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Why Trump’s Abuse Of Power Is Truly Worse Than Watergate

Reprinted with permission from Press Run

Stunning new abuse-of-power revelations remind us of the Trump administration's complete disregard for democratic principles. We now know that over a span of years it took extraordinary legal measures, including gag orders and secret tribunals, in pursuit of email records from reporters at CNN and the Washington Post. Team Trump also unleashed the courts on Democratic members of Congress and their families trying to obtain private phone records, as well as secretly targeting a key White House attorney, who possibly fell under suspicion for not being sufficiently loyal to Trump.

The disturbing portrait now in focus is one of a Republican White House that for four years worked in tandem with partisan prosecutors to systematically politicize the vast powers of the Justice Department, which often treated Trump's allies leniently, and used unprecedented tools to target his foes. It was Trump recklessly using the executive branch to gather private information on members of the legislative branch, as well as members of the media.

The emerging scandal already eclipses Richard Nixon's Watergate in terms of the benchmarks we use to gauge Washington, D.C. abuse of power. It's "Nixon on stilts and steroids," Nixon's former White House Counsel John Dean told CNN. "Nixon didn't have that kind of Department of Justice."

It's worse than Watergate because the White House abuse of power was purposely powered by the Justice Department. This would have been if U.S. Attorney General John Mitchell had helped plot the Watergate break-in, instead of a band of rogue Nixon sycophants. This is worse because it's institutional abuse conducted by political entities with boundless authority, such as the White House and the DOJ.

"Taken together with the Republican Party's refusal to hold Trump to account for the Capitol insurrection and its nationwide efforts to restrict voting, the new allegations also indicate that the freedoms and core values that have underpinned American life for two-and-a-half centuries remain in almost unprecedented peril," stressed CNN's Stephen Collinson.

It's worse than Watergate because this is what it looks like when democracies begin to crumble. It happens regularly all over the world, usually in emerging democracies, as nations lose their grip on crucial liberties while under the leadership of autocratic rulers.

And it's worse because since the scandal first broke last week, the Republican Party, as usual, has refused to acknowledge Trump's radical ways and condemn the anti-democratic behavior. While Democrats now push for Congressional investigations into the scandal, it appears Senate Republicans wlll stand in the way of issuing subpoenas, which are crucial in terms of gather evidence and compelling cooperation.

There's little doubt that today's blindly loyal GOP would have tried to block Congressional subpoenas issued during the Watergate investigation. (As the break-in and cover-up revelations tumbled out, Nixon eventually lost the support of Congressional Republicans.)

Late last week, the Justice Department's independent inspector general opened an investigation into the decision in 2018 by federal prosecutors to secretly seize the iPhone data of House Democrats, including Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell and their family members. Trump's team, which subpoenaed Apple, was desperately trying to hunt down who had leaked classified information early in the Trump administration. Specifically, leaks with regards to Trump's collaboration with Russia during the 2016 election.

It's almost unheard for the DOJ to use the courts to secretly seize data from members of Congress if those members are not the target of a corruption investigation, which Schiff and Swalwell clearly were not. They became abuse-of-power targets because they were trying to hold Trump accountable for his criminality.

Democrats weren't the only Trump enemies targeted by his out-of-control DOJ. It also secretly obtained the phone records of multiple Washington Post reporters. Imagine if Nixon's DOJ had snagged Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein's phone logs as they reported out the Watergate caper?

On another wild fishing expedition, the Justice Department tossed CNN into a prolonged, Kafka-esque legal battle. Demanding access to 30,000 emails from Pentagon reporter Barbara Starr, government lawyers refused to tell the network what the larger DOJ investigation was about, who the subjects of the investigation were, the subject matter of the reporting at the center of the matter, or when the investigation was opened. The Justice Department also forbade CNN's general counsel from talking to Starr about the extraordinary chain of events in play.

"I was informed that, other than conferring with counsel, the order prohibited me from acknowledging to anyone that it even existed unless I had express permission from the Department of Justice," CNN's top lawyer David Vigilante explained. "And I was further informed that if I violated the order, I was subject to charges of contempt and even criminal prosecution for obstruction of justice."

Last December, a district court heard CNN's appeal and was unimpressed with whatever secret evidence the DOJ had accumulated in its mysterious case that required taking possession of 30,000 Starr emails. The gag order was soon lifted.

The good news is that CNN, the Times, and the Post met with Attorney General Merrick Garland on Monday. In alignment with President Joe Biden, Garland's DOJ has said that it will not seize reporters' records as part of leak investigations.

And you can be sure it won't target Biden's political foes with partisan and secretive subpoenas.

GOP Rep. Clyde Wouldn't Shake Hand Of Police Officer Who Defended Capitol

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Police Officer Michael Fanone was one of 140 law enforcement officers injured protecting the U.S. Capitol and members of Congress on January 6. He was so badly beaten he suffered a heart attack fighting Trump's insurrectionists but he was conscious enough to hear at one point the rioters scream, "Kill him with his own gun!"

On Wednesday, one day after 21 House Republicans voted against a bill to award Congressional gold medals to all the police officers who fought to save lives and democracy on January 6, Officer Fanone was in the U.S. Capitol, and ran into Rep. Andrew Clyde (R-GA).

Congressman Clyde, who sits on the Homeland Security Committee and is one of the 21 who voted against the awards, refused to even shake Officer Fanone's hand.

Clyde is the lawmaker who falsely compared the rioters and insurrectionists to a "normal tourist visit."

U.S. Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA) took to Twitter to make the accusation, which was backed up by Rep. Adam Kinzinger, a Republican.

Here's video of Officer Fanone being attacked by Trump's insurrectionists:

Here's Congressman Clyde literally barricading the door on Jan. 6, with members of the Capitol Hill Police:

Here's Clyde outright lying:

Barr And Rosenstein Must Answer In Subpoena Scandal

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

When Donald Trump wanted to talk about the investigation being conducted into how his campaign colluded with Russian agents, he used a term that was meant to demean and delegitimize. He called it "spying." Trump also accused the Obama administration of "wiretapping" his offices, which—no matter what Trump says—was in no sense true. But as more information emerges about the efforts of the DOJ to chase down supposed intelligence leaks, it's hard to think of more appropriate terms. The Justice Department may not have been technically spying, and seeking to crack open metadata from cell phones isn't really wiretapping, but the DOJ was absolutely surveilling member of Congress and their families, including their minor children.

Unlike the investigation of Trump, which was begun because the intelligence community was presented with evidence that Trump's team was engaging in efforts to gain Russian assistance in altering the outcome of the election, the effort to obtain phone data from California Reps. Eric Swalwell and Adam Schiff, as well as members of their families, seems to have been launched for no reason other than because Trump wanted it so. And, despite spending weeks finding no evidence, subpoenas were issued at least three times. Then the effort was revived months later and additional resources were added.

As might be expected, Republicans are already being dismissive about the whole affair, with multiple claims that investigating Congress over potential intelligence leaks is nothing new. However, attempting to obtain phone records of Congress members without their knowledge is certainly a new thing—much less trying to get the records of their spouses and children. It's clear that the DOJ went to extraordinary efforts to find something they could bring back to Trump as evidence that either Swalwell or Schiff had done something wrong.

But the most extraordinary thing about the whole sorry affair, may be the way that no one seems to be owning it. Former attorney general Jefferson Sessions says he didn't start it. Former attorney general Bill Barr says he didn't know about it. One of these men is absolutely lying. The other may be. But there's a third man who almost certainly was involved in both the beginning and the end of this effort to … sure, why not … to spy on the families of representatives. That man is former deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein.

As the story of the attempts by the DOJ to subpoena Apple into providing phone records of members of Congress unfolded on Friday, Sens. Chuck Schumer and Dick Durbin demanded that both Sessions and Barr appear in public testimony before Congress and explain the extent of the leak investigations.

However, according to The Daily Beast, Sessions has already claimed that "he wasn't aware of, nor was he briefed on" the subpoenas, and that he was unaware of the entire leak investigation. On Friday, POLITICO reported that Barr also claimed that he was "not aware of any congressman's records being sought in a leak case."

The statement from Sessions is vaguely possible. Sessions recused himself from DOJ activities related to the Russia investigation in March of 2017, earning Trump's undying rage in the process. Since the information released was connected to that investigation, it's possible that Sessions was not involved. And besides, though his actions were not always in the news, Sessions stayed busy during his time as attorney general. Among other things, he rewrote hundreds of pages of federal guidelines, striking such rules as those which avoided placing excessive fines on the poor. He made it easier to ship guns across state lines. Sessions shredded rules that were designed to make the justice process accessible to the disabled. He also spent a lot of personal time going over drug cases and insisting that prosecutors seek the maximum penalties. He was one busy little elf.

On the other hand, the statement from Barr is, as might be expected, pure bullshit. As has been widely reported, Barr was not only aware of the investigations, he revived them when he took office in 2018. Even though attempts to pin intelligence leaks on Congress had come up dry, and investigators were indicating that the whole thing was a dead end, Barr expanded the investigation. He added more staff and, as CNN notes, brought in a prosecutor expressly to handle the leak investigations. Barr didn't just revive these cases, he "found a set of aggressive career prosecutors" who were "willing to take extraordinary steps to try to complete the probes." Which apparently included taking another crack at getting past Apple.

Like hell, Bill Barr "can't recall."

And then there's Rosenstein. When it comes to the revelations on Friday, The New York Times reports the Rosenstein has "refused to comment." But if there is anyone who needs to be dragged before the Senate and compelled to testify, it might be the former deputy attorney general.

There was a time in the spring of 2017 when Rosenstein seemed like the one person at the DOJ who was holding some semblance of justice together. He authorized the Mueller investigation after Sessions recused himself. The New York Timeseven reported that Rosenstein considered secretly recording Trump, and discussed whether enough Cabinet members could be persuaded to invoke the 25th Amendment. There was genuinely a point where Rosenstein seemed to be the one essential man; the one person in power at the DOJ who saw Trump for who he was.

But by the spring of 2018, Rosenstein appeared desperate to show he was fully on Team Trump. He instructed the DOJ to increase prosecutions of refugee families. As The Guardianreported, it was Rosenstein who argued that children should be separated from parents, even if they were infants. That fall, Rosenstein was reportedly crying after a call to Trump and then-chief of staff John Kelly, in which it appeared he might be forced to resign. He begged for his position, telling Trump that "I can land the plane," and suggested that keeping him in place gave the Russia investigation "credibility."

Once Barr came on board, Rosenstein was reliably at his elbow, providing cover for Barr's actions. That included signing off on the conclusion that Donald Trump not be charged with obstruction in spite of the mountains of evidence in support of that charge.

Rosenstein left in 2019, but he didn't pass into obscurity. He went to work as a partner at white-shoe law firm King & Spaulding, where he is in charge of "special matters and government investigations." What investigations might that be? As Reuters reported, the firm worked for Trump's campaign in 2020, including working on efforts to block the use of absentee ballots. Far from being sent into exile, ProPublica shows that King & Spaulding was a revolving door for the Trump White House with at least seven people moved from the firm to government positions during Trump's term. In fact, when Rosenstein helped Trump oust Comey, his replacement, current FBI director Christopher Wray, came from King & Spaulding.

Far from being run out of town, Rosenstein was helped into a nice, soft, lucrative position at a firm with deep connections to Trump. A firm which counts the Trump Organization as one of its largest clients. That's quite a feat for the guy who signed off on the Mueller investigation and reportedly tried to get Trump removed from office. Trump still hates Sessions for simply recusing himself, even though Sessions has slathered Trump with praise nonstop. But Trump appears to have forgiven Rosenstein, in spite of both Mueller and the 25th Amendment report. Why is that?

It's obvious that Rosenstein must had done a lot to earn that spot. And it's obvious that he needs to testify.

He can start by answering questions about his knowledge of the effort to secure the phones of sitting representatives and their families. Sessions might claim ignorance. Barr might feign forgetfulness.

But Rosenstein was there for it all.

Saturday, Jun 12, 2021 · 9:50:01 AM EDT · Mark Sumner

Justice Officials Launch Probe Of Barr’s Surveillance Of Democratic Lawmakers

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

The Inspector General of the Department of Justice has announced he will launch an investigation into the DOJ spying on prominent Democratic members of Congress during the Trump administration's time in office. Those incidents include obtaining subpoenas for communications data from at least 12 people, including Democratic lawmakers, their staff members, family members, and at least one minor child.

Attorneys General Jeff Sessions and Bill Barr, according to a New York Times report Thursday, were central to these incidents of spying taking place.

Among those targeted by Sessions and Barr were Democratic Congressmen Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell, both of California.

Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz, Axios reports, made the announcement on Friday. Horowitz was first appointed to that position by President Barack Obama. The announcement says the investigation will include DOJ's similar efforts on members of the media.

"The DOJ Office of the Inspector General (OIG) is initiating a review of DOJ's use of subpoenas and other legal authorities to obtain communication records of Members of Congress and affiliated persons, and the news media in connection with recent investigations of alleged unauthorized disclosures of information to the media by government officials. The review will examine the Department's compliance with applicable DOJ policies and procedures, and whether any such uses, or the investigations, were based upon improper considerations. If circumstances warrant, the OIG will consider other issues that may arise during the review."