Bill Barr Keeps Pretending (Falsely) That He Didn’t Encourage Yesterday’s Insurrection

Disgraced former Attorney General Billy Barr has released two statements condemning yesterday’s terrorist attack on the Capitol. First, a comment released via his spox,

Then he released a statement to the AP’s Barr-chummy DOJ reporter:

Former Attorney General William Barr says President Donald Trump’s conduct as a violent mob of his supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol was a “betrayal of his office and supporters.”

In a statement to The Associated Press, Barr said Thursday that “orchestrating a mob to pressure Congress is inexcusable.”

Barr was one of Trump’s most loyal and ardent defenders in the Cabinet.

His comments come a day after angry and armed protesters broke into the U.S. Capitol, forcing Congress members to halt the ongoing vote to certify President-elect Joe Biden’s election and then flee from the House and Senate chambers.

Barr resigned last month amid lingering tension over the president’s baseless claims of election fraud and the investigation into Biden’s son.

Of course, Barr himself encouraged the violence yesterday.

That’s because, less than a year ago, he treated a threat against a sitting judge issued by some of the men who organized yesterday’s actions as a “technicality” not worthy of a sentencing enhancement for Roger Stone.

Two years ago, after Roger Stone posted a picture of Amy Berman Jackson with crosshairs on it, Jonathan Kravis asked Stone who came up with the picture. The President’s rat-fucker named two of his buddies who are key leaders of the Proud Boys, Jacob Engles and Enrique Tarrio.

Amy Berman Jackson. How was the image conveyed to you by the person who selected it?

Stone. It was emailed to me or text-messaged to me. I’m not certain.

Q. Who sent the email?

A. I would have to go back and look. I don’t recognize. I don’t know. Somebody else uses my —

THE COURT: How big is your staff, Mr. Stone?

THE DEFENDANT: I don’t have a staff, Your Honor. I have a few volunteers. I also — others use my phone, so I’m not the only one texting, because it is my account and, therefore, it’s registered to me. So I’m uncertain how I got the image. I think it is conceivable that it was selected on my phone. I believe that is the case, but I’m uncertain.

THE COURT: So individuals, whom you cannot identify, provide you with material to be posted on your personal Instagram account and you post it, even if you don’t know who it came from?

THE DEFENDANT: Everybody who works for me is a volunteer. My phone is used by numerous people because it can only be posted to the person to whom it is registered.

[snip]

Jonathan Kravis. What are the names of the five or six volunteers that you’re referring to?

Stone. I would — Jacob Engles, Enrique Tarrio. I would have to go back and look.

Not only did Stone appear at the rally before yesterday’s insurrection, but Tarrio was arrested on his way to the riot for crimes he committed during the last demonstration in support of Trump, an attack on a historic Black church in DC and possession of weapons.

Prosecutors asked Judge Jackson to add a two-level sentencing enhancement for this action, in which Stone’s Proud Boys associates crafted a threat against her.

Finally, pursuant to U.S.S.G. § 3C1.1, two levels are added because the defendant “willfully obstructed or impeded, or attempted to obstruct or impede, the administration of justice with respect to the prosecution of the instant offense of conviction.” Shortly after the case was indicted, Stone posted an image of the presiding judge with a crosshair next to her head. In a hearing to address, among other things, Stone’s ongoing pretrial release, Stone gave sworn testimony about this matter that was not credible. Stone then repeatedly violated a more specific court order by posting messages on social media about matters related to the case.

This enhancement is warranted based on that conduct. See U.S.S.G. § 3C1.C Cmt. 4(F) (“providing materially false information to a magistrate or judge”); see, e.g., United States v. Lassequ, 806 F.3d 618, 625 (1st Cir. 2015) (“Providing false information to a judge in the course of a bail hearing can serve as a basis for the obstruction of justice enhancement.”); United States v. Jones, 911 F. Supp. 54 (S.D.N.Y. 1996) (applying §3C1.1 enhancement to a defendant who submitted false information at hearing on modifying defendant’s conditions of release).

The sentencing memo that Bill Barr had drawn up to justify a more lenient sentence dismissed this enhancement which it admitted “technically” applied.

Notably, however, the Sentencing Guidelines enhancements in this case—while perhaps technically applicable— more than double the defendant’s total offense level and, as a result, disproportionately escalate the defendant’s sentencing exposure to an offense level of 29, which typically applies in cases involving violent offenses, such as armed robbery, not obstruction cases. Cf. U.S.S.G. § 2B3.1(a)-(b).

[snip]

Second, the two-level enhancement for obstruction of justice (§ 3C1.1) overlaps to a degree with the offense conduct in this case. Moreover, it is unclear to what extent the [defendant’s obstructive conduct actually prejudiced the government at trial.]

When ABJ gagged Stone in response to him posting the picture, she talked about the possibility that Stone’s post might incite his extremist followers to take action.

What concerns me is the fact that he chose to use his public platform, and chose to express himself in a manner that can incite others who may feel less constrained. The approach he chose posed a very real risk that others with extreme views and violent inclinations would be inflamed.

[snip]

The defendant himself told me he had more than one to choose from. And so what he chose, particularly when paired with the sorts of incendiary comments included in the text, the comments that not only can lead to disrespect for the judiciary, but threats on the judiciary, the post had a more sinister message. As a man who, according to his own account, has made communication his forté, his raison d’être, his life’s work, Roger Stone fully understands the power of words and the power of symbols. And there’s nothing ambiguous about crosshairs.

She repeated that sentiment when she overruled the Barr-authorized memo, judging the enhancement was appropriate.

Here, the defendant willfully engaged in behavior that a rational person would find to be inherently obstructive. It’s important to note that he didn’t just fire off a few intemperate emails. He used the tools of social media to achieve the broadest dissemination possible. It wasn’t accidental. He had a staff that helped him do it.

As the defendant emphasized in emails introduced into evidence in this case, using the new social media is his “sweet spot.” It’s his area of expertise. And even the letters submitted on his behalf by his friends emphasized that incendiary activity is precisely what he is specifically known for. He knew exactly what he was doing. And by choosing Instagram and Twitter as his platforms, he understood that he was multiplying the number of people who would hear his message.

By deliberately stoking public opinion against prosecution and the Court in this matter, he willfully increased the risk that someone else, with even poorer judgment than he has, would act on his behalf. This is intolerable to the administration of justice, and the Court cannot sit idly by, shrug its shoulder and say: Oh, that’s just Roger being Roger, or it wouldn’t have grounds to act the next time someone tries it.

Effectively, ABJ was warning against precisely what happened yesterday: that Stone (and Trump) would rile up extremists and those extremists would, predictably, take violent actions. ABJ judged that you can’t let the incitement go unpunished.

Barr, on the other hand, suggested that unless there was proof the incitement had an effect, it was just a technicality.

Bill Barr had a chance to stand against the incitement-driven terrorism led by the Proud Boys last year. And he chose to use his authority, instead, to protect Trump.

The Trump Effect: Attempted Coup Edition

I have long talked about “The Trump Effect,” by which Trump, in pushing existing policies an order of magnitude further, makes those toxic policies visible to people who otherwise have not seen them.

Yesterday’s coup attempt was not the implementation of any existing policy. What happened yesterday was unprecedented in the history of this nation.

That said, it did make certain things visible.

The DOD refusal to honor a request from Mayor Muriel Bowser, made before the coup attempt started, to deploy the National Guard to DC to help makes it clear (as did Trump and Bill Barr’s deployment of DOD troops over the summer) that DC cannot be left anymore without its own defense. As many people have noted, this provides a clear reason, independent of the number of Senators or the existence of a largely-Black city without full franchise, that DC should become a state.

Similarly, the refusal of DC cops, including Capitol Police, to treat these terrorists as terrorists demonstrates why people have called to “defund” the police. It’s not denial that we need police. It’s a recognition that, right now, police forces are often filled with extremists who sympathize with people like the terrorists who stormed the Capitol. There needs to be a priority on cleansing police forces of such extremists, or they will become an armed force working against democracy again.

Finally (in what appears to be a surprise to a guy who wrote a book on the topic and who has been dismissing the threat of a coup for months), what we saw yesterday was what happens when a man who puts self-interest over the good of the country happens to wield the power of the unitary executive. While some people appointed by Donald Trump took the appropriate approach in responding to the coup attempt — citing their oath to the Constitution — others dawdled until Mike Pence took action. It will take some time until we understand their excuse for protecting a man rather than the Constitution. But decades of claims that all authority emanates from the President certainly made it more likely. Last night made it clear that such unchecked authority is incompatible with the Constitution.

We are not yet out of the woods. Trump, even while stating he will leave office, nevertheless has promised to sustain his insurgency. On top of everything else President-Elect Biden has to deal with, he now has to think of ways to coup-proof the US government.

Update: Mayor Bowser has called for Congress to push statehood through in the first 100 days of the Biden Administration.

 

Insurrection Be Damned: Congress’s Session Resumed

Let me say up front I’m mentally and emotionally fried. Watching idiotic Trumpist traitors trashing the Capitol Building while depriving a majority of the country of their elected representatives’ honest services just plain sucks.

It’s theft conducted under our noses. Not of an election, because the election is done and the results are known, having been certified by all 50 states and a lack of evidence of voter fraud produced in at least 59 lawsuits contesting the election.

No, the theft was of our time and energy today, our faith in government, and the effort of our elected officials who we are paying to perform specific tasks today as outlined in the Constitution. These poorly-educated, overgrown, mouth-breathing brats stole from us because they are unable to get their way, because they’ve been unwilling to organize and persuade other Americans to join their cause and elect their candidate.

But after their pointless tantrum incited by their equally idiotic leader, they’ve fled the Capitol Building. It’s been swept by the FBI and Congress has resumed their work under Article II, Section 1:

The Electors shall meet in their respective States, and vote by Ballot for two Persons, of whom one at least shall not be an Inhabitant of the same State with themselves. And they shall make a List of all the Persons voted for, and of the Number of Votes for each; which List they shall sign and certify, and transmit sealed to the Seat of the Government of the United States, directed to the President of the Senate. The President of the Senate shall, in the Presence of the Senate and House of Representatives, open all the Certificates, and the Votes shall then be counted. The Person having the greatest Number of Votes shall be the President, if such Number be a Majority of the whole Number of Electors appointed; and if there be more than one who have such Majority, and have an equal Number of Votes, then the House of Representatives shall immediately chuse by Ballot one of them for President; and if no Person have a Majority, then from the five highest on the List the said House shall in like Manner chuse the President. But in chusing the President, the Votes shall be taken by States, the Representation from each State having one Vote; A quorum for this Purpose shall consist of a Member or Members from two thirds of the States, and a Majority of all the States shall be necessary to a Choice. In every Case, after the Choice of the President, the Person having the greatest Number of Votes of the Electors shall be the Vice President. But if there should remain two or more who have equal Votes, the Senate shall chuse from them by Ballot the Vice President.

The Senate has now voted to certify the election results for a number of states. Of the original 13 senators who planned to vote against certification, only six refused to certify the election conducted in Arizona.

They are Senators Cruz (R-TX), Hawley (R-MO), Hyde-Smith (R-MS), Kennedy (R-LA), Marshall (R-KS), and Tuberville (R-AL). Many on Twitter are calling them the “Seditious Six.” There may be more joining their ranks as the Senate continues to debate and certify more state election results.

The House is still in debate; there are some doozies offered up from the likes of Matt Gaetz who in his floor speech claimed Antifa had stormed the Capitol Building today.

I do hope Gaetz calls the family of the Trump supporter who was shot and killed today at the Capitol to explain his conspiracy theory. Maybe he can justify her death.

~ ~ ~

Rumors continue that administration officials are looking into invoking the 25th Amendment to remove Trump due to his inability to do his job. Trump had refused earlier to call up federal resourced to push back the mob and protect Congress; Pence eventually ordered the National Guard to deploy. This may have convinced the unnamed officials more action should be taken but as of an 11:14 p.m. report in The Hill, VP Pence had yet to be approached about the 25th.

The National Association of Manufacturers had already sent a letter encouraging Pence to use the 25th Amendment. The House Judiciary Committee Democrats sent a letter to Pence asking him to pursue the 25th Amendment. It’s doubtful this is enough pressure to persuade Pence and a necessary critical mass of cabinet secretaries or acting heads of cabinet level functions to take action.

Two governors have called for Trump’s removal, and both Twitter and Facebook have placed Trump’s social media accounts on short-term suspension due to his tweeting inciting content violating terms of service. Facebook-owned Instagram, Google’s YouTube, and Snapchat have also removed some of Trump’s inciting content and/or placed his account in suspension.

And of course there are calls for impeachment, many from the Democratic Congressional Caucus. Speaker Pelosi probably won’t budge until she believes a clear majority in the Senate would vote to convict and remove Trump if Pelosi were able to rally the House to impeach.

~  ~  ~

So the House slogs on into the night toward certification of the election. It’s not clear what time exactly the vote will take place, only that Pelosi is committed to working through the night to make it happen.

We’ll continue to feel frustrated like former Obama administration official Ben Rhodes, who said, “If you don’t impeach and remove a President for staging a coup, what’s the point of impeachment.”

We’ll continue to be annoyed by the minimization of Trump’s sedition by moderate Democrats like Sen. Carper:

But we aren’t going to give up. We are a majority who believe in this democracy, many of us in spite of how badly it has treated us and our forebears under white supremacy.

We’re going to remember while we wait that as angry as this situation makes us — watching white supremacists trash the Capitol while noting how little action law enforcement has taken against them — there are Americans who are completely invested in keeping our democracy for us.

From the Black Americans of the Capitol janitorial staff who cleaned up after the seditionist mob left the building:

To the journalists who continued to work in lockdown and in some cases arrested by Capitol Police while they were trying to report on the story unfolding, while allowing those who participated in rebellion and insurrection today to leave Capitol grounds:

And those Congressional staffers who kept it all together:

Especially the cool-headed Senate staffer who remember to grab the ballots from the Senate floor before the mob entered, preventing them from being burned.

Fingers crossed here that the republic still stands in the morning.

~ ~ ~

Oh, one more thing: newly-elected representative Derrick Evans should be expelled from the House:

See 14th Amendment of the Constitution, Section 3:

Section 3
No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice-President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any State, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any State legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any State, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. But Congress may by a vote of two-thirds of each House, remove such disability.

Kick his ass out the door. He doesn’t believe in the Constitution and already failed the oath of office.

~ ~ ~

UPDATE — 1:25 AM ET —

Okay, I lied…I’m still up and glued to my desktop, watching the House.

Please let this be it, the end in sight.

Sedition in Progress: U.S. Senate in Lockdown [UPDATE-9]

[NB: Updates will appear at the bottom of this post. /~Rayne]

Trump-supporting protesters breached the U.S. Capitol building where the joint session of Congress had been underway.

The Senate has been gaveled out and members of Congress evacuated along with VP Mike Pence.

The protesters have now halted and delayed the execution of Article II Section 1 of the Constitution, during which Congress turns over to the President of the Senate — the Vice President of the United States — the certified results of the elections in each of their states for ceremonial acknowledgment of the presidential election’s results.

In short, Trump supporters are engaged in rebellion, insurrection, and seditious conspiracy inside the U.S. Capitol building.

This coup attempt isn’t over.

 

UPDATE-1 — 2:53 PM ET —

Secret Service whisking Pence off the chamber floor here:

Press were asked to secure doors. What the hell does that say about security?

Trump incited this and he’s encouraging it with neglect. There’s no sign Trump has done anything to call up additional security personnel like former AG Bill Barr did this summer to protect Trump during his ridiculous photo op.

 

UPDATE-2 — 3:01 PM ET —

The joint session was still in debate as the video above shows. The session was gaveled out about 2:15 PM ET.

And then Trump tweeted this:

When Congress reconvenes it should immediately move to impeach and then remove Trump from office.

He has failed to uphold his oath of office by obstructing the Constitutional duties of Congress and its President Pro Tempore, by inciting rebellion, insurrection, and sedition.

 

UPDATE-3 — 3:37 PM ET —

Weapons were drawn.

There’s a report of a person shot.

And Ivanka is doing her performative head-patting. (click on date+time in Acosta’s tweet to open)

Put a leash on your demented and lawless father, sweetheart. Anything less is just idle chatter.

Spencer Ackerman’s not getting any response to questions about law enforcement response.

Sure would be nice to know if former AG Bill Barr knew this was coming and quit when he did because of it.

Basically Trump quit without giving notice.

Just finish the job, Congress — impeach and remove his ass.

 

UPDATE-4 — 3:57 PM ET —

Trump has allegedly ordered up the National Guard to respond to the violence in the Capitol. But it’s still pretty rocky inside.

What an absolute disgrace, utterly embarrassing. This is a BBC reporter from India sharing this on Twitter.

 

UPDATE-5 — 4:20 PM ET —

Quite a few people are making similar observations about the response to protesters breaching the capitol building.

Gee, what could possibly be the difference? Whatever it is, it’s visible from abroad.

Yup. The violence we saw this summer was police-driven, not BLM.

 

UPDATE-6 — 4:30 PM ET —

This is some weapons-grade stupid, both the PC left up unsecured, and the idiot intruding in the office taking pictures of this intrusion. (click to open image)

 

UPDATE-7 — 4:46 PM ET —

So Popehat asked…

And lo, there were uninvited Confederates in the White House.


UPDATE-8 — 5:40 PM ET —

There. Are. Bullet. Holes.

Jesus Christ.

At least the FBI SWAT team is now in the building, though specific location details aren’t being shared.

I guess we’re back to watching for the joint session to re-gavel into order though it will only happen after the building has been cleared. There have been claims members of the mob will continue hide out and remain in the building as long as possible.

 

UPDATE-9 — 6:08 PM ET —

From Yahoo News:

By the time the president strengthened his calls for cooperation with the police, his protesters, many of whom were armed and had not passed through a metal detector, had already broken through a police barricade and entered the Capitol’s Statuary Hall. An improvised explosive device was found on the Capitol grounds, NBC News reported, and at least two IED’s were discovered on the 300 and 400 block of Canal St., according to a law enforcement document obtained by Yahoo News.

In his statement to the public this afternoon, Joe Biden said today’s events “borders on sedition.”

What Trump did with his continuing incitement, including his most recent statement to his supporters, was sedition. No toeing the border. He incited rebellion and insurrection to delay and obstruct Constitutional duties of Congress.

As a result of this lawlessness, someone has died.

Congress, impeach and remove Trump before he can do any more damage. Again, he’s literally not doing his job.

Why did Pence have to give the order after having been whisked off the Senate floor??

Updates will be appended here at the bottom of this post.

Why Merrick Garland Is a Better Attorney General Pick Than You Think

Politico reports that, Joe Biden will pick Merrick Garland to be Attorney General. As I was discussing this morning, it was fairly clear that Biden was delaying this decision until after the Georgia race, which made it clear that Garland was likely going to be his choice if Dems took both seats. Pending Biden’s decisions on other positions, this pick is better than you think.

First, Garland’s resignation from the DC Circuit opens up a judgeship that Biden can fill right away, with confidence his judge will be confirmed. He is likely to pick someone far more liberal than Garland. The candidate will almost certainly be a person of color, probably a Black woman. And she’s likely to be in her 40s. In short, Garland’s resignation allows Biden to start counteracting the damage Trump has done to courts right away, and in the second most important court in the country. Biden will start his Administration with an important judicial appointment that will likely have an impact for decades.

The other positions that matter are Deputy Attorney General — who is the person who runs DOJ on a day-to-day basis — and the Assistant Attorneys General, especially at the Criminal Division and Civil Rights Division. Reporting has said that Biden will emphasize diversity in these roles, and he’s likely to pick people to Garland’s left (because most candidates will be to his left). If that is right, then it means the people running DOJ day-to-day will be more liberal Democrats, with someone who is viewed as a well-respected, fairly non-partisan person leading the department.

In general, that will give Republicans confidence that Biden is not simply replacing a hyper-partisan Barr with someone as partisan as Barr was, even while ensuring that the people who do much of the work will be solid liberals.

I also think this makes it more likely that DOJ could investigate and prosecute Trump. As AG, Garland would only have oversight over a select set of decisions in such an investigation. For example, he would likely have to approve subpoenaing Trump Organization to figure out if Trump got a bribe via an Egyptian bank during 2016 (though such a subpoena would be easier to do after Trump is out of office and if New York State charges other corruption crimes). The most important step Garland would have to approve would be any charges of Trump (or presumably those close to him).

But Garland would not be involved in the day-to-day investigation. He would sign off on any major steps against Trump, but prosecutors well below Garland’s level will conduct the investigation (including investigations already in process that implicate Trump).

That’s honestly how Democrats should prefer any prosecution of Trump, that they be sufficiently well-predicated and substantiated enough to get Garland’s blessing. And if any hypothetical prosecution of Trump does have his blessing, it’ll be more likely to be viewed as a legitimate prosecution, not payback.

My biggest concern about this appointment is criminal justice reform (something that would be pursued in the Criminal and Civil Rights Divisions). One item of note, however: Garland has been recusing on death penalty cases in recent weeks, obviously in anticipation that he might get this appointment. One reason he would do so is an expectation that Biden might change policy significantly in this regard. At the very least, it suggests it is something that has come up in conversations between the two.

Garland is not my first choice: Doug Jones would have been. But there are advantages this appointment gives Biden that Jones does not.

Update: And here are those other positions.

Biden is expected to announce Garland’s appointment on Thursday, along with other senior leaders of the department, including former homeland security adviser Lisa Monaco as deputy attorney general and former Justice Department civil rights chief Vanita Gupta as associate attorney general. He will also name an assistant attorney general for civil rights, Kristen Clarke, the founder of Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, an advocacy group.

Gupta and Clarke are precisely the kinds of people who will attend to civil rights issues. It will genuinely be exciting to have the two of them working on these issues, as both are superb (as someone noted on Twitter, Clarke’s pinned tweet right now is about her lawsuit against the Proud Boys for damaging a Black church in DC).

In addition to being Obama’s Homeland Security Assistant, Lisa Monaco was also a top lawyer at DOJ, including at FBI. I think she’ll bring real weight at FBI, without needing to swap out Chris Wray. Ironically, she is the one person in Obama’s orbit who had a direct role in Mike Flynn’s efforts to undermine Russian sanctions (which she largely imposed), because Tom Bossert consulted with her on how the Russians were responding to the sanctions and then reported back to his bosses, including Flynn, minutes before Flynn called Kislyak.

“Dems in Disarray” as the GOP Fractures over Trump

When I wrote this post, laying out what I perceived to be the urgent need to cure the GOP of the spell Trump has them under, I intended to premise the solution — the means by which Dems and others could encourage such a break — on the political calculus of those Republicans who’ve enabled him for four years. A sufficient number of Republicans need to want to break that spell.

Given how events of the last few days are beginning to fracture GOP unity (the “Dems in disarray” in the title is a sarcastic reference to how commentators always portray things in the worst light for democrats), I thought I’d lay out that premise in a stand-alone post.

Yesterday, even before the Georgia results were in, WaPo chronicled how Trump’s push for an unconstitutional challenge to the election today has splintered GOP unity.

President Trump is effectively sabotaging the Republican Party on his way out of office, obsessed with overturning his election loss and nursing pangs of betrayal from allies whom he had expected to bend the instruments of democracy to his will.

Trump has created a divide in his party as fundamental and impassioned as any during his four years as president, with lawmakers forced to choose between certifying the results of an election decided by their constituents or appeasing the president in an all-but-certain-to-fail crusade to keep him in power by subverting the vote.

[snip]

Trump’s intensifying drive to overturn the election results has deepened a GOP divide on Capitol Hill. McConnell last month urged Republican senators not to object to the electoral college vote certification in Wednesday’s joint session. But now that 13 have said they would, the leader has stepped back from any significant effort to tamp down the brewing rebellion. He is not whipping votes and has not spoken to Trump in weeks.

In conversations with other Senate Republicans, McConnell has stressed that their decision now will be a matter of conscience and that each senator should vote the way he or she has to vote, according to two senior GOP officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to relay the majority leader’s private posture.

Some Republican senators have expressed concerns that voting to certify — and against Trump — would open them up to a primary challenge from the right, while others worry that voting to object would make them vulnerable in a general election, a person familiar with the deliberations said.

“I think it is revealing that there is not a single senator who is arguing that the election was stolen from President Trump,” said Josh Holmes, an outside adviser to McConnell. “The divide in the party is whether it’s appropriate to pull the pin on an electoral college grenade, hoping that there are enough responsible people standing around who can shove it back in before they detonate American democracy.”

Then, at a time when a huge proportion of House Republicans and a shameful number of Senators were on the record supporting Trump’s arson attempt, Democrats appear to have pulled out both Senate seats in Georgia. While the corruption of and racist attacks from both Republicans hurt their own chances — especially a Kelly Loeffler attack on Raphael Warnock’s sermons, a direct attack on Black faith — there’s good reason to blame Trump.

With some exceptions for David Perdue, Democrats improved their performance county by county based on lower relative turnout from Republicans. Trump might like to claim that turnout fall-off is due to him not being on the ballot, but it’ll be easy for Republicans to argue, with reason, that it’s just as likely that Trump’s efforts to delegitimize the vote led people to stay home. All the more so given that the county where he held a rally the other night, underperformed turnout in the rest of the state.

So even if it weren’t true, it’d be in the self-interest of career Republicans to blame all this on Trump, which is beginning even before the race is formally called for Jon Ossoff.

“Trump is the cause of this, lock, stock and barrel,” said one Republican strategist. “But when you’re relying on someone to win you a Senate race that also lost statewide eight weeks prior, you’re not in a position of strength.”

The immediate recrimination is emblematic of the complicated GOP dynamics that have emerged after Trump’s loss in the November election. Fissures are forming as Republicans decide whether it’s useful to cling to Trump — even as he tries to subvert an election — or to distance themselves. And if the Georgia races are any indication, it appears Republicans are willing to turn on Trump if he can’t reliably turn out the vote for candidates in the months and years ahead.

When asked why Republicans didn’t prevail on Tuesday, a senior Senate Republican aide simply said: “Donald J. Trump.”

Importantly, there were already a number of Republicans who would have liked to turn on Trump if he didn’t have the power to make them regret that (and I expect we’ll hear stories of the means by which Trump commanded such unthinking loyalty in the days ahead). With Republicans out of power in DC, that’s all the more true. Republicans will undoubtedly try to limit the number of victories Biden enjoys, but they will have fewer means to do so going forward.

And Trump’s attempted coup is only going to exacerbate that. Since most Republicans committed to a position before the Georgia results — a decision Trump forced on a number of people, including Loeffler and Perdue, to their potential disadvantage — it will solidify pre-existing fracture lines. Yes, Republicans will blame Trump. But Republicans in Congress will also blame each other, particularly in the Senate.

All that creates a very different landscape in DC, if Biden and Democrats in Congress can exploit it. Some fraction of Republicans in Congress will have an incentive to burn Trump to the ground.

Update: This profile of what a dog-shit choice Trump has given Republicans today focuses on something I’ve been thinking a lot about: Michael Cohen’s warning to Republicans in his OGR testimony about how badly things were going to work out for them.

Michael Cohen, Trump’s former attorney and fixer, whose fealty landed him in prison, feels like he’s watching a reprise of his own demise.

“I warned them,” he told me.

“I warned Mark Meadows at my oversight hearing. I warned the Jim Jordans,” he said, referring to his congressional testimony from less than two years ago as well as Trump’s current chief of staff and other notably pro-Trump GOP House members. His message: “I know what you’re doing. I know the Trump game plan, because I wrote it, and it didn’t work out for me. And it’s not going to work out for you.”

“Donald Trump,” he said, “will push people to the brink, and unless they want to end up disbarred and imprisoned and financially ruined, like what Trump did to me, they better open their eyes.”

[snip]

“Each of the Republicans that have signed on to Trump’s chaos are not doing it out of loyalty to Trump,” Cohen said. “They’re not doing it because they even believe in what Trump is doing. They’re doing it because they fear his Twitter wrath and believe that the supporters, the base of Trump supporters, will vote against them in any upcoming election for not siding with Trump. This is more about their survival than anything else. And that’s sad and pathetic.”

Not only will Cohen’s warnings of the downsides of coddling Trump be prescient in some foreseeable cases, but as Trump loses the power of the Presidency, the upside for making his loyalty oaths will have diminishing value. If something tarnishes Trump’s brand significantly (in my first post, I suggested financial setbacks and state prosecutions could do that), the value of allegiance to Trump could go south precipitously.

And that would have the effect of making these public oaths of loyalty backfire.

Update: Fixed spelling of Perdue’s last name.

Lordy, There Are Tapes

The President of the United States continues to harass Georgia’s Secretary of State, Brad Raffensperger, because he did not cheat to produce a Trump win in November.Just hours ago, Raffensperger responded to the President’s taunts on Twitter by suggesting the truth would come out.

The truth came out, in a detailed account of the call in the WaPo.

What’s remarkable … well, let’s be honest, the whole damn thing is remarkable, but also the new normal … is how many times Trump made implicit legal threats. He said moving machinery out of Fulton County would be illegal. Trump accused, “You know what they did and you’re not reporting it. That’s a criminal, that’s a criminal offense. … That’s a big risk to you and to Ryan.” He said “they” are shredding ballots and moving machinery, “both of which are criminal fines.” “Well under law, you’re not allowed to give faulty election results, okay? You’re not allowed to do that, and that’s what you’ve done.”

Trump suggested, repeatedly, that Raffensperger and his counsel, Ryan Germany, would face legal consequences for running a fair election.

And you know that Trump has repeated this conversation over and over with other people, including the seditionists in Congress. At least part of the time, these efforts have been working.

Curing the Donald Trump Spell: The Problem

126 Republican members of the House of Representatives signed an amicus supporting a frivolous challenge to President Trump’s election losses in swing states.  Reportedly, 140 members will support Louie Gohmert’s even more frivolous challenge to the certification of President-Elect Biden’s win. Every single Republican member of the House voted against impeachment of President Trump for withholding funds they themselves had appropriated to go to Ukraine in hopes of obtaining Russian-promoted dirt to use against Joe Biden. And while just a few Senators have overtly backed these frivolous challenges to Biden’s win, just Mitt Romney voted to convict the President in his impeachment trial.

A majority of the Republican Party has, thus far at least, made it clear they would abrogate the Constitution to see Donald Trump remain in power, even if it means trading away their own institutional prerogatives and dignity.

It’s unclear how much this rejection of democracy stems from recent trends in GOP culture and how much arises simply from a desire or perceived need to back Trump, who openly applauds authoritarians. My guess is that Trump just gave Republican permission to openly defy norms they’ve been quietly chipping away at for some time.

Still, Trump has made it clear he intends to keep milking the grift delegitimizing his own loss.

Two people familiar with the matter say that in recent days, Trump has told advisers and close associates that he wants to keep fighting in court past Jan. 6 if members of Congress, as expected, end up certifying the electoral college results.

“The way he sees it is: Why should I ever let this go?… How would that benefit me?” said one of the sources, who’s spoken to Trump at length about the post-election activities to nullify his Democratic opponent’s decisive victory.

That may exert political pressure on Republican elected officials. It will surely foster [more] violence among Trump’s followers.

That leaves the United States with a twofold task if it will be successful at stepping back from the brink of authoritarianism it faced on November 3: first, in the middle of a pandemic and a time of escalating inequality, to prove that democracy can still provide tangible benefits to Americans. That will require that President Biden not only choose to pursue policies to address the malaise that made Trump possible, but that he’ll succeed in implementing such policies. With limited exceptions, that will first require convincing a sufficient number of Republicans to act to benefit the US rather than just the party, or at the very least, to understand benefit to the GOP to be something other than lockstep loyalty to Trump. It requires doing so at a time when much of the GOP believes (Trump’s underperformance compared to down ballot races notwithstanding) that they need Trump’s support to get reelected in 2022, one stated reason why some Republican Senators may join Josh Hawley’s cynical support for Trump’s challenge on Wednesday.

But the vote on Jan. 6 to certify Biden’s win is viewed within the GOP as a painful litmus test. Republicans either risk blowback or a primary challenge by approving Biden’s win amid Trump’s baseless claims of widespread fraud, or they can align themselves with Trump’s attempt to subvert the election results.

Trump has already shown little regard for those who are criticizing the efforts in the House and Senate to block Biden’s win. The president attacked Senate Majority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) for the second time this week after Thune said Trump’s efforts to overturn Biden’s win will go down like a “shot dog” in the upper chamber.

The president urged Gov. Kristi Noem (R-S.D.) to run against Thune, though Noem has already said she will not run against Thune. Trump in a tweet called Thune a “RINO” on Friday — a Republican In Name Only.

In short, something will need to break — or at least chip away at — the spell of authoritarian sycophancy that Trump has over the GOP.

Some of this may come of its own accord. For example, if Democrats manage to win the Georgia run-offs, Trump may try to claim that Republicans lost only because he had no reason to boost turnout. Still, if the GOP does lose the Senate after Trump spent months denigrating elections in Georgia, ultimately Senators will put some blame on Trump.

Trump’s luster may fade of his own doing. After all, a key part of his mystique comes from a belief that he has had any more success as a businessman that any other rich heir would be with the same money. Trump Organization is badly underwater, even absent the legal troubles facing the company in New York State. The pandemic will continue to suppress business travel at least for another four months. The private bankers at Deutsche Bank who’ve kept Trump afloat in recent years resigned some weeks ago. While Trump, personally, is entertaining offers for some media venture, it’s not clear any of then will provide a way to bail out his family company.

And increasingly, Trump will be deplatformed. While a significant swath of political journalists will continue air his grievances (it’s more fun than covering the kind of substantive policy debates that will return to DC), starting in three weeks Twitter no longer has a commitment to label, rather than delete, his tweets that violate Twitter policy. Rupert Murdoch has (at least temporarily) lost patience with Trump. Trump appears to be banking on sustainably being more important to the MAGAt base than Fox News; he believes he can take his followers with him to OANN or a Newsmax channel. And he’ll succeed, at least at first, to a point. But deplatforming of other right wing icons has shown that a significant portion of followers won’t make the effort to move off mainstream platforms (say, from Twitter to Parler). Without the same ability to juice the central conflicts of the day, Trump won’t have the same ability to remain one pole in a deliberately stoked polarization.

These are all things that may happen of their own accord. In a follow-up, I’ll look at ways that may bring Trump some accountability going forward.

Who Fucked Over His Country Worse in 2020, BoJo or Trump?

For some weeks, I’ve been contemplating which bombastic populist asshole has fucked his country more in 2020: Donald Trump or Boris Johnson. BoJo stubbornly pursued Brexit, slowly weakening his negotiating hand and finally agreeing to a result that favors the EU on most issues. The chances the UK loses Northern Ireland (which will be the recipient of soft power support from the Republic of Ireland going forward) and Scotland have gone up. To feed populism, then, BoJo has weakened the economic strengths of the UK and may have dismantled the last bits of the “kingdom.”

Meanwhile, Trump has spent four years feeding his ego and weakening our alliances. He has systematically delegitimized democratic government, and shat on the Rule of Law. He has spent the months since his loss riling up his mobs, heightening the likelihood of political violence going forward. And unless Warnock and Ossoff win the Georgia runoff, President Biden will be stuck with a hostile Senate and legions of right wing Trump judges to constrain his power.

Plus, it’s likely too soon to weigh the damage Trump has done. As if 2020 hasn’t been interminable already, Trump will have 20 more days to punish the country for rejecting him, all the while deliberately undermining Biden’s ability to operate going forward.

Both, of course, have bolloxed COVID repsonse.

So I really don’t know who is more fucked. Sitting between the US and UK in Ireland, I guess I’d have to say they’re different kinds of fucked, but I suspect the UK may recover more quickly.

Some weeks ago, I asked this question of Dan Drezner, who argued the [rump] UK is more fucked, because it is a small less powerful country and because it is stuck will BoJo going forward.

There are multiple reasons to believe that the United Kingdom is facing the darker horizon.

For one thing, Brexit turned out to be the bigger self-own than the election of Trump. To be sure, the Trump administration has wreaked all kinds of policy carnage over the past four years. Its foreign economic policy was particularly boneheaded, leading to a lot of economic coercion but not a lot in the way of concessions. Plunging the United States into a pre-coronavirus industrial recession to negotiate a trade deal with China that has fallen well short of 2017 or even 2020 expectations is not a sign of winning. Trump’s post-electoral decompensation, and the stranglehold he continues to possess over much of the GOP, is extremely disconcerting.

With all of that acknowledged, however, Brexit is still worse. The referendum decision triggered an exodus of the financial sector away from London and toward myriad E.U. destinations. As predicted, the United Kingdom experienced three years of reduced inward foreign direct investment as a result of Brexit. That trend reversed itself but other European countries experienced an even larger surge in FDI. A hard Brexit at the end of this month will merely add to the economic trauma. And all of this ignores Brexit’s deleterious effects on British control over Scotland and Northern Ireland.

To be blunt, however, the United Kingdom is in the worse position compared with the United States for two simple reasons. The first is that the United States is the wealthier and more powerful country, which means it can afford to make serious mistakes and keep on chugging. Britain must now deal with the fact that it has much less bargaining power compared with either the United States or the European Union.

The second reason is that the U.S. mistake proved to be more ephemeral in nature. A majority of British voters approved Brexit. In two subsequent elections, British voters awarded the Conservative Party with majorities — the second time by a considerable margin. The United Kingdom will continue to be governed by Boris Johnson, a human approximation of an Avenue Q muppet.

Another smart person argued that the US is more fucked, because even if Joe Biden were in the best possible situation, the US simply doesn’t prioritize solving serious problems, notably the economic plight of working class Americans, whereas the UK still attempts to do that, imperfectly. COVID has exacerbated those problems. And unless Biden addresses the grievances of those Americans, Democrats will continue to cede power and some smarter authoritarian (Josh Hawley is already auditioning) will replace Biden.

Consider this a debate thread on which country has been fucked worse.

Emmet Sullivan’s Revenge: Rupert Murdoch’s Rag Calls Mike Flynn’s Actions “Tantamount to Treason”

Once upon a time, Trump loyalists were thrilled that Judge Emmet Sullivan had gotten Mike Flynn’s case after Rudolph Contreras recused. They were sure that a judge who had fearlessly taken on prosecutorial abuse in the past would find prosecutorial abuse in the sweetheart False Statements charge that General Flynn got in lieu of a Foreign Agent charge.

In the days before Flynn’s scheduled sentencing two years ago, for example, Rupert Murdoch employee Kim Strassel stated with confidence that something had concerned the judge when he asked to see the documents Flynn claimed suggested misconduct.

It’s clear that something has concerned the judge—who likely sees obvious parallels to the Stevens case. The media was predicting a quick ruling in the Flynn case. Instead, Judge Sullivan issued new orders Wednesday, demanding to see for himself the McCabe memo and the Flynn 302. He also ordered the special counsel to hand over by Friday any other documents relevant to the Flynn-FBI meeting.

Given his history with the FBI, the judge may also have some questions about the curious date on the Flynn 302—Aug. 22, 2017, seven months after the interview. Texts from Mr. Strzok and testimony from Mr. Comey both suggest the 302 was written long before then. Was the 302 edited in the interim? If so, by whom, and at whose direction? FBI officials initially testified to Congress that the agents did not think Mr. Flynn had lied.

Judges have the ability to reject plea deals and require a prosecutor to make a case at trial. The criminal-justice system isn’t only about holding defendants accountable; trials also provide oversight of investigators and their tactics. And judges are not obliged to follow prosecutors’ sentencing recommendations.

Then Sullivan got questions on those issues answered and raised more pressing questions — such as what charges Flynn avoided with his plea deal.

COURT: All right. I really don’t know the answer to this question, but given the fact that the then-President of the United States imposed sanctions against Russia for interfering with federal elections in this country, is there an opinion about the conduct of the defendant the following days that rises to the level of treasonous activity on his part?

MR. VAN GRACK: The government did not consider — I shouldn’t say — I shouldn’t say did not consider, but in terms of the evidence that the government had at the time, that was not something that we were considering in terms of charging the defendant.

THE COURT: All right. Hypothetically, could he have been charged with treason?

MR. VAN GRACK: Your Honor, I want to be careful what I represent.

THE COURT: Sure.

MR. VAN GRACK: And not having that information in front of me and because it’s such a serious question, I’m hesitant to answer it, especially because I think it’s different than asking if he could be charged under FARA or if there were other 1001 violations, for example. [my emphasis]

Those comments fed attacks from Fox News personalities in the two years that followed and Judge Sullivan became a more pointed target of employees of the News Corp empire. After he refused to immediately dismiss the prosecution against Mike Flynn, Fox personalities accused him of bias.

Sullivan earned the ire of Fox News hosts who have been arguing that Flynn’s prosecution was the canary in the coal mine of a coup against President Trump.

Former New York state judge Jeanine Pirro said Wednesday night that Sullivan should “recuse himself” from the case, adding “he should be embarrassed to put a robe on.”

“And now what he’s doing is he’s poisoning the 2020 election by trying to make it look like [Attorney General] Bill Barr,” she said. “He’s trying to destroy the whole thing so that Barr looks like the villain here.”

Sean Hannity offered an extensive broadside against Sullivan later in Fox’s prime-time programming.

“Mr. Sullivan, what part of General Flynn being ambushed and set up by [former FBI deputy director Andrew] McCabe and [former FBI director James] Comey don’t you understand?” Hannity said Wednesday night, accusing Sullivan of taking a “clearly political stand.”

He added: “You botched this from Day One, and you had a bias from Day One,” he seethed. “You reek of ignorance, you reek of political bias!”

After Neomi Rao ordered Judge Sullivan to rubber stamp Flynn’s exoneration, for example, Greg Jarrett included it in a long attack on the judge’s insistence on acting like a judge.

Again, Sullivan balked. Something was amiss. At this point, it became clear that Sullivan was not a neutral or objective jurist dedicated to following the law. He was a rogue judge with an agenda. His decisions reeked of dead fish.

[snip]

It’s anyone’s guess whether Sullivan will grudgingly admit that he was wrong — flagrantly so. After all, this is the same guy who falsely and preposterously accused Flynn of “treason” during a previous court hearing, then recanted when he realized (with prompting) that what he’d said was not just dumb, but anathema to the law governing treason.

All of this leads me to suspect that this judge’s grasp of the law is embarrassingly feeble. His ability to recognize his own disqualifying bias is shamefully absent.

In a piece declaring that “Mr. Flynn has finally received justice” earlier this month (after Mike Flynn first called for martial law), Strassel complained that Sullivan was churlish for noting that Flynn’s guilty plea, as a legal issue, remained intact.

Judge Sullivan finally, belatedly, churlishly dismissed the Flynn case as moot on Tuesday, two weeks after President Trump pardoned the former national security adviser. But the self-important Judge Sullivan couldn’t resist delivering a parting “verdict.” He issued a 43-page opinion in which he all but declared Mr. Flynn guilty of lying and perjury and the entire Justice Department corrupt.

But now the boss has weighed in. In an editorial begging Trump to accept his loss and work to save the Senate today, the NY Post describes Sidney Powell as a crazy person and Flynn’s call for martial law “tantamount to treason.”

Sidney Powell is a crazy person. Michael Flynn suggesting martial law is tantamount to treason. It is shameful.

To be clear, Flynn’s call for martial law wasn’t treason, just as secretly working for Turkey while serving as Trump’s top national security advisor wasn’t either.

But both Judge Sullivan and Rupert Murdoch appear to agree: Mike Flynn sold out this country.

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