neo-neocon Mon, 24 Jul 2017 20:34:09 +0000 en-US hourly 1 When trout swim down… Mon, 24 Jul 2017 20:30:04 +0000 Sometimes random associations lead to a post.

Earlier today I wrote about a story that’s big in the news: the legal, medical, ethical, and human issues involved in the case of Charlie Gard. While writing it, I noticed that the hospital in London where the child has been treated is called Great Ormond Street Hospital.

For me—maybe not for you, but for me—the words that immediately leapt into my head were “When trout swim down Great Ormond Street.” No, I’m not going daft; that’s a line from a highly anthologized poem of the same name.

Some poems can work like musical earworms, particularly some lines of some poems. That’s one of them—so catchy! Once you hear it, it may remain in your mind forever. The poem itself wasn’t one of my favorites, or I’d have recalled the whole thing, but I remembered that the mental image and the message of the poem is something like “When pigs fly…”—in other words, when something impossible happens—and that it ends with a declaration that only when that impossible thing occurs will the poet stop loving his beloved

Here’s the poem, conjured up almost instantaneously by the wonders of Google. I appreciate it more now than when last I read it so many moons ago (probably in adolescence). Such lyrical, improbable images! Here’s the gist of it:

When trout swim down Great Ormond Street,
And sea-gulls cry above them lightly,
And hawthorns heave cold flagstones up
To blossom whitely…

….And in the sunlight,

By the green margin of that water,
Children dip white feet and shout,
Casting nets in the braided water
To catch the trout:

Then I shall hold my breath and die,
Swearing I never loved you; no,
‘You were not lovely!’ I shall cry,
‘I never loved you so.’

If I had to guess, I would have said that it was written by Dylan Thomas. Wrong, wrong, wrong. It’s by Conrad Aiken, about whom I remembered absolutely nothing. So of course I had to look him up, too.

I would have thought he was British because of that Great Ormond Street reference. But no; he was American, although he lived for a while in England. He was very prolific in both poetry and prose, and was moderately famous but not extraordinarily so. He had a troubled life in many ways, beginning with an almost unspeakable family tragedy that occurred when he was eleven.

But I’ll let him describe it. As he wrote in his mostly autobiographical work Ushant (the unspecified other person here was his mother, and the “his,” “he,” and “himself” is Aiken as a child):

After the desultory earlymorning quarrel came the halfstifled scream, and then the sound of his father’s voice counting three, and the two loud pistol shots and he tiptoed into the dark room, where the two bodies lay motionless, and apart, and, finding them dead, found himself possessed of them forever.

That’s a poet writing.

After that, he was farmed out to relatives, and spent the rest of his life picking up the pieces. I think that, despite multiple marriages and quite a bit of womanizing, under the circumstances he probably did a pretty good job.

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Charlie Gard’s parents give up their court fight Mon, 24 Jul 2017 19:07:51 +0000 A sad ending to a sad story

Until today I hadn’t written about Gard’s parents’ legal battle to be allowed to fly him to the US for extraordinary experimental treatment for a very rare and destructive genetic disorder. The main reason I haven’t dealt with it till now is that I think the issues are very clear there’s almost nothing to discuss, and that just about everyone here would agree: the court had no business meddling in this in the first place.

When the government enters the medicine business—and in Britain, it’s much more heavily involved than it is here, even with Obamacare—the government increasingly controls medicine and how it is dispensed. But the distinguishing factor in this case was that, although infant Charlie is in a London hospital, his parents had raised enough money to pay for his US treatment and therefore it would seem the British government shouldn’t have had any say in the matter unless the parents had been planning to do something really outrageous and clearly harmful.

The case for allowing Charlie Gard’s parents to choose seems fairly cut and dried to me—but not to the British courts, where the parents have been involved in a five-month court battle to be allowed to make this decision:

On 24 February 2017, the hospital applied for mechanical ventilation to be withdrawn, but his parents Gard and Yates were opposed to this, and wanted to take the child to the United States for an experimental treatment. The case was heard at the High Court with a legal team representing the parents pro bono. On 11 April, Mr Justice Francis ruled that it was in the infant’s best interests for his treating clinicians to withdraw mechanical ventilation and provide him with palliative care only, maintaining his dignity. The judge noted that the US doctor proposing the nucleoside treatment said that it was “very unlikely that he will improve” with the proposed experimental therapy. He also noted that the treatment proposed had not been used in patients with the same mutation as Charlie Gard, nor with patients with encephalopathy, as he had. There have been no published case studies of the proposed treatment in any patient group

These are reputable physicians, however, and Charlie’s diagnosis is so very rare that it’s not the least bit surprising they have little or no experimental data. That’s no reason to deny the parents the right to make the decision. And I don’t see why it’s any more “dignified” to die with or without a ventilator in Britain versus dying with or without a ventilator in the US after a course of treatment in a reputable hospital.

This is the way today’s decision was made:

On 7 July, the hospital applied to the High Court for a fresh hearing, citing that this was “in light of claims of new evidence relating to potential treatment”, referring to possible new evidence on the benefit of nucleoside treatment…

Hearings took place on 13 and 14 July, and in the latter hearing the US doctor, Michio Hirano of Columbia University, agreed to be identified, and the judge ruled that Hirano could evaluate the child and consult with the hospital staff; the judge said he would issue a new ruling on 25 July, after he had received and reviewed Hirano’s report.

On Monday 24 July, the attorney for Gard and Yates appeared in the High Court and withdrew the parents’ request to fly their son to the US and their challenge to withdrawing mechanical ventilation and giving him only palliative care. The attorney said that Hirano, after examining the child and consulting with GOSH staff, was no longer willing to offer the experimental therapy because he saw no chance of it working due to irreversible damage caused by the disease. The attorney said that on 21 July Gard and Yates had decided to stop fighting and had spent the weekend with their son.

This is the sad situation, but at least Charlie’s parents were able to make the decision themselves based on the advice of a physician they trusted, one who was willing to treat their son if he felt there was any hope whatsoever. Meanwhile, of course, they had lost a great deal of precious time while the courts droned on.

When I first read that news, I thought that it probably was the case that the child could not have been saved even if he’d had access to the treatment when they first were able to afford it. I still believe that is highly likely to have been true.

But even if there was a 1% or less chance, it was the parents’ right to take it, and they missed that chance. Here is the relevant portion of their statement:

The American and Italian team were still willing to treat Charlie after seeing his recent MRI and EEG perform last week, but there is one simple reason why treatment cannot now go ahead and that is time. A whole lot of time has been wasted.

We are now in July and our poor boy has been left to just lie in hospital for months without any treatment whilst lengthy court battles have been fought.

Tragically having had Charlie’s medical notes reviewed by independent experts, we now know had Charlie been given the treatment sooner, he would have had the potential to be a normal healthy little boy.

Despite his condition in January, Charlie’s muscles were in pretty good shape and far from showing irreversible catastrophic structural brain damage.

Dr Hirano and other experts say his brain scans and EEGs were those of a relatively normal child of his age…

Charlie’s been left for his illness to deteriorate devastatingly to the point of no return.

This has also never been about ‘parents know best’.

All we wanted to do was take Charlie from one world-renowned hospital to another world-renowned hospital in the attempt to save his life and to be treated by the world leader in mitochondrial disease.

We’ll have to live with the what-ifs which will haunt us for the rest of our lives.

I know I repeat myself, but I have to say this is incredibly sad. My opinion of the court’s role is that it has been outrageous. These parents weren’t going to remove the child from a hospital offering some hopeful treatment to take him to a quack somewhere. They were proposing to use their own money to take him from a hopeless situation to one that offered him (and them) an infinitesimal chance of hope, both in “world-renowned” hospitals.

It should have been their right as parents and as human beings to make that decision in a timely manner.

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Mongolia’s Got Talent Sat, 22 Jul 2017 16:56:43 +0000 Of course it does.

This is indescribable, so I’m not going to attempt to describe it. I’ll just sit back and let you watch and listen:

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Will Mueller be fired, and if so what would happen next? Sat, 22 Jul 2017 16:55:33 +0000 The subject of this post is worthy of a tome. But I’m actually trying to go somewhere this afternoon (fancy that!) and so it will be a condensation, perhaps with a sequel to follow at some point.

Rumors are flying that President Trump is getting set to fire special counsel (similar to a special prosecutor) Mueller, and this is raising a ton of concern and controversy. Of course, although the discussion is of the possibility of Trump firing Mueller, Trump would not actually be empowered to do it himself, because the law requires it be done through the AG’s office (see this):

The Special Counsel may be disciplined or removed from office only by the personal action of the Attorney General. The Attorney General may remove a Special Counsel for misconduct, dereliction of duty, incapacity, conflict of interest, or for other good cause, including violation of Departmental policies. The Attorney General shall inform the Special Counsel in writing of the specific reason for his or her removal.

There is a caveat, though: “the current special counsel regulations were promulgated by the Justice Department and have no underlying statutory basis.”

However—as President Nixon learned* during the event known as The Saturday Night Massacre (see this for more details)—such a firing would almost certainly be politically dangerous. In Nixon’s case, it took him some time to get someone in the Justice Department to refuse to resign, do Nixon’s bidding, and fire Archibald Cox. The entire episode was instrumental in ultimately sealing his fate, because the GOP turned on him.

Trump isn’t a popular figure in the GOP; he’s merely tolerated at this point. I think if he fired Mueller without clear and obvious and nearly unequivocal cause, enough of the GOP would turn on him that his position would become untenable. That prediction may be incorrect, but I’m making it. And I’m making still another prediction, which is that Trump won’t actually have Mueller fired.

No matter what party they are appointed to investigate, I have a non-partisan dislike of the entire idea of pecial prosecutors/counsels. Let Congress investigate, or the FBI if it must. But independent counsels are invitationss to fishing expeditions and the temptation of the power granted to the attorneys involved is just too great. The check on this power—the ability to fire for cause—can hardly ever be put into effect because the political hue and cry would be way too great.

We don’t want a chief executive with no checks on his power, but neither do we want an unelected special prosecutor with no checks on his power, and yet at this point it’s hard to trust Congress to check either of them.

[NOTE: *The law has been changed since Nixon’s time, but it’s not substantially different in most important respects. See this.]

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Good news and bad news on ISIS Sat, 22 Jul 2017 16:27:32 +0000 First, the good news: the war on ISIS has been going well lately:

ISIS in Iraq and Syria has been “dismantled,” with tens of thousands of its jihadist fighters dead…

The bad news? Thanks to our media, which continues to have its own arrogant agenda:

…[A] promising lead on its leader “went dead” after a media leak, according to a key U.S. military official.

“We have absolutely dismantled his network,” Gen. Tony Thomas, speaking of Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, said at the Aspen Security Forum. “I mean everyone who worked for him initially is dead or gone. Everybody who stepped to the plate the next time [is] dead or gone. Down through a network where we have killed, in a conservative estimate, 60,000 to 70,000 of his followers, his army.”…

“Unfortunately, [a good lead on the leader’s whereabouts] was leaked in a prominent national newspaper about a week later and that lead went dead,” Thomas said. “The challenge we have [is] in terms of where and how our tactics and procedures are discussed openly. There’s a great need to inform the American public about what we’re up to. There’s also great need to recognize things that will absolutely undercut our ability to do our job.”

Thomas appeared to be referring to a New York Times report in June 2015 that detailed how American intelligence agencies had “extracted valuable information.”

This is nothing new; these damaging leaks have been going on for a long time.

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Reality and health care insurance reform Sat, 22 Jul 2017 16:14:29 +0000 I saw the title of this article by James C. Capretta at the American Enterprise Institute (“The GOP’s collision with health-care reality”) and, before I read it, I expected it would cover the fact that any bona fide Republican effort to reform our health care insurance system would be inherently difficult because the public wants to have its cake, eat it too, and pay next to nothing for it—and in addition, the GOP is hopelessly divided between moderates and conservatives.

But the article wasn’t really about the basics; it was mostly about tactics. Capretta points out that the GOP promised repeal without having a plan for replacement, and that Trump the candidate and then president has been very hazy about giving any specific direction and leadership at all. These things are certainly true, but I don’t think they get to the heart of the GOP’s failure to confront reality, which I think is even more basic than that and goes under the heading of “there is no free lunch” and “the MSM will tear into any flaws in any system the GOP can devise,” as well as “the public has gotten used to the perks of Obamacare and would like those perks without the drawbacks” (maybe that last one is the same as the first one).

Which brings us to Capretta’s final suggestion for the GOP, a piece of advice that seems even more divorced from reality than the GOP’s actual behavior:

To get a better result with a renewed push, the GOP should include willing Democratic senators in the conversation. The party should understand that the goal should be a plan that costs less, reduces regulations, and injects serious market discipline into the system, even while ensuring all Americans have ready access to insurance. That may mean finding a compromise approach on giving individuals strong incentives to enroll in health insurance. The party should also work with GOP governors to find a reasonable and affordable compromise on Medicaid, one that provides for significant reform of the program, with more state control and clear federal budgetary restraints, while also providing a safety net to all Americans with incomes below the poverty line.

It would have been easier, and more fruitful, to pursue a bipartisan deal of this kind in the weeks after the election. That was when Republicans had the most power. But they still have some leverage. They should use it when the time is right to begin the process of moving health policy in a direction more to their liking. That will inevitably be less satisfying to some than writing a bill entirely on their own because of the compromises that will be necessary, but this kind of legislation would be far more likely to pass, and also survive when political control inevitably changes again.

The sole exception to the disconnect from reality expressed there is one sentence that makes sense to me: “The party should also work with GOP governors to find a reasonable and affordable compromise on Medicaid…”. Other than that, I’m not sure what world Capretta is living in, but it’s not the one I’ve been observing for well over a decade. I don’t see any possibility of compromise on the part of the Democrats, who threw down the partisan gauntlet when they passed Obamacare in the first place. On Obamacare, the only compromise they will accept is complete capitulation from the GOP.

And even if reasonable compromise were possible, I doubt the GOP’s base would stand for it.

We’ve reached a pretty pass, haven’t we?

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Sean Spicer resigns Fri, 21 Jul 2017 19:40:28 +0000 To tell you the truth, I can’t say I blame him. What a difficult job it must be:

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer resigned Friday in a move apparently tied to the hiring of a new top communications aide, marking a major shakeup in the president’s press shop at an already tumultuous time.

Spicer’s departure was confirmed just moments after President Trump met with the man being tapped for White House communications director, Wall Street financier Anthony Scaramucci….

While Spicer is close to White House chief of staff Reince Priebus, Priebus told The Associated Press that he supports Scaramucci “100 percent.”

“We go back a long, long way and are very good friends,” Priebus said of Scaramucci. “All good here.”

There are rumors, however, to the contrary about Priebus:

…[Scaramucci’s] appointment would be unusual, given his lack of a traditional communications portfolio. But he has been seen as an avid and effective defender of the president on television…

Mr. Scaramucci was recently the subject of a retracted story by CNN that dealt with investigations into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia. He accepted an apology from the network, but Mr. Trump’s supporters were gratified by Mr. Scaramucci’s approach to getting the story removed.

It is unclear if Mr. Scaramucci’s appointment will be blocked by Reince Priebus, the White House chief of staff. Officials have said Mr. Priebus helped jettison an earlier plan to put Mr. Scaramucci in the White House Office of Public Liaison.

Oh, so it’s that Scaramucci.

And now I’ve got an earworm. Want one too (hint: can you do the fandango?)? See 3:11 to 3:17:

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Obama and Trump: the wild MSM pendulum swing Fri, 21 Jul 2017 17:41:45 +0000 A few days ago I was thinking how extreme the media has become, beginning during the Obama years. That’s not to say that, prior to Obama’s candidacy, the media was trustworthy or objective. But I noticed that with Obama it became ever more obvious that the media was almost worshipful of him and increasingly unafraid to reveal that fact.

And with the advent of the Trump candidacy, the MSM pendulum has swung even further in the opposite direction. It’s not that Donald Trump is above criticism—au contraire, and I’ve done my bit here to add to that. But let the criticism be warranted, proportionate to the offense, and let it be based on fact.

That’s not the media’s approach, although it would have you believe it is.

But yesterday Victor Davis Hanson put it better than I could have, so I’ll leave it to him:

Between 2008 and 2016, the media were unapologetic about their adoration of President Barack Obama. Now, they are energized by their thorough loathing of President Donald Trump. In tragic fashion, the hubris of deifying Obama has now come full circle to the nemesis of demonizing Trump. The common denominator of the two extremes is the abandonment of disinterested reporting…

If the media became unhinged in the adulatory Obama years through hubris, it might have earned back its respect and professionalism by covering Trump in even-handed fashion. But Nemesis does not work that way: those it destroys, it first makes mad.

Please read the whole thing.

I would add a few observations, though. The first is that the press didn’t have much credibility even before Obama’s election, although I agree it destroyed the last shards of lingering respect by its behavior during his administration. However, plenty of people still trust the press in the sense that they believe most or at least much of what it prints. There are other people who are subtly influenced by its propaganda whether they admire it or not. Propaganda can work that way, just as advertisements can work that way, and it can sometimes operate without the person even realizing what’s happening.

My second observation is that part of the press’s extreme antipathy to Trump comes from their sense of utter shock at his election. Not only did they consider him a travesty, and an evil one at that, but the vast majority of them were completely convinced that his election was quite literally impossible.

For example, we have Rachel Maddow speaking to her viewers on the night of the election, when the reality of the Trump presidency had set in and yet not set in:

I maintain that they have never accepted that “this is real.” It’s something they believe is a bad dream that they can wish away, talk away, and above all write away. The pen is mightier than the sword—after all, they slayed the dragon once before (Nixon), and he was a legitimate president with a bona fide political history. I believe they reason that Trump—with all his manifold and obvious flaws—should be a much easier target.

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Heroes, military and otherwise: the case of John McCain Fri, 21 Jul 2017 17:04:49 +0000 Commenter “Frog” has a question about what makes a hero:

What makes a military hero? What defines heroism? Was McCain in ‘Nam a Sgt. York equivalent? York risked life and limb many times in accomplishing victories in combat and saving lives of his fellow soldiers. Was York an equal to those that suffered in the trenches, getting gassed or getting trench foot or both, never being able to ‘take it to the enemy’?

Those are interesting questions, because there are indeed many kinds of heroism as well as many kinds of courage for those who serve in the military. I would say that strictly military heroism involves heroism (bravery and acceptance of risk) in the accomplishment of military exploits—that is, fighting the enemy. It is usually defined actively—not just by slogging it out in a trench but by engaging the enemy more directly—although even those in the trenches could be called “heroic” in terms of endurance.

Then there’s heroism in terms of saving fellow military members (or civilians). That’s a sort of heroism that is sometimes performed by those in combat but can also be shown by medical personnel or chaplains, who have received medals for such exploits.

Then, of course, there’s the sort of heroism—or courage, or character, or all of the above—shown by McCain and others as a military member while a prisoner of war. This can involve not just endurance of a truly exceptional nature, but defiance and self-sacrifice.

I maintain that John McCain showed all three types of heroism during his military service, although to differing degrees. The part of his story that is most well-known is the prisoner-of-war part, but it’s not the only part. McCain didn’t have all that much of a chance to be a hero in the strictly conventional sense of a military (combat) hero because he saw so little service outside of his prisoner of war status. But he made the most of the short time available to him.

McCain volunteered for combat duty. He was sent to Vietnam to serve as a pilot on the carrier Forrestal in May of 1967. The ship got to Vietnam on around July 25, 1967. McCain flew five successful missions. On July 29, 1967, the following disaster occurred:

McCain was almost killed on board Forrestal on July 29, 1967. While the air wing was preparing to launch attacks, a Zuni rocket from an F-4 Phantom accidentally fired across the carrier’s deck. The rocket struck either McCain’s A-4E Skyhawk or one near it. The impact ruptured the Skyhawk’s fuel tank, which ignited the fuel and knocked two bombs loose. McCain later said, “I thought my aircraft exploded. Flames were everywhere.” McCain escaped from his jet by climbing out of the cockpit, working himself to the nose of the jet, and jumping off its refueling probe onto the burning deck. His flight suit caught on fire as he rolled through the flames, but he was able to put it out. He went to help another pilot trying to escape the fire when the first bomb exploded; McCain was thrown backwards ten feet (three meters) and suffered minor wounds when struck in the legs and chest by fragments. McCain helped crewmen throw unexploded bombs overboard off the hangar deck elevator, then went to Forrestal’s ready room and with other pilots watched the ensuing fire and the fire-fighting efforts on the room’s closed-circuit television. The fire killed 134 sailors, injured scores of others, destroyed at least 20 aircraft, and took 24 hours to control.

That may not be Sergeant York territory, but it sounds pretty heroic to me, especially in the second sense (attempting to save other people).

Not to mention the next assignment for which McCain also volunteered:

As Forrestal headed to port for repairs, McCain volunteered to join the undermanned VA-163 “Saints” squadron on board the USS Oriskany. This carrier had earlier endured its own deck fire disaster and its squadrons had suffered some of the heaviest losses during Rolling Thunder. The Saints had a reputation for aggressive, daring attacks, but paid the price: in 1967, one-third of their pilots were killed or captured, and all of their original fifteen A-4s had been destroyed.

I would argue that it takes a certain amount of bravery to volunteer for that kind of mission. It may not be heroism, but it’s not too far behind.

In his short stint of service with that group, McCain’s record wasn’t heroic enough to draw exceptional attention, but it certainly was heroic enough for me. Remember when you read this that he didn’t join Oriskany until September 30 of 1967, so the time frame of all this activity is very compressed:

He volunteered to fly the squadron’s most dangerous missions right away, rather than work his way up to them. During October 1967, the pilots operated in constant twelve-hour on, twelve-hour off shifts. McCain would be awarded a Navy Commendation Medal for leading his air section through heavy enemy fire during an October 18 raid on the Lac Trai shipyard in Haiphong. On October 25, McCain successfully attacked the Phúc Yên Air Base north of Hanoi through a barrage of anti-aircraft artillery and surface-to-air missile fire; credited with destroying one aircraft on the ground and damaging two, the raid would garner him the Bronze Star. Air defenses around Hanoi were at this point the strongest they would be during the entire war.

McCain was shot down less than one month after arriving for his Oriskany tour. Here are the circumstances:

On October 26, 1967, McCain was flying his twenty-third mission, part of a twenty-plane strike force against the Yen Phu thermal power plant in central Hanoi that previously had almost always been off-limits to U.S. raids due to the possibility of collateral damage. Arriving just before noon, McCain dove from 9,000 to 4,000 feet on his approach;[105] as he neared the target, warning systems in McCain’s A-4E Skyhawk alerted him that he was being tracked by enemy fire-control radar. Like other U.S. pilots in similar situations, he did not break off the bombing run, and he held his dive until he released his bombs at about 3,500 feet (1,000 m). As he started to pull up, the Skyhawk’s wing was blown off by a Soviet-made SA-2 anti-aircraft missile fired by the North Vietnamese Air Defense Command’s 61st Battalion…

I have no problem assigning the word “hero” and/or “heroic” to John McCain.

Someone might have pointed out some of these facts to armchair critic Donald J. Trump, the man who joked that he fought his own personal Vietnam by fending off the perils of venereal disease while boffing a variety of models.

[NOTE: I figure I don’t need to describe McCain’s heroism as a prisoner of war. The story is quite well-known, but you can find a short summary here.]

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Mueller stretches Thu, 20 Jul 2017 18:02:11 +0000 With the caveat “if this report is true” (something we have to state more and more frequently these days about MSM news), Special Counsel Mueller appears to be doing exactly what was predicted would happen when he was appointed: going on a fishing expedition against Trump:

John Dowd, one of Trump’s lawyers, said on Thursday that he was unaware of the inquiry into Trump’s businesses by the two-months-old investigation and considered it beyond the scope of what Special Counsel Robert Mueller should be examining.

“Those transactions are in my view well beyond the mandate of the Special counsel; are unrelated to the election of 2016 or any alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia and most importantly, are well beyond any Statute of Limitation imposed by the United States Code,” he wrote in an email.

William Jacobsen at Legal Insurrection has a lengthy post today about this. And in late June, Andrew C. McCarthy wrote extensively on the subject of the way-too-broad scope of the Mueller investigation, which I discussed here.

That’s why, when I first looked at the headline of today’s Bloomberg article (“Mueller Expands Probe to Trump Business Transactions”), I immediately thought “There it is.”

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