National News Roundup: Year 3, Week 40 (October 20–26)
After a long stretch of weird weeks, the phrase “the news was super weird” begins to lose meaning. But nonetheless, the news was super weird yet again this week — in particular, the impeachment inquiry continues to turn our government into a kindergarten playground. (And I didn’t even get a juice box. I feel so cheated.)
Standard standing reminders apply: I am no journalist, though I play one in your inbox or browser, so I’m mostly summarizing the news within my area of expertise. NNR summaries often contain some detailed analysis that’s outside my expertise — I’m a lawyer, not a fake news! — but all offroad adventures are marked with an asterisk. And, of course, for the things that are within my lane, I’m offering context that shouldn’t be considered legal advice. Okay, I think that’s about it for the disclaimers. Onward to the news!
Constitutional Crisis Corners:
This was another incredible week for Whistleblowing Ukraine Biden Bingo, which keeps escalating on all sides. Here are the latest updates:
- Impeachment Inquiry Updates.* The first volley of the week came when acting ambassador William Taylor, who you may remember as the voice of reason from those texts released a few weeks ago, gave an incredibly damning deposition about a clear quid pro quo that was created with Trump’s explicit buy-in. (By the way, testimony of national security officials is expected to continue into next week.) Meanwhile, in response to White House and GOP shenanigans that we’ll talk more about below, Nancy Pelosi decided to hold the first impeachment floor vote this upcoming Thursday. News also came out that when he resigned, former Chief of Staff John Kelly flat-out told Trump he’d end up impeached if nobody kept him in line. And a judge has just declared the impeachment legal, in case anybody was unclear on that point, and said the Department of Justice has to turn over documents Mueller compiled during his investigation.
- Administrative Anger Synopsis.* Trump’s team, predictably, responded to the events above with nonsense of their own. First there was Trump’s statement referring to the ongoing impeachment efforts as “a lynching” in an attempt to divert attention from Taylor’s deposition — and when that didn’t work, Trump simply insulted Taylor instead. Then he called the emoluments clause ‘phony’ even as he withdrew his bid to host G-20. For an encore, his lawyer claimed in appeals court that Trump could shoot someone without punishment, because he’s the President — and I sure hope that isn’t the new impeachment defense strategy. Meanwhile, Giuliani butt-dialed a NBC reporter and talked about Biden and needing cash on his voicemail. And the Justice Department announced that they were handling everything by opening a criminal investigation into their own Russia probe, for… reasons? (I have no idea what they’re even claiming was illegal, to be honest.) Yeesh, after all that, it’s no surprise that Trump got booed at a Nats game.
- Congressional Assists. In addition to everything else, Trump has started leaning on the GOP to do something about the whole impeachment thing, which means we now officially have three rings of circus. On Wednesday, a giant passel of Republicans stormed a closed door impeachment deposition, delaying the testimony of Pentagon staffer Laura Cooper for over five hours. The Republicans brought phones with them into a classified room, and at least one of them shared audio, trying to spin the whole event as a Government in the Sunshine reckoning because Democrats won’t let them attend, etc etc. This argument was somewhat undercut, however, by the fact that about half of them were invited to the meeting as members of the committees deposing Cooper — and the phone thing was a serious threat to national security. Meanwhile, Lindsey Graham introduced a resolution condemning the House impeachment investigation, which probably contributed to Nancy Pelosi’s decision to hold a floor vote.
As in previous weeks, Disregard of Governing Norms somehow continues on despite the impeachment circus also happening. Here’s what I have for you:
- Shameful Withdrawal from Syria (cont).* As predicted, Trump lifted the sanctions against Turkey this week — because yeah, they’ve only been in place about a week, but everything is cool now that we have a cease-fire that Turkey says isn’t a cease-fire. The changes also mean that Russia is consolidating power in the Middle East, which frankly may have been the plan all along. And Texas senator John Cornyn punctuated the point by noting that Turkey’s planned ethnic cleansing of Kurds means it’s “not . . . a bad idea” to remove American troops. Honestly, every time I think these people can’t get more mustache-twirly, they invent a bigger mustache.
- Baghdadi Raid. Trump’s big patriotic moment this week, other than showing up to a Nats game, was a raid in the Middle East that took out a guy we think was ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. A strike against ISIS like this would ordinarily be good news, but Trump is using it to distract from withdrawal from Syria (not great) and he also confirmed with Putin before he even told Congress (really not great or normal). Plus, Baghdadi has allegedly been taken out three times already, so I’m not putting great odds on a Trump triumph here even though he was golfing while it happened.
Your “Normal” Weird:
- Congress As Usual. Even if we ignore the impeachment antics above, there was a lot of weird Congress this week. Among the chaos: 1) Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg testified on Capitol Hill, allegedly about a new proposed cryptocurrency but people kept bringing up fake news issues that he handled by saying lying is bad; 2) Multi-term rep Tulsi Gabbard announced that she won’t run for House re-election, despite low polling as a Presidential candidate — which is fueling further speculation that she may be planning to run as a GOP-backed third party spoiler Presidential candidate; 3) Senator Kamala Harris refused to go along with a criminal justice forum that was giving Trump a ‘Bipartisan Justice Award,’ though she eventually attended after the group giving the award was removed; and 4) Freshman rep Katie Hill announced she is resigning amid allegations of relations with her staff and a revenge porn campaign launched by her abusive ex-husband.
- Immigration Updates. After a few weeks’ respite, bad immigration news is back with a vengeance. ICE was in the news for deleting surveillance footage of a trans detainee’s death in custody, because nothing says “we have done nothing wrong” quite like “don’t look at our video tapes.” Somehow, the number of children displaced by the Zero Tolerance policy continues to go up, with the ACLU now estimating that about 5,400 children were separated from their parents since summer 2017. And the Trump administration has begun a pilot program that makes asylum determinations in 10 days, and I seriously cannot overstate how irresponsible that window is — the process is supposed to take months or even years. It’s like reading the back of a book and then using that to tell people how good the book was, except if you decide you don’t like the book, the author might get tortured or murdered.
- Recent Court Resilience. As in previous weeks, our bonkers news at least included some good court decisions. Betsy DeVos didn’t have a good week, because she was fined $100,000 for collecting on fraudulent loans — and then a senior official in her department quit and called for mass loan forgiveness on his way out the door. There was also a major opiate settlement in Ohio just as four drug companies were supposed to go to trial, which resulted in a $260M payment.
- Fake ‘Fake News’. The Florida chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists is attempting to trademark the term ‘fake news’. That’s going to be a tough application to get approved, but apparently success isn’t the point — as a member explains to Teen Vogue: “It’s uncertain that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office will grant our request, but as long as this trademark’s pending, we’ll use this opportunity to send cease and desist letters to frequent abusers of the term.” So basically, heads they troll Trump, tails people have to stop using the term to complain about valid reporting. Frankly, there are worse legal strategies.
So that’s what I have for this week, and I think we can all agree that it’s more than enough. For making it through, you deserve this tiny possum in a snuggy 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 fewer accidental naps!