Thursday Reads

Good Afternoon!!

Two Sisters, William Bowyer

Two Sisters, by William Bowyer, British painter

Today is my 75th birthday. It seems like a big deal, but at the same time it’s really no big deal. I’m OK with being an old woman; I’m happy to be alive, sober, and generally healthy. I can’t remember proper names very well, but that’s been going on for years. I sometimes have trouble finding the names of things, but I find that if I give myself a minute or two those words will come to me. I still have a very good memory for facts and events.

My Mom is 97 now and has dementia. It’s almost as if she has already left us. She seems to know who I am, but I’m not absolutely sure. I miss the way we used to talk about everything. When I called her on Thanksgiving, she didn’t even seem to understand what that day means. It’s very sad, but I’m grateful for all the years we had–she was really my best friend in many ways.

I miss my Dad too. He has been gone now for 11 years. I miss talking to him about books and language. I miss his sense of humor, even his dad jokes. That’s what it’s like to be old, I guess–losing people. But they are still with you in your memories.

I hope I don’t sound too maudlin. It doesn’t feel that way to me, because I accept being old and I even enjoy it in a way. I have time now to think and to read as much as I want to. I’ve always had an irrational fear of running out of things to read; and so I’ve bought way too many books over the years. Now I’m afraid I won’t have time for all the books I want to read.

Anyway, enough of that, let’s get to some news and comment.

The George Senate runoff election is coming up next Tuesday, Dec. 6. It’s difficult to believe, the the race between Raphael Warnock and Herschel Walker is very close, despite all the scandals surrounding Walker, the fact that he can’t form a coherent sentence, and his admission that he lives in Texas. Here’s the latest:

Roger Sollenberger at The Daily Beast: Herschel Walker Ex Comes Forward: He Attacked Me in a Rage.

A former longtime girlfriend of Republican senatorial candidate Herschel Walker has come forward to detail a violent episode with the football star, who she believes is “unstable” and has “little to no control” over his mental state when he is not in treatment.

The woman, Dallas resident Cheryl Parsa, described an intimate and tumultuous five-year relationship with Walker in the 2000s, beginning shortly after his divorce and continuing for a year after the publication of his 2008 memoir about his struggle with dissociative identity disorder (DID), once known as multiple personality disorder.

Parsa, who has composed a book-length manuscript about her relationship with Walker, says she is speaking out because she is disturbed by Walker’s behavior on the campaign trail, which she claims exhibits telltale flare-ups of the disorder she tried to help him manage for half a decade.

amer-ice-cream-richard-wallich

Amer Ice Cream, by Richard Wallich

“He’s a pathological liar. Absolutely. But it’s more than that,” Parsa, who last had regular contact with Walker in 2019, told The Daily Beast. “He knows how to manipulate his disease, in order to manipulate people, while at times being simultaneously completely out of control.” She said that when she was with Walker, he used his diagnosis as an “alibi” to “justify lying, cheating, and ultimately destroying families.”

Parsa provided a detailed account of a 2005 incident that turned violent after she caught Walker with another woman at his Dallas condo. She said Walker grew enraged, put his hands on her chest and neck, and swung his fist at her. “I thought he was going to beat me,” she recalled, and fled in fear.

Parsa is one of five women who were romantically involved with Walker who spoke to The Daily Beast for this article. All of them described a habit of lying and infidelity—including one woman who claimed she had an affair with Walker while he was married in the 1990s. All five women said they were willing to speak to expose the behavior of the man they now see running for Senate.

Maya King at The New York Times: In Georgia, Walker’s Pace in the Finish Worries Republican Allies.

Herschel Walker was being swamped by negative television ads. His Democratic opponents were preparing to flood the polls for early voting as soon as doors opened. After being hit by fresh allegations of carpetbagging, he was left with just over a week to make his final appeals to voters in the runoff for Georgia’s Senate seat.

But for five days, Mr. Walker was off the campaign trail.

The decision to skip campaigning over the crucial Thanksgiving holiday weekend has Mr. Walker’s Republican allies airing frustrations and concerns about his campaign strategy in the final stretch of the overtime election against Senator Raphael Warnock.

“We almost need a little bit more time for Herschel’s campaign to get everything off the ground,” said Jason Shepherd, the former chairman of the Cobb County Republican Party, pointing to the transition from a general election campaign to a runoff sprint. Notably, the runoff campaign was cut from nine weeks to four by a Republican-backed law passed last year….

Mr. Shepherd said Mr. Walker’s decision not to campaign during Thanksgiving was just one troubling choice. He also pointed to a series of mailers sent by the Georgia Republican Party encouraging voters to find their polling places that contained broken QR codes as examples of poor organizing. And he raised concern about the steady stream of advertisements supporting Warnock, a first-term senator and pastor, on conservative talk radio and contemporary Christian stations.

Gregory Frank Harris, 1953

By Gregory Frank Harris, 1953

That all sounds like good news for Democrats. It’s hilarious that in making it harder to vote, Republicans have ended up hurting themselves–just as they did in the runoff elections in 2020. But King notes that the race is still close despite all the scandals.

His campaign has been one of the most turbulent in recent memory: Mr. Walker was found to have lied or exaggerated details about his educationhis business, his charitable giving and his work in law enforcement. He acknowledged a history of violent and erratic behavior, tied to a mental illness, and did not dispute an ex-wife’s accusation of assault. Two women claimed that he had urged them to have abortions, although he ran as a staunchly anti-abortion candidate. He denied their accounts. He regularly delivered rambling speeches, which Democrats widely circulated with glee.

“I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that Herschel Walker might be the most flawed Republican nominee in the nation this year,” said Rick Dent, a media consultant who has worked for candidates from both parties and plans to vote for Mr. Warnock.

Sahil Kapur at NBC News: Georgia Senate runoff tests the staying power of abortion in American elections.

The high-stakes Senate runoff in Georgia next week will be the first major test of abortion politics since the 2022 general election, when a backlash to the Supreme Court’s decision galvanized proponents of abortion rights and boosted Democrats.

Abortion was a major issue on Election Day in Georgia, when Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock finished about 1 point ahead of Republican rival Herschel Walker, though narrowly missing the 50% he needed to win outright. The 26% of Georgians who ranked abortion as their top issue backed Warnock by a margin of 77% to 21%, NBC News exit polls showed.

Now, Democrats see an opening to weaponize it to finish the job against Walker in the Dec. 6 runoff, when a victory would give their party a 51st Senate seat.

“On December 6th, our rights are on the ballot. Herschel Walker wants a total ban on abortion nationwide,” says a TV ad by the Democratic group Georgia Honor, playing footage of Walker calling for a “no-exception” ban. “Raphael Warnock is fighting to protect our right to make our own health care decisions,” a narrator says.

Meanwhile, Walker sits at the center of a clash within the Republican Party about how to handle the issue in the new era. While some like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell have sought to minimize abortion and pivot to other issues, leading anti-abortion advocates insist that’s a losing strategy and want Republicans to lean in and paint Democrats as the real extremists.

Walker is taking the approach preferred by the anti-abortion advocates, embracing their rhetoric equating abortion to infanticide and attacking Warnock for supporting legislation that would protect the right to terminate a pregnancy without legal restrictions.

The problem with that is that Walker has urged at least 2 women to get abortions and paid for them.

remembering-the-good-times-sam-sidders

Remembering the Good Times, by Sam Sidders

The New York Times also has a piece by Rick Rojas on another important issue in Georgia–the high cost of insulin: A Resonant Topic in Georgia’s Senate Runoff: Insulin Prices.

…[O]ne campaign issue relevant to many voters has little to do with the highly partisan horse race. Rather, it involves one of the most common chronic diseases in America, diabetes, and the soaring cost of the medicine used to treat it, insulin. In both the general and runoff campaigns, Senator Raphael Warnock, the Democratic incumbent, has made much of his efforts in Congress to cap the price of insulin at $35 a month, talking them up in ads, debates and speeches.

“It has resonated with just about everyone,” said Dr. Kris Ellis, a physician who also owns the Bearfoot Tavern in Macon, where Mr. Warnock made a recent campaign stop. “If you don’t have diabetes, you know someone with diabetes.”

He was describing an unsettling reality in Georgia, as in much of the South, where diabetes rates are staggeringly high and the escalating cost of insulin over the years has led to painful choices and, for some, catastrophic consequences.

As campaign issues go, the price of insulin is nowhere near as contentious as just about everything else raised in the four-week runoff between Mr. Warnock and Herschel Walker, the former football star who is his Republican challenger. Even so, interviews with Dr. Ellis and a number of other voters suggested it had broken through the noise of the high-decibel contest, which Georgia requires because neither candidate won a majority of the vote in the general election.

Of course, the candidate who has tried to deal with this issue is Sen. Warnock.

Mr. Warnock has focused on lowering insulin prices since arriving in the Senate nearly two years ago, motivated in part by hundreds of letters that have poured into his office, pleading with him to do something. He has also described seeing the ravaging impacts of diabetes, including losing limbs and eyesight, on congregants at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, where he is the senior pastor.

“This isn’t an ideological matter, it’s a practical one — and it has broad support across the political spectrum,” Mr. Warnock wrote last spring in an opinion essay published in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

I sure hope he wins. If he does, the Democrats will have a true majority in the Senate. I can’t wait for the results to come in on Tuesday night.

In other news, yesterday the House Ways and Means Committee finally received six years of Trump’s tax returns.

Katlyn Polantz at CNN: House committee receives Donald Trump’s federal tax returns from IRS.

The House Ways and Means Committee now has six years of Donald Trump’s federal tax returns, ending a yearslong pursuit by Democrats to dig into one of the former president’s most closely guarded personal details.

“Treasury has complied with last week’s court decision,” a Treasury spokesperson told CNN on Wednesday.

The spokesperson did not provide any additional information. Federal courts had decided the House could request six years of Trump’s returns, after the committee had requested them in 2019 and again in 2021, according to public court records.

The handover had been on hold, until the Supreme Court declined last week to intervene. Several judges, including Republican appointees, have found the House had power to request the returns from the IRS….

The committee, led by Democratic Rep. Richard Neal of Massachusetts, had sought six years of Trump’s tax records, primarily from the time he served as president. That included records about both Trump personally and several of his corporate entities.

The panel is planning to meet Thursday to get briefed on the legal ramifications of the section of the tax law that Neal used to request Trump’s tax returns, according to a Neal aide.

Democrats are not expected to review the tax returns at this session, and the documents are not expected to be immediately released to the public.

only-the-body-withers-lucie-bilodeau

Only the Body Withers, by Lucie Bilodeau

Then what is going to happen when Republicans take over control of the the committee? We don’t know yet. I think the Democrats should get busy look at the returns before that happens, but what do I know?

Yesterday, Attorney General Merrick Garland held a press conference at which he discussed the guilty verdicts in the Oath Keepers trial as well as the DOJ’s oversight of the water crisis in Jackson, MS. The Washington Post: Garland praises Oath Keepers verdict, won’t say where Jan. 6 probe goes.

A day after a federal jury convicted two far-right extremists of leading a plot to unleash political violence to prevent the inauguration of Joe Biden, Attorney General Merrick Garland vowed that his Justice Department would continue to “work tirelessly” to hold accountable those responsible for efforts to overturn the 2020 election.

Throughout the trial, prosecutors highlighted the defendants’ links to key allies of President Donald Trump, such as Roger Stone, “Stop the Steal” organizer Ali Alexander, former national security adviser Michael Flynn and attorneys Sidney Powell and Rudy Giuliani.

But Garland declined to say Wednesday if he expected prosecutors to eventually file charges against them or any other people who did not physically participate in the attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

“I don’t want to speculate on other investigations or parts of other investigations,” Garland told reporters at a briefing where he also touted Justice Department efforts to establish federal oversight of the water supply system in Jackson, Miss….

Tuesday’s verdicts upheld a key Justice Department argument laid out in the seven-week-long trial: that the breach of the Capitol was not an isolated event, but rather a culmination or component of wider plotting by extremists who wanted to stop the transfer of power from Trump to Biden. In this case, the jury found Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes and a top deputy, Kelly Meggs, at least partially responsible for staging firearms and preparing to forcibly oppose federal authority. Both were convicted of “seditious conspiracy,” a rarely used charge that is among the most serious levied so far in the sprawling Jan. 6 investigation.

Justice Department officials had been eyeing the Oath Keepers verdict to help decide whether to file criminal charges against other high-profile, pro-Trump figures who had roles in the buildup to the violence, according to people with knowledge of the investigation.

Garland also said he hopes to get access to the interviews conducted by the House January 6 Committee.

At the briefing with reporters Tuesday, Garland also said that he has asked the House Jan. 6 committee — which has been pursuing a separate investigation into the attack — for all interview transcripts and evidence that it has collected. That’s long been a point of tension between the Justice Department and Congress, with the committee yet to hand over all the materials.

“We would like to have all the transcripts and all the other evidence collected by the committee so that we can use it in the ordinary course of our investigation,” Garland said.

Old lady having a tea Gaitano Bellai

Old lady having a tea, by Gaitano Bellai

From Raw Story, a report of an MSNBC interview with Bob Woodward: Bob Woodward: Oath Keepers convictions puts new pressure on DOJ to indict Trump.

The convictions of two Oath Keepers leaders on seditious conspiracy charges puts new pressure on the Department of Justice to indict Donald Trump for his role in the Jan. 6 insurrection, according to veteran journalist Bob Woodward.

Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes and his lieutenant Kelly Meggs were found guilty this week for their roles in the U.S. Capitol assault, and other militia members were convicted on other charges, and Woodward told MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” those cases would weigh on attorney general Merrick Garland and newly appointed special counsel Jack Smith.

“It gives them a strong basis,” Woodward said. “I think we are now at this point that the Justice Department, the new special counsel is going to have to indict Trump or explain why they are not indicting him. Now, that’s certainly possible that they won’t — prosecutors have discretion, but the case of the violation — I’m sorry, it’s technical 18 U.S.C. 371 — conspiring, working to subvert a lawful function of government is right there in plain sight.”

Garland responded to the Oath Keepers convictions by pledging to hold others accountable for trying to overturn the 2020 election, and the House Select Committee will decide soon whether to make a criminal referral to the Justice Department against the former president.

“In a way, they’re interesting fodder for us to discuss,” Woodward said, “but I really think if you get, you know, Garland is there talking about the dedication and efforts that people have made in doing this investigation. Dedication and effort is wonderful. What is most wonderful is evidence, and they have compelling evidence.”

Watch the video at the Raw Story link.

Just a few months ago, I knew nothing about Elon Musk. Now he’s everywhere. Here’s the latest crazy Musk story:

The Daily Beast: Elon Musk Claims Neuralink Will Put Brain Chips in Humans in 6 Months.

Neuralink, the neurotech startup spearheaded by Chief Twit Elon Musk, held their much-ballyhooed and oft-delayed tech demo on Wednesday night—promising a lot while showing little in the way of progress towards their lofty promises.

Musk was joined on stage by numerous Neuralink engineers and researchers to explain the technology they’ve been working on for the past few years. This included the N1 link, the company’s wireless brain-computer interface (BCI); and the R1, a robot that the company said would be able to implant an N1 in a human brain. The bot was present at the event conducting a simulated surgery on a dummy while presentations occurred.

The team also announced that the N1 chip was capable of being wirelessly charged, which would be a massive improvement in most current BCI technology which typically requires the devices to be tethered.

Jantina Peperkamp.

Painting by Jantina Peperkamp.

“I could have a Neuralink device implanted right now and you wouldn’t even know,” Musk joked, later adding, “In one of these demos I will.”

However, Musk announced that it would still be at least half a year until Neuralink would be able to begin human trials. “We’ve submitted most of our paperwork to the FDA. In about six months, we should be able to have our first Neuralink in humans,” he said.

The demo was initially slated for Oct. 31 but was delayed by Musk just eight days before it was set to launch. He did not give a reason for the schedule push. Perhaps not surprisingly, then, the event itself was also delayed by more than half an hour before it started. Musk then took to the stage and stumbled through an awkward, meandering monologue where he touched on topics from AI, to how BCIs work, to something about how humans are all cyborgs.

WTF? I have no idea what these people are talking about. Maybe Quixote knows what this is all about?

“The overarching goal of Neuralink is to create a whole brain interface,” Musk explained, later using a photo of the character Rick Sanchez from the TV show Rick and Morty to illustrate his point. “So a generalized input-output device that in the long term that could interface with every aspect of your brain, and in the short term can interface with any section of your brain and solve things that cause debilitating issues for people.”

Musk also made a number of very lofty promises that should be taken with a Cybertruck-sized grain of salt if his history of overpromising and under delivering is any indication. This included the idea that the Neuralink will be able to restore vision even to those who were born blind, and also that it could restore mobility back to those who have had their spinal cord severed.

He mentioned that the N1 would allow patients to use it wirelessly and remotely in most any setting outside of a lab—which would be groundbreaking if it, you know, actually ever happens. Rajesh Rao, Hwang professor and director of the Center for Neurotechnology at the University of Washington, told The Daily Beast that this would represent a significant leap forward for BCI technologies—and showcase something that has truly never been done before.

OK, now I’m starting to get it. Read more at the Daily Beast link. I just wish Musk would hurry up and go to Mars and leave us alone.

Have a great Thursday everyone!

Elon Musk claims Neuralink is about ‘six months’ away from first human trial

Elon Musk claims Neuralink is about ‘six months’ away from first human trial

Elon Musk claims Neuralink is about ‘six months’ away from first human trial

Elon Musk claims Neuralink is about ‘six months’ away from first human trial


Lazy Caturday Reads

Ophelia Redpath, 1965

By surrealist artist Ophelia Redpath, 1965

Happy Caturday!!

I wish I had kept a record of my sleep patterns and accompanying political events over the past 7 years. I know I rarely slept through the night during the first couple of years of Trump’s “presidency.” I would stay up late, sleep a couple of hours and wake up at 3AM to obsessively check twitter for news, and still get up early the next day. Now I’m going through a period of time when I can’t get to sleep until very late–around 1:00-2:00AM–and then sleeping until 10:00 or 11:00AM. I’m also getting old–I’ll be 75 soon–and it takes me awhile to get going in the morning. Anyway, I slept until 10:00 today, so I’m once again very late in posting. If only we knew what is going to happen with the Trump investigations, maybe I would be able to go back to sleeping like a normal person.

As everyone knows by now, yesterday Merrick Garland announced the appointment of a special prosecutor to decide whether to indict Trump in the Mar-a-Lago documents and January 6 insurrection cases–including whether Trump has obstructed justice.

CNN: DOJ announces special counsel for Trump-related Mar-a-Lago and January 6 criminal investigations.

Attorney General Merrick Garland on Friday appointed a special counsel to oversee the criminal investigations into the retention of national defense information at former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort and parts of the January 6, 2021, insurrection.

Both investigations implicate the conduct of Trump, who on Tuesday declared his candidacy in the 2024 presidential race, making him a potential rival of President Joe Biden.

“Based on recent developments, including the former president’s announcement that he is a candidate for president in the next election, and the sitting president’s stated intention to be a candidate as well, I have concluded that it is in the public interest to appoint a special counsel,” Garland said at the Justice Department on Friday.

Jack Smith, the former chief prosecutor for the special court in The Hague, where he investigated war crimes in Kosovo, will oversee the investigations….

The prosecutions of those who physically breached the US Capitol have been the most public aspect of the Justice Department’s January 6 probe, and those will remain under the purview of the US Attorney’s office in Washington, DC. But behind the scenes, prosecutors have subpoenaed scores of witnesses close to the former president for documents and testimony in the probe.

White Cat by Igor Galanin

White Cat by Igor Galanin

“I intend to conduct the assigned investigations, and any prosecutions that may result from them, independently and in the best traditions of the Department of Justice,” Smith said in a statement Friday. “The pace of the investigations will not pause or flag under my watch. I will exercise independent judgment and will move the investigations forward expeditiously and thoroughly to whatever outcome the facts and the law dictate.” [….]

According to multiple sources, both the Mar-a-Lago investigation and the January 6 investigation around Trump are aiming to gather more information and bring witnesses into a federal grand jury in the coming weeks. Prosecutors sent out several new subpoenas related to both investigations in recent days, with quick return dates as early as next week.

Some of the witnesses being pursued in this round had not spoken to the investigators in these cases before, according to some of the sources.

Most of the TV/Twitter legal experts are saying this was a good decision by Garland. One dissenter is Neal Kaytal, who says it is a big mistake.

From Raw Story: Legal experts: Special counsel investigating Trump will move very quickly.

Former top DOJ official Andrew Weissmann believes that newly-appointed special counsel Jack Smith will move with haste in his investigations of former President Donald Trump.

Speaking with MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell, after the host said Smith may become the “most important prosecutor in human history,” Weissmann discussed his history with the new special prosecutor.

“So I’ve known Jack for decades,” Weissman said.

“I was the chief of the criminal division when he started in the U.S. Attorney’s office,” he explained.

“And Jack, as you noted, has had all sorts of positions that make him really perfect for this job in the sense of his experience, he’s a career prosecutor, he’s completely apolitical — in public integrity, they prosecuted Democrats and Republicans,” Weissmann said. “They don’t care, if you committed a crime, it doesn’t matter what party you’re in or whether you’re in no party.”

He noted he learned from Robert Mueller that “you can’t slow things down to use as an excuse not to move forward.”

“For people who are worried about this slowing down, I have the exact opposite reaction.”

Marcy Wheeler suggested another reason why Garland might have taken the step of appointing a special counsel:

I think that makes sense. Of course Trump and Republicans will still claim the investigations are political, and I’m pretty sure Garland knows that. This morning at Politico Playbook, Rachel Bade summarized the political reactions so far: A new special counsel sets Washington ablaze.

Attorney General MERRICK GARLAND’s decision to name a special counsel to helm DONALD TRUMP-related probes at the Justice Department roiled the political world on Friday.

In an afternoon statement delivered before cameras at Main Justice, Garland argued the appointment of veteran DOJ hand JACK SMITH was necessary given that Trump and JOE BIDEN could be facing off for the presidency in 2024. “Such an appointment underscores the department’s commitment to both independence and accountability in particularly sensitive matters,” Garland said.

Some good it did him. On cue, Republicans called foul — and rushed forward to defend an ex-president who had appeared to be losing his grip on the GOP following the party’s disappointing election performance.

François Batet

By François Batet

AT MAR-A-LAGO … After 10 days of midterm recriminations, the announcement put Trump back in his most comfortable posture: portraying himself as the victim of his corrupt enemies. During a fancy black-tie affair at his Florida resort, Trump told Fox News’ Brooke Singman that he won’t participate in the probe and blasted the DOJ for the “worst politicization” of the department ever.

— “I have been proven innocent for six years on everything — from fake impeachments to [former special counsel ROBERT] MUELLER who found no collusion, and now I have to do it more?” Trump told them. “It is not acceptable. It is so unfair. It is so political.”

ON CAPITOL HILL … Rep. MARJORIE TAYLOR GREENE (R-Ga.) tweeted that Republicans should “IMPEACH MERRICK GARLAND!” and insisted her party “refuse to appropriate any funding to Merrick Garland’s Special Counsel and defund any part of the DOJ acting on behalf of the Democrat party as a taxpayer funded campaign arm for the Democrat’s 2024 presidential nominee.”

— The latter is particularly noteworthy: It sets up a new and explosive spending clash that could easily prompt a government shutdown in the next Congress. Why? MTG and likeminded Trump loyalists will press KEVIN McCARTHY (or whoever else manages to become speaker) to toe a hard line while Democrats will absolutely refuse to defund the investigations. Watch this space.

IN LAS VEGAS … Even former Vice President MIKE PENCE blasted the special counsel appointment as “very troubling” during an appearance at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s annual meeting, according to another good-get interview by Fox’s Brooke Singman and Paul Steinhauser.

— “No one is above the law, but I am not sure it’s against the law to take bad advice from your lawyers,” he said. Pence went on to suggest that the DOJ has been politicized by Democrats and and to knock the FBI for conducting a raid on Mar-a-Lago to fish out classified information Trump had taken to his post-presidency residence. (Note that Smith won’t only be managing the documents probe, but Jan. 6-related matters as well.).

Bade notes that Republicans were all in on the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s handling of classified documents while she was running for president. You can also read a bit of background on Jack Smith at The New York Times.

One more on the Smith appointment from Jennifer Rubin at The Washington Post: Merrick Garland was right to appoint a special counsel.

Advocates of swift action against Trump no doubt will be alarmed by the announcement, but there is less here than meets the eye. For starters, Smith needs no introduction to the Justice Department. He was appointed first assistant U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Tennessee in February 2015. Before that, he worked as head of the department’s Public Integrity Section and as investigation coordinator in the Office of the Prosecutor at the International Criminal Court. He also worked in the U.S. attorney’s office in the Eastern District of New York.

Hold That Tiger by Jeanette Lassen

Hold That Tiger by Jeanette Lassen

Most important, the attorney general announced that the career staff who have been working on these cases will continue in their roles. That, Garland suggested, will mean the query will “not slow down.” Smith will make a recommendation to Garland on whether to prosecute Trump. Until then, Garland will have no direct supervision over Smith.

Did Garland need to wait until Trump’s campaign launch to make the appointment? Perhaps not, but so long as Trump was not an active candidate, there was little reason for Garland to step aside. Now that Trump is a potential opponent to Biden, Garland believes it is essential to add a layer of separation between himself and the line prosecutors.

Constitutional scholar Laurence Tribe tells me, “Looking over Jack Smith’s decades of prosecutorial experience, it’s hard to imagine anyone better prepared to hit the ground running and to sew together whatever loose ends remain as he puts together a comprehensive prosecution of the leaders of the attempted coup, with the former president at its center, as well as a powerful prosecution of the former president for his theft of top secret documents as he absconded to Mar-a-Lago.” He adds that, while he previously “publicly urged that there was no need to appoint a special counsel, my principal concern was the need to avoid delay, and it appears that this appointment will solve that problem.”

Norman Eisen, who served as co-counsel to the House impeachment managers during Trump’s first impeachment, agrees. “I have no concern that a special counsel will shy away from charging, and Jack Smith has outstanding experience,” he tells me. Eisen also thinks the move will not cause much of a delay. He observes: “Mr. Smith should move with alacrity. Here, where any other American who had removed the even one classified document would be subject to likely prosecution, and where the former president took dozens, the rule of law demands fast action.”

In other news, The New York Times has an important story about a Supreme Court leak that–like the recent leak of the draft decision overturning Roe v. Wade–involves Justice Sam Alito: Former Anti-Abortion Leader Alleges Another Supreme Court Breach.

As the Supreme Court investigates the extraordinary leak this spring of a draft opinion of the decision overturning Roe v. Wade, a former anti-abortion leader has come forward claiming that another breach occurred in a 2014 landmark case involving contraception and religious rights.

In a letter to Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and in interviews with The New York Times, the Rev. Rob Schenck said he was told the outcome of the 2014 case weeks before it was announced. He used that information to prepare a public relations push, records show, and he said that at the last minute he tipped off the president of Hobby Lobby, the craft store chain owned by Christian evangelicals that was the winning party in the case.

Both court decisions were triumphs for conservatives and the religious right. Both majority opinions were written by Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. But the leak of the draft opinion overturning the constitutional right to abortion was disclosed in the news media by Politico, setting off a national uproar. With Hobby Lobby, according to Mr. Schenck, the outcome was shared with only a handful of advocates….

Joan Barber, Girl stroking cat

Joan Barber, Girl stroking cat

The evidence for Mr. Schenck’s account of the breach has gaps. But in months of examining Mr. Schenck’s claims, The Times found a trail of contemporaneous emails and conversations that strongly suggested he knew the outcome and the author of the Hobby Lobby decision before it was made public.

Mr. Schenck, who used to lead an evangelical nonprofit in Washington, said he learned about the Hobby Lobby opinion because he had worked for years to exploit the court’s permeability. He gained access through faith, through favors traded with gatekeepers and through wealthy donors to his organization, abortion opponents whom he called “stealth missionaries.”

The minister’s account comes at a time of rising concerns about the court’s legitimacy. A majority of Americans are losing confidence in the institution, polls show, and its approval ratings are at a historic low. Critics charge that the court has become increasingly politicized, especially as a new conservative supermajority holds sway.

Read the rest at the New York Times.

From Georgia–NBC News reports that: In win for Democrats, Georgia judge allows early voting in Senate runoff on Saturday after Thanksgiving.

A Fulton County judge ruled Friday that the Georgia Secretary of State cannot prohibit counties from voting on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, a victory for the state Democratic Party and Sen. Raphael Warnock’s campaign.

The order comes after a brief legal battle between Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s office and the Democratic Party of Georgia over the Dec. 6 Senate runoff between Warnock and Republican Herschel Walker.

Raffensperger, a Republican, had maintained that changes to Georgia voting laws meant that there could be no early voting on Nov. 26, the only Saturday when it would have been possible for Georgians to cast an early vote in the hotly contested race.

Democrats and Warnock’s campaign filed suit challenging Raffensperger’s determination, and Judge Thomas A. Cox agreed with their arguments in a ruling late Friday afternoon. “The Court finds that the absence of the Saturday vote will irreparably harm the Plaintiffs, their members, and constituents, and their preferred runoff candidate,” the judge wrote.

Glenn Harrington

By Glenn Harrington

Raffensberger’s office will appeal the decision.

The dispute centers on a provision of Senate Bill 202, signed by Republican Gov. Brian Kemp in March 2021, which stipulates early in-person voting must end the Friday before the runoff. This year, that would be Friday, Dec. 2.

The law also stipulates early in-person voting not be held on any Saturday that follows a “public or legal holiday” on the preceding Thursday or Friday. Raffensperger contended that meant there would be no early in-person voting on Nov. 26, the Saturday following Thanksgiving. (It could not be held this weekend because the general election vote is not being certified until Nov. 21.)

Attorneys for the Democrats and Warnock argued the section of the law Raffensperger cited applies to primaries and general elections, but not to runoffs. Cox agreed.

Of course there is tons of news about Twitter and Musk. Here are some links to check out if you’re interested:

Yoel Roth at the New York Times: I Was the Head of Trust and Safety at Twitter. This Is What Could Become of It.

The Guardian: How Elon Musk’s Twitter reign magnified his brutal management style.

The Washington Post: Musk summons engineers to Twitter HQ as millions await platform’s collapse.

The New York Times: Elon Musk’s Twitter Teeters on the Edge After Another 1,200 Leave.

What are your thoughts on all this? What other stories are you following today?


Thursday Reads: A Reckoning is Coming for Trump

Good Afternoon!!

It’s really happening, folks. Last night we got another sign that Merrick Garland’s DOJ is likely to indict Donald Trump. The news broke around 9PM Wednesday in The Wall Street Journal that Trump insider Kash Patel has been given limited use immunity and will now have to testify to the grand jury in the stolen documents case. This means he won’t be prosecuted for anything he testifies to truthfully, but he can be prosecuted if he lies.

Lawrence Tribe predicted this last month when The New York Times published a story about the DOJ trying to get testimony from Patel and another Trump aide Walt Nauta, who was involved in moving boxes of documents out of the storage area at Mar-a-Lago.

Here’s the Wall Street Journal article from last night: Trump Aide, Granted Immunity, Set to Testify at Grand Jury Probing Mar-a-Lago Documents.

Kash Patel, a close associate of former President Donald Trump, is set to soon testify before a federal grand jury probing the handling of classified documents at Mar-a-Lago after receiving immunity for his information, people familiar with the matter said.

A federal judge recently decided the Justice Department couldn’t force Mr. Patel to testify without such protection against his statements being used against him in some future prosecution. That ruling, the people said, opens the door for Mr. Patel, who says Mr. Trump broadly declassified White House documents while still president, to answer questions.

Mr. Patel appeared before the grand jury last month and refused to provide information by repeatedly invoking his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, The Wall Street Journal reported.

H9-kash-patel

Kash Patel

In response, the Justice Department asked a federal judge to compel him to testify. Prosecutors argued Mr. Patel had no reasonable expectation that he would be prosecuted based on the kinds of questions they were asking, one of the people said, an argument the judge didn’t accept.

The immunity grant leaves the government only able to charge Mr. Patel, if at all, using information obtained independently of his immunized testimony.

That’s because Patel is just a small fish, and the DOJ is going after a much bigger fish–Trump himself.

Other Trump associates involved in the Mar-a-Lago documents matter also have been offered some form of immunity, people familiar with the matter said, including one of Mr. Trump’s lawyers, Christina Bobb, who declined, saying she didn’t need it.

Mr. Patel, a former White House and Pentagon aide whom Mr. Trump late in his term considered naming to top positions at the Central Intelligence Agency and the FBI, has asserted publicly since May that Mr. Trump broadly declassified documents when he left the White House in January 2021. His comments first came as the Justice Department’s efforts to retrieve the documents from Mar-a-Lago were intensifying and the same month prosecutors issued a grand jury subpoena for their return.

Prosecutors asked Mr. Patel about that claim and an array of other topics, including some that had nothing to do with Mr. Trump or the material discovered at Mar-a-Lago, one of the people said.

Investigators have spoken to a number of other people, including close aides to the former president, since the probe began.

I didn’t encounter a paywall when I opened this WSJ story from a link on Memeorandum.

This is from a New York Times article on this new development:

The disclosure that Mr. Patel has received immunity for his testimony comes as prosecutors have increased their pressure on recalcitrant witnesses who have declined to answer investigators’ questions or have provided them with potentially misleading accounts about Mr. Trump’s handling of documents.

Prosecutors have indicated they are skeptical of the level of cooperation they have gotten from a little-known Trump aide named Walt Nauta, who has provided the authorities with different accounts about whether he moved documents stored at Mr. Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate. The authorities are using the specter of charges against him for misleading investigators to persuade him to sit again for questioning.

The prosecutors want to question Mr. Patel about an array of matters related to the documents. Among them is an unsubstantiated claim Mr. Patel has publicly made in recent months that Mr. Trump had declassified national security documents he took when he left the White House….

Mr. Patel has long been a part of efforts to fight off the Justice Department investigations into Mr. Trump and his allies. Earlier this year, as officials were pushing Mr. Trump to return records he had taken to Mar-a-Lago when he left office, Mr. Trump made him one of his representatives to the National Archives and Records Administration to deal with his records.

Legal experts say prosecutors try to avoid giving witnesses immunity, especially in high-profile cases, because it makes it much more difficult to prosecute the individual who received it. But prosecutors often ask a judge to grant it when they are confronted with a witness who has information that they believe is essential to completing the investigation….

Mr. Patel has increased his influence with Mr. Trump since the end of the presidency, maintaining his criticisms of the investigation into whether the Trump campaign conspired with Russia in the 2016 campaign.

Earlier this year, Mr. Patel told associates that he was expected to take on an even more central role in Mr. Trump’s legal defenses, currently coordinated by another Trump adviser, Boris Epshteyn, according to a person familiar with his comments.

There’s also big news on the investigation of Trump’s involvement in the investigation of efforts to overturn the 2020 election. Yesterday Politico obtained the 8 emails that Trump attorney John Eastman has been fighting to keep from the January 6 Committee and they are damning.

From the Politico article: Trump lawyers saw Justice Thomas as ‘only chance’ to stop 2020 election certification.

Donald Trump’s attorneys saw a direct appeal to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas as their best hope of derailing Joe Biden’s win in the 2020 presidential election, according to emails newly disclosed to congressional investigators.

“We want to frame things so that Thomas could be the one to issue some sort of stay or other circuit justice opinion saying Georgia is in legitimate doubt,” Trump attorney Kenneth Chesebro wrote in a Dec. 31, 2020, email to Trump’s legal team. Chesebro contended that Thomas would be “our only chance to get a favorable judicial opinion by Jan. 6, which might hold up the Georgia count in Congress.”

“I think I agree with this,” attorney John Eastman replied later that morning, suggesting that a favorable move by Thomas or other justices would “kick the Georgia legislature into gear” to help overturn the election results.

Trump lawyer Kevin Chesebro

Trump lawyer Kenneth Chesebro

The messages were part of a batch of eight emails — obtained by POLITICO — that Eastman had sought to withhold from the Jan. 6 select committee but that a judge ordered turned over anyway, describing them as evidence of likely crimes committed by Eastman and Trump. They were transmitted to the select committee by Eastman’s attorneys last week, but remained largely under wraps until early Wednesday morning….

Thomas is the justice assigned to handle emergency matters arising out of Georgia and would have been the one to receive any urgent appeal of Trump’s lawsuit to the Supreme Court — a fact that seemed to be part of the Trump legal team’s calculus.

Rulings from so-called circuit justices are typically stopgap measures aimed at preserving the status quo until the full Supreme Court weighs in, but the Trump lawyers hoped a favorable order from Thomas would embolden state GOP-controlled legislatures, Congress — or then-Vice President Mike Pence — to block final certification of Joe Biden’s victory.

“[I]f we can just get this case pending before the Supreme Court by Jan. 5, ideally with something positive written by a judge or justice, hopefully Thomas, I think it’s our best shot at holding up the count of a state in Congress,” Chesebro said.

There’s even more crazy stuff from Chesebro:

In one scenario, Chesebro proposed encouraging Senate Republicans to filibuster long enough to delay the joint session of Congress on Jan. 6, ignoring limitations on the length of debate. He also described how Trump allies could use inaction by the courts to build political pressure against Biden’s inauguration.

“Hard to have enormous optimism about what will happen on Jan. 6, but a lot can happen in the 13 days left until then, and I think having as many states still under review (both judicially and in state legislatures) as possible is ideal,” Chesebro wrote Trump campaign attorney Justin Clark on Dec. 24, 2020. It’s unclear how or whether Clark responded to Chesebro’s message.

The New York-based lawyer has been scrutinized by the Jan. 6 select committee, as well as prosecutors in Fulton County, Ga., who are investigating Trump’s efforts to subvert the election there.

Read more and see the emails at Politico.

There’s a very interesting piece at New York Magazine today by Ankush Khardori: The Secret Court Battle That Threatens Trump After Election Day. Prosecutors are obtaining potentially crucial testimony about January 6.

https://twitter.com/NYMag/status/1588143351253159936?s=20&t=0jL5j6PFFd0McENHeAYidw

As the midterm campaigns draw to a close, so too may an informal détente between Donald Trump and federal prosecutors since the search of Mar-a-Lago in August. While both sides fight in court, the Justice Department has probably refrained from taking major steps in the key investigations into his possession of classified documents and the attack on the U.S. Capitol in order to avoid influencing the elections.

During this relative down period, however, the department has reportedly been fighting an opaque and largely secret legal battle in the January 6 investigation that could constitute its most significant development to date. It could open a floodgate of damaging information about Trump or provide the department with crucial clarity about his conduct with respect to the riot and the effort to overturn the election results beyond what the public has learned so far. Like the search at Mar-a-Lago, this reflects an apparent change in posture at the Justice Department in recent months under Attorney General Merrick Garland, who chose not to focus on Trump’s potential criminal misconduct when he took office last year despite ample reason to do so.

And thus far, the Justice Department appears to be winning.

In recent weeks, according to a variety of news reports, prosecutors successfully compelled grand-jury testimony in Washington, D.C., from two key witnesses over the objections of Trump — Greg Jacob, a onetime lawyer for former vice-president Mike Pence who blamed the shoddy legal arguments advanced by Trump lawyer John Eastman for the outrageous violence at the Capitol, and Marc Short, Pence’s former chief of staff. The proceedings are under seal for the moment, but they are being handled at the district-court level by Chief Judge Beryl Howell, who has so far rejected Trump’s legal challenges. In at least Short’s case, Trump’s lawyers reportedly sought an expedited appeal to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, which rebuffed them. The Justice Department is now reportedly seeking a similar ruling from Howell that would force testimony — again over Trump’s objections — from former White House counsel Pat Cipollone and his deputy Patrick Philbin.

All of the court disputes appear to center on Trump’s effort to invoke executive privilege to block top officials in his White House from providing testimony that might incriminate him. As CNN noted, the recent testimony from Jacob was “the first identifiable time when the confidentiality Trump had tried to maintain around the West Wing after the 2020 election has been pierced in the criminal probe following a court battle.” The fight is not over: There is apparently still a pending appeal at the D.C. Circuit and likely more litigation before Howell as things continue to play out and additional witnesses are called in, and at some point, Trump could seek the involvement of the Supreme Court to try to bail him out.

At first blush, this may seem like a fight among lawyers with esoteric stakes concerning the scope of executive privilege, but there are significant consequences if the Justice Department successfully continues down this path. Prosecutors could obtain fulsome information about what Trump himself (as opposed to the people around him) was actually saying and doing in the run-up to and during the January 6 siege.

Read the rest at the link. The gist is that prosecutors are moving closer to actually holding Trump accountable.

More interesting stories to check out, links only:

The Washington Post: Biden warns GOP could set nation on ‘path to chaos’ as democratic system faces strain.

The Washington Post: Oath Keeper Rhodes had violent message for Trump after Jan. 6, witness says.

Reuters: U.S. Capitol Police to conduct internal review over missed camera images of Pelosi attack.

Will Oremus at The Washington Post: Musk’s Trump-style management rattles Twitter workers awaiting layoffs.

Insider: Elon Musk’s Twitter has identified thousands of employees who will be laid off, representing about 50% of the company’s workforce.

The Guardian: Twitter exodus: company faces murky future as top managers flee the nest.

Please share your thoughts on these stories and anything else you’re interested in and have a great Thursday!


Tuesday Reads

1-the-first-animals-franz-marc

The First Animals, by Franz Marc

Good Afternoon!!

We have gone through about 7 years of insanity with Donald Trump, first as a candidate, then as “president,” and now former “president.” At this point, it’s pretty clear that we’ll never be rid of him until he “shuffles off this mortal coil.”

During those years, I always turned to Twitter for the latest news and commentary from journalists and just plain folks. Trump made Twitter occasionally irritating, but now we face what could be an even great threat to the social media platform–a takeover by Elon Musk. And what’s coming could be even worse than I expected.

Musk plans to bring Trump back, and then there this even worse news from Vice: Elon Musk Spoke to Putin Before Tweeting Ukraine Peace Plan: Report.

Elon Musk spoke directly with Russian President Vladimir Putin before tweeting a proposal to end the war in Ukraine that would have seen territory permanently ceded to Russia, it has been claimed.

In a mailout sent to Eurasia Group subscribers, Ian Bremmer wrote that Tesla CEO Musk told him that Putin was “prepared to negotiate,” but only if Crimea remained Russian, if Ukraine accepted a form of permanent neutrality, and Ukraine recognised Russia’s annexation of Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia.

According to Bremmer, Musk said Putin told him these goals would be accomplished “no matter what,” including the potential of a nuclear strike if Ukraine invaded Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014. Bremmer wrote that Musk told him that “everything needed to be done to avoid that outcome.”

Last week, Musk posted essentially the same points on Twitter, although he suggested that the referendums in the annexed territories slammed as sham votes by Ukraine and the West be redone under supervision by the United Nations….

The Ukrainian response to Musk’s Twitter peace proposal was succinct – one diplomat told him to “fuck off,” while Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy posted his own Twitter poll.

Meanwhile the Kremlin welcomed Musk’s “positive” proposal to end the war, while his tweets were also cited by Russian state media.

Not only will we never be rid of Trump; The new owner of Twitter apparently be channeling Putin. Terrific.

Yesterday, Russia escalated its attacks on civilians following Ukraine’s damage to a bridge connecting Russia with Crimea. The Kyiv Independent: What’s behind Russia’s unusually big missile attack on Ukraine?

Russia lashed out on Oct. 10, striking many Ukrainian cities with 84 missiles and 24 exploding drones.

The places they hit were all civilian — multiple power plants but also a children’s playground in the center of Kyiv. Most strikes seemed to be timed to the Monday morning rush hour, as if trying to kill as many commuters as possible. 

From a human rights point of view, the attacks were inexcusable and will likely be ruled as war crimes. From the battlefield perspective, the Russian armed forces just dropped hundreds of millions of dollars to achieve basically nothing….

Why has Russia chosen to do this? What was it trying to accomplish? And how long can it keep it up?

Edward Landseer's Monarch of the Glen

Edward Landseer’s Monarch of the Glen

The facile answer is that Russia was retaliating for the partial destruction of the Kerch Strait bridge on Oct. 8. But that’s just not true. It’s been hitting civilian targets since Feb. 24. Ukraine’s intelligence said that the missile strikes had been planned since the start of October.

“Strategic and long-range aviation units received orders to prepare for massive missile attacks,” the General Intelligence Directorate said in a statement. “The targets were objects of critical civilian infrastructure and the central regions of densely populated Ukrainian cities.”

The goal was to sow panic among Ukrainians. But that wasn’t the only reason. Putin also needed to appease the angry hardliners who want Russia to win the war. The war hawks demanded a massive strike just like this, in response to Russia’s humiliating losses over the past two months, to which the bridge was the exclamation point. Some of these hardliners are driven more by emotion than sense. And they will want a repeat performance.

Read the rest at the link.

Karen De Young at The Washington Post: Ukraine war at a turning point with rapid escalation of conflict.

In little more than a month, the war in Ukraine has turned abruptly from a grueling, largely static artillery battle expected to last into the winter, to a rapidly escalating, multilevel conflict that has challenged the strategies of the United States, Ukraine and Russia.

Russia’s launch of massive strikes on civilian infrastructure Monday in about a dozen Ukrainian cities far from the front lines brought shock and outrage. The strikes, which Secretary of State Antony Blinken described as “wave after wave of missiles” struck “children’s playgrounds and public parks,” left at least 14 killed and nearly 100 wounded, and cut electricity and water in much of the country….

The attacks were the latest of many head-spinning events — from Ukrainian victories on the ground to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s threat of nuclear weapons use — that have changed the nature and tempo of the war in recent weeks, and raised questions about whether the United States and its partners may have to move beyond the concept of helping Ukraine defend itself, and instead more forcefully facilitate a Ukrainian victory.

So far, the U.S. supply effort has been deliberative and process-oriented in the kinds of weapons it provides, and the speed at which it provides them, so as not to undercut its highest priority of avoiding a direct clash between Russia and the West. That strategy is likely to be part of the agenda at Tuesday’s emergency meeting of G7 leaders, and a gathering of NATO defense ministers later in the week.

U.S. officials continue to express caution about precipitous moves. “Turning points in war are usually points of danger,” said a senior Biden administration official, one of several U.S. and Ukrainian officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss policy deliberations. “You can’t predict what’s around the corner.”

Russian leaders have cited their own turning point. Viktor Bondarev, head of the foreign affairs committee of Russia’s upper house of parliament wrote in a Telegram post on Monday that the strikes were the beginning of “a new phase” of what the Kremlin calls its“special military operation” in Ukraine, with more “resolute” action to come.

Two Owls by Gustave Doré (1870)

Two Owls by Gustave Doré (1870)

Max Fisher at The New York Times: Bombing Kyiv Into Submission? History Says It Won’t Work.

Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities, follows a long line of wartime leaders who have sought to cow their adversaries by bombing enemy capitals.

Ever since Nazi Germany’s bombardment of London in World War II, enabled by the first long-range missiles and warplanes, nearly every major war has featured similar attacks.

The goal is almost always the same: to coerce the targeted country’s leaders into scaling back their war effort or suing for peace.

It typically aims to achieve this by forcing those leaders to ask whether the capital’s cultural landmarks and economic functioning are worth putting on the line — and also, especially, by terrorizing the country’s population into moderating their support for the war.

But for as long as leaders have pursued this tactic, they have watched it repeatedly fail.

More than that, such strikes tend to backfire, deepening the political and public resolve for war that they are meant to erode — even galvanizing the attacked country into stepping up its war aims.

The victorious allies in World War II did emphasize a strategy of heavily bombing cities, which is part of why countries have come to repeat this so many times since. Cities including Dresden and Tokyo were devastated, killing hundreds of thousands of civilians and forcing millions into homelessness.

Still, historians generally now argue that, even if that did play some role in exhausting those countries, it was largely because of damage to German and Japanese industrial output rather than the terror it caused. Axis countries were also aggressive in bombing enemy cities, casting further doubt on notions that the strategy could be a decisive factor on its own.

Read the rest at the NYT if you’re interested.

With the January 6 Committee hearing coming up on Thursday, this story on the Secret Service phones by NBC’s Julia Ainsley is interesting: Secret Service agents were denied when they tried to learn what Jan. 6 info was seized from their personal cellphones.

Secret Service agents asked the agency for a record of all of the communications seized from their personal cellphones as part of investigations into the events of Jan. 6, 2021, but were rebuffed, according to a document reviewed by NBC News.

The Secret Service’s office that handles such requests, the Freedom of Information Act Program, denied the request, in which agents invoked the Privacy Act to demand more information about what had been shared from their personal devices.

The request was made in early August, just after news came to light that both Congress and the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general were interested in obtaining text messages of Secret Service agents that had been erased as part of what the agency said was a planned upgrade.

“This letter is the final response to your Privacy Act inquiry submitted on Aug. 4, 2022, for information pertaining to the release of personal cell phone information and/or other personal identifiable information (PII) by the U.S. Secret Service,” said the letter, dated last Wednesday.

“The agency has determined that regulation does not require a records disclosure accounting to be made in connection with your request,” the letter continued.

The agents’ effort to find out through an FOIA request what records were seized and the subsequent denial of the request underscore a tension between rank-and-file Secret Service agents and the agency’s leadership over what communications should be shared with investigators.

Whistlejacket, by George Stubbs

Whistlejacket, by George Stubbs

At The Washington Post, Mariana Sotomayor writes about a another new book on the Trump impeachments: New book details how McCarthy came to support Trump after Jan. 6.

In the weeks after the Senate voted to acquit Donald Trump of a charge related to the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) was seething.

Frustrated that Trump would not talk to him, stressed that his chance to become House speaker could be in jeopardy and furiousthat a trusted confidante had publicly disclosed a tense call between him and Trump, McCarthy snapped.

“I alone am taking all the heat to protect people from Trump! I alone am holding the party together!” he yelled at Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-Wash.) during a previously undisclosed meeting in McCarthy’s office on Feb. 25, 2021. “I have been working with Trump to keep him from going after Republicans like you and blowing up the party and destroying all our work!”

Stunned by McCarthy’s anger, Herrera Beutler began to cry. Through tears, she apologized for not telling him ahead of time that she had confirmed to the media details of a call McCarthy made to Trump on Jan. 6, 2021, urging him to tell his supporters to leave the U.S. Capitol.

“You should have come to me!” McCarthy said. “Why did you go to the press? This is no way to thank me!”

“What did you want me to do? Lie?” Herrera Beutler shot back. “I did what I thought was right.”

The tense meeting between Republican lawmakers is detailed in the new book “Unchecked: The Untold Story Behind Congress’s Botched Impeachments of Donald Trump,” by Washington Post reporter Karoun Demirjian and Politico reporter Rachael Bade, a copy of which The Post obtained ahead of its release next week. Several excerpts detail McCarthy’s state of mind from Election Day 2020 to the origination of the select committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection.

“McCarthy’s tirade against Herrera Beutler was just the start of what would become a GOP-wide campaign to whitewash the details of what happened on January 6 in the aftermath of the second impeachment,” the authors write.

There are more revelations about McCarthy in the WaPo story. Basically, McCarthy’s dream is to to become Speaker of the House and in pursuit of that goal he will suck up to Trump as much has he has to.

Lastly, at The Atlantic, Franklin Foer writes about why Merrick Garland will indict Trump: The Inevitable Indictment of Donald Trump.

Foer writes that, although Garland is a cautious, methodical person, he (Foer) is convinced that Trump will be indicted. Here’s why he thinks that. You’ll need to read the whole thing, but here’s an introduction to the arguments.

I have been observing Garland closely for months. I’ve talked with his closest friends and most loyal former clerks and deputies. I’ve carefully studied his record. I’ve interviewed Garland himself. And I’ve reached the conclusion that his devotion to procedure, his belief in the rule of law, and in particular his reverence for the duties, responsibilities, and traditions of the U.S. Department of Justice will cause him to make the most monumental decision an attorney general can make….

The_Kongouro_from_New_Holland_(Kangaroo) George Stubbs

The Kongouro from New Holland, by _(Kangaroo) George Stubbs

Before I lay out the reasons I believe I am correct in this assessment, I want to discuss why it is entirely possible I am not. The main reason to disbelieve the argument that Garland is preparing to indict is simple: To bring criminal charges against a former president from an opposing political party would be the ultimate test of a system that aspires to impartiality, and Garland, by disposition, is repelled by drama, and doesn’t believe the department should be subjected to unnecessary stress tests. This unprecedented act would inevitably be used to justify a cycle of reprisals, and risks turning the Justice Department into an instrument of never-ending political warfare.

And an indictment, of course, would merely be the first step—a prelude to a trial unlike any this country has ever seen. The defendant wouldn’t just be an ex-president; in all likelihood, he’d be a candidate actively campaigning to return to the White House. Fairness dictates that the system regard Trump as it does every other defendant. But doing so would lead to the impression that he’s being deliberately hamstrung—and humiliated—by his political rivals.

Garland is surely aware that this essential problem would be evident at the first hearing. If the Justice Department is intent on proving that nobody is above the law, it could impose the same constraints on Trump that it would on any criminal defendant accused of serious crimes, including limiting his travel. Such a restriction would deprive Trump of one of his most important political advantages: his ability to whip up his followers at far-flung rallies.

In any event, once the trial began, Trump would be stuck in court, likely in Florida (if he’s charged in connection with the Mar-a-Lago documents matter) or in Washington, D.C. (if he’s charged for his involvement in the events of January 6). The site of a Washington trial would be the Prettyman Courthouse, on Constitution Avenue, just a short walk from the Capitol. This fact terrified the former prosecutors and other experts I talked with about how the trial might play out. Right-wing politicians, including Trump himself, have intimated violence if he is indicted.

Trump would of course attempt to make the proceedings a carnival of grievance, a venue for broadcasting conspiracy theories about his enemies. The trial could thus supply a climactic flash point for an era of political violence. Like the Capitol on January 6, the courthouse could become a magnet for paramilitaries. With protesters and counterprotesters descending on the same locale, the occasion would tempt street warfare.

Head over the Atlantic to read the rest.

What are your thoughts on these stories? What other news are you following today?


Tuesday Reads

Sunshine,, by Mary Gibbs

Sunshine, by Mary Gibbs

Good Morning!!

Many of you know that I was born in North Dakota and have a long family history there as well as in Minnesota. We moved away when I was a child; but both sets of grandparents were still there, so we often went back to visit. I’m the eldest child in my family, and my other siblings don’t remember much, if anything, about North Dakota, or even about our paternal grandparents. My mother’s parents eventually moved to Indiana.

I’ve heard stories about North Dakota from my parents all my life and I guess for that reason, I still have an emotional attachment to the place. I took two trips up there with my parents, and we found the places my parents were born and grew up–my Dad in Fargo and my Mom in Hope and Lisbon. we also visited the North Dakota State campus in Fargo, where my parents met in a political science class, and Grand Forks, where my Dad got his masters degree at the University of North Dakota. We also explored the Theodore Roosevelt National Park and visited several historical sites. 

It might sound strange, but when we were there, I had a real sense of belonging, a feeling that “This is where I came from.” Now my Dad is gone and my Mom has lost most of her memories–at least she can’t talk about them anymore. My Mom used to tell me that I was the only one who could carry on those memories for them.

Do I sound nuts? I don’t know. What triggered this reverie was an article in Smithsonian Magazine: See the Incredible Sunflower Superbloom in North Dakota.

North Dakota is one of the nation’s top sunflower-producing states, using the cheery yellow flowers for everything from bird seed mixes to cooking oils.

But before North Dakota’s many hardworking farmers start to harvest this tasty crop, the state comes alive with the golden hue of thousands upon thousands of sunflowers, all blooming together at the same time.

Known as a “superbloom,” the jaw-dropping phenomenon occurs every year toward the end of summer. Spring planting was delayed this year in North Dakota and other northern states because of cold, wet weather—but that also means that sunflowers in some parts of the state are still blooming.

Right now, many of the state’s sunflower fields are in peak bloom, with nearly all flowers showing off their delicate yellow petals. As such, the state has earned a reputation as “the best place in the United States to experience the vast sunflower blooms,” says Sara Otte Coleman, North Dakota’s tourism director, in a statement.

I found this interesting:

Blooming Sunflowers, Boris Eremin, Ukrainian artist

Blooming Sunflowers, Boris Eremin, Ukrainian artist

Ukrainian immigrants first began planting sunflowers when they moved to North Dakota in the late 19th and early 20th centuries following the passage of the Homestead Act of 1862. Sunflowers are still an important plant for Ukrainians, both symbolically and economically. Before the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February, Ukraine was the largest exporter of sunflower oil in the world, though the war has largely halted production, per the New York Times’ Christine Hauser.

As well as this scientific fact:

When they’re young, sunflowers turn their heads toward the sun as it moves in the sky, a behavior known as heliotropism. But as they mature and start to produce seeds, they mostly point east, which scientists have learned helps the plants attract bees and ultimately reproduce.

Quite a few artists have painted sunflowers, and I’ve illustrated this post with some of those works.

 

On to today’s news…

Trump is melting down on his imitation twitter. So far, he has posted 60 times on Truth Social, including highlighting garbage from Q-anon and 4-chan.

Jake Epstein and Nicole Gaudiano at Insider: Trump posts dozens of memes attacking Biden, the FBI, and others as the former president’s allies beg him to keep quiet.

In the weeks since the FBI’s unprecedented search of Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate, the former president’s allies have pleaded with him to stop publicly commenting on the raid and fight the Justice Department’s investigation in the courts.

Trump isn’t listening.

On Tuesday morning alone, Trump has taken to his Truth Social platform over four dozen times to share memes and posts attacking his political enemies. Some posts are memes attacking President Joe Biden or other Democrats, while others are baseless election fraud claims or attempts to delegitimize the FBI. 

One post in particular from Tuesday morning shows a photo of Trump with the false caption, “TRUMP WON,” in reference to the 2020 presidential election. The former president then reposted the photo and wrote that the “FBI has advanced this fact even further.” 

Another post included a photo with a caption that read: “81 million votes… and I’ve never seen a pro Biden hat, shirt or flag in my life.” Trump reposted the photo and said, “It is rather amazing, isn’t it?”

Trump earlier demanded in an all-caps filled message that he be reinstated as the “rightful winner” of the presidency or that a new election for president be held “immediately” — a request with no basis in constitutional law. 

If only there were some way to speed up the investigation and take this man off the streets.

Please, let him go to jail. . . please.

Republicans are getting nervous about what Trump’s insane behavior will mean for them in the upcoming midterm elections. Politico: ‘There’s enormous frustration’: Trump forces Republicans off-script… again.

The investigation into Donald Trump’s handling of classified national security records is forcing Republicans into a strained defense during a pre-midterm sprint in which they’d much rather be talking about Joe Biden.

After having decried the FBI’s search of the ex-president’s home, many Trump defenders went silent uponthe release on Friday of the probable-cause affidavit that revealed the extent of Trump’s efforts to hold onto the top-secret documents. GOP worries about the developments of the case and Trump announcing a 2024 run before November are giving way to a subtle, broader warning about putting the former president too much on the ballot this fall.

“Republicans should focus on defeating Democrats, and every Democrat should have the word Biden in front of their name,” said Trump ally and former Republican Speaker Newt Gingrich. “The Republican focus should be to win the election in November. Trump will do a fine job defending himself. He’ll be fine.”

4-sunflowers-claude-monet

Sunflowers, by Claude Monet

Some top Republicans acknowledge the growing angst and concern, as it’s become clearer that Trump may have been warehousing some of America’s most sensitive secrets in an unsecured basement — and even refused to turn them over when the National Archives and Justice Department tried to recover them. One top Republican fundraiser asked to describe the mood among donors, said, “There is enormous frustration.”

“The question is, is there willingness to express that frustration,” the fundraiser added. “I don’t know the answer to that. But there is real frustration, and with the exception of people who are too stupid to understand the need to be frustrated, it is nearly universal.”

Strained defenses and private frustrations are familiar emotions for some Republicans during the Trump era. But the stakes are particularly high this fall, with projections of a red wave in the House getting dimmed to a smaller GOP majority and as Sen. Chuck Schumer appears potentially poised to remain in control of the Senate.

Republican hopes for winning back the Senate are looking worse all the time. Sahil Kapur at NBC News: Here are the signs Republicans’ hopes for a ‘red wave’ are receding ahead of the 2022 elections.

Last fall, Republicans held high hopes of a “red wave” in the 2022 elections after they stormed to power in blue-leaning Virginia and nearly won the governor’s race in New Jersey. While Democrats were demotivated, the GOP base was on fire.

But in recent weeks, numerous data points have indicated Republican prospects of a smashing victory are dimming. While the president’s party tends to perform poorly in midterm elections, there are signs it is shaping up to be an unusual year, potentially enabling Democrats to hold one or both chambers of Congress.

Some of the bad signs for the GOP:

  • A Democratic victory in a bellwether election. The starkest sign of a shifting landscape came last week in the Hudson Valley, a highly competitive district north of New York City that has mirrored the national landscape for years. It voted for Joe Biden in 2020, Trump in 2016 and Barack Obama in 2012. In a red wave climate, Democrats would have no business winning the special House election. Yet Democrat Pat Ryan defeated Republican Marc Molinaro in a test of each party’s preferred message. Ryan ran on protecting abortion rights, combating gun violence and battling corporate greed, while Molinaro sought to make the election a referendum on Biden, inflation and “one-party” rule in Washington.
  • Persuadable voters are trending toward Democrats. The latest NBC News poll, conducted this month, included an unusual finding for midterm elections: Persuadable voters in the midterm election are tilting toward Democrats, the party in power. This group accounts for about 25% of respondents, who float between the parties and tend to be male, moderate, independent and exurban. They preferred Republicans by 6 points in the combined NBC News polls of January, March and May. But in the August poll, they leaned toward Democrats by 3 points.
  • The GOP’s “enthusiasm” edge is shrinking. In March, the NBC News poll found that Republicans held a 17-point “enthusiasm” advantage over Democrats — that is, their voters were more likely to express high interest in voting this fall. In the August poll, the GOP advantage fell to 2 points.
  • Mitch McConnell is downplaying expectations in the Senate. McConnell, the Republican leader, isn’t sounding too bullish about his prospects to capture control of the Senate, having predicted just two weeks ago, “There’s probably a greater likelihood the House flips than the Senate.” That may be a product of the shifting environment, along with a phenomenon McConnell described as “candidate quality.” A series of first-time Republican contenders are struggling in competitive races against seasoned Democratic politicians. Recruitment failures in states like New Hampshire and Arizona have led GOP governors to decline to run.

Read the rest of the bad omens at the NBC link.

the-sunflower-1907, Gustav Klimt

The Sunflower, by Gustav Klimt, 1907

Today is the day the DOJ is supposed to file it’s response to the Trump request for a Special Master to review the government documents that the FBI recovered in its search of Mar-a-Lago. Yesterday the judge agreed the DOJ response could be 40 pages long. It looks like Merrick Garland is planning to spell out in detail what Trump is suspected of doing.

Tierney Sneed and Paul LeBlanc at CNN: DOJ to file lengthy response to Trump’s request for a special master to oversee Mar-a-Lago search review.

The Justice Department on Tuesday will file publicly in court its response to former President Donald Trump’s bid for a special master to oversee the FBI’s review of materials seized in the Mar-a-Lago search.

The agency was granted permission by Judge Aileen Cannon of the Southern District of Florida to file up to 40 pages after it said the 20-page limit set by the local rules of the court wasn’t sufficient to “adequately address the legal and factual issues raised by” Trump’s filings.

Cannon, a Trump appointee, did not set a specific deadline for the Justice Department’s filing beyond requesting it “on or before” Tuesday. The judge also ordered the agency to file under seal more details about what it seized from Trump’s resort, and a notice laying out the status of its review of the materials.

Trump must file his reply to the Justice Department by 8 p.m. ET Wednesday night, per Cannon’s order, and the judge has scheduled a hearing for Thursday to consider Trump’s request for a special master — a third-party attorney appointed by a court to oversee part of a certain case. Notably, Cannon has already signaled a “preliminary intent” to grant Trump’s request, which could bring new complications to the DOJ’s closely watched investigation.

Yesterday the DOJ said it has already reviewed the documents.

The Justice Department, meanwhile, has already signaled that it is using an internal filter team to review the seized items and separate material that could be subject to privilege claims.

In a court filing Monday, the agency said it has identified “a limited set of materials” from its search of documents taken from Mar-a-Lago that potentially contain material covered by attorney-client privilege and is in the process of addressing privilege disputes.

Meanwhile, Trump has hired a new attorney who may be more competent than that ones currently representing him. Marc Caputo at NBC News: Trump hires former Florida solicitor general in criminal probe of Mar-a-Lago documents.

Chris Kise, Florida’s former solicitor general who served on Gov. Ron DeSantis’ transition team, inked a contract to represent Donald Trump in the criminal case that resulted in the FBI search of the former president’s home in Mar-a-Lago, according to two sources with knowledge of the discussions.

twelve-sunflowers-in-a-vase-Vincent Van Gogh

Twelve sunflowers in a vase, by Vincent Van Gogh

Kise, who declined to comment, began negotiations with Trump shortly after the FBI’s search of his Palm Beach estate Aug. 8. Numerous other criminal defense attorneys have said they couldn’t represent the former president in the Southern District of Florida, citing the all-consuming job of representing Trump or his reputation as a penny-pinching problematic client with a history of having rival advisers who backstab one another, according to five people with knowledge of the legal effort.

Other attorneys declined because their firms wanted to avoid the political blowback of representing such a divisive figure, according to those in Trump’s orbit who say thatKise is considering leaving the firm of Foley & Lardner — where he had briefly represented Venezuela’s government two years ago when hostilities with the United States ran high — to take the job.

Kise has won four cases before the U.S. Supreme Court and numerous ones before the Florida Supreme Court, and he also has a reputation as a skilled political knife fighter. In the waning days of the 2018 governor’s race, Kise widely publicized damaging information about Democrat Andrew Gillum secretly accepting free tickets to the Broadway show “Hamilton” from undercover FBI agents, in contravention of Florida’s ethics laws. Gillum, who denied wrongdoing, went on to narrowly lose to DeSantis and was indicted earlier this year following the FBI investigation.

Read the rest at the link.

We’ll have to wait until Thursday for the hearing in Judge Cannon’s court to learn more about how the investigation of Trump’s theft of highly classified government documents is going. Personally, I can’t wait!

What’s on your mind today? Please feel free to discuss any topic you wish in the comment thread below.