National News Roundup: Year 2, Week 5 (February 18–24)

Ernest Blaikley, via Wikimedia Commons

Folks, you seriously don’t even wanna know how many articles I have combed through on the topic of Parkland and/or gun control this week. I’m afraid most of it is a flaming trash heap — I particularly loathe the part where we apparently dox and threaten teen shooting survivors now — but I’ll try to give you the ten cent tour anyway. Bear with me and bare your teeth, because we have a long road ahead of us.

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 Simpsons writer! — 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:

So much positive change happened on the Russia Investigation in one week that I’m tempted to wonder whether Trump’s gun control antics are an attempt to distract us — although Occam’s razor suggests that he just really is that terrible. At any rate, here are the Russia-hued highlights:

  • The Nunes Memo: Somehow Still Topical. The House Democrats released a version of their counter to the Nunes memo this week, after substantial redaction at Trump’s direction. The report, at minimum, confirms that the Steele dossier wasn’t the basis for the Russia investigation; it does not, however, clear up the arguments over McCabe statements very much. All told, it’s minor support for the idea that Nunes is an jackass with a selective memory, but we basically knew that already.
  • Skadden Lawyer Pleads Guilty. On Tuesday, Mueller finalized a guilty plea and cooperation from Alex van der Zwaan, an attorney who spoke regularly with Manafort and Gates in fall 2016. Though this is far from the most interesting or important thing to happen in the past week, it probably did serve as a stepping stone to some of the later activity in the week, particularly when the Gates plea did not finalize as early as expected.
  • The Increasingly Elaborate Manafort-Gates Saga. The real meat and potatoes of this week’s Russia Investigation news is all of the news on Robert Manafort and Rick Gates, two sketchy dudes who worked on and headed the Trump campaign (respectively). Despite expectations, Gates had not yet plead guilty by the beginning of the week (though, as I noted above, van der Zwaan did). But then Mueller released new, additional indictments for both Gates and Manafort mid-week, significantly broadening the risk of exposure if they don’t cooperate. Having read the indictments, I can personally confirm the new indictments are wild, y’all — it’s a zany tour of how many different ways two people can commit tax and bank fraud to the tune of millions upon millions of dollars. The indictments also have a surprisingly complete account of wrong-doing for the incredible reason that Manafort made Gates convert all his Word documents to PDF, resulting in a paper trail for every fraudulent record created. Against that backdrop, it’s not surprising that Gates did ultimately plead guilty in exchange for cooperation and a reduced sentence by the end of the week. I hope his defection flips Manafort like a day-old pancake.

Your “Normal” Weird:

  • Ted Cruz vs the Simpsons. Ted Cruz won the undying animosity of Simpsons showrunner Al Jean this week by announcing that “the Democrats are the party of Lisa Simpson, and Republicans are happily the party of Homer and Bart and Maggie and Marge.” How Maggie has a political party as a canonical infant was not explored in the statement, though Al Jean had a lot to say about it. Meanwhile, liberals are proud to align with Lisa Simpson, who I’m not ashamed to admit was a role model for me when I was her age. (I was six when The Simpsons premiered, and now that I’ve pointed this out you get to feel as old as I do. You’re welcome.)
  • Thank Goodness Trump Created the Rating System. This week’s subtheme of Incredibly Weird Comments about Pop Culture continues with some statements Trump made proposing a rating system for movies and video games as a solution for mass shootings. Which, in Trumpland, we apparently don’t already have, and apparently didn’t first adopt in 1968. Seriously, the movie rating system is so old that it has been in place Trump’s entire adult life, and even the video game rating system has been in place for twenty-four years. And, of course, this doesn’t even consider the fact that there’s no documented evidence for the link between movie violence and real-life violence. So, in basic summary: Yeesh.
  • White House Shenanigans. There was a fair amount of ridiculous White House shenanigans this week, which basically makes it like any other week since January 2017 but here we are. First in the queue, Trump pressured Sessions to do his first sanctioned investigation relating to Russian election interference — but not on Russia; that would make way too much sense. Instead, Trump is badgering Sessions to investigate Obama. (Fun fact: The reason Obama couldn’t do more about Russian interference is well-documented, and it rhymes with ‘SchmcConnell.’) As though to punctuate the White House dysfunction, while all this is going on there has also been an epic standoff between chief of staff John Kelly and local son-in-law Jared Kushner about Kushner’s security clearance, which still hasn’t been finalized after a year of investigation. My bet is that this will keep happening in the background of everything else this administration does right up until Trump is impeached or Kelly is fired. Whee, nepotism!

The Bad:

The Good:

  • Recent Court Wins. The Supreme Court declined to subvert ordinary judicial process today, refusing to hear the DACA injunction case before the 9th Circuit did. This was the expected outcome, but it’s still very relieving to hear; the court would not have been signaling anything good if it had met the Trump Administration’s demands and heard arguments. And in other good legal news, the Second Circuit held that federal discrimination laws also prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, making them the second circuit in the United States to do so. As a bonus, this court ignored a Trump memorandum stating the direct opposite in order to reach its conclusion — and it’s not even one of the two circuits that are known for thwarting him. Between the two decisions, it’s a happy day in Legal Schadenfreude Land.
  • Kentucky Special Election Results. A deeply red district elected a Democrat to the Kentucky House in a special election by a landslide 49 points this week, though the House itself will still be GOP-controlled. This is exciting because it’s such a huge change from the area’s traditional voting patterns, potentially forecasting the extreme landscape change we might see later this year in midterm elections and beyond. (Admittedly nothing is set in stone, but I’m daring to dream here.)
  • Parkland Organizing Continues Too. The flip side to the horrorshow outlined above is that some good advocacy and organizing have happened in the past week, too. Many, many companies have cut ties with the NRA in the past week, particularly after the NRA started expressing nasty sentiments about Parkland teens. And the teens themselves have continued to advocate in town hall meetings, interviews, and sessions with legislators, and a town hall hosted by CNN resulted in some deeply satisfying (and completely deserved) Marco Rubio savagery. My favorite, incidentally, is the teen who observed that we should call AR-15s ‘Marco Rubios’ because they’re both “so easy to buy.” Yikes.

And that’s all the news that’s fit to print this week, though much of it barely merits that kind of dignity. If you made it all the way through, my ice cream and I salute you. Here’s hoping next week is less terrible.

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