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Admissions test

In legal lingo, media laziness, political titles on June 9, 2017 at 4:32 am

Washington Post 6/8/17 evening edition: “In a remarkable admission, former FBI director James B. Comey testified he helped reveal details of his private conversations with President Trump because he thought doing so would spur the appointment of a special counsel to investigate the administration.”

I’ve heard the admit word used by others in reference to Comey’s testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee, most notably, perhaps, by the attorney hired privately to speak about the testimony for Mr. Trump. I don’t wonder why Marc Kasowitz would use the word four times in a statement of 600 words (by CNN’s transcript), though I find a few of his charges overblown even by what little I know about the situation. I’ve always said, if I weren’t a writer, I’d be an attorney, because of the principle of precise use of language. But Comey is also an attorney, and when I read his prepared statement the night before his testimony, I did not see the word admit.

Of course, that’s only wise. To “admit” to something in a Senate hearing would be to self-incriminate. Isn’t that why Mike Flynn said he would “tell his story” only with a grant of immunity? But who would prosecute? Not the Senate itself. Perhaps the special prosecutor. But if Comey’s “admission” was that he provoked the appointment of the special prosecutor, that seems unlikely.

Kasowitz says he and his client will “leave it to … authorities” to determine whether Comey’s “leaks” constitute crimes. I’m certainly not qualified to make such a determination, but it appears the decision might hinge on the words classified and privileged.

Comey did use classified, but not privileged, as far as I could tell. He said that the January 6 meeting, at Trump Tower, was at the end of a routine intelligence-community briefing of a president elect. Well, the focus of the briefing on Russian interference in the election wasn’t routine. And it was to provide even more sensitive material — Comey called it “salacious” — that was more personal, for which Comey remained alone with Trump, although others knew of the material and agreed with him that the considerate thing to do was to inform Trump, and one on one.

Beyond the words salacious and personal, Comey did not disclose the content of his January 6 meeting with Trump. In his live testimony, I heard him say that he began documenting that meeting on a classified laptop because that was the resource he had brought along to the classified meeting. I have not understood that the memo remained on the classified laptop or was classified itself. And I have not heard any content I would call “salacious” unless it’s Comey’s report that, in a phone call initiated by Trump on March 30, Trump brought up “hookers.”

I’ve no idea where Kasowitz gets privileged. It could be that Trump thought he was invoking some kind of privilege by clearing the room for his conversations with Comey, but surely Kasowitz knows better. And as I understand it, any attempt to limit Comey’s disclosure under executive privilege was obviated by Trump’s firing him.

So what, in fact, did Comey “admit”? Perhaps he admitted to being a well-trained attorney, and a man who is accustomed to being responsible and accountable for his own career and oath to uphold and defend the Constitution, and admitted to finding himself with a man who is accustomed to either having someone at his elbow to create the record, or having his very presence dominate the interchange, unquestioned. I’m afraid there’s a lot more admitting yet to come, and not, probably, from John Comey.

I think I’d be more comfortable with some acknowledging, which doesn’t carry near the implication of culpability.

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Acts of Terror

In legal lingo, media laziness, search-engine optimization, thoughtless patterns on April 28, 2013 at 8:10 pm

I’ve been watching Boston all day. I know it’s not healthy, but I have a loved one in the lockdown and haven’t found a reason to walk away from the tube. I thought I was on one of the more responsible cable channels, MS-NBC, whose pundits shared in the well-earned ridicule of CNN for jumping to conclusions and spreading false rumors on Monday. But I’m becoming incensed by their position on the bandwagon misunderstanding — beginning Monday when they made a big deal of whether President Obama had used the words — that an act of terror must be committed by international, politically or religiously driven “terrorists.”

There’s a legal charge of “making terroristic threats.” It doesn’t require threatening more than one person, let alone having any such connections to other terrorists or terroristic movements. Terrorism is about the emotions it provokes in its victims, and yes, it tends to affect more people than the terrorist may have intended.

In the marathon-bombing case, especially as the suspects are found to be ethnically connected to a group with a gripe against a whole other nation, the pundits, even on MS-NBC, are barrelling down a number of roads that may be totally irrelevant. More than once I’ve seen a map thrown up with the city of Sheremetevka, Russia, flagged “Tamerlan visited …” and showing its proximity to Chechnya. At the same time, I’ve heard reporters acknowledging they don’t know where the elder suspect brother may have spent his six weeks in Russia, and that US records of his travel show only that he flew to Moscow. That makes me terribly suspicious of the map, since I recall that Moscow’s main airport is called “Sheremetyevo.” The city with the similar name is apparently 372 km from there.

So, as the anchors keep asking the “experts,” “what could have been their motivation?” It wasn’t until after 4PM that I learned Tamerlan was married to an American woman and had a child, that he was unemployed and had delved into religion only after his Golden Gloves career ended. Could the answer to motive be as simple as a feeling of emasculation and frustration? Where are his wife and child now? Did he know anyone in the marathon? Had he worked in any of the damaged businesses? Greater minds have been unhinged by such experiences.

The terrorists’ father, who reportedly went home to Russia to die of a brain tumor, has indicated he understood Tamerlan was a famous US national boxing champion, Dzhokhar a second-year medical student at 19. This is also little surprise. Fathers want to think their sons have achieved great things. His misunderstanding and disillusionment is no proof of anything else, and we should leave the poor man alone.

All of this only adds to my hope that young Dzokhar will be captured alive. If not, the “Chechen connection” will no doubt go down in history, and we’ll have a whole new category of neighbors to fear. The pundits will continue to “explain” how they think and why they hate us.

We can’t help our feelings of terror. We can help whether names like Tsarnaev, Lanza, Holmes, Loughner, … become merged into some inhuman hate-o-sphere, or remain recognized and mourned as our neighbors who were pushed or pulled over the brink by some very human sadness that we would rather not face. We are more vulnerable to such sadness than to any act of terror.

Too Definite an Article?

In legal lingo, significant insignificancies on January 25, 2013 at 9:11 pm

I can’t say that it’s an error, and I’m afraid I don’t even have a direct quote to include. But I’m afraid that from the first moment I heard about the ruling of a federal appeals court on President Obama’s recess appointments last year to the National Labor Relations Board, I was intrigued by the report that part of their ruling of unconstitutional action hinged on the presence of “the” rather than “a” or any less definite word in Article II, Section 2 (Powers and Duties of the President), Clause 3, which empowers the president to fill executive-branch vacancies “during the Recess of the Senate.”

I guess, among other things, we will find out exactly how much care we think the Framers of the Constitution took with the very smallest words. Or maybe we’ll find out how willing we are in the 21st century to be bound by the conditions of early-19th-century America.

It may well be that the definite article appears in II.2.3 only because, at the time it was written, there was only one Recess in the Senate’s work year. The Senators could not fly back and forth between D.C. and their states to hear their constituents one day, vote on an executive appointment the next. Neither could they, as in 2012, send in one or two of their number every day or so during the (same) idle period to bang a gavel and declare that the Senate was not recessed, but in session. But let’s not go further here into the possibly political motivations of the 2012 Senators, individually or collectively. Let’s likewise leave to the politicians and the Supreme Court the questions of the implications of this ruling for President Obama’s other appointment during this particular recess — which he repeated for Senate confirmation yesterday — or for the work done by the five appointees during their possibly unconstitutional tenure.

There are more linguistic nits to be picked in this case, too: Does “Vacancies that may happen during the Recess” mean only vacancies that begin during the recess, or any vacancy that takes the executive out of action? But then, none of the five 2012 appointments was to a post mentioned in the Constitution or remotely contemplated by the Framers.

One of the talked-about expressions from President Obama’s inaugural address a couple of days earlier is his differentiation of “absolutism” and “principle.” I suspect we’ll hear more of those differences as this ruling is mulled, dealt with, and probably appealed. It’s definitely worthy of our consideration.

“He’s motioning for a new trial.”

In legal lingo, Parliamentary order on October 8, 2012 at 4:15 pm

On “Hard Time,” on the National Geographic Channel (9/25/12), I heard one of my long-standing peeves, grounded deep in the parliamentary procedure of the Presbyterian Church (USA). At least in the church bodies, I can forgive my fellow commissioners for coming to a a meeting with less than full familiarity with the language in which their wishes must be couched. In the narration of a TV documentary show, not so much.

One makes a motion, or moves an action to lay it before a body. Yes, in ordinary life, one may move in the same way as making a motion, but even there, using the phrase puts the emphasis on the noun, the thing, the motion itself. Motioning also draws our attention to the particular act, but it belongs only in the ordinary realm. I suppose I could see this inmate, in the courtroom, making some gesture of familiarity to, say, a juror that could fulfill the NatGeo narration’s wording, but at the time the inmate was shown hard at work in his cell, reviewing case law and writing his motion.

I move for adjournment and watchfulness.

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