The news this week is a wild roller coaster ride. We actually saw a lot of positive developments! But it can be hard to really feel that in the middle of the daily grind, and we saw some pretty busted stuff as well. Stay with us and stay fighting, folks; I promise it’s worth it.
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!
Constitutional Crisis Corners:
There was movement on two crises this week, but most of it was positive. Judicial Enforcement was definitely successfully tagged into the ring, and brought their best friend Senate Hearings while they were at it.
Still standing despite a repeated pummeling, at least for now: The Russia Collusion Investigation! Boy did a lot happen on this one this week.
- First Leak Source Intercepted. Early this week we saw a story about Russia with an unfortunate coda. First, a leaked NSA report published by The Intercept revealed that Russia definitely hacked election software days before the election. But due to a variety of unfortunate factors, the White House identified 25-year-old contractor Reality Winner as the source of the report leak and formally issued criminal charges. Winner is in jail pending trial now, and is the first person to be criminally charged for leaked documents under this administration.
- Comey Calls Trump a Liar Repeatedly Under Oath.* (Okay, that’s admittedly not the only thing to happen in James Comey’s four-hour public testimony on Thursday, but it sure did happen a lot.) There was a lot of content (and a lot of coverage) involved with Comey’s testimony, but most sources seem to agree with some main points: Trump was creepy and inappropriate and made Comey feel unsafe; Comey thought he was a lying liar; Comey leaked his own memo to push the issue of a special prosecutor; and basically everyone agrees that Comey got fired over the Russia investigation. Though it didn’t get a lot of attention, Comey also mentioned that he believes an obstruction of justice investigation will likely be underway soon, if it isn’t already. Trump did not make good on his threat to live-tweet his ire, but he did say afterwards he felt vindicated (presumably because he has very little grasp of politics.) Also, his attorney published a statement memo reiterating that Trump wasn’t personally under investigation while his entire administration is under investigation. If you’re looking for a more in-depth dive, Fivethirtyeight had some excellent live coverage as it was happening, and you can watch the entire thing (or read the transcript) online. Factcheck.org also has an excellent summary of what’s true and what isn’t about the whole thing.
- Sessions Special Report.* This sure was a weird week to be Jeff Sessions. After what appears to be a publicly-staged fight with Trump (but maybe had some actual fighting involved?), we learned he did indeed meet with Kislyak a third time. Then he agreed to testify before the Senate for an encore, probably mostly because Comey forced his hand. But he wanted to do it privately, which isn’t exactly confidence-inducing. (After a lot of back-and-forth, it appears the hearing will indeed be public though, and it starts at 2:30 PM on Tuesday.)
- New FBI Director, and Hey Guess What He’s Tied to Russia. Honestly at this point, we should probably all see this stuff coming. But yes, Trump announced his pick for FBI Director this week (Christopher Wray), and yes, he has ties to Russia. He was also Chris Christie’s personal attorney during the Bridgegate scandal, so that’s fun. I can’t decide if this is better or worse than just having Joe Lieberman in charge.
In addition to all your by-now-ordinary Russia weirdness, we also saw some breaking excellent news on The Emolument Clause! More specifically…
- Maryland and DC are Suing Trump. This is new as of today and I’m really excited about it; the Attorneys General for both Maryland and the District of Columbia are suing Trump for violating the Emoluments Clauses of the Constitution. Though this is not the first suit to be brought against him on this issue, it’s the first time a public entity has sued. It seems likely that this suit will not run into the standing issues that have plagued the private case, so we’ll likely see a decision on the merits — but this is all uncharted territory, so who only knows what we’ll see from here.
Your “Normal” Weird:
- “I Am (Foolishly) Calling it a TRAVEL BAN!”: My coworkers and I discussed recently that Trump must be the worst client in the world to represent, because he keeps undermining his own cases. The latest this week was his insistence on calling his executive order a travel ban, referring to the current iteration as “watered down [and] politically correct.” Needless to say, if you’re taking the position in court that your executive order is not a travel ban, it’s not super wise to announce the exact opposite with lots of exclamation points in a public Twitter tirade. And this did in fact come back to bite him within the week — more on that below.
- Weird Cardboard Ceremonies. This past week, Trump made sure he had a photo op moment signing… uh, nothing, basically. After Trump announced he wanted to privatize the air traffic control system (which strikes me as a bad idea, but this administration has so many of those that this just makes it Tuesday), he sat down to Sign an Important Order About This Topic. But since he doesn’t actually have the power to do that, he just signed “a decision memo and letter transmitting legislative principles to Congress.” In other words: “Hey, Congress, I want you to do this thing!” (Spoiler: Congress already decided not to do this thing last year.) Then, just to up the executive weirdness ante, Trump held his first full cabinet meeting today. I guess we can now expect all cabinet meetings to include a ceremonial Taking Turns Praising The President as well as the Presidential Embarrassingly-Apparent Falsehood Call to Order.
- “They’re Not Even People.” Eric Trump had the distinction this week yet again of saying the quiet part out loud, this time in his announcement to Fox News that Democrats “aren’t even people” to him. Which, to be fair, we knew already. But you’re not supposed to say it on live television. (The DNC did not bother to respond directly, which was probably wise.)
- Crisis in Qatar. We’re experiencing an ever-increasing diplomatic crisis in the Middle East right now in Qatar, as a situation created by what appears to be a successful hacking attempt by Russia spins further and further out of control. First Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates cut off all economic and political ties with the country, citing its support of Muslim extremists (an allegation fabricated by said hacking) as their reason. Yemen, Libya, the Maldives and Mauritania followed suit fairly quickly after. Since Saudi Arabia shares Qatar’s only land border, this forces Qatar to rely more heavily on Iran, which in turn impacts our relationship with both. President Trump engaged in an ill-advised tweet storm on the topic, making everything even worse. Right now, things are still messy, and I will definitely continue to keep people posted on this topic.
- Attack in Tehran. Tehran was hit with a nasty terrorist attack by ISIS this week, resulting in at least seventeen deaths and forty-six injuries. At least forty-one people have already been arrested as the militant state attempts to restore order. Meanwhile, President Trump responded to the tragedy by blaming Iran for its own terrorist attack, alienating most of the international stage and half of America in the process. I wish I could say he doesn’t speak for all of us here in the United States, but unfortunately, right now, he kind of does.
- The Wrong CHOICE Act: The House voted on the Financial CHOICE Act this week, where it passed along party lines. The Act undoes the protections put in place after the Great Recession of 2008, and it’s a really phenomenally bad idea in general. We’ll need to watch this travesty really carefully when it lands in the Senate, because it has the potential to really mess up our economy. (Note: I can’t actually take credit for that headline, which was a Maxine Waters special, but I’m borrowing it because it’s so true.)
- Did We Say Sick Kids? Oops, We Meant Golf Tournaments. I honestly cannot believe this is not bigger news — and the fact that it isn’t says a lot about all the horrible corruption we’ve just come to accept as normal. Apparently the Eric Trump Foundation has been soliciting donations under the premise that they will be used to benefit sick children — and funneling the money into Trump business interests instead. Among other things, the funding was going into golf course fundraisers, which the foundation then told people were family golf courses being used for free. Surprising no one, it looks like Donald Trump is the person who ultimately ordered this set-up. I actually started to feel a bit bad for Eric Trump reading the Forbes article, because it looks like he did try to set up a way less sketchy operation initially — before his father took over in 2010 and tromped his dirty, corrupt footprints all over. (But then I remembered he also said that Democrats aren’t people this week, and I somehow felt less bad for him again.)
- Clean Energy Shuffle. Continuing the efforts that began last week, both Hawaii and California passed legislation in the past week to adhere to the Paris Accord terms. California has agreed to expand cooperation with China to create low-carbon urban development and zero-emission vehicles. Hawaii, in contrast, established a task force to improve soil health and created provisions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions generally. These efforts are in tandem with the United States Climate Alliance, though both states are also members.
- British Special Election Backfires. Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May called a special general election in an effort to push her party’s agenda, which backfired spectacularly when she lost the conservative majority in Parliament instead. The considerably-more-liberal Labour Party won significant gains in Parliament, resulting in a hung Parliament (and muddied waters for upcoming Brexit negotations and the new British order). There’s still likely to be a conservative majority coalition, with the Tories working with the ultra-conservative Democratic Unionist Party, but that hasn’t been confirmed yet, and there might be yet another election if it can’t be pulled together. Either way, Theresa May had to apologize to her base for squandering their majority. That said, since she was making statements about how she planned to ignore human rights just prior to losing the majority, it’s likely the election was a powerful referendum on British views of ultraconservative policies. This is an opportunity for Britain to reorganize in a more moderate fashion before Brexit negotiations begin, which is likely to be a long-term positive, even though the value of the British pound has dropped and it makes the immediate future of Brexit uncertain.
- 9th Circuit Expands Stay on Travel Ban.: Remember how I mentioned above that Trump got himself in trouble with his travel ban tweets already? That would be because the Ninth Circuit, which heard arguments recently about his new travel ban and the stay put in place by a district court judge, went ahead and considered them when issuing an order to leave the stay in place. (Though that said, the Ninth Circuit decision primarily rests on a finding that the administration failed to show sufficient national interest to justify the ban, not a finding of bad faith.) The Ninth Circuit decision echoes and expands the previous decision made by the Fourth Circuit, extending the stay to the provisions about refugee admissions as well as travel more generally.
And that’s the news that’s fit to print! And some that isn’t, but you heard it here anyway.