Okay folks, I suggest that you brace yourself now — this week’s Constitutional Crisis Corner is on a whole new level, and I don’t mean that in the “oh hey I progressed in Donkey Kong Country” way. (Although Trump’s Kremlin(g) impression keeps getting more transparent. Watch out for those barrels of dynamite! I’ll be under the bed.)
Standard standing reminders apply: I am no journalist, though I play one in your inbox or browser, so I’m mostly summarizing the news within my area of expertise. NNR summaries often contain some detailed analysis that’s outside my expertise — I’m a lawyer, not a tax return! — but all offroad adventures are marked with an asterisk. And, of course, for the things that are within my lane, I’m offering context that shouldn’t be considered legal advice. Okay, I think that’s about it for the disclaimers. Onward to the news!
Constitutional Crisis Corners:
The Constitutional Crisis Corner now has a brand new subsection, and I suggest we all grow to love it because it’s going to be here a while. So let me be the first to welcome you to Whistleblowing Ukraine Biden Bingo, the game we all hate and will likely be stuck playing for the next month or more:
- What Whistleblowing?* Let’s start with the lead-in to the current crisis. News broke at the top of last week that the director of national intelligence was refusing to hand over a whistleblowing complaint filed on August 12 to the House Intelligence Committee, and apparently reached this conclusion after talking with the Justice Department and the White House about it. This would have been bad no matter what, but was extra terrible because the complaint had already been flagged an “urgent concern” by the Inspector General and said acting director had a legal obligation to cough it up under statute. Eventually he did agree to testify after the House Intelligence Committee threatened to sue, but by then everybody wanted to know what was up with his hinky behavior. Then the thing that was up turned out to be Trump, who was apparently speaking to the newly-elected President of Ukraine. Then we learned it was about a promise made on said phone call, which happened the day after Mueller testified. Then we learned the exact topic was investigating Joe Biden’s son, which he pushed for several times this summer and sent Giuliani abroad to set up, incentivizing the whole thing with U.S. military aid. And with that last revelation, the three rings of this month’s circus were officially in place.
- The Trump Response(tm). Trump and his team handled these allegations about as well as you might expect, which is to say not well at all. First Trump went the denial route, saying that the complaint came from a “partisan whistleblower” (despite not knowing who filed it) and tweet-ranting that the whole thing was a “Ukraine witch-hunt.” Then Giuliani admitted his role in the whole thing on national television, so Trump pivoted to say that yeah, the July 25 phone call happened, but it was “perfectly fine and routine” despite also confirming the content of the discussion, and insisted that “someone ought to look into Joe Biden.” Then today he declared that he should get a Nobel peace prize and followed by insinuating that Joe Biden should be electrocuted, and I honestly can’t believe I’m not making any of that up.
- So Are We Impeaching, Or What?* Most analyses I’m seeing are (correctly) noting that what Trump has admitted to is definitely an impeachable offense, and in fact exactly the type of offense that the entire impeachment system is designed to address (regardless of whatever turns out to be going on with Hunter and Joe Biden). At the time that I draft this, at least 138 House Democrats are calling for impeachment, including multiple reps from centrist districts. And while Adam Schiff appears to be climbing off the fence on the topic, Nancy Pelosi is still dragging her feet. In her Sunday letter, she called the whole thing a “grave new chapter of lawlessness” and referenced a “whole new stage of investigation,” but merely demanded Congress get to see the complaint and speak to the whistleblower. (Just to remind the folks at home, under federal law Congress is supposed to see the complaint no matter what else is happening, so this isn’t much of a demand.) Pelosi is meeting with officials tomorrow, and here’s hoping she moves closer to the general vicinity of the impeachment bandwagon as a result.
Despite all of the above, we do still have some Russia Investigation news, though it sort of pales in comparison. Here’s what I have right now:
- Lewandowski Testimony. Former Trump campaign staffer Corey Lewandowski at least ostensibly attempted to testify before the House Judiciary Committee this past week, in what is widely regarded as their first official impeachment hearing on obstruction of justice — and by all accounts, he was a real peach about it. Among the lowlights: Refusing to answer questions; mocking sitting Senators; and announcing his own 2020 Senate campaign.
Just like every week, there was also a fair amount of Disregard of Governing Norms outside of the whole whistleblowing parade. Here’s what I have for you:
- Air Emission What Now.* In the latest escalation of the ongoing air emission argument Trump is having with half the automative industry, the administration is moving to revoke California’s agreement with these automakers to adhere to stricter emission standards. The state’s authority to set stricter standards dates back to 1968 and is comes from the Clean Air Act itself, which is one of many reasons this bonkers move likely isn’t legal. The revocation also impacts the thirteen other states that agreed to follow the stricter standards, so it’s not surprising that 23 states are suing in response.
- Tax Return Fight Redux.* At the top of the week,the Manhattan District Attorney subpoenaed eight years of Trump tax documents pursuant to an investigation of the Stormy Daniels payment. Ordinarily this would be good news, but Trump responded by suing the DA right back, saying that he can’t be investigated while he’s President. And a federal judge also granted an injunction to stop California from requiring tax disclosure of all 2020 Presidential candidates, setting back the tax issue even further (though it will almost certainly be appealed).
- Elaine Chao Investigation. Transportation secretary Elaine Chao is being investigated for alleged ethics violations — and for those of you playing the home game, yes, you are correctly remembering that this is Mitch McConnell’s wife. She’s supposed to turn over internal documents by September 30, so we should know more one way or the other by the time we reach that deadline.
Your “Normal” Weird:
- New National Security Adviser? Against the backdrop of everything else, it’s pretty easy to forget that John Bolton just got resign-fired, but we now have a named candidate to replace him — hostage negotiator Robert O’Brien. Apparently O’Brien has some bipartisan support, with a former Obama staffer describing him as “a good person [who] will certainly be [in] a challenging role.” The weird thing here is that Trump wants someone with bipartisan support in the first place, but hopefully O’Brien will be a tempering influence.
- Your Weekly Immigration Hell. Despite the chaotic nature of the week, the Trump administration still found time to make things worse for migrant families. The biggest news is that they reached a deal to send asylum seekers to El Salvador, which is incredibly ill-advised because conditions there are so unsafe that a huge number of credible asylum claims come from El Salvador. ICE was also in the news for announcing that they expect to re-up the number of detained families again this summer, rededicating some facilities to family use — although maybe we’ll get lucky, and this administration will be too distracted to follow through on that.
- The Jungle 2019. Just over a hundred years after Upton Sinclair published ‘The Jungle,’ apparently we forgot everything, because Trump’s new USDA rules allow pork slaughterhouses to essentially self-police. Though the administration says it’s an attempt to “modernize” standards, which haven’t been adjusted in over 50 years, the changes would reduce the number of food inspectors onsite by over 40%. It’s hard to see that as a good thing, particularly when this administration is so fond of deregulating first and considering safety later — I have a feeling I’ll gain some company on Team Eating No Pork Products when these changes go into effect.
- Climate Strikes Again.* Teen climate change activist Greta Thunberg testified before Congress this past week, and definitely took no prisoners, reminding Congress to listen to experts on this incredibly important issue. Thunberg’s testimony was timed alongside an international climate strike on Friday, which she also helped organize, with millions of people participating in over 150 countries. In New York and many other places, students successfully petitioned for amnesty from truancy, and a huge number of businesses either closed shop or gave their employees paid time off so that they could participate. Then Thunberg filed a legal complaint with the U.N. and read the entire assemblage for filth, passionately outlining their history of inaction. The massive action here illustrates just how much societies around the world care about making real changes, and I really hope our world leaders are listening.
So that’s what I have for this week, and I’m sorry, but there are no news refunds. For making it through, you deserve this lil big cat playing with autumn leaves and an eventual better government. I’ll be back next week with more (and hopefully better) 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 more ice cream, cause we still need it!