Lazy Caturday Reads

Very Unpleasant Weather, George Cruikshank, 1820

Very Unpleasant Weather, George Cruikshank, 1820

Good Afternoon!!

New England weather is insane!! Just a couple of days ago, it was in the 90s here. Now it’s raining cats and dogs and 46 (feels like 41). I had to turn the heat on in my apartment this morning! Memorial Day weekend is usually the first big weekend on the Cape, but I don’t think it will be that nice down there. The rain and cold is supposed to continue through Monday. On the plus side, it’s perfect weather for reading mysteries. Anyway, here’s what’s happening in the news.

As everyone knows, yesterday Senate Republicans blocked the bill that would have created a bipartisan commission to investigation the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol.

NPR: Senate Republicans Block A Plan For An Independent Commission On Jan. 6 Capitol Riot.

Bipartisan legislation to establish an independent commission to investigate the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol has failed in the Senate, as Republicans staged their first filibuster since President Biden took office to block the plan.

The final vote Friday was 54-35, but Republicans withheld the votes necessary to bring the bill up for debate. Just six GOP senators joined with the Democrats, leaving the measure short of the 60 votes needed to proceed.

Cat+in+Rain Tarra Lyons

Cat in the rain, by Tarra Lyons

The proposed commission was modeled on the one established to investigate the 9/11 terror attacks, with 10 commissioners — five Democrats and five Republicans — who would have subpoena powers. A Democratic chair and Republican vice chair would have had to approve all subpoenas with a final report due at the end of the year.

The House approved the measure 252-175 last week with 35 Republicans joining all Democrats in support of the plan.

But Senate Republicans, led by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, were deeply skeptical of the commission in the days leading up to the vote.

McConnell had dismissed the proposal as a “purely political exercise,” given that two Senate committees are already looking into the events of Jan. 6. In remarks from the Senate floor Thursday, McConnell called into question how much more a commission would be able to unearth….

In remarks on the Senate floor after the vote, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., described the outcome this way: “[O]ut of fear of — or fealty to — Donald Trump, the Republican minority just prevented the American people from getting the full truth about Jan. 6.” He added: “Shame on the Republican Party for trying to sweep the horrors of that day under the rug because they’re afraid of Donald Trump.”

Joe Manchin was very upset about the vote, but he isn’t willing to do anything about the systemic problems that allowed a minority of Republicans to defeat the majority. Raw Story: 

U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) Friday afternoon after failing to help get at least 10 Republicans to join with Democrats to not filibuster a vote on a bill to create a bipartisan commission to investigate the January 6 insurrection, expressed frustration….

Manchin’s full remarks, which he made to Forbes’ Andrew Solender about Republicans voting to block the January 6 insurrection commission bill:

“This job’s not worth it to me to sell my soul. What are you gonna do, vote me out? That’s not a bad option, I get to go home.”

“If that’s what they wish. But I’m sure not going to sell my soul when I know what’s right. And this is right for us to start healing the country. You’ve got to get this commission.”

Manchin, who has also announced he will not support HR1/S1, the “For the People Act” to protect voting rights, has positioned himself as something of a powerbroker, given his conservative voting record (Senator Lisa Murkowski, Republican of Alaska, is ranked more liberal than Manchin.) He absolutely has refused to allow the filibuster (which was designed to block civil rights legislation from passing during the past 99 years, and especially used during the late middle 20th century,) to be killed.

The Nation’s Justice Correspondent Elie Mystal notes “if the filibuster didn’t exist, the 1/6 commission would have gotten 10-15 Republican votes.”

c378bdc2b541226b54cc26a199ce5393The other Democratic roadblock, Senator Krysten Sinema, supposedly supports the commission, but instead decided to help kill it. The Arizona Republic: Sen. Kyrsten Sinema skips Jan. 6 US Capitol riot commission vote.

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema skipped Friday’s procedural Senate vote on establishing a bipartisan commission to study the U.S. Capitol riot. 

Senate Republicans, in their first use of the filibuster under President Joe Biden, blocked the legislation from proceeding. 

It’s unclear why Sinema, D-Ariz., missed the vote, which took place Friday morning after Republicans forced an overnight marathon session involving separate legislation intended to bolster the U.S.’s competitiveness against China. She was last seen voting Thursday evening on the Senate floor on that legislation.

EJ Montini at The Arizona Republic: The way Sen. Kyrsten Sinema helped to kill the Jan. 6 commission.

Make no mistake, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema helped to kill the bill that would have created a commission to investigate the insurrection of Jan. 6, even though creating such a commission is something she supported.

Just last week Sinema and Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia issued a statement urging Republican colleagues to vote for the commission.

Sinema and Manchin are staunch supporters of the Senate’s filibuster rule, which requires a 60-vote majority to pass legislation. They were hoping to get more of their Republican colleagues to reach across the aisle to help create a commission….

Essentially, even when there is a bipartisan majority of senators supporting a course of action – as 54 did with establishing a commission – a minority can keep it from happening.

The same fate awaits the For the People Act, a sweeping piece of legislation aimed at combating voter suppression laws being enacted in many state legislatures – including ours.

David Smith at The Guardian: Republicans’ blocking of the Capitol commission shows how deep the rot is.

The question now is not so much whether the Republican party can be saved any time in the foreseeable future. It is what Joe Biden and the Democrats should do when faced with a party determined to subvert democracy through any means necessary, including violence.

On Friday Republicans in the Senate torpedoed an effort to create a bipartisan commission to investigate the deadly insurrection by Donald Trump’s supporters at the US Capitol on 6 January, deploying the procedural move known as the filibuster to stop it even being debated.

Fearful perhaps of what such a commission might uncover about their own role as co-conspirators, most brushed aside personal pleas by Gladys Sicknick, the mother of a police officer who was that day sprayed with a chemical, collapsed and later had a stroke and died….

Cats. Rain. by Elena Reutova, 2020

Cats. Rain. by Elena Reutova, 2020

One of America’s two major parties now falls outside the democratic mainstream – think “far right” in European terms. But are Democrats taking the existential threat sufficiently seriously or sleepwalking towards disaster in the next election cycle? [….]

Minutes after Friday’s vote, the Senate majority leader, Chuck Schumer, seemed to get it, arguing that Republicans acted out of “out of fear or fealty” to Trump and made his false claim of a stolen election their official policy. “Trump’s big lie is now the defining principle of what was once the party of Lincoln,” Schumer said. “Republican state legislatures, seizing on the big lie, are conducting the greatest assault on voting rights since the beginning of Jim Crow.”

But national voting rights legislation that would counter such steps is in deep trouble on Capitol Hill. Biden’s deadline for a police reform law named after George Floyd has come and gone due to Republican objections. His ambitious infrastructure investment is stalling as Republicans seek to shave billions off.

If Democrats can’t get rid of the filibuster, U.S. democracy may be in its death throes. 

Michael Kranish, Mike DeBonis, and Jacqueline Alemany at The Washington Post: Democrats grapple with the enemy within: What to do about the filibuster rule that could kill their agenda.

On Friday, for the first time this congressional session, Republicans used the filibuster on a piece of legislation, killing the proposal to form a commission to investigate the Jan. 6 attack on the very institution in which they sit. A growing number of Democrats, a group that now goes beyond the liberal wing of the party, believe that if Republicans were willing to use the procedure to kill what once was considered an uncontroversial bipartisan idea, they won’t hesitate to use it on more contentious parts of President Biden’s agenda.

“If you can’t get a Republican to support a nonpartisan analysis of why the Capitol was attacked the first time since the War of 1812, then what are you holding out hope for?” said Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), who is an advocate of reforming and potentially eliminating the filibuster.

Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) stressed that the filibuster was not in the Constitution, calling it an anti-democratic tool used to “block the will of the majority of the American people.”

“The framers of the Constitution built plenty of checks and balances into our system and they didn’t think we needed a filibuster — it’s a complete invention of the U.S. Senate,” Van Hollen said. “The greater danger to our country right now is our inability to get big things done.” [….]

raining-cats-dogs-4-590x368But some Democratic senators, particularly those who won by narrow margins or are from states won by former president Donald Trump, insist that bipartisanship is not dead. Indeed, skepticism about flatly eliminating the filibuster goes deeper in the Democratic ranks than the much-noted opposition of Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.). Members such as Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) said they are dismayed at Republican obstruction, but also believe that the specter of gridlock has been exaggerated by those pushing for rules changes.

“We’re not even six months into this administration. We’ve already passed a major bipartisan bill on hate crimes. We’re about to pass another major bipartisan bill that will address research and innovation,” said Shaheen, referencing bills regarding attacks on Asian Americans and competition with China, while also saying she hopes for bipartisan support for an infrastructure plan. “I think it’s an important message for the American people to see that we’re going to work together in the best interests of the country.”

The result is a party impasse over how to handle the filibuster, which has alarmed activists and lawmakers who fear Democrats are fumbling a make-or-break moment with the midterms and the threat of losing control of Congress looming.

That’s just a brief excerpt. The whole article is well worth reading.

As Senate Republicans and one Democrat were killing the bipartisan commission, the DOJ criminal investigation continued. 

CNN: Prosecutors announce fresh charges against ‘Maga Caravan’ leader, others in January 6 insurrection.

The self-proclaimed leader of the “Maga Caravan,” which led dozens of vehicles to Washington, DC, to a rally held by former President Donald Trump, was charged with allegedly being one of the first insurrectionists to assault law enforcement at the US Capitol, the Justice Department announced.

Kenneth Joseph Owen Thomas, 38, of East Liverpool, Ohio, was arrested in Alabama this week for federal charges that include assaulting, resisting or impeding certain officers; obstruction of law enforcement during civil disorder; and engaging in physical violence on Capitol grounds. Thomas made his initial court appearance in the Northern District of Alabama Wednesday, prosecutors said. He has not entered a plea and information about his attorney was unavailable on Thursday….

wry39LLvWV_ae0eldW850aOAer0DTaGBRWtOHmhDGPgInvestigators, in documents supporting Thomas’ arrest, describe how he convened the caravan of nearly 60 vehicles around midnight of January 6 to listen to speakers Mike Lindell and Michael Flynn, who were both parroting false accusations of election fraud.

Thomas identified himself in an interview with a local news station as “Pi Annon,” according to the criminal complaint. He later uploaded the videos from the insurrection, including one of the interview to his personal YouTube page where his display name is “Joseph Thomas,” according to the criminal complaint.

Body camera footage from Washington, DC’s Metropolitan Police Department allegedly showed Thomas “advancing toward a line of law enforcement and pushing against their shields … punched and struck the officers with his fist and forearm at least twice,” according to a news release. Law enforcement officers later confirmed the attack and stated the individual in the interview “was one of the first to come in and start hitting [and] pushing officers on the line,” prosecutors said.

Adam Klasfeld at Law and Crime: ‘2 If By Sea’: Oath Keepers Messages Shed New Light on Alleged Plot to Storm D.C. With Guns by Way of Potomac.

Hours before Senate Republicans killed an independent commission to investigate the Jan. 6th siege, federal prosecutors disclosed communications about how Oath Keepers allegedly plotted to storm Washington, D.C. with guns by boat by way of the Potomac River.

Those discussions became public in a filing seeking to maintain the strict pretrial release conditions of Oath Keepers member Thomas Caldwell, whom prosecutors allege organized a group of militia members on “standby with guns in a hotel across the river.” In the brief, prosecutors also alleged that a message from the militia’s leader described a “worst case scenario” where former President Donald Trump “calls us up as part of the militia to to assist him inside DC.”

Pulling a line from one of the immortal verses of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, the extremist group’s Florida chapter leader Kelly Meggs allegedly imagined the militia members as the modern day equivalent of their American colonial forebears.

raining-cats-and-dogs-sue-tasker

Raining cats and dogs, Sue Tasker

“1 if by land,” Meggs allegedly wrote in an encrypted message on the group’s Signal channel, quoting Longfellow’s 1861 poem “Paul Revere’s Ride.”

“North side of Lincoln Memorial,” Meggs’s message continued, according to the government. “2 if by sea[,] Corner of west basin and Ohio is a water transport landing !!”

The alleged Oath Keepers plot to ferry heavy weapons across the Potomac River on a boat was previously reported by the New York Times in February, but prosecutors first made new evidence supporting that claim public on the day Trump’s Republican Party blocked independent scrutiny into the attack.

According to the government’s eight-page brief, the 65-year-old Caldwell allegedly answered Meggs’s call by asking a member of another militia group about procuring a boat for their so-called “quick reaction force,” or QRF.

Read the rest at the Law and Crime link.

That’s it for me today. I’m going to curl up with a good book. I hope you enjoy the long weekend, whatever your weather!


Thursday Reads: Accountability For The Trump Crime Family?

Arne Kavli

By Arne Kavli

Good Morning!!

We appear to be inching closer to the possibility that Trump and his minions could actually be prosecuted. It hasn’t happened yet, but news has broken over the past few days that suggests that real accountability could be coming for the Trump crime family.

Bill Chappelle, Andrea Bernstein, and Ilya Marritz at NPR: What We Know So Far About The Trump Organization Criminal Investigation.

New York Attorney General Letitia James is investigating former President Donald Trump’s business, the Trump Organization, “in a criminal capacity,” her office says, ratcheting up scrutiny of Trump’s real estate transactions and other dealings.

The state attorney general is joining forces with Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., who has been conducting a separate criminal inquiry into Trump’s business practices and possible insurance or financial fraud as well as alleged hush money payments to two women who said they had affairs with Trump before he became president….

Dorothy Weir Young, “Seated Girl Reading Newspaper,” 1930

Dorothy Weir Young, “Seated Girl Reading Newspaper,” 1930

The new collaboration between the state and local offices is an unusual event in itself: In New York, the attorney general and the district attorney have historically been rivals. But in this case, they’re working together.

Two assistant attorneys general have now joined the district attorney’s team of prosecutors. They’re all trying to unravel troves of complicated information, including millions of pages of tax returns and other documents related to how the Trump Organization operates in the U.S. as well as its sprawling international enterprises.

With the shift in focus from James’ office, we now know that both of these prosecution teams are making a determined and coordinated effort to sift through evidence of possible crimes.

Read the whole article. It’s a good summary of where things stand right now. Here’s the latest breaking news on the investigations:

The New York Times: Top Trump Executive Under Criminal Investigation Over Taxes.

The New York attorney general’s office has been criminally investigating the chief financial officer of former President Donald J. Trump’s company for months over tax issues, according to people with knowledge of the matter.

The office of the attorney general, Letitia James, notified the Trump Organization in a January letter that it had opened a criminal investigation related to the chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, the people said. The investigators have examined whether taxes were paid on fringe benefits that Mr. Trump gave him, including cars and tens of thousands of dollars in private school tuition for at least one of Mr. Weisselberg’s grandchildren….

Auguste Macke woman reading

Auguste Macke, Woman reading

The focus on perks and Mr. Weisselberg overlaps with the Manhattan district attorney’s long-running criminal fraud investigation of Mr. Trump and his family business. The district attorney’s office has been investigating the extent to which Mr. Trump handed out fringe benefits to some of his executives, including Mr. Weisselberg, and whether taxes were paid on those perks, The New York Times previously reported.

In recent weeks, Ms. James’s office suggested to the company in a new letter that it had broadened the criminal investigation beyond the focus on Mr. Weisselberg, one of the people said. It was unclear how the inquiry had widened.

In general, fringe benefits — which can include cars, flights and club memberships — are taxable, though there are some exceptions. Companies are typically responsible for withholding such taxes from an employee’s paycheck….

In addition to the fringe benefits, Ms. James and the district attorney, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., have examined whether Mr. Trump’s company inflated the value of his properties to obtain favorable loans and lowered the values to reduce taxes.

More details from CNN: 

The New York attorney general’s office has opened a criminal tax investigation into top Trump Organization officer Allen Weisselberg, increasing the legal pressure on the long-time aide to former President Donald Trump, people familiar with the investigation say.

The pressure on Weisselberg is mounting from two directions with the attorney general looking into his personal taxes, while prosecutors in the district attorney’s office are digging into his role at the Trump Organization, his personal finances, and benefits given to his son Barry, a long-time employee of the Trump Organization.

Prosecutors are seeking to find leverage that could sway Weisselberg into cooperating with authorities, people familiar with the investigation said, potentially raising the legal stakes for Trump and his family. It’s a common tactic used by prosecutors to try to get individuals to “flip” to help build a case higher up the corporate ladder. Vance’s office is coordinating with James’ office on its criminal investigation into Weisselberg….

Mary Cassatt, woman reading

Mary Cassatt, Woman reading

The tax investigation into Weisselberg’s personal finances by New York attorney general Letitia James was opened several months ago and is being handled by a small unit within the office that has authority to bring criminal charges, people familiar with the investigation said.

Those investigators have been coordinating with prosecutors in the Manhattan district attorney’s office led by Cyrus Vance Jr, which has been investigating the Trump Organization, going through Trump’s tax returns, and recently has been examining perks the company gave to employees, Weisselberg’s finances, and benefits he and his son received, people familiar with the inquiry said.

And a bit more on the AG’s investigation from The New York Daily News: 

James’ office announced late Tuesday that her long-running civil investigation into Trump’s alleged financial wrongdoing had evolved into a full-fledged criminal inquiry, but did not spell out when or why that significant upgrade was made.

Duncan Levin — an attorney for Jennifer Weisselberg, the estranged daughter-in-law of a top Trump Organization executive — shed some light on that omission Wednesday, telling the Daily News that his client has been cooperating in the criminal component of James’ investigation since March.

“We’ve been aware of the attorney general’s criminal investigation for several months now, since March, and have been in touch with prosecutors in the criminal division and have provided them with evidence,” Levin said….

James’ exact line of criminal inquiry is unclear, but the fact that she’s conducting it with [New York District Attorney] Vance’s help suggests it could also be focused on allegations of fraud. A source familiar with the matter told The News that two assistant attorneys general from James’ office have been specifically tapped to spearhead coordination with Vance….

Jennifer Weisselberg, whose estranged father-in-law is Allen Weisselberg, Trump’s longtime chief financial officer, has been asked by prosecutors from James’ criminal division about a Trump-owned Midtown apartment overlooking Central Park that she and her ex-husband lived in rent-free for years, Levin said.

Paritosh Sen, Woman reading a newspaper

Paritosh Sen, Woman reading a newspaper

Levin said his client has also provided James’ investigators with documents about her family’s finances.

Another key cooperator in both the James and Vance probes is former Trump attorney Michael Cohen, who has met with the DA’s team nearly a dozen times.

James’ criminal announcement, Cohen said Wednesday, shows “the troubles for Donald Trump just keep on coming.”

“Soon enough, Donald and associates will be held responsible for their actions,” Cohen said. “Now that you see the [Manhattan] district attorney and the attorney general’s offices working in concert, I do believe that indictments will be issued shortly, and definitely before summer’s end.”

At The Atlantic, Professor of Law at the University of Baltimore, offers even more details on possible charges: The Country Is on the Cusp of a New Era.

Yesterday evening, New York State’s attorney general, Letitia James, announced, “We have informed the Trump Organization that … We are now actively investigating the Trump Organization in a criminal capacity.” According to The New York Times, James will be sending two of her office’s prosecutors to join the team of Cyrus Vance Jr., the Manhattan DA. With this news, Donald Trump, those around him, and the country as a whole inch closer to the prospect that a former president could face criminal charges, and possibly even prison time. The country has not been through anything like this before.

The ongoing investigation is sweeping. James began it as a civil investigation following the 2019 congressional testimony of Trump’s former attorney, Michael Cohen, that the Trump Organization had lied about the value of its assets in order to secure loans and insurance and to reduce its tax liability. Her focus includes the Trump Organization’s valuation of Seven Springs, a 213-acre estate in Westchester County, which it used to claim a $21.1 million tax deduction for a conservation easement on the property in 2015. James is also looking into a $160 million loan on a property at 40 Wall Street in Manhattan, which Trump personally guaranteed for $20 million, as well as “large portions of debt owed by the Trump Organization” relating to the Trump International Hotel and Tower, in Chicago, that were claimed as taxable income, and the valuation of Trump National Golf Club, in Los Angeles.

Vance’s municipal-level, criminal grand-jury investigation adds other areas of possible criminality to the scope of James’s state-level inquiry, including possible bank and tax fraud. Vance is also reportedly looking into hush money paid to Stormy Daniels and other women on Trump’s behalf—a maneuver that sent Cohen to jail for campaign-finance violations….

H1022-L209565179

By Arne Kavli

By law, grand juries operate in secret, but it’s publicly known that Vance has also subpoenaed Mazars USA LLP, Trump’s personal accounting firm, for financial records relating to the former president and his businesses. In July 2020, the Supreme Court rejected a bid to protect those records from disclosure on presidential-immunity grounds, and Vance finally obtained Trump’s returns in February of this year. Vance’s office has reportedly interviewed Cohen at least eight times, and Cohen has stated that: “Unfortunately for Trump, I have backed up each and every question posed by the district attorney’s office” with “documentary evidence.” Vance has also sought records from two of Trump’s largest creditors, Deutsche Bank AG and Ladder Capital Corp, and from Columbia Grammar & Preparatory School, which is attended by the grandchildren of the Trump Organization’s CEO, Allen Weisselberg, who has worked for the Trump family since 1973. In 2017, he became the only nonfamily member to serve with Trump’s sons, Eric and Don Jr., to manage the trust established to hold Donald Trump’s business assets while president.

According to the grandchildren’s mother, Jennifer Weisselberg, more than $500,000 in tuition was paid through checks signed by either Allen Weisselberg or Trump himself as part of compensation for Allen Weisselberg’s son, Barry, from 2012 to 2019. Vance’s office has been trying to get Allen Weisselberg to cooperate with the investigation.* He was also involved in reimbursing Cohen for the $130,000 payment made to Stormy Daniels before the 2016 election.

For her part, James has also subpoenaed the Trump Organization for records relating to “consulting fees” it paid to Ivanka Trump, in addition to documents regarding the various properties implicated in the investigation. In October, Eric Trump sat for a deposition by lawyers in James’s office. The Trump Foundation dissolved amid an investigation by James’s predecessor, Barbara Underwood, into whether it violated laws in connection with Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and whether its charity work was otherwise legitimate.


Lazy Caturday Reads

Intellectual Cat, Olena Kamenetska-Ostapchuk

Intellectual Cat, Olena Kamenetska-Ostapchuk

Good Morning!!

I hope you are all having a nice weekend. It’s finally starting to feel more like Spring here in Greater Boston after weeks of unseasonably cool weather. It’s bright and sunny and in the 70s today and it looks like the good weather will continue into next week. We might even see some 80-degree days midweek. 

It looks like we might be getting closer to a comeuppance for Trump and his merry band of conspiracy nuts. I don’t want to get my hopes up too much, but Democrats in the House have finally decided to try to set up an independent commission to investigate the January 6 insurrection.

The Washington Post: House members announce bipartisan deal for Jan. 6 commission.

A group of House Democrats and Republicans announced Friday that they had struck a deal to establish an independent commission to investigate the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, a significant breakthrough after months of partisan standoff over the mandate for such a panel — and whether it should exist at all.

Zombie's Mother Katherine Goncharova

Zombie’s Mother, by Katherine Goncharova

The proposed 10-member commission, which emulates the panel that investigated the causes and lessons of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, would be vested with subpoena authority and charged with studying the events and run-up to Jan. 6 — with a focus on why an estimated 10,000 supporters of former president Donald Trump swarmed the Capitol grounds and, more important, what factors instigated about 800 of them to break inside. Trump’s critics in both political parties view it as a means to bring further public scrutiny to his role in inspiring the violence.

“There has been a growing consensus that the January 6th attack is of a complexity and national significance that what we need [is] an independent commission to investigate,” said Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, announcing that he had reached agreement with the panel’s top Republican, Rep. John Katko (N.Y.). “The creation of this commission is our way of taking responsibility for protecting the U.S. Capitol.”

Democrats also proposed a bill to increase security in the Capitol.

The bill puts over a half-billion dollars toward hardening the Capitol and congressional office buildings with movable fences, door and window reinforcements, and additional security cameras and checkpoints. It also dedicates $21.5 million to stepping up security details for members facing threats, whether in Washington, their home districts or traveling between the two — and $18 million to better train and equip the U.S. Capitol Police to respond to riot situations.

But the largest part of the hefty spending bill — nearly $700 million — is simply to pay money owed to the Capitol Police, D.C. police, the National Guard and other federal agencies for costs they incurred in responding to the riot and its aftermath. It also dedicates more than $200 million to the federal courts to address threats to judges and to meet various other costs related to prosecuting those charged in connection with the insurrection.

Both the spending bill and the commission legislation face unique challenges as proponents seek to build enough bipartisan support to get the measures through both chambers of Congress. Thus far, no Republicans have voiced support for the Democrats’ spending bill. And although the commission proposal is bipartisan, and is likely to have enough backing to clear the House when it comes to a vote next week, it is unclear how many Republicans will support it.

Liz Cheney, the ultraconservative who has become a fierce Trump critic, applauded the bill. Newsweek: Liz Cheney Welcomes January 6 Commission, Says Americans Need ‘The Truth.’

Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) has welcomed the prospect of a bipartisan commission to examine the violence of January 6, insisting Americans need to know “the truth” of what happened that day….

Still Life with Cats, by Max Beckman

Still Life with Cats, by Max Beckmann

In a statement, Cheney said: “All members, especially House and Senate leaders, should support this effort and there should be no delay in passing this bill to find the facts and the truth about what happened on January 6th and the events leading up to it.

“In the aftermath of national crises, such as Pearl Harbor, the Kennedy assassination, or September 11th, our nation has established commissions so the American people know the truth and we can prevent these events from happening again. The same thing is needed for January 6th and this commission is an important step forward to answering those fundamental questions.”

More from Cheney at CNN: Cheney says some GOP members voted against impeachment out of fear for their lives.

Telling CNN’s Jake Tapper on “The Lead” that there are “more members who believe in substance and policy and ideals than are willing to say so,” Cheney cited the impeachment vote earlier this year, in which she was one of only 10 House Republicans who voted to hold Trump accountable for the Capitol riot.

“If you look at the vote to impeach, for example, there were members who told me that they were afraid for their own security — afraid, in some instances, for their lives,” she said. “And that tells you something about where we are as a country, that members of Congress aren’t able to cast votes, or feel that they can’t, because of their own security.”

Hours earlier on Friday, New York Republican Rep. Elise Stefanik, a vocal ally of the former President who has a less conservative voting record than Cheney, was elected House GOP conference chairwoman. The key difference between the two women is that Stefanik has supported Trump’s baseless claims of widespread fraud in the 2020 election while Cheney has repeatedly rebutted them, leading House Republicans to complain that the Wyoming Republican is undermining the party’s message of promoting Trump’s brand of politics.

Cheney said her role as a member of Congress obligated her to oppose the widespread lie of fraud in the election and she believes that “we’ve had a collapse of truth in this country.”

“We’ve seen an evolution of, you know, a general situation where conspiracy theories are rampant, where good people in a lot of instances have been misled and believe things that are not true,” Cheney continued. “And so, I think that we all have an obligation to make sure we’re doing everything we can to convey the truth, to stand for the truth and to stand for the Constitution and our obligations.”

Three cats, Franz Marc

Three Cats, by Franz Marc

At Mother Jones, David Corn questions whether the bipartisan commission could fully uncover the truth: House Dems and Republicans Strike a Deal on a 1/6 Commission—But There’s One Big Catch.

On Friday morning, big news hit: Democrats and Republicans in the House had reached a compromise to set up a bipartisan, independent commission that would investigate the January 6 assault on the US Capitol. For weeks, GOPers had opposed a proposal from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to establish such a body, complaining it permitted Democrats to appoint a majority of the commissioners. But last month, she pitched a new deal with equal representation. And under the agreement concocted by Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), who chairs the Homeland Security Committee, and Rep. John Katko (R-N.Y.), the top Republican on the panel, the Democratic and Republican leaders of the House and Senate would each get to appoint five members of the 10-person body, which will be modeled on the 9/11 commission. (The Dems will name the chair, the Republicans the vice chair.) Yet there is one big wrinkle: Though this commission will have the power to subpoena witnesses, subpoenas must be approved by either the chair and vice-chair or by a majority of the commissioners. That means the Republicans on the commission will have the power to block any subpoena.

It is not hard to envision numerous scenarios in which the commission—which would have to be approved by the Senate—could become immersed in conflict over the question of who to interview, what information to seek, and which witnesses to subpoena. After all, there is no way for the commission to do its job thoroughly without fully scrutinizing the actions of various Republicans, pro-Trump activists, the Trump White House, and former President Donald Trump himself. And if some of these potential subjects refuse to voluntarily cooperate with the commission’s investigators, the only recourse will be subpoenas. But will Republican-appointed commissioners okay subpoenas for GOP witnesses? 

Corn offers a list of necessary witnesses, including Donald Trump, Mike Pence, Rudi Giuliani, Roger Stone, Jared Kushner, and Ivanka Trump. Would Republicans on the commission go along with subpoenaing those important witnesses? He conclues:

The public deserves a complete, no-holds-bar accounting of the January 6 tragedy. But there is no way for any commission to fully uncover and report the whole truth without questioning Republicans and past and present members of Trump’s inner circle. This attack was a Trump production, and some of the most important eyewitnesses of that day are prominent Republicans and Trumpers. Should a commission be established—and it’s no done-deal yet—will Republican commissioners actually allow their gumshoes to haul in these sorts of witnesses? If not, this exercise could end up being yet another GOP assault on American democracy.

The Matt Gaetz investigation seems to be heating up. Here’s the latest.

The New York Times: Former Gaetz Confidant Agrees to Plead Guilty and Cooperate.

Woman with Cat, Jose Manuel Merello, 1960

Woman with Cat, Jose Manuel Merello, 1960

A former confidant of Representative Matt Gaetz admitted in court papers on Friday to an array of federal crimes, including sex trafficking of a 17-year-old girl, and agreed to cooperate with the Justice Department’s ongoing investigations.

The plea deal by Joel Greenberg, the onetime associate of Mr. Gaetz who had served as a tax collector in Seminole County, Fla., north of Orlando, until he was indicted last year, provided prosecutors a potential key witness as they decide whether to charge Mr. Gaetz, the Florida Republican who is a close ally of former President Donald J. Trump.

Mr. Gaetz is said to be under investigation over whether he violated sex trafficking laws by having sex with the same 17-year-old.

Mr. Greenberg did not implicate Mr. Gaetz by name in court papers filed by prosecutors in Federal District Court in Orlando. But Mr. Greenberg admitted that he “introduced the minor to other adult men, who engaged in commercial sex acts” with her, according to the documents, and that he was sometimes present. The others were not named.

Mr. Greenberg, who has been meeting with prosecutors for at least five months, has told investigators that Mr. Gaetz had sex with the girl and knew that she was being paid, according to a person briefed on the inquiry.

And from The Daily Beast: Rep. Matt Gaetz Snorted Cocaine With Escort Who Had ‘No Show’ Gov’t Job.

When Rep. Matt Gaetz attended a 2019 GOP fundraiser in Orlando, his date that night was someone he knew well: a paid escort and amateur Instagram model who led a cocaine-fueled party after the event, according to two witnesses.

The Florida congressman’s one-time wingman, Joel Greenberg, will identify that escort to investigators as one of more than 15 young women Gaetz paid for sex, according to a source familiar with the investigation.

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner

By Ernst Ludwig Kirchner

But what distinguishes this woman, Megan Zalonka, is that she turned her relationship with Greenberg into a taxpayer-funded no-show job that earned her an estimated $7,000 to $17,500, according to three sources and corresponding government records obtained by The Daily Beast.

On Oct. 26, 2019, Gaetz attended the “Trump Defender Gala” fundraiser as the featured speaker at the Westgate Lake Resort in Orlando. Two witnesses present recalled friends reconvening at Gaetz’s hotel room for an after-party, where Zalonka prepared lines of cocaine on the bathroom counter. One of those witnesses distinctly remembers Zalonka pulling the drugs out of her makeup bag, rolling a bill of cash, and joining Gaetz in snorting the cocaine.

While The Daily Beast could not confirm that Gaetz and Zalonka had sex that night, two sources said the pair had an ongoing financial relationship in exchange for sex. “She was just one of the many pieces of arm candy he had,” said one source familiar with the encounters between Gaetz and Zalonka.

The congressman—who has declared that he “never paid for sex”—wrote off the stay at the hotel as a campaign expense, with his donors picking up the tab.

Yuck. I can’t believe Gaetz is still in Congress and on the House Judiciary Committee.

Finally, investigations that were blocked under Trump may be able to go forward. CNN reports on some possibilities: Biden administration gives House panel documents related to Trump hotel.

The General Services Administration has provided House Democrats with documents related to former President Donald Trump’s Washington hotel, in the second case this week where the Biden administration gave the House information that the Trump administration had blocked it from obtaining….

House Transportation Chairman Peter DeFazio, an Oregon Democrat, requested a slew of records in March related to the Trump International Hotel lease of the Old Post Office Building, which is not far from the White House. It was a request he had resubmitted to the GSA after it had been blocked by the Trump administration.

Jan F. Welker

By Jan F. Welker

The GSA responded in a letter to DeFazio last week that it was turning over some of the requested records, including monthly financial statements from the Trump hotel, audits and lease amendments — though the GSA declined to provide legal memorandums, arguing that those records were part of “internal executive branch legal advice.” The letter from the GSA said it was still working to fulfill DeFazio’s request for memos and communications from the White House or other federal agencies related to the lease of the Old Post Office Building….

The GSA’s willingness to provide documents to the House comes around the same time that the Justice Department struck an agreement with the House Judiciary Committee this week for the long-sought testimony of former Trump White House counsel Don McGahn. The House’s agreement with the Justice Department came ahead of a scheduled court hearing on the matter.

There are still several other outstanding court cases in which the House is fighting for Trump-related documents — most notably the effort by the House Ways and Means Committee to obtain Trump’s tax returns from the IRS. That case has a status update scheduled for May 28.

Have a great Caturday, Sky Dancers!! As always, this is an open thread.