National News Roundup: Year 2, Week 30 (August 12–18)
I leave the news alone for a week and a half and suddenly it’s all asbestos buildings, torrid Rick Gates affairs, and more tariffs than you can shake a stick at. Ye gods, clearly I need to stop taking vacations. (I kid, gentle reader! Please do not vacationnap me.)
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 CO2 emission — 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 a lot of different forms of Casual Disregard of Governing Norms this week, and they cover a lot of different types of ground — but for the most part, they involve trampling the First Amendment in one way or another. Here’s what happened:
- Continued Threat to Our Free Press. Fed up with Trump’s repeated slagging on their honorable profession, some folks at the Boston Globe decided to call for a coordinated defense of American news media this week. More than 300 news outlets participated, publishing editorials defending the role of the free press in American democracy. Trump, predictably, doubled down, calling the media “the opposition party” (which I find kind of uniquely disturbing, personally, though your mileage may vary). But the Senate apparently felt differently, passing a unanimous resolution that “the Press is not the enemy.” It’s good to know that when the chips are down, half of Congress will pass a nonbinding piece of paper.
- Kavanaugh Incomplete Application. SCOTUS Nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing is scheduled to begin on September 4, which is only a few weeks away, and we’re still missing a lot of documents needed for a full review of his credentials. The National Archive thinks they won’t have a full list of documents before October, nearly a month after his nomination is scheduled to begin. Some Democrats are refusing to meet with Kavanaugh until the document issue is resolved, but it’s a mixed bag right now. On the plus side, one of the documents that did surface was about how impeachment-happy Kavanaugh was during the Clinton years, so maybe we’ll get lucky and Trump will withdraw his own nomination.
- Erik Prince War Plans.* Officials are concerned that Trump may be considering giving Erik Prince (remember him, of Blackwater fame?) the time of day — more specifically, that he might back Prince’s proposal to privatize the war in Afghanistan, despite a growing movement for peace in Afghanistan itself . Folks, there’s so much wrong with that sentence that I don’t even know where to start. I tried turning reality off and turning it back on again, but we’re all still here. I’m so sorry.
The Russia Investigation has calmed down a tiny bit, but honestly that’s not really saying much — I think Trump was just too distracted to do a lot of damage. Here’s the quick lowdown:
- Revoking Security Clearance for Funsies.* Apparently willing to make good on an earlier threat, Trump went ahead and stripped the security clearance of former CIA director John O. Brennan. Then for an encore, he started zeroing in on the clearance of little-known but actually-currently-serving official Bruce Ohr, who appears to be the first in a long wishlist of officials tied to the Russia investigation that Trump wants to cut loose. Unsurprisingly, past CIA directors are unimpressed by all of this, and thirteen former intelligence chiefs and 175 former State department and Pentagan staffers jointly signed a strongly-worded letter condemning the action. (Clearly these folks have been talking to the Senate.) Brennan himself, meanwhile, is a bit more willing to take direct action, and is talking about suing the President.
- Manafort and Cohen Charges. The Manafort trial is now in jury deliberations, after a truly wild ride through eleven days of testimony — with no witnesses brought by the defense at all. So it makes sense that eyes are moving towards Michael Cohen. And I’m here to tell you, his $20M fraud investigation kind of makes Manafort look good — though like Manafort, Cohen’s charges involve business dealings, the mind boggles at fraudulently obtaining that much money.
- Don McGahn Speculation. The New York Times reminded everybody this week that White House counsel Don McGahn has cooperated extensively with the Russia investigation, giving over thirty hours of interview, and nobody’s quite sure just what he said to Mueller’s team. The ‘everybody’ in that sentence apparently included the White House, which is now scrambling to respond. Unsurprisingly, for Trump himself this involved yelling on Twitter, and Rudy Giuliani handled it by telling Chuck Todd that “truth isn’t truth.” Then, for an encore, Giuliani admitted the purpose of the Trump Tower meeting was intended collusion on national television. So uh, I’d say they’re all handling it about as well as normal.
Your “Normal” Weird:
- Omarosa I’ma Record This. This has been quite a week for White House bombshells. Probably the most prominent right now was Omarosa Newman’s revelation that she recorded her firing in the Situation Room, as well as releasing a recording of campaign advisers discussing Trump’s use of the n-word — and the White House was unable to confirm no tape of him using the word, which is super confidence-inducing. The release of these tapes also led to news about the White House making all of its aides sign nondisclosure agreements, which a judge has already ruled won’t work as intended.
- White House Firing Redux. We also saw a couple of weird firings this week, which seem worth mentioning. A White House speechwriter was fired for appearing on a panel with a white supremacist (and admit it, the part of that sentence that surprises you is that he was fired). And FBI agent Peter Strzok was fired this week due to anti-Trump text messages he sent during the 2016 election, despite the bureau’s official recommendation that he be demoted.
- Immigration Updates. As we have grown accustomed in the past few months, this past week brought a significant amount of malicious negligence on the immigration front. News broke that ICE crashed a van full of separated mothers and then denied the collision occurred, and ICE is also in the news for detaining a man who was driving his wife to the hospital to give birth. A judge threatened to hold Jeff Sessions in contempt for deporting people who still had pending immigration cases. CBP is being sued for unnecessarily invasive search processes, many of which frankly probably count as sexual assault. And process is moving forward on a push to make it harder for legal immigrants to obtain green cards if anyone in their family receives benefits, including their citizen children — a fact that has Stephen Miller’s uncle publicly criticizing him in op-eds. Finally, and depressingly, the Washington Post reports that there are still 559 children separated from their parents as of last week.
- Tariff and Sanction Updates.* This was a big week for pointless tariffs, between China announcing 25% tariffs against the United States, and the U.S. doubling steel and aluminum tariffs on Turkey. There were also a lot of sanctions, between the U.S. reinstating sanctions against Iran and imposing sanctions against Russia and against two Turkish officials. Turkey, meanwhile, is encouraging its citizens to boycott American electronics companies. Trump is competently handling this all over the place by claiming the tariffs will help erase debt and by encouraging people to boycott Harley-Davidson, which is responding to the steel tariffs by moving production overseas. There’s nothing like boycotting your own country’s companies to deal with international boycotts against your country, I always say!
- Captain Planet Villain Updates.* News broke last week that the EPA was again permitting construction with asbestos, a product famous for being carcinogenic. Internal emails show that this was done over the objection of lead scientists and lawyers in the agency — unsurprising, given how wildly unpopular and likely to be legally challenged this move is. Then for an encore, Trump announced that he plans to undo Obama-era clean air laws, which will release hundreds of thousands of tons of CO2 into our atmosphere — not surprising, considering who is in charge of the clean air office, but depressing nonetheless.
- Disinvite the Right. A white nationalist rally in DC held on the anniversary of Charlottesville managed only a couple dozen supporters, who were quickly dwarfed by hundreds of counterprotesters. Even the mayor of D.C. issued a statement that a second Unite the Right was not welcome in her city. Somewhat miraculously, there were no reports of violence at all, most likely because the two groups were kept separated by significant police presence.
- Recent Court Resilience. There were several strong stances taken by courts in the past week. A Trump-appointed federal judge upheld the constitutionality of the Mueller investigation, marking the fourth time an attempt to challenge the Russia investigation has failed. And in positive immigration news, another federal judge ordered the administration to fully reinstate the DACA program, marking the third federal order to reinstate the program. (This also had the distinction of irritating Jeff Sessions, who I’m pretty mad at myself after this past week, so I consider that a noteworthy bonus.)
- Primaries News. There were a lot of exciting and groundbreaking developments in yesterday’s primaries in Minnesota, Vermont, Wisconsin, and Connecticut! In particular, we saw the first transgender gubernatorial candidate for either party nationally, the first Black Democratic candidate in Connecticut, and the advancement of the first Somali-American woman to be elected into the federal race. All of these developments are worth watching, and I’ll try to keep track of them for you in November.
So that’s what I have for this week, as we play catch-up among the general confusion. Since the news leaves a lot to be desired, I’m also leaving you with this video of a penguin chasing a butterfly I’m now back to a normal schedule, which means you can expect me on the regular again; I’ll be back next week, and I hope you will be too. In the meantime, feel free to ping the National News Roundup ask box. Send me questions! Send me feedback! Send me your plan for making it to November!