Discover more from Letters from an American
September 6, 2023
Yesterday, Vice President Kamala Harris arrived in Jakarta, Indonesia, to attend the U.S.–Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit and the East Asia Summit. ASEAN is a political and economic union of 10 member states in Southeast Asia whose combined population is more than 600 million (almost twice the size of the U.S.); the East Asia Summit expands ASEAN with several more nations. At meetings today, she emphasized the U.S. commitment to Southeast Asia and the Indo-Pacific. “We are a proud Pacific power, and the American people have a profound stake in the future of the Indo-Pacific,” she said.
Harris noted that Americans “share historic bonds and common values with many of the people and nations here” and that the region shares the same interests in security and prosperity. Commerce between Southeast Asia and the United States supports more than 600,000 American jobs, and ongoing economic cooperation offers enormous potential for growth. “It is therefore in our vital interest to promote a region that is open, interconnected, prosperous, secure, and resilient.” She announced the establishment of a U.S.-ASEAN Center in Washington, D.C., to deepen the economic and cultural engagement between members of the two entities.
She emphasized that the United States is committed to the Indo-Pacific and that it is “committed to ASEAN centrality.”
As the press was leaving a photo opportunity between Harris and Indonesian president Joko Widodo, the White House pool reporter called out two questions, one to each leader. The White House pool reporter is the one designated by all the other outlets to represent the press for the day. This reporter, Patsy Widakuswara, is an Indonesian American and the White House bureau chief for the Voice of America, the government-owned but independent U.S. broadcaster around the world. Indonesian officials physically blocked Widakuswara, told her to leave, and banned her from any other events.
“It was tense, but I didn’t feel anxious or panicked or anything like that, because I knew that I was just doing my job,” Widakuswara told Liam Scott of VOA. ”And I also knew that the VP’s office would stand by me.”
And stand she did. Harris refused to enter the summit room until the entire press pool, including Widakuswara, was inside. Indonesian officials later expressed their regret, said her shouts raised security concerns, and reiterated support for press freedom (although Reporters Without Borders ranks Indonesia 108th out of 180 countries for press freedom).
A spokesperson for the U.S. State Department told VOA: “A free and independent press is a core institution of healthy democracies and is vital for ensuring electorates can make informed decisions and hold government officials accountable.”
Harris’s defense of freedom of the press, a key pillar of democracy, stands out today as judges enforced the rule of law—the central pillar of democracy—in important ways.
This morning, U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan ruled that Trump’s liability for defaming writer E. Jean Carroll had already been established by the jury in May and that the jury in the January trial will only have to decide how much money to award her. Kaplan also refused to cap the damages. The jury in May awarded Carroll $5 million.
In Austin, U.S. District Judge David Ezra ruled that Texas must remove the barrier buoys and razor wire it has installed in the Rio Grande by September 15, and he prohibited Texas governor Greg Abbott from installing any others without proper approval. Ezra, who was appointed by Republican president Ronald Reagan, found that the United States was likely to win a lawsuit against Texas on the grounds that the state violated a federal law by affecting the navigation of the river and that the state cannot usurp the power of the federal government to enforce immigration laws.
About 80% of the barrier was initially in Mexican waters in violation of international treaties, and the Mexican government has formally protested it three times. Texas Republicans are calling for Congress to defund the Department of Homeland Security until they are satisfied with its border policies. The court found “that Texas’s conduct irreparably harms the public safety, navigation, and the operations of federal agency officials in and around the Rio Grande.”
Texas has already appealed today’s decision.
In Florida, Yuscil Taveras, the IT worker at Mar-a-Lago who alleged that Trump and his aide Walt Nauta and property manager Carlos de Oliveira tried to delete incriminating videos concerning the handling of classified national security documents from surveillance cameras, has reached a cooperation agreement with special counsel Jack Smith’s office. In exchange for not being prosecuted for his own part in the activity, Taveras will testify against the others.
Los Angeles Times senior legal affairs columnist Harry Litman wrote, “This was coming but important that it's here…. Now [the] question is: how can Nauta and DeOlivera not do the same?”
In that same case, Katherine Faulders and Mike Levine of ABC News reported today that voice memos made at the time by Trump lawyer Evan Corcoran show that he warned Trump in May 2022, just after the Department of Justice issued a grand jury subpoena for all the classified documents he had at Mar-a-Lago, that he had to comply and, if he didn’t, that the FBI might very well search Mar-a-Lago. Trump had asked “what happens if we just don't respond at all or don't play ball with them?" Despite Corcoran’s warning, Trump continued to suggest lying about the documents: “Wouldn't it be better if we just told them we don't have anything here?"
Another lawyer warned Corcoran that Trump would “go ballistic” if Corcoran pushed him to comply with the subpoena. When the FBI did, in fact, search the property the following August, Trump called it “a "shocking BREAK-IN," with "no way to justify" it. The FBI found more than 100 classified documents still in Trump’s possession.
Today, six Republican and unaffiliated Colorado voters, including former state, federal, and local officials, sued the Colorado secretary of state and former president Trump to keep him off the 2024 ballot. Represented by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), they argue that Trump is “disqualified from public office under Section 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment” and therefore “does not ‘meet all qualifications for the office [of the President] prescribed by law.’” They believe the secretary of state must exclude him from the ballot because he is “constitutionally ineligible” to hold the office.
Like freedom of the press, the rule of law is central to our democracy. Its slow gathering of information and argument, weighing of evidence, and eventual verdicts is not foolproof, but it creates space to approximate the idea that we are all equal before the law. Today in Indonesia, the vice president defended freedom of the press. In contrast, faced with the inexorable march of legal processes that finally appear to be catching up to MAGA Republicans who appear to have considered themselves above the law, those same MAGA Republicans are trying to destroy the rule of law itself.
Today on Trinity Broadcasting Network, which senior NBC News reporter Ben Collins says bills itself as the largest Christian television network in the world, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee opened his most recent episode by saying that if former president Trump loses the 2024 election because of the many indictments grand juries have handed down concerning his behavior, “it is going to be the last American election that will be decided by ballots rather than bullets.”