National News Roundup: Week 17 (May 14–20)
The recurrent theme I’m hearing from everyone about this week is “Well that sure was an eventful four months of news!” The news on the Russia investigation has grown so many heads that it’s getting its own section this week, but the remainder is in its normal weird-bad-good format. I did my best to keep this weekly update manageable; can I have a less chaotic news cycle next week for my prize? (Spoiler: Probably not, if the last couple of days are any indication. And that’s a good thing, despite my whining, because losing momentum would mean bad things for democracy.)
Standard standing reminders apply: I am no journalist, though I play one in your inbox or browser, so I’m only summarizing the news within my area of expertise. This week also contains multiple headlines outside my area as a legal generalist — still a lawyer, not a spy! — but all offroad adventures are marked with an asterisk. Okay, I think that’s about it for the disclaimers. Onward to the news!
On Russia With News:
It has been an absolutely bonkers week yet again on the Trump Tells Us About Trump and Russia front, and it can be really hard to keep up with the constant updates. Here’s a Biggest Hits list for those playing the home game.
- The Biggest Leaker.* Trump apparently shared classified information with the Russian delegation when he met with them last week. This is extra bad, by the way, because the sensitive information is believed to have come from Israel and now may reach Iran (which is an enemy state of Israel, but an ally of Russia). But also, there is documentation from Comey that Trump asked him to ‘let [the Russia investigation] go,” which is not exactly great optics. Oh, and Putin offered to release the exact content of Trump’s meeting to Congress, because of course he did. I’m glad someone is enjoying themselves.
- Special Investigator Special. In a rare show of caring what the public wants, the Justice Department responded to the bombshells above by appointing special counsel to oversee the Russia investigation. The person tapped was Robert Mueller, a career prosecutor who served as FBI Director for thirteen years under Dubbya and Obama. He is widely regarded as an extremely seasoned and nonpartisan professional, and it seems likely he will do an excellent job. Unsurprisingly, this appointment came from Rosenstein, not Sessions, and it’s rumored he barely even gave notice to the administration before the announcement. Meanwhile, the administration is already coming up with ways to impede him.
- James Comey and the Undying Russia Investigation.* Comey may not be head of the Russia investigation anymore, but he sure still is in the news a bunch. He’s been invited to testify in both Senate and House investigative hearings, and though he declined to testify immediately it does look like he will eventually do so. Also, there’s still a bunch of news around whose idea it was to fire him. Oh, and Trump apparently told Russia that it “relieved pressure” to have him fired (and called him “a real nutjob”).
- More Republican Weirdness. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy was caught on tape opining to various Republicans that Trump is on Russia’s payroll, which Paul Ryan first denied and then explained was clearly a joke (because people follow up their jocularity with the words “swear to God” all the time, amirite?). Also, House investigative committee leader Jason Chaffetz announced he was resigning effective late June. He did this literally a day after inviting Comey to testify, which is baffling to say the least, and who only knows what’s going to happen to the House investigation as a result. Oh, and it also came out that Flynn told the Trump transition team he was under investigation as a lobbyist for Turkey weeks before the inauguration.
- “Person of Interest” Mystery Investigation.* We also learned this week that activities of an unnamed current White House official are being monitored by the probe because this person is a ‘person of interest’. There’s some speculation that the person identified might be Jared Kushner, but no official word has been given. Presumably we’ll either hear more in the next few days, or the next news will come out after the top officials are done touring abroad.
Your “Normal” Weird:
- Avocado Toast Housing. Apparently some rich guy in Australia made a point of going off about how millennials are buying $19 avocado toast instead of housing and this is why millennial homeowners aren’t a thing. The Internet’s response was swift and merciless. Also, when even the Washington Post is reporting on how cold your hot take was, you know you probably said something really asinine.
- Trump’s Middle Eastern (Orb) Adventures. Trump is traveling abroad for the next week or so, and his first stop was Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. After concerning a lot of people with a broad array of business deals and ill-advised comments (including selling $110 billion in arms to Saudi Arabia and receiving massive donations to Ivanka’s women’s fund), Trump… touched an orb? I dunno, y’all, it was super weird even with more context about the ceremony it was used for, and the Internet is having a field day. Anyway, his next stop is Israel, where he refuses to go to Masada after being told he couldn’t land his helicopter on ancient ruins. Unsurprisingly, the leaks about how foreign dignitaries are being prepped are deeply embarrassing.
- Julian Assange is Unfortunately Relevant. As much as I don’t enjoy reporting on the misogynistic piece of work who founded Wikileaks pretty much ever, Sweden dropped the sexual assault investigation against Julian Assange this week. Officials stated the decision was made because it’s impossible to properly serve or charge him while he remains holed up in an Ecuadorian embassy. That said, though, London could still bring charges or extradite him to the US, so he’s probably not going anywhere. Also, the investigation could be potentially reopened if he moved back within Sweden’s grasp. So it’s not exactly the exoneration he’s claiming it is.
- Trump’s First Education Budget. The Washington Post has previewed documents outlining Trump’s first proposed education budget, and it sucks exactly as much as you expect. In addition to placing way too much emphasis on school choice, the budget also ends public service loan forgiveness and cuts hundreds of millions of dollars in funding for school mental health services, after-school programs, advanced coursework, and who only knows what else. It does not, however, change special education budgeting, presumably because he hasn’t gotten to that part yet. An official release of the previewed documents is expected on Tuesday as part of a much larger budget plan.
- Net Neutrality Threatened.* The FCC voted to roll back net neutrality regulations from the Obama era this week. This is good news for the cable industry, but likely bad news for most consumers, and it’s looking likely that Congress will end up involved. The FCC vote marks the likely beginning of a much longer process, and we can probably expect to hear much more about net neutrality in the coming months.
- Black Lives Still Matter. It’s been another rough week in white supremacist violence. First and foremost, Richard Collins III, a 23-year-old lieutenant and member of ROTC due to graduate, was stabbed to death in an apparent hate crime on Saturday. Police have apprehended and charged a local suspect with first-degree murder based on video footage of the attack. The suspect was a member of a facebook group called “Alt-Reich Nation,” and police are saying the attack was unprovoked — the victim and assailant didn’t even know each other. Also, House Rep Al Green (D-Tx) received multiple lynching threats after calling for Trump’s impeachment on the House floor this week.
- First Transgender Hate Crime Federally Enforced. The first federal case prosecuted as a hate crime due to the victim’s gender identity reached sentencing this week. The defendant, who was charged with first-degree murder of his ex-girlfriend, was sentenced to forty-nine years incarceration. Though it’s cold comfort for the victim’s family, the successful prosecution of the crime as a hate crime is a significant step towards ending high rates of violence against trans women, especially trans women of color, and the unique dangers that the facts of the case themselves highlight.
- Airport Showdown Showdown. This story is so incredibly unreal that I still can’t believe I’m not making it up. The North West Immigrant Rights Project, a Seattle-based nonprofit that specializes in protecting the rights of immigrants, brought the Department of Justice to court this week over a cease-and-desist letter it received in early April. The letter threatened disciplinary action for the nonprofit’s representation of immigrant populations — more specifically, for assisting people detained in airports until they were released. The Department of Justice cited a 2008 policy designed to protect immigrant populations from predatory notario fraud, which NWIRP has been exempt from since 2008 because it doesn’t collect any money from its clients and is a freaking nonprofit founded to protect immigrant rights. This story wound up in the ‘good news’ column because the federal district court judge was about as impressed by this as I am and granted NWIRP a temporary restraining order the same day it was argued. In his decision, the judge extended the TRO to the Department of Justice nationally, so that they can’t try this tactic again in another jurisdiction.
- Travel Ban Arguments. In what I’m sure is just a coincidence, Seattle is also where arguments are being heard this week about the constitutionality of Trump’s second travel ban executive order. The 9th circuit court is considering the government’s appeal of the federal district court case in Hawai’i from March. No judgment has been issued yet, but it will likely come out in the next week or two.
I do have a couple of pieces of News Roundup news this week, which is below; other than that, we’ve reached the end of this past week’s news. I hope. But this week upcoming week is looking incredibly full of stuff as well, so expect a long summary this time next week as well!
National News Roundup news of note:
National News Roundup is being moved to a Monday release (on purpose and consistently, as opposed to on occasion and in a haphazard fashion). This is in part because news cycles have become extremely accelerated, and the weekend has stopped being a slow point in the news cycle; it’s also partially to accommodate my work on the Activism Newsletter (which you should check out as well, if you want suggestions on how to react to the news you read here!).
You can also send feedback, including both opinions on release dates and opinions on news generally, by leaving a comment below or at the community page of the Patreon tip jar. Good luck with the upcoming news cycle, and I’ll catch you all next week if not before!