Saturday, January 22, 2022

National Security Presidential Memoranda show powers that Trump planned to assume

Read the never-issued Trump order that would have seized voting machines The Jan. 6 select panel has obtained the draft order and a document titled “Remarks on National Healing.” Both are reported here in detail for the first time.

Among the records that Donald Trump’s lawyers tried to shield from Jan. 6 investigators are a draft executive order that would have directed the defense secretary to seize voting machines and a document titled “Remarks on National Healing.”

POLITICO has reviewed both documents. The text of the draft executive order is published here for the first time.

Here is the Jan 22 summary from Heather Cox Richardson (Letters from an American).

BEGIN QUOTE

On Wednesday, January 19, by a vote of 8 to 1, the Supreme Court refused to block the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) from releasing documents produced by the Trump White House to the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol. Last night, NARA handed over hundreds of pages of documents to the committee. Today, Betsy Woodruff Swan at Politico published one of them.

Hoo, boy.

It was an unsigned executive order dated December 16, 2020, just two days after the false Trump electors in seven states executed documents falsely saying Trump had won the election in their states. The executive order charges that there is “evidence of international and foreign interference in the November 3, 2020, election.” It went on to echo the lies that the campaign peddled after Trump’s loss.

Those complaints were used to justify using the National Guard to seize the nation’s election machines (ironically, the most intrusive possible federal interference in state elections from the leader of a party that just killed a voting rights bill on the alleged grounds it was federal overreach).

The order told the secretary of defense to “seize, collect, retain and analyze all machines, equipment, electronically stored information, and material records” from the election. It gave the defense secretary power to call up the National Guard to support him and told the assistant secretary of defense for homeland security to provide support from the Department of Homeland Security.

The secretary of defense had 60 days to provide an assessment to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, suggesting that the process would continue after Inauguration Day.

The executive order also provided for “[t]he appointment of a Special Counsel to oversee this operation and institute all criminal and civil proceedings as appropriate based on the evidence collected and provided all resources necessary to carry out her duties consistent with federal laws and the Constitution.”

Aside from the eye-popping content, the executive order gives us some hints of who was behind it.

The document cites two National Security Presidential Memoranda—numbers 13 and 21—to justify the emergency powers Trump planned to assume. That citation revealed that this was no run-of-the-mill bananas proposition: the existence of Memorandum 21 was not publicly known. Its inclusion in this document suggests the author had access to sensitive government secrets. Tonight, Hugo Lowell of The Guardian noted that the National Security Council would not say anything about what National Security Presidential Memo 21 authorizes.

The proposed special counsel was likely Trump attorney Sidney Powell, who was lobbying to become a special counsel at the time this executive order was drafted. Indeed, she may have had a hand in drafting it, although lawyer Rick Petree noted that the important role of the secretary of defense suggests that Trump loyalist Kash Patel might have been involved as well. After he lost the election, Trump fired Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and replaced him with Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller, making Patel Miller’s chief of staff where he exercised unusual authority.

Washington reporter for Reuters Brad Heath noted that people close to Sidney Powell said Trump authorized this executive order before his staff talked him out of it.

Tonight, Trump lawyer Boris Epshteyn, who was subpoenaed by the January 6 committee on January 18 along with Trump lawyers Rudy Giuliani, Sidney Powell, and Jenna Ellis, told MSNBC’s Ari Melber that he and “the Trump legal team” were part of the plan to create the false electors. While he claimed that what they did was legal, he pushed responsibility for the plan onto Giuliani as the one in charge.

And today the election threats task force in the Department of Justice launched its first case against a man accused of threatening lawmakers. Today, the FBI arrested 54-year-old Chad Christopher Stark of Leander, Texas, who posted a message on Craigslist on January 5, 2021, offering $10,000 to kill Georgia lawmakers. He wrote: “Georgia Patriots it’s time for us to take back our state from these Lawless treasonous traitors.” “[I]t’s time to put a bullet” into certain officials, because “[i]t’s our duty as American Patriots to put an end to the lives of these traitors and take back our country by force we can no longer wait on the corrupt law enforcement in the corrupt courts.” In language that echoes that of genocidal movements, he wrote: “If we want our country back we have to exterminate these people.”

He concluded: “Remember one thing local law enforcement… we will find you oathbreakers and we’re going to pay your family to visit your mom your dad your brothers and sisters your children your wife… we’re going to make examples of traitors to our country… death to you and your communist friends.”

The story of January 6 came perilously close to a different ending.

END QUOTE

Thursday, January 20, 2022

Sinema in the Senate and McConnell separating African Americans from Americans

In the January 19, 2021 edition of Letters from an American, Heather Cox Richardson has some observations on Sinema and the Senate. Following are some excerpts.

Voting rights journalist Ari Berman noted that the 48 senators who voted to reform the filibuster represent 182 million Americans, 55% of the United States population, while those 52 senators who upheld the filibuster represent 148 million Americans, 45% of the country.

After the vote, Republicans lined up on the Senate floor to shake Sinema’s hand, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) assured reporters that concerns about Black voting were misplaced because: “African American voters are voting in just as high a percentage as Americans.”

Independent Senator Angus King of Maine, who has struggled mightily for voting rights for many months and who was a reluctant but firm convert to the talking filibuster, fought hard today to rally support for voting rights and filibuster reform. He quoted President Abraham Lincoln’s warning to lawmakers during the Civil War that “we cannot escape history. We of this congress and this administration will be remembered in spite of ourselves…. The fiery trial through which we pass will light us down in honor or dishonor to the latest generation.”

In light of the vote’s outcome, though, perhaps more to the point was something King said to David Rohde, published in the New Yorker today. In 1890, the Senate rejected a measure designed to protect the voting rights of Black men in the South, where southern legislatures had forced most of them from the polls. Southern Democrats and their northern allies killed the proposed law.

King told Rohde, “The result was seventy-five years of egregious voter suppression in the South. That was a mistake made by a few senators. I honestly feel that we may be at a similar moment.” He added, “I’m afraid we’re making a mistake that will harm the country for decades.”

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

DeSantis vs. Trump, Round 2

New Yorker Satirist Andy Borowitz tells us DeSantis Betting That Republicans Want a Stupider Version of Trump.

TALLAHASSEE (The Borowitz Report)—As he explores a bid for the 2024 Republican Presidential nomination, Governor Ron DeSantis is betting that G.O.P. voters are looking for a stupider version of Donald J. Trump.

According to a source close to DeSantis, the Florida Governor has decided to “run to the stupid of Trump” to pick up the support of voters who now consider the former President too intellectual.

"When Trump recently said that he got the booster, that was the last straw,” the source said. “In the eyes of a lot of Republicans, Trump is basically Fauci now.”

“Trump’s surrender to science is a slippery slope,” the source added. “It’s only a matter of time before he starts flirting with geography and grammar.” As DeSantis stakes his claim to the dumber-than-Trump lane, he spoke at a fund-raising event over the weekend.

“Donald Trump believes that one plus one equals two,” the Governor told his audience. “I think the American people should be free to decide for themselves what one plus one equals.”

Slap shots in Florida - DeSantis vs. Trump

We can guess at the outcome. Yesterday and today JVL and Charlie Sykes had some interesting speculations about where that is headed in the Bulwark. Here is some of it.

… we can guess how this show will end, because we’ve seen it in re-runs for years now. DeSantis is going to fold like a cocktail umbrella. Here’s why:

In his newsletter yesterday, JVL explained the dynamics of this GOP slap-fight.

Ron DeSantis isn’t stupid. He’s seen the same things we’ve all seen. If you’re a Republican and you get crosswise with Trump, one of two things happens: You get pushed out of the party, or you eventually bend the knee in order to stay in the party.

We have so many examples it’s stupid.

What DeSantis should understand is that this choice is a trap. Because even the people who surrender after challenging Trump are politically maimed. They become damaged goods in the minds of Republican voters.

And Allapundit points out the inevitability of DeSantis’s blink:

The last thing DeSantis wants while he’s running for reelection as governor is the distraction of a public feud with Trump. If Trump starts needling him by name, he’ll be forced to either hit back, escalating the tension, or to ignore it and take the shots. Which will make him look weak anyway.

The prudent Machiavellian play is to say he’ll stand aside, getting Trump off his back, and then “reconsider” in 2023 after he’s safely reelected.

Saturday, January 15, 2022

Biden-Cheney 2024 - 'until our democracy is safe'

OPINION: Biden-Cheney 2024

Jan. 11, 2022

By Opinion Columnist Thomas L. Friedman

Thanks to our Editor-at-Large Sherry.

BEGIN QUOTE

As I’ve noted before, one reason I pay very close attention to the Israeli-Palestinian arena is that a lot of trends get perfected there first and then go global — airline hijacking, suicide bombing, building a wall, the challenges of pluralism and lots more. It’s Off Broadway to Broadway, so what’s playing there these days that might be a harbinger for politics in the U.S.?

Answer: It’s the most diverse national unity government in Israel’s history, one that stretches from Jewish settlers on the right all the way to an Israeli-Arab Islamist party and super-liberals on the left. Most important, it’s holding together, getting stuff done and muting the hyperpolarization that was making Israel ungovernable.

Is that what America needs in 2024 — a ticket of Joe Biden and Liz Cheney? Or Joe Biden and Lisa Murkowski, or Kamala Harris and Mitt Romney, or Stacey Abrams and Liz Cheney, or Amy Klobuchar and Liz Cheney? Or any other such combination. Before you leap into the comments section, hear me out.

In June, after an utterly wild period in which Israel held four national elections over two years and kept failing to produce a stable governing majority, the lambs there actually lay down with the lions.

Key Israeli politicians swallowed their pride, softened policy edges and came together for a four-year national unity government — led by rightist Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and left-of-center Alternate Prime Minister Yair Lapid. (They are to switch places after two years.) And for the first time, an Israeli Arab party, the Islamist organization Raam, played a vital role in cementing an Israeli coalition.

What forced everyone’s hand? A broad agreement that Israeli politics was being held hostage by then-Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu, who resisted putting together any government that he would not lead, apparently because, if he didn’t lead, he could lose his chance at some kind of immunity from prosecution on multiple corruption charges that could lead to prison.

Netanyahu was just a smarter Donald Trump, constantly delegitimizing the mainstream media and the Israeli justice system and vigorously exploiting social/religious/ethnic fault lines to divide and rule. He eventually stressed out the system so much that several of his former allies broke away to forge a unity coalition with Israeli center, left and Arab parties.

As Hebrew University of Jerusalem religious philosopher Moshe Halbertal put it to me: “What happened here is that there is still enough civic responsibility — not everywhere, but enough — that the political class felt that the continued breakdown of the rule of law and more elections, which was leading nowhere, was an indulgence that Israel simply could not afford, given its highly diverse population and dangerous neighborhood.”

This new Israeli government will neither annex the West Bank nor make final peace with the Palestinians, Halbertal noted, but it is one “that will attempt to renew the relationship with the Palestinian Authority rather than weakening it. It is one that prevented a racist anti-Arab party allied to Netanyahu from entering the cabinet.” And it is one that is counterbalancing Bibi’s strong embrace of the less-than-democratic, ultranationalist states in Europe and evangelical Christians and Trump Republicans in America “by rebuilding ties with the Democrats, liberal American Jews and liberal parties in Europe.”

As Israeli leaders treat each other — and Israeli and Palestinians leaders treat each other — with a little more respect, and a little less contempt, because they are out of Facebook and into face-to-face relations again, stuff is getting done. Unity has not meant paralysis. This coalition in November passed Israel’s first national budget since 2018! So far, every attempt to topple it has failed.

Mansour Abbas, the Islamist party’s leader, even recently stunned many Israeli Arabs and Jews when he publicly declared, “Israel was born a Jewish state; that was the decision of the people.” He continued: “It was born this way, and it will remain this way. The question is, what is the status of the Arab citizen in the Jewish state of Israel?’’

Could this play come to Broadway? I asked Steven Levitsky, a political scientist and co-author of “How Democracies Die,” after he presented some similar ideas last week to my colleague David Leonhardt.

America is facing an existential moment, Levitsky told me, noting that the Republican Party has shown that it isn’t committed any longer to playing by democratic rules, leaving the United States uniquely threatened among Western democracies.

That all means two things, he continued. First, this Trump-cult version of the G.O.P. must never be able to retake the White House. Since Trump has made embracing the Big Lie — that the 2020 election was a fraud — a prerequisite for being in the Trump G.O.P., his entire cabinet most likely would be people who denied, or worked to overturn, Biden’s election victory. There is no reason to believe they would cede power the next time.

“In a democracy,” Levitsky said, “parties lose popularity and they lose elections. That is normal. But a democracy cannot afford for this Republican Party to win again because they have demonstrated a ton of evidence that they are no longer committed to the democratic rules of the game.”

So Biden-Cheney is not such a crazy idea? I asked.

“Not at all,” said Levitsky. “We should be ready to talk about Liz Cheney as part of a blow-your-mind Israeli-style fusion coalition with Democrats. It is a coalition that says: ‘There is only one overriding goal right now — that is saving our democratic system.’”

That brings us to the second point. Saving a democratic system requires huge political sacrifice, added Levitsky. “It means A.O.C. campaigning for Liz Cheney” and it means Liz Cheney “putting on the shelf” many policy goals she and other Republicans cherish. “But that is what it takes, and if you don’t do it, just look back and see why democracy collapsed in countries like Germany, Spain and Chile. The democratic forces there should have done it, but they didn’t.”

To put it differently, this Trump-cult version of the G.O.P. is trying to gain power through an election, but it’s trying to increase its odds of winning by gaming the system in battleground states. America’s small-d democrats need to counter those moves and increase their odds of winning. The best way to do that is by creating a broad national unity vehicle that enables more Republicans to leave the Trump cult — without having to just become big-D Democrats. We all have to be small-d democrats now, or we won’t have a system to be big-D or big-R anythings.

That is what civic-minded Israeli elites did when they created a broad national unity coalition whose main mission was to make the basic functions of government work again and safeguard the integrity of Israel’s democracy.

Such a vehicle in America, said Levitsky, should “be able to shave a small but decisive fraction of Republican votes away from Trump.” In a tight race, it would take only 5 or 10 percent of Republicans leaving Trump to assure victory. And that is what matters.

This is the democratic way of defeating a threat to democracy. Not doing it is how democracies die. I am quite aware that it is highly unlikely; America does not have the flexibility of a parliamentary, proportional-representation system, like Israel’s, and there is no modern precedent for such a cross-party ticket. And yet, I still think it is worth raising. There is no precedent for how close we’re coming to an unraveling of our democracy, either.

As Levitsky put it: “If we treat this as a normal election, our democracy stands a coin flip’s chance of survival. Those are odds that I don’t want to run. We need to communicate to the public and the establishment that this is not a normal donkeys-versus-elephants election. This is democracy versus authoritarians.”

This is not for the long term, noted Levitsky: “I want to get back as quickly as possible to where I can disagree with Liz Cheney on every policy issue” — and that is the most we have to worry about — “but not until our democracy is safe.”

END QUOTE

Monday, January 3, 2022

While Trump fiddled our capitol burned

That is, metaphorically of course.

In the January 2, 2022 edition of Letters from an American Heather Cox Richardson provides an update on the Jan 6 committee. Particularly revealing is what Liz Cheney reports.

Today, members of the January 6 committee revealed some of what they have learned. On ABC’s This Week, committee chair Bennie Thompson (D-MS) told host George Stephanopoulos that “we have uncovered some things that cause us real concern,” and that “[i]t appeared to be a coordinated effort on the part of a number of people to undermine the election.”

On the same program and on CBS’s Face The Nation, committee vice chair Liz Cheney (R-WY) painted a picture of Trump watching the attack on the Capitol from the private dining room in the White House, refusing to call off the rioters despite the pleas of his staff, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, and even his own daughter Ivanka.

His refusal to act, Cheney continues to emphasize, was a “supreme dereliction of duty.” He was the only person who could have stopped the rioters—many of whom have since told courts that they were there because they believed he had called them to be—and he refused to act. Instead, he tweeted that Vice President Mike Pence was a coward, and made at least one phone call to a senator demanding a delay in counting the electoral votes. When he finally did release a video telling the rioters to leave, more than three hours after the attack started, Trump acknowledged that he did, in fact, know that he commanded them.

We’ll see where this goes, but to this historian and non-lawyer (!) it does seem like he’s coming perilously close to being called out for leading a conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding.

Aside from the story of what Trump was doing—or not doing—in those crucial hours, Cheney’s interviews this morning revealed that the committee has gathered testimony from those who had access to Trump during the course of January 6. She said they had “first-hand testimony” that Trump was watching television in his private dining room, as well as that Ivanka asked him to call his supporters off. The information that the committee has a window into the White House that day has got to make certain people uncomfortable.

Cheney was talking not just about the past, but also about the future. She wants “the American people to understand how dangerous Donald Trump was.” He “went to war with the rule of law.” “Any man…who would provoke a violent assault on the Capitol to stop the counting of electoral votes, any man who would watch television as police officers were being beaten, as his supporters were invading the Capitol of the United States is clearly unfit for future office, clearly can never be anywhere near the Oval Office ever again.”

Cheney had a very clear message for her colleagues: The Republican Party “can either be loyal to Donald Trump or we can be loyal to the Constitution, but we cannot be both.”