Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:
The New York Times on whether the president can obstruct justice:
You know you have a problem when you've been president for less than 11 months and you're already relying on Richard Nixon's definition of what's legal.
On Monday morning, Axios reported that Mr. Trump's top personal lawyer, John Dowd, said in an interview that the "president cannot obstruct justice because he is the chief law enforcement officer" under the Constitution and "has every right to express his view of any case."
This will come as news to Congress, which has passed laws criminalizing the obstruction of justice and decided twice in the last four decades that when a president violates those laws he has committed an impeachable offence.
In 1974, the first article of impeachment drafted by the House of Representatives charged President Nixon with "interfering or endeavouring to interfere with the conduct of investigations by the Department of Justice of the United States, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the office of Watergate Special Prosecution Force."
A quarter-century later, President Bill Clinton was impeached by the House for, among other things, having "prevented, obstructed and impeded the administration of justice" and for having "engaged personally, and through his subordinates and agents, in a course of conduct or scheme designed to delay, impede, cover up and conceal the existence of evidence and testimony."
Now let's see if those descriptions apply to President Trump.
On Saturday morning, in the wake of the bombshell guilty plea by Michael Flynn, the president's former national security adviser, for lying to F.B.I. agents about his communications with Russian officials late last year, Mr. Trump tweeted, "I had to fire General Flynn because he lied to the Vice-President and the FBI."
Recall that the original justification for Mr. Flynn's firing was simply that he had misled Vice-President Mike Pence; otherwise he had done nothing wrong. That's the case Mr. Trump made the day after Mr. Flynn's firing, when he allegedly tried to shut down the F.B.I.'s inquiry into his campaign's connections with Russian officials by telling James Comey, who was then the F.B.I. director, in a private Oval Office meeting, "I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go."
In May, Mr. Trump fired Mr. Comey, telling Russian officials in the Oval Office the next day that firing Mr. Comey had relieved "great pressure" on him, and referring to Mr. Comey as a "nut job." In an interview with NBC, Mr. Trump said, "When I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, 'You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story.'"
It was bad enough for the president to attempt to interfere in any way with a law enforcement investigation of one of his top aides. But with Saturday's tweet, Mr. Trump admitted that he knew Mr. Flynn had committed a federal crime at the time he fired Mr. Comey for refusing to stop investigating him. To most people with a functioning prefrontal cortex, it sure sounds like Mr. Trump is admitting to "interfering or endeavouring to interfere with the conduct of investigations" and to "impeding the administration of justice."
Mr. Dowd confused the country further by saying he had drafted Mr. Trump's tweet himself — a bizarre claim for a lawyer to make about a statement that incriminates his client. Then he outdid himself with his assertion to Axios that it is not possible for the president to obstruct justice. The argument, as far as it goes, is that the president is the nation's highest ranking law enforcement officer and has the constitutional authority to supervise and control the executive branch, which includes making decisions about investigations and personnel.
But Mr. Trump didn't just try to shut down some random no-name case; he tried to shut down an investigation into his own campaign's ties to the Russian government's efforts to swing the 2016 election in his favour. As that investigation keeps revealing, Mr. Trump's top associates have repeatedly been untruthful about their contacts and communications with Russian officials.
In Saturday's tweet, Mr. Trump also wrote, "It is a shame because his actions during the transition were lawful. There was nothing to hide!" If there were truly nothing to hide, if these talks with Russians were all just part of a normal presidential transition process, then why all the lying?
Any child could tell you the answer: People lie when they know they've done something wrong. Mr. Flynn and others in Mr. Trump's campaign and transition team were secretly trying to undermine United States foreign policy as private citizens — which is not just wrong, but a criminal violation of the Logan Act. Worse, the policy being undermined was President Barack Obama's punishment of a foreign adversary for interfering in an American election, and the underminers — Mr. Trump's team — were the very people who benefited most directly from that interference.
For some historical perspective, Richard Nixon once again proves useful. In the closing days of the 1968 presidential campaign, Mr. Nixon ordered H. R. Haldeman, later his chief of staff, to throw a "monkey wrench" into the Vietnamese peace talks, knowing that a serious move to end the war would hurt his electoral prospects. Mr. Nixon denied that he did this to the grave; Mr. Haldeman's notes, discovered after his death, revealed the truth.
Meanwhile, as the evidence of both subterfuge and obstruction continues to grow, Mr. Trump's tireless spinners and sophists are working to convince the American public that it's all no big deal. This is an embarrassing and unpersuasive argument, but it's not surprising. At this point, they have nothing else to work with.
Khaleej Times on the two-state solution under President Donald Trump recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel:
Unpredictable and unreliable. It comes naturally to US President Donald Trump. That Trump is unpredictable is clear from his earlier actions and policy flip-flops. The president has now ensured that the US is an unreliable partner in the Middle East peace process. Trust has been violated again and historical truths have been throttled. The US cannot be expected to be an honest broker if it recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Trump has taken sides before, but not on this grand scale that borders on deceit of epic proportions. The Palestinians have been cheated again and there are concerns that the same vicious cycle of violence will be repeated as a 'red line', as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan put it, has been crossed by the US. Palestinians are desperate and are losing hope, and look what Trump comes up with? A worthless 'solution' that is dictated by personal interests and diktats from Israel. But why the rush? The least he could have done was to respect the status quo of the holy city that is venerated by Muslims, Jews and Christians alike.
Jerusalem is the holy city that defines our values as a people. It calls out to us to be worthy of our innate humanity and goodness that are the very foundations of civilization. It has been a symbol of tolerance despite thousands of years of plunder and conflict. People and kingdoms have fought over it, but it retains a divine charm that should not be put to disrepute by such a reckless decision that has been greeted with derision from all over the world. It was feckless, too, for it lacked character and understanding of the facts on the ground. But why now? Why did it have to come to this from a president who has broken convention and courted controversy to sow fear when the world craves for peace, a certain divine peace that could be found in Jerusalem. It could be ascribed to his domestic woes that are growing with the investigation on Russia that is closing in on his family. Trump's inner circle has been exposed, the White House is vulnerable. He's bringing that vulnerability to a holy city for an unholy cause. History will not forgive him for it.
The Boston Herald on support for Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore:
Well, it's official. In today's Republican Party winning is everything.
As Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore's poll numbers stabilized, President Trump went all in and the Republican National Committee soon followed, once again opening up its coffers to one of the most morally bankrupt contenders to seek that office.
"We want strong borders, we want stopping crime," Trump said yesterday in support of Moore. "We want to have the things that we represent, and we certainly don't want a liberal Democrat that's controlled by Nancy Pelosi and controlled by Chuck Schumer. We don't want to have that for Alabama."
The fact that the guy faces accusations of sexual misconduct with two teens, ages 14 and 16, and efforts to date other teens when he was a 30-year-old district attorney seems not to bother the Trump wing of the Republican Party. That Moore has more recently called the women making the accusations liars — cards and a yearbook with his notes and signature notwithstanding — compounds his offences.
There are still a few voices of reason in the GOP, former governor and former presidential contender Mitt Romney among them.
"Roy Moore in the US Senate would be a stain on the GOP and on the nation. Leigh Corfman and other victims are courageous heroes. No vote, no majority is worth losing our honour, our integrity," Romney tweeted Monday.
Trump and the RNC pulled out all the stops on Moore's behalf even as U.S. Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) announced his imminent retirement in the wake of allegations of sexual misconduct. Conyers, the oldest-serving member of the House, was under enormous pressure from his Democratic colleagues to not further embarrass them.
Senate Republicans, on the other hand, will have ample time to contemplate their future — should Moore win his race next week — as the party without a moral core, the party that will overlook both sexual misconduct and a complete disrespect for the law (the reason Moore was twice thrown off the court in Alabama). Many voters will see that as winning the battle but losing the war.
Los Angeles Times on wildfires in southern California:
Wildfires have been a part of the California ecosystem since long before modern settlement, let alone the exurban sprawl that brings housing and development into fire-prone areas. We tend to deal with the possibility of raging firestorms abstractly — local governments do a little planning, fire departments offer advice on clearing brush and other flammables from property, insurers sell policies to cover our losses if a fire actually burns our homes and businesses to the ground. But those steps don't prepare us for the violent reality.
The fire currently raging in Ventura County (the Thomas fire) and the one in foothill neighbourhoods around Sylmar in the San Fernando Valley (the Creek fire) are breathtaking in two ways: the sheer power of wind-driven wildfire to devour landscape, whether it hold scrub brush or mansions, and the fragility of human life in the face of it. Forecasts predict this current round of Santa Ana winds will run with varying intensity through most of the week, which means these two major fires — moving too fast to be contained — have only just begun to destroy property and upend lives. And it means, too, that additional dangerous fires are likely to crop up. The Riverdale fire already is burning in Riverside County, though firefighters at the moment seem to have that 50% contained. And late Tuesday morning, Los Angeles County firefighters were trying to halt yet another fire — the Rye fire — near Santa Clarita, which grew quickly and forced the closure of the 5 Freeway.
There will be time for assessments after these firestorms subside. Were they natural or human-caused? Would better zoning limit exposure? Do we have sufficient capacity to fight so many fires at once? Are there better building materials we should be using to limit fire damage? For the time being, we must focus on evacuating where prudent, getting firefighters the support they need to protect as much property as possible without endangering themselves needlessly, and hope that the destruction we've already seen stands as the peak of this outbreak, and not just the opening act. October's wine country fires, which killed 44 people, turned Santa Rosa neighbourhoods to ash and damaged or destroyed more than $3 billion in property, serve as a sober warning of how bad this can get.
What should make Southern California fearful is that climate change could mean a future of more frequent and more intense wildfires. Today's fires will end, and what we do afterward — assessing how to better prepare, and how and whether to rebuild — will influence the damage from the fires next time.
Tampa Bay Times of St. Petersburg, Florida on a student's lawsuit over sexual assault and the University of South Florida's approach to Title IX:
Faced with a student's lawsuit over sexual assault, the University of South Florida is struggling with an issue that is roiling college campuses nationwide. The case raises concerns about how well USF has protected and supported a woman who felt victimized by a fellow student, in turn putting a focus on its overall handling of sexual assault complaints. USF should use this moment to re-evaluate its practices to ensure it is doing enough to help victims while protecting the rights of the accused.
Samantha Garrett, a 26-year-old doctoral student, said she was sexually assaulted last fall by another student in her psychology program. About three weeks passed before Garrett told a professor about the attack — delays in reporting sexual assaults are not unusual — and the school launched an investigation. The accused student, Andrew Thurston, was found responsible for violating the student code of conduct for "non-consensual intercourse and non-consensual sexual contact." As Times staff writer Claire McNeill reported, Thurston was given the choice of a formal hearing or accepting sanctions. He chose the sanctions, which his attorney says does not equate to admitting responsibility. He denies the allegations and has not been charged with a crime.
The case underscores both the delicate balance schools must strike in seeking justice in such cases, and the importance of their role separate from the criminal justice system. Accusations of criminal conduct should be handled by the police and the courts. But criminal cases can fall apart for many reasons, and sexual assault cases are especially difficult to prosecute. There are often no witnesses other than the accuser and the accused. If time has elapsed, there may be no physical evidence.
The federal anti-discrimination law known as Title IX requires colleges and universities to protect students from discrimination. Guided by Title IX, universities can make accommodations for course work, providing mental health services or allowing a transfer to a different class or dorm to separate alleged victims and perpetrators.
This is where USF's response to Garrett seems to have fallen short. The sanctions Thurston accepted, according to the lawsuit, were a deferred suspension through May 2018, allowing him to continue his studies on campus; two meetings with a university official; and a request that he "refrain from making contact" with Garrett. So Garrett may continue facing Thurston in parking lots, campus buildings and classrooms. As a result, she says, she has experienced panic attacks and dropped three classes. That does not sound like equal access to education.
It's possible, of course, for the pendulum to swing too far the other way. During the Obama administration, the U.S. Department of Education issued new guidelines, including a requirement that colleges use the lowest standard of proof in deciding whether a student is responsible for sexual assault, and opened investigations of schools it suspected of mishandling sexual misconduct cases. Victims' rights groups cheered, but there was legitimate concern that the rights of accused students were not being adequately protected. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has proposed revisions, most notably restoring the use of the higher standard of proof that previously had been used, which was clear and convincing evidence. What she has proposed is reasonable and will undergo rigorous review, factoring in public comment, before taking effect.
Universities have an obligation to protect equal access to education. It's no easy charge, and USF should constantly strive to be responsive, decisive and fair.
Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal of Tupelo on the Ulysses S. Grant Presidential Library:
Mississippi State University, and in conjunction Northeast Mississippi, earned a spot on the national academic map following the dedication of the Ulysses S. Grant Presidential Library and Williams' Collection of Lincolniana.
Visitors, along with university and elected officials, gathered for a ceremony on Nov. 30 to officially open the library at the university's main campus in Starkville.
The library is on the fourth floor of MSU's Mitchell Memorial Library and houses the Ulysses S. Grant Presidential Museum, the Williams' Collection and the Congressional and Political Research Center.
The Grant Library is a $10-million, 21,000-square-foot expansion of Mitchell Memorial Library that includes an auditorium, research room, office spaces, a conference room, a processing room and a climate-controlled storage unit, as reported by the Daily Journal's Emma Crawford Kent.
The Grant Museum is an interactive experience that presents the four eras of the 18th president's life. The museum contains sculptures along with Grant's personal letters and documents that visitors can interact with digitally.
The Grant Presidential Collection consists of some 15,000 linear feet of correspondence, research notes, artifacts, photographs, scrapbooks and memorabilia, as noted by information provided by MSU. There also are 4,000 published monographs on various aspects of Grant's life and times. The collection housed at Mississippi State is the largest single collection of Grant's papers and additional items in the world.
The museum also features artifacts such as Grant's White House china and one of the library's most prized pieces, the "Seven Mile Funeral Cortege of Gen. Grant," a book of photographs from Grant's funeral procession through New York City.
The Williams' Collection, which was made possible by generous contributions from retired Chief Justice of the Rhode Island Supreme Court and President of the Ulysses S. Grant Association Frank Williams, contains rare historical memorabilia, artifacts, signed documents, ephemera and original and early mass-produced artwork related to Lincoln and the Civil War.
Overall, the Williams' Collection contains more than 12,000 published volumes of historical writing on the Civil War and Lincoln.
It is considered the largest privately owned holding of Lincoln research and display material.
As Mississippi State officials noted during the ceremony, the library and collections finding a home in Mississippi is fitting.
"Our university offers a unique opportunity for the study of the Civil War not from a Northern perspective, not from a Southern perspective, but from a truly American perspective," said MSU President Mark Keenum.
The opening of the Grant Library makes MSU one of six universities nationwide to house a presidential library.
That statistic alone should bring great pride to all those who have worked to make this project a reality, as well as all Northeast Mississippians who can add one more impressive feat to the long list of landmarks and accomplishments found throughout our region.
The library gives one of our region's most valuable assets, Mississippi State University, a unique opportunity to pioneer research on the Civil War and two notable presidents.