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Insurrection Inciters Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley Only Want the Violent January 6 Criminals Prosecuted

I just waded through the 159 pages of culture war questions — God, guns, and racism — that GOP Senators posed to Merrick Garland to justify their votes opposing the widely-respected moderate to be Attorney General. Along with a seemingly broad certainty among the Republican Senators that John Durham will finally find something 21 months into his investigation and a committed belief in outright lies told about Mike Flynn’s prosecution, two of the Republicans — coup-sympathizers Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley — made it clear they think the only crime from January 6 that should be prosecuted is assault.

Cruz did so as part of a series of questions designed to both-sides domestic terrorism. While he may intend this question and a counterpart about all protests in Summer 2020 (whether conducted by leftists or not) to set up an attack on a DOJ appointee, Cruz created a false binary regarding crimes related to January 6, where people either simply “attended the Trump rally” or they “participate[d] in any act of violence.”

66. Do you believe that an individual who attended the Trump rally on January 6, 2021 did not participate in any act of violence should be prohibited in holding a political position in the Department of Justice in a future administration, even if he or she did not personally engage in any unlawful conduct?

RESPONSE: Americans have a constitutional right to engage in lawful, peaceful protest. If confirmed, I would assess any candidate’s fitness for a role in the Department on an individual basis and with the goal of hiring individuals who are capable of carrying out the Department’s important mission with integrity.

This ignores the people who committed a crime by peacefully entering the Capitol, as well as people who didn’t enter the building but in some other way participated in efforts to prevent the certification of the vote.

Cruz also challenged the description of January 6 in terms of domestic terrorism.

69. At your hearing, you stated that your definition of “domestic terrorism” is “about the same” as the statutory definition.

a. What is the statutory definition of “domestic terrorism”?

RESPONSE: The term “domestic terrorism” is statutorily defined in 18 U.S.C. § 2331.

b. What is your definition of “domestic terrorism”?

c. What is the difference between your definition and the statutory definition?

d. What relevance will your personal definition of “domestic terrorism” have to your duties, if confirmed, as Attorney General?

RESPONSE: At the hearing, I described domestic terrorism as using violence or threats of violence in an attempt to disrupt democratic processes, noting that this definition is close to the statutory definition of the term in the criminal code codified at 18 U.S.C. § 2331. If confirmed, all of my actions as Attorney General would be guided by the law as written.

Ultimately, Cruz seems to be objecting to treating the interruption of the certification of the vote as a particularly “heinous” crime, as Garland had labeled it during his confirmation hearing.

Meanwhile, Josh Hawley asked Garland how he intends to protect the First Amendment rights of Americans to “criticize their government and pursue political change” while investigating an insurrection that Hawley calls “rioting.”

5. If you are confirmed as Attorney General, as you conduct your investigation of the rioting that took place at the Capitol grounds on January 6, 2021, what specific steps do you intend to take to ensure that Americans’ First Amendment rights to criticize their government and pursue political change are not infringed?

RESPONSE: Americans have a fundamental right to engage in lawful, peaceful protest. If confirmed, I will vigorously defend this right. Acts of violence and other criminal acts are not protected under the Constitution.

As Cruz did, Hawley’s question treats the January 6 investigation as a binary, either violence or protected under the First Amendment.

This framework, in both cases, ignores that even those who didn’t enter the Capitol, along with people who entered as part of a larger violent effort, are being charged both for obstructing the vote certification (the treatment of which as terrorism offended Cruz) and for conspiracy in the larger goal of obstructing the certification.

Mind you, both of these men should be safe. They have the right to raise questions about the vote, and the effect of the insurrection was to interrupt whatever they were doing, even if it was, itself, delaying the certification. So their peaceful contributions to the events of January 6 should be fine.

Unless, of course, it can be shown that their efforts were coordinated with the larger effort, were an effort to buy time until the rioters could more effectively end the process of democracy that day.

In any case, both are very clearly working the soon-to-be ref here, hoping to limit the scope of the investigation to those who committed assault. As Hawley did the other day with his alarmed questions about normal legal process, we should expect Hawley to attempt to delegitimize any scrutiny into his far right allies from that day.

Josh Hawley Shocked and Alarmed to Discover the FBI Would Follow the Money behind Right Wing Terrorists

There wasn’t much useful oversight in the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing with FBI Director Christopher Wray today. Democrats got him to repeat, over and over, that there is no evidence that Antifa or people only pretending to be pro-Trump were behind the January 6 insurrection. But there was almost no mention of Trump as the unifying force behind the disparate groups there. Instead of talking about how the Former President’s lies riled up the insurrection, Ben Sasse focused on people in their mother’s basement and grandmother’s attic.

There was a lot of focus on how a January 5 FBI report predicting that Congress might be targeted got disseminated, but none on why the FBI didn’t know what the rest of us did much earlier than that: that these unhinged terrorists were coming to DC in large numbers. No one raised QAnon until Wray dodged Richard Blumenthal’s questions about whether members of Congress pushing QAnon conspiracies exacerbate the problem.

Lindsey Graham and John Kennedy tried to score points because someone didn’t activate the National Guard in time, all the while pretending not to understand that the single person in DC who had unquestioned authority to order the Guard to the Capitol, but did not, was the Commander in Chief at the time.

Things got really weird when Republicans expressed concern about surveillance.

Mike Lee — who actually is a champion of civil liberties — suggested the only reason why right wingers might have been interviewed by the FBI would be by geolocating those who attended the rallies, even if they didn’t enter the Capitol. Then he bizarrely asked if the legal process behind such surveillance was FISA, which targets foreign threats, or National Security Letters.

Crazier still was Josh Hawley’s follow-up to Mike Lee’s questions.

Hawley, who’s not a champion of civil liberties and normally likes to beat up social media companies, asked a series of questions that seemed utterly ignorant — shocked really — how over the course of arresting almost 300 people, the FBI would show probable cause to obtain geolocation data, metadata, financial data, and social media data.

Hawley: Can I just go back to a series of questions that Senator Lee asked you? He asked you about the geolocation and metadata aspect gathering related to, gathering of metadata, that is, related to your investigation of the January 6 riot. You said you weren’t familiar with the specifics. Can I just clarify your responses to him. So when you say you’re not familiar, are you saying you don’t know whether the Bureau has scooped up geolocation data, metadata, records from cell phone towers. Do you not know. Or are you saying that the Bureau maybe has or hasn’t done it. Just tell me what you know about this?

Wray: So when it comes to geolocation data specifically — again, not in a specific instance, but even the use of geolocation data — I would not be surprised to learn but I do not know for a fact that we were using geolocation data under any situation in connection with the investigation of January 6. But again, we do use geolocation data under specific authorities in specific instances. Because this is such a sprawling, that would not surprise me. When it comes to metadata, which is a little bit different, obviously than geolocation data, I feel confident that we are using various legal authorities to look at metadata under a variety of situations. But, again, the specifics of when, under what circumstances, with whom, that kind of thing, I’m not in a position to testify about with the sprawl and size of the investigation. And certainly not uh in a, you know, Congressional hearing.

Hawley: What authorities do you have in mind? You say that you’re using the relevant authorities, what authorities are they?

Wray: Well, we have various forms of legal process we can serve on companies that will allow us to get acc–

Hawley: And that’s been done?

Wray: We’re using a lot of legal process in connection with the investigation, so, yes.

Hawley: But, specifically, serving, serving process on companies, using, invoking your various legal powers to get that data from companies, that’s been, that’s been done, of gathering this data?

Wray: In gathering metadata? I, I,

Hawley: Yeah.

Wray: Again, I don’t know the specifics, but I feel confident that that has happened because metadata is often something that we look at. And we have a variety of legal tools that allow us to do that under certain circumstances.

Hawley: What about the cell tower data that, uh, was reportedly scooped up by the Bureau on the day, during, in fact, while the riot was underway. What’s happened to, what’s happened to that data? Do you still have it. Has it been retained? Uh, do you have plans to retain it?

Wray: Again: whatever we’re doing with cell phone data, I’m confident we’re doing it in conjunction with our appropriate legal tools–

Hawley: Well, how — here’s what I’m trying to get at, I think it’s what Senator Lee was trying to get at. How are we going to know what you are doing with it, and how are we going to evaluate the Bureau’s conduct if we don’t know what authorities you’re invoking, what precisely you’re doing, what you’re retaining. I mean, this is, you said to him repeatedly you weren’t familiar with the specifics, you’ve now said it to me. I don’t know, I’m not sure how this committee is supposed to evaluate anything that the Bureau is doing — you’re basically saying just “trust us.” I mean, how are we gonna know? Do we have to wait until the end of your investigation to find out what you’ve done?

Wray: Well, certainly I have to be careful about discussing an ongoing investigation, which I’m sure you can appreciate. Uh, but, uh, all the tools that we have done in conjunction with prosecutors and lawyers from the Justice Department. Now, if there’s information we can provide you, before an investigation’s completed that goes through what some of the authorities we have, the tools we have, etcetera we could probably provide some information like that that might be useful to you to help answer the question.

Hawley: That would be helpful. Thank you. I’ll hold you to that. Let me ask you about some other things that have been reported, um in the press, particularly there have been a series of reports that the Bureau has worked with banks in the course of the investigation into the January 6 riot, both before and after, and that some banks, particularly Bank of America, may have handed over data for 200 plus clients who may have used their credit or debit cards to make purchases in the DC area. What do you know about this? Has Bank of America voluntarily turned over information to the Bureau about its customers?

Wray: I don’t know of any of the specifics so I’d have to look into that.

Hawley: And so has the FBI requested similar information from any other companies to your knowledge?

Wray: Again, sitting here right now, I do not know the answer to that question. I do know that we work with private sector partners, including financial institutions in a variety of ways, all the time, in a variety of investigations. But exactly the specifics of what may or may not have happened here? That I don’t know sitting here as we’re talking today.

Hawley: As I’m sure you can appreciate, my concern here is that 12 USC 3403 prohibits financial institutions from turning over confidential client records, unless of course they’ve got reasonable suspicion that there’s a crime being committed. Now the news reports on this have reported that financial institutions were doing this in cooperation with the Bureau without any such indication of a crime, they’re just turning over reams of consumer data. That obviously would be a major legal problem. A major legal concern. Can you try and get me some answers to these questions? I appreciate you say you don’t know today, you’re not aware of what’s going on, but can you look into this and follow-up with me on this?

[Wray acknowledges that the FBI has many authorities]

Hawley: What about the, some of the technology companies, Facebook, Google, Twitter, Apple, Amazon. Has the the FBI had contact with those tech platforms following the events of the Sixth?

Wray: We’ve certainly had contact with a number of the social media companies in connection with the Sixth. So that much I know.

Hawley: Has the Bureau sought to compel any of those companies to turn over user data related to the Sixth?

Wray: Well, again, I can’t tell you the specifics here, but what I will tell you is that we, I feel certain that we have served legal process on those companies which we do with some frequency and we have received information from some of those companies. And whether that’s true from every single one of the companies you listed I can’t say for sure but I suspect it is, because we work with the Social Media companies quite a lot.

Hawley: Are you aware of any of the companies voluntarily turning over data to the Bureau in relationship to the events of the Sixth?

Wray: Sitting here right now, I can’t say for sure.

I knew when I read The Intercept piece making thinly sourced allegations that this would happen, that right wingers trying to protect right wing terrorists and possibly even themselves would profess shock that the FBI used very basic investigative techniques to investigate an attack on the Capitol (Hawley seems to be relying, as well, on Fox News reports, including Tucker Carlson).

But I find it shocking that the former Attorney General of Missouri, with an office full of staffers, can’t review the arrest documents for the 270 people publicly arrested so far to answer these questions. Had he done so, he would have seen that affidavit after affidavit talks about obtaining warrants, including (for non-public data) from Facebook. And the single reference to Bank of America I can think of — describing Kelly Meggs paying for rooms in VA and DC in conjunction with the attack — makes it clear that the FBI used some kind of legal process.

Records obtained from the Comfort Inn in Arlington, Virginia, show that a credit card belonging to Kelly Meggs was used to pay for a room at the hotel on the nights of January 5 and 6, 2021.21 The room, with two queen beds, was booked in the name of a different person suspected of being affiliated with the Oath Keepers.

21 Pursuant to legal process, the government obtained records from Bank of America, which show two charges to the Comfort Inn on January 5, 2021, each for $224. The records also show that on January 7, 2021, Kelly Meggs paid a charge of $302 to the Hilton Garden Inn, located at 1225 First Street NE, Washington, D.C.

A grand jury has already found that these credit card charges — the coordinated spending of people who forced their way into the Capitol wearing tactical gear after providing “security” for right wing figureheads — was evidence of a conspiracy, “to stop, delay, and hinder Congress’s certification of the Electoral College vote.”

And the Senator from Missouri who shared that goal seems awfully concerned that the FBI is using very routine legal process to investigate the larger conspiracy.

Congress versus the Constitution: Merrick Garland’s Second Reconstruction

Early morning Eastern Time on January 6, I wrote a post arguing that Merrick Garland was a better Attorney General pick than a lot of people assumed. By the end of the day, the January 6 insurrection made him look like an even better pick, based on his successful prosecution of right wing terrorist Timothy McVeigh. When he testified on Monday, Garland surpassed even those expectations, in large part because he described as his mission the same one DOJ had when originally founded 151 years ago: protecting the rights of people of color in the face of right wing terrorism.

Celebrating DOJ’s 150th year reminds us of the origins of the Department, which was founded during Reconstruction, in the aftermath of the Civil War, to secure the civil rights promised by the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments. The first Attorney General appointed by President Grant to head the new Department led it in a concerted battle to protect black voting rights from the violence of white supremacists, successfully prosecuting hundreds of cases against members of the Ku Klux Klan.

Almost a century later, the Civil Rights Act of 1957 created the Department’s Civil Rights Division, with the mission “to uphold the civil and constitutional rights of all Americans, particularly some of the most vulnerable members of our society.”

That mission remains urgent because we do not yet have equal justice. Communities of color and other minorities still face discrimination in housing, education, employment, and the criminal justice system; and bear the brunt of the harm caused by pandemic, pollution, and climate change.

150 years after the Department’s founding, battling extremist attacks on our democratic institutions also remains central to its mission. From 1995 to 1997, I supervised the prosecution of the perpetrators of the bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building, who sought to spark a revolution that would topple the federal government. If confirmed, I will supervise the prosecution of white supremacists and others who stormed the Capitol on January 6 — a heinous attack that sought to disrupt a cornerstone of our democracy: the peaceful transfer of power to a newly elected government.

This mission is all the more important — and optimistic — given the strains on Congress in the wake of January 6.

Given the delay caused by the former President’s attempted coup, impeachment, the delayed Senate organizing resolution, and a recess, this week, kicked off by Garland’s hearing, has been the first week where the 117th Congress has moved to account for the events of January 6. How Congress responds — and its effect on mid-term elections in 2022 — will have a key role in deciding whether the Republic survives Trump’s efforts to steal an election, or whether those events just harbor a decline into white supremacist authoritarianism.

How Congress responds to the events of January 6 is especially critical given disputes about the form of a 9/11 style commission to assess the event. Nancy Pelosi and Mitch McConnell disagree on key details: whether Democrats should have more representatives on the commission, and how broad the scope will be.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell slammed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s draft proposal for a commission to investigate the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, calling it “partisan by design.”

The Kentucky Republican said he agrees the siege on the Capitol warrants a “serious and thorough review,” but said he thinks Pelosi’s proposal falls short of the standard set by the commission established after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, upon which Pelosi said she would model this new panel.

“The 9/11 Commission was intentionally built to be bipartisan, 50-50 bipartisan split of the commissioners was a key feature,” McConnell said Wednesday on the Senate floor. “It both helped the effectiveness of the investigation itself, and help give the whole country confidence in its work, and its recommendations.”

It’s unclear whether the two sides can come up with a plan for a 9/11 type commission, both because there’s virtually no comity between the two parties and because Republicans have prioritized protecting Trump, their party, and the members of Congress who played a role (with another member implicated yesterday by her spouse’s Three Percenter truck decal). I suspect such a commission may have to wait until other events change the GOP’s current commitment to Donald Trump.

One thing that might change the GOP’s current capture by Trump is the DOJ investigation.

While there are some DOJ decisions that raise questions for me and while it is not yet clear how the courts will finally decide to treat January 6, Merrick Garland’s confirmation will presumably only raise confidence in DOJ’s actions. Virtually all members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, for example, praised his role in the prosecution of Timothy McVeigh during his confirmation hearing (see my live tweet here). Unless DOJ really bolloxes key cases — or unless they shy away from witnesses like James Sullivan, Ali Alexander, and Enrique Tarrio, who can tie the insurrection directly to Trump’s close associates — I expect the investigation and eventually prosecution of those responsible will make the GOP’s continued support of Trump far more toxic (as a few of the GOPers who’ve been censured for their vote to convict Trump have suggested will happen).

The prosecution of January 6 will be the easy part.

The real question, I think, is how Garland weathers GOP attempts to demand prosecutions that Billy Barr primed them to expect.

For example, numerous members (especially Lindsey Graham and Chuck Grassley, whose shared staffer Barbara Ledeen and her spouse were implicated in the Russian investigation) demanded that Garland promise to keep John Durham on, citing Barr’s promise to keep Mueller on during his confirmation hearing, at a point when Barr had already made public statements about the investigation while admitted he knew fuckall about the actual facts.

Garland repeated, over and over, that he can’t make such a commitment until he speaks with Durham. No one knows what Durham continues to pursue that has made his investigation last as long as the Mueller investigation. What is known is that Durham hasn’t interviewed key witnesses and his public filings exhibit fundamental misconceptions about the Russian investigation and precisely the kind of bias he purports to be investigating. Garland repeatedly answered that he didn’t know of any reason to remove Durham early. But he also noted that precisely what Graham and others are demanding about Page — some kind of investigation — happened with the Horowitz report. Notably, Garland knew a detail Republicans refuse to acknowledge: that Horowitz’s ongoing investigation into FISA reveals that the problems in the Carter Page Woods file were no different than other FISA applications, and the more general problems may be a pattern as well.

Given Garland’s emphasis on civil rights, I was at least as interested in Republican attempts to undermine such an effort. Most pathetically, John Kennedy engaged in a colloquy about whether systematic racism exists, whether he, himself, can be racist if he doesn’t think he is, “who wins,” as if equality is a zero sum game. Tom Cotton tried to play games about the difference between racial equality and racial equity.

Finally, there will be GOP pressure to either both-sides political violence, equating actions they claim without evidence were perpetuated by Antifa with January 6, or to limit the extent of the prosecution. With regards to the latter, Garland argued that this investigation will proceed like all investigations, working their way up if the evidence dictates it. That is a position utterly consistent with support for prosecuting Trump’s associates, or maybe even Trump.

With regards to efforts to both-sides political violence — which was Trump’s defense to impeachment and has already played a key role in Republican efforts to dodge accountability for their role in January 6 — Garland gave the kind of judicious answer to Josh Hawley that every Democrat should be prepared to offer. The violence in Portland was criminal (and to the extent it was, it was prosecuted). But it was not an attempt to interrupt the processes of government, such as by interrupting trials.

The Republicans have for years successfully pressured DOJ to try to criminalize their political opponents. As DOJ continues its massive investigation into the insurrection, these efforts will grow more urgent.

Merrick Garland will be confirmed without cowing to Republican efforts to equate their own assault on the Constitution with Democratic politics. But such efforts will intensify after he assumes office, particularly if Durham fails to find the crimes that really don’t exist and as DOJ gets closer to Trump or members of Congress. DOJ has about 18 months to right itself after Bill Barr’s damage, and we shall see how long Garland continues to retain the goodwill of Republicans.

Trump’s Role in a Seditious Conspiracy Won’t Go Away with an Impeachment Vote

There’s a conventional wisdom about the Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial, scheduled to start in ten days. WaPo predicts that impeachment will leave no more than a “bitter aftertaste.”

The Senate is hurtling toward an impeachment trial that will accomplish almost nothing by design and likely leave everyone with a bitter aftertaste.

Democratic voters will be furious that GOP senators refused to hold former president Donald Trump accountable for his role in encouraging supporters to march to the Capitol on Jan. 6. Republicans will be upset that congressional Democrats went through with an impeachment trial three weeks after Trump left the White House.

And independent voters, more focused on the health and economic crises fueled by the coronavirus pandemic, will wonder why Congress prioritized an impeachment process at all.

Perhaps most telling, WaPo describes Trump’s role as “encouraging” his supporters to march to the Capitol.

It’s true the word, “encouraged” appears in the article of impeachment against Trump.

He also willfully made statements that, in context, encouraged—and foreseeably resulted in—lawless action at the Capitol, such as: ‘‘if you don’t fight like hell you’re not going to have a country anymore’’. Thus incited by President Trump, members of the crowd he had addressed, in an attempt to, among other objectives, interfere with the Joint Session’s solemn constitutional duty to certify the results of the 2020 Presidential election, unlawfully breached and vandalized the Capitol, injured and killed law enforcement personnel, menaced Members of Congress, the Vice President, and Congressional personnel, and engaged in other violent, deadly, destructive, and seditious acts. [my emphasis]

But that description skips the “foreseeably result[ing]” in the interruption of the certification of the vote, the threats to Members of Congress, the deadly sedition that are also included in the article of impeachment.

Moreover, it ignores the other part of the article of impeachment, Trump’s other efforts to subvert democracy (the article describes his January 2 call to Brad Raffensberger explicitly), to say nothing of the description of Trump as a threat to national security.

President Trump’s conduct on January 6, 2021, followed his prior efforts to subvert and obstruct the certification of the results of the 2020 Presidential election.

[snip]

Wherefore, Donald John Trump, by such conduct, has demonstrated that he will remain a threat to national security, democracy, and the Constitution if allowed to remain in office, and has acted in a manner grossly incompatible with self-governance and the rule of law.

That’s a notable oversight, particularly given the — inexplicable — claim from ascendant Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Dick Durbin that we may never learn the full extent of Trump’s role in the coup attempt.

Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), the incoming chairman, said he would leave procedural questions up to the House managers.“I’m waiting to hear what their proposal is, but for us to suggest a trial strategy for the House managers, I don’t think that’s our job,” Durbin said.

So, instead, the Senate will rush through a trial in which the only evidence likely to be presented will be the stuff that senators themselves already lived, video clips of rioters breaking into the Capitol as senators fled through underground tunnels to their secure location.

Senators will likely not even attempt to answer the fundamental questions of every impeachment trial — what did the president know and when did he know it?

“It will be surprising to me if we ever know the answers to that,” Durbin said.

It may be true that impeachment managers will restrict themselves to the public record, though even that might include testimony from Raffensperger and evidence collected as part of the prosecution of insurrectionists. Q-Shaman Jacob Chansley even says he’d be willing to testify.

Lawyer Albert Watkins said he hasn’t spoken to any member in the Senate since announcing his offer to have Jacob Chansley testify at Trump’s trial, which is scheduled to begin the week of Feb. 8. Watkins said it’s important for senators to hear the voice of someone who was incited by Trump.

Watkins said his client was previously “horrendously smitten” by Trump but now feels let down after Trump’s refusal to grant Chansley and others who participated in the insurrection a pardon. “He felt like he was betrayed by the president,” Watkins said.

The words of Trump supporters who are accused of participating in the riot may end up being used against him in the impeachment trial. Chansley and at least four others people who are facing federal charges stemming from the riot have suggested they were taking orders from Trump.

If insurrectionists were to testify in person, the attendant security of orange jumpsuits and leg manacles might provide some sobering visuals (though COVID and real security concerns almost certainly rules that out).

But it seems foolish for any Senator to assume that the vote they’ll cast in a few weeks will make this thing go away forever.

That’s not even true for their Ukraine impeachment votes. Yesterday, Ukraine announced (much to Lev Parnas’ glee that Rudy Giuliani finally got Ukraine to announce an investigation) that it is launching a criminal probe into those — inside and outside Ukraine — who attempted to interfere in the 2020 election.

Andriy Yermak, the head of the office of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, said on January 28 that Ukraine would do everything in its power to bring to justice forces within the country and outside it who attempted to damage relations between Ukraine and the United States.

“The State Bureau of Investigation has opened a criminal case,” Yermak was quoted as saying in an interview to the Ukrainian news outlet NV that was posted on the presidential website.

“The investigation is under way, and we are waiting for its results. The investigation must answer a lot of questions,” Yermak added.

Without anyone in the United States lifting a finger, then, Ukraine may provide damning new evidence about Trump’s attempt to coerce assistance on his “perfect phone call” with Volodymyr Zelensky that will make GOP negligence during the last impeachment more damning.

And in the case of the January 6 insurrection, DOJ has already mapped out a conspiracy charge that Trump could easily be charged under as well.

PURPOSE OF THE CONSPIRACY

18. The purpose of the conspiracy was to stop, delay, and hinder Congress’s certification of the Electoral College vote.

MANNER AND MEANS

19. CALDWELL, CROWL, and WATKINS, with others known and unknown, carried out the conspiracy through the following manner and means, among others, by:

a. Agreeing to participate in and taking steps to plan an operation to interfere with the official Congressional proceeding on January 6, 2021 (the “January 6 operation”);

b. Using social media, text messaging, and messaging applications to send incendiary messages aimed at recruiting as large a following as possible to go to Washington, D.C., to support the January 6 operation;

Meanwhile, Acting DC US Attorney Michael Sherwin has repeatedly refused to rule out incitement charges. Indeed, I’ve argued that DOJ almost certainly will need to incorporate at least Mike Flynn, if not Trump himself, in their description of the crimes of January 6, if only to distinguish the events of that day from other protected First Amendment activity — and at least some prosecutors in DC closer to the overall investigation seem to be doing that.

There’s no guarantee that Merrick Garland’s DOJ will have the courage to pursue Trump’s role in this (though thus far, Bill Barr appointee Michael Sherwin has not shied from such an investigation, and if he oversaw such a decision it would mitigate the political blowback). There’s no sign, yet, that DOJ has identified how the coup attempt tied into Rudy’s attempts to delay the certification.

But no Senator serving as juror in this impeachment should assume the investigation won’t, inevitably, disclose the machinations that tied Trump’s efforts to stay in office to the death and destruction on January 6. Indeed, there’s no guarantee that the actions of key jurors — like Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz for inciting the mob, Tommy Tuberville for his direct coordination with Rudy, and Lindsey Graham for his own efforts to throw out votes in Georgia and his meeting with accused insurrectionist Joe Biggs — won’t ultimately be incorporated into the larger conspiracy.

And so while it may be easy for lazy political journalism to spout conventional wisdom about everyone wanting to move on, this time around it is as likely as not that the votes cast next month will age poorly as the investigation into how Trump’s action ties to the death and destruction continues.

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.