Thursday Reads

Good Morning!!

It appears that Cover-Up General Bill Barr has struck again. He apparently ordered the Southern District of New York to end their investigation of campaign finance violations by Michael Cohen and Individual 1 (AKA Donald Trump).

The Washington Post: Prosecutors have ‘concluded’ Michael Cohen campaign finance probe, judge says.

Federal prosecutors have concluded the campaign finance investigation centered on President Trump’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen, or at least key aspects of it, a federal judge overseeing the case wrote Wednesday, suggesting prosecutors will not charge executives in the Trump Organization or any others who have been linked to the matter.

The good news is that Judge William H. Pauley ordered the public release of search warrants and other documents related to the case. Prosecutors asked Pauley to allow some redactions of the materials, but the judge said no dice. The materials should be available sometime this morning.

He [Pauley] wrote that the government disclosed in a secret filing Monday that it had “concluded the aspects of its investigation that justified the continued sealing of the portions of the Materials relating to Cohen’s campaign finance violations.” He rejected their request to file the materials with redactions to protect “third-party privacy interests,” because, by his telling, the case is over and the public deserves to see everything.

“The campaign finance violations discussed in the Materials are a matter of national importance,” Pauley wrote. “Now that the Government’s investigation into those violations has concluded, it is time that every American has an opportunity to scrutinize the Materials.”

So Barr has made sure that the Trump Organization will no longer be in danger of prosecution. Will the investigations into Trump’s inauguration be axed next?

Rachel Maddow talked about this last night.

Folks, this is getting scarier with every passing day. Trump now controls the Department of Justice and apparently can order investigations stopped or opened. Republicans control the Senate, so nothing the Democrats pass will even be considered there, including impeachment. The only protection we have left is the courts, and Trump and the GOP are working overtime to stock them with Trump judges.

Last night Trump held another Nazi/KKK rally in North Carolina, during which he attacked has latest target Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar and encouraged the crowd as they screamed “send her back!”

And in case you thought Trump was ad libbing, here’s the proof that the attack was orchestrated.

From The Charlotte Observer editorial board: ’Send her back’: A dark reminder of who we are.

It happened in the first half of Wednesday’s speech. Donald Trump, our president, began to talk about Rep. Ilhan Omar, a Democratic from Minnesota who was among the four women of color he had attacked Sunday in a racist tweet. Everyone knew Trump would speak about the women at some point to the Greenville, North Carolina crowd. Did we know what would come next?

“Send her back.”

The chant rose quickly from a handful of voices to a chorus of bigotry. It was a chilling moment. It was “lock her up” in a white hood. It was despicable.

It could have happened at any Donald Trump rally. It might have happened in any state, north or south. But it happened in Greenville, in our state, and it was one of North Carolina’s darkest moments.

“Send her back.”

Or perhaps not. Maybe the chant will be absorbed in the vortex that is Donald Trump. In a presidency of so many shameful moments, of so many new lows, the singularly awful ones tend to lose their significance. It’s possible that North Carolina might be forgotten when the chant inevitably spreads to the next rally. But North Carolina shouldn’t forget.

The Associated Press: Trump leans on issue of race in bid for a 2nd term in 2020.

President Donald Trump has placed racial animus at the center of his reelection campaign, and even some of his critics believe it could deliver him a second term.

Every successful modern presidential campaign has been built on the notion of addition, winning over voters beyond core supporters. But Trump has chosen division on the belief that the polarized country he leads will simply choose sides over issues like race.

He intensified his attacks on Wednesday, blasting four young congresswomen of color during a rally in Greenville, North Carolina . The crowd responded by chanting, “Send her back!” echoing Trump’s weekend tweet in which he said the lawmakers, all American citizens, should “go back” to the countries from which they came.

“I do think I am winning the political fight,” Trump declared at the White House. “I think I am winning it by a lot.”

Not since George Wallace’s campaign in 1968 has a presidential candidate — and certainly not an incumbent president — put racial polarization at the center of his call to voters. Though Trump’s comments generated outrage and even a resolution of condemnation in the House, the president and his campaign believe the strategy carries far more benefits than risks.

The Irish Times: Fintan O’Toole: Trial runs for fascism are in full flow.

To grasp what is going on in the world right now, we need to reflect on two things. One is that we are in a phase of trial runs. The other is that what is being trialled is fascism – a word that should be used carefully but not shirked when it is so clearly on the horizon. Forget “post-fascist” – what we are living with is pre-fascism.

It is easy to dismiss Donald Trump as an ignoramus, not least because he is. But he has an acute understanding of one thing: test marketing. He created himself in the gossip pages of the New York tabloids, where celebrity is manufactured by planting outrageous stories that you can later confirm or deny depending on how they go down. And he recreated himself in reality TV where the storylines can be adjusted according to the ratings. Put something out there, pull it back, adjust, go again.

Fascism doesn’t arise suddenly in an existing democracy. It is not easy to get people to give up their ideas of freedom and civility. You have to do trial runs that, if they are done well, serve two purposes. They get people used to something they may initially recoil from; and they allow you to refine and calibrate. This is what is happening now and we would be fools not to see it.

One of the basic tools of fascism is the rigging of elections – we’ve seen that trialled in the election of Trump, in the Brexit referendum and (less successfully) in the French presidential elections. Another is the generation of tribal identities, the division of society into mutually exclusive polarities. Fascism does not need a majority – it typically comes to power with about 40 per cent support and then uses control and intimidation to consolidate that power. So it doesn’t matter if most people hate you, as long as your 40 per cent is fanatically committed. That’s been tested out too. And fascism of course needs a propaganda machine so effective that it creates for its followers a universe of “alternative facts” impervious to unwanted realities. Again, the testing for this is very far advanced.

Read the rest at the link above.

Last night Trump also celebrated a meaningless vote in the house about impeachment. Politico suggests that he might actually think the vote has ended the threat.

IT BARELY TOOK THE PRESIDENT ANY TIME before he said this Wednesday evening at his campaign rally in Greenville, N.C.: “I just heard that the United States House of Representatives has overwhelmingly voted to kill the most ridiculous project I’ve ever been involved in: the resolution — how stupid is that — on impeachment. I want to thank those Democrats because many of them voted for us, the vote was a totally lopsided 332-95-1.” … Upon arriving in North Carolina, President Donald Trump said the same thing: “We have just received an overwhelming vote against impeachment. And that’s the end of it. Let the Democrats now go back to work….

a few smart, seasoned people in the White House wondered to us Wednesday night if TRUMP actually believes this vote ended impeachment. Of course, it didn’t. This was a procedural vote that means nothing in the grand scheme of things. There are still nearly 90 Democrats who are now on record supporting an impeachment inquiry, and ROBERT MUELLER is coming to the Hill next week. There are Democrats who believe the impeachment caucus will swell as soon as he opens his mouth.

At Bloomberg, Jonathan Bernstein writes: That Strange Impeachment Vote? It May Be a Big Deal.

Inflaming the base: July 16, 2019

Representative Al Green, a Democrat from Texas, has regularly introduced articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump. Usually, when a regular bill or resolution has been introduced, it’s then referred to committee. If the majority party doesn’t want to consider the bill, it will die with no further action. Under House rules, however, any member can force an impeachment resolution onto the floor as pending business. That’s what Green did Wednesday.

This maneuver doesn’t mean that impeachment gets a final vote, or even debate. What it does get is a “motion to table,” which means that lawmakers can vote to either keep the resolution as pending business or kill it off. When Green did this in 2017, 58 Democrats voted to keep the impeachment measure alive. In 2018, 66 did so. This time, it was up to 95.

Of course, there are more Democrats in the current Congress than in the previous one. And we can’t assume that all the votes to table were necessarily votes against impeachment (pro-impeachment independent Justin Amash voted to table, for instance). Some legislators may have objected to bringing the resolution straight to the floor on procedural grounds, or thought that Green’s articles were poorly drafted. Still, the vote offers a decent proxy for where impeachment sentiment stands in the House: It divides Democrats and unites Republicans in opposition. For now.

What I found interesting was that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who has said she opposes impeachment, apparently didn’t whip the vote. If that’s the case, what does it say about her real position? One interpretation is that she simply wanted to mollify pro-impeachment Democrats by giving them an easy opportunity to express their views. Another is that Pelosi isn’t as opposed to impeachment as she has let on, and was using this vote to gauge sentiment within the caucus – or even to demonstrate that support for ousting the president is growing.

(Emphasis added.)

I’ll end with this breaking news from The Miami Herald: Judge keeps Jeffrey Epstein in N.Y. jail as prosecutors build on sex trafficking case.

Wealthy sex offender Jeffrey Epstein will have to wait out a sex trafficking trial from a jail cell after a federal judge in New York ruled Thursday against his request for release on bail.

Epstein, 66, had offered to put up any collateral the judge wished from his self-estimated $559 million fortune. He said he would live in isolation in his Manhattan mansion, and pay for private security to ensure he remains inside and that no one enters unless authorized by the courts.

But with prosecutors warning that Epstein could easily flee or attempt to interfere with their witnesses, Senior U.S. District Judge Richard Berman has ordered that Epstein remain at the Manhattan Correctional Institute as the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York seeks his conviction on child sex trafficking and conspiracy charges. Berman, according to reporters covering the hearing in New York, cited concerns that Epstein is a “danger” to others.

Berman’s ruling is a major victory for Epstein’s accusers, who have grown by the dozens since he was first investigated on trafficking allegations in South Florida more than a dozen years ago. The wealthy financier was first arrested in Palm Beach County in the mid-2000s after police began to suspect that he was abusing underage girls.

I’ll post anything I find about the release of Cohen materials from SDNY. What stories are you following today?


Tuesday Reads: Jeffrey Epstein, Trump, and the Politicized DOJ

Summertime, by Mary Cassatt, 1894

Good Morning!!

The news is full of Jeffrey Epstein stories; I can only hope that this time his victims will finally get justice. Bill Barr has recused himself from the case, but will that keep Trump and the Justice Department he now controls from helping his old pal Epstein?

Trump Has Politicized the DOJ

Chris Smith at Vanity Fair: “It Would Be Ridiculously Naive Not To Be Concerned”:   Trump has Politicized the DOJ. How Long Can the SDNY Hold Out?

Sally Yates tried to warn us. Way back in January 2017, at the end of the very first week of the Trump administration, the new president signed an executive order banning refugees and immigrants from seven majority-Muslim countries from entering the United States. It was a blatantly political act, following months of Trump campaign promises, and it immediately provoked lawsuits challenging the order as religious discrimination. Yates, the acting attorney general, refused to defend the legally indefensible and was summarily fired. “The president is attempting to dismantle the rule of law, destroy the time-honored independence of the Justice Department, and undermine the career men and women who are devoted to seeking justice day in and day out,” Yates wrote in a New York Times op-ed published in July 2017.

Summer’s Day, by Berthe Morisot

Two Julys later, Trump’s politicization of the DOJ is gaining new momentum and depth. The president’s choice of William Barr as attorney general, and Barr’s entirely predictable attempts to undercut the Mueller report, has been the highest-profile, highest-stakes move to weaponize the department for partisan purposes. But two fresh episodes demonstrate Trump’s relentless push to subvert the DOJ, and how far-reaching the damage will be to the rule of law. First came Sarah Fabian, the senior attorney in the DOJ’s Office of Immigration Litigation, telling a California appeals court that it is “safe and sanitary” for jailed immigrant children to go without soap or toothbrushes and to sleep on concrete floors under bright lights. “I actually felt somewhat sorry for her,” a former federal prosecutor says. “You could hear how half-hearted she was in making the point. But there is no way she would have been making that argument at all without it being approved at the highest levels of DOJ….”

The second, ongoing case echoes the events that got Yates fired. Last week, the Supreme Court ruled against adding a citizenship question to the 2020 census, after documents from a now deceased Republican consultant’s hard drives were exposed. The census citizenship question, Thomas Hofeller wrote in an analysis, “would clearly be a disadvantage to the Democrats” and “advantageous to Republicans and non-Hispanic whites.” The DOJ announced it would not be fighting the Supreme Court ruling; the Commerce Department announced it would begin printing the census forms without the question in question.

Trump didn’t care. “We are absolutely moving forward,” he declared on Twitter. Which was news to DOJ lawyers, who found themselves fumbling during an emergency conference call with a Maryland district court judge….

Summer Afternoon in Rockport, by Carl Peters

After a few more days of confusion, the DOJ said on Friday it would demur from pursuing the case, at least until the Commerce Department “adopts a new rationale for including the citizenship question.” That new spin should arrive very soon. Over the weekend Trump and Barr replaced the DOJ legal team handling the case. Whether the prior group of career lawyers balked at returning to the Supreme Court with a new, possibly untenable argument or whether Barr simply wants fresh minds on the case, the shift was all but unprecedented, and is yet another indication that Trump sees the DOJ as a political tool.

Will Trump find a way to force the DOJ to help Epstein? I think he’s likely to try. Smith concludes:

…it’s hard to imagine Trump won’t try to intercede if the famously independent SDNY—currently back in the headlines for charging billionaire Jeffrey Epstein with sex trafficking—moves to indict one or more of the president’s high-ranking associates. (Epstein has pleaded not guilty.) “The fear is that Trump doesn’t even need to say it out loud anymore, because Barr is so protective of him,” Rocah says. “It would be ridiculously naïve not to be concerned.”

Also recommended from Zoe Tillman at Buzzfeed News: Trump Is Bringing In New Lawyers On The Citizenship Question Case And No One Knows What’s Happening.

Epstein stories to check out

Ken White provides a good backgrounder on the case at The Atlantic: Jeffrey Epstein Is Out of Luck.

The United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, famously aggressive in pursuing high-profile prosecutions, charged Epstein last week with child sex trafficking in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1591. These new charges represent the Department of Justice’s attempt to redeem a reputation soiled by the extremely questionable plea deal it gave Epstein in 2008.

Summer Landscape, by Pierre Auguste Renoir, 1875

In 2006 and 2007, Epstein— once a reliable companion of the well-connected — faced extensive, detailed allegations that he paid multiple minors for sexual contact and for their services in procuring other minors. Most people, hammered with that kind of evidence, would spend the rest of their lives in prison. But Epstein could afford the lavish attention of a defense team staffed by legal luminaries like Alan Dershowitz and Kenneth Starr. Most of us hope an attorney will defend us competently at trial, but the super-rich can afford to go on the offense. Epstein’s lawyers hounded the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida, which was considering federal charges based on reports that Epstein procured underaged girls across state lines. Former U.S. Attorney Alex Acosta – now President Trump’s Secretary of Labor – characterized it as a “year-long assault on the prosecution and prosecutors,” and complained that Epstein’s team investigated prosecutors and their families “looking for personal peccadilloes that may provide a basis for disqualification.”

The strategy worked. Epstein’s team secured the deal of the millennium, one utterly unlike anything I’ve seen in 25 years of practicing federal criminal law. Epstein agreed to plead guilty to state charges, register as a sex offender, and spend 13 months in county jail, during which time he was allowed to spend 12 hours a day, 6 days a week, out of the jail on “work release.” In exchange, the Southern District of Florida abandoned its criminal investigation of Epstein’s conduct, agreed not to prosecute him federally, and – incredibly— agreed not to prosecute anyone else who helped him procure underaged girls for sex. This is not normal; it is astounding.

Read the rest at the link.

Barbara McQuade at New York Magazine: The Jeffrey Epstein Case Shows What Sex Trafficking Really Looks Like.

Interior at Etretat, the 14th of July, by Henri Matisse, 1920

When jurors hear “sex trafficking,” they conjure up images of victims bound by chains, subjected to physical force and imprisonment. While some cases include those aggravating facts, more often, the victim instead chooses to stay with her assailant, who preys upon a vulnerability. Defendants recruit victims in a variety of ways and then force them to engage in sex acts with them or with paying customers. Jurors are sometimes persuaded that if the defendant was truly engaging in sex trafficking, the victim would have simply run away or called the police.

As a former federal prosecutor, I have seen cases of sex trafficking, and none of those cases involved victims in ropes or chains. More often, the cases involved runaways, undocumented immigrants, or victims of sexual abuse.

A high-profile case like Epstein’s provides a teachable moment for American jurors. The indictment notes that some of his victims returned to his home to perform sex acts for money, even after they knew full well what was in store for them. The indictment also notes that the victims were “for various reasons, particularly vulnerable to exploitation.” That is the secret sauce of sex trafficking….

Sex trafficking is particularly egregious when it involves children, as in Epstein’s case. Children by definition are unable to consent to sex. In Epstein’s case, girls were lured to his home for sex with promises of hundreds of dollars and the prospect of modeling careers — offers that can be head-spinning and irresistible for a young teen.

by

Summer day, Gloucester Harbor, by Alice Judson

One of the reasons that we prosecute crimes is to deter others from committing similar acts. By seeing criminals punished for wrongdoing, others learn from their example. Another potential benefit of the Epstein case is to educate the public that not all victims of sex trafficking are found in chains. Here is hoping that jurors will learn from this example.

Read the whole thing at The Intelligencer.

Vicky Ward (who researched and wrote an in-depth piece about Epstein for Vanity Fair in 2003) at The Daily Beast: Jeffrey Epstein’s Sick Story Played Out for Years in Plain Sight.

For almost two decades, for some nebulous reason, whether to do with ties to foreign intelligence, his billions of dollars, or his social connections, Epstein, whose alleged sexual sickness and horrific assaults on women without means or ability to protect themselves is well-known in his circle, remained untouchable.

As many people know, I spent many months on his trail in 2002 for Vanity Fair and discovered not only that he was not who he claimed to be professionally, but also that he had allegedly assaulted two young sisters, one of whom had been underage at the time. Very bravely, they were prepared to go on the record. They were afraid he’d use all his influence to discredit them—and their fear turned out to be legitimate.

As the article was being readied for publication, Epstein made a visit to the office of Vanity Fair’s then-editor, Graydon Carter, and suddenly the women and their allegations were removed from the article. “He’s sensitive about the young women,” Carter told me at the time. He also mentioned he’d finagled a photograph of Epstein in a swimsuit out of the encounter. And there was also some feeble excuse about the article “being stronger as a business story.” (Epstein had also leaned heavily on my ex-husband’s uncle, Conrad Black, to try to exert his influence on me, which was particularly unwelcome, given that Black happened to be my ex-husband’s boss at the time.)

Summer Evening Wheat Field at Sunset, by Vincent Van Gogh

But much worse was to come from Epstein’s army of willfully blind lobbyists. In 2007 and 2008, as the FBI prepared a 53-page indictment that would charge Epstein with sex crimes, Epstein’s powerful legal team played the influence card.

After one meeting with then-U.S. Attorney Acosta, where presumably “intelligence” was mentioned, the indictment was shelved and, instead, Epstein signed a non-prosecution agreement with federal prosecutors, pleading guilty to one count of solicitation of prostitution and one count of procurement of minors for prostitution, which earned him a cushy 13 months in county jail, from where he was allowed to leave to work at his office and go for walks.

It’s worth reading the whole thing.

More helpful Epstein stories, links only

The New York Times: Seized Photos of Nude Girls Deepens Questions About Jeffrey Epstein’s 2008 Deal.

The New York Times: Inside Epstein’s $56 Million Mansion: Photos of Bill Clinton, Woody Allen and Saudi Crown Prince.

The Washington Post: Epstein indictment renews questions about earlier case handled by Trump Cabinet official.

Catherine Rampell at The Washington Post: Alex Acosta gave a pass to Epstein years ago. He’s still at it as labor secretary.

Michelle Goldberg at The New York Times: Jeffrey Epstein Is the Ultimate Symbol of Plutocratic Rot.

Bloomberg: Mystery Around Jeffrey Epstein’s Fortune and How He Made It.

What else is happening? What stories have you been following?


Lazy Caturday Reads

Dali Atomicus, by Salvador Dali and Philippe-Halsman (photographer)

Good Morning!!

I would love to know who is leaking info about Michael Flynn. Apparently Flynn reached out to Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz while he was supposedly cooperating with the Mueller investigation.

CNN: Flynn contacted GOP Mueller critic while cooperating with special counsel.

While he was cooperating with special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn contacted at least one member of Congress who was publicly criticizing the special counsel probe, according to messages obtained by CNN.

Flynn sent Twitter direct messages to Rep. Matt Gaetz, encouraging the Florida Republican to “keep the pressure on.” It’s not clear if Flynn sent additional messages to other lawmakers.
“You stay on top of what you’re doing. Your leadership is so vital for our country now. Keep the pressure on,” Flynn wrote in an April 2018 message to Gaetz, which was obtained by CNN.

By Amy Hill

On the evening Flynn sent the message to Gaetz, the lawmaker had appeared on Fox Business’ “Lou Dobbs Tonight,” where he criticized the Mueller investigation.

“We’ve got to play a far stronger role in exposing the hypocrisy at the Department of Justice,” Gaetz said in the April 3, 2018, appearance. “With no evidence of collusion, with no evidence of any crime whatsoever, they unleashed Bob Mueller to go investigate things that happened before Donald Trump was even contemplating running for president.”

That same hour, Flynn sent Gaetz the direct message.

Gaetz also received a message in February of this year. On the day that Attorney General William Barr was confirmed, Flynn sent Gaetz GIFs of a bald eagle and an American flag, without any accompanying text.

Flynn is still “cooperating,” and he hasn’t been sentenced yet. As Dakinikat wrote yesterday, new information has been revealed by order of the judge in Flynn’s case Emmet Sullivan. Did the DOJ leak the incriminating info about Flynn contacting Gaetz in response to the new Mueller report info to make Flynn look bad? I wonder what Judge Sullivan will have to say about this?

There’s also this Devin Nunes tweet from 2016:

Here’s another interesting story I missed from a couple of days ago. This one is about Felix Sater, who was involved with Trump for years and, along with Michael Cohen working on the Trump Tower Moscow project.

Natasha Bertrand at Politico: Judge confirms Trump associate gave feds Osama bin Laden’s number.

A federal judge has confirmed for the first time that Felix Sater, a former Donald Trump business associate who drove Trump Tower Moscow negotiations during the 2016 election, helped the U.S. government track down Osama bin Laden.

Mr. and Mrs. Smith and Percy, by David Hockney, 1970-71

During a hearing on Thursday in the Eastern District of New York — held as part of a lawsuit brought by First Look Media to unseal records related to Sater’s longtime cooperation with the government on various national security issues — Judge I. Leo Glasser said the media group already knew all of the “very interesting and dangerous things” Sater had done through his decade as an FBI informant.

“He cooperated,” Glasser said. “And you know what he did over the 10, 11 years, because you told me that you know. He provided the telephone number of Osama bin Laden. He has done an awful lot of very interesting and dangerous things.”

The detail is just another bizarre side plot that has emerged over the two-plus years that federal investigators, lawmakers and journalists have tried to uncover every detail about possible interactions between the Trump campaign and Russian intermediaries during the 2016 election. The probes have put spotlights on a cast of figures in Trump’s extended orbit, many of whom possess unusual backgrounds.

Trump’s “Roy Cohn” AKA Cover-Up General Bill Barr appeared on state TV on Friday to publicly trash the investigation into Russia’s interference in our elections.

Charlie Savage at The New York Times: Barr Again Casts Doubt on Russia Inquiry’s Origins, Aligning With Trump’s Attacks.

Still Life with Cat And Lobster 1962 Painting by Pablo Picasso; Still Life with Cat And Lobster 1962 Art Print for sale

When Attorney General William P. Barr described the early stages of the Russia investigation as “spying” on the Trump campaign, he prompted questions about whether he had used that word spontaneously — or whether he was deliberately fueling conspiracy theories.

That question flared anew on Friday after Mr. Barr went even further in casting doubt on the legitimacy of the investigation in two interviews that, by design or coincidence, provided fresh ammunition for President Trump and allies to attack law enforcement and intelligence agencies.

Mr. Barr told Fox News he had been asking whether “government officials abused their power and put their thumb on the scale” in opening the Russia inquiry. “A lot of the answers have been inadequate and some of the explanations I’ve gotten don’t hang together,” he added.

And he doubled down on the innuendo-laden formulation he used in congressional testimony last month, telling The Wall Street Journal, “Government power was used to spy on American citizens.”

The statements were the latest in a series of actions and comments by Mr. Barr expressing skepticism about how the F.B.I. began investigating during the 2016 presidential campaign whether any Trump associates conspired with Russia’s election interference. The attorney general has appointed a federal prosecutor to review aspects of the investigation, rather than await the results of an independent inspector general inquiry due in the coming weeks, and he has invoked the term “spying” on multiple occasions.

Grey Matter, by Amy Jo Hill

Are we stuck with Joe Biden as the 2020 Democratic nominee for president? The media in general seems to believe he’s the anointed one. But anointed by whom? Obama hasn’t endorsed him. Who really wants this guy to be POTUS?

Jill Filipovic at The New York Times: Does Anyone Actually Want Joe Biden to Be President?

The most important requirement for the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee? Electability. It matters more, we keep hearing, than nominating a candidate who has good policies. It matters more than nominating a candidate with a track record of passing progressive legislation. It certainly matters more than nominating a candidate who could be the first female president.

Unfortunately, very few people who say they are putting electability first seem to understand what “electability” means, or what today’s electorate actually looks like.

Case in point: In a field crowded with nearly two dozen candidates, no answer to the electability question is offered more regularly and with more conviction than “Joe Biden.”

Mr. Biden, whose campaign officially kicks of this Saturday in Philadelphia, is the kind of guy you could see sitting behind a big desk, acting as a wise custodian of our democracy without posing any threat of changing much. He is from one of those scrappy Rust Belt cities fetishized by so many pundits — people who believe that the imaginary working-class white voter who is going to deliver the White House to the Democrats wants Joe Biden, which is what, in turn, makes Joe Biden electable.

But what about the rest of us–Democrats who aren’t white males living in the rust belt? What about women who still dream of a women president in their lifetimes? We don’t count when it comes to “electability” supposedly. Read more at the NYT.

At The Daily Beast, Adam Howard tries to explain Biden’s current appeal to African Americans: Why Black Voters Are Gravitating to Biden.

Haiku, by Albena Vatcheva

Now, with Obama’s blessing if not his formal endorsement, Biden has sought the presidency himself for the third time in 30 years, and this time, he’s enjoying a solid and in some case growing lead over a historically huge field of Democratic contenders. The backbone of his support comes from the most reliable and one of the most coveted Democratic primary voting blocs: African-Americans.

Most of the cable news commentary has approached this fact with the condescending assertion that Biden’s black support is mostly due to name recognition and his proximity to Obama. Some have suggested that older black voters, who are traditionally more moderate, may be attracted to his centrism.

But these hot takes overlook something less tangible and quantifiable: how much the sincere, integrated friendship of Biden and Obama (and their families) was cathartic and inspirational. It was the personification of the post-racial utopia some hoped Obama’s election victories would deliver but never did, and probably never could.

Their platonic bromance provided comfort during the confounding period when Obama’s popularity seemed to grow simultaneously with the rise and improbable election of a man who championed a racist campaign to discredit him.

Howard suggests that Biden could loose African American support as the campaign goes on. He doesn’t specifically address the attitudes of black women or provide any evidence for his arguments. The piece is based on his own personal opinions. I guess we’re just going to have to wait and see.

I’ll end with this article at The Washington Post on Nevada, where women are now in control of the legislature: Where women call the shots.

by Amy Hill

She didn’t plan to say it. Yvanna Cancela, a newly elected Democrat in the Nevada Senate, didn’t want to “sound crass.” But when a Republican colleague defended a century-old law requiring doctors to ask women seeking abortions whether they’re married, Cancela couldn’t help firing back.

“A man is not asked his marital status before he gets a vasectomy,” she countered — and the packed hearing room fell silent.

Since Nevada seated the nation’s first majority-female state legislature in January, the male old guard has been shaken up by the perspectives of female lawmakers. Bills prioritizing women’s health and safety have soared to the top of the agenda. Mounting reports of sexual harassment have led one male lawmaker to resign. And policy debates long dominated by men, including prison reform and gun safety, are yielding to female voices.

Cancela, 32, is part of the wave of women elected by both parties in November, many of them younger than 40. Today, women hold the majority with 23 seats in the Assembly and 10 in the Senate, or a combined 52 percent.

No other legislature has achieved that milestone in U.S. history. Only Colorado comes close, with women constituting 47 percent of its legislators. In Congress, just one in four lawmakers is a woman. And in Alabama, which just enacted an almost complete ban on abortion, women make up just 15 percent of lawmakers.

The female majority is having a huge effect: More than 17 pending bills deal with sexual assault, sex trafficking and sexual misconduct, with some measures aimed at making it easier to prosecute offenders. Bills to ban child marriage and examine the causes of maternal mortality are also on the docket.

Read the rest at the WaPo.

So . . . what else is happening? What stories are you following today?


Friday Reads

Illustration by Alan Baker

Good Morning!!

Dakinikat has a doctor’s appointment, so I’m filling in for her today. I’m illustrating this post with fantasy animal houses (mostly bunnies), just because.

So what’s happening?

House Democrats are inching toward impeachment hearings. They aren’t going to have much choice, since Trump and Cover-Up General Barr are stonewalling on releasing the full Mueller report along with the underlying evidence.

The New Yorker: House Democrats Debate Impeachment. The article notes that after two years of caution about impeachment from Democratic leaders, even moderate Democrats are now calling for it.

In recent days, however, even more moderate Democrats have begun speaking about impeachment, in response to Trump’s stonewalling of House investigations. “We’re fighting all the subpoenas,” he told reporters last week. “Look, these aren’t like impartial people. The Democrats are trying to win in 2020.” In response, Representative Jamie Raskin, a member of the House Judiciary Committee, told the Times that he is open to a limited impeachment inquiry, adding, “President Trump’s defiance of Congress is far more comprehensive and sweeping than anything Congress experienced during the Watergate period.”

Bunny Dream House by Sandra Steffensen

After Attorney General William Barr refused to testify before the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday, rejecting the committee’s condition that staff attorneys question him, other House members echoed Raskin’s warning. That morning, on CNN, Representative Ted Lieu said, “If the Trump Administration wants impeachment, they’re doing a good job of pushing Democrats there, because we want to first gather facts to decide if we should impeach. If we can’t gather facts, then we’re going to launch an impeachment.” Of the three articles of impeachment presented against Richard Nixon after Watergate, Lieu noted, the third was contempt of Congress.

For now, Democrats are pursuing a strategy that, in practice, could easily turn out to be the first, informal phase of an impeachment inquiry. They’re investigating, but without formally signalling that they believe Trump committed impeachable offenses. When I spoke to several members of the House Judiciary Committee last week, none ruled out the possibility of impeachment. “That’s another possible reasonable course,” Representative Madeleine Dean said. “I happen to like the course we’re on better, and here’s why. I have several key takeaways from the Mueller report that, for me, demand answers to questions. So I’d rather not pre-frame it with ‘We’re doing it in order to impeach or with the hope of impeaching.’ ”

Read more at the link.

Yesterday, Gerry Nadler gave a strong speech at the Judiciary Committee hearing that Barr was supposed to attend. I hope you’ll listen to it.

Nadler has a long history with Trump in New York, and I don’t think he is going to put up with Trump’s and Barr’s obstruction much longer. Yesterday we learned that his committee is in direct talks with Robert Mueller about testifying. The Hill reports:

Bunny tree house

Special counsel Robert Mueller‘s team is in direct talks with the House Judiciary Committee about whether he will testify before Congress, according to multiple reports.

NBC News and ABC News reported that the committee is now speaking with Mueller’s team when it was previously dealing with the Justice Department. NBC reports that a hearing has not been finalized and a date was not set.

That’s good news. It’s about time Mueller started speaking out. He really should have done so sooner.

CNN: Mueller’s silence let Trump supporters fill the void.

All his life, the Vietnam War Marine veteran has lived out a code of discreet personal values — elevating government service, the rule of law and respect for the chain of command.

But now, the uproar triggered in the wake of Mueller’s Russia investigation raises the question of whether his time-honored methods have left him vulnerable to exploitation in a new political era of hyper-partisanship and self-aggrandizing.

And the discord is increasing calls for Mueller to break his silence in the most public way — in hearings being demanded by House Democrats, which would become one of the most hotly anticipated congressional appearances in years.

Pookie house, by Ivy Wallace

Mueller’s habitual reticence earned him a reputation for integrity that made him the ideal choice for the radioactive mission of investigating a sitting president’s campaign.
But in retrospect, it let others — who do not necessarily follow his blueprint for life — tell his story themselves.

Ultimately, the special counsel’s absence allowed Attorney General William Barr to step in and provide his own interpretation of Mueller’s report — with which Mueller now differs.
That left the long-held assumption that Mueller’s words in his report would speak for themselves undermined — to the political advantage of President Donald Trump, who is claiming blanket exoneration that the report does not confer.

Read the rest at CNN.

Dahlia Lithwick at Slate: Mueller Can’t Get Away With Silence Anymore. The gist:

If Attorney General William Barr’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday demonstrated anything, it was that a deep rupture has yawned open between these two old friends and Washington lifers. It wasn’t just that Barr denigrated Mueller as a “political appointee” or dismissed his March 27 letter as “snitty,” and thus clearly the work of underlings. It wasn’t just that Barr implied that Mueller was either too timid or too incompetent to come to a conclusion on the question of whether Donald Trump had obstructed justice. And it wasn’t just that Barr suggested that since the entire Mueller probe had been proven to be “based on false accusations,” it was illegitimate, which certainly suggests that Mueller devoted two long years to a—you guessed it—witch hunt. Presumably, from now on, if the president decides any legal investigation is “based on false accusations,” he can just go ahead and impede it, a framing that makes a hash of everything Mueller sought to do. When pressed Wednesday on Mueller’s bona fides, Barr snapped that “Bob Mueller is the equivalent of a U.S. Attorney. … His work concluded when he sent his report to the attorney general. At that point, it was my baby.” This is not how you talk about a colleague you respect.

Secret World of Rabbits Above and Below, by Vince Desjardins

But it’s not just that. At the most basic level, Barr has distorted Mueller’s actual work product, including his polite and confidential and lawyerly letter asking (twice) that Barr correct his inaccurate summary of Mueller’s careful report. It’s a letter that Wired’s Garrett Graff, who wrote a book about Mueller, described thusly: “I’ve read just about every word Bob Mueller has ever said publicly or published. He’s written precisely one letter like the angry one he sent to Barr: It excoriated Scotland for letting the Pan Am 103 bomber out of prison.”

Read the whole thing at Slate.

Last night, Rachel Maddow made an argument for what I’ve been saying all along. Cover-Up General Barr effectively fired Mueller for Trump. He likely shut down the investigation, with the help of Rod Rosenstein. Here’s Rachel’s take on it, in case you missed it.

In other news, The media is vetting Bernie Sanders this time. The Washington Post has a big story on Bernie’s honeymoon in the Soviet Union: Inside Bernie Sanders’s 1988 10-day ‘honeymoon’ in the Soviet Union: Inside Bernie Sanders’s 1988 10-day ‘honeymoon’ in the Soviet Union.

Bernie Sanders was bare-chested, towel-draped, sitting at a table lined with vodka bottles, as he sang “This Land Is Your Land” to his hosts in the Soviet Union in the spring of 1988.

The just-married socialist mayor from Vermont was on what he called “a very strange honeymoon,” an official 10-day visit to the communist country, and he was enthralled with the hospitality and the lessons that could be brought home.

“Let’s take the strengths of both systems,” he said upon completing the trip. “Let’s learn from each other.”

The Soviet sojourn has long been an extraordinary, if little understood, chapter in Sanders lore. He has for years used it to help explain his views about foreign policy, citing it as recently as last month….

As he stood on Soviet soil, Sanders, then 46 years old, criticized the cost of housing and health care in the United States, while lauding the lower prices — but not the quality — of that available in the Soviet Union. Then, at a banquet attended by about 100 people, Sanders blasted the way the United States had intervened in other countries, stunning one of those who had accompanied him.

“I got really upset and walked out,” said David F. Kelley, who had helped arrange the trip and was the only Republican in Sanders’s entourage. “When you are a critic of your country, you can say anything you want on home soil. At that point, the Cold War wasn’t over, the arms race wasn’t over, and I just wasn’t comfortable with it.”

I imagine Trump will have fun with that.

More stories to check out, links only:

Bloomberg: Someone Did Get to Look at Trump’s Tax Returns: Deutsche Bankers.

The Washington Post: Trump is already set to use the government to destroy the Democratic nominee.

Heather Digby Parton at Raw Story: Will Trump order Bill Barr to sabotage Joe Biden?

The New York Times: The Coming Subpoena Fights Between Trump and Congress, Explained.

The Washington Post: Watergate had the Nixon tapes. Mueller had Annie Donaldson’s notes.

Media Matters: Study: Major media outlets’ Twitter accounts amplify false Trump claims on average 19 times a day.

The New York Times: Woody Allen Pitched a Memoir. Publishers Weren’t Interested.

Vanity Fair: Apparently, No One Wants Woody Allen’s New Memoir.

The Daily Beast: Mark Halperin Enlists Pals Joe Scarborough, Mika Brzezinski, and Michael Smerconish to Rehab His Career After Sexual Misconduct Scandal.

So . . . what else is happening? What stories have you been following?


Lazy Caturday Reads: A Bit of News and Some Fascinating Long Reads

The cat’s lunch, Pierre Bonnard, circa 1906

Good Afternoon!!

I’m sick to death of politics right now, but I don’t want to completely ignore it either. So today I’ll begin with a few of today’s news stories and then I’m going to recommend some interesting long reads that I’ve enjoyed this week.

Harry Litman at The Washington Post: Release the Mueller team’s summaries. Now.

In the (so far) quiet war of words between the Barr and Mueller camps, we have learned that the special counsel’s report was prepared with summaries of each section that were designed purposely for quick delivery to Congress. These summaries have been scrubbed of all or nearly all controversial material and, therefore, consist of Mueller’s analyses and conclusions without disclosing the supporting, potentially confidential, evidentiary material.

‘Company’ by English painter & illustrator Ophelia Redpath (b.1965)

The summaries should be released to the Congress and the public. While some at the Justice Department assert that the materials are marked as containing grand jury material, we know from Mueller’s team that they were prepared for the purpose of quick release. It, therefore, stands to reason that any problematic material they contain could be removed in short order. They are core explanations of Mueller’s work, which the public has been hungry to learn about — and which Mueller intended the public to have.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), the Judiciary Committee chairman, should set to the side for one day the maneuverings over grand jury material and other redactions. The Justice Department should similarly reserve its prerogative to fight over these materials in court. For today, all parties should agree immediately to produce the summaries of Mueller’s work that would greatly illuminate the currently obscured special counsel’s report.

Marcy Wheeler at The Washington Post: We already knew Barr’s summary was too easy on Trump. Public records prove it.

When Attorney General William P. Barr released a four-page memo two weeks ago opining that “the evidence developed during the Special Counsel’s investigation is not sufficient to establish that the President committed an obstruction-of-justice offense,” we already knew enough to be sure that Barr was spinning the contents of the report his memo claimed to summarize, as multiple reports now say he did.

Girl with Cat, by Lotte Laserstein, 1898-1993, was a German-Swedish painter and portraitist

That’s because there was already public evidence at the time that undermined Barr’s conclusions. Barr’s letter may have been accurate, technically speaking. But based on what it omitted about two key associates of President Trump — his longtime adviser Roger Stone and his former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort — it was obvious that the attorney general had left whole areas of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s findings out of the summary. That Mueller’s team thinks Barr made the investigation’s findings look less damaging to Trump should not come as a surprise.

For example, the indictment of Roger Stone, who isn’t mentioned in Barr’s “summary.”

When Attorney General William P. Barr released a four-page memo two weeks ago opining that “the evidence developed during the Special Counsel’s investigation is not sufficient to establish that the President committed an obstruction-of-justice offense,” we already knew enough to be sure that Barr was spinning the contents of the report his memo claimed to summarize, as multiple reports now say he did.

That’s because there was already public evidence at the time that undermined Barr’s conclusions. Barr’s letter may have been accurate, technically speaking. But based on what it omitted about two key associates of President Trump — his longtime adviser Roger Stone and his former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort — it was obvious that the attorney general had left whole areas of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s findings out of the summary. That Mueller’s team thinks Barr made the investigation’s findings look less damaging to Trump should not come as a surprise.

Read more examples at the WaPo.

Think Progress: Lawsuit alleges utterly flabbergasting sexism at law firm closely associated with Donald Trump.

By Suzanne Valadon (French, 1865-1938) Jeune Fille au Chat

A $200 million lawsuit filed against a law firm closely associated with President Donald Trump alleges that the firm fostered a “fraternity culture” featuring heavy drinking, an overbearing male leader, and sexism that was often so absurd it reads like something out of a gross-out comedy from the 1980s.

The suit against Jones Day, a 2,500 lawyer firm that played a significant role in placing Trump in the White House — the Trump campaign paid Jones Day $3.3 million in legal fees according to a 2017 report — alleges a culture where women attorneys were denied promotions despite exemplary work, excluded from mentoring opportunities afforded to male associates, asked to leave the firm after taking maternity leave, and subjected to cruel and sexist jokes by male colleagues.

Trump appointed numerous Jones Day lawyers to high-level positions within his administration, including Solicitor General Noel Francisco, former White House Counsel Don McGahn, and the two highest ranking attorneys in the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. Trump also appointed two former Jones Day partners to federal appellate judgeships.

At one event hosted by a Jones Day partner, the complaint alleges that a male summer associate (“summer associate” is the title typically given to highly paid law students who work at a firm during their summer vacation) pushed a female colleague into the partner’s swimming pool while the woman was wearing a white dress. According to the complaint, “the male summer associate who pushed her was applauded and high-fived by the Firm’s summer associate committee and leadership rather than reprimanded.”

In another incident, a partner allegedly “demanded that three female summer associates sing and dance to a Care Bears song (an event captured on video).” These three summer associates were allegedly told that they must humiliate themselves in this way “to receive verbal offers to join the Firm as associates.”

During a limo ride to a firm event, male Jones Day lawyers allegedly played a game called “Fuck, Marry, Kill,” in which they “named coworkers from the office and proposed to whom they would do each of these things.” At the event itself, a male associate allegedly “called several of his female colleagues ‘cunts,’” yet the lawsuit claims that he remains employed by the firm.

More disgusting allegations at the link.

Now for those longer reads:

This one is political. The New York Times, April 3: Attacks by White Extremists Are Growing. So Are Their Connections.

Léonard Tsugouharu Foujita (aka 藤田 嗣治, Fujita Tsuguharu) 1950s Self Portrait

In a manifesto posted online before his attack, the gunman who killed 50 last month in a rampage at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, said he drew inspiration from white extremist terrorism attacks in Norway, the United States, Italy, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

His references to those attacks placed him in an informal global network of white extremists whose violent attacks are occurring with greater frequency in the West.

An analysis by The New York Times of recent terrorism attacks found that at least a third of white extremist killers since 2011 were inspired by others who perpetrated similar attacks, professed a reverence for them or showed an interest in their tactics.

The connections between the killers span continents and highlight how the internet and social media have facilitated the spread of white extremist ideology and violence.

In one instance, a school shooter in New Mexico corresponded with a gunman who attacked a mall in Munich. Altogether, they killed 11 people.

Please go read the whole thing. I think this is an important story. How are these white supremacist networks any different from the on-line “radicalization” of Islamic terrorists? The interest has made it much easier for crazy people to find and communicate with others like them.

The New Yorker: The Day the Dinosaurs Died, by Douglas Preston

I loved this article! I can’t possibly do it justice with a few excerpts. It’s about a paleontology grad student, Robert De Palma, and his discovery of a rich fossil bed in North Dakota that may shed light on the rapid extinction of dinosaurs. Here’s a taste:

By Zviad Gogolauri

On August 5, 2013, I received an e-mail from a graduate student named Robert DePalma. I had never met DePalma, but we had corresponded on paleontological matters for years, ever since he had read a novel I’d written that centered on the discovery of a fossilized Tyrannosaurus rex killed by the KT impact. “I have made an incredible and unprecedented discovery,” he wrote me, from a truck stop in Bowman, North Dakota. “It is extremely confidential and only three others know of it at the moment, all of them close colleagues.” He went on, “It is far more unique and far rarer than any simple dinosaur discovery. I would prefer not outlining the details via e-mail, if possible.” He gave me his cell-phone number and a time to call.

I called, and he told me that he had discovered a site like the one I’d imagined in my novel, which contained, among other things, direct victims of the catastrophe. At first, I was skeptical. DePalma was a scientific nobody, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Kansas, and he said that he had found the site with no institutional backing and no collaborators. I thought that he was likely exaggerating, or that he might even be crazy. (Paleontology has more than its share of unusual people.) But I was intrigued enough to get on a plane to North Dakota to see for myself.

DePalma’s find was in the Hell Creek geological formation, which outcrops in parts of North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, and Wyoming, and contains some of the most storied dinosaur beds in the world. At the time of the impact, the Hell Creek landscape consisted of steamy, subtropical lowlands and floodplains along the shores of an inland sea. The land teemed with life and the conditions were excellent for fossilization, with seasonal floods and meandering rivers that rapidly buried dead animals and plants.

Ludwig Kohrl (1858-1927)

The Hell Creek Formation spanned the Cretaceous and the Paleogene periods, and paleontologists had known for at least half a century that an extinction had occurred then, because dinosaurs were found below, but never above, the KT layer. This was true not only in Hell Creek but all over the world. For many years, scientists believed that the KT extinction was no great mystery: over millions of years, volcanism, climate change, and other events gradually killed off many forms of life. But, in the late nineteen-seventies, a young geologist named Walter Alvarez and his father, Luis Alvarez, a nuclear physicist, discovered that the KT layer was laced with unusually high amounts of the rare metal iridium, which, they hypothesized, was from the dusty remains of an asteroid impact. In an article in Science, published in 1980, they proposed that this impact was so large that it triggered the mass extinction, and that the KT layer was the debris from that event. Most paleontologists rejected the idea that a sudden, random encounter with space junk had drastically altered the evolution of life on Earth. But as the years passed the evidence mounted, until, in a 1991 paper, the smoking gun was announced: the discovery of an impact crater buried under thousands of feet of sediment in the Yucatán peninsula, of exactly the right age, and of the right size and geochemistry, to have caused a worldwide cataclysm. The crater and the asteroid were named Chicxulub, after a small Mayan town near the epicenter.

De Palma was fascinated by bones even as a child, and he has been finding fossils for his entire life. If you have any interest in prehistory and dinosaurs, please read this article. You won’t be sorry.

The Washington Post, April 3: The last survivor of a slave ship has been identified, and her story is remarkable.

by Suzan Visser

She was captured at about the age of 12 in West Africa and forced aboard the Clotilda, the last slave vessel to arrive in the United States in 1860.

Now researchers have identified Redoshi as the last known African-born survivor of the transatlantic slave trade when she died in 1937, according to a statement released Tuesday by Newcastle University in Great Britain. Renamed Sally Smith in Alabama, she may have been 110 years old at the time of her death.

Until now, researchers believed the last survivor of the transatlantic slave trade was Oluale Kossola, also known as Cudjo Lewis. But, according to research by Hannah Durkin, a lecturer at Newcastle University, Redoshi lived two years longer than Cudjo, who died in 1935.

Durkin said she first saw a reference to Redoshi in the writings of Zora Neale Hurston and began researching her life story from other writings.

In 2018, HarperCollins published Hurston’s manuscript, “Barracoon: The Story of the Last ‘Black Cargo,’” 90 years after she wrote it. “Barracoon” detailed the life of Kossola, or Cudjo Lewis, who was just a teenager when he was captured in what is now Benin. Kossola and more than 100 Africans were forced to board the Clotilda in 1860, even though the United States had banned the importation of enslaved people in 1808.

Read the rest at the link.

One more from NBC News: Revolutionary War hero Casimir Pulaski might have been a woman or intersex.

Casimir Pulaski, hero of the Revolutionary War and the pride of the Polish-American community, may need a new pronoun — he may have been a she, or even a they.

By Suzanne Valadon (1865-1938)

Researchers who used DNA to identify Pulaski’s bones are convinced the gallant Pole who died fighting for America’s freedom was either a biological woman who lived as a man, or potentially was intersex, meaning a person whose body doesn’t fit the standard definitions of male or female.

That’s the eye-opening takeaway from a new Smithsonian Channel documentary titled “The General Was Female?,” which premieres Monday and is part of the “America’s Hidden Stories” series.

“One of the ways that male and female skeletons are different is the pelvis,” Virginia Hutton Estabrook, an assistant professor of anthropology at Georgia Southern University, told NBC News. “In females, the pelvic cavity has a more oval shape. It’s less heart-shaped than in the male pelvis. Pulaski’s looked very female.”

While the Pulaski skeleton showed tell-tale signs of extensive horseback riding and a battle wound on the right hand that the general is known to have suffered, the facial structure and jaw angle were decidedly female, Estabrook said.

Read the rest at NBC News.

I hope you’ll find something here that appeals to you. Please share your thoughts and links in the comment thread, and have a great weekend!


Busting-the-Filibuster Friday

It’s been 2 Fridays since our Last Mueller Friday (March 22nd).

Where’s the damned report?

Every day we don’t see the report represents an obstruction of justice.  But then, that’s what Bill Barr was hired to do, right?   From The Guardian: Barr invited to meet DoJ officials on day he submitted memo critical of Mueller. Revealed: The attorney general, then a private lawyer, called the special counsel’s obstruction of justice inquiry into Trump ‘fatally misconceived’”

William Barr was invited to meet justice department officials last summer, on the same day he submitted an “unsolicited” memo that heavily criticized special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into obstruction of justice by Donald Trump.

Barr, who was a private attorney at the time, met the officials for lunch three weeks later and was then nominated to serve as Trump’s attorney general about six months later.

The revelation about the meeting, which was arranged by Steve Engel, the head of the Office of Legal Counsel at the Department of Justice, and which has not previously been publicly disclosed, raises new questions about whether the White House’s decision to hire Barr was influenced by private discussions he had about his legal views on Mueller’s investigation.

None of this surprises me. I’m sure the right. chair of the right committee–most likely oversight and Rep. Elijah Cummings–will get to the bottom of this.  Every appointment Trump makes to anything just drips of cronyism.

Today, a Federal Court of Appeals court shortened the time that a decision will be made by the judiciary.  This is via Politico and Josh Gerstein:  “Appeals court narrows path for disclosure of grand jury info in Mueller report. Court splits, 2-1, in a closely watched case that could affect the release of the special counsel’s review.”

A Federal appeals court on Friday tossed an obstacle in the way of grand jury information in special counsel Robert Mueller’s final report being released directly to the public, but the decision may not slow disclosure of that material to Congress.

The decision from a divided three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals did not directly address Mueller’s report, but involved a grand jury investigation more than six decades ago into the disappearance of a Columbia University professor and political activist, Jesús Galíndez.

In the new ruling, the panel majority concluded that federal district court judges lack the authority to order the release of typically secret grand jury material except in situations specially authorized in a federal court rule.

While there is no exception that covers cases of intense political or historical interest, courts have repeatedly held that they have “inherent authority” to make such disclosures in unusual cases.

However, the D.C. Circuit decision Friday sided with a long-standing Justice Department position that those rulings were mistaken and a formal change to the grand jury secrecy rule would be needed to give judges that power.

“We agree with the Government’s understanding of the Rule,” Judge Douglas Ginsburg wrote, joined by Judge Greg Katsas. “The contrary reading … which would allow the district court to create such new exceptions as it thinks make good public policy — would render the detailed list of exceptions merely precatory and impermissibly enable the court to ‘circumvent’ or ‘disregard’ a Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure.”

The impact of the new decision in the current battle over disclosure of the Mueller report could be limited, however, because the Democrat-controlled House is already demanding the special counsel’s full submission including grand jury information.

On Wednesday, the House Judiciary Committee passed a resolution authorizing Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) to subpoena the full report and all supporting materials. Such a subpoena may be sufficient to give the House access to grand jury information under an existing exception covering material sought in connection with “judicial proceedings.”

I wanted to make sure we had a good look and discussion about the various ways that Mitch McConnell is changing the SOP of the Senate. To no one’s real surprise, the Senate did go Nuclear somewhat quietly on Wednesday on a 51-48 vote.  ABC and other media outlets covered it but not to the extent that it deserved.

The Senate has gone “nuclear,” voting 51-48 Wednesday afternoon to change its own rules and slash debate time for some nominees from 30 hours to two hours, paving the way to fast-track certain Trump picks. Republicans — led by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell — have long lamented what they have termed Democratic obstruction of the president’s nominations, particularly judicial nominations.

All Republicans vote for the rule change except Sen. Mike Lee and Sen. Susan Collins, who voted with Democrats, and no Democrats voted with Republicans.

This is what Senator Elizabeth Warren has to say about that even though she her last vote did not reflect this discussion.  It’s something to thing on.  I really appreciate Warren’s bringing the beef to the hamburger.  It’s the women that are discussing actual policy and it’s time they all get some air time and ink.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) is expected to issue the strongest indictment of the Senate filibuster of her campaign for president thus far during a speech at the National Action Network convention on Friday morning.

“Last year the Senate passed a bill that would make lynching a federal crime,” Warren will say, according to prepared remarks viewed by The Daily Beast. “Last year. In 2018. Do you know when the first bill to make lynching a federal crime was introduced? 1918. One hundred years ago. And it nearly became the law back then. It passed the House in 1922. But it got killed in the Senate—by a filibuster. And then it got killed again. And again. And again. More than 200 times. An entire century of obstruction because a small group of racists stopped the entire nation from doing what was right.”
Warren goes on to say that the filibuster has been used in recent years “by the far right as a tool to block progress on everything.”

“I’ve only served one term in the Senate—but I’ve seen what’s happening,” she says, according to the remarks. “We all saw what they did to President Obama. I’ve watched Republicans abuse the rules when they’re out of power, then turn around and blow off the rules when they’re in power.”

Democrats running for president in 2020 have been debating Senate rules for months, as activists push for a change that would not necessitate a 60-vote supermajority to pass sought-after legislation like Medicare for All or the Green New Deal, both of which have been endorsed by a large share of the Democratic candidates currently running. But many of the same candidates, including the senators in the race, have been resistant to institutional changes. The one candidate who has affirmatively campaigned on its elimination in order to address climate change is Washington Gov. Jay Inslee. Many others, like Warren before Friday, had said they’d consider it, and she previously said “all the options are on the table.”

Schumer believes other wise. This is from CSPAN. “Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell debate the GOP’s decision to make a change to rules reducing the length of post-Cloture debate time of federal district court judges and sub-Cabinet nominations from 30 hours to two hours. ” It happened on April 3rd, the day of the vote.

From Vox and Li Zhou: “Senate Republicans have officially gone “nuclear” in order to confirm more Trump judges.
It’s a win for Republicans in the short term, but Democrats could also capitalize on the change in the future.”

Senate Republicans have officially gone nuclear again this week.

Once more, they’ve changed Senate rules so they can confirm President Donald Trump’s nominees more expeditiously — a string of actions first kicked off by Democratic leader Harry Reid in 2013. It marks the third time in less than a decade that the Senate majority has used the so-called “nuclear option” — a term used for parliamentary procedure that sets a new precedent with only a simple majority of lawmaker votes.

This time, Republicans have amended Senate rules in order to further limit the amount of time lower-level nominees could be debated on the floor. Previously, if lawmakers voted to limit debate on a nominee, that back-and-forth would still be able to continue for 30 hours. Practically speaking, because there is only so much time the Senate is in session, this meant that there were a finite number of nominees that Republicans could get through — and that’s something they wanted to change.

Republicans argued that this rules change is necessary because Democrats have gone out of their way to slow-walk consideration of Trump’s nominees. Democrats, meanwhile, say that Republicans have gutted other processes, like “blue slips,” that would enable them to otherwise vocalize their concern with different nominees.

“Senate Democrats spent the first two years of the Trump administration dragging out the confirmation process to not only deny the president his team, but also to waste hours of floor time that should have been spent focusing on the American people’s priorities,” Republican Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) said in a statement. “This has been nothing more than obstruction for the sake of obstruction and it is outrageous.”

That assertion, however, is laughable to many Democrats, who have noted that Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell’s supposed outrage over the way Democrats have blocked Republican nominees is hypocritical, given the lengths he went to in order to prevent President Barack Obama’s nominee Merrick Garland from even getting considered for a Supreme Court seat.

Nancy Pelosi threw some serious shade at a reporter who evidently wasn’t aware that there is a law that says the IRS will hand over tax returns of whoever certain chairs of congress request.

Donald Trump is doing his usual hold it up routine. “All the way to the Supreme Court, Alice!!!”

And, I’m giving the last word today to my “I’m just a country lawyer” Senator who just can’t seem to keep the folksy routine sounding sane.

With that, what’s on your reading and blogging list today?


Lazy Caturday Reads: Congress Must Stop The “Cover-Up General” Bill Barr

Hillary and Bill with Socks on the White House lawn

Good Morning!!

Some folks are beginning to catch on to the “Cover-Up General” Bill Barr. I’ve been writing about this for the past couple of weeks. Barr did what even Jeff Sessions wasn’t corrupt enough to do. He shut down the Russia investigation and now he’s stalling for time in order to keep the American people from learning what Robert Mueller found about Donald Trump, his crime family, and his evil goons.

Barr knows how to shut down an investigation and cover up the results. Way back in 1992, The New York Times’s William Safire raged in column after column against Barr’s cover-up of the Iraq-gate scandal, but Barr won in the end by getting George H.W. Bush to pardon the top conspirators.

Audrey Hepburn with Paris 1957

Read a recap of the scandal and Barr’s victory in The Los Angeles Times, Oct. 27, 1992: Iraqgate–A Case Study of a Big Story With Little Impact. Bush had illegally armed Saddam Hussein from 1986 and 1990. He handed Hussein “the very weapons he later used against American and allied forces in the Persian Gulf War.”

Bill Barr shut down both Iran Contra and Iraqgate by shutting the investigation down, first refusing to appoint a special prosecutor for Iraqgate and then recommending the pardons of the top Iran Contra officials.

NPR, Jan. 14, 2019: William Barr Supported Pardons In An Earlier D.C. ‘Witch Hunt’: Iran-Contra.

Barr….ran the Justice Department once before, under President George H.W. Bush.

Back then, the all-consuming, years-long scandal was called Iran-Contra. On Dec. 24, 1992, it ended when Bush pardoned six people who had been caught up in it.

“The Constitution is quite clear on the powers of the president and sometimes the president has to make a very difficult call,” Bush said then. “That’s what I’ve done.”

Then-Attorney General Barr supported the president’s decision in the Iran-Contra case, which gave clemency to people who had been officials in the administration of President Ronald Reagan, including former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger. He had been set to go on trial to face charges about lying to Congress.

To the man who led the Iran-Contra investigation, however, the pardons represented a miscarriage of justice.

Cat Stevens

“It demonstrates that powerful people with powerful allies can commit serious crimes in high office, deliberately abusing the public trust without consequences,” said Lawrence Walsh, the independent prosecutor in the case, at the time of the pardons.

Barr said later that he believed Bush had made the right decision and that he felt people in the case had been treated unfairly.

“The big ones — obviously, the Iran-Contra ones — I certainly did not oppose any of them,” Barr said as part of the Presidential Oral History Program of the Miller Center at the University of Virginia.

From Bloomberg, Jan. 19, 2019:

The most significant single act of Barr’s career in the Department of Justice was to advise President George H.W. Bush to pardon six officials from Ronald Reagan’s administration, including Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, for crimes associated with the Iran-Contra affair. At the time, Barr was — you guessed it — attorney general. His recommendation gave Bush the cover he needed to issue the pardons.

And Bush needed the cover. The investigation led by independent prosecutor Lawrence Walsh was closing in on the president himself. Walsh had demanded that Bush turn over a campaign diary that he kept in 1986. Bush failed to do so, presumably because the diary showed he knew more about Iran-Contra than he had let on. Walsh publicly condemned Bush’s failure to produce the diary as “misconduct” by the sitting president.

Jackie and Croline Kennedy, Hyannis Port, MA 1961

Issuing the pardons killed Walsh’s investigation — and saved Bush. When the targets of the investigation were off the hook, Walsh had no leverage to continue.

Don’t take my word for it. When the pardons came, Walsh went on ABC’s “Nightline” and said that Bush had “succeeded in a sort of Saturday Night Massacre.” The comparison was intended. Walsh was saying that Bush had saved himself by effectively ending an investigation that was leading to the Oval Office — the aim that Nixon failed to accomplish when he fired Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox.

Leaving little to the imagination, Walsh also said at the time that he had “evidence of a conspiracy among the highest ranking Reagan administration officials to lie to Congress and the American public.”

The architect of this pardon strategy was Barr. In an oral history interview he gave in 2001, Barr said he didn’t consult with the pardon office at his own Department of Justice, which was playing its “usual role — naysayers” against issuing pardons.

Instead, Barr said he spoke to “some seasoned professionals” at Justice. Then, “based on those discussions, I went over and told the President I thought he should not only pardon Caspar Weinberger, but while he was at it, he should pardon about five others.”

Read more of Barr’s corrupt history in this piece by Lloyd Green at The Guardian from March 25, 2019: William Barr: attorney general plays Republican spear-catcher again. From the article, some examples of Barr’s obfuscation techniques:

Doris Day

House Democrats demanded Barr appoint an independent counsel to investigate the sins of the Bush administration. They were rebuffed. In a letter to the House judiciary committee, Barr tossed around such phrases as “not a crime”, “simply not criminal in any way”, “nothing illegal”, and “far from being a crime.”

As to the separate question of whether administration officials deliberately altered commerce department documents in an effort to conceal military sales to Iraq and purposely misled Congress about Iraq policy, Barr contended the Department of Justice was up to that task.

He wrote: “These are the kinds of allegations that are routinely investigated by the Public Integrity Section and there is no conflict of interest that precluded their handling these matters in the normal course.” [….]

From the looks of things, Trump has the attorney general of his dreams. Like the supreme court justice Brett Kavanaugh, Barr is a loyal conservative who comes with a Bush family seal of approval. For this president, it doesn’t get better than that.

Fortunately, this time we have more engaged House members than in 1992. Let’s hope they’ve researched Cover-Up General Barr’s history and are ready to fight back. We have to stand with Adam Schiff.

 

 

Two more relevant reads:

The Washington Post: Sally Yates: William Barr should release the full Mueller report as soon as possible.

America’s justice system is built upon one thing — truth. When witnesses give testimony, they are sworn to tell “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” The word “verdict” derives from the Latin term “veredictum,” meaning “to say the truth.” Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, a public servant with impeccable integrity, was entrusted to find the truth regarding Russian interference in the 2016 election and has spoken through a comprehensive report that details the facts that he uncovered.

Christina Ricci

Yet a week after Mueller issued his report, we don’t know those facts and have only been provided with Attorney General William P. Barr’s four-page summary of Mueller’s estimated 400-page report. It is time for the American people to hear the whole truth. We need to see the report itself.

First, as the attorney general’s letter to Congress notes, the Mueller report “outlines the Russian effort to influence the election and documents crimes committed by persons associated with the Russian government in connection with those efforts.” Congress has a solemn responsibility to protect our democracy. Without access to the full factual record of what the special counsel uncovered, it cannot fulfill that mandate. As you read this, the Russian government is undoubtedly hard at work to undermine our next election. Each day that passes without Congress having access to the full Mueller report is a day that Congress is prevented from doing its job of keeping our elections free from Russian espionage efforts.

Second, Barr’s letter leaves important questions unanswered concerning what then-candidate Donald Trump and his associates knew about Russian interference, and how they responded to Russian overtures to assist the campaign. While Barr’s letter states that the investigation did not establish that the campaign reached an agreement with the Russian government to take actions to impact the election in Trump’s favor, it reveals that the campaign did field “multiple offers from Russian-affiliated individuals to assist the Trump campaign.” Yet President Trump and others have repeatedly claimed that they had no contact with Russians, or knowledge that Russians were acting to assist his campaign.

Read the rest at the WaPo.

David Corn at Mother Jones: Here’s the Real Trump-Russia Hoax.

Elvis Presley

Two fundamental facts were established long before Mueller completed his investigation. First, the Russians attacked an American election in order to sow chaos, hurt Hillary Clinton, and help Donald Trump. Second, Trump and his top advisers during the campaign repeatedly denied this attack was underway, echoing and amplifying Moscow disinformation (the false claim that Russia was not attacking). Whether or not the Trumpers were directly in cahoots with the Russian government, they ran interference for Vladimir Putin’s assault on the United States, and they even did so after the intelligence community had briefed Trump on Russia’s culpability.

So to determine if the Barr triumphalists are acting in good faith, you need only ask them a simple question: do you accept these basic facts and acknowledge the profound seriousness of each one?

The Russian attack on the 2016 election was an attempt to subvert the foundation of American society: the democratic process. How can Americans have faith in their government, if elections are undermined by secret schemers, including a foreign government? It is certainly arguable that the Russian intervention—particularly the stealing and drip-drip-drip dumping of the John Podesta emails across the final four weeks of the election—was one of several decisive factors in a contest that had a narrow and tight finish. Consequently, there is a strong case that Moscow helped shift the course of US history by contributing to the election of Trump….

Jimmy Stewart, with Piewackit from Bell Book and Candle

During the campaign and afterward, some Trump backers and some critics on the left, including columnist and media scold Glenn Greenwald, questioned whether the Russians indeed engaged in such skulduggery. (The Nation, where I once worked, published an articlepromoting a report that claimed the Russians did not hack the Democratic National Committee—and then had to backtrack when that report turned out to be bunk.)

For many of these scandal skeptics, it hasn’t seemed to matter that the charge against Moscow has been publicly confirmed by the Obama administration, the US intelligence community (which concluded that Putin’s operation intended to help Trump), both Republicans and Democrats on the congressional intelligence committees, and Robert Mueller, who indicted a mess of Russians for participating in this covert operation. True, there often is cause to question officialdom and government sources. Yet anyone citing the Mueller report, as it is narrowly capsulized by Barr, must also accept his key finding: Russia attacked the United States and intervened in the election. (They must also accept that, as the Barr letter disclosed, Mueller found evidence suggesting Trump obstructed justice but did not reach a final judgment on this question.)

That’s it for me. What else is happening? What stories have you been following?