Peggy Nienaber may provide her own downfall thanks to hubris. Rolling Stone revealed on Wednesday that the far-right activist, who serves as vice president of the nonprofit anti-abortion group Faith & Liberty and serves as Liberty Counsel’s executive director of D.C. Ministry, was caught bragging about praying with Supreme Court justices. While appearing on a livestream she didn’t realize was being recorded, Nienaber confirmed that she prays with some of the justices inside the Supreme Court itself.
“They will pray with us, those that like us to pray with them,” Nienaber said, adding with a laugh, “Some of them don’t!” This claim was backed up by the founder of the ministry that ultimately got absorbed into Liberty Counsel, which the Southern Poverty Law Center has designated as a "hate group."
Rob Schenck, who used to work alongside Nienaber, has since renounced his actions. From the late 1990s onward, he says he prayed with Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, and Antonin Scalia in the Supreme Court itself.
The prayers never directly mentioned cases, but clearly worked their manipulative magic, though Schenck seems shocked by this. “I was sure, while we were doing it, it would be a positive contribution to our public life,” Schenck told Rolling Stone. “It didn’t have the effect I thought it would. In some ways, it set the stage for the reversal of Roe, which I now think of as a social catastrophe.” Rolling Stone also points out the conflict of interest in this practice that Nienaber has continued, as her group, Liberty Counsel, “frequently brings lawsuits before the Supreme Court.” An amicus brief from the group was even cited in the majority opinion for Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which overturned Roe v. Wade.
Liberty Counsel, a 501 tax-exempt organization allegedly dedicated to litigating cases regarding religious freedom and the so-called sanctity of life, has already been cited by the Southern Poverty Law Center as an extremist group pushing an anti-LGBTQ agenda. It’s clear from its website that abortion is the cause du jour for the organization, which pushes outlandish talking points that reproductive rights somehow, say, constitute eugenics. And Liberty Counsel’s influence isn’t just a Supreme Court problem, either. Nienaber’s influence in politics cannot be understated: Per Rolling Stone, she’s been seen with Republicans like Sen. Lindsay Graham and former vice president Mike Pence, along with—of course—justices like Brett Kavanaugh and Clarence Thomas.
Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos.
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'We're not seeing a whole lot of common sense in his policies. He tends to toss aside serious ideas about climate change as just left-wing politics,' said Sierra Club Florida political director Luigi Guadarrama.
Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis has been energetically whittling away at civil rights in his state, pursuing anti-LGBTQ policies, pushing intolerance and censorship in schools, and restricting voting rights.
The Supreme Court's decision on June 30 in West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency will factor into another ideological battle the governor is fighting. Representatives of environmental groups in Florida told the Tampa Bay Times that the ruling, which restricts the EPA's ability to limit emissions from power plants, will have specific impacts on Florida. Susan Glickman of Florida Clinicians for Climate Action said, "It will slow Florida's transition to getting to zero carbon emissions" but added that "some of the transition to clean energy which is already underway will continue under its own momentum."
DeSantis has signed legislation during his term in office allocating resources for restoring the everglades and for sea-level rise preparedness. However, he has not addressed the overwhelming scientific consensus that climate change is real and caused by the burning of fossil fuels, facts that a majority of Republicans in Congress, for example, deny are true as well.
Luigi Guadarrama, the political director of the Sierra Club's Florida chapter, said in an interview with the American Independent Foundation that DeSantis' support for so-called resiliency programs "makes him seem as if he's got environmental policies. But climate change is something around which there is scientific consensus. We're not seeing a whole lot of common sense in his policies. He tends to toss aside serious ideas about climate change as just 'left-wing politics,' not expert opinions from scientists."
During a press conference in December 2021, DeSantis accused advocates for the environment of having ulterior political motives and claimed that there has been no increase in the number of storms due to climate change:
What I've found is, people, when they start talking about things like global warming, they typically use that as a pretext to do a bunch of left-wing things that they would want to do anyways. And so, we're not doing any left-wing stuff. What we're doing though is just reacting to the fact that, OK, we're a flood-prone state, we do have storms. I don't know that, we really haven't had more storms in the last 10-15 years than we had in other portions of — you can pick different periods, we've had a lot. But the bottom line is, this is something that has a huge impact. As our state becomes more populated, of course there's more property that can be damaged, there's more human lives that would be at stake. ...
Be very careful of people trying to smuggle in their ideology. They say they support our coastline or they say they support, you know, some, you know, difference, our water, environment, and maybe they do, but they're also trying to do a lot of other things, and if you look at the price of gas now, just imagine if they had their way, gas would be six or seven bucks a gallon, and we need to make sure people are able to have affordable energy.
However, recent studies have provided evidence for an increase in the frequency and intensity of strong hurricanes, to which Florida is vulnerable, as a direct result of fossil fuel-driven climate change. Michael Mann, a climate scientist at Penn State University, told Reuters, "There has been more uncertainty about the trends in tropical cyclone numbers." Evidence shows, he said, that "these will continue to increase, as long as we continue to warm the planet through fossil fuel burning and carbon pollution."
The Yale Center for Environmental Communication's Yale Climate Connections website ran a climate explainer story in 2019 that concluded "threats from tropical systems, and in particular from the most intense cyclones, are increasing. This trend will continue for the foreseeable future. Although some of these anticipated impacts are already baked into our warmer climate, the most serious escalations can still be averted. The only remedy is a rapid decarbonization of our economy and a society that is better prepared for threats coming our way."
In April, the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its latest conclusions on climate change, noting, "Net anthropogenic GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions have increased since 2010 across all major sectors globally. An increasing share of emissions can be attributed to urban areas. Emissions reductions in CO2 from fossil fuels and industrial processes (CO2-FFI), due to improvements in energy intensity of GDP and carbon intensity of energy, have been less than emissions increases from rising global activity levels in industry, energy supply, transport, agriculture and buildings." U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres warned:
"We are on a fast track to climate disaster: Major cities under water. Unprecedented heatwaves. Terrifying storms. Widespread water shortages. The extinction of a million species of plants and animals. This is not fiction or exaggeration. It is what science tells us will result from our current energy policies. ... Some government and business leaders are saying one thing – but doing another. Simply put, they are lying. And the results will be catastrophic. This is a climate emergency. Climate scientists warn that we are already perilously close to tipping points that could lead to cascading and irreversible climate impacts."
These are issues that hit Florida hard. The state is low-lying, with what the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration calculates as 8,436 miles of coastline vulnerable to sea level rise and an aging demographic especially at risk from hotter, more humid conditions. A serious threat is salt water intrusion, jeopardizing freshwater resources like the Biscayne aquifer, which provides drinking water to 4.5 million people in Dade County.
DeSantis' promotion of measures to confront sea-level rise, among other environmental challenges, is good Florida politics: Guadarrama said that most Floridians support, for example, bans on offshore natural gas drilling. Environmental spending was a key issue in DeSantis' 2018 campaign for governor.
In May of this year DeSantis signed into law S.B. 1954, establishing a Resilient Florida Grant Program within the state's Department of Environmental Protection to help local governments plan programs for dealing with sea rise and mandating a statewide assessment of vulnerability to sea level rise and the allocation of resources to vulnerable areas.
DeSantis in May also signed H.B. 7053, which shifts the Statewide Office of Resilience from the state environmental protection department to the direct control of the governor; however, the Legislature blocked amendments submitted by Democrats that would have required actions aimed at achieving carbon neutrality and reducing "the root causes ... of sea level rise and flooding."
Sierra Club Florida acting director Deborah Foote stated in March 2021: "Governor DeSantis continues to avoid the important issues of addressing climate change by ending our dependence on dirty fuels and transitioning Florida to 100% clean energy. There isn't enough money in all of Florida to raise our roads, elevate buildings or create higher seawalls to avoid the impact of sea level rise."
Nikki Fried, Florida's commissioner of agriculture and a Democratic candidate for governor, tweeted on June 30 that the Supreme Court ruling in West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency "is a dangerous setback. We're in a race against time to minimize and avoid the host of calamities that will ensue if we fail to act on climate change, and Florida is ground zero for climate change"
Fried's opponent in the primary, former Florida governor and current House member Charlie Crist, tweeted: "Floridians feel impacts of the #ClimateCrisis daily. Today's SCOTUS ruling throws Florida under the bus by curtailing @EPA's ability to regulate harmful emissions from power plants. This is unacceptable - we can't continue to stick our heads in the sand!"
The Sierra Club's Guadarrama says that the governor's race will be tight. But, he said, "Floridians know that climate change is not theoretical anymore. It is here and now. They are motivated by this, especially the younger voters."
Reprinted with permission from American Independent.
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Fresh off a subpoena requesting his cooperation, former Trump White House counsel Pat Cipollone is slated to testify before the House Select Committee for a private, transcribed, and videotaped interview.
A committee aide did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The New York Times was the first to report the development Wednesday, citing a person briefed on the matter.
Cipollone’s full compliance could be illuminating for the investigation into former President Donald Trump’s attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 election. According to sworn testimony already delivered by former members of the Department of Justice under Trump, as well as Trump White House officials, Cipollone was often a firsthand witness to make-or-break moments in Trump’s attempted coup.
Cipollone was privy to multiple conversations about the bunk elector scheme championed by Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani, witnesses have said, and Cipollone was also present when Trump raised the question of seizing voting machines.
The former president’s counsel attended a meeting recently detailed at length—and under oath—by the nation’s former acting attorney general, Jeffrey Rosen, and Rosen’s deputy, Richard Donoghue.
Rosen and Donoghue testified that it was Cipollone who stood tall against Trump in the Oval Office during a meeting where Trump nearly fired Rosen and replaced him with yes-man Jeffrey Clark, a mid-level environmental lawyer at the Department of Justice who strongly supported Trump’s baseless election fraud claims.
Like Cipollone, Clark was subpoenaed by the committee. But Clark refused to answer any questions and instead pleaded the Fifth Amendment repeatedly during a private meeting with committee counsel.
When Rosen and Donoghue testified, they described how the draft letter written by Clark rattled off a long series of bogus claims about election fraud in Georgia and urged that “alternate” electors be seated.
Rosen’s predecessor, Attorney General Bill Barr, had already declared publicly and in private meetings with Trump, that there was no evidence of fraud widespread enough that it would alter the outcome of the election. But Clark, Rosen and Donoghue said, pushed ahead anyway.
When Cipollone saw the draft letter, Donoghue told the committee he remembered the counsel’s reaction vividly.
If the DOJ cosigned it, Cipollone allegedly said, it would be a “murder-suicide pact.”
The draft letter never went out because Donoghue, Rosen, and others at the Department of Justice threatened to resign en masse if Trump insisted on replacing Rosen with Clark.
According to sworn testimony already provided by former Trump White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson, Cipollone was also part of key conversations with Mark Meadows, then Trump’s chief of staff.
Hutchinson said Cipollone pleaded with Meadows to act as the mob grew larger, gallows were erected on the Capitol lawn and chants of ‘Hang Mike Pence’ reverberated on Capitol grounds.
Hutchinson recalled Cipollone telling Meadows how desperate the situation had become on Jan. 6 and urged Meadows to understand that the mob was quite literally calling to kill then-Vice President Mike Pence.
“You heard him, Pat,” Hutchinson recalled Meadows saying. “He thinks Mike deserves it. He doesn’t think they’re doing anything wrong.”
According to Hutchinson's recounting of the day, Cipollone was flabbergasted.
“This is f-ing crazy. We need to be doing something more,” Cipollone allegedly said.
Cipollone has been a stalwart ally to Trump, representing the 45th president for both of his impeachments and in various other legal matters. When Trump was impeached for obstruction of Congress and abuse of power in 2019, Cipollone offered a vehement and sharp defense of Trump, taking up the “witch hunt” mantle at length and slamming the inquiry as meritless and part of a campaign by Democrats and those on the left to punish Trump for political differences.
When Trump was impeached the first time, Cipollone notably called for cameras to be barred from proceedings, arguing it would create a circus-like atmosphere. The cameras would stay.
Trump was ultimately quite pleased with Cipollone’s performance during the first impeachment, calling him a “Great White House counsel.”
This latest decision to comply with the January 6 committee’s subpoena will put Trump’s relationship with Cipollone to the test and the extent of Cipollone’s cooperation will naturally hinge on what he actually discloses.
When Trump attorney John Eastman tried to fend off the committee’s subpoena for his records, Eastman cited attorney-client privilege but was unable to overcome the crime-fraud exception to this assertion. The crime-fraud exception essentially says that confidentiality is not blanketed and if a client sought advice from an attorney that would help that client pull off or commission a crime, then work product or correspondence can be disclosed.
A Washington Post profile of Cipollone from January 2020 notes the counsel’s propensity to keep himself out of the national spotlight.
His profile was so low in Washington, D.C., in fact, that when Cipollone first took to the Senate floor during Trump’s impeachment, it was his first time ever appearing on C-SPAN.
Memorably, even while presiding over the inquiry, Chief Justice John Roberts introduced Cipollone and mispronounced his last name.
TODAY:— Howard Mortman (@HowardMortman) January 21, 2020
Cipollone's first time on C-SPAN.
Sekulow's 44th time on C-SPAN (first in 1990 ... 1991 below) pic.twitter.com/XbWVBCJ5ek
Jay Sekulow, one of Trump’s personal attorneys, told Yahoo! News in January 2020 that Cipollone was a “serious tactician” and described him as an “aggressive advocate” for the 45th president, though “measured.”
In that same 2020 article, an unnamed Trump White House official said Trump saw Cipollone as “beyond loyal.”
Cipollone will appear before the committee for his private session this Friday.
The committee’s next public hearing is July 12 at 10 AM ET and there will be at least one more hearing to follow. The committee is expected to focus on the extremist elements involved in the insurrection as well as unpack exactly what was going on during the 187 minutes of silence from the White House as the Capitol was under attack.
Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos.
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