explosion ripped through the wooden pews as Easter Sunday worshipers were praying.

Minutes later a second suicide blast shattered the Sunday brunch tranquillity at the Shangri-La Hotel’s Table One Restaurant, a favorite of foreign tourists.

Within a few hours on Sunday, suicide bombings hit three Catholic churches and three upscale hotels in the Indian Ocean island nation of Sri Lanka, still recovering from a quarter-century civil war in which the suicide bomb was pioneered.

The death toll in the attacks rose to 290, with about 500 people wounded, a police spokesman, Ruwan Gunasekera, said, although he would not give a breakdown of where the fatalities occurred. The finance minister, Mangala Samaraweera, called the attacks “a well-coordinated attempt to create murder, mayhem and anarchy.”

By day’s end, the police said at least 13 people had been arrested in connection with the attacks in the capital, Colombo, and the cities of Negombo and Batticaloa. Seven of them were seized at a hide-out after one suspect blew himself up, killing three officers.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility. The police said they believed the bombings were the work of one group but declined to identify it.

At least 36 of the victims were believed to be foreigners, including several Americans. For years, as Sri Lanka has climbed away from war, it has been building a robust tourism industry.

The bombings were the deadliest attack on Christians in South Asia in recent memory and punctuated a rising trend of religious-based violence in the region.

The St. Anthony’s Shrine blast left a scene of broken bodies, billowing black smoke and splintered wood. “It was a river of blood,” said N. A. Sumanapala, a shopkeeper near the church who said he had run inside to help.

“Ash was falling like snow,” he said. “I saw limbs and heads. There were children, too.”

The shock of the bombings and the anger they generated was compounded by news that a top police official had alerted security officials 10 days earlier about a threat to churches from a radical Islamist group, National Thowheeth Jama’ath. It was unclear what precautions, if any, had been taken, or whether that group had played any role in the assaults.

Sri Lanka’s prime minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, pointedly said he and other ministers had not been warned, in what appeared to be a sign of the recent frictions within the government hierarchy.

“We must look into why adequate precautions were not taken,” he said at a news conference. For now, he said, “the priority is to apprehend the attackers.”

The bombings came as Christians and other religious groups have been increasingly targeted in South Asia, where a mix of surging nationalism, faith-based identity politics and social media rumor mongering has created a combustible atmosphere.

While Sri Lanka has suffered political instability and sporadic attacks since its civil war ended in 2009, there has been nothing on this scale. “It has been 10 years since we last saw this kind of horror,” said Hemasiri Fernando, the secretary to the Ministry of Defense.

News of the bombings rippled out all Easter morning, interrupting celebrations across the world in a week where Christians were still grieving over the devastating fire at the Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris.

Pope Francis, after celebrating Mass in St. Peter’s Square, said the attacks had “brought mourning and sorrow” on the most important of Christian holidays. Other world leaders also expressed shock.

By Sunday afternoon, Colombo was under a tight lockdown. Elsewhere in the country, soldiers shut down roads, a jittery government imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew and all police officers were ordered back to duty, their leaves canceled. Bus companies banned all baggage for fear of hidden bombs.

At nightfall, few cars moved on the streets and almost nobody ventured outside.

The government temporarily blocked major social media and messaging services, including Facebook and WhatsApp, to prevent the spread of misinformation online, according to the president’s secretary, Udaya Seneviratne.

The deadliest of the explosions appeared to be at St. Sebastian’s Church in Negombo. Pictures posted on social media showed blood and rubble as members of the congregation tended to wounded people strewn across pews. Besides St. Anthony’s Shrine in Colombo, Zion Church in Batticaloa was also attacked.

The hotels that were bombed included the Shangri-La, the Cinnamon Grand and the Kingsbury, all within Colombo’s seaside neighborhoods. Their marbled lobbies were smeared with blood.”

May these worshipers and the other innocents rest in peace!

Tony

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The aftermath of the bombing in St. Sebastian’s Church in Negombo, Sri Lanka.

New York Daily News: William Barr Has Become Donald Trump’s “Toady”!

Dear Commons Community.

With the release of the Mueller Report on Thursday, it has become clear that there were winners and losers.  The big winners include Robert Mueller for his thoroughness and respect for the rule of law, Don McGahn and other White House officials who refused to buckle under Trump’s attempts to squash the Mueller investigation.   The losers include Donald Trump for too many reasons to go into, Sarah Huckabee Sanders for being caught lying to the press about the James Comey firing (and then she told more lies to try to squirm her way out of it),  Donald Trump Junior for coming across as an idiot and a dupe, and Ivanka Trump for being outed as attending the infamous Trump Tower meeting.  However, the biggest loser has to be Attorney General William Barr who is being characterized as a “toady” for Donald Trump. 

Barr will go down as another of the many Trump associates whose names and reputations were ruined by the President. In a bizarre press conference held before the release of Mueller’s report to the public—and baffling critics—Barr said he “disagreed” with the special counsel’s opinions on whether President Trump obstructed the federal investigation into Russia’s attack on the 2016 election, and that he had “noncorrupt motives.” Barr also repeatedly mentioned how there there’s no crime of “collusion,” echoing Trump’s own tweets from the day.  David Dorsen, who served as an assistant chief counsel on the Senate Watergate Committee, said:  “It was depressing to see that Barr was not capable of standing up to Trump the same way Eliot Richardson stood up to Nixon.”    Eliot Richardson resigned rather than fire Archibald Cox as Richard Nixon ordered him to do. Barr on the other hand as a good “toady” knelt down and did Trump’s bidding. 

MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough declared Attorney General William Barr’s reputation has been “sullied” just hours before he addressed the media regarding Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report, saying it’s time to rethink the process how attorney generals are picked.

“He does something once again that is going to scuff up his reputation. Absolutely his reputation is shot,” Scarborough said of Barr’s handling of the release of the Mueller report, also describing him as a “political hack” and no longer “a respected legal mind.”

And Steve Chapman in The Chicago Tribune, commented:  “One thing we’ve learned in the past two years is how hard it is to take a job in this administration without behaving like a Trump lackey. Thursday, Barr had a chance to demonstrate rigorous impartiality and independence. Instead, he ensured that like so many others, he will leave his office with his reputation seriously damaged.”

Barr’s best move would be to resign immediately!

Tony

Mueller Report Released – Key Takeaways!

Attorney General William Barr speaks about the release of a redacted version of special counsel Robert Mueller's report durin

Attorney General William Barr speaks about the release of a redacted version of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report during a news conference.  Associated Press.

Dear Commons Community,

A redacted version of the report of Special Counsel Robert Mueller was released yesterday by Attorney General William Barr.   The report spells out the findings of the investigation that led to the indictment of six Trump associates as well as dozens of Russian operatives who hacked Democrats’ emails and boosted candidate Donald Trump on social media. It also examined allegations that President Trump obstructed justice by interfering with the investigation.   Here are key takeaways from the report as identified from several news media sources.

  1. Mueller looked at 10 instances of possible obstruction by Trump.

The report details multiple instances in which Trump may have obstructed justice by using his authority to interfere with the special counsel’s investigation. Mueller declined to make a determination about whether the president obstructed justice.

“Our investigation found multiple acts by the President that were capable of exerting undue influence over law enforcement investigations, including the Russian-interference and obstruction investigations,” the report states. “These incidents were often carried out through on-on-one meetings in which the President sought to use his official power outside of usual channels.”

The report pointed to instances like Trump telling former White House Counsel Donald McGahn to fire Mueller as special counsel, and asking political operative Corey Lewandowski to tell then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions to limit the scope of the investigation to future elections.

However, an obstruction of justice charge would require the special counsel to determine that Trump’s actions, which may have impeded the Russia probe, were done with that intent, Mueller said in the report. “While this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him,” the special counsel wrote.

  1. Trump’s attempts to obstruct justice were foiled by his own staff.

Trump may have been saved from an obstruction of justice charge by his own aides’ refusal to follow his orders.

“The President’s efforts to influence the investigation were mostly unsuccessful, but that is largely because the persons who surround the President declined to carry out orders or accede to his requests,” Mueller wrote.

Then-FBI Director James Comey, for instance, ignored Trump’s request to stop investigating the president’s first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, who was later convicted of lying to the FBI; McGahn didn’t help fire Mueller, and Lewandowski didn’t pass along Trump’s message to Sessions saying Mueller’s investigation was unfair to the president and to limit its scope.

  1. Mueller’s report detailed Russia’s extensive interference in the 2016 election.

“The Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election in a sweeping and systematic fashion,” Mueller wrote in the report.

The report goes into two main operations through which Russians interfered in the election: First a Russian group carried out a social media campaign designed to “sow discord” in the U.S. political system, supporting then-candidate Trump and disparaging Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton; second, Russian intelligence hacked the Clinton campaign volunteers and employees and released stolen documents, infamously through WikiLeaks.

  1. Mueller did not find that Trump’s campaign illegally conspired to aid Russia’s interference in the election.

Mueller’s investigation found extensive links between members of the Trump campaign and Russian officials. “The links included Russian offers of assistance to the campaign,” he wrote. “In some instances, the Campaign was receptive to the offer, while in other instances the Campaign officials shied away.”

Despite establishing election interference by the Russian government, Mueller wrote that “the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”

The special counsel report specifically said that it was looking at “conspiracy” and not “collusion” (though Barr in his press conference on Mueller’s report echoed the president’s refrain that there was “no collusion”).

  1. The special counsel found plenty of other criminal leads that were forwarded on to other investigators.

The special counsel found evidence of crimes outside its scope and made 14 criminal referrals to other jurisdictions.

Only two of the referrals are publicly known to date. Mueller found evidence of potential wire fraud and Federal Employees’ Compensation Act violations related to Michael Cohen, Trump’s former personal fixer, and referred that evidence to federal prosecutors in New York and the FBI’s New York Field Office. Cohen received three years in prison on charges including campaign finance violation and lying to Congress, and gave testimony in February that revealed the inner workings of the Trump campaign.

The second public criminal referral includes potential Foreign Agent Registration Act violations related to Gregory Craig and his former litigation firm, Skadden. A federal grand jury recently indicted Craig on charges of making false statements and hiding information from the Justice Department related to he and his firm’s work on behalf of Ukraine. The charges stemmed from investigating former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his work on behalf of a pro-Russian political party in Ukraine.

  1. When told about the special counsel’s appointment, Trump responded, “I’m fucked.”

“Oh my God,” Trump said. “This is terrible. This is the end of my presidency. I’m fucked.”

That’s how the president reacted in May 2017 to the news that Mueller had been appointed to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, according to the report. Trump was apparently livid at then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions when he broke the news of Mueller’s appointment to the president, saying, “How could you let this happen, Jeff?”

“Everyone tells me if you get one of these independent counsels it ruins your presidency. It takes years and years and I won’t be able to do anything,” Trump said, according to notes taken by Sessions’ chief of staff Jody Hunt. “This is the worst thing that’s ever happened to me.”

Trump later told The New York Times that he would never have appointed Sessions if he knew the attorney general would recuse himself from the Russia investigation.

  1. The Mueller team chose not to subpoena Trump because it wasn’t worth it.

Mueller’s report addresses why Trump was never subpoenaed, which would have forced him to testify as part of the investigation into his campaign and Russian interference in the election.

Essentially, after the president “would not be interviewed voluntarily,” per the report, the special counsel’s office “weighed the costs” of a potentially long legal battle to obtain an interview with Trump versus the value of completing the investigation sooner. Mueller’s team ultimately decided it had gathered enough information from other sources for its investigation.

Throughout Mueller’s nearly two-year investigation, the special counsel repeatedly sought to interview Trump. Ultimately, Trump ended up submitting written answers to some of Mueller’s questions in November 2018 ― which the report called “inadequate.” The president reportedly only answered questions related to Russia’s interference in the election, and not about whether he tried to obstruct the investigation into his campaign’s potential links with Russian meddling.

  1. Sarah Huckabee Sanders lied to the press about circumstances surrounding James Comey’s firing.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders claimed that the president only fired FBI Director James Comey because Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein had recommended it. Mueller’s report, however, indicates that Sanders’ May 2017 explanation for the president’s actions was not true; Trump wanted Comey gone because the director wouldn’t publicly state that the president was not under investigation.

“In the immediate aftermath of the firing, the President dictated a press statement suggesting that he had acted based on the [Department of Justice] recommendations, and White House press officials repeated that story,” Mueller wrote in his report. “But the President had decided to fire Comey before the White House solicited those recommendations.”

Sanders also admitted that when she told reporters the “rank-and-file of the FBI had lost confidence in their director,” her statement had no basis in fact, as was reported at the time.

  1. Yes, Donald Trump did try to cover up the real reason for that Trump Tower meeting.

Donald Trump Jr. eventually ended up tweeting out screenshots of emails setting up the now-infamous June 2016 meeting between himself, senior Trump campaign officials and a Kremlin-linked lawyer said to be offering information that would damage Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Before that, though, his father had attempted to cover up the true reason for the meeting, held at Trump Tower in Manhattan.

Trump never wanted his son’s correspondence to become public. In the summer of 2017, the president repeatedly told Hope Hicks, then serving as a communications adviser, that he did not even want to speak about the emails, which she believed would be inevitably leaked. Trump did not believe her.

Later, however, the president ended up “edit[ing] a press statement for Trump Jr. by deleting a line that acknowledged that the meeting was with ‘an individual who [Trump Jr.] was told might have information helpful to the campaign’” ― instead, he stated only that the meeting was about adoption. Michael Cohen, at the time still serving as Trump’s personal lawyer, repeatedly denied that the president had helped craft the story given to reporters.

We will be watching and hearing for the next several months and well into the 2020 election various follow-up investigations into the Mueller report but unless there is a major change in the attitude of the Republicans in the U.S. Senate, who will protect Trump at any cost, there will be no impeachment.

Tony

 

My Interview at Drexel University on the Present and Future of Online Education!

Dear Commons Community,

Earlier this year I gave a talk at Drexel University entitled, Higher Education’s Future: The Digital University. 

After my talk, I was interviewed and asked questions on a number of issues related to my topic.  This interview was recorded and is now available on online at: https://virtuallyinspired.org/inspiring_leader/anthony-picciano/

It is ten minutes and if you are interested in my views on online education, you might find parts of it provocative.

Tony

 

Mueller Report to be Released Today!

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Dear Commons Community,

Finally after 702 days, the report of Special Counsel Robert Mueller will be released today by Attorney General William Barr.  It will likely be heavily redacted but regardless, it will be the news story for days and weeks if not more.  Mueller’s report is one of the most highly anticipated documents in American history. Political journalists are treating this morning like it’s a presidential election night. The Justice Department has taken precautions to prevent its website from crashing. Publishers plan to rush copies of the report to print.   

At close to 400 pages, the Mueller report spells out the findings of an investigation that led to the indictment of six Trump associates as well as dozens of Russian operatives who hacked Democrats’ emails and boosted candidate Donald Trump on social media. It also examines allegations that President Trump obstructed justice by interfering with the investigation.   As reported by The Huffington Post:

“Attorney General William Barr, working in counsel with Mueller, will release a redacted version of the report that leaves out grand jury material, intelligence information that might reveal sources and methods, information that may affect ongoing investigations and information that would “infringe on the personal privacy and reputational interests of peripheral third parties.”

In a four-page letter to Congress on March 24, Barr said that Mueller “did not find” that any Americans conspired with the Russian government to influence the election. But the report likely further details Russia’s extensive efforts to boost Trump and hurt Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton’s campaign, answers questions about the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russian government officials and supposed agents, and lays out Mueller’s evidence on obstruction of justice.

No Collusion?

The Mueller investigation’s main focus was to determine whether Trump’s campaign illegally coordinated or conspired with Russian government actors to improperly influence the 2016 election. From what we know, Mueller chose not to bring criminal charges against Trump or members of his campaign for engaging in a conspiracy with the Russian government.

Barr wrote in his letter reviewing the report that “the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.” That’s why Trump and many of his allies have been arguing that the report exonerates him.

But we do know of contacts between Trump campaign officials and alleged agents of the Russian government. The report should answer why some of these officials were prosecuted on charges related to these contacts ― mostly for lying to investigators ― and why others were not. It may also reveal previously undisclosed contacts made by Trump campaign officials and hangers-on with anyone connected to the Russian operation.

Thanks to Mueller’s charging documents, we already know a good deal about contacts between the Trump campaign and individuals presumed to be connected to Russian election interference efforts.

This whole ordeal began after Trump aide George Papadopolous divulged to Australia’s top diplomat to the U.K. that he had been told that Russians had obtained “dirt” on Clinton. The diplomat alerted U.S. authorities and the FBI responded with a counterintelligence investigation that would lead to Mueller’s appointment as special counsel. Papadopoulos lied to investigators when confronted about how he heard that Russia had “dirt” on Clinton and ultimately pleaded guilty to making false statements.

Trump’s national security adviser Michael Flynn also pleaded guilty to lying about his conversations with then-Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. Rick Gates, Trump’s deputy campaign manager, pleaded guilty and Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign manager, was successfully prosecuted for their unregistered lobbying work for former Ukranian President Viktor Yanukovich, among other things. The prosecution of Gates and Manafort revealed that Manafort had provided 75 pages of Trump campaign polling data to Konstantin Kilimnik, a Russian political operative alleged by Mueller to be a Russian military intelligence operative. Roger Stone, an outside adviser to Trump, is currently awaiting trial on charges of making false statements, obstruction of justice and witness tampering. Any section of the Mueller report on Stone’s prosecution will likely be redacted because the prosecution is ongoing.

Mueller’s report could provide answers about why he decided to charge Papadopoulos and Flynn for making false statements, why Flynn got such a sweet plea deal and proposed sentence, what Gates provided as part of his plea deal, what happened with Manafort’s aborted plea deal and why Mueller believes Kilimnik is a Russian intelligence operative. Of course, much of this information could also end up being redacted if it pertains to U.S. intelligence operations.

And then there are the non-prosecutions from the Trump Tower meeting on June 9, 2016. Presidential son Donald Trump Jr., presidential son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner, and Manafort sat down with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya at Trump Tower in Manhattan for a meeting that Trump Jr. was told in emails would provide “dirt on Clinton” as part of the “Russian effort to aid” the Trump campaign.

As far as the public knows, Veselnitskaya didn’t provide any real dirt on Clinton and Trump Jr. left the meeting disappointed. But speculation persists about what happened behind closed doors, whether Trump Jr. spoke with his father about the meeting and if his pursuit of “dirt on Clinton” constituted an improper solicitation for a thing of value from a foreign national ― a potential campaign finance crime.

The report could help explain what other facts were uncovered during the investigation into the Trump Tower meeting and why Mueller chose not to prosecute anyone involved in it. Or perhaps the section is redacted to protect the reputation of peripheral characters ― including the president’s oldest son.

No Obstruction?

What is likely to be the most consequential part of the report focuses on allegations that Trump obstructed justice by trying to undermine and end the investigation into his campaign. Presidents Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton faced impeachment inquiries based on the charge that they obstructed justice. Barr wrote in his letter that while the Mueller report “does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”

There are several areas to watch for potential obstruction of justice. One is the May 2017 firing of FBI Director James Comey, who detailed in internal memos Trump’s efforts to persuade him to end the investigation into Flynn. “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go,” Trump said, according to one Comey memo. When Comey wouldn’t end the investigation as Trump urged him, he was fired, prompting the appointment of Mueller as special counsel.

Another notable moment is when Trump fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions in November 2018 after more than a year of relentlessly attacking Sessions for recusing himself from the Mueller investigation.

Did any of these acts obstruct the investigation? The report should provide some evidence either way.

Trump also repeatedly floated the idea of pardoning Manafort, who was charged with numerous counts of financial fraud, making false statements and lobbying violations. The report could indicate whether Mueller thought that the president undermined his investigation by giving Manafort an incentive not to cooperate. One of the pending articles of impeachment against Nixon related to his abuse of the pardon power by agreeing to pardon one of the Watergate burglars.

There is also the question of how Trump crafted his son Donald Jr.’s false answer to The New York Times about how the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting came about and whether the falsehood constituted an act meant to obstruct the investigation.

Barr’s letter said that “most” of the actions addressed in Mueller’s report “have been the subject of public reporting.” One big question then is what other potential obstruction Mueller may have uncovered.

Barr has already cast doubt on potential arguments that Trump obstructed justice in his letter summarizing the Mueller report. The attorney general argued that “the government would need to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a person, acting with corrupt intent, engaged in obstructive conduct with a sufficient nexus to a pending or contemplated proceeding.”

This follows the argument that Barr laid out in an unsolicited 2018 memo to the White House in which he made a legal case against obstruction charges.

Russian Influence?

It’s unlikely that any of the indicted Russians will ever set foot on U.S. soil, so their indictments haven’t received much ongoing media coverage. But the conspiracy they lay out is extraordinary.

One indictment against 12 Russians says that Russia’s military intelligence agency hacked the Clinton campaign as well as the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the Democratic National Committee and then published the stolen emails online using aliases. Mueller’s team alleged that the Russians “targeted over 300” Democrats and successfully spear-phished Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta. They stole email credentials and thousands of emails from a number of Clinton campaign officials. They installed malware on at least 10 DCCC computers, which “allowed them to monitor individual employees’ computer activity, steal passwords, and maintain access to the DCCC network.” They hacked into the DNC network with stolen credentials, gaining access to “approximately thirty-three DNC computers.”

Even the redacted Mueller report is expected to include significant information about the Kremlin-linked campaign that used social media platforms to influence the 2016 election, something that was a major target of the special counsel’s investigation and resulted in numerous criminal charges against those Russian operatives.

The special counsel’s office last year indicted 13 Russian nationals and three Russian entities on charges related to election interference. Prosecutors alleged that operatives working with the Kremlin-linked Internet Research Agency created Facebook groups and Twitter accounts to push out disinformation about the U.S. presidential candidates and the election, sometimes even helping to set up political rallies in the real world. The Internet Research Agency also purchased around $100,000 worth of Facebook ads and published tens of thousands of posts aimed at sowing discord or aiding Trump.

We already know a lot about that disinformation campaign from the 2018 indictment, but the redacted Mueller report is likely to give a more complete picture of Russia’s interference as well as possibly elaborate on the motives behind it. The indictment of the Internet Research Agency previously indicated that the operatives had a clear goal of supporting the candidacies of Trump and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and negatively targeting Clinton’s campaign.”

We will see in a few hours!

Tony

Colleague Herb Perr Passed Away!

Dear Commons Community,

Herb Perr, a good colleague of ours at Hunter College passed away in December 2018.  Herb taught arts education in our School of Education for decades. He was dedicated to the arts, to public education and to the City of New York where he lived his entire life. He retired a number of years ago and unfortunately we did not keep contact.  Below is his obituary. 

May he rest in peace!

Tony

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Artist, educator and activist Herb Perr died at his home in Brooklyn on December 31, 2018, of a neurological disease.

Born at Coney Island Hospital in 1941, Herb grew up in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn. He played basketball for Lincoln High School, even competing at Madison Square Garden, but found his true kindred spirits on Lincoln’s Art Squad. Herb won a full scholarship to study art at New York University and taught art in the New York City school system while earning a master’s degree in education at Hunter College. He began teaching courses in art education at Hunter, where he became a full professor in 1989. Over decades, he encouraged thousands of teachers to infuse art throughout the curriculum.

Under the mentorship of the artist Helen Frankenthaler, Herb evolved as an abstract expressionist painter. His lyrical work appeared in galleries and museums. But a gnawing dissatisfaction with the art business led him to join Artists Meeting for Cultural Change and, in 1980, to co-found Political Art Documentation/Distribution (PAD/D). PAD/D provided artists with “a framework within which progressive artists can discuss and develop alternatives to the mainstream art system” (PAD/D Manifesto). The PAD/D archives are now part of the collection at the Museum of Modern Art.

Creative and curious, Herb loved talking to anyone and everyone. He was a PTA president at PS 3 in Greenwich Village, a proud soccer dad, a dedicated gardener, and an inventive cook.

Herb married writer and educator Mimi Bluestone in 1988. Both of their children are artists: Rosa Bluestone Perr is a handpoked tattoo artist, and Joey Bluestone Perr has written and illustrated a graphic novel, to be published in the fall of 2019, about Herb’s unusual family and very full life.