Why Is Trump Tacitly Supporting Corruption in Guatemala?

The administration’s silence empowers President Jimmy Morales to continue ruling with impunity.

When President Jimmy Morales of Guatemala announced last monththat he would not reauthorize a joint United Nations-Guatemala anticorruption commission to remain in the country, he set in motion what some are calling a slow-motion coup.

The International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala, known as Cicig, has been operating there since 2007. In the mid-2000s, Guatemala was on the verge of becoming a narco state — and Cicig’s international prosecutors and investigators, and their Guatemalan counterparts, were tasked with fighting organized crime and ending the institutional impunity that gave free rein to powerful criminals and corrupt officials.

Cicig has become especially effective since Ivan Velazquez, a renowned Colombian prosecutor, was appointed commissioner in 2013. In the last five years, more than 60 criminal groups, many deeply embedded in the government, have been exposed, and some 680 people have been jailed for corruption and related crimes.

In 2015, President Otto Perez Molina was imprisoned, along with his vice president, for presiding over a corruption network. Nearly 70 percent of Guatemalans view Cicig favorably.

President Morales, a former television comedian, is widely regarded as corrupt. His government is backed by a so-called juntita of retrograde military officers and a bloc in the Guatemalan Congress derisively known as “el pacto de corruptos” for its efforts to pass legislation granting members impunity from prosecution for corruption and other crimes.

Cicig has been investigating Mr. Morales for accepting undeclared campaign contributions, and the commission recently asked Congress to lift his immunity from prosecution. In response, Mr. Morales not only refused to extend Cicig’s right to operate in the country, but he sent armed military vehicles to the United States Embassy to intimidate the American ambassador, who publicly supports Cicig.

Last week, Mr. Morales went on to bar Mr. Velazquez, who was in Washington for meetings, from re-entering the country. On Sunday, Guatemala’s Constitutional Court ruled that Mr. Morales had to readmit Mr. Velazquez. The Morales government responded by demanding that the United Nations nominate a new commissioner.

The United States supplies 40 percent of Cicig’s funding, and historically Cicig has received firm support from American presidents, both Republican and Democratic. But as tensions have risen between Mr. Morales and the commission, the Trump administration has been too quiet.

The administration’s tough-talking foreign policy chiefs — including President Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton — are not standing up to a leader who faces credible accusations of corruption and is aggressively defying a United States ambassador.

The administration’s silence helps pave the way for a possible coup, and chaos and violence that would most likely result. One firm step by the Trump administration could be enough to stop Mr. Morales’s dangerous gambit. Mr. Trump or his lieutenants could

  • join the United States Congress in threatening to cut off economic assistance to Guatemala. They could
  • slash military aid. They could
  • reiterate their support for Cicig’s anticorruption work, including its investigation of Mr. Morales.

Some commentators say that the Trump administration wants to reward Mr. Morales for moving the Guatemalan Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. Others speculate that Mr. Trump’s advisers fear provoking Mr. Morales into swapping American patronage for that of China.

But it’s important to remember why Cicig was founded. In the post-civil war period, elite Guatemalan military officers, politicians and other powerful groups and individuals, recognizing that the era of Cold War American largess and unconditional support was over, found a new master: organized crime.

And the country remains a key transit point in the drug corridor between Colombia and Mexico. As recently as 2014, the State Department estimated that as much as 80 percent of the cocaine that eventually reached the United States passed through Guatemala.

An international solution is needed to fight transnational crime. This insight led to the establishment of Cicig.

The American ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, wrote in a Sept. 10 article for CNN: “Corruption spurs revolutions, enables extremist groups and fuels civil wars. Combating corruption is not just about good governance, it’s about maintaining peace and security.”

Those are important words. But when it comes to Guatemala, the Trump administration appears to have a different standard. Instead, in his silence, Mr. Trump is embracing corruption and organized crime.

Mayor Accused of Trying to Intimidate Investigations Commissioner

Mayor Bill de Blasio and his senior staff repeatedly tried to pressure the commissioner of New York City’s top watchdog agency into not releasing critical reports about his administration, the commissioner said Monday.

Days after being fired from his job as the head of the Department of Investigation, Mark Peters said in a letter to the City Council that the mayor and at least two deputy mayors upbraided him on several occasions during his time in the post, accusing him of disloyalty and questioning whether he was “still a friend” to Mr. de Blasio.

Each rebuke, Mr. Peters said, came right before his agency released reports critical of the administration, including a November 2017 report on the city failing to conduct proper lead inspections at its public-housing developments and an April 2017 report about the misuse of city-owned cars by top brass at the Department of Correction.

“On several occasions the mayor and his most senior staff have expressed visible anger at me over certain DOI investigations,” Mr. Peters said in the letter. “They have requested that I not issue certain reports, and when I declined to do so they took actions to demonstrate their anger in ways that were clearly designed to be intimidating.”

Mr. Peters said the intimidation turned to punishment on Friday, when Mr. de Blasio fired him as commissioner and replaced him with Margaret Garnett, New York’s executive deputy attorney general for criminal justice and a former federal prosecutor. His dismissal from the position he had held since 2014 was a way to silence him and thwart coming investigations that pertain to the mayor and his senior staff, according to the letter.

.. Under city rules, he was allowed to provide a public response to his firing.

.. In firing Mr. Peters, the mayor cited an independent probe’s determination that Mr. Peters abused his power earlier this year when he tried to absorb an investigative agency for the city’s Education Department into the DOI. Two people whom Mr. Peters fired during that reconfiguration filed whistleblower claims.

Following the release of the independent probe’s findings last month, Mr. Peters issued a public apology and admitted his actions were wrong.

The Constitution won’t let Trump silence White House aides

No matter how much the president loves them, the government can only enforce nondisclosure agreements for classified information.

Part of the outrage on the president’s part seems to be over Manigault Newman breaking what Trump saw as a promise not to talk about her time working for him. White House counselor Kellyanne Conway told ABC News: “We have confidentiality agreements in the West Wing — absolutely we do.” And Manigault Newman claims in her book that Trump’s reelection campaign offered her a $15,000-a-month salary in exchange for signing a confidentiality agreement.

.. NDAs for government workers, when they go beyond prohibiting the disclosure of classified information, are unconstitutional on their face.

.. For decades, courts have made it clear that the government may not censor unclassified material, “contractually or otherwise.”

.. I have reviewed one document that is purportedly a version of the White House NDA. It appeared to be nothing more than a Trump Organization document that was modified to apply to White House staff — in fact, it still had a provision that in any litigated dispute, the parties agreed that New York state law would apply, language that no standard federal document would ever have used.
.. It was also publicly reported that one early draft of a White House NDA contained a provision that imposed a $10 million fine to be paid to the federal government if the signatory shared confidential information.
.. While the term “confidential” in D.C. parlance is part of the national security classification framework, in these NDAs, it referred to potentially derogatory and unclassified information pertaining to the president.
.. These NDAs also ignored earlier guidance from the Office of Management and Budget that any NDAs should contain whistleblower protection provisions, clauses that would be contrary to the clear message desired by this administration.
.. his campaign entity, Donald J. Trump for President Inc., rather than the U.S. government, has reportedly filed for arbitration against Manigault Newman seeking millions for a violation of a 2016 NDA.
.. The NDA allegedly required her to keep proprietary information about the president, his companies or his family confidential and to never “disparage” the Trump family “during the term of your service and at all times thereafter.” This clause is in direct conflict with the legal precedents governing federal employees, but how an arbitration body will interpret constitutional questions is anyone’s guess.
.. In an April 2016 interview with The Washington Post, the future president said he supported making federal employees sign NDAs.
“I think they should,” Trump said. “. . . When people are chosen by a man to go into government at high levels, and then they leave government and they write a book about a man and say a lot of things that were really guarded and personal, I don’t like that.”

.. In 1961, President John F. Kennedy said the “very word ‘secrecy’ is repugnant in a free and open society; and we are as a people inherently and historically opposed to secret societies, to secret oaths and to secret proceedings.”

Free-speech conservatives, this is your call to arms

To all those supposed constitutional conservatives out there, consider this your call to arms: The First Amendment is under direct attack, and this time from a much more powerful foe than misguided college freshmen.

By whom I mean: the ostensible leader of the free world.

Again and again, President Trump has used the weight of his office and the broader federal government to inflict financial damage upon critics, whistleblowers, journalists and peaceful protesters for exercising their rights to free speech.

Trump’s most recent salvo involves former CIA director John Brennan. During his long career in intelligence, Brennan briefed Republican and Democratic presidents alike. Which makes his fierce criticism of Trump, and his characterization of Trump’s Helsinki performance as “treasonous,” all the more biting.

.. Such comments led Trump to revoke Brennan’s security clearance Wednesday. The administration said Brennan no longer needed clearance because it didn’t plan to call on him for consultations. But high-level clearances are valuable for private-sector work as well.

In other words, this was about shutting Brennan’s mouth by going after his wallet.

.. And that is but one way Trump has tried to silence critics just this week.

A day earlier, Trump’s campaign said it had filed an arbitration action against Omarosa Manigault Newman alleging that the former White House aide broke a 2016 nondisclosure agreement by publishing her recent tell-all book.

.. And that is but one way Trump has tried to silence critics just this week.

That the party bringing the claim here is technically a campaign, rather than, say, the Justice Department, doesn’t matter. The First Amendment is supposed to protect those critical of their government, including critics of its highest officeholder, from political retribution. And political retribution laundered through an election campaign at the president’s instruction is retribution all the same.

.. Elsewhere — again, in recent days — the president and his minions have called the press the enemy of the people and the opposition party. Previously they have blacklisted reporters and entire news outlets (including The Post) whose questions Trump disliked.

.. When unhappy with Post coverage in particular, Trump has threatened government action against Amazon in an apparent attempt to financially punish its chief executive, Jeffrey P. Bezos, who independently owns the paper.

.. Journalists and media owners are hardly the only ones whose job or financial security Trump has targeted from his bully pulpit. He called for the firing of National Football League players who kneel in protest during the national anthem. NFL owners, in a secretly recorded meeting in October, expressed concern about the president’s impact on their bottom line.

Curiously, Republican politicians and conservative pundits who call themselves staunch defenders of the Constitution have allowed, and at times encouraged, the president to run roughshod over the First Amendment.

Republican Sens. Rand Paul (Ky.), John Neely Kennedy (La.) and Ron Johnson (Wis.) celebrated Trump’s revocation of Brennan’s security clearance.

Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), who as chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee oversaw a hearing titled “Free Speech 101: The Assault on the First Amendment on College Campuses,” refused to condemn Trump’s calls for the firing of NFL players engaged in peaceful protest. Instead, in September, he attacked the media for giving the “false impression” that Trump spent too much time attacking the NFL.

.. Polls in the past couple of years have shown that pluralities and, quite often, majorities of Republicans say that they, too, consider the media the enemy of the people; believe that the president should have the authority to close news outlets that he believes behave badly; and favor firing NFL players who refuse to stand for the anthem and stripping citizenship from anyone who burns the flag.