This is, without a doubt, the weirdest news week I have ever seen. And I’ve been compiling news for y’all for seventeen weeks now! Folks, as soon as Trump fired FBI Director James Comey mid-investigation, we veered into uncharted territory. Now it’s all star sightings, compasses, and calling Congress repeatedly from here.
Standard standing reminders apply: I am no journalist, though I play one in your inbox or browser, so I’m only summarizing the news within my area of expertise. This week contains multiple headlines outside my area as a legal generalist — I’m a lawyer, not a spy! — but all offroad adventures are marked with an asterisk. Okay, I think that’s about it for the disclaimers. Onward to the news!
- Comey’s Surprise Firing…* This week, the Trump administration unceremoniously fired James Comey, who was the Director of the Federal Investigation Bureau, mid-investigation into collusion with Russia. Comey marks the third investigator fired (though he’s definitely the most high-profile), and if you’re catching up now I recommend reading Hank Green’s excellent summary, which summarizes just how WTF this entire situation really is. A lot of people believe Comey was fired for investigating — in other words, he got fired because he was the last non-Trump-appointed investigator doing his job. Though there is growing support for an independent commission and special prosecutor, both the Speaker of the House and the Majority Leader in the Senate have issued statements refusing to appoint one.
- …and the Bonkers Free-For-All That Followed.* Reactions to Comey’s termination have been incredible and all over the map. Comey himself issued a letter in response, and also told the press about an instance of refusing to give Trump a pledge of loyalty at a statehouse dinner. Trump responded by publicly tweeting that Comey “better hope there were no tapes” of that conversation and admitting that the firing was over the Russia investigation, kicking off much larger conversations about obstruction of justice charges. Then he threatened to cancel all further press briefings. And for an encore, Trump’s attorneys released a letter promising he received no Russian money (but not the tax returns that would prove this; also said attorneys recently won a Russian award). While this was all going on, the acting FBI Director, Andrew McCabe, contradicted the White House about Comey’s popularity (likely credibly, since FBI staffers are observing remembrance practices) and clarified that the investigation will still go forward without Comey. Meanwhile, Congress wants to see the tapes, and Sean Spicer handled the whole thing by hiding among the White House shrubbery (yes, really). Banner week all around; good job Capitol Hill.
- Russia Trolls the White House.* Literally the day after Comey was fired, Trump hosted a Russian delegation at the White House. Apparently Kislyak — who you may remember as The Guy Flynn Got Fired for Calling — was present, which we know despite the lack of available visitor logs because he was photographed there. But not by us, because Trump didn’t permit any U.S. press to attend the meeting. Rather, he was photographed by a Russian photographer who was allowed to attend — and just happens to work for the Russian press. Confronted by these images appearing publicly, the Trump administration complained that the Russian delegation ‘lied’ and ‘tricked them.’ Also, Trump confirmed that he was hosting the delegates because Putin requested it.
- Reporter Arrested for Asking a Question. On the same day that Comey was fired, a Public News veteran reporter Dan Heyman was arrested for persistently questioning Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price about pre-existing conditions. His charge was “willful disruption of governmental processes,” and he was held for nearly eight hours before posting a $5,000 bail. Heyman has indicated that he definitely plans to fight the charges.
- Census Resignation.* The director of the U.S. Census Bureau abruptly resigned this week in the wake of census funding issues. His term expired in December, and he had been expected to step down then; it’s unclear whether this resignation was in response to recent turmoil or caused by something else. Either way, it probably doesn’t bode well for population data gathering.
- DeVos booed at Bethune-Cookman. Betsy DeVos was booed while giving a commencement address at historically-black Bethune-Cookman University this week. Much like Ivanka’s German adventure a few weeks ago, the booing isn’t a mystery — DeVos favors policies that dramatically disadvantage black youths, and her comments comparing school choice to segregation don’t exactly help — but I do want to know what she was doing there in the first place. Seriously, why on earth did the President think inviting her was a good idea?
- Haitian Status Hiatus? The Department of Homeland Security put out a call this week for data regarding crimes committed by Haitian people living in the US, as well as figures on how many are receiving public benefits. The timing on this is not a coincidence; a form of legal status for Haitian nationals called ‘temporary protected status,’ which serves as a legal status for about 50,000 Haitian people living the United States, is currently set to either renew or expire in July — and the Department of Homeland Security must make a decision before the public comment period, which begins May 23. Temporary protective status was originally put in place for Haitian migrants in response to the 2010 earthquake; the program was designed to give displaced Haitian people a place to legally live, and housing has not been fully restored in that time. It would cruel and disappointing of DHS to decline an extension against that backdrop, but ‘cruel and disappointing’ does seem to be their calling card.
- Voting Suppression Commission. Trump signed an executive order this week creating an Election Integrity Commission, which the administration says will study voter suppression and fraud — but it appears to be a pretty unapologetic excuse to standardize voter suppression. The commission will be led by Mike Pence and Kris Kobach, both of whom are known for systemically perpetuating suppression of marginalized voters. About the best I can say is that this type of systemic suppression takes time, and that’s hopefully something this administration is rapidly depleting, given the rest of the news this week.
- Malignant Mandatory Minimums. Sessions continued to be a font of bad policy shaped like an attorney this week, putting out a sentencing memorandum designed to compel mandatory minimum sentencing. I honestly cannot stress enough how unpopular and ill-advised this move is; mandatory minimums are costly, do not deter crime, overload prisons, and are most frequently used on people with non-violent, drug-related offenses that demonstrably respond well to diversion for treatment. We’ve collectively moved away from mandatory minimums for a reason, and his memorandum represents a significant step backward. It also is particularly galling because Sessions disbanded a commission on forensic accuracy last month before they could release findings or recommendations, suggesting that Sessions simply wants to put people behind bars for as long as possible with no attempt at accurate prosecution.
- France Avoids Electing LePen. France, unlike the US, managed to avoid electing a fascist in their national election this week, opting for centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron instead of National Front candidate Marine LePen. The sound victory came despite a hacking effort to sabotage the centrist candidate. Apparently the French learn from history better than we do, which is good to know; experts say Macron’s victory can be attributed to France’s history with fascism and with the National Front specifically as well as skill and luck on Macron’s part.
- A Round of Applause for Yates and Clapper. Sally Yates and James Clapper testified about collusion with Russia this week before the Senate Judiciary subcommittee. There were a lot of highlights, but biggest takeaway is that Yates warned the White House that Flynn was potentially compromised. The full testimony is a very interesting (if complex) read, and an important first step for investigative action; now that Comey has been fired, the Senate and House investigations may have more momentum than the FBI investigation.
- Climate Change Challenge Tanks. Somewhat improbably, the Senate voted against rolling back Obama-era protections regarding methane release this week. Apparently Lindsay Graham, Susan Collins, and John McCain all voted against it! Also, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson signed an international declaration recognizing climate change. I’m honestly not sure how any of this happened, but I’ll take the good news coming in anyway.
And that’s all the news that’s fit to email, at least for now; stay tuned for further developments!