National News Roundup: Year 3, Week 13 (April 14–20)
This week was full of dark, strange freaky funhouse mirror news — and the Mueller report’s release took it to a whole new level. There’s a lot of abyss to look into this week, but we’ll get through it 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 redacted report! — 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:
Okay, this was a big week for the Russia Investigation both before and after the Mueller report was released (albeit in redacted form). Here’s what I have for you:
- Mueller Report Rumblings.* Before the report was even released, the circus had several attractions — of particular note are Trump’s insistence that someone should “investigate the investigators” and Attorney General William Barr’s wild press conference bonanza on the morning the report was released. Against that backdrop, it’s no surprise that the House was immediately making it rain subpoenas — for both the full unredacted report and related underlying evidence. Then everybody had time to actually read and analyze the 400-page redacted report, and all heck broke loose.
- (Redacted) Mueller Report Released.* Okay bear with me y’all, because this is going to be incredibly long — 400 pages is a lot of stuff. The report is separated out into two volumes; the first volume deals with Russian interference (and the question of collusion) in the 2016 Presidential election, and the second volume deals with Trump’s obstruction of the first investigation. Everybody and their kid sister has written a takeaway piece, and a few outlets have also outlined how much was redacted (Spoiler: A lot, particularly relating to prosecutorial decisions, but not as much of the obstruction section as we’d feared). There were some noteworthy things about collusion, but the real meat of the report is in the obstruction section, where Mueller looked at ten different incidents to determine if any of them were obstruction of justice. And the report makes clear that the answer is complicated, or at least more complicated than Barr depicted in his summary, in part because Mueller uncovered a lot of evidence but believed he couldn’t indict a sitting President. As a result, some outlets describe him as “punting [the issue] to Congress” or “[writing] a road map to impeachment.” In short: Trump did a bunch of bad stuff, y’all, but Mueller thought his hands were tied.
- Mueller Report Reverberations.* Needless to say, we’re seeing a lot of stuff in the wake of the information above. One obvious and predictable outcome is that Trump’s approval rating has dropped to its lowest rate of 2019, hanging out at 37%. But Democrats are also divided on whether to impeach Trump, given what we’ve learned about his conduct, and in the meantime they plan to conduct further investigations as they hash that out. Sarah Sanders is catching flak for obviously lying in press briefings, Betsy DeVos’s brother Erik Prince is back on the radar, we learned at least one voting county was successfully hacked in 2016, and the pee tapes might be real. More attention is also being paid by both sides to the eight people who refused to obstruct justice for Trump — in everything from angry 45 Twitter rants to House subpoenas to testify. And Rudy Giuliani is publicly announcing that “there’s nothing wrong with taking information from Russia.” So this is definitely not the end of the story, and I’ll keep y’all posted.
Ironically, it was a fairly quiet week for Disregard of Governing Norms, simply because all eyes were on the Russia investigation. But we did see a bit of tax return balderdash. Here’s what I have for you:
- Tax Return Fight.* In this week’s installment of As The Tax ReTurns, the House Democrats subpoenaed nine banks, Trump’s accounting firm, and various financial records. Trump responded by — no joke, y’all — suing his own accounting firm as well as the House Oversight Committee Chairman, Elijah Cummings, and the Oversight Committee’s investigative counsel. As said House committee chairman notes, there is no valid legal basis to this suit as far as I can tell. But this is pretty obviously just another skirmish in what’s going to be a loooong war.
Your “Normal” Weird:
- Bill Weld Joins the 2020 Fray. Former Mass Governor Bill Weld announced he’s joining the 2020 primary this week — on the GOP side. Given his oddly progressive stances, his current position as a partner at Mintz Levin, and the general…everything of the current GOP, this is an odd choice. But who am I to look a gift party-divide in the mouth?
- Awful International Violence.* On Easter Sunday, a coordinated terrorist attack on three churches and two hotels in Sri Lanka resulted in almost 300 deaths and another 500 people injured. Though the country has a lengthy history of civil war, this is the deadliest attack in over a decade. The Sri Lankan government has blocked social media and imposed a curfew in response. Meanwhile, this week also saw violent protests in Paris and riots in Londonderry.
- Trump’s Stellar Foreign Policy.* Trump’s foreign policy was embarrassingly scattered this week, which is nothing new but did have some repercussions. First he praised the Libyan insurgents marching on Trinidad, even though we installed the government they’re marching on, and ultimately spoke with the insurgent general. He also vetoed a Congressional bill to end U.S. involvement in the Yemen war, and imposed sanctions on Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua. And just to top everything off, North Korea announced that it tested a new weapon.
- Iffy Medical News. In horrifying opiate news, 60 people in seven states were charged this week with trading sex and cash for opioid prescriptions as the Department of Justice brings a giant suit for opioid malfeasance. The charges allege that over 32 million pills illegally changed hands. And in other iffy legality medical news, Ohio became the sixth state this week to pass a “heartbeat” law, a type of anti-abortion law commonly understood to be illegal but which conservatives are hoping will result in a challenge to Roe v. Wade.
- Your Painfully Regular Bad Immigration Updates. Immigration news this week is particularly godawful, which for this administration and the past month is saying something. Attorney General William Barr ordered immigration courts this week to withhold bail from asylum seekers who have already passed a credible fear interview — in other words, who have shown evidence of valid asylum claims — because he figures rotting in jail will deter people from coming here and claiming asylum. Meanwhile, Trump has ordered even more troops to the border and is considering travel restrictions for several more African countries as well as Cuba. He also wants to make it harder for immigrants to live in public housing and wants legal work in the marijuana industry to indicate ‘a lack of moral character’ for citizen applicants. And a vigilante group in New Mexico kidnapped 200 migrants at gunpoint near the border, claiming that they were ‘detaining’ them until CBP could arrive. Eventually the FBI arrested the head of the group for possessing a firearm as a convicted felon. And the Trump administration is now temporarily allowed to again ship asylum applicants to Mexico to await the results of their application due to a stay of the injunction at the appeal stage. (Although I’m not sure if they plan to bother, since apparently the new plan is to just keep asylees in jails.)
- Recent Court Resilience. A federal judge held that the Trump administration can’t go forward on their plan to overturn an Obama-era prohibition on mining coal in public spaces. With all of the mess above, it’s nice to see the courts continue to challenge Trump on things, though I’m sure we’ll be seeing more of it in the coming weeks.
- Warren Lights Up The Campaign Trail. This week, Elizabeth Warren has impressed a lot of people — and raised a lot of money — by insisting on impeaching Trump and revealing a plan to ease the costs of higher education. Her campaign plan would be complex and interesting enough, given its ambitious scope. But her call for impeachment kept the conversation going and likely contributed to the House’s deliberations on its next steps.
So that’s what I have for this week, and some of last as well. For making it through, you deserve this review of the Mueller report on GoodReads and an eventual better government. I’ll be back next week with more (and hopefully less confusing) 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 better immigration news!