Law

The Scandal That Is Not

Benjamin Witte writes about the story that is the subject of Fox almost every day — that an FBI agent was removed from the Mueller team because he had exchanged private emails with another FBI agent — his girlfriend, that were gloriously anti-Trump. The right wing news and establishment think this is a scandal, but of course, this means nothing. Being an FBI agent does not mean you have to stop having opinions and views. But congressional Republicans, who grilled  Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein yesterday about it, are trying to make it a meal.  Witte writes:

I have not watched all of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s testimony before the House Judiciary Committee yesterday. But I watched three hours of it, and that was quite enough to convey the disturbing and dangerous nature of the current moment.

It was enough to highlight the apparent breadth of the congressional Republican effort to delegitimize the Robert Mueller investigation. The attacks on Mueller and his staff and allegations of supposed conflicts of interest were not the province of a fringe but a matter of an apparent consensus among House Republicans, at least on the famously partisan judiciary committee.

It was enough to loose upon the world an almost hysterical attack on an FBI agent and an FBI attorney in the presence of little evidence that either has done anything wrong—as opposed to merely ill-advised and unfortunate—and in the midst of an ongoing inspector general investigation that has not yet reached any conclusions.

It was enough to lay bare the absurdity of Republican demands for the appointment of a special counsel to investigate a series of matters about which there is not even the barest allegation of criminal conduct—let alone a predicate for an actual investigation.

It was enough to bring to the surface the bizarre fixation in the Republican caucus on conspiracy theories involving Fusion GPS, the so-called Steele Dossier, FISA surveillance, and the Mueller investigation.

And it was enough to make clear, yet again, that Rod Rosenstein is a man out of his depth and to make one sympathize for him at the same time.

My enthusiasm for Rosenstein these days is altogether under control. And his behavior in this episode, in particular, has hardly done him credit. The release of private correspondence between two Justice Department employees whose correspondence is the subject of an active inspector general investigation is not just wrong. It is cruel. It is not the practice of the Justice Department to turn over to Congress—let alone to give to reporters—active investigative material related to the private communications of its own employees. Justice Department and FBI employees have the right to their political opinions. To the extent their private political expressions for some reason make it impossible for them to work on a certain matter, they certainly have the right to have that determined without having their careers ruined and their names dragged publicly through the mud by politicians who know nothing about the circumstances in question.

I don’t know whether agent Peter Strzok and attorney Lisa Page did anything improper, or merely engaged in ill-advised and foolish communications that did not impact their work. I have no quarrel with Mueller for removing Strzok from the investigation, whether for substantive or appearance reasons. But I do know this: these questions deserve to be adjudicated within the confines of a serious internal investigation, not a partisan circus.

Rosenstein here has, at a minimum, contributed to that circus—at the expense of his own employees. In throwing a career FBI agent and career FBI lawyer to the wolves by authorizing the release to the public of their private text messages—without any finding that they had done anything wrong—he once again sent a message to his workforce that he is not the sort of man with whom you want to share your foxhole. The DOJ and FBI workforces will not forget that. Nor should they.

And that said, I found it impossible to watch yesterday’s hearing without a certain amount of sympathy for Rosenstein’s predicament. Whatever one says about his conduct, he is squeezed between the jaggiest of rocks and the hardest of hard places here. He is evidently trying to protect the Mueller investigation, and to his credit, he yesterday stood up strongly for the investigation’s integrity and for Mueller’s personal integrity. In doing so, he is exposing himself to the risk of being fired at any moment—and he is acting with an awareness that he may need to resign at any moment when ordered to do something inconsistent with his commitments. He is working for a man who is behaving completely unreasonably, even in public; one can only imagine how much worse is Trump’s behavior in private. What’s more, the congressional Republicans who should be protecting the integrity of the work of Rosenstein and his department—particularly in the House but also increasingly in the Senate—are not only failing to do so, they are braying for actions inimical to the very idea of independent law enforcement. They are doing it about someone, Mueller, with whom they have long experience and about whom they know their essential claims to be false. To make matters worse, Rosenstein is quite constrained in terms of what he can say, so he has to sit and answer in platitudes attacks that require an energetic defense.

Yes, it would be desirable if the campaign contributions of Mueller’s staff reflected more political diversity than they do. And yes, it would be a good thing if the private political expressions of those who later went to work for him happened not to reflect the widely-held views of members of the national security establishment about the man who then became President—or that they had refrained from expressing them.

But it would be highly inappropriate for Mueller to recruit on the basis of political orientation. And whatever the staff-level composition of the investigation may be, the law enforcement leadership is hardly a Democratic bastion committed to going after President Trump. Mueller himself is as apolitical a public servant as this country has known in a long time—and to the extent he has a partisan political identification, it is as a Republican. Rosenstein and FBI Director Christopher Wray are both appointees of Trump himself. To whatever extent Strzok and Page engaged in any impropriety, that impropriety is known because the Justice Department inspector general discovered it, and when Mueller became aware of it, he removed Strzok from his investigation.

Most importantly, there is no serious suggestion that any step taken by Mueller’s shop is unjustified. The Mueller investigation will ultimately be measured by its work product, not by the text messages or campaign contributions of its staffers from before the investigation even existed. That work product so far is two guilty pleas for lying to the FBI over contacts with the Russians by the Trump campaign and transition—and one completely shocking indictment involving allegations of massive money-laundering by the Trump campaign’s chairman.

At yesterday’s hearing, Republican Rep. Jim Jordan announced about the Mueller probe that “The public trust in this whole thing is gone.” This is actually wrong.

In , fully 61 percent of respondents expressed at least some confidence in the Mueller investigation.  expressed at least some confidence in the FBI in connection with the Russia probe. And , 74 percent, expressed confidence in the FBI generally.

The trouble is that if enough members of Congress tenaciously attack the institution over a long period of time, Jordan’s words could acquire the quality of self-fulfilling prophecy. It is an enormously damaging undertaking for members of Congress to self-consciously erode public confidence in federal law enforcement.

Even if that doesn’t happen, public confidence in Mueller may not be enough when the President’s political base—in conservative media, in Congress, and the broader political ecosystem—is rallying behind the proposition that the Justice Department, the special counsel, and the FBI are all out of control. The concern, and yesterday’s hearing dramatically highlights that concern, is that if Trump believes he has Republican cover to get rid of Mueller, he may feel emboldened to act against him even in the presence of broader public support.

Newtown: Five Years Later

Five years ago today, a gunman went into Sandy Hook elementary school and opened fire.

I covered it on this blog, as the day unfolded.

And I visited Newtown two weeks after the event — the town was still reeling.

Policemen and firemen forming a line, as they pass the toys into the sub-basement of town hall.

On the doors to the town hall, a sign indicating that a counselling session was in progress.

Everywhere were flowers and memorials, covered by tarps to protect from the rain.

In the five years since the Sandy Hook shooting, Congress has enacted strong legislation to prevent the use of AK-47’s and other assault weapons designed to maximize the body count and….

No. Just kidding. No gun laws have been passed.

Justice Served

It has been two and a half years since Walter Scott’s death.  I wrote about it here… but basically, he was running from a cop and was shot IN THE BACK AS HE WAS RUNNING AWAY.  The video makes this crystal clear:

Well, good news:

Michael Slager, the former South Carolina police officer who shot and killed Walter Scott, was sentenced Thursday to 20 years in federal prison, a decision the Scott family said gave it a “sense of justice.”

“This is an historic day for civil rights, in particular for officer-involved shootings,” said Chris Stewart, one of the Scott family’s attorneys, at a press conference following the sentencing.

US District Court Judge David Norton made his decision after hearing emotional statements from members of both families. Norton earlier Thursday had said the “appropriate underlying offense” for Slager, who is white, was second-degree murder.

Scott’s family has repeatedly expressed forgiveness to Slager, who said that he was thankful for that. But the victim’s relatives were glad to see the officer held accountable.

“We are hurt,” said Anthony Scott, Walter’s brother, “and we do have some type of passion for the Slager family, in that they have to suffer as well. And we do forgive Michael Slager for what he did. But yes, we did want justice for my brother, and we feel that we have gotten a sense of justice.”

Slager pleaded guilty in May to violation of civil rights by acting under the color of law in Scott’s April 2015 killing. Slager’s 2016 state murder trial ended in a mistrial.

At the time of the shooting, Scott was only the latest black man to be killed in a series of controversial officer-involved shootings that prompted “Black Lives Matter” protests and vigils.

In related news, another cop gets away with murder:

Police in Mesa, Arizona released disturbing body camera video on Thursday hours after a former officer was acquitted of a murder charge in the fatal shooting of an unarmed man.

The verdict cleared Philip Brailsford, 27, of criminal liability in the 2016 death of Daniel Shaver, of Granbury, Texas. He was also found not guilty of reckless manslaughter, reports CBS Phoenix affiliate KPHO-TV.

The shooting occurred at a hotel in the Phoenix suburb where officers responded to a report of someone pointing a gun out of a window. The video, obtained by KPHO, shows Brailsford pointing a gun at Shaver as Shaver lies on the ground, holds his hands in the air, cries and begs the officer not to shoot.

Check out this video. If the jurors got this right, then the law is messed up.

The Republican Machine and Fox’s pro-Trump Hosts Are Working Hard To Discredit Robert Mueller

Yesterday left no doubt: Fox News and Trump Republicans are willing to destroy America’s institutions as long as it keeps them in power.

It starts with Fox News. It starts with Sean Hannity, who’s hearing that special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation is “illegitimate and corrupt.” That it’s led by a “band of merry Trump-haters” who are trying to reverse the results of the election. And that it must be stopped.

He’s also hearing that the FBI is becoming “America’s secret police,” akin to the KGB in Russia, full of “sickness” and “corruption.”

The overarching message from “Fox & Friends” and “Hannity” is unmistakable: Mr. President, you’re the victim of a “deep state” plot to take you down. Don’t let it happen.

In recent weeks, there’s been a big increase in reporting about Mueller’s probe and how it could affect Trump’s inner circle. At the same time, there’s also been a sharp escalation in the anti-Mueller rhetoric coming from right wing media sources.  With four of Trump’s associates now charged by Mueller’s team, and congressional probes also proceeding in many different directions, other channels are filled with the latest twists and turns about the intensifying investigations.

But viewers who stick to Fox might not know that. The nightly focus is on Mueller’s alleged partisanship, not Trump’s potential problems.

Last weekend, The New York Times and The Washington Post reported that Mueller had removed FBI official Peter Strzok from his team of investigators due to text messages from Strzok that could be interpreted as anti-Trump. Even though Strzok was reassigned to FBI human resources, the story is the centerpiece of the current anti-Mueller hits.

Newt Gingrich, who praised Mueller’s appointment back in May, now sounds like a different person altogether. “Mueller is corrupt. The senior FBI is corrupt. The system is corrupt,” he told Laura Ingraham on Wednesday night.

One hour earlier, the banners on Sean Hannity’s show read “MUELLER’S PARTISAN ATTACK TEAM” and “THE DEEP STATE,” so even if viewers had the volume down, they still saw the message. Channel surfers who stumbled on Fox by mistake might think they had landed in an alternate universe. Hannity began the hour by slamming “Robert Mueller’s partisan, extremely biased, hyper-partisan attack team,” calling the accomplished lawyers “an utter disgrace.” He invoked the U.S. Constitution and said “they now pose a direct threat to you, the American people, and our American republic.” Repeating something he has said dozens of times before, Hannity said, “this entire witch-hunt needs to be shut down — and shut down immediately.”

Then Hannity brought in news anchor turned “legal analyst” Gregg Jarrett, who appears on the program almost every night to savage Mueller and company. “I think we now know that the Mueller investigation is illegitimate and corrupt,” Jarrett said. “And Mueller has been using the FBI as a political weapon. And the FBI has become America’s secret police. Secret surveillance, wiretapping, intimidation, harassment and threats. It’s like the old KGB that comes for you in the dark of the night banging through your door.”

“This is not hyperbole you are using here,” Hannity said, credulously.

Yes, Sean. It is the very definition of hyperbole.

“No. Ask Paul Manafort, they came for him and broke through his front door,” Jarrett said. Jarrett and Hannity commented that if it can happen to Manafort, it can happen to anyone.

Well, it DOES happen to anyone.

The rhetoric doesn’t spew from Fox News. It continues in Congress. FBI Director Christopher Wray defended his agency yesterday in his first public appearance since President Donald Trump said the bureau is “in tatters.”  Wray told the House Judiciary Committee his agents work hard “protecting the American people and upholding the rule of law in all 50 states and in about 80 countries around the world.”
Throughout the hearing, Republican lawmakers have seized on the actions of Peter Strzok, who led the investigation of the Clinton email server as the No. 2 official in the FBI’s counterintelligence division.  He left the Mueller team this past summer after an internal investigation found messages he sent that could be interpreted as showing political bias for Hillary Clinton and against Trump, according to US officials briefed on the matter.

Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Virginia, asked Wray about what he’s doing to clear the ranks of the FBI by people “tainted” by bias.

“I think these matters are being looked at, as they should be, by somebody outside the FBI, and when those findings come to me, I will take appropriate action if necessary,” Wray said, referencing the ongoing inspector general investigation. “The first thing I’m doing is respecting the outside independent investigations that are underway. … My preference is to be one of these people who is not an act first and ask questions later guy.”

The allegation of bias is, of course, ridiculous. The assumption is that if you have a political leaning, you cannot be fair and impartial. But is that true? What does say about the Republican Congressmen on the committee?

It’s clear why Fox and some Republicans in Congress are attacking Mueller and the FBI. It is because the heat is on with Trump. They need him. And once Mueller passes a certain point (he may have already passed it), and the investigation moves into litigation, then we are riding a train to Trump’s demise, and even Mueller cannot stop it. So they need to discredit Mueller and the investigators NOW.  That’s what is happening.

But it is a very dangerous game. A Russia kind of propaganda game. When you discredit the FBI, and get a large segment of the country to believe there is no law and order, you create chaos.  Trump will come and go. The damage being done won’t.

Pretty Sure You Need To Have An Attorney To Claim Attorney-Client Privilege

Testifying before Congress on Wednesday, Donald Trump Jr. cited attorney-client privilege and refused to discuss a phone call he had with his father about how to handle the fallout from his June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower with a Russian lawyer. He told the House Intelligence Committee that a lawyer was in the room during the call. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the committee, told reporters: “I don’t believe you can shield communications between individuals merely by having an attorney present,” adding “that’s not the purpose of attorney-client privilege” and that “the presence of counsel does not make communications between father and son a privilege.”  What, if anything, the president knew about the Trump Tower meeting as a presidential candidate — and his role in drafting a misleading statement about it once he was president and it became public — are key questions for the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, who is investigating Russian interference in the election.

L’il Trump told the committee about his earlier discussions with the White House adviser Hope Hicks about how to respond to the coming New York Times article about the June meeting, first published on July 8. As you recall, his initial statement said the Trump Tower meeting was primarily about the ability of Americans to adopt Russian children. It made no mention of any promise of incriminating information from the Russian government against Mrs. Clinton.

News Stories You Don’t Hear

More like this please:

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A 69-year-old Jacksonville man has been arrested for allegedly planning a mass shooting at an Islamic Center on St. Johns Bluff Road, according to several law enforcement agencies.

The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, along with the FBI of Jacksonville, started investigating in October Bernandino Gawala Bolatete after a source tipped JSO. The source told police that Bolatete expressed strong anti-Islamic sentiment, including how he wanted to conduct a mass shooting at the Islamic Center of Northeast Florida, 2333 St. Johns Bluff Rd. S.

JSO said an undercover detective met with Bolatete and confirmed the information they received.

During the investigation, Bolatete made plans to conduct the mass shooting, including obtaining the weaponry to complete the attack, according to JSO Sheriff Mike Williams.

The undercover detective also learned that Bolatete made arrangements to get access to a gun silencer – a prohibited firearm accessory – delivered to his home on December 1.

During the delivery, JSO’s SWAT Unit raided Bolatete’s home on the 13000 block of Eucalyptus Drive and took him into custody.

Bolatete is now in FBI custody and he’s been charged with knowingly receiving and possessing a silencer not registered to him in the National Firearms Registration and Transfer Record. The investigation is ongoing.

Good to know that the FBI is doing its job, despite its lack of support from Trump and other rednecks.

See also.

Trump Announces Plans To Undo Natural Monuments

As I type this, Trump is in Salt Lake City announcing his plans to be the anti-Teddy Roosevelt.

Trump’s actions are a dramatic departure from conventional interpretations of the 1906 Antiquities Act, on which the monument designations are based. The act, advocated by President Theodore Roosevelt, was designed to provide safeguards to exceptional historic, cultural, and natural landscapes across the country, most of them located in the West’s public domain. 

The Antiquities Act provides broad authority to presidents to act alone in establishing national monuments. Presidents have declared more than 150 national monuments, many of which became national parks. Four of Utah’s five national parks started as national monuments.

Though previous presidents have adjusted national monuments more than 40 times, all but 14 of those changes were made to expand monument boundaries. No prior president has revoked a national monument designation. None has come close to reducing boundaries by the nearly 2 million acres that Trump is removing from the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments. This is all part of a gift to the drilling, mining and fracking industries.

Public opinion surveys have consistently found that Utah residents are about evenly divided on whether to shrink or maintain the existing boundaries of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante.

It is an open question whether a President even has the authority to take away national monuments, or whether that power rests with Congress.

In Trump’s way is the Antiquities Act of 1906 (which does not give the President power to revoke) and the 1976 Federal Land Policy and Management Act, which says the Interior Secretary “shall not .. modify or revoke any withdrawal (to protect land) creating national monuments under the Act of June 8, 1906.”

But the American Enterprise Institute disagrees.  “Under Article I of the Constitution, only Congress can enact domestic statutes with any degree of per­manence,” they write. “A basic principle of the Constitution is that a branch of government can reverse its earlier actions using the same process originally used.”

In response to the argument that the Antiquities Act says nothing about revoking a designation, the AEI notes that the Constitution is similarly silent about passing laws in general. It grants Congress the power to make laws, but there’s no explicit power for it to undo them. (Except by passing a new law.)

They also said that no president can bind a future president.  “Presidents commonly issue executive orders reversing, modifying, or even extending the executive orders of past presidents, and no court has ever questioned that authority, even when it is used to implement statutorily delegated powers,” the AEI writes.

As for that 1976 land management law, the AEI says it only applies to the interior secretary, not the president.

Courts will settle this eventually.

Corrections And Updates And Backtracks To Last Week’s Bombshells

As I posted here last week, Michael Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about conversations he had with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the presidential transition last December. Flynn is the fourth Trump associate to be charged in Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. As I also posted, Flynn promised “full cooperation” with Mueller’s investigation and was prepared to testify that Trump directed him to make contact with the Russians.

That second part was almost correct.  Turns out, Brian Ross at ABC got it wrong:

Now, the only thing that Ross got wrong was the part that Flynn will testify that Trump directed him to make contact with the Russians. It doesn’t mean that Trump DIDN’T do that — just that the anonymous source is not good enough to confirm.

Trump seized on it, of course:

Nnnnnno. It doesn’t make the Russia thing a “witch hunt”. Flynn DID plead guilty, after all.

But the other big news from the weekend was this tweet from Trump:

Why was this significant?  Because this was the first time that Trump has said that he knew Flynn lied to the FBI. Up until now, the White House position was that Flynn lied to Pence… period!  The timeline here is critical:

  1. Flynn lied to the FBI on January 24 2017
  2. Acting Attorney General Sally Yates tells White House (through WH lawyer Don McGahn) that Flynn lied and may be subject to blackmail on January 26 2017
  3. Trump has lunch with FBI Director Comey — “I need loyalty” Trump says — on January 27 2017
  4. Photo of Trump with Flynn and others in Oval Office on January 29 2017
  5. Sally Yates fired on January 30 2017

Flynn isn’t fired until February 13 for lying to Pence (what we’re told at the time) and the next day, in another unusual Trump-Comey meeting alone in the Oval, Trump says to Comey that he hope he’ll “let Flynn go”.

The fact that Trump knew that Flynn lied to the FBI indicates that his subsequent actions could be characterized as “obstruction of justice”.  Therefore, Trump’s tweet that he knew Flynn lied to the FBI is a HUGE and damning admission…. which Trump made AGAIN Saturday evening at 9:06 pm

Meanwhile, the lawyers were doing damage control.  This happened:

President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, John Dowd, told CNN on Sunday that he wrote a tweet for the @realDonaldTrump Twitter account about the firing of former White House national security adviser Michael Flynn.

“I had to fire General Flynn because he lied to the Vice President and the FBI,” the Saturday tweet reads. “He has pled guilty to those lies. It is a shame because his actions during the transition were lawful. There was nothing to hide!”

Dowd said he drafted the tweet and believes White House social media director Dan Scavino posted it online. He declined to answer additional questions about whether Trump reviewed the tweet before it was posted.

“Enough already,” he said in an email. “I don’t feed the haters.”

The Washington Post reported Saturday that Dowd drafted the tweet, citing two people familiar with the Twitter message. NBC News’ Chuck Todd also reported Sunday on “Meet the Press” that Dowd confirmed he authored the message.

Does Dowd have proof?

Although the mainstream media seems to accept Dowd’s assertion as true, I am not so sure. A criminal defense attorney tweeting on behalf of a client?  I doubt that.  And if he did this tweet, he should have been fired.

In any event, Dowd needs to repeat his assertion (that he authored the tweet) under oath, and Scavino needs to own up to it (under oath) as well. No, it is not attorney-client privileged.

But according to The Washington Post, Dowd is also saying that “Trump knew generally that Flynn’s account to the FBI and Pence (his claim to have never spoken with then-Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak about sanctions) were similar…”

Pardon me if I don’t see how this latest revelation helps Dowd’s client. Even with this new explanation, we are left with the impression that Trump assumed Flynn had committed a felony. That didn’t stop Trump from pressuring then-FBI director James Comey to go easy on him—or from firing Comey when he didn’t.

So Dowd’s saving tweet doesn’t change the ballgame, because legally, the distinction that Trump believed something as opposed to knowing it might not quell the allegations that he obstructed justice.

And now, this morning, we get this odd legal theory from Dowd, in an interview in Axios:

John Dowd, President Trump’s outside lawyer, outlined to me a new and highly controversial defense/theory in the Russia probe: A president cannot be guilty of obstruction of justice.

The “President cannot obstruct justice because he is the chief law enforcement officer under [the Constitution’s Article II] and has every right to express his view of any case,” Dowd claims.

Dowd says he drafted this weekend’s Trump tweet that many thought strengthened the case for obstruction: The tweet suggested Trump knew Flynn had lied to the FBI when he was fired, raising new questions about the later firing of FBI Director James Comey.

Dowd: “The tweet did not admit obstruction. That is an ignorant and arrogant assertion.”

Ooookay. The ever-increasingly bonkers Alan Dershowitz has been saying the same thing.

Let’s post this from the Brookings Institute (see pp 76-76)

BREAKING — Well, this seems to settle it:

The White House’s chief lawyer told President Donald Trump in January he believed then-national security adviser Michael Flynn had misled the FBI and lied to Vice President Mike Pence and should be fired, a source familiar with the matter said Monday.

The description of the conversation raises new questions about what Trump knew about Flynn’s situation when he urged then-FBI Director James Comey to drop the investigation into Flynn and whether anyone in the White House, including the President himself, attempted to obstruct justice. Special counsel Robert Mueller is investigating whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russians, a probe led by Comey until Trump fired him.

White House counsel Donald McGahn told Trump that based on his conversation with then-acting Attorney General Sally Yates, he believed Flynn had not told the truth in his interview with the FBI or to Pence, the source said. McGahn did not tell the President that Flynn had violated the law in his FBI interview or was under criminal investigation, the source said.

Emphasis mine.

The more we learn, the more likely it seems that the incriminating tweet Trump sent out on Saturday was accurate, regardless of who wrote it.  If Trump knew Flynn lied to the FBI, refused to fire Flynn until later when the news media found out, asked Comey to back off Flynn, then fired Comey after that failed, then the stunning admission in the tweet is true, regardless of who wrote it.

Today Feels Like A Test

I don’t know. Everything really is awful.

Matt Lauer, long-standing host of the Today Show, was abruptly fired last night, after execs at NBC received notice of a credible claim of sexual harassment.  This #MeToo reckoning, as I’ve said before, but it really is disappointing to see otherwise good people go down.  Perhaps even more disappointing is that the only segment of society that isn’t holding its icons in line are GOP politicians and their followers.

But NBC handled it in a way that Fox didn’t. Fox let O’Reilly settle a lawsuit for $32 million and then kept him on, despite repeated allegations. Which makes this video from only three months ago pretty ironic.

Not one to miss an opportunity to be a grade-A asshole, the president tweeted the following:

Pretty ironic since Trump engaged in pussy-grabbing himself. And speaking of “unsolved mysteries”, he’s STILL going around questioning Obama’s birth certificate.

But the Lauer posts from Trump were nothing compared to these retweets:

The first video (bottom) is captioned: “Muslim migrant beats up Dutch boy on crutches.”

The second post (middle) features a clip showing a Muslim man appearing to destroy a statue of the Virgin Mary.

The third and final tweet re-posted by the US President (top) claims to show a group of men killing a youngster and is titled: “Islamist mob pushes teenage boy off roof and beats him to death.”

Who is this Jayda Fransen that Trump retweeted?  A racist.

Fransen is the deputy leader of far right group Britain First, an anti-Islam, anti-immigration and nationalist political party. It is known for its anti-Islam political stunts, including “invading” mosques and launching “Christian patrols.”

The group has used social media to disseminate its message, posting anti-Islam and anti-immigrant propaganda on Twitter and videos of provocative stunts designed to antagonize Muslims on YouTube and Facebook.

She is on bail facing four charges of causing religiously aggravated harassment as part of a Kent Police investigation into the distribution of leaflets and the posting of online videos during a trial held at Canterbury Crown Court in May.

London-born Fransen was arrested earlier this month and flown to Belfast over an anti-terrorism speech made in Northern Ireland in the summer.

Fransen will also appear in court in Northern Ireland in December charged with using threatening and abusive language in connection with a speech she made at an anti-terrorism demonstration in Belfast on August 6.

Here’s an interesting observation:

No kidding. But the guy who tweeted this (Paul Watson) is editor-in-chief of the nutso far-right-wing Infowars! And even he has a problem with Trump’s islamophobic tweets.

Full statement from the Anti-Defamation League:

UPDATE: Speaking of Matt Lauer behaving badly…

 

Who Is In Charge Of The Consumer Finance Protection Bureau?

Richard Cordray. the head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, said that he would be leaving as head of the CFPB at the end of this month. Last Friday, November 24, he sent a letter to President Trump, declaring that he’s officially done leading the federal government’s controversial consumer watchdog agency once the clock strikes midnight.

In a separate letter to his staff, Cordray, who is the first-ever director of the fledgling CFPB, announced that chief of staff Leandra English will serve as the bureau’s acting director.

Shortly after Cordray’s announcement Friday, President Trump named Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney as the CFPB’s interim director. The back-to-back moves set up a clash over who is in charge of the bureau. Mulvaney, like many Republicans, has been a staunch critic of the CFPB. While serving in Congress, he voted in favor of killing the agency. He and other opponents argue the agency — which was created in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis to keep an eye on Wall Street — has too much power and installs unduly harsh regulations.

In a tweet Friday night, Senator Elizabeth Warren, an architect of the consumer agency, said that under the Dodd-Frank financial reform law, the agency’s deputy director assumes the role of acting director if there’s a vacancy.

Sunday night, lawyers for Leandra English, filed a lawsuit in the US District Court for the District of Columbia seeking to halt the appointment of Mick Mulvaney, who serves as head of the Office of Management and Budget and is also named in the lawsuit.

Which brings us to today, the first workday since the whole thing broke.

Both Mulvaney and English were present at the CFBP this morning. Mulvaney was given full access to the CFPB director’s office with “full cooperation” from its staff, a senior White House official told CNN, adding that the OMB director brought doughnuts for his new staff. English, according to a source familiar with the matter, also was present at the bureau Monday morning, but it was not immediately clear if she and Mulvaney interacted. Mulvaney’s communications director tweeted a photo of his boss “hard at work” in his new position.

Mulvaney running the CFPB is the most literal interpretation of “fox guarding the henhouse” possible. That said, it is typical for the Trump Administration, that puts climate change deniers in charge of the EPA, or Secretary of State Rex Tillerson slowly dismantling the State Department. But unfortunately, the law does not turn on who would be best for the CFPB.

Who’s right? Unfortunately, one needs to get into the weeds to figure that out. This memo by Mary MacLeod, general counsel of the CFPB, does a good job laying out both sides of the legal argument, which turns on whether the position is open due to the “absence” or “vacancy” of the former director. She concludes that the position properly belongs to Mulvaney:

It is a convincing argument, but not everyone agrees

Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., a lead author of the Dodd-Frank Act, which created the CFPB, had this to say:

The president still has the ability to appoint a successor, said Frank, but only one who would not destroy the agency, as such a nominee would not get through the Senate. “The way it works, the acting director stays in until a confirmed successor appointed. I don’t think the Senate would confirm someone like Mulvaney, who would destroy the agency. Remember, Sen. Collins is in there and she voted for it. Republicans would like to get rid of the agency legislatively, but they don’t have the votes,” he said.

Former Rep. Brad Miller, D-N.C., the lead champion of the CFPB provision in the House, also said it was the intent of the bill’s authors to keep the acting director independent of the president. “We were very much about the task of trying to create an independent agency that would not be captured by its opponents,” he said. “The statute’s pretty clear. What happens if there’s a vacancy in the director’s spot, the deputy director steps up and serves until the Senate confirms a replacement.”

Laurence Tribe, a renowned constitutional scholar at Harvard Law School, agreed that the statute is clear.
The OLC, in the memo filed [over the weekend], to its credit, admits that the references to unavailability and absence encompass vacancy. They’re not trying to argue that the statute doesn’t cover this. They’re trying to have it both ways. They’re arguing that the president retains an option under the Federal Vacancies Reform Act to override subsequent legislation. They’re trying to have half a loaf and make it a whole loaf. It’s an interesting position but it collapses on itself. It’s completely incoherent. Laws are not typically written that way.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., pushed back against the Mulvaney pick. “The process for succession laid out in Dodd Frank is clear: Leandra English, not Mick Mulvaney, is the acting director of the CFPB. By attempting to install Mr. Mulvaney as director, the Trump administration is ignoring the established, proper, legal order of succession that we purposefully put in place, in order to put a fox in charge of a hen house,” he said in a statement.

The courts will have the last say.

UPDATE: Press secretary Sarah Sanders insists that Mulvaney is in charge of the CFPB

In Fairness, It Is Hard To Keep All These Mass Shootings Straight

This week saw another mass shooting, this time in Northern California (4 dead, shooter killed — UPDATE: 5 dead — they found his wife’s bodied hidden in his house).

Trump, returning from his Asia stint, tweeted this in response late last night:

Unfortunately, the Sutherland Springs Texas shooting was LAST week’s mass shooting.  He deleted the above tweet, although it does look remarkably like a tweet he sent out on November 5:

Embarrassing.

It actually wasn’t the only embarrassing tweet from Trump in the past 12 hours.  There was another one.  First, the backstory. Three UCLA basketball players were arrested in China for shoplifting last week. When Trump was in China, he asked President Xi to intervene. The three basketball players, all black, are coming back to America.  And Trump tweeted this about an hour ago:

WHO DOES THIS?  It is almost as if he is being critical of them, expecting them not to be thankful. I’m sure they are.

I have no doubt that if the three student athletes were white, he would not have tweeted this. This is Trump signaling his supporters that black people are ungrateful, and should be grateful.  It’s disgusting.

Oh Yeah. Another Mass Shooting

I suppose it is worth mentioning that a gunman opened fire in a church in a small town in Texas and killed 26 people (4% of that town’s population), ranging in age from 11 months to 77 years old. A good Samaritan with a rifle heard the shots from across the street, and shot the gunman, 26 year old Devin Patrick Kelley, who fled.  After a short police chase, Kelley shot himself and died. Kelley had an AR-15, the gun of choice in mass shootings. The cause was some sort of beef with his wife or in-laws, only one of whom was at that church (the grandmother-in-law).

The post-shooting response is now almost scripted. “Thoughts and prayers” from do-nothing conservatives. A short public debate about gun control which goes nowhere. No legislation gets passed. We forget about this incident. And in a few weeks or months, another mass murder.

Senseless.

The U.S Civil War-Slash-Revolution Starts Tomorrow (the Antifa Apocalypse)

What? You didn’t know?:

If you are inside the “alt-right” information bubble, you might be preparing yourself for a civil war to commence this Saturday.

Since late September, the idea has been circulating on Facebook groups, subreddit message boards, Twitter, and leading conspiracy media outlets that on 4 November, anti-fascist groups will begin a violent insurrection.

Some websites are telling their readers that antifa groups are “planning to kill every single Trump voter, Conservative and gun owner” this weekend. Hundreds of Facebook posts show how seriously consumers of such media are taking the news, and comments like “One more threat against white people and I swear to God I’m going to take a goddamn car and run over every fucking one of them” are not unrepresentative of the response.

But antifa groups have no plans to protest that day, and the small leftist groups who are planning protests have only dubious connections to the antifa movement. So what gives?

Actually, the left-leaning group Refuse Fascism is planning rallies across the country on Saturday, the first step in a large-scale, long game demonstration organizers hope will achieve nothing less than the unseating of the Trump administration. Refuse Fascism is committed to nonviolent protest,

The whole thing rests on some very slender reeds, according to Spencer Sunshine, who recently wrote a report on the theories for the far right-monitoring group Political Research Associates. In the conspiracy underground on YouTube, he explains, there has been talk that “there was going to be a civil war” starting in November for some months.

Beginning in late September, three things kicked it a into higher gear. First, Refuse Fascism, a small group linked to the Revolutionary Communist partystaged a visually spectacular protest in Los Angeles. They blocked the 101 freeway and held up signs that enigmatically spelled out “Nov 4 it begins”. This is the same group that is organizing a series of protests around the country against the “Trump-Pence regime” this weekend.

Second, a video posted on a Facebook page called Vets Before Illegals went viral. The video, entitled “Antifa sets a date for civil war”, claimed that “on their website, they are calling for an open civil war that will start in November”, and set out alleged plans for attacking police officers, then citizens and the government.

Last, but by no means least, the rumor was picked up and amplified by Alex Jones, the radio star with an audience of millions. As Sunshine explains, Jones “is a kind of meta-conspiracy theorist now” who “harvests other people’s theories” and repackages them to fit his narratives and his audience.

Once Jones had mentioned it, Sunshine explains, the rumor mill exploded: “Once Jones says something, even more people pick up on it and put their own spin on it.” Jones’s website was still running the story on Wednesday morning.

In recent days, the story took an absurd turn, and had its closest brush with more mainstream conservative media, when Gateway Pundit, a longtime conservative blog that has recently expanded into news coverage, published a story by its White House correspondent, Lucian Wintrich, claiming that an “antifa leader” had promised to “behead white parents” on 4 November.

The tweet the story was based on, however, was a joke from an account that had no apparent ties to any antifa groups.

And yet, it’s very likely that thousands of yahoos believe this, just as they believed that Hillary Clinton was running a child prostitute ring our of the basement of a D.C. pizzeria (which had no basement). I guess the question is if there will be a confrontation — somehow, somewhere –as a result of rightwing counter-protesters turning out to shut down the “revolution.”  Good Lord, if someone dies as a result of “fake news”, maybe Congress will take notice.

 

Document Dump: Federal Court Blocks Trump’s Travel Ban… Yet Again

Tired of winning…?

UPDATE: A second federal court rules the same

A federal judge in Maryland early Wednesday issued a second halt on the latest version of President Trump’s travel ban, asserting that the president’s own comments on the campaign trail and on Twitter convinced him that the directive was akin to an unconstitutional Muslim ban.

Latest Updates On Las Vegas Mass Shooting

Focus still seems to be the shooter, now-deceased 64 year old Stephen Paddock.

The pictures of the hotel show TWO broken-out windows. One of them was to shoot at the concert-goers.  The other one, it turns out, was broken so that Paddock could shoot at two large aviation fuel tanks. He actually did shoot at the tanks. The bullets left two holes in one of two circular white tanks. One of the bullets penetrated the tank, but did not cause a fire or explosion near the Route 91 Harvest country music festival.

More video:

Paddock played video poker, often high stakes ($100 per hand).  He played several hands per hour.  And he played for several hours before the shooting.  According to casino workers, he tended to stare. He was quoted by someone from the casino as saying he wanted to go kill his mother for bringing him into the world.

His girlfriend returned from the Philippines — where Paddock had wired $100,000 to her — to meet with the FBI. She claimed no foreknowledge of his intentions or his motives. She thought he encouraged her to go to the Philippines (where her family was) because he intended to break up with her. Some people are not believing her, but the fact that she came back voluntarily, when she could have fought extradition for over a year, makes me think she probably know little.

There were reports last night from law enforcement that Paddock had planned to escape. In other words,it was not a mass murder-suicide. They would not comment on the reasons why they suspect this. But maybe that was why he shot at the aviation fuel tanks — as a distraction.

We are also learning that a security guard, Jeses Campos, approached the 32nd-floor suite where Paddock was shooting. Paddock, who had rigged cameras in the hallway and on the peephole of the door, saw Campos coming and fired through the door, hitting him in the leg. When Campos was hit, he radioed casino dispatch and told them his location—and Paddock’s.

We also learned that Paddock had his sights set on Lollapalooza in Chicago and even booked 2 rooms in a hotel that overlooked the massive outdoor venue on August 1-3.  But he apparently never showed.  In addition, Paddock allegedly rented multiple condos at The Ogden complex in downtown Las Vegas, which overlooked the location of the Life is Beautiful Festival, which ran from Sept. 22 to Sept. 24 in Las Vegas and featured  artists including Chance the Rapper. LordeB, link 182, Muse and Gorillaz. 

And finally, there seems to be some support among Republicans in Congress for banning “bump stocks,” which make it easier to fire semiautomatic weapons at a rate similar to that of automatic weapons. Unusual, but welcome news.

The Bloody Morning After

You know what is the worst thing about today — the first full day after a horrible mass shooting in the United States?

[UPDATE – Extremely graphic NSFW disturbing video can be seen here — view at your on risk]

The worst thing is that there is nothing to say that hasn’t been said previously in other horrible mass shootings.

We bicker about “thoughts and prayers” versus action. We question the motives of the shooter.  We praise the first responders. We look to our Congresspeople for solutions.  We’re told that “the time isn’t right” for solutions… again.  And no solutions come, except for some mumblings about mental illness reform, which does nothing. The debate goes quickly from mass shootings to the second amendment rights of gun owners. It’s the same debate.  And in the end, nothing changes.

It’s the same song. Same as it ever was. Same as it ever was.  Why does this happen?  Steve Israel knows:

First, just like everything else in Washington, the gun lobby has become more polarized. The National Rifle Association, once a supporter of sensible gun-safety measures, is now forced to oppose them because of competing organizations. More moderation means less market share. The gun lobby is in a race to see who can become more brazen, more extreme.

Second, congressional redistricting has pulled Republicans so far to the right that anything less than total subservience to the gun lobby is viewed as supporting gun confiscation. The gun lobby score is a litmus test with zero margin for error.

Third, the problem is you, the reader. You’ve become inoculated. You’ll read this essay and others like it, and turn the page or click another link. You’ll watch or listen to the news and shake your head, then flip to another channel or another app. This horrific event will recede into our collective memory.

That’s what the gun lobbyists are counting on. They want you to forget. To accept the deaths of at least 58 children, parents, brothers, sisters, friends as the new normal. To turn this page with one hand, and use the other hand to vote for members of Congress who will rise in another moment of silence this week. And next week. And the foreseeable future.

Yup.

We don’t know a whole lot more than we did about the shooter. Focus gas turned to Marilou Danley, the Las Vegas shooter’s live-in girlfriend who left the country before Stephen Paddock gunned down 59 people outside the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino. Paddock wired $100,000 to an account in Danley’s home country of the Philippines last week. She’s out of the country, but police are going to talk to her when she returns. With no evidence, right wing conspiracy theorists are convinced she as an ISIS connection and converted Paddock to Islam.

Also, via The New York Post:

The shooter had at least one lens set up to tape himself as he unleashed hell on thousands of unsuspecting concertgoers several hundred yards below his ritzy casino suite, according to ABC News.

Apparently knowing cops would eventually catch up to him, he also wired cameras in the hallway outside his room so he could see when the heat was getting close, the Daily Mail reported.

There have been reports, though not really confirmed, that he was actually a wealthy man, perhaps a real investor. As said above, he wired his girlfriend $100,000 a week ago. But he also reportedly rented a series of condos over another outdoor concert that he had apparently considered attacking before choosing this country music concert. Those certainly suggest a decent amount of liquid assets, though if you knew you were about to end your life a middle-class person could likely sell things and come up with that amount of cash.

The Washington Post says “He liked to bet big, wagering tens of thousands of dollars in a sitting. He owned homes in four states but preferred staying in casino hotels, sometimes for weeks at a time, as he worked the gambling machines.” Card counters and professional card players can win over time at casinos. But most people don’t. And it doesn’t sound like Paddock did the kind of gambling where you can win, over time.

There’s also this new AP story which seems to suggest he hadn’t been employed in almost thirty years. According to this timeline, he worked for the post office from 1976 to 1978. He graduated college in 1977. He worked as an IRS agent from 1978 to 1984. He then worked for a defense auditing job for a year and a half. The AP also says he “worked for a defense contractor in the late 1980s.”

Maybe like father, like son?

USA Breaks Record For Mass Deaths By Gun Shooting

And here we go again. Politicians will send thoughts and prayers and…

… right… condolences and sympathies, etc… and then nothing will be done.

So here’s what happened.

There are now at least 50 dead and some 200 400 injured. The 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida, was previously the deadliest, with 49 killed.

A gunman, identified as Stephen Paddock, 64, fired upon a music festival crowd (the Route 91 Harvest Festival — a country music concert) from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay hotel in Las Vegas.  He apparently broke the windows with a hammer or some other blunt device.

This happened just after 10 p.m. Sunday local time (1 a.m. ET Monday)  

Here’s a compilation video:

Police scanner as it happened:

“The gunshots lasted for 10-15 minutes. It didn’t stop. We just ran for our lives,” witness Rachel De Kerf told CNN. “The band was rushed off the stage, the floodlights came on the crowd, and you see on the right hand of the stage the person who was injured, so they’re calling for medics, calling for security, then there was gunfire again,” her sister told the network.

According to the NY TImes: “The shooting began around 10:08 p.m. local time, the police said. The authorities estimated that 406 people were transported to hospitals. There were more than 22,000 people at the concert.”

SWAT teams entered the hotel room where Paddock was. He had killed himself. At least 10 guns were found in Mr. Paddock’s hotel room, including several rifles.

This is the Paddock:

Motive unknown, although…

No prior criminal records except a traffic ticket.  His brother says he was not religious, not political, and must have “snapped”

Unidentified relatives told the newspaper that Paddock, who lived in a retirement community in the sleepy desert city of Mesquite, some 80 miles northeast of Las Vegas, lived a quiet, uneventful life. He enjoyed country music and visited Sin City frequently to gamble and attend concerts at the flashy hotels that line the Strip, the relatives said.

Mesquite police chief Quinn Averett said in a press conference that “some weapons” and “maybe some ammunition” were found in Paddock’s home, where officers executed a search warrant.

Don’t politicize this?

To be updated….

UPDATE — Right wing is working hard to control the spin with fake news….

UPDATE 11:20 am EST — President Trump read comments from a teleprompter.  Sounded great, looked awful.  Didn’t ad lib so everyone is rushing to compliment how “presidential” he was.  In truth, he is rather low energy when there’s no racial division or paranoia and fear to stoke.  There was nothing useful to Trump in what happened last night in Vegas, and it shows in his lack of reaction.

UPDATE 11:40 am EST —  Police say death toll is 58 (possibly 59) with over 515 injured.

UPDATE 11:50 am EST

The Washington Post reports:

Geary Danley was not the gunman in Las Vegas who killed at least 50 people late Sunday. But for hours on the far-right Internet, would-be sleuths scoured Danley’s Facebook likes, family photographs and marital history to try to “prove” that he was.

The right-wing news site Gateway Pundit also picked up these rumors as fact in a now-deleted article. That article’s URL was still the top result for Danley’s name on Google in the early hours of Monday morning.

The headline, still visible in search results, and remaining on the first page of results for Danley when I ran my 9 a.m. search, read, “Las Vegas Shooter Reportedly a Democrat Who Liked Rachel Maddow, MoveOn.org and Associated with anti-Trump Army.”

After Gateway Pundit accused an innocent Michigan man of being the Charlottesville Nazi terrorist, a lawyer for the man’s family vowed to sue. So far there are no reports that a suit has been filed.

Note: The Gateway Pundit has White House press credentials.

UPDATE — Horrifying

UPDATE: Scum…

UPDATE — Las Vegas shooter Stephen Paddock is son of Benjamin Paddock, bank robber once on FBI most-wanted list. Might be clue to his background.  Stephen Paddock is an accountant, no kids, divorced.

Day’s Unfolding Events

(1) Protest in Durham NC:

Scheduled for noon and 4 pm.  I’m following live feeds and the anti-protesters seem to have taken over downtown Durham. Not much of a fascist presence. Looks peaceful at the moment — some minor vandalism of base of statue that once had confederate monument.  Basically everything postponed until 4 pm.

(2) By the way, this is Infrastructure Week at the White House, but it’s been overshadowed by racism in the Oval Office of the White House. Being Infrastructure Week, this news is particularly embarrassing:

(3)  BREAKING — Bannon Out:

Yup, it’s true. WaPo:

President Trump has decided to dismiss his embattled chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon, an architect of his 2016 general election victory, in a major White House shake-up that follows a week of racial unrest, according to two people familiar with the move.

Trump had been under mounting pressure to dispatch with Bannon, who many officials view as a political Svengali but who has drawn scorn as a leading internal force encouraging and amplifying the president’s most controversial nationalist impulses.

Bannon told friends on Friday that he expected to soon be informed whether he is being cut loose from the White House, according to multiple people close to him. One of them said Bannon is resigned to that fate, and has said he is determined to continue to advocate for Trump’s agenda on the outside.

“No matter what happens, Steve is a honey badger,” said this person, who like others interviewed spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation. “Steve’s in a good place. He doesn’t care. He’s going to support the president and push the agenda, whether he’s on the inside or the outside.”

And this has gotta hurt:

Not surprising, since Bannon wanted a trade war with China.

But let’s not kid ourselves. Bannon was not pulling the strings on Trump. Trump was weened on rightwing and fake news, email forwards, and general bullshit. Bannon simply was a kindred spirit in ideology.  His removal was good in the sense that he was one of the few who could actually put some of the shit into action.

Remember, Bannon was not a party loyalist or even a Trump loyalist. Trump served Bannon’s interest. But Bannon, the ideologue, is unchained, and he has a mouthpiece in Breitbart News. This could get ugly:

Our Bigoted President: An Historical Week of Shame

It’s Friday, and it’s still difficult for me to comment on the fallout from Trump’s moral equivalence press conference on Tuesday.  Having tucked into his pocket some notes about what he was SUPPOSED to say…

Trump “went rogue” (i.e., was himself) and spoke some of the most upsetting words of any President ever.

The national discussion is all on my Twitter feed and there are so many angles:

(1) Bannon — Does he stay or go?
(2) Trump’s Councils — Mass resignations, including this one today (read the first letter of each paragraph)

(3)  Where the hell are Ivanka and Jared (they’re JEWISH for crying out loud)? (They are on vacation in Vermont, but still… they need to weigh in)
(4)  The movement to take down confederate statues. Personally, I think this is important, but only in a symbolic way. There are actual neo-nazis in our presence and they have the implicit support of our President. That’s a much bigger deal. However, they are coming down as communities demand it.
(5) The public silence from Republicans.  Many Republicans are willing to talk to reporters off-the-record, saying what everyone else says: that Trump has lost it, that he is damaging to the GOP and the country, that he is incapable of executing his duties as President, etc. Butmost (not all) lack the moral courage to go public.
(6)  Impeachment? Resignation? Censure?
(7)  Trump’s continued lies: his vineyard in Charlottesville, the General Pershing lie….
(8)  The terrorist attack in Barcelona — and how Trump can call out terrorists when they are Muslim
(9)  Oh those magazine covers

Charlottesville

I did not know it was even going on. I should have been paying attention to social media.  But I woke up on Saturday to news of skirmishes in Charlottesville. White nationalists gathered for a “Unite the Right” march in Charlottesville, ostensibly choosing that town because of the statute of Robert E. Lee, which was going to be taken down. It had little to do with Robert E. Lee.

The signs were in the making. The Neo-Nazis and White Supremacists had a spontaneous rally on Friday night, complete with tiki torches from Party City. The images invoked Nazi rallies from the 1930s.

As an aside, I would note that many of these racists are being identified, outed and facing the consequences.

A friend of mine suggested this was McCarthyism. It’s not. McCarthyism used the government to destroy people who were communists (and his political enemies). This is citizen action. And I argued that it could not lead to wide-spread firing of people for their political views (on ANY topic), because white supremacy is not simply a position on a single TOPIC; it is an ideology on the relative value of PEOPLE.

Day 2 was the schedule white nationalist protest in Charlottesville at noon. But the trouble started before then. The white nationalists were met by counterprotesters. Taunting led to shoving, which escalated into brawling.  Police allowed much of it to happen, and the planned whitey bigot rally was order cancelled.  Everyone dispersed, and the events of the day, troubling as they were, seemed over.

Then, around 1:45 p.m., a car plowed into another vehicle near a group of counterprotesters, creating a chain reaction that sent people flying. (Initial reports said the car had run directly into the crowd.)

Videos:



Officials identified the driver of the car as James Alex Fields Jr., 20, of Maumee, Ohio, a city near Toledo. One of Mr. Fields’s former history teachers called him “a very bright kid, but very misguided and disillusioned,” noting that he had written a report that was “very much along the party lines of the neo-Nazi movement.”

Nineteen people were hospitalized. One was dead, 32 year old Heather D. Heyer, of Charlottesville.

Then came what may be the most egregious thing of the whole weekend: the opffensivle tepid response from the President. On Saturday afternoon, he condemned the “egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides” but, conspicuously, did not single out white nationalists or neo-Nazis. Pressed on whom Mr. Trump was blaming, an unnamed White House spokesman told reporters on Saturday: “The president was condemning hatred, bigotry and violence from all sources and all sides. There was violence between protesters and counterprotesters today.”

WaPo editorial board:

HERE IS what President Trump said Saturday about the violence in Charlottesville sparked by a demonstration of white nationalists, neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klan members:

We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides. On many sides.

Here is what a presidential president would have said:

“The violence Friday and Saturday in Charlottesville, Va., is a tragedy and an unacceptable, impermissible assault on American values. It is an assault, specifically, on the ideals we cherish most in a pluralistic democracy — tolerance, peaceable coexistence and diversity.

“The events were triggered by individuals who embrace and extol hatred. Racists, neo-Nazis, Ku Klux Klan members and their sympathizers — these are the extremists who fomented the violence in Charlottesville, and whose views all Americans must condemn and reject.

“To wink at racism or to condone it through silence, or false moral equivalence, or elision, as some do, is no better and no more acceptable than racism itself. Just as we can justly identify radical Islamic terrorism when we see it, and call it out, so can we all see the racists in Charlottesville, and understand that they are anathema in our society, which depends so centrally on mutual respect.

“Under whatever labels and using whatever code words — ‘heritage,’ ‘tradition,’ ‘nationalism’ — the idea that whites or any other ethnic, national or racial group is superior to another is not acceptable. Americans should not excuse, and I as president will not countenance, fringe elements in our society who peddle such anti-American ideas. While they have deep and noxious roots in our history, they must not be given any quarter nor any license today.

“Nor will we accept acts of domestic terrorism perpetrated by such elements. If, as appears to be the case, the vehicle that plowed into the counterprotesters on Saturday in Charlottesville did so intentionally, the driver should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. The American system of justice must and will treat a terrorist who is Christian or Buddhist or Hindu or anything else just as it treats a terrorist who is Muslim — just as it treated those who perpetrated the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013.

“We may all have pressing and legitimate questions about how the violence in Charlottesville unfolded — and whether it could have been prevented. There will be time in coming days to delve further into those matters, and demand answers. In the meantime, I stand ready to provide any and all resources from the federal government to ensure there will be no recurrence of such violence in Virginia or elsewhere. Let us keep the victims of this terrible tragedy in our thoughts and prayers, and keep faith that the values enshrined in our Constitution and laws will prevail against those who would desecrate our democracy.”

The President was wrong, but he’s never been interested in facts. There was not “many sides” there. There was the Nazi side, and the anti-Nazi side, and it is not hard to pick a side, even with the 140 character limit of Twitter.

Let’s examine this more closely:

The right-wing protesters were relatively homogenous — in ideology and appearance — and largely ready for violence. They ranged from old-line racists like the Ku Klux Klan to the ones who wear polo shirts instead of hoods who try to brand themselves “alt-right.” There was no ambiguity about their cause — they demand the nation become whiter, and they are emboldened by a White House administration they believe makes that promise when the president yells “America first.”

The counterprotesters, in contrast, represented a far broader spectrum of the American center and left. There were self-identified “anti-fascists”; Black Lives Matter activists from around the country; religious leaders, including around 100 Christian ministers wearing their clerical collars; furious Charlottesville residents; and garden-variety liberals from as far away as Seattle. A handful of the “anti-fascists” wore Black Bloc garb — black shirt, black pants, black balaclava — to conceal their identities from police, though most did not.

The right-wingers were more prepared for violence. Most white supremacist and Nazi groups arrived armed like a paramilitary force — carrying shields, protective gear, rods, and yes, lots of guns, utilizing Virginia’s loose firearm laws. They used militarized defensive maneuvers, shouting commands at one another to “move forward” or “retreat,” and would form a line of shields or a phalanx — it’s like they watched 300 a few times — to gain ground or shepherd someone through projectiles. It seemed that they had practiced for this. Virginia’s governor said that the right’s weaponry was better than that of the state police. The opposition was largely winging it, preferring to establish bases in other parks with water, coffee, food, first aid, and comfort. Conflict would start much the same as it has at other alt-right rallies: two people, one from each side, screaming, goading each other into throwing the first punch.

By Sunday, even among the most radical voices on the left, there was incredulity at attempts — from various swaths of the mainstream to pro-Trump media, and of course, the president himself — to compare them to their enemies. This is Trump’s “many sides.”

A no-brainer on which side came to fight and suppress.

Pressure on the President is huge. But so far, he and VP Pence have doubled down. Pence, for example, has issued statements condemning violence from the far-right and far-left — again with the false equivalence.

The fallout? It means white supremacists will feel emboldened by the events of this weekend. This cannot be disputed. They say it, others say it of them, and the evidence is right before our eyes. If you see a conservative online saying this isn’t so, that person is lying. They felt and feel emboldened. It’s simply a fact.

During the campaign, Donald Trump needed to distance himself very publicly from the “alt-right,” a movement which is just a glorified white supremacist movement. This was due in no small part to his ties to Bannon-bart, but also just his own personality cult. His campaign talking points and promises were dog-whistles to these self-identified white nationalists, who have not been mainstream for decades.

However, now they feel like they are mainstream, and yes, to a certain extent, that is on the President. His hesitation to call their movement by name this weekend, something many GOP lawmakers criticized him over, is an utter failure on his part and the part of those attempting to advise and guide him. When David Duke says a rally of racist neo-Nazis is a “fulfillment” of your campaign’s promise, your immediate reaction should be to publicly state that, as a matter of fact, it is not. This is not me or us. He didn’t do that.

Calls for the ouster of Trump adviser Steve Bannon, as well as Stephen Miller and neo-Nazi Alexander Gorka, are approaching fever pitch. The rift on the right is stronger than it has ever been.  The Bannon supporters seem to be pushing hard on National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster.

This, on top of everything, is going to dog Trump (as it should)

Trump’s tweets this morning?

And then the chief executive of Merck said this morning in a tweet that he was resigning from President Trump’s American Manufacturing Council, saying he was doing so “as CEO of Merck and as a matter of personal conscience” and that “America’s leaders must honor our fundamental values by clearly rejecting expressions of hatred, bigotry and group supremacy, which run counter to the American ideal that all people are created equal.”

Within an hour after the statement was first issued, Trump tweeted his response. “Now that Ken Frazier of Merck Pharma has resigned from President’s Manufacturing Council, he will have more time to LOWER RIPOFF DRUG PRICES!”

UPDATE 1 pm – Under pressure, Trump gave a 5 minute statement – no questions – condemning racism (“Racism is evil”). It’s not enough. He did it under pressure and everyone (including his neo-Nazi fans) know it. Even then, he denounced hate groups “including” white nationalists, implying there were others (BLM)

Oh, it was of course read from a teleprompter. He couldn’t speak from the heart.

Breaking: Mueller Empanels DC Grand Jury

Special Counsel Robert Mueller has impaneled a grand jury in Washington to investigate Russia’s interference in the 2016 elections, a sign that his inquiry is growing in intensity and entering a new phase, according to two people familiar with the matter.

The grand jury, which began its work in recent weeks, is a sign that Mr. Mueller’s inquiry is ramping up and that it will likely continue for months. Mr. Mueller is investigating Russia’s efforts to influence the 2016 election and whether President Donald Trump’s campaign or associates colluded with the Kremlin as part of that effort.

A spokesman for Mr. Mueller, Joshua Stueve, declined to comment. Moscow has denied seeking to influence the election, and Mr. Trump has vigorously disputed allegations of collusion. The president has called Mr. Mueller’s inquiry a “witch hunt.”

Ty Cobb, special counsel to the president, said he wasn’t aware that Mr. Mueller had started using a new grand jury. “Grand jury matters are typically secret,” Mr. Cobb said. “The White House favors anything that accelerates the conclusion of his work fairly.…The White House is committed to fully cooperating with Mr. Mueller.”

As many people know, there already has been a grand jury in Virginia, focusing on Michael Flynn.

Before Mr. Mueller was tapped in May to be special counsel, federal prosecutors had been using at least one other grand jury, located in Alexandria, Va., to assist in their criminal investigation of Michael Flynn, a former national security adviser. That probe, which has been taken over by Mr. Mueller’s team, focuses on Mr. Flynn’s work in the private sector on behalf of foreign interests.

So what’s the big deal with THIS new one in D.C?:

Grand juries are powerful investigative tools that allow prosecutors to subpoena documents, put witnesses under oath and seek indictments, if there is evidence of a crime. Legal experts said that the decision by Mr. Mueller to impanel a grand jury suggests he believes he will need to subpoena records and take testimony from witnesses.

A grand jury in Washington is also more convenient for Mr. Mueller and his 16 attorneys—they work just a few blocks from the U.S. federal courthouse where grand juries meet—than one that is 10 traffic-clogged miles away in Virginia.

“This is yet a further sign that there is a long-term, large-scale series of prosecutions being contemplated and being pursued by the special counsel,” said Stephen I. Vladeck, a law professor at the University of Texas. “If there was already a grand jury in Alexandria looking at Flynn, there would be no need to reinvent the wheel for the same guy. This suggests that the investigation is bigger and wider than Flynn, perhaps substantially so.”

It also suggests that Mueller is ready to move to the next phase of his investigation. It reflects that Mueller believes there’s a certain level of “there” there to justify a GJ investigation. You don’t talk to witnesses until you have a pretty good idea as to what the “truth” is (from wiretaps, etc.). That way, you can catch them in a lie.

Document Dump: Protecting Mueller

This bill — from Sens. Lindsey Graham, Cory Booker, Sheldon Whitehouse and Richard Blumenthal — us actually one of two bipartisan bills designed to protect the special counsel from removal by the President or Attorney General. The other bill — by Sens. Thom Tillis and Chris Coons (both on the Senate Judiciary Committee) — does essentially the same thing: it says the DC Circuit Court panel of 3 judges must approve any removal… and only for cause.

Trump Really DOES Want To Get Rid Of Sessions

Trump was VERY busy this morning on his Twitter machine.

It’s hard to deny that Trump does not want his AG Jeff Sessions to stay on when he disses him when you look at the second and third from the bottom tweets.

Trump raised similar questions over the weekend days after telling reporters in an interview that he had second thoughts about nominating Sessions because the former Alabama senator had recused himself from the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

What’s going on here?

Well, typically, Trump tipped his hand in his tweets today. If he fires Sessions, he’s stuck with Rosenstein as acting AG who, like Sessions, won’t end the Russia investigation. Of course, it is the same result if he gets Sessions to quit, but it looks better if Sessions quits.  So he’s trying to humiliate Sessions.

Anthony Scaramucci, the new White House communications director, says it’s “probably” correct that Trump wants Sessions gone. According to The Hill, he said didn’t want to speak for the President, but said he thinks Trump has a “certain style” and he is “obviously frustrated.”

Yeah, obviously.

Congress is not amused by Trump’s attacks on his own attorney general:

It’s a lesson that could cost him politically in a Senate where he badly needs Republican support for his lengthy agenda, starting with healthcare on Tuesday.

“I don’t understand it. There’s no more honorable person I’ve ever met in my life than Jeff Sessions,” said Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., a close friend of Sessions and his wife. “The only person who is more upset with Trump about this than me, is my wife.”

Sessions spent 20 years in the Senate, winning a reputation for affability and party loyalty. He understood and doggedly practiced the code of what’s been called the world’s most exclusive club: You can disagree without being disagreeable, but you protect the institution and its members.

***

Senators made it clear the attack on one of their own stands to color Trump’s relationship with Senate Republicans, said Inhofe, a senator since 1994.

“I’m 100 percent for the president, but I really have a hard time with this,” he said.

“That’s what he does, I don’t think he means harm with those tweets,” Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said of Trump.

But Hatch added, “I’d prefer that he didn’t do that. We’d like Jeff to be treated fairly.”

Sen. Thom Tillis, R-North Carolina, agreed.

”I guess we all have our communication style and that’s one that I would avoid,” Tillis said, adding that the Russia investigation by an outside special counsel should proceed without interruptions: “The fewer distractions we have, the faster the investigation can proceed and the less confusion the electorate has to deal with,” he said.

”Sen. Sessions is showing the independence I expected of him and that’s a healthy thing,” Tillis said.

Even those who said they were nonplussed by Trump’s criticism made it clear they sided with Sessions’ recusal decision.

“Jeff made the right decision. It’s not only a legal decision, but it’s the right decision,” said Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla.

Senator Graham took to Twitter too:


Screwing around with the legal process is serious. So serious that even Republicans in Congress are drawing a red line, and that’s something they rarely have done when Trump is involved.

I hope Trump and Bannon consider that.

And there are even reports that Trump’s cabinet is ready to bail over this (as a last straw). If Erick Erickson can be believed, Tillerson isn’t the only cabinet member who is displeased with the president’s attacks on Sessions.

“If he can get treated that way, what about the rest of us?” one of the President’s Cabinet secretaries asked me with both shock and anger in his voice. I am told reports about Rex Tillerson (not who I talked to) are legitimate. He is quite perturbed with the President’s treatment of his Attorney General and is ready to quit. Secretary Mattis (also not who I talked to) is also bothered by it. They and other Cabinet members are already frustrated by the slow pace of appointments for their staffs, the vetoes over qualified people for not being sufficiently pro-Trump, and the Senate confirmation pace.

In fact, the Cabinet secretary I talked to raised the issue of the White House staff vetoes over loyalty, blasting the White House staff for blocking qualified people of like mind because they were not pro-Trump and now the President is ready to fire the most loyal of all the Cabinet members. “It’s more of a clusterf**k than you even know,” the Cabinet secretary tells me about dealing with the White House on policy. It is not just Tillerson ready to bail.

How’s Sessions handling this? Not well:

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has no plans to leave office, as friends say he’s grown angry with President Donald Trump following a series of attacks meant to marginalize his power and, potentially, encourage his resignation.

“Sessions is totally pissed off about it,” said a Sessions ally familiar with his thinking. “It’s beyond insane. It’s cruel and it’s insane and it’s stupid.”

Cruel, Insane and Stupid.  Trumpworld.

Can A Sitting President Be Indicted?

The conventional wisdom has always said that a sitting president cannot be indicted. Under current law, a President is immune from civil lawsuits in federal court, when it comes to his official acts as president.  This is because of Nixon v. Fitzgerald, a 1982 Supreme Court ruling.  There, the Supreme Court wrote: “The ‘singular importance of the President’s duties’ warrants a stay where civil actions, such as this one, ‘frequently could distract a President from his public duties to the detriment of not only the President and his office but also the Nation that the President was designed to serve.’”

From this case it was always thought that an indictment would similarly be barred.

However, nothing in the Constitution or federal law explicitly says presidents are immune from indictment while they remain in office.  So what’s the answer?

A legal memo unearthed by the New York Times and written for special prosecutor Kenneth Starr during the Clinton Administration concludes that the indictment of a President for acts done prior to taking office, is constitutional.  Here is that memo (after the NYT letters):

Where The Rubber Meets The Road

I guess it was bound to happen — the ultimate constitutional question: What happened when the top law enforcement agency refuses to comply with the courts?

It has happened on the state level — with desegregation. The governors refused to comply with Brown v Board of Education. So the federal government was sent in, in the form of the US Department of Justice. They sent in the National Guard.

But what happens if the US Department of Justice itself doesn’t comply with a court order? We’re about to find out. And it is such a small matter, too:

In defiance of a court order, the Justice Department is refusing to release part of a security form dealing with Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ contacts with the Russian government.

On June 12, a judge had ordered the agency to provide the information within 30 days, a deadline that passed on Wednesday.

A recently launched ethics watchdog group called American Oversight filed a Freedom of Information Act request in March for sections of the Standard Form 86 relating to Sessions’ contact “with any official of the Russian government.”

The group then filed a lawsuit in April after it said the government didn’t provide the documents.

“Jeff Sessions is our nation’s top law enforcement officer, and it is shocking one of his first acts after being named Attorney General was to mislead his own agency about a matter of national security,” the group’s executive director, Austin Evers, said in a statement.

He continued: “The court gave DOJ thirty days to produce Attorney General Sessions’s security clearance form, DOJ has already confirmed its contents to the press and Sessions has testified about it to Congress, so there is no good reason to withhold this document from the public.”

On Wednesday, a spokesperson for the Justice Department had told NPR that the documents would be released by the deadline, NPR’s Mary Louise Kelly reports.

The Standard Form 86, more commonly called SF86, is a very detailed form required to be filled out for obtaining security clearance for certain government positions. It’s the same form presidential adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner has recently had to revise after omitting meetings with Russian officials.

Sessions has admitted speaking with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Kislyak, at least twice in 2016, which he did not disclose at his confirmation hearing. But in June, Sessions testified to senators that the “suggestion that I participated in any collusion” with the Russian government “is an appalling and detestable lie.”

American Oversight says it’s nonpartisan, but its staff has connections to Democrats, according to USA Today.

A status conference in the case is scheduled for 10 a.m. Thursday at the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

This is all under-the-radar right now. I don’t imagine it can remain that way for very long.  To be continued…..

UPDATE – – 2 pm:

In a filing this morning with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, the Justice Department released that part of Sessions’ form which poses the question:

“Have you or any of your immediate family in the past seven (7) years [bold font in original] had any contact with a foreign government, its establishment (such as embassy, consulate, agency, military service, intelligence or security service, etc.) or its representatives, whether inside or outside the U.S.?”

Sessions checked “No.”

Well, at least he’s on the record now.

The Blackmail of Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzenzski

The fallout from Trump’s Twitter attack yesterday on TV hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzenzski (mostly the latter) continues, and it doesn’t go well for Trump.  The couple wrote a devastating op-ed in WaPo, the title of which says it all:

They are quite right — Donald Trump is not well.  I question whether he ever was.  But it is what they said this morning on their show that caught my interest, and the interest of many others:

MSNBC hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski claim President Trump and his White House used the possibility of a hit piece in the National Enquirer to threaten them.

But President Trump has a very different account of what happened. “FAKE NEWS,” he tweeted during “Morning Joe” Friday morning.
The editor in charge of the Enquirer, Dylan Howard, said “we have no knowledge of any discussions between the White House and Joe and Mika about our story, and absolutely no involvement in those discussions.”

Meanwhile, Scarborough says he has proof of the White House threats — “I have texts from your top aides and phone records.”
Scarborough and Brzezinski are essentially alleging a form of blackmail.

The accusation came during a wider discussion about the president’s offensive tweets targeting the co-hosts. It piqued the attention of journalists because it implies that the president is using a friendly media outlet to punish his opponents.

What’s definitely true is this: Trump and the publisher of the National Enquirer, David Pecker, are friends and allies. Jeffrey Toobin documented the mutually beneficial relationship in this week’s edition of The New Yorker.

The Enquirer, a supermarket tabloid, frequently promotes the president’s agenda.

Here’s exactly what the co-hosts alleged on Friday’s “Morning Joe.”

“We got a call that, ‘Hey, the National Enquirer is going to run a negative story against you guys…’ And they said, ‘If you call the president up, and you apologize for your coverage, then he will pick up the phone and basically spike this story,” Scarborough said.

Scarborough didn’t name names, but he said “three people at the very top of the administration” called him about this.

“The calls kept coming and kept coming, and they were like ‘Call. You need to call. Please call. Come on, Joe. Just pick up the phone and call him.'”

In other words, grovel to the president and he’ll make the mean story disappear.

Scarborough did not immediately respond to a request from CNN for more details.

But he and Brzezinski also described the alleged discussion in a Washington Post column on Friday.

“This year,” they wrote, “top White House staff members warned that the National Enquirer was planning to publish a negative article about us unless we begged the president to have the story spiked. We ignored their desperate pleas.”

Scarborough and Brzezinski are now engaged. The negative article was about their past marriages and the beginning of their relationship. It was published in early June.

Dylan Howard, the chief content officer for the Enquirer’s parent company American Media, said “we accurately reported” the story, but “at no time did we threaten either Joe or Mika or their children in connection with our reporting on the story.”

Brzezinski suggested otherwise.

“Let me explain what they were threatening,” she said. “They were calling my children. They were calling close friends.”

She said “these calls persisted for quite some time, and then Joe had the conversations that he had with the White House where they said ‘Oh, this could go away.'”

In response, White House press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters that he is “not aware” of White House officials pressing Scarborough to call up Trump and make nice.

Here’s the video:

The president himself weighed in via Twitter a few minutes later.

Scarborough responded quickly to Trump’s tweet with one of his own:

It get worse.

For Trump.

Redstate talked to Scarborough and asked him about it. This is what Scarborough reportedly said:

“NBC execs knew in real time about the calls and who made them to me. That’s why Mark Kornblau wrote about contemporaneous texts. I showed him and executives as they were coming in to keep them advised.”

Scarborough also said the calls about the National Enquirer story started in late April and early May but that he never placed a call to President Trump, contra Trump’s tweet. “I never called the President about this,” he said. “I challenge him to reveal any phone records showing that I called him. He can’t because I didn’t.”

Blackmail is a very serious charge. The administration will likely face questions about in their latest press briefing and how they respond will be telling.

UPDATE: NY Magazine has news on this, with sources. This seems to be the story — it contradiction that Joe called him to discuss the Enquirer story.

According to three sources familiar with the private conversations, what happened was this: After the inauguration, Morning Joe’s coverage of Trump turned sharply negative. “This presidency is fake and failed,” Brzezinski said on March 6, for example. Around this time, Scarborough and Brzezinski found out the Enquirer was preparing a story about their affair. While Scarborough and Brzezinski’s relationship had been gossiped about in media circles for some time, it was not yet public, and the tabloid was going to report that they had left their spouses to be together.

In mid-April, Scarborough texted with Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner about the pending Enquirer story. Kushner told Scarborough that he would need to personally apologize to Trump in exchange for getting Enquirer owner David Pecker to stop the story. (A spokesperson for Kushner declined to comment). Scarborough says he refused, and the Enquirer published the story in print on June 5, headlined “Morning Joe Sleazy Cheating Scandal!”

The Daily Beast (which apparently published just before NYMag) has basically the same story.

UPDATE:  A Vanity Fair story adds come color. This is Mika’s perspective…

I Wonder Why Trump Gets Negative Press

This morning:

This, apparently, is what set him off:

Not too bad. I mean, it’s not like they claimed he wasn’t born in America. I guess it was the “little hands” thing that may have done it.

Then again, maybe it was the fact that Hannity went after Joe last night.

In any event, Mr. Unpresidential Thinskin’s response was horrible.

Since I am speechless, I will let Jay Caruso over at the conservative Redstate speak for me:

Unfortunately, for the people who are upset Donald Trump receives very little positive media coverage, they need to cast their gaze at the President and not the media because he brings it on himself time and time again.

Remember, he is the President of The United States of America. He is the Commander-In-Chief. He is the de facto leader of the free world.

***

First of all, that he’s bellowing about Morning Joe means he was watching the show this morning. Why say something about a show you don’t watch?

Second, when the President tweets high school drivel such as this, the media is going to talk about it because it is what he is discussing. Kellyanne Conway tried to argue the media is “obsessed” over the President’s tweets, but the White House said his tweets are official statements. It is not Donald Trump, the reality television host popping off about Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough. It is an official statement issued by the President of The United States.

What President Trump said about Mika supposedly bleeding from a facelift is low-grade trash, worthy of anonymous Internet trolls, not the most powerful man in the world.

People will argue, “Oh that’s just the President trolling, and guys like you fell for it.” Yes, silly me. I expect the President of the United States to concern himself with matters related to his office and to conduct himself with a little character and dignity.

How gauche. 

Naturally, what will happen, is the media will focus on this (tada!) because the President thinks tweeting the way guys scribble on the bathroom wall in the 9th grade is the proper way to conduct his daily business. Meanwhile, the people in his administration who are doing real work, aren’t getting credit or media coverage for the work they’re doing because President Jeff Spicoli is too busy making Mr. Hand speculate if he’s on dope.

Grow up, Mr. President.

This is bullying. This is sexist. It may even indicate mental instability.  He thinks that when you read these Mika tweets, you’ll be on his side. In his mind, he’s being persuasive. Imagine being that awful.

Personally, I would love to see him censured by Congress.

Backlash is universally negative.  Mika herself responded this way:

MSNBC:

MSNBC’s competitor:

And from others:

(Lynn Jenkins is a GOP Congresswoman from Kansas)

Coming to his defense:

I’m so glad he has his hands on the red button.  Also,

********************************************************************

MORE:

For the record, “Morning Joe” enjoyed its highest ratings ever in the second quarter of this year and has increased viewership in nine consecutive quarters.  And….

What? You mean Trump lied?

And yeah. I know some people are saying Trump is trying to distract everyone from the horrible healthcare thing, but that doesn’t make sense.  People can focus on more than one thing.  Besides, distract us from what?  Are things happening that we can see or discuss?  Not yet.

UPDATE:  From the Sarah Huckabee press briefing —

I wish someone would ask what it is with Trump and visions of women bleeding.

BONUS UPDATE — Even Hannity!!

… but he adds that he can nevertheless understand how Trump is upset with “Morning Joe” coverage. And then calls media “crybabies”…

The New O’Keefe Video

So, the White House spokesman wants people to watch a video even though she doesn’t know if it is accurate.  How’s that for devotion to the truth?

The video is by James O’Keefe, and it is itself about the truth.  But O’Keefe and his outfit, Project Veritas, have been known to use slick editing procedures to distort the truth, rather than expose it.  Let’s see what O’Keefe has this time.

Interesting. What O’Keefe, who has been hit with a $1 million conspiracy lawsuit, doesn’t tell you is that Bonifield has held many positions at CNN, most recently serving as a supervising producer for CNN Health, a position he has held since 2015.

CNN Health.

Other than that, there’s not much there there.

Does CNN’s coverage drive its ratings? I’m sure it does.  Just like as Fox.

Is the Trump-Russia collusion things bullshit?  This CNN supervisor says it could be.  And you know what? IT COULD BE.

But isn’t that why we have an investigation?  Isn’t that the point?

The opinion of a CNN Health producer means nothing.  You know who doesn’t think the Russia investigation is “a hoax”? The CIA, the FBI, the NSA, the DNI, the House Intel Committee, the Senate Intel Committee, and Robert Mueller.

Trust The GOP, Do You?

Well, read this:

Political data gathered on more than 198 million US citizens was exposed this month after a marketing firm contracted by the Republican National Committee stored internal documents on a publicly accessible Amazon server.

The data leak contains a wealth of personal information on roughly 61 percent of the US population. Along with home addresses, birthdates, and phone numbers, the records include advanced sentiment analyses used by political groups to predict where individual voters fall on hot-button issues such as gun ownership, stem cell research, and the right to abortion, as well as suspected religious affiliation and ethnicity. The data was amassed from a variety of sources—from the banned subreddit r/fatpeoplehate to American Crossroads, the super PAC co-founded by former White House strategist Karl Rove.

Deep Root Analytics, a conservative data firm that identifies audiences for political ads, confirmed ownership of the data to Gizmodo on Friday.

Another Terrorist Attack In London

Last night, a van with three people drove into a crowd of worshipers in Finsbury Park, a district in North London. One person was killed, ten were injured.

It was a terrorist attack, but not a typical one that garnishes worldwide press attention. Because this time, the terrorists were white and the targets were Muslim.

Here’s what is known so far:

— The driver of the van, a 48-year-old white man, was wrestled to the ground by people at the scene and held until police arrived. He has been arrested on suspicion of attempted murder, according to police.
— Muslim Welfare House CEO Toufik Kacimi said the attacker shouted “I did my bit, you deserve it.”
— Imam Mohammed Mahmoud of the Muslim Welfare House stopped an angry crowd from turning on the van driver, telling the furious mob: “Do not touch him.”  This will, and should, get much notice. The imam followed Islam and protected the man from the furious mob.
— Police have not named the man arrested, but the van bears the logo and phone number for Pontyclun Van Hire in south Wales.
— UK Security Minister Ben Wallace, speaking on BBC Radio 4’s World At One, said, “This individual, so far as we know at the moment, was not known to us.”
— All of the victims were from the Muslim community, police said.
— One man was found dead at the scene, according to police, but it’s not clear if he was killed during the attack. Police said he was already receiving first aid when the attack unfolded.
— Two people were treated at the scene, May said, and eight others have been taken to three hospitals. Two of them are seriously injured.
— Islington’s Seven Sisters Road, where the attack took place, is home to at least four mosques, and would have likely been filled with worshipers leaving late-night taraweeh prayers.
— The Islington borough of north London, of which Finsbury Park is a part, is home to a large Muslim community. Around 10% of the borough’s population is Muslim.
— It’s been nearly 24 hours and Trump and the White House have not talked about it.

Then there is this:

The death of a Virginia teenager who police say was assaulted and then disappeared after leaving a mosque in the Sterling area isn’t being investigated as a hate crime, authorities said Monday.

On Sunday, police found the girl’s remains and a 22-year-old man has been charged with murder in connection with the case.

The mosque, the All Dulles Area Muslim Society (ADAMS) in Sterling, and relatives identified the girl as 17-year-old Nabra Hassanen of Reston.

Fairfax County police identified the man charged with murder in her death as Darwin Martinez Torres of Sterling. On Monday, they did not release any explanation as to why they weren’t investigating the murder as a hate crime.

Relatives identified the slain teen as Nabra Hassanen, 17, right, of Reston, seen in a social media post with a filter. (All Dulles Area Muslim Society Center)

According to accounts from police and a mosque official, a group of four or five teens were walking back from breakfast at IHOP early Sunday when they were confronted by a motorist. All but one of the teens ran to the mosque, where the group reported that the girl had been left behind, according to Deputy Aleksandra Kowalski, a spokeswoman for the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office.

“Immediately thereafter, the ADAMS’ personnel notified both Loudoun County and Fairfax County authorities who immediately began an extensive search to locate the missing girl,” the mosque said in a statement.

Loudoun and Fairfax police jointly conducted an hours-long search around Dranesville Road and Woodson Drive in Herndon, which is in Fairfax. Remains thought to be the girl’s were found about 3 p.m. Sunday in a pond in the 21500 block of Ridgetop Circle in Sterling. During the search, an officer spotted a motorist driving suspiciously in the area and arrested Torres, police said.

Police said they collected several articles of evidence but declined to provide further details.

The girl’s mother said detectives told her that Nabra was struck with a metal bat.

The ISIS-type terrorists want to start a holy war. It looks like some stupid whiteys are willing to play into that.

UPDATE:   Aaaaand this is happening in France

This was a car loaded with explosives which rammed into a police van on the Champs-Elysees in Paris. The driver of the car was killed. No explosion. No other injuries, but it appears to be a botched terrorist attack.

Supreme Court Notes

Some US Supreme Court news this morning:
 
(1) North Carolina has – um, HAD — a law that said registered sex offenders could not go to certain sites on the Intertubes. The Supreme Court struck down that law, saying it violated First Amendment. The decision was 8-0, although there was sharp disagreement about how much states can regulate Internet use.  The opinion is here.
 
(2) The US Trademark Office cannot prevent an Asian-American rock group called “The Slants” from registering that name, even though it might be offensive. Another First Amendment victory.
 
(3) The Supreme Court took a case on political gerrymandering (where the party in power gets to redraw districts that favor themselves). They’ve never struck down a political gerrymandering case before, but some say they just might this time. The case started when Republicans gained complete control of Wisconsin’s government in 2010 for the first time in more than 40 years. It was a redistricting year, and lawmakers promptly drew a map for the State Assembly that helped Republicans convert very close statewide vote totals into lopsided legislative majorities.

In 2012, Republicans won 48.6 percent of the statewide vote for Assembly candidates but captured 60 of the Assembly’s 99 seats. In 2014, 52 percent of the vote yielded 63 seats.

Verdict in on Philando Castile Killing

Remember this? I wrote about it last year.

A Minnesota jury has reached a verdict in the manslaughter trial of Jeronimo Yanez, the officer who fatally shot Philando Castile during a traffic stop last year.  Yanez is on trial for one count of second-degree manslaughter and two counts of intentional discharge of firearm that endangers safety because Castile’s girlfriend and her 4-year-old daughter were also in the car.

Announcement soon.

UPDATE: NOT GUILTY ON ALL COUNTS

Of course.

What’s This Tweet About?

Trump’s not busy enough. He’s got free time to watch TV and get defensive. His tweets this morning railed against the “fake news” media and how there was no proof that his campaign (or, in his phrasing, he himself) colluded with Russia to affect the outcome of the election. (He also incorrectly claimed that the investigation had only been going for seven months: It began last July.)

But one tweet is confusing many people, including myself.

Who is he referring to? We know that the “FBI director” is James B. Comey, whom he fired in early May. But who is “the man who told me to fire the FBI director”?

We know two things about that second person from Trump’s tweet. That person told him to fire the FBI director, and that person is investigating him.

At first pass, that would seem to indicate that he’s referring to Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, who appointed former FBI director Robert Mueller to serve as special counsel, leading the independent investigation into the Russia affair.

Rosenstein also wrote a letter last month outlining concerns about Comey that Attorney General Jeff Sessions then passed on to Trump with the recommendation that Comey be fired.

While that seems like it fits with Trump’s description, then — it actually doesn’t. First of all, Rosenstein’s letter never called for Comey’s firing. (It’s also worth noting that Trump told NBC’s Lester Holt that he planned to fire Comey anyway.)  Obviously, Trump is trying to rewrite the record here, albeit badly.

Second of all, the description of Rosenstein as investigating Trump is a bit off. The special counsel is investigating Trump, and Rosenstein can fire Mueller if he wishes, but he’s not in charge of that investigation. Rosenstein also has jurisdiction over the FBI’s investigation into the Russia matter.

So maybe Trump’s actually referring to Mueller? Mueller’s certainly investigating him — but there’s no indication that Mueller told Trump to fire Comey.

The safest answer: Trump is referring to Rosenstein — and trying to impugn the deputy attorney general by ensnaring him in the firing of Comey at the outset. Which raises another question …

2. Is Rosenstein’s role in the matter tainted? WaPo’s Matt Zapotosky raised this point on Twitter.

This issue of his letter to Trump about Comey was not a point of concern when Rosenstein first appointed Mueller. Of course, at that point the investigation wasn’t into Trump’s alleged attempt to lean on Comey to curtail the investigation into Michael Flynn. ABC News reported that Rosenstein had privately acknowledged to friends that he might need to recuse himself for that reason.

Which could be true. If Rosenstein letter was part of a “plot” to provide justification for Comey’s firing, that’s problematic for Rosenstein… even if he was not part of the plot.  He may have a conflict being Mueller’s higher-up.

What would happen if Rosenstein were to recuse himself from oversight of the special counsel?

The duty would fall to the associate attorney general who was recently appointed, Rachel Brand. A 44 year old conservative, Brand was barely alive when Nixon tried to fire his special counsel.  It is expected that Brand, unlike Rosenstein might be the one to do Trump’s bidding, if he ever decides to fire Mueller.

So, with Trump repeatedly tweeting about this being a “witch hunt”, does that “mystery tweet” today suggest that Trump knows the path to getting rid of the special counsel?

Yes, this IS a reality show.

UPDATE from… uh…. Fox News:

Fox News reports:

A source confirmed to Fox News that Trump’s tweet was referring to Rosenstein. However, a seperate source close to Trump’s legal team said the president was NOT confirming he was under investigation. He was simply referring to the content of a recent Washington Post story.

The Sessions Sessions

Ok, I’ll liveblog SOME of Sessions hearing before the Senate Intel Committee, but again, I expect he’ll talk about what he wants to talk about and then filibuster (or rely on executive privilege) when trapped in a corner.

2:56 pm

Sessions has no recollection of meeting, talking to Russian ambassador or other Russian official at the Mayflower hotel.


(Kislyak must be the gray-haired guy on the right)

Never discussed anything with any foreign agent about any campaign ever.

Sessions says he was victim of Franken’s “rambling question” after six hours of testimony.  Getting a little faux outraged in his opening statement here. (What Sessions is leaving out is that AFTER his hearing answer to Franken, he also left it out of written answers, which staff vet carefully.)

Sessions says it’s “absurd” to say his recusal should have kept him from participating in the Comey firing. He’s claiming he can narrow his stated recusal *from* campaign matters to *only* the Trump campaign.

Sessions appears to stand by his earlier assertion — that he recommended firing Comey due to his handling of Hillary email investigation.

Sessions pretty much confirms Comey’s conversation with Sessions about problems with the White House (Trump) talking directly to Comey about Russia. Except…

And now he’s talking about drugs and crime and gangs.  Talking a lot about it.  His favorite subject.

Aaaaaand that’s the gist of his statement.  I don’t doubt most of it. In fact, I don’t think Sessions was ever involved in any collusion (even though his inability to remember meetings with Russians is… uh…. troubling).

I’ll update if he says anything different under questioning, but I suspect this is all we will get out of him.

Sessions will not talk about conversations with President — NOT based on executive privilege but based on long-standing Department of Justice “policy”.

I think this is a good summary so far:

Wait…. that’s different from “longstanding DOJ policy”. I mean, it’s bullshit too, but it’s also different.

Oh my God. That’s disconcerting. As is this:

Tom Cotton is really reprehensible.

Kamala Harris is up. She wants to ask questions and he wants to stall and take long answers. She wants documents.

And the Chair admonishes her.

Yup.

Can Trump Fire Mueller?

This is complicated and I don’t have much time. So hold on.

Trump does not have the legal authority to fire special prosecutor Mueller directly, but that doesn’t mean Trump can’t TRY.  For Trump to fire Mueller, he TECHNICALLY must order the Attorney General to fire Mueller.  If Trump tried to fire Mueller directly, Mueller could (and probably would) choose not to “recognize” Trump’s independent authority to fire him.

But wait, there’s another problem. If Trump asked Attorney General Sessions to fire Mueller — well, Sessions technically can’t either, because he recused himself from all matters relating to Russia… and that would presumably mean that he is recused from hiring or firing the special counsel looking into Trump-Russia collusion. Then again, Sessions was the one who fired Comey, and he probably should not have for the same reason.  So if Sessions tried to fire Mueller on Trump’s order, Mueller could choose not to “recognize” Mueller’s independent authority to fire him.

The correct person to fire Mueller (on order from Trump) is deputy AG Rob Rosenstein, the one who appointed Mueller to special prosecutor.

Whoever does it, it is very much like the Saturday Night massacre in Watergate.  There, Nixon told his attorney general Elliott Richardson to fire independent special prosecutor Archibald Cox. Richardson refused so Nixon fired him.  Nixon then told Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus to fire Cox. Ruckelshaus also refused and Nixon fired him too. Nixon then ordered the Solicitor General of the United States, Robert Bork, as acting head of the Justice Department, to fire Cox. Both Richardson and Ruckelshaus had given personal assurances to Congressional oversight committees that they would not interfere, but Bork had not. On November 14, 1973, federal district judge Gerhard Gesell ruled firing Cox was illegal absent a finding of extraordinary impropriety as specified in the regulation establishing the special prosecutor’s office.

It was a constitutional crisis.

The situations between now and then are strikingly comparable. The question is if Rosenstein will carry out Trump’s bidding, or if Sessions would, or if Trump would simply try to do it directly…. if he tried at all.

When questioned last week by Senator Kamala Harris of the Senate Intelligence Committee (who seemed to be looking well down the road), Rosenstein refused to say whether he would exercise his authority to fire Mueller if it ever came down to that.  At least, he refused to say in open session.

With all that said, I don’t think Trump will try to fire Mueller, despite what Newt Gingrich and others are saying.  Not only are the minefields legally (see above), but the political fallout just might be too much — even for Republicans.  After Nixon tried to fire Cox, public support crashed for Nixon (what little remained) and impeachment rose rapidly in the polls.

At that point, Republicans in Congress would join Democrats to appoint an independent counsel (just like they did in Watergate, where they appointed Jaworski).  Heck, it could be Mueller again.

So huge risk, low reward. I don’t think Trump would try this, but God knows what advice he is getting, and whether he will follow it.

UPDATE:  Rosenstein just happens to be testifying before the Appropriations Committee today.

He also says AG Sessions “theoretically” has power to fire Mueller.

Aw, Susan Collins goes to the direct question:

Maryland And DC Attorneys General File Lawsuit Against Trump Under Emoluments Clause

Although CREW currently has a lawsuit going, the attorneys general of Maryland and DC have filed a lawsuit today against President Trump, citing a constitutional violation of the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution.  The damage? Well, they claim, the US is effectively not living up to the Constitution, a document that Maryland signed onto in part because of the Emoluments Clause.  Also, they are losing tax revenue.

Here is the full complaint:

The Comey Memos — Part Two

So some idiot at Redstate is making the argument that the Comey Memos were leaked in contravention of the law:

The documents leaked by Comey were official government records. Period. They were created by a government employee (Comey) while acting in his official capacity (FBI director) on a government-issued laptop while sitting in a government car driven by another government employee and probably in the company of a government security detail.

See how he pulled a Spicer there (“Period.”)?  As if saying “period” makes his argument stronger.

Still, he has a point. The Comey memo is an official government record.

You know what else is an official government record? A social security check. A letter from the IRS. Lots of things.

The moron continues:

The documents are not “unclassified.” The documents, by the very fact that they recorded a conversation with the president, would have carried a ‘confidential’ classification.

Ummmmm…. No, it wouldn’t.  Or as we say in the fact-checking business, CITATION NEEDED.

Here’s the deal — private conversations with the President are not automatically classified.  They’re just not.  Classification is based on the content, not on the parties.  If that were the case, then forget the memos.  Even TESTIFYING about any private conversation with the President would be a no-no.

Once you recognize that a private conversation with the President is not classified, you can see that a memo summarizing a private conversation with the President is also not classified.

Another thing about classification — who does this idiot think makes classification calls in the first place? Comey is the head of the FBI. He can classify or declassify anything he damn well wants, including his own work product.

But the moron continues:

There is zero way it would not have been classified ‘for official use only’ as the conversation was inarguably covered by executive privilege. The memos were the property of the US government and are clearly covered under the Federal Records Act.

Well, there is a difference between documents that are classified, documents that are subject to executive privilege, and documents covered by the Federal Records Act. The Comey memos were not classified; they were not subject to executive privilege (and if they were, Trump waived that privilege); and the Federal Records Act only deals with maintaining and preserving those documents (I’m sure the FBI has copies, so, no problem there).

He then goes on to discuss 18 U.S. Code § 641, which says:

Whoever embezzles, steals, purloins, or knowingly converts to his use or the use of another, or without authority, sells, conveys or disposes of any record, voucher, money, or thing of value of the United States or of any department or agency thereof, or any property made or being made under contract for the United States or any department or agency thereof… Shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both; but if the value of such property in the aggregate, combining amounts from all the counts for which the defendant is convicted in a single case, does not exceed the sum of $1,000, he shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than one year, or both.

The word “value” means face, par, or market value, or cost price, either wholesale or retail, whichever is greater.

A rather dumb argument. I suppose Comey did steal the paper that he printed or made photocopies on.  But the he didn’t “convert” or “convey” the actual RECORD itself, which presumably is still on his laptop.

And then he finally links to an FBI website which says that that the FBI has policy and procedures regarding discretionary release of information in accordance with the Privacy Act.  Guess who has discretion?

HUGE Redstate fail. Embarrassing.

Did Comey Break The Law By Revealing His Memo Contents To The Press?

No, and in fact, if Trump goes after Comey for dong that, Trump could get in deeper trouble. Here’s why:

As the news broke, I was on the phone with Stephen Kohn, partner at a law firm focused on whistleblower protection. We’d been talking about where the boundaries lay for Comey in what he could and couldn’t do with the information about his conversations with the president. Kohn’s response to the story about Kasowitz, though, was visceral.

“Here is my position on that: Frivolous grandstanding,” he said. “First of all, I don’t believe the inspector general would have jurisdiction over Comey any more, because he’s no longer a federal employee.” The inspector general’s job is to investigate wrongdoing by employees of the Justice Department, of which Comey is no longer, thanks to Trump.

“But, second,” he continued, “initiating an investigation because you don’t like somebody’s testimony could be considered obstruction. And in the whistleblower context, it’s both evidence of retaliation and, under some laws, could be an adverse retaliatory act itself.”

In other words, Comey, here, is an employee who is blowing the whistle, to use the idiom, on his former boss. That boss wants to punish him for doing so. That’s problematic — especially if there’s no evidence that Comey actually violated any law that would trigger punishment.

Trump’s Tweets Today Are The Most Unhinged And SELF-Destructive (And It’s Only 10:00 AM)

God knows why they just don’t take his phone away. Or give him a fake phone with a fake Twitter account.

This is how bad it has gotten: Trump’s own advisers have gone on television and stated that Trump’s tweets are not his policy.  Well, who knows? How can we tell? Would Trump agree with that?

Even this morning, Kellyanne Conway said that the media is obsessed with Trump’s tweets, implying that people should not place emphasis on them.  But that is in contradiction from what others in the White House – and Trump himself — have said:

“This obsession with covering everything he says on Twitter and very little what he does as president …” Conway said during that interview.

“That’s his preferred method of communication with the American people,” said Craig Melvin, the show’s co-host.

“That’s not true,” Conway interjected.

“Well, he hasn’t given an interview in three weeks, so lately it has been his preferred method,” Melvin replied.

Even setting aside that three-week modification, Melvin is correct that the administration has touted Twitter as being more important than media coverage. After Trump won the presidency in November, he and his team were asked if he would stop tweeting so much as president. The answer? No — because the media can’t be trusted.

Shortly after the election, Trump spoke with CBS’s Leslie Stahl, telling her how he planned to moderate his Twitter use once he was sworn in.

“I’m going to do very restrained, if I use it at all, I’m going to do very restrained,” he said. “I find it tremendous. It’s a modern form of communication. There should be nothing you should be ashamed of. It’s — it’s where it’s at.”

By January, his description of his Twitter habit was a bit less enthusiastic.

“Look, I don’t like tweeting. I have other things I could be doing. But I get very dishonest media, very dishonest press. And it’s my only way that I can counteract,” Trump told Reuters in January. That’s the theme: The media is the enemy, so Trump will tweet to the people directly.

On ABC’s “This Week” in January, incoming press secretary Sean Spicer made that same case.

And more to the point, even if his tweets are not policy, they sometimes contradict policy.  And that makes for headaches for Trump’s team.

Today being a prime example. Let’s start with his first four tweets of the day (which apparently were made while watching Morning Joe on MSNBC):

Let’s start with the first tweet at the bottom, where he calls “it” a “travel ban” and a “watered down, politically correct” version of his original executive order which banned all travel from 7 mostly-Muslim nations. Arguably, Trump is showing his intent to disfavor Muslims by the executive order, a point that has doomed the executive orders in court so far. In court briefs, DOJ lawyers have said the orders are “religion-neutral” in operation, drawing “distinctions among countries based on national-security risks identified by Congress and the Executive Branch, not religion, and applies evenhandedly in the six designated countries.”

There is also a glaring problem: the revised travel ban was authored by Trump’s administration and signed by Trump himself — the Justice Department’s role is merely defending its legality.  Why is he taking umbrage with the Justice Department?

In any event, his tweets this morning on the subject of the travel ban hurt his already weak case.

Next up on this morning’s hit parade, this:

Again, he was watching Fox & Friends and they were apparently talking about vacancies.  Odd that he would blame the Democrats, since they do not control the Senate (who has to improve Ambassadors and other certain posts).

Almost two months ago, Politico did a story on why this is taking so long, and it has nothing to do with the Democrats:

Hundreds of key jobs across the federal government remain vacant as a result of an overworked White House personnel office that is frustrating Cabinet secretaries and hampering President Donald Trump’s ability to carry out his ambitious legislative agenda.

The process is bogged down as a result of micromanaging by the president and senior staff, turf wars between the West Wing and Cabinet secretaries and a largely inexperienced and overworked staff, say more than a dozen sources including administration insiders, lobbyists, lawyers and Republican strategists.

Trump personally oversees the hiring process for agency staff by insisting on combing through a binder full of names each week and likes to sign off on each one, according to two people with knowledge of the administration’s hiring process. Also weighing in on the names — and not always agreeing on final picks — are leaders of sometimes warring factions, including chief of staff Reince Priebus, senior strategist Steve Bannon, Cabinet secretaries and, sometimes, the White House’s top lawyer, Don McGahn.

“It’s like a medieval court,” said one person advising potential nominees through the confirmation process. “The White House meets once a week to go over personnel in some attempt to create uniformity, but in this White House, you just have to smile at that. … It’s hard to impose uniformity among the White House’s different coalitions.”

The only uniformity is that potential hires must show fealty to the president. One person close to the White House said a sense of “paranoia” has taken over amid fears that disloyal hires might undercut Trump’s agenda or leak to the press.

Another reason they are having a hard time getting positions filled? People don’t want to serve under Trump. especially with a special counsel investigation and FBI probe hanging over the White House.

Even if it were true that Dems were somehow slowing up the confirmation process, that doesn’t explain the vacancies. From the LA Times:

What’s the effect? Just eight of 120 State Department posts, including ambassadorships, that require Senate confirmation have been filled, according to the Partnership for Public Service. As a result, foreign officials and diplomats struggle to find someone to discuss trade and security issues with.

We have officially entered hurricane season with no head of NOAA and no head of FEMA.

And in the Pentagon, Trump has filled only five of the 53 top jobs – the slowest pace for nominations and confirmations in over half a century. No Army Secretary. No Navy Secretary.

The hold-up, insiders say, is Trump’s insistence on absolute loyalty… to him.

The Washington Post has a wonderful database tracker page to keep up with Trump’s lack of progress on filling key positions.

And finally, Trump’s final tweet of the morning (we hope):

This is Trump engaging in an attack against London mayor Sadiq Khan (a Muslim) when Khan said that is “no reason to be alarmed”. Trump attacked that quote, complaining that London had just had a terrorist attack, and they should be freaking out (I guess).

What happened here? Trump watched Fox News, which had truncated the quote and changed its meaning:

But Mr Trump’s criticism is based on a quotation entirely removed from its context. He appears to be confused about what happened in part because Fox News repeated the same short quote but without the full remarks from the mayor of London.

What Mr Khan actually said was that there is no reason to be alarmed about the increased police presence on the streets after the attack.

“My message to Londoners and visitors to our great city is to be calm and vigilant today,” Mr Khan said. “You will see an increased police presence today, including armed officers and uniformed officers.

“There is no reason to be alarmed by this. We are the safest global city in the world. You saw last night as a consequence of our planning, our preparation, the rehearsals that take place, the swift response from the emergency services tackling the terrorists and also helping the injured.”

There is no reason to be alarmed by this… with “this” referring to the increased police presence.

Rather than admit he was misquoting Khan, Trump doubled down… on the mayor of a city just attacked by terrorists.

Could it be because this particular mayor is Muslim?

Today could have been a good day for Trump — he intended to announce an infrastructure bill (which Dems could get behind). But he squandered it with these Tweets.  With Comey testifying in a few days, Trump does not have many more chances to have “good days”.

The “Unmasking” Diversion

Over at Fox News, they use the word “unmasking” a lot. To me, it looks like they haven’t realized it is a common practice in the intelligence community. They just use the word a lot so that their low-information viewers will think it is bad.

“Unmasking”, of course, is the process whereby a redacted name of an American citizen is unredacted for someone who is reading an intelligence report.  A request is made to unmask the name so that the reader can better understand and perhaps act on the information (or fully advise another)

Unmasking is not leaking.  When the name of a U.S. person is unmasked, that information is provided only to the intelligence official who requested that unmasking. There’s no equivalence between so-called unmasking and leaking.  Of course, the recipient of unmasked information could then illegally disclose it through a leak. But that’s leaking.

Unmasking is not a crime. The process for unmasking vary from agency to agency and case by case depending on how the information was collected. But the exact procedures are not publicly known and may be classified.

Even if it turns out that procedures weren’t followed, people would most likely be subject to administrative discipline. It’s still not a crime.

But Trump and obedient Republicans have to switch focus to something other than possible Russia collusion, so “unmasking” is their go-to.  In the recent subpoenas sent out by the House Intelligence Committee, half of them were related to investigations of “improper unmasking.”

Never mind that these allegations have already been thoroughly debunked. In April, numerous media outlets, citing both Republican and Democratic congressional sources, reported that intelligence reports pertaining to the communications of Trump’s advisers with foreign agents were “normal and appropriate” and contained “no evidence of wrongdoing.”

Even Trump is pimping the unmasking. His tweet today:

It’s really not.  As I said, even improper unmasking is an administrative slap on the wrist.

But Trump has a bigger problem.  Pushing the “unmasking and surveillance” line only leads to more information about why requests were made. And when that information comes to the surface, well, that’s a path that’s been harmful to Trump’s cause thus far.

I don’t think he sees that many moves ahead.

Trump Loses In Federal Court…. Again…. This Time on Sanctuary Cities

A federal district court ruling yesterday bars President Trump from withholding funds from jurisdictions that refuse to cooperate with federal agencies to deport undocumented immigrants, marking his second setback in court on immigration.  The first setback, of course, was his Muslim ban.

Before I get to the substance of this post, first things first:

No, it wasn’t the Ninth Circuit that ruled against Donald — it was a federal district court — one level down.  Yes, the court is within the Ninth Circuit, but it isn’t the ACTUAL Ninth Circuit court itself.  So the next stop isn’t the Supreme Court, it’s the Ninth Circuit.

Also, it wasn’t JUST the Ninth Circuit that ruled against Trump’s Muslim ban; it was a federal district court in Maryland.  And Massachusetts, I believe, as well.

*Sigh*.  He apparently thinks you sue a circuit court when you don’t like a decision.

Look, the opinion was a no-brainer.

Trump’s order, signed Jan. 25, threatened to cut off funding from local governments that refuse to cooperate with immigration authorities. Santa Clara County and the city of San Francisco challenged the order, arguing, among other things, that the president doesn’t have the power to withhold federal money.

They’re right. He doesn’t.

The 49-page ruling focused largely on an all-too-familiar theme for this administration: the consequences of bragging and bluster by Trump and top administration officials.

Just like the judges who ruled on Trump’s travel ban, Judge Orrick homed in on the vast discrepancies between what government lawyers defending the sanctuary cities order argued in court and what administration officials said about it in public.

In court, the government tried to make the case that the order doesn’t actually do anything, at least not at the moment, because the administration has yet to define what exactly a sanctuary city is or threaten any particular jurisdiction with a loss of funds.  It was their way of convincing the judge to toss out the lawsuit on the grounds that no city or county has yet suffered any harm.

The problem with that approach is that administration officials boasted about how the order would force sanctuary cities to their knees, singling out particular places.  So, in court, the Trump lawyers argued that it was essentially an empty shell even though it was portrayed in news conferences, briefings and television interviews as a powerful tool to protect the public from dangerous undocumented immigrants being shielded by wayward cities and counties.

Fine,said, Judge Orrick. If the order is powerless, then surely you won’t mind if I impose this injunction which prevents you from actually doing anything. So that’s what he did.

I somehow don’t think Trump was briefed about that, because he is treating it as a loss.  Which it IS, but it’s just what his lawyers argued.

According to Orrick, the government contended that the order was merely an example of Trump using the “bully pulpit” to “highlight a changed approach to immigration enforcement” — in essence, something much more benign than what Trump and company had described.

The argument was lost on the judge, who ridiculed the government’s position as “schizophrenic.”

“If there was doubt about the scope of the Order, the President and Attorney General have erased it with their public comments,” Orrick wrote.

“Is the Order merely a rhetorical device,” he added, “or a ‘weapon’ to defund the Counties and those who have implemented a different law enforcement strategy than the Government currently believes is desirable?”

The ruling continued: “The statements of the President, his press secretary and the Attorney General belie the Government’s argument in the briefing that the Order does not change the law. They have repeatedly indicated an intent to defund sanctuary jurisdictions in compliance with the Executive Order.”

Here is the decision.  If you do nothing else, read the last paragraph.

The Terrorist You Won’t Hear About

A terrorist armed with guns and a thousand round of ammunition failed in his attempt to go on a shooting spree in America, killing and wounding unknown numbers.

You don’t about this story, because he failed in his attempt.

And also, because the terrorist is a right wing white guy:

The FBI arrested an alleged right-wing extremist who had amassed 1,000 rounds of ammunition and was said to be plotting a mass shooting.

A complaint filed in federal court and obtained by the Statesman on Monday stated that a search warrant was executed on the home of 50-year-old Steven Thomas Boehle after a confidential informant said that he was planning a shooting spree.

According to the complaint, Boehle “exhibits sovereign citizen extremism ideology.”

Although Boehle is prohibited from owning firearms due to a 1993 assault on a intimate partner, three guns were found in his home.

He was charged with making false statements about his criminal history while trying to buy additional firearms from gun dealers in the Austin area.

When people factor their sense of national security and views on firearms, they don’t factor in stories like this because these stories don’t get widespread coverage. The FBI doesn’t take a bow. Maybe they should.

Twitter Pushes Back On Trump Administration

Twitter filed a lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Customs and Border Protection today. Twitter seeks an injunction barring them from asking for the identity of the person behind @alt_uscis.

It’s not clear what legal reason the Trump administration is seeking to identify @alt_uscis.  The @alt_uscis bio states: “Immigration resistance . Team 2.0 1/2 Not the views of DHS or USCIS. Old fellow drank russian soup.”  It could be a now-fired USCIS employee and they are looking for a leak, or maybe they just don’t like criticism.

Anyway, it is going to put this administration (as well as social media resistance) to a test.  Keep your eyes open.

Yeah, I Admit That I Just Emailed Rachel Maddow

I know you get a lot of email, which means I only have a few seconds to grab your interest.  Here I go…

WHY AREN’T YOU DOING A COMPLETE SHOW ON EZRA COHEN-WATKINS?
Let me bullet-point it for you:
  • Reminder: ECW is the 30-year-old White House aide — the NSC’s senior director of intelligence who started his own ‘review’ of surveillance intercepts of the Trump transition, took his findings to the White House Counsel’s office only to get told to stop. [Source: AP]

  • Although reports say that Michael Ellis and a third person gave the unmasked intel to Nunes, it seems obvious that ECW gathered this information in his ‘review’ [Source: NYT]
  • ECW is a Flynn protege [Source: NYT, above]

  • McMaster wanted ECW out, but Bannon and Kushner intervened [Source: NYT, above]  (Isn’t that intervention unusual? Why those two? Where is the Chief of Staff in all this?)

  • ECW has no face. (No, seriously. You can’t find a picture of him online, which doesn’t mean anything, but is fun/weird)

  • His wife works for a D.C. public relations firm. Her client is… Russia. [Source: a reputable blog, but I think your staff should try to confirm.]

Now the heavy stuff that nobody seems to be talking about (save perhaps Nancy LeTourneau at the Washington Monthly this morning)

  • In order to unmask a document, one needs the approval of the underlying intel agency that masked the document in the first place. Furthermore, once unmasked, you cannot share that unmasked information with another person unless it relates and is necessary to the purposes of your briefing, etc.  And finally, if you are going to share that information outside of your branch of government (say, with a congressional committee) you need to go BACK to then intel agency for further approval.  (I heard this many times last night and I believe Susan Rice said this as well.  Transcripts aren’t available yet, but someone can find this out).

  • This begs the question: regardless of why ECW got the unmasked information (i.e., on whose authority, if anybody), he would have to get permission from the underlying intel agency to share it.  Question: Did ECW follow intel protocol with the unmasked information that he obtained? Did anyone in the White House? (I suspect not)

  • Regardless of whether he got permission to share, ECW really really appears to be a leaker — or a link in within a “leak chain”  — is he not?  He cannot be a whistleblower — for that, he would have to expose wrongdoing. But even conservative news outlets acknowledge that Rice’s unmasking was perfectly legal.  So my questions are: Why hasn’t he been brought in for questioning? Why does he still have (as far as we know) security clearance?
Okay, that’s my quick pitch.

Thanks for your time.  I enjoy your show (obviously), but I won’t fanboy here.

7th Circuit: LGBTQ Discrimination IS Sex Discrimination

It’s not definitive, but this is a huge step. The Seventh Circuit ruled 8-3 that a woman who was denied a job because she was a lesbian had a cause of action under Title VII.  Title VII is the civil rights law which prevents workplace discrimination on the basis of sex, race, color, national origin, and religion. It generally applies to employers with 15 or more employees, including federal, state, and local governments. Congress has frequently considered amending Title VII to add the words “sexual orientation” to the list of prohibited characteristics, yet it has never done so.

In an opinion which many critics will call “legislating from the bench”, the 7th Circuit majority in Hively v. Ivy Tech Community College of Indiana, ruled that Title VII discrimination is applicable because “it would require considerable calisthenics to remove the ‘sex’ from ‘sexual orientation. ‘”  This is undeniably true.  If Ms. Hively had been a man with a preference for women, there would have been no issue with her being hired.  But she is a woman.  Therefore, this has to do with gender.

The dissent argues, predictably:

[Plaintiff’s attorney] is advancing a creative new legal argument for reinterpreting Title VII, deploying the comparative method not as a method of proof (its normal and intended function) but as a thought experiment with the end of imbuing the statute with a new meaning that it did not bear at its inception.

That’s a rather typical conservative judicial interpretation (unless we are talking about the word “arms” in the Second Amendment).

Anyway, this is a big step forward, and I expect that the Supreme Court will visit this soon.  Here is the full opinion:

Wow! Fox News And The White House Are Going Full Bore On This Susan Rice Thing!

It is amazing how the goalposts have moved from Trump’s initial tweets on March 10.  Let’s look at them again:

Okay.

So Obama has now become Susan Rice, Obama’s National Security Adviser.

“Wiretap” has become “names unmasked”.

“Trump” and “Trump Tower”, the object(s) of the supposed “wiretap(p)”, is not Trump associates.

But other than those things — Trump was 100% correct when he said “Obama wiretapped me”.

Here’s what we do FOR A FACT: Susan Rice — who was the NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER — sought to unmask intelligence a lot.  When she or anybody else does this, the N.S.A. uses a two-part test to evaluate unmasking requests: “Is there a valid need to know in the course of the execution of their official duties?” and “Is the identification necessary to truly understand the context of the intelligence value that the report is designed to generate?”

The answer to these questions is often yes. “Masking and unmasking happens every single day, dozens of times, or hundreds of times. I don’t even know the numbers,” Jim Himes, a Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, told me. “There needs to be a process followed. It’s a fairly rigorous process, involving lots of review by counsels and that sort of thing.”

There is an audit trail for these requests and the responses.  Which means that if Susan Rice was abusing this process, she did a terrible job of covering it up. All Trump’s aides had to do to discover her alleged abuse was to review logs on a White House computer that tracked her requests.

And while Republicans are targeting Rice, recklessly asserting that she spied on Trump’s campaign, their attacks also implicate the N.S.A., which would have had to determine that the intercepts had “intelligence value,” and then to approve any unmasking based on its two criteria: that Rice had “a valid need to know” the identities of masked names and that unmasking was necessary to understand the report.

And they love that it is Rice, because Rice was also involved in the non-scandal called Benghazi.

So it seems the political winds may be shifting on this story, or at least blowing in a slightly more favorable direction for the White House. But unless firm evidence of any actual wrongdoing emerges, these partial revelations, some favorable to the president and some unfavorable, are probably mostly a distraction, or at least a way to while away time, until the real news emerges from the congressional or FBI investigations.

Let’s set aside that his “story” emanates from Mike Cernovich, the man who made up stories that there is an child-sex ring literally underground at a Washington, D.C. pizza restaurant.  Let’s also set aside the fact there is nothing there.  Just don’t believe the Fox hype.

UPDATE:  The Wall Street Journal gets in on the act, with its editorial board issuing a blistering op-ed on Tuesday morning:

All this is highly unusual — and troubling. Unmasking does occur, but it is typically done by intelligence or law-enforcement officials engaged in anti-terror or espionage investigations. Ms. Rice would have had no obvious need to unmask Trump campaign officials other than political curiosity.

I can think of a need. And it is obvious. If the Russians were hacking the DNC and attempting to sabotage the election (which was known at the time by Rice), and Trump campaign officials were meeting and talking with Russian agents (which was known at the time by Rice), then I can understand why she might want that information unmasked.

Rice spoke to MSNBC shortly and said she didn’t use any such intelligence for political purposes.

“The allegation is that somehow Obama administration officials utilized intelligence for political purposes; that’s absolutely false,” she said. She added: “I leaked nothing to nobody, and never have and never would.”

She confirmed that such unmasking was part of her duties as national security adviser, without referring to specific cases.

“That’s necessary for me to do my job,” she said. “It’s necessary for the secretary of state, or the secretary of defense, or the CIA director to do their jobs. We can’t be passive consumers of this information and not — and do our jobs effectively to protect the American people. Imagine if we saw something of grave significance that involved Russia, or China, or anybody else, interfering in our political process and we needed to understand the significance of that. For us not to try to understand it would be dereliction of duty.”

Right.  And It’s circular logic. If Rice didn’t know who was on the calls how could it be a political attack? On the other hand if Trumps people hadn’t been talking to Russian operatives they wouldn’t have been recorded.

UPDATE AGAIN — CNN’s Chris Cuomo gets it:

CNN anchor Chris Cuomo told viewers on Tuesday that the controversy surrounding former national security adviser Susan Rice is “another fake scandal being peddled by right-wing media.”

Cuomo offered the remarks about Rice’s reported request to know the identities of President Trump transition team members mentioned in intelligence briefings during CNN’s “New Day.”

Rice has been accused of unmasking the Trump transition members.

“So President Trump wants you to believe that he is the victim of a ‘crooked scheme,’ ” Cuomo began. “Those are his words. And here are our words: There is no evidence of any wrongdoing.”

“And, in fact, if anything the [national security adviser] asking for identities was a reflection of exactly how much traffic there was involving Trump people and foreign players,” Cuomo continued.

“The White House blasting the press for not reporting on another fake scandal being peddled by right-wing media.”

The HB2 Repeal: Is It As Bad As Everyone Says?

Well, I find myself in the awkward position of disagreeing with friends, colleagues, and organizations that I respect (like the ACLU, of which I have been an active member for 24 years). That’s not fun. The issue? House Bill 142.

For those living under a rock, HB142 is the bill passed by the North Carolina General Assembly and signed into law by Governor Cooper yesterday. It attempts to repeal HB2 — the heinous “transgender bathroom bill” —  and more importantly (from some people’s perspective) appease the NCAA which has threatened to ban North Carolina from holding any tournaments due to HB2.

To read some of the headlines, you would think HB142 lines up transgender people and shoots them. “The HB2 “Repeal” Bill Is an Unmitigated Disaster for LGBTQ Rights and North Carolina” screams Slate. Reverend Barber calls it “an insult to civil rights“.  The ACLU says: “there is no repeal of the anti-trans HB2, only more discrimination“.

Really? There’s actually been NO repeal AT ALL?  There’s MORE discrimination?  What am I missing?  Am I the one who is crazy?

Quite possibly. But right now, I honestly believe HB 142 is a fairly decent compromise.  And it’s quite possible that the resistance may be overplaying this victory by casting as a loss.

Those who do this are wrong in my view.  HB142 is not HB2.0.

Let’s get a few things out of the way:

First, this was always going to be a compromise bill. Republicans rule the North Carolina General Assembly.  So if you expected a civil rights bill ON TOP OF a repeal of HB2, then somebody sold you a lie.  And it wasn’t Governor Cooper. Now, it is perfectly reasonable to demand that the law protect transgender people (as well as gay, bisexual, queer, etc. people). *I* demand that. But those things do not come in a day.  They just don’t. We’re STILL working on racial inequality for crying out loud.  The exercise here — with this bill — was not to get the law to protect transgender people, but to get the law to stop discriminating against them.  So if you are in the “all or nothing, today” camp, stop reading, because I practice the art of the possible, and nothing I say going forward will please you (in fact, it will likely infuriate you).

Secondly, to those who say that HB 142 doesn’t do enough — well, of course not. Again — it is a compromise bill. I have no reason to think that Roy Cooper or Senator Jackson or the others did not hammer out the best deal possible.  Again, it wasn’t intended to resolve the issue of transgender rights for all time.

Finally, I personally could not give a damn about the NCAA and where tournaments are held. I think the loss of jobs to the state are, and should be, a concern.  Same with the loss of state “prestige”. But the bottom line for me is civil rights. For me, that overshadows everything.  That’s the yardstick I am using here to measure the success, or lack thereof, of HB142 in comparison to HB2. So please don’t question my motive. I want what the ACLU and the LGBTQ community and all lovers of civil rights want – full stop, period.

That said, HB2 is dead. Can I get an “amen”?

Bueller?

Bueller?

If you read some of these articles (or scan the headlines) you would think HB2 is not dead, or that it had been supplemented with worse stuff.  So let’s break this down and discuss what HB142 — now the law — actually does.  Because it’s short, I’ll insert the entire text:

Okay, so is HB2 repealed? Yes. It’s right there in English.  Section One. Statutory Laws 2016-3 — which is HB2 — is repealed.  Click the link. Read what HB2 was.  It was a lot!  It’s gone now.

So let’s move to the NCAA gripes, because it was in plain non-legalese English, and it will help explain what is no longer.  Here, specifically, is the reason the NCAA singled out North Carolina for the proposed ban (from the NCAA website):

The board stressed that the dynamic in North Carolina is different from that of other states because of at least four specific factors: 

  • North Carolina laws invalidate any local law that treats sexual orientation as a protected class or has a purpose to prevent discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender individuals. 
  • North Carolina has the only statewide law that makes it unlawful to use a restroom different from the gender on one’s birth certificate, regardless of gender identity.  
  • North Carolina law provides legal protections for government officials to refuse services to the LGBT community. 
  • Five states plus numerous cities prohibit travel to North Carolina for public employees and representatives of public institutions, which could include student-athletes and campus athletics staff. These states are New York, Minnesota, Washington, Vermont and Connecticut. 

The second and third factors are gone. HB142 wiped them out with the stroke of a pen.  The fourth factor relies on those other cities, but they will presumably permit travel to North Carolina now.

That’s not nothing.  That’s something.  That’s a victory.  Can we acknowledge that?

To be sure, it returns us to the status quo — i.e., the time Charlotte’s ordinance protecting those with non-conforming gender identity. Is the government working to protect the transgender community from discrimination?  Nope.  But now the government is not doing the actual discrimination itself, and, yes, that is big.

It’s like desegregating the public water fountains, even though the business-owned lunch counters remain segregated.  It’s NOT “nothing”; it’s NOT “worse”. It’s an improvement.

What about the NCAA’s first factor and the argument that HB142 does not allow Charlotte and other communities to pass laws protecting the transgender community (at least until 2020)?  I shake my head at that argument, and this is where I think most people have it wrong. We shouldn’t WANT local municipalities to have the power to “enact or amend an ordinance regulating private employment practices or regulating private public accommodation”.

Why not?

Because hundreds of communities in North Carolina will take the opportunity to stick it to the LGBTQ community.

What’s the point of repealing HB2 if Apex, North Carolina (for example) can turn around and pass its own version next week?  You see, not every community in North Carolina is as enlightened as Charlotte or Raleigh or Asheville.  In fact, most aren’t (drive through East Carolina one day).  And LGBTQ people are everywhere in North Carolina. Taking legislative power away from local municipalities was a feature, not a bug.

Also, it is better off if the battlefield is the state legislature — ONE state legislature — rather than hundreds of cities, town, incorporated settlements, etc.  The “resistance” lacks the resources to fight the transgender discrimination issue in every NC municipality and win. Leaving invidious prejudicial treatment to the whims of local legislatures would allow pockets of prejudice to exist for decades (see, for example, the school district in Mississippi which finally became racially desegregated this month!)

What happens in 2020, when the prohibition is lifted?  In truth, it matters little.  The provision to kick the can down the road wasn’t meant to postpone justice.  And it certainly wasn’t meant to postpone injustice.  It just acknowledges reality — that no matter what the state legislature does, it will end up in the courts, as everything does with civil rights.

Put another way — you’re not going to end discrimination against the transgender community completely until a court says so. End of story. You can’t legislate “equal protection under the law” because it is a constitutional/legal issue, not a political one.  And by 2020, these issues will have been worked out.

Yes, it is true that repealing HB2 probably killed North Carolina lawsuits against HB2 (rendered them moot).  But there are plenty of other lawsuits out there, most notably, Grimm v. Gloucester County School Board, regarding the 17 year old transgender male student in a Virginia high school. Sent back down to the Fourth Circuit from the U.S. Supreme Court a few weeks ago, it is likely to go back up as soon as the Fourth Circuit decides (both sides are likely to appeal).  And the outcome there will govern what happens in North Carolina — mostly likely in 2019.

So what do we have to be upset about?  HB2 is no more. HB2-like discrimination cannot sneak in through the back door via local legislatures.  And everything is on hold until the courts resolve this, which they were going to do anyway.  It hasn’t slowed down the litigation track.

“Justice delayed is justice denied” is a maxim used by Martin Luther King, Jr., but dates back to William Penn and even the Magna Carta. I wholly acknowledge that transgender people have every reason to be anxious and upset that the guarantee of their civil rights were not met on March 30, 2017.  I don’t know who or what led them to believe the a Democratic governor in a mostly-conservative state could deliver them their rightful legal protections in one fell swoop.

But if they are angry, then I say good.  They need to be; everyone needs to be.  But nobody should feel defeated by HB142, as many do.  The system works, albeit slowly, and if you don’t remind people every once in a while of their victories, then cynicism wins.  And when cynicism wins, corruption and prejudice is not far behind.

This goes in the win column, and we need to remain vigilant. THAT’S my point.  I ask permission to revise and extend my remarks as needed.

Disdain For Democracy

Worse than lying, says Greg Sargeant:

Trump is enraged at being subjected to a system of democratic and institutional constraints, for which he has signaled nothing but absolute, unbridled contempt. The system is pushing back, and he can’t bear it.

On Monday morning, the latest chapter in this tale — Trump’s unsupported accusation that Obama wiretapped his phones — took another turn. Trump’s spokeswoman said on ABC News that Trump does not accept FBI Director James Comey’s claim — which was reported on over the weekend — that no such wiretapping ever happened.

As E.J. Dionne writes, this episode is a “tipping point” in the Trump experiment. Trump leveled the charge based on conservative media. Then, after an internal search for evidence to back it up produced nothing, the White House press secretary called on Congress to investigate it and declared the administration’s work done. While the previous administration did wiretap, the problem is the recklessness and baselessness of Trump’s specific allegations, and the White House’s insistence that the burden of disproving them must fall on others — on Congress and on the FBI. Trump’s allegations must be humored at all costs, simply because he declared them to be true — there can be no admission of error, and worse, the White House has declared itself liberated from the need to even pretend to have evidence to back up even Trump’s most explosive claims.

This is more than disdain for the truth. It represents profound contempt for our democratic and institutional processes. In this sense, it’s only the latest in what has become a broader pattern:

  • When the media accurately reported on Trump’s inaugural crowd sizes, the White House not only contested this on the substance in a laughably absurd manner. It also accused the press of intentionally diminishing Trump’s crowd count, thus trying to delegitimize the news media’s institutional act of holding Trump accountable to factual reality.
  • Trump has tweeted that the media is the “enemy of the American people” and has accused the media of covering up terrorist plots. Stephen K. Bannon has railed against the press as “the opposition party.” Trump gave a recent speech heavily devoted to attacking the media, once again for deliberately and knowingly misleading Americans. All this goes far beyond merely questioning the media’s role as an arbiter of truth.
  • After getting elected, Trump continued to repeat the lie that millions voted illegally in the election, undermining faith in American democracy. When the media called out this falsehood, the White House threatened an investigation to prove it true, which hasn’t materialized, in effect using the vow of investigations as nothing more than a tool to obfuscate efforts to hold him accountable.
  • After a court blocked Trump’s travel ban, Trump questioned the institutional legitimacy of the “so-called judge” in question. He also cast the stay as a threat to our security, even though the ban has no credible national security rationale, something that has now been demonstrated by leaks from the Department of Homeland Security (exactly the sort of leaking that has Trump in a fury). Senior adviser Stephen Miller flatly declared that the ban would be reintroduced in part to demonstrate that Trump’s national security power “will not be questioned,” thus declaring the explicit goal of sweeping away institutional checks on it. And then the White House delayed introduction of the new ban in order to continue basking in good press from his speech to Congress, thus undercutting its own claim that this is an urgent national security matter.
  • Trump continues to hold court at Mar-a-Lago, using the power of the presidency to promote his own resort, whose membership fees sink money into his own pockets. The White House publicly intervened in a business dispute involving Trump’s daughter and even tried to steer customers her way, an act which Kellyanne Conway embellished by cheerfully sticking a rhetorical middle finger in the face of anyone who finds such behavior troubling.

We’re witnessing a level of total disdain for basic democratic and institutional processes that defies description, and perhaps calls for a new vocabulary. But the story does not end here. As Benjamin Wittes and Quinta Jurecic explain in a great piece, the almost comical lack of good faith that Trump and the White House are showing toward our processes is inspiring an escalation in institutional pushback — from the courts, the media, government leakers, and civil society — that is having much more of a constraining effect than Trump ever could have anticipated. Indeed, the Trump White House’s ongoing conduct is itself producing the very systemic resistance that now has Trump in such a rage.

Another Doc Dump – Indictment Against Dude Threatening JCCs

The rash of threats against Jewish Community Centers appears to be partly solved [UPDATE: Very partly. We’re only talking about 10% of the threats and vandalism seen nationwide lately]. Federal G-men arrested Juan Michael for making threats against many JCCs in an attempt to stalk/frame his ex-girlfriend. He appears to be a copycat though. Still, scary dude.

Who’s Sorry Now?

On July 25, 2015, Joe Torres and Kayla Norton, joined about a dozen other people in a convoy of pickup trucks waving large Confederate flags as they drove around Douglas County, a suburban Atlanta community. Most of them belonged to a group called “Respect the Flag.”

This was only a few weeks after Dylann Roof attended a prayer service at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, then shot and killed nine people, all African Americans.

The convoy of trucks passed by the victim’s residence where the victims were grilling hot dogs and hamburgers while hosting a child’s birthday party featuring a bouncy castle, snow-cone machines, and a DJ.  They yelled racial slurs.

The drivers parked the trucks near the house and the slurs continued. Torres retrieved a shotgun from his vehicle, pointed his shotgun at the group of African American party-goers and stated he was going to kill them while his friends stated that “the little ones can get one too,” referring to the young children at the party.

Norton was accused of making similar threats. The victims said some member of Torres’ group was armed with a knife and a tire tool.

Most of the group was arrested and made some sort of plea deal.  But Torres and Norton were sentenced yesterday. Torres was sentenced to 20 years, with 13 years in prison, after a jury convicted him on three counts of aggravated assault, one count of making terroristic threats and one count of violating of Georgia’s Street Gang Terrorism and Prevention Act.  Kayla Norton was sentenced to 15 years, with six years in prison. She was convicted on one count of making terroristic threats and one count of violation of the Street Gang Act.

Look how sad they are.

I suspect they weren’t sad until they actually got caught.

At the sentencing hearing, Kayla Norton apologized for her role in the incident saying, “I want you all to know that is not me. That is not me, that is not him. I would never walk up to you and say those words to you. I’m so sorry that happened to you. I am so sorry.”

The problem is that she did walk up and say those words.

Oh well. No sympathy here. Actions have consequences.  I’m sure they will make many friends among the mixed-race populations in prison.

Lot Of Hypocrisy About Leaks

The Pentagon Papers was a leak from Daniel Ellsberg. It helped de-legitimize the Vietnam War.

Deep Throat was Mark Felt, a top FBI official. He gave Woodward and Bernstein the deep background on the Watergate scandal.

Edward Snowden leaked information about US government surveillance programs.

Chelsea Manning leaked documents and video relating to Iraqi air strikes, diplomatic cables, and Gitmo, most of which did not put the US in good light.

Vice President Cheney outed Valerie Plame as a CIA operative in order to exact revenge on her husband, a critic of the Bush Iraq War policy.

To most people, one of more of these people are heroes — one of the “good guys”.  But they were all leakers.

Everybody constructs reasons for leaks they like and leaks they don’t like. But it is hard to come up with a non-hypocritical reason for distinguishing “good leaks” from “bad leaks”.

We’re at a remarkable point in history where the president accuses his own intelligence community of working against him, as exhibited by his tweetstorm this morning:

What sounds hollow about all this is that Trump was totally fine — in fact he PRAISED — Wikileaks when it printed the John Podesta emails.

I know, I know. The Podesta emails weren’t technically leaks.  They were hacks by the Russians.  But doesn’t that make it WORSE?  Think about it.  The President is fine with Russian intelligence stealing secured information and making it public — in fact he encouraged it! — but he’s upset about “illegal” leaks from American intelligence sources?

It really does beg the question — whose side is the President on?  At best, it cements the notion that he is in the pocket of Russia.

Redstate’s Patterico’s Analysis of the 9th Circuit Decision Against Trump

Don’t normally quote from the conservative Redstate blog, and I rarely agree with Patterico (the author) on anything.  But this analysis is so good — so spot on — that I am reprinting it in full:

As you have no doubt heard, the Ninth Circuit today issued an opinion upholding the District Court’s TRO halting much of Trump’s order on immigration. This post analyzes the decision, which can be read here. Throughout, I’ll grade my own previous predictionsabout the ruling.

My overall impression is that this is a sound legal ruling — and that Donald Trump is personally to blame for it. By allowing Steve Bannon & Co. to write the order in a sloppy and overbroad manner, and further allowing them to decide that it applied to green card holders, Trump issued an the order that was bound to fail.

Perusing Twitter tonight, I see that many people who support the policy behind the order (as I do), but who have not followed the legal arguments closely, are saying this is just another leftist Ninth Circuit decision. But the order is a unanimous “per curiam” (through the court) ruling. It was joined by a judge appointed by George W. Bush who, at oral argument, expressed skepticism towards the idea that the order was motivated by religious bias, and seemed receptive to the argument that these countries might pose a threat.

The Twitter lawyers point out that this was not a ruling on the merits — and that’s right . . . but the merits still factored into the decision. A subtle point — brought up in the oral argument but missed by many observers — is that once the District Court entered the injunction, the burden shifted to the Government to show on appeal that it was likely to win in the trial court. The Court held that the Government had failed to make that showing. This portion of the ruling, then, does relate to the merits. The Court also held that the Government failed to show irreparable injury, since the TRO put the U.S. back in the same state of affairs that had existed for years.

According to the opinion, the executive order’s principal potential flaw was that it may have deprived a substantial number of people of due process, in three ways (the following paragraph describes the states’ arguments, which the Government failed to rebut for purposes of this appeal):

First, section 3(c) denies re-entry to certain lawful permanent residents and non-immigrant visaholders without constitutionally sufficient notice and an opportunity to respond. Second, section 3(c) prohibits certain lawful permanent residents and non-immigrant visaholders from exercising their separate and independent constitutionally protected liberty interests in travelling abroad and thereafter re-entering the United States. Third, section 5 contravenes the procedures provided by federal statute for refugees seeking asylum and related relief in the United States.

The decision to interpret the order as applying to lawful permanent residents was reportedly made by Trump advisers Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller. This was clearly the most troubling aspect of the order to the judges — as well as the aspect of the order that stood out to most objective observers as the dumbest part of the order. As I said in my analysis of the oral argument: “I think even Judge Clifton would be on board with staying the executive order to the extent it applies to LPRs [lawful permanent residents].” What I didn’t predict outright was that Judge Clifton would find this enough to join an opinion upholding the entire TRO; I had expected that he would file a concurring opinion agreeing that the TRO was appropriate as applied to LPRs, but only as to LPRs.

The Government argued that the issue of the application of the executive order to LPRs was moot, because the White House counsel had interpreted the order as not covering LPRs. But the court was not convinced, noting that the White House counsel is not the President — and, since the Administration had given so many contradictory statements on this point, nobody can be certain that they won’t apply it to green card holders again:

[I]n light of the Government’s shifting interpretations of the Executive Order, we cannot say that the current interpretation by White House counsel, even if authoritative and binding, will persist past the immediate stage of these proceedings

Basically, the court said the order is clearly illegal in denying re-entry to LPRs and non-immigrant visa holders, and they aren’t going to rewrite the order (or let the White House counsel rewrite it) to conform to the law. That’s the President’s job. The court said that the Government’s different proposals for limiting the scope of the TRO still resulted in potential due process violations.

The lack of due process for LPRs was the central aspect of the opinion, and it was completely avoidable. The fault lies with Donald Trump.

As to the argument that Trump was targeting Muslims, the Court’s language seemed carefully crafted to maintain the unanimous nature of the opinion. I predicted there were two votes for a finding of possible religious discrimination, based on Trump’s repeated statements during the campaign that he wanted a Muslim ban — but Judge Clifton was clearly skeptical of this claim. The Court dealt with this by saying: “The States’ claims raise serious allegations and present significant constitutional questions” (language clearly inserted by Judges Canby and Friedland) but refused to use this as a ground to uphold the TRO, instead reserving the issue for later, after further litigation in the District Court (an evident concession to Judge Clifton to get him on board with this opinion).

This means that Donald Trump’s mouthing off about a Muslim ban wasn’t the reason for today’s decision — but it could still have legal consequences down the line.

In other aspects more of interest to lawyers than others, the court (as predicted) found standing based on the states’ proprietary interests, and treated the injunction as an appealable preliminary injunction rather than a TRO proper, because of the length of the briefing schedule. (These are also aspects I predicted correctly based on the oral arguments.)

In summary, this is a solid legal opinion and I don’t see it being reversed by the Ninth Circuit en banc or by the U.S. Supreme Court. The judges did their jobs and they did them well. They won’t get a lot of credit for this from political partisans, but they’ll get it from me.

Yup.

Redstate by the way is now a conservative blog in exile. In a world of Brietbarts and Infowars, it remains a bastion of logical reasoned conservatism.  It is a credible opposition to the progressivism that I espouse — with emphasis on the word “credible”.

Here, for posterity’s sake, is the full opinion:

Former NC Governor Pat McCrory Needs Protection From Words

News & Observer:

Does former North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory need protection? Do all current and former public officials? At least one state senator thinks so.

After a video was posted on Facebook Friday showing a group of people following McCrory during a trip to Washington, D.C., for inaugural weekend, chanting “Shame!” and calling him a bigot, Sen. Dan Bishop of Charlotte says he’ll introduce legislation to protect public officials.

The proposed legislation would “make it a crime to threaten, intimidate, or retaliate against a present or former North Carolina official in the course of, or on account of, the performance of his or her duties,” Bishop said.

“Because lines are being crossed,” Bishop, a Republican who represents the 39th District in the North Carolina Senate, wrote in an email from his Senate campaign account.

Bishop was one of the sponsors of House Bill 2, or “the bathroom bill” which McCrory signed into law. The bill was criticized for nullifying local non-discrimination ordinances statewide, directing transgender people to use restrooms and locker rooms matching the gender on their birth certificate in government-owned buildings and initially revoking the right to sue in state court for discrimination.

Bishop calls the group of people of indeterminate number “a chanting mob” and “ubiquitous leftist rioters” and wonders whether the “mob fell upon the former governor by coincidence or if they stalked him.”

Bishop said such behavior should come with a five-year prison sentence and said he’ll introduce the legislation to make it so in North Carolina, similar to an ordinance in the District of Columbia.

“So should it be in North Carolina,” he wrote. “This is dangerous. Jim Hunt, Bev Purdue and other governors never faced riotous mobs in their post-service, private lives, without personal security.”

Bishop said he also will urge his fellow legislators “to take other appropriate steps to guarantee the personal safety of Gov. McCrory by all means necessary.”

This is the video:

Now, whatever you think of the McCrory or the protesters, there is this little thing called the First Amendment.  But I won’t lecture here.  This State Senator ought to know better.

Obama (Belatedly) Takes Action Against Russian Hackers

Moments ago, the Obama administration struck back at Russia, imposing sanctions against its intelligence apparatus and expelling 35 diplomats in retaliation for the alleged orchestration of hacking attacks designed to interfere in the presidential election.

The sweeping actions outlined by the White House three weeks before the new administration takes office include:

  • Shutting down two compounds, one in in Maryland and one in New York, “used by Russian personnel for intelligence-related purposes.”
  • Sanctions against the Russian intelligence services GRU and FSB, and four high-ranking officers of the GRU. The sanctions are also aimed at two suspected hackers, including one wanted by the FBI in two other cases, and three companies that allegedly provided support to the GRU’s cyber operations.
  • Releasing technical information about Russian cyber activity, “to help network defenders in the United States and abroad identify, detect, and disrupt Russia’s global campaign of malicious cyber activities.”

“These actions follow repeated private and public warnings that we have issued to the Russian government, and are a necessary and appropriate response to efforts to harm U.S. interests in violation of established international norms of behavior,” President Obama said in a statement.

In his statement, Obama said the U.S. had declared 35 Russian “intelligence operatives” persona non grata. The State Department said the 35 are diplomats “who were acting in a manner inconsistent with their diplomatic or consular status” and accused Russia of harassing U.S. diplomats overseas.

As of noon on Friday, the U.S. also will bar Russian access to two Moscow-owned “recreational compounds,” the White House said. No further detail was provided, but since 1972, the Russians have owned a historic estate overlooking the Chester River in eastern Maryland. They also own a recreation facility in Glen Cove, Long Island.

The White House said the actions will go beyond those announced Thursday.

“We will continue to take a variety of actions at a time and place of our choosing, some of which will not be publicized,” Obama said in his statement.  Meaning, covert stuff.

Here’s a poster:

And here’s the FBI White Paper on the issue:

Paul Ryan throws in muted support saying, “While today’s action by the administration is overdue, it is an appropriate way to end eight years of failed policy with Russia. And it serves as a prime example of this administration’s ineffective foreign policy that has left America weaker in the eyes of the world.”

Moscow was quick to respond:

And whose side will President-elect Trump take? Obama’s?  Unlikely.  Ryan’s (“About time you terrible Obama person!”)?  Or Russia’s (“Nyet!!”)?

Anyone want to guess?

He’s quiet now but I doubt that’ll last.

UPDATE: