Supporting Those Who Make Good Trouble

Magnet available from the American Library Association

I called it good trouble. I called it necessary trouble. And ​every so often, when you see something that is not right, not fair, not just — you have to say no, no.”

–John Lewis

In my work as a pastor, I cross paths with a lot of “Good Trouble” makers. Some are church-related and others not religious at all. Some are connected with big international groups, others work at the national or state level, and still others are involved with seat-of-the-pants local organizations with a small board and a couple of key volunteers. What they all have in common is what John Lewis talked about – they saw something that is not right, not fair, not just, and they said no. They said “no” to what is, and then rolled up their sleeves to say “yes” to what is needed.

As we approach the end of the year, I want to lift up a number of these makers of Good Trouble. If you want to enjoy their stories, read on and then go link-hopping through their websites. If you share their passion for standing up against a particular wrong, a specific injustice, or a structural unfairness, I urge you to make a little Good Trouble of your own, by finding the “Donate” buttons on their websites and help them out.

Legal Disclaimer #1: What follows are *my* comments, and do not imply any endorsement by Emptywheel.net, Marcy Wheeler, or anyone else here at EW. Information at the links (or quoted here from their websites) are, of course, the statements of those groups, and they are responsible for how they describe themselves.

One group of Good Trouble makers I interact with a lot are those involved in feeding the hungry — hungry being people without homes who have been caught in economic distress to entire communities devastated by a natural disaster. Either way, the Good Trouble makers in the groups below are people who see someone in need of a basic meal and say “this is not right, not fair, not just — we gotta get these folks some food.”

Feeding America:

Feeding America is the largest hunger-relief organization in the United States.

Our mission is to advance change in America by ensuring equitable access to nutritious food for all in partnership with food banks, policymakers, supporters, and the communities we serve.

Feeding America is an umbrella organization made up of food banks that span the country. A food bank is a wholesale operation, designed to collect donations (especially in-kind) from farmers and food companies and then making them available at little or no cost to local food pantries who do the retail work of distributing it to those in need. Feeding America has a big directory of regional food banks, and each of these food banks has its own list of food pantries they support.

Here in metro Kansas City, Harvesters is our food bank, and I’ve worked with them and a number of food pantries they support. Harvesters is a top-notch, transparent operation, and they expect nothing less from the food pantries that utilize them. To gain access to Harvesters, a food pantry has to have their location inspected and their leaders have to go through a Harvesters training program, in part to familiarize themselves with the Harvesters reporting obligations,  and in part to make sure that the gifts Harvesters has received are put to good use. No letting stuff spoil, no making clients sick, and no taking some off the top for your own organization.

Harvesters provides food and related household products to more than 760 nonprofit agencies including emergency food pantries, community kitchens, homeless shelters, children’s homes and others. We also offer education programs to increase community awareness of hunger and teach about good nutrition.

Harvesters is a certified member of Feeding America, a nationwide network of more than 200 food banks. In 2011, Harvesters was Feeding America’s Food Bank of the Year. We are a registered 501(c)3 nonprofit organization.

One big element of of Harvesters is that they require that any food pantry that uses their resources must be completely free to the people in need, and free of any religious requirements. Not only can these groups not charge any financial fees, but they cannot require their patrons to attend a bible study or other religious event. A church-run pantry can say “We operate this food pantry because of our Christian faith” but they cannot require people to attend worship before getting a couple sacks of food.

If you are interested in dealing with food insecurity in the US, whether at a national, regional, or street level, Feeding America and its affiliates offer a wealth of places that could use your support.

Other hunger-related organizations are aimed at disaster relief. Two that I long have supported are World Central Kitchen and Operation BBQ Relief (a group that our own Jim White works with). These are groups that come in after a disaster has hit, and work to get the community back on its feet with immediate support, feeding both the local residents affected by the disaster as well as the medical folks, utility crews, and others who have come to deal with the medical and logistical work of recovery.

World Central Kitchen:

WCK responds to natural disasters, man-made crises, and humanitarian emergencies around the world. We’re a team of food first responders, mobilizing with the urgency of now to get meals to the people who need them most. Deploying our model of quick action, leveraging local resources, and adapting in real time, we know that a nourishing meal in a time of crisis is so much more than a plate of food—it’s hope, it’s dignity, and it’s a sign that someone cares.

Operation BBQ Relief:

Armed with a caravan of cooks, mobile pits, kitchens and volunteers, Operation BBQ Relief delivers the healing power of BBQ in times of need, feeding first responders and communities affected by natural disasters along with year-round efforts to fight hunger through The Always Serving Project® and Camp OBR™ programs.

Another group of Good Trouble makers that I am becoming more familiar with are those who work and speak from the margins of society. Some groups work to challenge those at the center, those with the power, those whose work is causing pain at the margins. Other groups work with those at the margins to simply say “we are here,” lifting up and encouraging one another not to be content with scraps from the master’s table. Note, please, that both groups do challenging and uplifting things, just with a different emphasis and approach.

For example, consider the following groups, all associated with the Native American community.

Association on American Indian Affairs:

The Association on American Indian Affairs is the oldest non-profit serving Indian Country protecting sovereignty, preserving culture, educating youth and building capacity. The Association was formed in 1922 to change the destructive path of federal policy from assimilation, termination and allotment, to sovereignty, ​self-determination and self-sufficiency. Throughout our 100-year history, we have provided national advocacy on watershed issues that support sovereignty and culture, while working at a grassroots level with Tribes to support the implementation of programs that affect real lives on the ground.

Native American Rights Fund:

Our Mission: The Native American Rights Fund holds governments accountable. We fight to protect Native American rights, resources, and lifeways through litigation, legal advocacy, and legal expertise.

Native American Journalists Association:

NAJA serves and empowers Native journalists through programs and actions designed to enrich journalism and promote Native cultures.

NAJA recognizes Native Americans as distinct peoples based on tradition and culture. In this spirit, NAJA educates and unifies its membership through journalism programs that promote diversity and defends challenges to free press, speech and expression. NAJA is committed to increasing the representation of Native journalists in mainstream media. NAJA encourages both mainstream and tribal media to attain the highest standards of professionalism, ethics and responsibility.

Indian Country Today:

Telling the stories of indigenous communities by indigenous journalists is at the core of Indian Country Today. Since our beginnings in 1981 as a weekly newspaper, ICT has grown into the largest news organization serving Native American communities. In April 2020, we expanded into public broadcasting through a daily newscast about how the coronavirus pandemic has affected American Indians, First Nations and Alaska Natives.

With this bold new step into public television, Indian Country Today has become a spacious channel through which it distributes news across multiple platforms. Coverage includes digital, print and broadcast news outlets featuring top stories, news, lifestyle and classified job listings.

American Indian Science and Engineering Society:

The American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES) is a national nonprofit organization focused on substantially increasing the representation of Indigenous peoples of North America and the Pacific Islands in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) studies and careers.

Founded in 1977, growing the AISES membership above our current 5,900 individual members is key to achieving our mission. AISES supports 230 affiliated pre-college schools, 196 chartered college and university chapters, 3 tribal chapters, and 18 professional chapters in the U.S. and Canada. We promote the highest standards of education and professional excellence to widen the STEM workforce and grow sector support. We highlight the geographic, economic, and social aspects of STEM education and careers.

In addition to awarding nearly $12 million and counting in academic scholarships, AISES offers internships, professional development and career resources, national and regional conferences, leadership development summits, and other STEM-focused programming.

I could go on like this for a long time, but let me offer just one more example of Good Trouble makers, whose passion is to stand against book banning and book burning.

In both Kansas and Missouri, public libraries and public schools are seeing more and more challenges to books written by Good Trouble makers who write to address matters of race, gender, sexual orientation, and other similar things. The folks challenging these kinds of books say “Don’t get political” but what they really mean is “Don’t trouble the waters and make us look at uncomfortable things.”

On the one hand, the fact that these folks are upset with libraries and schools is a good thing. It means that the Good Trouble maker writers, librarians, teachers, and administrators are having an effect. They are making Good Trouble, and it’s causing problematic people to feel uncomfortable. On the other hand, these writers, librarians, teachers, and administrators need support, to encourage them to keep on keeping on.

PEN America:

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect free expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.

Founded in 1922, PEN America is the largest of the more than 100 centers worldwide that make up the PEN International network. PEN America works to ensure that people everywhere have the freedom to create literature, to convey information and ideas, to express their views, and to access the views, ideas, and literatures of others. Our strength is our Membership—a nationwide community of more than 7,500 novelists, journalists, nonfiction writers, editors, poets, essayists, playwrights, publishers, translators, agents, and other writing professionals, as well as devoted readers and supporters who join with them to carry out PEN America’s mission.

PEN America, a registered 501(c)(3) organization, is headquartered in New York City, with offices in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. and chapters in seven regions.

American Library Association:

Founded on October 6, 1876 during the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, the mission of ALA is “to provide leadership for the development, promotion and improvement of library and information services and the profession of librarianship in order to enhance learning and ensure access to information for all.”

In pursuing our mission, the Association’s core value statements define our deepest aspirations and how we approach our work together. They are:

  • Extending and expanding library services in America and around the world
  • All types of libraries – academic, public, school and special
  • All librarians, library staff, trustees and other individuals and groups working to improve library services
  • Member service
  • An open, inclusive, and collaborative environment
  • Ethics, professionalism and integrity
  • Excellence and innovation
  • Intellectual freedom
  • Social responsibility and the public good
  • Sustainability

Like I said, I could go on like this for a long time.

But what I really want to know is this: Who are the Good Trouble makers that you know about, that you support, that you work with, that the rest of us should know about? Put them in the comments, give us a link, and tell us how they go about making Good Trouble.

Legal Disclaimer #2: What follows in the comments are the comments of the person posting them, and do not imply any endorsement by Emptywheel.net, Marcy Wheeler, or anyone else here at EW. Information at the links (or quoted here from their websites) are, of course, the statements of those groups, and they are responsible for how they describe themselves.

With the great mix of commenters here, I’m sure there are plenty of Good Trouble makers you’d like to lift up. I’m also confident that this is the kind of question that might draw out some of the lurkers here. Some do not comment because they feel out of their depth with the subject of many of the posts — but on this post, YOU are the experts, because YOU know who the Good Trouble makers are in your neighborhood.

So have at it, and tell us who makes Good Trouble that deserve props and support. Oh, and if you are so inclined, you can help support the Good Trouble made here at Emptywheel too.

On the Shoddy Journalistic Defense of “WikLeaks”

When it was first published, a letter that the NYT, Guardian, Le Monde, Der Spiegel, and El País signed, calling on the US government to drop the Espionage Act charges against Julian Assange, got the date of Assange’s arrest wrong — it was April 11, not April 12, 2019. The outlets have since corrected the error, though without crediting me for alerting them to it.

A correction was made on Nov. 29, 2022: An earlier version of this letter misstated the date of Julian Assange’s 2019 arrest. It was April 11th, not April 12th.

An email was sent by me and then a correction was made. No bill was sent for the free fact checking.

As it currently exists, even after correcting that error, the Guardian version of the letter misspells WikiLeaks: “WikLeaks.”

For Julian Assange, publisher of WikLeaks, the publication of “Cablegate” and several other related leaks had the most severe consequences. On [April 11th] 2019, Assange was arrested in London on a US arrest warrant, and has now been held for three and a half years in a high-security British prison usually used for terrorists and members of organised crime groups. He faces extradition to the US and a sentence of up to 175 years in an American maximum-security prison. [my emphasis]

The slovenly standards with which five major newspapers released this letter suggest the other inaccuracies in the letter may be the result of sloppiness or — in some cases — outright ignorance about the case on which they claim to comment.

Take the claim Assange could serve his sentence in “an American maximum-security prison.” The assurances on which British judges relied before approving the extradition included a commitment that the US would agree to transfer Assange to serve any sentence, were he convicted, in Australia.

Ground 5: The USA has now provided the United Kingdom with a package of assurances which are responsive to the judge’s specific findings in this case. In particular, the US has provided assurances that Mr Assange will not be subject to SAMs or imprisoned at ADX (unless he were to do something subsequent to the offering of these assurances that meets the tests for the imposition of SAMs or designation to ADX). The USA has also provided an assurance that they will consent to Mr Assange being transferred to Australia to serve any custodial sentence imposed on him if he is convicted.

While the assurances that Assange wouldn’t be subject to Special Administrative Measures (basically contact limits that amount to isolation) aren’t worth the paper they were written on — partly because Assange did so much at the Ecuadorian Embassy that, if done in a US jail, would get him subject to SAMs, and partly because the process of designation under SAMs is so arbitrary — reneging on the agreement to transfer Assange to Australia would create a significant diplomatic row. A sentence in an American maximum-security prison is explicitly excluded from the terms of the extradition before Attorney General Garland, unless Assange ultimately chose to stay in the US over Australia (or Australia refused to take him).

The claim that he could be sentenced to 175 years, when the reality is that sentencing guidelines and concurrent sentences would almost certainly result in a fraction of that, is misleading, albeit absolutely within the norm for shoddy journalism about the US legal system. It’s also needlessly misleading, since any sentence he would face would be plenty draconian by European standards. Repeating a favorite Assange line, one that is legally true but practically misleading, does little to recommend the letter.

In the next paragraph, these five media outlets seem to suggest that the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act conspiracy alleged in “the indictment” is limited to Assange’s effort to crack a password.

This group of editors and publishers, all of whom had worked with Assange, felt the need to publicly criticise his conduct in 2011 when unredacted copies of the cables were released, and some of us are concerned about the allegations in the indictment that he attempted to aid in computer intrusion of a classified database. But we come together now to express our grave concerns about the continued prosecution of Julian Assange for obtaining and publishing classified materials.

It is — in the 2017 to 2019 charging documents. But not the one on which Assange is being extradited.

The hacking conspiracy, as currently charged, is a 5-year conspiracy that alleges far more than — and starts before — the password cracking seemingly described in the paragraph. It includes Assange’s use of Siggi’s credentials to access a police database to monitor any investigation into himself, a request to hack a former WikiLeaks associate, the recruitment of Anonymous hackers to target US-based companies (arguably also an attempt to aid in the computer intrusion of classified databases, albeit not US government ones), and the exploitation of WikiLeaks’ role in helping Edward Snowden flee to recruit more hacks including, explicitly, a sysadmin hack of the CIA’s classified databases like the one for which Joshua Schulte has now been convicted. (The existing indictment ends at 2015, before the start of Schulte’s actions, though I would be unsurprised to see a superseding indictment incorporating that hack, leak, and exposure of sensitive identities.)

Are these media outlets upset that DOJ has charged Assange for a conspiracy in which at least six others have been prosecuted, including in the UK? Are they saying that’s what their own journalists do, recruit teenaged fraudsters who in turn recruit hackers for them? Or are these outlets simply unaware of the 2020 indictment, as many Assange boosters are?

Whichever it is, it exhibits little awareness of the import that Judge Vanessa Baraitser accorded the hacking conspiracy to distinguish Assange’s actions from actual journalism.

At the same time as these communications, it is alleged, he was encouraging others to hack into computers to obtain information. This activity does not form part of the “Manning” allegations but it took place at exactly the same time and supports the case that Mr. Assange was engaged in a wider scheme, to work with computer hackers and whistle blowers to obtain information for Wikileaks. Ms. Manning was aware of his work with these hacking groups as Mr. Assange messaged her several times about it. For example, it is alleged that, on 5 March 2010 Mr. Assange told Ms. Manning that he had received stolen banking documents from a source (Teenager); on 10 March 2010, Mr. Assange told Ms. Manning that he had given an “intel source” a “list of things we wanted and the source had provided four months of recordings of all phones in the Parliament of the government of NATO country-1; and, on 17 March 2010, Mr. Assange told Ms. Manning that he used the unauthorised access given to him by a source, to access a government website of NATO country-1 used to track police vehicles. His agreement with Ms. Manning, to decipher the alphanumeric code she gave him, took place on 8 March 2010, in the midst of his efforts to obtain, and to recruit others to obtain, information through computer hacking

[snip]

In relation to Ms. Manning, it is alleged that Mr. Assange was engaged in these same activities. During their contact over many months, he encouraged her to obtain information when she had told him she had no more to give him, he identified for her particular information he would like to have from the government database for her to provide to him, and, in the most obvious example of his using his computer hacking skills to further his objective, he tried to decipher an alphanumeric code she sent to him. If the allegations are proved, then his agreement with Ms. Manning and his agreements with these groups of computer hackers took him outside any role of investigative journalism. He was acting to further the overall objective of WikiLeaks to obtain protected information, by hacking if necessary. Notwithstanding the vital role played by the press in a democratic society, journalists have the same duty as everyone else to obey the ordinary criminal law. In this case Mr. Assange’s alleged acts were unlawful and he does not become immune from criminal liability merely because he claims he was acting as a journalist.

Whether editors and publishers at the five media outlets know that Assange was superseded in 2020 or not or just used vague language that could be read, given the actual allegations in the indictment, to suggest that some of them think Assange shouldn’t be prosecuted for conspiring to hack private companies, the language they included about the CFAA charge has led other outlets, picking up on this misleading language (along with the original error about the arrest date), to write at length about an indictment, with a more limited CFAA charge, that is not before Attorney General Merrick Garland. So maybe the NYT, Guardian, Le Monde, Der Spiegel, and El País know about the true extent of the CFAA charge, but by their vagueness, these five leading newspapers have contributed to overtly false claims by others about it.

Finally, the letter repeats WikiLeaks’ narrative about the changing DOJ views on Assange, presenting it as a binary between the “Obama-Biden” and Donald Trump Administrations.

The Obama-Biden administration, in office during the WikiLeaks publication in 2010, refrained from indicting Assange, explaining that they would have had to indict journalists from major news outlets too. Their position placed a premium on press freedom, despite its uncomfortable consequences. Under Donald Trump however, the position changed. The DoJ relied on an old law, the Espionage Act of 1917 (designed to prosecute potential spies during world war one), which has never been used to prosecute a publisher or broadcaster.

This is a story WikiLeaks likes to tell even while incessantly publicizing a a story that debunks it. It is based on a public quote — made in November 2013 by former DOJ spox, Matt Miller, who left DOJ in 2011, about why DOJ wouldn’t charge Assange. But a Yahoo story last year included former Counterintelligence head Bill Evanina’s description of how the US approach to WikiLeaks began to change in 2013, after Miller left DOJ but still during the Obama Administration, based on WikiLeaks’ role in helping Snowden flee.

That began to change in 2013, when Edward Snowden, a National Security Agency contractor, fled to Hong Kong with a massive trove of classified materials, some of which revealed that the U.S. government was illegally spying on Americans. WikiLeaks helped arrange Snowden’s escape to Russia from Hong Kong. A WikiLeaks editor also accompanied Snowden to Russia, staying with him during his 39-day enforced stay at a Moscow airport and living with him for three months after Russia granted Snowden asylum.

In the wake of the Snowden revelations, the Obama administration allowed the intelligence community to prioritize collection on WikiLeaks, according to Evanina, now the CEO of the Evanina Group.

Years earlier, CNN reported the same thing: that the US understanding of WikiLeaks began to change based on its role in helping Snowden to flee.

It should be unsurprising that the government’s approach to WikiLeaks changed after the outlet helped a former intelligence officer travel safely out of Hong Kong, because at least one media outlet made similar judgments about how that distinguishes WikiLeaks from journalism. Bart Gellman’s book described how lawyers for WaPo believed the journalists should not publish Snowden’s key to help him authenticate himself with foreign governments — basically, something else that would have helped him flee. Once Gellman understood what Snowden wanted, he realized it would make WaPo, “a knowing instrument of his flight from American law.” By his description, the lawyers implied Gellman and Laura Poitras might risk aid and abetting charges unless they refused a “direct attempt to enlist [them] in assisting him with his plans to approach foreign governments.” Like the US government, the WaPo judged in 2013 that helping Snowden obtain protection from other, potentially hostile, governments would legally go beyond journalism.

This is one reason clearly conveying the scope of the CFAA allegations is central to any credible commentary on the Assange case: because Assange’s exploitation of the Snowden assistance is an overt act charged in it. But five media outlets skip both the import of that act and its inclusion in the charges against Assange in a bid to influence the Biden Administration.

This WikiLeaks narrative also obscures one more step in the evolution of the understanding of Assange during the Obama administration, one that is more problematic for this letter, given that it would hope to persuade Attorney General Merrick Garland. Per the Yahoo article that WikiLeaks never tires of publicizing, the US government’s understanding of WikiLeaks changed still more when the outlet partnered with Russian intelligence on its 2016 hack-and-leak campaign.

Assange’s communication with the suspected operatives settled the matter for some U.S. officials. The events of 2016 “really crystallized” U.S. intelligence officials’ belief that the WikiLeaks founder “was acting in collusion with people who were using him to hurt the interests of the United States,” said [National Intelligence General Counsel Bob] Litt.

That’s important because, while the parts pertaining to WikiLeaks are almost entirely redacted, the SSCI Report on responses to the 2016 hack-and-leak makes it clear how central a role then-Homeland Security Advisor and current Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco played in the process. You’re writing a letter about which Garland would undoubtedly consult with Monaco. She knows that the gradual reassessment of WikiLeaks was no lightswitch that flipped with the inauguration of Donald Trump. Treating it as one provides one more basis on which DOJ could dismiss this letter. What changed wasn’t the administration: it was a series of WikiLeaks actions that increasingly overcame the “New York Times problem,” leading to expanded collection on Assange himself, leading to a different understanding of his actions.

Here’s why I find the sloppiness of this letter so frustrating.

I absolutely agree that, as charged, the Espionage Act charges against Assange are a dangerous precedent. That’s an argument that should be made soberly and credibly, particularly if made by leaders of the journalistic establishment.

I agree with the letter’s point that, “Obtaining and disclosing sensitive information when necessary in the public interest is a core part of the daily work of journalists,” (though these same publishers decided that disclosing the names of US and coalition sources was not in the public interest, and Assange’s privacy breach in doing so was the other basis by which Baraitser distinguished what Assange does from journalism).

But so is fact-checking. So is speaking accurately and with nuance.

If you’re going to write a letter that will be persuasive to the Attorney General, it would be useful to address the indictment and extradition request as it actually exists, not as it existed in 2019 or 2020 or 2021.

And if you’re going to speak with the moral authority of five leading newspapers defending the institution of journalism, you would do well to model the principles of journalism you claim to be defending.

As noted, these outlets corrected the date error after I inquired about the process by which this letter was drafted. I have gotten no on-the-record comments about the drafting of this letter in response.

Welcome to the Jim Jordan and James Comer Look the Other Way Committees, Brought to You By Access Journalism

In an article published 112 days before the November election, Politico included this sentence about all the investigations Republicans planned to conduct if they won the House.

Republicans on the [Oversight] committee plan to hold high-profile probes into Hunter Biden’s dealings with overseas clients, but they also want to hone in on eliminating wasteful government spending in an effort to align the panel with the GOP’s broader agenda.

Politico’s Jordain Carney did not note the irony of planning, almost four months before the election, an investigation into foreign efforts to gain influence by paying the then Vice President’s son years ago, next to a claim to want to eliminate wasteful spending. He just described it as if yet another investigation into Hunter Biden, even as DOJ continued its own investigation, wasn’t an obvious waste of government resources.

Politico’s Olivia Beavers didn’t point that out either in a 1,400-word profile in August on James Comer entitled, “Meet the GOP’s future king of Biden investigations,” the kind of sycophantic profile designed to ensure future access, known as a “beat sweetener.” (Beaver is currently described as a Breaking News Reporter; this profile was posted 3 days after the search of Mar-a-Lago.) She did acknowledge that these investigations were, “directing the party’s pent-up frustration and aggression toward Democrats after years in the minority,” not any desire to make government work or eliminate wasteful spending. But she nevertheless allowed Comer and his colleagues to claim that an investigation into Joe Biden’s son could be credible — that it would somehow be more credible than the bullshit we expect from Marjorie Taylor Greene.

He’s long been known on both sides of the aisle as a sharp and affable colleague, and has the tendency to lean in with a hushed voice, almost conspiratorially, only to crack a well-timed joke that’s often at his own expense. Beyond that personal appeal, though, Comer emphasized it’s his priority to ensure the oversight panel’s work remains “credible.”

That’s a tricky path to tread, given his party’s investigative priorities are still subject to the whims of former President Donald Trump as well as an increasingly zealous conservative base and media apparatus. But Comer’s particularly well-suited to the task, according to more than two dozen House Republicans interviewed. And if he manages to do it right, it could provide a launching pad to higher office — Comer is not discounting a future bid for Senate or Kentucky governor, though that likely wouldn’t occur until after his four remaining years leading the panel.

“I’m not going to be chasing some of these right-wing blogs and some of their conspiracy theories,” Comer told POLITICO in an hour-long interview conducted in a rented RV trailer that his campaign had parked at the picnic. “We’ll look into anything, but we’re not going to declare a probe or an investigation unless we have proof.”

[snip]

And though Comer has said Hunter Biden would likely get subpoenaed in the event of a declined invitation to the committee next year, he doesn’t want to appear trigger-happy with issuing subpoenas, either.

“This isn’t a dog-and-pony show. This isn’t a committee where everybody’s gonna scream and be outraged and try to make the witnesses look like fools,” he said, before nodding at House Democrats’ past probes of the Trump campaign and Russian election interference. “Unlike Adam Schiff, we’re gonna have something concrete, substantive on Hunter Biden or I’m not going to talk about Hunter Biden.”

Beavers didn’t mention the platitudes she included in her August article when she reported, yesterday, on the press conference Comer and Jim Jordan have scheduled for today, less than 24 hours after the 218th House seat for Republicans was called, to talk about the investigation into Hunter Biden.

Reps. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and James Comer (R-Ky.) discussed plans to investigate politicization in federal law enforcement and Hunter Biden’s business affairs.

“We are going to make it very clear that this is now an investigation of President Biden,” Comer said, referring to a planned Republican press conference Thursday about the president and his son’s business dealings.

Beavers has let Comer forget the claim, which she printed as good faith in August, that Comer was “not going to declare a probe or an investigation unless we have proof.”

Olivia. Comer lied to you in August. As a journalist, you might want to call that out.

There is no functioning democracy in which the opposition party’s first act after winning a majority should be investigating the private citizen son of the President for actions taken three to six years earlier, particularly not as a four year criminal investigation into Hunter Biden — still overseen by a Trump appointee — continues.

There is no sane argument for doing so. Sure, foreign countries paid Hunter lots of money as a means to access his father. But according to an October leak from FBI agents pressuring to charge the President’s son (one that Comer pitched on Fox News), which claimed there was enough evidence to charge Hunter Biden for tax and weapons charges but which made no mention of foreign influence peddling charges, that foreign influence peddling apparently doesn’t amount to a crime. Nothing foreign countries did with Hunter Biden is different from what Turkey did with Mike Flynn, Ukraine did with Paul Manafort, Israel did with George Papadopoulos, and multiple countries did with Elliot Broidy. Jim Jordan and James Comer not only had no problem with that foreign influence peddling, they attacked the FBI for investigating them.

If James Comer and Jim Jordan really cared about foreign influence peddling, they would care that, since leaving the White House, the Trump family has entered into more than $3.6 billion of deals with Saudi Arabia ($2 billion to Jared’s investment fund, a $1.6 billion real estate development in Oman announced the day before Trump’s re-election bid, and a golf deal of still-undisclosed value; Judd Legum has a good post summarizing what we know about this relationship). Given that the Oversight panel under Carolyn Maloney already launched an investigation into Jared’s fund — like Hunter Biden’s funding, notable because of the obvious inexperience of the recipient — Comer could treat himself and American taxpayers with respect by more generally investigating the adequacy of protection against foreign influence, made more acute in the wake of the opinion in the Steve Wynn case that guts DOJ’s ability to enforce FARA.

With today’s press conference, you will see a bunch of journalists like Olivia Beavers treating this as a serious pursuit rather than pointing out all the hypocrisy and waste it entails as well as the lies they credulously printed during the election about it. You will see Beavers rewarding politicians for squandering government resources to do this, rather than calling them out for the hypocrisy of their actions.

Maybe, if Comer becomes Governor of Kentucky, Beavers will have the inside track on access to him. I guess then it will have been worth it for her.

This Hunter Biden obsession has been allowed to continue already for three years not just because it has been Fox’s non-stop programming choice to distract from more important matters, but because journalists who consider themselves straight journalists, not Fox propagandists, choose not to call out the rank hypocrisy and waste of it all.

For any self-respecting journalist, the story going forward should be about how stupid and hypocritical all this is, what a waste of government resources.

We’re about to find out how few self-respecting journalists there are in DC.

Update: NBC journalist Scott Wong’s piece on the GOP plans for investigations was similarly supine. The funniest part of it is that it treated a 1,000 page “report,” consisting almost entirely of letters Jordan sent, as if it were substantive. I unpacked the details NBC could have disclosed to readers here.

Meanwhile, this Carl Hulse piece doesn’t disclose to readers that Marjory Taylor Greene’s investigation into the jail conditions of January 6 defendants, besides being an attempt to protect potential co-conspirators, also is falsely premised on claims that the January 6 defendants are treated worse (and not better) than other defendants as well as false claims that many of the pre-trial detainees are misdemeanants.

In the Wake of Trump’s Third Electoral Failure, NYTimes Boasts of Hiring a Third Trump-Whisperer

His sanction-worthy misrepresentations of the Igor Danchenko indictment notwithstanding, Jonathan Swan is a good reporter. Indeed, his move to the NYT, which frees him to write like a human being rather than a McKinsey consultant (AKA Axios style), will likely be a significant improvement on his coverage of DC politics.

But it is downright insane that, at a time the GOP and Fox News are at least making noise about ditching Trump, the NYT pitched this hire — and their own political reporting — in terms of Trump.

Our insightful, authoritative and addictive coverage of the election this year drove home an essential truth: The Times’s political team is simply the best in the business.

Take our coverage of Republicans and Donald J. Trump.

We have Maggie Haberman, the dominant reporter of the Trump era, whose prolific, revealing and exclusive coverage has become indispensable to millions of readers. We have Michael Bender, whom Maggie admired as her “fierce competitor” from his days at The Wall Street Journal, and who has delivered exclusives on everything from the former president’s plans to buy Greenland to examinations of how Trumpism remade the Republican party.

And today we are thrilled to tell you that Jonathan Swan, a gifted, dogged and high-impact reporter, will be joining The Times. Jonathan, a national political reporter at Axios, is one of the biggest news breakers and best-sourced reporters in Washington.

Even if you have never met Jonathan, you know his stories. He first reported that Trump would recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, that the U.S. would pull out of the Paris climate deal, that Steve Bannon would be fired and that Paul Ryan would retire from Congress.

Or perhaps you watched his riveting interview with then-President Trump in 2020, which won Jonathan an Emmy (and made his facial expressions famous.) Ben Smith, the former media columnist for The Times, wrote at the time that it was “perhaps the best interview of Mr. Trump’s term.’’

Jonathan’s nine-part written series on the final days of the Trump administration won broad acclaim, and the podcast on which it was based rose to No. 1 on the Apple charts. [my emphasis]

Again, I think the Swan hire is a net good for reporting — but aside from the degree to which Swan is an improvement over Jonathan Martin, who just moved to become Politico’s Politics Bureau Chief — that has nothing to do with the NYT.

Particularly accompanied as it is by Maggie’s multiple efforts to suggest Trump is still The One, the pitch of Swan as a Trump-whisperer — rather than simply as a very good reporter of right wing politics — this announcement commits to keeping Trump (as a politician, rather than, for example, a criminal suspect, something none of these three are very good at reporting) the center of attention.

And it comes in a piece that boasts of election reporting it calls, “insightful, authoritative and addictive,” but which had some rather spectacular failures — particularly with the Fettrman debate and a correct Kansas poll they downplay. While in August NYT acknowledged that a Red Wave might not come, their review of why it didn’t still seems to misunderstand what it means to vote to save democracy. If you wanted to understand the election, the NYT was generally unhelpful, and that’s before you consider its focus on horse race coverage rather than policy.

They think they did good a job, or at least are telling themselves they did!

Why would you boast that your political reporting is “addictive,” anyway? unless you’re proud of the way Trump used Maggie’s work to flood the zone with press clippings that had the effect of obscuring larger crimes.

The NYT’s pitch of a good reporter in terms of Trump comes as other outlets have made hires based on their shitty news judgment that there would be a Republican wave the outlet would want access into. Most famously, as early as March, CBS hired Mick Mulvaney in anticipation of a non-existent Red Wave still 8 months in the future.

[A] top network executive seemed to lay the groundwork for the decision in a staff meeting earlier this month, when he said the network needed to hire more Republicans to prepare for a “likely” Democratic midterm wipeout.

“If you look at some of the people that we’ve been hiring on a contributor basis, being able to make sure that we are getting access to both sides of the aisle is a priority because we know the Republicans are going to take over, most likely, in the midterms,” CBS News’s co-president Neeraj Khemlani told the staff of the network’s morning show, according to a recording of his comments obtained by The Washington Post. “A lot of the people that we’re bringing in are helping us in terms of access to that side of the equation.”

The thing is, these shitty expectations for a Republican landslide may distort coverage going forward, because multiple news outlets paid big money to invest in access to people who lost, most of all into a guy who lost fairly spectacularly three times now.

As they did in 2020, voters gave democracy another lifeline. They voted, affirmatively, for democracy. But it’s not clear the press view protecting democracy, as opposed to protecting access, with anywhere near the same urgency.

Update: Just as I published this piece, I saw this NYT column, which not only continues to make everything about Donald Trump, fails to account for how narrow margins in both houses change this calculus (particularly with regards to its facile claim that, “party leaders are asked to declare their allegiances to Mr. Trump or other potential rivals”), and has this incredible paragraph:

 First there was Mr. Trump’s proposed Muslim ban, and then the attacks on a federal judge’s Mexican ancestry, the “Access Hollywood” revelations late in the 2016 campaign, his public declaration that he trusted Vladimir Putin more than he did American intelligence agencies.More recently, Mr. Trump has waged a two-year misinformation campaign, claiming his 2020 defeat was “rigged.” His supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol in a violent attempt to disrupted the peaceful transfer of power. He now faces investigations into efforts to overturn the election results in Georgia, into his company’s finances and into his handling of classified documents.

It gets the chronology of the first sentence wrong. It calls Trump’s lies about 2020 “misinformation,” not “disinformation.” It claims he tried to “disrupted” the peaceful transfer of power and not prevent it. It suggests any investigation into an attempt to overturn the election is limited to Georgia. The description of the stolen document investigation as one into “handling” of classified documents misstates the crime, but it par for the course in legacy media coverage of that investigation. (And it has a typeset — with the missing space after the period — and a tense error that suggests it was not edited, even ignoring the lack of Oxford comma.)

Trump no doubt wants to keep himself as the center of attention. He no doubt will demand loyalty oaths from people willing to bet he’ll succeed. But if he does succeed — with whatever catastrophic effect on the country — it will be significantly because of editorial decisions the NYT made.

Aileen Cannon Is Stiff-Arming the Press

I’m going to write up what really happened yesterday — as predicted, virtually all outlets I’ve seen simply quoted what Aileen Cannon claimed she had done, rather than describing what she had actually done.

Before I do that, I want to note that Judge Cannon is stiff-arming the same press that is reporting so credulously on her interventions.

Back on August 31, the press coalition that does such things moved to intervene in the case. Most of it was the same boilerplate the coalition uses for all such motions, but they did cite both sides in the matter calling for transparency.

Former President Trump himself has called for greater transparency. See, e.g., ECF No. 1, at pp. 2-3 (noting personal desire for more openness). The Government has stated likewise. See, e.g., ECF No. 1, at pp. 9-10 (detailing Attorney General Merrick Garland’s statements on why the Government sought to unseal certain search warrant records); see also ECF No. 48, at p. 2 n.1 (noting that the Government is “prepared . . . to unseal the more detailed receipt”).

They described that the government did not oppose the motion and Trump took no position on it. They asked to be heard on the matter on September 1.

The next day, Judge Cannon released the detailed inventory the government had submitted (it has since submitted a slightly revised inventory, but didn’t address the press access.

After the government moved to unseal the privilege status report on September 8, the press coalition submitted their own request for unsealing.

Then, after two weeks had elapsed since their initial motion, the press coalition tried again. They pointed out that if anyone wanted to oppose their intervention, the two week deadline to do so had expired. And they noted that the privilege review status report still remained under seal.

The News Media further note that certain records remain under seal in this matter, namely those docketed at ECF No. 40. The News Media understand ECF No. 40 to contain the Government’s submission regarding its Privilege Review Team’s Notice of Status of the Filter Process. The Government filed a motion to unseal that document (less Exhibits A and B to that filing) on September 8, 2022. See ECF No. 71. The News Media filed a further motion to unseal that court record on September 9, 2022. See ECF No. 79.

But Judge Cannon has simply ignored those requests.

There’s an obvious reason she did so: In her September 5 order first appointing a Special Master, she made claims based on that sealed status report. The claims are not only probably false, but she effectively double counted the potentially privileged materials as both potentially privileged and personal. That was the means by which she found that Trump had a possessory interest in the items seized on August 8. So she likely can’t allow that status report to be unsealed, because if it were, her deceit would become evident.

Ironically (or perhaps cynically), Cannon cited the importance of the perception of fairness in that same ruling relying on the status report she won’t let the press see.

A commitment to the appearance of fairness is critical, now more than ever.

[snip]

As Plaintiff articulated at the hearing, the investigation and treatment of a former president is of unique interest to the general public, and the country is served best by an orderly process that promotes the interest and perception of fairness. See supra Discussion III–IV; see also In re Search Warrant Issued June 13, 2019, 942 F.3d at 182 (“[A]n award of injunctive relief in these circumstances supports the ‘strong public interest’ in the integrity of the judicial system.” (quoting United States v. Hasting, 461 U.S. 499, 527 (1983) (Brennan, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part))).

[snip]

“[E]fficient criminal investigations are certainly desirable,” In re Search Warrant Issued June 13, 2019, 942 F.3d at 181, but so too are countervailing considerations of fair process and public trust.

But she only maintains this perception by stiff-arming the press and hiding that status report.

Thus far, she has gotten away with it. Not only isn’t the press calling her out for stiff-arming them, but they continue to quote what she says rather than reporting on what she does.

Update, 10/4: After she ordered the status report unsealed, Judge Cannon granted the motion to intervene prospectively.

The Gaslighter’s Psychiatrist: My Response to Dan Drezner

I wasn’t going to weigh in on the latest kerfuffle over Maggie Haberman. She wrote a book. It reveals things that would have been useful to know years ago. On several key points (such as what Trump did with the Strzok and Page texts), she seems unaware of related details that undermine her claims to exclusive smarts. The kerfuffle is not that interesting to me.

But Dan Drezner said two things in defense of her that are so fascinating, I couldn’t resist.

His most substantive defense of Maggie, bullet point 1, halfway into his post, is that most other politicians would not have remained standing after her stories.

Haberman is a pretty great reporter! Her stories on Trump were chock-full of tidbits that would have destroyed the standing of most other politicians. That Trump remained standing (sort of) after every one of her bombshell stories is a source of frustration to many, but Haberman is hardly to blame for this.

Drezner, who is a news-savvy political science professor with a column, not a journalist, spends much of the rest of his post lecturing about how journalism works.

For all the lecturing, he doesn’t note the most curious journalistic fact about Maggie’s book tour, at least to me: not that she delayed stories for the book, not necessarily that she’s telling stories she could have told in 2016 or 2018 or 2020 but did not, but that none of the teaser exclusives are being published at the NYT. The Atlantic, CNN, Axios, WaPo’s own Trump-whisperer — they’re the ones getting traffic from Maggie’s tidbits this week, not the NYT. After I started this, Joe Klein — better known as Joke Line!! — did a fawning review of the book in the NYT, but that’s not news or even, given that it was written by Joke Line, marginally reliable (though it may nevertheless be the most unintentionally insightful piece on the book).

When James Risen’s book about George Bush’s war on terror abuses was shunned by the NYT, it was a symptom of far more significant problems at the newspaper, problems that had to do with that outlet’s relationship to the Presidency (or perhaps Vice Presidency). Who knows whether that’s the case here. But it does raise questions about whether something is going on that explains NYT’s choice to let their star Trump-whisperer scoop them in virtually all the competing outlets — or whether they even had a choice in the matter.

Like I said, Drezner is a political science professor, so perhaps it was no surprise he missed what I find to be a more interesting curiosity about Maggie’s book blitz.

But he’s a political science professor, and so I would have welcomed some reflection about why he believes most other politicians, but not Trump, would have been destroyed by Maggie’s tidbits. Do Maggie’s strengths and weaknesses as a journalist offer any insight into Trump’s unique resilience? Is she a symptom of it? Or one of the causes? Those seem like utterly critical questions for political science professors as we try to stave off fascism in the United States.

As an access journalist, Maggie rises and falls with the subjects of her access. And this book — the payoff for years of access — is not just a story about Trump. It’s a story of her access, the transactional relationship it entailed, what Trump does with those he has selected to be witnesses to his power.

In the Atlantic excerpt of her book, Maggie famously described Trump likening her to his psychiatrist. She used that as a cue to close the piece with her wisdom about Trump — written in the first person but often, not always, quoting Trump’s direct speech, heightening both her own status as omniscient narrator but also the degree to which she is a manufactured character in her own book.

Then he turned to the two aides he had sitting in on our interview, gestured toward me with his hand, and said, “I love being with her; she’s like my psychiatrist.”

It was a meaningless line, almost certainly intended to flatter, the kind of thing he has said about the power of release he got from his Twitter feed or other interviews he has given over the years. The reality is that he treats everyone like they are his psychiatrists—reporters, government aides, and members of Congress, friends and pseudo-friends and rally attendees and White House staff and customers. All present a chance for him to vent or test reactions or gauge how his statements are playing or discover how he is feeling. He works things out in real time in front of all of us. Along the way, he reoriented an entire country to react to his moods and emotions.

I spent the four years of his presidency getting asked by people to decipher why he was doing what he was doing, but the truth is, ultimately, almost no one really knows him. Some know him better than others, but he is often simply, purely opaque, permitting people to read meaning and depth into every action, no matter how empty they might be.

We’re all like Maggie, omniscient narrator Maggie explains, all just bit players serving as a sounding board to witness him ramble for 20 minutes, all the while cutting us off so he can find the precise word he wants. But maybe not. In the next paragraph, first person Maggie reminds us that everyone else asks her, the sounding board Trump likens to his shrink, to “decipher” him. And this woman who stages herself as a participant in three interviews in this piece, concludes not that she’s got no insight, but that he’s simply opaque, something that we — including Maggie the character portrayed interviewing Trump — project our interpretations of depth onto.

Maggie sells herself as the false promise that you might get to know Trump through his quoted lies and not through his means or his deeds, not through understanding how those lies and the way they are circulated wielded power.

And that, Drezner observes, didn’t end up sticking to Trump the way it would other politicians. That seems like a really important insight.

Which brings me to the other thing Drezner set me off with.

The best explanation of Maggie’s work he offers — and it’s a frightfully good explanation — is the way he starts his post:

When I was curating the Toddler-in-Chief thread on Twitter and adapting it into The Toddler in Chief, I leaned pretty hard on Maggie Haberman’s reporting for the New York Times. I literally said, “Maggie Haberman’s reportage… is all over that thread.”

Drezner was talking about his interminable chronicle of Trump’s tantrums. Each tweet screen capped an example of Trump’s closest aides bitching to someone — and yes, that someone was often Maggie — about how they had to coddle Trump, how they built the entire Administration to cater to Trump’s every mood or emotion. In each tweet, Drezner the political science professor would categorize this report as yet more proof that Trump was not “growing into the presidency.” I took the observation as shorthand for false expectations of normality after Trump’s election, a hope that it wouldn’t be so bad after Trump came to understand the gravity of the office. Drezner contines to cling to that observation, even after Trump’s failed coup attempt.

I found the series funny and occasionally baited Drezner on it. It was a worthy observation about false reassurances certain pundits made about Trump. But it ended up being an inadequate rubric for understanding the damage Trump could do as we all laughed at his ineptitude.

In retrospect there were probably better ways to try to convey the danger posed by Trump than to serially mock him on Twitter, reinforcing the editorial decisions that treated his tantrums but not his actions as the news, even while exacerbating the polarization between those who identified with Trump’s tantrums and those who with their fancy PhDs knew better.

And Drezner’s first impulse, when defending Maggie’s journalism, was to point to the sheer number of times she obtained a hilarious quote that served as another artifact in a never-ending string of news stories that treated Trump’s tantrums as the news, rather than the actions Trump pulled off by training people to accommodate his tantrums.

Those stories, individually and as a corpus, revealed Trump to be a skilled bully. But those stories of Trump’s bullying commanded our attention, just like his reality TV show did, and reassured him that continued bullying would continue to dominate press coverage.

That press coverage, I’m convinced, not only was complicit in the bullying, but also served as a distraction from things that really mattered or levers that we might have used to neutralize the bullying.

It was power by reality TV. And Maggie Haberman was and remains a key producer of that power.

Update: Drezner did a really thoughtful response here. I totally agree with this point:

The part unique to Trump is his abject lack of shame. Some scandals that bring politicians down involve illegality, but most involve the revelation of actions or statements that are either embarrassing or completely at odds with their public positions. Most politicians are human beings who embarrass easily, and so are vulnerable to scandal. They will withdraw from the stage to avoid further unwanted attention. Trump’s entire career, by way of contrast, gloried in scandal. During the 2016 campaign he contradicted himself constantly, said and did repugnant things, and did not care a whit. As Ezra Klein noted way back in 2015, that was Trump’s political superpower: “This is Donald Trump’s secret, his strategy, his power…. He just doesn’t fucking care. He will never, ever give an inch. Better to be a monster than a wuss. You cannot embarrass Donald Trump.”

This would not have mattered if two other trends that I discussed at length in The Ideas Industry had not also kicked in: the rise in political polarization and the erosion of trust in institutions. These two trends created a permission structure in which ordinary Republicans could dismiss damning Maggie Haberman stories in the New York Times as fake news. Even if Haberman (and every other reporter) had published absolutely everything she knew in real time, it would not have affected this dynamic.

His discussion of how great stories reporting on scandal barely blip in the coverage, however, goes right to my biggest gripe with Maggie. Drezner denies that Maggie’s reporting serves to distract from real crimes.

The part unique to Trump is his abject lack of shame. Some scandals that bring politicians down involve illegality, but most involve the revelation of actions or statements that are either embarrassing or completely at odds with their public positions. Most politicians are human beings who embarrass easily, and so are vulnerable to scandal. They will withdraw from the stage to avoid further unwanted attention. Trump’s entire career, by way of contrast, gloried in scandal. During the 2016 campaign he contradicted himself constantly, said and did repugnant things, and did not care a whit. As Ezra Klein noted way back in 2015, that was Trump’s political superpower: “This is Donald Trump’s secret, his strategy, his power…. He just doesn’t fucking care. He will never, ever give an inch. Better to be a monster than a wuss. You cannot embarrass Donald Trump.”

This would not have mattered if two other trends that I discussed at length in The Ideas Industry had not also kicked in: the rise in political polarization and the erosion of trust in institutions. These two trends created a permission structure in which ordinary Republicans could dismiss damning Maggie Haberman stories in the New York Times as fake news. Even if Haberman (and every other reporter) had published absolutely everything she knew in real time, it would not have affected this dynamic.

But Maggie’s access and the way Trump’s associates exploit her — gleefully — makes it really easy to play her to kill a story. Her limited hangouts then become the breaking news, rather than the real details disclosed by an investigation.

Both on specific parts of the Russian investigation — such as Paul Manafort’s sharing of campaign strategy in the same meeting where he talked about $19 million in financial benefits to him — and more generally — such as Maggie and Mike Schmidt’s demonstrably false claim that Trump was only investigated for obstruction — stories involving Maggie helped Trump and his associates cover up his criminal exposure.

What Family Rifts at Funerals can Teach Us About Pardoning Presidents

Exhibit A of Step Two Behavior

Watching the coverage of the death of Elizabeth II, two questions seem to be on a constant loop. The first is political: “How will Charles change the monarchy?” The second is personal: “Will the funeral heal the rift between Harry and William/Charles/the rest of the family?” The discussions that follow, between television anchors, reporters, and “royal watchers” have provided me with great amusement. “Oh look: Charles said something nice about Harry and Meghan in his first broadcast after the Queen’s death! Perhaps all is well again!!” The wishfulness of the discussion — “Surely the funeral of their beloved mother/grandmother will bring the family together, and they can heal from the past unpleasantness” — says much more about the hopes that these media folks have and much less about the reality of how a family torn apart acts as a family funeral approaches.

As a pastor for more than three decades, I’ve never done a royal funeral, but I’ve done plenty of regular funerals, including those of matriarchs who had presided over a divided family. Most of the time, what I’ve seen is that either (a) the family members manage to sit on their frustrations with one another for a week or so as the funeral goes forward, and then they return to their earlier fighting, or (b) the funeral intensifies the fighting, as they argue about the decisions made around the funeral itself. Occasionally, the funeral does help to begin a healing process, as folks who have not seen “those monsters” in years are now in the same room for the first time again, and they realize that these other folks aren’t the monsters they have seen them to be in the past. It doesn’t happen five minutes after the burial, but with a willingness to work on both sides, healing is possible. But it sure isn’t the magic “If only Harry and William can sit next to each other at the funeral, everything will be fixed!” that so many commentators are looking for.

Which brings me to the other crazy question I’ve seen popping up more and more often between anchors, reporters, and political pundits. This is the question posed by Chuck Todd that NBC chose to highlight as they tease the Meet The Press interview with VP Kamala Harris that airs in full tomorrow:

Let me try to go to 60,000 feet. What do you say to the argument that it would be too divisive to the country to prosecute a former president?

Earth to Chuck Todd, and anyone else who asks this question: the country *is* deeply divided already.

Giving Trump a pass to “avoid division” is like that scenario (a) at the family funeral, except you are betting that everyone can sit on their frustrations not for a week but forever. Turning the question around — “Would it be too divisive to the country to give a former president a pass for illegal behavior?” — ought to make it clear how silly both questions are.

Step One in dealing with divisions — either at a family funeral or in national politics — is admitting your family/nation is already divided.

As an interim pastor, I work with congregations whose previous pastor has left. Maybe that pastor retired, died, took a new call elsewhere, or was run out of town on a rail. One of the things I often have to help the congregation deal with is conflict, either between the old pastor and the members, or between the members themselves. Whenever I hear “Yes, we had divisions, but now that the old pastor is gone, everything is just fine now” I have to figure out how get them to pull their heads out of the sand. “What’s going to happen when you disagree with your next pastor?” I ask them, knowing that for the immediate future, I am that next pastor. “What do you have to say to the folks around here who loved that old pastor and blame you for running that pastor off?”

Within the House of Windsor, simply coming up with the right seating chart at the funeral for Elizabeth will not wash away the pain that led the Duke and Duchess of Sussex to withdraw from royal duties and decamp to the US. Similarly, pardoning Trump, either by choosing not to prosecute or by an act of President Biden, will not heal the nation either.

What *will* help both the House of Windsor and the United States is to admit that divisions already exist.

Step Two in dealing with divisions, then, is to explore that divided reality. What, specifically, does that painful divided reality look like? What are the presenting issues, that anyone can see at the surface? What are the underlying issues, that lie deeper down, at the heart of the trouble? What are the triggers, that bring all that buried pain out into the open again? How is everyone being hurt by these divisions?

Looking at all that is not easy. It requires a willingness to dig into a painful past, to admit to past bad behavior (your own as well as that of others), and to accept just how bad things have gotten for everyone involved. Until you do that, all you are doing is papering over division and pretending things aren’t that bad.

In the US, the arguments about race and the causes of the Civil War are a perfect illustration of this. So long as a non-trivial part of the country denies that the Civil War was about slavery (“it was the war of Northern Aggression, fought over state’s rights”), our country will never be able to fully deal with how race continues to divide our country today. If you don’t think racism divides our country today, please go back to step one and try again.

Only when the divided congregation or family or nation has done the hard work of examining its own ugly past are they ready to move to Step Three.

Step Three is to look at what you’d like the future to be. What would a healthy House of Windsor look like? How would members treat one another, in ways that are different than what caused the fractures in the past? What would a healthy United States of America look like? How would those with different political views treat one another, in ways that are different from what caused the fractures in the past?

Step Four, then, is to figure out how to get to that future. That’s a conversation about rules, roles, and responsibilities, with unstated assumptions put out in the open and mixed expectations clarified. It’s about crafting behavior that rebuild trust, dignity, and belonging for everyone involved.

The big lesson in all of this is that THERE IS NO SHORTCUT.

You can’t just jump to step four, without doing all the work of the other three steps. You can try, but you’re just sticking your fingers in your ears and singing “La la la – I can’t hear you.” You don’t need to take my word for this. Just look at the House of Windsor.

When the Duke and Duchess of Sussex announced they were leaving their royal roles behind, that was Step One behavior. “Our family is painfully divided.” No more smiling masks, no more pretending all is well, and no more trying to ignore the pain.

When they sat down for their interview with Oprah, that was Step Two behavior. “Here’s what happened, at least from our point of view.”

Ever since then, the royal family had various private conversations to sort things out further, including such things as whether Harry and Meghan would be part of the Platinum Jubilee celebration last summer. (The answers at that time were that they were included in small family gatherings, but not the big public ones.) Now they are having similar conversations around the Queen’s funeral and the coming coronation ceremony that will follow in a few months. This is all Step Three and Step Four behavior.

To the extent that things are getting better for the House of Windsor, it’s because they’ve been working hard at Steps One through Three, not that they simply came together magically at a funeral and jumped to Step Four.

The US political press and political actors could learn a lot from the House of Windsor. Those who worry about prosecuting a past president need to recognize that this doesn’t cause division, but is a step along the way to healing – part of the hard work of Step Two that explores the divided reality in all its painful, ugly depth. The work of the January 6 Committee in the House of Representatives is Step Two behavior, and so is the work of the DOJ to investigate possible criminal behavior of the former president and his minions.

Until we as a nation are willing to honestly look at our ugly reality, we will never heal.

 

The Redacted Mar-a-Lago Affidavit DOJ Should Submit

As you may know, DOJ is ordered by Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart to submit a “suggested” redacted version of the warrant affidavit for the Mar-a-Lago search executed on August 8, 2022.

The federal magistrate judge who authorized the warrant to search Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate emphasized Monday that he “carefully reviewed” the FBI’s sworn evidence before signing off and considers the facts contained in an accompanying affidavit to be “reliable.”

Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart offered his assessment in a 13-page order memorializing his decision to consider whether to unseal portions of the affidavit, which describe the evidence the bureau relied on to justify the search of the former president’s home.

“I was — and am — satisfied that the facts sworn by the affiant are reliable,” Reinhart said in the order.

Reinhart ruled last week that he would consider unsealing portions of the affidavit after conferring with the Justice Department and determining whether proposed redactions would be sufficient to protect the ongoing criminal investigation connected to the search. But in his order, Reinhart emphasized that he may ultimately agree with prosecutors that any redactions would be so extensive that they would render the document useless.

The last sentence of that quote is the key. Unless DOJ is going to capitulate to the clicks and reads voyeurism of the overly exuberant political press, nothing whatsoever should be released unless and until charges are filed against some defendant, whether it be Trump or otherwise. Why? Because that it how it is done, and properly so.

Reinhart has received abuse and threats. Is his willingness to even entertain a “redacted version” sound under such threat? His decision will yield the answer to that question.

In the meantime, I have a proposed example of what DOJ should submit to Reinhart. Yes, this example is from CAND, not SDFL, but it is exactly what ought be handed over to Reinhart. And if Reinhart grants any “redacted version”, DOJ should appeal immediately and fully. Leave the affidavit sealed. The voyeuristic public, and press, thinks they have an interest because Trump. But they really do not. Do it the right and normal way.

All Republican Gang of Eight Members Condone Large-Scale Theft of Classified Information, Press Yawns

The Ranking Member of the Senate Intelligence Committee went on a four tweet rant yesterday, complaining that the FBI is conducting an investigation into the suspected large-scale theft of highly-classified materials.

The House Minority Leader used the instance of a lawfully executed warrant in support of a national security investigation to call for an investigation not into the man suspected of stealing code word documents, but instead, of Attorney General Merrick Garland for authorizing this investigation into a classified breach.

The Ranking Member of the House Intelligence Committee, Mike Turner, more appropriately asked for a briefing, but even after admitting he hadn’t had one yet and claiming (dubiously) that he didn’t know of the suspected massive theft of highly classified information, scoffed at the seriousness that such a large-scale compromise of classified information might cause.

Mitch McConnell weighed in, belatedly, to demand transparency about an investigation into stolen secrets.

The country deserves a thorough and immediate explanation of what led to the events of Monday. Attorney General Garland and the Department of Justice should already have provided answers to the American people and must do so immediately

These men are all entrusted with the protection of Americans intelligence secrets. But when faced with a choice of putting party or America’s security first, they immediately rushed to protect their party, even while admitting they don’t know the facts of the underlying investigation.

And in spite of the fact that these men have all engaged in minimizing the large-scale compromise of classified information with their rants, virtually every press outlet has reported their comments as more horse race journalism, one side against the other, as if top Republicans attacking the FBI for trying to protect classified secrets is not itself newsworthy.

The lazy-ass press couldn’t even be bothered to show how all these men, especially Marco Rubio, made wildly inconsistent statements when Jim Comey or Hillary Clinton were suspected of mishandling far less sensitive intelligence. Nor did the press bother asking these men about the destruction of DHS (including Secret Service) and DOD records that Congress itself had already asked for before magnifying their comments.

They just let these men turn this into a partisan fight rather than a serious legal investigation, all for free!

Update, 8/10PM: Included Mitch McConnell’s statement.

Brittain Shaw’s Privileged Attempt to Misrepresent Eric Lichtblau’s Privilege

Thanks to those who’ve donated to help defray the costs of trial transcripts. Your generosity has funded the expected costs. If you appreciate the kind of coverage no one else is offering, we’re still happy to accept donations for this coverage — which reflects the culmination of eight months work. 

In the first words of her opening argument in the Michael Sussmann case, Durham prosecutor Brittain Shaw argued that this case is all about Sussmann’s privilege, his purported ability to exploit high level ties at DOJ to seed what she claims would be a smear campaign against the guy who was, in fact, hiding secret communications with the Kremlin and soliciting hacks of his opponent.

The evidence will show that this is a case about privilege: the privilege of a well-connected D.C. lawyer with access to the highest levels of the FBI; the privilege of a lawyer who thought that he could lie to the FBI without consequences; the privilege of a lawyer who thought that for the powerful the normal rules didn’t apply, that he could use the FBI as a political tool.

The really painful irony of this case, though, is that Sussmann is being significantly hamstrung because of privilege, attorney-client privilege, because it is limiting his ability to present evidence about what really happened.

When Judge Christopher Cooper ruled that a subset of emails that had been protected under privilege were not, after all, he explained that, the documents, “do not strike the Court as being particularly revelatory.” Even so, Sussmann and Fusion can’t, ethically, simply offer up emails over which the Democrats are claiming privilege. There’s good reason to believe if they could, they could show that significant parts of Durham’s conspiracy theory have been based on imagining that Democrats were hiding the worst possible plotting behind privilege claims, when in fact the reality was much more mundane.

Take two exhibits from the trial as an example. Durham is making much of a September 15, 2016 email from Marc Elias to top people on the campaign. Its subject line was “Alfa article.” But it appears to be sharing an article about “testimony of an oil trader.” If Sussmann could share it, it might simply show that Elias had seen an article about corruption and seen some tie with the Alfa Bank allegations. He can’t, because Elias is the one who made that connection.

Meanwhile, two exhibits Sussmann introduced into evidence show Robby Mook — who is not a lawyer — sharing Sidney Blumenthal “intelligence” with him that the Trump campaign was freaking out because they had gotten advance word of a NYT article about Trump’s ties with Russia.

The Trump campaign is having “a major league freak-out,” according to a Republican source who has been reliable in the past. What is causing the Trump “freak-out” is anticipation of an investigative story to be published by the New York Times. The subject is described as “Russia” and “a disaster.” “That is completely the story of everything going on since Thursday,” insists the source. The Times story, says the source, accounts for Tramp’s extraordinarily defensive aggressive reactions–his declaration that he will sue the New York Times, his personal tweeting attack on Maureen Dowd as “wacky” and a neuSidney rotic dope,” (though the source says “that’s just him anyway”), his call for the assassination of HRC, and the campaign’s push to the media of the flat-out lie that I was behind birtherism in 2008. On Saturday night, Trump tweeted: “My lawyers want to sue the tailing @nytimes so badly for irresponsible intent. I said no (for now), but they are watching. Really disgusting.” Trump did not specify why the Times might be guilty of”irresponsible intent,” which in any case lacks any legal weight. Earlier on Saturday, he tweeted that the Times was “a laughingstock rag.” The atmosphere inside the campaign is described as chaotic, frenetic and “spontaneous.” Bannon and Bossie are said to be grasping at anything to throw back in order to distract from and fend off the coming story. Journalistic sources have independently said that reporters at the Times are working on a Tromp-Russia story.

It wouldn’t be a high profile political trial, I guess, if Sid Blumenthal didn’t make a showing. Note that Mike Flynn’s Mueller interviews show him responding to some Sid Blumenthal stuff in precisely this period, so it’t clear Sid was talking to Republicans.

Anyway, that part — Blumenthal sharing with Mook — was not privileged. And that part makes it clear that Elias was right to be concerned about Trump suing if the Hillary campaign made factual observations about his ties with Russia. It also may (though this is uncertain) back Sussmann’s understanding that Eric Lichtblau was close to publishing the Alfa story, so close that Trump’s moles at the NYT had alerted him to it. But whatever Mook said about it to Elias, the campaign’s lawyer guarding against lawsuits, is privileged, as whatever Elias said to Sussmann and the Fusion guys when he forwarded Mook’s comment would be.

Whatever was said may have influenced Sussmann’s decision to go to the FBI, though, as this was shortly before he texted Jim Baker and asked to meet.

In his testimony, Elias stated that he had not given Sussmann permission to go to the FBI with the Alfa Bank story. He doesn’t think he knew until shortly afterwards, though could have learned before (the Blumenthal story may serve to explain a call that Sussmann knows prosecutors plan to dramatically reveal).

You testified that you became aware that Mr. Sussmann went to the FBI. Correct?

A. Yes.

Q. And your testimony was that you think that you were told right after, although there’s a possibility it was right before?

A. Yes.

Q. Your best recollection is which of those?

A. Is after.

Q. Okay. Did you tell him to go to the FBI?

A. No.

Q. Did he seek your permission to go to the FBI?

A. No.

Q. Did you authorize him to go to the FBI?

A. No.

Q. Are you aware of anyone at the Clinton Campaign that authorized Mr. Sussmann to go to the FBI to share the possibility of The New York Times story?

A. Not that I’m aware of. No.

Q. Did you consent to his going to the FBI?

A. No, not that I remember. No.

Elias even explained what a colossally bad idea it would be for a candidate whose campaign had been badly damaged by Jim Comey to go to the FBI.

A. First of all, the FBI had in my view not been particularly helpful in investigating or doing anything to prevent the leaks of the emails. The exfiltration is one thing, you know, the stealing of the emails. But the publication of the emails, it was not just this one time. I mean, we were dealing with multiple publications of emails. And it was not just this one client.

And I think my sense was that the FBI was not for a variety of reasons going to do anything that was going to be — like stop bad things from happening, which would be one reason to go for the FBI.

The second, which is more unique to the Clinton Campaign, is that I think he was then the FBI director, but James Comey had taken public stances in around that time period that were in my view unfair and putting a thumb on the scale against Secretary Clinton.

So I’m not sure that I would have thought that the FBI was going to be — give a fair shake to anything that they viewed as anti-Trump or pro-Clinton.

And then the final thing is that if The New York Times was going to run this story, like that’s the goal. Right? The New York Times runs the story. If you get the FBI involved, any number of things could prevent that from happening. Right?

In the most extreme instance, the FBI can go to the publication and say: Please don’t. But the second is, the newspaper itself might then want to do further reporting on the FBI investigation and delay its story. Right?

So, like, even in a world in which, like, the FBI is being helpful — not being helpful; even in a world in which the FBI is doing stuff, the media may not run the story because they want to get the full picture because they view the FBI piece of it as an essential piece of the story.

It’s certainly possible that, given this advance warning of a Trump shit-storm, Sussmann decided it would be best to give FBI a head’s up. Sussmann, however, can’t ethically share the communications between Elias and him, even if it would help him. That’s how privilege works.

With that in mind, consider what Shaw said in Durham’s bid to keep Eric Lichtblau off the stand (this appears to have been filed two days after Judge Cooper ordered it, but one of the Durham lawyers has had a family emergency so they may have gotten an extension).

After explaining that prosecutors need to question Lichtblau about things the scope of which have been specifically excluded in the trial, a footnote claims that they won’t violate Judge Cooper’s rules about such things (they have, serially, during the trial).

The government should be permitted to cross-examine Lichtblau about any communications he had with other individuals, including, but not limited to, Fusion GPS personnel and computer researchers, regarding the alleged connections between the Trump Organization and Alfa bank. To the extent Sussmann, Fusion GPS, or others (including computer researchers) approached or communicated with Lichtblau concerning Alfa Bank or related matters, the government should be permitted to question Lichtblau about such exchanges, as they are relevant to the defendant’s communications with Lichtblau on these same issues and are probative of the defendant’s alleged actions on behalf of clients (Rodney Joffe and the Clinton Campaign). The government also intends to cross-examine Lichtblau on issues pertaining to the credibility and reliability of his testimony. 1

[snip]

If Fusion GPS (which was hired by the defendant’s firm on behalf of the Hillary for America Campaign) and other persons known to Joffe and/or Sussmann similarly supplied opposition research-type information to Lichtblau regarding the Trump Organization as a part of a coordinated effort, this would be relevant to demonstrate that Sussmann was not acting merely as a concerned citizen trying to help the FBI when he met with FBI General Counsel and that his contrary representations were false. Indeed, the Government is aware that Sussmann and Joffe did enlist and/or task one or more other computer researchers to communicate with the media (including Lichtblau) concerning these matters

1 The government will abide by the Court’s order of May 7, 2022 and, in accordance with that order, will not “put on extensive evidence” about the accuracy of the data provided by Sussmann or his clients to the FBI, Lichtblau, or others. See Op. & Order (“In Limine Order”) at 5, ECF No. 121. [my emphasis]

Here, Shaw states as fact that the computer research was opposition research. It was not.

I am 100% certain that if Lichtblau could testify about all the people he spoke with on this story, he could explain that many if not most of the people involved — as well as a bunch of other people, including at least one whom prosecutors have affirmatively claimed did not have a role in chasing down this anomaly — believed the anomaly was real and were motivated out of a genuine alarm about the Russian attack that year. Yes, the NYT found people who pushed back (more so after the FBI killed the story). But that’s what makes Lichtblau’s work reporting, not opposition research.

If Lichtblau is able to testify, he could also provide a key piece of important context to evidence the government has already presented. Yesterday, Jim Baker described how, starting on September 21, he reached out to Sussmann for the name of the reporter working on the story.

Baker provided Lichtblau’s name to Bill Priestap before noon on September 22. But Lichtblau didn’t meet with the FBI until Monday, September 26.

We know that in between, the FBI called Cendyn, leading them to alter their DNS address, and the NYT called a representative for Alfa Bank which later — NYT believed, at least — led Alfa to alter their DNS address. The NYT believed that there was a response from Alfa that indicated they were trying to hide this activity.

A key part of Durham’s claim is that NYT wasn’t close to publishing when Sussmann went to the FBI and that Sussmann was, instead, trying to provide urgency for the story. That doesn’t accord with my understanding and it doesn’t accord with what Dexter Filkins has written. Durham can keep telling it so long as Lichtblau doesn’t testify.

One thing that happened, though — in addition to initial contacts that would have alerted Lichtblau that the FBI didn’t want him to publish — was the response to those calls after Sussmann and Joffe decided to share Lichtblau’s name. There was new news that Lichtblau had to try to understand that created a new delay.

As with Sussmann, it would be nice for Lichtblau if he could describe all the efforts he made to verify the story. If he could, it would demonstrably undercut several of the claims Durham is making. He can’t, because he has separate confidentiality agreements with those other sources.

Shaw, who accuses Sussmann of being privileged, completely flips how privilege works on its head (including by mis-citing the David Tatel concurrence in the Judy Miller subpoena, which as I understand it would support Lichtblau making the call about the scope of his testimony). She ties it to a topic rather than a privileged relationship to accuse Lichtblau of trying to selectively pick which parts of the story he can tell.

The D.C. Circuit has “declined to adopt a selective waiver doctrine” in the context of attorney-client communications that “would allow a party voluntarily to produce documents covered by the attorney-client privilege to one party and yet assert the privilege as a bar to production to a different party.” United States v. Williams Companies, Inc., 562 F.3d 387, 394 (D.C. Cir. 2009). “The client cannot be permitted to pick and choose among his opponents, waiving the privilege for some and resurrecting the claim of confidentiality to obstruct others.” Permian Corp. v. United States, 665 F.2d 1214, 1221 (D.C. Cir. 1981). Privilege holders must instead “treat the confidentiality of attorney-client communications like jewels—if not crown jewels” because courts “will not distinguish between various degrees of ‘voluntariness’ in waivers of the attorney-client privilege.” In re Sealed Case, 877 F.2d 976, 980 (D.C. Cir. 1989).

This principle—which restricts a privilege of “ancient lineage and continuing importance,” In re Sealed Case, 877 F.2d at 980—necessarily governs the novel and qualified reporter’s privilege advanced in this case. Sussmann subpoenaed Lichtblau to appear as a witness and Lichtblau has not moved to quash. Lichtblau and defendant Sussmann cannot “tactical[ly] employ[]” the asserted privilege to pick and choose the topics that may be put to Lichtblau on the witness stand. Permian Corp., 665 F.2d at 1221. Privileges are not “tool[s] for selective disclosure.” Ibid

I get why someone in the grips of a fevered conspiracy theory would make this argument. Durham believes that everyone involved with the Alfa Bank story was part of the same malicious conspiracy targeting poor Donald Trump, even though DOJ has in its possession abundant proof that’s false. Yet even in this case, Cooper has distinguished between the privileged relationships that Joffe has with what the Democrats have, and he has also pointed to affirmative evidence that this wasn’t one big conspiracy.

But Shaw would have you believe that Lichtblau’s privilege obligations are tied to a project, a story, and not a bunch of individuals, many of whom he had existing relationships with well before this story.

A lawyer not in the grip of a fevered conspiracy theory, however, would understand that that kind of privilege doesn’t make you special, it creates an obligation, even if the obligation prevents you from using your profession from helping yourself.

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