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McConnell Proves That ‘Bipartisan’ Filibuster Is A Fraud

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell seems to be almost intentionally making a mockery of the small number of Democratic senators who continue to defend the filibuster.

Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona have vocally opposed any effort to change the chamber's rules that require 60 votes to proceed on most legislation. Many Democratic lawmakers and advocates have called for the filibuster to be abolished, which would make it easier for the party to enact various pillars of its agenda.

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Testimony By Military Chiefs Vindicates Biden's Afghan Decisions, Evacuation

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet

Top military leaders appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday, taking questions from lawmakers about, among other topics, President Joe Biden's withdrawal from Afghanistan. Biden has faced heavy criticism for the chaotic evacuation and has seen his approval numbers decline since it was carried out. But despite much of the media's framing and the Republicans' spin, Biden's actions and choices were largely vindicated by the day's testimony.

CNN, for one, didn't see it that way. It aired a segment Tuesday afternoon focusing on the fact that officials testified that they advised Biden to leave 2,500 troops in Afghanistan rather than pull out completely at the end of August, as he did. Host Jake Tapper said this contradicted Biden's remark in an ABC News interview that he hadn't acted against the generals' advice.

Since the withdrawal, many commentators in the media concluded that the chaos that resulted must be blamed on Biden. Backed by military hawks, many of whom helped launch the disastrous War on Terror in the first place, pundits grasped for concrete failures they could pin on Biden. CNN and Tapper seemed happy to latch on to this one: Biden didn't listen to the generals. And to make it worse, he lied about it.

Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz seized on this issue too:

But this framing of the hearing was superficial and misleading.

When Biden was asked by ABC News about reports about the generals advising him to leave troops in Afghanistan, he gave a defensive and admittedly confusing answer. At one point, he said he couldn't recall anyone giving him this advice. But he also said that the generals were "split" on the issue, directly implying that some of them had, in fact, given this advice. It was a squirrelly answer, to be sure, but it's not a major cover-up.

And the reality isn't a mystery at all. In fact, the central narrative of Biden's decision to pull out of Afghanistan was precisely that he was going against the mainstream views of the hawks in the national security community and the top military brass. Many argued that this was what made the decision bold and difficult for Biden, and it's why Presidents Donald Trump and Barack Obama before him were never able to leave the country, despite their stated desires to end such conflicts. Biden finally stood up to the generals.

After all, the general's advice to leave behind 2,500 troops wasn't a piece of tactical wisdom that Biden ignored. They were asking him to abandon his central policy objective on Afghanistan, which was to get out. They were also asking him to abandon the deal Trump had made in 2020 to finally leave the country.

For the media to latch on to this criticism is to give away the game so many of Biden's critics in the commentariat have played. It was a constant refrain from critics during the withdrawal that Biden's choice to leave — a highly popular position among voters — wasn't the problem; the problem was the way Biden did it. That argument completely collapses if one takes the position that the thing Biden could have done to withdraw better was not withdraw at all.

Indeed, despite the fact that so many of Biden's critics were desperate to say he botched a withdrawal that, in theory, could have been run properly, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley gave testimony completely contradicting this view.

"From an operational and tactical standpoint, [the evacuation] was successful. Strategically, the war was lost. The enemy is in Kabul," Milley said. "It was a logistical success but a strategic failure."

This is precisely what many in the media and the GOP refuse to acknowledge. The evacuation actually went off remarkably well, given the conditions it was carried out under. The military didn't expect the Afghan government to collapse as quickly as it did, but once it fell, the U.S. implemented a high-stakes plan to evacuate more than 100,000 people from a hostile country with impressive agility.

The strategic failure, such as it is, also isn't Biden's. It was a failure of the war itself, which began 20 years ago. But that fault doesn't lay with the Biden presidency. He came in with the Trump administration's agreement to leave the country already in place and with an American people who were ready to see the war end. And under his leadership, the military carried out a successful evacuation from a dismal situation.

Milley even admitted that, had the president followed his and others' advice to leave in 2,500 troops, the Afghan government wouldn't have been able to sustain itself when U.S. forces withdrew.

"The end-state probably would've been the same, no matter when you did it," he said.

And Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin admitted that, had the U.S. stayed behind past August, it would have reignited the war and required more troops to be sent in:

These facts effectively demolish the mainstream criticisms of Biden on Afghanistan. The evacuation was a logistical success. The main alternative Biden was presented with by the generals was leaving 2,500 troops behind. That would've reignited war with the Taliban, required more troops, and it wouldn't have fortified the Afghan government to better resist the Taliban in the future. It would've just been kicking the can down the road, and whenever the U.S. finally decided to pull out for real, the "end-state probably would've been the same."

But Biden's critics refuse to learn these lessons, even when they're presented under oath.

There is one major criticism of Biden on Afghanistan that does have merit, though, but Republicans and members of the media rarely raise it. He was much too slow in issuing Special Immigrant Visas that were already in the pipeline for Afghans who had helped the U.S. military and wanted to leave. And he should've made it much easier for refugees of all kinds to leave the country and come to the United States. Biden was far more permissive of accepting Afghan immigrants than the Trump administration was, but not nearly to the extent demanded by the circumstances and justice.

That's a very different story from the one we're hearing. But it's what the public should know.

Michigan Judge Refers Trump’s 'Kraken' Lawyers For Disbarment

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

Federal Judge Linda Parker on Wednesday referred a group of pro-Trump attorneys, including Sidney Powell and Lin Wood, for potential suspension and disbarment for their misconduct in a lawsuit that sought to overturn Joe Biden's 2020 win in Michigan.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, along with other defendants in the original lawsuit, has asked the judge to consider sanctions after the pro-Trump lawyers had their claims of election fraud demolished.

In the new ruling, Parker issued a 110-page opinion condemning the team's "historic and profound abuse of the judicial process," finding that their behavior in the case warrants formal sanction by the courts. They will have to pay for Michigan and Detroit's legal costs and attend classes about the law relevant to the case, the judge ruled. And she will also be referring their cases to the authorities who issued the lawyers' licenses, which may take further punitive action against them.

Such harsh sanctions are rare in the legal world and highlight the extreme nature of the pro-Trump lawyers' conduct.

Parker was direct and unsparing in her condemnation of their actions.

"[T]he question before the Court is whether Plaintiffs' attorneys engaged in litigation practices that are abusive and, in turn, sanctionable. The short answer is yes," she wrote. "The attorneys who filed the instant lawsuit abused the well-established rules applicable to the litigation process by proffering claims not backed by law; proffering claims not backed by evidence (but instead, speculation, conjecture, and unwarranted suspicion); proffering factual allegations and claims without engaging in the required prefiling inquiry; and dragging out these proceedings even after they acknowledged that it was too late to attain the relief sought."

She continued:

And this case was never about fraud—it was about undermining the People's faith in our democracy and debasing the judicial process to do so.
While there are many arenas—including print, television, and social media—where protestations, conjecture, and speculation may be advanced, such expressions are neither permitted nor welcomed in a court of law. And while we as a country pride ourselves on the freedoms embodied within the First Amendment, it is well-established that an attorney's freedom of speech is circumscribed upon "entering" the courtroom.

The lawyers "scorned their oath, flouted the rules, and attempted to undermine the integrity of the judiciary along the way," she said.

Essentially, she argued that Powell, Wood, and the others used the case in Michigan to propagate the notion that Trump had been the true winner of the 2020 election, even though they had no reasonable case to bring. Their aim wasn't, she concluded, to make good faith arguments about the facts and the law in hope of being vindicated in a court of law. Instead, they were using the courts as a platform for propaganda without regard for the merits of their legal arguments. In short, it was a flagrant abuse of the system.

She even drew a connection between the lawyers' misconduct and the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Much of the opinion details how the attorneys, such as Wood, have been blatantly dishonest with the court, and why their arguments were frivolous and illegitimate on numerous grounds. For example, they sought to have Whitmer barred from sending the results of Michigan's election to the Electoral College, even though she had already done so. They cited precedents for their arguments that had no relevance or made the opposite point to what they were trying to push. They made baseless claims that legal acts were against the law. At other points, they completely reversed themselves on crucial issues, such as key deadlines in the case, without explanation or justification.

"It is not lost upon the Court that the same claims and requested relief that Plaintiffs' attorneys presented here were disposed of, for many of the same reasons, in Michigan courts and by judges in several other 'battleground' jurisdictions where Plaintiffs' counsel sought to overturn the election results," Parker wrote. "The fact that no federal district court considering the issues at bar has found them worthy of moving forward supports the conclusion that Plaintiffs' claims are frivolous."

The extent of the blatant deception and arguments clearly made in bad faith can only lead to one conclusion.

Parker explained: "Once it appeared that their preferred political candidate's grasp on the presidency was slipping away, Plaintiffs' counsel helped mold the predetermined narrative about election fraud by lodging this federal lawsuit based on evidence that they actively refused to investigate or question with the requisite level of professional skepticism—and this refusal was to ensure that the evidence conformed with the predetermined narrative (a narrative that has had dangerous and violent consequences). Plaintiffs' counsel's politically motivated accusations, allegations, and gamesmanship may be protected by the First Amendment when posted on Twitter, shared on Telegram, or repeated on television. The nation's courts, however, are reserved for hearing legitimate causes of action."

In short, her conclusion was simple: "This lawsuit should never have been filed."

Federal Indictment Tells True Story Behind Gaetz 'Extortion' Tale

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

A new grand jury indictment released on Tuesday revealed new details surrounding the complex and sordid case of Florida Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz.

The grand jury charged Florida man Stephen Alford, 62, of attempting to commit wire fraud and conceal evidence. Previous reporting had found that there was a federal investigation into a scheme by Alford and others to ask Gaetz's father, Don Gaetz, for $25 million to fund a rescue mission in Iran.

Rep. Gaetz had claimed that this request was part of an "extortion" attempt related to the investigation into allegations that he has been involved in child sex trafficking, corruption and other crimes. An associate of his has already agreed to plead guilty to these charges, though Gaetz denies them. When the investigation into his conduct first emerged, Gaetz tried to distract from the scandal by pointing to the "extortion" tied to Alford.

He tried to argue that the investigation of him was driven by duplicitous agents out to get him. But it turns out that the supposed "extortion" attempt wasn't quite that — at least insofar as the Justice Department sees it.

Rep. Gaetz's argument was that the plot sought to use the investigation to extort his father out of money. What the indictment indicates, however, is that the plot wasn't about extortion, just fraud. It says Alford falsely promised he could get a presidential pardon for Gaetz in exchange for money, and he used interstate wires to do it.

When I previously wrote about Gaetz's extortion allegations in April, I argued that they were not supported by the public evidence. For example, one document obtained by the Washington Examiner said that the plan was that after the Iran rescue attempt, the team will "strongly advocate that President Biden issue a Presidential Pardon, or instruct the Department of Justice to terminate any and all investigations involving Congressman Gaetz." As I argued at the time, that doesn't look like extortion. That just looks like a silly and obviously hollow promise — there's no chance President Biden would pardon Gaetz for the allegations against him or intervene in a DOJ probe to help him.

The new indictment alleges that Alford made more than hollow promises, but demonstrably false claims in an effort to obtain Gaetz family money. It claims that Alford falsely communicated to Gaetz's father (described as "D.G." in the indictment) that Biden has said he will "strongly consider" pardoning Rep. Gaetz (called "Family Member A") or ending the investigations into him. Alford also reportedly said he "will get that pardon" and that he could "guarantee" no prison time.

It also says Alford attempted to destroy or conceal evidence on an iPhone in the course of the investigation.

It's not clear how strong a case this really is against Alford. It certainly seems like a hare-brained scheme, but it's not against the law to propose a terrible idea to someone. It is a crime to lie to them in order to get their money, but Alford may argue that he was just speaking hyperbolically about his hopes for the plan rather than defrauding anyone. It may be hard to judge the allegations without additional context.

Though it probably doesn't help Alford's case that, according to the Washington Post, he has already been convicted of local and federal fraud crimes.

But what does seem clear is that — unless the DOJ comes out with another indictment — investigators didn't find substantial evidence of extortion. That's important because it undercuts the reason Gaetz was so interested in drawing attention to the Alford scheme to begin with. If the charges were being used to extort the Gaetz family, it may be reason to believe that the investigation isn't on the level and the congressman is being unfairly targeted. But that's not what the indictment suggests. Instead, it suggests that a serious investigation of Gaetz was somehow discovered by a man with a ludicrous idea, creating a spectacular but ultimately inconsequential sideshow.

New Report Details Rep. Jordan Contacts With Trump On Jan. 6

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

A new report in Politico's Playbook offered fresh details about former President Donald Trump's communications during the January 6 attack, which may be of interest to the investigators on the House committee examining the day's events.

Trump's role in organizing, encouraging, and supporting the rioters' aims of preventing Congress from recognizing Joe Biden's win in the 2020 election is already well-known, but some are hoping to find additional evidence of his conduct that day that could potentially shed more light on his knowledge of the events and his culpability in any crimes or wrongdoing.

Republican Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, a close ally of the former president, has already admitted that he spoke to Trump on the day of the attack. But he has strained to avoid answering questions on the topic directly, suggesting that he has something to hide about the conversation. He has declined to divulge details about the content of the conversation or when it took place.

The new report from reporter Tara Palmeri revealed that, in fact, Jordan had multiple conversations with Trump during the day:

We know that DONALD TRUMP and Rep. JIM JORDAN spoke once on the day of the Capitol riot, but the Ohio Republican has said he doesn't remember when their conversation took place. We have some new details that could help clear up that timeframe — including confirmation of at least one more phone conversation between Jordan and the then-president during the siege.
After a group of lawmakers were evacuated from the House chamber to a safe room on Jan. 6, Jordan was joined by Rep. MATT GAETZ (R-Fla.) for a call during which they implored Trump to tell his supporters to stand down, per a source with knowledge of that call. The source declined to say how Trump responded to this request.
Jordan, when asked about whether Gaetz participated, said he'd "have to think about it," citing many conversations he had during the frenetic attack. He also said phone calls to Trump happened more than once on that deadly day.
"Look, I definitely spoke to the president that day. I don't recall — I know it was more than once, I just don't recall the times," Jordan told our Olivia Beavers. He later said that "I'm sure" one of the Trump-involved calls took place in the safe room "because we were in that room forever." (For safety reasons, we are not disclosing the specific room where members were evacuated to, but that is the room Jordan is referencing.) Jordan would not get into the specifics of what he discussed with the president, though he said that like everyone, he wanted the National Guard to get involved.

There are several important details here. First, it's clear that in addition to being cagey about speaking with Trump on Jan. 6, Jordan has been actively concealing further details about the talks. He didn't mention that one of them took place during attack itself while lawmakers were in hiding, and that there were other witnesses to the calls — even when he has said he's had trouble remembering the events. If he has trouble with his memory, he could consult other witnesses to the events. (As the piece is written, it's not clear if the word "he" in the last sentence refers to Jordan or Trump wanting to get the National Guard involved. But there's no credible indication that Trump had a role in deploying the Guard that day.)

But what's most important is that Jordan doesn't seem interested in recalling or sharing these details at all. It's difficult to believe they weren't memorable. That strongly suggests that the conversations would reflect quite poorly on Trump. If Trump said something exonerating during the conversations, such as indicating that he was shocked and horrified that his supporters were attacking the Capitol, and he was trying to get them out. Of course, none of his other actions that day suggest this was his attitude. And if Trump had said something exonerating, presumably Jordan would have brought it up during the impeachment hearings that charged him with inciting an insurrection.

Separate reports have indicated that Trump had a conversation with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy during the attack. Trump reportedly told McCarthy of the attackers: "Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are." McCarthy hasn't denied these reports but has declined to talk about them further.

The new report also reflects poorly on Gaetz, who through a spokesman refused to deny the claims. They suggest Gaetz was well aware that the rioters were acting out Trump's desires. But hours later, on the House floor, Gaetz would cite a later-debunked media report to suggest that "some of the people who breached the Capitol today were not Trump supporters. They were masquerading as Trump supporters and in fact, were members of the violent terrorist group antifa."

MyPillow Guy’s Election ‘Bombshell’ Blows Up In His Face

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

My Pillow CEO Mike Lindell has been one of the most prominent public figures still passionately pushing the lie that former President Donald Trump won the 2020 election — and claiming that he can prove it. He even claimed Trump would be reinstated this month, a prediction he now disavows. His misinformation campaign came to a head this week as he held a so-called "cyber symposium" in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, to make the case that President Joe Biden was illegitimately elected. But as the shambolic event stretched into its second day, the keystone of his repeatedly debunked argument turned out — unsurprisingly — to be a complete dud.

Lindell claimed that he would provide data conclusively showing that China rigged the vote counts to install Biden as president. But The Washington Times, a conservative news outlet, reported Wednesday evening that the "expert" who was supposed to assess this evidence admitted it didn't hold up to scrutiny.

The paper explained:

Mr. Lindell said he had 37 terabytes of "irrefutable" evidence that hackers, who he said were backed by China, broke into election systems and switched votes in favor of President Biden. The proof, he said, is visible in intercepted network data or "packet captures" that were collected by hackers and could be unencrypted to reveal that a cyberattack occurred and that votes were switched.
But Mr. Lindell's lead cyber expert, Josh Merritt, told The Washington Times that packet captures are unrecoverable in the data and that the data, as provided, cannot prove a cyberincursion by China.
"So our team said, we're not going to say that this is legitimate if we don't have confidence in the information," Mr. Merritt said on Wednesday, the second day of the symposium.

Brad Heath, a reporter who closely followed the post-election litigation, noted:

Merrit was previously the subject of mockery after Sidney Powell misrepresented him in her post-election lawsuits that sought to overturn the result. The Washington Post reported in December 2020:

Powell describes Spyder in court filings as a former "Military Intelligence expert," and his testimony is offered to support one of her central claims. In a declaration filed in four states, Spyder alleges that publicly available data about server traffic shows that voting systems in the United States were "certainly compromised by rogue actors, such as Iran and China."
Spyder, it turns out, is Joshua Merritt, a 43-year-old information technology consultant in the Dallas area. Merritt confirmed his role as Powell's secret witness in phone interviews this week with The Washington Post.
Records show that Merritt is an Army veteran and that he enrolled in a training program at the 305th Military Intelligence Battalion, the unit he cites in his declaration. But he never completed the entry-level training course, according to Meredith Mingledorff, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Army Intelligence Center of Excellence, which includes the battalion.
"He kept washing out of courses," said Mingledorff, citing his education records. "He's not an intelligence analyst."
In an interview, Merritt maintained that he graduated from the intelligence training program. But even by his own account, he was only a trainee with the 305th, at Fort Huachuca in Arizona, and for just seven months more than 15 years ago.
...
Merritt acknowledged that the declaration's description of his work as an "electronic intelligence analyst under 305th Military Intelligence" is misleading. He said it should have made clear that his time in the 305th was as a student, not as a working intelligence expert.

Zachary Petrizzo, a reporter for Salon, noted that the crowd at the symposium was thinning out on its second day, apparently from lack of enthusiasm about the content.

Even Steve Bannon, a close ally of Lindell's, was critical on Wednesday about the symposium's lack of evidence.

"You've laid a theory of the case out here that's very powerful, but in laying that case out, you've got to bring the receipts," he said.

Steve Bannon slams Mike Lindell's 'cyber symposium' www.youtube.com

To top off the rest of Lindell's terrible day, the judge overseeing the defamation case against him and other defendants brought by the Dominion voting maching company issued a ruling allowing the lawsuit to proceed and rejecting his motion to dismiss.

‘Bombshell’ Notes Expose Trump’s Post-Election Scheme To Corrupt Justice Department

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

Lawmakers in the House Oversight Committee released new evidence on Friday of former President Donald Trump's extensive pressure campaign to use the Justice Department to help him overturn the result of the 2020 presidential election in the final days of his administration.

Notes from conversations between the president and DOJ officials detail his aggressive push to have the department validate the wild conspiracy theories about election fraud that he fomented, despite the lack of evidence.

On December 27, when told the department couldn't "snap its fingers" and "change the outcome of the election," Trump said, "Don't expect you to do that, just say that the election was corrupt + leave the rest to me and the R. Congressmen," according to the notes.

These new revelations follow a recent report from the Washington Post that Trump called acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen about the election almost daily at the end of 2020 about the election. Bill Barr had resigned as attorney general in part because of his split with Trump on the legitimacy of the election

Publicizing notes of communications between the president and the heads of administration departments is highly unusual, but the Biden administration concluded that it was an "extraordinary circumstance" to have "congressional investigators...examining potential wrongdoing by a sitting president," according to the New York Times.

Trump repeatedly pressed the department to investigate the wild claims of election fraud that percolated in right-wing media and corners of the internet at the time, which were repeatedly debunked. At one point, having been told that certain claims he was pushing were simply untrue, Trump reportedly responded: "Ok fine — but what about the others?"

According to the notes, he also told the DOJ officials: "You guys may not be following the internet the way I do."

Perhaps one of the most significant revelations is that Trump was recorded as directly threatening the officials' jobs based on their handling of the investigation. The New York Times explained:In a moment of foreshadowing, Mr. Trump said, "people tell me Jeff Clark is great, I should put him in," referring to the acting head of the Justice Department's civil division, who had also encouraged department officials to intervene in the election. "People want me to replace D.O.J. leadership."
"You should have the leadership you want," Mr. Donoghue replied. But it "won't change the dept's position."
Mr. Donoghue and Mr. Rosen did not know that Mr. Perry had introduced Mr. Clark and Mr. Trump. Exactly one week later, they would be forced to fight Mr. Clark for their jobs in an Oval Office showdown.

George Conway, a conservative lawyer, argued on Twitter that the evidence could support a potential criminal case against the president.

Ruling: IRS Must Deliver Trump Tax Returns To Congressional Committee

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

In a new opinion from the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, officials conclude that the administration is legally obligated to hand over former President Donald Trump's taxes to Congress, as requested.

The announcement is the latest development in Democrats' years-long struggle to see Trump's tax records. He conspicuously refused to make his tax returns public during the 2016 (and 2020) presidential campaign, despite having said he would do so. Many critics believed they would provide evidence of wrongdoing, impropriety, financial failure, or even criminality. So when Democrats took control of Congress in 2019, the House Ways and Means Committee requested his records from the IRS using a statute that allows lawmakers to obtain such information.

But the Trump administration stonewalled, using highly dubious legal reasoning. Now, the Biden administration, and Attorney Merrick Garland's Justice Department in particular, has reversed that decision:

When one of the congressional tax committees requests tax information pursuant to section 6103(f)(1), and has invoked facially valid reasons for its request, the Executive Branch should conclude that the request lacks a legitimate legislative purpose only in exceptional circumstances. The Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee has invoked sufficient reasons for requesting the former President's tax information. Under section 6103(f)(1), Treasury must furnish the information to the Committee.

The Trump administration had argued that Congress did not have a legitimate legislative purpose to request. But the new OLC document rejects those claims, saying that lawmakers clearly have presented facially valid reasons for requesting the returns, and that is essentially the end of the story:

The statute at issue here is unambiguous: "Upon written request" of the chairman of one of the three congressional tax committees, the Secretary "shall furnish" the requested tax information to the Committee. 26 U.S.C. § 6103(f)(1). As the 2019 Opinion recognized, this statutory directive does not exempt the June 2021 Request from the constitutional requirement that congressional demands for information must serve a legitimate legislative purpose. 2019 Opinion at *17–19. The 2019 Opinion went astray, however, in suggesting that the Executive Branch should closely scrutinize the Committee's stated justifications for its requests in a manner that failed to accord the respect and deference due a coordinate branch of government. Id. at *24–26. The 2019 Opinion also failed to give due weight to the fact that the Committee was acting pursuant to a carefully crafted statute that reflects a judgment by the political branches, going back nearly a century, that the congressional tax committees should have special access to tax information given their roles in overseeing the national tax system. Particularly in light of this special statutory authority, Treasury should conclude that a facially valid tax committee request lacks a legitimate legislative purpose only in exceptional circumstances.

It added:

Even if some individual members of Congress hope to see information from the former President's tax returns disclosed on the public record merely "for the sake of exposure," Trump v. Mazars USA, LLP, 140 S. Ct. 2019, 2032 (2020) (internal quotation marks omitted), that would not invalidate the legitimate objectives that the Committee's receipt of the information in question could serve.

However, Trump may still have the opportunity to delay disclosure further. BuzzFeed reporter Zoe Tillman noted that Trump has a short period of time to try to intervene:

Even if the House committee obtains the tax returns, they won't immediately become public. Documents identifying particular people are supposed to be kept by the committee in closed session.

Ex-Trump Org Executive Confirms New York Indictment’s Charges

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

In a recent piece for the New York Daily News, former Trump Organization executive Barbara Res offered an insider's view of criminal charges against the ex-president's company and its CFO, Allen Weisselberg.

Res, who worked with Donald Trump on the construction of Trump Tower in the 1980s, has a grim assessment of his integrity and business practices from that era. And while it's been decades since she worked for the man, and her time at his company dates back well before the current charges, she argued that the allegations made against the Trump Organization and Weisselberg — which include a scheme to defraud the government out of taxes on the CFO's non-salary compensation benefits — rings completely true. Based on her view of the inside of Trump's operation, the prosecutor's story lines up exactly with his typical conduct.

"Flaunting and ultimately disobeying the tax laws was a way of life," she explained. "I was on salary, but some executives on the payroll were paid as independent contractors. That meant that Trump could avoid paying his share of payroll taxes and the employee could deduct all sorts of things to diminish his income that you can't do on salary. It was a win-win for everyone except the city, state and federal governments."

Her piece also provides answers to one of the mysteries that arose in the wake of the indictment. The prosecutors accuse the Trump Organization of avoiding taxes on $1.7 million of compensation to Weisselberg over more than a decade. This is a hefty sum from any average person's perspective, and it's certainly the kind of amount that can catch the eye of law enforcement if they're paying attention. But in the perspective of the Trump Organization's size, it's really not that much money. Why wouldn't Weisselberg and Trump just pay the proper taxes? Why take the risk of avoiding taxes when it wouldn't really affect the company's bottom line in any substantial way?

These were reasonable questions. But Res provides a compelling answer, and one that accords with the way Trump behaves in public: This is just how he acts. He tries to cut every corner and cheat at everything, because he thinks he's entitled to.

"If I know the way Trump thinks, and I do, Trump never gave a serious thought about what was legal, only to whether it could be gotten away with. And as far as he was concerned, he could get away with anything. As he has proven so far," she wrote. "The man's M.O. was bending and breaking the rules for maximum profit and advantage."

Another factor, too, helps explain the rationale behind this risky conduct. According to Res, it was about maintaining loyalty from people like Weisselberg:

Trump went to great lengths to make people loyal to him. The definitive example of this was giving a job to an employee's child. This was a default for Trump; it was easy and it cost him nothing. Often Trump "found" jobs, sometimes making them up. The employee then could not go against Trump because the child would lose his job. And he did this with his most loyal employees.
Trump went even further with Weisselberg's kids. Trump paid for one to live in a very expensive apartment and gave him a lucrative job. He helped the other get a prestigious job at a company he did business with. So that made Weisselberg even more loyal and his kids super loyal.

And inducing someone to break the rules with you — to be complicit in the crime of, say, defrauding the government by concealing the true extent of your compensation — binds them to you. They have an interest in protecting you, because you're all in on the same misdeeds.

Res argues that this may even be a force that could keep Weisselberg from flipping against Trump now. She suggests Trump may know about additional criminal conduct Weisselberg engaged in, or that Weisselberg's children may have engaged in, which the ex-president could expose if he feels betrayed. But Res ultimately argues that Weisselberg will cooperate with prosecutors against Trump.

Crucially, too, she says that Trump would've been aware of the illegal tax scheme the company has been charged with.

"In my experience, as with all facets of his business, major decisions like paying someone's rent or tuition were made by Trump and Trump alone. And with his other tax avoidance schemes, Trump had his minions to carry them out — but he was always in charge," she wrote. She told several anecdotes to illustrate the point, including:

The workers who did the demolition prior to the erection of Trump Tower were not paid fair wages and most of them were illegal immigrants. When this came up in court, Trump denied having any knowledge of it. In fact, he had a man on the job watching everything that happened and reporting it back to Trump, every day. Trump knew exactly what was going on.

All this would seem to make Trump himself criminally culpable, but he remains uncharged. One reason observers suspect prosecutors want to get Weisselberg to flip is so they can get him to testify about Trump's own intent to violate the law. Then they could bring criminal charges directly against the former president, rather than just against his company.

As I recently explained, Trump seems to be anticipating this. He is already trying to push the narrative that he was ignorant about the relevant tax laws — and in this case, ignorance of the law can be a legally useful defense. Prosecutors will likely have to prove Trump willfully and knowingly violated the law if they want to criminally charge him.

For those wondering, though, there's little chance Res's account on its own will change Trump's legal circumstances or help prosecutors make the case against him. It's a compelling narrative about his past, and can lead the casual observers to draw damning inferences, but it's not the type of evidence that will likely be allowed in court, as legal experts Eric Columbus and Joyce Vance explained:

Trump’s Criminal Defense Already Has A Big Problem

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

One section of former President Donald Trump's rally speech on Saturday night in Florida stood out to many observers: his response to last week's indictment of his company and its chief financial officere Allen Weisselberg.

Weisselberg and the Trump Organization were hit with a 15-count indictment from the Manhattan District Attorney, Cy Vance, alleging a scheme to defraud the government and avoid paying required taxes on more than a million dollars worth of non-salary compensation the CFO has received for over a decade.

Trump himself was not charged in the scheme, though many argue it's hard to believe he wasn't aware of this allegedly criminal conduct — and indeed, it's hard to believe this kind of criminality wasn't widespread under his leadership. But if Vance ever chooses to try and bring a case against the former president, Trump will likely try to claim he was unaware that these crimes were occurring, or that he was unaware that what was being done was illegal. On Saturday, he started roadtesting this type of defense — which, if true, would undermine the case that he had the criminal intent required to be found guilty of the crimes in question — for his fans:

"You didn't pay tax on the car or a company apartment...you didn't pay tax, or education for your grandchildren — I, don't even know what do you have to put? Does anybody know the answer to that stuff?"

Some legal commentators argued it was clear Trump was trying to establish this narrative to exonerate himself:

However, there's a big problem with this defense. It directly contradicts what Trump himself has said about his own understanding of tax law and his own company's finances. In 2017, he told the New York Times:

I know the details of taxes better than anybody. Better than the greatest C.P.A. I know the details of health care better than most, better than most. And if I didn't, I couldn't have talked all these people into doing ultimately only to be rejected.

And this wasn't just out of thin air — it literally followed his own discussion of businesses' tax liabilities:

The tax cut will be, the tax bill, prediction, will be far bigger than anyone imagines. Expensing will be perhaps the greatest of all provisions. Where you can do something, you can buy something. … Piece of equipment. … You can do lots of different things, and you can write it off and expense it in one year. That will be one of the great stimuli in history. You watch. That'll be one of the big. … People don't even talk about expensing, what's the word "expensing." [Inaudible.] One year expensing. Watch the money coming back into the country, it'll be more money than people anticipate.

His remarks aren't particularly articulate about the subject matter, but given his interest in the topic, it's a stretch to believe he was completely in the dark about what kinds of company expenses created tax obligations for him and which did not.

In 2016, too, he also suggested that he's able to pay low or no taxes because he's "smart." He also said: "As a businessman and real estate developer, I have legally used the tax laws to my benefit and to the benefit of my company, my investors and my employees. Honestly, I have brilliantly — I have brilliantly used those laws."

This could and should be interpreted as mostly candidate bluster, but it severely undermines his ability to later claim to a court that he's completely befuddled by the mechanics of paying taxes.

Regardless of these and similar comments, Trump might still get away with claiming that he didn't have a clue about the tax practices at his own company. The DA may feel he lacks the evidence to prove Trump's intent beyond a reasonable doubt, and he may be unwilling to go forward against such a high-profile defendant without a rock-solid case. But if charges are forthcoming, Trump has still undermined what would likely be his best defense with his boasting. And if he's allowed to skate free because he persuasively argues that he was clueless about his illegal tax practices, he'll undermine a pillar of his own ostensible political appeal. Though perhaps he's become such a symbolic figure for the right wing that the substantive case he made for his own political prowess is now largely irrelevant.

Why Manchin Is So Wrong On Voting Rights

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia officially announced in an op-ed Sunday that he would vote against the For the People Act, infuriating progressive critics who view the bill as a crucial tool for countering the Republican Party's anti-democratic tactics.

But Manchin's announcement wasn't particularly surprising, as he has repeatedly signaled that he was not fully supportive of the bill and prefers the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, a more modest proposal. Even more critically, though, he has insisted that he doesn't want to end the filibuster, the Senate rule requiring 60 votes to pass a bill, which would've doomed the For the People Act whether Manchin supported it or not. No Republican senators support the bill, and at least 10 would be needed for join all 50 Democrats to pass it into law under the current filibuster rule.

It wasn't just Manchin's opposition to the For the People Act that infuriated his critics, though. The particular arguments he gave struck many as weak, condescending, and hypocritical.

He insisted that any voting rights legislation that will pass must be bipartisan. He warned: "Whether it is state laws that seek to needlessly restrict voting or politicians who ignore the need to secure our elections, partisan policymaking won't instill confidence in our democracy — it will destroy it."

But he refused to answer the simple and natural question that this demanded raises: What if congressional Republicans refuse to support any voting rights legislation?

He wrote:

I believe that partisan voting legislation will destroy the already weakening binds of our democracy, and for that reason, I will vote against the For the People Act. Furthermore, I will not vote to weaken or eliminate the filibuster. For as long as I have the privilege of being your U.S. senator, I will fight to represent the people of West Virginia, to seek bipartisan compromise no matter how difficult and to develop the political bonds that end divisions and help unite the country we love.
American democracy is something special, it is bigger than one party, or the tweet-filled partisan attack politics of the moment. It is my sincere hope that all of us, especially those who are privileged to serve, remember our responsibility to do more to unite this country before it is too late.

But he didn't acknowledge that "partisan voting legislation" is already being passed across the country. Republicans are rewriting the voting rules in state legislatures where they have total control, redesigning the process to fit their own partisan purposes. They hope to make it much easier for their own party to win control, and there are even indications that their policies could make it easier for Republicans to steal elections if they don't win. And Republicans are also poised to redraw congressional districts across the country to increase their advantage in the U.S. House of Representatives to be even greater than it already is, further making Congress even less representative and less democratic than it already is.

By blocking any effort from Democrats in Congress to reform voting rights, Manchin is guaranteeing that these partisan efforts by Republicans at the state level to reshape our elections to fit their desires will largely succeed. He says any federal legislation to reform voting rights must be bipartisan, but why would Senate or House Republicans do anything to weaken the advantage they have in control of state governments? Instead of insisting on bipartisanship, what Manchin is really insisting on is unilateral surrender by the Democratic Party. And if the GOP uses the opportunity to entrench their power, it may be a long time before Democrats can ever get it back.

And Manchin's demands are patently absurd on their face. For example, he wrote:

Democrats in Congress have proposed a sweeping election reform bill called the For the People Act. This more than 800-page bill has garnered zero Republican support. Why? Are the very Republican senators who voted to impeach Trump because of actions that led to an attack on our democracy unwilling to support actions to strengthen our democracy? Are these same senators, whom many in my party applauded for their courage, now threats to the very democracy we seek to protect?

There are seven Republicans who voted to convict Trump because he inspired an attack on the U.S. Capitol to overthrow the 2020 presidential election. Manchin believes that this suggests they are willing to "strengthen our democracy" — but there's no reason to think this is true. Opposing Trump's brazen abuse of power and literal threat to the lives of U.S. lawmakers doesn't suggest that those Republicans don't also support restricting democracy in various ways or even even finding less violent ways to overturn elections. Many Republicans are happy to restrict democracy, even if they think Trump went too far. And Manchin and the Democrats weren't even able to convince all seven of those Republicans to support a commission to study the insurrection, further demonstrating the fact that their votes to convict didn't show a lasting good faith commitment to democracy.

Even still, had all seven Republicans who voted to convict Trump supported a bipartisan voting rights bill, that wouldn't be enough to pass under Manchin's demand to keep the filibuster. Manchin's standard requires at least 10 Republicans support any bill — which means he's insisting that Democrats let Republicans who voted to let Trump get away with the insurrection have a veto over voting rights laws.

Manchin promoted the John Lewis bill as an alternative to the For the People Act, touting it as "bipartisan." But he can only name one Republican senator who has come out in support of the bill — Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. No other Republican seems interested, and even Murkowski's interest appears tepid. And there's no sign that she or Manchin is doing the hard work to get nine other Republicans to vote in favor of the bill so it could actually pass in the face of a filibuster.

As Fox News' Chris Wallace pointed out on Sunday, Manchin has actually made the job of getting bipartisan agreement on a voting rights bill much harder by coming out firmly against reforming the filibuster. If he left open the possibility that he might support eliminating it were bipartisan negotiations to fail, Republicans would have more of an incentive to actually agree to a deal.

Since Manchin has taken filibuster reform off the table, though, Republicans know exactly what will happen at the federal level on voting rights if they refuse to play ball: nothing. At the state level, Republican legislatures will have free rein. Manchin is guaranteeing more partisanship in voting rights law, not less.

Pence Stuns Crowd With Remarks On Insurrection

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

Former Vice President Mike Pence broke his silence about the January 6 Capitol attack on Thursday, revealing that he and former President Donald Trump are still at odds over the event.

Pence stunned the audience with his remarks, according to one reporter present, appearing before a Republican Party event at the DoubleTree Hotel in Manchester, New Hampshire. He has been reluctant to speak out about January 6., a day on which he was pitted against the Constitution by his former running mate. Trump, having bought into and stoked debunked claims that the 2020 presidential election had been stolen by now-President Joe Biden, repeatedly pressured Pence to use the congressional counting of the Electoral College votes on January 6 to overturn the result. However, Pence, like every reputable constitutional scholar, concluded that his ministerial role in the proceedings gave him no authority to change the result.

Ahead of the event, Trump gave a speech to his supporters who he had called to assemble in Washington D.C. and urged them to march toward the U.S. Capitol where Congress was gathered. Groups of his followers stormed the building and shut down the proceedings in a violent assault that left dozens of polices officers injured and several people dead. Democrats, along with more than a dozen congressional Republicans, accused Trump of inciting the violent insurrection.

Trump and the crowd's ire had been particularly targeted at Pence. One crowd of the insurrectionists was even filmed cheering "Hang Mike Pence."

"January 6 was a dark day in the history of the United States' capital," Pence said on Thursday. "But thanks to the swift action of the U.S. Capitol Police and federal law enforcement, violence was quelled, the Capitol was secured, and that same day, we reconvened the Congress and did our duty under the Constitution and laws of the United States."

At this point in the speech, the crowd was noticeably silent.

"You know, President Trump and I have spoken many times since we left office. And I don't know if we'll ever see eye to eye on that day," he continued. "But I will always be proud of what we accomplished for the American people over the last four years."

The crowd broke into applause. But according to Business Insider reporter Jake Lahut, those remarks changed the tone of the evening.

"There was almost a palpable shock in the room when Pence mentioned January 6," Lahut reported on Twitter. "The vibe has gotten much quieter since Pence brought up Jan 6th."

Otherwise, Pence was full of praise for the former president, and he took shots at the Democrats. Even on the subject of Jan. 6, he accused Democrats of trying to use the day to "distract our attention" from the Biden administration. Though this critique rang hollow, given he both admitted to the seriousness of the violence that day and suggested that Trump was, at best, ambivalent about the attack.

How Trump Plans To Defame New York Prosecutors Probing His Business

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

While the criminal investigations of former President Donald Trump often make the news with fresh developments, many of these revelations don't truly amount to much. On Tuesday, though, there was a significant exception to this pattern when multiple reports found that Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance, who is working with the state's Attorney General Letitia James, has impaneled a special grand jury of his investigation of Trump and the Trump Organization. This suggests that serious charges may be on the horizon.

After the news broke, New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman, a longtime close observer of the president, explained how he will fight back against the investigations as it threatens to ensnare him or his interests.

"Trump is going to use talk of running again as a way to tar the Vance/James probes," she wrote on Twitter. "From his latest statement in response to the grand jury being empaneled: 'Interesting that today a poll came out indicating I'm far in the lead for the Republican Presidential Primary…'"

He has already suggested that he intends to run for president again in 2024 (even as he insists that he really won in 2020 and thus should be president now.) It's one way he can maintain power in the Republican Party and at least some level of attention from the media.

But Haberman is right that dangling a run — genuine or not — can be helpful in his effort to tar the investigations that target him. As long as he remains a potential candidate, he can say that criminal charges are just an effort to keep him out of power by his political enemies. Of course, that won't make an indictment go away — but it will likely be a potent message for his fans.

Since many are already primed to believe the 2020 election was stolen from him, it's not hard to imagine the prospect of his facing serious criminal charges could inspire more dangerous and lawless actions from his supporters like those seen on January 6.

In the case of Letitia James, the criticism that she's a political enemy of his does have some genuine force. She explicitly campaigned in 2018 on investigating Trump, and she has used her investigation of him to elevate her profile. Vance is a more complicated story though. A ProPublica report actually found that Vance went easy on the Trump family as his office prepared to indict two of Trump's children in 2012. After Trump's lawyer Marc Kasowitz donated $25,000 to Vance, he reportedly overruled his own prosecutors and declined to bring the charges.

How Bill Barr Is Trying To Clean Up His Declining Reputation

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

Former Attorney General Bill Barr's record leading the Justice Department is coming into clearer light as Merrick Garland takes the reins of the agency, and new revelations are bringing the much-maligned Trump acolyte under new scrutiny. It's now clear that under his watch, DOJ obtained the communication records of multiple journalists, a disturbing use of government power that is supposed to face stringent restrictions. Some argue it should never happen at all. The news was revealed when the new administration contacted the journalists to inform them of what had happened.

And the public has also learned that Barr's DOJ sought to force Twitter to unmask an anonymous account critical of California Republican Rep. Devin Nunes, a close Trump ally. Shortly after Garland was sworn in as attorney general, DOJ dropped the subpoena against Twitter.

So how is the former attorney general reacting to the new administration airing his dirty laundry? From all appearances, it looks like he's trying to launder his reputation by anonymously giving Trump administration scoops to reporters.

There've previously been signs that Barr has a tendency to plant stories in the press when it serves his interest, but a recent piece in Politico may be one of the most blatant and transparent efforts from the former AG to manage and rehabilitate his reputation.

The piece is titled "Inside Trump's push to oust his own FBI chief," and it's sold as delivering an "explosive" story about scandal in the White House, a genre that's become quite common in the past four years. But read just a little bit between the lines, and what's happening is clear: Barr is personally pushing this story to sell a narrative about himself as principled and independent from Trump. It's not clear if it's coming in direct response to the other revelations about Barr mentioned above, or if he's just more broadly concerned about differentiating himself from Trump; perhaps both motivations are playing a role.

The story, like so many tales of White House intrigue, is sourced anonymously, so how am I able to confidently say it came from Bill Barr? Because without saying so directly, the story as written makes it unambiguously clear.

Consider this passage:

It all came to a head in late April, when Barr went over to the White House for a routine meeting in then-chief of staff Mark Meadows' office.
Instead, a staffer from his office intercepted Barr and told him he was actually going to meet in the Roosevelt Room, where such meetings were not usually held.
Barr found it strange to be put in that room, especially given that no one else was there when they entered it. Soon afterward, John McEntee, the powerful head of the presidential personnel office and a hard-core Trump loyalist, entered. Then [William Evanina, the director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, also came into the room.
Barr asked McEntee, "What's this all about?" recounted one of the former Trump officials.
McEntee demurred and checked his phone. They were waiting on others, he told Barr.
Fuming, Barr walked out of the room and barged into Meadows' office. "What the f--- is going on?" he asked.

The story is clearly told from Bill Barr's point of view. We're told Barr "found it strange" to be in a room — who would know his feelings but Barr himself? Then when others enter the room, it's Barr who is active. His remarks come in direct quotes, and we're told they were recounted by "one of the former Trump officials." That leaves only three possibilities for the source of the information, and Barr is the only plausible candidate.

McEntee is described having "demurred and checked his phone." That's not how someone tends to talk about their own actions. And then when McEntee speaks, the words are not in quotation marks. This makes sense if Barr is telling the reporter the story — Barr can be directly quoted for his own past remarks that he recounts, but his recounting of any responses from others is more likely to be paraphrased, so these words don't merit quotation marks.

And here's the clincher: As the setting of the story changes, the narrative follows Bill Barr leaving the room and going to another room, where he talks to Mark Meadows. This is Barr's story, he's the protagonist, and it's being told from his point of view. He's the primary source for the narrative.

The story continued:

Then, in a meeting later that day with both Meadows and White House Counsel Pat Cipollone, Barr demanded to know what was happening. When told that Trump wanted to replace Wray with Evanina and make Patel the deputy director of the FBI, Barr calmly told them he couldn't stay in his job if Trump's preferred picks were installed at the FBI over his objection, two of the former officials familiar with the encounter said.
Cipollone, who also said he was completely unaware of what was going on until that day, sided with Barr: He told his two colleagues that the attorney general should be involved in the decision process about who should be FBI director, and that Wray should stay.
And that was it: The White House ultimately backed off on the plan once they realized Barr would quit, according to two of the former Trump officials.

Now we have two sources for the story. We know Barr is one of them. The other is Cipollone, Barr's ally in the story. He, like Barr, comes off looking like one of the "heroes" of the narrative after they take a stand together.

Further corroboration of these inferences comes near the end of the story, which noted:

A spokesperson for Trump didn't respond to a request for comment. Patel and Meadows also didn't respond to requests for comment. Evanina and McEntee declined to comment.

Politico doesn't say Barr or Cippolone declined to comment, because they did comment, anonymously. If they hadn't, the outlet would've felt compelled to reach out to them for comment on the story and note if they had declined to comment.

The opening of the story says it had three sources "familiar with the episode" in total — though the key passages only indicate two sources present for the events. This suggests there is a third source, perhaps a Barr aide, who was told contemporaneously about the events but didn't witness them directly.

In the end, it's not that revelatory a story. We know that Trump and many of his allies would've liked to see Wray gone, but many obstacles stood in his way. It's not clear this episode is really as dramatic as it was framed — it might have been more of a casual discussion than it seems in this recollection.

What we already know about Barr and Trump's relationship is frankly more interesting. Barr did indeed stand up to Trump in the end of his term in office, declaring that the DOJ hadn't found evidence of substantial fraud in the 2020 election. And Barr was sharply critical of Trump after the January 6 insurrection, pinning blame for the mob's actions on the then-president. Those public events don't erase Barr's complicity in many of Trump's worst actions in the prior two years — perhaps most notably, his eagerness to sow doubt in the 2020 election before it was carried out — but they're more significant than the episode recounted by Politico.

But the fact that he is trying to spread the story now does tell us something interesting about Bill Bar. He's tried to give the impression that he doesn't care what people think of him. When asked about the damage working for Trump had done to his reputation, Barr gave a memorable answer.

"I am at the end of my career," he told CBS in 2019 ."Everyone dies, and I am not, you know, I don't believe in the Homeric idea that, you know, immortality comes by, you know, having odes sung about you over the centuries, you know?"

As I've long argued, though, that isn't true. He cares deeply about his reputation. Barr was clearly obsessed with the media coverage of the Trump administration He saw it as his job to, in part, protect Trump from his critics in the press and sometimes bent or broke Justice Department rules to do it.

Now he's out of office, and perhaps he's abandoned the project of helping Trump. But he's still obsessed with what the media is saying.

GOP Leadership Betrays Bipartisan Deal On 1/6 Commission

Reprinted with permission from Alternet


EDITOR'S UPDATE: On Wednesday evening the House passed a bipartisan bill to establish an independent commission to investigate the January 6 Capitol insurrection, as 35 Republicans defied their party leadership and former president Donald Trump to support the commission.

.The bill now moves to the Senate where it faces an uncertain fate as Minority Leader Mitch McConnell announced his opposition on Wednesday.

Republican House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy announced on Tuesday that he will not be supporting the bipartisan deal for a commission to study the January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. And not only that, but the No. 2 Republican in the House, Rep. Steve Scalise, revealed that he'll be whipping Republican votes against the legislation.

It was a disappointing but predictable development for those hoping to have bipartisan consensus on the plan to analyze the monumental challenge to American democracy. With the right wing increasingly downplaying the events of January 6 and former President Donald Trump's attempts to overturn the 2020 election, or even defending them, it was clear Republican leadership had little interest left in seeking accountability. While legislation for the commission is almost certain to pass the House because of the Democrats' majority, it faces a less certain future in the Senate, where it will need 60 votes. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday he is undecided on the legislation.

In turning his back on the commission, McCarthy was essentially throwing one of his own under the bus. Indeed, this is exactly the sentiment New York Republican Rep. John Katko reportedly expressed to a colleague about the development, according to a recent report in The Hill.

"Katko feels like he's been thrown under the bus," the person said. "I think he feels frustrated he was given a direction to go in and had the rug pulled out from under him."

Katko is the top Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee. He was, it seems, given an impossible task: to negotiate a deal with Democrats on a commission that McCarthy and most the GOP caucus was bound to end up opposing.

McCarthy was initially outraged by the events of January 6, pinning the blame on Trump even as he opposed impeachment. But Republican voters have clearly signaled they don't want Trump held accountable, and they're unconcerned with the insurrection, so McCarthy has dutifully abandoned any interest in the commission.

In a statement released by Scalise, the House GOP leadership offered a series of excuses for their opposition to the commission, trying to put the blame on Democrats and Speaker Nancy Pelosi. But the objections were frivolous.

The first three bullet points here are all basically the same point: that the commission only focuses on the events of January 6. That is, of course, the whole point of the legislation. The idea that the 2017 baseball shooting is suddenly among McCarthy's concerns strains credulity, and it has no credible link to January 6 attack. But if it did, nothing would prevent the commission from studying the link. (And if McCarthy had thought the event itself was worthy of study, he could have proposed that back in 2017.)

The point that the report is "due to late" is hard to parse even on its own terms.

The last two points just refer to other investigations of the events, such as in the DOJ and congressional committees, which serve different purposes from an independent commission. Notably, they're run ultimately by Democrats, while the commission is intended to be bipartisan.

Ultimately, the GOP's talking points against the commission just amount to an admission they don't want a commission at all. It's clear there was no reasonable agreement that would satisfy them, unless perhaps it was so watered down as to be pointless. And of course, they use the delay imposed by the negotiations they insisted upon as another reason to oppose the commission.

So why go through all this song and dance? McCarthy perhaps concluded that it would look too cynical to just oppose a commission outright, or mayube he genuinely wanted a commission at the start and changed his mind.

But the attempt to blame Democrats for the failure is falling flat. The arguments against the commission are laughable. And without a doubt, some House Republicans will vote for the commission, just as some voted for impeachment, giving it a seal of bipartisanship even if McCarthy is opposed. It's hard to imagine how the House minority leader's reputation comes out improved after all this.

Democratic Rep. Jim McGovern blasted McCarthy for abandoning the agreement after all the negotiation:

And according to Punchbowl News, many Republicans aren't impressed with McCarthy's excuses, either.

"Sure, there are some Republicans who can toe the line and say that they will oppose it because it doesn't allow for an investigation into all political violence," it reported. "But many in the party are finding that excuse incredibly lame."

Feds Probing ‘Massive Scheme’ To Illegally Finance Collins Campaign

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

Axios reported Tuesday on a newly public search warrant from the FBI revealing an investigation into a "massive scheme" to illegally funnel money to Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins' 2020 re-election campaign.

Federal investigators suspect defense contractor Navatek and its former CEO Martin Kao illegally directed $150,000 to a Collins super PAC through a shell company. They also believe Kao reimbursed family members for donating to Collins, an illegal way to circumvent campaign donation limits. Kao has previously been indicted for fraudulently receiving COVID relief funds, Axios reported.

"According to the FBI, Kao and his wife set up a sham LLC called the Society for Young Women Scientists and Engineers. Navatek then wrote the LLC a $150,000 check, investigators say, which was passed on to the super PAC," Axios reported. "Government contractors are barred from donating to federal political committees, and investigators suspect the donations were attempts to evade that prohibition."

It continued: "Investigators say bank records also show that Kao illegally reimbursed family members who donated to Collins' campaign, and that Navatek reimbursed some of Kao's colleagues for their contributions."

The documents do not indicate that either Collins or her campaign were aware of the scheme, and a spokesperson for the senator told Axios they "had absolutely no knowledge of anything alleged in the warrant." However, the search warrant does report that a member of the senator's staff suggested to Kao that he could have direct his family members to donate to Collins after he had reached the legal limit. And Collins has previously assisted the company Navatek, the document explains, by getting it an $8 million contract with the federal government.

Why Hasn't The Tea Party Returned To Protest Biden's Big Spending?

Writing for the HuffPost,, reporter Igor Bobic published a fascinating piece finding that Republicans are optimistic that President Joe Biden's generous spending policies will trigger a second wave of the Tea Party that erupted under President Barack Obama. But as of yet, no such movement has emerged, despite the strong parallels between Biden and Obama's first days in office.

So what explains the difference? Bobic picks up on several plausible reasons, but I think he leaves some out.

For many, the most plausible explanation is the fact that Obama's race inspired a bigoted backlash that Biden has avoided:

Another reason why Biden may not face as much resistance as Obama did is the fact that he's a white man in his 70s who has been in the public spotlight for decades. The Tea Party movement was fueled by race as much as economics ― a trend that continued into the Trump years. The election of a Black president for the first time in U.S. history galvanized a segment of the Republican Party, leading to the racist "birther" conspiracy theory that Obama wasn't born in the U.S., a false notion that eventually put Trump, a top birther, into the Oval Office.

This is undoubtedly a big part of the explanation, but it's not the complete story. After all, many argued persuasively that racism was a big factor in Donald Trump's 2020 win, and that happened against Hillary Clinton, a white opponent. So even if we believe racism was the primary motivation behind the Tea Party, that doesn't rule out that such a movement could arise in opposition to a white president.

Obama and Biden differed in many ways apart from race (though it may be a factor in explaining some of the other differences.) Obama's 2008 candidacy was sold and recognized as a major turning point in American politics. He promised "change" and argued for upending the Washington order. That was a welcome message to many in the country, winning him the presidency and broad popularity early on, but it made many of his detractors uncomfortable and wary, perhaps especially those who were already prejudiced toward him because of his race.

Biden, on the other hand, ran as a return to normalcy. And not only was that his message, but the media, much of the country, and even his critics seemed to believe that's what he was offering. The central narrative of the 2020 Democratic primaries was that Biden was the most moderate (and perhaps electable) of all the candidates, and that image stayed with him even as he surprisingly tacked left on policy during the general election campaign. It's true that being a white old man helped Biden sell the idea that he represents a return to the status quo, but that's the message he was intentionally offering to the public, in stark contrast to Obama.

The circumstances of the crises that Biden and Obama faced are also vital to understand. Like Obama, Biden took over the presidency in the midst of a deep economic crisis and pushed through a largely partisan spending package to help the country recover. But while Republicans were able to mock and demonize the 2009 stimulus package, their opposition to Biden's 2021 American Rescue Plan has been negligible. Perhaps as a result, it's highly popular — as are Biden's other taxing and spending plans.

Bobic pointed out one key factor to explain why the American Rescue Plan is more of a political success than the Obama stimulus — it helped the vast majority of Americans directly by sending them checks or direct deposits:

Turns out, people are less displeased with spending when it puts dollars in their pockets, as Republican Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.) acknowledged to HuffPost this week.
"Even my counties back in Indiana are happy, which is a very conservative area," said Braun, a deficit hawk. "They're asking, 'How can I spend $15 million in a rural county?' I think the spending part of it was smart politically because they put a sugar high out there and put a smoke screen to how radical some of the legislation may end up being."

(Biden's ARP is also bigger and better attuned to the crisis at hand than the Obama stimulus was in 2009, which makes it more likely that the economy will recover better this time around and reduce the risk of backlash going forward.)

Another important factor, though, is that big spending in the face of the coronavirus pandemic was already a bipartisan success story. Democrats and Republicans jointly passed a series of bills at the start of the pandemic, pumping trillions of dollars into the economy, and then they passed another nearly trillion-dollar package at the end of December 2020. While Republicans opposed ARP under Biden, it was hard for them to make a principled stand against it, because they had largely supported previous bills that looked quite similar. They could say the new bill was excessive, but they couldn't argue it represented the road to tyranny.

Meanwhile, Trump himself had objected to the fact that the direct payments in the December package had only been $600 per person — he wanted them to be $2,000. Congressional Republicans largely opposed this change, but it ended up in Biden's plan — forcing any Republicans who would strongly oppose the provision to stand in opposition to Trump, still the de facto leader of their party. And when he was president, Republicans didn't shy away from deficit spending — most notably with $2 trillion in tax cuts — even when the economy was doing well.

Bobic noted that Trump's positioning with the GOP generally makes it hard for Republican officials or the party base to take a stand against Biden's spending agenda:

The biggest obstacle to the rise of another conservative political movement may be Trump, who as president repeatedly prodded his party to embrace higher government spending. The former president continues to suck up oxygen among the right, dangling endorsements to 2022 candidates and issuing threats to campaign against Republicans who crossed him in the past.

Few Republicans want to lead an opposition movement to Biden that ends up putting them crosswise with Trump, who is more important to many party members than any particular policy position.

Obama's predecessor, President George W. Bush, had been a profligate spender too, of course. But this didn't bother the conservative activists in 2009 claiming they were opposed to Obama's spending. As mentioned, much of the Tea Party was a thin cover for racism. But to the extent they felt obliged to criticize government deficit spending on principle, they weren't constrained by a need to hold the Bush party line. His popularity was in the gutter, his legacy was in tatters, and his political career was over.

And one policy from the Bush years likely plagued Obama in a way that has no parallel for Biden: The Troubled Asset Relief Program, a.k.a. TARP, a.k.a. the bank bailout. The bailout of financial institutions that had heavily invested in subprime mortgages was deeply unpopular and seen as a corrupt giveaway to the very people who caused the 2008 financial crisis. And though it was passed with bipartisan votes through Congress and signed by a Republican president, it hung over much of Obama's response to the crisis, likely dragging down support for other actions he took that might otherwise have been more popular. There was a widespread sense, not unfounded, that the bankers had been saved while ordinary Americans were left out in the cold. Obama declined or was unable to take steps that would have directly helped families in more tangible, concrete ways, and the economy took longer to recover as a result.

Biden benefitted from having nothing like TARP to cope with, and as explained, the direct spending provisions of ARP ensured that the American people were personally benefiting from the federal government's actions. That makes it harder to gin up opposition than if people believe others are unfairly benefiting from the government's largesse.

And despite the rampant failures of the previous administration and Trump personally to respond appropriately to the coronavirus pandemic, most people actually seem prone to view the crisis as no one's fault in particular. This is a major difference with the 2008 crisis, which was seen by many as the fault of the big banks, the financial industry, and government regulators. Elements of this populist and even leftist anger made their way into the Tea Party rhetoric, even if they served the larger purpose of a right-wing movement. There have been some leftist and populist critiques of the U.S. economic response to the coronavirus crisis, but they haven't gained nearly as much traction.

There is a signficant caveat to this whole argument, because in one way Biden is facing his own version of the Tea Party. But this time, it doesn't come in protesters wearing funny hats, but the large group of people, primarily on the right, who are opposed to getting the coronavirus vaccine. It's not clear yet how large and formidable this segment of the population is, and how much it will impact the road to life beyond the pandemic, but it does seem to descend from many of the same strains of anti-government sentiment that came out of the 2009 Tea Party.

But the anti-vaccine movement isn't as welcome to the Republican Party as the Tea Party was, and it isn't likely to have as much staying power — assuming the pandemic recedes and becomes a less significant political issue. It's hard to see how one could build a governing agenda around anti-vax ideology, especially if the coronavirus fades.

None of this means, however, that Biden is in the clear. He may avoid a Tea Party-style backlash, but political perils abound. Republicans may well find issues of Biden's own making, or unforeseen events, that they can successfully weaponize against him and quash his political ambitions. It's possible the economy could recover and the public will turn against Biden's spending, though this largely seems like right-wing wishful thinking. At this point, following the GOP's Obama-era playbook doesn't show much hope of success.