The Rule of Law(?): Barr the sole judge of election cheating; Courts increasingly OK Trump’s immigration policies

Mitt Romney: “It’s what autocrats do.”

“The grave question the Constitution tasks senators to answer is whether the president committed an act so extreme and egregious that it rises to the level of a high crime and misdemeanor.

Yes, he did.

The president asked a foreign government to investigate his political rival. The president withheld vital military funds from that government to press it to do so. The president delayed funds for an American ally at war with Russian invaders. The president’s purpose was personal and political. Accordingly, the president is guilty of an appalling abuse of public trust.

What he did was not “perfect.” No, it was a flagrant assault on our electoral rights, our national security, and our fundamental values.

Corrupting an election to keep oneself in office is perhaps the most abusive and destructive violation of one’s oath of office that I can imagine.”

 

Impeachment Charge Sum-up: Yes, Trump was intensively involved over many months in enlisting Ukraine in plots – to smear the Bidens, to develop the claim that Ukraine, not Russia interfered in the 2016 elections.

Kenneth Vogel:

When all the partisan posturing, parliamentary wrangling and legalistic arguing are stripped away, the impeachment process that dominated Washington for months produced a set of facts that is largely beyond dispute: The president of the United States pressured a foreign government to take actions aimed at his political opponents.

As the Senate moved toward acquitting President Trump on Wednesday, even some Republicans stopped trying to defend his actions or dispute the evidence, focusing instead on the idea that his conduct did not deserve removal from office, especially in an election year.

Mr. Trump’s “behavior was shameful and wrong,” and “his personal interests do not take precedence over those of this great nation,” Senator Lisa Murkowski, Republican of Alaska, said on Monday. She went on to declare that she would nonetheless vote to acquit.

Mr. Trump’s public statements, plus testimony and documents introduced during the impeachment process and revelations independent from the congressional inquiry, establish a narrative of the president’s involvement in the effort led by Rudolph W. Giuliani, his personal lawyer, to persuade Ukraine to publicly commit to investigating two topics.

One centered on purported efforts by Ukrainians to undercut Mr. Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign. The other was the overlap between former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s anti-corruption efforts in Ukraine and his son Hunter Biden’s position on the board of Burisma Holdings, a Ukrainian energy company widely associated with accusations of corruption.

There are still unanswered questions about the details of Mr. Trump’s involvement, and additional information could emerge later.

But a review of thousands of documents and dozens of interviews reveals how Mr. Trump developed a bitter grudge against Ukraine and then became personally involved in pressuring its leaders. Evidence of Mr. Trump’s role comes from a variety of sources. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/05/us/politics/trump-ukraine-evidence.html?action=click&module=Spotlight&pgtype=Homepage

 

 

Trump gracefully moving on? No – “Evil, corrupt, dirty… vicious and mean… Adam Schiff is a vicious, horrible person… these people are stone crazy. I did nothing wrong.’

President Donald Trump on Thursday unloaded on his perceived political enemies, declaring that the investigations into him have been “all bullshit” in a sprawling and teleprompter-free address at the White House less than a day after senators acquitted him on two articles of impeachment. https://www.politico.com/news/2020/02/06/trump-unloads-after-impeachment-acquittal-111495

Senators turning the page? No, they want to investigate Hunter Biden

Alan Rappeport:

In the wake of the Senate acquitting President Trump in an impeachment trial over his efforts to pressure Ukraine to investigate his political rivals including former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., Republican senators are pressing ahead with their probes into the finances of Mr. Biden’s son, Hunter Biden.

Last year, the top Republicans on two Senate committees — the Finance Committee and Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs — requested documents from the Treasury Department related to Hunter Biden’s business relationship with Burisma Holdings, a Ukrainian energy company, as part of an investigation into whether the Obama administration acted improperly to benefit Burisma. The request sought “Suspicious Activity Reports” and other documents involving Mr. Biden and 10 other individuals and companies.

A spokeswoman for Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, the top Democrat on the Finance Committee, said that Treasury has complied with the request after stonewalling many requests for information from Democrats pursuing investigations into the White House. Yahoo News first reported that Treasury complied.

“Applying a blatant double standard, Trump administration agencies like the Treasury Department are rapidly complying with Senate Republican requests — no subpoenas necessary — and producing ‘evidence’ of questionable origin,” Ashley Schapitl, the spokeswoman, said in a written statement. “The administration told House Democrats to go pound sand when their oversight authority was mandatory while voluntarily cooperating with the Senate Republicans’ sideshow at lightning speed.” https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/06/us/politics/hunter-biden-investigation.html

 

 

2020: Barr forbids new investigations of 2020 candidates unless he signs off first. In other words, if Trump ‘misbehaves’ in a familiar fashion and FBI agents want to start an investigation, Barr could stop it. In equation terms: Presidents can’t be indicted, so they shouldn’t be investigated + I approve any investigation into presidential campaign financial crimes = Total immunity for any cheating on this election.

Katie Benner:

Attorney General William P. Barr issued new restrictions on Wednesday over the opening of politically sensitive investigations, an effort meant to avoid upending the presidential election as the F.B.I. inadvertently did in 2016 when its campaign inquiries shaped the outcome of the race.

The order by Mr. Barr, announced in a memo reviewed by The New York Times, comes after a scathing report by the inspector general that showed how F.B.I. agents did not follow protocols and falsified information in their bid to investigate Carter Page, a former Trump campaign associate.

The memo, which said the Justice Department had a duty to ensure that elections are “free from improper activity or influences,” was issued on the same day that President Trump was acquitted on charges that he had abused his office to push a foreign power to publicly announce investigations into his political rivals. The memo said that the F.B.I. and all other divisions under the department’s purview must get Mr. Barr’s approval before investigating any of the 2020 presidential candidates.

The attorney general has long expressed skepticism about the F.B.I.’s decision to investigate the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia in 2016, and he has tapped a top prosecutor to begin a criminal investigation into the origins of that inquiry. He has also criticized the former F.B.I. director James B. Comey for publicly discussing the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server without approval from Justice Department officials.

… Past attorneys general have said that the department must take extra care with politically sensitive campaign-related investigations in an election year. But Mr. Barr is the first to require that the F.B.I. consult with the Justice Department before opening politically charged investigations.

Since he took office, he has handled a seemingly endless series of politically charged investigations and their aftermaths, and he has drawn rebukes for how he has done so. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/05/us/politics/barr-2020-investigations.html

 

 

Don’t let Trump claim credit for the economy. He’s done little to help our economic prospects, and he’s inflicted harm as well. The case below, from a most moderate observer:

Stephen Rattner:

Democrats shouldn’t despair. While overcoming that tailwind will be a tough challenge, the economy isn’t as good as it looks. Equally important, on balance, Mr. Trump has had little to do with its continued expansion, providing several lines of attack for the opposition, as follows:

The Trump recovery is merely an extension of the Obama recovery. Yes, we’re adding jobs every month, and yes, the overall economy is growing. But the performance of both of these key headline indicators has not been anything for the president to brag about.

Take jobs. In Mr. Trump’s 35 months as president, the economy added an average of 191,000 jobs per month and the unemployment rate fell by 1.2 percentage points. Sounds pretty good, right? But during the last 35 months of the Obama presidency, new jobs averaged 227,000 per month and the unemployment rate dropped by 2 percentage points.

Unemployment may be low but wages, adjusted for inflation, have barely grown. Once again, the headline numbers — a roughly 3 percent annual growth rate — seem reassuring. But add in the effect of inflation and the picture looks quite different. On average, real wages have risen at just a 0.8 percent rate under Mr. Trump, compared with 1.3 percent over a similar period under Mr. Obama.

After Inflation, Workers Did Better Under Obama…

Manufacturing has arguably done worse under Mr. Trump’s stewardship. Not only has Mr. Trump failed to reverse the steady decline in industrial production’s share of our economy, but his self-inflicted trade war contributed to outright job declines last year in key 2020 states. Wisconsin and Pennsylvania lost factory jobs, as did Oklahoma, Indiana and New York. At least partly as a result, total jobs grew at below-average rates in those states (along with other important states like Ohio, Michigan and Minnesota). What happened to Make America Great Again? https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/05/opinion/trump-economy-election.html?te=1&nl=david-leonhardt&emc=edit_ty_20200205&campaign_id=39&instance_id=15751&segment_id=20993&user_id=182d2cc4a74dc451cebb1022e9f611aa&regi_id=7644297120200205

 

Iowa: 97% of the vote shows an essential tie of Buttigieg and Sanders: the former may wind up with a couple extra state delegates while Sanders got 6000 more votes.

Pete Buttigieg and Bernie Sanders are nearly tied in the Iowa Democratic caucuses, amid calls for a recount of votes, with almost all results counted in a contest marred by fresh revelations about technical issues and reporting delays that have led to allegations of inaccurate results.

The race remained too early to call Thursday, with 97% of precincts reporting. Party officials were scrambling to verify the remaining results, three days after Iowans gathered at caucus sites across the state to begin choosing which Democrat will take on Donald Trump in November.

Wading into the growing chaos around the vote, Democratic National Committee chairman Tom Perez called for a “recanvass” of the tally.

“Enough is enough. In light of the problems that have emerged in the implementation of the delegate selection plan and in order to assure public confidence in the results, I am calling on the Iowa Democratic Party to immediately begin a recanvass,” Perez said on Twitter.

He added in second tweet: “A recanvass is a review of the worksheets from each caucus site to ensure accuracy.”

With just a few votes left to record, Buttigieg led Sanders in the tally of state delegate equivalents by 26.22% to 26.07%. Meanwhile, Sanders leads Buttigieg in the two raw votes tallies that the complex Iowa caucus system produces. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/feb/06/pete-buttigieg-bernie-sanders-nearly-tied-iowa-caucuses

 

 

The Errors, the Inconsistencies of the Results- not intentional, but some worry that they never have a precise accounting.

Nate Cohn, et al:

Results from the Iowa Democratic caucuses were delayed by “quality control checks” on Monday night. Days later, quality control issues have not been resolved.

The results released by the Iowa Democratic Party on Wednesday were riddled with inconsistencies and other flaws. According to a New York Times analysis, more than 100 precincts reported results that were internally inconsistent, that were missing data or that were not possible under the complex rules of the Iowa caucuses.

In some cases, vote tallies do not add up. In others, precincts are shown allotting the wrong number of delegates to certain candidates. And in at least a few cases, the Iowa Democratic Party’s reported results do not match those reported by the precincts.

Some of these inconsistencies may prove to be innocuous, and they do not indicate an intentional effort to compromise or rig the result. There is no apparent bias in favor of the leaders Pete Buttigieg or Bernie Sanders, meaning the overall effect on the winner’s margin may be small.

But not all of the errors are minor, and they raise questions about whether the public will ever get a completely precise account of the Iowa results. With Mr. Sanders closing to within 0.1 percentage points with 97 percent of 1,765 precincts reporting, the race could easily grow close enough for even the most minor errors to delay a final projection or raise doubts about a declared winner. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/06/upshot/iowa-caucuses-errors-results.html

 

Dirty Tricks – # to call in results flooded by Trump supporters; much more of that to come.

We are learning more about why the Iowa Democratic Party had such a rough time on Monday trying to collect reports from its precinct caucus leaders. It turns out there was an attempt by Trump’s followers to sabotage the telephonic backup reporting mechanism that the party had planned on using in case of problems with its mobile app — problems which have already been widely reported.

Via Bloomberg:

Supporters of President Donald Trump flooded a hotline used by Iowa precinct chairs to report Democratic caucus results after the telephone number was posted online, worsening delays in the statewide tally, a top state Democrat told party leaders on a conference call Wednesday night.

According to two participants on the call, Ken Sagar, a state Democratic central committee member, was among those answering the hotline on caucus night and said people called in and expressed support for Trump. The phone number became public after people posted photos of caucus paperwork that included the hotline number, one of the people on the call said.

The phone call Wednesday night between the Iowa Democratic Party staff and state central committee, the party’s elected governing body, came as the party was still counting results.

This reminds me of the New Hampshire phone jamming scandal, which took place a little more than seventeen years ago. https://www.nwprogressive.org/weblog/2020/02/trump-fans-flooded-iowa-democratic-partys-caucus-reporting-phone-line-with-prank-calls.html

 

And there are the more traditional tactics: Republican activists seek to vote for Sanders in South Carolina

Joseph Bustos:

When voters cast their ballots on Feb. 29 in the South Carolina Democratic Presidential Primary, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders may find himself getting votes from Republican activists.

In an effort to disrupt the Democratic nominating contest — and push state leaders to close political primaries, which would limit those contests only to voters who register by party — some Upstate GOP activists are encouraging Republicans to participate in the First in the South Democratic Primary and vote for Sanders, a self-described Democratic Socialist.

The plan was first reported by the (Charleston) Post and Courier. But on Wednesday, another effort called “Operation Chaos 2020” emerged, too. That effort echoes one pushed by conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh in 2008 when he encouraged Republican voters to vote for Hillary Clinton to prolong the Democratic primary race against Barack Obama.

Encouraging so-called crossover voting, when members of one party vote in primaries of another, is not a move endorsed by the S.C. Republican Party leadership.

“We do not like Democrats meddling in our primaries and we certainly do not encourage the same thing from Republican voters,” state GOP Executive Director Hope Walker said in a statement.

“While there are some groups and Republican activists that may decide to participate in the open Democratic Presidential Preference Primary on Feb. 29, the South Carolina Republican Party has taken no official stand on this matter nor will it encourage our members to do so.”

South Carolina has open primaries where voters can choose which party’s primary, if there is more than one to choose from, to vote in.

But the Republicans pushing their members to vote for Sanders want to change that, saying on Facebook they want to ”point out the consequences of not closing the primaries in SC to just those voters who participate in each party” — a goal they can accomplish if enough Republicans turn out at the polls on Feb. 29.

They also see another benefit in helping Sanders win.

“We want to be able to have a say in giving Donald Trump that opportunity in November to face Bernie in the debate, give a clear look to American voters, here’s your capitalist success story and here’s your socialist,” said Karen Martin, who is the organizer of the Spartanburg Tea Party. https://www.mcclatchydc.com/news/politics-government/election/article239964558.html#storylink=cpy

 

 

Immigration: The Courts are increasingly green-lighting Trump’s policies

Jonathan Blitzer:

Since taking office, Donald Trump has issued nearly twenty Presidential actions on immigration, and more rule changes and regulations than one can easily count. Nearly all of them—including the travel ban, the cancellation of DACA, and measures to end asylum applications at the Southern border—have prompted legal challenges, and, in several instances, federal judges have issued nationwide injunctions blocking the Administration’s plans. This situation has not deterred the White House, though, and, a few months ago, a senior D.H.S. official told me why. “The idea is, ‘don’t waste time trying to anticipate the risk of litigation,’ ” the official said. “Everything will get challenged in the lower courts anyway. We’ll win at the Supreme Court.”

Last week, in an unsigned, 5–4 decision, the justices lifted an injunction against the Administration’s “public charge” rule, which will use immigrants’ financial status to determine their qualification for green cards and, eventually, citizenship. (The rule will make it much more difficult for anyone who may need to rely on public assistance to become a legal permanent resident.) A few days later, the White House expanded Trump’s travel ban, to include travellers from six additional countries, among them Nigeria. District-court judges had repeatedly blocked the previous ban, but the Supreme Court eventually upheld it, in June, 2018, on the ground that the President has unfettered authority to shape immigration policy for national-security purposes. This time, the Administration didn’t bother to invoke any such purpose. A D.H.S. official admitted to reporters that the extension “focussed on people who want to reside in the U.S., not people who want to visit,” meaning that travellers from the countries in question can enter the United States without incident, as long as they have no intention of staying here. “How can that be national-security motivated?” a former State Department official asked me.

If the Administration appears to be growing bolder, it may be because, three years into the President’s first term, the nation’s highest courts are starting to bolster his agenda. In July, 2019, the Supreme Court—which, by then, included two Trump appointees, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh—lifted an injunction on a Presidential proclamation calling for the use of military funding to build the border wall. Two months later, the Justices allowed Trump’s asylum ban at the border to stand, pending further appeals. Sometime this summer, they’re expected to issue a ruling in a separate case, on whether the Administration’s cancellation of DACA was legal. https://www.newyorker.com/news/daily-comment/are-the-courts-beginning-to-move-in-favor-of-trumps-immigration-policies

 

Senate Report: The how and why of Obama’s “insufficient” reaction to the Russian attack on our 2016 election.

Karoun Demirjian, Devlin Barrett:

A bipartisan report released Thursday by the Senate Intelligence Committee says that the Obama administration mounted an insufficient response to Russia’s election interference in 2016, but that its failures were “understandable” because the government lacked information and had limited policy options at the time.

The panel recommended that the government develop specific responses to foreign influence campaigns to better safeguard against future incursions, and integrate those efforts across agencies and with the governments of other countries contending with Russian aggression. Its report also said the president must be more direct with the American public about the nature of such threats, and “separate himself or herself from political considerations” when handling these issues.

“These steps should include explicitly putting aside politics when addressing the American people on election threats and marshaling all the resources of the U.S. Government to effectively confront the threat,” the report states.

Political concerns, the report found, played an influential role in the Obama administration’s “tempered” response to the Russian threat, as officials’ fears about stoking a politically charged election season with vocal alerts about Russia’s activity created a snowball effect, ultimately allowing the Russian campaign to proliferate relatively unchecked.

Part of the problem was an incomplete understanding of the scope of the effort, the committee found, and a delay in definitively attributing the incursions to Russia. The extent to which Russia “could target and manipulate election systems” was “unknown” at the time, the committee found, as was the scope of the threat, because the administration had a “bifurcated” approach to Russia, treating its cyber and geopolitical capacities “as separate issues until August 2016.” https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/obama-teams-response-to-russian-election-interference-fell-short-senate-report-says/2020/02/06/93c2fdac-48f2-11ea-9164-d3154ad8a5cd_story.html?itid=hp_hp-more-top-stories-2_interference309p%3Ahomepage%2Fstory-ans

 

 

Middle East: Israel-Palestinian tension leads to four Palestinian deaths.

The number of Palestinians killed by Israeli fire over the past 24 hours has risen to at least four, with dozens of others wounded amid heightened tensions in separate areas of the occupied West Bank.

Israeli forces on Thursday shot and killed two Palestinians during a demonstration in Jenin against the demolition of a Palestinian home.

One of those killed was named by official Palestinian news agency WAFA as 19-year-old student Yazan Abu Tabekh. The second was identified as Palestinian policeman Tareq Badwan.

The Israeli army said the raid was to demolish the home of Ahmad Qanba, a Palestinian charged with aiding a Hamas cell in the West Bank.

Heavy clashes broke out with young Palestinians throwing rocks at the Israeli troops, witnesses said. The army said its forces had “identified a number of armed terrorists who hurled explosive devices and fired towards them. The forces responded with riot dispersal means”.

… Separately, the Israeli military said a Palestinian motorist early on Thursday slammed his car into a group of Israeli forces, wounding 12 – including one seriously – before fleeing the scene.

Al Jazeera’s Ibrahim reported that “Israeli forces then raided several towns and villages in the occupied West Bank” in search of the motorist. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/02/israeli-forces-kill-4-palestinians-day-tensions-heighten-200206155859147.html

 

 

Lives after deportation: 138 sent out by the U.S. to El Salvador were killed.

Ben Fox:

At least 138 people deported to El Salvador from the United States in recent years were subsequently killed, Human Rights Watch says in a report that comes as the Trump administration makes it harder for Central Americans to seek refuge here.

A majority of the deaths documented by Human Rights Watch in the report Wednesday occurred less than a year after the deportees returned to El Salvador; some were within days. The organization also confirmed at least 70 cases of sexual assault or other violence following their arrival in the country.

The violence underscores the risk faced by people forced to return by U.S. law that mandates deportation of noncitizens convicted of a range of crimes and Trump administration policies that discourage asylum-seekers, said Alison Leal Parker, the group’s U.S. managing director. https://apnews.com/5648a26b9f44313ff09cd09a3f4e38db

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