Lazy Caturday Reads: Empty Folders Marked Classified, WTF?!

1920 Théophile Alexandre Steinlen Cat and Her Kitten charcoal and pastel on paper 46 x 61 cm

Cat and kitten, by Théophile Alexandre Steinlen, 1920

Happy Caturday!!

Yesterday we got new information about the highly classified documents Trump stole from the government and carelessly left lying around his office at Mar-a-Lago. In her Friday post, Dakinikat wrote about the empty folders marked classified and the boxes containing classified documents mixed with news clippings, and personal items like clothing. The inventory from the search also shows thousands of unclassified government documents, which also belong in the National Archives.

From The Los Angeles Times: Trump search inventory shows empty folders marked ‘classified,’ mixed top-secret and unclassified items.

Twenty-seven documents with classified and top-secret markings were recovered from former President Trump’s office at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida, according to a detailed inventory of what the FBI removed during its court-approved search of the home last month.

The eight-page inventory detailing more than 10,000 government documents removed in the search includes the location where each item was found and whether it was classified, but not the subject matter. In many cases, highly classified materials are listed as having been stored in the same boxes as hundreds of unclassified items, including newspaper and magazine clippings and clothing.

Among the boxes were 48 empty folders marked with a classified banner. Those empty folders could be of particular concern as the Office of the Director of National Intelligence assesses the risks to national security that could result from disclosure of the contents, because it could be difficult to determine what information might have been inside and where it is now….

FBI agents removed more than 100 documents containing classified information — including some marked top secret and meant to be available only in special government facilities — from the Trump estate during their Aug. 8 search, along with over 30 boxes of materials including thousands of government records.

What was in those empty folders?

Identifying what was in the empty folders marked classified and where the information is now should be a priority, said Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.), a member of the House Intelligence Committee.

“Why are there folders that contained classified information that are now empty? Where are the documents?” Maloney said. “Those questions need to be answered.”

1899 Paul Gauguin Still LIfe with Flowers and Cats oil on canvas

Still LIfe with Flowers and cats, Paul Gauguin, 1899

Without knowing more about the folders, it is difficult to say how alarmed intelligence officials might be, Maloney said.

They could be the type of generic folders in which confidential information is transported within the White House, or they could be folders from intelligence agencies that provide details about the sources of the information, the date it was collected and broad descriptions of what it is about, said Larry Pfeiffer, a high-ranking CIA officer in the George W. Bush administration and senior director of the White House Situation Room in the Obama administration.

“If there were any meticulous records that were kept by the staff secretary, executive secretary or the [director of national intelligence’s] presidential daily briefing staff, they may be able forensically to figure out if there are any missing documents,” Pfeiffer said.

That 48 classified documents could be missing is the “worst-case scenario,” he said.

“That’s terrifying, because then what happened to them? Where are they? Are they still hidden somewhere? Are they hidden in another Trump location? Did he give them away to some people as souvenirs? God knows,” Pfeiffer said.

Raw Story reported on what experts are saying about the empty folders: ‘Unfathomably dangerous’: Former federal prosecutor on Trump’s empty folders warns ‘things just went from bad to worse’

Immediately after a federal judge released the Dept. of Justice’s detailed list of items the FBI seized from Mar-a-Lago experts agreed among the most concerning details was that there were a large number of empty folders marked “Classified.”

Glenn Kirschner, a former federal prosecutor of 30 years, tweeted out his surprise and concern.

“OMG!” exclaimed Kirschner, who is also an MSNBC/NBC News legal analyst. “Court just released an inventory of evidence of crime seized at Mar-a-Lago.”

“Dozens of EMPTY folders labeled ‘Classified’ or ‘Return to Military Aide.’ Trump didn’t pack up EMPTY folders to take with him to FLA. Things just went from bad to worse to unfathomably dangerous.” [….]

Andrew Weissmann, a former General Counsel of the Federal Bureau of Investigation who has also worked as chief of the criminal fraud section of DOJ observed: “It’s the empty classified folders that are of most concern.”

“Where are the contents? Trump has not addressed that at all in all his bluster and obfuscation. What were you doing with these?” asked Weissmann, who also worked for Special Counsel Robert Mueller….

National security attorney Brad Moss wrote, “Very first question the FBI would ask the person who had in their home office 43 empty folders with classified banners is ‘where did the documents from those folders go????'”

And later he added: “Why. Are. There. Empty. Folders?”

Young Girl with a Cat 1892, Berthe Morissot

Young Girl with a Cat 1892, Berthe Morissot

Analysis from Aaron Blake at The Washington Post: What we know about Trump and the empty folders.

We know very little about what this [the empty folders] means right now, though, and experts say it doesn’t necessarily mean the documents are missing, as some Trump critics theorized. What it does seem to reinforce is how sloppily classified information was handled.

In both the search warrant affidavit released last week and a Justice Department filing in a court case this week, the government has pointed to a February referral from the National Archives. The referral raised concerns about Trump’s potential mishandling of sensitive documents and urged an investigation.

“Of most significant concern was that highly classified records were unfoldered, intermixed with other records, and otherwise unproperly [sic] identified,” the National Archives said.

The biggest question is obviously: Why were those folders empty? Since classified documents were previously returned “unfoldered” — and others were recovered in the search last month — and now we have classified-marked folders without documents in them, it’s possible they match up.

Whether they actually do match is another matter, as is whether the documents can even be traced to a given folder.

From a national security expert:

David Priess, a former CIA officer whose work there included delivering the President’s Daily Brief, said Friday that the presence of empty folders doesn’t mean documents are missing, but also that it’s possible we won’t know for sure. He said the folders could contain markings allowing them to be traced to specific documents (but that’s not certain), or that they could be connected using forensic techniques.

“We cannot rule out that those empty folders contained classified documents that were not discovered in the search and seizure,” he said. “We just don’t know. That’s much harder to determine.”

He also noted it was possible that the folders were separated from the documents when they were still in the White House, before they were taken to Mar-a-Lago.

But mostly, he said, it’s further evidence of something we already knew: The documents were haphazardly stored.

There’s more analysis at the WaPo link.

Carl Kahler Family Portrait

Family Portrait, Carl Kahler

It’s not just the documents that were found in Trump’s office that were mishandled. The Washington Post published a long read yesterday on the storage room where boxes of documents were stored and why Mar-a-Lago was such a dangerous place for government documents to be kept: Deep inside busy Mar-a-Lago, a storage room where secrets were stashed. The storage room is below the estate’s giant living room.

It was dug into the foundations of the early 20th-century building not long after Trump bought the place, a former employee said, carved out to create more space to store tables, chairs, umbrellas — the stuff necessary to complete Trump’s conversion of what had once been a grand residence for a single family into a private club for 500 members.

At the southeast corner of this area, behind a simple door, is a large closet-type space that workers once called “the mold room” in honor of leftover stonework molds deposited in the corner, the former employee said. Today, staffers think of the room more like the former president’s personal closet, one said. It is here, in this windowless nook, where some of the nation’s most sensitive secrets allegedly were stashed….

Court filings say a top Justice Department official and a gaggle of FBI agents were allowed to tour the storage room when they visited Mar-a-Lago on June 3 to pick up classified documents collected by Trump’s lawyers in response to a grand jury subpoena. A lawyer for Trump saidthe room was where they would find all of documents that had been carted from the White House to Florida after Trump left office.

Two months later, agents returned with a court-approved search warrant and carted off more than two dozen boxes of documents and assorted other items gathered from the storage room and the former president’s office. The raid exposed anew the potential risks of keeping highly sensitive material at a club that hosts weddings, galas and other large events, where outsiders are common and many employees — as well as some visitors — are foreign nationals.

Not yet clear is why Trump chose the basement storage room to keep highly sensitive documents nor who exactly had access to the documents kept there — or who could have gotten access had they tried….

People close to Trump said a variety of Mar-a-Lago and Trump staffers had access to that area beneath the public living room. Access to the closet where the documents were kept was more restricted, they said.

1890-99c John White Alexander The Green Dress oil on canvas 99.1 x 53.3 cm Private Collection

John White Alexander, The Green Dress, 1890-99

More on security concerns at Mar-a-Lago:

Experts said security at the Spanish-style club has long been a headache. The facility has served a frequent residence for Trump and his family during the winter months, including while he was president. But it also boasts tennis courts, a dining room, two pools, a spa and beachfront facilities, all open to its members and their guests. Its giant ballroom and other larger areas are frequently booked for large parties and political and charitable fundraisers, all open to even more visitors, some of them foreign nationals.

Since Trump left office, Republican candidates also have flocked to the club for official events, to genuflect to Trump and attempt to secure his endorsement. Political donors have flocked, too. People who have visited the club since Trump left office said they were allowed in without so much as an identification check.

“I think Mar-a-Lago is a counterintelligence nightmare,” said Joel Brenner, former head of U.S. counterintelligence under the director of National Intelligence and former inspector general for the National Security Agency, citing the flow of hundreds of people, the presence of foreign nationals and Trump’s long-established carelessness with national secrets.

A person who is familiar with the club’s workings and spoke on the condition of anonymity described regular movement from club facilities to the basement and back. “This is an operating property,” this person said. “There’s a kitchen and a guy who does pastries and a liquor cabinet. There’s a restaurant here. You see activity. A guy getting vodka to bring to the bar. A person going to get cupcakes to bring upstairs.”

As I said, this is a very long, but interesting article.

Two more developments on the purloined documents story:

Bill Barr spoke out on the stolen documents investigation. The New York Times: Barr Dismisses Trump’s Request for a Special Master.

Former Attorney General William P. Barr dismissed former President Donald J. Trump’s call for an independent review of materials seized from his Florida home on Friday — and said an inventory of items recovered in the search last month seemed to support the Justice Department’s claim that it was needed to safeguard national security.

“As more information comes out, the actions of the department look more understandable,” Mr. Barr told The New York Times in a phone interview, speaking of the decision by the current attorney general, Merrick B. Garland, to seek a search warrant of the complex at Mar-a-Lago.

“It seems to me they were driven by concern about highly sensitive information being strewn all over a country club, and it was taking them almost two years to get it back,” said Mr. Barr, who resigned in December 2020, as Mr. Trump pushed him to support false claims that the election had been stolen.

“It appears that there’s been a lot of jerking around of the government,” he added. “I’m not sure the department could have gotten it back without taking action.”

Asked what he thought of the argument for the appointment of a special master, an independent arbiter to review the material that could delay the investigation, Mr. Barr laughed.

1909 Pierre Bonnard Children and a Cat oil on canvas 54.6 x 69.5 cm The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC

Pierre Bonnard, Children and a Cat, 1909

“I think it’s a crock of shit,” he said, adding, “I don’t think a special master is called for.” [….]

Mr. Barr’s comments, which echo the assessment of many Democrats and a few Republicans, including the former Bush adviser Karl Rove, came as Mr. Trump’s supporters tried to downplay the importance of the inventory unsealed by a federal judge in Florida.

The eight-page document, which was made public with the tacit assent of the former president’s lawyers, revealed that the F.B.I. recovered 11,179 documents or photographs without classification markings belonging to the government, and more than 100 others marked top secret, secret or confidential.

“It’s hard to wrap your head around him taking so much sensitive materials,” Mr. Barr said. “I was, let’s just say, surprised.”

Mark Meadows coughed up some records in the wake of the events at Mar-a-Lago. CNN: After Mar-a-Lago search, Meadows turns over more texts and emails to Archives.

Within a week of the FBI search of former President Donald Trump‘s Mar-a-Lago resort, former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows handed over texts and emails to the National Archives that he had not previously turned over from his time in the administration, sources familiar with the matter tell CNN.

Meadows’ submission to the Archives was part of a request for all electronic communications covered under the Presidential Records Act. The Archives had become aware earlier this year it did not have everything from Meadows after seeing what he had turned over to the House select committee investigating January 6, 2021. Details of Meadows’ submissions to the Archives and the engagement between the two sides have not been previously reported….

The records Meadows turned over to the Archives were not classified, and the situation is markedly different from the Archives’ efforts to retrieve federal records from Trump and its referral to the Justice Department earlier this year when classified materials were discovered among documents the agency retrieved from Mar-a-Lago.

The source familiar with the discussions said that the Archives considered Meadows to be cooperating, even though the process started slowly.

“This is how it’s supposed to work,” the source added, saying it was not the kind of situation that needed to be referred to the Justice Department.

As you can see, I’m still totally obsessed with the stolen documents story. There are actually other things happening, and I’ll post some more items in the comment thread. I hope you’ll do the same.


Lazy Caturday Reads: Odds and Ends With Medieval Cats

“Organ cat, prayer book, Bruges or Ghent c. 1480-1490 (Baltimore, Walters Art Museum

“Organ cat, prayer book, Bruges or Ghent c. 1480-1490 (Baltimore, Walters Art Museum

Happy Caturday!!

It has been another busy news week, and today there are some stories that follow up on recent news and others that look further back in time. As we move closer to the midterm elections, things are looking better for Democrats to keep control of the Senate. Of course the fallout continues from the FBI search of Mar-a-Lago. The judge in the case released more information on the search warrant, and there could be more coming.  A court has ordered the DOJ to release a memo related to the Mueller investigation that Bill Barr refused to make public. A Michigan judge made an important decision on abortion laws in the state. Finally, the NYT published a fascinating op-ed by two law professors who argue that the U.S. Constitution is “broken.”

Republican midterm woes

Bob Brigham at Raw Story: It’s Mitch McConnell’s fault ‘bumbling extremists’ are hurting the GOP: report.

On Thursday, Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) seemed to admit that the Grand Old Party doesn’t have the highest quality roster of candidates.

“I think there’s probably a greater likelihood the House flips than the Senate,” McConnell said. “Senate races are just different, they’re statewide, candidate quality has a lot to do with the outcome.”

Writing in Vanity Fair, Eric Lutz reported, “He didn’t mention any of those candidates directly, but he almost certainly could have been talking about any of Donald Trump’s handpicked contenders, who earned the former president’s support seemingly for one of two reasons: He knows them from television, or they’re loyalists who have organized their campaigns almost entirely around his 2020 election lies. There’s a lot of crossover there, obviously, but the first camp includes Mehmet Oz, a former TV doctor who apparently believes raw asparagus belongs in a crudité, and Herschel Walker, the former football great whose own campaign staff reportedly regards him as a ‘pathological liar.’” [….]

“Then there’s the second camp of MAGA candidates, which includes the likes of Blake Masters, the Peter Thiel protégé who literally has the backing of some of the Internet’s most well-known white nationalists. (Masters has attempted to distance himself from this community.) One of several extremists on the ballot in Arizona, where election deniers Kari Lake and Mark Finchem are respectively running for governor and secretary of state, Masters is trailing Democrat Mark Kelly by eight points, according to a Fox News poll released this week,” Lutz reported. “None of this to say to say that these bumbling extremists can’t win; if a country is capable of electing Trump president, Georgia is certainly capable of electing a guy like Walker. But McConnell’s apparent sense that this batch of bozos might dash GOP dreams of a Senate majority may be well-founded, even if midterms tend to favor the party that doesn’t control the White House.”

There’s more at the link.

The Washington Post: ‘It’s a rip-off’: GOP spending under fire as Senate hopefuls seek rescue.

Republican Senate hopefuls are getting crushed on airwaves across the country while their national campaign fund is pulling ads and running low on cash — leading some campaign advisers to ask where all the money went and todemand an audit of the committee’s finances, according to Republican strategists involved in the discussions.

cce5dffa09cd07e1392867bc4fe34d0eIn a highly unusual move, the National Republican Senatorial Committee this week canceled bookings worth about $10 million, including in the critical states of Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Arizona. A spokesman said the NRSC is not abandoning those races but prioritizing ad spots that are shared with campaigns and benefit from discounted rates. Still, the cancellations forfeit cheaper prices that came from booking early, and better budgeting could have covered both.

“The fact that they canceled these reservations was a huge problem — you can’t get them back,” said one Senate Republican strategist, who like others spokes on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal matters. “You can’t win elections if you don’t have money to run ads.”

The NRSC’s retreat came after months of touting record fundraising, topping $173 million so far this election cycle, according to Federal Election Commission disclosures. But the committee has burned through nearly all of it, with the NRSC’s cash on hand dwindling to $28.4 million by the end of June.

As of that month, the committee disclosed spending just $23 million on ads, with more than $21 million going into text messages and more than $12 million to American Express credit cardpayments, whose ultimate purpose isn’t clear from the filings. The committee also spent at least $13 million on consultants, $9 million on debt payments and more than $7.9 million renting mailing lists, campaign finance data show.

Read the rest at the WaPo.

The Mar-a-Lago search

Insider: Newly unsealed documents from the FBI raid on Mar-a-Lago put Trump in even worse legal peril, experts say.

Former President Donald Trump has offered a shifting array of defenses in response to the August 8 FBI search of his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, which uncovered a trove of secret documents.

Among them is the claim that he declassified all of the documents while in office under the president’s sweeping powers over national secrets.

But procedural documents unsealed Thursday by federal judge Bruce Reinhart, including the cover sheet of the warrant used in the search, revealed that this defense may not be as effective as Trump hoped, legal experts say.

One implication of the new information is that even if Trump is right about the documents being declassified, he still could have broken the law, Lawrence Tribe, a Harvard constitutional law scholar, tweeted….

eaa24cb69fb7796173a1ea2584132657[The cover sheet] showed that the FBI believes that Trump may be guilty of the willful retention of national defense information, concealment or removal of government records, and obstruction of federal investigation.

Bradley P. Moss, a national security attorney, told Insider that the new documents “clarify but ultimately do not change much” of what we previously knew.

A striking detail, he said, is that the FBI believes Trump has obstructed its probe.

“Clearly, the FBI currently believes Mr. Trump not only took properly marked classified documents to Mar-a-Lago, but he kept them and resisted turning them over when confronted by the government,” Moss said.

NBC News: Trump thinks the Mar-a-Lago search will help him in 2024. Some allies aren’t so sure.

The day after federal agents searched Mar-a-Lago, former President Donald Trump told a group of conservative lawmakers that “being president was hell,” according to three people at the meeting.

But to some he sounded ready to have the job again.

“He was not to be deterred,” said Rep. Randy Weber of Texas, one of a dozen Republican House members who met with Trump on Aug. 9. He described Trump’s state of mind in the immediate aftermath of the search as “pretty miffed, but measured.” 

Everything that’s occurred since that Bedminster, New Jersey, meeting  — and since federal agents seized a trove of top secret and other highly classified documents from his resort — has put Trump exactly where he and his supporters want him to be, according to people close to him. He’s in a fight, squaring off with Washington institutions and a political establishment he says are out to get him, issues he brought up in the meeting with the lawmakers and in conversations with others.

ugly-medieval-cats-art-106-5aafb169b1ec0__700Taken together, it’s reoriented Trump’s thinking about whether he should announce a presidential campaign before or after the midterm elections, according to those who have spoken with him over the past two weeks. They said Trump feels less pressure to announce early because viable challengers who might otherwise force his hand have faded into the background. But there are other reasons to wait.

Trump is now inclined to launch his candidacy after the November elections, in part to avoid blame should an early announcement undermine the GOP’s effort to win control of Congress, said one person close to him, speaking on condition of anonymity to talk more freely.A post-midterm announcement would suit Republican leaders who’ve been urging Trump to hold off so that he doesn’t overshadow the party’s candidates.Michael Caputo, a former Trump campaign and administration official, described Trump’s attitude in recent days after speaking with him, as “business as usual.”

Business as usual for Trump: the possibility of multiple criminal charges and crappy lawyers who have no clue how to defend a criminal.

Judge orders release of Bill Barr’s memo protecting Trump

The Washington Post: Court orders release of DOJ memo on Trump obstruction in Mueller probe.

A federal appeals court has ordered the release of a secret Justice Department memo discussing whether President Donald Trump obstructed the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

The unanimous panel decision issued Friday echoes that of a lower court judge, Amy Berman Jackson, who last year accused the Justice Department of dishonesty in its justifications for keeping the memo hidden.

The panel of three judges, led by Chief Judge Sri Srinivasan, said that whether or not there was “bad faith,” the government “created a misimpression” and could not stop release under the Freedom of Information Act.

The memo was written by two senior Justice Department officials for then-attorney general William P. Barr, who subsequently told Congress that there was not enough evidence to charge Trump with obstruction of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s inquiry. A redacted version was released last year but left under seal the legal and factual analysis.

Department officials argued that the document was protected because it involved internal deliberations over a prosecutorial decision. But the judges agreed with Jackson that both Mueller and Barr had clearly already concluded that a sitting president could not be charged with a crime. The discussion was over how Barr would publicly characterize the obstruction evidence Mueller had assembled, the Justice Department conceded on appeal.

ugly-medieval-cats-art-135-5ab10dfb09a49__700A bit more from Politico: Appeals court backs ruling to release DOJ memo on Trump prosecution.

A federal appeals court ruled Friday that the Justice Department must make public an internal memo senior lawyers there prepared in 2019 about whether then-President Donald Trump’s actions investigated in special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe of ties between the 2016 Trump campaign and Russia amounted to crimes prosecutors would ordinarily charge.

The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals said the Justice Department failed to meet its legal burden to show that the memo from the department’s Office of Legal Counsel was part of a genuine deliberative process advising then-Attorney General William Barr on how to handle sensitive issues left unresolved when Mueller’s probe concluded in March 2019.

Trump was never charged in Mueller’s probe and the special prosecutor’s final report declined to opine on whether what he did in response to the investigation amounted to a crime.

However, some Trump opponents have called on the Attorney General Merrick Garland to reconsider the issue now that Trump is no longer president. Release of the long-sought DOJ memo could fuel those calls and draw more unwanted attention to Trump’s potential criminal liability at a time when he is besieged by a slew of other legal woes relating to his handling of classified government records, his role in inspiring many of those involved in the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol and his broader efforts to overturn Joe Biden’s win in the 2020 presidential election.

Abortion in Michigan

Detroit Free Press: Michigan judge issues indefinite ban on criminalizing abortions in key Michigan counties.

A Michigan judge ruled Friday prosecutors in the state’s largest counties are barred from bringing criminal charges for months to come under a state law banning most abortions.

The decision from Oakland County Circuit Court Judge Jacob Cunningham comes after two days of hearings and means every county in Michigan with an abortion clinic is at least temporarily immune from the threat of criminal prosecutions over abortion procedures.

“As currently applied, the court finds (the abortion law) is chilling and dangerous to our state’s population of childbearing people and the medical professionals who care for them,” Cunningham said.

ugly-medieval-cats-art-115-5aafbd8c8ffe9__700“The harm to the body of women and people capable of pregnancy in not issuing the injunction could not be more real, clear, present and dangerous to the court.”

At times, Cunningham seemed to ridicule arguments from conservative prosecutors seeking to enforce the 1931 abortion law. He said prosecutors would suffer zero harm from not having the ability to prosecute abortion providers.

Going much further, he told these prosecutors to instead focus their efforts elsewhere.

“The court suggests county prosecutors focus their attention and resources … to investigation and prosecution of criminal sexual conduct, homicide, arson, child and elder abuse, animal cruelty and other violent and horrific crimes that we see in our society,” Cunningham said.

Is the Constitution broken?

Ryan D. Doerfler and The Constitution Is Broken and Should Not Be Reclaimed. You’ll need to go to the NYT link if you’re interested, because it’s very long. The main idea is that the Constitution is dated and favors conservatives; liberals need to change their thinking about “constitutionalism.”

When liberals lose in the Supreme Court — as they increasingly have over the past half-century — they usually say that the justices got the Constitution wrong. But struggling over the Constitution has proved a dead end. The real need is not to reclaim the Constitution, as many would have it, but instead to reclaim America from constitutionalism.

The idea of constitutionalism is that there needs to be some higher law that is more difficult to change than the rest of the legal order. Having a constitution is about setting more sacrosanct rules than the ones the legislature can pass day to day. Our Constitution’s guarantee of two senators to each state is an example. And ever since the American founders were forced to add a Bill of Rights to get their handiwork passed, national constitutions have been associated with some set of basic freedoms and values that transient majorities might otherwise trample.

1_0eG0UKcj-KC4U0eU2YFNeABut constitutions — especially the broken one we have now — inevitably orient us to the past and misdirect the present into a dispute over what people agreed on once upon a time, not on what the present and future demand for and from those who live now. This aids the right, which insists on sticking with what it claims to be the original meaning of the past.

Arming for war over the Constitution concedes in advance that the left must translate its politics into something consistent with the past. But liberals have been attempting to reclaim the Constitution for 50 years — with agonizingly little to show for it. It’s time for them to radically alter the basic rules of the game.

In making calls to regain ownership of our founding charter, progressives have disagreed about strategy and tactics more than about this crucial goal. Proposals to increase the number of justices, strip the Supreme Court’s jurisdiction to invalidate federal law or otherwise soften the blow of judicial review frequently come together with the assurance that the problem is not the Constitution; only the Supreme Court’s hijacking of it is. And even when progressives concede that the Constitution is at the root of our situation, typically the call is for some new constitutionalism.

If that whets your appetite for me, click the link and read the rest.

Those are today’s main political stories as I see it. Maybe we’ll have some time to take a breath before more shocking news breaks. I can use a quite weekend and I wish you the same.


Lazy Caturday Reads

Good Morning!!

The Village Fool by Victor Tkachenko

The Village Fool by Victor Tkachenko

As we learn more about Trump’s successful efforts to undermine U.S. democracy, it is becoming evident that Trump and Trumpism will be haunting us for a long time to come. I only hope it isn’t too late for this country to recover.

Yesterday, Dakinikat wrote about the latest Trumpian outrages, and this morning there is much more being reported in the aftermath of yesterday’s revelations about Trump’s corruption of the Department of Justice–specifically about The New York Times’s blockbuster story about the Trump DOJ obtaining phone and email data belonging to members of the House Intelligence Committee.

It turns out Apple didn’t know that it was turning over information about Congresspeople. CNN: Justice Department requested data on 73 phone numbers and 36 email addresses from Apple.

The Department of Justice sent a broad request in February 2018 to Apple as part of its investigation that collected data on members of Congress, staffers and their families. The department demanded metadata on 73 phone numbers and 36 email addresses from Apple, the company said Friday evening.

Apple received the subpoena from the Justice Department on Feb. 6, 2018, but it contained no information about who the investigation was targeting or why, the company said. Apple also said determining who the targeted accounts belonged to would have required extensive research.

A person familiar with the request said the subpoena requested information on the targeted accounts beginning with the inception of the accounts through the day of the subpoena.

Apple said it limited the information it provided to metadata and account subscriber information and did not provide any content such as emails or pictures. While Apple says it would have normally informed customers, a nondisclosure order prevented it from doing so in this case, the company said.

The nondisclosure order was extended three times, each time for a year, Apple said. When it was not extended for a fourth time, Apple said it informed the affected customers on May 5, 2021.

Apple said they believe that other providers also got subpoenas, and the story reports that Microsoft was ordered to turn over data belonging to a Congressional staffer. This one was also accompanied by a gag order.

According to Reuters, Apple has now “tightened some of its rules for responding to legal requests.”

Jeff Sessions claims that he had no clue about what was going on, according to The Daily Beast.

Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions is telling associates he had no idea his Justice Department seized phone records of two top Democratic congressional critics of then-President Donald Trump.

Lotte Laserstein

Painting by Lotte Laserstein

In the hours since The New York Times broke the news on Thursday that prosecutors subpoenaed Apple metadata from Reps. Adam Schiff (D-CA) and Eric Swalwell (D-CA), former Attorney General Sessions has privately told people that he wasn’t aware of, nor was he briefed on, the reported data seizures while he led the Trump DOJ. This week’s revelations were a surprise to him, according to a source familiar with the matter, and another person close to Sessions.

“[What’s been reported] is explicitly the kind of thing that Donald Trump would often say he wanted out of his Justice Department,” said the individual familiar with the matter. “But right now, it’s unclear how many top officials [at the time] even knew about this.”

And what about Bill Barr? 

Politico: Barr distances himself from Trump-era subpoenas of Democratic lawmakers.

Former Attorney General William Barr on Friday distanced himself from reports that the Trump Justice Department seized communications records belonging to two prominent Democratic lawmakers who were spearheading investigations into then-President Donald Trump.

In a phone interview, Barr said he didn’t recall getting briefed on the moves.

Barr’s comments came after The New York Times reported that in 2017 and 2018, the Justice Department secretly seized the records of at least 12 people connected to the House Intelligence Committee, including its current chair. Barr became attorney general in 2019….

Barr said that while he was attorney general, he was “not aware of any congressman’s records being sought in a leak case.” He added that Trump never encouraged him to zero in on the Democratic lawmakers who reportedly became targets of the former president’s push to unmask leakers of classified information.

Trump “was not aware of who we were looking at in any of the cases,” Barr said. “I never discussed the leak cases with Trump. He didn’t really ask me any of the specifics.”

Yeah, right. I don’t believe a word of that bullshit.

From Evan Perez and Katelyn Polantz at CNN: Barr pushed investigators to finish leak probes.

(CNN)The Justice Department’s leak investigation that targeted lawmakers was more than a year old when Attorney General William Barr took office in 2019. Barr had vowed early on to help answer lingering questions from conservatives about the fairness of the Justice Department’s handling of politically sensitive investigations.

Barr pushed for briefings from national security prosecutors and urged them to move quickly to complete investigations, according to people briefed on the matter. In some cases, he sought to bring in outside prosecutors to help reinvigorate investigations he thought weren’t moving quickly enough….

Giacomo Ceruti

Painting by Giacomo Ceruti

The probe looking into whether lawmakers briefed on classified information leaked information to reporters was among several that were launched early on during the era of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who was overseeing matters related to Russia, since Attorney General Jeff Sessions was recused….

As part of his effort to crack down on leakers, Barr brought in a well-regarded New Jersey prosecutor, Osmar Benvenuto, in early 2020 to help oversee leak investigations, which raised some eyebrows among Washington-based prosecutors because the line prosecutor had not had extensive counterintelligence or leak investigation experience. Like Trump, Barr had suspicions about leaks and believed the department’s credibility was at stake if it couldn’t show it fully investigated them, people briefed on the matter said.

He also found a set of aggressive career prosecutors leading this and other leak cases who were willing to take extraordinary steps to try to complete the probes.

Good old Rod Rosenstein. He turned out to be a loyal Trumpist too.

An op-ed at by former federal prosecutor Elie Honig at CNN: Bill Barr’s despicable conduct is now on full display.

It was already a matter of record that William Barr abused his power as attorney general under former President Donald Trump. Turns out, it’s even worse than we knew.

There’s no question that Barr was fundamentally dishonest (to put it charitably). Federal judges nominated to the bench by presidents of both political parties have found that Barr “lack(ed) … candor“; that his public and in-court statements were “disingenuous,” “incomplete,” “inconsistent” with truth and “called into question Attorney General Barr’s credibility.” Others, including former special counsel Robert Mueller, thousands of former Justice Department officials (including me), and members of Congress have expressed doubt or worse about Barr’s truthfulness and integrity.

Photo by Brook Hummer

Photo by Brook Hummer

We already knew that Barr politicized the Justice Department. He used it defensively to shield Trump from potential criminal exposure by misleading the public about Mueller’s findings, and by declaring, contrary to the evidence and the law, that Trump had not obstructed justice. (In his report, Mueller detailed extensive evidence of obstruction, but declined to clearly state whether he concluded that Trump had committed a crime). And Barr intervened in unprecedented fashion to undermine his own Justice Department’s prosecutions of Trump’s political allies Michael Flynn and Roger Stone.

But recent revelations — that prosecutors in Trump’s Department of Justice subpoenaed Apple for data from the accounts of Democratic members of Congress, their staffs and families — are different in kind. According to The New York Times, Barr even moved a New Jersey-based attorney to the main Justice Department to work on a case related to Rep. Adam Schiff of California, one of the House Democrats whose data was sought. (Barr, the Justice Department and Apple declined to comment on the story to the Times, though the Justice Department’s inspector general has said it will investigate.)

In taking such action, Barr used the staggering power of his position to selectively pursue Trump’s perceived political rivals. This is eerily similar to former President Richard Nixon’s “enemies list” and his efforts at retributive action.

 Read the rest at CNN.

In other news, a number of media outlets recently reported that an IG report exonerated Trump of accusations that he ordered protesters cleared from Lafayette Square last year so he could do his despicable photo-op holding up a bible. Not so fast.

Vox: What the new IG report about the gassing of protesters around Lafayette Square actually says.

On June 1, 2020, as the Black Lives Matter protests were escalating, President Donald Trump, in an effort to project power and restore a sense of “law and order,” decided to walk across the street from the White House and hold aloft a Bible outside St. John’s Church, which had been damaged during a protest the night before.

He was able to do so because the crowd of protesters in Lafayette Square, which abuts the church, had been forcibly cleared by law enforcement in what some outlets referred to as an “attack” — officers from various law enforcement groups used horses, riot shields, batons, pepper spray, and tear gas to clear the area.

Girl in the red dress with cat and dog, by Ammi Phillips, 1788-1865

Girl in the red dress with cat and dog, by Ammi Phillips, 1788-1865

Reporters and onlookers understandably linked Trump’s desire to hold a photo op with the operation to forcibly clear protesters. But the new IG report has prompted a reevaluation of that linkage with its conclusion that “the evidence we obtained did not support a finding that the USPP (United States Park Police) cleared the park to allow the President to survey the damage and walk to St. John’s Church.”

“Instead, the evidence we reviewed showed that the USPP cleared the park to allow the contractor to safely install the antiscale fencing in response to destruction of property and injury to officers occurring on May 30 and 31,” it says.

Again, not so fast.

But the report does not clarify everything about what happened on June 1. For example, it does not offer perspective on whether the injury to officers actually necessitated clearing the park — a question raised immediately after protesters were removed. Nor does it definitively state that Trump had nothing to with how the clearing was carried out.

In fact, the report also suggests that other law enforcement agencies that were on the scene that day, such as the Secret Service, may have had reasons for taking aggressive action to clear protesters that went beyond the desire to install new fencing.

But because the IG report is limited to the actions of the USPP and did not include interviews with the Secret Service or the attorney general at the time of the incident, Bill Barr — who spoke with law enforcement before the operation began — important questions about the chain of events that led to protesters being forcibly cleared from the area on that day remain unanswered.

There’s much more at the link. See also this piece by attorney Luppe B. Luppin: Reading the Park Police IG Report More Closely. It doesn’t support the headlines, and this article at The Week by Ryan Cooper: Trump’s false Lafayette Square exoneration.

I wish we could be permanently rid of Trump and his family and cronies, but it doesn’t look like that will happen for a very long time.

Have a nice weekend, everyone!!


Lazy Caturday Reads: Trumpism Isn’t Over Yet

Room with Curved Window Cat and Bird, Paul Wonner

Room with Curved Window Cat and Bird, by Paul Wonner

Good Afternoon!!

It’s great to finally have a normal president who actually cares about the American people and isn’t completely focused on his own needs. But it’s going to take a long time for the country to recover from four years of Trump. For one thing, Trumpism still controls the Republican Party. There is also the aftermath of Trump’s immigration and tax policies as well as his destructive influence on nearly every aspect of the Federal government, including the Departments of Justice, Defense, and Homeland Security and the intelligence community, as well as his efforts to corrupt U.S. elections. And of course Trump had a dramatic impact on the Supreme Court that will likely last for decades. In this post, I’m going to highlight some of the continuing influences of Trumpism in our politics and our justice system.

Trump loves the death penalty, and his first SCOTUS appointee Neil Gorsuch cast the deciding vote that led the execution of an innocent man in Arkansas in 2017.

The New York Times: 4 Years After an Execution, a Different Man’s DNA Is Found on the Murder Weapon. Lawyers’ request to conduct additional DNA testing before Ledell Lee was executed had been denied.

For 22 years, Ledell Lee maintained that he had been wrongly convicted of murder.

“My dying words will always be, as it has been, ‘I am an innocent man,’” he told the BBC in an interview published on April 19, 2017 — the day before officials in Arkansas administered the lethal injection.

Girl with a Cat, Franz Marke

Girl with a Cat, by Franz Marke

Four years later, lawyers affiliated with the Innocence Project and the American Civil Liberties Union say DNA testing has revealed that genetic material on the murder weapon — which was never previously tested — in fact belongs to another man. In a highly unusual development for a case in which a person has already been convicted and executed, the new genetic profile has been uploaded to a national criminal database in an attempt to identify the mystery man….

Mr. Lee’s execution, on April 20, 2017, was the first in Arkansas in more than a decade. Some accused the state of rushing Mr. Lee and several other prisoners to their deaths that month before the expiration of its supply of a lethal injection drug….

Mr. Lee’s execution, on April 20, 2017, was the first in Arkansas in more than a decade. Some accused the state of rushing Mr. Lee and several other prisoners to their deaths that month before the expiration of its supply of a lethal injection drug.

Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern on the Gorsuch vote, April 21, 2017

On Thursday night, Arkansas executed Ledell Lee—the state’s first execution in 12 years. Lee is one of eight men whom Arkansas originally planned to kill over 11 days before one drug in the three-drug lethal injection cocktail expires. Four of these men have received stays of execution, but Lee’s final plea to the U.S. Supreme Court was rejected by a 5–4 vote. Justice Neil Gorsuch cast the deciding vote allowing Lee to die. It was his first recorded vote cast as a justice of the court….

with Gorsuch’s vote, the court’s conservatives were able to ignore their four liberal colleagues and permit the execution. Lee was given midazolam, then a drug to paralyze and suffocate him—which may have been purchased under false pretenses. Finally, the state administered a chemical to stop his heart. Lee was declared dead shortly before midnight, Central Time. Had one more justice voted in his favor, Lee would still be alive today.

Lisa Lerer at The New York Times on Trump continued control of his party: Marooned at Mar-a-Lago, Trump Still Has Iron Grip on Republicans.

Locked out of Facebook, marooned in Mar-a-Lago and mocked for an amateurish new website, Donald J. Trump remained largely out of public sight this week. Yet the Republican Party’s capitulation to the former president became clearer than ever, as did the damage to American politics he has caused with his lie that the election was stolen from him.

Jennifer Gennari

Painting by Jennifer Gennari

In Washington, Republicans moved to strip Representative Liz Cheney of her House leadership position, a punishment for denouncing Mr. Trump’s false claims of voter fraud as a threat to democracy. Lawmakers in Florida and Texas advanced sweeping new measures that would curtail voting, echoing the fictional narrative from Mr. Trump and his allies that the electoral system was rigged against him. And in Arizona, the state Republican Party started a bizarre re-examination of the November election results that involved searching for traces of bamboo in last year’s ballots.

The churning dramas cast into sharp relief the extent to which the nation, six months after the election, is still struggling with the consequences of an unprecedented assault by a losing presidential candidate on a bedrock principle of American democracy: that the nation’s elections are legitimate.

They also provided stark evidence that the former president has not only managed to squelch any dissent within his party but has also persuaded most of the G.O.P. to make a gigantic bet: that the surest way to regain power is to embrace his pugilistic style, racial divisiveness and beyond-the-pale conspiracy theories rather than to court the suburban swing voters who cost the party the White House and who might be looking for substantive policies on the pandemic, the economy, health care and other issues.

“We’ve just gotten so far afield from any sane construction,” said Barbara Comstock, a longtime party official who was swept out of her suburban Virginia congressional seat in the 2018 midterm backlash to Mr. Trump. “It’s a real sickness that is infecting the party at every level. We’re just going to say that black is white now.”

Read more at the NYT link.

From the Editorial Board of the Financial Times: Republicans drift ever further into Trumpism. The right must find ways to head off disaster for party and country.

Six months after Trump was defeated in the US presidential election, no Republican can dispute his claim that Joe Biden stole it and expect to prosper among their peers. Facebook’s initial decision to suspend Trump’s account came after he had egged on the mob that assaulted Capitol Hill on January 6 in what was the most serious threat to American democracy since the civil war. Since then, Trump’s language has only grown more ominous. Republicans who think they can keep their head down and wait out the Trump era are probably deluding themselves. Trump is only consolidating his hold over their party — and shows every sign of planning a 2024 presidential run.

What should principled conservatives do? One option is to follow the example of Liz Cheney, the number three Republican in the House of Representatives, who correctly reminds her colleagues that last year’s election was legitimate and the assault on Congress was sedition. She will almost certainly be removed from her position next week.

August Macke

Painting by August Macke

This is nothing to do with ideology. Cheney is among the most conservative figures in the House. Elise Stefanik, who is set to replace her, is more moderate. Stefanik, however, has an unblemished record of echoing whatever Trump says, including that America’s voting is rigged. Like any revolution, the demands on its children grow more outlandish. The more preposterous the conspiracy theory, the greater the demonstration of loyalty from those who embrace it. The downsides to Cheney’s act of courage are obvious. She will lose her influence and ultimately even her Wyoming district to a Trump loyalist. Others among the principled holdouts, including Illinois’ Adam Kinzinger, are also at risk.

A parallel line of attack would be to point out that Trump is already jeopardising his party’s hopes of regaining control of Congress in next year’s midterm elections, and the White House two years later. Trump lost the presidency, but his party did far better in non-presidential races. Millions of voters who endorsed Biden switched to Republicans down ballot. Not once in four years did Trump’s approval rating exceed 50 per cent. Biden’s has not yet fallen below that. 

Trump can keep the party united through fear of defenestration but his grip will make the party less appealing to the larger electorate. Sadly, there is little hope right now of severing Trump’s bonds to a party that is now largely his — 70 per cent of its voters say the election was stolen. 

Liz Cheney is getting a great deal of attention right now, and although I probably disagree with her on every political issue, I have to admire her principled stand against Trumpism. And now the GOP Trump cult is trying to excommunicate her.

The Washington Post: Liz Cheney’s months-long effort to turn Republicans from Trump threatens her reelection and ambitions. She says it’s only beginning.

Rep. Liz Cheney had been arguing for months that Republicans had to face the truth about former president Donald Trump — that he had lied about the 2020 election result and bore responsibility for the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol — when the Wyoming Republican sat down at a party retreat in April to listen to a polling briefing.

The refusal to accept reality, she realized, went much deeper.

When staff from the National Republican Congressional Committee rose to explain the party’s latest polling in core battleground districts, they left out a key finding about Trump’s weakness, declining to divulge the information even when directly questioned about Trump’s support by a member of Congress, according to two people familiar with what transpired.

Paul Wonner cat painting

Painting by Paul Wonner

Trump’s unfavorable ratings were 15 points higher than his favorable ones in the core districts, according to the full polling results, which were later obtained by The Washington Post. Nearly twice as many voters had a strongly unfavorable view of the former president as had a strongly favorable one.

Cheney was alarmed, she later told others, in part because Republican campaign officials had also left out bad Trump polling news at a March retreat for ranking committee chairs. Both instances, she concluded, demonstrated that party leadership was willing to hide information from their own members to avoid the truth about Trump and the possible damage he could do to Republican House members, even though the NRCC denied any such agenda.

Those behind-the-scenes episodes were part of a months-long dispute over Republican principles that has raged among House leaders and across the broader GOP landscape. That dispute is expected to culminate next week with a vote to remove Cheney from her position as the third-ranking House Republican.\At issue: Should the Republican Party continue to defend Trump’s actions and parrot his falsehoods, given his overwhelming support among GOP voters? Or does the party and its leaders need to directly confront the damage he has done?

I think we all know how that is going to turn out.

On the corruption of the Justice Department, Devlin Barrett broke this startling news yesterday at The Washington Post: Trump Justice Department secretly obtained Post reporters’ phone records.

The Trump Justice Department secretly obtained Washington Post journalists’ phone records and tried to obtain their email records over reporting they did in the early months of the Trump administration on Russia’s role in the 2016 election, according to government letters and officials.

In three separate letters dated May 3 and addressed to Post reporters Ellen Nakashima and Greg Miller, and former Post reporter Adam Entous, the Justice Department wrote they were “hereby notified that pursuant to legal process the United States Department of Justice received toll records associated with the following telephone numbers for the period from April 15, 2017 to July 31, 2017.” The letters listed work, home or cellphone numbers covering that three-and-a-half-month period.

Cameron Barr, The Post’s acting executive editor, said: “We are deeply troubled by this use of government power to seek access to the communications of journalists. The Department of Justice should immediately make clear its reasons for this intrusion into the activities of reporters doing their jobs, an activity protected under the First Amendment.”

Cat on Green Pilllow, August Mackee

Cat on Green Pilllow, August Macke

News organizations and First Amendment advocates have long decried the government practice of seizing journalists’ records in an effort to identify the sources of leaks, saying it unjustly chills critical newsgathering. The last such high-profile seizure of reporters’ communications records came several years ago as part of an investigation into the source of stories by a reporter who worked at BuzzFeed, Politico and the New York Times. The stories at issue there also centered around 2017 reporting on the investigation into Russian election interference.

It is rare for the Justice Department to use subpoenas to get records of reporters in leak investigations, and such moves must be approved by the attorney general. The letters do not say precisely when the reporters’ records were taken and reviewed, but a department spokesman said the decision to do so came in 2020, during the Trump administration. William P. Barr, who served as Trump’s attorney general for nearly all of that year, before departing Dec. 23, declined to comment.

A few more stories to check out:

The Washington Post: Trump’s out-of-power agenda: Retribution against foes, commanding the spotlight and total domination of GOP.

Joyce Vance at NBC News: Judge Amy Berman Jackson’s Barr rebuke opens the door to DOJ accountability.

CBS News: The Arizona GOP’s Maricopa County audit: What to know about it.

NBC News: Sen. Lindsey Graham says the GOP can’t move forward without Trump.

Brad Bannon at The Hill: GOP is consumed by Trump conspiracy theories.

Have a great weekend everyone!! As always, this is an open thread.


Day After Christmas Caturday Reads

images (1)

Good Afternoon!!

It’s difficult to believe, but today is kind of slow news day, compared to most of the days we’ve lived through in the past four years. Naturally, what news there is today is mostly awful.

The story getting the most attention right now is the bomb blast in Nashville. Here’s the latest:

ABC News: Human remains found at site of ‘intentional’ Nashville RV explosion: Sources.

Nashville police officers were first called to a report of shots fired, police said. There was no evidence of shots fired, but “there were announcements coming” from an RV saying a potential bomb would detonate within 15 minutes, police said.

The recording only began playing a short time after police reported to the scene, a law enforcement official told ABC News.

il_570xN.1628906646_o015Officers were working to evacuate nearby buildings when, around 6:30 a.m., the RV exploded, blowing out the windows of nearby buildings.

Human remains have been found at the scene of the explosion in downtown Nashville, multiple law enforcement sources told ABC News.

The remains have not been identified and it’s unclear whether they’re identifiable.

“We found tissue that we believe could be human remains,” Metro Nashville Police Chief John Drake said at a press conference Friday evening. “We’ll have that examined and we’ll be able to tell you from that point.”

Nashville Tennessean: Exclusive: Nashville explosion witness remembers chilling warning from the RV: ‘A bomb is in this vehicle

A woman’s voice warned downtown residents to evacuate before the Christmas morning explosion that rocked Nashville, according to witness who described hearing the chilling message before fleeing with her family.

Betsy Williams, who owns the Melting Pot building on Second Avenue, lived in a loft apartment on the third floor of the building near the center of the blast.

Williams said she left the area after she heard the recording play a countdown to the explosion.

At least three people were injured in the explosion, according to authorities. A police officer in the area, who was responding to reports of suspicious activity in the area, was knocked to the ground by the blast.

Police said the explosion came from an RV that was parked on Second Avenue, in the midst of a business and entertainment district. Police spokesman Don Aaron confirmed the warning came from the RV.

Two-cats-dressed-up-in-holiday-outfitsAP: Downtown Nashville explosion knocks communications offline.

The blast sent black smoke and flames billowing from the heart of downtown Nashville’s tourist scene, an area packed with honky-tonks, restaurants and shops. Buildings shook and windows shattered streets away from the explosion near a building owned by AT&T that lies one block from the company’s office tower, a landmark in downtown.

“We do not know if that was a coincidence, or if that was the intention,” police spokesman Don Aaron said. He said earlier that some people were taken to the department’s central precinct for questioning but declined to give details.

AT&T said the affected building is the central office of a telephone exchange, with network equipment in it. The blast interrupted service, but the company declined to say how widespread outages were.

The AT&T outages site showed service issues in middle Tennessee and Kentucky. Several police agencies reported that their 911 systems were down because of the outage, including Knox County, home to Knoxville about 180 miles (290 kilometers) east of Nashville.

AT&T said that it was bringing in portable cell sites and was working with law enforcement to get access to make repairs to its equipment. The company noted that “power is essential to restoring” service.

The Federal Aviation Administration temporarily halted flights out of Nashville International Airport because of telecommunications issues associated with the explosion. Later Friday, the Metropolitan Nashville Airport Authority said most flights were resuming but advised passengers to check with their airline for updates due to possible delays.

The FBI will be taking the lead in the investigation, agency spokesman Joel Siskovic said. Federal investigators from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were also on the scene. The FBI is the primary law enforcement agency responsible for investigating federal crimes, such as explosives violations and acts of terrorism.

il_570xN.1302215820_8kviTrump is busy shirking his responsibilities, playing golf and tweeting as Americans die or go hungry and jobless, while facing evictions.

The New York Times: Unemployment Aid Set to Lapse Saturday as Trump’s Plans for Relief Bill Remain Unclear.

Expanded unemployment benefits were set to lapse for millions of struggling Americans on Saturday, a day after President Trump expressed more criticism of a $900 billion pandemic relief bill that was awaiting his signature and would extend them.

The sprawling economic relief package that Congress passed with overwhelming bipartisan support would extend the amount of time that people can collect unemployment benefits until March and revive supplemental unemployment benefits for millions of Americans at $300 a week on top of the usual state benefit.

If Mr. Trump signs the bill on Saturday, states will still need time to reprogram their computer systems to account for the new law, according to Michele Evermore of the National Employment Law Projectbut unemployed workers would still be able to claim the benefits.

Further delays could prove more costly. States cannot pay out benefits for weeks that begin before the bill is signed, meaning that if the president does not sign the bill by Saturday, benefits will not restart until the first week of January. But they will still end in mid-March, effectively trimming the extension to 10 weeks from 11.

Mr. Trump blindsided lawmakers on Tuesday when he hinted he may veto the measure, which he decided at the last minute was unsatisfactory. The most pressing issue prompted by the president’s delay was the fate of unemployment benefits. At least a temporary lapse in those benefits is now inevitable.

The country is also facing a looming government shutdown on Tuesday and the expiration of a moratorium on evictions at the end of the year because of the president’s refusal to sign the bill.

Screen_Shot_2018-12-12_at_1.56.56_PM_1024x1024Here’s what Trump is stewing about at the moment. Raw Story: Trump buried for whining Melania didn’t get enough fashion magazine covers — as he sits on COVID aid bill.

With all that is going on in the U.S. during Christmas week — COVID-19 infections on the rise, a desperately needed COVID-related aid package being held hostage by the president, extended unemployment insurance about to run out, families facing evictions — Donald Trump took time out from his busy holiday vacation at Mar-a-Lago to complain that his wife Melania didn’t get fashion magazine cover stories he feels she deserves.

Linking to a tweet from right-wing Breitbart, that read, “The elitist snobs in the fashion press have kept the most elegant First Lady in American history off the covers of their magazines for 4 consecutive years,” the preside t added “The greatest of all time” by which he presumably meant the first lady, before adding the requisite “Fake news!”

Commenters who were already criticizing the president for two days of golfing while they hunker down in their homes over fears of the spreading pandemic, piled on the president for his bizarre sense of priorities.

Maybe it’s because Melania is ugly inside and out? Click the link to read sample tweets.

Trump is also planning to try to pardon himself and push for inappropriate investigations, according to The Guardian: 

William Barr’s abrupt move to leave his post as attorney general this week has spurred fears among Department of Justice veterans that Donald Trump will put new pressures on Barr’s successor to do him big and potentially risky political and legal favors.

Former justice department officials say they are worried Trump will lean on Barr’s less experienced successor, the acting attorney general, Jeffrey Rosen, to push policies which Trump has suggested he backs, including naming special counsels to investigate President-elect Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, and using the DoJ to investigate Trump’s baseless charges of widespread election fraud.

Critics also fear Rosen could face pressure from Trump to help obtain a legal opinion that would allow Trump to pardon himself by reversing a justice department opinion that dates back to the Nixon era and bars a presidential self-pardon. Such a move would probably trigger widespread outrage.

Mounting concerns that Trump will try to squeeze favors from Rosen, who became Barr’s deputy AG in early 2019 without previous DoJ experience, stem partly from Trump’s post-election anger at Barr, despite being arguably his strongest cabinet ally in the run-up to the November election.

baa09660e092dcb35cbb29f7ffab4940And what if Trump tries to stay in the White House after Biden’s inauguration? Eric Lutz at Vanity Fair: No One Knows How to Get Trump to Leave the White House in January.

Donald Trump was soundly defeated by Joe Biden, his efforts to overturn the results have been wildly unsuccessful, and the electoral college has made his loss official. In two weeks, lawmakers will meet to certify Biden’s win—and a longshot challenge Trump’s allies in the House are planning is unlikely to stop the inevitable. Constitutionally and legally, Trump will have no constitutional or legal claim to the White House.

But what if, after all that, he just…refuses to leave? What if he refuses to pack his shit and go back to Mar-a-Lago? What if he chains himself to the Resolute Desk? That prospect may sound comically outlandish, and is indeed unlikely to come to pass. But it’s hardly as far-fetched as it might seem, as Trump refuses to concede and continues to insist he won last month’s election in a “landslide.” In fact, he has actually raised the idea with aides recently, as CNN reported. And while few advisers think he’ll actually go through with it, no one really knows what would happen if he does try to overstay his welcome.

According to the Daily Beast on Wednesday, the Secret Service isn’t so sure what it would do, either. One former agent suggested he’d get dragged out like any other civilian would be if they were in the Oval Office unauthorized. “I guess by law he would be a trespasser,” the former agent told the outlet. “We’d have to escort him out.” But the Secret Service and the military may be reluctant to take part in what would be such a dramatic scene, and could take more subtle action, like pressing his inner circle or Republican officials and family members to make him leave. “The Service and the military would just not want to get involved,” another former official said. “It’s not our role.” It could also simply do the equivalent of changing the locks: “When the staff leaves on January 19, don’t let them back into the complex the next day,” an ex-agent said. “He can’t do anything without his staff.”

Again, this is all (thankfully) hypothetical at this point, and the chances of it becoming more than that are still likely remote. But it’s hard to avoid engaging with the prospect as Trump goes to greater and greater lengths in his effort to remain in power, even though a record number of American voters told him to get lost and the electoral college formalized his loss. “It’s scary,” an administration official told CNN.

More at the link.

A few more reads to check out:

s-l640Ed Pilkington at The Guardian: How real is the threat of prosecution for Donald Trump post-presidency?

The Daily Beast: Three Paths This Coronavirus Nightmare Could Take.

Los Angeles Times: L.A. County hospitals running dangerously low on oxygen, supplies as ER units are overwhelmed.

The New York Times: One Vaccine Side Effect: Global Economic Inequality.

Raw Story: Vengeful Trump is in ‘destruction mode’ after ‘being fired by the American people’: Historian Brinkley.

The New York Times: A ‘Great Cultural Depression’ Looms for Legions of Unemployed Performers

That’s all I have for you today. I hope you had a nice, relaxing day yesterday. Take care and stay safe!