Jeff Danziger lives in New York City. He is represented by CWS Syndicate and the Washington Post Writers Group. He is the recipient of the Herblock Prize and the Thomas Nast (Landau) Prize. He served in the US Army in Vietnam and was awarded the Bronze Star and the Air Medal. He has published eleven books of cartoons and one novel. Visit him at DanzigerCartoons.
By Jan Wolfe
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. appeals court on Thursday put on hold a lower court ruling allowing congressional investigators to obtain former President Donald Trump's White House records relating to the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Trump's lawyers had asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to put the Tuesday ruling on hold while he appeals it.
(Reporting by Jan Wolfe, additional reporting by Susan Heavey; Editing by Scott Malone)
When Donald Trump was president, he informed us with his know-it-all ignorance that the Constitution gave him "the right to do whatever I want." And he acted as if that despotic canard were true, committing crimes that led to his impeachment not once but twice.
Now Trump insists that even though he is no longer president, the Constitution allows him to conceal the evidence of crimes perpetrated by him and his mangy entourage – specifically, the documents and testimony demanded by the House Select Committee on the January 6 Insurrection. He has "ordered" all of his gang, including former White House strategist and campaign manager Steve Bannon, to defy the committee's subpoenas. His lawyers claim in federal court that "executive privilege" should protect him from coughing up all the information sought by the committee.
That claim deserves to be dismissed outright by Judge Tanya Chutkan, who is hearing the case. What we have learned in recent days about Trump's coup plotting only underlines the importance of the material. His assertion of impunity lacks any substance.
As a legal doctrine, "executive privilege" is meant to shield presidential deliberations and discussions from undue exposure that would hinder the functioning of the presidency. It is a vague standard that infamously was subject to abuse by Richard Nixon as his final and futile line of defense against the Watergate investigation.
In United States v. Nixon, the Supreme Court handed down its historic ruling on July 24, 1974, rejecting Nixon's executive privilege argument, forcing the surrender of his White House tapes and other incriminating materials, and resulting, just over two weeks later, in Nixon's resignation in disgrace. The high court's unanimous decision meant that no person, not even a president, is above the law and that in the absence of a compelling military or diplomatic need for secrecy, especially during an inquiry into high crimes, no president could assert an absolute right to confidentiality.
Flash forward to the perils of the moment, as Congress investigates the violent coup against the certification of Trump's duly elected opponent, Joe Biden. Even as more and more evidence emerges of a desperate scheme against the Constitution, Trump's lawyers pretend that the machinations of the coup plotters should remain exempt from congressional scrutiny. They have derided the January 6 probe as an "invasive Congressional fishing expedition" and warned that upholding the committee subpoenas "would harm the institution of the presidency."
The arguments of Trump's third-tier attorneys are simply nonsense. First, Trump isn't president anymore, so he no longer enjoys whatever privilege may attach to that office. President Biden, the incumbent president who does possess executive privilege, already has rejected Trump's pleas and ordered the release of any relevant documents under the control of the National Archive or other government agencies.
Second, the plotters included a motley assortment of private citizens, including Bannon, the deranged Rudy Giuliani, and his sidekick, the convicted (and Trump pardoned) felon and former New York City police commissioner Bernard Kerik. During the crucial days leading up to January 6, this outfit operated from suites in the capital's plush Willard Hotel, not the White House itself -- and their enormous expenses were paid by the Trump campaign, not the government. Political campaigns are not covered by executive privilege.
Finally, and most importantly, whatever degree of executive privilege may be construed from the Constitution cannot be used to protect presidential crimes. That was the essence of the Supreme Court decision that made Nixon turn over his smoking tapes to a special prosecutor, and it applies with equal force at least to Trump's seditious conspiracy against the democratic process and the peaceful transfer of power.
Judge Chutkan has indicated she may impose minor limitations on the select committee's subpoenas. But she mocked the Trump lawyer's absurd suggestion that Congress has no legitimate purpose in probing the events that led to an insurrectionary attack on the Capitol. Whatever trifling boundaries she may impose on the select committee's subpoenas won't matter much, so long as she acts swiftly.
In due course this matter will land on the docket of the Supreme Court, where the justices—three appointed by Trump--will have the opportunity to prove that they are authentically nonpartisan and unbiased, as Amy Coney Barrett and Samuel Alito have recently tried to persuade us. If they fail, history will scorch their reputations beyond repair.
Reprinted with permission from Alternet
The House Select Committee on the January 6 Attack is expanding the reach of its investigation to include interviewing rioters who were among the thousands who breached the Capitol during that deadly day.
On Friday afternoon the committee will interview remotely one of the 650 charged in the January 6 attack.
Politico describes the interview as "part of an attempt to collect evidence about the rioters' motivations, contacts, and travel arrangements."
An attorney representing multiple Jan. 6 defendants also arranged for the Committee to interview another defendant, not one of her clients, "who claimed to have information related to associates of Alex Jones, the far right broadcaster who helped promote pro-Trump election conspiracy theories."
That attorney, Heather Shaner, tells Politico another of her clients has already spoken to the Committee and still another has offered to.
"The committee," Politico adds, "was set to hold closed-door interviews Friday with Amy and Kylie Kremer, a mother-daughter duo whom committee investigators believed were part of organizing Trump's rally at the Ellipse. But a committee aide confirmed the depositions were postponed amid ongoing talks."
It's been over one month since the House Select Committee on Jan. 6 subpoenaed former Trump Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, former Deputy Chief of Staff Dan Scavino, former Pentagon Chief of Staff Kash Patel, and Stephen Bannon. They were given two weeks to submit documents and were required to be deposed one week later. Meadows and Patel got short postponements and Bannon got a contempt of Congress charge.
Meadows is asking for the same by continuing to delay and obstruct. According to multiple sources to CNN, the committee is considering giving him a new deadline to comply with the subpoena and holding him in criminal contempt if he does not. "Our patience isn't unlimited, and engagement needs to become cooperation very soon," one of the sources told CNN. "As we've already made clear, anyone who tries to stonewall our effort will face the consequences."
Chair of the committee, Rep. Bennie Thompson, told CNN that they are not at the point yet where they can take Meadows to court, but "If and when the staff says to us it's not going anywhere, there won't be any hesitation on the part of the committee to make the referrals." As opposed to Bannon, the complication with Meadows is that as the former chief of staff, Meadows can claim at least a degree of protection under executive privilege.
In addition to wanting to know what Meadows was doing and what was happening in the White House in the lead-up to Jan. 6 and that day itself, the committee wants to know his role in attempting to overturn the election—with his subpoena noting that he had communicated with "the highest officials at the Department of Justice requesting investigations into election fraud matters in several states."
It's been well-reported for months that Meadows was neck-deep in multiple schemes to "nullify" the election and allow Trump to remain in charge. That included efforts to pressure Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to "find" votes, communications with Republican members of Congress, and a fantastical scheme in which Meadows pushed the Department of Justice to investigate whether Italy had interfered with the election using satellites.
But that's likely not all the committee wants to talk to Meadows about. Now that two of the insurrection organizers are talking, Meadows should probably think about negotiating his best possible deal. Several House Republicans have been named by those organizers as active in planning the protest, and both have been in contact with the committee. The two canaries are subjects of an unrelated investigation, and said that Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) used to get them to plan the Ellipse protest. If they went along with organizing this protest, they said, Gosar promised Trump would give them "blanket pardons."
"Our impression was that it was a done deal," the organizer said, "that he'd spoken to the president about it in the Oval … in a meeting about pardons and that our names came up. They were working on submitting the paperwork and getting members of the House Freedom Caucus to sign on as a show of support." Guess who else hangs out in the Oval Office for these kinds of meetings? Yep, the chief of staff.
The Biden White House rejected claims from Trump for executive privilege over records held by the National Archives this week. White House counsel Dana Remus told the National Archives that Biden has determined that shielding the documents from Congress "is not in the best interests of the United States." She added, "Accordingly, President Biden does not uphold the former President's assertion of privilege." Trump has asked Meadows to claim executive privilege to evade the subpoena.
Meadow's compliance might be influenced by what, if anything, Attorney General Merrick Garland decides to do about Bannon and the contempt charge against him. Garland told lawmakers last week, ahead of the contempt vote, that the Justice Department will follow "the facts and the law" moving forward on Bannon's case.
"I will say what a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney's Office in the District of Columbia said I think yesterday or a day before," Garland told a House committee. "If the House of Representatives votes for a referral of a contempt charge—then the Department of Justice will do what it always does in such circumstances, we will apply the facts and the law and make a decision consistent with the principles of prosecution."
Biden potentially complicated things a bit last weekend by telling reporters, "I hope that the committee goes after them and holds them accountable," referring to people resisting subpoenas. Presidents aren't supposed to do anything that looks like pressuring Justice, never mind four years of Trump doing just that. Asked in follow-up whether these people should be prosecuted by the Justice Department, he answered, "I do, yes." That led to Department of Justice spokesman Anthony Coley following up with a statement: "The Department of Justice will make its own independent decisions in all prosecutions based solely on the facts and the law. Period. Full stop."
That was October 15. Since then Bannon has accused Garland and the FBI of removing Trump from office in a coup. For real.
House Democrats on and off the committee are urging Garland to act. "The U.S. attorney [general] obviously has a decision to make; they have charging criteria. There are rules for prosecutors, they'll run it through their analysis. And, you know, we think that the public interest is obviously overwhelming in seeing that this subpoena is respected and that this crime is prosecuted," committee member Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD) told The Hill.
"I think there's a real desire on the part of the attorney general, for the most part, not to look backward," Rep. Adam Schiff said on the Yahoo News "Skullduggery" podcast last week. "Do I disagree with that? I do disagree with that, and I disagree with it most vehemently when it comes to what I consider even more serious offenses. For example, a taped conversation of Donald J. Trump on the phone with Brad Raffensperger, the secretary of state from Georgia, trying to coerce him into fraudulently finding 11,780 votes. […] Because I think if you or I did that, we'd be under indictment by now."
Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters
Politico reports that Steve Bannon associate Dustin Stockton is fielding questions from the congressional committee investigating the attack of January 6. As Politico notes, Stockton was connected to the "We Build The Wall" effort that ended with Bannon, a former adviser of President Donald Trump, being arrested on his patron's yacht by postal investigators, before Trump later pardoned him.
There is more to say about Stockton and January 6, though.
Stockton and his fiancé, Jennifer Lynn Lawrence, both former Breitbart bloggers, were featured as major players in an extensive New York Times article about how Trump's repeated lies and conspiracy theories filtered through a series of rallies and other events put on by his supporters in the period between the election and January 6. It also noted they had financial ties to MyPillow's Mike Lindell:
A onetime organizer for the hard-line Gun Owners of America, according to his LinkedIn page, Mr. Stockton had come to know members of the Three Percenters militia group. He had an online newsletter, Tyrant's Curse, whose credo was, "A well-armed and self-reliant populace, who take personal responsibility and put their faith in God, can never be oppressed and will never be ruled." One post featured a photo from the Dec. 12 rally — Mr. Stockton posing with several Three Percenter "brothers" in military-grade body armor.
"The letdown of the election was kind of put aside," Mr. Stockton said in an interview. "It was like, 'We have a new fight to engage in.'"
For the Kremers, Ms. Lawrence and Mr. Stockton, the instrument of that fight would be a reprise of the Tea Party Express, a bus tour to enlist state and federal lawmakers in Mr. Trump's effort to keep states from certifying results ahead of the Electoral College vote. Equally important, it would be a megaphone to rally the dejected faithful.
The group tapped new veins of financing, with sponsorships from Mr. Bannon's "War Room," which paid $5,000, and Mr. Lindell, who said he believed he gave $50,000. It helped the group lease the bus and paint it MAGA red, with a huge photo of Mr. Trump and the logos of MyPillow, "War Room" and other sponsors emblazoned on the sides.
BuzzFeed News also reported on Stockton leading the March for Trump bus tour after the election through early January:
"If we allow them to steal this election … my kids will not know American freedom," said Dustin Stockton, a former Breitbart writer and tea party activist and a lead organizer of the March for Trump tour, at a stop in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, on Nov. 30.
Later that day in Savannah, Georgia, Stockton said, "We have to remember the people who betrayed us."
Stockton advised people to arm themselves, "study tactics," spend time on the firing range, and pursue self-reliance and self-sufficiency. At times, he evoked images of revenge and violence.
"Right now we still have the power to fix" the election result, he said in Savannah. "But if they allow the election to get stolen, we lose the power to do it. I mean there's still ways to do it, but it gets a lot, lot uglier and a lot, lot worse. And I don't think any of us want to go there."
Stockton told BuzzFeed News the "ugly" option he referred to is state-by-state electoral reform.
On at least three occasions, speakers mentioned violence.
The tour was made possible by Stockton and Lawrence in collaboration with the group 'Women for America First" and its leaders Amy Kremer and Kylie Jane Kremer; it criss-crossed the country spreading lies about the results of the election using violent and revolutionary language.
Media Matters also reported in early February that Stockton and Lawrence were using social media platforms, including Facebook, to plan another bus tour.
DUSTIN STOCKTON: Now, everybody wants to know, "Well, what do we do next?" Well, what we do next is we take note of the people who betrayed President Trump in Congress, and we get them out of Congress. We're going to make the tea party look tiny in comparison, so with a bunch of the organizers and influencers who were involved in that first tour, we started to put together a plan. And that plan is pretty awesome. So the obvious starting point were the 10 members of Congress who voted for impeachment. Right? Those guys have obviously got to go.
Instead of going right away, we're going to take our time, we're going to go to the major population centers in each one of these districts. Now, this is not an all-encompassing list. So I got a message today from someone who saw the list, like, "Where is Kevin McCarthy?" Don't worry about it, we just started with the 10, we added Crenshaw and Mace but don't worry, McCarthy's going to be on there. He'll get a primary challenge. We also haven't started looking at the Senate.
We've got a lot of work to do if we're going to keep America America, and so we're going to get back out on the road. The beauty of it is this tour -- so I list out some stops, if you go look at the last post on my page, I listed out some of the places we're going but that is by no means an exhaustive list. I've been talking with people in Oregon and California and Alabama and Florida and Michigan and Pennsylvania and Wisconsin and Ohio and I can't even tell you where else to start these regular meetings. So the cool thing is we're going to be launching local branches everywhere and those are going to be the hubs from which we organize from and take our country back, baby.
Stockton has also praised Pennsylvania state Sen. Doug Mastriano, who participated in the January 6 insurrection. And he worked with Bannon previously at Breitbart, where he was central to an effort to persuade Black voters in 2016 to either vote for Trump or not vote at all.
Reprinted with permission from DailyKos
As the Department of Justice weighs whether to prosecute Steve Bannon for criminal contempt of Congress, President Joe Biden continues to make perfectly clear that protecting democracy is far more important to him than shielding the office of the president from scrutiny.
Biden, who holds the power to decided whether to invoke an executive privilege claim, has now twice taken a pass on shielding White House records from congressional investigators.
On Monday, White House counsel Dana Remus informed the National Archives that Biden would not assert a privilege claim over a second tranche of records that Donald Trump has sought to keep secret.
"President Biden has considered the former President's assertion, and I have engaged in consultations with the Office of Legal Counsel at the Department of Justice," Remus wrote, according to CNN.
In the letter, Remus indicated that protecting the interests of the republic had weighed weighed heavily in Biden's decision.
"President Biden has determined that an assertion of executive privilege is not in the best interests of the United States, and therefore is not justified, as to the documents provided to the White House on September 16, 2021, and September 23, 2021. Accordingly, President Biden does not uphold the former President's assertion of privilege," wrote Remus.
Trump filed a lawsuit last week suing the House select committee on January 6 and the National Archives in hopes of blocking release of the documents under his tenure. The federal judge handling the matter, U.S. District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan, has moved forward expeditiously, setting a November 4 hearing date and a rapid schedule for the case to proceed.
The letter from Remus told the National Archives to provide the requested documents to the January 6 panel 30 days after notifying Trump, "absent any intervening court order."
But if leaders at the Department of Justice have any questions as to President Biden's commitment to uncovering the truth about who perpetrated the coup attempt at the U.S. Capitol, they shouldn't.
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