Friday Reads: Disassembling the People’s Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Justice

Good Day Sky Dancers!

The Republicans are doing everything they can to appoint unqualified judges and agency and cabinet heads to ensure nothing  more than white, straight, “christian” hegemony with a radical right bend. Many appointments are political and strictly related to monetizing public goods for the very few.  What has gone on in the Department of Justice, the Department of State, and most of the other institutes of major importance should be criminal and quite possibly is.  Today, the headlines tell us we see the failure of our agencies and the failure of the Trumpist regime. However, isn’t this what they–under the influence of the likes of Steven Bannon– planned all along?  Wasn’t the destruction of our democratic institutions the plan and not the bug?

So much relies on the courts these days that it’s now quite apparent that Moscow Mitch’s wrangling to dominate SCOTUS may pay off big in the fall.  But today, we still see some good coming out of some Federal Judges and today’s news shows that Barr’s justice department may be headed for some trouble.  “Judge cites Barr’s ‘misleading’ statements in ordering review of Mueller report redactions” is the headline from WAPO.

A federal judge in Washington sharply criticized Attorney General William P. Barr on Thursday for a “lack of candor,” questioning the truthfulness of the nation’s top law enforcement official in his handling of last year’s report by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III.

U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton, overseeing a lawsuit brought by EPIC, a watchdog group, and BuzzFeed News, said he saw serious discrepancies between Barr’s public statements about Mueller’s findings and the public, partially redacted version of that report detailing the special counsel’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Because of those discrepancies, Walton ruled, the judge would conduct an independent review of Mueller’s full report to see whether the Justice Department’s redactions were appropriate

“In the Court’s view, Attorney General Barr’s representation that the Mueller Report would be ‘subject only to those redactions required by law or by compelling law enforcement, national security, or personal privacy interests’ cannot be credited without the Court’s independent verification in light of Attorney General Barr’s conduct and misleading public statements about the findings in the Mueller Report,” Walton wrote.

It is highly unusual for a federal judge to publicly question the honesty of the attorney general, but Walton’s opinion comes amid growing rancor between the judicial branch of the government and the executive and legislative branches. Earlier on Thursday, Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said he regretted comments he had made about two conservative Supreme Court justices — comments that drew a rare rebuke from Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. after many Republicans called them threatening. President Trump, meanwhile, has repeatedly attacked federal judges, drawing condemnation from Democrats.

 

 

From the NYTimes’ Charlie Savage:

A federal judge on Thursday sharply criticized Attorney General William P. Barr’s handling of the report by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, saying that Mr. Barr put forward a “distorted” and “misleading” account of its findings and lacked credibility on the topic.

Mr. Barr could not be trusted, Judge Reggie B. Walton said, citing “inconsistencies” between the attorney general’s statements about the report when it was secret and its actual contents that turned out to be more damaging to President Trump. Mr. Barr’s “lack of candor” called into question his “credibility and, in turn, the department’s” assurances to the court, Judge Walton said.

The judge ordered the Justice Department to privately show him the portions of the report that were censored in the publicly released version so he could independently verify the justifications for those redactions. The ruling came in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit seeking a full-text version of the report.

Read Judge Walton’s ruling.

Image: In 1980, President Jimmy Carter met with members of the new National Association of Women Judges, many of whom he had appointed to the federal bench.

In 1979, 23 women were appointed to the federal bench—more than doubling the number of women appointed to life-tenured judgeships in the previous 190 year history of the United States. The doors they opened never swung shut again. Forty years later, women make up one-third of the courts’ full-time, active Article III judges

Here’s some further analysis from Marcie Wheeler of Empty Wheel.

Where this ruling may matter, though, is in four areas:

  • DOJ hid the circumstances of how both Trump and Don Jr managed to avoid testifying under a grand jury redaction. Walton may judge that these discussions were not truly grand jury materials.
  • DOJ is currently hiding details of people — like KT McFarland — who lied, but then cleaned up their story (Sam Clovis is another person this may be true of). There’s no reason someone as senior as McFarland should have her lies protected. All the more so, because DOJ is withholding some of the 302s that show her lies. So Walton may release some of this information.
  • Because Walton will have already read the Stone material — that part that most implicates Trump — by the time Judge Amy Berman Jackson releases the gag in that case, he will have a view on what would still need to be redacted. That may mean more of it will be released quickly than otherwise might happen.
  • In very short order, the two sides in this case will start arguing over DOJ’s withholding of 302s under very aggressive b5 claims. These claims, unlike most of the redactions in the Mueller Report, are substantively bogus and in many ways serve to cover up the details of Trump’s activities. While this won’t happen in the near term, I expect this ruling will serve as the basis for a similar in camera review on 302s down the road.

 

 

And we continue to learn that that the Trumpist response to the Coronoa Virus was doomed from the start.  This is from Time magazine.

 

“We have contained this. I won’t say airtight but pretty close to airtight,” White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said in a television interview on Feb. 25, echoing Trump’s tweeted declaration that the virus was “very much under control” in the United States.

But it wasn’t, and the administration’s rosy messaging was fundamentally at odds with a growing cacophony of alarm bells inside and outside the U.S. government. Since January, epidemiologists, former U.S. public health officials and experts have been warning, publicly and privately, that the administration’s insistence that containment was—and should remain—the primary way to confront an emerging infectious disease was a grave mistake.

In congressional testimony, in medical webcasts and in private discussions with health officials, they warned that the unique features of this flu-like virus made it impossible to control, and that the administration must use any time that containment measures might buy to prepare the country for an inevitable outbreak. The administration was using all its resources to blockade the doors, they warned, but the enemy was likely already in the house.

“The current U.S. policy to deny visas to travelers from China and to quarantine returning Americans is not the right approach,” Jennifer Nuzzo, an epidemiologist and expert in disease outbreak detection and response at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, testified to Congress on February 5. “I am deeply concerned that these measures will make us less safe by diverting public health resources from higher priority disease mitigation approaches.”

Two days earlier, former FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb had warned “we have to assume it’s already here and circulating.”

When it finally became indisputable that an outbreak was underway in Washington state, the administration was slow to catch up. There were not enough COVID-19 testing kits, hotlines were overwhelmed, and hospitals and public health departments were hobbled by a lack of reliable statistics on the spread of the disease. Experts say the U.S. response is now likely weeks—if not months—behind schedule.

Taking the Political view point is this from WAPO: “The Trump administration’s greatest obstacle to sending a clear message on coronavirus may be Trump himself”.By  Toluse Olorunnipa 

As leading public health experts from across the government have tried to provide clear and consistent information about the deadly coronavirus, they have found their messages undercut, drowned out and muddled by President Trump’s push to downplay the outbreak with a mix of optimism, bombast and pseudoscience.

Speaking almost daily to the public about an outbreak that has spread across states and rocked the markets, Trump has promoted his opinions and at times contradicted the public health experts tasked with keeping Americans safe.

The president has repeatedly misstated the number of Americans who have tested positive for the virus and claimed it would “miraculously” disappear in the spring. He has given a false timeline for the development of a vaccine, publicly questioned whether vaccinations for the flu could be used to treat the novel coronavirus and dismissed the World Health Organization’s coronavirus death rate estimate, substituting a much lower figure and citing a “hunch.”

On Wednesday night, Trump made an uncritical reference to people who continue to go to work while infected with the coronavirus — placing himself at odds with doctors who have strongly urged those with even minor symptoms to stay home.

“If, you know, we have thousands or hundreds of thousands of people that get better just by sitting around, and even going to work — some of them go to work, but they get better,” Trump said in an interview with Fox News host Sean Hannity in which he disputed the WHO fatality rate.

On Thursday morning, Trump said his comments were misconstrued and blamed the Democrats and the media. “I NEVER said people that are feeling sick should go to work,” he tweeted.

Why can’t he just shut up?

So that’s the two stories I’m following today.  I have to go have lunch with a colleague but I’ll be back to check the thread!

My photo choices today mostly come from the article “1979: The Year Women Changed the Judiciary” and is honor of our topic today and Women’s History month.

In 1979, the number of women serving as federal judges more than doubled. In this series, learn more about the trailblazers who reshaped the Judiciary.

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?

 


Monday Reads: Has Trump finally found his Roy Cohn?

Our next attorney general: February 9, 2019

It’s Monday and we’re headed towards April Fool’s Day.

Or did that happen yesterday afternoon when it became pretty obvious that a Quid Pro Quo was delivered to Congress by an Attorney General who did pretty much what he was hired to do.  Congress–Our Congress–and we the people have to see the full report of the Mueller investigation. We must determine exactly what is meant by the President wasn’t exonerated and hey, I’ve decided noot no to prosecute but just make it all go away as much as possible because I believe in an imperial presidency and I did this before and got away with it.  So come get it if you can.

I wasn’t exactly expecting a smoking gun from Mueller.  I was, however, expecting a guy that wrote a diatribe on how the entire exercise was a witch hunt and then submitted it to the President for a spot back on the A team was  going to do exactly what he was hired to do. He’s providing cover at whatever the cost for a law ignoring  monster of a man.

Now, we wait for Congress and the Courts to shake it all out of Barr.

Here’s how Neil Katayal sees. it.   You may recall that Katayal drafted the special counsel regulations under which Robert Mueller was appointed.

But the critical part of the letter is that it now creates a whole new mess. After laying out the scope of the investigation and noting that Mr. Mueller’s report does not offer any legal recommendations, Mr. Barr declares that it therefore “leaves it to the attorney general to decide whether the conduct described in the report constitutes a crime.” He then concludes the president did not obstruct justice when he fired the F.B.I. director, James Comey.

Such a conclusion would be momentous in any event. But to do so within 48 hours of receiving the report (which pointedly did not reach that conclusion) should be deeply concerning to every American.

The special counsel regulations were written to provide the public with confidence that justice was done. It is impossible for the public to reach that determination without knowing two things. First, what did the Mueller report conclude, and what was the evidence on obstruction of justice? And second, how could Mr. Barr have reached his conclusion so quickly?

Mr. Barr’s letter raises far more questions than it answers, both on the facts and the law.

His letter says Mr. Mueller set “out evidence on both sides of the question and leaves unresolved what the special counsel views as ‘difficult issues’ of law and fact concerning whether the president’s actions and intent could be viewed as obstruction.” Yet we don’t know what those “difficult issues” were, because Mr. Barr doesn’t say, or why Mr. Mueller, after deciding not to charge on conspiracy, let Mr. Barr make the decision on obstruction.

On the facts, Mr. Barr says that the government would need to prove that Mr. Trump acted with “corrupt intent” and there were no such actions. But how would Mr. Barr know? Did he even attempt to interview Mr. Trump about his intentions?

What kind of prosecutor would make a decision about someone’s intent without even trying to talk to him? Particularly in light of Mr. Mueller’s pointed statement that his report does not “exonerate” Mr. Trump. Mr. Mueller didn’t have to say anything like that. He did so for a reason. And that reason may well be that there is troubling evidence in the substantial record that he compiled.

William Saletan–at Salon–has a take that’s worth considering. “Bill Barr’s Weasel Words. All the ways the attorney general is spinning the Mueller report to protect Trump.”

Special counsel Robert Mueller has submitted his report on the Russia investigation, and Republicans are gloating. They claim a four-page letterfrom Attorney General William Barr, purporting to summarize the report, exonerates President Donald Trump. They’re wrong. The letter says the Justice Department won’t prosecute Trump, but it reaches that conclusion by tailoring legal standards to protect the president. Here’s a list of Barr’s weasel words and what they’re hiding.

“The Russian government.” The letter quotes a sentence from Mueller’s report. In that sentence, Mueller says his investigation didn’t prove that members of the Trump campaign “conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.” The sentence specifies Russia’s government. It says nothing about coordination with other Russians. Trump’s campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, gave campaign polling data to Konstantin Kilimnik, a Russian associate who has been linked to Russian intelligence. Manafort, Donald Trump Jr., and Jared Kushner met secretly in Trump Tower with Natalia Veselnitskaya, a Kremlin-connected lawyer. But neither Kilimnik nor Veselnitskaya is part of the Russian government. They seem to be excluded from Barr’s analysis.

223138Read the entire list of Weasel Words.  Then, remember the last time Barr basically did the same kind of thing George HW Bush and Iran Contra.  Why wouldn’t he do it again especially since he was out writing about it for Trump and all to see over the past two years?  Remember all those pardons?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well, he’s has certainly handed a reprieve-at the very least- to a very big one at the moment.

Marcy Wheelers’s conclusions at The New Republic are worth reading.  This headline even sums it up nicely.  “Yes, Trump Obstructed Justice. And William Barr Is Helping Him Cover It Up. The attorney general’s take on the Mueller report goes through contortions to avoid charging the president with a crime.”

It is widely believed that Barr had already categorically ruled out charging a president with obstruction. In a June 2018 memo, shared with Trump’s lawyer before his nomination, Barr argued that the theory of obstruction he believed Special Counsel Robert Mueller to be adopting would not be proper. But in that very same memo—on the very first page!—Barr conceded, “Obviously, the President … can commit obstruction in [a] classic sense of sabotaging a proceeding’s truth-finding function.” Barr envisioned that if a president “suborns perjury, or induces a witness to change testimony … then he, like anyone else, commits the crime of obstruction.”

That’s important, because we know that Trump has been involved in getting his aides to lie. His own lawyer, Jay Sekulow, reportedly edited the prepared statement Trump’s longtime personal attorney Michael Cohen gave to Congress about an effort to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. Cohen goes to prison in May, in part, for telling lies that Sekulow reviewed.

And Trump has repeatedly dangled pardons to subordinates under investigation, reportedly including former National Security Advisor Mike Flynn, former campaign chair Paul Manafort, and Cohen. Indeed, in a hearing in February, Mueller prosecutor Andrew Weissmann argued that Manafort lied about the details of sharing Trump campaign polling data with the Russian political operative Konstantin Kilimnik on August 2, 2016—knowing that the data would be passed on to others including other Russians—specifically to “augment his chances for a pardon.”

Ah Manafort, does he get his pardon now that the President and his enablers are screaming it’s an exoneration even though it really wasnt?
Well, turn the TV news on if you dare.  I’m just going to grade for awhile and hope there’s a plan some where to end this nightmare.