Friday Reads: Disassembling the People’s Life, Liberty and the pursuit of JusticePosted: March 6, 2020
Good Day Sky Dancers!
The Republicans are doing everything they can to appoint unqualified judges and agency and cabinet heads to ensure nothing more than white, straight, “christian” hegemony with a radical right bend. Many appointments are political and strictly related to monetizing public goods for the very few. What has gone on in the Department of Justice, the Department of State, and most of the other institutes of major importance should be criminal and quite possibly is. Today, the headlines tell us we see the failure of our agencies and the failure of the Trumpist regime. However, isn’t this what they–under the influence of the likes of Steven Bannon– planned all along? Wasn’t the destruction of our democratic institutions the plan and not the bug?
So much relies on the courts these days that it’s now quite apparent that Moscow Mitch’s wrangling to dominate SCOTUS may pay off big in the fall. But today, we still see some good coming out of some Federal Judges and today’s news shows that Barr’s justice department may be headed for some trouble. “Judge cites Barr’s ‘misleading’ statements in ordering review of Mueller report redactions” is the headline from WAPO.
A federal judge in Washington sharply criticized Attorney General William P. Barr on Thursday for a “lack of candor,” questioning the truthfulness of the nation’s top law enforcement official in his handling of last year’s report by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III.
U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton, overseeing a lawsuit brought by EPIC, a watchdog group, and BuzzFeed News, said he saw serious discrepancies between Barr’s public statements about Mueller’s findings and the public, partially redacted version of that report detailing the special counsel’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Because of those discrepancies, Walton ruled, the judge would conduct an independent review of Mueller’s full report to see whether the Justice Department’s redactions were appropriate
“In the Court’s view, Attorney General Barr’s representation that the Mueller Report would be ‘subject only to those redactions required by law or by compelling law enforcement, national security, or personal privacy interests’ cannot be credited without the Court’s independent verification in light of Attorney General Barr’s conduct and misleading public statements about the findings in the Mueller Report,” Walton wrote.
It is highly unusual for a federal judge to publicly question the honesty of the attorney general, but Walton’s opinion comes amid growing rancor between the judicial branch of the government and the executive and legislative branches. Earlier on Thursday, Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said he regretted comments he had made about two conservative Supreme Court justices — comments that drew a rare rebuke from Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. after many Republicans called them threatening. President Trump, meanwhile, has repeatedly attacked federal judges, drawing condemnation from Democrats.
A federal judge on Thursday sharply criticized Attorney General William P. Barr’s handling of the report by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, saying that Mr. Barr put forward a “distorted” and “misleading” account of its findings and lacked credibility on the topic.
Mr. Barr could not be trusted, Judge Reggie B. Walton said, citing “inconsistencies” between the attorney general’s statements about the report when it was secret and its actual contents that turned out to be more damaging to President Trump. Mr. Barr’s “lack of candor” called into question his “credibility and, in turn, the department’s” assurances to the court, Judge Walton said.
The judge ordered the Justice Department to privately show him the portions of the report that were censored in the publicly released version so he could independently verify the justifications for those redactions. The ruling came in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit seeking a full-text version of the report.
Where this ruling may matter, though, is in four areas:
- DOJ hid the circumstances of how both Trump and Don Jr managed to avoid testifying under a grand jury redaction. Walton may judge that these discussions were not truly grand jury materials.
- DOJ is currently hiding details of people — like KT McFarland — who lied, but then cleaned up their story (Sam Clovis is another person this may be true of). There’s no reason someone as senior as McFarland should have her lies protected. All the more so, because DOJ is withholding some of the 302s that show her lies. So Walton may release some of this information.
- Because Walton will have already read the Stone material — that part that most implicates Trump — by the time Judge Amy Berman Jackson releases the gag in that case, he will have a view on what would still need to be redacted. That may mean more of it will be released quickly than otherwise might happen.
- In very short order, the two sides in this case will start arguing over DOJ’s withholding of 302s under very aggressive b5 claims. These claims, unlike most of the redactions in the Mueller Report, are substantively bogus and in many ways serve to cover up the details of Trump’s activities. While this won’t happen in the near term, I expect this ruling will serve as the basis for a similar in camera review on 302s down the road.
And we continue to learn that that the Trumpist response to the Coronoa Virus was doomed from the start. This is from Time magazine.
“We have contained this. I won’t say airtight but pretty close to airtight,” White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said in a television interview on Feb. 25, echoing Trump’s tweeted declaration that the virus was “very much under control” in the United States.
But it wasn’t, and the administration’s rosy messaging was fundamentally at odds with a growing cacophony of alarm bells inside and outside the U.S. government. Since January, epidemiologists, former U.S. public health officials and experts have been warning, publicly and privately, that the administration’s insistence that containment was—and should remain—the primary way to confront an emerging infectious disease was a grave mistake.
In congressional testimony, in medical webcasts and in private discussions with health officials, they warned that the unique features of this flu-like virus made it impossible to control, and that the administration must use any time that containment measures might buy to prepare the country for an inevitable outbreak. The administration was using all its resources to blockade the doors, they warned, but the enemy was likely already in the house.
“The current U.S. policy to deny visas to travelers from China and to quarantine returning Americans is not the right approach,” Jennifer Nuzzo, an epidemiologist and expert in disease outbreak detection and response at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, testified to Congress on February 5. “I am deeply concerned that these measures will make us less safe by diverting public health resources from higher priority disease mitigation approaches.”
Two days earlier, former FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb had warned “we have to assume it’s already here and circulating.”
When it finally became indisputable that an outbreak was underway in Washington state, the administration was slow to catch up. There were not enough COVID-19 testing kits, hotlines were overwhelmed, and hospitals and public health departments were hobbled by a lack of reliable statistics on the spread of the disease. Experts say the U.S. response is now likely weeks—if not months—behind schedule.
As leading public health experts from across the government have tried to provide clear and consistent information about the deadly coronavirus, they have found their messages undercut, drowned out and muddled by President Trump’s push to downplay the outbreak with a mix of optimism, bombast and pseudoscience.
Speaking almost daily to the public about an outbreak that has spread across states and rocked the markets, Trump has promoted his opinions and at times contradicted the public health experts tasked with keeping Americans safe.
The president has repeatedly misstated the number of Americans who have tested positive for the virus and claimed it would “miraculously” disappear in the spring. He has given a false timeline for the development of a vaccine, publicly questioned whether vaccinations for the flu could be used to treat the novel coronavirus and dismissed the World Health Organization’s coronavirus death rate estimate, substituting a much lower figure and citing a “hunch.”
On Wednesday night, Trump made an uncritical reference to people who continue to go to work while infected with the coronavirus — placing himself at odds with doctors who have strongly urged those with even minor symptoms to stay home.
“If, you know, we have thousands or hundreds of thousands of people that get better just by sitting around, and even going to work — some of them go to work, but they get better,” Trump said in an interview with Fox News host Sean Hannity in which he disputed the WHO fatality rate.
On Thursday morning, Trump said his comments were misconstrued and blamed the Democrats and the media. “I NEVER said people that are feeling sick should go to work,” he tweeted.
Why can’t he just shut up?
So that’s the two stories I’m following today. I have to go have lunch with a colleague but I’ll be back to check the thread!
In 1979, the number of women serving as federal judges more than doubled. In this series, learn more about the trailblazers who reshaped the Judiciary.
What’s on your reading and blogging list today?