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Mick Mulvaney Confesses OMB and DOD Are Withholding Evidence of a Crime from Congress

Amid the tsunami of alarming news Mick Mulvaney made at today’s press conference (Trump is holding the G-7 at Doral next year, he likely will invite Putin, Trump did engage in a quid pro quo with Volodymyr Zelensky on his July 25 call), one of the more important admissions got missed.

Mick Mulvaney admitted that the White House would have been breaking the law by withholding Ukrainian security funds because it did not have a “really really good reason not to do it.”

By the way, there was a report that we were worried that the money, that if we didn’t pay out the money it would be illegal. It would be unlawful. That is one of those things that has a little shred of truth in it, that makes it look a lot worse than it really is. We were concerned about — over at OMB, about an impoundment. And I know I’ve just put half you folks to bed, but there’s a, the Budget Control Act, Impound — the Budget Control Impoundment Act of 1974 says that if Congress appropriates money you have to spend it. At least, that’s how it’s interpreted by some folks. And we knew that that money either had to go out the door by the end of September, or we had to have a really really good reason not to do it. And that was the legality of the issue.

He’s referring, presumably, to a WSJ report that OMB — the agency Mulvaney is still officially in charge of — put a political appointee in charge of withholding duly appropriated security funds for Ukraine so that President Trump could extort concessions from Ukraine.

The White House gave a politically appointed official the authority to keep aid to Ukraine on hold after career budget staff members questioned the legality of delaying the funds, according to people familiar with the matter, a shift that House Democrats are probing in their impeachment inquiry.

President Trump’s order to freeze nearly $400 million in aid to Ukraine in mid-July is at the center of House Democratic efforts to investigate allegations that Mr. Trump used U.S. foreign policy powers to benefit himself politically.

[snip]

The president has the authority to delay the release of money in certain instances, according to the Congressional Research Service, a nonpartisan research agency, including if there has been an unexpected change in circumstances for the program. But without being provided explanation or justification about why the administration was delaying the aid, some career officials at the Office of Management and Budget became worried they didn’t have the legal authority to hold up the funds, according to the people familiar.

While career civil servants put an initial hold on the aid, Michael Duffey, associate director of national security programs in OMB, was given the authority for continuing to keep the aid on hold after the career staff began raising their concerns to political officials at OMB, according to the people familiar with the matter. Mr. Duffey also began overseeing the process for approving and releasing funds, called apportionment, for other foreign aid and defense accounts, according to a public document indicating the change.

As noted by Mulvaney today, a law passed in the wake of Richard Nixon playing games with appropriations requires that if you withhold duly appropriated funds, you explain to Congress why you’re doing so, a decision that Congress then gets to veto simply by refusing to approve of the decision. The law makes it clear that the President can’t simply ignore the will of Congress on appropriations.

And yet, that’s what Trump did for the entirety of the summer.

Worse, in his press conference today, Mulvaney admitted that Trump didn’t have a “really really good reason not to” release the funds. Rather, he had a really bad reason: he was trying to extort a quid pro quo.

And that’s why the decision — reported in ho hum fashion on Tuesday as if it were just another case of the Administration refusing Congressional subpoenas — that OMB and DOD would not respond to subpoenas is actually really important.

The subpoena to those agencies lays out some of the evidence that Trump withheld the funds after DOD cleared them. Then it lays out the evidence that Trump was defying bipartisan Congressional will in doing so.

As you are aware, the Impoundment Control Act of 1974 authorizes the President to withhold the obligation of funds only “(1) to provide for contingencies; (2) to achieve savings made possible by or through changes in requirements or greater efficiency of operations; or (3) as specifically provided by law.” The President is required to submit a special message to Congress with information about the proposed deferral of funds.

On August 30, 2019, Chairman Adam Smith and Ranking Member Mac Thornberry of the House Committee on Armed Services wrote a letter to Mr. Mulvaney requesting information why military assistance to Ukraine was being withheld and when it would be released. They wrote: “This funding is critical to the accomplishment of U.S. national security objectives in Europe.”

On September 3, 2019, a bipartisan group of Senators–including Rob Portman, Jeanne Shaheen, Dick Durbin, Richard Blumenthal, and Ron Johnson–wore a letter requesting that OMB release the military assistance to Ukraine that the Trump Administration was withholding:

The funds designated for the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative are vital to the viability of the Ukrainian military. It has helped Ukraine develop the independent military capabilities and skills necessary to fend off the Kremlin’s continued onslaughts within its territory. In fact, Ukraine continues to fight daily on its eastern border against Russia-backed separatists in the provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk, and over 10,000 Ukrainian soldiers and civilians have lost their lives in this war. U.S.-funded security assistance has already helped turn the tide in this conflict, and it is necessary to ensure the protection of the sovereign territory of this young country, going forward.

On September 5, 2019, Chairman Eliot L. Engel and Ranking Member Michael McCaul of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs wrote a letter to OMB urging the Trump Administration to lift its hold on security funds to support Ukraine, writing: “These funds, which were appropriated by Congress as Foreign Military Financing and as part of the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative and signed into law by the President, are essential to advancing U.S. national security interests.”

On September 9, 2019, the Committees on Intelligence, Foreign Affairs, and Oversight wrote to the White House requesting documents related to “the actual or potential suspension of security assistance to Ukraine.” The White House never responded to this request. However, two days later, on September 11, 2019, the White House released its hold on the military assistance to Ukraine.

On September 24, 2019, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell stated that, although he was “very actively involved in advocating the aid,” he “was not given an explanation” about why it was being withheld, even though he talked to the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of State. He stated: “I have no idea what precipitated the delay.”

The enclosed subpoena demands documents that are necessary for the Committees to examine the sequences of these events and the reasons behind the White House’s decision to withhold critical military assistance to Ukraine that was appropriated by Congress to counter Russian aggression.

That’s the subpoena that Mulvaney’s agency and DOD (the latter, after initially saying it would cooperate) are defying. It’s a subpoena that goes to the zenith of Congress’ authority, whether it is issued within or outside of an impeachment inquiry. But within an impeachment inquiry, it illustrates that on one issue of fact at the core of the investigation, there is bipartisan agreement that the White House was in the wrong.

And today, Mulvaney admitted that the White House did not have a very very good reason to withhold those funds, even while confirming that Trump was withholding the funds, in part, to extort a quid pro quo.

Even if the White House had a very very good reason, the law obliges the White House to explain to Congress why it blew off Congress’ power of the purse. The White House didn’t do it in real time — not even to Mitch McConnell. And the White House is refusing to do it now.

Update: Jack Goldsmith did a review of this issue in Lawfare today, but before the Mulvaney comments.

Update: Lisa Murkowski complained about this issue to Tim Mak today.

Trump Specifically Ensured Republicans Wouldn’t Know about His Extortion

Kurt Volker’s prepared testimony from yesterday has been released. It is very unconvincing in several places, particularly read in conjunction with his texts that makes it clear there was a quid pro quo tied to security assistance and aid. Most charitably, it reads like the narrative of someone whose intentions were good, but in denial about his actions in service of an ultimate outcome — the continued provision of aid to Ukraine.

As is well documented, I had long supported lifting the ban on lethal defensive assistance to Ukraine, advocated for the supply of javelin anti-tank systems, advocated for an increase in U.S. assistance, and urged other nations to provide more assistance as well.

The issue of a hold placed on security assistance to Ukraine also came up during this same time I was connecting Mr. Yermak and Mayor Giuliani. I did not perceive these issues to be linked in any way.

On July 18, I was informed that at an interagency (sub-PCC) meeting, OMB had said that there was a hold being placed on Congressional Notifications about security assistance to Ukraine. No reason was given.

A higher level interagency meeting (PCC) was then scheduled to take place to discuss the issue on July 23. I met in advance with the individual who would represent the State Department at that meeting, Assistant Secretary of State for Pol-Mil Affairs, R. Clarke Cooper. I stressed how important it was to keep the security assistance moving – for Ukraine’s self-defense, deterrence of further Russian aggression, as a symbol of our bilateral support for Ukraine, and as part of having a strong position going into any negotiations with Russia. He fully agreed and intended to represent that position at the PCC meeting. I also had separate conversations with the Pentagon and NSC staff to reiterate the same position.

I was told later that there was no outcome from the PCC meeting. That said, I was not overly concerned about the development because I believed the decision would ultimately be reversed. Everything from the force of law to the unanimous position of the House, Senate, Pentagon, State Department, and NSC staff argued for going forward, and I knew it would just be a matter of time.

As well, Volker avoids admitting this was partly about inventing dirt on Joe Biden by treating the possibility of election interference as credible, without any basis (and it’s clear he conducted this projection repeatedly in real time).

Concerning the allegations, I stressed that no one in the new team governing Ukraine had anything to do with anything that may have happened in 2016 or before – they were making TV shows at the time. Mr. Lutsenko, however, would remain in place until a new government was seated in a month or more. It was important to reach out and provide strong U.S. support for President-elect Zelenskyy.

I also said at that July 19 meeting that it is not credible to me that former Vice President Biden would have been influenced in anyway by financial or personal motives in carrying out his duties as Vice President. A different issue is whether some individual Ukrainians may have attempted to influence the 2016 election or thought they could buy influence: that is at least plausible, given Ukraine’s reputation for corruption. But the accusation that Vice President Biden acted inappropriately did not seem at all credible to me.

But the key new detail in Volker’s statement, beyond what we already knew, is confirmation that not only did OMB freeze assistance to Ukraine, but it also froze notifications about security assistance to Congress, effectively hiding the fact that Trump was using the aid authorized by Congress to extort election assistance from Ukraine.

On July 18, I was informed that at an interagency (sub-PCC) meeting, OMB had said that there was a hold being placed on Congressional Notifications about security assistance to Ukraine. No reason was given.

Withholding the aid is something Republicans were on the record opposing. Indeed, Mitch McConnell claims (credibly or not) that even he was not informed that Trump was withholding the aid to extort campaign assistance.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said he was not provided an explanation for why the Trump administration held up aid to Ukraine when he pressed senior officials on the matter over the summer.

“I was not given an explanation,” McConnell told reporters Tuesday as the congressional furor grew over President Trump’s interactions with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

McConnell said he spoke to Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo twice about the matter without receiving clarification for the delay in $391 million in aid to Ukraine.

“I was very actively involved in advocating [for] the aid. I talked to the secretary of Defense, the secretary of State once,” he said.

“The good news was it finally happened,” he added, noting the administration finally released the aid. “I have no idea what precipitated the delay.”

Whatever other story Republicans want to tell to excuse this behavior (and, as I said, McConnell’s claim here reads like CYA), Republicans should be furious that, first, Trump ignored the stated will of Congress on something they all claimed to care about and, second, that Trump’s OMB very specifically froze them out of notice they were entitled to have, as Congress.

Again, this scandal is not just about Trump demanding that other countries help him get reelected. It’s also about Trump defying the will of Congress to obtain leverage to extort that aid. Now we know that he even deliberately kept Congress in the dark about what he was doing.

Republicans surely will continue to excuse this behavior. But by doing so, they are utterly emasculating the prerogatives of Congress to do so.

Update: Multiple sources suggest that by August 31, Ron Johnson knew why aid was being held up, and by September 12, McConnell and James Inhofe did too.

Did Some Republican in Congress Leak Details of the Mueller Report to Roger Stone?

There’s a passage from a recent Roger Stone filing I’ve been puzzling over. In a motion asking for discovery on selective prosecution — an effort that started out by arguing no one else had been prosecuted for false statements to Congress before that became ridiculous — Stone claims that

Yet, he was ruled out as a conspirator with the Russian state and WikiLeaks before his transcript from HPSCI was transmitted.

This effort parallels an effort to get the whole Mueller Report and this motion asks for all the declination memos on top of that.

Prosecuting Stone because of his arbitrary classification requires discovery, including the declination memos sent to the Attorney General, so that it may be determined who the government thinks lied to Congress or the Special Counsel, but were not prosecuted.

The claim that Stone was ruled out as a co-conspirator with Russia or WikiLeaks is probably true (though not necessarily all that helpful for his case). I’m just trying to figure out how he knows that, if he does. It seems there are four possibilities:

  1. His lawyers, who are fairly careless and who have made false claims in other briefs, are just making this up
  2. He got something in discovery that makes this clear
  3. He’s basing this off Jerome Corsi’s public claims
  4. Someone who has seen an unredacted copy of the Mueller Report (which currently includes the White House and at least 7 of the 8 Republicans who had been given an opportunity to read it before yesterday) told him what those passages of the report say
  5. He learned of this decision in real time, via reporting to the White House and then some channel from the White House

As noted, his lawyers have not been above making shit up, so it’s possible this is what this claim is. But it feels too specific for that.

It’s also possible he got something in discovery to support this claim, except the prosecutors are fighting to provide precisely this kind of information to him in their fight against releasing the Mueller Report.

Such an assertion could be intuited from Jerome Corsi’s crazed rants. Corsi has said that he believes the true source of his/their knowledge that WikiLeaks would release John Podesta’s emails was the cornerstone to Mueller’s “collusion” case (though of course he was assessing conspiracy, as Stone correctly notes here.

It’s certainly possible this is reflected in the less redacted Mueller Report, which would explaining the timing of this claim, which by my reading is new in this filing. Republicans in Congress have tampered with the criminal cases against Trump’s people on at least two occasions (when Richard Burr told the White House who had been targeted, and whoever reached out to Mike Flynn to discourage his cooperation). Given DOJ’s warnings about how sensitive the report is, it would be fairly damning if one of just 5 Republicans who had seen it already ran to Stone to tell him what’s in it. (Those 5 are: Mitch McConnell, Richard Burr, Lindsey Graham, Kevin McCarthy, and Doug Collins; it’s not clear whether Devin Nunes has reviewed the report yet.)

I’m most interested whether Stone learned in real time — perhaps last fall — that Mueller had decided not to charge him in a conspiracy with WikiLeaks and Russia. That would be particularly interesting given that Paul Manafort actually told what resembles the truth about the campaign’s outreach, through Stone, to WikiLeaks.

Amy Berman Jackson currently has unredacted parts of the Mueller Report pertaining to Stone, so if this information does come from leaks about the Mueller Report, she may recognize that.

As I said, even if Mueller decided not to charge Stone in a conspiracy because, with the witness tampering charges, he may face the same kind of sentence without some of the evidentiary hurdles, it doesn’t amount to selective prosecution.

But Stone sure seems to have a specific idea of what he’s looking for, even if it only helps his (and Trump’s) political case, not his criminal one.

Update: Corrected the number of Republicans known to have reviewed the report to 5.

As I disclosed last July, I provided information to the FBI on issues related to the Mueller investigation, so I’m going to include disclosure statements on Mueller investigation posts from here on out. I will include the disclosure whether or not the stuff I shared with the FBI pertains to the subject of the post. 

[Photo: Emily Morter via Unsplash]

You’re Fired (Undocumented Trump Worker): What Odd Timing

[NB: Byline — check it!/~Rayne]

I’ve had this squirreled away in the cupboard; I was working on it just as the government shutdown ended. But now there’s good reason to dust it off and air it out.

~ ~ ~

The issue of Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Temporary Protected Status (TPS) remains critically important even though government has been reopened and Trump received a pittance toward a wall.

The Washington Post reported on January 26 that undocumented workers were fired from their long-time jobs with Trump organization businesses.

What odd timing. Take a look at the sequence of events:

06DEC2018 — NYT, CNN other outlets reported the Trump organization employed undocumented workers.

22DEC2018 — Shutdown began at midnight

10JAN2018 — Citizenship applicant Matthew Helmsley was called a year earlier than expected by U.S. immigration for a pre-naturalization interview; he was asked after the interview if he was available on Saturday, January 19.

11JAN2019 — First government employee paycheck missed.

17JAN2019 — Trump announcement scheduled for Saturday, January 19, after a swearing-in ceremony for newly naturalized immigrants; the announcement regarded the ongoing government shutdown.

18JAN2019 — Media speculated about Trump’s proposal. After exchanging emails for a week with immigration personnel, citizenship candidate Helmsley received an email in that morning advising the swearing in would be at the White House the next day.

18JAN2019 — Undocumented immigrants terminated at Trump org facilities.

19JAN2019 — Trump’s proposal including tweaks to TPS and DACA floated some time between late Friday and early Saturday. House Democrats rejected the proposal ahead of Trump’s television speech — they insisted on funding and reopening government without conditions, and no money wall.

19JAN2019 — Just before his speech, Trump swore in Helmsley and a cohort of carefully selected naturalize immigrants, handpicked for political optics, in the Oval Office.

19JAN2019 — Trump gave a televised speech after 3:00 p.m., added limited TPS extension and modified DACA to his demand for wall funding.

25JAN2019 — Trump ‘caved’.

26JAN2019 — WaPo reports on firing of undocumented employees.

29JAN2019 — Original date scheduled for State of the Union address from House chambers

See that right in the middle? Undocumented personnel were fired roughly 24 hours before Trump made his special address making a counter offer.

The White House as well as the Trump organization knew more than a month before Trump’s counter proposal that undocumented workers were employed at multiple Trump business locations.

They waited until after the holidays to terminate them so as to avoid a stink.

They waited until they could use TPS and DACA as proposal items to demand wall funding, hoping the workers’ terminations would be lost in the noise about the shutdown.

And news media missed the timing.

Now here’s the other point the media missed within the last week: if Trump’s government funding proposal including limited TPS and modified DACA were offered immediately following termination of undocumented workers at Trump organization businesses — the two events coordinated and synced as if by one entity — is there any separation at all between Trump as president and Trump as head of the Trump organization?

If there isn’t, wouldn’t that make the DOJ’s so-called “narrow interpretation of a law ” this week, allowing federal officials to attempt to influence Trump by doing business with the Trump organization, really a permission slip for outright corruption via emoluments?

Meanwhile, DACA’s repeal remains up in the air, leaving roughly 800,000 residents up in the air. And TPS for Hondurans has been terminated effected November this year, forcing 86,000 to uproot from the U.S.

Graphic: Quino Al via Unsplash (mod by Rayne)

Three Things: This Ain’t No Fooling Around

[NB: The byline, check it as always. /~Rayne]

It may be April Fool’s Day but this isn’t a joke. We have some serious matters to tackle urgently today. Let’s get to them pronto.

But first, write down this number or add it to contacts, you’re going to need it:
Congressional switchboard (202) 224-3121

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Mitch McConnell is expected to bring a Senate rule change to a vote, possibly today; he wants to shorten the amount of time for the Senate to debate nominees before approval 30 from hours to 2 hours. This move was approved by the Senate Rules Committee along party lines and is horribly anti-democratic (little d) as it provides an inadequate amount of time for both senators and their constituents to air problems with nominees and evaluate their suitability for office, which in some cases are lifetime appointments.

McConnell, the man who refused to allow a vote on an Obama SCOTUS nominee, claimed this rule change was necessary because of “‘unprecedented obstruction’ by Democrats.” What amazing projection.

The media also did a pissy job informing the public about this change.

Call your senators, tell them to vote NO on SRes 50. This rule change is unacceptable. You need to know they are fulfilling their role to advise and consent — and that role doesn’t mean rolling over and doing the White House’s bidding. If they don’t fully debate nominees’ qualifications, why do we even need the Senate?

~ 2 ~
And now for the perfect example why the previous rule change is unacceptable: Stephen Moore, economics hack extraordinaire, deadbeat father, and one of the reasons the GOP members of Congress have been especially jacked up since January 2017. McConnell doesn’t want a full debate about him.

This guy is Trump’s nominee for the Federal Reserve and he’s completely out of his depth. I’ll point you to economist Justin Wolfers for details, though — start at the top of his Twitter thread (click on the dte to open it):

And here:

Back when the 115th Congress was sworn in, the House GOP caucus was corralled into a closed door session. Few details have emerged but we know Moore was used to persuade the caucus members they were “no longer the party of Reagan” because popularism. This laid the opening for the POS tax cuts passed last year which were supposed to lead to all kinds of economic growth due to reinvestment. Psych! It was either a massive snow job by Moore on behalf of corporations or it was utter stupidity about the stickiness of corporate profits (they go into shareholders’ pockets, not reinvestment into workers or equipment).

If we ignore the red flags waving about Moore — including a $75,000 tax lien for 2014 income — the ridiculousness of the tax cuts points to Moore’s unsuitability for the Fed Reserve. He’s a complete hack who offers little more than a front to which the GOP can point to legitimize their ransacking the country.

Call your senators: No on Moore for Federal Reserve.

~ 1 ~
This sums up the problem:

A senior administration official with direct knowledge of the meeting described Trump’s stance: “He doesn’t want another single dollar going to the island.”

Puerto Rico is still in very bad shape 19 months after Hurricane Maria devastated the island. I can’t begin to do the scale of the additional problems inflicted on Puerto Ricans by the horrible management of financial aid. Please read this piece at the Washington Post for a better take on how bad things are:

Puerto Rico faces food-stamp crisis as Trump privately vents about federal aid to Hurricane Maria-battered island

The Bigot-in-Chief continues his deadly vendetta against Puerto Rican Americans still badly affected by Hurricane Maria’s devastation. He doesn’t want to send them any additional aid for reasons which are opaque to the rest of the country but are readily guessed at based on his past behavior.

He couldn’t bother to do adequate pre-hurricane preparation; he sat on his goddamn fat ass and bitched about NFL players taking a knee rather than get off his ass and make sure Puerto Rico was prepared. We know he had ample time and instead he was either malignant in his duties or incompetent, take your pick.

— He had to be shamed by Hillary Clinton into dispatching the Navy’s hospital ship. The ship did not treat as many patients as it should have nor did it stay long enough. At least one entire ICU ward on the island died because medical attention didn’t get to the most obviously needy places fast enough.

— Under his watch management of disaster recovery services was totally botched, from water bottles sitting on the tarmac undelivered to electrical service contracts let to what appears were profiteering outfits unprepared to deal with the scale of the problems. So much money was wasted because of this gross incompetence.

— Too little attention was given to Puerto Rico’s businesses as critical national infrastructure. The entire country faced medical supplies shortages because manufacturers in PR were the only sources in the U.S. and they were ignored rather than treated as essential.

Three thousand Americans died after the hurricane; most of them died because of the fucked up and opaque personal agenda Trump has against Puerto Rico. More people may have been affected here on the mainland but I’ll bet there’s no way to record the impact.

Me, for example — I had to manipulate the schedule for major surgery back in early 2018 because the hospitals here in Michigan were reporting tight supplies of IV equipment made in Puerto Rico. Thank goodness it worked out, that I didn’t have another episode requiring transfusions and days of IVs. But I couldn’t help think of patients elsewhere across the country who were negatively impacted; there were reports of reusing disinfected IV equipment because supplies had run out.

Trump thinks Puerto Rico has received too much money already. I suspect Trump’s real issues are:

1) He has a personal bias against Puerto Rico because a Trump-branded golf course there failed in 2015;
2) He simply hates brown and non-English speaking people — just look at how he responds to situations where persons of color need help versus whites;
3) He doesn’t see Puerto Rico as part of the U.S.

American persons of color are highly aware of the treatment of Puerto Rico. How the White House and Congress respond to Puerto Rico shapes their opinion, and failure to do right by Puerto Ricans can affect these voters’ attitudes going into 2020.

But Puerto Ricans don’t have a senator, one might say. True — but it’s estimated 6% of the population left the island after the hurricane and more may still leave. They’ve been moving to Illinois, Texas, Louisiana, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, and Wisconsin because it’s cheaper to live in these states than it is now in Puerto Rico. What a pity for GOP senators in those states up for re-election in 2020 who continue to vote against aid for Puerto Rican recovery — they’ll have more Democratic voters to contend with at the polls.

Call your senators — tell them to ensure Puerto Rico has more financial assistance for post-hurricane recovery. We owe it to our fellow Americans just as we would if they were in North Carolina, Florida, Texas, or California after a major disaster. We owe them for the failure to provide equal protection under the law before, during, and after the hurricane resulting in nearly as many Americans’ deaths as 9/11.

~ 0 ~
Lock and load, people, this ain’t no disco. Roll out to the phones. When you’re done you can use this as an open thread.

P.S. For those of you who aren’t on broadband or have challenges making calls, try sending a fax to your members of Congress. There are sites on line which offer free faxes to Congress; my personal favorite is FaxZero.com as they have the numbers for each member already listed. Just type up a short note — be sure to included your real name and address so they can verify your residency in their district/state — then follow the instructions at the site. I keep a blank letterhead template with address header for each of my members of Congress just for this purpose. All I have to do is fill in the body and send. I have a nice copy in my records of what I sent and when. But do keep in mind these fax services will send an email immediately after you press Send to validate your email address. Check the link the fax service emails before confirming.

All the News Fit to Treat Badly

This screenshot depicts U.S. news media’s gross failure.

There have been numerous stories this week about the Trump cabinet which received slapdash coverage. All of them are scandals and should have resulted in the firing or resignation of two, possibly three cabinet members.

And yet the public is deluged with and seeking more information about a celebrity’s personal screw-up resulting in prosecution — a story which has no real impact on their personal lives. The public doesn’t appear to know how very badly Trump’s cabinet members are treating the public’s trust, or the risk posed by turning a blind eye to these cabinet members’ bad faith and corruption as nearly all of them are in the line of presidential succession.

In short, the public isn’t being informed about real news.

If the public is asking about a celebrity, leave it to celebrity gossip sites to answer. The public needs reporting about these failing cabinet members, and they need to know these stories are far more important than celebrity buzz, affecting the country’s ability to function normally. If the public isn’t asking about these cabinet members, it may be a sign that the media is failing them and/or the trend data may be manipulated.

~ ~ ~

How much do you or your family members and friends know about Wilbur Ross’s repeated lies about his personal holdings? The Office of Government Ethics refused to certify his most recent financial disclosure statement because he didn’t sell stocks that he said he’d sold. This has been going on since he became Commerce Secretary. His work in that role has been dismal as it is, not to mention his questionable relationship to a bank in Cyprus. But to lie and lie repeatedly to the government about his personal finances? There’s no excuse for his not knowing what assets he’s holding because he has to file a tax return reflecting ownership, earnings and subsequent profits and losses.

There’s also no excuse for news media to treat Ross’s lies as if they are perfectly normal for the person who is eighth in line of presidential succession and responsible for fostering, promoting, and developing the foreign and domestic commerce of the largest economy in the world. News outlets should be asking the White House every damned day why Ross hasn’t been booted out the door.

~ ~ ~

How much do you or your family members and friends know about former federal prosecutor and current Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta’s role in the ridiculously light sentence human trafficker Jeffrey Epstein received? Or Acosta’s role in violating the Crime Victims’ Rights Act, directly affecting at least 30 of Epstein’s victims?

News media paid a little more attention to this case because the crimes underlying it were of prurient interest. But they have already forgotten justice for the victims, blowing off Acosta’s continued employment in a role overseeing workplaces where human trafficking may occur. Acosta is right behind Ross in the presidential succession lineup. News media should likewise ask why Acosta still has a job as Labor Secretary right after they ask about Ross’s continued employment.

~ ~ ~

How much do you or your family members and friends know about former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s alleged lies to federal investigators regarding disapproval of Native American casinos? This wasn’t the only probe Interior Department Office of Inspector General had been looking into; it’s the one which has been referred to a grand jury. What other damage may Zinke have done while he was at Interior? What continues under acting Interior Secretary?

Zinke had been two slots ahead of Ross in the presidential succession lineup. At least Zinke is no longer with the administration, unlike Ross and Acosta, or Betsy DeVos.

~ ~ ~

A staffer for Education Secretary DeVos attempted to obstruct investigation into DeVos’ restoration of approval for a college accreditor by trying to remove the acting inspector general looking into the re-approval. It’d be nice to know if DeVos instructed her deputy secretary Mitchell Zais to remove Sandra Bruce because was continuing her investigation, or if Zais tried this on his own. This is yet another cabinet-level scandal the public doesn’t know enough about compared to a celebrity story.

DeVos has been a threat to public education since her approval hearing when she suggested guns were needed in the classroom to protect against bears. She’s a threat to more than education as 13th in line of succession for the presidency, too, given there are open slots for Secretaries of Defense and Interior. College students struggling with tuition debt and students who’ve participated in active shooter drills would love to know why DeVos still has a job. They ought to know someone is asking every day.

~ ~ ~

And Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao couldn’t let these four cabinet secretaries have all the fun. She may have been improperly coordinating with our glorious Senate Majority Leader Mitchell McConnell — also her spouse — to ensure their home state Kentucky received a lion’s share of transportation projects.

Fortunately Chao is not in the line of presidential succession because she is foreign born.

Fortunately, her spouse McConnell isn’t in the succession lineup at all.

Unfortunately, these were just a handful of stories which should have ranked higher in the mind of the public and the media’s effort.

This is an open thread.

KonMari-ing the Confederacy’s Son

[NB: Check the byline — this is a different kind of ‘trash talk’. /~Rayne]

You may already have heard the buzz about Japanese organizing consultant Marie Kondo and her branded decluttering technique, KonMari. Perhaps you’ve even seen her on Netflix which now features a series called Tidying Up with Marie Kondo.

She set off a furor across the internet among book lovers when she suggested getting rid of all of one’s books except for those few that spark joy — which is her guiding philosophy to thinning everything one possesses. When one considers a particular personal belonging, what feelings does it inspire? If joy, keep it and store it carefully; if not, release it.

This doesn’t work for books. Some of the most horror-inspiring books may be essential favorites whether fiction or non-fiction. And many book lovers whether readers, authors, or editors thrive in an environment of tsundoku, the weight of unread books providing a wealth of promise rather than oppressive dread.

The hullabaloo about her approach to books forced a reconsideration of the KonMari technique. It doesn’t work uniformly for everyone; what sparks joy for one rouses sadness in others.

But people do share universal values; if we focused on happiness and peace arising from observing these values, there might be a way to reconcile the disparity between ditching books and keeping them whether they spark joy or not.

Looking at our universal values — those we share as humans regardless of our gender identity, race and ethnicity, religious heritage, or country of origin — we have to ask ourselves about much more than whether to keep the tatty high school-issued copy of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein or well-thumbed Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine.

What is it we should jettison if we are truly keeping that which is honest and trustworthy, responsible, respectful, caring, and fair?

Why worry about an excess of books and holey stray socks when our lives are thrown into chaos every day by people who are not living these shared values?

It could be said the repudiation of Governor Ralph Northam is an example of this kind of purging by Democrats in Virginia and beyond. Has Northam changed since the mid-1980s? Sure — we all have and hopefully for the better, but Northam’s failure to be open as a candidate and now as an elected official about the context of his medical school’s yearbook is a lapse of under universal ethics even if we believed his claims.

Now the people of Virginia wait for Northam to come to grips with the sorting he’s been through.

But as a country we’re not done with our reassessment. What are we keeping that holds us back from realizing our best selves as citizens?

A substantive number of readers will surely suggest impeaching and removing Trump and they’d be right. He’s the antithesis of  honesty and trustworthiness, responsibility, respect, caring, and fairness in nearly everything he does. Decluttering processes have already been set in motion — the Special Counsel’s Office plays a role in them even if its mission isn’t removal per se.

Trump isn’t the only human obstruction to realizing our communal universal values, though.

This needs to go. This should have been KonMari’d more than a dozen years ago, pared out of government. Don’t even think about trying to recycle it, either, it’s beyond redemption. The tradition manifest here has no worth because it disrespects the innate value of fellow humans while elevating a small number of people because of that disrespect.

Kentuckians need to clean their house beginning with this Senate seat. McConnell can’t possibly inspire happiness and peace in their hearts when his actions deny so many their human dignity.

Republicans should do likewise, beginning now with removing McConnell from the majority leadership role. They need to ask themselves if doubling down on their pursuit of power, throwing values to the wind to this end, really sparks joy in their hearts and souls. Do their efforts generate genuine authority, lay claim to authentic leadership, when fellow humans must be denigrated in the process?

Failing to be honest with themselves and respectful of the public will eventually set off other kinds of sparks. Just ask Ralph Northam.

 

Treat this as an open thread.

Graphic: Quino Al via Unsplash (mod by Rayne)

Day 34+12H: Ermahgerd, an Ermahgency

[NB: As you can see from the byline, you can blame me and not Marcy./~Rayne]

Brace yourselves, kiddies, there’s still more roller coaster ahead. On the agenda besides Roger Stone’s indictment:

— Another day into the shutdown, and a second pay period without a paycheck for furloughed federal workers, contractors, and those employees forced back to work without pay. FAA has already closed LaGuardia (LGA) airport to inbound flights due to a staff shortage and Reagan National (DCA), Newark Liberty International (EWR), Philadelphia Intl (PHL) and Tampa Intl (TPA) are now getting backed up heavily.

— One lone asshole, GOP state house delegate Mark Cole, is going to attempt to stop the state of Virginia from ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment, though his party has already passed the ERA in the state senate. Not clear what status is at this moment, only that the bill is not yet dead. Virginians can take action to boost this bill.

— An anticipated declaration of a state of emergency at the border by Trump in which he is expected to tell the public how he scraped up $7 billion dollars Congress didn’t allocate for a “fucken wall.” May depend on how the cascading effect of the airport shutdown(s) plays out.

Yesterday’s vote in the Senate on both Trump’s POS proposal (voted down ) and the Democrats’ alternate bill (voted down 52-44) showed that more Republican senators preferred the Democratic version over Trumps.

The GOP senators who broke with Trump were:

Lamar Alexander (R-TN) — Class II, retiring at the end of 2020
Susan Collins (R-ME) — Class II, has at least two Democratic opponents waiting
Cory Gardner (R-CO) — Class II
Johnny Isakson (R-GA) — Class III
Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) — Class III
Mitt Romney (R-UT) — Class I (least threatened, 2024 re-election)

Recall that Class II senators are up for re-election in 2020. Class III in 2022 and Class I in 2024.

Clearly the GOP caucus is feeling the heat.

McConnell and Schumer are talking — the airport shutdown(s) will also affect their discussion.

Keep the heat on your senators because it’s working if they’re yelling at McConnell. If you’re a Wisconsinite, thank your senator Ron Johnson for pushing McConnell.

We also need to take note of this guy who has plenty of time to develop a track record before re-election in 2024 and yet voted with the GOP now to fund the wall and reopen government.

Joe Manchin (D-WV) — Class I

Party line is No Wall, buddy. Trump wants it badly enough he can negotiate instead of having a tantrum and shutting down government.

West Virginians, I hope you are working hard on grooming a Democratic candidate for a senate primary race. You have about four years.

Congressional switchboard: (202) 224-3121

This is an open thread. Bring non-Trump-Russia/Special Counsel’s Office comments here.

Photo: Pavan Trikutam via Unsplash

Day 33+11H: Flood the Zone

[NB: Check it ^^^ / ~Rayne]

I don’t have a full post written yet — I will update this post when I have more to say.

What I want to say is this: CALL YOUR SENATORS RIGHT NOW.

Congressional Switchboard: (202) 224-3121

There are only two simple things to tell them:

— Government must be reopened as soon as possible;

— No on the “fucken wall.”

Our nation’s health and security is diminished every moment this unnecessary lockout continues.

Why do you need to call now? Because Mitch McConnell has scheduled a vote for 2:30 p.m. today on Trump’s ‘phony compromise‘ bill.

Right-wing wall proponents (a.k.a. anti-immigrant bigots and faux budget conservatives) have been encouraged to call their senators with a pro-wall message. We must counter this; calls are counted and weighed into consideration.

More later. Just make the call. Share in comments your experience.

Day 32+11H: Trump’s Other Wall

[NB: Byline — check it. /~Rayne]

This post is about a wall. Nope, not about Trump’s narcissistic pipe dream made of steel slats and Fox News-borne ego fluffing.

It’s a wall of GOP senators, so corrupt and craven they will line up against reopening their country’s government while voting to help a country which U.S. intelligence agencies say interfered with the 2016 elections.

They’ll roll over while Americans begin to die from their gross neglect. Federal employees who are diabetics are already having difficulty paying for insulin, a double whammy since the GOP-led Congress has done nothing to deal with extortive insulin pricing. Children affected by the shutdown will begin to go hungry soon if they haven’t already, whether from cuts to school lunches or at home.

There are several groups varying by their corruption and cravenness; I’ve already written about the Class II senators who don’t appear to feel concern about their re-election prospects — yet.

But the second group in need of a swift kick are those who visited Russia on July 4th this past year:

Richard Shelby (AL) — Senate Class III

John Thune (SD) — Senate Class III

John Hoeven (ND) — Senate Class III

Ron Johnson (WI) – Senate Class Class III

John Kennedy (LA) — Senate Class III

John Thune (SD) — Senate Class III

Jerry Moran (KS) — Senate Class III

Steve Daines (MT) — Senate class II

Kay Granger (TX) — Representative

At the top is the senior “spokesperson” for the group; he’s the one quoted most often by the media when asked about this congressional delegation.

At the bottom are two exceptions: Daines is running for re-election for the first time in 2020, and Granger isn’t a senator at all but a House rep from a solidly red congressional district.

Notice the trait most have in common? They’re Class III, which means they will be up for re-election in 2022.

Why the hell did nearly 30% of the Class III GOP senators go to Russia on our most American holiday, one celebrating our independence from an authoritarian monarchy?

Not sending Class I senators who were working on their 2018 mid-term campaigns makes sense, but why not more Class II? These classes are assigned by state according to Constitution’s Article I, Section III; there should have been broader, more random representation on this trip (and certainly not on July 4th).

Here’s my theory: first, this congressional delegation trip was an interview for aid. Not development aid for the U.S. but for their campaigns. I can’t think of a reason why so many Class III senators would have gone together. Thankfully none of them are on the Armed Services or Select Intelligence Committees though Johnson and Young are on the Foreign Policy Committee and Shelby, Hoeven, Moran, and Kennedy are on the Appropriations Committee.

Or is the percentage of links between these senators and these committees relevant in some way?

Daines is an exception — his need is more immediate, and his state is in play based on the data produced by Democratic Senator Jon Tester’s re-election in 2018. Daines may be a proof of concept.

Second, I believe Granger went because Senator John Cornyn hadn’t yet decided whether to run for re-election in 2020. He didn’t announce until September that he would do so. Granger may have been groomed as a candidate for this seat because her congressional district encompassing Fort Worth is solidly red and the GOP probably has a House candidate waiting in the wings. If Beto O’Rourke runs for the Senate again in 2020 as a Democrat, the GOP may have wanted to run a woman against him if Cornyn retired. But now Granger will have to wait for another slot to open. I wouldn’t be surprised to see her run for governor after Greg Abbott finishes his term(s).

There are seven more senators and one representative who are likely to continue to stand pat behind Trump and his Putinist agenda, including his “fucken wall.” They will only change their loyalties if they are called out on their bullshit.

There should be no conditions placed on reopening government. Period. The shutdown has weakened all security including the health and economic welfare of citizens whether federal employees or not.

Trump’s proposal made this weekend is a joke — his personal businesses will benefit from the continued protection of immigrants who work at his resorts while failing to provide any real additional security — and will be shoved in our faces tomorrow as McConnell has scheduled it for a vote.

Congressional switchboard: (202) 224-3121

If you can help at all, check with local food banks to make donations. There are federal employees who live and/or work in nearly every county. You can also try to pay off outstanding school lunch fees for kids who don’t qualify for the federal school program but have run up their hot lunch charges for lack of funds — just call your local public school system and ask if you can help.

Now is a good time to make small purchases, too, if there’s a previously owned item you’ve put off buying. Federal employees and contractors have been selling all manner of items to raise cash, from clothing to books.

And some have been reduced to selling plasma.

I don’t know how we can come away from this horrible episode in our nation’s history without thinking the GOP has deliberately chosen to harm this country and quite possibly to appease and benefit a hostile country.

Americans’ deaths arising from this shutdown will be on their hands.