Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Federal judge nixes DOJ's attempt to represent Trump in defamation case

Steve Benen (MSNBC/MaddowBlog) reports that a federal Judge blocks DOJ’s gambit in Trump’s E. Jean Carroll case. After a woman accused Trump of sexual assault, he lashed out at his accuser, prompting a defamation case. The DOJ wants to intervene; a judge won’t let it.

Donald Trump’s private legal team have repeatedly tried and failed to make E. Jean Carroll’s defamation lawsuit go away. As regular readers may recall, the Justice Department filed court documents last month, declaring its intention to represent the president in the case.

That doesn’t appear to be going well. CNBC reported this morning

A federal judge on Tuesday rejected an effort by the Department of Justice to have the United States government replace President Donald Trump in a lawsuit in which he is accused of defaming writer E. Jean Carroll after she said he raped her in the mid–1990s. The DOJ had argued that Trump was acting in his capacity as a government employee when he said Carroll was lying and motivated by money. Because of that, the DOJ said, the government should be the defendant in Carroll’s civil lawsuit, not the president.

U.S. District Court Judge Lewis Kaplan rejected the Justice Department’s arguments, clearing the way for Carroll and her attorneys to sue the president for defamation personally.

For those who may need a refresher on the controversy, let’s revisit how we arrived at this point.

Carroll spent years as a prominent writer, media figure, and advice columnist, including having hosted a show on America’s Talking, which later became MSNBC. As regular readers may recall, in June 2019, she also joined a long list of women who’ve accused Trump of sexual misconduct.

Indeed, in a book published last year, Carroll alleged an encounter in a New York department store in the mid–1990s, which the writer described as a violent sexual assault committed by the future president. Though definitively proving or disproving Carroll’s claim is difficult – there is no security footage to review – the writer said she confided in two friends shortly after the alleged incident, telling them at the time what she said occurred. Those friends soon after came forward with on-the-record accounts.

She also wrote in her book, “The Donna Karan coatdress still hangs on the back of my closet door, unworn and unlaundered since that evening.” It’s led Carroll to seek Trump’s DNA as part of her case.

The president has denied the claim, arguing, among other things, that his latest accuser is a “liar” who isn’t his “type.” Following those comments, Carroll sued Trump for defamation. (When the allegations first surfaced over the summer, Trump issued a statement claiming that he’d never met E. Jean Carroll. There is, however, a photograph of the two interacting at an event in the mid–1980s.)

In August, a New York judge rejected the latest in a series of efforts to delay the case, and soon after, the Trump/Barr Justice Department decided to intervene.

In fact, the Justice Department peddled a very strange argument, asserting that the president was “acting within the scope of his office” when he lashed out at the woman who accused him of sexual assault, which meant not only that American taxpayers should pay for Trump’s legal defense, but also that the United States government should be the defendant in the case.

And since the government can’t be sued for defamation, the gambit appeared to be an effort on the part of the Justice Department to make the entire case go away.

Former acting Solicitor General Neal Katyal described the Justice Department’s position last month as “insane,” adding that DOJ officials “are doing everything they can to appear to be Trump’s personal law firm.”

The judge in the case, not surprisingly, also failed to find the Justice Department’s argument persuasive, concluding that Trump clearly was not acting in his official capacity when he publicly targeted Carroll. “His comments concerned an alleged sexual assault that took place several decades before he took office, and the allegations have no relationship to the official business of the United States,” Kaplan wrote.

Today’s ruling will very likely be appealed. Watch this space.

Postscript: It’s also worth noting for context that the public was confronted with a recording from 2005 in which Trump was heard bragging about committing sexual assaults. The Republican said that he kisses women he considers attractive – “I don’t even wait,” Trump claimed at the time – which he said he could get away with because of his public profile.

“When you’re a star, they let you do it,” Trump said on the recording. “You can do anything. Grab ’em by the p***y.”

Among the claims raised by Carroll was an allegation, denied by the president, that Trump “forced his fingers around my private area.”

Why Republicans needed to pack the supreme court

Heather Cox Richardson reviews yesterday’s good, bad, and ugly.

The big news yesterday was the confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett.

Shortly after the ceremony, Trump released a video of the event with Barrett walking alongside him through the doors of the White House onto a balcony where the two stood for the crowd. It was a triumphant demonstration of Trump’s power, and undermined the illusion that Barrett will be a nonpartisan judge. Traditionally in America, Supreme Court justices keep a distance from political leaders, yet she has just appeared in a campaign commercial for the president.

The thing is, Barrett signaled her intentions in her acceptance speech which seemed more like a campaign ad.

So what we have tonight is the Republican Party under Trump ramming through a third Supreme Court justice who is far out of sync with the vast majority of the American people, an authoritarian ceremony for an election ad, and a sign that partisans are working to steal the upcoming election.

More bad news for Tump and the GOP

The administration is sinking in bad news. It has given up on combatting the coronavirus, which infected 74,323 more Americans today and killed at least 534. Reflecting that the rising infection numbers mean a slower economic recovery, the stock market today had its biggest drop in a month. Financiers are so tired of Trump’s volatility, including his tweets, that they are pouring five times more money behind Biden. Meanwhile, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, who admitted the coronavirus policy on Sunday, is so hated that 18 administration officials talked to Josh Dawsey of the Washington Post about him; one White House advisor said “It’s hard to count the ways Meadows has failed as a chief of staff…. It’s been an unmitigated disaster.”

A Trump appointee who chaired the Federal Salary Council overseeing federal pay resigned today in protest over Trump’s recent Executive Order enabling him to fire key federal workers. “[T]he Executive Order is nothing more than a smokescreen for what is clearly an attempt to require the political loyalty of those who advise the President, or failing that, to enable their removal with little if any due process,” Ron Sanders wrote, “As a matter of conscience, I can no longer serve him or his administration.”

And staffers at the Department of Health and Human Services are openly looking for other jobs. Three of them told Politico’s Dan Diamond that they are voting for Joe Biden. “I’ve never voted for a Democrat for president, but Biden hit the sweet spot. I know he’s not too far left and he understands how to make government work,” one said. "And I know he’ll never make fun of [Anthony] Fauci in public.”

Biden’s campaign, run quietly and steadily, has picked up steam until he is ahead in the polls by about 9 or 10 points nationally, and there is no sign that Trump is closing that gap. Clearly, the president had hoped the malarkey about the Hunter Biden laptop story—which we learned today White House lawyers tried to pitch to the Wall Street Journal before Rudy Giuliani took it to the New York Post– would create the same stampede from Biden that the email laptop story caused from Clinton in 2016, but that stampede has not materialized.

On Sunday, nine days before the election, about 58.6 million Americans had already voted early, more than the total number who voted early or by mail in 2016. Registered Democrats have made up 51% of those votes, while registered Republicans have made up 31%, leading Trump officials to attack the legitimacy of mail-in ballots and to insist that “the huge majority of President Trump’s supporters” were planning to vote on Election Day. But Black Americans, the heart of the Democratic Party, are turning out in huge numbers. “This election is for saving the U.S.” business consultant Dave Richards told CNN’s Faith Karimi.

People like Biden. They think he’s a decent man, who cares about someone other than himself. He has plenty of that old word, fallen into disuse in the last four years: character. He has principles, honor, a work ethic, and he treats people with respect—attributes we should demand in our officials. He has provided detailed plans about how he would address the country’s problems: systemic racism, economic inequality, and coronavirus, among others. At the same time, he offers a positive vision of America, a welcome contrast to Trump’s dark vision of American carnage. Biden constantly repeats that there is nothing Americans can’t do if we do it together.

And that, right there, is why the Republicans needed to pack the Supreme Court.

Two Lincoln Project ads

David Gordon at Blog for Arizona presents two ads from the Lincoln Project.

Please watch the Lincoln Project Ad “Fairy Tale”.

The Lincoln Project Presents its Closing Argument for Joe Biden.

Monday, October 26, 2020

Lincoln Project Times Square ads trigger legal battle - good read.

Ever since a group of former GOP strategists and conservative columnists founded the Lincoln Project, there’s been a steady stream of hard-hitting ads that annoy the Trumpkins to no end. Most recently, the Project has billboards in Times Square that expose Ivanka and Jared as the grifters they are. They struck back with a threat to sue unless the Project takes down the billboards. (Remember that one of Trump’s bullying methods is to sue those who threaten his ego.) Here is the counter punch from the Project’s counsel. Read and form your own conclusions.

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NH Union Leader says Biden 'is the president we desperately need.'

Heather Cox Richardson, in the October 25, 2020 Letters from an American, writes about how the Trump administration has conceded defeat - not that they were ever serious about controlling COVID–19.

While the administration is working to fire up Trump’s base, it is also working to downplay the coronavirus, even as infections continue to rip across the nation. Daily infection numbers are the highest they have ever been during this crisis, with 78,702 new cases reported on Saturday and more than 20 states at record levels of infection. We have had more than 8.5 million infections in the country and have lost almost 225,000 Americans in the official count to Covid–19. Wisconsin has opened a field hospital; Utah is so overwhelmed it is preparing to ration care.

We learned last night that at least five people on the staff of Vice President Mike Pence have tested positive for the coronavirus, including Pence’s chief of staff, Marc Short. Nonetheless, the vice president is not going to quarantine; he is going to continue to campaign. According to White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, Pence can travel because he is working and he is “essential personnel.” According to other officials, Meadows was hoping to keep the outbreak out of the news.

Today, Meadows told CNN’s Jake Tapper that the administration was “not going to control the pandemic.” Instead, “What we need to do is make sure that we have the proper mitigation factors, whether it’s therapies or vaccines or treatments to make sure that people don’t die from this.”

Other countries have managed to bring their numbers of infection and death downward, but the White House plan seems to be simply to let the disease take its course. South Korea, with 55 million people, got the disease at the same time we did. It has had fewer than 500 deaths. With our population of about six times theirs– 331 million— we have almost 225,000.

But Trump is trying to demonstrate that all is well by rejecting mask use, holding rallies, and telling people, “It is going away.” He has held nearly three dozen rallies since August, usually at airport hangars, appearing to revel in speaking before crowds. In an investigation, USA Today discovered that, in at least five counties, Covid–19 cases rose after Trump’s rallies. “We are coming around, we’re rounding the turn, we have the vaccines, we have everything,” Trump said in New Hampshire on Sunday. “Even without the vaccines, we’re rounding the turn. It’s going to be over.”

The staunchly conservative New Hampshire Union Leader, from Manchester, New Hampshire, isn’t buying it. Objecting to the president’s dramatic expansion of the national debt by more than “7 TRILLION dollars” (their capital letters), as well as his weaponizing of social media, the editors note that “We may be turning a corner with this virus, but the corner we turned is down a dark alley of record infections and deaths.”

The Union Leader is backing Joe Biden. “We have found Mr. Biden to be a caring, compassionate and professional public servant. He has repeatedly expressed his desire to be a president for all of America, and we take him at his word. Joe Biden may not be the president we want, but in 2020 he is the president we desperately need. He will be a president to bring people together and right the ship of state.”

Sunday, October 25, 2020

The city upon a hill - less shining, more tarnished, hurtling through a darkest hour

Tim Miller, writing at The Bulwark appraises the current state of our shining city upon a hill.

I’m sure many of you have watched Reagan’s powerful farewell address over the years. I’d ask you to do it again.

Because I don’t see how you can look at America in 2020 and believe that we are living up to Ronald Reagan’s call. We are not acting like a city atop a hill standing on rocks stronger than oceans. Nor are we a land teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace.

What I see instead is a country of pilgrims hurtling through the darkness … yearning for home.

I hope we can still find it.

The past few days when I’ve been at that window upstairs, I’ve thought a bit of the shining “city upon a hill.” The phrase comes from John Winthrop, who wrote it to describe the America he imagined. What he imagined was important, because he was an early Pilgrim - an early “Freedom Man.” He journeyed here on what today we’d call a little wooden boat, and, like the other pilgrims, he was looking for a home that would be free.

I’ve spoken of the shining city all my political life, but I don’t know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. But in my mind, it was a tall proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, wind swept, God blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace - a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity, and if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors, and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here.

That’s how I saw it, and see it still. How Stands the City?

And how stands the city on this winter night? More prosperous, more secure and happier than it was eight years ago. But more than that: after 200 years, two centuries, she still stands strong and true on the granite ridge, and her glow has held steady no matter what storm.

And she’s still a beacon, still a magnet for all who must have freedom, for all the Pilgrims from all the lost places who are hurtling through the darkness, toward home.

Somehow, I cannot see Donald Trump making anything approaching that speech.

See Miller’s post for a litany of why not.

Trump's nonexistent health plan - a Lincoln Project chronology

As one of the characters in the Mad Max movies put it: “Plan? There ain’t no plan.”

The Lincoln Project takes on Trump’s laughably nonexistent health care plan reports Aldous J Pennyfarthing at Daily Kos.

Donald Trump has been pretending he has a health care plan for at least four years — and it’s usually just two weeks from being unveiled.

He has no health care plan. Never has.

Other than risibly claiming he’s going to protect guaranteed issue for people with preexisting conditions — in the ether, as Joe Biden pointed out last night — he has nothing at all. He reminds me of a mob capo driving his victim out to the Pine Barrens. Yeah, the health care plan is just up ahead. Who’s that in the back seat? Never mind. He’s my girlfriend’s cousin. Don’t worry about it.

Well, The Lincoln Project has noticed, and they put together this comical supercut.

Nearly every substantive promise Trump has ever made has been vaporware. The one big thing he managed to get done — a giant tax cut that went overwhelmingly to the wealthy and big corporations — sucked donkey bits.

There’s zero chance he has a health care plan. …