David Clark – resignation or sacking?

David Clark has often been shielded from media and public scrutiny for good reasons. He has been widely regarded as out of his depth as Minister of Health, hapless (hopeless may be a bit strong).

But yesterday for some reason he did a number of media interviews – see Claytons responsibility Clark, Bloomfield, bus. Did he decide to repeatedly avoid any responsibility for the problems dealing with Covid, especially isolation and quarantine, and point the blame at his Ministry and the Director General Ashley Bloomfield? At one stage in front of Bloomfield?

Or was he let loose by his minders knowing he was likely to politically self destruct?

Notably fellow MP and Minister Willie Jackson joined in the dumping on Clark, as did Labour Party stalwart Greg Presland.

Perhaps Clark will be dragged back under cover, hoping the train wreck won’t be noticed amongst the rest of the bad news for the Government – it was confirmed yesterday that Light Rail was now officially off the tracks at least until the election, and Greens and NZ First traded blows.

Has the Government has been containing the shambles long enough for Colmar Brunton to finish their latest round of polling? That ended yesterday, results are expected tonight.

Clark seems intent on keeping his job, despite his reputation tattering even more.

A sacking would be a bit of a distraction from the onslaught of bad news, but is Jacinda Ardern up to dumping a long time colleague and friend of herself and Grant Robertson?


Toby Manhire: David Clark is not responsible

A minister of health with a humility bypass creates a problem for Jacinda Ardern – especially when he’s contrasted with Ashley Bloomfield, writes Toby Manhire.

With the cadence of a fingernail sliding down a blackboard, David Clark spent much of yesterday declining to accept responsibility.

No doubt Clark feels on thin ice after admitting to being “an idiot” and getting bounced down to the bottom rank of Cabinet for breaking the lockdown rules. That must have sucked. But accepting some ministerial responsibility doesn’t mean resigning – it is necessarily something that is proportional to whatever it is for which responsibility is being taken. And the principle of ministerial responsibility does not magically exclude “operational matters”. A 2013 Labour Party press release from then shadow leader of the house and now speaker Trevor Mallard welcomed a speaker’s ruling on parliamentary questions with the headline, “Ministers are responsible for operational matters”.

“Operational matters” aren’t a get-out-of-responsibility-free card. “Operational matters” can be substituted in most sentences for “things that happened”.

Usually invoked in relation to police or justice matters, the concept is useful to determine when a politician should stay the hell out of an “operational matter” to avoid inappropriate influence.

Turns out, in fact, Clark has not once – not once – visited an isolation facility in person. Truly he is unblemished by the operation.

For Clark, the writing looked mostly on the wall the day that prime minister said she’d have fired him if they weren’t in the middle of a crisis. It’s unimaginable that he’d get the health portfolio back were Labour re-elected. The more pressing question for the prime minister is whether he’s a liability on the campaign trail.

Trump warns Comey and attacks media

The Donald Trump sacking of FBI Director James Comey is escalating after the reasons for the termination have kept changing, and Trump appears to be unhappy with the bad press.

The sacking is said to be because he was getting increasingly irate with Comey and with media coverage of investigations into Russian collusion with Trumps presidential campaign.

Now Trump seems to be getting even more irate with the media for covering the debacle.

  • Then the President came for the media.
  • Then the President came for the FBI.
  • Then the President came for the media again.

CBS News: Sean Spicer faces first White House briefing since Comey’s firing

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer on Friday is giving his first briefing since President Donald Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, as questions about the timing and reasoning behind Mr. Trump’s shocking decision mount.

Mr. Trump suggested Friday morning over Twitter that maybe “it would be best to cancel” the White House press briefings, after Deputy White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders gave an account of the decision to fire Comey that was in direct conflict with what Mr. Trump said later.

Spicer has been at the Pentagon fulfilling his Naval Reserve duty, and was supposed to continue work at the Pentagon Friday, but was called back to the White House. The president suggested, again over Twitter, that because he’s such “a very active President,” that his surrogates can’t speak for him “with perfect accuracy.”

The White House has claimed Mr. Trump fired Comey because he lost the confidence of rank-and-file FBI employees and because of a Tuesday recommendation from Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to fire Comey over his handling of the Clinton email investigation.

But Mr. Trump himself has contradicted initial statements (as well as his own termination letter of Comey), claiming he was going to fire Comey regardless of any DOJ recommendation and that when he decided to fire Comey, he thought of the “made-up” story about his connections to Russia.

Earlier this year, the president also asked Comey to pledge his loyalty. Comey responded that he could promise that he’d be honest with him.

Mr. Trump’s account of the dinner differs from Comey’s, and earlier Friday, he tweeted that Comey had “better hope that there are no ‘tapes.‘”

Comey was leading the investigation into Russian election meddling.

Fox News: It was all Trump’s decision: POTUS changes White House narrative on Comey firing

When President Trump sat down with Lester Holt yesterday, he essentially altered the version of James Comey’s firing that his top aides have been pressing in public.

“I was going to fire regardless of recommendation,” he told the NBC anchor. The recommendation in question was a two-page memo from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who had been on the job for two weeks.

Rosenstein is “highly respected,” Trump said, “he made a recommendation, but regardless of recommendation I was going to fire Comey” (who he called a “showboat” and a “grandstander”).

At Wednesday’s press briefing, Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked: “So it’s the White House’s assertion that Rod Rosenstein decided on his own, after being confirmed, to review Comey’s performance?”

“Absolutely,” she replied. “And I think most of America had decided on their own that Director Comey was not the person that should be leading the FBI.”

But if the president asked for a review to buttress a move he planned to take anyway, then Rosenstein’s letter isn’t the crucial document that was being advertised.

Sanders told ABC’s Jon Karl yesterday she hadn’t had the chance to ask the president that question about whether he had already made up his mind. “Nobody was in the dark…You’re trying to create this false narrative,” she said.

None of this affects the core question of whether the president acted properly in canning his FBI director. But it does underscore that the administration’s rollout of this controversial decision has been shaky.

The media narrative has moved on to whether the White House is engaging in some kind of coverup, with newspaper accounts challenging some of the administration’s key points.

And that is upsetting Trump, further raising suspicions that he is trying to hide something.

NY Times: Trump Warns Comey and Says He May Cancel Press Briefings

President Trump on Friday warned James B. Comey, the former F.B.I. director he fired this week, against leaking anything negative about the president and put the news media on notice that he may cancel future White House briefings.

In a series of early-morning posts on Twitter, Mr. Trump even seemed to suggest that there may be secret tapes of his conversations with Mr. Comey that could be used to counter the former F.B.I. director if necessary. It was not immediately clear whether he meant that literally, or simply hoped to intimidate Mr. Comey into silence.

“James Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!” Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter.

Mr. Trump appeared agitated over news reports on Friday that focused on contradictory accounts of his decision to fire Mr. Comey at the same time the F.B.I. is investigating ties between Mr. Trump’s associates and Russia.

A self inflicted train wreck by Trump. It was only a matter of time before his reactive behaviour and ego would escalate – at least this is happening on internal matters and not in the Far East or the Middle East.

The presidency could be in a state of failure, but Foreign Policy goes further and asks Is America a Failing State?

We have the tin-pot leader whose vanity knows no bounds. We have the rapacious family feathering their nests without regard for the law or common decency.

We have utter disregard for values at home and abroad, the disdain for democracy, the hunger for constraining a free press, the admiration for thugs and strongmen worldwide.

We have all the makings of a banana republic. But worse, we are showing the telltale signs of a failing state. Our government has ceased to function. Party politics and gross self-interest has rendered the majority party oblivious to its responsibilities to its constituents and the Constitution of the United States.

On a daily basis, Republicans watch their leader violate not only the traditions and standards of the high office he occupies, but through inaction they enable him to personally profit from the presidency, promote policies that benefit his cronies and his class to the detriment of the majority of the American people, and serially attack the principles on which the country was founded — from freedom of religion to the separation of powers.

Is it that bad? It is looking increasingly like that.

Trump has had staunch supporters but some of those must be starting to wonder whether he is unfit for purpose.

 

More on Comey’s firing

President Donald Trump controversially fired FBI director James Comey yesterday – see Comey termination.

There’s been many concerns about how Comey has handled a number of things, particularly investigations into Hillary Clinton’s emails, his intervention and then withdrawal just before last November’s election, investigations into alleged collusion between people involved with Trump’s campaign and Russians, and a leak plagued FBI.

It’s ironic that Trump praised Comey strongly during his campaign but a key justification for his sacking is his handling of Clinton’s email investigations last year.

Many questions have been raised about the timing of this sacking, as they should be.

In his ‘you’re fired’ letter to Comey Trump said:

“It is essential that we find new leadership for the FBI that restores public trust and confidence in its vital law enforcement mission.”

Two things will be critical if public trust and confidence is to be restored.

First and foremost, the new director of the FBI will need to be seen as non-partisan and independent, so who is appointed to the job will be critical if confidence is going to be restored.

Second, the ongoing investigation into Russian collusion with Trump associates and with his campaign must continue, and must be done independently of the FBI director appointed by Trump.

Otherwise a dysfunctional looking FBI will become a farce, and Trump’s presidency will have serious credibility problems of it’s own to deal with, and potentially legal and constitutional problems.

Some of the wide range of coverage:

Wall Street Journal: Comey’s Deserved Dismissal

President Trump fired James Comey late Tuesday, and better now than never. These columns opposed Mr. Comey’s nomination by Barack Obama, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation Director has committed more than enough mistakes in the last year to be dismissed for cause.

The Daily Beast: ‘Smell of Watergate’ Hits Trump’s White House

Firing the FBI director leading the investigation into his campaign’s possible collusion with an adversarial foreign power is big stuff, the biggest shock President Donald Trump has delivered in his short, shock-filled presidency.

“It really does have the smell of Watergate,” says historian Robert Dallek. “It just raises suspicion this is a Nixonian president trying to cut off this investigation or at least delay it.”

The potential is there to find evidence of collusion that could be termed traitorous, says Dallek. “If he were so clean and without any kind of compromise in this situation, he’d let the investigation go forward and urge a special prosecutor to take over. Instead, he’s giving every sign of a coverup.”

The letter Trump sent to FBI Director James Comey said, in effect, “thanks for exonerating me” three times (like so many Trump claims, the only sign it’s so is that Trump said it)—and then fired him. But Trump can’t abolish the position, and whoever he appoints will have to be vetted and confirmed by the Senate.

Maybe Trump and his coterie of yes-men ignorant of history think he can name a loyalist.

The Federalist: 6 Quick Takeaways From Trump’s Firing Of FBI Director Comey

1) Comey Was Not Good at His Job

2) The Firing Was Done from a Position of Strength

3) It’s Reasonably Not Just the Clinton Probe

4) Democrats Have Been Begging for This, Only to Denounce It

5) This Is Not a Coup. Get a Hold of Yourself

6) Investigations Will Continue

For alternative facts and alternative reality:

RCP: Kellyanne Conway vs. Anderson Cooper on James Comey Firing: “You’re Looking At The Wrong Set Of Facts”

In an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper, Kellyanne Conway discusses President Donald Trump firing of FBI Director James Comey. Conway said the president’s decision “is not a coverup” and “had nothing to do with Russia.”

Comey termination

The US train wreck has taken a congtroversial turn with the ‘termination’ of FBI Director James Comey’s contract. Comey found out part way through a speech to FBI staff in Los Angeles.

Sean Spicer announced”

ComeyTerminationSpicer

Trump’s letter:

ComeyTerminationTrump

There’s some bizarre stuff there.

Time will tell whether this is the threat to the integrity of the US democracy that some claim or not, but it has some aspects of real concern.

Questions have been raised about what really prompted the sudden sacking.

More will no doubt come out about this.

RNZ have a summary: James Comey’s shock dismissal – what we know so far

More important for the US is what they don’t know yet.

Deputy Rosenstein’s recommendation letter:

ComeyTerminationRosenstein

Attorney General Session’s letter:

ComeyTerminationSessions

Trump appointees baffled and incensed

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is reported to be incensed about being out of the loop on Donald Trump’s moves on immigration, and Rex Tillerson, nominated as Secretary of State is reported to be baffled – and that’s before Trump sacked the acting Attorney General Sally Yates for putting a spoke in his immigration policy executive orders.

Yates said in a memo on Monday that she was “not convinced” that Trump’s order was lawful, nor that its defense was consistent with what she described as the department’s obligation to “always seek justice and stand for what is right.”

Yates claims she is ordering the Justice Department not to defend the executive order because it is not “wise or just.” This is quite significant. I am not aware of any instance in which the Justice Department has refused to defend a presumptively lawful executive action on this basis.

SECOND UPDATE: Some have asked what I think AAG Yates should have done, given her views of the EO. My answer is simple: Resign, and then publicly explain her reasons for doing so. If Yates believes that the President’s various comments about a “Muslim ban” undermine her ability to defend (or oversee the defense of) an executive action that OLC concluded (and she does not dispute) is “lawful on its face,” she should have stepped down as Acting Attorney General.

YET ANOTHER UPDATE: I also recommend Jack Goldsmith’s parsing of Yates’ statement here.

Acting attorney general orders Justice Department attorneys not to defend immigration executive order

There are some questions about the legal basis of the acting Attorney General’s refusal to defend in court Trump’s refugee and immigration ban, but the President sacking the top law official has raised eyebrows dramatically. An essential element of a healthy democracy is to have an Attorney General able to act independently of Presidential influence.

Some are suggestion the US could be heading for a constitutional crisis.

And the AG is not the only high profile sacking on the same day.

Fox News: Trump’s new acting attorney general will enforce immigration order

The White House said late Monday that the country’s new acting attorney general pledged to “defend and enforce” the laws of the country shortly after President Trump fired the former seat holder who refused to enforce his order on immigration.

Trump fired Sally Yates, the acting attorney general and an Obama appointee, dramatic fashion after she refused to defend in court his refugee and immigration ban. The Wall Street Journal reported that Yates learned of her firing Monday evening in a hand-delivered note from the White House’s Office of Personnel.

The firing came hours after Yates directed Justice Department attorneys not to defend the executive order, saying she was not convinced it was lawful or consistent with the agency’s “obligation to always seek justice and stand for what is right.”

In a statement, Trump said Yates had “betrayed the Department of Justice by refusing to enforce a legal order designed to protect the citizens of the United States.”

Accusations of ‘betrayal’ have again been suggested as similar to a ‘1984’ world.

He named longtime federal prosecutor Dana J. Boente as Yates’ replacement. Boente served in the Eastern District of Virginia and will remain in the seat while Congress considers the confirmation of Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., which could happen next week.

Sessions could also be a contentious appointment. It is thought that he has been heavily involved in a ‘shock and awe’ approach to executive orders.

A lot of concerns have been expressed about how this is happening.

Trump’s order has faced condemnation from executives at top companies, including Goldman Sachs and Coca-Cola.

It could impact on many businesses through disruption to employees.

At least three top national security officials – Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly and Rex Tillerson, who is awaiting confirmation to lead the State Department – have told associates they were not aware of details of the directive until around the time Trump signed it.

Leading intelligence officials were also left largely in the dark, officials told the Associated Press.

Mattis, who stood next to Trump during Friday’s signing ceremony, is said to be particularly incensed. A senior U.S. official said Mattis, along with Joint Chiefs Chairman Joseph Dunford, was aware of the general concept of Trump’s order but not the details. Tillerson has told the president’s political advisers that he was baffled over not being consulted on the substance of the order.

I wonder how often top officials will be fired for not doing what Trump wants.

It could be that trump is just trying to stamp his power on proceedings, but past experience suggests there is likely to be ongoing chaos and mayhem.

After a chaotic weekend during which some U.S. legal permanent residents were detained at airports, some agencies were moving swiftly to try to clean up after the White House.

When Fox is this critical of Trump’s administration it should sound serious warning bells. It is more than just the left wing over-reacting.