Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Uneasy Lies

The idea that a Conservative government was going to celebrate Brexit by adding £350 million/week to the budget of the National Health Service was an even worse lie, but let that pass. Image via The Guardian, which calculated that if you accept the premises of the argument the most you could say UK "sent" to Brussels was £136 million per week, or less than 40% of the alleged amount, which of course leaves out the enormous indirect benefits of EU membership, sustaining 3.1 million jobs in UK and subsidizing 476,000 farm workers, not to mention the consumer protections which are, trust me, the things Conservatives are really aiming at, because they hate people.

I can't seem to get away from Britain, but this is too delicious:

The case is launched by Marcus Ball, a 29-year-old businessman who has raised over £400,000 to prosecute the case. Judge Margot Coleman made no finding of fact but

said she was satisfied that there was a prima facie case for the allegation that there had been an abuse of the public’s trust in a holder of office.
She referred to statements provide by Ball’s team from members of the public that addressed the impact that “the apparent lie” had on them. She also cited the contention by Power that “there will seldom be a more serious misconduct allegation against a member of parliament or mayor than to lie repeatedly to the voting public on a national and international platform, in order to win your desired outcome”.
Johnson, through his barrister, made no attempt to deny the accusation:
Acting for Johnson, Adrian Darbishire QC, told the court last week that the application by Ball had been brought for political purposes and was a “political stunt”.
“Its true purpose is not that it should succeed, but that it should be made at all. And made with as much public fanfare as the prosecution can engender,” he said. “The application represents an attempt, for the first time in English legal history, to employ the criminal law to regulate the content and quality of political debate. That is self-evidently not the function of the criminal law.”
I'd think the function of the criminal law is to punish and deter crimes. The British definition of misfeasance in public office certainly allows us to think of Johnson's conduct that way:
The Crown Prosecution Service guidelines on this offence[1] say that the elements of the offence are when:
  1. A public officer acting as such.
  2. Wilfully neglects to perform one's duty and/or wilfully misconducts oneself.
  3. To such a degree as to amount to an abuse of the public's trust in the office holder.[4]
  4. Without reasonable excuse or justification.
Johnson was acting as mayor of London and, later, as MP, and "his then chief of staff, Ed Lister, was also said to have informed the mayor’s staff that it was 'official mayoral policy' to support the case for leaving the EU," so it's clear that he meant to be acting as a public officer, not merely participating in "political debate". Lying is bad conduct whether it rises to a degree of criminality or not, and if it wasn't "abuse of the public's trust"—he expected voters to believe him and vote to Leave accordingly, which would and did advance his political career, leading him to the office of foreign secretary and quite probably prime minister now that Theresa May has resigned (somebody was saying it's likely to be around six months into his term that this case would go to trial)—I don't know what it is.

The legal issues in the US are more complex—there are a number of definitions of malfeasance in office—and I'll leave it to the lawyers in the crowd to try to straighten them out, but as a layperson I don't mind suggesting that some of Trump's lies meant to create popular support for especially ill-conceived policies would certainly rise to the standard, like his frequent claims that crime is on the rise when it isn't, or targeting particular groups as criminals, or claiming an "emergency" on the border other than the one caused by his crazy "zero tolerance" policy, or claiming that all the lost coal mining jobs will be restored by "clean coal", or using the millions of imaginary illegal votes that supposedly cost him a victory in the popular vote in 2016 as an excuse for vote suppression measures, or the imaginary 10% middle class tax cut he promised a couple of weeks before the 2018 election,  and name your own favorite.

And in an impeachment case, where the issues are not guided by statute law but the concept of "high crimes and misdemeanors", all the more. I really think this should be included in any articles of impeachment.

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