Well, this week sure happened! It was like three weeks crammed into a one-week bag (again), but at least there was some good mixed in among the bad. So, as is so often true these days, it could have been worse.
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 House committee! — 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:
The Russia Investigation continued to be fast-paced and off-the-wall this week, though at least we had more time to get used to it. Here’s everything that happened, with the caveat that it remains confusing and mostly outside my specialty:
- Finalizing Flynn Sentence. Mueller issued sentencing recommendations this week for Michael Flynn, who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI over a year ago on December 1, 2017. Incredibly, the memo references nineteen different interviews, which I would say definitely counts as “substantial cooperating” with Mueller, and that cooperation plus the memo’s the frequent redactions should have Trump worried. Given the breadth of cooperation, it’s not surprising that Mueller is recommending a sentence “at the low end of the advisory guideline range” — although for Flynn’s sake, I hope the sentence due on December 18 also includes some kind of witness protection.
- Cohen Keepaway.* Though Cohen requested a favorable sentence that lacked prison time just like Flynn’s, that wasn’t quite what he got from federal prosecutors recommending a substantial prison sentence on Friday. Mueller himself was a bit more forgiving, noting Cohen’s efforts to cooperate and other mitigating factors. But probably the biggest news about the whole affair was the fact that the forty-page sentencing memorandum directly implicates Donald Trump on issues of campaign finance, which has the potential to be a first step in charges against Trump himself.
- Moar Manafort Memos.* Mueller submitted a memorandum on why Manafort breached his plea agreement this week, and though we didn’t get as many details as we had hoped, we did learn the question is less “What did Manafort lie about” and more “What didn’t he try to snow them on?” I can’t get over how incredibly ill-advised it is to lie frequently and often after being convicted of eight counts of fraud, but given his Magical Witness Tampering Tour I probably shouldn’t be surprised — gravely underestimating how toasted he’ll be when inevitably caught is kind of Manafort’s thing.
- Comey Questioned by Committees.* While everything else was going on, former FBI Director James Comey was deposed on Friday by two House committees regarding Russia and Hillary Clinton’s emails. Comey complained after that most of the questions were about Clinton, and to his point, her name shows up in the transcript 116 times (and for those of y’all playing the home game, this contrasts with ‘Russia’ coming up 128 times and ‘collusion’ coming up only 16). But of course, that didn’t stop Trump from yelling about the Steele dossier two days later because something something Rigged Fraud.
- Trump Is Not, In Fact, Done (Redux). This was not Trump’s best week regarding the Russia investigation, so it’s not surprisingly he was yelling about “a major Counter Report” to respond to Mueller’s investigation and generally degrading it with typo-ridden tweets. (It’s a bit less understandable that he apparently blames Mueller for his low approval rating, and also got into a protracted fight with Rex Tillerson, who doesn’t even work for him anymore, but I guess everyone blows off steam differently?) Of course, if I were him, I’d be most worried about the news that fourteen different associates had contact with Russia during his campaign and transition, the fact that he got accused of committing a felony in Cohen’s sentencing memo, or the fact that House Dems are starting to call for impeachment. But that’s just me.
We also saw a few stories on the Disregard of Governing Norms front. Here are the main things to know from this past week:
- Kelly Speculation. While everyone and their kid sister were watching… everything else on Friday, news also started to float down about John Kelly. Or, more precisely, rumors brewed that Trump and White House chief of staff John Kelly were no longer speaking, and that John Kelly’s job was not long for this world. Then Trump announced that Kelly would be gone by the end of the year, but his preferred pick Nick Ayers refused the job, and now the news cycle is pretty much a free-for-all. Of course, since his new picks for Attorney General and UN Ambassador are such nightmare fuel, I’m a bit afraid to see who ends up tapped — but more on that below.
- New Staffing Nightmares. Trump announced at the end of this week that he’ll be selecting Bush-era AG William Barr as the next Attorney General and former Fox anchor Heather Nauert as the next UN Ambassador. And between Barr’s weird fixation on investigating Clinton and Nauert’s… well, Foxnewsiness, these aren’t exactly picks that fill most of us with confidence. (Both Barr and Nauert will need to be approved by the Senate, so this should be an interesting month, to say the least.)
Your “Normal” Weird:
- Shutdown Slowed Down. Congress and Trump officially agreed to push the shutdown deadline back to December 21 due to the passing of former President George H.W. Bush. But since that kicks the can out to only a few days before Christmas, it’s not clear what this will mean in two weeks. Needless to say, things may get even messier once the new House is in session, so we should keep an eye on this.
- More Saudi Sketchiness.* News broke this week that Saudi-representing lobbyists booked 500 rooms at a Trump hotel immediately after the 2016 election, which would definitely be an emoluments clause violation if half of Congress weren’t pretending that’s not a thing. (Fortunately for us, judges, the other half of Congress, and a bunch of hacked-off ethics groups keep remembering for them, so we’ll likely see this pop up in court as well.) The news is causing people to pay closer attention to Jared Kushner’s unusually strong ties to the Saudi royal family, and it;’s very possible we’ll see Kushner more directly swept up in one or more of the other investigations, so it behooves us to keep an eye on all of this.
- Committee Hacking Ahead of Elections (Again).* Apparently the midterm elections had its very own set of hacked political emails, this time on the Republican end. The main differences are that nobody leaked the content everywhere, and consequently Republican leadership didn’t realize the NRCC had been hacked until Politico told them about it. The investigation is still ongoing as I write this, which is probably for the best.
- Election ‘Irregularities.’ The midterm elections may be over, but a bunch of related shenanigans are only beginning. In Texas, GOP leaders are trying to remove their own vice-chair from power for the extremely compelling reason that the dude is Muslim. And in Wisconsin and Michigan, GOP legislators are taking steps to strip power from offices with incoming Democrats in a move very reminiscent of North Carolina’s gubernatorial struggles in 2016. And speaking of North Carolina, the election fraud picture down there just keep getting worse with every new fraud detail that comes out — so it’s hardly surprising that the Dem candidate officially withdrew his concession and investigations are ongoing. We definitely need to be keeping tabs on these stories, for obvious reason.
- Climate Change Calamity Causes.* Against the backdrop of recent climate change reports, it’s kind of stunning that the EPA announced plans to relax carbon emissions rules this week — but they are apparently mostly for nonexistent new coal plants, so I guess things even out? On the “more likely to actually impact reality” front, we also have the Trump administration’s plan to drill in Alaska, which has been in the works for a little while but is gaining steam. Neither development is exactly joy-inducing, but nor is either set in stone, so we’ll have to see what happens.
- Dow and Meng Turbulence. The Dow had been doing a bit better of late, probably because Trump announced a tentative deal with China. But then Canada arrested a Chinese company’s CFO, Meng Wanzhou, over alleged attempts to circumvent Iran sanctions, and all H-E-double-hockeystick broke loose (for both the Dow and world politics). At the time that I write this, Meng is facing charges, trade talks between China and the US are understandably shaky, China is trying to separate the talks from the arrest, and the market has no idea what is going on. So where we are by this time next week is kind of anybody’s guess.
- Heather Heyer Case Ends in Conviction. This is less ‘good’ and more ‘grimly satisfying,’ but the man who killed Heather Heyer in Charlottesville last year, James Fields, was convicted of first degree murder this week. He now faces the possibility of life in prison, though he has not yet been sentenced at the time that I write this. Nothing that happened in his trial will bring back the person he killed, but it’s important to see society taking this kind of hate crime seriously.
- Pentagon Relents. This last one is actual good news, I promise! A court decision has forced the Pentagon to start sending green card holding recruits to basic training again, ending a form of discrimination that was hurting the military as well as denying opportunities to immigrants. It’s unclear whether this policy will be permanently overturned, becasue it’s another stay via injunction, but it’s nonetheless a step in the right direction.
So that’s what I have for this week, and I’m sorry there’s no returning it to sender. For making it through, you deserve this video of a bobcat named Mr. Murderbritches enjoying his newfound freedom and an eventual better government. I’ll be back next week with more (and hopefully less) news, and I hope you will be back as well — but in the meantime, feel free to ping the National News Roundup ask box, which is there for your constructive comments. Send me questions! Send me feedback! Send me a timeturner so I have a hope of getting everything done!