National News Roundup: Year 2, Week 31 (August 19–25)
Pretty much a whole week’s worth of news cycle happened had happened by 5:00 on Tuesday this week. And then we all came in on Wednesday and posted this meme, only to be flooded with yet another news cycle’s worth of stuff by the time Friday rolled around. It’s BOGO News Week here at the National News Roundup! But the second news cycle makes about as much sense as the first one — nobody said that BOGO is always a good deal, y’all.
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:
The Russia Investigation was absolutely bananas this week — I seriously cannot believe how much happened in a one-week period. (Remember that bonkers 24 hours I mentioned? It happened on Tuesday, and most of it involved the Russia investigation.) Bear with me folks, because this is gonna be long:
- Manafort Mostly Guilty. Manafort Trial #1 concluded, after a truly wild ride through eleven days of testimony, with eight convictions (and the remaining ten charges undecided, because one juror did not want to convict). The judge accepted a partial verdict, and the eight convictions carry a maximum sentence of eighty years in prison — though whether prosecutors plan to dismiss the remaining charges or let Manafort appeal after his second federal trial next month remains to be seen. Manafort, incidentally, makes the sixth person to plead or be convicted on charges relating to the Russia investigation since it began last year.
- Cohen’s Chaotic Circus. Incredibly, the Manafort news above wasn’t even the wildest thing to happen in that twenty-four hour period. That honor belongs to Michael Cohen directly implicating Trump in campaign finance fraud as he pleaded guilty to eight criminal counts. The plea documents also implicate the Trump Organization, which sent a mystery $50,000 campaign payment to a tech company signed by Cohen personally as well as authorizing and covering up the hush money payments. Cohen’s sentencing is scheduled for December 12, and his attorney has said he’ll cooperate until then. He’ll definitely get an opportunity to put his money where his mouth is on that, because New York prosecutors are already subpoenaing him about documents tied to the Trump Foundation, and it’s looking likely that the Trump Organization will face charges as well. Needless to say, Trump isn’t happy about any of this — more on that below.
- Next Steps in Russia Investigation.* After Manafort and Cohen both gained eight convictions to their name, Mueller wasted no time in furthering his investigation. News quickly broke that the guy who heads the National Enquirer, David Peck, had accepted immunity, and further news came that he kept a safe full of documents related to the investigation. Then we learned that Trump Organization CFO Allan Wessenberg had accepted full immunity in exchange for his cooperation as well, granting the Mueller investigation vast access to information about financial dealings of the organization. We’ll likely continue to see news come out on this at a breakneck pace, and I will keep keeping you posted.
- CIA Informants Have Gone Dark.* As the Russia Investigation gains momentum, so does the escalation with Russia itself. In addition to the hacking attempts this past week, which I’ll talk more about below, the New York Times reported this week that the CIA’s Kremlin sources have gone quiet, which probably is not a good sign. It’s believed the sources have gone to ground rather than being killed by Putin, but since being killed by Putin is a very credible risk it’s hard to know which has happened. I’m hoping we’ll see more news on this in the near future, and I’ll definitely let you know what I find out.
In the wake of the major Russia Investigation movement listed above, we saw some retaliatory Casual Disregard of Governing Norms this week as well. Here are the main things to know:
- Trump’s Inspiring Online Rejoinder. Trump has handled all of the news above in true Trump fashion, which is to say, he threw a temper tantrum on twitter about the practice of accepting plea deals and attacked Jeff Sessions repeatedly (yes, again). Then he started talking about pardoning Manafort, which even Rudy Giuliani admitted would be a bad idea (though some outlets are reporting that aides expect him to do it anyway). So this will be interesting to watch, to say the least.
- Secure Elections Act Blocked. Against the backdrop of everything else happening, it’s disappointing but not especially surprising that fights with the White House stalled out a bipartisan election security bill that would have mandated post-election audits. The bill has a companion bill in the House, so we might see further movement at a later date, but likely not before the November elections.
Your “Normal” Weird:
- John McCain Passed Away. John McCain made the decision to cease medical treatment of his brain tumor this week, and passed away over the weekend. McCain leaves behind a mixed legacy and a political climate where anything goes — and reactions to his passing are no exception. Among the worst offenders: Senate candidate Kelli Ward, who decided to claim that McCain died to hurt her campaign, and the Toddler-in-Chief, who refused to sign off on a White House memorial statement because it was too nice to the guy who died and had the White House flag back at full mast less than forty-eight hours after his death. We’re not all going to agree on how to remember John McCain, but I think we can all agree that we want politicians to act older than their shoe size when a six-term Senator dies, right? Okay. Glad we had this talk.
- Betsy DeVos’s Bright Idea. Secretary of Education and thousand-yard stare owner Betsy DeVos announced this week that she’s considering letting school districts use federal funding to arm teachers. Needless to say, most educators are not enthused about this idea, which would reverse a longstanding position taken by the federal government that this is a garbage plan and nobody actually encounters bears as part of their day-to-day educational life. Adding to the garbage pileup, the guy at the Consumer Protection Bureau who oversees student loans resigned this week, saying that the administration “has turned its back on young people and their financial futures.” In case you were wondering, yup, that sure is a direct quote from his resignation letter.
- Pompeo Trip Canceled.* Mike Pompeo is apparently no longer going to North Korea this week. The administration has cited North Korea’s blatant lack of denuclearization as the reason for cancelling, but I kind of think they just wanted to limit upcoming opportunities to increase their egg/face ratio. I’ll keep you posted, either way.
- Tragedy in Iowa. Much of the nation is currently talking about Mollie Tibbets, a 20-year-old student at Iowa University whose body was found earlier this week. The defendant being charged with murder is an undocumented Mexican man who partially confessed earlier in the week. Unsurprisingly, Trump pounced on the story as an excuse to promote an anti-immigration agenda. But incredibly, Mollie’s family started pushing back, with her cousin telling Trump, “You do not get to usurp Mollie and her legacy for your racist, false narrative.”
- Tragedy in Jacksonville. A competitor opened fire during a video games competition in Jacksonville, FL this week, killing two people and injuring eleven more, before taking his own life. The shooting marks the fourth gun-related tragedy in Florida since 2016, though the perpetrator was not from the state.
- CO2 Emissions Bonanza.* Trump announced this week that he will undo Obama-era mandated clean air laws, which will authorize states to reduce compliance or ignore the clean air laws entirely. This 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 still very upsetting. Trump argues that the repeal will save jobs for coal workers, but the changes are estimated to cause an additional 1,400 premature deaths per year by 2030 due to decrease in air quality. So that doesn’t exactly feel like a fair trade-off, even if it were true (which it isn’t). It seems very likely that this will be challenged in court.
- Steele Liberation from Libel. The author of the famous dossier that put the phrase ‘pee tape’ in the public discourse, Christopher Steele, survived a libel suit this week. Ultimately, the court concluded that the Russian oligarchs suing him had not shown he acted with reckless disregard for falsity. So that’s an interesting thing to contemplate against the backdrop of all the other news this week.
- Recent Indictment Resilience. As of this week, both of the first congresspeople to support Donald Trump’s presidency campaign have been indicted for financial misconduct. First, a few weeks ago, New York Republican Chris Collins was charged with insider trading and securities fraud after using knowledge he learned in his duties to tell his son to sell stock. Then, this week, California Republican Duncan Hunter was charged with misusing campaign funds for things like personal vacations to the tune of a quarter-million dollars. Tangentially, Michigan’s Health and Human Services director is facing manslaughter charges as well, and is expected to stand trial for the deaths associated with the lack of clean water in Flint, Michigan.
- White Hat Successes. Microsoft was in the news this week for successfully blocking Russian hacking attempts against conservative thinktanks and Senate-related websites that have been critical of Russia and/or Donald Trump. The effort was apparently part of free anti-hacking support the company is now providing to politicians and political groups to avoid further compromise of American elections. Thanks, Microsoft! Which isn’t a sentence I type very often.
So that’s what I have for this week, which seems like more than enough from where I’m sitting. The news was on overdrive this week, and you deserve nice things for reading it, so please enjoy this video of puppers taking the Snoot Challenge. 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; it’s getting lonely over there. Send me questions! Send me feedback! Send me government workers who act like grownups!