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Why I Agreed to Stop Calling Liz Cheney “BabyDick”

I made a vow on Twitter one of these days that I would no longer refer to Liz Cheney as “BabyDick” if she voted for impeachment.

She is going to vote for impeachment — the second Republican House member to announce their vote.

So I’m on my last legs using the term that invokes her protection of her own father for torture. But this seems like an obviously smart strategic position, as I laid out in this thread;

  • Dems need to realize the GOP wants to be purged of Trumpism
  • After Trump lost, Mitch McConnell thought he could make demands as the senior elected GOP
  • That didn’t happen
  • Then Trump lost the GA vote
  • Then Trump almost got Mitch killed
  • That gives Dems an opportunity to demand the purge of insurrectionists like Mo Brooks, Paul Gosar, Andy Biggs, Boebert, Taylor Greene, Madison Cawthorn, Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley, and Tommy Tuberville
  • That means institutional Republicans — like “BabyDick” and McConnell — actually have an incentive to use impeachment to cleanse their party

It’s a small ask for the GOP, because they’d like to get their corporatist party back, thank you.

Liz “BabyDick” Cheney and I will never be friends. But she will have served a key leadership role in this troubled time in providing another path for the Republican party by voting to impeach an authoritarian.

May she help others feel safe in rejecting this scourge.

Triage and Impeachment: Prioritize a Legitimate Criminal Investigation into the Wider Plot over Impeachment

I want to talk about triage in the wake of the terrorist attack on Wednesday as it affects consideration of how to hold Trump accountable for his role in it.

First, some dates:

If Mike Pence were to invoke the 25th Amendment (with the approval of a bunch of Trump’s cabinet members), it could go into effect immediately for at least four days. Trump can challenge his determination, but if the same cabinet members hold with Pence, then Trump’s disqualification remains in place for 21 more days, enough to get through Joe Biden’s inauguration.

Both the House and Senate are not in session, and can’t deviate from the existing schedule without unanimous consent, meaning Mo Brooks in the House or Josh Hawley in the Senate could single-handedly prevent any business.

Because of that, impeachment in the House can’t be started until tomorrow. Right now, Pelosi is using the threat of impeachment as leverage to try to get Pence to act (or Trump to resign, though he won’t). If that doesn’t work, then the House seems prepared to move on a single article of impeachment tied to Trump’s attempts to cheat and his incitement of the insurrection. Pelosi won’t move forward on it until she’s sure it has the votes to succeed.

Even assuming a majority of the House votes to impeach Trump, that will have no impact on his authority to pardon co-conspirators, and he’ll surely attempt to pardon himself, one way or another. Because of Wednesday’s events, he will be doing that without the assistance of Pat Cipollone, which means he’s much more likely to make his plight worse.

Impeaching this week would, however, force Republicans to cast votes before it is clear how the post-insurrection politics will work out (indeed, while Trump still has the power of the Presidency). Significantly, a number of incoming members are angry that Kevin McCarthy advised them to support the insurrection. The vote may be as much an attempt to undo complicity with Wednesday’s actions as it is anything else. Done right, impeachment may exacerbate the fractures in the GOP; done wrong, it could have the opposite effect.

If the House does impeach, then the Senate will not — barring a change of heart from Hawley and everyone else who was still willing to be part of this insurrection — take up the impeachment until January 19 (the parliamentarian has already ruled on this point). That means, the trial for impeachment either happens in Joe Biden’s first week in office, or the House holds off on sending the article of impeachment over to the Senate until Chuck Schumer deems it a worthwhile time. He can also opt to have a committee consider it, calling witnesses and accruing evidence, which will provide the Senate (where there are more Republicans aiming to distance from Trump) a way to further elaborate Trump’s role in the terrorism.

Meanwhile, by losing all access to social media except Parler and with Amazon’s decision yesterday to stop hosting Parler (which will mean it’ll stay down at least a week, until January 17), Trump’s primary mouthpieces have been shut down. There’s reason to believe that the more sophisticated insurrectionists have moved onto more secure platforms like chat rooms and Signal. While that’ll pose some challenges for law enforcement trying to prevent follow-on attacks on January 17, 19, or 20, being on such less accessible platforms will limit their ability to mobilize the kinds of masses that came out on Wednesday. Trump has lost one of the most important weapons he can wield without demanding clearly criminal behavior from others. That said, the urgency of preventing those sophisticated plotters — and a good chunk of these people have military training — from engaging in more targeted strikes needs to be a priority.

But Trump is still President, with his hand on the nuclear codes, and in charge of the chain of command that goes through a bunch of Devin Nunes flunkies at DOD. Nancy Pelosi called Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Mark Milley and come away with assurances that Trump won’t be able to deploy nukes.

Preventing an Unhinged President From Using the Nuclear Codes: This morning, I spoke to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley to discuss available precautions for preventing an unstable president from initiating military hostilities or accessing the launch codes and ordering a nuclear strike. The situation of this unhinged President could not be more dangerous, and we must do everything that we can to protect the American people from his unbalanced assault on our country and our democracy.

Nevertheless that still leaves Trump in charge of the vast federal bureaucracy, which has been emptied out and the filled back up with people who could pass Johnny McEntee’s loyalty oaths to Trump.

Because this is where we’re at, I have argued that there needs to be a higher priority on getting at least Biden’s operational nominees, along with Merrick Garland, confirmed over impeaching Trump — yet — in the Senate.

We have not yet heard why DOD and DHS and the FBI — on top of the Capitol Police — failed to prevent the terrorist attack on Wednesday (I’ll have more to say about this later). It will take a year to sort out all the conflicting claims. But as we attempt, via reporting, via oversight in Congress (including impeachment), and via a criminal investigation to figure that out, those same people who failed to prevent the attack remain in place. Indeed, most of these entities have offered little to no explanation for why they failed, which is a bad sign.

Because of that, I think Biden needs to prioritize getting at least Garland and Lisa Monaco confirmed as Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General at DOJ, along with a new Acting US Attorney for DC, as soon as possible. I have two specific concerns. First, while FBI has generally been good at policing white supremacists in recent months, they failed miserably here, when it mattered most. One effect of retaliating against anyone who investigated Trump for his “collusion” with Russia has been to install people who were either Trump loyalists or really skilled at avoiding any slight to Trump. Indeed, one of the most charitable possible excuses for FBI’s delayed response is that after years of badgering, otherwise reasonable people were loathe to get involved in something that Trump defined as an election issue.

I have more specific concerns about the DC US Attorney’s office. Michael Sherwin, who has been less awful as Acting US Attorney than Timothy Shea, originally said on the record all options in the investigation that will be led out of his office were on the table, including incitement by Trump. But then someone said off the record that Trump was not a focus of the investigation. I suspect that person is Ken Kohl, who as Acting First Assistant US Attorney is in charge of the investigation and has been cited in other announcements about the investigation.

Ken Kohl at least oversaw, if not participated in, the alteration of documents to help Trump get elected. I’ve been told he’s got a long history of being both corrupt and less than competent. The decisions he will oversee in upcoming weeks could have the effect of giving people the opportunity to destroy evidence that lays out a much broader conspiracy, all while rolling out showy charges against people who were so stupid they took selfies of themselves committing crimes. We want this investigation to go beyond a slew of trespassing charges to incorporate the actual plotting that made this attack possible. It’s not clear Kohl will do that.

Even assuming that people currently in DOJ are willing to collect evidence implicating Trump, short of having a confirmed Attorney General overseeing such decisions, we’re back in the same situation Andrew McCabe was in on May 10, 2017, an Acting official trying to decide what to do in the immediate aftermath of a Trump crime. Trump’s backers have exploited the fact that McCabe made the right choices albeit in urgent conditions, and they’ve done so with the willing participation of some of the people — notably, FBI Deputy Director David Bowdich — who are currently in charge of this investigation.

I’m happy to entertain a range of possible courses going forward, so long as all of them involve holding Trump accountable to the utmost degree possible. I assume Nancy Pelosi, whatever else she’ll be doing, will also be counting the votes to understand precisely what is possible, given the schedule.

But I also know that I’d far rather have Trump and those he directly conspired with criminally charged than have an impeachment delay the thorough fumigation of a government riddled with people who may have had a role in this plot. And that’s not going to happen if the investigation is scoped in such a way in the days ahead to rule out his involvement.

Update: Here’s a much-cited interview with Michael Sherwin. He adopts all the right language (pointedly disavowing labels of sedition or coup, saying he’s just looking at crimes) and repeats his statement that if there’s evidence Trump is involved he’ll be investigated.

On Thursday you were quoted saying the conduct of “all actors” would be examined, which was interpreted to mean President Trump might face charges. Is that what you meant — the man who gave the speech at the start of the day could be looking at charges?

Look, I meant what I said before. In any criminal investigation, I don’t care if it’s a drug trafficking conspiracy case, a human trafficking case or the Capitol — all persons will be looked at, OK? If the evidence is there, great. If it’s not, you move on. But we follow the evidence. If the evidence leads to any actor that may have had a role in this and if that evidence meets the four corners of a federal charge or a local charge, we’re going to pursue it.

Update: This story describes how a senior McConnell aide called Bill Barr’s Chief of Staff who called David Bowdich who then deployed three quick reaction teams in response.

The senior McConnell adviser reached a former law firm colleague who had just left the Justice Department: Will Levi, who had served as Attorney General William P. Barr’s chief of staff.

They needed help — now, he told Levi.

From his home, Levi immediately called FBI Deputy Director David Bowdich, who was in the command center in the FBI’s Washington Field Office.

Capitol police had lost control of the building, Levi told Bowdich.

The FBI official had been hearing radio traffic of aggressive protesters pushing through the perimeter, but Levi said it had gone even further: The mob had already crashed the gates and lives were at risk.

Capitol police had said previously they didn’t need help, but Bowdich decided he couldn’t wait for a formal invitation.

He dispatched the first of three tactical teams, including one from the Washington field office to secure the safety of U.S. senators and provide whatever aid they could. He instructed two more SWAT teams to follow, including one that raced from Baltimore.

These teams typically gather at a staging area off-site to coordinate and plan, and then rush together to the area where they are needed. Bowdich told their commander there was no time.

“Get their asses over there. Go now,” he said to the first team’s commander. “We don’t have time to huddle.”

Not explained: why Bowdich was watching protestors get through the perimeter without deploying teams on his own. Again, I’m not saying he was complicit. I’m saying he has spent the last four years by letting Trump’s claims about politicization direct the Bureau, and can see how that habit might have led to a delayed response here.

Investigate Tommy Tuberville’s Pre-Speech and Debate Actions

There has been a lot of press focus in the last two days on the role that Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz played in Wednesday’s insurgency. Hawley even lost his book deal for playing a part in inciting the mob.

There should be more focus, in my opinion, on Tommy Tuberville.

I say that for two reasons.

First, by all appearances, Hawley and Cruz were just being disgusting opportunists. They saw the populist mantle, which until Wednesday was assumed to be critical to winning a 2024 presidential primary, and ran to claim it. It’s unknown how closely they coordinated with Trump in their cynical attempts to exploit the moment.

Tuberville, however, appears to have been actively coordinating with Trump during the uprising.

And his involvement in this conspiracy dates to mid-December, weeks before he was sworn in, and so a time when his activities would have somewhat less investigative protection under the speech and debate clause. After he first floated serving as the then sole Senator who would challenge the certification of the vote, Trump reached out to Tuberville directly.

On Sunday, Trump said in a radio interview that he had spoken with Sen.-elect Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) about challenging the electoral vote count when the House and Senate convene on Jan. 6 to formally affirm President-elect Joe Biden’s victory.

“He’s so excited,” Trump said of Tuberville. “He said, ‘You made me the most popular politician in the United States.’ He said, ‘I can’t believe it.’ He’s great. Great senator.”

Tuberville’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment on Trump’s statement, which the president made in an interview with Rudolph W. Giuliani, his personal lawyer, on New York’s WABC radio station.

Trump’s conversation with Tuberville is part of a much broader effort by the defeated president to invalidate the election. He is increasingly reaching out to allies like Giuliani and White House trade adviser Peter Navarro for ideas and searching his Twitter feed for information to promote, according to Trump advisers, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations.

And we know that Tuberville remained in direct contact with the conspirators because on Wednesday, the geniuses trying to pull of this coup tried to call him twice. First, literally at the moment Senators were being evacuated because rioters had breached the building, Trump attempted to call Tuberville directly but instead dialed Mike Lee’s cell phone.

With a mob of election protesters laying siege to the U.S. Capitol, Sen. Mike Lee had just ended a prayer with some of his colleagues in the Senate chamber when his cellphone rang.

Caller ID showed the call originated from the White House. Lee thought it might be national security adviser Robert O’Brien, with whom he’d been playing phone tag on an unrelated issue. It wasn’t O’Brien. It was President Donald Trump.

“How’s it going, Tommy?” the president asked.

Taken a little aback, Lee said this isn’t Tommy.

“Well, who is this? Trump asked. “It’s Mike Lee,” the senator replied. “Oh, hi Mike. I called Tommy.”

Lee told the Deseret News he realized Trump was trying to call Sen. Tommy Tuberville, the newly elected Republican from Alabama and former Auburn University football coach. Lee walked his phone over to Tuberville who was talking to some colleagues.

“Hey, Tommy, I hate to interrupt but the president wants to speak with you,” Lee said.

Tuberville and Trump talked for about five to 10 minutes, Lee said, adding that he stood nearby because he didn’t want to lose his cellphone in the commotion. The two were still talking when panicked police ordered the Capitol to be evacuated because people had breached security.

As police were getting anxious for senators to leave, Lee walked over to retrieve his phone.

“I don’t want to interrupt your call with the president, but we’re being evacuated and I need my phone,” he said.

Tuberville said, “OK, Mr. President. I gotta go.”

Then, hours after Rudy Giuliani called for “trial by combat,” after the mob had already breached the building, after one of the insurgents had been killed, hours after Trump had released a video pretending to oppose the violence, possibly even after Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick suffered injuries that would ultimately kill him, Rudy attempted to call Tuberville. He also dialed the number of a different [unidentified] Senator. Rudy left a message suggesting that he expected Tuberville would heed his requests, a message that seemed to suggest the entire process was an attempt to buy President Trump’s disinformation teams a day to put together new false allegations.

Senator Tuberville? Or I should say Coach Tuberville. This is Rudy Giuliani, the president’s lawyer. I’m calling you because I want to discuss with you how they’re trying to rush this hearing and how we need you, our Republican friends, to try to just slow it down so we can get these legislatures to get more information to you. And I know they’re reconvening at 8 tonight, but it … the only strategy we can follow is to object to numerous states and raise issues so that we get ourselves into tomorrow—ideally until the end of tomorrow.

I know McConnell is doing everything he can to rush it, which is kind of a kick in the head because it’s one thing to oppose us, it’s another thing not to give us a fair opportunity to contest it. And he wants to try to get it down to only three states that we contest. But there are 10 states that we contest, not three. So if you could object to every state and, along with a congressman, get a hearing for every state, I know we would delay you a lot, but it would give us the opportunity to get the legislators who are very, very close to pulling their vote, particularly after what McConnell did today. It angered them, because they have written letters asking that you guys adjourn and send them back the questionable ones and they’ll fix them up.

So, this phone number, I’m available on all night, and it would be an honor to talk to you. Thank you.

This message is the most direct piece of evidence, thus far, that Trump and his co-conspirators planned to use the insurgency as a delay tactic to buy time to try to concoct new claims about the results. It shows that Rudy remained engaged with the attempt to obstruct the lawful counting of the vote after the violence that had delayed it.

Admittedly, both of these calls, like all communications involving either Hawley or Cruz, would be otherwise (if Trump and Rudy hadn’t fucked up) difficult to access given Tuberville’s speech and debate protections. But his communications with the President prior to being sworn in just days earlier would not have the same presumptive protections. And since Rudy was calling him directly, that wouldn’t be privileged either.

The place to start the investigation into Trump’s role in the coup attempt is not with Hawley and Cruz. It’s with Tuberville.

Curing the Donald Trump Spell: The Problem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Both, of course, have bolloxed COVID repsonse.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lindsey Graham, Chuck Grassley, and Mike Lee Exhibit Utter Ignorance about FBI Certification on FISA Applications

Jim Comey’s testimony in Lindsey’s Graham’s purported investigation of FISA — by which Lindsey means using the Carter Page FISA application as a stand-in for the Russian investigation more generally while remaining silent about both DOJ IG findings that the problems identified with the Page application are true more generally, and about ongoing 702 abuses under Bill Barr and Chris Wray — just finished.

As a Comey hearing connoisseur, it wasn’t bad. Notably, he repeatedly refused to answer questions for which the presumptions were false.

But as a connoisseur of hearings on FISA and FBI oversight, it was an atrocity.

This hearing was meant to talk about the dangers of counterintelligence investigations that unfairly treat people as Russian agents, meaning Page. But by my count, on at least 19 occasions, Republicans raised the investigation into Christopher Steele’s primary subsource, Igor Danchenko, for being a suspected Russian Agent. The investigation lasted from 2009 to 2011. It used many of the same tactics used against Page, Mike Flynn, and Paul Manafort. While the FBI closed the investigation in 2011 because Danchenko left the country — meaning they never affirmatively decided he wasn’t a Russian spy — neither did they decide he was.

That makes Danchenko exactly like Carter Page, someone once suspected of and investigated over a period for being a Russian Agent, but about whom the investigation was inconclusive, with remaining unanswered questions.

If you believe in due process in this country, you treat Igor Danchenko exactly like you’d like Carter Page to be treated.

And Republicans — starting and ending with Lindsey Graham — over and over again — stated that Danchenko was a suspected Russian agent in 2016 (which is plausible but for which there is no evidence) and even, repeatedly, stated as fact that he was a Russian spy. Lindsey claimed at one point that “the Primary Subsource was a Russian agent.” He later called Danchenko, “Igor the Russian spy.”

Republicans today did everything they complain was done with Carter Page, but they did so in a public hearing.

Danchenko may very well have been still suspect in 2016; that may very well have been something to consider when vetting the dossier (though as Comey noted, it could either corroborate that Danchenko had the sources he claimed or raise concerns about Russian disinformation). That absolutely should have been a factor to raise concerns about Russian disinformation. But everything in the public record shows that Danchenko was, in 2016, in exactly the same status Page will be in 2022, someone against whom an inconclusive foreign agent investigation was closed years earlier.

Still worse, at a hearing in which Lindsey Graham and other Republican Senators claimed they wanted to fix the problems in the FISA process identified as part of the Carter Page application, one after another — including Graham, Chuck Grassley, Mike Lee, Josh Hawley, and Joni Ernst — betrayed utter ignorance about the role of the FBI Director’s certification in a FISA application.

By statute, the FBI Director (or National Security Advisor) certification requires a very limited set of information, basically explaining why the FBI wants to and can use a FISA warrant rather than a criminal warrant, because they believe the desired information in part pertains to a national security threat.

(6)a certification or certifications by the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, an executive branch official or officials designated by the President from among those executive officers employed in the area of national security or defense and appointed by the President with the advice and consent of the Senate, or the Deputy Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, if designated by the President as a certifying official–

(A)that the certifying official deems the information sought to be foreign intelligence information;

(B)that a significant purpose of the surveillance is to obtain foreign intelligence information;

(C)that such information cannot reasonably be obtained by normal investigative techniques;

(D)that designates the type of foreign intelligence information being sought according to the categories described in section 1801(e) of this title; and

(E)including a statement of the basis for the certification that—

(i)the information sought is the type of foreign intelligence information designated; and

(ii)such information cannot reasonably be obtained by normal investigative techniques;

Thanks to the declassification of the Carter Page FISA applications, we can see what the declaration Comey signed looked like. In 8 pages tracking the statutory requirement, it explains (in redacted language) what kind of foreign intelligence information FBI hoped to obtain from the FISA, and why normal investigative methods are not sufficient to achieve those objectives.

Not a shred of that declaration pertains to the underlying affidavit.

And Comey tried to alert people to this, over and over, in the hearing, stating that his certification was very limited, even while taking responsibility in the affidavit that he didn’t sign (and once, in response to a question from Lindsey, stating explicitly that he had not signed). Rather than asking him what his certification entailed and how he thought about that responsibility, Republican Senators entrusted with overseeing FISA insinuated over and over, falsely, that he should have known the underlying pieces of evidence used to obtain the FISA.

Maybe he should have. He frankly exhibited some awareness of what was in that.

But that’s not what the law requires. And if the Senate Judiciary Committee wants FBI Directors signing FISA applications to have that kind of granular awareness of case, they need to rewrite the law to mandate it.

Instead, they simply exhibited their utter lack of awareness of what FISA law requires.

Some of these Senators, notably Grassley, have been overseeing FISA for decades. Lindsey heads this committee. Mike Lee is easily among the Senators who is best informed about FISA. And yet none of them know — not even with a declassified application to read — what it is that the FBI Director certifies.

Trump Fighting for Floating Petri Dishes but Not Life-Saving Ventilators

Trump’s response to learning that the cruise industry — which is almost entirely flagged overseas, in part to avoid US taxes — would not be eligible to tap the $500 billion slush fund for large businesses was to work to find a “legislative fix” so these floating petri dishes could survive a pandemic exacerbated by their industry.

Sr. admin official says bipartisan Senate grp working to ensure they can access one of the facilities–or else will seek a legislative fix in the next package.

He proposed adopting Josh Hawley’s offer, which is that if they registered here they could qualify for this loan package.

Meanwhile, on the same day Trump went out of his way to think creatively about how to fund an industry that has almost no societal value that isn’t already being addressed with extended unemployment benefits, outlets reported that the Trump Administration was balking on a plan — which both Trump and Mike Pence had already celebrated — to back a joint venture between General Motors and ventilator manufacturer Ventec Life Systems to produce up to 80,000 ventilators in Kokomo, IN. The problem: $1 billion was too much to spend to address the acute shortage of ventilators in the country.

The decision to cancel the announcement, government officials say, came after the Federal Emergency Management Agency said it needed more time to assess whether the estimated cost was prohibitive. That price tag was more than $1 billion, with several hundred million dollars to be paid upfront to General Motors to retool a car parts plant in Kokomo, Ind., where the ventilators would be made with Ventec’s technology.

By the end of the day, both Trump and Dr. Deborah Birx questioned the number of ventilators New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has consistently said his state will need.

“I have a feeling that a lot of the numbers that are being said in some areas are just bigger than they’re going to be,” he said. “I don’t believe you need 40,000 or 30,000 ventilators. You go into major hospitals sometimes, and they’ll have two ventilators. And now all of a sudden they’re saying, ‘Can we order 30,000 ventilators?’”

New York has become the new epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in the United States, with hospitals struggling to keep up with larger patient numbers and limited supplies, including masks, gowns and ventilators. In severe cases of Covid-19, the illness caused by coronavirus, ventilators can allow patients to breathe with incapacitated lungs — a common outcome of the disease.

Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, said earlier on Thursday she was told that New York had enough ventilators to meet current needs. While there may be shortages in urban areas like New York City, Birx said, there are other parts of the state “that have lots of ventilators and other parts of New York state that don‘t have any infections right now.“

“There is still significant — over a thousand or two thousand ventilators that have not been utilized yet,” Birx said. “Please, for the reassurance of people around the world, to wake up this morning and look at people talking about creating DNR situations — do not resuscitate situations for patients — there is no situation in the United States right now that warrants that kind of discussion.“

Trump’s interest in thinking creatively to fund the cruise industry as compared with his stinginess regarding crucial medical needs is not just malpractice during a pandemic.

But it doesn’t even serve his own stated priorities.

Trump has said he wants the economy to resume as soon as possible — he has been pushing for an Easter restart. Both WA (where Ventec is headquartered), MI, and IN are under state-wide stay-at-home orders, permitting only essential workers in the state to leave their homes to go to work. With some exceptions, the stay-at-home orders in the Midwest have shut down much of the auto industry.

Redeploying a parts plant in IN to produce ventilators would be a way to shift a facility and its workers from the non-essential category to the essential category, potentially getting them working before the stay-at-home orders are lifted.

Indeed, pushing manufacturers to shift production to items deemed essential, via whatever means (in this case, the venture would be supported only by a purchase agreement, but the Defense Production Act could be used to do even more of this). And even if Cuomo is overestimating how many ventilators he’ll need (there’s no reason to believe he is), if there’s a surge in COVID cases in the southern hemisphere as it shifts into fall, there’ll be plenty demand worldwide to pick up the slack.

Even if it led to a glut, one of the best employment policies right now would be to shift as much short- to medium-term production from goods deemed non-essential to goods deemed essential. Even if the US government overpays for those products, it’d be a better jobs program than restarting the cruise industry.

Trump continues to fool himself about where capitalism ends and state support begins. But he’s also adopting a policy that undermines his own hopes to get as many people back to work as he can.

It Is False To Claim the Counterintelligence Investigation into Trump Is Unprecedented

There’s a conceit among the frothy right that the counterintelligence investigation into Donald Trump is unprecedented. At a recent hearing with FBI Director Christopher Wray, for example, Josh Hawley set up the question this way.

Hawley: Director Wray, earlier this year I sent the FBI two letter seeking additional information about news reports that the agency, the Bureau, had opened a counterintelligence investigation of the President following the exercise of the President’s constitutional prerogatives to direct foreign policy and otherwise oversee the Executive Branch. I did not receive a response to those letters beyond a form letter acknowledging receipt. And since I have you here and have you under oath, let me just ask you what I want to know. To your knowledge has the FBI ever launched a counterintelligence investigation into another President in American history?

Wray: I don’t know the answer to that question.

Hawley: And so it would be “no” then, since it’s “to your knowledge”? It’s fair to say you’re not aware of one, personally, is all I’m asking?

Wray: It’s fair to say I’m not aware of one.

Hawley: Is it safe to say then, to the best of your knowledge, that such a move would be and is unprecedented?

Wray: Um, well again, we’ve been around for 111 years, so I don’t really know what is precedented or not precedented in that regard.

The question, as framed, is totally bullshit, and Democratic members of Congress should stop letting their colleagues frame what happened to Donald Trump in such a way.

The proper question is, is there precedent that a counterintelligence investigation was opened into a major party candidate (distinguishing from Eugene Debs, into whom I’m sure there was a standing counterintelligence investigation through his presidential runs).

And the answer to that is simple. The precedent is Hillary Clinton.

In 2016, there was a counterintelligence investigation touching on both the Democratic and Republican candidates for President. The one into the Democrat was public. FBI managed it in ways, twice, that had an impact on the race. In addition to that CI investigation, there was also an investigation — predicated in part on oppo research from the Republican party — that involved the candidate’s interactions with foreign leaders. The latter investigation, into the Clinton Foundation, leaked. It leaked so egregiously that the Deputy Director of the FBI was fired for the leak.

The counterintelligence investigation into the Republican candidate was not public. Unlike the investigation into the Democrat, the one into the Republican was also not, at first, predicated against the candidate himself (to be honest, the Clinton email investigation would have been differently, and probably better, handled if Hillary weren’t the only possible target). It did not come to be opened against the guy who was still a candidate when the investigation was opened until he obstructed the investigation by firing the people conducting it.

The proper question for Josh Hawley to ask is, “Is there precedent for a criminal investigation against a sitting president for obstructing the investigation into what his campaign did to get elected?” The answer is easy. Yes. That is what happened with Nixon, and appropriately so.

The thing is, I can guarantee you Republicans would support an investigation into Hillary for obstructing the counterintelligence investigation into her behavior. The reason I can guarantee it is Republicans to this day — from the President on down — think there should be an ongoing investigation into whether Democrats gamed the investigation into Hillary. If Hillary had won, Senate Republicans would have demanded a special prosecutor into Hillary’s server, to say nothing of whether her interactions with foreign leaders were influenced by the Clinton Foundation.

Virtually all the conspiracy theories about the investigation into Trump, from the claims of a coup on down, are premised on granting him, as candidate, the privileges he would get when he became President. Those theories ignore the fact that in 2016, the FBI conducted CI investigations into both candidates. And there’s no question which it treated worse in doing so.