That sounds like fear, what you said. What if Roberts thought of himself as one of 9 people who sit equal to the executive and therefore just as powerful, and therefore not one bit afraid? What if he felt it could be Trump… Or Bozo… Or the My Pillow guy… And it wouldn’t matter… So, he would rule in favor of the conservatives retaining the executive, and therefore greasing the wheels to his own future policy implementations?
I think you could have expected that from Scalia. You probably can expect it from Thomas, and his minion Alito. But Roberts is too smart for that. His self-image is that he’s not a tool of anyone. It’s not fear; it’s hubris. So he can easily make mistakes in thinking he’s infallible. But this isn’t a situation that’s hard to predict: he knows Turmp wants to be an authoritarian dictator. And that won’t happen under his watch, because he knows what it would do to his legacy.
And I think he’s smart enough to realize that if Trump does become dictator, his own actual power will be greatly diminished.
What I’m saying, though, is what if Roberts is playing Trump? With Trump acting like dictator, (but really not one, d/t no military buy-in) Roberts actually has more than he did otherwise.
That’s where hubris could trip him up, but I think Roberts wouldn’t do that for a buffoon like Turmp. Maybe someone more polished and urbane. He would do that for a Paul Ryan or even a Rand Paul; someone he could see as a peer or colleague, but NOT Turmp.
Either of those guys would surround himself with smart people. Trump has surrounded himself with complete idiots except for a couple… Trump is easier to play than just about any president. (IMO)
People kind of come down on two different sides of this. Some people think Trump is a brilliant strategist, full of ideas and chess plays. Other people, myself included, think he’s a checkers player and not thinking more than one move ahead, as evidenced by his response to coronavirus.
I just don’t see where a Chief Justice has the kind of daily influence to be the power behind the throne. Lots of others, yes, but SCOTUS is too insulated from the rest of the government for that kind of influence.
I don’t think they want to. It’s like the difference between CEO and chairman of the board. The chairman / chairwoman doesn’t run things day to day and is not out front running the show. But they are immensely responsible for the direction of the company and therefore sit a cut above the C-suite in many companies (depending on how they are structured with their bylaws.). But I don’t know: this is all a thought experiment about power structures and trying to presuppose an election ruling by SCOTUS. I don’t think anyone knows how they’d vote on a case like this. I’m not confident they’d save us from Trump’s wrath. He has always evaded rebuke, up to this point. So if past is prologue, I reasonably expect a gigantic gold statue of Emperor Trump to be constructed in front of the White House any day now.
October 14, 2020 (Wednesday)
Today began with a breathless story from the tabloid paper the New York Post alleging that, according to Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani, Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, had dropped off three laptops for repair in 2019 and had never picked them up again, and that the FBI subpoenaed the hard drives, but before turning them over the repairman had made a copy of the material on them, and he gave it to Giuliani, and it had incriminating material on it….
And yes, it’s as ridiculous as it sounds. Over the course of the day, real journalists have demolished the story, but it is still of note as news because of what its timing might mean.
First of all, the Trump campaign is in trouble. Polls show the president down by significant numbers, and the voters he has been trying to suppress are turning out in droves. Today Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker, a Republican, issued a statement saying he “cannot support Donald Trump for President,” and the Biden campaign announced that it raised an eye-popping $383 million in September alone, a historic record which comes on top of the historic record of $364.5 million it set in August. This means Biden has $432 million on hand for the last month of the election. Dumping a story like this Hunter Biden fiction in a tabloid, which has wide reach among low-information voters, is a cheap fix for the Trump campaign. It might shore him up among those who will never see the wide debunking of the story.
Second, though, the timing of the story suggests it was designed to distract from the third and final day of Amy Coney Barrett’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee in her hearing for confirmation to the U.S. Supreme Court. The hearings have not been going particularly well for the Republicans. They have the votes to confirm her, and confirm her they will, but her insistence that she is an “originalist,” along with her refusal to answer any questions on topics relevant to the present, including on racial prejudice, climate change, voter suppression, and so on, have made her extremism clear.
Democrats have hammered home that putting Barrett on the court at this moment is an extraordinary power grab, and voters seem to agree. Turning attention away from the hearings would be useful for the Republicans when voters are on their way to the polls.
And yet, Republicans are determined to force her appointment through, even though it threatens to delegitimize the Supreme Court.
To what end?
The originalism of scholars like Barrett is an answer to the judges who, in the years after World War Two, interpreted the law to make American democracy live up to its principles, making all Americans equal before the law. With the New Deal in the 1930s, the Democrats under Franklin Delano Roosevelt had set out to level the economic playing field between the wealthy and ordinary Americans. They regulated business, provided a basic social safety net, and promoted infrastructure.
After the war, under Chief Justice Earl Warren, a Republican appointed by President Dwight Eisenhower, the Supreme Court tried to level the social playing field between Americans through the justices’ interpretation of the law. They tried to end segregation through decisions like the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, which prohibited racial segregation in public schools. They protected the rights of accused prisoners to legal counsel, and the right of married couples to use contraception in 1965 (it had previously been illegal). They legalized interracial marriage in 1967. In 1973, they tried to give women control over their own reproduction by legalizing abortion with the Roe v. Wade decision.
The focus of the Supreme Court in these years was not simply on equality before the law. The justices also set out to make the government more responsible to its citizens. It required that electoral districts be roughly equal in population, so that a state could not have one district of a few hundred people with another with a hundred thousand, thus establishing the principle of “one man, one vote.”
These were not partisan decisions, or to the degree they were, they were endorsed primarily by Republicans. The Chief Justices of the Court during these years were Republicans Earl Warren and Warren Burger.
Today’s “originalists” are trying to erase this whole era of legislation and legal decisions. They argue that justices who expanded civil rights and democratic principles were engaging in “judicial activism,” taking away from voters the right to make their own decisions about how society should work. They say that justices in this era, and those like them in the present—people like Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who protected women’s equality before the law-- were “legislating from the bench.” They hold tight to the argument that the Constitution is limited by the views of the Founders, and that the government can do nothing that is not explicitly written in that 1787 document.
Their desire to roll back the changes of the modern era serves traditional concepts of society and evangelical religion, of course, but it also serves a radical capitalism. If the government is as limited as they say, it cannot protect the rights of minorities or women. But it also cannot regulate business. It cannot provide a social safety net, or promote infrastructure, things that cost tax dollars and, in the case of infrastructure, take lucrative opportunities from private businesses. In short, under the theory of originalism, the government cannot do anything to rein in corporations or the very wealthy.
As Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), who is a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, illustrated in careful detail at the Barrett hearings yesterday, it is no accident that Barrett’s nomination has the support of secret dark money donors. She will be the key vote to having a solid pro-corporate Supreme Court.
The Trump administration has made it clear that it favors private interests over public ones, combatting regulation and welfare programs, as well as calling for private companies to take over public enterprises like the United States Postal Service. But the New Deal government and the rights enshrined by the Warren and Burger courts are popular in America, so it is imperative for today’s radical Republicans that the courts cement their reworking of the country.
Former White House Counsel Don McGahn explained that the Trump administration wants to skew the judiciary to support its economic agenda. “There is a coherent plan here where actually the judicial selection and the deregulatory effort are really the flip side of the same coin,” he said.
The administration has backed pro-corporate judges whose nominations are bolstered by tens of millions of dollars worth of political advertising paid for by dark money. Trump’s Supreme Court appointees have joined other Republican justices on the court, where they consistently prop up business interests—such as with the 2010 Citizens United decision allowing unlimited corporate money in elections—and attack voting rights, as in 2013 with the Shelby v. Holder decision gutting the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
In 2014, New York Times journalist Linda Greenhouse wrote that it is “impossible to avoid the conclusion that the Republican-appointed majority is committed to harnessing the Supreme Court to an ideological agenda.”
That ideological agenda has profound implications for our society as we know it, beginning with the Affordable Care Act, which the court is slated to take up on November 10, just a week after the election. But it is not just our healthcare that is at stake. At risk is the whole infrastructure of laws protecting our civil rights, as well as our democracy.
Worth pointing out that, as with so many other areas of our political life, high ranking left wing judges are rarer than hen’s teeth. It is centrists who are being forced out by the Republican party at the expense of far right extremists engaged in a form of judicial activism. A blatant contortion of the law in favour of a particular interpretation of the past intended to undermine the intent of the people.
October 15, 2020 (Thursday)
Tonight was supposed to be the night of a televised town hall meeting featuring both President Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden. But, after Trump tested positive for coronavirus, the organizers of the event turned it into a virtual meeting. Trump refused to participate. So Biden arranged an event of an hour and a half on ABC. Then Trump arranged his own, separate hour-long town hall on NBC.
NBC faced deep criticism for giving Trump a platform when he had ditched the official plan. But the network made up for that criticism by giving the position of moderator to journalist Savannah Guthrie, who has a J.D. from Georgetown Law School and worked as a litigator. Although the setting of the NBC event was oddly partisan—the backdrop consisted of masked women nodding along with the president’s answers—Guthrie repeatedly pressed Trump on his evasive answers to questioners, and his frustration was palpable.
Before the event, Trump had denigrated it. “They asked me if I’d do it, I figured, ‘What the hell? We get a free hour on television,’” he said.
But the questioning did him no favors. He refused to distance himself from QAnon supporters, who believe in the conspiracy theory that Trump is secretly orchestrating an assault on a ring of pedophiles and cannibals made up of the country’s elites. He admitted he owes $400 million to someone, but insists that he doesn’t owe it to Russia or any “sinister people” and that it is a “very, very small percentage” compared to his assets. He refused to say whether he had tested negative for coronavirus on September 29, the day of his first debate with Biden, and said he could not release his tax returns because they were under audit (when Guthrie noted that there was no rule stopping him from releasing them anyway, he got visibly angry). He maintained that he has a plan to replace the Affordable Care Act, but could not describe what that is. As usual, he insisted he is treated terribly.
Meanwhile, over at his own town hall, Biden put to rest Trump’s accusations that he is senile or “sleepy.” Biden answered questions from voters ranging from what he would do about racial inequality to our standing in foreign affairs. He showed deep knowledge of the issues, citing history and statistics, as well as providing detailed plans for what he would do to address the nation’s problems. He was empathetic and human—the word people keep using is “decent”—and seemed energetic and eager to get underway with his plans for getting America back on track.
In one of the more striking moments of the evening, moderator George Stephanopoulos asked Biden “If you lose, what will that say to you about where America is today?” Rather than giving the obvious answer for a presidential candidate-- “I won’t lose”—Biden demonstrated that he is willing to accept responsibility for his actions, something that has been perilously thin on the ground for the past four years, and demonstrated his confidence in his fellow Americans. “It could say that I’m a lousy candidate and I didn’t do a good job,” he told Stephanopoulos. “But… I hope that it doesn’t say that we are as racially, ethnically, and religiously at odds with one another as it appears the president wants us to be…. Because we have the greatest opportunity than any country in the world to own the 21st century and we can’t do it divided.” [sic]
After the events, fact-checkers provided the grounding for the obvious: Trump made it up as he went along, hitting some of his favorite debunked talking points, while Biden misspoke on some of the details he outlined (he got troop levels in Afghanistan wrong, for example) but stayed close to the facts.
More than anything, though, Biden reminded us of what a president is supposed to sound like. It was an extraordinary relief to hear someone actually talk about the issues the country faces, rather than make everything about himself. And then, after the televised part of his town hall ended, Biden continued to answer questions, talking to voters because, well, that’s what real politicians do.
Trump’s willingness to grab free airtime tonight reflects his campaign’s financial straits. In these last days of the campaign, as his funds dwindle, Trump has been using the resources of the federal government—also known as our tax dollars—to support his bid for reelection. He has poured more than $32 billion into direct aid for farmers, put letters in government-distributed boxes of food claiming personal credit for the program, and promised billions to seniors to help cover the cost of prescription drugs. He has planned a $300 million advertising campaign to help us “defeat despair” over the coronavirus, and has used the White House for both the Republican National Convention and a recent political rally.
All that money is supposed to move voters into Trump’s column, but tonight did nothing to aid that effort.
Still, he doesn’t much seem to care. His administration seems to have turned into a revenge operation. Today, Trump appeared to celebrate last month’s killing of murder suspect Michael Reinoehl by law enforcement officers who had been deputized as U.S. Marshals. Reinoehl was a suspect in the killing of a right-wing agitator in Portland, Oregon, when the officers shot him. “They knew who he was; they didn’t want to arrest him, and in 15 minutes that ended," Trump told an audience at a campaign rally in North Carolina, seeming to gloat over an extrajudicial killing. Trump also continued to attack Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, just a week after the FBI arrested 8 men for plotting to kidnap her.
We also learned today that intelligence officers had warned White House officials, including the president, that Russians were using Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani to feed disinformation to Trump. A former intelligence official told Washington Post reporters: “The message was, “Do what you want to do, but your friend Rudy has been worked by Russian assets in Ukraine.” This makes the willingness of Republicans to push yesterday’s “revelation” of an incriminating laptop allegedly belonging to Hunter Biden even more astonishing. NBC News reports that intelligence officers are investigating that story to see if it is a foreign intelligence operation.
On Twitter tonight, conservative columnist Bill Kristol wrote, “A friend who has served at very high levels of government, a true public servant and a serious conservative, emailed me earlier: “The Republican Party has become the party of facilitating Russian agitprop and voter suppression. Not what I signed up for.”
Today the administration rejected a request from California Governor Gavin Newsom for a disaster declaration to free up money to help the state after six wildfires have burned hundreds of thousands of acres across the state. California is a reliably Democratic state that will likely give its electoral votes to Biden.
Meanwhile, in the absence of a coronavirus relief bill, poverty is growing. Depending on the scale they use, researchers say 6 to 8 million Americans have slipped below the poverty line. Republican strategists appear to be willing to deepen the recession if it means crippling an incoming Biden administration. According to a report in Bloomberg, Republicans are setting the stage to kill future federal spending. If Biden is elected but the Republicans hold the Senate, they will refuse any aid to address the coronavirus crisis, thus hoping to cripple a Democratic presidency from Day One.
Sounds very very familiar. And frighteningly possible. Every down ballot race matters nearly as much as the top of the ticket. This is motivation for every “But Biden is not my fave” voter to get out anyway.
October 16, 2020 (Friday)
The theme of the day was the palpable sense of rats leaving a sinking ship as Republicans, administration officials, and administration-adjacent people distanced themselves from the president.
There was a foreshadowing of that exodus on Wednesday, when Senator Ben Sasse (R-NE) let loose about the president in a telephone call with constituents. Sasse was an early critic of Trump but toned down his opposition significantly in the early part of the administration. On Wednesday, he reverted to his earlier position, saying he had “never been on the Trump train.” He complained about the way Trump “kisses dictators’ butts,” and went on: “The United States now regularly sells out our allies under his leadership, the way he treats women, spends like a drunken sailor…. [He] mocks evangelicals behind closed doors…has treated the presidency like a business opportunity” and has “flirted with white supremacists.” He said: “What the heck were any of us thinking, that selling a TV-obsessed, narcissistic individual to the American people was a good idea?"
The theme of abandoning the administration became apparent yesterday, when officials leaked the story that intelligence officials had warned Trump against listening to his lawyer Rudy Giuliani. This was a high-level leak, and suggests that more and more staffers are starting to look for a way off the S.S. Trump.
The audience numbers for last night’s town halls was also revealing, as Biden attracted 700,000 more viewers on just one ABC outlet than Trump did on the three NBC outlets that carried his event. Biden’s town hall was the most watched event since the Oscars in February. It appears that people are simply tired of watching the president and are eager for calm and reason.
Today, a group called “43 Alumni for Biden” released an ad called “Team 46." It says that they are all lifelong Republicans, but because they recognize the qualities of leadership—including empathy-- everyone “on this team” is voting for Biden. “Let’s put Joe Biden in the White House.” The ad features a number of pictures of President George W. Bush, the forty-third president, and is narrated by someone whose voice sounds like his. Former U.S. Attorney Joyce Vance notes, “This looks awfully close to an endorsement of Biden from George W. Bush.”
Also today, the former chair of the New Hampshire Republican Committee, Jennifer Horn, urged “my fellow Republicans” not to vote for Trump’s reelection. In a piece in USA Today, Horn reminded Republicans of “the overwhelming sorrow and grief that this president” has inflicted on the country. Citing Covid-19 deaths, “cultural divides, racial unrest, economic disparity and constitutional abuses,” all of which “are just tools to be used to feed his narcissism, advance his political ambitions and line his pockets,” Horn indicted both Trump and the Republican Party that enables him.
“This election poses a unique challenge,” she wrote. “It will test not Republican vs. Democrat or Trump vs. Biden, but rather, “We the People.” It is our role in this constitutional republic, our leadership, and our dedication to the promise of America that is being tested. Trump or America,” she wrote. “We cannot have both.”
Under pressure, Trump changed course today and approved the emergency declaration for California that he denied yesterday. Such a reconsideration would normally have taken until after the election, but this one happened fast. Earlier this week, Trump tweeted: “People are fleeing California. Taxes too high, Crime too high, Brownouts too many, Lockdowns too severe. VOTE FOR TRUMP, WHAT THE HELL DO YOU HAVE TO LOSE!!!”
Today CNN began teasers for a special on Sunday that will explain how former senior Trump officials believe Trump is unfit for the presidency. According to former White House Chief of Staff, retired Marine General John Kelly, “The depths of his dishonesty is just astounding to me. The dishonesty, the transactional nature of every relationship, though it’s more pathetic than anything else. He is the most flawed person I have ever met in my life."
Also today, Caroline Giuliani, the daughter of Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani, urged people to end Trump’s “reign of terror” by voting for “a compassionate and decent president,” Joe Biden. “[C]orruption starts with ‘yes-men’ and women, the cronies who create an echo chamber of lies and subservience to maintain their proximity to power," she wrote in a piece for Vanity Fair. “We’ve seen this ad nauseam with Trump and his cadre of high-level sycophants (the ones who weren’t convicted, anyway).” Giuliani cheered Biden’s choice of Kamala Harris for his running mate, and wrote, “in Joe Biden, we’ll have a leader who prioritizes common ground and civility over alienation, bullying, and scorched-earth tactics.” [T]ogether,” she said, “we can vote this toxic administration out of office.”
And yet another story from the day: a third career prosecutor from the Department of Justice resigned after publicly attacking Attorney General William Barr for abusing his power to get Trump reelected. “After 36 years, I’m fleeing what was the U.S. Department of Justice,” Phillip Halpern wrote. “[T]he department’s past leaders were dedicated to the rule of law and the guiding principle that justice is blind. That is a bygone era, but it should not be forgotten.” Noting that “Barr has never actually investigated, charged or tried a case,” Halpern expressed deep concern over Barr’s “slavish obedience to Donald Trump’s will.” “This career bureaucrat seems determined to turn our democracy into an autocracy,” he warned.
Georgetown Law Professor Paul Butler, who worked as a federal prosecutor under Barr when he was George H. W. Bush’s Attorney General, told Katie Benner of the New York Times that such criticism is “unprecedented,” and reflects Trump’s pressure on the AG. “I have never seen sitting prosecutors go on the record with concerns about the attorney general,” he said.
And yet, Barr’s willingness to bend the Justice Department to Trump’s personal will may, in the end, not be enough to keep Trump’s favor. Angry that Barr did not produce a report attacking the Russia investigation before the election, Trump just yesterday said he wasn’t happy with Barr’s performance, and might not keep him on as AG if he wins a second term.
There are signs people in the administration are preparing for Trump to lose the election. His cabinet is rushing to change regulations to lock in Trump’s goal of giving more scope to businessmen to act as they see fit. Normally, changes in regulations require setting aside time for public comment on the changes, but the administration is shortening or eliminating those periods over changes in, for example, rules allowing railroads to move highly flammable liquefied natural gas on freight trains, what constitutes “contract” work, how much pollution factories can emit, and who can immigrate to America.
Russell Vought, the director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, said in a statement: “President Trump has worked quickly from the beginning of his term to grow the economy by removing the mountain of Obama-Biden job-killing regulations,” and that the current push simply continues that effort. But no one is missing the quiet distancing going on in Washington as Republican lawmakers are shifting away from public support for the president.
Meanwhile, at his rally tonight in Georgia, Trump told the crowd “You should… lock up the Bidens, lock up Hillary.” The crowd then began to chant “Lock them up.” But one thing about a bully: when people finally start to turn on him, there is a stampede for the exits.
Tonight, at his Georgia rally, Trump outlined all the ways in which he was being unfairly treated, then mused: “Could you imagine if I lose?.. I’m not going to feel so good. Maybe I’ll have to leave the country, I don’t know.”
Oh please oh please oh please
Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.
We’ve been listening to MAGA hats crowing “if you don’t like America leave” for the last 5 years. It would be just dessert if their chief clown fled.
… And also totally in keeping with who he is because all he has ever done is make his problems other people’s. Bastard.
It’s a satisfying thought, but for me an even better one is for him to try to leave, then get arrested for it, tried for numerous crimes, and tossed in prison for the rest of his life.
[Checks impeachment vote] Sasse didn’t vote to convict back in February, even after saying he know what the president did was wrong. So that means he’s a self-serving lickspittle himself. I mean, what does it say about you, Ben, that you don’t even kiss dictators’ butts; that you have to settle for kissing a wannabe dictator’s butt?
October 18, 2020 (Sunday)
Today reinforced some of the developing storylines of the 2020 election.
Last night, at a rally in Michigan, Trump once again attacked Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer for locking down her state in the early days of the pandemic. When the crowd started to chant “Lock her up!” Trump responded: “Lock them all up!” Just ten days ago, the FBI arrested eight men plotting to kidnap Whitmer and put her on trial for “treason.” Whitmer called Trump out for “inspiring and incentivizing and inciting this kind of domestic terrorism.” She told NBC, “It is wrong. It’s got to end. It is dangerous, not just for me and my family, but for public servants everywhere who are doing their jobs and trying to protect their fellow Americans. People of goodwill on both sides of the aisle need to step up and call this out and bring the heat down.”
Lara Trump, who is married to Eric Trump and is a senior advisor to the Trump campaign, disagreed. She told CNN’s Jake Tapper, “Well, look, he wasn’t doing anything, I don’t think, to provoke people to threaten this woman at all…. He was having fun at a Trump rally.” The Trump campaign then insisted that a small “8645” emblem on a table beside Whitmer during her television interview was “encouraging assassination attempts” against Trump. (To “86” something is slang for getting rid of it.) While observers have noted Trump’s use of gaslighting—making someone believe something that is not true—another abusive pattern is “DARVO,” which stands for “Deny, Attack, and Reverse Victim and Offender.”
Today, Dr. Anthony Fauci said that political officials in the Trump administration have restricted his media appearances. He also explained that he now has federal protection because of threats to his life, and to his wife and children. “That’s sad,” he told Jonathan Lapook of CBS’s 60 Minutes, “The very fact that a public health message to save lives triggers such venom and animosity to me that it results in real and credible threats to my life and my safety.”
The editorial board of the New York Times today ran a special section of the Sunday Review to explain to readers in thirteen essays why Trump “is unfit to lead the nation.” The essays cover his corruption, incompetent statesmanship, attacks on women and minorities, rejection of science, and so on. The editorial introducing the issue begins: “Donald Trump’s re-election campaign poses the greatest threat to American democracy since World War II.” What follows is a blistering litany of the actions of the man who is “without any real rivals as the worst American president in modern history,” the editors say. He is conducting “an intolerable assault on the very foundations of the American experiment in government by the people.” The editorial concludes: “Mr. Trump is a man of no integrity. He has repeatedly violated his oath to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States…. Now, in this moment of peril, it falls to the American people — even those who would prefer a Republican president — to preserve, protect and defend the United States by voting.”
More Republicans who have appeared to move in lockstep with the president are distancing themselves from him. Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) needs independents to swing his way in a tight race with Democrat MJ Hegar, a retired Air Force combat pilot. On Friday, Cornyn told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram Editorial Board that his relationship with Trump was “maybe like a lot of women who get married and think they’re going to change their spouse, and that doesn’t usually work out very well.” Cornyn claims to have stood up to Trump, but privately.
In all this there is nothing really new.
But there is a story that might have new information in it.
Last Wednesday morning, October 14, the tabloid New York Post ran a complicated and unbelievable story about Hunter Biden dropping off three laptops at a repair store and never going back for them, the FBI subpoenaing hard drives, and the repair shop owner making copies before turning them over and then giving the copies to Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani, who gave them to the New York Post. Allegedly, the material on the laptops was incriminating.
The story was pretty transparently bogus from the start, especially since Giuliani has been hanging around with Andrii Derkach, a Ukrainian lawmaker who, according to the Treasury Department, is a longtime Russian agent. According to the Treasury, Derkach has been working to promote “false and unsubstantiated narratives concerning U.S. officials in the upcoming 2020 election.” Giuliani was an eager listener.
Today, Katie Robertson at the New York Times reported that the New York Post article was so suspect that its lead author refused to put his name on it. The two main sources for the story were Stephen Bannon, Trump’s former advisor who is under federal indictment for fraud, and Giuliani. Giuliani said he took the story to the Post because “either nobody else would take it, or if they took it, they would spend all the time they could to try to contradict it before they put it out.” One woman whose name finally appeared on the story is a former associate producer for Sean Hannity’s show and has been at the newspaper only since April. The other did not work on the story and only discovered her name was on it after it was published. The New York Times, the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal have all said they could not verify the story.
The startling new “revelations” about Hunter Biden mirror classic disinformation campaigns in Russia, and look a great deal like the last-minute “revelations” about Hillary Clinton’s emails “discovered” on a laptop in Fall 2016, all of which later came to nothing. Former CIA officer Evan McMullin tweeted: “For weeks, there’s been awareness in intel circles of Russian plans to return (with Trump) to their bogus Biden-Burisma narrative and, as I’ve warned, their plan to expand that to include bonkers pedophilia and human trafficking allegations against the Bidens. Don’t fall for it!”
And yet, certain Republican lawmakers are running with the story. Republican Representative Lee Zeldin of New York tweeted that “Joe Needs to answer some questions ASAP about this dirty $ setup.” Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) went onto the Fox News Channel to suggest that the computer at the center of this story, allegedly belonging to Hunter Biden, had child pornography on it. This prompted intelligence specialist Malcolm Nance to tweet: “Whoa. The Republicans tried to tie Hunter Biden to child pornography. This is a 100% FSB [Russian Intelligence Agency] tactic. The FSB ALWAYS claims/plants Child porn on their opponents.”
For at least a year now, intelligence officers have warned us that Russia is interfering in this election, trying to swing it to Trump. Despite the fact that Trump’s polling numbers are abysmal, our Electoral College system means that the swing of relatively few voters in key states could enable him to eke out a victory, just as he did in 2016. It is worth remembering that Trump’s plan in 2020 has never been to win a majority; it has been to win by gaming the system. It seems to me also worth remembering that Trump has consistently refused either to criticize Russia or to acknowledge that Putin’s agents are working to help him get reelected.
While many Trump campaign officials are already trying to blame each other for their candidate’s apparent weakness, Trump and his loyalists remain adamant that he is going to win. They are allegedly taking names of those whom he considers insufficiently supportive. He is mad at Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who has rejected the president’s plans for a coronavirus relief bill and who publicly criticized the White House approach to the pandemic. He has gone after Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) for her coolness toward Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett, and Senator Ben Sasse (R-NE) for his condemnation of the president in a phone call with constituents. Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT), who has made his dislike for Trump clear in recent statements, is also on the outs.
Tim Murtaugh, communications director for the Trump campaign, says, “President Trump won in 2016 without the vocal support of the political insider crowd, and he’s going to do it again. The President enjoys the support of over 90 percent of Republicans….”
It is certainly possible that the Trump campaign is putting a brave face on the terrible polls, but the ham-handed attempt to dump disinformation about the Bidens is an excellent reminder that foreign operatives have been trying to influence our elections since 2016, and they have not gone away.
And they won’t go away, or lessen, until we have several presidents in a row who take this shit seriously and put in the money and expertise needed to shut it down. And we start teaching critical thinking and source verification to the next generation in a major way. Part of the core education standards. These election attacks rely heavily on USians who are conspiracy theorists.
Sounds like Bannon, Giuliani, and Johnson need to be taken in for questioning by the Special Victims Unit.
October 19, 2020 (Monday)
With the election just over two weeks away, the news is intense.
The biggest story, by far, remains coronavirus. While we are all understandably buffeted by the craziness of politics these days, no historians will ever write about this election without noting that over it hangs the pall of more than 220,000 Americans dead of Covid-19 and more than 8 million infected, and that numbers, once again, are rising. Today the U.S. had 58,387 new cases, along with at least 445 deaths.
After Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert and, theoretically anyway, an adviser to the White House, was quoted on CBS’s 60 Minutes last night criticizing the administration’s response to coronavirus, Trump attacked him this morning in a conference call with staff to which reporters had been invited. “Fauci is a disaster,” Trump said. “If I listened to him, we’d have 500,000 deaths." Later he increased that number to 700,000 or 800,000. “People are tired of Covid,” he said. “I have the biggest rallies I’ve ever had. And we have Covid. People are saying: ‘Whatever. Just leave us alone.’ They’re tired of it.”
In Prescott, Arizona, this afternoon, Trump expanded on this idea. He told the crowd: “They are getting tired of the pandemic, aren’t they? You turn on CNN, that’s all they cover. ‘Covid, Covid, Pandemic, Covid, Covid.’ You know why? They’re trying to talk everybody out of voting. People aren’t buying it, CNN, you dumb bastards.”
Indeed, we are all tired of it, but as cases are surging and hospitals and medical staff again appear to be on the verge of being overwhelmed with cases of Covid-19, a majority of Americans trust Fauci’s cautious advice more than we trust that of the White House, which is embracing the idea of simply letting the disease spread to try to create immunity. Trump’s final push for reelection centers on holding in-person rallies, trying to illustrate that there is nothing to fear from the disease and that the country needs to get back to normal despite it.
Trump’s anger at Fauci seems to be part of his general anger these days, seemingly sparked by the polls that show him trailing Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden. He is using his rallies both to express his grievances and to boast of his own power. Today, in Prescott, he boasted “I call the head of Exxon. I’ll use a company. ‘How, how are you doing, how’s energy coming? When are doing the exploration? Oh, you need a couple of permits, huh?’ But I call the head of Exxon, I say, ‘you know, I’d love you to send me $25m for the campaign’” This sort of a bribe—the official term is quid pro quo—is illegal. Exxon promptly clarified: “We are aware of the President’s statement regarding a hypothetical call with our CEO… and just so we’re all clear, it never happened.”
Trump and pro-Trump media outlets are frustrated that the story Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani passed to the tabloid newspaper the New York Post is not getting the traction they want. The story of three laptops, abandoned at a repair shop by Biden’s son Hunter, that just happened to have incriminating evidence that ended up in Giuliani’s hands, was flagged almost instantly as having the hallmarks of Russian disinformation. Today more than 50 former senior intelligence officers signed a letter to that effect, warning that Russia was, once again, interfering in our elections.
Even though intelligence officers warned the White House that Russian intelligence was targeting Giuliani, Trump’s team stands behind the story, and is reportedly putting pressure on FBI director Christopher Wray to announce an investigation into the issue. Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI), Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), Representative Devin Nunes (R-CA), and Representative Jim Jordan (R-OH) have all been pushing the story.
Today, the president exploded at a reporter, calling him “a criminal for not reporting” on the Hunter Biden story. Trump loyalist John Ratcliffe, the Director of National Intelligence—which places him at the head of our intelligence services—defended the Biden story and insisted it is not part of a Russian disinformation campaign. He told the Fox News Channel: “That’s something the American people should consider as they go in & look at elections & everything that’s going on in this country … we have the opportunity to bring truth."
Ratcliffe’s partisanship shocked CIA veteran John Sipher, who tweeted: “Stunningly inappropriate. Intelligence leaders should be focused on collecting and analyzing foreign national security information. This is domestic, partisan politics and out-of-bounds.”
The news broke today that Fox News Channel executives passed on the Biden story, thinking it was not credible. Now, of course, it is reporting on the fight over the story, so it is sort of having it both ways, but the fact that the story was too iffy even for FNC speaks volumes. Also today, Facebook suspended the account of Andrii Derkach, the Ukrainian politician associated with Giuliani and the Biden story. Treasury officials have identified Derkach as a Russian operative. Facebook took down his page “for violating our policy against the use of our platform by people engaged in election-focused influence operations.”
Also today, the Department of Justice indicted 6 Russian military intelligence officers for computer hacks around the world that cost billions of dollars and disrupted a number of different societies. Thomas P. Bossert, Trump’s first homeland security adviser, who is now the president of a security firm, told New York Times reporters Michael S. Schmidt and Nicole Perlroth: “The G.R.U.’s hackers operate as a strategic arm of the Russian state, and they have been using this cybertool as a military weapon in a military campaign.”
Thursday night is the final presidential debate, and the Trump campaign spent the day wrangling over its terms. The non-partisan Commission on Presidential Debates negotiated with the campaigns months ago to establish that the topics for each debate would be determined by the debate’s moderator. Last week, NBC News White House correspondent Kristin Welker, who will moderate the Thursday event—an arrangement to which Trump agreed—announced her topics, including the coronavirus, race, leadership, national security, and climate change. The Trump campaign promptly accused the commission of breaking a promise to focus on foreign affairs, an accusation the commission rejected, reminding the campaign of the terms to which they had agreed.
For his part, Trump called Welker “a radical left Democrat” who is “extraordinarily unfair,” but said he would take part anyway. “I’ll participate, I just think it is very unfair,” Trump told reporters. “I will participate, but it’s very unfair that they changed the topics and it is very unfair that again we have an anchor who is totally biased.”
Later today, though, the commission announced it would turn off each candidate’s microphone during his opponent’s initial two-minute reply to Welker’s questions. Trump indicated he was not happy with the change.
Finally, tonight the Supreme Court denied a request from the Pennsylvania Republican Party to stop the counting of mail-in ballots that arrive up to three days after Election Day. This is a win for wider voting in a swing state that often plays a key role in the Electoral College, and it appears that the Pennsylvania Republican Party thinks enabling more people to vote will hurt them. Four of the eight voting justices-- Clarence Thomas, Samuel A. Alito Jr., Neil M. Gorsuch and Brett M. Kavanaugh—sided with the Republicans’ argument for restricting the vote. Since Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court, Amy Coney Barrett is, like them, a strict constructionist, it is not unreasonable to assume she would have joined them if she were on the court. Because there are currently eight justices on the court, and they tied, the lower court’s decision holds. But if Barrett were there, it is likely the strict constructionists would have made up a majority, cutting off the counting of ballots that arrived in the three days after the election.
In what is quite a rare occurrence, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is expected to hold sessions over the weekend to push through Barrett’s nomination before the election.