Sunday, February 25, 2024

Right-wing extremist Jack Bosobiec says he intends to help dump democracy and welcome theocracy, as Dan Rather is on hand to spotlight a political stunner

Jack Posobiec at CPAC 2024

The annual CPAC confab, which was held over the weekend in Oxon Hill, MD, quickly became a contest to see who could be the loudest and most outrageous loon. Jack Posobiec, known for his extensive ties to white supremacy, was the leader in the clubhouse after openly proclaiming that the driving goal behind the event was to overthrow democracy and replace it with a theocracy. The "Orange Menace" himself, Donald Trump, was scheduled to speak later in the event, so there was a chance he would catch Posobiec from behind. But openly admitting you intend to ditch democracy is one way to get attention, and Posobiec grabbed the opportunity with gusto -- even though his background suggests. he is probably not the best guy to be touting Christian principles.

Iconic newsman Dan Rather describes the Posobiec spectacle, reporting at his "Steady" Substack page, which has 299,000 subscribers. Rather writes:

The annual Conservative Political Action Convention (CPAC) is seldom subtle. This year they aren’t just saying the quiet part out loud — they are screaming it.

At a panel session Wednesday, right-wing conspiracy theorist Jack Posobiec said without irony or sarcasm, “I just wanted to say, welcome to the end of democracy. We are here to overthrow it completely. We didn’t get all the way there on January 6, but we will endeavor to get rid of it.”  

He then held up a Christian cross and added, “We’ll replace it with this right here. That’s right, because all glory, all glory is not to government, all glory is to God." Was the remark in jest? No. And the crowd knew it. 

His comments got big applause and an “amen” from moderator Steve Bannon, who, by the way, is set to stand trial in a New York state court for fraud and money laundering in May and only escaped federal prosecution because of a presidential pardon. As far as I have seen, no Republican attendee denounced Posobiec’s comments. (I, Legal Schnauzer, would give Bannon an "amen" if he would take a bath every now and then.)

When Posobiec waves a cross and claims to have insight on Biblical ideas, should you take him seriously -- should any sentient being take him seriously? Unless you equate the Bible with white supremacy, it probably would be best to ignore this loudmouth.

The Alabama-based Southern Poverty Leadership Conference (SPLC) describes Posobiec's rise in right-wing circles under the headline "SPLC Investigation: Far-right OANN Anchor Jack Posobiec’s Rise Tied to White Supremacist Movement. From the SPLC investigative report:

Jack Posobiec, a correspondent for One America News Network (OANN) whose work has been embraced by President Trump, collaborated for years with white supremacists, neo-fascists and antisemites, a Hatewatch investigation has determined.

Posobiec’s ties to far-right extremists travel beyond borders into Europe. His connections to white supremacy are too numerous to compile into one article, so Hatewatch is running a series of stories on the correspondent’s ties to the movement and promotion of it. This first story in the series lays out how Posobiec rose from being a pseudonymous Game of Thrones blogger to linking up with such white supremacists as Richard Spencer and a neo-Nazi who endorsed terrorism while using the online handle @PureWhiteEvil.

Posobiec, 34, described himself in his Twitter bio as being “fmr CBS News” during chapters of his life detailed in this story. CBS News told Hatewatch he never worked for them. At the time Posobiec introduced himself to the public on Twitter as “fmr CBS News,” he promoted now-infamous disinformation campaigns such as “Pizzagate.” He built up a larger audience during this time, gaining more than 9,000 followers per month from September 2016 to March 2017.

Posobiec used Twitter to target Jewish journalists with antisemitic hate. His targets included CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer, whose Polish family survived the Holocaust during World War II. Posobiec also targeted a group of journalists reporting on a press conference hosted by Peter Thiel. Three Jewish rights groups – the Anti-Defamation League, the Simon Wiesenthal Center and Bend the Arc: Jewish Action – described Posobiec’s behavior as antisemitic or condemned OANN’s relationship to him after Hatewatch reached out for comment on this investigation. The full statements of those groups as well as additional evidence of Posobiec’s antisemitic remarks can be found here. . .

On May 2, President Donald Trump praised Posobiec in a tweet: “That’s right Jack. Keep up the good work!” Trump was referring to the OANN anchor boasting on Twitter that the President reads his feed. It was not the first time Trump promoted Posobiec to his millions of followers. He also did so on Aug. 14, 2017, two days after the deadly “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. In the tweet Trump boosted, Posobiec commented on violent crime commonly associated with Black suspects, comparing it to a white supremacist murdering an antiracist demonstrator at the Charlottesville event. Trump also posted a self-promotional video to Twitter on May 16, where he was depicted as being surrounded by his allies while he gives a speech from the movie Independence Day. Posobiec’s face was included in the video alongside Vice President Mike Pence.

Posobiec is on pace to reach one million Twitter followers by the end of the year. He has nearly as many as the official account for OANN itself. Posobiec’s following and Trump’s endorsements help make him arguably the most recognizable person linked to OANN’s brand. Critics of President Trump have questioned his repeated praise of OANN.

As for the rest of CPAC 2024, let's return to Dan Rather:

CPAC is the annual four-day conference for extremist Republicans. In recent years it has become a litmus test for MAGA bona fides and a place to show loyalty to Donald Trump.

You may be reading about Posobeic's appalling speech here first because it seems many of my brethren in the media are not reporting the story. If you Google “CPAC,” you will get a few hits, but it isn’t on the front page of any major news organization’s website. Perhaps they think it is so outlandish that it isn’t worth reporting.

But that is exactly the point. The right wing wants to topple our democracy and replace it with Trump’s authoritarian rule. This is not hyperbole. It is not fear-mongering. They are saying it. Out loud. 

If you think Posobeic’s words were the only troubling moment at the conference, you would be wrong. In another speech, Michael Knowles, Trump’s spokesperson, said Trump will eliminate marriage equality if he is re-elected.  

Failed British Prime Minister Liz Truss addressed the conference. “Unless conservatives become more active in speaking out, Western civilization is doomed,” she threatened.

In contemplating all of this, you may want to consider one of my favorite quotes from Maya Angelou: “When people show you who they are, believe them the first time.” 

We are well past the first time.  

Earthquake Brewing: Trump Republicans show extremism has downsides, as they confoundingly continue to oppose issues the voting public supports

Tommy Tuberville: Confused as usual.

Weeks like this one could cost Donald Trump and his MAGA Republicans at general-election time, according to a report at Axios.

David Lindsey, the website's managing editor for politics, explains under the headline "Trump's GOP shows its extremism could be a problem in November." A big chunk of a potential roadblock originated in Alabama,  Lindsey writes

If former President Trump and his fellow Republicans lose in November, weeks like this might be to blame.

Why it matters: Trump is beloved by the Republican Party's MAGA base. But the far-right stamp he's put on the GOP is bursting into view in ways that are giving even some Republicans pause — and could complicate their push for the swing voters they'll need in November.

By week's end, Trump's GOP was tied to calling frozen embryos children, appeals to kill democracy, and giving Vladimir Putin a pass on targeting his enemies.

  • It's all giving Democrats another chance to cast MAGA Republicans as extremists bent on destroying rights and traditions that most Americans support. 
  • Zoom in: A conservative Alabama court's ruling that frozen embryos are children has prompted fertility clinics in the Republican-led state to shut down out of fear of being prosecuted.

  • Now Trump and Republicans in Congress are scrambling to denounce the decision, which stemmed from a Trump-orchestrated ruling they loved — the U.S. Supreme Court's rejection of abortion rights under Roe v. Wade
  • Trump, who frequently brags about appointing three of the justices who helped overturn Roe, on Friday called on Alabama's legislature to protect in vitro fertilization (IVF), the procedure the clinics performed.

* At CPAC, the annual conservative convention (now Trump-fest) just outside D.C., there were calls for a Trump-led end to America's democracy — and a move toward a Christian state. "Welcome to the end of democracy!" online activist Jack Posobiec proclaimed

  • In his speech. Posobiec said, "We are here to overthrow it completely. We didn't get all the way there on January 6th, but we will endeavor to get rid of it and replace it."
  • Trump was scheduled to speak there yesterday afternoon. 
  •  
  • In trying to defend their opposition to issues that are popular with the voting public, Republicans created a mud puddle that they might find difficult to escape -- and, again, there is an Alabama connection to the GOP's self-inflicted wounds. Lindsey writes:

Earlier this week, the former president's reaction to the death of imprisoned Russian dissident Alexei Navalny — comparing Trump's own legal situation to Navalny's, and declining to call out Putin — drew heat from Democrats and Trump's GOP rival, Nikki Haley.

"Donald Trump is siding with a dictator who kills his political opponents," Haley said at a rally ahead of today's GOP primary in South Carolina.

  • Trump later called Nalvany's death "horrible." But Haley, and President Biden's campaign, called the episode a reminder of Trump's tendency to admire dictators.

Between the lines: The fallout from the Alabama Supreme Court's ruling was top of mind for many Republicans and Democrats on Friday, as the ruling's implications — preventing many Alabama couples from being able to have children through IVF — became apparent.

  • After several days in which many Republicans avoided the issue, they rushed to make clear they want to protect IVF.
  • Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) reflected some Republicans' confusion. He initially said he was "all for" the ruling, before his office said he was "in no way" in favor of clinics' decisions to halt IVF procedures.
  • "Alabama law needs to change," Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) told CNN. "The Republican Party cannot be the party against family formation."

How are Democrats responding to the corner Republicans have painted for themselves? With a fair measure of glee, Lindsey writes:

The other side: Democrats are in "I told you so" mode, blaming Republicans for stripping away reproductive rights favored by most Americans.

  • House Democrats' main super PAC announced plans to pour money into ads attacking Republicans in swing districts over the IVF ruling.
  • Biden's campaign unloaded on Trump. "Make no mistake, this is a direct result of the overturning of Roe v. Wade," Biden said in a statement late Thursday.
  • "Trump is responsible for 20-plus [state] abortion bans, restrictions on women's ability to decide if and when to grow a family, and attacks on contraception," Biden's campaign manager, Julie Chávez Rodríguez, said in a statement Friday.
  • "He proudly overturned Roe, and brags about it on the campaign trail."

Friday, February 23, 2024

Merrick Garland, a Joe Biden appointee, has hindered the president's chances to be re-elected and save U.S democracy from a second term of Donald Trump

Joe Biden and Robert Hur

 

Merrick Garland is too weak to be Attorney General, according to an article at The New Republic (TNR). How weak is Garland? Senior Editor Alex Shephard spells it out in a post that begins with this message:

Over and over again, the Biden appointee has proven to be painfully naïve in the face of Republican bad faith.

Despite being a member of Biden's cabinet,Garland has don more than anyone else to hinder the president's chances to be re-elected and save us from a second Donald Trump term that likely would be disastrous. Trump has made it clear he intends to use a possible second term for retribution against perceived political enemies, trampling constitutional principles such as equal protection and respect for the rule of law. By damaging these norms to an extent they might never be restored, Trump likely will usher in an era of national and worldwide instability and violence -- especially in the U.S., Canada, and Europe -- that has not been seen since the end of World War II.

Shephard cites the recent episode of Special Counsel Robert Hur as an example of Garland's weakness. Much is not clear about the interview that led Hur to question President Biden's mental acuity. But this much is clear:

(1) Hur could wind up deciding the 2024 election, leaving Americans with a Trumpified version of "democracy" they might not even recognize. After all, Trump clearly has stated he likely will suspend the Constitution and enforce a form of "law" that is based on his personal whims, essentially making himself the head of a president-for-life dictatorship.

(2) Many Americans seem to take Hur's assertions as written gospel. But we have seen little or no evidence that his claims regarding Biden's mental fitness are even true. Hur clearly did not have evidence to charge Biden with any wrongdoing, and we have yet to see any recorded or written evidence that backs up Hur's observations about Biden's mental status. 

(3) This much we know for sure: Hur is a lawyer, not a medical professional; he has no qualifications to make judgments about the mental acuity of anyone, including Joe Biden.

Alex Shephard shines important light on a episode that shows the U.S. Departmnt of Justice (DOJ), which certainly could not be trusted under Donald Trump and William Barr, cannot be trusted under Merrick Garland either. Writes Shephard:

When Attorney General Merrick Garland appointed Robert Hur as special counsel overseeing the Justice Department’s investigation into Joe Biden’s retention of classified documents during his time as vice president, it was tempting to see the move not only as a slam dunk, but as an extension of Garland’s larger effort to restore the DOJ’s  tattered reputation. After all, it was clear from the very beginning that Hur would not find any criminal wrongdoing—the documents Biden possessed were clearly kept by mistake.

In a stark contrast to Donald Trump—who had been accused of not only willfully retaining sensitive documents but refusing to return them—Biden’s wrongdoing was minimal, accidental, and common. The appointment of Hur, a Trump-nominated United States attorney, seemed similarly obvious. A Republican could not be accused of bias; his findings would have to be taken seriously by Biden’s critics in the GOP and right-wing media.

Hur never should have entered the picture. But Garland, in his persistent state of weakness, allowed it to happen. Writes Shephard:

Hur’s report, the findings of which were released late last week, cleared Biden of criminal wrongdoing, as expected. It revealed Republican efforts to attack Biden’s handling of classified documents as what they were: a smear aimed at clouding Trump’s brazen criminality. But none of that mattered. Instead, the report has been an unmitigated disaster for Biden, all because Hur used his 388-page report as a means of pushing another of the right’s favorite attacks: that Biden is not only old and doddering, but senile. The Hur report, in gratuitous fashion, presented the president as a Mr. Magoo-like figure, unable to remember basic facts like the year of his son’s death or his own term as vice president—details that were wholly irrelevant to the investigation itself. 

Garland should have seen this coming. He didn’t. Three years into Garland’s term as attorney general, it’s clear that he has failed. Far from rebuilding the Justice Department’s reputation, he has failed to carry out some of his basic duties out of fear of being attacked as a partisan. His rigid adherence to “norms” has instead aided Republican bad-faith attacks. For all of the efforts undertaken to cleanse the agency of the politics of his predecessor, Garland has allowed a more insidious politics to seep into the Department of Justice’s affairs—and it only appears that he has given it his blessing.

When Merrick Garland was sworn in as attorney general in March 2021, he promised to restore the Justice Department’s reputation after it was left tainted by the corruptions of William Barr, who often ran the DOJ as if it were Donald Trump’s legal retainer. Where Trump had weaponized the department to attack his enemies and protect himself, Garland would be straitlaced, a no-nonsense prosecutor above the petty realities of politics. “The only way we can succeed and retain the trust of the American people is to adhere to the norms that have become part of the DNA of every Justice Department employee,” Garland said shortly after being sworn in.

“Those norms require that like cases be treated alike—that there not be one rule for Democrats and another for Republicans, one rule for friends and another for foes, one rule for the powerful and another for the powerless, one rule for the rich and another for the poor, or different rules depending upon one’s race or ethnicity,” he continued.

Garland's words sounded good. But he has shown repeatedly that he lacks the strength to carry them out, Shephard writes:

Garland’s aim of depoliticizing the Justice Department is a laudable one. Garland had little choice but to try to rebuild trust and an air of nonpartisanship. But during his tenure, Garland’s noble goals have, again and again, rendered him overly passive to the threat posed by the right. Perhaps fearing backlash, the attorney general slow-walked the investigation into Donald Trump’s role in the January 6 insurrection, only appointing Jack Smith as special counsel in late November 2022, after Trump formally declared his bid for the presidency. With Hur, Garland appears to be back-footed about the threat posed by a Republican-aligned special counsel. And when Hur presented his lengthy report, which was full of irrelevant information about Biden’s cognitive faculties, he did nothing—again, perhaps because he feared that stepping in would make him seem political. 

But stepping is exactly what Garland should have done. Hur’s report deviated from Justice Department norms in many key ways. It is not standard for lengthy reports to be written in cases where criminal charges aren’t being sought. Hur’s report goes to great lengths, however, to weaponize one five-hour interview, taking several drive-by attacks on Biden’s mental state, calling him “an elderly man with a poor memory,” among other things. The report may have ended one Republican attack, but it provided ammunition for another even more potent one.

Biden’s attorneys are understandably furious. “Mr. Hur’s criticism of President Biden mirrors one of the most widely recognized examples in recent history of inappropriate prosecutor criticism of uncharged conduct,” Biden’s lawyers wrote to the DOJ. “The FBI and DOJ personnel’s criticism of uncharged conduct during investigations in connection with the 2016 election was found to violate ‘long-standing Department practice and protocol.’”

I am less convinced that Hur’s report mirrors the email scandal that helped derail Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. Biden’s age is a legitimate campaign issue and it’s one that voters are rightly concerned about—having a president who is 81 years old and who has clearly aged in office is a serious issue. It is legitimate for voters to factor it in as they assess his fitness for office.

Was it part of Hur's role to weigh in with uninformed guesses about Biden's mental capacity? The answer is no, Shephard writes:

Biden’s age had nothing to do with Hur’s investigation or with Biden’s retention of classified documents after his time in office. Hur simply used his report as a back door to sneak derogatory information in, and out into the public view. It was brazenly political—exactly the kind of thing that Garland promised to snuff out. Instead, he deviated from norms, all in a futile effort to appear nonpartisan.

Garland, it’s worth noting, should know better. He is arguably the poster child of the GOP’s deviation from norms and their general adherence to bad faith in all areas of politics. He should be sitting on the Supreme Court right now. He isn’t because Mitch McConnell invented a precedent to keep him from being sworn in back in 2020. And yet, somehow, he has learned nothing from that experience. If anything, he’s paid it forward, onto fresh victims. It’s not yet clear just how much the Hur report has done to Biden’s standing. Whatever harm is done, however, is Garland’s fault.

We will close with this question: Did the contents of the Biden interview originate with Robert Hur or did someone put him up to it? If the answer is yes, does it point to criminal activity that needs to be investigated? If someone put Hur up to it, who might that have been -- or with whom might they be affiliated?

Thursday, February 22, 2024

Former Mississippi House Speaker joins Balch & Bingham as the law firm appears to be in less than tip-top shape. What's going on with the embattled firm?

Kelli Williams: Whistleblower in $1.1-billion lawsuit over Mississippi power plant.
 

The former speaker of the Mississippi House of Representatives has joined a subsidiary of the Birmingham-based Balch & Bingham law firm -- in what seems to be a peculiar move, according to a post today at banbalch.com

What makes it seem peculiar? For one, it comes as two former Balch attorneys reside in federal prison. Second, it comes three months after public disclosure that Balch’s top client, the sprawling Southern Company utility, had been sued for fraud in Mississippi,

Two former attorneys now living behind bars in federal prison? A lawsuit that could produce more than $1.1 billion in damages? Those do not seem to be the kind of "perks" that would entice a former House speaker to join a law firm.

So what is going on? K.B. Forbes, publisher of the Ban Balch blog and CEO of its parent organization, the CDLU public charity and advocacy group, tries to sort things out under the headline "Dumb Career Move! Former Mississippi Speaker Joins Balch Firm with Two Former Attorneys Currently Sitting in Federal Prison." Forbes writes:

A former speaker, a child predator, and a money launderer enter a bar near the Pearl River…

The former Speaker of the Mississippi House of Representatives has made the dumbest career move.

Philip Gunn has joined Balch Policy Advisors, LLC, a subsidiary of embattled law firm Balch & Bingham, according to news reports today.

Gunn joins the firm of the former esteemed Balch partner Joel I. Gilbert, federal inmate 35504-001, who was convicted in 2018 of bribery and money laundering among other crimes in the North Birmingham Bribery Scandal. He also joins the firm of the former eight-year Balch attorney Chase T. Espy, federal inmate 04104-510, who was convicted for possession of kiddie porn.

Forbes then turns his attention to the huge money judgment that could be coming down against Balch's No. 1 client, Southern Company:

The move comes three months after the public disclosure that Balch’s top client, Southern Company, had been sued for fraud in Mississippi in regards to the Kemper Plant debacle. The false-claims suit was unsealed five years after it was filed and seeks up to $1.1 billion in damages. The suit alleges that Southern Company and its subsidiary, Mississippi Power, repeatedly defrauded the U.S. Department of Energy.

Note that the law firm has set up a subsidiary to funnel money to the former Speaker. Why is that? To reduce any chance of  transparency? To hide uncomfortable truths from clients? To live off more government pork?

Does Gunn intend to take Balch in  new, more ethical, direction? Or should the public look for a more-of-the-same approach? Forbes writes: 


Balch appears to be seeking more contractual cronyism.

As we reported last August:

In Mississippi, Balch, has obtained 76 government contracts worth more than $43 million since 2014, according to a state-transparency website.

However those financial numbers have plummeted, too.

In 2020, Balch obtained more than $12.2 million in Mississippi state contracts that included $2.1 million in consulting fees related to the rental-assistance debacle.

In 2021, Balch was given $5.7 million in state-government contracts in Mississippi when The Washington Post investigative report was published, rocking the Magnolia State.

Last year, in 2022, their reputation damaged while in the spotlight, Balch was only able to obtain a mere $1.6 million in Mississippi state contracts.

That equals less that a third of what the firm earned the year before and a mere 13 percent of the 2020 contract numbers.

Contractual cronyism appears to be coming to a chilling close.

Will Gunn turn the tide for Balch and expand contractual cronyism? Will Gunn and others cash in I.O.U.’s and bring in clients?

Time to pull out the magnifying glasses and alert the watchdogs.

A former speaker, a child predator, and a money launderer enter a bar near the Pearl River…

Mary Trump, Donald's niece, shines light on FBI informant Alexander Smirnov, his attacks on Joe Biden and connections to Russian intelligence agencies

Alexander Smirnov in disguise
 

Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump, the Republican Party, and Russia seem to have formed an alliance that is hell-bent on destroying American democracy. It also could bring an end to world peace, as we have come to know it since the advent of NATO in 1949. The foursome noted above are dangerous, and I would suggest that any American determined to support Trump in the 2024 presidential race might want to reconsider -- assuming you care about the world you leave for your progeny. Evidence continues to mount that Trump is in the middle of an alliance where he is either beholden to Putin (for reasons that are not fully known) or sides with him at every opportunity -- ignoring widely accepted signs that Putin is a murderous thug and war criminal who has opponents and critics killed -- with the death (murder?) of leading dissident Alexey Navalny being the latest example

If you go back to Russia's efforts to help Trump, as outlined in the report of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, via election interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential race -- and combine them with events of more recent vintage, including discovery that FBI informant Alexander Smirnov was peddling false stories regarding President Joe Biden and his family -- with Smirnov reportedly quoted as saying "Joe Biden is going to jail . . . " and you add findings of the past few days that Smirnov was tied to Russian intelligence agencies -- you see that a world subject to Trump-Ptuin influence will threaten any chance that future generations of Americans will have a world worth living in. Again, Americans who care about the conditions they leave behind would be wise to reconsider any potential vote for Trump -- and we ill address those issues further in upcoming posts.

For now, one of the most insightful commentators on our current state of affairs is Mary L. Trump -- a psychologist, author, and blogger at Substack, who is Donald Trump's niece and one of his most outspoken critics, to the point that she is planning a nationwide speaking tour to spread the message that her uncle should never again be president.

Let's examine Mary Trump's thoughts on the latest troubling developments, involving Smirnov and Russian intelligence -- along with the growing list of signs that Putin is attacking American democracy on multiple fronts, all of it apparently designed to help Trump stay in a prominent position as a "useful idiot."

From Mary Trump's latest piece

U.S. Reps. James Comer and Jim Jordan are in “serious trouble,” a lawyer tells me, after the Republicans’ star witness against Hunter Biden is jailed, and exposed for his deep connections to Russian intelligence operatives. Read on:

Today’s news should prove to be awful for some of the worst members of Congress.

It’s becoming increasingly clear that the impeachment of President Joe Biden was a sham from beginning to ignominious end, as it appears much of the information upon which it was based originated from the Kremlin.

Let’s review the utter madness of this, and then review the very real consequences James Comer and Jim Jordan – in a properly functioning House of Representatives that may soon be coming – would be facing:

First: Hunter Biden Story Debunked
First we learned that Smirnov, the Republican’s star witness in the politically-motivated Biden impeachment probe, was charged with fabricating a multimillion-dollar bribery scheme about the president and his son.

Reportedly, Smirnov falsely told the FBI that the Ukrainian energy company Burisma paid Hunter and Joe Biden $5 million each in 2015 or 2016. The federal prosecutor who debunked the story was appointed by Donald Trump.

In their attempts to concoct a conspiracy involving Hunter Biden, Republicans James Comer and Jim Jordan, Chairmen of the House Oversight Committee and Judiciary Committee respectively, have embroiled the Republican Party in what Chris Hayes has called, “the most spectacular embarrassment imaginable.”

And then it got worse for them:

Next: The Hunter Biden Story Originated from Russian Spies
In their court filing, prosecutors say "that officials with Russian intelligence were involved in passing (the) story" about Hunter Biden to Smirnov sometime in November.

Despite the apparent holes in Smirnov’s story, James Comer and Jim Jordan either failed to vet it and fell for it entirely, or actively took part in something more nefarious. Whether their actions were merely reckless or malevolent, it’s clear that Russia’s unceasing threat to democracy is more active than ever.

But how is it possible that Comer and Jordan, chairmen of two of the most powerful House committees, are able to get away, either directly or indirectly, with using fabricated information from officials tied to Russian intelligence against the sitting president of the United States?

Well, an attorney told me they are likely not to get away with it:

Attorneys: Comer and Jim Jordan are in serious trouble
When I asked a lawyer friend if there are legal consequences to what Comer and Jordan have done, he told me that he thinks an investigation into how they got hold of the story will be initiated. They are in “deep shit,” he said. And other lawyers have chimed in too:

1. Conspiracy to defraud the United States

According to Tristan Snell, a former assistant attorney general for New York State, there are only two possible options when it comes to Comer and Jordan: either the two were “duped by Smirnov and the Kremlin — or they were in on it.”

No matter which of those possibilities is true, Snell argues, the circumstances meet the threshold for a federal investigation. “because either they are material witnesses — or they're co-conspirators. (The) DOJ must subpoena every single communication Jordan, Grassley, and Comer had with or about Smirnov and anything related."

2. The Biden Impeachment is falling apart

Republicans already seem to be in a frenzy to delete mentions of the compromised witness from their documents. 

Republicans claim they will continue to “follow the facts” (clearly not their strong suit), but given how damaging these recent revelations are to Comer’s already flimsy case against Hunter Biden, it’s hard to see this impeachment going well for them.

Further, it may well (and should) have broader implications for Comer and Jordan’s leadership.

3. Comer and Jordan face censure and removal from their committees if Democrats take control of the House

If and when Democrats take over the House in January 2025, both men will face a Democratic majority who are ready to hold them accountable.

Key questions they’ll be forced to answer:

a) When did Comer & Jordan know the FBI was suspicious of Smirnov?
b) If they knew, why didn’t they immediately retract the Smirnov story?
c) What contact did they have with other “informants” about this Biden story who may have been linked to Russian agents?

The consequences range from censure to criminal charges. I would say it’s hard to think of any other Republicans in Congress more deserving, but the truth is it would be extremely easy to come up with dozens of them.

If there’s any hope for accountability, it’s up to us to ensure Democrats win back the majority. Then when can start putting the House in order again.

We must get the full story out
We need to broadcast the lies Republicans are telling about President Biden — especially to swing voters:

  • Expose the Russian origins of these completely manufactured attacks on President Biden

  • Let everybody know that James Comer has accused President Biden of improprieties he himself is guilty of having committed

Over the next few months, I’ll be using every means at my disposal – including a swing state tour — to expose the hypocrisy and dangerous agenda of Donald’s anti-American Republicans, who are hell-bent on destroying our democracy.

YOU are helping me do it. If just a small portion of my subscriber community chipped in to become supporting subscribers, I could expand this work to get the truth to more people:

Become a Supporting Subscriber Now

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Biden doesn't get credit for it in polling, but data shows he is running the economy like a champ, much better than his Republican predecessor, Donald Trump

 

A chunk of the American electorate seems to be operating on the notion that our economy was stronger under Donald Trump than it is now under Joe Biden. Does that hold up under scrutiny? First, let's stipulate that trying to figure out the economy on a macro level is a chore, even for experts and certainly for everyday folks. Second, let's examine some facts, courtesy of  The Morning newsletter at The New York Times.

Under the headline "What’s Going on with the U.S. Economy?The economic picture is simpler than the swirl of economic indicators sometimes suggests," Editor David Leonhardt writes (and I will highlight key points in blue):

The economy is probably headed toward a recession. No, it’s actually booming again.

Inflation is plummeting. No, it has started rising again.

If you find the cacophony of economic indicators to be confusing, don’t feel bad. It is confusing. Some numbers point in one direction, while others point in the opposite. Partisans from both political parties have an interest in promoting one type of news and downplaying the other.

A recent inflation report added to the muddle. Inflation — a major concern for many families and already a 2024 campaign issue — has been falling for the past year and half. Americans’ economic mood has improved slightly as a result. But the numbers released recently showed inflation to be higher than forecasters had expected. In response, the S&P 500 index fell 1.4 percent, its second-biggest daily decline this year.

In today’s newsletter, I’ll give you a framework for thinking about the state of the U.S. economy by describing the four main phases of the past several years. I can’t tell you what will happen next, but I do think the picture is simpler than the swirl of economic indicators sometimes suggests.

Leonhardt strives to unravel the economic puzzle by focusing first on this phase -- 

The American economy has been disappointing for much of the past half-century. Income and wealth growth has been slow for most families, and inequality has soared. Perhaps the starkest sign of the problems: Life expectancy in the U.S. is now lower than in any other high-income country, and it isn’t especially close.

Still, there have been a few brief periods when the economy has boomed. One of them began late in Barack Obama’s presidency and continued during Donald Trump’s term. The country finally emerged from its hangover after the housing crash, as businesses expanded and consumers spent more.

The unemployment rate fell below 5 percent in 2016 and below 4 percent in 2018. The tight labor market — combined with increases in the minimum wage in many states — raised income for all income groups.

By early 2020, the U.S. economy’s short-term performance was as healthy as it had been since the dot-com boom two decades earlier.

Next, Leonhardt focuses on this phase -- 

Then the pandemic arrived.

People stayed home and cut back on spending. Businesses laid off workers, and the unemployment rate exceeded 10 percent. Experts understandably worried that the economy could fall into a vicious cycle, in which companies went out of business, families couldn’t make loan payments and banks went under.

Many economists believed that the federal government had been too timid with stimulus after the early-2000s housing crash. During the pandemic, members of Congress vowed not to repeat the mistake and passed huge stimulus bills, which both Trump and President Biden signed.

Next comes this phase -- 

Those stimulus programs worked — a bit too well.

For all the misery that Covid caused, it ended up being less economically destructive than the housing crash. The unemployment surge was temporary. And thanks to the stimulus, the typical American family’s finances improved during the pandemic — a very different situation than the aftermath of the housing crash.

In effect, Washington overlearned the lesson of the previous crisis. It pumped so much money into the economy during the pandemic that families were able to go on a spending spree. Businesses, in response, raised prices.

The pandemic’s supply-chain disruptions played a big role, too. This combination — high demand and low supply — led to sharp price increases.

 Finally, we have this phase --

Tuesday, February 20, 2024

As SCOTUS considers Trump's disqualification, a similar case -- featuring Couy Griffin, of "Cowboys for Trump" -- seeks his return to the New Mexico ballot

Couy Griffin of "Cowboys for Trump"
 

The United States Supreme Court (SCOTUS) might have backed itself into a corner when it signaled it would allow Donald Trump to remain on the Colorado ballot even though the former president engaged in a nationally televised insurrection on Jan. 6, 2021, and therefore is disqualified under 14th Amendment, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution. Justices repeatedly stated at recent oral arguments that they intended to find a way to keep Trump on the ballot, violating both the constitution and their own precedent in the process. Now, we learn that SCOTUS, in trying to find a clever way to keep Trump on the ballot, might have created a sticky wicket for itself. How did that happen? An article at The Hill explains, under the headline "Supreme Court to confront 14th Amendment disqualification — and not just Trump’s." Reporter Zach Schonfeld writes:

Former President Trump isn’t the only public official whose disqualification under the 14th Amendment’s insurrection ban has landed at the Supreme Court. 

Just days after the justices heard oral arguments in Trump’s historic case, they are scheduled to consider taking up another official’s disqualification: a New Mexico county commissioner who participated in the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol attack. 

Before the Trump challenges gained steam, a state judge booted from office Couy Griffin, who had been found guilty of entering a restricted area during the riot. 

Griffin, the founder of "Cowboys for Trump," is now urging the justices to hear his appeal, even as they begin writing their opinion in Trump’s case. Griffin’s petition is scheduled to be discussed at the justices’ closed-door conference Friday (2/16/24). 

“At this point about everything happening with Trump legally at the top is happening to me here at the bottom. Many things are in tandem. And most greatly compliment each other,” Griffin wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter, shortly after oral arguments in Trump’s case, which was born out of a challenge in Colorado. 

Originally designed to keep ex-Confederates from returning to power, the Civil War-era provision bars people who took an oath to support the Constitution and then engaged in insurrection from returning to office. 

After falling dormant for decades, several public officials — though none more than Trump — began facing efforts after the Capitol attack to block them from office under the 14th Amendment’s Insurrection Clause.  

Most have been unsuccessful. A group of voters challenged Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.)’s 2022 House candidacy, ending with the Georgia Supreme Court declining to review a decision tossing the case.

While the Trump case in Colorado has received by far the most attention, Section 3 challenges are being heard in a number of states. Colorado and Maine are the only states to reach the merits of the Trump matter, and both found -- correctly -- that he is disqualfied.  The question now seems to be this:Will SCIOTUS find a way to uphold Griffin's conviction, while letting Trump skate? We have little doubt that the justices will try to thread that needle because it likely fits their desired outcome -- let the well-known Republican off the hook, while nailing the Republican few people have ever heard of.  Whether SCOTUS can legally reach such a result is another question.

Shonfeld provides background on Section 3, which mostly had been dormant since the Civil War -- until a rogue of Trump's magnitude came along to trigger its provisions:

One advocacy group mounted a challenge to Arizona Republican Reps. Paul Gosar and Andy Biggs’s 2022 candidacies, but a judge tossed the case. Another man’s challenge to Rep. Scott Perry’s (R-Pa.) 2024 candidacy is ongoing.  

Trump, meanwhile, has faced dozens of lawsuits. Only two states — Colorado and Maine — kicked Trump off their Republican primary ballots, but even those decisions haven’t yet taken effect. Both are on hold pending the Supreme Court’s ruling.  

Griffin, on the other hand, was already booted from office. In response to a challenge from three New Mexico voters, filed one day before Griffin was found guilty in his Jan. 6 criminal case, a judge disqualified him in September 2022.

The justices must now confront how to juggle the new case as they begin working on their potentially landmark opinion concerning Trump’s eligibility. 

Griffin's attorneys raised all kinds of questions in an effort to get their client's conviction overturned. Will any of those arguments be enough to obtain the desired result? Griffin's case has been on a slow track, and time will tell if the high court is persuaded. Writes Shonfeld:

“[N]one of the trial court’s findings are sufficient to conclude that Mr. Griffin somehow engaged in ‘insurrection’ against the United States,” Griffin’s attorneys wrote in their appeal to the Supreme Court. 

“At best, the trial court’s findings were sufficient to conclude that Mr. Griffin engaged in a riot intended to create a disturbance or a civil commotion.”

Notably, the Supreme Court during the recent arguments suggested an off ramp to keep Trump on the ballot that could leave open whether Griffin’s disqualification should stand. 

Several justices suggested ruling that a singular state has no authority to disqualify candidates for president — or perhaps any federal office — under the 14th Amendment, which wouldn’t require the high court to opine on whether Jan. 6 was an insurrection. 

Although that resolution would doom the challenges to Trump’s eligibility, it would leave open the question of whether states can use the 14th Amendment to disqualify state-level officials. Some justices seemed to make that distinction during the recent arguments, even as Trump’s lawyer asserted that those disqualifications, too, are invalid. 

“Can states enforce the insurrection clause against their own officeholders, or can they enforce it against federal officials, or can they enforce it against the president? Those are all three different questions in my mind,” Justice Sonia Sotomayor said. 

Sotomayor told Trump’s attorney at another point, “There’s a whole lot of examples of states relying on Section 3 to disqualify insurrectionists for state offices, and you’re basically telling us that you want us to go two steps further. You want to — maybe three.” 

Although Griffin appealed his disqualification to the Supreme Court well before Trump did, Griffin’s petition has proceeded at a slower pace, remaining pending for nearly a year. The justices are scheduled to discuss whether to take up Griffin’s appeal at their closed-door conference Friday (2/16/24).

Such conferences are conducted in private, and we have not yet found a document that indicates whether the high court has granted certiorari to hear the Griffin case.How might the justices handle the case? Shonfeld provides insights:

The justices could delay deciding whether to hear the case until after handing down the opinion on Trump’s disqualification, which could be just weeks away given that the court expedited the former president’s case. 

But the parties on both sides in Griffin’s disqualification say the Supreme Court should move ahead now. 

Beyond the overlapping issues, the parties have also sparred over a matter not at issue in Trump’s case: whether the Supreme Court has jurisdiction in the first place to review Griffin’s disqualification, given the posture of his case. 

The plaintiffs, whose counsel of record also represents E. Jean Carroll in her sexual assault lawsuit against Trump, told the justices they have no power to hear the case. And even if they did, Griffin was correctly disqualified, they asserted. 

“In sum, not only does this Court lack jurisdiction over the case, and not only does Petitioner fail to satisfy any of the standard criteria for certiorari, but the contentions that he advances are all meritless,” the plaintiffs’ attorneys wrote in court papers.

Monday, February 19, 2024

Russia is blocked from obtaining U.S.-made weaponry, and plans are set to transfer forfeited funds to assist Ukraine in its battle with Vladimir Putin's aggression

 

Putin inspects Russian weapon

The United States plans to direct confiscated Russian funds to Ukraine, via Estonia, according to a report from Politico over the weekend. It appears to be the first sign of a concerted U.S. effort to take financial steps designed to impede Russian dictator Vladimir Putin and his efforts to bully neighboring countries. Meanwhile, one of our top constitutional scholars, Harvard Law professor Laurence Tribe, suggested that is not the only financial step the U.S. can take to throw a wrench into Putin's plans. 

Under the headline "DOJ: Confiscated Russian funds will support Ukraine — via Estonia," Politico's Olivia Alafriz writes:

The U.S. will transfer confiscated Russian funds to Estonia to be used in support of Ukraine, the Justice Department announced Saturday.

The nearly $500,000 sum was secured from “an illegal procurement network attempting to import into Russia a high-precision, U.S.-origin machine tool with uses in the defense and nuclear proliferation sectors,” according to a DOJ press release.

The news comes just days after reports that Russia is trying to develop a nuclear space weapon that would destroy satellites by creating a massive energy wave when detonated, potentially crippling a vast swath of the commercial and government satellites that the world below depends on to talk on cell phones, pay bills, and surf the internet, according to three sources familiar with US intelligence about the weapon.

U.S. plans to transfer funds to Ukraine come at a critical time in its war with Russia and is historic in nature. Reports Alafriz:

“This is an incremental step toward justice and restoration. But it is a necessary step. And it blazes a new trail towards combatting Russia’s ongoing brutality,” said Monaco in remarks prepared for delivery at the Munich Security Conference in Germany.

“The Department of Justice will continue pursuing creative solutions to ensure the Ukrainian people can respond and rebuild. Dollar by dollar. house by house. town by town,” Monaco added, noting that the administration would not wait for Congress, but rather would use existing authorities to provide assistance to Ukraine.

The DOJ statement provides more details:

This is the second time the Justice Department’s Task Force KleptoCapture has made confiscated Russian assets available for Ukraine—having provided $5.4 million in forfeited funds last year to the State Department for the support of Ukrainian war veterans. The confiscated funds are being transferred to Estonia since under current authorities, the facts of this case do not allow for a direct transfer to Ukraine. Estonia will use the funds for a project to expedite damage assessments and critical repairs to the Ukrainian electrical distribution and transmission system, which have been purposefully targeted by Russian forces.

“Today’s announcement demonstrates the unwavering resolve of the United States and our Estonian partners to cut off President Putin's access to the western technologies he relies on to wage an illegal war against Ukraine,” said Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco, who signed the transfer agreement on behalf of the United States. “This step for justice and restoration blazes a new trail toward combating Russia’s ongoing brutality. The Department of Justice will continue pursuing creative solutions to ensure the Ukrainian people can respond and rebuild.”

“Preventing cross-border crime has been and will be an even greater priority in the future,” said Secretary General Tõnis Saar of the Estonian Ministry of Justice.“Effective prosecution of sanctioned crimes is a very important part of this. In my opinion, this agreement provides additional motivation to deal with sanctions violations even more. The reason is very simple, the goal here is not only to detect, prosecute and ensure justice, but to direct illegal income to the victim, i.e. Ukraine. I hope that this will become the new normality for sanctioned crimes in other countries in the future.”

“Since the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the Department of Justice, together with its U.S. and overseas partners, has leveraged every tool available to cut off the Kremlin from the resources it needs to prosecute its war of aggression. These efforts are yielding results,” said Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen of the Justice Department’s National Security Division. “Today, we demonstrate once again our commitment to holding Russia to account and to aiding the people of Ukraine as they bravely resist and rebuild.”

Other officials said it was critical that this piece of equipment did not reach Russian hands:

“I commend the investigators who prevented this sensitive piece of Connecticut-manufactured equipment from crossing the Russian border, and our team of prosecutors who are not only bringing the individuals and entities involved to justice but have worked to seize and forfeit the funds involved in its purchase,” said U.S. Attorney Vanessa Roberts Avery for the District of Connecticut. “We thank our law enforcement partners and the Government of the Republic of Estonia for helping us achieve our mission to chase down the assets of those who violate our laws and to ensure proper compensation to their victims.”

“This agreement between the United States and Estonia not only reinforces our strong partnership, it fortifies the commitments of both countries to stand up to Russian aggression,” said Executive Associate Director Katrina W. Berger of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI). “This transfer stems from a joint investigation into the attempted illegal shipment of military materials to aid the Russian war against Ukraine. HSI will continue to ensure the safety of the homeland of this great nation, and when necessary, that of our allies.”

“The Putin regime has purposefully targeted critical and civil infrastructure in Ukraine to weaken morale, cripple the Ukrainian economy, and use winter as a weapon of war. The funds we are providing to Estonia today will be used to dramatically reduce the time needed to evaluate and prioritize urgent repairs to Ukraine’s electrical infrastructure, all in an  effort to literally keep the lights on,” said Task Force KleptoCapture Co-Director Michael Khoo.

As for Harvard Law's Laurence Tribe and additional steps the U.S. could take against Putin, he writes at X (formerly) Twitter

What are we waiting for? Putin’s assets of more than $300b are there to be seized for helping Ukraine, [Alexey] Navalny’s homeland. The US and our allies need to do what international law allows and morality demands.NOW!