And Marie Masferrer, a board member of the Florida Association for Media in Education and a school librarian who used to work in the Manatee County system and remains in close touch with former colleagues in that district, said they have told her that students are struggling.
We can all agree that the right-wingers on the Supreme Court have created problems not only for women, but for all of American society. They seem determined to turn this country into a theocracy dominated by so-called “christians” who don’t follow Jesus’s teachings. In fact, they don’t seem interested in the New Testament at all. They prefer the fire and brimstone god of the Old Testament.
Linda Greenhouse, who reported on the Court for The New York Times for many years before leaving in 2021, has returned with an important op-ed.
The New York Times: The Latest Crusade to Place Religion Over the Rest of Civil Society.
Federal civil rights law requires employers to accommodate their employees’ religious needs unless the request would impose “undue hardship on the conduct of the employer’s business.” Congress didn’t bother to define “undue hardship,” so 46 years ago the Supreme Court came up with a definition of its own.
An accommodation requiring an employer “to bear more than a de minimis cost” — meaning a small or trifling cost — need not be granted, the court said in Trans World Airlines v. Hardison. In that case, an airline maintenance worker claimed a legal right to avoid Saturday shifts so he could observe the tenets of the Worldwide Church of God, which he had recently joined. Ruling for the airline, the court noted that if one worker got Saturdays off for religion reasons, the burden would fall on other workers who might have nonreligious reasons for wanting to have the weekend off.
“We will not readily construe the statute to require an employer to discriminate against some employees in order to enable others to observe their Sabbath,” the court said.
Treating religion as nothing particularly special, the decision reflected the spirit of the times but was deeply unpopular in religious circles. There have been many attempts over many years to persuade Congress to amend the law, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, to shift the balance explicitly in favor of religiously observant employees. Between 1994 and 2019, more than a dozen such bills were introduced. None emerged from Congress.
And so now, a very different court from the one that ruled 46 years ago is about to do the work itself.
Now the Court has agreed to hear a case that may move us further away from the separation of church and state.
The appeal was brought by a conservative Christian litigating group, First Liberty Institute, on behalf of a former postal worker, Gerald Groff, described as a Christian who regards Sunday as a day for “worship and rest.”
Mr. Groff claimed a legal right to avoid the Sunday shifts required during peak season at the post office where he worked. Facing discipline for failing to show up for his assigned shifts, he quit and filed a lawsuit. The lower courts ruled against him, with the Philadelphia-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit expressing no doubt that the disruption and loss of morale Mr. Groff’s absences caused in the small rural post office where he worked exceeded the de minimis threshold that the Supreme Court’s 1977 precedent requires an employer to demonstrate.
The decision to hear his appeal brings the Supreme Court to a juncture both predictable and remarkable. It is predictable because Justices Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch have all called for a case that would provide a vehicle for overturning a precedent that is clearly in tension with the current court’s privileging of religious claims above all others, whether in the context of public health measures during the Covid-19 pandemic or anti-discrimination claims brought by employees of religious organizations.
The court in 1977 worried about the burden on nonreligious workers from accommodations granted to their religious colleagues. To today’s court, as Justice Alito has repeatedly expressed it, the real victims of discrimination are those who take religion seriously.
Read the rest at the NYT link.
The wingnuts on the Supreme Court have already dealt a terrible blow to women’s rights by giving “christian” evangelicals what they long dreamed of–overturning nearly 50 years of women’s rights to make their own reproductive choices. The reversal of Roe v. Wade also drove a truck through the wall of separation between church and state, since the anti-abortion movement is largely based on “christian” evangelical “values.” Ever since that decision, republicans in state legislatures have worked to make getting an abortion more difficult than ever–in some ways more difficult than before Roe.
Abigail Tracy at Vanity Fair: Republicans Are Only Getting Sneakier With Their Antiabortion Proposals.
Kansans may have resoundingly rejected an antiabortion referendum last year, by a striking double-digit margin, to ensure reproductive rights remain enshrined in the state constitution, but that wasn’t deterrence enough for the state’s Republican legislators. Nor was, apparently, the Republican Party’s relatively poor performance this past midterm cycle—one largely defined by the fall of Roe v. Wade. “I’m hearing a lot from my constituents who believe we should continue to do more to help the unborn,” Wichita state senator Chase Blasi told reporters earlier this month, proposing a law that would allow cities and counties to regulate abortions, in spite of state protections.
These first few weeks of 2023 suggest it’s not that Republican lawmakers missed the abortion memo—they simply don’t seem to care. In Washington, a newly empowered Republican House passed an antiabortion bill during its first full week in the majority. And across the country, Republican state lawmakers continue the crusade against reproductive rights, attempting to find ways to circumvent popular opinion, and even statutory protections.
“We knew all along that they weren’t going to be satisfied with overturning Roe v. Wade,” Abby Ledoux, a spokesperson for Planned Parenthood Action Fund, says of antiabortion lawmakers and activists in an interview with Vanity Fair. Reflecting on the slew of legislation that has been introduced in state houses across the country so far this year, Ledoux adds, “They’re not done and they’re coming for more rights.”
Since the start of the year, across 27 states, more than 105 bills that would restrict abortion have been filed or prefiled—(meaning, not all of them have been formally introduced), according to Planned Parenthood Action Fund. Many of these bills would ban abortion—some at fertilization; six bills—filed in Kansas, Missouri, New Hampshire, Texas, Wyoming, and West Virginia—would specifically target medication abortions, according to the fund; others would impose harsh criminal penalties for doctors and abortion-seekers. Of course, not all of these bills are expected to pass, but they do lay bare the ever changing legal and political landscape in post-Roe America.
It isn’t just the overt attempts at restricting abortion access that concern reproductive rights activists. But also what Ledoux refers to as “underhanded attempts” and “work-arounds” that have the potential to “subvert democracy, to thwart the will of the people, and to really rig the game” in pursuit of unpopular political agendas. For instance, in Ohio, Republican lawmakers introduced a bill that would require a supermajority threshold of 60%, as opposed to a simple majority of voters, to pass ballot measures to amend the state constitution. Similar legislation was also introduced in Arizona.
According to Axios, the Biden administration is considering fighting back with actions they previously shied away from: Biden administration mulls public health emergency declaration on abortion.
The Biden administration is weighing a plan to declare a public health emergency that would free up resources to help people access abortions.
….Both abortion rights advocates and Democratic lawmakers have urged the Department of Health and Human Services and President Biden to take such a step in response to the overturning of Roe v. Wade, which they say has created a “full-scale reproductive health crisis” across the U.S.
The lawmakers argued that such a move would allow the administration to help support states that protect abortion, deploy Public Health Services Corps teams and give the government “the ability to accelerate access to new medications authorized for abortion.”
….”There are discussions on a wide range of measures … that we can take to try to protect people’s rights,” HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra told Axios during a pair of Monday public events that touched on reproductive health access.
“There are certain criteria that you look for to be able to declare a public health emergency. That’s typically done by scientists and those that are professionals in those fields who will tell us whether we are in a state of emergency and based on that, I have the ability to make a declaration,” Becerra added, when asked about a public health emergency declaration on abortion.
He said that there hasn’t been a “full assessment” on what a declaration on abortion would look like and whether conditions merit it, but there’s still “an evaluation” on the topic.
More details at the Axios link.
Speaking of politicians trying to take away our rights, Ron DeSantis is going further than almost any other governor. He really doesn’t want school children to learn anything about LGBT issues or about the history of African Americans in the U.S.; and he’s banning so many books that the library shelves in schools are nearly empty.
This is from a guest essay at The New York Times by Janai Nelson, president and director-counsel of the Legal Defense Fund: Ron DeSantis Wants to Erase Black History. Why?
An unrelenting assault on truth and freedom of expression in the form of laws that censor and suppress the viewpoints, histories and experiences of historically marginalized groups, especially Black and L.G.B.T.Q. communities, is underway throughout the country, most clearly in Florida. The state’s Department of Education recently rejected a pilot Advanced Placement African American studies course from being offered in Florida’s public high schools.
Under Gov. Ron DeSantis’s “Stop WOKE” law — which would limit students and teachers from learning and talking about issues related to race and gender — Florida is at the forefront of a nationwide campaign to silence Black voices and erase the full and accurate history and contemporary experiences of Black people. The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Inc., the American Civil Liberties Union, the A.C.L.U. of Florida and Ballard Spahr filed a lawsuit on behalf of university professors and a college student opposing the “Stop WOKE” law and, along with a second lawsuit, won a preliminary injunction blocking Florida’s Board of Governors from enforcing its unconstitutional and racially discriminatory provisions at public universities.
Florida’s rejection of the A.P. course and Mr. DeSantis’s demand to excise specific subject areas from the curriculum stand in stark opposition to the state-issued mandate that all students be taught “the history of African Americans, including the history of African peoples before the political conflicts that led to the development of slavery, the passage to America, the enslavement experience, abolition and the contributions of African Americans to society.” [….]
Mr. DeSantis’s “Stop WOKE” law relegates the study of the experiences of Black people to a prohibited category. The canceling of any students’ access to accurate, truthful education that reflects their diverse identities and that of their country should chill every American. Not only do these laws offend First Amendment freedoms of speech and expression; to the extent they harm certain groups on the basis of race, gender or other protected status, they also violate principles of equal protection. And they are a chilling precursor to state-sponsored dehumanization of an entire race of people.
This disturbing pattern of silencing Black voices and aggressive attempts to erase Black history are one of the most visible examples of performative white supremacy since the presidency of Donald Trump.
There’s much more at the NYT link.
On DeSantis’s book banning project:
Hannah Natanson at The Washington Post: Hide your books to avoid felony charges, Fla. schools tell teachers.
Students arrived in some Florida public school classrooms this month to find their teachers’ bookshelves wrapped in paper — or entirely barren of books — after district officials launched a review of the texts’ appropriateness under a new state law.
School officials in at least two counties, Manatee and Duval, have directed teachers this month to remove or wrap up their classroom libraries, according to records obtained by The Washington Post. The removals come in response to fresh guidance issued by the Florida Department of Education in mid-January, after the State Board of Education ruled that a law restricting the books a district may possess applies not only to schoolwide libraries but to teachers’ classroom collections, too.
House Bill 1467, which took effect as law in July, mandates that schools’ books be age-appropriate, free from pornography and “suited to student needs.” Books must be approved by a qualified school media specialist, who must undergo a state retraining on book collection. The Education Department did not publish that training until January, leaving school librarians across Florida unable to order books for more than a year.
Breaking the law is a third-degree felony, meaning that a teacher could face up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine for displaying or giving students a disallowed book.
I can just imagine the kinds of people who would take one of those “media specialist” jobs and then undergo “state retraining.”
The efforts to conceal titles in Manatee and Duval have stirred outrage from educators and parents, many of whom shared images of bare wooden shelves or books veiled behind sheets of colored paper. Teachers wrote in Facebook posts and text messages that they are angry and disheartened. District officials in both counties have emphasized that the removals are temporary and will last only until staff can determine whether the titles meet the standards imposed by Florida law.
Michelle Jarrett, president of the Florida Association of Supervisors of Media, which assists school library administrators and programs statewide, said that “closing and covering up classroom libraries does nothing to ensure Florida’s students remain on track for reading success.” [….]
At one school, “the kids began crying and writing letters to the principal, saying, ‘Please don’t take my books, please don’t do this,’” Masferrer said.
If DeSantis runs for president in 2024 against Trump, we are going to witness a Republican shit show that will be far worse than 2016 and 2020. DeSantis may be pandering to the crazies, but Trump has truly gone over the edge.
Former President Donald Trump in 2018 had an infamous press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Finnish capital of Helsinki in which he signaled that believed Putin’s denials about having interfered in the 2016 election despite assessments to the contrary from American intelligence agencies.
Four-and-a-half years later, Trump is now touting his trust of Putin over American intelligence agencies as a source of pride.
In a post on his Truth Social account, the former president attacked former officials at the FBI and CIA whom he accused of trying to undermine his presidency by investigating his campaign’s multiple contacts with Russian agents during the 2016 presidential race.
“Remember in Helsinki when a 3rd rate reporter asked me, essentially, who I trusted more, President Putin of Russia, or our ‘Intelligence’ lowlifes,” he wrote. “My instinct at the time was that we had really bad people in the form of James Comey, McCabe (whose wife was being helped out by Crooked Hillary while Crooked was under investigation!), Brennan, Peter Strzok (whose wife is at the SEC) & his lover, Lisa Page. Now add McGonigal & other slime to the list. Who would you choose, Putin or these Misfits?”
I’m getting a headache just reading all this stuff. I hope I’m not giving you one too.
Last Friday, Dakinikat wrote about the New York Times article on the failure of the Barr/Durham so-called investigation of the origins of Robert Mueller’s probe of Russian influences on the 2016 Trump campaign. This is a reaction from Greg Sargent at The Washington Post: Awful new details about the Durham probe demand a serious response.
The New York Times disclosed extraordinary new revelations this past week about prosecutor John Durham’s years-long quest to delegitimize the FBI investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. In 2019, this obsession of President Donald Trump was initiated by his attorney general, William P. Barr, but as the Times found, Durham’s effort was itself profoundly tainted.
Now, because Democrats have 51 Senate seats after gaining one in the midterm elections, they have subpoena power on Senate committees that were previously divided. That means the Judiciary Committee is in a position to investigate the Barr-Durham escapades.
Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), the Judiciary Committee chair, is signaling such an intent. In an emailed statement, Durbin said that reports of Durham’s “abuses” are “outrageous,” and “one of many instances” in which Trump and Barr “weaponized the Justice Department.”
Durbin added that his committee “will do its part and take a hard look at those repeated episodes, and the regulations and policies that enabled them, to ensure such abuses of power cannot happen again.”
That’s encouraging, but how far will this investigation go? The Times report finds that Barr relentlessly pushed Durham to substantiate Trump’s theory that the Russia investigation was a conspiracy by intelligence and law enforcement against him. But Durham’s effort petered out “without uncovering anything like the deep state plot” invented by Trump and Barr.
Worse, the Times also found bizarre irregularities. Durham relied on Russian intelligence memos to access emails of an adviser to financier George Soros, in hopes of finding evidence of improper collaboration between law enforcement and the Hillary Clinton campaign. It never materialized.
That, plus Barr’s habit of publicly hinting that Durham was on the trail of major wrongdoing — unscrupulously serving Trump’s political interests — were strongly opposed internally by Durham’s top deputy, the Times reports. Similarly, Durham leaned on the department’s inspector general to change his 2019 conclusion that the Russia probe was not politically motivated.
More at the WaPo.
And speaking of corruption, George Santos has decided to recuse himself from House committees. The Washington Post: Rep. George Santos is stepping down from committees amid fabrications about his biography.
Embattled Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.) told House Republicans on Tuesday that he will step down temporarily from his committee assignments amid multiple investigations into his campaign finances after he lied about key aspects of his biography.
It sounds like it wasn’t really Santos’ decision, lol. I guess McCarthy was sick and tired of the press hounding him about Santos.
That’s all I have for you today. Have a great Tuesday, everyone!
There isn’t any big overarching story dominating today’s news, so I have a mixed bag of articles to share.
I’m going to begin with a story that should be a huge scandal, but the mainstream media and cable news stations have been slow to cover it–I’m not sure why. I posted the story a couple of times here after Roger Sollenberger of The Daily Beast broke it on January 5: Herschel Walker Staffer: Matt Schlapp ‘Groped’ My Crotch.
A staffer for Herschel Walker’s Senate campaign has alleged to The Daily Beast that longtime Republican activist Matt Schlapp made “sustained and unwanted and unsolicited” sexual contact with him while the staffer was driving Schlapp back from an Atlanta bar this October.
The staffer said the incident occurred the night of Oct. 19, when Schlapp, chair of the American Conservative Union and lead organizer for the influential Conservative Political Action Conference, “groped” and “fondled” his crotch in his car against his will after buying him drinks at two different bars.
The staffer described Schlapp, who had traveled to Georgia for a Walker campaign event, as inappropriately and repeatedly intruding into his personal space at the bars. He said he was also keenly aware of his “power dynamic” with Schlapp, widely regarded as one of the most influential figures in national conservative politics.
Read more at the link. Yesterday, CNN finally picked up the story and discussed it extensively on the air; and The New York Daily News published an article about it. Maybe now it will get more attention.
A Republican strategist alleges that Matt Schlapp, the influential chairman of the American Conservative Union, groped and fondled his groin as he drove Schlapp back to an Atlanta hotel several weeks before the November midterm election.
The strategist, a male in his late thirties who was working for the Georgia GOP and Herschel Walker’s Senate campaign at the time, told CNN that Schlapp made the unwanted sexual advances on the ride back from two area bars on October 19. Schlapp allegedly invited the strategist, who was assigned to drive Schlapp, to join him in his hotel room. The staffer declined the offer, and hours later reported the incident to senior campaign staff….
The staffer says he called and texted friends in real time to tell them what happened. CNN reviewed a text exchange between the staffer and a friend in politics, where the staffer is clearly upset and wondering how to tell the campaign that one of their surrogates had allegedly assaulted him. The exchange is being made public for the first time.
“He’s pissed I didn’t follow him to his hotel room,” the staffer wrote.
“I’m so sorry man,” the acquaintance responded. “What a f**king creep.”
The staffer later texted, “I just don’t know how to say it to my superiors thst heir [sic] surrogate fondled my junk without my consent.” [….]
Schlapp runs the ACU, the organization most widely known for staging the Conservative Political Action Conference, known as CPAC. Both Schlapp and the group occasionally butted heads with Donald Trump before he was elected president in 2016, but have since become fierce loyalists. Schlapp, who served in the George W. Bush White House as director of political affairs, took over the ACU in 2014. His wife, Mercedes Schlapp, worked as Trump’s communications director for nearly two years, from 2017 to 2019.
More on the text messages:
According to text messages reviewed by CNN, Schlapp suggested meeting the staffer for drinks.
“I have a dinner at 7. May grab a beer after if you want to join let me know,” Schlapp texted the staffer. The staffer told CNN he joined Schlapp because of the ACU leader’s standing in conservative political circles.
Once at the bar, the staffer says Schlapp began to inappropriately invade his personal space. After leaving the bar, the staffer alleges Schlapp sexually assaulted him as he was driving Schlapp back to his hotel. The staffer said he did not respond in the moment because he was stunned into silence and was focused on getting Schlapp out of the car as quickly as possible.
Later that evening, Schlapp called the staffer, according to a call log reviewed by CNN, to confirm the staffer would be driving him to another Walker event the next morning. After receiving the call, the staffer says he broke down and memorialized what happened by recording videos of himself describing the alleged assault.
“Matt Schlapp, of the CPAC, grabbed my junk and pummeled it at length. And I’m sitting there (in the car) saying, ‘What the hell is going on that this person with a wife and kids is literally doing this to me, from Manuel’s Tavern to the Hilton Garden Inn there at the Atlanta Airport,’” the staffer says in one of the self-recorded clips, which CNN reviewed. “He literally has his hands on me. And I feel so f**king dirty. Feel so f**king dirty. So I don’t know what to do in the morning.”
The next morning, the staffer told top Walker campaign officials about the alleged incident and they immediately directed him not to drive Schlapp and to pass on a number of a car service.
Why isn’t this story getting more traction? Is it because Schlapp is so powerful within the GOP? He heads up organizations that are virulently anti-gay. I’m waiting for it to come out in The New York Times and The Washington Post.
Next, Joe Biden’s lawyers found a second batch of classified documents in Delaware. There’s no comparison with what Trump did, but I’m worried that this may prevent the DOJ from prosecuting Trump for actually stealing government documents and refusing to return them.
The second set of classified documents from President Biden’s time as vice president were discovered at a storage space in the garage of his home in Wilmington, Del., a top White House lawyer said on Thursday….
The White House statement, by Richard Sauber, a special counsel to Mr. Biden, did not answer fundamental questions about the contents of the documents, who packed them and whether anyone had gained access to them after he left office. It also did not say when the second batch had been found.
The statement came after the White House acknowledged this week that an earlier batch had been discovered on Nov. 2 in the closet of an office at a think tank that Mr. Biden had used after leaving the vice presidency.
The statement added that the Biden team immediately notified the Justice Department and arranged for it to take possession of the documents.
Mr. Sauber said Mr. Biden’s team had also searched a house the president owned in Rehoboth Beach, Del., but found no documents stored there.
On Tuesday, Mr. Biden told reporters in Mexico City that he was “surprised” to learn in the fall that his lawyers had found classified government documents in his former office at the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement.
He said his staff had fully cooperated with the National Archives and the Justice Department, but made no mention of the documents later found in Delaware.
Mr. Biden’s lawyers discovered “a small number” of classified documents in his former office at a Washington think tank last fall, the White House said on Monday, prompting the Justice Department to scrutinize the situation to determine how to proceed.
As you probably know, the Justice Department is investigating and will eventually decide whether a special counsel should be appointed. So far, there isn’t any comparison between what Trump and Biden did, but of course Republicans will make that claim. Here’s a good thread on the differences between the two.
Read the rest on Twitter.
Jim Jordan, who will be in charge of the Judiciary Committee and the so-called “weaponization of government” subcommittee, is probably salivating over this story. This is from Loch K. Johnson, Frederick Baron, and Dennis Aftergut at The Bulwark: Jim Jordan, Church Committee Pretender.
Members of the new Republican majority in the House of Representatives are trying to stick a civil libertarian label on the subcommittee they’re creating to “investigate the investigators.” Its formal name will be the Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government. But when talking about it to the press, some Republicans have taken to calling it a reincarnated “Church committee.”
They are invoking the 1975-76 Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Activities chaired by Sen. Frank Church (D-Idaho). That committee was launched after a bombshell 1974 New York Times report about Nixon-era CIA domestic surveillance on anti-war activists and other dissident American citizens.
Two of us (Johnson and Baron) served in key staff positions on the Church committee. The comparison is preposterous. The new House subcommittee is not remotely up to the Church committee standard—in origin, composition, or purpose.
To begin with, the Church committee bore serious moral authority, which arose from its truly bipartisan mission: tough-minded rethinking of intelligence agency activities under administrations of both parties stretching back almost twenty years.
Indispensable to its credibility was the energetic participation of steely moderate Republican senators like Howard Baker (R-Tenn.), Charles Mathias (R-Md.), and Richard Schweiker (R-Penn.). These were statesmen—intellectually honest and adept. In particular, Baker performed an indispensable, fair-minded role for Church committee Republicans, as he had done on the Senate Watergate Committee.
One example: Concerned about the Church committee’s probe into FBI activities against Martin Luther King Jr., Baker sought evenhandedness without obstruction. “Let’s have a balance, not just focus on King,” Baker said. “Perhaps a session on FBI infiltration of the KKK, too.”
On the Church committee, GOP senators—including the committee’s vice chairman, the conservative John Tower (R-Texas)—were willing to pursue the truth about the actions of Republican administrations. In turn, Democratic senators, including Church, Walter Mondale (D-Minn.), and Gary Hart (D-Col.), were willing to probe the actions of the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. That commitment to nonpartisan inquiry catalyzed the committee’s powerful, evidence-based critique of intelligence agency misconduct, and serious proposals for agency reforms later adopted in the Ford and Carter administrations.
What the Church Committee did:
The Church committee unearthed dramatic breaches of law and American norms:
- CIA assassination plots against foreign leaders such as Fidel Castro in Cuba and Patrice Lumumba in the Congo.
- FBI COINTELPRO surveillance, infiltration, and disruption targeting King, his Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and the anti-Vietnam War movement.
- CIA and FBI mail-opening programs that snooped on broad swaths of U.S. citizens.
Those legitimate subjects of investigation are a far cry from what the new House subcommittee is setting out to do: fishing for stories about the mythical deep state and looking into “ongoing criminal investigations”—that is, going after the law enforcement officials investigating the January 6th insurrection.
Read the rest at the link.
Republicans are also salivating about the opportunity to “investigate” Hunter Biden. That could come back to bite Trump though.
The New York Times: Hunter Biden’s Tangled Tale Comes Front and Center.
The way Republicans tell it, President Biden has been complicit in a long-running scheme to profit from his position in public life through shady dealings around the world engineered by his son, Hunter Biden.
Taking a first step in their long-promised investigation, Republicans on the House Oversight Committee on Wednesday demanded information about the Bidens’ banking transactions from the Treasury Department. And in an earlier report on the Bidens intended to lay the groundwork for hearings they plan to hold, they said they had evidence “demonstrating deliberate, repeated deception of the American people, abuse of the executive branch for personal gain, use of government power to obstruct the investigation” and more.
The real Hunter Biden story is complex and very different in important ways from the narrative promoted by Republicans — but troubling in its own way.
After his father became vice president, Hunter Biden, a 52-year-old Yale-educated lawyer, forged business relationships with foreign interests that brought him millions of dollars, raised questions about whether he was cashing in on his family name, set off alarms among government officials about potential conflicts of interest, and provided Republicans an opening for years of attacks on his father.
And after the death of his brother, Beau, in 2015, Hunter descended into a spiral of addiction and tawdry and self-destructive behavior.
He is sober now and no longer entangled in foreign business deals. He is a visible presence in his father’s life — his oldest daughter was married at the White House in November, and he attended a state dinner last month.
But the investigation into his previous dealings may be coming to a head.
David C. Weiss, the U.S. attorney for Delaware, is closing in on a decision about whether to prosecute Hunter Biden on charges stemming from his behavior during his most troubled years.
Investigators have pored over documents related to and questioned witnesses about his overseas business dealings. They include his role on the board of Burisma, a Ukrainian energy company led by an oligarch who at the time was under investigation for corruption — a position that Hunter accepted while his father, as vice president, was overseeing Obama administration policy in Ukraine.
They also include his equity stake in a Chinese business venture, and his failed joint venture with a Chinese tycoon who had courted well-connected Americans in both parties — at one point he gave Hunter Biden a large diamond as a gift — but was later detained by Chinese authorities.
Investigators have similarly sought information about interactions between Hunter Biden’s business associates and his father.
But Mr. Weiss, people familiar with the investigation say, appears to be focused on a less politically explosive set of possible charges stemming from his failure to meet filing deadlines for his 2016 and 2017 tax returns, and questions about whether he falsely claimed at least $30,000 in deductions for business expenses.
Mr. Weiss is also said to be considering charging Hunter Biden, who has openly acknowledged his years of struggle with drugs and alcohol, with lying on a U.S. government form that he filled out to purchase a handgun in 2018. On the form, he answered that he was not using drugs — an assertion that prosecutors might be able to challenge based on his erratic behavior and possible witness accounts of his drug use around that period.
One more sad story for us old fans of 1960’s rock. Yesterday, guitar legend Jeff Beck died suddenly of bacterial meningitis.
From the NYT obit: Jeff Beck, Guitarist With a Chapter in Rock History, Dies at 78.
Jeff Beck, one of the most skilled, admired and influential guitarists in rock history, died on Tuesday in a hospital near his home at Riverhall, a rural estate in southern England. He was 78.
The cause was bacterial meningitis, Melissa Dragich, his publicist, said.
During the 1960s and ’70s, as either a member of the Yardbirds or as leader of his own bands, Mr. Beck brought a sense of adventure to his playing that helped make the recordings by those groups groundbreaking.
In 1965, when he joined the Yardbirds to replace another guitar hero, Eric Clapton, the group was already one of the defining acts in Britain’s growing electric blues movement. But his stinging licks and darting leads on songs like “Shapes of Things” and “Over Under Sideways Down” added an expansive element to the music that helped signal the emerging psychedelic rock revolution.
Three years later, when Mr. Beck formed his own band, later known as the Jeff Beck Group — along with Rod Stewart, a little-known singer at the time, and the equally obscure Ron Wood on bass — the weight of the music created an early template for heavy metal. Specifically, the band’s 1968 debut, “Truth,” provided a blueprint that another former guitar colleague from the Yardbirds, Jimmy Page, drew on to found Led Zeppelin several months later.
In 1975, when Mr. Beck began his solo career with the “Blow by Blow” album, he reconfigured the essential formula of that era’s fusion movement, tipping the balance of its influences from jazz to rock and funk, in the process creating a sound that was both startlingly new and highly successful. “Blow by Blow” became a Billboard Top 5 and, selling a million or more copies, a platinum hit.
Along the way, Mr. Beck helped either pioneer or amplify important technical innovations on his instrument. He elaborated the use of distortion and feedback effects, earlier explored by Pete Townshend; intensified the effect of bending notes on the guitar; and widened the range of expression that could be coaxed from devices attached to the guitar like the whammy bar.
Drawing on such techniques, Mr. Beck could weaponize his strings to hit like a stun gun or caress them to express what felt like a kiss. His work had humor, too, with licks that could cackle and leads that could tease.
Click the NYT link to read the rest. I saw the Jeff Beck Group at The Boston Tea Party in 1968 or 1969. The warm-up group was Buddy Miles. Rod Stewart was impressive as the lead singer. That was before he went more mainstream. Anyway, it was a great show. The Tea Party was a great big hall–no seats or anything and it was LOUD.
Have a great Thursday everyone!!
The GOP clown show has begun. Last night House Republicans voted to gut the House ethics committee as part of a rules package agreed to by Speaker Kevin McCarthy. Also in the rules package, they approved a new subcommittee under the Judiciary Committee headed by Rep. Jim Jordan that will supposedly investigate the “weaponization” of the federal government. In the first bill taken up by the new House, they voted to eliminate funding for new IRS agents that was included in the Inflation Reduction Act.
Hugo Lowell at The Guardian: House Republicans move to defang ethics office investigating its members.
House Republicans moved to pre-emptively kill any investigations against its members as it curtailed the power of an independent ethics office just as it was weighing whether to open inquiries into lawmakers who defied subpoenas issued by the House January 6 select committee last year.
The incoming Republican majority also paved the way for a new special subcommittee with a wide mandate to investigate the US justice department and intelligence agencies, which could include reviewing the criminal investigations into Donald Trump and a Republican congressman caught up in the Capitol attack inquiry.
The measures took effect as House Republicans narrowly passed the new rules package that included the changes for the next Congress, 220-213, setting the stage for politically charged fights with the Biden administration over access to classified materials and details of criminal investigations.
Seeking to protect itself, the rules package first undercut the ability of the office of congressional ethics (OCE) to function, with changes that struck at its principal vulnerabilities to defang its investigative powers for at least the next two years, according to sources familiar with its operation.
The changes to the OCE are twofold: reintroducing term limits for members of the bipartisan board, which would force out three of four Democratic-appointed members, and restricting its ability to hire professional staff to the first 30 days of the new congressional session.
The issue with the changes, the Guardian previously reported, is that the OCE requires board approval to open new investigations, while new hires are typically approved by the board. The term limits would mean Democrats need to find new board members, which can take months – far longer than the 30-day hiring period.
In essence, the changes mean that by the time the OCE has a board, it may have run out of time to hire staff, leaving it with one counsel to do possible investigations into the new House speaker, Kevin McCarthy, and other Republican lawmakers who defied January 6 select committee subpoenas.
Politico’s Kyle Cheney on the planned “weaponization” subcommittee: Mutually assured obstruction: House GOP aims ‘weaponization’ panel at DOJ.
House Republicans are declaring what amounts to an investigative war on the Biden administration, pledging to probe “ongoing criminal investigations” at the Justice Department.
Veterans of some of Congress’ recent major probes, and the department itself, predict that they’ll be told to pound sand.
GOP lawmakers are dramatically escalating their standoff with the administration by launching a wide-ranging investigative panel to probe what they call the “weaponization of government.” It’s a broad mandate that will allow the party to look into any government agency or program that it views as suspect, including the FBI, IRS and the intelligence community — making good on a key demand of a band of hardline conservatives who opposed Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s bid for the gavel.
And it’s an opening salvo that promises to escalate quickly. The Justice Department is certain to fiercely protect its most sensitive investigative files and prosecutors are simply not going to hand over information on open criminal probes, legal experts say. The resulting conflict promises to erode the already strained relationship between DOJ and congressional Republicans.
“This will be a separation of powers hornets’ nest,” said former House General Counsel Stan Brand, who represented witnesses before the Jan. 6 select committee, including Dan Scavino, a top adviser to former President Donald Trump. “In order to insulate the process from taint, [DOJ] will have to draw clearer ‘lines in the sand’ over what they will provide.”
The genesis of the proposed select panel — which would operate underneath the Judiciary Committee, chaired by Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) — has exacerbated concerns among DOJ allies about how GOP lawmakers will use their broad directive.
Notably, those seeking to access ongoing criminal matters are among the staunchest political allies of the former president whose efforts to overturn the 2020 election are the subject of a special counsel investigation. Several GOP members of Congress — including House Freedom Caucus Chair Scott Perry (R-Va.) — allied closely with Trump, prompting the department to scrutinize their actions.
Perry declined to rule out serving on the panel in an ABC interview on Sunday, asking: “Why should anybody be limited just because someone has made an accusation? Everybody in America is innocent until proven otherwise.”
Both Perry and Jordan were subpoenaed by the Jan. 6 select committee to testify about events surrounding the Capitol attack by a mob of the former president’s supporters. Both declined to comply with the subpoena.
Though GOP leaders have not yet announced any members of the new investigative panel, McCarthy has indicated to House Republicans that he anticipates Jordan will lead it. Rep. Dan Bishop (R-N.C.), who pushed for the investigative body for months, is viewed as a likely member. Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) has also said publicly he expects to participate.
There’s much more on the plans for the new subcommittee at the link. I can’t imagine these bozos will pry anything from the DOJ. There’s obviously a serious separation of powers issue there.
Republicans in the House also plan to “investigate” the origins of the Covid pandemic. The Washington Post: House GOP to embark on sweeping probe of covid origin, U.S. response.
House Republicans on Monday commissioned a special investigative panel focused on the coronavirus pandemic, hoping to leverage their new, powerful majority to press scientists and federal officials about the origin of the public health crisis and the government’s response to it.
Party lawmakers officially chartered the new effort in a sprawling package setting the chamber’s rules for the next two years, awarding it a sweeping mandate — from looking into vaccine development, school closures and other mitigation measures to examining the roughly $5 trillion in emergency federal aid approved since early 2020.
Republicans have long derided Democrats, public health experts and others who advocated for an aggressive government response to covid-19, which has claimed millions of lives globally. At the center of GOP criticism is the suspicion that the coronavirus originated out of laboratory experiments in Wuhan, China, potentially backed by U.S. money — a view at odds with peer-reviewed scientific papers pointing to a more likely origin in a Wuhan market.
In the process, Republican lawmakers also have clashed with scientists and doctors on a wide array of policies meant to arrest the spread of the virus — opposing vaccine mandates, blasting in-person capacity limits and rejecting new federal funding for tests, treatments and other tools.
With new control of the House, however, the GOP aims to surface those concerns in a more prominent setting, questioning a wide array of current and former government officials, potentially including Anthony S. Fauci, the former head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. The panel, officially named as the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic, essentially replaces a Democrat-led legislative body that had focused its work on monitoring emergency coronavirus aid for fraud. Under Republicans, it does not yet have a leader, but it is expected to hold its first hearing in February.
Sigh . . .
You can read more about the McCarthy rules package at The New York Times: New House Rules Make It Easier to Dump Speaker, and Harder to Spend or Raise Taxes.
According to Andrew Solender at Axios, there’s another secret addendum to the rules package: House Republicans in the dark on McCarthy’s shadow document.
A private document that only some House Republicans have seen and others refuse to talk about could play an outsized role in the governance of the chamber over the next two years.
Why it matters: The document contains concessions — not included in the rules package passed on Monday night — that House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) made to rebellious Freedom Caucus members to secure the speaker’s gavel.
— Those members have threatened to kill McCarthy’s speakership as swiftly as they acquiesced to it if he reneges on their handshake agreements.
Driving the news: The existence of a “secret three-page addendum” containing “the most controversial concessions” that McCarthy made in order to get elected was first reported by Punchbowl News on Monday and confirmed to Axios by multiple GOP aides and members.
— One of those concessions is three seats set aside for conservatives on the Rules Committee, as well as representation for them on the powerful Appropriations Committee.
— Other McCarthy giveaways include votes on congressional term limits and a select committee on the weaponization of the federal government, a debt limit strategy and a more open amendment process on appropriations bills.
— One thing the document doesn’t contain, according to NRCC Chair Richard Hudson (R-N.C.), who said he’s seen it, is promised committee chairmanships for specific members: “No names, just representation [on panels].”
Read the rest at Axios.
Ben Werschkul at Yahoo Business on the IRS defunding bill: Here’s why the House GOP made defunding the IRS its first priority.
The House GOP’s first policy bill out of the gate didn’t address inflation or gas prices or immigration, but instead went after the Internal Revenue Service.
The bill was passed Monday evening on a straight party line vote of 221 to 210 to reverse much of the $80 billion in extra funding set aside for the agency by 2022’s Inflation Reduction Act. need of reform.” [….]
The claim from countless Republicans, from Speaker McCarthy on down, is that the influx of money will lead to a flood of 87,000 new IRS agents who will then turn and harass everyday Americans. Some critics of the agency go even further and claim these new agents will be armed.
But fact-checkers have repeatedly debunked the claims, and the agency itself pushed back in a Yahoo Finance op-ed from then-IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig in August.
The viral claims are “absolutely false,” Rettig wrote at the time, adding his agency “is often perceived as an easy target for mischaracterizations,” but he promised the new money will not lead to increased audit scrutiny on households making under $400,000.
The plan is instead for much of the money to go toward wealthy tax cheats. IRS estimates of the so-called “tax gap” — the difference between what taxes are owed to the government and what is actually paid — is hundreds of billions of dollars a year.
Much of the $80 billion will be focused on taking a bite out of the gap, focusing on wealthy tax payers. The investment is projected to pay for itself and then bring in over $100 billion in increased tax revenue over the coming decade.
By contrast, a new analysis from the Congressional Budget Office released Monday afternoon found that the net effect of the House GOP bill’s to defund the agency would increase the deficit by more than $114.3 billion over the coming decade if enacted.
Fortunately, this bill will most likely die in the Senate, and if it somehow gets to Biden’s desk, he will veto it.
In other news, Republicans are gleeful, because a small number of classified documents were found while lawyers were cleaning out an office used by Joe Biden before he became president. The lawyers immediately contacted the National Archives and turned over the documents, and the DOJ is now looking into what happened. There’s no comparison between this and Donald Trump’s stealing of hundreds of classified documents and refusing to return them, but Republicans will have a field day anyway. One hopes the press will recognize the differences.
Philip Bump at The Washington Post: The Trump and Biden classified-document revelations are not the same.
After serving as Barack Obama’s vice president for eight years, Joe Biden did what high-profile former politicians so often do: He set up a think tank at a prominent university.
Biden’s was called the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement, headquartered at the University of Pennsylvania. But unlike other elected officials and other such institutions, Biden’s engagement with the Penn Biden Center was soon back-burnered. By April 2019, he was a candidate for the presidency.
In November, almost exactly two years after Biden’s election, attorneys for the president were emptying an office at the center when, according to their account, they discovered about 10 documents bearing classification markings. The next day, the documents were turned over to the National Archives. The Justice Department is now reviewing them.
In its most concise distillation — documents with classification markings found in president’s office — the scenario seems like a mirror of the controversy that swirled around Donald Trump for much of last year, including the FBI search of his Mar-a-Lago property. Trump and his allies have, predictably, tried to draw this comparison, looping in funding that Penn (broadly; not the Biden center) has received from China.
“When is the FBI going to raid the many homes of Joe Biden, perhaps even the White House?” Trump fumed on the social media platform he owns. “These documents were definitely not declassified.”
But, just as the fundamental issue with the Trump documents is not whether they were classified, the situations with the two presidents are not obviously comparable in the way that Trump suggests.
At this point, we don’t know much about the Biden documents beyond what his team has made public, which is certainly an important caveat. According to the Biden team’s statement, the documents were found in a locked closet and quickly turned over to the government. What they contain is unclear, as is their current classification level or status. (There are, of course, numerous existing documents that are no longer classified but which may nonetheless still carry classification markings.) One person, tongue presumably in cheek, told CBS News that the documents did not contain nuclear secrets.
Obvious differences are that Biden didn’t take the documents deliberately and his attorney turned them over to the National Archives as soon as they discovered them. Read the rest at the WaPo.
Meanwhile, the DOJ is still attempting to get Trump to return any documents that he still possesses. Hugo Lowell at The Guardian: DoJ seeks to question Trump team that found more classified documents.
The US justice department is intensifying its investigation of Donald Trump’s unauthorized retention of national security materials as it prepares to question the people who searched the former president’s properties at the end of last year and found more documents with classified markings.
The department was given a general explanation from Trump’s lawyers at the time about who conducted the search – a company said to be known to Trump with experience handling classified records cases – when the new documents marked as classified were returned to the government around Thanksgiving last year.
But the department, unsatisfied with that accounting, last week convinced a federal judge in a sealed hearing to force Trump’s lawyers to give the names of the people who retrieved the documents with an intent to question them directly, according to sources familiar with the matter.
The move by prosecutors to ask a federal judge to compel the information marks the latest escalating twist in the criminal investigation into Trump’s potential unauthorized retention of highly sensitive government documents as well as obstruction of justice.
The pattern of prosecutors now seeking judicial intervention at every turn signals an aggressive posture from the special counsel Jack Smith, who is overseeing the investigation after being appointed to insulate the department from accusations of political conflicts with Trump, who is now a 2024 presidential candidate.
The justice department told Trump’s legal team in October that it suspected the former president was still in possession of additional documents with classified markings even after the FBI seized hundreds of sensitive materials when agents searched his Mar-a-Lago property on 8 August.
After initially resisting suggestions to retain an outside firm to search his properties for any classified documents, Trump retained people to search his other properties including Trump Tower in New York, Trump Bedminster golf club in New Jersey, Mar-a-Lago, and a storage unit in Florida.
The search, carried out by a company described as being a known entity to the former president, turned up at the storage unit at least two more documents with classified markings that Trump’s lawyers then hurriedly turned over to prosecutors on the documents case.
That’s it for me today. What else is happening? What stories are you following?
I woke up this morning hoping to find that Elon Musk had kept his word and stepped down as CEO of Twitter after a clear majority of Twitter users voted him out in a poll he posted. It hasn’t happened yet. From CNN:
Musk had said he would abide by the results of the unscientific poll, which began Sunday evening and concluded with 57.5% voting yes, 42.5% voting no.
More than 17 million votes were cast in the informal referendum on his chaotic leadership of Twitter, which has been marked by mass layoffs, the replatforming of suspended accounts that had violated Twitter’s rules, the suspension of journalists who cover him and whiplash policy changes made and reversed in real time.
Now he says only Twitter users paying $8 per month for a blue check will be able to vote in his stupid polls. BBC News:
Elon Musk has said Twitter will only allow accounts with a blue tick to vote on changes to policy after a majority of users voted for him to quit.
Mr Musk launched a Twitter poll asking if he should step down as chief executive – 57.5% of users voted “yes”.
Since then, he has not commented directly on the result of the poll.
But he has said that Twitter will alter its rules so that only people who pay for a subscription can vote on company policy.
One user claimed that so-called bots appeared to have voted heavily in the poll about Mr Musk’s role at the firm. Mr Musk said he found the claim “interesting”….
In response to a tweet saying Twitter Blue subscribers “should be the only ones that can vote in policy related polls. We actually have skin in the game”, Mr Musk said: “Good point, Twitter will make that change”.
Twitter’s paid-for verification feature was rolled out for a second time last week after its launch was paused. The service costs $8 per month, or $11 for people using the Twitter app on Apple devices, and gives subscribers a “blue tick”.
Previously a blue tick was used as verification tool for high-profile accounts as a badge of authenticity and was free.
I honestly doubt if he’ll do that, because then he would reveal how few people are willing to pay him.
Nevertheless, according to Dan Laden-Hall at The Daily Beast, he is trying to find a replacement: Elon Musk Looking for a New Twitter CEO After Users Told Him to Go: Report.
Elon Musk is actively looking for someone to replace him as CEO of Twitter, CNBC reports.
The news comes after Musk posted a Twitter poll Sunday asking if he should step down as the head of the company. On Monday, when the poll closed, the majority of the 17.5 million votes cast said he should go. The tech boss had promised to “abide by the results” at the time he posted the yes-or-no poll, but he has yet to formally declare his intention to leave.
After buying the social media site for $44 billion in October, Musk said in court last month that he would only be Twitter’s CEO on a temporary basis. “I expect to reduce my time at Twitter and find somebody else to run Twitter over time,” he said.
According to the unnamed sources cited in CNBC’s story about his search for a successor, Musk was allegedly looking for a new Twitter CEO before posting his poll over the weekend. The search is said to be ongoing.
But by his own account, the search to find someone to run the social media giant is challenging. “The question is not finding a CEO, the question is finding a CEO who can keep Twitter alive,” Musk tweeted on Sunday. “No one wants the job who can actually keep Twitter alive. There is no successor,” he wrote a day later.
The final meeting of the House Select Committee investigating January 6 didn’t offer any big surprises, but they did announce four criminal referrals on Trump to the DOJ. Of course the referrals are essentially meaningless, but the Committee also will transmit the evidence they have gathered in support of the referrals.
Josh Gerstein at Politico: DOJ cares about the evidence, not the criminal referrals.
The historic criminal referral the House Jan. 6 committee issued urging the Justice Department to pursue charges against President Donald Trump is unlikely to sway many minds among prosecutors already pursuing multiple investigations, former DOJ officials said.
Prosecutors are more interested in the thousands of pages of witness statements and other records gathered by the House panel over the past 15 months, current and former officials said.
“I’m sure the Attorney General will welcome any new evidence the committee sends over, but the authority to indict rests with the executive branch, not Congress,” said University of Baltimore Law School Dean Ronald Weich, a former DOJ liaison to Congress. “The decision of whether to bring criminal charges is solely within the purview of the Justice Department. I expect DOJ to respond courteously to the committee, but the referral will not change the outcome.”
“I think a referral will have zero practical effect on what DOJ does,” said Randall Eliason, a former federal public corruption prosecutor in Washington. “They are already investigating, and they’re not going to decide whether or not to charge based on whether they got a referral from Congress.”
Just last month, Attorney General Merrick Garland emphasized prosecutors wanted to see the House’s evidence, but he notably omitted any desire to see what conclusions lawmakers reached about what that evidence proved.
“We would like to have all the transcripts and all of the other evidence collected … by the committee, so that we can use it in the ordinary course of our investigations,” Garland told reporters gathered in his conference room at DOJ headquarters.
In some ways, the House’s new criminal referral could have less impact than others Congress has sent to the Justice Department in the past. That’s because while some referrals spur DOJ into action, prosecutors already have investigations open into the main areas where the Jan. 6 committee sees potential crimes: Trump’s alleged incitement of the attack on the Capitol and his prolonged effort to undermine the 2020 presidential election results.
However, the public will soon be able to see the evidence for themselves, and that will probably lead to more pressure on DOJ to indict Trump. Kyle Cheney: The Jan. 6 committee’s big reveal hasn’t happened yet.
The committee is sitting on a stockpile of nearly 1,200 witness interview transcripts and reams of hard-won documents about Donald Trump’s attempt to derail the peaceful transfer of power. While the select panel’s nine members gathered on Monday to refer evidence of Trump’s potential crimes to the Justice Department, that raw information — not the showmanship of a final in-person public meeting — will tell the story the committee has labored to piece together.
The 160-page executive summary, which precedes a final panel report set for release as soon as Wednesday, hints at the extraordinary range of documents the committee collected. It references at least 30 “productions” of documents from various witnesses and agencies, including White House visitor logs, Secret Service radio frequencies and the Department of Labor, where then-Secretary Eugene Scalia produced a Jan. 8, 2021, memo seeking to call a Cabinet meeting to discuss the transfer of power.
“The select committee intends to make public the bulk of its nonsensitive records before the end of the year,” the panel’s chair, Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), said Monday. Thompson has stressed that the taxpayer-funded investigation’s materials should be made available to the public: “These transcripts and documents will allow the American people to see the evidence we have gathered and continue to explore the information that has led us to our conclusions.” [….]
Yet crucial questions remain about which evidence the panel will treat as off-limits to the public — including whether it will post hundreds of hours of video interviews alongside its transcripts. Thompson has also emphasized that transcripts will be redacted to exclude private information and law enforcement or national security-related details. And some witnesses who requested anonymity would receive it, Thompson has said.
Call records, with the exception of ones that the committee has found relevant to the probe, would likely remain secret as well, according to the chair.
The report should still be a BFD:
Even so, the panel’s introductory materials gave tantalizing clues about what’s to come. The committee’s executive summary referenced just over 80 of the panel’s interviews and documents collected from 34 agencies or witnesses; among them, Christoffer Guldbrandsen, a documentarian who captured footage of Trump ally Roger Stone, and Bernard Kerik, who advised Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani in his bid to collect evidence to challenge the 2020 results.
The summary also reflects voluminous contacts among key players in Trump’s alleged plot that were not previously known but could be of interest to federal prosecutors. For example, the document describes numerous contacts that then-DOJ officials Jeffrey Clark and Ken Klukowski had with Trump campaign attorney John Eastman in the closing days of 2020 and into early 2021.
In addition, the summary casts doubt on the testimony of some select panel witnesses — like former Secret Service and Trump White House aide Tony Ornato and former White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, who the committee said were not as forthcoming as others who spoke to it.
During her testimony, McEnany had disputed the allegation that Trump was resistant to calling off the mob, but the summary noted that her former deputy Sarah Matthews had told the panel otherwise. Ornato, who played a potentially key role as a witness to an alleged altercation between Trump and his security detail on Jan. 6, drew similar scrutiny after telling the committee he could not recall relaying the account of the altercation despite others’ testimony to the contrary.
“The Committee is skeptical of Ornato’s account,” the panel added in a footnote.
Read the rest at Politico.
Whether or not to indict Trump will be up to Special Prosecutor Jack Smith.
Jose Pagliery at The Daily Beast: Trump Special Prosecutor Has a History of Indicting Presidents.
Witnesses had lost hope and disappeared. Criminal suspect No. 1 had become president. And the long-awaited indictment now seemed unreachable.
Then, American prosecutor Jack Smith came along and took charge, sending his investigators on an aggressive mission to win back reluctant witnesses—by targeting the tight-lipped politicians and militant nationalists who had kept them silent.
The story may sound familiar, if not a bit like resistance fan-fiction. But this story is actually about Smith’s efforts in Kosovo, a small country in southeastern Europe that was historically an Albanian enclave in Serbia. It was difficult every step of the way. Smith had to defend his work from widespread accusations that he was conducting an unfair political prosecution to remove the nation’s favorite leader. And the narrative was that cooperators are traitors—and that these lawyers like Smith were trying to destroy the country.
It may prove to be an invaluable experience.
Since the U.S. Department of Justice appointed Smith as the trusted special counsel investigating former President Donald Trump last month, there have been dozens of news profiles focusing on his time as a domestic prosecutor investigating public corruption. Several have even incorrectly identified the international court he served on. But this is the first sweeping look at what exactly he accomplished while on a special assignment abroad in Europe, where he took down Kosovo’s sitting president—and gained the credentials to target an American one.
Kosovo investigation until Smith took over. “It has huge political consequences. It takes bravery. Jack’s got to decide whether he’s going to indict a former president of the United States. But he did the same thing when it came to Hashim Thaçi.”
Kosovo’s now ex-president remains trapped inside a jail in the Dutch city of The Hague. Understanding how he got there helps contextualize Smith’s legacy at the controversial international prosecutor’s office he led until last month—and his ability to face Trump now.
Read more at The Daily Beast.
Today, the House Ways and Means Committee will consider whether to release Trump’s tax returns to the public.
The House Ways and Means Committee will meet Tuesday to discuss former President Donald Trump’s tax returns and weigh whether to release the information to the public, the end to a years-long effort from Democrats to learn more about Trump’s financial background.
The highly anticipated meeting is years in the making but comes as Democrats have just days to act on whether to release the former president’s tax returns. While there is historic precedent for Ways and Means to release confidential tax information, a decision to put it out to the public would come with intense political fallout as Trump has already declared he is running for president in 2024.
The committee has had access to Trump’s taxes for weeks after winning a lengthy legal battle that began in the spring of 2019. House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal requested the first six years of Trump’s taxes as well as tax returns for eight of his businesses back in April of 2019.
Neal and his ranking member Kevin Brady have had access to the information, and rank-and-file members on the committee will have begun to have access and review at least some of Trump’s tax information, according to a source familiar.
It’s not clear if members would have access to all of the information.
Republicans on the committee are preparing to push back hard if Democrats vote to release any of Trump’s tax information, committee sources tell CNN. The argument Republicans will wage, however, won’t center on defending Trump explicitly but rather what the release means for politicians and ordinary people in the future.
Democrats on the committee would rely on section 6103 of the tax code to lawfully release information about Trump’s taxes, but Republicans are prepared to argue that Democrats are abusing the provision, attacking a political enemy and potentially unleashing a system where even individuals could have their personal information exposed if they become targets of the committee.
More stories to check out, links only:
The Washington Post: Another headache for Trump as House panel weighs release of tax returns.
Maggie Haberman at The New York Times: A Diminished Trump Meets a Damning Narrative.
The Washington Post: Congress unveils $1.7 trillion deal to fund government, avert shutdown.
The Washington Post: Lawmakers put Electoral Count Act, crafted as response to Jan. 6, in omnibus bill.
Adam Liptak at The New York Times: An ‘Imperial Supreme Court’ Asserts Its Power, Alarming Scholars.
Have a nice Tuesday, Sky Dancers!!
Yesterday, Talking Points Memo released a large trove of Mark Meadows’ text messages. It’s not clear how they obtained them, but the main author of the series of articles is Hunter Walker, who collaborated with Denver Riggleman on the book The Breach, which described Riggleman’s work for the January 6 Committee. Riggleman led the project to identify the senders of text messages that were turned over to the committee. The articles are not behind the usual TPM paywall.
Hunter Walker introduces the series at TPM: A Plot To Overturn An American Election.
TPM has obtained the 2,319 text messages that Mark Meadows, who was President Trump’s last White House chief of staff, turned over to the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack. Today, we are publishing The Meadows Texts, a series based on an in-depth analysis of these extraordinary — and disturbing — communications.
The vast majority of Meadows’ texts described in this series are being made public for the very first time. They show the senior-most official in the Trump White House communicating with members of Congress, state-level politicians, and far-right activists as they work feverishly to overturn Trump’s loss in the 2020 election. The Meadows texts illustrate in moment-to-moment detail an authoritarian effort to undermine the will of the people and upend the American democratic system as we know it.
The text messages, obtained from multiple sources, offer new insights into how the assault on the election was rooted in deranged internet paranoia and undemocratic ideology. They show Meadows and other high-level Trump allies reveling in wild conspiracy theories, violent rhetoric, and crackpot legal strategies for refusing to certify Joe Biden’s victory. They expose the previously unknown roles of some members of Congress, local politicians, activists and others in the plot to overturn the election. Now, for the first time, many of those figures will be named and their roles will be described — in their own words.
Meadows turned over the text messages during a brief period of cooperation with the committee before he filed a December 2021 lawsuit arguing that its subpoenas seeking testimony and his phone records were “overly broad” and violations of executive privilege. The committee did not respond to a request for comment on this story. Since then, Meadows has faced losses in his efforts to challenge the subpoena in court. However, that legal battle is ongoing and is unlikely to conclude before next month, when the incoming Republican House majority is widely expected to shutter the committee’s investigation. Earlier this year, Meadows reportedly turned over the same material he gave the select committee to the Justice Department in response to another subpoena. These messages are key evidence in the two major investigations into the Jan. 6 attack. With this series, the American people will be able to evaluate the most important texts for themselves.
This one is the real shocker. Hunter Walker, Josh Kovensky, and Emine Yücel at TPM: Mark Meadows Exchanged Texts With 34 Members Of Congress About Plans To Overturn The 2020 Election.
White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows exchanged text messages with at least 34 Republican members of Congress as they plotted to overturn President Trump’s loss in the 2020 election….
Meadows’ exchanges shed new light on the extent of congressional involvement in Trump’s efforts to spread baseless conspiracy theories about his defeat and his attempts to reverse it. The messages document the role members played in the campaign to subvert the election as it was conceived, built, and reached its violent climax on Jan. 6, 2021. The texts are rife with links to far-right websites, questionable legal theories, violent rhetoric, and advocacy for authoritarian power grabs.
One message identified as coming from Rep. Ralph Norman (R-SC) to Meadows on January 17, 2021, three days before Joe Biden was set to take office, is a raw distillation of the various themes in the congressional correspondence. In the text, despite a typo, Norman seemed to be proposing a dramatic last ditch plan: having Trump impose martial law during his final hours in office.
“Mark, in seeing what’s happening so quickly, and reading about the Dominion law suits attempting to stop any meaningful investigation we are at a point of � no return � in saving our Republic !! Our LAST HOPE is invoking Marshall Law!! PLEASE URGE TO PRESIDENT TO DO SO!!”
The text, which has not previously been reported, is a particularly vivid example of how congressional opposition to Biden’s election was underpinned by paranoid and debunked conspiracy theories like those about Dominion voting machines. Norman’s text also showed the potentially violent lengths to which some congressional Republicans were willing to go in order to keep Trump in power. The log Meadows provided to the select committee does not include a response to Norman’s message.
Reached via cell phone on Monday morning, Norman asked TPM for a chance to review his messages before commenting.
“It’s been two years,” Norman said. “Send that text to me and I’ll take a look at it.”
TPM forwarded Norman a copy of the message calling for “Marshall Law!!” We did not receive any further response from the congressman.
Read the rest at TPM.
Two more pieces in the series:
Hunter Walker and Josh Kovensky at TPM: Freedom Caucus Chair Scott Perry’s Work To Overturn 2020 Election Included A ‘Cyber Team’ And An Italian Job.
Kate Riga and Hunter Walker: As The 2020 Election Slipped Away, Andy Biggs And Mark Meadows Schemed To Reverse The Vote In Arizona.
So you can check those out at TPM. It’s quite a scoop for Josh Marshall’s blog.
Here’s another shocker from the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP): Hundreds of Members of Extremist Group Oath Keepers Worked for U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Leaked Roster Shows.
More than 300 people identifying themselves as current or former employees of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) or affiliated agencies appeared on an internal roster of the Oath Keepers, a right-wing anti-government group whose leader has been convicted of sedition.
Among them is a man identifying himself as a “20 year Special Agent” with the U.S. Secret Service who worked security for two presidents, a person who said he was a “Current Supervisory Border Patrol Agent,” and one who described himself as an IT employee at the headquarters of the Transportation Security Administration.
The Oath Keepers roster analyzed by OCCRP and its reporting partner, the Project on Government Oversight (POGO), shows that 306 dues-paying Oath Keepers members listed themselves as affiliated with DHS, including 21 who said they were working for the agency at the time their names were added.
One hundred eighty-four identified themselves as having served in the Coast Guard, 67 as having worked in DHS itself, 40 at Customs and Border Protection or the Border Patrol, 11 at Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and seven at the U.S. Secret Service, the agency charged with protecting the president, vice president, and visiting heads of state.
The new revelations are troubling, said Rep. Bennie Thompson, a Democratic congressman who chairs the House Homeland Security Committee.
“Extremism within our government is always alarming, but even more so in a department with a law enforcement and national security nexus like DHS,” said Thompson, who is also heading the U.S. House’s investigation into the January 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol….
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, an anti-racism group, the Oath Keepers claim to have recruited tens of thousands of current and former U.S. military and law enforcement employees. The Oath Keepers’ top leader, Elmer Stewart Rhodes III, wrote in a 2009 blog post that “men like this on the inside … can and do provide information to expose what is going on,” adding that “we are hearing from more and more federal officers all the time.”
Click the link to read more.
Elon Musk continues his pathetic cries for attention from the right wing mob. I’m sure you’ve heard that he attacked Anthony Fauci on Twitter. From The Independent: Dr Fauci hits back at Musk claims he should be prosecuted: ‘Cesspool of misinformation.’
Dr Anthony Fauci, the outgoing director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases who helped steer the country through the early stages of the Covid-19 pandemic, brushed off criticism from Twitter’s Elon Musk on Monday.
On Sunday, Mr Musk, who has increasingly broadcast far right views in recent months, tweeted: “My pronouns are Prosecute/Fauci.”
Dr Fauci, who has faced hostility from conservatives for years due to his support of public health measures to limit the spread and severity of Covid, told reporter Max Kozlov of the science magazine Nature that he was not bothered by Mr Musk’s attack.
“I don’t pay attention to that, Max, and I don’t even feel I need to respond,” Dr Fauci told Kozlov. “A lot of that stuff is just a cesspool of misinformation, and I don’t waste a minute worrying about it.”
Kozlov tweeted that a full interview with Dr Fauci is forthcoming.
Mr Musk, who was an early skeptic of Covid public health measures and remote work, at one point tweeted that there would likely be no new US cases of Covid by April of 2020. His lack of public health credentials notwithstanding, Mr Musk’s tweet was amplified by critics of Dr Fauci like Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia.
Mr Musk’s tweet also mocked the increasingly common practice of people explicitly stating their preferred gender pronouns, a practice aimed at ensuring that people are not misgendered.
Yesterday, I learned that there could be some personal psychological reasons for Musk’s right-wing radicalization. One of his children, who identifies as a trans woman, has publicly disowned him and changed her surname. She legally changed her name from Xavier Musk to Vivian Jenna Wilson (he mother’s maiden name).
Elon Musk doesn’t seem to believe he played any role in alienating his 18-year-old transgender daughter, who made the legal move this year to no longer be related to her controversial billionaire father “in any way, shape or form.”
Instead, the Tesla CEO told the Financial Times in an interview published Friday that his child’s decision to distance herself from him was caused by “neo-Marxists” at educational institutions, Page Six reported.
Musk didn’t specify what institutions had worked their influence on his daughter, but he said, “It’s full-on communism and a general sentiment that if you’re rich, you’re evil.”
Musk apparently sees no connection between his child’s disenchantment with him and his polarizing comments about gender identity issues. The young woman’s mother, Musk’s first wife, Justine Wilson, has characterized the CEO as a difficult, controlling and patriarchal man to live with.
Musk, who has revived his effort to buy Twitter, first came under fire for his views on pronouns in July 2020, when he tweeted that “pronouns suck.” His partner at the time, the singer Grimes, was outraged, saying, “I cannot support hate. Please stop this. I know this isn’t your heart.” Grimes also told him to get off his phone: “I love you but please turn off ur phone.”
Months later, Musk was criticized again for sharing a meme, since deleted, that seemingly mocked people who put their pronouns in their online bios. In response to criticism to that tweet, Musk wrote on Twitter: “I absolutely support trans, but all these pronouns are an esthetic nightmare.” [….]
In June, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge officially approved two requests from Musk’s daughter to be legally recognized as a woman. In petitioning for the name change, the daughter also expressed the desire to no longer be related to her famous father. The judge signed documents that said that a new birth certificate would be issued to the young woman, which reflects the change in name and gender.
A bit more about Musk from his former wife:
In a scathing essay Wilson wrote for Marie Claire about their marriage, which ended in 2008, she said that Musk grew up in the male-dominated culture of South Africa.
“The will to compete and dominate that made him so successful in business did not magically shut off when he came home,” Wilson wrote. “This, and the vast economic imbalance between us, meant that in the months following our wedding, a certain dynamic began to take hold.
“Elon’s judgment overruled mine, and he was constantly remarking on the ways he found me lacking. ‘I am your wife,’ I told him repeatedly, ‘not your employee.’ ‘If you were my employee,’ he said just as often, ‘I would fire you.’”
After their daughter’s decision to sever ties with her father were made public, Wilson expressed support for her, tweeting, “I’m very proud of you!”
You can read the October 7 interview by Roula Khalaf at the Financial Times if you sign up for a free account. Here are some relevant bits: Elon Musk: “Aren’t you entertained?”
Why does a serious guy with serious ideas indulge in silly Twitter games that could also cost his followers dearly? “Aren’t you entertained?” Musk roars with laughter. “I play the fool on Twitter and often shoot myself in the foot and cause myself all sorts of trouble . . . I don’t know, I find it vaguely therapeutic to express myself on Twitter. It’s a way to get messages out to the public.”
It is fair to say that Musk is obsessed with Twitter, so much so that he’s been embroiled in an epic on/off buyout of the platform that has captivated Wall Street and the tech industry for months….
I had asked over dinner whether his original offer had been a bad joke. “Twitter is certainly an invitation to increase your pain level,” he says. “I guess I must be a masochist . . . ” But he makes no secret that his interest in the company has never been primarily financial: “I’m not doing Twitter for the money. It’s not like I’m trying to buy some yacht and I can’t afford it. I don’t own any boats. But I think it’s important that people have a maximally trusted and inclusive means of exchanging ideas and that it should be as trusted and transparent as possible.” The alternative, he says, is a splintering of debate into different social-media bubbles, as evidenced by Donald Trump’s Truth Social network. “It [Truth Social] is essentially a rightwing echo chamber. It might as well be called Trumpet.”
Now it’s clear that Musk is turning Twitter into Truth Social or something even worse. This is interesting:
We turn to his views on government and politics and the Twitter Musk appears, the more emotional, unrestrained persona that comes across in his frenetic posts. He is lauding billionaires as the most efficient stewards of capital, best placed to decide on the allocation of social benefits. “If the alternative steward of capital is the government, that is actually not going to be to the benefit of the people,” says Musk.
He is railing against Joe Biden for being in thrall to the unions but also daring to snub him. “He [Biden] had an electric vehicle summit at the White House and deliberately didn’t invite Tesla last year. Then to follow it up, to add insult to injury, at a big event he said that GM was leading the electric car revolution, in the same quarter that GM shipped 26 electric cars and we shipped 300,000. Does that seem fair to you?” [….]
Musk has a dystopian view of the left’s influence on America, which helps explain his wild pursuit of Twitter to liberate free speech. He blames the fact that his teenage daughter no longer wants to be associated with him on the supposed takeover of elite schools and universities by neo-Marxists. “It’s full-on communism . . . and a general sentiment that if you’re rich, you’re evil,” says Musk. “It [the relationship] may change, but I have very good relationships with all the others [children]. Can’t win them all.”
Musk was abused by his father as a child, and his response has been to become a bully.
He also has a dim view of regulators, whom he sees as bureaucrats justifying their jobs by going after high-profile targets like him. He seems to be in a constant feud with one regulator or another, whether it’s over his own pronouncements or over the treatment of staff. Musk is unabashed about driving his employees hard. He was bullied as a child (and has also spoken of emotional abuse by his father) but is now sometimes accused of bullying others. He shoots back: if anyone is unhappy working for him, they should work elsewhere because “they’re not chained to the company, it’s voluntary.
That explains a lot. Read more at Financial Times if you’re interested. I’m beginning to find Musk even more annoying and repulsive than Trump. And here’s the October 2001 Marie Claire essay by Justine Musk: “I Was a Starter Wife”: Inside America’s Messiest Divorce.”
More Twitter News:
Kayla Gogarty at Media Matters: Anti-LGBTQ hate has increased on Twitter since Elon Musk officially acquired the company.
A new report from Media Matters and GLAAD shows that since Elon Musk took over as Twitter CEO and plunged the company into chaos with erratic decisions, anti-LGBTQ rhetoric has increased on the platform, despite his claims and actions to the contrary, including disbanding Twitter’s Trust and Safety Council. Media Matters has found that retweets of right-wing figures’ tweets that included the anti-LGBTQ “groomer” slur increased substantially, as did mentions of right-wing figures in tweets containing the slur.
Key findings include:
- Anti-LGBTQ accounts that saw substantial increases in both retweets of and mentions in tweets with the slur included Tim Pool, Jack Posobiec, Jake Shield, Gays Against Groomers, Blaire White, Allie Beth Stuckey, Andy Ngo, Seth Dillon, and Mike Cernovich.
- Collectively, these 9 accounts saw an over 1,200% increase in retweets of tweets with the slur, going from nearly 3,600 to over 48,000, and they saw an over 1,100% increase in mentions in tweets with the slur, going from over 5,300 to more than 65,000.
- Other right-wing accounts also saw substantial increases of mentions in tweets containing the slur. For instance, Libs of TikTok saw more than a 600% increase in its mentions, going from nearly 2,000 to nearly 14,000, while Rep. Mayra Flores (R-TX) saw a nearly 6,000% increase, going from nearly 70 mentions to over 4,000.
- Anti-LGBTQ figure James Lindsay and right-wing satire site Babylon Bee have earned thousands of retweets on posts perpetuating the anti-LGBTQ “groomer” slur and have been mentioned in thousands of tweets referencing the slur since their accounts were reinstated by Musk.
- Mentions of prominent LGBTQ accounts in tweets with the “groomer” slur also increased during the time frame, with one account seeing an increase of over 225,000% after Musk officially acquired the platform.
Read more at Media Matters.
The Washington Post: Twitter dissolves Trust and Safety Council.
Twitter on Monday night abruptly dissolved its Trust and Safety Council, the latest sign that Elon Musk is unraveling years of work and institutions created to make the social network safer and more civil.
Members of Twitter’s Trust and Safety Council received an email with the subject line, “Thank You,” that informed them the council was no longer “the best structure” to bring “external insights into our product and policy development work.”
The email dissolution arrived less than an hour before members of the council were expecting to meet with Twitter executives via Zoom to discuss recent developments, according to people familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the plans.
Dozens of civil rights leaders, academics and advocates from around the world had volunteered their time for years to help improve safety on the platform.
“We are grateful for your engagement, advice and collaboration in recent years and wish you every success in the future,” said the email, which was simply signed “Twitter.”
In less than two months, Musk has undone years of investments in trust and safety at Twitter — dismissing key parts of the workforce and bringing back accounts that previously had been suspended. As the body unravels, Musk is tightening his grip on decisions about the future of content moderation at Twitter, with less input from outside experts.
The move is just throwing away “years of institutional memory that we on the council have brought” to the company, said one council member who spoke on the condition of anonymity due to concerns about harassment on the platform. “Getting external experts and advocates looking at your services makes you smarter.”
Read more at the WaPo.
I’ll end there and turn it over to you. What are your thoughts on all this? What other stories are you following?