Tuesday Reads: Hide and Go Seek Authoritarian StylePosted: May 21, 2019
Good Morning Sky Dancers!
I woke up to electricity and drinkable water in the faucet so it’s a good day down here in New Orleans. That still doesn’t mean we’re not living in a Banana Republic these days. Folks are taking to the streets today in support of women and their doctors jointly deciding what health care is required. We also have a series of court cases on deck for refusal to do right by House Subpoenas.
Planned Parenthood, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Women’s March, NARAL Pro-Choice America and other groups are organizing nationwide demonstrations on Tuesday to protest the wave of new state laws banning abortion.
The “extreme bans on abortion [are] stripping away reproductive freedom and representing an all-out assault on abortion access,” the groups said on the “Stop The Bans” protest website.
Former White House Counsel Don McGahn defied a congressional subpoena Tuesday by declining to testify before the House Judiciary Committee at the direction of the White House.
The hearing room chair reserved for McGahn sat empty behind microphones, as committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler of New York opened the scheduled hearing.
“This conduct is not remotely acceptable,” Nadler said, referring to the White House’s instruction to McGahn not to appear. “Let me be clear: This committee will hear Mr. McGahn’s testimony, even if we have to go to court to secure it.”
“We will hold this president accountable — one way or the other,” Nadler said.
The New York Democrat had warned in a letter to McGahn late Monday night, “The committee has made clear that you risk serious consequences if you do not appear tomorrow.” The committee could hold McGahn in contempt.
The call for starting an impeachment inquiry is building as House Dems met in a closed meeting with Speaker Pelosi (Via Politico).
House Democratic leaders sparred internally on Monday over whether to begin an impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump, with Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her allies rejecting the call to move forward for now, according to multiple sources.
Reps. David Cicilline of Rhode Island, Jamie Raskin of Maryland and Joe Neguse of Colorado — all members of Democratic leadership — pushed to begin impeachment proceedings during a leadership meeting in Pelosi’s office, said the sources. Pelosi and Reps. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut, Ben Ray Luján of New Mexico, Hakeem Jeffries of New York and Cheri Bustos of Illinois — some of her key allies — rejected their calls, saying Democrats’ message is being drowned out by the fight over possibly impeaching Trump.
Raskin — a former law professor — said he wasn’t advocating impeaching Trump but suggested that opening an impeachment inquiry would strengthen their legal position while allowing Democrats to move forward with their legislative agenda.
Pelosi dismissed this argument, asking Raskin whether he wanted to shut down the other five committees working on Trump investigations in favor of the Judiciary Committee.
“You want to tell Elijah Cummings to go home?” Pelosi quipped, referring to the chairman of the Oversight and Reform Committee.
And in a Democratic Steering and Policy Committee meeting, Rep. Steve Cohen of Tennessee stood up and demanded Trump’s impeachment. Pelosi then countered, “This is not about politics, it’s about what’s best for the American people,” said a member who attended the meeting.
Meanwhile, the Russian Potted Plant in the White House and his saplings continue to say they will fight all subpoenas. Let’s see how this works out as an appeal for yesterday’s court action will cross the desk of Judge Merrick Garland.
President Donald Trump’s attorneys have vowed to appeal Monday’s decision in favor of a House committee seeking his financial records, but people on Twitter were thrilled about where the case will end up.
“We will be filing a timely notice of appeal to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals,” Trump attorney Jay Sekulow told Politico.
Senate Republicans stalled the nomination, refusing to vote or even hold a hearing until after the presidential election. Trump won and appointed Neil Gorsuch instead, which meant Garland remained on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, where he could now play a role in the looming showdown between the president and House Democrats.
Cases are heard by panels of three judges randomly assigned, so Garland is not necessarily going to hear the appeal (unless the decision is reviewed by the full court). But, the irony of the situation was not lost on Twitter users:
In a pre-Trumpian world, this sequence of events would set off a political crisis. In the surreal landscape we inhabit, it barely registers. But it is worth noting that Trump continues to commit impeachable offenses at an unprecedented pace. Last night’s threats to make good on his “lock them up” promises are merely one more in another recent flurry. The space between Trump’s long-standing authoritarian rhetoric and the deployment of his powers of office is slowly collapsing on several fronts.
Consider some of the events of recent days. Sunday, the New York Timesrevealed that Deutsche Bank’s internal investigators raised concerns that the portfolios of Trump and his son-in-law Jared Kushner involved money laundering. Trump is suing Deutsche Bank to block it from complying with congressional investigators. The notion that the president is entitled to engage in red-flagged dealings with money launderers, and conceal it from Congress and the public, is a wild transgression of transparency norms.
The same day, the Times reported Trump is preparing pardons for several American war criminals. Trump has long fantasized about war crimes and human-rights violations as part of his idealized military, from repeating a fantasized historical account of General Pershing shooting Muslims with bullets dipped in pig’s blood to proposing that the United States seize Iraqi oil as spoils of war. His prospective pardoning of war criminals are steps toward institutionalizing this vision as de facto law.
Yesterday, the Washington Post reported that Michael Cohen told a closed House panel that Trump’s lawyer, Jay Sekulow, encouraged him to lie to Congress in 2017. Cohen’s lie concerned his handling of a deal to build a Trump-branded tower in Moscow. The subject of the lie is itself a massive scandal: Vladimir Putin, who habitually corrupts foreign politicians with bribes disguised as lucrative deals, was dangling a contract worth several hundred million dollars, with no financial risk or downside to Trump.
Cohen has testified that Trump encouraged him to lie by repeating, in his characteristic mobster code — “There’s no Russia” — a cover story both men knew to be false. (Trump of course signed the letter of intent for the Moscow Project.) The new report shows that Sekulow was involved in crafting his false testimony, and that, far from the president’s lawyer freelance ordering perjury, Cohen understood Trump to be working through Sekulow:
Marcy Wheeler is on fire about this. It’s not taking folks long to notice that the RNC wrote a big fat check to McGahn’s law firm. So, inquiring minds would naturally jump to a quid pro quo …
We also know that there are likely good reasons for Trump to be furiously trying to bury any attempt to get his full tax records. This is from WAPO and Catherine Rampell.
When you look at the short span of President Trump’s political career, one question jumps out: How much of his craziest, most paranoid and norm-violating behavior is motivated by a desire to keep his financial arrangements secret?
It began with Trump’s bizarre refusal to release his tax returns, in defiance of both a nearly half-century practice and Trump’s own promise that he’d do so.
Then there was his refusal to divest from his sprawling multinational empire, or even put it into a blind trust — either of which would have forced at least some information disclosure to a third party.
Also, his curious personnel priorities. Once it became clear that House Democrats would exercise their explicit statutory authority to get Trump’s tax returns from the Internal Revenue Service, Trump asked Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to prioritize confirmation of Trump’s IRS general counsel nominee ahead of confirmation of a new attorney general. This IRS general counsel pick, mind you, also happened to have previously advised the Trump Organization on tax issues.
Trump’s treasury secretary has also been spending so much time safeguarding Trump’s tax returns, in violation of that explicit statute, that the activity is reportedly crowding out his day job.
All of which raises the question: Why exactly is Trump (and the rest of his administration) expending so much energy and political capital to keep these documents hidden? What could possibly be so disturbing or incriminating to justify such an effort?
One theory is that, maybe, if Trump’s tax returns or other financial records become public, his supporters would learn that he’s not nearly as rich as he says. Another is that his finances are not exactly on the up and up.
Of course, both explanations could be true.
Go read the rest for more on Don the Con. Meanwhile, enjoy some Leslie Dracarys Jones.
So, this is plenty to read and think about today. I’m still trying to rest my eyes while keeping up with things. What’s on your reading and blogging list today?