The name of the game this week is ‘weird.’ Seriously, folks — the bad news is weird. The good news is weird. Even the Mueller investigation stuff is weird. There’s a bit of straight-up-bad news as well — because we’re still living under the Trump administration — but for the most part it’s incompetence, ignorance, and one-eighties all the way down.
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 stump speech! — 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:
Though not as much as last week, there were still a couple of Casual Disregard of Governing Norms this week as well. Here are the main things to know:
- Rod Rosenstein Rabble-rousing.* The Freedom Caucus and deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein have been engaging in a standoff over the past week or so, with Rosenstein refusing to turn over documents relating to Hillary Clinton’s email server and the Russia investigation, and the Freedom Caucus drafting articles of impeachment against him in response. Trump, who never wants to be left out of a good Hillary bashing, tweeted that he will ‘get involved’ by ‘us[ing] the powers granted to the Presidency’ if this continues, which I’m interpreting to mean firing Rosenstein. And if you’re currently wondering whether you read that right, yes, you did; he is indeed threatening to fire the guy currently overseeing the Russia investigation and say it was over Hillary Clinton’s emails.
- Phony Pence Proclamations. This week in ‘How Did He Do That With a Straight Face,’ Vice President Pence is on the campaign trail for former sheriff and U.S. Senate candidate Joe Arpaio — the guy who was found in contempt of court for refusing to follow due process of law and then pardoned for it, that former sheriff Arpaio. As part of his stumping statements, Pence would like us to know that Arpaio is a “tireless champion of the rule of the law.” In related news, Pence would like to remind the good people of Arizona that they have always been at war with Eurmexico.
There was a fair amount happening this week on the Russia Investigation front too, as several different interrelated issues moved forward. Here’s a summary of the main things to know:
- Mueller Questions Released. A list of questions prepared by Mueller and sent to Trump’s attorneys for vetting was leaked this week, giving the public more insight into what angles Mueller planned to investigate on the collusion investigation. Trump wasted no time falsely claiming there were no questions about collusion on this list, which is kind of a head-scratcher strategy when we literally have a list of the questions and some of them are things like ‘What discussions did you have during the campaign regarding any meeting with Mr. Putin?’ and ‘During the campaign, what did you know about Russian hacking . . .?’ But putting that aside, unanswered questions about the overall oddness have some outlets speculating that the questions were either leaked by Trump’s team intentionally or weren’t real questions in the first place (or perhaps both).
- Trump Legal Change-Up. And speaking of Trump and lawyers, his team had another shakeup this week, with Ty Cobb “retiring” from service to spend more time with his spectacular mustache. He’s replaced on the Legal Dream Team by Clinton impeachment veteran Emmet Flood. With all of the personnel changes, despite Rudy Giuliani saying Trump might yet meet with Mueller at some point in the future, it’s not looking as likely as Mueller having to subpoena a sitting President.
- Rudy Giuliani Interview for the Ages. Rudy Giuliani went on Fox News this past week and said some stuff he maybe should not have said on national television if he wanted to be an effective advocate. The biggest piece of news from the interview was Giuliani saying that Trump reimbursed Cohen for the $130,000 Stormy Daniels payment — which is, to put it mildly, not the narrative direction the rest of the team has been taking. And while this might have been a strategic choice to disclose information before Mueller could, Giuliani’s note that the payment was ‘funneled through the law firm’ to avoid campaign finance violations was…not great for Team Trump. Which is probably why Trump immediately put out a suspiciously-well-spelled series of tweets contradicting the claim. Meanwhile, Giuliani managed to put his foot in his mouth again while trying to walk back his statements, a trend which by now has continued on for so long that Matt Kiser has started a Department of Things Rudy Giuliani Has Said Lately. And while all of that was going on, further evidence surfaced that the Trump Campaign did indeed pay some of Cohen’s legal fees. Since Cohen wasn’t officially employed by the campaign, that makes the next question whether these payments related to the collusion investigation or not. Stay tuned next week, for what inevitably will be another installment of When Rudy Giuliani Opens His Mouth.
Your “Normal” Weird:
- ICE Pick Retires. Trump’s pick to lead Immigration Customs and Enforcement, Thomas Homan, announced he plans to step down before his nomination even got a Senate vote. Though the official story is that he wants to spend more time with his family, Homan is apparently noted for having considerable problem with the current Secretary of Homeland Security.
- Poor Form Physicals. A former Trump physician, Harold Bornstein, disclosed this week that a complimentary letter endorsing Trump’s ‘extraordinary health’ in 2015 was, in fact, literally dictated by Trump. Though some identified that the letter didn’t quite read right at the time, it didn’t get much attention overall. But fast-forward two and a half years and one office break-in by White House staff later, the physician appears to have disclosed his own malpractice.
- Cambridge Analytica Folds. Only about a month after all the brouhaha around Cambridge Analytica misusing Facebook data became national news, the company is closing shop and filing for bankruptcy. The company has complained that news had driven away all of its customers, but it’s hard to take that claim seriously when the news hit so recently. (You know, generally, when we describe things associated with this administration as a “smash and grab” administration, we aren’t being quite this literal.)
- Paul Ryan and the House of God. News broke last week that the resignation of House chaplain Patrick Conroy, announced by Paul Ryan in mid-April, wasn’t exactly voluntary, and then outlets started reporting that the ouster was due to remarks urging support of indigent people. Once Conroy realized that it was apparently an option, he went ahead and un-resigned, basically daring Ryan to fire him for cause. Since there apparently wasn’t any, Ryan flinched first, and Conroy is now back in place as the House chaplain again.
- Iowa vs. Roe v. Wade. Iowa passed an extraordinarily restrictive abortion bill this past week, prohibiting abortion procedures as soon as a heartbeat is detected (and potentially as early as six weeks into pregnancy). Regardless of opinions on the morality of abortion, this law is very noteworthy because it’s quite obviously and intentionally unconstitutional — under constitutional precedent, early-term abortions generally must be permitted before the 22nd week, and both liberals and conservatives say the law is intended to land in front of the Supreme Court so that Roe v. Wade can be overturned. This approach has several issues, not the least of which being that Roe v. Wade was already partially overturned by Planned Parenthood v. Casey in 1992 (which clarified the present-day viability and undue burden standards). But more to the point, at a time when we’re watching a Presidency attack our rule of law with wanton abandon, it’s disconcerting to watch any state government help him.
- Immigration Updates. News broke this week that the Department of Health and Human Services somehow managed to lose nearly 1,500 migrant children who had been placed with sponsors throughout the country, which is as improbable as it is horrifying — since there are only about 7,600 total children in adult sponsor placement in the country, the missing children make up nearly one-fifth of all children in their care. Against this backdrop, you can’t exactly blame Democratic Senator Heidi Heitkamp for telling DHHS officials, “You are the worst foster parents in the world.” And in other poor immigration news, the Department of Homeland Security announced this week that it intends to end temporary protective status for 57,000 Hondurans currently living in the United States, marking the sixth TPS program to be ended in the past year.
- Tariff Temporary Reprieve. Several U.S. allies (most notably, the EU, Canada and Mexico) got a temporary reprieve this week, with the White House deciding to delay tariffs against their imports for another month. It looks like this might be a step intended to buy time to negotiate skipping imposing tariffs against these allies entirely, which would be even better, so we should check for more news around June 1.
- CIA Nomination going MIA. News broke this past week that CIA nominee Gina Haspel, who you may remember as The Nominee What with the Waterboarding History, is apparently considering withdrawing her nomination. Even better, her reasoning was apparently that she is worried about surviving a Senate vote on account of all the torture. It’s still too soon to tell whether she’s seriously considering stepping back or this is just a ploy to rile up Trump, but I really hope it’s the former.
And that’s the news this week! Enjoy the mostly-benign surreality while it’s possible, because we’ll be back to a Trash Fire special by this time next week. But I’ll be back, and I’m hoping so will you, and if you need anything before then, feel free to ping the National News Roundup ask box. Send me questions! Send me feedback! Send me small flightless water fowl!