The news this week is ten pounds of chaos in a three-pound bag, and it can be hard to even keep track of everything happening. I’ve done my level best to give you a quick tour-de-force, but the news cycle is accelerated to a truly impressive level even by our modern standards, so who knows what will have changed by the time this roundup goes out. Daily summaries like WTFJHT may be particularly helpful right now!
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 attorney!–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 Corner:
I know I say this every week, but this week was yet another new low for Disregard of Governing Norms. Here’s what I have for you:
- Tax Return Tango.* As I type this, everybody’s talking about the New York Times article summarizing Donald Trump’s taxes, which lo and behold are pretty terrible. The info dump involved was huge, and there’s a lot to unpack here, so the New York Times has also quite helpfully put out a summary. That said, there are some points that I think deserve particular discussion, so I’m going to spend a few minutes unpacking them here with the careful caveat that I am not, in fact, a tax attorney: 1) Trump’s massive debt as a sitting President is a really, really big deal because it’s a risk to national security, as Nancy Pelosi has already noted–that kind of debt creates leverage that can be used to influence behavior, which is why it traditionally is a reason to deny security clearance; 2) Ivanka’s “consultant” fees appear to be a pretty big deal too, because they illustrate yet more instances of Trump family double-dipping; and 3) Everybody’s yelling about the $750 paid in taxes during 2016 and 2017, and his tax avoidance is insulting, but the bigger story there is what gave him the legal means to do that–his history of constantly running a deficit.
- Your Regularly-Scheduled Illegality. There sure was a lot of news about illegal government action other than Trump’s taxes this week, not that you’d know it given the last 24 hours. Among the laundry list: 1) Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is under investigation now for Hatch Act violations, which is practically a rite of passage in this administration; 2) An executive order was issued “combating sex and race stereotyping” that forbids diversity and inclusion training of any vendors that contract with the federal government; 3) Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf is accused of awarding $6M in contracts to his wife’s security firm, which would definitely be self-dealing (and he hasn’t even had his confirmation hearing yet); 4) The Department of Justice is refusing to let senior officials testify before Congress because they “scold[ed] and insult[ed]” William Barr back in July; and 5) A National Security Counsel member is claiming the White House made things up to block publication of John Bolton’s book because the facts reported in said book made them look bad.
Your “Normal” Weird:
- Election Oddities (Again). This was another nightmare week for election news. At the top of the week, Trump ‘joked’ this week that he wouldn’t accept a peaceful transition of power, noting, “Get rid of the ballots and there won’t be a transfer, frankly, there’ll be a continuation.” Unsurprisingly, watchdogs and other experts began to sound alarms about the state of this election, and the head of the Federal Election Commission was not impressed. Then Trump straight-up stated that he wants a nominee on the bench by the time the election happens because he expects the Supreme Court to decide the election–in other words, he wants to determine who gets to make a determination about whether he’s a valid President. (More news on SCOTUS developments below, though at this rate they’ll end up in the election section eventually.) The Pentagon is beginning to plan for the possibility that he’ll try to deploy the military at some point during this election process. Meanwhile, the head of the FBI indicated that they aren’t seeing instances of voter fraud by mail-in ballot (probably because spoiler, the data says they’re not), and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows started publicly attacking him for it and undermining the FBI’s credibility. Folks, I know we’re all pretty inured to everything by this point, but I think it’s worth stepping back and thinking about that last point; the current White House chief of staff publicly stated that we can’t trust the current FBI’s investigation process because the head of the FBI said we can have safe free elections during a pandemic. That’s just absolutely bananas, and it hurts the entire country.
- State of the COVID-19.* COVID news remains dispiritingly terrible for another week, and much of it is outright bizarre. The U.S. passed the threshold of 200,000 deaths this week, and experts warn that that number might double as we move into winter; additionally, total instances of infection have surpassed 7 million. Internationally, the virus has claimed over a million lives in the past ten months. News also broke that the Pentagon diverted about a billion dollars of COVID relief fund, instead spending the money on jet parts and uniforms. Meanwhile, several vaccines are beginning Stage 3 trials–which would be good news, except that Trump is already threatening to override the FDA if they are appropriately cautious about vaccine safety. And speaking of vaccines, some media outlets are starting to pay attention to the low rate of child vaccination for other infections during the pandemic, which may in turn impact orders to reopen schools.
- Black Lives Still Matter. The biggest piece of news to know on this front is that there was no justice for Breanna Taylor; the grand jury considering whether her shooters should be punished handed down a single indictment that related to endangering neighbors by shooting the walls, rather than any charges related to her murder. This, of course, kicked off major protests in Louisville and the arrest of the city’s sole black female legislator. New body cam footage and increasingly contradictory case information case have prompted a massive call for grand jury information to be released, which the Kentucky AG appears to be considering.
- Supreme Court Updates. Recently passed Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was laid in state at the Capitol building this week, and is the first woman and first Jewish person ever to receive this honor. Meanwhile, Trump announced his nomination on Saturday, and it was indeed Amy Coney Barrett, which remains extremely concerning. Additionally, it would appear that Mitch McConnell now has enough votes to put the matter on the Senate floor, and a hearing is now scheduled for October 12. Incredibly, some Republican voices (apparently including Mike Pence) want to skip the hearing entirely and just vote her in, which is utterly unprecedented. And as mentioned above, Trump straight-up stated that he wants a nominee on the bench by the time the election happens because he expects the Supreme Court to decide the election. Needless to say, it remains extremely important that we call our Senators repeatedly to make our opinion of this Senate vote known, especially because it may inform the approach taken by Democrats in response.
- Recent Court Resilience. A federal court found this week that U.S. Census counting must continue through its original date, which would force the administration to continue until October 31–though the administration is already appealing the decision. Meanwhile, 3,500 U.S. companies are suing Trump over his tariffs on Chinese goods, which probably were in fact arbitrary and capricious. And finally, a New York state judge has ordered Eric Trump to testify in an ongoing fraud case no later than October 7th, which should prove interesting at the very least.
So that’s what I have for this week, and I think we can agree that it’s more than enough. For making it through, you deserve beaver construction documentation and an eventual better government. I’ll be back next week with more (and hopefully more tolerable) 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 hours in the day!