I described the news this week to someone as “chaotic petty” earlier today, which seems as good a descriptor as any — it’s shades of dirty surreality nearly all the way down, my friends. Still, that’s better than last week, so I suppose I’ll take it.
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’s news contains some detailed analysis that’s outside my expertise — I’m a lawyer, not a Medusa, unless you ask Courtland Sykes! — 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:
There was a metric ton of news on the Russia Collusion Investigation front this week, and some of it was pretty wild. Most of it can be boiled down to updates on the Mueller investigation, one way or another:
- Mueller’s Minion Movement.* News broke this past week that Mueller quietly interviewed Jeff Sessions last week, looking for information on a potential obstruction of justice claim. This is a big deal, both because Sessions is the first member of this bizarro Presidential Cabinet to be interviewed and because there’s growing evidence to suggest that Sessions has been doing Trump’s dirty work, especially on obstruction-of-justice-related issues (though I’ll say more about that below). Meanwhile, Mueller prepares to interview Steve Bannon as well, and Senate Democrats are pressing to give Mueller a transcript of Trump Jr’s testimony, which is basically another way of saying they think he perjured himself. So there’s a lot going on right now.
- Mueller vs. Trump.* In addition to the other movement mentioned above, Mueller has begun pressing to interview Trump himself. This news was originally met with Trump’s typical bluster that he “would love to do it” and “is looking forward to it,” — leaving personal attorney and all-around whipping boy Ty Cobb to walk back the statement afterwards. Mueller has already given a list of subjects to Trump’s attorneys, signaling that this interview is likely to happen in the next few weeks; though I obviously haven’t seen the list, I bet he added a couple new ones after multiple bombshells hit this week — more on that below.
- Potpourri of Sketchy Trump Moves.* This week was a veritable cornucopia of bad Trump behavior coming to light, and nearly all of it involved obstruction of justice in one way or another. First news broke that one of Trump’s first actions post-Comey-firing was to quiz acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe about how he voted in the 2016 election, continuing his disturbing theme of demanding absolute loyalty from the FBI and having no boundaries. (Eventually he also told Sessions to get McCabe fired, and now McCabe is stepping down, and I’m sure that’s entirely unrelated.) But the really big story of the week is that Trump ordered Mueller fired in June, and the only reason we didn’t hear about this sooner is that White House Counsel with a Modicum of Sense Don McGahn refused to follow the order and threatened to resign over it. And presumably he’s the only guy who knows how Trump files his taxes, so Trump backed down. Then, as CNN gleefully points out, the White House publicly denied that this happened eight times, further building Mueller’s obstruction of justice case for him. So now, of course, It Is On in Congress, with Democrats clamoring to pass legislation to protect Mueller’s process and Republicans divided on whether they would support it.
In addition to all of those gems, this week there was also some rare movement in both directions on the Emoluments Clause issue:
- RNC Rotgut. Arguments in an emoluments clause lawsuit moved forward this past week, apparently in front of a fairly receptive judge. And that’s not a moment too soon, because multiple outlets are reporting that Trump plans to address the RNC at his own hotel this upcoming week — which, and here’s the kicker, isn’t even the hotel where the RNC gathering is being held. These two things are probably related, in case anyone was curious.
Your “Normal” Weird:
- DACA Debates. This was a pretty weird week on the DACA front, and I don’t say that lightly. Trump made an offer on Wednesday that managed to piss off nearly everybody, because it both granted a path to citizenship for Dreamers (a thing we don’t currently have at all) and also ended family-based migration (a thing we definitely currently have, and half the Trump administration personally benefited from). Then by Thursday, Schumer had officially rejected Trump’s plan and it looked like the Senate was planning to drop DACA from budget talks all together, although there are still some bipartisan efforts floating around. And if you’re scratching your head saying “Didn’t the Democrats literally agree to reopen on the condition that DACA was addressed only three days before?” Why yes, gentle reader, yes they did.
- Davos Drop-In.* Trump appears to have mostly managed his two-day trip to Davos for the World Economic Forum, prompting not much worse than some booing when he trash-talked the press. It’s a bit surprising that he managed to talk with global leaders without spitting on himself, but on the other hand, expectations weren’t high and his involvement wasn’t that great to begin with, so perhaps it’s all relative.
- Solar Panel Blues.* Trump initiated a tariff on solar panels this week, alienating a bunch of conservatives as well as a bunch of liberals. But the events leading up to the tariffs seem pretty convoluted, and that might explain why his actions are being defended by Al Gore, of all people. It’s hard for me to tell at this early stage whether this will be bad, but it’s certainly strange, so the Weird column it is.
- Good for You, Guggenheim. News broke this week that the Guggenheim refused the Trumps’ request to borrow a van Gogh painting in September. To soften the blow, however, they offered to loan the Trumps a used gold toilet that was part of an interactive piece called ‘America.’ Said toilet had been installed as a temporary interactive exhibit in a public restroom in the museum. The story is just the latest illustration of an incredibly consistent truth to emerge in the past year, which is that nobody hates Trump quite like New Yorkers do.
- Abortion Ban Legislation Alert.* McConnell has moved to hold a vote on legislation introduced by Lindsay Graham that would ban abortions after 20 weeks (which is about halfway through the second trimester, for those of you playing the home game). The measure will require 60 votes, which McConnell isn’t terribly likely to get, but it’s likely Trump put pressure on him to move forward after more than a week of pro-life action. And regardless of whether he has the votes, we should still watch this carefully.
- Sexism and Sketchism. This was really not a great week for the role of women in politics, I tell you what. First news broke that Rep Patrick Meehan used taxpayer money to settle a sexual harassment suit brought by a former aide, and then later said she “specifically invited” his overtures. Eventually he announced that he would not seek reelection in 2018, and it just couldn’t have happened to a nicer sleazeball. Finance chairman of the RNC and all-around creepy rich guy Steve Wynn resigned amid sexual harassment claims as well, and I know I’ll sure never look at the Bellagio the same way again. Meanwhile, Missouri Senate candidate Courtland Sykes wants everyone to know he’s onto us Gorgon feminists, what with our snake-filled heads brimming with ideas about being allowed to wear shoes. And last but not least, a bunch of media outlets are very concerned that we know about Hillary Clinton’s PR decisions from ten years ago, because docking an employee several weeks of pay and ordering counseling was definitely an inappropriate response to harassment in 2008 if you were a female politician. (Note that no accountability has been placed, funnily enough, on the aide who harassed people.) So all of that was a fun jaunt into 1952.
- Net Neutrality Executive Orders.* Governors of Montana and New York both signed executive orders this week enforcing net neutrality in their states. Because the FCC’s decision preempts direct regulation of ISPs, both of the executive orders require state agencies to only do business with ISPs that offer neutral services. I’m genuinely really curious to see what happens to these orders legally, and I’m also excited to see states taking proactive steps to try to preserve an important process. So, thanks Montana and New York! We forgive you for Greg Gianforte and Donald Trump. For now.
- Cleveland Indians Come Clean. The Cleveland Indians announced today that they are retiring their beloved racist caricature of a mascot from team uniforms, opting for a new depiction beginning in 2019. While it would be cool for them to stop calling themselves ‘the Cleveland Indians’ while they are at it, or possibly just fully retire the merchandise instead of continuing to sell it, I’ll take baby steps where I find them.
- Nassar Nightmares End. Speaking of sports, this past week also concluded a notorious sentencing hearing of Larry Nassar, the doctor convicted of sexually assaulting ten adolescent athletes who presented to him for medical care from 1995 through 2018. The sentencing hearing drew more and more accounts of abuse into the open, ultimately culminating in over 150 people disclosing sexual abuse in the guise of medical care (including multiple Olympic gymnasts). He was sentenced to 40 to 175 years of incarceration for the underlying ten sexual assault on a minor convictions; this is in addition to a 60 year sentence for child pornography already handed down and a separate sentencing hearing for Michigan charges that begins on January 31. There is also a separate lawsuit pending, with over 140 plaintiffs, alleging institutional complicity on the part of Nassar’s affiliates USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University. All told, it’s truly staggering that this pattern continued for twenty years as uninterrupted as it did, and the closing of that chapter of sports practice can only be a good thing.
And that’s all the news that I have for now. If we’re following old patterns, next week will be a good news cycle. And I think we can all use some good news, so I’m gonna go ahead and hope for it. But either way, catch you next time!