National News Roundup: Week 34 (September 10–16)
Okay, y’all, another week, another pile of terrible news. This week at least contains some schadenfreude, so there’s that, but it’s a pretty rough ride otherwise — and that’s even with me holding off on a couple of stories that I think are about to break more fully. Comfort foods at the ready.
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’s news contains some detailed analysis that’s outside my expertise — I’m a lawyer, not a climate scientist — 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:
First and foremost, a bit of errata from last week:
- Magnitsky Act Changes.* A reader (correctly) flagged that I should have remembered to include this point last week: Without much fanfare, last Friday Trump signed a Presidential Memorandum allowing the Magnitsky Act, a law imposing sanctions for very serious human rights abuses in Russia, to be enforced by proxies — more specifically, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (for visa sanctions) and Secretary of Treasury Steve Mnuchin (for financial sanctions). Many people view this as a way for Trump and Russia to get around the Magnitsky Act — you may recall that Trump Jr’s infamous meeting with a Russian lawyer turned out to be about getting this same Act repealed. The Magnitsky Act generally requires the President to report any changes in policy to Congress, but there’s nothing in the Act shifting that responsibility to delegated agents. So, in effect, this presidential memorandum does repeal the Act unless/until Congress fixes it. And that’s fun.
There are a couple of odds and ends in The Russia Collusion Investigation this week as well:
- Flynn Power Plants in the Middle East.* News broke this week that Flynn had business interests in the Middle East on top of everything else; more specifically, he took trips to the Middle East in 2015 to set up a deal for about forty private power plants in the region. The information came out in part due to a formal inquiry from House Democrats. Needless to say, this is yet another conflict in Flynn’s closet, and not a good look generally for the administration.
- Cobb (Dowd) Salad Debacle. It is Attorney 101 that You Do Not Discuss Client Matters In Public, because you have both the obligation and the privilege of confidentiality to your client. When you represent someone, you don’t discuss their case in public at all, let alone at a working lunch. This is so fundamentally basic and self-evident that I have trouble believing Ty Cobb and John Dowd, members of the White House counsel team, didn’t know it when they were recorded opining in public on matters regarding the Russia Investigation yesterday. And even if they somehow forgot this point, it seems unlikely that they forgot not to discuss matters relating to their work with names and specifics at a restaurant that is literally next door to a major newspaper outlet. Which leads me to believe that they wanted to be recorded, and I’m honestly not even sure what to do with that.
Your “Normal” Weird:
- Ted Cruz Twitter Hilarity. The Internet went bonkers this week for the story that Ted Cruz — or a staffer, as he claims, but it’s funnier if we assume he’s lying — forgot that a Twitter profile shows likes publicly. The result was everybody seeing the official Ted Cruz account favorite a porn video. Weirdly, Cruz didn’t seem too concerned about the whole incident, and made a point of essentially saying that we shouldn’t shame people about porn, which was a surprisingly decent move of him — and refused to name the staffer, who either doesn’t exist or is eternally grateful.
- Tax Reform (Not)-News.* So tax reform is a thing being actively discussed in Congress, and it doesn’t appear that a whole lot has changed on that front since Trump first introduced his plan — which is to say, it’s not fully clear what the plan actually is. To be fair, this might be because Republicans appear to disagree about how to structure it with both each other and with Trump. Honestly, watching Orrin Hatch put up window-dressing on this would be kind of funny if we weren’t literally talking about funding the underpinnings of government.
- DACA Deal Turmoil. Trump keeps telling people he’s “close” to a deal with Democrats about reinstating DACA, which has his base frothing at the mouth in a hate-lather. The joke’s on them, though, because it seems very clear that this is a bid for the wall that will fall apart like tissue paper as soon as Trump realizes he’s not getting that ‘massive border security’ out of any self-respecting Democrats. (Though then again, given the way this year is going, I suppose the idea that Democrats have self-respect may be on the table here.) Meanwhile, neither Democrats nor Republicans appear to actually know what to make of all of this. Which is fair, honestly, because the whole thing feels like a fever dream to me and I’m only reading about it second-hand.
- Sean Spicer Emmy Cameo. Okay, so, Sean Spicer had a cameo during the Emmy awards yesterday, where he lampshaded the fact that he lied to the American public about the inauguration crowd sizes. I can’t believe I have to say this, but this is not funny and it’s not normal; in fact, this kind of casual suggestion that it is both of those things is a very dangerous and blatant attempt at normalizing institutionalized propaganda. Sean Spicer lied for Coolranch Mussolini for months, he doesn’t deserve an apology tour, and I’m still mad he has a guest fellowship at Harvard in my back yard.
- Mother Earth Updates.* Okay, folks, this is one of the rough ones. Hurricane Irma left a lot of things a scary mess (both physically and in terms of economy), Hurricane Jose is heading to the eastern coast of the United States (including MA, where myself and many readers live), Hurricane Katia and the contemporaneous earthquake have badly damaged Mexico, and yet another cat-5 hurricane is expected in the Caribbean in the near future. All in all, this week is a bit better than last week, but that’s really not saying much. We have a rough road ahead of us, both nationally and internationally, in terms of relief work.
- Travel Ban Setbacks. The Supreme Court sided with the Trump administration this past week about refugee admissions under the travel ban, saying that refugees don’t have ties to America (which is the standard for letting them in) because they have ties to a resettlement organization here. The actual holding basically just says “keep on keeping on until we hash this out,” so it’s not any kind of permanent setback; just a preservation of the status quo until oral arguments. At least oral arguments are in less than a month, which hopefully means we’ll get a more permanent and favorable finding soon.
- Treasury Two-for-One on Military Jets.* So, remember how the Mnuchin family pissed everybody off by using a government plane to go see the solar eclipse (and tagging designer labels worn in the process) last month? Well, they managed to one-up that this past week because the story broke that he requested a military jet for their European honeymoon. There’s so much wrong with that that I don’t even know where to start. If they had another method of secure travel for his honeymoon, why was he even approved to use a government jet to view the eclipse? How was he able to take two vacations the same month? Is this man doing any work? I got nothin’.
- Pay My Legal Fees, Please. The Office of Government Ethics moved to allow anonymous donations to legal defense funds for White House staffers this week — yes, really. The move undoes a policy that has been in place for over twenty years, and the former director (who quit in agitation over the lack of a blind trust in July) says the whole thing disgusts him. Of course, he might be mad in part because the current OGE removed his ethical findings to make the change. Even Vanity Fair finds this a transparent move, noting that the White House “has a Russia problem.”
- That’s Not What Hospitality Means, Motel 6. Several news outlets reported this week that Motel 6 was turning guest information over to ICE to assist in investigations, and a few even think Motel 6 was calling ICE on guests in the hotel if they checked in using ID that suggested undocumented status. After two motels in the chain were confirmed to be voluntarily sharing information, Motel 6 eventually issued an official statement that the hotels were acting without permission and would be prohibited from doing this again.
- Shrkeli’s Bail is Revoked for Being a Gross Weirdo. (I stand by this headline.) Your second dose of schadenfreude for the week is Shkreli’s bail getting revoked while he awaits sentencing because he offered a $5,000 bounty on Hillary Clinton’s hair — which is both creepy and, as the judge correctly noted when he revoked bail, a solicitation of assault. It’s basically Criminal Defense 101 that your bail can be revoked for committing another crime, and he technically committed a (gross and weird) crime with the post. And while I don’t generally enjoy displays of misogyny and expectations of privilege, I do enjoy that the federal judge on this case didn’t put up with it.
- New York Sanctuary Order Signed. The Governor of New York signed an executive order this past week prohibiting state agencies from inquiring about immigration status. (In layperson terms, that means people can’t just be randomly asked about their status while they’re seeking benefits, getting a driver’s license, or doing other things that involve ordinary day-to-day interactions with the state.) The order includes provisions protecting people who approach a police officer for help, are victims of crimes, or are witnesses to crimes. While it’s not a panacea by any means, it is a good start, and I definitely appreciate that it was issued.
And that’s what I got this week — and no, I can’t take it back again, much as I wish I could. I’ll do my best to keep touching on all the key points each week, but the news is still moving really fast, and we’re also increasingly seeing announcements at odd times. Daily news summaries like WTFJHT remain an excellent resource until we meet again.