Tuesday, November 14, 2017

With impending appointments and elections GOP heads toward bottom of ethical cess pool

A few days ago the Washington Post asked How low will the GOP sink? They were specifically asking that with respect to Roy Moore’s campaign for the US Senate. What triggered their question are the cases of Moore’s (alleged) sexual misconduct with teenage girls. But the question extends far beyond another bad actor heading to congress. The GOP has not yet hit bottom when it comes to appointments and elections in the ethical cess pools called “Trump administration” and Republican party.

I’ll start with Roy Moore, a candidate for the GOP bottom, and move out from there.

Greg Sargent (Washington Post/Plum Line) tells us to Ignore the spin. Trump and the GOP have made a devil’s bargain with Roy Moore. Snippets follow.

Top White House officials have now made President Trump’s position on Roy Moore absolutely clear: Trump does not believe that the allegations that Moore initiated sexual contact with a 14-year-old — and pursued three other teenagers — should disqualify him from becoming a U.S. senator. [Scriber: it’s now up to five girls.]

This is not how they presented their position, of course. On the Sunday shows, legislative director Marc Short and senior adviser Kellyanne Conway both expressed great shock and horror over the charges. But then each of them carefully carved out a position that appears designed to allow Moore to continue with his run for Senate largely unobstructed and, ultimately, to accept Moore as a senator if he wins, while letting the allegations fade away in a fog of he-said-she-said uncertainty.

To understand the real game here, note two other key developments in this story. First, Mitch McConnell was asked directly by the New York Times whether he would refuse to seat Moore if he won, and refused to say:

In an interview, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, declined to say whether he would agree to seat Mr. Moore should he win.

Second, Axios reports that Breitbart, which is run by former Trump adviser and current Moore booster Stephen K. Bannon, has sent two reporters to Alabama to discredit The Post’s reporting on Moore. As Axios’s Jonathan Swan notes, the first big Breitbart story along these lines — which seizes on an inconsequential detail in accuser Leigh Corfman’s story — doesn’t discredit her claims in the least.

The crucial point here is … to confuse people about what happened and dissuade them from bringing their own judgment to bear on the known facts.

After all, is there any evidence, short of a Moore confession or video proof of Moore’s actions, that would be sufficient to persuade White House officials and Republicans to decide that Moore has been disqualified? The original Post story was based on interviews with more than 30 people who said they knew Moore over the decades, and The Post reported that none of the women knew each other or sought out the paper’s reporters. Corfman’s family stands by the story. If this isn’t enough, what would be?

The evidence is found credible by both John McCain and Mitt Romney. The question is will other Republicans follow suit.

The thing is that “Losing a Senate seat would deal a severe blow to GOP hopes of passing any major agenda items, particularly huge tax cuts on the rich and corporations, which Republicans themselves say is key to holding their majorities.” So, “… the most likely outcome is that no matter what does surface, it will not be enough to puncture the “if true” rhetorical shield” and we will end up with Moore in the Senate.”

Update: McConnell has now called on Moore to step aside from the race, declaring: “I believe the women.” That is a good development, and a clear break with the previous strategy. The question now is what McConnell and other top Republicans are prepared to actually do about Moore’s candidacy — and what steps they’re ready to take to prevent Moore from serving in the Senate if he wins.

That still leaves 50 Republican senators sitting this out.

My second candidate for the GOP bottom is Brett Talley, a completely unqualified nominee for a federal judge.

The Huffington Post reports that a Trump Court Pick Forgot To Mention He’s Married To A White House Lawyer. The short story - and most important question - is that “_Brett Talley, an Alabama district court nominee, was also rated “not qualified” and has never tried a case. How is this guy about to become a federal judge?_”

WASHINGTON ― One of President Donald Trump’s judicial nominees didn’t tell the Senate about a major conflict of interest in his bid to become a lifetime federal judge: his wife is chief of staff to White House counsel Don McGahn, who oversees the president’s judicial nominations.

As first reported by The New York Times, Brett Talley, a nominee to an Alabama district court seat, did not disclose in his questionnaire to the Senate Judiciary Committee that he’s married to Ann Donaldson, McGahn’s top aide.

The questionnaire specifically asks Talley, 36, to identify family members who are “likely to present potential conflicts of interest.” He did not identify his wife.

Neither Talley nor the White House returned a request for comment.

Talley, who is currently a deputy assistant attorney general at the Justice Department, has already sparked controversy with his nomination. He has only practiced law for three years. He has never tried a case in court. And he was deemed “not qualified” to be a judge by the American Bar Association, making him Trump’s fourth judicial nominee to earn the rare and abysmal rating by the nation’s top legal organization.

Christopher Kang, who oversaw the selection and vetting of President Barack Obama’s judicial nominees for more than four years, said the “insanity” of Talley’s nomination extends to his job at the Justice Department, where he vets judicial nominees and helps them with their nomination paperwork.

“It is literally his job to help nominees fill out these forms honestly and completely,” Kang told HuffPost. “If this is how he approached his own nomination, what is he advising everyone else?”

Before he was a judicial nominee, Talley also made his political positions clear. In tweets that have since been made private, he said “Hillary Rotten Clinton might be the best Trumpism yet” and that she belonged in jail. A month after the 2012 mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, he wrote a blog post titled “A Call to Arms: It’s Time to Join the National Rifle Association.”

None of these details stopped the Senate Judiciary Committee from advancing Talley’s nomination last week. All Democrats voted against his nomination.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), the top Democrat on the committee, said Monday that the Senate shouldn’t hold Talley’s confirmation vote unless he explains why he didn’t tell them about his wife’s role in the White House. She noted that Donaldson is also a witness in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

“Judicial nominees are required to disclose potential conflicts of interest‎,” Feinstein said in a statement. “Talley’s nomination shouldn’t be considered by the Senate unless he answers questions about this glaring omission and clarifies matters concerning when he would recuse himself.”

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who chairs the committee, did not respond to a request for comment on whether he is having second thoughts about supporting Talley given his failure to disclose his wife’s job to the committee.

Alabama Sens. Richard Shelby (R) and Luther Strange (R) recommended Talley’s nomination to Trump. Strange said he stands by Talley.

“Brett Talley’s record reflects a nominee well-equipped to serve on the federal bench, and he has my full confidence and endorsement,” Strange said in a statement. “As my Deputy Solicitor General in Alabama, he applied his reverence for the Constitution and the rule of law to crucial cases, arguing multiple times before 11th Circuit Court of Appeals and building a reputation for professionalism.”

Shelby did not respond to a request for comment.

Talley is on track to get his Senate confirmation vote as soon as this month.

UPDATE: 10:30 p.m. ET ― White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders gave no signs that the president is backing off of Talley’s nomination.

“Mr. Talley served as Deputy Solicitor General for the state of Alabama, currently serves in the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Policy and was recommended by Alabama’s U.S. Senators,” Sanders said in a statement. “He is more than qualified to serve in the federal judiciary.”

Another White House spokesman, who requested to speak anonymously, emphasized that Donaldson “is not involved in this judicial selection or other judicial nominations. The men and women the president nominates should be judged on their own merits.”

Scriber agrees. Judged on his own merits, Talley should not be confirmed.

We have yet to experience the bottom of the GOP slide into depravity.

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