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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.


Did Barr's Attempt To Protect Giuliani Stall FBI Raid In Ukraine Probe?

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

While the federal raid on Rudy Giuliani's home has attracted the national media's attention, there's a thread in the story leading up to the issuance of the search warrant that may be underplayed.

The New York Times story that initially reported the news on Tuesday noted that the investigation into Giuliani has been ongoing for years, growing out of his conduct implicated in the first impeachment of former President Donald Trump. He was instrumental and deeply involved in Trump's 2019 effort to induce Ukraine to announce an investigation into Joe Biden, who they perceived as the president's likely 2020 rival. As part of the effort, Giuliani sought to disparage the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, and eventually, Trump had her removed from office.

This piece of the puzzle, the Times reported Thursday, is key to the current investigation. One central question is whether Giuliani sought to have Yovanovitch removed while illegally working as a lobbyist for foreign interests, according to the report. These allegations aren't particularly new — they've been looming over Giuliani since the impeachment story first broke.

But what's particularly interesting is that the search warrant for Giuliani's home and office was issued now, under the Biden administration. The Times reported that the Trump DOJ, under then-Attorney General Bill Barr, blocked previous efforts by prosecutors to get the search warrant:

The United States attorney's office in Manhattan and the F.B.I. had sought for months to secure Justice Department approval to request search warrants for Mr. Giuliani's phones and electronic devices.
Under Mr. Trump, senior political appointees in the Justice Department repeatedly sought to block the warrants, The New York Times reported, slowing the investigation as it was gaining momentum last year. After Merrick B. Garland was confirmed as Mr. Biden's attorney general, the Justice Department lifted its objections.

CNN confirmed this reporting:

And the search warrant for multiple electronic devices comes at an interesting time for Giuliani and Trump. Last year, prosecutors in New York tried multiple times to obtain approval from Justice Department officials in Washington for the search warrant, including in advance of the 2020 election, but did not receive it.
They ultimately did receive it at some point after Trump left office, and as a result of the delay, the seized material may include all sorts of records and communications that prosecutors might not have received if the warrants were approved earlier.

This looks on its face suspicious. Why was Biden's DOJ willing to approve search warrants on Giuliani, but Trump's DOJ — under his ally Barr, who he nominated specifically to protect himself — wasn't? Perhaps this question answers itself.

The Times report gestured at a possible answer, but it was unconvincing:

As the investigation into Mr. Giuliani heated up last summer, prosecutors and F.B.I. agents in Manhattan were preparing to seek search warrants for Mr. Giuliani's records related to his efforts to remove the ambassador, but they first had to notify Justice Department officials in Washington, according to people with knowledge of the matter.
Federal prosecutors must consult Justice Department officials in Washington about search warrants involving lawyers because of concerns that they might obtain confidential communications with clients. The proposed warrants for Mr. Giuliani were particularly sensitive because Mr. Trump was his most prominent client.
Career Justice Department officials in Washington largely supported the search warrants, but senior officials raised concerns that they would be issued too close to the election, the people with knowledge of the matter said.
Under longstanding practice, the Justice Department generally tries to avoid taking aggressive investigative actions within 60 days of an election if those actions could affect the outcome of the vote.
The prosecutors in Manhattan tried again after the election, but political appointees in Mr. Trump's Justice Department sought once more to block the warrants, the people with knowledge of the matter said. At the time, Mr. Trump was still contesting the election results in several states, a legal effort that Mr. Giuliani led, those officials noted. [emphasis added]

This only gives us more reason to think the Trump Justice Department was corruptly protecting the president's ally. And it's frankly perplexing that the Times include the bolded sentence above in the piece, given that Bill Barr was prominently insisting in 2020 that he did not believe the DOJ has a policy "to avoid taking aggressive investigative actions within 60 days of an election if those actions could affect the outcome of the vote."

Barr was clear that he thought the policy was narrower than that.

"The idea is you don't go after candidates," Barr said in a widely discussed interview. "You don't indict candidates or perhaps someone that's sufficiently close to a candidate, that it's essentially the same, you know, within a certain number of days before an election."

Perhaps Giuliani was "sufficiently close to" Trump, in Barr's view, to limit any investigatory steps, but Barr made clear he thought he had wide discretion. And Barr found exceptions when it was convenient for him. As ProPublica reported, the DOJ told prosecutors of a new "exception to the general non-interference with elections policy" the months before the 2020 election if they suspect election "fraud that involves postal workers or military employees." And the Justice Department announced an investigation of allegedly discarded ballots in September ahead of the.

Bizarrely, the statement said that the nine ballots had been cast for Trump — an odd claim to include in such a release, and one that had to be subsequently corrected when it was realized only seven of the ballots were found to have been cast for Trump. Barr reportedly brought news of the investigation directly to Trump. Legal experts widely condemned the announcement as inappropriate, and no charges were brought in the case.

Of course, some Biden critics have made the opposite case, that Democrats and the current administration are going after Giuliani for political reasons and that it was Barr who was behaving appropriately. Fox News host Jesse Watters, for example, said of the raid on Giuliani: "Democrat prosecutors are waging political warfare for the benefit of the Democratic party just to purge Trump because he challenged the system." (There's no indication that the investigators in the case are predominantly Democrats.)

He added: "This is a thin predicate and everybody knows it."

These claims are far less plausible than the proposition that the Trump DOJ was protecting Giuliani. When asked about the raid, Biden said Thursday: "I made a pledge: I would not interfere in any way, order, or try to stop any investigation the Justice Department had, no way. I learned about that last night when the rest of the world learned about it, my word. I had no idea this was underway."

Trump, on the other hand, made no secret of his desire to direct the DOJ to investigate his enemies, he defended his right to do it, and he did so explicitly and in public many times.

Any DOJ approval of the Giuliani warrants would be overseen by Attorney General Merrick Garland, who has been widely respected across the board for years. He was confirmed by a vote of 70-30 by the Senate, winning the votes of 20 Republican senators, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. There's no indication that he's a rabid partisan.

And of course, Garland doesn't have the final say. An independent judge has to approve the warrant prosecutors are seeking. We don't know what evidence that judge saw, which is why it's so preposterous for Watters to claim we know the predicate for the investigation is "thin." Andrew Giuliani, Rudy's son, slammed the judge as an Obama appointee in comments on Thursday, but he provided no evidence that any other judge would've ruled differently. And even if the warrant wasn't approved under Bill Barr, the investigation itself still occurred under his leadership, making it even less persuasive to argue the whole case is a partisan witch hunt.

Wingnuts Freaking Out Over Chauvin Verdict (Except Judge Jeanine)

While many observers welcomed the jury's finding on Tuesday that Derek Chauvin was guilty of murdering George Floyd, some conservative media figures seemed distinctly perturbed, unsettled, or outraged by the outcome. It seemed that though Floyd's murder was initially was widely condemned, the movement it stirred and demands for changes it spurred from progressives polarized the issue, making some conservatives feel the guilty verdict was a loss for their side.

For example, some pushed the debunked notion that Floyd died from an overdose, rather than the knee on his neck for over 9 minutes:



Some just proclaimed Chauvin's innocence on some or all of the charges:


If you're a white police officer in a city you should quit or move to a rural district. You could be next.— Cassandra Fairbanks (@Cassandra Fairbanks)1618956587.0

Poor Chauvin. This is awful. He is a political prisoner. Nobody can change my mind on this.— Cassandra Fairbanks (@Cassandra Fairbanks)1618952952.0

I believe Derek Chauvin is guilty of something, I do not believe it's all three charges. If police officers don't… https://t.co/4u5bo893ij— Brigitte Gabriel (@Brigitte Gabriel)1618954261.0



Others simply spent no time actually recognizing that justice was done and instead switched to attacking potential protesters or rioters for events they merely predicted would occur. Many suggested that the jury and the court felt undue pressure to find Chauvin guilty. And some sent frankly bizarre tweets.








On Fox News, host Greg Gutfeld had one of the most bizarre reactions, condemned from pretty much all sides. He said he thought Chauvin might not be guilty on all counts, but he was glad he was found guilty anyway to avoid potential violence and looting.

"And now I'm just going to just get really selfish," he said. "I'm glad that he was found guilty on all charges. Even if he might not be guilty of all charges."

Some of his own co-hosts, including Jeanine Pirro — who is often herself quite far to the right politically — pushed back on his comments. And she actually offered a surprisingly measured and thoughtful response to the trial.

"The verdict is supported by the facts," she said. "Make no mistake, the facts are solid on this verdict. This verdict will be upheld on appeal."

South Carolina's Sen. Tim Scott, the only Black Republican in the Senate, also supported the result:



Federal Judge Warns Trump May Be Held Liable For January 6 Insurrection

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

In a ruling on Wednesday in the case of one of the accused Capitol rioters, U.S. Judge Emmett Sullivan offered a provocative aside about former President Donald Trump's role in the attack.

Sullivan ruled that Jeffrey Sabol of Colorado is too dangerous and too much of a flight risk to be released prior to his trial. Sabol is accused of beating a cop during the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, which sought to prevent Congress from officially counting the Electoral College votes that made Joe Biden president.

The judge rejected the argument that Sabol was prompted to engage in the insurrection in the heat of the moment, spurred on by Trump's rally. Evidence suggests, instead, that Sabol engaged in "prior planning" ahead of the attack, Sullivan found, which distinguishes him from rioters who are not being held pre-trial.

"He brought tactical gear, including a helmet, steel-toe boots, zip ties, a radio and an ear piece," Sullivan said. "He later admitted to law enforcement that he had equipped himself with this gear because he anticipated encountering counter-protesters. ... He also maintained, even days after the riot when he believed he was wanted by the FBI, that he had been "fighting tyranny in the D.C. Capitol."

He continued: "The Court is ultimately unpersuaded by Mr. Sabol's argument that he did not plan to commit violence or disrupt the electoral process on January 6, 2021, but rather was caught up in the "frenzy" that was created in part by then-President Trump's, and his associates', words and actions."

Then, in a section of the ruling flagged by journalist Marcy Wheeler, Sullivan indicated he believes Trump and his allies may have significant legal exposure for their roles.

"To be sure, to what extent President Trump's words and actions led to the violent and shocking storming of the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021 is an important question, and one that could still have legal consequences for the former President and his prominent supporters," Sullivan wrote, citing a civil lawsuit against the former president. "But President Trump's culpability is not before this Court."

He continued, noting that Trump's own role in spurring the attack would not exonerate Sabol:

To the extent Mr. Sabol raises this issue to suggest he has a complete defense to the criminal charges he faces based on President Trump ostensibly or actually giving the rioters permission to use violence to interfere with the peaceful transition of power, that argument fails for the reasons clearly and thoughtfully articulated by Chief Judge Howell ... Indeed, "even if former President Trump in fact . . . 'told the assembled rabble what they must do' (i.e., attack the Capitol and disrupt the certification of the electoral vote count) and 'ratified their actions,' . . . he acted 'beyond [his] power' as President, . . . and his statements would not immunize defendants charged with offenses arising from the January 6 assault on the Capitol from criminal liability."

While the judge's remarks on their own don't have any legal significance for the former president, they're a useful reminder of a fact that is far too quickly being swept under the rug. The former president had a clear role in the most direct attack on American democracy in memory, and he has not yet been held legally responsible for it. Many others who believed his lies about the election, on the other hand, are suffering dearly. And while there's been significant attention paid to the ongoing investigations of Trump in New York and Georgia, his most egregious violations took place in the American capital.

Biden Signals Reversal Of Commitment On Refugee Admissions

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

UPDATE: Following sharp reaction from advocates and members of Congress, the White House announced late Friday that the previous caps on refugee admissions will be lifted next month. Press Secretary Jen Psaki said that the president will seek further advice on how many refugees can be admitted during this fiscal year, which ends in October. Although Psaki said that number was unlikely to reach 62,500 as promised two months ago, due to the "decimated" state of the processing system left by Trump, the administration will "take immediate action to reverse the Trump policy that banned refugees from many key regions, to enable flights from those regions to begin within days; today's order did that.".

After a steady increase in pressure from outside groups and questions from the media, the Biden administration officially decided on Friday to break its pledge to lift President Donald Trump's strict limits on refugee admissions for the fiscal year ending in September.

Despite previously pledging to raise the cap on refugees from the extremely low level of 15,000 to 62,500, Biden has reversed himself. During the presidential campaign, Biden pledged to raise the cap to 125,000 in the next fiscal year, and as recently as February, Secretary of State Tony Blinken had told Congress the level set under Trump for this fiscal year would be increased more than fourfold.

Many observers had become increasingly worried about Biden's commitment to following through on this objective as the weeks dragged on without official action. Some reports indicated Biden was worried about the "optics" of raising the refugee cap. CNN's Kaitlan Collins on April 8 pressed White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki on the issue given the delay, and Psaki insisted Biden was committed to the increase:

Collins: My last question, sorry, is on the refugee cap that the President has proposed raising to 62,500, but he's not actually formally signed the paperwork yet. Is the White House still committed to raising that cap to 62,500 by this fiscal year?
Psaki: Yes.
Collins: And so we should expect that before October? And it's not going to change from 62,500? -- is my other question.
Psaki: I don't anticipate that. It is -- that it would change, I should say. It is -- remains -- the President remains committed to raising the cap.

But on Friday, the fears of refugee advocates were realized.

The New York Times reported:

A senior administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the decision-making, said the administration grew concerned that the surge of border crossings by unaccompanied minors was too much and had already overwhelmed the refugee branch of the Department of Health and Human Services. But migrants at the border seeking asylum are processed in an entirely separate system than refugees fleeing persecution overseas.

It also noted:

The administration will change subcategories for refugee slots created by the Trump administration that gave priority to Iraqis who had worked for the U.S. military and people, primarily Christians, who are facing religious persecution. But the classification also disqualified most other Muslim and African refugees. As a region, Africa has the most displaced people needing resettlement. An administration official said the change would allow the Biden administration to fill the cap of 15,000, although it would also leave thousands of additional refugees cleared to fly to the United States stranded in camps.

This broken promise from Biden is a cowardly betrayal of his many supporters who were horrified by Trump's aggression toward and disregard for asylum seekers and refugees. Prior to the revelation of Biden's reversal, The Atlantic writer Adam Serwer said on Twitter: "Biden's delay in reversing Trump's discriminatory refugee restrictions is a violation of his campaign promises and the reasons he gave for running in the first place." In a new piece, he wrote:

Restoring "the soul of the nation" cannot mean simply unseating Trump. It also has to mean reversing the policies his administration put in place in an attempt to codify into law his racial and sectarian conception of American citizenship. If Biden cannot do that, then he has restored little more than Democratic control of the presidency. And should he fail to rescind these policies simply because he fears criticism of those who enabled Trump's cruelty to begin with, it will be nothing short of cowardice.
"My faith teaches me that we should be a nation that once again welcomes the stranger and shows a preferential option for the poor, remembering how so many of us and our ancestors came here in a similar way," Biden wrote in 2019. "It's not enough to just wish the world were better. It's our duty to make it so."

So far, Biden has done a lot that is popular — accelerating vaccine distribution, passing the American Rescue Plan, proposing a big infrastructure and spending package. And he may fear that increasing the refugee cap is unpopular and will derail the momentum that he has. Indeed, one Morning Consult poll found that increasing refugee admissions was the only major Biden priority that was unpopular.

But one reason for passing popular policies that meet people's needs is to have more cover and trust with the public when taking values-based policy steps that might trigger some discontent. And it's not as if raising the cap is a bait-and-switch for Biden — he campaigned on letting in more refugees, so he shouldn't feel the need to shy away from it now. It is one of the easiest ways for a president to drastically improve a large number of human lives, saving families from dire conditions in refugee camps, with little or no downside.

And there's likely no upside at all to breaking this promise. The anti-immigrant right wing will not give Biden any credit at all for backing down; instead, it will likely just encourage them to increase their demands even further. They'll cite Biden's capitulation on this promise as evidence that refugees really are a problem, and perhaps say that letting in any refugees is a problem.

This is a particularly terrible time for Biden to be retreating on the immigration issue, too, because anti-immigrant bigotry is resurgent. Fox News's Tucker Carlson, an influential leader in conservatism, is openly endorsing the white supremacist "replacement theory," which Wisconsin Republican Sen. Ron Johnson recently echoed. And on Friday, a group of far-right Republicans announced the launch of a new, openly nativist caucus based on "Anglo Saxon political traditions."

Maybe this increasing sentiment on the right, combined with manufactured right-wing outrage about the border, has spooked Biden into capitulating on this issue. But appeasing this bigotry won't work. It will only embolden it.

Schumer Has A New Way To Bulldoze McConnell's Senate Obstruction

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

On Monday evening, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer's spokesperson put out a seemingly dry statement that actually contained major news.

The New York Democrat has found a new way to avoid Republican senators' obstruction on budget-oriented legislation:

The Parliamentarian has advised that a revised budget resolution may contain budget reconciliation instructions. This confirms the Leader's interpretation of the Budget Act and allows Democrats additional tools to improve the lives of Americans if Republican obstruction continues. While no decisions have been made on a legislative path forward using Section 304 and some parameters still need to be worked out, the Parliamentarian's opinion is an important step forward that this key pathway is available to Democrats if needed.

It's a somewhat esoteric point, but it could have significant implications for the Democrats' agenda. From the start of Joe Biden's presidency, Democrats knew that either they'd have to eliminate or significantly modify the Senate filibuster to pass major bills, or else find ways to work around Republican obstinacy. As the filibuster currently functions, 60 votes are needed to pass a bill through the Senate, which means at least 10 Republicans would have to join with all of the sitting Democrats to enact legislation. However, the budget reconciliation process allows the Senate to pass a bill on a pure majority vote, which is how Democrats passed the nearly $2 trillion American Rescue Plan in March. It was also crucial in passing Obamacare in 2010 and the Trump tax cuts in 2017.

Usually, though, Senators have believed that reconciliation could only happen on a limited basis — there's only one budget per fiscal year. But Schumer concluded — and crucially, he got the Senate parliamentarian to agree — that it's also legitimate to revise a budget using the reconciliation mechanism. This would allow the Senate to pass additional bills with a simple majority vote, thereby circumventing the filibuster and Republican opposition.

This "could enable Democrats to bypass a filibuster and use reconciliation once more in fiscal year 2021 (and several more times next year)," explained CNN"s Sahil Kapur.

This is something of a game-changer. It means passing laws will be easier through the Senate. But there are still major restrictions on what this procedure can be used for — most notably, the rules dictate that reconciliation bills can only include provisions that are directly, rather than incidentally, related to the budget, i.e., taxing and spending. This means that many of the Democrats' priorities, such as securing voting rights, will still have to overcome the filibuster to become law.

One might think that it doesn't really matter if Democrats can pass many reconciliation bills or just a few, because they can just stuff as many fiscal provisions as they want into a single package and pass it as a whole. This is true, but as Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont said Monday night on MSNBC, the ability to "revise" the budget will give Democrats more "flexibility" to enact their agenda.

Driver Rams Barrier, Killing Capitol Police Officer And Triggering Lockdown

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

U.S. Capitol Police announced Friday afternoon that one officer was killed and another hospitalized after a driver plowed a car into a barrier outside the Capitol complex. The driver of the vehicle, who was reportedly shot by police after he left the car and lunged at them with a knife, officials said.

Reports of the incident first emerged on Friday around 1 p.m. when Capitol Hill was put on lockdown, and staff were alerted about an "external security threat" via text message.

Multiple reporters on the scene shared the news.

"Capitol locked down," said Fox News reporter Chad Pergram. "Car crashed into barrier on Senate side off of Constitution Avenue. This is where they shrunk the perimeter a few weeks ago."

U.S. Capitol Police put out a statement saying they received reports that a vehicle rammed into two of its officers on the north side of the capitol.

The two injured officers and the suspect were all reportedly taken to the hospital. But by the time Capitol police held a press conference at 2:45 p.m., only one of the cops was still alive. Officials did not disclose any officials about a possible motive. They said they did not believe there was an ongoing threat, but the investigation is in its early stages.

NBC News reporter Jon Allen reported that a Capitol Police officer told him "We've been attacked."

After the January 6 attack on the Capitol, extensive fencing had been erected around the complex to protect officials. But the security measures were widely criticized and were eventually scaled back.

Reporter Jake Sherman captured footage of a helicopter landing on the grounds.

"One Of The Weirdest": Tucker Carlson Interviews Gaetz About Sex Crime Probe

After the New York Times reported that Rep. Matt Gaetz is under federal investigation on the suspicion of sex trafficking a 17-year-old girl, the Florida Republican found himself seeking a safe space to fight back against the allegations in Fox News' prime time hour with host Tucker Carlson. But after the interview, Carlson himself told viewers he was left flummoxed by the exchange and didn't know what to think about the story.

"If you just saw our Matt Gaetz interview, that was one of the weirdest interviews I've ever conducted," Carlson told his audience. "That story just appeared in the news a couple of hours ago. And on the certainty that there's always more than what you read in the newspaper, we immediately called Matt Gaetz and asked him to come on and tell us more. Which as you saw, he did. I don't think that clarified much. But it certainly showed that this is a deeply interesting story. And we'll be following it. Don't quite understand it. But we'll bring you more when we find out."

So what was so "weird" about the interview for Carlson?

For one thing, Gaetz made the interview uncomfortably personal. Gaetz claimed that a woman he had dated, and who had met Carlson and his wife at a dinner a few years back, had been "threatened" by the FBI as part of the investigation. Carlson seemed a bit taken aback and didn't welcome being brought into the narrative.

"I don't remember the woman or the context at all honestly," Carlson told Gaetz.

Gaetz also claimed that he was being falsely smeared by people at the Justice Department, and he tried to commiserate with Carlson over an allegation the host had previously faced. Carlson didn't seem to welcome this anecdote, etiher.

"You just referred to a mentally ill viewer who accused me of a sex crime 20 years ago," Carlson said. "And of course it wasn't true. I had never met the person."

Gaetz's story about the investigation is a bit hard to parse. He accused a former DOJ official of trying to extort him for money over the allegations, citing a March 16 text message to his father that led to an in-person meeting with the alleged extortionist. And he said that he had worked with the FBI in an investigation into the extortion, which led to his father wearing a wire. Gaetz called on the FBI and DOJ to release the tapes, claiming they would exonerate him.

But he also seemed to suggest that people currently in the FBI were trying to set him up, apparently separately from the former DOJ official who is trying to extort him. And he was much more eager to talk about the supposed extortion plot than about the FBI investigation. When Carlson asked Gaetz when he first became aware of the FBI investigation into the suspicion of sex trafficking, Gaetz awkwardly refused to answer. He only referred back to the March 16 text message. He even named a person, David McGee, who used to work for the DOJ as the person who has been extorting him, though this claim has not been corroborated. Katie Benner, who broke the story for the Times, later argued that Gaetz is trying to distract from the fact that the investigation into his conduct began under Attorney General Bill Barr — making it less likely that it arose as a partisan plot against him.

The New York Times story, Gaetz said, was planted to "quell" the extortion investigation.

He also unprompted brought up an allegation that there were pictures of him with child prostitutes, a claim that had not appeared in the New York Times article about the investigation.


Gaetz again suggested, as he had already in response to the Times reporting, that he pays for trips and travel for his girlfriends (none of whom, he said, were underage) and that this spending was being distorted into a sex trafficking claim.

"I have not had a relationship with a 17-year-old," he said.

Matt Gaetz Reported Under Investigation By Justice Department For Underage Sex Trafficking

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

Florida Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz is under investigation for potentially violating sex trafficking laws, according to a new report Tuesday from the New York Times.

Officials are reportedly investigating his relationship with a 17-year-old girl and whether he had sex with her and paid for her to take take trips with him. It is a federal crime to use money to get an underage person to cross state lines for sexual purposes.

"It was not clear how Mr. Gaetz met the girl, believed to be 17 at the time of encounters about two years ago that investigators are scrutinizing, according to two of the people," the report said. "The investigation was opened in the final months of the Trump administration under Attorney General William P. Barr, the two people said. Given Mr. Gaetz's national profile, senior Justice Department officials in Washington — including some appointed by Mr. Trump — were notified of the investigation, the people said."

Earlier on Tuesday, Axios had reported that Gaetz has considered stepping down from Congress early to join the right-wing outlet Newsmax. It's not clear if such considerations are related to the investigation reported by the Times.

The Times reported that the investigation of Gaetz grew out from a "broader investigation into a political ally of his, a local official in Florida named Joel Greenberg, who was indicted last summer on an array of charges, including sex trafficking of a child and financially supporting people in exchange for sex, at least one of whom was an underage girl."

Greenberg shared a picture on Twitter with Gaetz at the White House in June 2019, as the Times pointed out. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges against him.

Gaetz gave a bizarre and puzzling response to the Times when asked about the case, seeming to confirm at least some parts of the report:

Mr. Gaetz said in an interview that his lawyers had been in touch with the Justice Department and that they were told he was the subject, not the target, of an investigation. "I only know that it has to do with women," Mr. Gaetz said. "I have a suspicion that someone is trying to recategorize my generosity to ex-girlfriends as something more untoward."

After this piece and the Times story were initially published, Gaetz gave more extended comments to Axios.

"I have definitely, in my single days, provided for women I've dated. You know, I've paid for flights, for hotel rooms. I've been, you know, generous as a partner. I think someone is trying to make that look criminal when it is not," he said. He added that "absolutely" none of the women were underage."

"The allegations of sexual misconduct against me are false," he told reporter Jonathan Swan. "They are rooted in an extortion effort against my family for $25 million … in exchange for making this case go away."