Lazy Caturday Reads

Spooked, by Chiakiro

Spooked, by Chiakiro

Good Morning!!

Bill Clinton is still in a California hospital being treated for a urological infection that got into his bloodstream. The Guardian: Bill Clinton to remain in hospital as he recovers from urological infection.

The former US president Bill Clinton’s health is improving but he will remain in a California hospital for at least another night to receive antibiotics intravenously for a urological infection that spread to his bloodstream, his spokesperson said on Friday.

The 75-year-old Clinton, who served as president from 1993 to 2001, entered the University of California, Irvine, medical center on Tuesday evening after suffering from fatigue. He spoke with Joe Biden on Friday.

Clinton’s spokesperson Angel Ureña said that Clinton’s white blood count has decreased, indicating his health is improving.

“All health indicators are trending in the right direction, including his white blood count which was decreased significantly,” Ureña said on Twitter. “In order to receive further IV antibiotics, he will remain in the hospital overnight.”

Since his admission to the intensive care unit at the hospital, Clinton has received fluids along with antibiotics, his doctors said.

His wife, a former secretary of state and 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, was at the hospital on Thursday and Friday, and the two read books and talked about politics, Ureña told Reuters.

It remained unclear when Clinton would be released.

Biden said Clinton would likely go home soon, though it was not clear whether he would be released on Saturday or later.

“He is getting out shortly. … Whether that’s tomorrow or the next day, I don’t know,” Biden told reporters in Connecticut. “He’s doing fine. He really is.”

aldemir-martins-gato-verde-acrilica-sobre-tela-14335

Aldemir Martins, Gato Verde (Green Cat)

NBC News has an explainer on the infection Clinton is fighting: What led to Bill Clinton’s hospitalization? Warning signs of the common infection.

The urologic infection that a source close to Bill Clinton says led to the former president’s hospitalization is common in older individuals and can be serious, experts say.

But when treated in a timely manner, the prognosis for such cases is excellent….

A source close to Clinton told NBC News that his initial diagnosis was a urologic infection that morphed into a broader infection.

While little else was immediately revealed about Clinton’s condition, including whether it originated in his urinary tract or elsewhere in the urinary system, experts who were not involved in his care said such spread of infection can be life-threatening without prompt medical attention.

“This is not uncommon. This is something we frequently treat in the emergency room, where somebody comes in with a urinary tract infection,” NBC News senior medical correspondent Dr. John Torres said Friday on the “TODAY” show. “Especially as they get older, their body is not able to contain that, so it moves from the urinary tract, from the bladder and the kidneys, into the bloodstream.”

At that point, Torres said, a patient is at risk of sepsis — a dangerous overdrive of the immune system in response to an infection — or septic shock, when organs start to fail.

Doctors must keep a close eye on these patients to make sure the strong antibiotics they are treating them with are lowering their white blood cell counts, which would indicate the infection is getting under control, said Dr. Ash Tewari, a urologist and prostate cancer specialist at Mount Sinai in New York.

Doctors will also work to identify any underlying conditions that may have led to the infection in the first place: a blockage, a kidney stone, even diabetes, Tewari said. Sometimes, procedures are necessary to prevent future recurrences.

More info at the NBC link.

Incatneato, by Jeff Haynie

Incatneato, by Jeff Haynie

This is a horrific story from Jefferson Parish, Louisiana. That’s the backwoods part of the state Dakinikat has told us about. Raw Story: Three children attacked a Black woman. A sheriff’s deputy arrived — and beat her more.

The Jefferson Parish Shraeriff’s Office is investigating a deputy accused of holding a Black woman by her hair and slamming her head repeatedly into the pavement with such force that a witness to the Sept. 20 incident said it ripped several of Shantel Arnold’s braids from her scalp. A 14-second video captured the incident in the New Orleans suburb where, for decades, Black residents have accused the Sheriff’s Office of targeting them.

It was the second time that hour that Arnold had been assaulted. By the time the deputies arrived, she said she had already fended off an attack by some local boys.

In an interview, the 34-year-old Arnold, who has not been previously identified, told the news organizations she had needed the police’s protection. But protection is not what she got.

The video begins with a sheriff’s deputy seen holding the wrist of Arnold, who is lying on her back on the sidewalk. The deputy appears to be dragging her along the pavement. The deputy then grabs Arnold’s arm with his other hand and jerks her upward, lifting her body off the ground. They briefly disappear behind a parked white vehicle. When they come back into view, the deputy is holding Arnold by her braids, slamming her repeatedly onto the cement. At one point, he whips her down so violently her body spins around and flips over.

The footage ends as the deputy crouches down and places a knee onto Arnold’s back.

Arnold is only 4 feet eight inches tall and weighs about 100 pounds.

The incident started around 2 p.m. on Sept. 20 when Arnold was attacked by three boys as she was walking down the street near her family’s trailer home. At 4-foot-8 and about 100 pounds, her left eye missing from a car accident years earlier, Arnold regularly made an easy target for the neighborhood bullies, her family said.

During the attack, which lasted several minutes and was captured in a cellphone video, the boys slammed Arnold to the ground and beat her while a crowd watched and laughed. She tried to defend herself with a stick, which is visible in the video. The assault ended only after 71-year-old Lionel Gray, whom Arnold considers her stepfather, chased the boys away.

Disheveled and covered in dirt, Arnold stumbled down the road toward her home when an unidentified sheriff’s deputy rolled up beside her in his patrol car.

There’s more at the link. ProPublica has an expose on Jefferson Parish’s history of brutal racism: “They Saw Me and Thought the Worst.” For years, Black residents of Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, have voiced complaints about abuses and a lack of accountability within its Sheriff’s Office.

remedios varo

Painting by Remedios Varo

At the New York times, another tale of government racism and crumbling infrastructure from Michigan: More Lead-Tainted Water in Michigan Draws Attention to Nation’s Aging Pipes.

BENTON HARBOR, Mich. — During the three years that officials have known about dangerous amounts of lead flowing from faucets in Benton Harbor, Mich., they have sent out notices, distributed filters and tried to improve water treatment. But the problems persisted, and some residents said they never heard about the risks of the toxic water coming from their taps.

Now, in scenes reminiscent of the water crisis in Flint, Mich., state officials have told Benton Harbor residents not to drink, cook or brush their teeth with tap water. Elected officials came to town Thursday promising help. And so many cars have turned out for bottled water giveaways that traffic has been snarled, a rarity in a place with 9,100 residents.

“It’s horrible to watch, to see my city like this,” Rosetta Valentine, 63, said as she directed traffic at a water distribution site where some people lined up nearly an hour before the event started.

Residents of Benton Harbor see parallels between their plight and the water crisis that unfolded less than three hours up the highway in Flint, also a majority-Black city, where a change in the water source in 2014 led to residents drinking contaminated water despite repeated assurances that it was safe. In Benton Harbor, where thousands of homes are connected to the water system by lead pipes, efforts to bring down problematic lead readings by using corrosion controls have so far failed, and officials have recently grown concerned that lead-removing filters given to residents since 2019 might not work.

The problems in Benton Harbor and Flint are extreme examples of a broader, national failure of water infrastructure that experts say requires massive and immediate investment to solve. Across the country, in cities like ChicagoPittsburgh and Clarksburg, W.Va., Americans are drinking dangerous quantities of brain-damaging lead as agencies struggle to modernize water treatment plants and launch efforts to replace the lead service lines that connect buildings to the water system. Health officials say there is no safe level of lead exposure.

Read the rest at the NYT.

Graceful Beauty, by Hans Ruettimann

Graceful Beauty, by Hans Ruettimann

Here’s some revenge porn for us Democrats by Molly Jong Fast at The Atlantic: Democrats Are Ready to Send Steve Bannon to Jail.

Congressional Democrats, who control both chambers and have a majority on the January 6 committee, can ask the House or Senate sergeant-at-arms to arrest Bannon. Yesterday afternoon, though, Representative Bennie Thompson, the Mississippi Democrat who chairs the committee, announced that he will pursue a more moderate path: Next week, the committee will vote on whether to refer Bannon to the Justice Department for potential criminal prosecution.

“We fully intend to enforce” the subpoenas, Representative Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, who is one of two Republicans on the special committee, assured me. “That doesn’t come with the snap of a finger, but we will get to the bottom of these questions and pursue all avenues.”

Democrats want to uphold norms of interparty civility while also preventing Trump and his buddies from completely undermining democracy. But time is running out. The January 6 committee is one of Congress’s last chances to narrate the Capitol riots and the Trump administration’s efforts to subvert the peaceful transfer of power. The only way to fight fascism is with narrative, Masha Gessen, the writer and activist, once told me. The select-committee probe presents a real opportunity to do just that.

Enforcing the committee’s subpoenas isn’t a controversial idea, Representative Eric Swalwell of California told me. “We must enforce congressional subpoenas not just for holding insurrectionists accountable but to show everyone in America that we all follow the same rules,” he said. “If Bannon and company are above the law, why wouldn’t nonpublic figures toss their lawful subpoenas in the trash?”

Perhaps Bannon thinks that the committee won’t follow through, or that jail time might martyr him. He’s dodged consequences for alleged misconduct before. Last year, he faced prison for his role in the “We Build the Wall” scheme, which prosecutors said was fraudulent, but Trump granted him an 11th-hour pardon. At least he’s had some time to think about what he might have to pack.

Head over to The Atlantic to read the rest.

Toracat, by Chiakiro

Toracat, by Chiakiro

This is from Mary Ellen Cagnassola at Newsweek: Adam Schiff Says ‘People Like Steve Bannon’ Are Not ‘Above The Law’ Ahead of Contempt Vote.

The congressional committee tasked with investigating the January 6 Capitol Riots is closing in on top Trump ally and adviser Steve Bannon with an expected vote to recommend criminal contempt charges against the former White House aide for defying a subpoena.

Adam Schiff, the House Intelligence Committee chairman who also sits on the January 6 committee, went as far as to say that he expects the Justice Department to prosecute.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, who also sits on the January 6 panel, said he expects the Justice Department to prosecute the cases.

The chairman of the special committee, Representative Bennie Thompson, a Mississippi Democrat, said the panel will vote Tuesday to recommend charges against Bannon, an adviser to Donald Trump for years who was in touch with the president ahead of the most serious assault on Congress in two centuries….

If approved by the Democratic-majority committee, the recommendation of criminal charges would go to the full House. Approval there would send them to the Justice Department, which has final say on prosecution.

The showdown with Bannon is just one facet of a broad and escalating congressional inquiry, with 19 subpoenas issued so far and thousands of pages of documents flowing to the committee and its staff. Challenging Bannon’s defiance is a crucial step for the panel, whose members are vowing to restore the force of congressional subpoenas after they were routinely flouted during Trump’s time in office.

Psycho Cat, by Jeff Haynie

Psycho Cat, by Jeff Haynie

Why is the committee waiting until Tuesday to hold the vote on Bannon? Because it will be televised in prime time. This is from The Palmer Report: Get your popcorn ready: the Steve Bannon criminal contempt proceedings will be in prime time. (Mainstream journalists hold this guy in contempt, but he is almost always right.)

Why is the January 6th Committee waiting until Tuesday to hold Steve Bannon’s criminal contempt hearing? Because they’re doing it in prime time and airing it in public. They’re going to make an example out of him as loudly as possible. Get your popcorn ready.

Of course no matter how forcefully the hearing is conducted, and no matter how serious the resulting criminal contempt referral is, we’ll still have to put up with the defeatists. Whatever the committee does, most pundits will naturally insist that it should have done the opposite, because that’s the only way that a lot of pundits feel they can keep themselves relevant.

And of course the defeatists will falsely insist that the Department of Justice “won’t do anything” and that Bannon will “get away with it all.” But at this point that kind of background whining is just par for the course.

What the whiniest of pundits and activists don’t get is that these kinds of hearings are not for their benefit. Their minds are already made up. The January 6th Committee, its actions, its hearings, and its conclusions are for the benefit of average Americans in the middle who know that something went wrong that day but want to be convinced of what specifically happened in painstaking fashion.

We’ll find out next week. I can’t wait.

I’ll add a few more links in the comment thread. Have a nice weekend everyone!! 


Thursday Reads

Good Morning!!

capitol-insurrection-tear-gas-crowd-gty-imgA bipartisan Senate report on the January 6 insurrection came out last night, and it’s highly critical of the Capitol Police, but it doesn’t address Trump’s role in encouraging the riot. 

A new Senate report reveals previously unknown details about the stunning security breakdowns ahead of the January 6 US Capitol attack, including a finding that the US Capitol Police’s main intelligence unit “was aware of the potential for violence” beforehand.

The report adds an authoritative emphasis to previous evidence that there were massive intelligence failures, critical miscommunications, and unheeded warnings that ultimately led to the chaotic response that day.

Among the failures was an inability by intelligence officials to tie together a swirl of troubling internet chatter leading up to the riot and a reliance on using past, non-violent Trump rallies in security planning.

There are also several glaring omissions in the report including any examination of Donald Trump’s role in the riots, raising questions about whether lawmakers, in their quest for bipartisanship, exposed the limits of a Congress divided and unable to agree on certain truths, particularly those related to the former President’s actions.

Sources tell CNN that in order for this report, which was compiled by the Senate Homeland Security and Rules committees, to have support from both parties, the language had to be carefully crafted, and that included excluding the word “insurrection,” which notably does not appear outside of witness quotes and footnotes.

Clearly we need an independent commission to investigate the origins of the violent attack on the U.S. Capitol. Nevertheless the Senate report does reveal new information.

The Washington Post: Capitol Police had intelligence indicating an armed invasion weeks before Jan. 6 riot, Senate probe finds.

The U.S. Capitol Police had specific intelligence that supporters of President Donald Trump planned to mount an armed invasion of the Capitol at least two weeks before the Jan. 6 riot, according to new findings in a bipartisan Senate investigation, but a series of omissions and miscommunications kept that information from reaching front-line officers targeted by the violence.

11696121ha.originalA joint report, from the Senate Rules and Administration and the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committees, outlines the most detailed public timeline to date of the communications and intelligence failures that led the Capitol Police and partner agencies to prepare for the “Stop the Steal” protest as though it were a routine Trump rally, instead of the organized assault that was planned in the open online.

Released Tuesday, the report shows how an intelligence arm of the Capitol Police disseminated security assessments labeling the threat of violence “remote” to “improbable,” even as authorities collected evidence showing that pro-Trump activists intended to bring weapons to the demonstration and “storm the Capitol.”

“There were significant, widespread and unacceptable breakdowns in the intelligence gathering. . . . The failure to adequately assess the threat of violence on that day contributed significantly to the breach of the Capitol,” Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.), chairman of the homeland security panel, told reporters. “The attack was, quite frankly, planned in plain sight.”

Recommendations for the future?

The report’s recommendations, which call for better planning, training and intelligence gathering, largely mirror those of other investigators who have examined the topic, and its contents steer clear of offering any assessment or conclusion about Trump’s responsibility for the riot.

Still, the report provides a vivid picture of how poor communication and unheeded warnings left officers underequipped to face violent threats about which they had not been made aware, leaving the Capitol vulnerable to an attack that otherwise might have been preventable.

According to the report, Capitol Police intelligence officers knew as early as Dec. 21 that protesters planned to “bring guns” and other weapons to the Jan. 6 demonstration and turn them on any law enforcement officers who blocked their entry into the Capitol. They knew that would-be rioters were sharing maps of the Capitol campus online and discussing the building’s best entry points — and how to seal them off to trap lawmakers inside. But that information was shared only with command officers.

A separate security assessment dated Dec. 23 made no mention of those findings. Neither did a follow-up Dec. 30.

Read more at the WaPo.

file-20210107-16-1t7kdysThe New York Times: ‘Does Anybody Have a Plan?’ Senate Report Details Jan. 6 Security Failures.

Top federal intelligence agencies failed to adequately warn law enforcement officials before the Jan. 6 riot that pro-Trump extremists were threatening violence, including plans to “storm the Capitol,” infiltrate its tunnel system and “bring guns,” according to a new report by two Senate committees that outlines large-scale failures that contributed to the deadly assault.

An F.B.I. memo on Jan. 5 warning of people traveling to Washington for “war” at the Capitol never made its way to top law enforcement officials. The Capitol Police failed to widely circulate information from its intelligence unit that supporters of President Donald J. Trump were posting online about pressuring lawmakers to overturn his election loss.

“If they don’t show up, we enter the Capitol as the Third Continental Congress and certify the Trump Electors,” one post said.

“Bring guns. It’s now or never,” said another.

The first congressional report on the Capitol riot is the most comprehensive and detailed account to date of the dozens of intelligence failures, miscommunications and security lapses that led to what the bipartisan team of senators that assembled it concluded was an “unprecedented attack” on American democracy and the most significant assault on the Capitol in more than 200 years….

The 127-page joint report, a product of more than three months of hearings and interviews and reviews of thousands of pages of documents, presents a damning portrait of the preparations and response at multiple levels. Law enforcement officials did not take seriously threats of violence, it found, and a dysfunctional police force at the Capitol lacked the capacity to respond effectively when those threats materialized.

There are many more details on the report at the NYT link.

NBC News: Capitol Police didn’t act on warnings Trump backers would breach Capitol, target Democrats, report say.

U.S. Capitol Police leaders learned that Trump supporters were discussing ways to infiltrate tunnels around the complex and target Democratic members of Congress on Jan. 6 but failed to act on the threats, according to a new Senate report summing up what it says were profound intelligence and security failures that contributed to one of the worst incidents of domestic terrorism in U.S. history.

Rioters clash with police trying to enter Capitol building

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The report also says that officers complained about a lack of leadership within the department as they tried to repel the attack — and that top leaders were virtually silent as they begged for help.

Through tips from the public and other sources, Capitol Police “knew about social media posts calling for violence at the Capitol on January 6, including a plot to breach the Capitol, the online sharing of maps of the Capitol Complex’s tunnel systems, and other specific threats of violence,” the report said, but the police force’s intelligence division “did not convey the full scope of known information to USCP leadership, rank-and-file officers, or law enforcement partners.”

The Capitol Police’s possession of the specific intelligence had been previously flagged by the department’s inspector general in a report that has not made public, NBC News and other news organizations have reported. But the Senate document sheds new light on it. The failure to distribute the information widely, the report says, left rank-and-file Capitol Police officers unprepared to defend themselves from the armed mob.

“The objects thrown at us varied in size, shape and consistency,” an officer said. “Some were frozen cans and bottles, rebar from the construction, bricks, liquids, pepper spray, bear spray, sticks of various widths, pipes, bats.”

Another officer told Senate investigators: “We were ill prepared. We were NOT informed with intelligence. We were betrayed.”

In other news, CNN obtained a recording of a 2019 phone call between Rudy Giuliani and a Ukrainian official: Exclusive: New audio of 2019 phone call reveals how Giuliani pressured Ukraine to investigate baseless Biden conspiracies.

Never-before-heard audio, obtained exclusively by CNN, shows how former President Donald Trump’s longtime adviser Rudy Giuliani relentlessly pressured and coaxed the Ukrainian government in 2019 to investigate baseless conspiracies about then-candidate Joe Biden.

The audio is of a July 2019 phone call between Giuliani, US diplomat Kurt Volker, and Andriy Yermak, a senior adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. The call was a precursor to Trump’s infamous call with Zelensky, and both conversations later became a central part of Trump’s first impeachment, where he was accused of soliciting Ukrainian help for his campaign.

US-IRAN-DEMONSTRATION

During the roughly 40-minute call, Giuliani repeatedly told Yermak that Zelensky should publicly announce investigations into possible corruption by Biden in Ukraine, and into claims that Ukraine meddled in the 2016 election to hurt Trump. (These separate claims are both untrue.)

“All we need from the President [Zelensky] is to say, I’m gonna put an honest prosecutor in charge, he’s gonna investigate and dig up the evidence, that presently exists and is there any other evidence about involvement of the 2016 election, and then the Biden thing has to be run out,” Giuliani said, according to the audio. “… Somebody in Ukraine’s gotta take that seriously.”

The new audio demonstrates how Giuliani aggressively cajoled the Ukrainians to do Trump’s bidding. And it undermines Trump’s oft-repeated assertion that “there was no quid pro quo” where Zelensky could secure US government support if he did political favors for Trump.

The call was one of the opening salvos in the years-long quest by Trump and his allies to damage Biden and subvert the 2020 election process — by soliciting foreign meddling, lying about voter fraud, attempting to overturn the results, and inciting the deadly January 6 assault on the Capitol.

I hadn’t heard of this crazy conspiracy theory until yesterday. Vanity Fair: Trump’s Deranged Theory That Democrats Would Replace Biden Might Have Helped Him Lose 2020

In early 2020, a frustrated and furious Donald Trump described Joe Biden as “a mental retard” while struggling to cope with his own placement in early polls, according to a passage from “Frankly, We Did Win This Election”: The Inside Story of How Trump Lost, a forthcoming book by senior Wall Street Journal reporter Michael Bender. The author notes that Trump vented his anger at the time by interrupting “a policy meeting in the Oval Office to ask, ‘How am I losing in the polls to a mental retard?’” 

In another moment Bender writes that Trump held back on focusing his firepower on Biden during the primary stage of the election because he was convinced that the Democratic Party was scheming to switch out now president Biden for a different candidate—such as Hillary Clinton or Michelle Obama—over the summer. The source of this conspiracy theory, per Bender, was Dick Morris, a former Clinton White House adviser who was “quietly advising Trump” last year. “Dick Morris told Trump that Biden was too old and too prone to gaffes to be the nominee,” Bender writes, while others in Trumpworld felt Biden would exit the race and be replaced by someone else if Trump began bashing him too hard. “Others said Fox News anchor Sean Hannity expressed concern that Biden would collapse under a sustained attack from Trump.”

trump-dollarAccording to Bender, Trump also felt that his attack strategy had backfired during the first stage of the Democratic primary. “The president, meanwhile, had often complained that his early attack on [Elizabeth] Warren had damaged her presidential bid, which he regretted because he viewed her as an easier opponent than Biden,” Bender writes. “Now he worried that a heavy blitz of attack ads would hasten the secret plot being hatched by Democrats, and his mind raced with who they might select in Biden’s place.” During a meeting held the month after the coronavirus outbreak hit the U.S., Trump expressed his Biden replacement theory to advisers, saying that Democratic leadership would “realize [Biden is] old, and they’re going to give it to somebody else. They’re going to give it to Hillary, or they’re going to give it to Michelle Obama.” 

One person in Trump’s circle did work to put a stop to this absurd belief, which Trump apparently clung to so deeply that he “had cited it as a reason to hold off on heavy spending against Biden earlier in the month.” Bender writes that Trump campaign pollster Tony Fabrizio “devoted nearly an entire page of [a campaign memo] to debunking a conspiracy theory that had bubbled up inside Trump World, including with the president, that Democrats were going to steal Biden’s nomination at the convention.” In the memo, Fabrizio reportedly wrote, “I know there is some concern (which I strenuously disagree with) that if we go after Biden too soon, we can collapse him, and the Dems will replace him at their convention. I know POTUS tends to share this opinion.” Bender adds: “The pollster aimed to debunk the theory by outlining the remaining Democratic primaries, in which Biden had no significant challenger, and the delegate math to secure the nomination. Biden would have enough delegates to secure the nomination in just three weeks, Fabrizio explained, and it would be mathematically impossible to steal it in four weeks.”

How on earth could this wacko actually have been POTUS? 

That’s all I have for you today. What stories are you following?


Tuesday Reads: The End of Roe?

Illustration by Victor Juhasz

Illustration by Victor Juhasz

Good Morning!!

Today I want to follow up on what Daknikat wrote yesterday about the Supreme Court and abortion rights. Thanks to all the Bernie Bros and Hillary Haters, we ended up with Donald Trump in 2016, and he was able to appoint three right wing nuts to the Supreme Court.

We could have had the first woman president, and she could have nominated three liberals to the court. But misogyny and anti-Clinton propaganda won Trump enough electoral votes to take the White House even though he lost the popular vote. Now women will face the consequences.

 

Mark Joseph Stern at Slate: The Supreme Court Is Taking Direct Aim at Roe v. Wade.

On Monday morning, the Supreme Court announced that it will reconsider the constitutional prohibition against abortion bans before fetal viability. This decision indicates that the ultra-conservative five-justice majority is prepared to move aggressively against Roe v. Wade rather than tinker around the edges of abortion rights. The court will take on state laws that seek to outlaw abortion at early—and perhaps all—stages of pregnancy. It seems likely that the justices took this case for the express purpose of overturning Roe and allowing the government to enact draconian abortion bans that have been unconstitutional for nearly half a century.

Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the case that SCOTUS took up on Monday, is not a subtle threat to Roe. It is, rather, a direct challenge to decades of pro-choice precedent. In 2018, Mississippi passed a law forbidding abortions after 15 weeks. This measure had two purposes: to restrict abortion, yes, but also to contest Supreme Court precedent protecting abortion rights. In Roe and later decisions—most notably Planned Parenthood v. Casey—the Supreme Court held that the Constitution forbids bans on abortion before the fetus has achieved viability. Since there is no doubt that, at 15 weeks, a fetus is not viable, even with the most heroic medical interventions, Mississippi’s law was clearly designed as a vehicle to let SCOTUS reevaluate (and reverse) Roe.

The lower courts understood this plan. Judge James Ho, a very conservative Donald Trump nominee, all but endorsed it when the case came before the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Ho urged the Supreme Court to overturn Roe—while acknowledging that, as a lower court judge bound by precedent, he could not uphold Mississippi’s abortion ban. Now the justices have vindicated Ho by accepting Mississippi’s invitation. (The court will hear arguments in the case next fall and issue a decision by the summer of 2022.) It is not difficult to guess what will happen next. But it is worth pointing out three reasons why the Supreme Court appears poised to seize upon Dobbs to eviscerate the constitutional right to abortion.

How do we know the conservatives on the Court are planning to reverse Roe v. Wade?

First, there is no split between the lower courts on the question presented in Dobbs. The Supreme Court typically takes up cases that have divided courts of appeals so the justices can provide a definitive answer that applies nationwide. Here, however, no court has claimed that, under current precedent, a state may outlaw abortions at 15 weeks. Even Ho had to admit that binding precedent “establishes viability as the governing constitutional standard.” There is no reason for the Supreme Court to hear Dobbs unless it wants to abolish this standard, which has been the law of the land for almost 50 years.

Abortion by Anil Keshari

Abortion by Anil Keshari

Second, Mississippi gave the justices several options for a more limited ruling; its petition to the court included a question that would’ve let the court modify the standard for abortion restrictions without overtly killing off Roe. But the justices rejected that alternative and agreed to consider the central question in the case: “Whether all pre-viability prohibitions on elective abortions are unconstitutional.”

This action suggests that the conservative majority is no longer interested in gradually eroding abortion rights until they are, in reality, nonexistent….

Third, and relatedly, Barrett’s impact on this case cannot be understated. Just last summer, the Supreme Court struck down laws targeting abortion clinics in Louisiana by a 5–4 vote, with Chief Justice John Roberts joining the liberals (with qualifications) to affirm the bottom-line rule that states may not place an “undue burden” on the right to abortion before viability. Less than three months later, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died, and Trump put Barrett—a foe of abortion rights—in her seat. By doing so, Trump shored up a far-right five-justice majority that, by all appearances, is committed to ending Roe.

Greg Stohr of Bloomberg via The Washington Post: 

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard multiple cases in recent years from states trying to narrow the right to have an abortion, one of the nation’s most contentious issues. The next case is more sweeping than most. With its newly strengthened conservative majority in place, the court has agreed to hear Mississippi’s bid to ban abortion in almost all cases after 15 weeks of pregnancy. That could mean overturning, or at least gutting, the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which legalized abortion nationwide….

The Roe v. Wade decision established that the decision to terminate a pregnancy was a woman’s choice to make in the first trimester, and that the state could regulate abortions only later. In the Planned Parenthood v. Casey case in 1992, the Supreme Court revisited the timing issue, saying women have the right to abortion without undue interference before a fetus is viable — that is, capable of living outside the womb. The court didn’t pinpoint when viability occurs but suggested it was around 23 or 24 weeks. In 2018, the Mississippi legislature voted to outlaw most abortions after 15 weeks. The ban, which makes exceptions only in cases of severe fetal abnormality or major health risk to the mother, was challenged by the state’s only abortion facility, the Jackson Women’s Health Organization, and deemed unconstitutional by a federal district judge and federal appeals court. The state of Mississippi appealed to the Supreme Court, arguing that viability is “not an appropriate standard for assessing the constitutionality” of abortion laws….

From Ireland--Detail from a marching banner for the Artists’ Campaign to Repeal the Eighth Amendment Banner, by Alice Maher, Rachel Fallon and Breda Mayock. Photograph by Alison Laredo, Courtesy the artists

From Ireland–Detail from a marching banner for the Artists’ Campaign to Repeal the Eighth Amendment Banner, by Alice Maher, Rachel Fallon and Breda Mayock. Photograph by Alison Laredo, Courtesy the artists

Three appointments to the court made by Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump, have given it a 6-3 conservative majority. And Trump’s last two appointees, Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett, replaced justices who supported the core right to abortion. If Kavanaugh and Barrett are willing to back Mississippi, abortion opponents might not even need the vote of the sixth conservative, Chief Justice John Roberts….

A decision throwing out the 1992 viability standard could immediately mean tighter abortion restrictions in a number of states. The Guttmacher Institute, which monitors and advocates for abortion rights, counts 16 states that have attempted to ban at least some abortions before viability but have been stopped by a court order.

Leah Litman and Melissa Murray at The Washington Post: Opinion: The Supreme Court’s conservative supermajority is about to show us its true colors.

On Monday morning, the court agreed to hear a challenge to a Mississippi law that would ban most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy — a case that poses a direct attack on the constitutional right to abortion.

The decision to take the case was unsurprising. President Donald Trump vowed to appoint justices who would overrule Roe v. Wadethe 1973 decision holding that women have a constitutional right to obtain abortions. With Trump’s three historic appointments to the high court, all that opponents of Roe needed was the right vehicle. The Mississippi case gives them just that. It will be heard in the court’s term beginning in October….

It would not be unthinkable for this Supreme Court to use the Mississippi case to jettison Roe and Casey. Although stare decisis and its principle of respect for settled precedents has long been a hallmark of U.S. law, this court has in recent years refused to be bound by established precedents.

Last year, Justices Neil M. Gorsuch and Brett M. Kavanaugh, two of Trump’s appointees, cast votes to overrule a case that had invalidated a pair of abortion restrictions. The term before that, in another case, Justice Clarence Thomas argued that the court was duty-bound to overrule precedents that were “demonstrably erroneous.” In other writings, he has railed against Roe and Casey as perversions of constitutional law. And the court’s newest member, Justice Amy Coney Barrett, has, in her academic writing, indicated that she shares Thomas’s ideas about precedents and abortion rights.

Untitled No. 5, Abortion Series, 1998, Paula Rego

Untitled No. 5, Abortion Series, 1998, Paula Rego

Even in cases where the court has not overruled past decisions, it has gone to herculean lengths to limit prior cases, broadly refashioning entire areas of law without explicitly overruling the decisions undergirding those doctrines. And this approach might be what lies ahead for abortion.

Rather than overruling Roe and Casey, the court might say that viability is no longer a meaningful marker for determining when a state may restrict a woman’s right to choose — a decision that would be as consequential as scuttling Roe itself. It could allow states to restrict access to abortion at any point during pregnancy, sharply curtailing reproductive rights as lower courts reconsider the constitutionality of bans on abortion after 12 weeks, 10 weeks or six weeks of pregnancy. Under Roe and Casey, courts easily found all such laws unconstitutional because they prohibited abortions before viability. If the court erases viability’s significance, many abortion restrictions once easily struck down will pose more difficult questions for reviewing courts.

Read the whole thing at the WaPo.

According to The New York Times, anti-abortion activists are celebrating: ‘A Great Sense of Inspiration’: Anti-Abortion Activists Express Optimism.

Anti-abortion activists across the country expressed optimism on Monday that they might be on the cusp of achieving a long-held goal of the movement: overturning Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that extended federal protections for abortion.

The Supreme Court announced on Monday morning that it would consider in its next term a case from Mississippi that would ban abortion after 15 weeks of gestation, with narrow exceptions….

It is the first abortion case under the court’s new 6-3 conservative majority, and activists expressed hope that this case would be the one to remove federal protections for the procedure. Such a ruling would give the right to regulate abortions at any point in pregnancy back to the states, many of which in the South and Midwest have imposed tough restrictions.

“There’s a great sense of inspiration across the country right now,” said Mike Gonidakis, president of Ohio Right to Life. “This is the best court we’ve had in my lifetime, and we hope and pray that this is the case to do it.”

In a statement, Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of Susan B. Anthony List, a national anti-abortion organization, called the court’s move “a landmark opportunity to recognize the right of states to protect unborn children,” and noted that state legislatures have introduced hundreds of bills restricting abortion in this legislative season.

At The Daily Beast, Emily Shugerman writes that Biden is being criticized for not doing enough to protect abortion rights: Abortion Is on SCOTUS’ Radar—and Biden Is Getting Heat.

Abortions rights advocates cheered when Joe Biden was elected, heralding his win as a “seismic shift” and a “welcome change.” Now, with the nationwide right to an abortion on the line, they’re getting a little impatient.

After Abortion, by Zois Shuttie

After Abortion, by Zois Shuttie

On Monday, the Supreme Court announced it would take on a Mississippi case that has the potential to overturn Roe v Wade, the 1973 decision making abortion legal across the country. If that happens, nearly half of the U.S. would move to prohibit the procedure, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights.

Advocates see the decision to take on the case as a massive threat to abortion rights—and one Biden may not be taking seriously enough.

“He turned his back on people who have abortions as soon as he got into office,” said Renee Bracey Sherman, executive director of the abortion advocacy group We Testify. “What happened this morning at the Supreme Court is what happens when you turn your backs on us and ignore the restrictions we’re facing every single day.”

Pressure on Biden to act more decisively began mounting April 29, when more than 140 organizations called on the administration to prioritize changes to U.S. sexual and reproductive rights law recommended by the United Nations. The day before, nearly 60 women’s rights organizations—including Planned Parenthood and NARAL, which spent tens of millions of dollars to help elect the president—sent a letter to the administration asking them to increase funding for abortion and remove “unnecessary barriers” to access.

“The Biden-Harris administration and Congressional leadership must prioritize these policies for women and women of color,” they wrote, in a letter calling for multiple changes on behalf of American women. “We need to build back better for women and create lasting political, social and economic change.”

Click the link to read the rest.

There is much more news, and I’ll post more links in the comment thread, but to me this is the biggest issue right now. Women are on the verge of losing the rights we have been fighting for since the late 1960s. 

As always, treat this as an open thread.


Thursday Reads

Spring Tree, Georgia O’Keeffe

Good Morning!!

Another old white man joined the race for the Democratic presidential nomination today. Yes, Joe Biden is running, unfortunately. I won’t be turning my TV on today; I don’t want to listen to “savvy” pundits talk about how the Democrats’ savior is another old white man in his dotage. I’m already sick and tired of the 2020 campaign and the primaries are still 8 months away.

Some antidotes to the Biden media frenzy:

Truthdig: Joe Biden Is a Fraud, Plain and Simple.

Harper’s: No Joe! Joe Biden’s disastrous legislative legacy.

Payday Report: Union-Busting Lawyer to Host Biden’s 1st Fundraiser Thursday.

And this from Twitter is laugh out loud material:

I watched Biden’s announcement video so you don’t have to. He talked about Charlottesville and Trump’s response the white supremacist march and the murder of “a brave young woman” Heather Heyer (he didn’t say her name). You’d think Biden would be worried that this will inspire reporters to bring up his questionable past on race issues. I was surprised that he never mentioned the threat Russia still poses to our elections and our democracy. You’d think that would be stronger issue for him since he was an insider when the Russian attacks took place in 2015-16.

I’m glad to see that even older white man Bernie Sanders is finally getting vetted by the mainstream media. The latest examples:

CNN Politics: Bernie Sanders in 1970s Senate race called millionaire senators ‘immoral.’

Bernie Sanders harshly criticized the wealth of US senators during his first campaign for office in 1971, calling it “immoral” that half the members of the Senate were millionaires.

Sanders’ decades-old comments, which were picked up in December 1971 by the Bennington Banner, a local Vermont newspaper, are resurfacing as the US senator from Vermont has acknowledged that he is now a millionaire in large part due to his 2016 best-selling book, “Our Revolution.” [….]

A Walk in the Meadows at Argenteil, Claude Monet

Sanders made the comments when he was running for US Senate at the time under the banner of the Liberty Union Party, a self-described “radical political party” that advocated nationalization of industries and redistribution of wealth to tackle inequality.
The senators serving at the time, Sanders said, advocated “the interests of corporations and big business —- their fellow millionaires.”

In the same article, Sanders proposed eliminating the annual salary of members of Congress (which was $42,500 in 1971) and instead replacing their pay with whatever the average income was in their home state. At the time, Sanders said it would amount to $7,600 for representatives from Vermont.

CNBC took a look at Sanders’ tax returns: Bernie Sanders draws mayoral pension while running for president — his campaign co-chair Rep. Ro Khanna once blasted such ‘double-dipping.’

Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent who is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, for years has drawn a pension for his eight-year stint in the 1980s as mayor of Burlington even has he received a salary as a member of Congress.

Sanders, who earns $174,000 as a senator, received $5,241 from Burlington’s pension system in 2018, according to his federal income tax return.

His total income with his wife, Jane O’Meara Sanders, that year was $561,293, which was down from the more than $1 million they earned in the prior two years, largely as a result of his book about running for president in 2016.

Public financial disclosure records show that Sanders, who began serving in the U.S. House of Representatives in 1991 and in the Senate in 2007, has received nearly $62,000 in Burlington pension payouts since 2005.

Olive Trees at Collioure, Henri Matisse

And, in case you missed it, Bernie didn’t do very well at yesterday’s She The People Presidential Forum.

Bloomberg: Bernie Sanders Faces Skeptical Audience at Forum for Minority Women.

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders faced a skeptical audience of minority women in Texas Wednesday, a group that will be critical in deciding the Democratic presidential nominee from a racially diverse field of candidates and a record number of women.

Pressed by multiple questioners to address why women of color should support him, Sanders leaned heavily on his economic message, drawing audible expressions of frustration from some of the more than 1,500 people attending the She the People forum in Houston.

“Black women will be an integral part of what our campaign and our administration is about,” he said after being prompted by a moderator of the event, which brought together eight Democratic presidential candidates for separate discussions about issues affecting minority women.

That comment came at the end of his response to a question about how he would appeal to the black women who predominantly backed Hillary Clinton in the 2016 Democratic primaries, to which Sanders offered a long answer about supporting whomever ends up being the party’s nominee.

As usual, Bernie didn’t answer the question.

The Daily Beast: Bernie Sanders Met With Boos After Name-Dropping Martin Luther King at She the People Summit.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) was met with audible groans from the audience Wednesday night at the She the People Presidential Forum in Houston for his response to a question on the rise of white nationalism. Sanders, one of eight Democratic contenders for 2020 featured at the summit, which described itself as “the first-ever presidential candidate forum focused on women of color,” prompted boos from the crowd after defaulting to his usual talking points about immigration reform and mentioning his attendance at the March on Washington with Dr. Martin Luther King when asked how he’d handle the issue of white-supremacist violence and what specifically he’d do for women of color. The questioner, former NYC Commissioner of Immigrant Affairs Sayu Bhojwani, later tweeted that Sanders “had a rough time” with the question but “came around.” Others were less forgiving. “Bernie was asked important questions and he answered none of them,” tweeted disability-rights advocate Stephanie Olarte. “It is so sad that the moderators ask the questions in different forms to get an answer Y NADA.”

Click the link to read more reactions.

Pink Peach Trees, Vincent Van Gogh

You probably read it already but The Washington Post published an op-ed by Hillary Clinton yesterday:

Hillary Clinton: Mueller documented a serious crime against all Americans. Here’s how to respond.

First, like in any time our nation is threatened, we have to remember that this is bigger than politics. What our country needs now is clear-eyed patriotism, not reflexive partisanship. Whether they like it or not, Republicans in Congress share the constitutional responsibility to protect the country. Mueller’s report leaves many unanswered questions — in part because of Attorney General William P. Barr’s redactions and obfuscations. But it is a road map. It’s up to members of both parties to see where that road map leads — to the eventual filing of articles of impeachment, or not. Either way, the nation’s interests will be best served by putting party and political considerations aside and being deliberate, fair and fearless.

Second, Congress should hold substantive hearings that build on the Mueller report and fill in its gaps, not jump straight to an up-or-down vote on impeachment. In 1998, the Republican-led House rushed to judgment. That was a mistake then and would be a mistake now.

Clinton argues that we should follow the example of Watergate, in which public hearings led to “a formal impeachment inquiry.”

Third, Congress can’t forget that the issue today is not just the president’s possible obstruction of justice — it’s also our national security. After 9/11, Congress established an independent, bipartisan commission to recommend steps that would help guard against future attacks. We need a similar commission today to help protect our elections. This is necessary because the president of the United States has proved himself unwilling to defend our nation from a clear and present danger….

Fourth, while House Democrats pursue these efforts, they also should stay focused on the sensible agenda that voters demanded in the midterms, from protecting health care to investing in infrastructure. During Watergate, Congress passed major legislation such as the War Powers Act, the Endangered Species Act and the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1973. For today’s Democrats, it’s not only possible to move forward on multiple fronts at the same time, it’s essential.

Now that’s leadership. If only she were president!

Some Mueller/Russia stories:

NBC News: Mueller report shows Trump campaign left itself wide open to Russians, officials say.

Alfred Sisley, The Small Meadows in Spring, 1880-1

The Mueller report’s narrative of secret meetings between members of Donald Trump’s orbit and Russian operatives — contacts that occurred both before and after the 2016 election — portrays a political campaign that left itself open to a covert Russian influence operation, former intelligence officials and other experts say….

“The Russians came up against a group of people who were not intelligence savvy and who were predisposed not to listen to the intelligence and counterintelligence community,” said Luis Rueda, who spent 27 years as a CIA operations officer. “The Russians made a very bold and aggressive attempt to take advantage of that — to try to compromise people, to try to leverage their access.”

The FBI, as part of its counterintelligence mission, is continuing to investigate Russian attempts to influence the Trump administration and assess the national security damage from Russia’s 2016 effort, current and former U.S. officials tell NBC News….

John Sipher, who served in Moscow and once helped run CIA spying operations against Russia, said, “It’s clear that the Russians had a pretty extensive full court press on this administration.” The full extent of how successful it was may never be known, he said.

“Being able to lock it down and prove in court? That only comes when you catch somebody red-handed, or when you have a source on the inside of your adversary who hands you documents.”

Good to know that the counterintelligence investigation is continuing.

The New York Times: Mueller Report Reveals Trump’s Fixation on Targeting Hillary Clinton.

Spring, Pablo Picasso, 1956

Attorney General Jeff Sessions had a tenuous hold on his job when President Trump called him at home in the middle of 2017. The president had already blamed him for recusing himself from investigations related to the 2016 election, sought his resignation and belittled him in private and on Twitter.

Now, Mr. Trump had another demand: He wanted Mr. Sessions to reverse his recusal and order the prosecution of Hillary Clinton.

“The ‘gist’ of the conversation,” according to the report by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, quoting Mr. Sessions, “was that the president wanted Sessions to unrecuse from ‘all of it.’”

Mr. Mueller’s report released last week brimmed with examples of Mr. Trump seeking to protect himself from the investigation. But his request of Mr. Sessions — and two similar ones detailed in the report — stands apart because it shows Mr. Trump trying to wield the power of law enforcement to target a political rival, a step that no president since Richard M. Nixon is known to have taken.

Read the rest at the NYT.

The New York Times: Trump Vows Stonewall of ‘All’ House Subpoenas, Setting Up Fight Over Powers.

The Trump administration escalated its defiance of Congress on Wednesday, as the Justice Department refused to let an official testify on Capitol Hill and President Trump vowed to fight what he called a “ridiculous” subpoena ordering a former top aide to appear before lawmakers.

“We’re fighting all the subpoenas,” Mr. Trump told reporters outside the White House. “These aren’t, like, impartial people. The Democrats are trying to win 2020.” [….]

Mr. Trump’s flurry of moves this week to block multiple congressional investigations signaled a new phase of constitutional friction that could redefine long-murky boundaries of Congress’s power to conduct oversight of the executive branch — and the power of presidents to keep government affairs secret from lawmakers.

Are we in a Constitutional crisis yet?

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


Thursday Reads: “They Are Not That Smart.”

Michelle Obama speaks at The Royal Festival Hall on December 3 in London. Jack Taylor, Getty

Good Morning!!

The title of this post is a quote from Michelle Obama. In an interview in London, Obama discussed “impostor syndrome,” that feeling many women struggle with that we are undeserving of success. From Newsweek:

The former first lady opened up about how the struggle with self-doubt “never goes away,” during a sold-out talk with Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in London, which drew lines of tens of thousands of people.

Asked at the event how Obama felt about being seen as a “symbol of hope,” she said: “I still have a little imposter syndrome, it never goes away, that you’re actually listening to me,” according to the BBC.

“It doesn’t go away, that feeling that you shouldn’t take me that seriously. What do I know? I share that with you because we all have doubts in our abilities, about our power and what that power is.”

“If I’m giving people hope then that is a responsibility, so I have to make sure that I am accountable,” Obama said.

But here’s the quote I just loved:

Obama offered a “secret” to young women everywhere: “I have been at probably every powerful table that you can think of, I have worked at nonprofits, I have been at foundations, I have worked in corporations, served on corporate boards, I have been at G-summits, I have sat in at the U.N.: They are not that smart.”

It’s so true. And as long as mediocre white men are promoted over smarter and more experienced women, we will continue to be ruled by people who “are not that smart.”

You only need to look at the 2016 election, in which Hillary Clinton–a brilliant, experienced woman–was constantly denigrated in favor of two barely mediocre white men, Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. And now that an ignorant, corrupt white man is “president,” that Hillary is repeatedly told to shut up and sit down, while mediocre, old white men like Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden–who have already failed in primary races–are promoted by the media.

I’ve avoided day-time cable news this week so I didn’t have to listen to the endless, over-the-top praise of the late George H.W. Bush. But I have to admit that Bush at least knew how to behave like a human being, unlike the current resident of the White House.

Trump attended Bush’s funeral, but he didn’t seem comfortable. Still he is being praised in some quarters for not making a complete fool of himself. Apparently he has been unhappy about having to go through an entire week when the media focus wasn’t on him. The New York Times reports:

Mr. Trump has been snappish with aides most of the week, according to administration officials, miffed in part by so many ceremonial events not related to him. He was impatient for the memorials to end but expressed pride in himself for remaining publicly civil. People close to the president called it a course correction after his peevish reaction to Mr. McCain’s death.

What a pathetic asshole. He did the bare minimum, didn’t sing hymns or recite the Apostle’s Creed, and was the only person in the room who didn’t put his hand over his heart when the coffin was carried out.

At The Washington Post, Rick Wilson writes that George W. Bush’s invitation to Trump to attend the funeral prevented the asshole from ruining the solemn event.

By insisting on his successor’s inclusion in the proceedings, Bush forced the current White House occupant to briefly abandon his unfrozen cave-man act, denying him the chance to further debase the office of president by siphoning the dignity out of 41’s final hours in D.C. — something 45 likely would have relished, given the opportunity.

We’ll still be hearing about Poppy Bush for a couple more days because there is going to be another funeral in Texas today.

Mike Pence didn’t look too happy at the funeral yesterday either. Maybe this is why.

Gabriel Sherman at Vanity Fair: “They’re Beginning to Think About Whether Mike Pence Should Be Running Again.” As the Mueller Fire Nears, Trump Ponders Jettisoning His Loyal V.P.

On Monday, Trump hosted a 2020 strategy meeting with a group of advisers. Among the topics discussed was whether Mike Pence should remain on the ticket, given the hurricane-force political headwinds Trump will face, as demonstrated by the midterms, a source briefed on the session told me. “They’re beginning to think about whether Mike Pence should be running again,” the source said, adding that the advisers presented Trump with new polling that shows Pence doesn’t expand Trump’s coalition. “He doesn’t detract from it, but he doesn’t add anything either,” the source said. Last month, The New York Times reported that Trump had been privately asking advisers if Pence could be trusted, and that outside advisers have been pushing Nikki Haley to replace Pence. One veteran of Trump’s 2016 campaign who’s still advising Trump told me the president hasn’t been focused enough on 2020. “What he needs to do is consider his team for 2020 and make sure it’s in place,” the adviser said. “He has to have people on his team that are loyal to his agenda.”

Trump’s doubts about Pence are surprising given Pence’s frequent public encomiums and professions of loyalty. “Trump waxes and wanes on everyone,” a prominent Republican close to the White House explained. Part of what’s driving the debate over Pence’s political value is Trump’s stalled search for a chief of staff to replace John Kelly. According to a source, Kelly has recently been telling Trump that Pence doesn’t help him politically. The theory is that Kelly is unhappy that Pence’s 36-year-old chief of staff, Nick Ayers, has been openly campaigning for Kelly’s job. “Kelly has started to get more political and he’s whispering to Trump that Trump needs a running mate who can help him more politically,” the source said. (The White House did not respond to a request for comment.)

I wonder how Evangelical voters would feel about pious Pence getting dumped?

There has been lots of Russia investigation news this week despite the wall-to-wall coverage of Bush’s passing. Some stories to check out:

David Ignatius at The Washington Post: Michael Flynn appears to have come full circle.

The Trump campaign warrior of 2016 who led chants of “lock her up” deriding Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, and then lied to the FBI after President Trump’s inauguration about his secret contacts with Russia, once again became an “exemplary” figure whose example, Mueller says, encouraged others to do the right thing.

“The defendant deserves credit for accepting responsibility in a timely fashion and substantially assisting the government,” writes Mueller in the sentencing memo. Mueller praises Flynn’s “early cooperation” as a spur to others. “The defendant’s decision to plead guilty and cooperate likely affected the decisions of related firsthand witnesses to be forthcoming [with the special counsel’s office] and cooperate,” the memo notes.

This denouement, in which Flynn is once again on the side of law enforcement and truth-telling, is fascinating to me as someone who followed his career for more than a decade and remembers hearing his blisteringly honest briefings as a combat intelligence commander in Afghanistan. Flynn became disoriented during his years in Trump’s orbit, but the sentencing memo suggests that he recovered his balance and sense of duty after Mueller began his investigation.

There’s a bizarre irony here. Trump pleaded with James B. Comey, the FBI director at the time the investigation of Flynn began, to consider “letting this go.” That was a grossly improper attempt to interfere with the investigation and prosecution of Flynn’s false statements. How strange that it was Mueller, in the end, who decided in effect to “let this go” by recommending no jail time, after the investigation had run its course and Flynn had pleaded guilty and cooperated.

Frank Figliuzzi

Did Michael Flynn wear a wire for Mueller? MSNBC counterintelligence expert Frank Figliuzzi suggested as much yesterday. Hill Reporter.com:

MSNBC’s Morning Joe called on Frank Figluzzi to come in and help explain the memo. Figliuzzi was formerly an Assistant Director for Counterintelligence at the FBI and is familiar with Robert Mueller’s methods.

He began the segment by explaining that the extensive redactions meant that the info inside was sensitive. After stating that redactions are out of character for Mueller, Figluzzi said, “We saw lots of redaction. You do that in the FBI either when you have classified information or you are at such a sensitivity level that you cannot expose it.”

Figluzzi also felt the light sentence and amount of redactions meant the investigation was aiming for convictions at the highest levels. He continued, “I think, in fact, that underneath these redactions, if we were to lift these black magic marker points out, we would see people with the last name Trump or Kushner.”

Finally, Figluzzi ended the segment with a bombshell suggestion; Flynn may have worn a wire. He told the panel, “We see reference here to quick cooperation by Flynn. What does that mean? Did it happen in what we call the golden hour, where you could even wire somebody up and have him share communications in real time?”

At The Guardian, Marcia Chambers and Charles Kaiser made the same suggestion.

The least-noticed sentence in Michael Flynn’s plea agreement with special counsel Robert Mueller may also be the most important one.

Section eight of the deal reached by Donald Trump’s former national security adviser in the inquiry into Russian meddling in the US election is entitled “cooperation”. It specifies that as well as answering questions and submitting to government-administered polygraph tests, Flynn’s cooperation “may include … participating in covert law enforcement activities”.

Long-time students of federal law enforcement practices agreed, speaking anonymously, that “covert law enforcement activities” likely refers to the possibility of wearing a concealed wire or recording telephone conversations with other potential suspects. It is not known whether Flynn has worn a wire at any time.

“If the other subjects of investigation have had any conversations with Flynn during the last few months, that phrase must have all of them shaking in their boots,” said John Flannery, a former federal prosecutor in the southern district of New York.

“The one who must be particularly terrified is [Trump son-in-law and adviser] Jared Kushner, if he spoke to the special counsel’s office without immunity about the very matter that is the subject of Flynn’s plea. I think he must be paralyzed if he talked to Flynn before or after the investigators debriefed him.”

More Russia reads, links only:

Garrett M. Graff at Wired: 14 Questions Robert Mueller Knows the Answers To.

Vox: The Mueller investigation has gotten closer to Donald Trump.

Renato Mariotti at Time: Don’t Expect Mueller to Charge a Grand Conspiracy.

The Atlantic: The White House Has No Plan for Confronting the Mueller Report.

Betsy Woodruff at The Daily Beast: Senate Intelligence Committee Grilled Steve Bannon About Cambridge Analytica.

What else is happening? What stories are you following today?