National News Roundup: Year 3, Week 9 (March 17–23)
Okay, folks. The Mueller report dropped this week, which appropriately has taken a lot of our attention. But as we watch the news unfold on that, it’s important to remember that Nixon wasn’t ultimately indicted by his Special Investigator report, and his impeachment process took years. There’s not going to be one fell swoop on this administration either; we all have to keep chipping away at this mess together.
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 House investigation! — 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:
This was The Week When It Happened in the Russia Investigation, and I think we’re all pretty anxious to see what happens next. The important thing to keep in mind — and I’m talking to myself here as well as all of you — is that Mueller led the first of several separate credible investigations, which means we’re definitely not done no matter what comes next. Okay, here are the main things to know:
- It’s Mueller Time?* Special prosecutor Robert Mueller released his final report to Attorney General William Barr on Friday afternoon. AG Barr initially responded with a letter promising “as much transparency as possible”, and spent the weekend reviewing the materials. Then on Sunday evening, he released a four-page public summary of the Mueller report’s findings — findings which, I feel the need to note, almost certainly spanned hundreds of pages, so a four-page summary after forty-eight hours is pretty bare bones to say the least. Nonetheless, the summary contains two pieces of information we all should track: 1) Mueller has issued no new indictments beyond the ones he has already filed (which means no indictment for Trump); and 2) Mueller punted on the obstruction of justice question, which Barr used to declare there wasn’t any. That last bit is important because Barr circulated his unsolicited iffy opinions about Mueller’s obstruction of justice investigation before he was even Attorney General, and right now nobody other than his team knows what evidence Mueller actually found. We also don’t know if Barr will release the Mueller report to anybody else.
- So What Happens Now?* Democrats continue to push for a public release of the Mueller report, with sensitive information redacted — and have signaled that they are willing to subpoena Barr to testify if necessary. Trump is, unsurprisingly, gleefully announcing this exonerates him when the report literally says the opposite. Meanwhile, several investigations into Trump-related matters are still ongoing, and in particular the New York investigation has a much broader scope than Mueller’s did. So we’re definitely not done, and we may be gearing up for a court battle over the report not unlike the one Nixon caused.
- House Probe Blues.* With the Mueller investigation wrapped up, it makes sense to shift focus to the House, New York, and other investigations still ongoing. Unfortunately, the House Judiciary Committee is encountering some snags in its requests for documents — by which I mean, several entities are totally refusing to send them anything. The naughty list contains lots of names you’d never expect, such as Julian Assange, Roger Stone, and the White House — by which I mean, ‘names you’d never expect to give the House Judiciary Committee any subpoenaed documents.’ Needless to say, this is probably the beginning of a protracted battle as well.
Against the backdrop above, the Disregard of Governing Norms stories almost seem like a distraction, but it’s important that we don’t get jaded about the Trump family’s bad behavior! Here’s what I have for you:
- Personal Enrichment Redux (Again). Forbes reported this week that Trump has charged his own reelection campaign $1.3M in rent, food, lodging and other expenses since taking office. As far as I can tell, this is probably legal, but it sure doesn’t help his ongoing emolument lawsuits. Meanwhile, the New York Times reported on Trump’s sketchy relationship with Deutsche Bank, including its loans of over $2B despite many, many red flags.
- Other Trump Family Malfeasance. Trump’s finances made a splash, but there was plenty of other special, special Trump family news to go around this week. First Jared Kushner made headlines because he’s been using WhatsApp to communicate with foreign officials — and the inevitable AOC and HRC commiseration tweets only somewhat soften that blow. And speaking of Twitter, Trump used the platform to have a one-sided fight with a dead guy, which I think it’s fair to conclude he lost. So we continue to be governed by a family of Roald Dahl villains.
Your “Normal” Weird:
- Campaign Watch 2020. Speaking of elections, there has been a lot of movement on an already-crowded field for the 2020 Presidential election, so now seems like a fine time to do a mini-roundup. Here’s a quick blow-by-blow of some recent circus: 1) A bunch more people have announced their intent to run, including Beto O’Rourke and Kirsten Gillibrand; 2) Elizabeth Warren is calling to kill the electoral college, which will be popular here in MA (though she’s from MA, so I wouldn’t write home about that); and 3) Joe Biden hasn’t even announced he’s running yet but somehow he’s still in the news for considering Stacey Abrams as a running mate.
- Boeing Follow-Up.* In horrifying follow-up to the Boeing crash, Boeing has announced this week they will no longer be charging extra for safety upgrades that make their planes safer — and if you’re like me, that’s how you learned that holy crow, Boeing used to charge airlines for safety upgrades. They also apparently billed the plane as not requiring pilot training if pilots had flown earlier versions of the 737, despite, you guessed it, a bunch of differences between the MAX and earlier versions of the 737. Can I just say, this entire story is like an object lesson in Why Deregulation is Bad.
- Social Media Weirdness. Social media was extra weird this week, which in 2019 is really saying something. First Facebook was in the news for finally agreeing to stop letting advertisers blatantly illegally discriminate in their targeted ad practices. (Quick lawyer context note: Among other things, Facebook was alleged to be letting advertisers promoting housing and job opportunities screen out ad recipients of color, which is super duper not legal under the Civil Rights Act of 1964.) In less “would you like a cookie” and more “would you like some tea” news, former Congressdude Devin Nunes is suing Twitter over some mean tweets about him, which so far has mostly resulted in a truly wild parade of exhibits and a parody cow account gaining six million followers — which, incidentally, is more followers on Twitter than Nunes has. In case anybody is wondering whether Nunes has a valid case here…uh, no. No, he does not.
- College “Free Speech” Executive Order. While Nunes was suing Twitter because people said mean things, Trump was signing a “free speech” executive order designed to make it easier for the alt-right to talk at universities. Needless to say, this might actually harm free speech, so it’s not awesome news.
- Immigration Updates. Immigration was in the news on all kinds of unpleasant fronts this week. CBP detention centers in Texas are so overcrowded that the administration is releasing people en masse, which would be good news except that locals think they’re doing it to manufacture a crisis that will get them more funding. In the meantime, among the people CBP has detained at said border was a nine-year-old citizen they held for 30 straight hours after picking her up on her way to school and a Dreamer flight attendant they held for six straight weeks. We can expect this type of illegal detention to get worse, thanks to a recent Supreme Court case that held that immigrants can be detained without a hearing if they have a prior conviction — even if they were released to the community years ago. As Justice Breyer noted in his dissent, this decision has major potential for abuse in the current political environment, and also likely sets up a constitutional fight further down the road.
- Bibi’s Trump Card. In “this definitely won’t destabilize the Middle East” news, Trump is endorsing Israel’s claim on the Golan Heights, which have been disputed territory since they were annexed by Israel over fifty years ago. This wouldn’t be great all by itself, since it overturns decades of U.S. policy, but the timing makes it look like he’s interfering with the Israeli election. And that’s particularly bad because Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu, the corrupt sitting Prime Minister, is unapologetically using Trump as campaign leverage to try to keep ahead of his own scandals in a close election. So basically… Trump doesn’t like clean elections in Israel any more than he likes them here.
- Postpartum Pill. The FDA approved a drug that treats postpartum depression this week, which is the first of its kind to ever be approved. Unfortunately, it’s also quite expensive and requires a significant hospital stay, but just the fact that the drug is being developed speaks volumes about our shifting priorities in healthcare.
- Recent Court Resilience. Despite the recent SCOTUS immigration case, there was a lot of positive court news this week. A federal judge halted drilling in Wyoming, asking the administration to document climate change implications, which is the first time that has ever happened. And in slightly better SCOTUS news, the court declined to hear a case about a Hawaiian B&B refusing service to a lesbian couple, which means the decision that it was an illegal action stands. And a federal district court judge issued an order telling the administration that there was still an injunction in place preventing a trans military ban — so they should scrap that new policy they just proposed, please and thank you.
So that’s what I have for this week, and I’m sorry that most of it isn’t better. For making it through, you deserve this collection of stories about nice moments of human connection 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 springtime weather!