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Chain of Command: The AWOL Descriptions of the Commander in Chief’s Role in the National Guard Non-Response on January 6

The only formal explanation Trump has offered to describe his role in deploying the National Guard in response to the attack on the Capitol on January 6 came in his impeachment defense. As part of that defense, Bruce Castor pointed to things he claimed happened before Trump’s speech ended. In Castor’s inaccurate portrayal of the timeline, he suggested that the first action Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller took was when, at 1:05 (which Castor said was 11:05), Miller “received open source reports of demonstrator movements to the U.S. Capitol.” He continued to claim that,

At 1:09 PM, US Capitol Police Chief’s Steven Sund called the House and Senate Sergeants at Arms, telling them he wanted an emergency declared and he wanted the National Guard called. The point: given the timeline of events, the criminals at the Capitol were not there to even hear the President’s words. They were more than a mile away engaged in a preplanned assault on this very building.

Admittedly, this was probably no more than an incompetent parroting of the existing timeline released by DOD. It’s possible that Trump’s lawyers didn’t ask him what happened inside the White House that day, because if they did, it would not help their case.

Still: Trump’s own defense claimed that the first that Acting Secretary Miller did in the matter was at 1[1]:05 on January 6.

That’s mighty interesting because there have been two claims that Trump proactively offered up National Guard troops for January 6 in the days beforehand. The first came in a Vanity Fair piece written by a journalist that Trump’s DOD flunkies permitted to embed with them (he requested to do so before the insurrection, but didn’t start his embed until January 12, meaning the claims reported in this article were retrospective). That piece claimed that, the night before the attack, Trump told DOD they would need 10,000 people.

The president, Miller recalled, asked how many troops the Pentagon planned to turn out the following day. “We’re like, ‘We’re going to provide any National Guard support that the District requests,’” Miller responded. “And [Trump] goes, ‘You’re going to need 10,000 people.’ No, I’m not talking bullshit. He said that. And we’re like, ‘Maybe. But you know, someone’s going to have to ask for it.’” At that point Miller remembered the president telling him, “‘You do what you need to do. You do what you need to do.’ He said, ‘You’re going to need 10,000.’ That’s what he said. Swear to God.”

[snip]

“We had talked to [the president] in person the day before, on the phone the day before, and two days before that. We were given clear instructions. We had all our authorizations. We didn’t need to talk to the president. I was talking to [Trump’s chief of staff, Mark] Meadows, nonstop that day.”

[snip]

What did Miller think of the criticism that the Pentagon had dragged its feet in sending in the cavalry? He bristled. “Oh, that is complete horseshit. I gotta tell you, I cannot wait to go to the Hill and have those conversations with senators and representatives.”

[snip]

Miller and Patel both insisted, in separate conversations, that they neither tried nor needed to contact the president on January 6; they had already gotten approval to deploy forces. However, another senior defense official remembered things quite differently, “They couldn’t get through. They tried to call him”—meaning the president.

So according to Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller, Trump had given him “clear instructions” to “do what you need to do,” and had warned him to have thousands of Guardsmen available. Miller said he was speaking non-stop to Mark Meadows, though an anonymous source stated that they tried but failed to get the President on the line.

Long after impeachment and even after his CPAC speech, Trump went to Fox to make the same claim that appeared in Vanity Fair.

Former President Trump told Fox News late Sunday that he expressed concern over the crowd size near the Capitol days before last month’s deadly riots and personally requested 10,000 National Guard troops be deployed in response.

Trump told “The Next Revolution With Steve Hilton” that his team alerted the Department of Defense days before the rally that crowds might be larger than anticipated and 10,000 national guardsmen should be ready to deploy. He said that — from what he understands — the warning was passed along to leaders at the Capitol, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — and he heard that the request was rejected because these leaders did not like the optics of 10,000 troops at the Capitol.

“So, you know, that was a big mistake,” he said.

Fox and other Trump mouthpieces have suggested that Nancy Pelosi rejected the Guard. That’s false. According to then Capitol Police Chief Steve Sund, House Sergeant at Arms Paul Irving did.

On Monday, January 4, I approached the two Sergeants at Arms to request the assistance of the National Guard, as I had no authority to do so without an Emergency Declaration by the Capitol Police Board (CPB). My regular interactions with the CPB, outside of our monthly meetings regarding law enforcement matters, were conducted with the House and Senate Sergeant at Arms, the two members of the CPB who have law enforcement experience. I first spoke with the House Sergeant at Arms to request the National Guard. Mr. Irving stated that he was concerned about the “optics” of having National Guard present and didn’t feel that the intelligence supported it. He referred me to the Senate Sergeant at Arms (who is currently the Chair of the CPB) to get his thoughts on the request. I then spoke to Mr. Stenger and again requested the National Guard. Instead of approving the use of the National Guard, however, Mr. Stenger suggested I ask them how quickly we could get support if needed and to “lean forward” in case we had to request assistance on January 6.

Notably, Sund’s request and Irving’s response occurred before the conversation between Miller and Trump purportedly took place the night before the attack (which was far too late to deploy 10,000 people in any case). Moreover, Pelosi, Zoe Lofgren, and Mark Warner, among others, raised concerns about staffing for the day, so it’s not like Democrats weren’t raising the alarm.

Still, over a month after making no such claim as part of his Impeachment defense, Trump and his flunkies want to claim that Trump was proactive about deploying 10,000 people to defend the Capitol against his most ardent supporters.

That’s interesting background to the testimony offered by Robert Salesses, the “Senior Official Performing the Duties of the Assistant Secretary for Homeland Defense and Global Security,” in a joint Rules/Homeland Committee hearing on January 6 yesterday. As several people noted during the hearing, for some reason DOD sent Salesses, who wasn’t involved in the key events on January 6, rather than people like General Walter Piatt or General [Mike’s brother] Charles Flynn — who were on a call with MPD Chief Robert Contee and Sund on January 6 and who have made disputed claims about what occurred, including that Piatt recommended against sending the Guard because of optics. Effectively, Salesses was repeating what others told him, offering no better (indeed, more dated) information than Vanity Fair was able to offer. Salesses apparently called General Piatt the day before and dutifully repeated Piatt’s claim that he did not use the word, “optics,” which DC National Guard Commander General William Walker had just testified did occur.

General Piatt told me yesterday, Senator, that he did not use the word, “optics.”

Salesses then gave more excuses, explaining,

Senator, in fairness to the committee, General Piatt is not a decision-maker. The only decision-makers on the Sixth of January were the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy. It was a chain of command from the Secretary of Defense to Secretary McCarthy to General Walker. That was the chain of command.

General Walker, the Commander of the DC National Guard, responded by reiterating the response he had gotten from Piatt (and the brother of the guy who had incited many of the insurrectionists) implicitly correcting Salesses about chain of command. The Commander in Chief, of course, is in that chain of command.

Yes, Senator. So the chain of command is the President, the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of the Army, [points to self] William Walker Commanding General District of Columbia National Guard.

After General Walker described more of the restrictions placed on him ahead of time, including the preapproval before moving a traffic control point from one block to another (which restriction, Walker said, he had never experienced in 19 years) and the issuance of riot gear, Salesses made more excuses (repeating his silence about the role of the President’s role in the chain of command). Remarkably, he described how Ryan McCarthy dithered from 3:04 until 4:10 because shots had been fired at the Capitol.

Salesses: Sir, Secretary Miller wanted to make the decisions on how the National Guard was going to be employed on that day. As you recall, Senator, the spring events, there was a number of things that happened during those events, that Secretary Miller as the Acting Secretary –

Rob Portman: Clearly he wanted to. The question is why? And how unusual. Don’t you think that’s unusual based on your experience at DOD?

Salesses: Senator, there was a lot of things that happened in the spring that the Department was criticized for — Sir, if I could. Civil Disturbance Operations? That authority rests with the Secretary of Defense. So if somebody’s gonna make a decision about employing military members against US citizens in a Civil Disturbance Operation —

Salesses: At 3:04, Secretary Miller made the decision to mobilize the entire National Guard. That meant that he was calling in all the National Guard members that were assigned to the DC National Guard. At 3:40–at 3:04 that decision was made. Between that period of time — between 3:04 and 4:10, basically, Secretary McCarthy had asked for — he wanted to understand, because of the dynamics on the Capitol lawn, with the explosives, obviously shots had been fired, he wanted to understand the employment of how the National Guard was going to be sent to the Capitol: what their missions were going to be, were they going to be clearing buildings, be doing perimeter security, how would they be equipped, he wanted to understand how they were going to be armed because, obviously, shots had been fired. He was asking a lot of questions to understand exactly how they were going to be employed here at the Capitol, and how many National Guard members needed to be deployed to the Capitol.

When asked whether restrictions placed on Walker hampered his defense, yes or no, Salesses again invoked the chain of command, again leaving out the Command-in-Chief.

Senator, General Walker, in fairness to him, can’t respond to a civil defense — a Civil Disturbance Operation without the authority of the Secretary of Defense.

Finally, Salesses explained a further 36-minute delay, from 4:32 until 5:08, when Walker was given approval to move, this way:

Salesses: In fairness to General Walker too, that’s when the Secretary of Defense made the decision, at 4:32. As General Walker has pointed out, cause I’ve seen all the timelines, he was not told that til 5:08.

Roy Blunt: How is that possible, Mr. Salazar [sic], do you think that the decision, in the moment we were in, was made at 4:32 and the person that had to be told wasn’t told for more than a half an hour after the decision.

Salesses: Senator, I think that’s an issue.

It’s not just that the people who were actually involved didn’t show up to explain all this to Congress. It’s not just that there were big gaps in the timeline, or gaps explained by dithering even after DOD learned about explosives and shots fired.

It’s that the guy sent to provide improbable answers seems to have removed the Commander-in-Chief, who was watching all this unfold on TV and now wants credit for proactively telling DOD they would need at least 10,000 people, from the chain of command he used to justify the delay.

That’s all the more striking given that — as Dana Milbank noted — the delay until Miller’s authorization (to say nothing of the 36-minute delay in informing Walker) also meant that DOD did not respond until after Trump had instructed his insurrection to go home.

Curiously, the Pentagon claims Miller’s authorization came at 4:32 — 15 minutes after Trump told his “very special” insurrectionists to “go home in peace.” Was Miller waiting for Trump’s blessing before defending the Capitol?

DOD’s selected witness yesterday said that General Walker couldn’t send the Guard to help protect the Capitol because of the chain of command. But the Commander-in-Chief seems to be AWOL from that chain of command.

Update: On Twitter AP observed that there is a discrepancy between Miller’s 10,000 person claim and Trump’s: Trump says it happened days before January 6, which would place it before Miller’s letter imposing new restrictions on the Guard.

Four Data Points on the January 6 Insurrection

The NYT and WaPo both have stories beginning to explain the failures to protect the Capitol (ProPublica had a really good one days ago). The core issue, thus far, concerns DOD’s delays before sending in the National Guard — something that they happened to incorporate into a timeline not long after the attack, before the Capitol Police or City of DC had put their own together (the timeline has some gaps).

I can think of two charitable explanations for the lapses. First, in the wake of criticism over the deployment of military resources and tear gas against peaceful protestors to protect Donald Trump in June, those who had been criticized were reluctant to repeat such a display of force to protect Congress (and Mike Pence). In addition, in both DOJ and FBI under the Trump Administration, job security and career advancement depended on reinforcing the President’s false claims that his political supporters had been unfairly spied on, which undoubtedly created a predictable reluctance to treat those political supporters as the urgent national security threat they are and have always been.

Those are just the most charitable explanations I can think of, though. Both are barely distinguishable from a deliberate attempt to punish the President’s opponents — including Muriel Bowser and Nancy Pelosi — for their past criticism of Trump’s militarization of the police and an overt politicization of law enforcement. Or, even worse, a plan to exploit these past events to create the opportunity for a coup to succeed.

We won’t know which of these possible explanations it is (likely, there are a range of explanations), and won’t know for many months.

That said, I want to look at a few data points that may provide useful background.

Trump plans to pardon those in the bunker

First, as I noted here, according to Bloomberg, Trump has talked about pardoning the four men who’ve been in the bunker with Trump plotting recent events, along with Rudy Giuliani, who is also likely to be pardoned.

Preemptive pardons are under discussion for top White House officials who have not been charged with crimes, including Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, senior adviser Stephen Miller, personnel chief John McEntee, and social media director Dan Scavino.

I like to think I’ve got a pretty good sense of potential legal exposure Trump’s flunkies have, yet I know of nothing (aside, perhaps, from McEntee’s gambling problems) that these men have clear criminal liability in. And yet Trump seems to believe these men — including the guy with close ties to far right Congressmen, the white nationalist, the guy who remade several agencies to ensure that only loyalists remained in key positions, and the guy who tweets out Trump’s barely-coded dogwhistles — need a pardon.

That may suggest that they engaged in sufficient affirmative plotting even before Wednesday’s events.

Mind you, if these men had a role in coordinating all this, a pardon might backfire, as it would free them up to testify about any role Trump had in planning what happened on Wednesday.

Trump rewards Devin Nunes for helping him to avoid accountability

Several key questions going forward will focus on whether incompetence or worse led top officials at DOD to limit the mandate for the National Guard on January 6 and, as both DC and the Capitol Police desperately called for reinforcements, stalled before sending them.

A key player in that question is Kash Patel, who served as a gatekeeper at HPSCI to ensure that Republicans got a distorted view of the Russian intelligence implicating Trump, then moved to the White House to ensure that Trump got his Ukraine intelligence via Patel rather than people who knew anything about the topic, and then got moved to DOD to oversee a takeover of the Pentagon by people fiercely loyal to Trump.

And a key player in coordinating Kash’s activities was his original boss, Devin Nunes. On Monday, Trump gave Nunes the Medal of Freedom, basically the equivalent of a pardon to someone who likely believes his actions have all been protected by speech and debate. The entire citation for the award is an expression of the steps by which Trump, with Nunes’ help, undermined legitimate investigations into himself. In particular, Trump cited how Nunes’ efforts had hollowed out the FBI of people who might investigate anyone loyal to Trump.

Devin Nunes’ courageous actions helped thwart a plot to take down a sitting United States president. Devin’s efforts led to the firing, demotion, or resignation of over a dozen FBI and DOJ employees. He also forced the disclosure of documents that proved that a corrupt senior FBI official pursued a vindictive persecution of General Michael Flynn — even after rank and file FBI agents found no evidence of wrongdoing.

Congressman Nunes pursued the Russia Hoax at great personal risk and never stopped standing up for the truth. He had the fortitude to take on the media, the FBI, the Intelligence Community, the Democrat Party, foreign spies, and the full power of the Deep State. Devin paid a price for his courage. The media smeared him and liberal activists opened a frivolous and unjustified ethics investigation, dragging his name through the mud for eight long months. Two dozen members of his family received threatening phone calls – including his 98 year old grandmother.

Whatever else this debasement of the nation’s highest award for civilians might have done, it signaled to Nunes’ team — including but not limited to Patel — Trump’s appreciation for their work, and rewarded the guy he credits with politicizing the FBI.

That politicization is, as I noted above, one of the more charitable explanations for the FBI’s lack of preparation on Wednesday.

Interestingly, Nunes is not one of the members of Congress who challenged Biden’s votes after law enforcement restored order.

Corrected: Nunes did object to both AZ and PA.

Trump takes steps to designate Antifa as a Foreign Terrorist Organization

The day before the insurrection, Trump signed an Executive Order excluding immigrants if they have any tie to Antifa. Effectively, it put Antifa on the same kind of exclusionary footing as Communists or ISIS terrorists. Had Trump signed the EO before he was on his way out the door, it would have initiated a process likely to end with Antifa listed as a Foreign Terrorist Organization, giving the Intelligence Community additional intelligence tools to track members of the organization, even in the United States (the kind of tools, not coincidentally, that some experts say the FBI needs against white supremacist terrorists).

The EO will have next to no effect. Joe Biden will rescind it among the other trash he needs to clean up in the early days of his Administration.

But I find it curious that Trump effectively named a domestic movement a terrorist organization just days before multiple Trump associates attempted to blame Antifa for the riot at the Capitol.

That effort actually started before the order was signed. Back in December, Enrique Tarrio suggested that the Proud Boys (a group Trump had called to “Stand by” in September) might wear all black — a costume for Antifa — as they protested.

“The ProudBoys will turn out in record numbers on Jan 6th but this time with a twist…,” Henry “Enrique” Tarrio, the group’s president, wrote in a late-December post on Parler, a social media platform that has become popular with right-wing activists and conservatives. “We will not be wearing our traditional Black and Yellow. We will be incognito and we will spread across downtown DC in smaller teams. And who knows….we might dress in all BLACK for the occasion.”

The day after the riot, Matt Gaetz relied on a since-deleted Washington Times post to claim that the riot was a false flag launched by Antifa.

In a speech during the process of certifying President-elect Joe Biden, Gaetz claimed there was “some pretty compelling evidence from a facial recognition company” that some Capitol rioters were actually “members of the violent terrorist group antifa.” (Antifa is not a single defined group, does not have an official membership, and has not been designated a terrorist organization, although President Donald Trump has described it as one.)

Gaetz attributed this claim to a short Washington Times article published yesterday. That article, in turn, cited a “retired military officer.” The officer asserted that a company called XRVision “used its software to do facial recognition of protesters and matched two Philadelphia antifa members to two men inside the Senate.” The Times said it had been given a copy of the photo match, but it didn’t publish the picture.

There is no evidence to support the Times’ article, however. An XRVision spokesperson linked The Verge to a blog post by CTO Yaacov Apelbaum, denying its claims and calling the story “outright false, misleading, and defamatory.” (Speech delivered during congressional debate, such as Gaetz’s, is protected from defamation claims.) The Times article was apparently deleted a few hours after Apelbaum’s post.

Rudy Giuliani also attempted to blame Antifa.

And Captain Emily Rainey, who resigned today as DOD investigates the PsyOp officer for her role in the insurgency, also blamed Antifa for the violence.

Her group — as well as most at Wednesday’s rally — were “peace-loving, law-abiding people who were doing nothing but demonstrating our First Amendment rights,” she said.

She even shared a video on Facebook insisting that the rioters were all Antifa, saying, “I don’t know any violent Patriots. I don’t know any Patriots who would smash the windows of a National jewel like the [Capitol].”

It is entirely predictable that Trump loyalists would blame Antifa for anything bad they do — Bill Barr did so as the formal policy of DOJ going back at least a year. But Trump seems to have prepared the ground for such predictable scapegoating by taking steps to declare Antifa a terrorist “organization” hours before a riot led by his supporters would storm the Capitol.

The White House makes DHS Secretary Chad Wolf’s appointment especially illegal

I’m most intrigued by a flip-flop that had the effect of making DHS Acting Secretary’s appointment even more illegal than it has already been at times in the last two years.

On January 3, the White House submitted Chad Wolf’s nomination, along with those of 29 other people, to be DHS Secretary. Then, on January 6, it withdrew the nomination.

Wolf himself was out of the country in Bahrain when the riot happened. But he did tweet out — before DOD mobilized the Guard — that DHS officials were supporting the counter-insurgency. And he issued both a tweet and then — the next day — a more formal statement condemning the violence.

It’s not entirely clear what happened between his renomination and the withdrawal, but Steve Vladeck (who tracks this stuff more closely than anyone), had a lot to say about the juggling, not least that the withdrawal of his resubmitted nomination made it very clear that Wolf is not now legally serving.

This could have had — and could have, going forward — a chilling effect on any orders Wolf issues to deploy law enforcement.

Thus far, we haven’t seen much about what DHS did and did not do in advance of the riot — though its maligned intelligence unit did not issue a bulletin warning of the danger.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation and an intelligence unit inside the Department of Homeland Security didn’t issue a threat assessment of the Jan. 6 pro-Trump protests that devolved into violence inside the Capitol, people briefed on the matter said.

In the weeks leading up to the protests, extremists posted about their plans to “storm” the Capitol on social media.

The joint department bulletin is a routine report before notable events that the agencies usually send to federal, state and local law-enforcement and homeland security advisers. The reports help plan for events that could pose significant risks.

At the DHS unit, called Intelligence and Analysis, management didn’t view the demonstrations as posing a significant threat, some of the people said.

Last year, Ken Cuccinelli forced whistleblower Brian Murphy to change language in a threat analysis to downplay white supremacist violence and instead blame Antifa and related groups.

In May 2020, Mr. Glawe retired, and Mr. Murphy assumed the role of Acting Under Secretary. In May 2020 and June 2020, Mr. Murphy had several meetings with Mr. Cuccinelli regarding the status of the HTA. Mr. Cuccinelli stated that Mr. Murphy needed to specifically modify the section on White Supremacy in a manner that made the threat appear less severe, as well as include information on the prominence of violent “left-wing” groups. Mr. Murphy declined to make the requested modifications, and informed Mr. Cuccinelli that it would constitute censorship of analysis and the improper administration of an intelligence program.

Wolf had been complicit in that past politicization. But something happened this week to lead the Trump White House to ensure that his orders can be legally challenged.

Update: Jake Gibson just reported that Wolf is stepping down.

These are just data points. We’ll learn far more about Trump’s involvement as the FBI obtains warrants for the communications who have ties to both groups like the Proud Boys and Trump associates like Roger Stone and Steve Bannon. But these are a few data points worth keeping an eye on.

Bunker: Trump’s Exposure in the Insurrection Makes PardonPalooza More Complicated

There have been numerous accounts of Trump’s desperate days since he incited a coup attempt. Most, including this CNN version, describe how — on the advice of (among others) White House Counsel Pat Cipollone — Trump recorded and released a very heavily edited video from a script written for him in an attempt to stave off removal proceedings.

His daughter Ivanka Trump, White House counsel Pat Cipollone, chief of staff Mark Meadows and others told Trump there was a real chance he would be removed from office — whether by his own Cabinet or lawmakers — if he did not more forcefully denounce the actions of his supporters who attacked the US Capitol the day before.

Trump did not initially want to issue a video decrying the loyalists whose actions he largely supported — and whom he said he “loved” a day earlier — but he told aides to prepare a speech and then he would decide.

Once he read over the brief script they had prepared, Trump agreed to record it Thursday evening — a relief to the senior staff, though concerns lingered he could backtrack during his final days in office given his actual position has remained unchanged: that he lost the election unfairly.

This WaPo version describes him holing up with really unsavory characters, including white supremacist Stephen Miller and John McEntee, who previously had been forcibly removed from his position at the White House because of gambling problems.

Trump spent Wednesday afternoon and evening cocooned at the White House and listening only to a small coterie of loyal aides — including Meadows, Deputy Chief of Staff Dan Scavino, personnel director Johnny McEntee and policy adviser Stephen Miller. McEnany also spent time with the president. Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, was described as disengaged.

CNN also reports that’s he’s still planning on pardonpalooza covering at least his kids

And a raft of pardons, including potentially for himself and his family, are expected in the coming days.

According to this Bloomberg piece, he’s considering pardoning his bunker mates, Meadows, Miller, and McEntee, along with Kimberly Guilfoyle, none of whom had any obvious legal exposure before the last several weeks.

The biggest question facing his legal team may be whether the president has the authority to pardon himself, as he has discussed in recent weeks with top aides, according to the people familiar with his conversations. Trump has previously claimed the power, though it’s a matter of legal dispute and has never before been attempted by a president.

A self-pardon could also prove a major political liability and hamstring another presidential bid, with opponents sure to suggest the self-pardon amounted to an admission that he thought he might be prosecuted for breaking the law.

Preemptive pardons are under discussion for top White House officials who have not been charged with crimes, including Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, senior adviser Stephen Miller, personnel chief John McEntee, and social media director Dan Scavino.

The president’s eldest daughter, Ivanka Trump, her husband, Jared Kushner, who both hold White House positions, are also under consideration, the people said. Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani has also discussed the issue of a pardon with the president.

Preemptive pardons are also under consideration for other members of the president’s family, as well as friends and allies. For instance, Trump has floated a preemptive pardon for Kimberly Guilfoyle, the former Fox News host who is dating his eldest son, Donald Trump Jr.

The president wants the preemptive pardons to shield recipients from prosecutions for any federal crimes committed before the pardons were issued.

It notes that White House Counsel Pat Cipollone is “vetting” the pardons, with some concern that they create more exposure for obstruction of justice.

Trump’s list is currently being vetted by lawyers who are concerned that pardons could create new allegations of obstruction of justice for members of the administration. The process is being managed in part by White House Counsel Pat Cipollone.

Except, CNN also reports that Pat Cipollone is considering resigning.

Trump’s role in (at a minimum) inciting an insurrection the other day may make his effort to pardon himself and his associates out of legal trouble more difficult.

Start with a self-pardon. Before the insurrection, Cipollone might have advised Trump he might as well try it. He literally has nothing to lose, since he’s unlikely to trust Pence with a pardon at this point, so even if the self-pardon doesn’t work, he would be no worse off. Except, as a number of people have suggested, a self-pardon makes it far more likely DOJ will test the concept and prosecute him (though I think he’s done enough to be charged anyway). And because Trump’s exposure now includes insurrection, the conservative majority on SCOTUS might find the self-pardon particularly offensive. In addition, because Clarence Thomas’ wife Ginni was cheering on the terrorists, DOJ might — fairly — ask Thomas to recuse.

Then there’s Rudy. He was always going to be pardoned, because he knows where the bodies are buried and Trump believes (mistakenly) that Rudy has served his interests loyally. Except, to a far greater extent than before November, a Rudy pardon frees him to testify about crimes that Trump committed for which Rudy does not have attorney-client privilege, such as coordinating with coup plotters. This is exacerbated by the byzantine legal structure behind the fraudulent Trump lawsuits, where there was never any clarity about who was representing Trump and who was not. Once upon a time, Trump might have been able to pardon Rudy without increasing his own legal exposure. That’s probably not true anymore.

Then there’s Cipollone himself, a formidable lawyer who wants to get the fuck out of dodge. Cipollone, briefly, got Trump to see reason in making that video. Then as soon as Trump got his Twitter account he sent more messages riling up his terrorists. That suggests Cipollone recognized that Trump had real exposure in the insurgency, and took measures to limit them. Then Trump ignored his advice. All while asking Cipollone to help him pardon his co-conspirators.

While Cipollone has limited Executive Privilege with Trump (one breached in case of crime), under Clinton precedent he doesn’t have attorney-client privilege with Trump. That makes it likely that no matter what happens, he’ll be sitting for lengthy sessions with prosecutors in months ahead, just as Don McGahn also did.

When this whole Transition process started, Trump had Cipollone and Bill Barr — the latter the best cover-up artist in recent US history — around to help him out of his legal troubles. Now, his post-election antics have drove both of them away.

Once upon a time, Trump might well have been able to pardon himself out of a good deal of the criminal exposure he already faced. That’s far less likely now.

Update: Just in the last hour, Ginni Thomas made her Facebook account unavailable.

Graphic: Quino Al via Unsplash (mod by Rayne)

‘I Just Want to Find 11,780 Votes’

We’re waiting for the state of Georgia to finish counting ballots for the Ossoff vs. Loeffler and the Warnock vs. Perdue U.S. Senate races. I’m sure The New York Times’ needle monitor has been bombarded with traffic. A number of pollsters are calling the races but I’m not going to pay them heed yet.

I’m too afraid of getting my hopes up too high given how many attempts Team Trump and the GOP have made to subvert U.S. elections.

While waiting for the final tallies, I want to look at the transcript from the audio recording of the teleconference between Trump and Georgia Secretary of State Raffensperger, particularly this excerpt:

TRUMP: … And why can’t we have professionals do it instead of rank amateurs who will never find anything and don’t want to find anything? They don’t want to find, you know they don’t want to find anything. Someday you’ll tell me the reason why, because I don’t understand your reasoning, but someday you’ll tell me the reason why. But why don’t you want to find?

I don’t know about you but it sounds like Trump is implying with the right persons permitted access to the ballots, the votes Trump needs to win Georgia would be “found.”

He’s implied he wants a fixer team to resolve his “missing votes” problem since Raffensperger can’t or won’t — how mobster-like, how corrupt.

There’s just so much raw, naked criminality in this one phone call, beyond numerous lies Trump made.

There’s solicitation of a crime — he clearly says he wants to “find” 11,780 votes, a number representing at least one more than the margin by which Joe Biden won Georgia. Trump’s insistent on this point, using the word “find” 23 times over the course of the conversation compared to his Chief of Staff Mark Meadows who says “find” twice but in context of an agreement, and attorney Cleta Mitchell who says “find” once while asking about FBI and Georgia Bureau of Investigation findings.

There’s extortion —  a threat of prosecution and other less specific injury implied against Raffensperger and GA SOS counsel Ryan Germany if the desired votes aren’t “found.”

I’m not the lawyer here at emptywheel, but it looks to me like Trump may have violated federal voting and election law 52 U.S. Code 20511 with his interference in a federal election, depriving or defrauding the residents of a State of a fair and impartially conducted election process.

Trump may have violated Georgia election law 21-2-604, Criminal solicitation to commit election fraud; a presidential pardon won’t weasel him out of this one if GA attorney general Chris Carr or Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis find there’s adequate reason to investigate and prosecute Trump.

Former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti and Moms Demand Action activist Patti Vasquez discussed the tape with MSNBC Legal Analyst Joyce White Vance, former U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama in their On Topic podcast. Vance pointed out there was an effort to put “lipstick on the pig,” dressing up the phone call as if there was a legitimate lawsuit about which Trump and his campaign were seeking a settlement with the state of Georgia. But Vance had found no active suit.

Why this effort, including the appearance of an attorney — Cleta Mitchell of lawfirm Foley & Lardner — who wasn’t really Trump’s attorney nor his campaign’s attorney, but compromised enough by her presence during the phone call that her employment was terminated on Monday by Foley & Lardner? This looks deceptive as heck.

Why was White House Chief of Staff Meadows involved at all, discussing an implied agreement in the offing? Yet another Hatch Act violation by a Trump staffer we’re supposed to swallow like a TicTac?

What really bothers me is the practiced ease with which Trump just rolled through this call. We know he tried to pressure Ukraine’s president into investigating Hunter Biden to produce evidence of malfeasance by both Hunter and his father Joe Biden while Biden was VP during the Obama administration. The approach was similar though Trump used bait in the form of aid rather than a threat of prosecution as he did with Raffensperger and Germany. We have yet to see a word-for-word transcript of the 2019 Ukraine call, having instead a memo providing most of the context. Would the full transcript buried in a classified file system sound more like the Trump-Raffensperger call?

How many other calls like this past Saturday’s has Trump made? How many in-person visits making similar solicitation and extortive attempts as well?

Did he use the same technique during that one golf game with Lindsey Graham after which Graham suddenly did an about-face toward Trump, becoming his lap dog?

Let’s not forget that same lap dog also called Raffensperger about finding votes for Trump. Did his call sound like Trump’s except Graham didn’t tweet about it afterward?

I hope we’re going to hear from other states soon whether they, too, were pressured to “find” votes.

And I hope each state pursues an investigation and prosecution where appropriate.

Disaster Democracy: Can Something Be Salvaged from Trump’s Meltdown?

The WaPo has two panicked pieces about Trump.

First, there’s a David Ignatius column that correctly notes we’re in a really dangerous place until Biden’s win is certified (I’d say, until Inauguration). Along the way, Ignatius points to a terrifying possibility that might (or might not) explain a sudden Kash Patel flight: that he was being considered to replace Chris Wray.

Kash Patel, chief of staff to acting defense secretary Christopher C. Miller, returned home “abruptly” from an Asia trip in early December, according to Fox News correspondent Jennifer Griffin. Patel didn’t explain, but in mid-December Trump discussed with colleagues the possibility that Patel might replace Christopher A. Wray as FBI director, one official said. Wray remains in his job.

And another terrifying possibility that, Ignatius notes, is just speculation: that Trump’s flunkies may have tried to split NSA and CyberComm to install Ezra Cohen-Watnick as the head of NSA.

But why did Trump loyalists suggest the NSA-Cyber Command split in the first place? Some officials speculate that the White House may have planned to install a new NSA chief, perhaps Ezra Cohen-Watnick, the young conservative recently installed to oversee Pentagon intelligence activities.

To stave off these terrifying, but unsubstantiated, possibilities, Ignatius advises that some wise Republicans go to the White House and tell Trump to stop.

Trump won’t succeed in subverting the Constitution, but he can do enormous damage over the next weeks. Before Jan. 6, a delegation of senior Republicans should visit him at the White House and insist, emphatically: Biden has won. This must stop.

Meanwhile, another WaPo piece describes the vacuum at the White House as Trump ignores people — like Steve Mnuchin — who’ve long been able to coax some actual responsible policy actions out of him, the kind of people Ignatius might have in mind to talk to sense into Trump.

Mostly, this story is one of a long line of stories on how Trump repays loyalty with humiliation.

His demand for $2,000 stimulus checks is a direct rejection of the $600 checks that Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin had personally proposed and negotiated with Democrats and Republicans. Now, Trump’s rejection of the deal has confounded many leaders on Capitol Hill because they had thought Mnuchin negotiated the package on behalf of the president. The treasury chief’s standing with many lawmakers is now in tatters just days before a full-blown crisis is set to occur.

The president’s denunciation of the agreement represented a stunning public broadside against his own treasury secretary, who for four years loyally shielded the president’s tax returns, endured repeated presidential tirades in private, and defended even Trump’s most incendiary and contradictory remarks. Through it all, Mnuchin had emerged with the unique ability to walk a tightrope between Trump and congressional leaders, serving as an emissary in difficult negotiations. That all ended on Tuesday, when Trump posted a video on Twitter ridiculing the agreement.

But the more important bit describes how Trump decided, on his own, to blow up the bill that Mnuchin had negotiated. Mark Meadows helped him do so, even though he opposed both Trump’s call for $2,000 checks and (I think) the vindictive video blowing up the bill itself.

Trump’s shocking move to possibly blow up the agreement appears to have been his idea alone, according to two people briefed on the matter by White House staff.

White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, who had earlier this month successfully talked Trump out of demanding $2,000 stimulus payments, helped orchestrate the video released by the White House. But Meadows did not come up with the idea for it and was widely seen internally as opposing the move, according to two people with direct knowledge of the matter.

That is, in the midst of a story describing how yet another loyal Trump supporter was treated like shit (as were the Republicans in Congress who believed Mnuchin could speak for Trump), WaPo describes how Trump is vindictively staging confrontations in defiance of the advice from his closest advisors, with no care for the millions of Americans who get harmed in the process.

This is the man the Republican party has loyally defended in the face of ever increasing allegations of corruption and disloyalty to the country, repaying their loyalty by blowing up their attempt to feign concern about struggling Americans just in time for the Georgia run-off.

It is undeniable we’re in a dangerous place right now — because of the armed gangs supporting the President, because he’d love to start a war on his way out, because his temper tantrum is having very real effects for human beings.

But for better and worse, there are no responsible Republicans — or even immediate family members — who can save the day. Those who know Trump best have left town in an attempt to dissociate themselves from what is coming that will leave lasting damage for Joe Biden to clean up.

Nevertheless, we’ve reached an important moment, where Trump has turned on virtually all remaining institutional parts of the Republican party, from the judges and justices he installed to the Senators who refused to call him on his attempt to coerce Ukraine. Yes, we will still have Matt Gaetz and Jim Jordan, yes, we will newly have Tommy Tuberville.

But significant parts of the Republican party will, because of this tantrum, be prepared to turn on him as soon as he loses the power of the Presidency. And that may provide a way out.

Naomi Klein invented a term “Disaster Capitalism” for the way members of both parties use disasters as an opportunity to loot or facilitate future looting. That’s a risk here. But Republicans will have an incentive to distance themselves from Trump. And that may provide an opening to recover from Trumpism.

Trump’s Enablers Are Mistaking an Insurgency for an Off-Ramp

Jake Tapper tweeted that Jared Kushner and Rudy (both of whom have criminal exposure that Trump’s loss might make imminent), along with Jason Miller, are entertaining Trump’s demand that they hold rallies delegitimizing the election results. David Bossie (whom Jared reportedly brought in to play the role of respected elder, like Jim Baker played in the 2000 recount, which by itself is hilarious) and Mark Meadows are pushing Trump to concede.

The AP reports that anonymous senior officials are telling themselves that helping Trump to delegitimize the results is really just a way to give the Narcissist-in-Chief an “off-ramp” to accept the loss that he can’t grasp.

But senior officials, campaign aides and allies told The Associated Press that overwhelming evidence of fraud isn’t really the point.

The strategy to wage a legal fight against the votes tallied for Biden in Pennsylvania and other places is more to provide Trump with an off-ramp for a loss he can’t quite grasp and less about changing the election’s outcome, the officials said. They spoke to AP on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal strategy.

Trump aides and allies also acknowledged privately the legal fights would — at best — forestall the inevitable, and some had deep reservations about the president’s attempts to undermine faith in the vote. But they said Trump and a core group of loyalists were aiming to keep his base of supporters on his side even in defeat.

Meanwhile, Vladimir Putin is one of the few world leaders who has not congratulated President-Elect Biden, because — his spox says — there are still ongoing legal challenges. Thus, it is official policy of Russia to follow the strategy that Russia and its assets had planned in the eventuality of a 2016 loss, to discredit the outcome.

I get that Trump’s closest advisors are calculating the best way for him to remain kingmaker. Ensuring that his frothers remain frothy even after Trump is exposed as a weak man that even Georgia rejected is a one way to do that.

But kidding themselves that this is about getting Trump to come to grips with his loss is a dangerous game. Whatever these rallies would do for Trump’s damaged ego, they will serve to create a potentially violent insurgency, members of which have already tried, on repeated occasion, to engage in political violence in Trump’s name.

No one should treat these excuses for discrediting a clearcut democratic result as serious. They’re just rationalizations to repackage anti-American actions as something else.

Who Will Be Forced to Walk the Plank on November 4th?

Who will Trump force to walk the plank after the election?
(h/t Stacey Harvey for the image, [CC Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0) ]

Win or lose, Donald Trump will be looking for vengeance once the election is over. Either he will lose, and want to punish those he deems responsible, or he will win and want to punish the folks he’s had to put up with despite their failures to do what he wanted. One way or another, Trump will want to make certain people pay and pay dearly after the voting is over.

It might be to get rid of people who have angered him by not being sufficiently publicly loyal and submissive.

It might be to get rid of people who angered him by not being sufficiently good at making Trump look good before the election.

It might be to get rid of people who angered him by making him look bad, indecisive, or (gasp!) wrong.

It might be to get rid of people who stood up to him in private and made him back down on something, even if that backing down was only done in private.

It might be to get rid of people who stood up to him in public, and he had to simply take it at the time because Trump would have paid a price if he got rid of them when it happened.

Put me down for Trump demanding that the following people be forced to walk the plank:

  • Doctors Tony Fauci at NAIAD, Stephen Hahn at FDA, and Robert Redfield at CDC, along with HHS Secretary Alex Azar for not keeping these disloyal doctors in line;
  • Bill Barr for failing to deliver any indictments and convictions of any Bidens or Clintons, John Durham for dragging his feet on his reports that would have made that happen, Christopher Wray for being the FBI director and generally annoying, whoever approved letting Andrew Weissmann reveal that Manafort was breaking the gag order in his case by communicating with Sean Hannity, and a host of other US Attorneys who didn’t behave according to Trump’s rules;
  • General Mark Milley for publicly apologizing for taking part in the infamous Bible-waving photo op created by driving protesters out of Lafayette Park with chemical agents, various generals and admirals who refused to back Trump’s call to deploy US troops to American cities he didn’t like, and Secretary of Defense Mark Esper for not keeping these military folks in line;
  • Dr. Sean Conley, for not being more deceptive with the press around Trump’s COVID-19 status;
  • Mark Meadows for undermining Conley’s initial “he’s doing great” press remarks, as well as for more generally not keeping the WH functioning smoothly (as if that were possible, given his boss);
  • Mike Pompeo for failing to get Ukraine to do Trump’s bidding, as well as for not keeping folks like Fiona Hill in line.

But I must admit this is an incomplete list. Who else do you think might be on Trump’s Naughty List? Add your own thoughts in the comments.

Note: I also left off the list a bunch of folks like Mitch McConnell, Andrew Cuomo, Savannah Guthrie, and Cy Vance that Trump would demand walk the plank, but who remain outside his ability to make that happen. I also didn’t include Ivanka, Jared, Don Jr, or Eric, as he can’t fire his family. Though of course, he could disinherit them . . . for whatever that’s worth.

Hurricane COVID-19: GOP’s Fiscal Restraint Pisses into the Winds

[NB: Check the byline, thanks. /~Rayne]

Before going further, let’s take a look at the weather by the numbers.

COVID-19 confirmed cases: 5,064,072 — new cases confirmed at a rate of 55,000/day

COVID-19 deaths: 162,623 — new deaths at a rate of 1,000/day

Unemployed: 31.3 million people were receiving some form of unemployment compensation as of Friday.

Evictions: 23 million people nationwide are at risk of being evicted or are now at some state of eviction.

This is Hurricane COVID-19, continuing to wreak havoc not on any one or two coastal states but the entire nation.

Imagine an enormous hurricane wiping out the lives of more than 162,000 Americans spread across every state.

Imagine a storm so big it destroys housing for AT LEAST 23 million Americans — at least, because this number may not include the affected family members.

Imagine a hurricane wiping out food for millions of children, many of whom rely on getting at least one meal a day from school.

This is not a single three-day blow with a limited range and a one-time demand for economic resources.

This ongoing hurricane will require everything we can throw at it for the next 12 to 18 months — until a vaccine and/or drug therapy can be developed, tested, approved, and distributed.

Concerns about fiscal restraint have NO place in the face of this rolling disaster. This is not a situation where reflexive conservative retrenchment to anti-tax small government will work.

Reflexive conservative decision-making has already failed this nation.

This includes stupidity like Sen. Ted Cruz’s nasty sarcasm on Twitter demeaning the most vulnerable in our society, the working poor and the dwindling middle class, tweeting, “Why be so cheap? Give everyone $1 million a day, every day, forever. And three soy lattes a day. And a foot massage.

Say that to the faces of families who’ve lost love ones, families wondering how they’ll keep a roof over their heads, or parents who wonder how they’ll feed their kids today and tomorrow — honest, hard-working Americans who’ve lost their jobs only because Trump and his political party have failed to take action necessary to stem COVID-19.

~ ~ ~

We’ve had more than a day to digest the White House’s feeble attempt to change the subject and redirect attention away from the GOP-led Senate’s refusal to meet to hammer out a rational economic aid package.

The Democratic Party-led House made a good faith effort to project what Americans would need based on conditions they saw and passed the HEROES Act in mid-May.

It has been sitting, waiting for the GOP-led Senate to catch up; it took TEN WEEKS to come up with a counter in the form of the HEALS Act, offering only a third of the aid HEROES Act offered while stuffed with gifts to donors and spending pork.

Democrats have been able to see this pandemic for what it is, with clear eyes. If they’ve failed it’s for lack of imagination when it comes to the obstinacy of the opposition party when it comes to facing reality.

If Democrats have failed it’s for assuming Republicans would hit bottom and eventually do the right thing.

But they haven’t. The Republicans have ensured that aid to date has been corrupted with lack of oversight and accountability, doled out to political supporters.

~ ~ ~

The White House knows things are going to get worse. They are not only unwilling to deal with the challenges accumulating over the last two months under Hurricane COVID-19, they are unwilling to plan ahead for a worsening crisis they have fomented.

Instead, inadequately qualified chief of staff Mark Meadows thinks more PR will fix the COVID crisis.

The administration has refused to work toward an effective national strategy though one is possible as other countries have proven. Their refusal is deepening the emergency.

Instead of working in good faith, they let their Bronx Colors boss spew more lies — Trump told reporters last evening that the Democrats had called, “…They’d like to get together” — when the truth is neither Nancy Pelosi or Chuck Schumer called.

Today Mnuchin indicated he wants a deal:

… Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, on a conference call with governors on Monday, said action by Congress remains the administration’s “first choice.”

Mnuchin and Vice President Mike Pence urged the governors to reach out to congressional leaders and push for legislation, according to audio of the call obtained by AP. …

Mnuchin needs to get on the phone and call his GOP peeps in the Senate, not state governors. The governors are over a barrel and need the money the House Democrats have already allocated $915 billion in direct federal aid to state and local government in the HEROES Act they passed more than two months ago.

It’s NOT the Democrats who are the problem and the states know it.

Jesus Christ, what a bunch of hacks working for this administration. They just don’t get it; they are unable to lead in the face of this massive ongoing catastrophe.

~ ~ ~

This is the threshold of an economic depression the likes of which this country has never seen. We don’t have anywhere near as much agriculture as we had in the 1930s during the Great Depression; many families simply eked by if they could keep their farms (though they did have different forms of federal assistance from a more competent government).

We are a service economy now and people can’t afford services which aren’t absolutely essential. They can’t afford the risk of services which put them in contact with other people too closely. Re-opening businesses like gyms and hair salons and restaurants doesn’t make the risks go away, nor does it change the fact most of us have had to reduce our spending because we may or have already lost our jobs.

Invest in the care of the Americans who need it. They will plow that money back into the economy. It keeps the rest of the economy moving until a vaccine or a drug therapy is available.

Failing to do this simple thing — take care of the American people by ensuring domestic Tranquility, providing for the common defense of their homes, promoting the general Welfare until we can beat back the disease — is like failing to heed the forecast of this massive Hurricane COVID-19 once again.

Parody of NOAA Hurricane Dorian map marked in Sharpie by Trump. Used here under Fair Use.

This is an open thread.

Trump’s Latest Executive Orders: Head Fakes and Head Games

[NB: Check the byline, thanks! /~Rayne]

Before we look at the craptacular bullshit Trump and his henchmen pulled over on major media outlets Friday and Saturday, let’s take a look at what needs urgent resolution.

A COVID-19 patient was evicted from her home while she was still recovering. The ownership of the home is in question yet she was booted out, still struggling to breathe while all her belongings are tossed out on the lawn.

This is likely not the only example like this. The article above notes there have been 9,000 eviction filings in the Memphis, Tennessee area as of June. How many are there today?

How many eviction filings are there across the entire country?

Bloomberg reported as much as a third of renters don’t think they will be able to make August rent payment:

Renters across America are wading into unknown territory. With the lapse of the federal moratorium on evictions that expired July 31 and the end of the $600 per week boost to unemployment benefits, a recent survey reveals the breadth of financial uncertainty now plaguing Americans.

An estimated 27% of adults in the U.S. missed their rent or mortgage payment for July, according to a nationwide survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau weekly over the last three months. Among renters alone, just over one-third (34%) said during the waning days of July that they had little to no confidence that they could make their August rent payment, a stark measure of the ongoing economic devastation for households stretched to the brink by coronavirus pandemic.

There were 43 million renters in 2019. If that number hasn’t changed we could be looking at nearly 15 million evictions within the next month.

This doesn’t include homeowners who haven’t or may not be able to make their mortgage payments.

This is a massive crisis which is kicking off slowly thanks to the GOP Senate refusing to negotiate with its HEALS Act to meet the House Democrats’ HEROES Act which was passed in May and has been ready to go since then.

Given 51 million Americans were unemployed by mid-July and many had difficulty collecting unemployment compensation on a timely basis, the scale of homelessness we are about to see because Trump and the GOP are such massively useless asshats will make the 2008 crash look like nothing.

~ ~ ~

At his Bedminster golf club Friday evening — in front of club members who didn’t wear masks in spite of New Jersey’s emergency orders — Trump threw out teasers about executive orders to help Americans:

These are Steve Herman’s live tweets capturing the event.

Many major media outlets reported Trump’s comments without any skepticism.

Just before 5:00 p.m. Saturday, Trump signed so-called executive orders. Again, major media reported this straight without any pushback, as Josh Benton noted in his feed:

In reality, what Trump signed was a head fake which did jack shit to address problems. Major media failed to portray it that way. To its credit, the Washington Post did sketch this as an end run around Congress — but it was far worse than that.

~ ~ ~

Let’s check with Bharat Ramamurti, member of Congressional Oversight Commission who spelled out the problems in a Twitter thread:

Let’s take a look at the actual text of these executive orders.

Here’s the heart of the one on evictions. As you can see, it doesn’t create an eviction moratorium. It asks certain federal agencies to see if they can maybe do something on evictions.

.

Here’s the payroll tax one. It’s a deferral. That means either employers will continue to withhold your payroll taxes and you won’t see any difference, or they won’t withhold (unlikely), and you’ll have it all withheld from your paycheck when the deferral expires at year-end.

.

Here is the key part of the unemployment insurance one.

*To be clear, the legal authority to do this is highly dubious.*

But, at best, it’s a $300/week federal contribution redirecting money that, by my estimate, would cover about 4 weeks for the currently unemployed.

.

On unemployment insurance, evictions, and on student loans, these orders and memoranda — even if they are found legal — provide far, far less relief than what Democrats provided in the HEROES Act that passed three months ago and has languished in the Senate ever since.

The House’s HEROES Act passed on May 15. The GOP-led Senate dragged its feet for two months; HEALS Act wasn’t introduced until July 27, offering only a third of the aid the HEROES Act offers while it also contains pork like spending on the F-35.

Because the GOP senate continues to take marching orders from the White House, adhering to an arbitrary $1 trillion limit which is inadequate to the size of the crisis, they avoid good faith negotiation with the House to reconcile the differences between the HEROES Act and HEALS Act.

The White House then throws out useless memoranda to keep the media occupied — a classic Bannon-esque move, treating the media as the enemy by flooding the zone with shit they have proven incapable to process correctly.

The intent is to do nothing. Absolutely nothing.

There is almost nothing actionable in the scribbles: orders like “shall identify,” “shall consider,” “shall take action,” “shall review” are worthless because they are not specific and not supported by legislation which would make them specific.

Nothing in any of the bullshit Trump signed in a reality TV-like gesture will help the millions of Americans already under threat of eviction, or those already evicted like that poor COVID-19 patient in Tennessee.

~ ~ ~

There are a number of analyses already published across the internet which spell out the flaws with the White House’s approach including its fundamental illegality.

Bob Greenstein at the Center on Budget points out the shortcomings in Trump’s “executive actions,” which is a more accurate description than executive orders. What’s missing:

– Funding for testing, contract tracing and other critical publc health needs to help get the pandemic under control
– Food assistance for millions who aren’t getting enough to eat, including students missing out on school breakfast and lunch
– Extension of the federal eviction ban and funding to help renters struggling to pay the rent
– Funding for schools to provide distance learning and take needed precautions to reopen safely
– Funding to keep child care providers afloat so they can care for children safely when parents are able to work
– Fiscal relief for states, including additional Medicaid funding, to avoid more layoffs and cuts in health care and other critical state services
– Employment benefits at adequate levels that would last more than the next six weeks or so for people who have lost jobs.

All the kinds of aid which legislation can provide and an executive order can’t, since the power of the purse lies solely with Congress.

It wouldn’t hurt at this point to brush up on executive orders; the Congressional Research Service worked up a paper on them in 2014. Probably wouldn’t hurt to revisit Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer.

As important as wrestling with this executive bullshit is, it’s essential to recognize the White House is absolutely useless to the American public right now. They aren’t doing anything to help the people, only to save their asses in the general election.

A Washington Post article published last evening tells us how chief of staff Mark Meadows and his minions are addressing the pandemic:

As the White House chief of staff, Mark Meadows is responsible for coordinating the vast executive branch, including its coronavirus response. But in closed-door meetings, he has revealed his skepticism of the two physicians guiding the anti-pandemic effort, Deborah Birx and Anthony S. Fauci, routinely questioning their expertise, according to senior administration officials and other people briefed on the internal discussions.

Meadows no longer holds a daily 8 a.m. meeting that includes health professionals to discuss the raging pandemic. Instead, aides said, he huddles in the mornings with a half-dozen politically oriented aides — and when the virus comes up, their focus is more on how to convince the public that President Trump has the crisis under control, rather than on methodically planning ways to contain it.

That’s what they are doing with the economic aid, the same damned thing — head fakes to appease their base, pretending to do something constructive when they’re doing nothing but campaigning.

The White House isn’t interested in addressing the pandemic’s economic problems any more than they are interested in addressing the pandemic itself.

That’s why the pretense of doing anything with worthless executive orders — it only needs to snow the media with head games and prop up Trump until the next head fake is required.

Meanwhile, the country continues to burn out of control.

Lysol and UV Rays: Running a Pandemic Like a Reality TV Show

After news outlets wrote their both-sides stories about the President’s musings about ingesting Lysol, and after they mapped out the four different excuses Trump offered on Friday — he told you to check with a doctor (Kayleigh McEnany); he was just joking (Trump himself); Trump was just thinking out loud (Dr. Birx); it’s the briefer’s fault (anonymous officials), several outlets set out to figure out how it came to be that the President of the most powerful country in the world went on live TV and suggested it might be a good idea to ingest cleaning supplies.

The NYT discovered that some of Trump’s advisors claim (anonymously in the NYT version, but named as Mark Meadows and Kayleigh McEnany by CNN) to have realized that allowing acting DHS Undersecretary for Science at William Bryan was going to be a mistake even before it happened. But Mike Pence liked the pretty pictures and good news he offered, so it went into the briefing.

Others inside the administration raised questions about why Mr. Bryan, whose background is not in health or science, had been invited to deliver a presentation. Mr. Bryan, whose expertise is in energy infrastructure and security, is serving in an acting capacity as the head of the department’s science and technology directorate.

Mr. Bryan served 17 years in the Army, followed by yearslong stints as a civil servant at the Defense and Energy Departments. The latter role led to a whistle-blower complaint accusing him, in part, of manipulating government policy to further his personal financial interests, and then lying to Congress about those interests.

The United States Office of Special Counsel, a federal agency that investigates whistle-blower complaints, asked the Energy Department last year to investigate the accusations against Mr. Bryan. In January, the Senate returned his nomination to the White House.

Mr. Bryan was invited by the vice president’s office to coronavirus task force meetings on Wednesday and Thursday to talk about a study that his department had done relating to heat and the conditions in which the coronavirus can thrive or be dampened. On Thursday, Mr. Bryan presented a graphic to the room, according to four people briefed on the events.

Mr. Pence’s advisers wanted Mr. Bryan to brief the news media on his findings, but several West Wing staff members objected, partly because they were concerned the information had not been verified.

Before Mr. Bryan took the lectern in the White House Briefing Room, Dr. Birx and Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, a member of the coronavirus task force, made a few revisions to his presentation, officials said.

As he listened to Mr. Bryan, the president became increasingly excited, and also felt the need to demonstrate his own understanding of science, according to three of the advisers. So Mr. Trump went ahead with his theories about the chemicals.

CNN described how Trump didn’t attend either of the task force meetings where Bryan presented his findings, but nevertheless ad-libbed a response after Bryan delivered his presentation.

President Donald Trump was absent from the Situation Room on Wednesday when William Bryan, the acting head of science at the Department of Homeland Security, presented the findings of a new study to the White House coronavirus task force.

[snip]

When Bryan arrived Thursday with a camera-ready presentation, Trump again wasn’t at the 3 p.m. ET coronavirus task force meeting, the sources said. But in the minutes before Trump’s planned early evening news conference, Bryan quickly explained his findings to the President in the Oval Office.

Moments later, Bryan was standing at the White House podium explaining how sunlight, ultraviolet rays and disinfectants — such as bleach and alcohol — could shorten the half-life of coronavirus.

But when Bryan’s explanation ended, things went sideways. As his health advisers looked on expressionless, the President started lobbing questions about whether light or disinfectants could be used inside the human body to cure coronavirus.

Trump and the White House spent the next 24 hours trying to rationalize the comments while health departments reminded Americans that ingesting bleach is lethal.

The really important detail from the CNN article, however, is that Trump doesn’t actually attend many of the Task Force meetings, which are held in the Situation Room. He attends maybe one a week, and doesn’t always warn members he’s going to drop in.

While he almost always attends the daily press briefings, Trump rarely attends the coronavirus task force meetings that precede them. The task force doesn’t seem to mind.

According to one person close to the task force, the meetings become more prolonged if Trump attends and often go off script. When Pence is at the helm, aides say, they usually tick through the agenda rapidly. Trump comes to roughly one briefing a week. At times, 10 days or more have passed without him attending.

[snip]

Trump often turns up when he’s not expected. His presence often throws the meeting well off its assigned agenda and frequently centers on how his performance is being viewed in the media or in polling.

That means Trump has been spending upwards of 10 hours a week emceeing briefings, without doing any of the homework to learn about the pandemic.

All the attempts to understand what happened have reminded me of the New Yorker article that described how Mark Barnett made a “skeezy hustler” like Donald Trump into a titan by repackaging the unprepared, impulsive things Trump said after the fact.

He wouldn’t read a script—he stumbled over the words and got the enunciation all wrong. But off the cuff he delivered the kind of zesty banter that is the lifeblood of reality television. He barked at one contestant, “Sam, you’re sort of a disaster. Don’t take offense, but everyone hates you.”

[snip]

“The Apprentice” was built around a weekly series of business challenges. At the end of each episode, Trump determined which competitor should be “fired.” But, as Braun explained, Trump was frequently unprepared for these sessions, with little grasp of who had performed well. Sometimes a candidate distinguished herself during the contest only to get fired, on a whim, by Trump. When this happened, Braun said, the editors were often obliged to “reverse engineer” the episode, scouring hundreds of hours of footage to emphasize the few moments when the exemplary candidate might have slipped up, in an attempt to assemble an artificial version of history in which Trump’s shoot-from-the-hip decision made sense.

As with the Apprentice, Thursday’s fiasco ended with reaction shot, this time of Dr. Birx realizing in real time what Trump had done.

Burnett has often boasted that, for each televised hour of “The Apprentice,” his crews shot as many as three hundred hours of footage. The real alchemy of reality television is the editing—sifting through a compost heap of clips and piecing together an absorbing story. Jonathon Braun, an editor who started working with Burnett on “Survivor” and then worked on the first six seasons of “The Apprentice,” told me, “You don’t make anything up. But you accentuate things that you see as themes.” He readily conceded how distorting this process can be. Much of reality TV consists of reaction shots: one participant says something outrageous, and the camera cuts away to another participant rolling her eyes. Often, Braun said, editors lift an eye roll from an entirely different part of the conversation.

Of course, this time it’s real. And no one gets to go back and edit Trump’s dangerous comments to make them look like leadership after the fact. By then, people were already drinking Lysol.

On Thursday, after Trump made his comments and had Dr. Birx comment on it, Philip Rucker asked him why he was spreading rumors. For me, it was the most remarkable part of an unbelievable briefing. Trump responded, first, by stating, “I’m the President and you’re fake news,” the kind of comment that might be a ratings hit if it wasn’t getting people killed.

THE PRESIDENT: Deborah, have you ever heard of that? The heat and the light, relative to certain viruses, yes, but relative to this virus?

DR. BIRX: Not as a treatment. I mean, certainly fever —

THE PRESIDENT: Yeah.

DR. BIRX: — is a good thing. When you have a fever, it helps your body respond. But not as — I’ve not seen heat or (inaudible).

THE PRESIDENT: I think it’s a great thing to look at. I mean, you know. Okay?

Q But respectfully, sir, you’re the President. And people tuning into these briefings, they want to get information and guidance and want to know what to do.

THE PRESIDENT: Hey — hey, Phil.

Q They’re not looking for a rumor.

THE PRESIDENT: Hey, Phil. I’m the President and you’re fake news. And you know what I’ll say to you? I’ll say it very nicely. I know you well.

Q Why do you say that?

THE PRESIDENT: I know you well.

Because I know the guy; I see what he writes. He’s a total faker.

Q He’s a good reporter.

THE PRESIDENT: So, are you ready? Are you ready? Are you ready? It’s just a suggestion from a brilliant lab by a very, very smart, perhaps brilliant, man. He’s talking about sun. He’s talking about heat. And you see the numbers. So that’s it; that’s all I have. I’m just here to present talent.

Trump ended, however, the most powerful man in the world rendered helpless by an actual crisis with actual consequences, by claiming, “I’m just here to present talent.”

Update: WaPo catalogued what has been going on in Trump’s COVID rallies, both since March 16 and since April 6. The whole thing is worth reading, but here’s a taste of what they found.

The president has spoken for more than 28 hours in the 35 briefings held since March 16, eating up 60 percent of the time that officials spoke, according to a Washington Post analysis of annotated transcripts from Factba.se, a data analytics company.

Over the past three weeks, the tally comes to more than 13 hours of Trump — including two hours spent on attacks and 45 minutes praising himself and his administration, but just 4½ minutes expressing condolences for coronavirus victims. He spent twice as much time promoting an unproven antimalarial drug that was the object of a Food and Drug Administration warning Friday. Trump also said something false or misleading in nearly a quarter of his prepared comments or answers to questions, the analysis shows.

If my math is correct, there have been almost 47 hours of briefings since March 16, and they’ve been an average of an hour and twenty minutes (the average for the later range is shorter, no doubt skewed by the 22 minute briefing Friday). So for the briefings Trump attends, he can spend over 9 hours a week mouthing off about stuff he knows nothing about.