Holy monkeys, what even happened this past week? (Honest answer: A lot.) It’s a wild roller coaster ride that we’re all still processing, though I’ll do my best to unpack it for you all.
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 news continues to contain multiple headlines each week outside my area as a legal generalist — still 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!
Constitutional Crisis Corners:
Given everything else that was going on this week, it was very easy to miss the things happening on The Russia Collusion Investigation — Kushner sort-of-testified and then all healthcare hell broke loose. But since it’s still very important to track all of it, here’s a recap:
- Kushner (Barely) Testifies.* Kushner spoke in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee last Monday (which feels like way more than a week ago, doesn’t it?). He did not, however, do this in open session or under oath, angering some Democrats even though it is illegal to lie to a Congressional tribunal whether under oath or not. Not that much was learned, however, because Kushner was too busy claiming he paid no attention at the infamous meeting with Russia and throwing Trump Jr under the bus to give real details. Angry Democrats, meanwhile, are introducing a bill designed to authorize revoking Kushner’s security clearance, so he might be “too busy” to pay attention to a lot of things moving forward.
- Trump Jr. and Manafort Don’t Even Testify.* Manafort did meet with the intelligence committee this week, which is good, since they dropped the subpoena against both him and Trump Jr. There doesn’t appear to be a lot of movement other than this, though, and some Democrats are pretty mad that they won’t be testifying. We’ll need to keep watching and pressing on this point in order to avoid stalling out.
- Lock Her Up, Sessions. Trump continued to ridicule Sessions in the past week, this time asking why he wasn’t prosecuting Hillary Clinton for… reasons? It’s unclear what the basis was, given that the 2016 investigation cleared her, other than “her liberal face.” Additional Republicans jumped on the Trump bandwagon, sending a letter to Sessions asking him to investigate Comey, Clinton, and former AG Loretta Lynch. This is an obvious intended distraction from the Russia collusion investigation, but these behaviors also have chilling implications — calling for imprisonment of political rivals is a hallmark of dictatorships, and it’s unacceptable behavior even if no action is ultimately taken.
- Can I Fire Them? Trump apparently spent time this week investigating whether he could fire Sessions, though Republicans have warned that they won’t take kindly to Trump letting their long-time colleague go. Nonetheless, Trump was considering Rudy Guiliani and Ted Cruz as replacements. He also asked about firing acting F.B.I. director Andrew McCabe, whom he claimed had ties to Hillary Clinton. (Trump declined to explain why having ties to a former Secretary of State, who currently serves no political role at all, would make someone unfit to be an interim F.B.I. director during a candidate’s confirmation process.) In more definitive news, Trump did announce the replacement of Reince Priebus this week, replacing him with current Secretary of Homeland Security General John Kelly. They also played some Mean Girl games with Priebus on the tarmac on his way out. Then Kelly’s first act after getting sworn in (again?) as Chief of Staff was to fire Scaramucci, which honestly is the first reasonable thing to happen in this paragraph. All told Scaramucci was only Communications Director for ten days, which has got to be some kind of record. (Scaramucci had to be escorted away on his way out, too.)
Your “Normal” Weird:
- Threatening Alaska (Badly). While the health care vote was ongoing in the Senate this week, Trump threatened Alaskan Senator Lisa Murkowski on Twitter over her lack of cooperation. Then he graduated to having Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke threaten both Alaskan senators with unfavorable policy on natural resources (even though Murkowski’s colleague had voted for the bill). None of this had much effect on Murkowski (or her vote), but the top Democrat in the House Natural Resources Committee is now pushing for an investigation into improper interference with a Senate procedure. As Rep Grijalva noted, “Threatening to punish your rivals as political blackmail is something we’d see from the Kremlin.”
- State of the BCRA. Welp, Senate healthcare vote sure was a thing! I think many of us caught the broad strokes already, so I’ll just do a quick summary of how we got here: The BCRA (barely) survived a motion to proceed on Tuesday afternoon, but all attempts to get to the next step failed — repeal-and-replace, repeal-and-delay, and the “skinny repeal” all crashed and burned. The last vote, which happened very early on Friday morning, featured a surprise heel-face turn from John McCain, who joined consistent nay-sayers Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski to very narrowly defeat the bill. Despite a rumor to the contrary, McConnell returned the bill to the calendar before adjourning, which means that the Senate can return to the item between now and September. To that end, Senator Graham has also introduced another attempt at repeal; this is in addition to a bipartisan group that is talking about more moderate changes to the ACA and Dem discussion of a single-payer system. Trump, meanwhile, continues to prove he’s America’s Sweetheart by deriding the GOP and refusing to pay for insurance again; eventually the tirade turned to the filibuster (which was irrelevant) and threatening to end “BAILOUTS for Members of Congress.” But since Congress is running out of time to do everything else, they may be forced to let this go for now no matter what Trump is saying.
- Transgender Service Surreality.* Trump startled half the country on Wednesday — including the military — by abruptly announcing on Twitter that transgender service members would be banned from the military effective immediately. Since he hadn’t checked with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, they handled the announcement by declining to change anything based on unofficial tweets and not, y’know, actual orders. Also, the GOP clown car of Disappointed Republicans Rebuking Trump included John McCain, Joni Ernst, and Orrin Hatch of all people, showing just how badly Trump misread his own party when they asked for a much more narrow action from him.
- The Worst Boy Scout Jamboree. After Trump made several bizarre and loaded comments at a Boy Scout Jamboree last weekend, the Boyscouts of America ended up apologizing for him. I guess they figured Trump was never going to apologize, so they had to pick up the slack.
- Sessions vs the Civil Rights Act. Attorney General Sessions announced this week that the Justice Department does not have to defend LGBT people because the Civil Rights Act doesn’t protect them (spoiler: Yes it does, at least if the DoJ wants to take a posture consistent with the EEOC.) The announcement was made as part of preparation for an ongoing case, Zarda v. Altitude Express, which is a private federal lawsuit in which the Department of Justice filed an amicus brief. If that sounds strange to you, that’s because it is — the Department of Justice is literally sealioning into a case that it’s not bringing or defending to take a position directly counter to what the EEOC decided to set as precedent in 2015. It’s a slimeball move that’s also an inappropriate overreach from Sessions, but at this point when Sessions ignores settled law, evidence-based practice, and common sense, that just means it’s Thursday.
- Threats from North Korea.* North Korea was in the news a lot this week, largely due to a successful ICBM test that leaves people uncertain whether the U.S. is a likely target in the near future. President Trump condemned the launch without threatening to bomb them back, which is probably one of the more normal things he did in the past week, but for now NORAD has determined that the show of force illustrated a range that “did not pose a threat to North America.” We’ll have to keep an uneasy eye on this as well.
- Trump Advocates Police Violence. In a speech to the Suffolk County police force, Trump advocated that police rough up suspects in custody this week, calling gang members “animals.” Though the Suffolk County police force issued a statement afterwards, as did many police organization generally, the ACLU was less than impressed — and the rhetoric comes on the heels of several other changes in government policy that give police more latitude.
- Mueller Protection Legislation. Senator Lindsay Graham has signaled that he intends to bring a bill this week designed to protect Mueller from being fired by the Department of Justice, which is honestly probably a good idea right now. Graham worked on the bill with Democratic senator Cory Booker (and this week is probably the first time anybody has ever written that sentence). The action is part of a growing movement among Republicans to set boundaries with the Trump administration, presumably because they figure it’s better late than never.
- Racial Profiling Against a Court Order: Still Illegal. Today, former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio was found guilty of criminal contempt of court by bench trial, mostly because he blatantly ignored a court order to end his racial profiling in traffic patrols. Arpaio, who doesn’t exactly have an awesome record when it comes to human rights, apparently continued the practice he had been ordered to stop for a full year and a half after the order was issued — a pretty textbook definition of contempt of court, so the verdict is unsurprising. U.S. District Judge Susan R. Bolton was less than impressed by his public statements flaunting his noncompliance, and relied on them in part to find “a flagrant disregard” for the order. Arpaio nonetheless remains convinced that a jury would not convict him, and plans to appeal the bench trial to get a trial by jury.
And that’s the week’s news! The news cycle has become so rapid that I bet tomorrow we’ll be in a different posture, but I’ll do my best to keep hitting all the key points each week. In the meantime, daily news summaries like WTFJHT and Today in Resistance are an excellent resource until we meet again!