National News Roundup: Year 2, Week 45 (November 25 — December 1)
Holy crow, there is so much wild Russia investigation news this week I considered creating a new section for it. (An analogy I wrote earlier today, and I stand by: “Mueller is driving a go-cart that runs on biodiesel through a mine field and lucky for us, he’s one of the best go-cart drivers in America.”) The rest of the week’s news is fairly middling, which means it’s mostly overshadowed, but given how difficult some of the past weeks have been that’s not a bad thing.
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 G20 conference! — 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 fast-paced and absolutely wild this week, so much so that I wondered if some of it was a fever dream upon first hearing it. (In my defense, I did in fact have a fever at the time.) Here’s everything that happened, with the caveat that it’s confusing and some of it is outside my specialty, though I’ll try my best:
- Mueller v. Manafort (again).* Mueller alleged this week that Manafort lied to federal officials about a whole bunch of stuff after pleading guilty in September, which is a pretty serious breach of the plea agreement if true — Mueller’s saying it renders the whole deal forfeit, and some outlets are reporting that there may be new charges resulting too. Mueller didn’t disclose how his team knows Manafort is lying, though common sense would suggest they have a singing canary around here somewhere, but that information will probably pop up in the prosecutors’ brief due by December 7. The judge set a sentencing date of March 5, and Manafort may face a decade or more in jail if the judge decides he breached the agreement after reviewing arguments. Meanwhile, Manafort’s attorney was briefing Trump’s legal team on what Mueller was asking Manafort the whole time, which is not strictly illegal but definitely won’t make him look great on the whole “breaching the plea agreement” thing. And on top of all of that, the Guardian is reporting that Manafort met with Julian Assange several times before the 2016 election, which a few other outlets believe is related to Mueller’s allegations. So this is a wild ride that is nowhere near done.
- Cohen Joins the Fray.* Russia Investigation news got even more bonkers this week on Thursday when Michael Cohen surprised everybody by entering a plea deal (yes, again), this time on Mueller’s charges of lying to Congress about plans for the Trump Tower in Moscow, which by the way included a penthouse for Putin. The documents made it clear that the the Trump camp’s business negotiations with Russia continued past when Trump won the primary, potentially linking Cohen to the Kremlin during campaign season. Since Mueller waited until after Trump had answered his questions to enter the plea deal, we know that Trump’s story lines up with Cohen’s, but the plea deal still has plenty of implications for Trump on its face, and is inviting further speculation about what the Kremlin might have on him. The details of the plea suggest that Trump Jr lied to Congress as well, though we don’t know the exact contents of his Congressional testimony, and we’re very likely to hear more on that soon one way or another — especially with a new House Committee that is far more interested in a full investigation.
- Trump Is Not, In Fact, Done (Redux). So where does all of this leave Trump? Nowhere good, particularly with another plea deal for a former associate and several possible indictments now looming — and at least one of them, Roger Stone, could do major damage to Trump if he decides to cooperate. It does seem as though things are coming to a head, and probably quickly if no legislative protection will be forthcoming. It will be very interesting indeed to see where things lead here.
We also saw a few stories on the Disregard of Governing Norms front. Here are the main things to know from this past week:
- Saudi Arabia Uncertainty (continued).* National security adviser John Bolton made news this week for refusing to watch the tape of Jamal Khashoggi’s murder, simply stating “I don’t speak Arabic” when pushed to justify the choice. Gosh, it sure is a shame that the White House can’t provide translation services — oh wait, yes they can, as at least one reporter pointed out, but Bolton doubled down. Meanwhile, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia attended G20 this past weekend, where he was predictably chummy with Trump and drew headlines for his bromance with Vladimir Putin. Needless to say, it’s looking increasingly likely that the Crown Prince is a permanent fixture on the Trump Loves Tyrants roster.
- Congressional Chaos.* Congress and Trump are edging towards a shutdown showdown yet again this week despite pushing the deadline back to December 21 due to the passing of former President George H.W. Bush. Though Democrats have backed away from taking a stand over the Dreamers, Trump is revisiting his common threat to let a government shutdown happen if he doesn’t get his border wall funded and Dems are having none of it. Meanwhile, Flake edged towards getting that Mueller bill on the floor by continuing to refuse to vote on judges unless there’s a vote on bipartisan special counsel protection legislation instead. But McConnell blocked the Mueller bill’s vote from happening again, because why would we think his calls for bipartisanship mean that he should support bipartisanship? Flake’s group plans to try again this week, but they’re running out of time (both due to the shutdown date and because Flake himself is retiring at the end of the term), so it will need to happen soon if it happens at all.
Your “Normal” Weird:
- Election Endings. Most of the residual election news is resolved by now, with Mississippi’s runoff resulting in one more GOP senator but a closer race than expected. Meanwhile, the Dems duked it out over who will lead the House for an improbably long time, but eventually did nominate Nancy Pelosi despite some early opposition — a choice foreshadowed by the op-ed she wrote in the Washington Post the day before her nomination was finalized. It’s been an unusually long window for figuring out what happened on November 6, but things are settling, and we’re looking at a divided Congress. And after the last two years, that’s a step towards equilibrium.
- GM Getting Out of Dodge.* GM announced this week that they are closing seven American factories and pulling 14,000 jobs in the next year, which unsurprisingly has Trump seeing red — after all, it’s kind of hard to argue that manufacturing jobs are coming back when they’re literally disappearing. In a huff, he announced he’s pulling GM subsidies in the coming year. Of course, GM doesn’t actually have any government subsidies right now, but he’s not letting that stop him, and neither is the stock market; GM’s shares have dropped substantially since he made the threat. 2018, y’all.
- Roll a G20.* The G20 summit was this past weekend, and a huge amount managed to happen besides the aforementioned dictator bromance. For one thing, Trump managed to meet the President of China there and work out a trade war truce, which is tentatively relieving — though he immediately (and apparently accidentally) tweeted about the Great Leap Forward apparently by accident, so who only knows where we’ll be by the end of the week. Trump also initially signaled he was canceling a meeting with Putin, but then managed to have an ‘informal’ meeting with him anyway, nicely illustrating why he can’t be trusted to accurately report on water’s wetness, let alone actual public policy. Other events of note: Major climate change protests offsite in the city; a joint statement of commitment to combat climate change (signed by literally everybody but us); and Trump canceled the scheduled press conference, citing George H.W. Bush’s death as the reason.
- NASA News.* ·This one’s not quiiiite in my lane, but it’s certainly interesting! The new InSight Mars lander has reached its destination, and we’re all very excited to see it start studying marsquakes. But even as this news has scientists doing little happy dances, NASA is also in the news because the next moon landing might be partially privatized, which is pretty unprecedented in this country for good reason (unless we count the same administration’s efforts to privatize the ISS). So it’s been a real mixed week for space stories, all things considered.
- Election Fraud (For Real This Time). We finally found evidence of the voter fraud that the GOP keeps insisting is happening this week, and it was perpetuated by… the GOP in North Carolina. Which is particularly bad, because North Carolina often serves as a bellwether for what the next form of GOP shenanigans will be on the national stage. The results have so many irregularities that the elections board refuses to certify the results, instead taking a few weeks to gather evidence on all the malfeasance. Among the incredible things being documented: sitting on absentee ballots; forging absentee ballots; and ballot bundling.
- Climate Change Calamities (again).* On the heels of last week’s report, the United Nations issued a climate change report this week as well. It’s pretty much exactly the bad news we heard last week, plus a candid admission that climate change denial from political officials has an impact on attempts to curb its effects. But, of course, this doesn’t stop political officials from continuing to deny that climate change is a thing, because this administration never lets a little thing like ‘facts’ get in the way, and the response is as familiar by now as the report news.
- Border Updates. In the wake of last week’s border news, we continue to hear bad things on the immigration front. Mexican officials continue to hint that they might agree to make U.S. asylum seekers remain in Mexico, which would leave many people in danger. Some of the asylum seekers in Tijuana have begun a hunger strike in response, using a form of protest unlikely to jeopardize their legal case. Meanwhile, an independent autopsy report done on a trans asylum seeker who died in ICE custody suggests that she died from intentional custodial abuse. And we also learned that tent cities holding unaccompanied kids have been waiving background checks for staff workers with this administration’s blessing since the tent city opened in June. They nonetheless still require full immigration checks for sponsors who step forward to take unaccompanied kids out of shelters, leaving shelter numbers artificially high, which is why they have a shelter staffing crisis in the first place.
- Congressional Resilience. The House and the Senate have reached a deal on this year’s farm bill, and the final form does not include work requirements for SNAP benefits. This is excellent news, both because work requirements for food were a terrible idea and because the House GOP won’t have another opportunity to put this in place for at least another two years. And speaking of good news about terrible ideas, despite some touch-and-go offers from Schumer the Senate Dems have conclusively stated they won’t be funding a wall. The House won’t change hands for another few weeks, but we’re already starting to see positive changes.
So that’s what I have for this week, and I’m sorry there’s no returning it to sender. For making it through, you deserve this video of NASA scientists celebrating the InSight landing and an eventual better government. I’ll be back next week with more (and hopefully better) 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 plea deal from Roger Stone!