Honestly, the theme of this week was “Taking This Horrorshow on the Road.” Between updates on the Russia investigation, increasingly draconian policies at the borders, withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal, and the release of North Korean prisoners, it definitely feels like the most noteworthy things to happen this past week occurred outside the country. But there’s still a huge amount of horrible happening domestically, and it’s a good idea to keep on top of that as well.
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 confirmation hearing! — 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:
It was another fairly quiet week regarding Casual Disregard of Governing Norms, but there was one major exception to this general rule:
- Haspel Confirmation Hearing. Only a few days after she had threatened to withdraw, Gina Haspel’s confirmation hearing began on Wednesday, with the occasion marked by the arrest of several protesters. Disturbingly, the shouting about torture may have actually helped Haspel’s chances, since she gained the support of a second Democrat and Dick Cheney used the whole thing as an opportunity to condone waterboarding. But even some Republicans appear queasy at Haspel’s refusal to agree with simple, straightforward statements like “Torture is bad,” so what happens from here is kind of anyone’s guess.
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:
- Cohen Circus Continues. There was even more news about Michael Cohen this past week, and it’s hard to sort out what’s mere monkeyshines and what’s genuinely concerning. First we learned that Novartis made payments to him to the tune of $1.2M after Trump became President, which definitely isn’t sketchy at all, and it turns out Cohen wasn’t even able to do what he was paid to do. AT&T hopped on the Pay Cohen to Be Incompetent Train as well, paying him $600,000 to get advice about their merger with Time Warner and getting net neutrality repealed. (They ended up ousting their top lobbyist over it.) But while those two are disturbing in their own right, they were pretty quickly overshadowed by Stormy Daniels’s lawyer announcing that Columbus Nova, an investment firm with ties to a Russian oligarch, also was paying Cohen a cool half-million. Then further news came out that this firm also set up a bunch of alt-right websites during the 2016 election, tying Russia more closely to alt-right causes yet again. The full impact and implications of all of this are still not clear, but I bet there will be more news on it soon.
- Mike Pence Continues to be Mike Pence. This week’s jackassery is his statement that it’s “time to . . . wrap up [the Mueller investigation]” in “the interest of the country.” His argument for why it’s time to conclude the investigation was simply that “it’s been about a year since this investigation began.” Also, he has a bridge he would like to sell us.
- Senate Intelligence Committee News. The Senate Intelligence Committee released a report on election security this week, and the findings were… not great. The committee found that Russia definitely tried to undermine confidence in the election system, targeting nearly half the states in the country and potentially altering or deleting voter registration data in several of them. Meanwhile, House Democrats also released thousands of Facebook ads that were purchased by Russian troll farms. The ads are surprisingly varied in scope, focusing on racially divisive issues in particular but encouraging political divisions in general. It’s… pretty creepy and sobering to realize they were seeding Black Lives Matter ads alongside MAGA ones, to be honest, and a great excuse to remind yourself how to follow credible news sources.
Your “Normal” Weird:
- Melania’s Be Best Campaign. Melania Trump rolled out a ‘Be Best’ campaign this week, which was originally listed as ‘by Melania Trump and the Federal Trade Commission.’ Except that it was first issued by the FTC in 2014, before Melania ever touched the White House, and the words ‘by Melania Trump’ referred to an eight-sentence introduction she added to the existing pamphlet. Given her history of stealing Michelle Obama’s words in 2016, it’s understandable that people are crying ‘plagiarism’ — not your best work, Melania.
- Scheiderman Resigns. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman resigned this week amid allegations of romantic partner abuse. The news is particularly upsetting given Schneiderman’s history as an advocate for women’s rights, and given surfacing allegations that Trump blackmailed Schneiderman over it to get the AG to drop the Trump University case. We apparently learned about the blackmail angle from the raid of Michael Cohen’s office, which of course was overseen by the US District Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and Schneiderman was widely regarded as Mueller’s backup plan for indicting Manafort and Gates. So it’s… all kind of an incestuous mess, to say the least.
- John McCain News. John McCain was one of several senators to speak out against Gina Haspel this week, going so far as to urge the Senate not to confirm her on the grounds that “[h]er refusal to acknowledge torture’s immorality is disqualifying.” The Daily Beast also reported that John McCain was the one who gave the Steele dossier to James Comey. Perhaps these two things were why a White House staffer was quoted as observing that McCain’s opposition “doesn’t matter, [because] he’s dying anyway” and therefore would not hold much sway in the Senate proceedings. The White House, of course, was very upset that the comment was leaked, but have no plans to issue any kind of apology, because their moral compasses are set to Permanent Opposite Day.
- North Korean Prisoners Released. North Korea released three American detainees this week in a gesture of goodwill that was positive but vaguely baffling. The released men appeared to be in good health, and the whole thing was likely publicity preparation for proposed peace talks.
- Immigration Updates. Despite news the previous week of DHHS losing almost 1,500 migrant children, the Trump administration announced a new policy this week to charge every single adult apprehended at the border and separate all adults and children as a matter of course. When questioned on the wisdom of this course of action, Trump’s chief of staff John Kelly apparently replied the children will be “put into foster care or whatever.” (Yes, the same foster care system that apparently loses one fifth of all its wards.) Meanwhile, this new policy appears linked to Trump’s anger at the current Secretary of Homeland Security, given reports that he blames her for rising apprehension rates at the border and recently berated her for thirty minutes straight in a Cabinet meeting. It also appears to be intended to dissuade people from exercising their right to seek asylum. Folks, nearly everything I just typed is busted on so many levels that I don’t even know where to start, so suffice to say, this is not good or humane policy.
- Iran Nuclear Deal. Trump announced this week that the U.S. was withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal, calling it “a horrible one-sided deal that should never have been made.” France, Germany, and Britain have already signaled that they plan to stay in the deal, releasing a joint statement noting their “concern and regret” that the United States is withdrawing. Iran is continuing to negotiate with them as well as Russia and China to see if a deal can be reached without us, even as thousands protest the U.S. withdrawal and Iran warns that it will not renegotiate. We should continue to watch this, and it wouldn’t be the worst idea to call reps about it.
- Ben Carson Suit. Civil rights groups are bringing a suit against Ben Carson for his failure to enforce a fair housing rule that forced communities to address systemic segregation if they wanted to receive HUD funding. They’re arguing that his actions violate the 1968 Fair Housing Act, and frankly, they’re probably right. I’m excited to see where this lawsuit goes.
And that’s the news this week! I’m afraid next week looks like it’s gearing up to be an awful news week, if today is any indication, and I’m sure we’ll be crying in our comfort foods 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 hope for tomorrow!