The name of the game this week is ‘toxic weirdness,’ because we’re looking at a week that is deeply wild even by our current low standards. A lot of the strange stuff is also very, very damaging, so it’s worth paying close attention and discussing how to respond. (Except for Paul Ryan’s car getting eaten by woodchucks, which is just hilarious.)
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 bitcoin — 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:
This week, all the Casual Disregard of Governing Norms was seriously on steroids — there’s a lot going on, and almost all of it is off-the-wall intense. Here are the main things to know:
- SCOTUS Scouting, Part II. Trump announced last Monday that he was tapping Brett Kavanaugh as his next pick for the Supreme Court, though Justice Kennedy will remain in the seat until the end of the month. And while the whole selection process was strange, over the course of last week this entire story got way stranger. Though Kavanaugh’s credentials look fairly traditional on paper, news outlets began to report that Kennedy retired in exchange for his former clerk’s nomination — and that’s a serious problem if true, both because Supreme Court justices aren’t supposed to be able to pick their replacements and because it has major implications for cases like Trump v. Hawaii. And on top of that story, news hit that Kavanaugh had hundreds of thousands of dollars in credit card debt as recently as 2016, but that debt inexplicably vanished in 2017 — despite no changes in his salary or job status. So while all we have are some sketchy-looking pieces of a much larger jigsaw puzzle, they’re not exactly painting a pretty picture.
- Further Erosion of Actual Law and Order. This was not a great week for due process or law enforcement, I tell you what. First Trump pardoned two ranchers convicted of arson, who just so happened to also have sparked an armed occupation of a federal park when they were convicted back in 2016. But surely that’s not relevant to his decision to pardon them. After all, if you look at all of Trump’s pardons from the past year or so, the majority — Scooter Libby, Joe Arpaio, Dinesh D’Souza, the Hammonds — it’s not like he’s systemically issuing pardons designed to erode rules of law for targeted crimes such as ignoring court orders, perjuring oneself in court, and committing campaign finance fraud. Oh wait, no, it’s the other thing, where Trump is definitely doing that. And the same week, a DoJ attorney claimed in court that Guantanamo Bay could legally hold the same prisoner for a hundred years without ever charging them with anything. So it’s just been raining observed legal procedure all around this week.
- California DA Calling for Crime. A California District Attorney was suspended this week for, among other things, insinuating that sitting Congresswoman Maxine Waters should be shot. Folks, I need to unpack this a bit to explain why it’s so toxic that it merits going in the Constitutional Crisis corner, because it definitely does: A man who upholds and enforces criminal laws for a living — a government official in a profession that requires upstanding behavior at all times, I might add; you are expected to behave as an attorney 24/7 when you pass the bar — just advocated murdering his own sitting federal representative and he didn’t get fired for it. This indicates that in a lot of places, on local as well as federal levels, something is very, very wrong.
- Strzok Shouting Match. Former FBI staffer Peter Strzok testified before Congress this past week, but it didn’t exactly go well — though he had a clear message, which seems more-or-less borne out by time, the hearing devolved into shouting matches several times. All in all, I’m inclined to agree with Strzok’s assessment that the whole thing was just pageantry, but just the fact that the GOP and an FBI staffer were yelling at each other really shows how much our government has changed in the past few years.
The Russia Investigation was hyperactive, too — after a couple of relatively quiet weeks, it feels like a lot of things are happening at once.
- Manafort Goes to Regular Person Jail. Paul “I Got Sent to Jail for Witness Tampering” Manafort was apparently not in an especially secure or strict pretrial detention center, because first he complained about being two hours away from his lawyers — but when a transfer was granted, he then complained about being transferred away from his “VIP” detention center. And having read details about his prior detention center, I can see why he didn’t want to leave; incredibly, he had his own phone and laptop and was sending his attorneys emails. What I can’t understand is why he was complaining about anything involving his setup when he clearly had optimal conditions to rack up another witness tampering charge. At any rate, since he’s now more able to go through all of the documents with his attorneys for eight hours per day — again, a thing he wouldn’t ordinarily be easily able to do — we can expect his state charges to go forward soon.
- Your Data is Likely to Get Eaten by a GRU. Okay bear with me folks, because this is technical and long and out of my lane but also really important. Mueller’s team released indictments for twelve Russian officers of a foreign intelligence agency called GRU, which is basically the hacking arm of the Kremlin as far as I can tell. These individuals’ units used spearphishing to get data from the Clinton Campaign as well as the DCCC and DNC networks in a coordinated attack — one that Putin pretty much definitely knew about, and probably ordered. Incredibly, the indictments note the first instance of hacking Clinton’s emails “on or about July 27, 2016,” which — super-coincidence! — is also the same day Trump told Russia to hack Clinton’s emails. GRU then used false identities to disseminate all the information they scooped out of Democrat computers, reaching out to the Trump campaign under an alias and reportedly fielding at least one GOP candidate’s request for dirt on their opponent before sending the info along to “Organization 1,” which I’m pretty sure was Wikileaks. The charges in the indictment include Conspiracy to Commit an Offense Against the United States, Aggravated Identity Theft, and Conspiracy to Launder Money, so it will be interesting to see what happens from here to say the least.
- Courting Russia in Helsinki. The GOP and Trump’s connections to Russia definitely look extra shady in light of the news above, particularly because several GOP congresspeople visited Russians currently being sanctioned and the White House is demanding more information on the FBI’s practices during the 2016 election. But the most condemning thing to happen was definitely Trump meeting with Putin literally the very next business day after the news came out, despite Democrats entreating him to postpone the meeting. Once in Helsinki, his grand plan for putting Putin in his place involved calling America ‘stupid’ and throwing the FBI under the bus in favor of cozying further up to the autocrat, praising Putin’s offer to coordinate on investigation into his own interference on American elections, and just generally, as the AP noted, changing ‘America First’ to ‘Me First.’ The FBI was forced to issue a statement about their investigations while Putin literally told the press he wanted Trump to win the election — and given the past week, I can’t imagine why.
Your “Normal” Weird:
- Your Week in Trump Weirdness. Even ignoring the backdrop in the paragraph above, this was a particularly weird week to Trump-watch. First he insulted Germany, claiming that Angela Merkel was “captive” to Russia, because projection is a helluva drug. Then he yelled at NATO, demanding that they change their defense practices, and then proclaiming himself a “very stable genius” when they didn’t follow suit. Then for an encore, he criticized Theresa May repeatedly while visiting the UK, called literal recordings of him doing it ‘fake news,’ and announced that the European Union was a ‘foe’ of the United States. I seriously got nothin’, y’all.
- Stormy Daniels Is Arrested For… Things? Stormy Daniels was arrested in a strip club in Ohio for allowing ‘touching’ while dancing, only to see the charges dropped the very next morning. There’s a lot I don’t understand about this story — why did she even have a two-night gig dancing in Columbia, Ohio? Why were they sending undercover police officers to watch her dance in a sting operation? What was even happening here? But if it’s more than a blip I’m sure Michael Avenetti will tell us all about it, in excruciating detail, so I’ll keep you posted.
- Which Man’s Car Would a Woodchuck Eat (If A Woodchuck Could Eat Cars)? Paul Ryan apparently got back to his home in Wisconsin and discovered that a family of woodchucks had eaten his car while he was gone. Though, as CNN notes, Paul Ryan hasn’t driven himself anywhere in three years, so this might not have even been the work of contemporary woodchucks. (But either way, somewhere an antifa Disney Princess is singing the best protest song to her woodland friends.)
- Nonbinding Senate Tariffs Resolution. The Senate opted to make its voice heard about Trump’s tariff habits this past week, passing a resolution saying that he shouldn’t be able to do that unilaterally anymore by overwhelming majority. Unfortunately for all of us, probably including Trump, it’s not a binding resolution. And though it does technically send a message to Trump, he’s proven himself so uninterested in what anyone who isn’t him or Fox News has to say that it’s not likely to do much. But at least the sentiment is vaguely edifying.
- ACA Freeze. Possibly in response to reports of its relative strength, the Trump administration meddled with the ACA again, freezing billions in payments and claiming the action is in response to a February court case. The freeze may seriously mess up risk adjustment, which is a pretty popular aspect of the program — unsurprising, because this always seems to happen to the popular aspects of the program — but we’ll know more after a court case heard in late June comes back with a ruling.
- Immigration Updates: Still Horrible. The main immigration news to know this week is that only about half of the 107 kids under the age of five taken from their parents were returned in time to comply with the court order, in part because the administration is saying that many of the parents are ineligible to get their own kids back, generally due to having a criminal record of any kind (spoiler: We don’t consider that a bar to having custody of your own kids generally here in the U.S.). The Department of Justice also admitted that they may have separated a citizen family for an entire year, and we also started hearing horror stories of young children not recognizing their parents when reunited after long separation. So, while things are slowly getting better, it’s still full of nightmare fodder.
- Immigration Resilience. In an unsurprisingly rapid turn of events, federal judge Dolly Gee has already denied this administration’s attempts to change the Flores settlement to permit jailing of kids. In her decision, Judge Gee (correctly) noted that changing the order to allow jailing of kids, when the order is literally about how the government can’t jail kids, “would constitute a fundamental and material breach” of the agreement. Which is sort of like a government official noting that the sky is blue, but right now we have way too many officials claiming the sky’s whatever color Russia says it is, so I’ll take it.
And that’s the news this week, and good job and my condolences for making it through the whole thing; your reward is David Tennant with some muppets and hopefully an eventual better government. I’ll be back next week, and I hope you will be too. In the meantime, feel free to ping the National News Roundup ask box. Send me questions! Send me feedback! Send me your color commentary on what the heck!