Cody Fenwick

The Justice Department just announced the administration 'must' hand Trump's taxes to Congress

In a new opinion from the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, officials concluded that the administration is legally obligated to hand over former President Donald Trump's taxes to Congress, as has been requested.

The announcement is the latest development in Democrats' years-long struggle to see Trump's tax records. He conspicuously refused to make his tax returns public during the 2016 (and 2020) presidential campaign, despite having said he would do so. Many critics believed they would provide evidence of wrongdoing, impropriety, financial failure, or even criminality. So when Democrats took control of Congress in 2019, the House Ways and Means Committee requested his records from the IRS using a statute that allows lawmakers to obtain such information.

But the Trump administration stonewalled, using highly dubious legal reasoning. Now, the Biden administration, and Attorney Merrick Garland's Justice Department in particular, has reversed that decision:

When one of the congressional tax committees requests tax information pursuant to section 6103(f)(1), and has invoked facially valid reasons for its request, the Executive Branch should conclude that the request lacks a legitimate legislative purpose only in exceptional circumstances. The Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee has invoked sufficient reasons for requesting the former President's tax information. Under section 6103(f)(1), Treasury must furnish the information to the Committee.

The Trump administration had argued that Congress did not have a legitimate legislative purpose to request. But the new OLC document rejects those claims, saying that lawmakers clearly have presented facially valid reasons for requesting the returns, and that is essentially the end of the story:

The statute at issue here is unambiguous: "Upon written request" of the chairman of one of the three congressional tax committees, the Secretary "shall furnish" the requested tax information to the Committee. 26 U.S.C. § 6103(f)(1). As the 2019 Opinion recognized, this statutory directive does not exempt the June 2021 Request from the constitutional requirement that congressional demands for information must serve a legitimate legislative purpose. 2019 Opinion at *17–19. The 2019 Opinion went astray, however, in suggesting that the Executive Branch should closely scrutinize the Committee's stated justifications for its requests in a manner that failed to accord the respect and deference due a coordinate branch of government. Id. at *24–26. The 2019 Opinion also failed to give due weight to the fact that the Committee was acting pursuant to a carefully crafted statute that reflects a judgment by the political branches, going back nearly a century, that the congressional tax committees should have special access to tax information given their roles in overseeing the national tax system. Particularly in light of this special statutory authority, Treasury should conclude that a facially valid tax committee request lacks a legitimate legislative purpose only in exceptional circumstances.

It added:

Even if some individual members of Congress hope to see information from the former President's tax returns disclosed on the public record merely "for the sake of exposure," Trump v. Mazars USA, LLP, 140 S. Ct. 2019, 2032 (2020) (internal quotation marks omitted), that would not invalidate the legitimate objectives that the Committee's receipt of the information in question could serve.

However, Trump may still have the opportunity to delay disclosure further. BuzzFeed reporter Zoe Tillman noted that Trump has a short period of time to try to intervene:

Even if the House committee obtains the tax returns, they won't immediately become public. Documents identifying particular people are supposed to be kept by the ocmmittee in closed session.

'This reeks of criminal intent': Bombshell notes expose Trump's pressure campaign on the DOJ

Lawmakers in the House Oversight Committee released new evidence on Friday of former President Donald Trump's extensive pressure campaign to use the Justice Department to help him overturn the result of the 2020 presidential election in the final days of his administration.

Notes from conversations between the president and DOJ officials detail his aggressive push to have the department validate the wild conspiracy theories about election fraud that he fomented, despite the lack of evidence.

On Dec. 27, when told the department couldn't "snap its fingers" and "change the outcome of the election," Trump said, "Don't expect you to do that, just say that the election was corrupt + leave the rest to me and the R. Congressmen," according to the notes.

These new revelations follow a recent report from the Washington Post that Trump called acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen about the election almost daily at the end of 2020 about the election. Bill Barr had resigned as attorney general in part because of his split with Trump on the legitimacy of the election

Publicizing notes of communications between the president and the heads of administration departments is highly unusual, but the Biden administration concluded that it was an "extraordinary circumstance" to have "congressional investigators were examining potential wrongdoing by a sitting president," according to the New York Times.

Trump repeatedly pressed the department to investigate the wild claims of election fraud that percolated in right-wing media and corners of the internet at the time, which were repeatedly debunked. At one point, having been told that certain claims he was pushing were simply untrue, Trump reportedly responded: "Ok fine — but what about the others?"

According to the notes, he also told the DOJ officials: "You guys may not be following the internet the way I do."

Perhaps one of the most significant revelations is that Trump was recorded as directly threatening the officials' jobs based on their handling of the investigation. The New York Times explained:In a moment of foreshadowing, Mr. Trump said, "people tell me Jeff Clark is great, I should put him in," referring to the acting head of the Justice Department's civil division, who had also encouraged department officials to intervene in the election. "People want me to replace D.O.J. leadership."
"You should have the leadership you want," Mr. Donoghue replied. But it "won't change the dept's position."
Mr. Donoghue and Mr. Rosen did not know that Mr. Perry had introduced Mr. Clark and Mr. Trump. Exactly one week later, they would be forced to fight Mr. Clark for their jobs in an Oval Office showdown.

George Conway, a conservative lawyer, argued on Twitter that the evidence could support a potential criminal case against the president.

Tucker Carlson just totally backtracked on his bombshell NSA claim — while pretending he was right all along

Last month, Fox News host Tucker Carlson dropped a bombshell allegation that the NSA had been intentionally spying on his communications in order to find dirt, embarrass him, and get his show kicked off the air. But on Wednesday night, the host's latest comments on the allegation reveal that he has completely backtracked from these explosive allegations, even as he tried to act as though he had been right all along.

When he first made the claim, he said the NSA was "monitoring our electronic communications and is planning to leak them in an attempt to take this show off the air." He added with confidence: "We have confirmed that." He claimed a whistleblower revealed this information.

Later, it was reported that Carlson has been seeking an interview with Russian President Vladimir Putin, which the Fox News host then confirmed. Some observers, including me, speculated that this could provide a non-sinister explanation for NSA's actions that prompted Carlson's overreaction and misinterpretation. NSA routinely and legally monitors the communications of foreign diplomats and officials, and if Carlson made contact with these individuals, it would be predictable and non-scandalous that U.S. intelligence would intercept them.

It turns out, however, that the explanation is even more mundane than that, according to a recent report from The Record. It found that Tucker Carlson's communications weren't intercepted at all. Instead, Carlson's name was merely mentioned in the discussions of other individuals who were monitored:

The NSA has found no evidence to support Tucker Carlson's accusations that the agency had been spying on him in an effort to knock his show off the air, two people familiar with the matter told The Record.

An examination by the spy agency, prompted by congressional inquiries, found that the Fox News host's communications were not targeted — as the NSA has previously stated publicly — nor intercepted through so-called "incidental collection," where the U.S. government sometimes obtains the emails or phone calls of Americans in contact with a foreign target under surveillance, according to these people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. Correspondence between intelligence agencies and oversight authorities are conducted through classified means.

Instead, the nation's top electronic spy agency found that Carlson was mentioned in communications between third parties and his name was subsequently revealed through "unmasking," a process in which relevant government officials can request the identities of American citizens in intelligence reports to be divulged provided there is an official reason, such as helping them make sense of the intelligence documents they are reviewing.

This completely undercuts Carlson's original allegations of wrongdoing, which he made without qualification. But on Wednesday night, Carlson acted as though the report confirmed his outrageous claims:

"A media outlet called The Record, which is owned by a cybersecurity company, recently published a story about the NSA's monitoring of this show, effectively admitting that it happened," he said. "Our identity, The Record said, was included in an intel intercept and then 'unmasked.' The Record didn't explain how that would be legal. But it happened, as we said it did."

Carlson's claim is only sensible if "monitoring this show" means "heard someone else talk about this show." Which, of course, it doesn't. Carlson was lying through his teeth, and he surely knows it. He had confidently asserted that the NSA was reading his emails.

With his claims debunked, he tried to distract the viewers' attention by suggesting there's something scandalous about "unmasking." There isn't. Unmasking is the legal, official process government recipients of intelligence documents go through to find out an identity that has been concealed for the individual's privacy. The fact that an unmasking request was made confirms that steps were taken to properly conceal Carlson's identity in the first instance. But it's appropriate and ordinary for recipients of intelligence to request an unmasking if they feel it will help them better understand the intelligence. It's conceivable someone could have asked for Carlson's name to be unmasked for an improper reason, but the standard is low, and there's no reason to believe there was anything inappropriate about it. And since the whole point of making an unmasking request is that the person's identity is unknown, this process couldn't be used to target an individual such as Carlson on purpose.

Carlson later spoke with Glenn Greenwald about the incident, who didn't even demonstrate a basic understanding of the unmasking process. Carlson said the NSA: "Spread to news outlets that I was talking to Russians, in an effort to discredit and then control me. Of course. That's the point."

But this just isn't true. There's nothing scandalous about someone in Carlson's positions seeking an interview with Vladimir Putin — other network reporters have done it. So why would anyone try to embarrass him with this information? It doesn't make sense. And there were never any news reports trying to drum up scandal about Carlson talking to Russians — there was never any effort to "control" him. Indeed, his privacy was never violated at all, even for a legal purpose. This is just a persecution fantasy he built up, and as it falls apart in front of him, he's still lying to his audience to convince them it's true.

Kyrsten Sinema just threw an unexpected wrench into Biden's infrastructure plans

Arizona Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema was riding high on Wednesday as a group of Republicans announced their support for a bipartisan infrastructure deal, though by the afternoon, it still wasn't clear if it had enough votes to pass. Just as momentum was building for that legislation, though, Sinema deflated hopes for Democrats' follow-up act: a $3.5 billion budget reconciliation bill.

The budget bill only requires 50 votes to pass, avoiding the 60-vote threshold that the Senate typically requires to enact a law. That means Democrats don't need any Republican votes to pass a budget bill. But with only 50 Democratic lawmakers in the Senate, the party needs every member on board if it's going to shove its spending priorities through the budget process, as has long been the plan. In a Wednesday statement to the Arizona Republic, though, Sinema announced she doesn't want to spend $3.5 trillion in the bill.

"I have also made clear that while I will support beginning this process, I do not support a bill that costs $3.5 trillion — and in the coming months, I will work in good faith to develop this legislation with my colleagues and the administration to strengthen Arizona's economy and help Arizona's everyday families get ahead," she said.

The budget bill includes spending on major Democratic priorities, including elder and disability care, climate change, and pre-kindergarten education. With Sinema's opposition to the current structure of the bill, it will have to be scaled back. She indicated that she supports some of the proposals but objects to the size.

Sinema has already irritated many of her Democratic colleagues and voters with her aggressive centrism. Unlike West Virginia Democrat Sen. Joe Manchin, Sinema comes from a swing state, rather than a deep red state, so it's less explicable why she is such a frequent opponent of her party's priorities.

And her announced opposition to the budget package comes at an awkward and tense time. Many progressives in Congress have been deeply frustrated with the interminable negotiations over the bipartisan infrastructure deal — in which Republicans haven't been forced to make real substantive concessions. It was the centrists like Sinema and Manchin who insisted on carrying out the protracted negotiations with Republicans, even though the justification for the process was less than compelling. Progressives have gone along with the process and largely held their tongues because they saw the budget deal as the place where they could really achieve their priorities.

Now Sinema is has announced that she's not done using her leverage to control the process. She wants to slice up or contract the budget deal to suit her own preferences.

President Biden and the rest of the Democrats are highly motivated to pass something big, both to pursue their values as legislators and to prove to the voters that they're worth keeping in power. But by making this play at a crucial point in the bipartisan negotiations, Sinema risks sparking a backlash from progressives who feel they've had the rug pulled out from under them. That could cause further turmoil within the ranks, and for no clear reason. Sinema gave no justification for scaling back the bill's ambitions.

If she's successful in cutting some of the spending, Sinema will also likely undermine some of its goals. Some argue that the proposal was already far too limited and not enough to meet the large challenges of our time, such as climate change.

For the senior senator from Arizona, though, such considerations rarely seem at the top of mind. For whatever reason, she prioritizes positioning herself as a thorn in the Democrats' side.

Jim Jordan lets slip an admission that could make him a crucial witness for the Jan. 6 committee

Speaking with Fox News host Bret Baier on Tuesday, Rep. Jim Jordan admitted that he spoke to then-President Donald Trump on Jan. 6, a fact that could make him a crucial witness for the select committee that he has been eager to join.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi blocked Jordan from joining the Jan. 6 committee, due to his clear hostility toward any investigation that might impugn Trump or his followers. In response, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Jordan, and other Republicans have fumed with outrage in an attempt to discredit the committee before its work even began.

But Jordan's admission on Tuesday provides even more justification for keeping Jordan off the committee. As Wyoming Republican Rep. Liz Cheney argued on Tuesday, one of the committee's central goals should be to determine what was going on at the White House while the Capitol was being attacked on Jan. 6. Jordan may have information that can help answer that question, and further shed light on Trump's explicit intentions regarding the day's rally and riot, because of his conversation with Trump. (Others have already suggested other reasons Jordan could be considered a material witness to the probe.)

It is, of course, not clear what Trump and Jordan talked about on Jan. 6. But his reaction to being questioned about the incident by Baier actually suggests he's hiding something. He bent over backward not to directly answer Baier when asked if he spoke with Trump on that day.

Baier started specifically by asking if Jordan spoke to Trump on Jan. 6, and the congressman responded that he's spoken to Trump "countless times." He tried to deflect and dodge the inquiry by offering up that he doesn't talk about the substance of his conversations with Trump. It wasn't until Baier pushed a third time about whether they spoke on Jan. 6 that Jordan finally provided a direct answer: "Yes." But he quickly tried to pivot away to talking about other times he spoke to Trump, even though Baier clearly wasn't asking about those incidents.

In case it wasn't clear if Jordan was really answering Baier's question when he said "yes," the host gave Jordan another opportunity to clarify by following up with an inquiry about Trump's thoughts on the day. Instead of answering the question or offering any more insight into the topic Baier was pursuing, Jordan pivoted away once again to say that the "fundamental questions" are about U.S. Capitol security, rather than the motivations behind the Jan. 6 attack.

We already know Trump spoke to Rep. Kevin McCarthy during the attack, and the reports of that conversation indicate the president expressed sympathy for the people storming the Capitol. Jordan's evasiveness around the question of his conversation with Trump suggest that his own account might be similarly damaging to Trump. But we won't know unless we actually get his testimony and hear an accurate account of what happened.

The Justice Department just slapped down GOP Rep. Mo Brooks's defense in Capitol riot lawsuit

In a new court filing late Tuesday night, the U.S. Justice Department rejected the claim that Alabama Republican Rep. Mo Brooks was acting in his role as a member of Congress when he spoke before the Jan.6 rally that preceded that insurrection on the Capitol Building.

The question arose as part of Brooks's defense against a lawsuit brought by Democratic Rep. Eric Swalwell of California, which alleges Brooks played a role in inspiring the attack against Congress. If Brooks can persuade the court that his speech was a part of his duties as a congressman, then he would be protected from legal action. He asked the Justice Department to step in and defend him on these grounds.

But the new filing told the court that the department "cannot conclude that Brooks was acting within the scope of his office or employment as a Member of Congress at the time of the incident out of which the claims in this case arose. In light of the Department's declination, the United States should not be substituted as a defendant in this action."

Brooks's speech that day was campaign activity, the department found, and thus is not covered as a part of the duties of a member of Congress.

"[It] is no part of the business of the United States to pick sides among candidates in federal elections," the filing said. "Members of Congress are subject to a host of restrictions that carefully distinguish between their official functions, on the one hand, and campaign functions, on the other. The conduct at issue here thus is not the kind a Member of Congress holds office to perform, or substantially within the authorized time and space limits, as required by governing law."

It continued:

In addition, the Complaint alleges that Brooks engaged in conduct that, if proven, would plainly fall outside the scope of employment for an officer or employee of the United States: conspiring to prevent the lawful certification of the 2020 election and to injure Members of Congress and inciting the riot at the Capitol. Alleged action to attack Congress and disrupt its official functions is not conduct a Member of Congress is employed to perform and is not "actuated . . . by a purpose to serve" the employer, as required by District of Columbia law to fall within the scope of employment.

Brooks's speech has been cited among the most incendiary of the comments leading up to the attack.

"Today is the day American patriots start taking down names and kicking ass," he said. He spoke of previous generations of Americans having been willing to sacrifice their lives for their country and asked if the crowd was willing to do the same. "Are you willing to do what it takes to fight for America?"

BuzzFeed reporter Zoe Tillman pointed out that Brooks's argument still has a chance to succeed, but it's much harder without the Justice Department on his side.

"This doesn't end the fight totally — it's still up to the judge to grant or deny Brooks's motion to certify that he was acting w/in the scope of his employment and substitute the US govt as the defendant. But it's a much steeper hill to climb without DOJ on board," she said on Twitter.

Trump humiliates another member of the Bush family

On Monday night, former President Donald Trump endorsed Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton as he fights to keep his current position. George P. Bush, the commissioner of the Texas General Land Office and son of Jeb Bush, had publicly and enthusiastically sought out Trump's endorsement in the race, only to be rejected.

It was a humiliating blow for the man who had overlooked the demeaning treatment his family had received at Trump's hand in order to advance his own political prospects.

Trump repeatedly mocked and shamed former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush in 2016 as they competed for the GOP presidential nomination, a race in which Bush had been seen by some as the favorite. Trump also repeatedly attacked former President George W. Bush, George P. Bush's uncle, and former President George H.W. Bush — his grandfather. Billy Bush, a nephew to the first President Bush, also lost his job when the infamous Access Hollywood video became public in the last days of the 2016 campaigning, showed him laughing as Trump bragged about sexually assaulting women — conduct Trump has never been punished for. Trump even insulted George P. Bush's mother:

Despite this bleak history with his family, George P. Bush went out of his way to make nice with Trump in order to win his favor.

As part of this demonstration, Bush even made light of the fact that Trump had publicly disparaged his family members:

Trump's choice of Paxton isn't particularly surprising — he's been a devoted sycophant and played a prominent if ultimately witless role in trying to overturn the 2020 presidential election — but the sitting attorney general's apparent weaknesses as a candidate only enhance Bush's humiliation. He is currently under indictment for securities fraud, and he has been accused of additional crimes, including bribery, by his own aides. He is reportedly under federal investigation apart from the existing indictment against him, to which he's pleaded not guilty.

Nevertheless, he's Trump's man, as the former president made clear Monday to Texas voters. Despite turning on his family, George P. Bush couldn't compete with that.

Kevin McCarthy gets caught off guard when asked if he'll testify about his talk with Trump on Jan. 6

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy seethed with outrage at Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday during a press conference, denouncing her decision to block two of his appointees from serving on the select committee to study the Jan. 6 Capitol attack. But he seemed caught off guard when a reporter asked him if he stands by his previous commitment to testify about his phone conversation with former President Donald Trump in the middle of the insurrection.

"On May 20th, in this room, I think you told us that you were prepared to testify about your conversation with President Trump on the afternoon of Jan. 6. Do you still stand by that? Are you prepared to testify about that conversation?" the reporter asked.

In May, McCarthy had offered a short, "Sure. Next question," when asked about testifying. He has tried to downplay the significance of the conversation, but Democrats argued it was highly relevant during Trump's second impeachment. According to multiple reports, Trump told McCarthy of the people who were storming the Capitol, assaulting police, and stalling the work of Congress: "Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are." It indicated Trump's alignment with the rioters, who he had gathered to D.C. in the first place and inflamed with his false claims about the 2020 election.

On Wednesday, McCarthy appeared to regret his previous assent to testifying about the call.

"My phone call is out there," McCarthy said, shrugging, seeming to suggest there was nothing to be learned from his testimony.

In fact, the phone call is not "out there." There are multiple secondhand reports of the call, from sources on and off the record, but there's no definitive account from either of the two participants. In fact, McCarthy's claim that the record of the call is "out there" is highly deceptive since he has tried to deflect from and cast doubt on the reports about what was said. Here was his reaction when asked about the reports by Fox News's Chris Wallace in April, as transcribed by PolitiFact:

Wallace: "During the Trump impeachment in February … a Republican congresswoman said this. I want to put it up on the screen. She said that while the Jan. 6th riot was in full force, you phoned President Trump and asked him to call off his supporters. And according to you, she said, the president responded, 'Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election then you are.' Is she right? Is that what President Trump said to you?"
McCarthy: "What I talked to President Trump about, I was the first person to contact him when the riot was going on. He didn't see it. What he ended the call was saying — telling me, he'll put something out to make sure to stop this. And that's what he did, he put a video out later."
Wallace: "Quite a lot later. And it was a pretty weak video. But I'm asking you specifically, did he say to you, 'I guess some people are more concerned about the election than you are?'"
McCarthy: "No, listen, my conversations with the president are my conversations with the president. I engaged in the idea of making sure we could stop what was going on inside the Capitol at that moment in time. The president said he would help."

Clearly, he was not forthcoming about the details of the call. It was after those remarks that he agreed to testify about the conversation. That he's now backtracking on that plan suggests he's afraid of what he'll have to say.

Echoing GOP Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, McCarthy continued on to try and push the blame on to Democrats, suggesting that the only relevant questions are about the security planning for the day.

"The question is, you make a phone call after people are in the Capitol to advise the president of what's going on — [it] doesn't get to the answer of: why were we ill-prepared?" McCarthy said. "That's really playing politics. And it really shows that that's the issue of where they want to go to. Of where they want to drive. We want to get all the answers."

This explanation makes little sense. The reason the phone call is relevant is that it is revealing about what Trump's intentions were in riling up the crowd and sending it to the Capitol. That is, of course, a fundamental part of any investigation into the causes of the attack. And it's contradictory for McCarthy to say it's he who wants to get "all the answers" while also declaring one topic of the investigation to be off-limits.

What McCarthy is trying to do is pin the blame on Pelosi for the Capitol's weak security, thus muddying the waters on responsibility for the attack and deflecting criticism of Trump and the GOP. As the New York Times explained, though, the attack on Pelosi is baseless:

Capitol security is overseen by the Capitol Police Board, which has three voting members: the sergeants-at-arms of the House and Senate and the Architect of the Capitol. Paul D. Irving, the House sergeant-at-arms at the time of the attack, was hired in 2012 under Speaker John Boehner, a Republican. The Senate sergeant-at-arms at the time, Michael C. Stenger, was hired in 2018 when Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, led the chamber.

Even if Pelosi had been responsible for Capitol security, however, McCarthy's argument would be unlikely to be effective. The Capitol shouldn't need to be protected from a violent mob inspired by the sitting president's lies. And even McCarthy himself knows this. On Jan. 13, he said:

The president bears responsibility for Wednesday's attack on Congress by mob rioters. He should have immediately denounced the mob when he saw what was unfolding. These facts require immediate action by President Trump.

In that speech, he opposed Trump's impeachment, but he was advocating for an independent commission to investigate the attack. Now, he is doing everything he can to thwart such an investigation.

Nancy Pelosi shuts down Kevin McCarthy's attempt to put Jim Jordan on the Jan. 6 committee

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced Wednesday that GOP Reps. Jim Jordan of Ohio and Jim Banks of Indiana will not be allowed to serve on the Select Committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, despite Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy's request.

Reps. Rodney Davis of Illinois, Kelly Armstrong of North Dakota, and Troy Nehls of Texas, will be allowed to serve as McCarthy's nominees.

"Monday evening, the Minority Leader recommended 5 Members to serve on the Select Committee. I have spoken with him this morning about the objections raised about Representatives Jim Banks and Jim Jordan and the impact their appointments may have on the integrity of the investigation," Pelosi said in a statement. "With respect for the integrity of the investigation, with an insistence on the truth and with concern about statements made and actions taken by these Members, I must reject the recommendations of Representatives Banks and Jordan to the Select Committee."

She acknowledged this was an aggressive step but argued it was necessary.

"The unprecedented nature of January 6th demands this unprecedented decision," she said.

McCarthy will be permitted to pick two replacements for Banks and Jordan, Pelosi said, but it's not clear if he'll comply. Under the rules for the select committee, Pelosi could pick seven members, and McCarthy could select five, subject to the speaker's approval. In her own gesture toward bipartisanship, Pelosi included among her picks GOP Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, who was recently removed from House Republican leadership because of her vocal criticism of former President Donald Trump and his actions that led to the Jan. 6 attack.

McCarthy's decision to nominate Jordan and Banks had already come under criticism before Pelosi's announcement. Many argued their inclusion, given their rank partisanship and fierce defense of Trump, showed McCarthy was interested in undermining the committee rather than helping it find the truth.

"[T]he appointment of two people whose obvious role is sabotage — like Banks, Jordan played a big role in sowing doubts about 2020 — shows that McCarthy must do all he can to muddy up a full accounting," wrote Washington Post columnist Greg Sargent on Tuesday. "[T]his level of bad faith about a matter involving nothing less than the durability of our political order requires a response: Democrats must say no to it. And the media has a role here, too. As Brian Beutler notes, this sort of GOP 'bad acting' can no longer be covered as a 'given.'"

He continued: "Instead, the basic facts of the situation — like McCarthy's choice of Banks and Jordan — should be unflinchingly rendered as what they truly are: central to a broader campaign to cover up an effort to overturn our political order, a coverup saturated in a level of venality, bad faith and contempt for the public interest that has no place in a functioning democracy."

McCarthy has no one to blame but himself for ending up in this situation. Pelosi and the Democrats had negotiated a plan for an independent commission that would have had an equal number of appointees from each party, and the speaker would've been unable to veto McCarthy's picks. But McCarthy rejected that offer, followed closely by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Though the plan passed the House on a bipartisan basis, and it won a handful of Republican votes in the Senate, it failed to reach the 60-vote threshold needed to overcome the filibuster and become law. Pelosi established the House select committee as an alternative, in which she has far more control.

In a surreal moment, Trump told the truth about his lies at CPAC

During a speech filled with lies, boasts, and bullying attacks that observers have come to expect, former President Donald Trump offered a rare moment of self-effacing honesty over the weekend to the audience at CPAC.

He brought up the conservative conference's practice of holding a straw poll to see who attendees favor to be the Republican Party's next presidential nominee — a contest which other polls suggest he still dominates. But while he was speaking, the poll hadn't been finished yet, so he telegraphed exactly how he will react no matter the results.

"You have a poll coming out, unfortunately — I want to know what it is," he said. "Now if it's bad, I disown — I say it's fake. If it's good, I say that's the most accurate poll perhaps ever."

None of this is a revelation, of course. Since at least 2015, Trump has always transparently pumped up polls that showed him doing well and attacked polls that showed him underperforming as fake. And he has, at times, playfully suggested that his criticisms are driven by self-interest and ego rather than genuine concerns about a poll's validity, though perhaps never quite as straightforwardly as he did this weekend.

Why would he admit something like this? It is, like crying foul about disappointing polls, another power play. It shows his dominance over his fans that he can admit this part of his tactics directly to them, and they laugh and eat it up. It proves how much they are in thrall to him that he can tell them he will lie to their faces, and they will beg for more. And for them, it provides a psychological defense mechanism for any time they see he's lying. Since he can admit that he lies sometimes, they can persuade themselves that his lies just prove even more how powerful he is. It's a show of dominance, and everyone who's a part of the team can feel like they're part of the dominant group. In this mindset, critical writers like me or TV pundits who bemoan the death of truth are just sore losers, sad that they're not a part of the team.

This is a well-established fact of Trump and his followers' psychology, so I normally wouldn't think it's worth mentioning in the era of his post-presidency. His remarks carry much less weight now than they did when he led the United States military. But in this case, these claims, this admission, matter because of the primary reason Trump is still relevant in American politics: the Big Lie.

The lie that Trump won the election is driving Republican legislatures to enact new voting laws they hope will cement their advantage, and the Big Lie may even potentially inspire them to circumvent election results that they don't like in the near future. It may inspire future violence, as we saw on Jan. 6. These are major threats to American democracy.

But Trump's Big Lie is based on exactly the same kind of lying he just admitted to doing at polls. In November 2020, he looked at the results in Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Arizona, Nevada, and Georgia, and he didn't like what he saw. When the counting was ongoing, he urged states that looked good for him to stop counting, and he urged states that look bad for him to keep counting, hoping the result would change. He and his team were outraged about voting procedures and changes that occurred in states where he lost, but they were silent about those same changes in states where he won. It was always transparently frivolous.

Now he's admitting, as has always been obvious, that he engages in exactly this kind of lie — this self-serving confirmation bias — that anyone should be able to objectively admit is faulty and intentionally deceptive. No one would accept it from their political opponents, and few others would openly admit that it's what they do themselves.

And yet the GOP of 2021 will hear those admissions, and it will cheer. It will craft its priorities around the obvious and intentional lie, and it will demand that the rest of the country respect those choices. That's what the modern American electorate must face up to.


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