US Trade Rep Threatens Congress With Prosecution

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“Any member of Congress who shares information with the public from a Wednesday briefing could be prosecuted for a crime.”

Photo from on the TPP

For years now, we’ve been trying to understand why the US Trade Rep (USTR) is so anti-transparency with its trade negotiations. It insists that everything it’s negotiating be kept in near total secrecy until everything is settled, and the public can no longer give input to fix the problems in the agreement. It’s a highly questionable stance. Whenever this criticism is put to the USTR directly, it responds by saying that it will listen to anyone who wants to come and talk to the USTR. But, as we’ve explained multiple times, “listening” is about information going into the USTR. “Transparency” is about information coming out of the USTR. They’re not the same thing by any stretch of the imagination.

As the fight over new trade agreements gets louder and louder, a key stumbling block is having Congress approve so-called “fast track authority” or “Trade Promotion Authority,” which basically means that Congress can’t even jump in to try to fix the problems in whatever the USTR negotiates — it can only give a straight “yes” or “no” vote on the entire package. For reasons that aren’t entirely clear, Congressional Republicans are all for this, even though it means directly giving up Congress’s Constitutional authority to a President that the Republicans appear to hate. Meanwhile, Democrats seem reasonably skeptical of these new trade deals.

So the White House and the USTR have been pushing a charm offensive on Congressional Democrats concerning these trade deals, but the charm offensive also comes with this rather startling statement: if you reveal what we’re telling you, you may go to jail:

As the Obama administration gives House Democrats a hard sell on a major controversial trade pact this week, it will be doing so under severe conditions: Any member of Congress who shares information with the public from a Wednesday briefing could be prosecuted for a crime.

Yes, the USTR has declared that the briefing is entirely classified. Why? Mainly to keep the details secret from the American public. As Rep. Alan Grayson notes:

“It is part of a multi-year campaign of deception and destruction. Why do we classify information? It’s to keep sensitive information out of the hands of foreign governments. In this case, foreign governments already have this information. They’re the people the administration is negotiating with. The only purpose of classifying this information is to keep it from the American people.”

The USTR’s lame response to all of this is that any member of Congerss is allowed to come to its office and see the text of the negotiating documents. But that’s misleading in the extreme. As we’ve discussed before, the USTR tells elected officials that they can’t copy anything, take any notes, or even bring staff experts on trade agreements (or related issues)… even when those staffers have security clearance.

We pointed out this was a problem back in 2012 and it appears to be ongoing. The Huffington Post article above quotes Rep. Rosa DeLauro who appears to be having the same problem:

“Even now, when they are finally beginning to share details of the proposed deal with Members of Congress, they are denying us the ability to consult with our staff or discuss details of the agreement with experts. This flies in the face of how past negotiations have been conducted and does not help the Administration’s credibility. If the TPP would be as good for American jobs as they claim, there should be nothing to hide.”

Rep. Lloyd Doggett also seems amazed that his staffers with security clearance are blocked from getting information about the TPP agreement:

“I tried to find out what level of classification applies,” he said. “Can my top cleared staff read it? If he can hear about ISIS, is there something in here that prevents him from seeing these trade documents?”

It really does make you wonder, once again, just what is the USTR hiding here? There is simply no reason to keep these details secret — except if you know that the American public won’t approve of them.

Zach Carter, “What’s Going On With Obama’s Trade Meeting With Democrats? That’s Classified,” Huffington Post.
Kevin Cirilli, House Democrats angry over Obama’s classified trade meeting, The Hill

  • Portlyric

    This is treason.

  • Oligarchy_Is_$o_20th_Century

    Every aspect of the ustr’s behavior is naked corporate fascism. The white house’s exaggerated efforts to keep this classified and congressional marionettes’ wllingness to play along are proof that all of them dance to the tune their paymasters are playing. This whole sham is evidence enough that these Orwellian “free” (read “enslaving”) trade agreements are the US secret government flexing its muscle. That makes the surface government–the one the corporate media blather on about–a flaccid little confection. Nothing real or remotely democratic about it. What’s the real motive for the TPP and the TTIP? Radical capitalists, a.k.a. organized corporate crime organizations, want total freedom from regulation. The “ferengi” are running amok, and they want to keep it that way. What’s darkly comedic is the way the global .001% and their groveling minions are going to great lengths to conceal the endgame because they’re frightened that even stupid people will recognize citizens of currently sovereign nations would be reduced to the status of cattle were this Social Control Matrix to be put in place. What’s ironic is that this whole process is anti-democratic and anti-Constitutional–obama, the ustr and congress are practicing treason against the American people at a time when we’re in a global war against terrorism, according to the white house, the pentagon and congress. Treason in wartime is punishable by death…gentlemen.

  • rgaura

    I am under the impression that members of Congress have immunity from prosecution, at least as long as they are in office. Since over 90% of incumbents are reelected, I´d say it would´t take much courage to disclose.

  • mwildfire

    This makes the whole thing so blatantly illegitimate that Congress ought to just call up Fast Track, vote against it in overwhelming numbers, and then demand to vote on TPP and TTIP, so they can shitcan those too. What does it tell us that other governments all over the world are holding serious discussions about this? I think there is already a single world government, which gives orders to the official leaders of nearly all the world’s governments. The few who disobey those orders then get targeted by the corporate media first, and the US bombers and drones, under pretense of being rogue governments.

  • HankP

    This secret trade agreement should be exposed by Congress for what it is-a worldwide takeover of our sovereign rights. Yes, this is corporate fascism that violates any semblance of our democratic rights to have informed choice. Reject this anti-democratic and anti-constitutional crap.

  • Dawn Wolfson

    especially if they do it enmasse

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  • Rikhard Ravindra Tanskanen

    I only skimmed through what you are saying, but are you saying at the end that you support the War on Terror? I used to support it, but I stopped at 14 and now oppose it. Also, I would think that in the United States, you can receive life imprisonment or death or treason, and since they would not be guilty of treason to the terrorists, they would not receive the death penalty.

  • Rikhard Ravindra Tanskanen

    Please, no bad jokes about “single world government”. I know that you only joking, angry at corporate influence in government, and are not a conspiracy theorist, but please no awful jokes about conspiracy theories, please.

  • kevinzeese

    I have no idea why you are discussing the war on terror when the article is about trade. I hope your posts make more sense in the future.

  • Rikhard Ravindra Tanskanen

    I was talking about the end of his comment, which talks about the War on Terror. I did not mean to go off topic.

  • mwildfire

    You know wrong then. I am not joking at all. And I think there are a few countries independent of this global hegemony–Venezuela, Cuba, Ecuador, Uruguay, North Korea, Russia…so these are the ones targeted by US warplanes and US media propaganda, which refers to their leaders as “dictators” no matter how clean the elections or how overwhelming the mandate.
    The idea that conspiracies are impossible (between Islamic fundamentalists_ is absurd. Of course powerful people conspire in secret to maintain their own power and wealth.

  • mwildfire

    dream on, people. How many Members of Congress are going to end their careers to do the public a favor and expose the machinations of their funders?

  • Rikhard Ravindra Tanskanen

    Until the Edward Snowden affair, Ecuador was very close to the United States, due to its then-right-wing government (although I don’t know the details). And I never heard of relations with the United States and Uruguay being bad. Also, North Korea IS a dictatorship.
    I was not talking about political conspiracies in general. I was talking about the “New World Order” conspiracy theory.
    As well, I was not talking about “a single world government” as a metaphor for the hegemony of the West, the orders being metaphors for the West’s military actions to fight communism and Islamism to protect capitalism, the West’s external security, and the safety of its citizens.
    I was talking about an actual world government that controls most of the world’s governments and orders attacks on countries that are not part of it. Which of course is nonsense.

  • mwildfire

    again–“of course” it’s nonsense? Ordinary people have no way of knowing who runs the world or how–we can only guess from what we see. And I see a suspicious amount of tandem change in the same directions, directions benefiting the wealthy and the corporations, on the part of especially governments of English-speaking countries but also most others.
    True, Uruguay has been ignored so far, perhaps because it’s a small country without oil. Just because the Right has imagined a New World Order led by the UN for the sake of politically-correct third-world power, doesn’t mean we DON’T have a one world government led by a cabal of capitalists who give orders to the UN, the WTO, the IMF, NATO…

  • Rikhard Ravindra Tanskanen

    So you don’t believe in the New World Order? You’re only talking about the fact that the world is mostly capitalist, many of the politicians in the United States are rich businessmen (like Donald Trump), that many politicians on the right are pro-corporate, and that NATO’s missions please neoconservatives are equivalent to a new world order, right?
    In that case, I apologize. But I still don’t understand what the U.S would have against Uruguay – other than the world’s largest aquifer (shared with Paraguay, Argentina, and Brazil), and the U.S has plenty of aquifers, notably the Ogallala Aquifer, and the fact that it is a democracy, and the U.S only opposes democratic movements when it thinks they threaten their interests: in other words, when they supported dictatorships against democratic movements, mistakenly thinking that they were communist.

  • mwildfire

    I think it goes farther than that. It’s not only governments that the US mistakenly or otherwise assesses as communist that get attacked (and what right does this government have to attack countries that choose different arrangements, anyway?)– it’s governments that refuse to take orders. I don’t see evidence that that Washington IS hostile to Uruguay, despite the government there not taking orders; but maybe this is because Uruguay is beneath notice since it isn’t nearby, it’s very small, and it doesn’t have oil or anything else critical to the world economy.

  • Rikhard Ravindra Tanskanen

    I was talking about the Cold War, not now.