National News Roundup: Year 2, Week 39 October 14–20)
NNR2-39.mp3 - medium
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Have you ever had that moment when you work a real long day, and then you come home super tired, and you open the door and discover three hairballs on the floor and this morning’s coffee grounds on the ceiling, and you just kind of blink at the mess like “welp I sure did nothing to deserve this?” That was the news this week — just a big, wholly unnecessary mess that nobody had any energy to deal with and yet we all still gotta even.
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 DNA test! — 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:
We saw a couple of instances of Casual Disregard of Governing Norms this week, and both of them were pretty weird. Here are the main things to know:
- Jared Kushner’s Free Ride. A few outlets noted this week that Jared Kushner isn’t paying taxes on his income, which arguably just makes him fit into the Trump family. But at least his version of tax evasion, a process called depreciation, is legal — so I guess he’s doing better than his father-in-law in that regard.
- Harassing Citizens for Fun and Profit. A judge dismissed Stormy Daniels’s lawsuit against Trump for defamation this week, ordering her to pay his legal fees. That part is not necessarily all that strange, though ordering her to pay legal fees was a bit much. But Trump immediately illustrated why she brought the suit in the first place by calling her ‘horseface’ and threatening to ‘go after’ her in court in Texas. The insult was just the latest in an ongoing pattern of misogynistic vitriol on Twitter from a sitting President, which we treat like it’s normal by this point but we can all use the periodic reminder that nope, it super isn’t.
This was a bad week for Threats to the Free Press, as the Khashoggi mess continues to unfold and Trump advocates for assaulting reporters. Here are the main developments:
- Body Slam Bolstering.* At a rally in Montana this week, Trump referred to Montana rep Greg Gianforte as “my kind of guy” for assaulting a reporter during his election cycle in May 2017. As some commentators have noted, this appears to be an open endorsement of assaulting reporters, an unsurprising but definitely alarming position for Trump to take. The timing is particularly awful with Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi missing and confirmed killed, presumably by his own government, a fact which wasn’t lost on his colleagues at the Washington Post. Trump, of course, is utterly unapologetic. And none of this was made better by a public official in the area telling protesters ahead of the rally that “this is an open carry state and we know how to use ‘em.”
- Khashoggi Tragedy Deepens.* We started to talk about this last week, and the story has led down exactly the bloody primrose path we expected in the time since then. As of this week, the Saudi government is admitting that Khashoggi was killed in their consulate in Turkey — though their version of events is that a fight broke out while he was there, and they’ve arrested several people they say were involved. One Saudi official is telling a different story, saying that he died while in a chokehold that was intended to prevent him from calling for help after — and new footage of a body double wearing Khashoggi’s clothing seems to back this guy up. Meanwhile, as this was happening the Saudi government transferred $100M to the Trump administration, which is probably why Trump claimed the fight explanation was credible, and conservative commentators started a whisper campaign about Khashoggi. And the Washington Post released Khashoggi’s painfully timely final op-ed.
There was a lot of movement on the Russia Investigation this week, especially as compared to prior weeks. Here are the main things to know:
- Mueller vs Manafort.* A few outlets were reporting this week that Mueller was pressing Paul Manafort for more information on Roger Stone, most likely trying to connect him to Julian Assange and WikiLeaks. And since Manafort visited Mueller nine times over the past month, that’s potentially quite a lot of information shared. We might be about to see charges pressed against Stone, particularly because Manafort’s sentencing is set for February. I’ll definitely keep you posted on this.
- Leaking Treasury Troves.* The Trump administration is fighting back against the Russia investigation again, this time by charging a senior Treasury official with leaking documents pertaining to the investigation. The official, Natalie Mayflower Sours Edwards, is alleged to have leaked suspicious activity reports associated with Paul Manafort, Rick Gates, the Russian Embassy, and Maria Butina, and was also placed on administrative leave. It seems worth noting that literally all of these figures have in fact been indicted by grand juries regarding illegal activity, and all but Butina have also been convicted. So it looks like Edwards was only sharing instances where there actually was sketchy activity; these charges are a kind of anti-whistleblowing felony punishable with up to five years in prison or a $250,000 fine.
- Other Mueller Updates. A few outlets are reporting that the Mueller investigation may be wrapping up shortly after the midterms — though those findings may never be made public even if he does. Rod Rosenstein defended the Mueller investigation and his own job in a Wall Street Journal interview this past week, which may support that idea. And Michael Cohen met with a broad array of state and federal prosecutors this week in New York, suggesting that other investigations may continue even if the Mueller investigation does close soon.
Your “Normal” Weird:
- Warren’s DNA and Other Distractions.* Elizabeth Warren released results of a DNA test this week, attempting to confirm she has Cherokee heritage (and, probably, also attempting to shut Trump up for a while). As the Cherokee Nation Secretary of State notes, this doesn’t prove a whole lot about her heritage and also isn’t super great for tribal interests. All told, it wasn’t a particularly effective strategy, though perhaps she simply wanted to get it out of the way before the primaries.
- White House Shuffle Redux.* Don McGahn officially stepped down on Wednesday, temporarily leaving Emmet Flood in his stead to manage the position (which he’ll have to manage alongside his role defending against Mueller). But Flood won’t have to juggle hats for long, because Pat Cipollone will indeed be stepping up to the position in the near future — he’s already started filling out the paperwork. Meanwhile, we’re continuing to see signs that Trump might be about to fire Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, and Nikki Haley had some things to say about Trump as she beat a hasty retreat from her former role as UN Ambassador. All told, the constant churn has become so normal that it’s valuable to note how weird it is that it’s so normal.
- Nuclear Arms Deal Withdrawal. Trump announced at the end of this week that the U.S. will be leaving its arms treaty with Russia, a move that even half the GOP thinks is boneheaded (and Gorbachev somewhat charitably called ‘not the work of a great mind’). The U.S. has been participating in this treaty for thirty years, a window so long that some members of the GOP are claiming he doesn’t really mean to exit it; he’s just trying to bully Russia into compliance. Although, if they were trying to make this argument, they maybe could have picked a better talking point than NAFTA, which Trump literally just left in the past month.
- Immigration Updates. There’s another migrant caravan from the Northern Triangle making its way up to the United States through Mexico, and the Trumpian rhetoric is just as gross and asinine this time around. He led with threats to cut off aid to the Northern Triangle (which, spoiler, he can’t legally do because he already signed off on that budgeting in March). Then he started claiming that George Soros funds the caravan (no he doesn’t) and that there are “unknown Middle Easterners” in the caravan (no there aren’t, but interesting play on the same week you back Saudi Arabia on the Khashoggi death). Finally he threatened to close the U.S.-Mexico border, which is the one thing in this entire paragraph he might actually be telling the truth about. Meanwhile, chief of staff John Kelly and national security adviser John Bolton are getting into shouting matches with each other in the West Wing, and nearly 250 migrant kids are still separated from their parents due to this summer’s zero tolerance policy.
- Trans Discrimination Lookout. [This one is particularly long, because it’s also particularly important to me, as I have multiple trans people in my chosen family.] The New York Times recently ran a piece articulating the Department of Health and Human Services’s threat to depersonize trans people in the United States. Here’s what’s going on: The memo, which the New York Times has not released, was written in this past spring by scary transphobe-in-power Roger Severino. Severino argues that DHHS should consider a legal definition of sex for the purpose of Title IX — a law that governs gender discrimination in education — as ‘a person’s status as male or female based on immutable biological traits identifiable by or before birth.” The memo further proposes that “The sex listed on a person’s birth certificate, as originally issued, shall constitute definitive proof of a person’s sex unless rebutted by reliable genetic evidence.” In other words, ‘nobody can be trans because that’s not a thing; everybody is the gender they were assigned at birth; do not pass Go, do not collect any transition dollars.’ (I feel the need to note, by the way, that science does not back them up on this.) The article mostly focuses on Title IX, but the Wall Street Journal notes that it could also apply to relevant sections of the Affordable Care Act (though its full scope is unclear); Rewired has a pretty good summary of the legal complexities at play. However, an important thing to remember about both of these proposed changes is that publishing changes to federal regulations — which they would need to do if they are adding a new definition of a legislative term — will likely require a comment period of either thirty or sixty days, as well as response to all of the comments made in that window, and they haven’t officially proposed anything yet. This type of thing can’t generally sneak up on us, and that means we have time to act — time to vote #YesOn3 to protect trans civil rights in Massachusetts; time to share stories of how and why we #WontBeErased; time to make sure we vote in the midterm elections; time to support organized action on this issue; and time to get any relevant paperwork in order. We can and will fight this, and at this stage it’s nothing more than a leaked memo; the whole point might be simply to scare people or score political points.
- Recent Court Resilience. A federal court ordered Betsy DeVos to let an Obama-era rule on relief for victims of loan fraud take effect this week, unblocking a rule that had been put on hold for more than a year. It’s exciting to see this 2016 rule forgiving debt incentivized by fraud finally go into effect!
So that’s what I have for this week, in all its weird and mostly gross glory. For making it through the news, you deserve this video of neat street art and an eventual better government. I’ll be back next week with more news, and I hope you will be back as well — but in the meantime, feel free to ping the National News Roundup ask box, which is there for your constructive comments. Send me questions! Send me feedback! Send me a spatula to scrape off the coffee grounds!