Happy International Women’s Day! This day has a rich history of activism, and 2017 is no different. This year’s theme is #BeBoldForChange and many people are participating in the Women’s Strike. We recognize that it is hard for many people to take the day off from work or classes, and if that is the case for you, there are other ways to participate in the Women’s Strike. You can wear red, the official color of the movement, and, if you identify as female, choose not to engage in any emotional labor today.
In other news, this week brought yet another flurry of change in our government. We will be focusing on Jeff Sessions and the new executive order on immigration, with more to come next week on the G.O.P. replacement for the Affordable Care Act.
This week’s five action items are:
- Put pressure on Jeff Sessions over Russia ties
- Oppose the new Muslim ban
- Consider running for office with 314 Action
- Attend an ACLU resistance training
- Learn about impeachment and perjury
1) Put pressure on Jeff Sessions over Russia ties
The discovery of new ties between Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Russia have left both sides of the aisle reeling. Twice last year, Sessions spoke with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak. This is the same ambassador with whom Michael Flynn discussed sanctions, a revelation which led to Flynn’s resignation as National Security Advisor.
In itself, there is nothing unusual about foreign ambassadors meeting with people active in presidential campaigns; what is unusual in the case of Sessions and Kislyak is that they met in September, at the height of Russian interference in the U.S. election, and that Sessions did not disclose it. When asked by Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) in his confirmation hearings what he would do if he learned that anyone from the Trump 2016 campaign communicated with Russia, Sessions responded, “I am not aware of any of those activities,” and added “…I did not have communications with the Russians.” In a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee sent Monday, Sessions maintained that his response was “correct” and that he did not mention his meeting with the ambassador because the question did not ask about it. Many, however, believe that Sessions committed perjury (check out our education item on perjury and impeachment below).
Why is this such a big deal? Jeff Sessions, as Attorney General, oversees the Justice Department and the FBI, both of which have led investigations into Russia’s role in the U.S. election so far. Sessions finally agreed to recuse himself from the investigation last Thursday. This means any Justice Department investigation into the involvement of the Trump campaign with Russia will be led by Acting Deputy Attorney General Dana J. Boente until a new Deputy Attorney General is confirmed (Rod J. Rosenstein began his Senate confirmation hearings on Tuesday).
Not only did Sessions meet with Kislyak, Jared Kushner has, too: he participated in the meeting with Michael Flynn in Trump Tower in December.
Having trouble keeping track? Check out this infographic from the Washington Post. For a much more in-depth analysis of the evolving relationships between the Trump administration and Russia, check out this article from the New Yorker, or this summary from Vox.
What can you do?
- Call your senators! Here is a short script from 5Calls and a longer one from Indivisible. If you are upset about Sessions other positions (e.g. on race), this may be the leverage to get his resignation. His recusal from the Russian investigation is just an attempt to placate pressure for his resignation.
- Before calling, check out the list of representatives who have called for Sessions’ resignation and see if yours is on it. Note that while some Republicans asked for his recusal, none have called on Sessions to resign.
2) Oppose the new Muslim ban!
The new executive order on refugees and immigration is, in the words of the ACLU, simply a Muslim Ban 2.0. The ACLU has promised to fight the order in court, and the state of Hawaii has already filed suit, asking the court to grant a temporary restraining order and ultimately to overturn the ban as unconstitutionally discriminatory. In light of the ongoing flurry of news, we’ve pulled together some key points and highlights.
What is different from the previous executive order? We’ve had some wins. Implementation is not effective immediately, so people won’t be trapped in limbo in airports as they were in January. The new executive order removes Iraq from the list of targeted counties, and no longer gives special preference to Christian refugees.
However, the main substance of the new order is similar to the old one, and therefore we still oppose it. It still includes an indefinite ban on refugees coming to this country from Syria, and a 90-day ban on visas issued to citizens of Iran, Sudan, Somalia, Syria, Yemen and Libya. It is unclear what basis this order has for targeting these majority-Muslim nations besides scapegoating and fear-mongering. No one from any of the countries listed has been involved in a high-profile attack–in fact, they fall very far down a list of countries which might have been targeted based on the numbers. Everyone who enters the country, especially refugees, already goes through rigorous screening.
What can you do?
- Publicize the Immigrant Doctors’ Project — especially if you are from a state with a high concentration of doctors from these banned countries, according to the map on their homepage, you can use the information in this site to make a compelling case to a senator or an unconvinced friend. Not only are these people not terrorists, they’re saving lives all around us–and a doctor should not have to choose between seeing their family and practicing medicine here. (FAQ), (Call Congress tool).
- Get ready to talk to companies and institutions. 97 tech firms filed amicus briefs for the lawsuit against the last travel ban, as did MIT. Thank your school or company if they have already filed one – and if they haven’t, tell them how this ban impacts the work/school environment.
- Stay informed and keep caring, even if you’re feeling burned out. Check out Refugee Council USA’s Refugee Support Toolkit for ways to be an advocate for refugees in your area and across the country.
- Call the White House comment line (202-456-1111), and leave a simple message in opposition of the ban.
- For a good summary of other actions to take and groups to support, check out United Against the Muslim Ban.
3) Consider running for office with 314 Action
The grassroots movement to resist Trump is powerful, and now is the time to turn that energy into action by running for office (or helping others to do so)!
For the 2018 mid-term elections, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is heavily recruiting citizens to run for office, volunteer and vote. Beyond the mid-terms, the Democratic party and the American left more broadly needs needs young, passionate, and diverse talent to move forward. Run For Something recruits young progressives and gives them the help they need in order to run, while Run For Office helps you find local elected offices that you could be eligible for based on your location (more info here).
Scientists have an especially important role to play in state and national legislatures, especially in light of this administration’s anti-science attitudes. 314 Action is a new organization aiming to get people with STEM backgrounds into office. If you’re curious about what being a candidate looks like, even if you’re not planning to run in the near future, check out 314 Action’s online information session on Tuesday, March 14!
4) Attend an ACLU resistance training
This Saturday, March 11, the ACLU is holding an online resistance training session. All are welcome, beginners and experts alike. Sign up here for more information, and to get connected with grassroots efforts and local events near you.
5) Learn about impeachment and perjury
With all of the controversy about the Trump administration’s Russia connections, people have started throwing around serious terms like “perjury” and “impeachment.” But not everyone had (or remembers) the civics education to know what these things actually mean. So here’s a primer to enable you to play an educated part in any such conversations.
Impeachment of federal officials is a power of the House of Representatives under the U.S. Constitution which it can exercise against any federal official by a simple majority vote. The most famous impeachments have involved Presidents Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton*, but Cabinet members can also be impeached, as can federal judges; in fact, most federal impeachments have been of judges, since they have life appointments and cannot otherwise be fired. (There are also impeachment provisions under state constitutions, but they apply to state government officials, not federal officials.)
One common misconception is that impeachment alone means that someone is removed from office. Impeachment just means that the federal official is put on trial for removal from office. Essentially, an impeachment is like a criminal indictment–it is a prerequisite for a trial, not the trial itself.
Once the House impeaches someone, that person is put on trial in the Senate for removal from office. Representatives from the House act as the “prosecution.” If the President is on trial, Article I, Section 3.6 of the Constitution states that the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, currently John Roberts, presides. (Otherwise, the presiding official would normally be the President of the Senate, who is the Vice President, currently Mike Pence. When the President is on trial, the Vice President has an obvious conflict of interest because they become president if the Senate convicts.) However, the person who presides doesn’t get to decide whether the person impeached is removed from office. As in a criminal trial, that decision is left to the jury. Except in this case the jury is the Senate. Per Article I, Section 3.6 of the Constitution, it takes a two-thirds supermajority of the Senate to convict, and the Senate can only impose the penalties of removal from office and disqualification from holding other federal offices. However, the person impeached can still separately be subject to civil suits and criminal charges through the normal court system for the same misdeed that got them kicked out of office.
Speaking of which, what can you be impeached for? As anyone who remembers the drama of Bill Clinton’s impeachment knows, Article II, Section 4 of the Constitution is very clear: “Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.” Unfortunately, it’s not nearly as clear what “high Crimes and Misdemeanors” means. There seems to be some consensus that it was intended to broadly cover a variety of abuses of office, with the requirement of impeachment in the House and a two-thirds Senate vote acting as the main protections against overuse.
Impeachment is an exceedingly rare process requiring bipartisan consensus: only 19 people have been impeached by the House in American history, and only 8 have been convicted by the Senate (though a few more died, resigned, or were otherwise removed from office before a trial in the Senate resolved).
For further reading, see this excerpt from a Judiciary Committee report written in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal.
*The House began an impeachment process against President Richard Nixon, but he resigned before he was formally impeached.
As noted above, federal officials can be impeached for “high Crimes and Misdemeanors” and tried for removal from office but can also be charged and convicted of any crimes they commit through the normal legal process. (The president does have a form of “presidential immunity” but it applies to civil lawsuits, not criminal trials, and was determined to be limited to liability for official acts only.)
The federal crime of perjury occurs when a person, having taken an oath authorized by U.S. law that they will speak truly or that their written declaration is true, willfully and contrary to such oath states or subscribes to any material matter which they do not believe to be true. As you can see, there are several important qualifiers here–simply saying something that wasn’t true, even if there’s 100% positive proof that it wasn’t true, is several steps away from being perjury. (In fact, you could arguably commit perjury by telling the truth, if you had the facts wrong and thought you were saying something false!)
- The person must be subject to an oath under U.S. law to tell the truth: they must be testifying under oath.
- The person must not believe what they are saying is true: they aren’t simply incorrect or misremembering the facts.
- The person must be doing it willfully: they aren’t misspeaking or confused about the question. They intend to deceive.
- The subject must be a material matter: they aren’t just covering up an embarrassing detail or something else that is trivial or irrelevant. The false statement is something that would matter to whoever is receiving the testimony.
There is also a separate federal crime of making false statements to the U.S. government which has similar elements. This crime occurs when, in any matter within the jurisdiction of the U.S. government, a person knowingly and willfully:
- falsifies or conceals a material fact,
- makes any materially false statement, or
- makes or uses a document which contains a materially false statement.
As with perjury, the action must be willful and the subject of the false statement must be material. This statute is more limited in that it doesn’t apply to parties (or their lawyers) in court proceedings, and doesn’t apply to the legislative branch, except for administrative matters (e.g., submitting a claim or report to Congress) and Congressional investigations.
For further reading:
- The Congressional Research Service has an extensive analysis of U.S. perjury and false statement laws.
- For comparison to the reaction to the current administration’s testimony, you can also read the House Republicans’ press release arguing that Hillary Clinton violated these laws in the Benghazi hearings. (By contrast, even Breitbart concluded she hadn’t broken the law.)
And of course, a legal disclaimer: This is not legal advice! If you think you may have committed perjury, get a lawyer!
Until next week,