David Cay Johnston

The case for expelling Marjorie Taylor Greene from Congress

Let's put in perspective the atrocious conduct of freshman lawmaker Margorie Taylor Greene. She is the pistol-toting congresswoman from Georgia who wants to put a bullet in Speaker Nancy Pelosi's head.

Any private employer would have fired Greene immediately. Failure to do so would expose a private company, a nonprofit or any other employer to ruinous damages. What if Greene reached into her purse and used her Glock, or if a fellow QAnon fan were to fulfill these homicidal impulses.

Any decent human being would get a court order to keep Greene from being on the loose with a gun in her person.

But Greene works in the people's House. Under our Constitution, she can't be fired; she can, however, be expelled.

Our Constitution requires a two-thirds majority vote to expel Greene. That will happen only if 59 of the 211 House Republicans have the basic human decency to expel a member with murder, religious bigotry and anti-Semitism in her heart, a lethal weapon in her purse and a stated desire to overthrow the government in which she serves.

Expulsion, however, almost is certainly not going to happen.

It's not what the Republican Party's de facto leader, Donald Trump, wants. Trump endorsed Greene, untroubled by her racist and anti-Semitic screeds and her spouting of QAnon craziness.

Examples? Labeling Democratic Party leaders as pedophile cannibals was one. Another was her inane assertion that California's wildfires were caused by a Jewish space laser financed by the Rothschild banking family.

Unrepentant Trump

But why would this, or anything else Greene has done, dissuade Trump? He is so self-centered and disloyal that he tried, and failed, on Jan. 6 to overthrow our government.

That attack on our Capitol left five people dead, including two police officers, and 140 police injured. In this Trump is like Greene – he is utterly unrepentant.

We now know that the attack on our Capitol and the hunt to kill Pelosi, then Vice President Mike Pence and others was the result of premeditation by rebels. Planning began just days after a large majority of American voters decided by Nov. 3 that Joe Biden would be our next president.

We also know that Trump riled up the crowd that January morning and told them he would go with them to the Capitol. Then he ducked out, hiding out in the White House, gleefully watching on TV the attack.

Trump was so enthralled by the mob violence on his behalf that he wouldn't take his eyes off the TV to answer frantic telephone calls from members of his own political party who feared they were about to be executed.

What better evidence that with Trump, like every other mob boss and dictator, loyalty is a one-way street?

Coward Kevin McCarthy

As Trump plots revenge and hopes for a return to the White House, his ally is traitor Kevin McCarthy. The California Republican who is House Minority Leader could whip votes to oust Greene. But if he did, he might well be ousted as minority leader.

McCarthy is so weak he cannot bear the thought of that humiliation; cannot imagine being stalwart in defense of our Constitution. News reports indicate Trump uses a sexist epithet to describe McCarthy who only confirms the implication of the disgusting term by his conduct.

McCarthy shares with Trump the ability to speak out of four sides of his mouth. He muddies otherwise clear waters about where he stands, what he believes and what he will do.

Of all the scoundrels that Trumpism has inflicted in America, few will be judged more harshly by history than McCarthy. He is a coward who chose loyalty to Trump ahead of his office. He is doing Trump's bidding by helping Greene cling to the office she does not deserve.

Five Members Expelled

Only five House members have ever been expelled, three for joining the Confederacy and waging war on the United States, two for corruption.

Greene clearly fits under the rebellion category. She is no less a traitor than John B. Clark and John W. Reid of Missouri and Henry C. Burdett of Kentucky, who all stood with the slave-owning Confederacy in 1861.

Any Republican who votes to keep Greene is making clear that they are as vile and disloyal as she is. A vote to retain Greene is a vote of utter disrespect for our Constitution and a violation of each representative's oath to defend our Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic.

Harassing a Fellow Lawmaker

Greene is utterly unrepentant. Last week, Greene and her staff harassed a co-worker of equal rank, Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.). It's significant that Greene is white and spouts racist tropes while Bush, who represents St. Louis, is Black.

Greene, in a tweet, said Bush was the agitator. So did Greene's chief of staff, promising he'd release a video to prove it. No video has appeared.

Bush told MSNBC that Greene approached her from behind while "ranting loudly into her phone" and "not wearing a mask." Bush said she called out for Greene to put on her mask, as House rules require, prompting Greene and her staff respond by berating her.

Bush is having her Congressional office moved away from Greene's. Providing Bush with armed escorts seems within the bounds of reason.

It is terrible to have to brand an entire political party this way, but it is what the facts demand. This is a tragedy not for the GOP so much as America, where our Constitution hangs as if by a thread and the Republicans are sharpening scissors.

What happened to Republican lectures about the need for those in high office to have moral standards? How about Republican themes of taking personal responsibility?

The awful truth is that those were never principled stands, just mere slogans no different in substance than the catchy phrases and jingles used to sell bubble gum and shampoo.

Featured image: Screengrab of Marjorie Taylor Greene campaign video

QAnon and evangelicals: Republicans baptized in crazy

Donald Trump is out, but parts of the Republican Party warmly embrace his dark legacy of white supremacy, the crazy QAnon conspiracy and civil war wrapped in faux Christianity.

Like Trump, these fake Christians reject turning the other cheek in favor of threatening or promoting violence.

The problem here isn't partisan politics, but public mental health. DCReport has covered extensively the mental-health debacle thanks to Dr. Bandy X. Lee, Harper West and other experts on how delusions spread like viruses, with Trump being a carrier.

The evidence of craziness seems to be found entirely in the Republican Party. We looked for, but have yet to discover any Democratic Party leaders pushing baseless conspiracy theories or urging civil war.

Readers who have found such material, please send links via our DCReport Tipline.

Here are some of the ways that Republican leaders reveal their affinity for the anti-democratic nature of Trumpism and QAnon, its attendant conspiracy theory:

  • In California, the Sacramento County Republican Party elected to its Central Committee a Proud Boys member who has advocated violence.

"Illegal immigrants should have their heads smashed into the concrete," a 2018 post by an antifascist group quotes Perrine as saying.

Perrine didn't deny this call to violence, he only insisted that he's not a racist.

He told the newspaper, "They can call me a Nazi all they want, and I know I have plenty of friends of all races that don't always agree with me, but they still love me.

"The Proud Boys that I affiliate with are all working men, all married men, they all have good jobs, they all believe in God."

Only after The Bee reported this did some Republicans in the California capital come to their senses and demand Perrine's ouster.

  • Oregon's Republican Party this month aligned itself with conspiracy theories as well as denouncing all 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump for inciting the murderous attack on our Capitol.
  • Texas' GOP uses a QAnon conspiracy phrase—We Are The Storm—in its new logo.

The slogan comes from a poem, not crazies, according to the Texas party chairman, Alan West. He is the former congressman from Florida and retired military officer known for making bizarre statements. In 2011, he wrote, "When I see anyone with an Obama 2012 bumper sticker, I recognize them as a threat to the gene pool."

Arizona GOP for Trump, Still

Texas GOP Twitter Page

  • Arizona's GOP retweeted messages in December asking if people were ready to die for Trump and his baseless claim that he really won in 2020. The original Stop The Steal tweet was deleted, but the party's official Twitter account still refers to a person who says he's ready to die for Trump. It states: "He is. Are you?"
  • You might think that the party leadership in the Grand Canyon state, long a bright red jurisdiction, would examine its position after Democrats won both U.S. Senate seats and Joe Biden beat Trump in Arizona.

While the GOP added registered voters in 2020, it lost in ballots cast. Instead of reassessing, however, Arizona's Republican leaders decided to enforce Trumpian purity. On Jan. 23 the Arizona GOP censured three leading Republicans for not embracing Trumpian madness: Gov. Doug Ducey, former U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake and Cindy McCain. The widow of Sen. John McCain said she considers the censure a badge of honor.

Party leaders also re-elected the erratic and autocratic Kelli Ward as the Arizona GOP leader. She said her party suffers from "people who have been namby-pamby, lie down and allow the Democrats to walk all over them."

The party retweeted a menacing message. It is one of many from a Republican who holds himself out as a Christian despite tweets that are aggressively contrary to New Testament teachings about love, doing good to others and turning the other cheek:

"The Arizona Republican Party is still Trump country in all districts. Weak self-righteous sanctimonious Rs are on notice."

"Satan-Worshipping Pedophiles"

Arizona state Sen. David Farnsworth acknowledged last fall to the Arizona Mirror, a news website, that he believes the QAnon conspiracy theory but with a twist.

He said some Republicans have joined the top Democrats who, he imagines, run a global Satan worshipping cabal of pedophiles Trump is singlehandedly trying to bring down. Farnsworth told audiences that Arizona's Department of Child Safety is covering up, or complicit, in child sex trafficking.

Meanwhile, the FBI says QAnon is a domestic terror threat.

Other delusional beliefs so deeply and broadly infect the Arizona GOP that its leaders blame antifascists for joining in when our national Capitol was violently invaded by a murderous mob of Trumpers on Jan. 6.

  • Mentioned earlier, the Oregon Republican Party went further. It adopted a resolution asserting, "The violence at the Capitol was a 'false flag' operation designed to discredit President Trump, his supporters, and all conservative Republicans; this provided the sham motivation to impeach President Trump in order to advance the Democratic goal of seizing total power."

That's as crazy as QAnon.

Antifascist Nonsense

The FBI calls that nonsense, but you don't need law enforcement to know that the idea is ridiculous.

Saying Trumpers and Antifa jointly attacked our Capitol is like saying Trump is in league with Bernie Sanders. Believing, as the Oregon GOP leadership does, that the insurgents were lefties posing as Trumpers moves the party well into the realm of delusion.

  • In Hawaii, the official Republican Twitter account claims war is being waged against its members' values. And its relentless attacks on news organizations that check facts and correct mistakes include many fabrications.

Witness this Inauguration Day tweet: "Will you be joining PBS in calling for internment and re-education camps also?"

Nothing in the news clips it tweeted came close to substantiating the tweet, nor did the full PBS report.

There is a glimmer of hope that reality plays a role in the Hawaii GOP. On Sunday, Jan. 24, the state party's communications vice-chair, Edwin Boyette, resigned after sane Republicans complained about his tweets supporting QAnon.

Building a Theocracy

It's not just Trump purity that many GOP influencers are pushing. There is also their brand of Christianity, which promotes racial animosity, hatred of Democrats, intolerance and would subvert our Constitution to create a theocracy.

Consider Jenna Ellis, one of Trump's television lawyers who was paid at least $173,900 by his campaign. Ellis has met with GOP leaders in several states making fact-free claims that Trump won in November.

Ellis has a long and well-documented history of just making self-aggrandizing claims. She has a checkered career and her accomplishments are negligible, but Trump got one look at her on television and was enchanted.

Some principled Republicans see no future in a party swaddled in craziness. On Monday Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, a conservative with a level head, announced that he won't seek a third term in 2022 because of what he called partisan gridlock.

While it's true that compromise is rare on Capitol Hill, intransigence traces back to anti-taxer Grover Norquist declaring, "Bipartisanship is just another name for date rape" and Trump repeatedly retweeting QAnon-supporting craziness.

Like Flake, a Libertarian whose family founded Arizona, Portman would face a primary challenge from the crazy wing of the GOP if he seeks third term.

Here is the message Republicans must take from failed coup attempt: Trump biographer

Here is the message Republicans must take from the violent mob Donald Trump sent to attack our Capitol Wednesday in his failed coup attempt:

Break completely from this crazy, seditious, wannabe dictator now. Hold him to account, preferably by prompt removal from office via the 25th Amendment or a rapid impeachment and conviction. He must be arrested and criminally prosecuted for trying to overthrow our government. More than a few traitors have been executed for such a crime.

What are the consequences of Republican leaders failing to denounce Trump totally and back up denunciations with action?

Trump and his dangerous and armed mob will become millstones around your necks. And your failings will brand you as traitors unfit to hold public office.

For the Josh Hawleys, Ted Cruzes and other seditious Republican senators and representatives any further defense of Trump should end of your political careers and your acceptance in civilized society.

Expel Seditious Legislators

Both the House and Senate, which with the Georgia runoff election results are under Democratic Party control, should exercise their authority to expel these and other seditious lawmakers if they say another word defending Trump or challenging the certification of Joe Biden as the next president.

That's not overreach; it's a Constitutional duty.

The mob Trump coerced to lay siege to our Capitol broke into the building, occupied and looted the Senate chamber, engaged in hand-to-hand combat with uniformed Capitol Police, broke into the floors of Congress and rifled through lawmakers' desks. These all are criminal acts for which Trump is responsible.

At least one person was shot and killed inside the Capitol, though we don't know at this writing whether a criminal looter or a police officer fired the weapon.

Thank goodness someone had the presence of mind to gather up the state certifications of the November election results, denying Trump another opportunity to attack the Biden inauguration.

Trump Still Seeks Overthrow

If you doubt Trump still wants to overthrow our government, just watch his one-minute video from the White House Rose Garden made as the siege was under way. Trump asserted yet again the Big Lie that "everyone knows" the election was stolen because he won in a landslide.

While Trump did, in passing, tell the mob to go home, it was only a sort of suggestion. His core message to his riot squad was that "so bad and so evil" people stole the election. His real message to the rioters:

Never give up trying to end our democracy and keep me in power.

Click to view the full video, which was taken down by Twitter.

That the crowd did not disperse proves his words hollow. Instead, live television carried voices of rioters vowing violence, promising to press on. As the sun set and darkness enveloped the Capitol grounds, where were federal law enforcement other than the Capitol Police?

Trump put at risk the life of his own vice president, Mike Pence, on whom he painted a target during his incitement of the rioters. He endangered the next two people in line for the presidency, Nancy Pelosi, House speaker, and Chuck Grassley, Senate president pro tem.

Representative Linda Sanchez, a California Democrat, told MSNBC she instructed her family on where to find her will in case the riots claimed her life.

Warning Proved Right

About five years ago, I warned repeatedly that if Trump became president our democracy could end. I also said if Trump lost election, his presidency would end badly. While I couldn't predict precisely what would happen, I was certain that Trump would not leave office peacefully.

Now we have seen what I anticipated: mayhem provoked by Trump, his namesake oldest son and Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani. This cannot stand.

Give the siege today, there can be no doubt that Trump remains a wannabe usurper, plain and simple. In rallying the mob to march on the Capitol, he:

  1. Committed sedition, a federal crime in conspiracy with the rioters and Don Jr.
  2. Advocated the overthrow of our government, another felony
  3. Incited insurrection

Add in the provocative words of Giuliani, who told the mob there would be "trial by combat."

Their own words establish a criminal conspiracy, a crime punishable by imprisonment for five years or more.

The videos from the Capitol also showed a banner hanging over the platform being built for the inauguration of Joe Biden in two weeks. Here is what the insurrectionists declared: "We the people will bring DC to its knees. We have the power."

Stopping Further Coup Attempts

They do not have that power, but we also cannot just wave this off. Authorities must exercise their power to indict, try and upon conviction imprison all of the hundreds of criminals who assaulted our democrac. The insurrectionists forced lawmakers into hiding and necessitated armed officers to hold off rioters at the House chamber door with drawn handguns aimed at a rioters visible through a broken window.

From Day One, Trump has violated his oath of office but never so dangerously as in his inciting violence, a local crime for which the local District of Columbia authorities should have him arrested the moment his presidency ends if not before.

Hours after the siege began, the Capitol was still not under the control of our government as rioters, some of them looters, roamed the building.

Trump has over the decades said multiple times that looters should be shot on sight. So why did Trump not call for that in his Rose Garden video tweet? Of course, it's because Trump is at one with the rioters and looters. They are Trump's mob.

Trump has not sent federal law enforcement to corral, arrest and identify the rioters. Instead, the governors of Maryland and Virginia sent state police riot squads to defend the Capitol.

Contrast that with

Trump's abusive assignment of the military to attack peaceful demonstrators so he could stage a June 1 photo op with a Bible at the church closest to the White House. Trump's failure to send authorities to quell the rioters is solid evidence of his complicity and support.

What to Do

It would be more than reasonable for Vice President Mike Pence and the cabinet to remove Trump immediately under the 25th Amendment. They must do this. However, while Trump promised "the best people" would populate his administration he intend installed such low-grade weaklings and incompetents that, sadly, this is likely a vain hope.

While time is short, it's more than reasonable for the House to impeach Trump a second time. There is no bar to impeaching Trump after he is out of office, but the way to defend our democracy is for the House to rapidly pass articles of impeachment and the Senate to take the issue up the same day and vote to convict and remove him.

And if neither of those occurs, then as soon as Trump is out of office, and his presumed immunity from federal prosecution ends, he must be indicted on District of Columbia level charges. He already is under investigation by federal prosecutors in Manhattan, a state grand jury in Manhattan, New York State attorney general and the district attorney in Fulton County (Atlanta) Georgia. These cases should proceed with all due speed.

There's a secret message buried in Trump's pardons everyone seems to have missed

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The 24 pardons that Donald Trump granted last week drew a lot of attention, but no one seemed to notice the message Trump sent by not issuing pardons. Trump's choices made it clear that he is a white-collar crime boss.

Trump pardoned four mercenaries who murdered Iraqi civilians, but not Jeremy Ridgeway the soldier-for-hire who plead guilty to manslaughter, testified against the others, and was sentenced to a year and a day in federal prison.

Trump pardoned Roger Stone, his dirty trickster confidant; General Michael Flynn his national security adviser who was on the Kremlin payroll; and his 2016 campaign manager Paul Manafort, but not Manafort deputy Rick Gates, who turned state's evidence and confessed to his crimes.

He also pardoned Rod Blagojevich, the former Illinois governor convicted of trying to sell a Senate seat. But there was no pardon for Michael Cohen, Trump's lawyer, and longtime fixer who confessed to committing felonies at the direction of unindicted coconspirator "Individual 1," identified in federal court as Trump.

A future president could use the pardon power to protect elaborate criminal schemes, to subvert the Bill of Rights, to frame political opponents, and even direct political murders.

The pardons of the mercenaries, who worked for Trump ally Erik Prince who supplies hired armies, of campaign aides Stone and Manafort, of Flynn and of Blagojevich carried a clear message. You can bet that lawyers for others considering ratting out Trump or who are already working with authorities to rein in the Trump crime family got the message.

The message: the boss takes care of friends and allies if they lie for the boss or keep silent, but does nothing for those who cooperate with law enforcement. Give Trump's many attacks on the FBI and other law enforcement, this should surprise no one, especially journalists -- and yet it eluded them.

Missing The Story

How is it that none of our major news organizations figured this out? Hint: they rely too much on the official version of events, official announcements and access instead of thinking and exercising reportorial authority, afraid they will be seen as tendentious. If Trump declared that the Sun rises in the West many news organizations would flee from reporting that was false, crazy, or nonsense, and some would focus on how the Sun only appears to rise, never mind that it appears to rise in the East.

The pardons issued so far and more that are no doubt coming in the next three weeks, raise grave questions about the future of our democracy that have received less comment than outrage over the brazen abuse of the pardon power, especially as part of a scheme to obstruct justice.

Think about what will happen the next time someone as lawless as Trump becomes president. Imagine a president with much more skill, smarts, and vigor than Trump, and one with better lawyers. A future president could use the pardon power to protect elaborate criminal schemes, to subvert the Bill of Rights, to frame political opponents, and even direct political murders so long as they were committed in federal jurisdictions so no state-level charges could be brought. The presidential pardon, remember, applies only to federal crimes.

Trump behaved last week exactly as any crime boss would act if he could exercise the powers of the American presidency: show mercy to criminals, especially criminals who have aided your crimes or whose supporters may be useful to you in the future but do nothing for those who did the right thing once they were caught and helped bring others to justice.

Trump Helps Cocaine Trafficker Buddy

This is exactly what Trump, as a private citizen, did in a series of extraordinary favors for a major international cocaine and marijuana trafficker with whom he had extensive and close business ties.

In that case, Trump sought mercy three-time felon Joseph Weichselbaum. The trafficker personally managed and piloted Trump's helicopter in the 1980s, supplied Trump with a fleet of helicopters to ferry high rollers to Atlantic City, and rented a luxury Manhattan apartment from Trump under an unusual lease that obscured how much rent was actually paid.

In a 1986 letter to the sentencing judge, Trump called Weichselbaum "a credit to the community." Trump wrote that Weichselbaum should serve no prison time for a long-running scheme in which the mules – people who drove cars and vans loaded with drugs from Miami to Cincinnati – got 20 years.

Read carefully, Trump's letter was really directed not at the judge, but at Weichselbaum.

Trump's clear message to his buddy: don't rat me out and I'll take care of you.

Trump took excellent care of his cocaine trafficker buddy. Weichselbaum spent just 18 months in a Manhattan prison, paid only a token sum on his $30,000 federal fine because he said he was broke and yet he moved into a $2.4 million double apartment at Trump Tower upon his release. Weichselbaum said the Trump Organization also gave him a new job -- as Trump's helicopter consultant.

Now is the time to demand that Congress act to protect us from a future lawless president so he or she cannot use the pardon power balm to criminal pals and an ax to eviscerate our liberties and our control of our government.

There's a secret message buried in Trump's pardons everyone seems to have missed

Defeated Donald Trump is already tearing our government apart

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America is entering a very dangerous time. For his next 11 weeks in office, Donald Trump will be in a position to exact revenge, a word that by his own account is his entire life philosophy. We should all hope that he goes into one of his down emotional periods for an extended time so that lethargy, not blind rage, dominates his behavior until Jan. 20.

Through phony charges of ballot-box stuffing, firing officials, issuing pardons to friends and family and other acts Trump can do great damage between now and Inauguration Day, when his shield against criminal prosecution vanishes. He can also hobble the transition to a Biden administration.

Trump's first act of post-election political vandalism came in the wee hours Wednesday morning. He claimed the election was being stolen (video at 8:00) through "a major fraud on our nation." He has yet to show a scintilla of evidence to support that lie.

One of the most destabilizing things Trump could do is refuse to release, or severely limit, funds to pay for the transition to a Biden administration.

That's the kind of immoral rhetoric that damages faith in democracy and furthers the goals of Vladimir Putin who aims to undermine every major democracy because he considers self-governance a joke.

Three Firings

On Friday, while the election outcome was still uncertain, Trump abruptly removed three high-level officials, two women, and a man of color.

In a reckless move, Trump forced the resignation of Lisa Gordon-Hagerty, who since 2018 had run the National Nuclear Security Administration, the agency whose duties include keeping high-grade radioactive elements, known as fissile material, out of the hands of terrorists and rogue states. Trump's Energy Secretary, Dan Brouillette, wanted to cut the budget for this work while Gordon-Hagerty sought increased funding.

Senator James Inhofe, a far-right Republican from Oklahoma, criticized the Trump administration for going soft on keeping nuclear materials from rogue states and terrorist groups. "People who should be doing all they can to support the critical work of the NNSA are instead trying to undermine it," Inhofe said in September.

After Gordon-Haggerty was ousted, Inhofe challenged the competency of Energy Secretary Brouillette, a rare break with the obsequious deference to Team Trump by Republican lawmakers over the past four years. The firing, "demonstrates he [Brouillette] doesn't know what he's doing in national security matters," Inhofe said.

Trump also fired Bonnie Glick, deputy administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, in what appears to be a move to ensure that Islamophobes exercise greater power in the agency.

The third appointee, Neil Chatterjee, was demoted, from the chairmanship of the powerful Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to being just one of the five commissioners. Running diversity training, which Trump generally banned by executive order, was behind the demotion, Chatterjee told the Washington Post. "Guilty as charged," he told EE News.

However, it wasn't diversity, but Trump's love of dirty coal that was behind Chatterjee's demotion, both Green Tech Media and The Wall Street Journal reported. Chatterjee had supported a tax on carbon, which economists across the spectrum have said for years would be the most efficient way to create incentives that speed the shift away from fossil fuels.

Spewing More Pollution

In his remaining weeks, Trump can also speed his many actions to spew more pollution under the guise of ending overly burdensome regulations. That's an issue DCReport has covered intensely for the last four years.

One of the most destabilizing things Trump could do is refuse to release, or severely limit, funds to pay for the transition to a Biden administration.

The General Services Agency is charged with funding the office needed to prepare for a new administration, including hiring hundreds of temporary workers, many of whom will end up working in the Biden administration.

And he could really hobble the new administration by refusing to provide or limit the availability of FBI agents and other investigators to run background checks on the roughly 4,000 political appointees of the incoming Biden administration.

Let's hope the next 70 some days are marked by golf, lazily watching Fox and Trump's now well-known executive incompetence so that the vandalism he does commit is random and repairable come 2021.

This is the face of radical-Republican contempt

Joe Biden just won more votes than anyone else in American history, but the next four years may go down in history as the stymied presidency. That's because it looks highly unlikely that the Democrats will get a majority in the Senate, leaving the chamber under the iron-fisted control of Mitch McConnell, patron saint of polluters and profiteers.

Even before noon on Jan. 20, 2021, Donald Trump will be in a position to do enormous harm that will complicate the Biden presidency. Indeed, we should expect Trump is already looking for ways to use his last eight weeks in office to punish our nation—or at least the states that voted for Biden.

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That assessment comes not from me, but from Trump himself. His life philosophy is a single word: revenge.

Trump wrote that in his book Think Big. Then he went on for 16 pages about how what gives him pleasure is ruining the lives of anyone who does not do as he asks. His long diatribe was intermingled with observations about his desires to do violence, especially against women, some of whom he has named like actress and talk show co-host Rosie O'Donnell.

"If you don't get even you are just a schmuck!" Trump, via his ghostwriter, wrote. "I really mean it, too."


Seething Trump

That Trump ruined the life of a woman executive at the Trump Organization simply because she declined, for solidly ethical reasons, to make a telephone call, you can imagine the vengeance he is thinking about as he smolders in his easy chair watching even as Fox News mocks some of his ridiculous claims about vote fraud and his winning the 2020 popular vote.

And if you think Trump might have changed his views against Christianity and renounced revenge since his book was published 12 years ago, consider this: At this year's National Prayer Breakfast he rejected forgiveness, a foundational tenant of the Christian faith he falsely claims to embrace.


But whatever havoc Trump can wreak in the next two months, McConnell will be in a position to do lasting damage until at least Jan. 3, 2023, the next date when Democrats might seat enough senators to make McConnell minority leader.

No respect

McConnell's conduct shows that has no respect for the will of the people, unless it matches his views. This is the same Mitch McConnell who declared that he wanted to make Obama's first term his only one and a failure, who sent three right-wing senators to plot against Obama on the night of Jan. 20, 2009, to ensure that the presidency of Barack Obama would be a one-term failure. As The Washington Post headlined a column by Jonathan Capehart, "Republicans Had It In for Obama Before Day 1."


That 2009 meeting, secret at the time but since acknowledged by most of the 14 participants, was just one example of how McConnell's evil lust for power has held back progress in America for most of this century. McConnell literally looks down his nose when asked by journalists about imposing his narrow mined and corporatist views on everyone else. A trust fund kid grown old and very rich, McConnell regularly displays his utter contempt for, our Constitution except for the parts that allow him to impose his will on America.

Just as McConnell refused to give an audience to Merrick Garland, the exceptionally qualified and centrist federal appeals judge whom Obama nominated for the Supreme Court, the senior senator from the Bluegrass state can refuse to confirm Biden's nominees to the cabinet and more than 1,000 other political appointments requiring the advice and consent of the Senate.

Power to block

Under Trump, McConnell has looked the way at the gross disregard for federal laws governing appointees. Just consider how Trump installed Matthew Whitaker as the de facto attorney general even though it violated our Constitution and a host of federal laws.

McConnell also has the power, assuming Republicans retain control of the Senate, to refuse any further coronavirus relief to be unemployed, landlords and small business owners. You can be absolutely sure that he will use his position to grant as little relief as possible while pushing for more of the lopsided coronavirus relief we saw last spring and summer when big business made out very nicely.

Elections have consequences. Welcome to the consequences of split government. Witness the power of one man—elected by just a portion of the people in a state with fewer than 5 million people—to thwart the will of the more than 71 million who voted for Biden.

Vengeful Trump and his Republican cronies are plotting to make life hell for everyone

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Joe Biden just won more votes than anyone else in American history, but the next four years may go down in history as the stymied presidency. That's because it looks highly unlikely that the Democrats will get a majority in the Senate, leaving the chamber under the ironfisted control of Mitch McConnell, patron saint of polluters and profiteers.

Even before noon on January 20, 2021, Donald Trump will be in a position to do enormous harm that will complicate the Biden presidency. Indeed, we should expect Trump is already looking for ways to use his last eight weeks in office to punish our nation — or at least the states that voted for Biden.

That assessment comes not from me, but from Trump himself. His life philosophy is a single word: revenge.

Trump wrote that in his book Think Big. Then he went on for 16 pages about how what gives him pleasure is ruining the lives of anyone who does not do as he asks. His long diatribe was intermingled with observations about his desires to do violence, especially against women, some of whom he has named like actress and talk show co-host Rosie O'Donnell.

"If you don't get even you are just a schmuck!" Trump, via his ghostwriter, wrote. "I really mean it, too."

That Trump ruined the life of a woman executive at the Trump Organization simply because she declined, for solidly ethical reasons, to make a telephone call, you can imagine the vengeance he is thinking about as he smolders in his easy chair watching even Fox News mocks some of his ridiculous claims about vote fraud and his winning the 2020 popular vote.

And if you think Trump might have changed his views against Christianity and renounced revenge since his book was published 12 years ago, consider this: at this year's National Prayer Breakfast where he rejected forgiveness, a foundational tenant of the Christian faith he falsely claims to embrace.

But whatever damage Trump can wreak in the next two months, McConnell will be in a position to do lasting damage until at least Jan. 3, 2023, the next date when Democrats might seat enough senators to make McConnell minority leader.

McConnell's conduct shows that has no respect for the will of the people unless it matches his views. This is the same Mitch McConnell who declared that he wanted to make Obama's first term his only one and a failure. sent three right wing Senators to plot against Obama on the night of January 20, 2009, to ensure that the presidency of Barack Obama would be a one-term failure. As The Washington Post headlined a column by Jonathan Capehart, "Republicans Had It In for Obama Before Day 1."

That 2009 meeting, secret at the time but since acknowledged by most of the 14 participants, was just one example of how McConnell's evil lust for power has held back progress in America for most of this century. McConnell literally looks down his nose when asked by journalists about imposing his narrow mined and corporatist views on everyone else. A trust fund kid grown old and very rich, McConnell regularly displays his utter contempt for, our Constitution except for the parts that allow him to impose his will on America.

Just as McConnell refused to give an audience to Merrick Garland, the exceptionally qualified and centrist federal appeals judge who Obama nominated for the Supreme Court, the senior senator from the Bluegrass state can refuse to confirm Biden's nominees to the cabinet and more than 1,000 other political appointments requiring the advice and consent of the Senate.

Under Trump, McConnell has looked the way at gross disregard for federal laws governing appointees. Just consider how Trump installed Matthew Whitaker as the de facto attorney general even though it violated our Constitution and a host of federal laws.

McConnell also has the power, assuming Republicans retain control of the Senate, to refuse any further coronavirus relief to be unemployed, landlords and small business owners. You can be absolutely sure that he will use his position to grant as little relief as possible while pushing for more of the lopsided coronavirus relief we saw last Spring and Summer when big business made out very nicely.

Elections have consequences. Welcome to the consequences of split government and the power of one man elected by people in a state with fewer than five million people to overcome the more than 71 million who voted for Biden.

Trump asserts dictatorial power over top government employees

In a major power grab, Donald Trump signed an executive order on Oct. 21 that asserts he has vast new authority to punish federal employees with demotions or firing without cause. It's a Trumpian assertion of a right to cronyism and personal fealty to him.

This executive order purports to grant Trump dictatorial-like power over thousands of career federal managers and executives. They are now at risk of losing their jobs and careers unless they blindly follow Trump's agenda with abject loyalty to his whims.

This Executive Order on Creating Schedule F In The Excepted Service, if allowed to stand, largely will overturn an 1883 law that was passed to reduce corruption among federal government executives by creating a career civil service based on documented merit. The Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act, passed in 1883 in the unexpected presidency of Chester A. Arthur, covers most federal employees, who earn promotion via competitive exams.

Instead of patronage positions, these civil servants are protected from demotion or firing for political reasons, though they can be disciplined for serious misconduct.

In effect, this would extend the rules governing the roughly 4,000 political appointees each president is entitled to hire — people who serve at the "pleasure of the president" — to apolitical career managers and executives.

The executive order states "faithful execution of the law requires that the President have appropriate management oversight regarding this select cadre of professionals."

In common language, this means Trump claims the ability to fire career public servants via Tweet. His executive order ignores 137 years of law and personnel regulations, allowing him to run roughshod over job protections for career government employees. Under the order, he can fire them on a whim.

Who is affected

One of the most prominent federal employees affected by this change is Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert. Trump first admired Fauci then called him an "idiot" and said last week he would fire him except for the political uproar it would cause. The order also covers officials, scientists and staff of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

This creation of "Schedule F" employees effectively gives the president the power to fire any current employees working in the broad categories as managers and executives covered by his order. He can treat them the same as private-sector workers whose employment, absent a personal or union contract, is "at-will."

Federal employee unions promptly denounced the order even though it is aimed at management, not line workers. Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) said he will develop legislation that would restore protections for federal employees. Boyd, whose district is in the northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, represents more federal workers than any other member of Congress.

If Trump's order stands it would be a major expansion of presidential power. Under threat of loss of employment and reduced or no retirement benefits, department heads might bend to Trump's mercurial whims. Any department head who pushes back would be subject to immediate discharge even if Trump's instructions were illegal.

The long-term consequences for our government would be disastrous. Many civil servants took federal jobs because they favored stable employment and a focus on their professional interests. Removing that security would make recruiting talent more costly and less successful. And for what? To satisfy the petulance of Donald Trump?

Whitlock case relevant

Trump acted just as DCReport published its investigation into the firing of Warren S. Whitlock, one of the highest-ranking civilians in the U.S. Army. Part One Why This Man Lost His Top Pentagon Civilian Job and Part Two Out On The Street After Two Secret And Illegal Investigations detailed the racism and machinations behind the removal of Whitlock, an equal opportunity and diversity specialist with a track record of successful changes to discriminatory government actions and policies. The broader impact was explained in Racism In The Pentagon And Higher.

In the Whitlock case, there is clear evidence of discrimination and unlawful termination. In future cases any possible protection someone like Whitlock may assert will not exist if Trump's executive order stands. Trump and the department heads he names will not need any reason whatsoever to fire anyone who is re-classified as an at-will worker.

"You're fired!" is of course the signature line of Trump's faux reality television shows that made him famous. Those who watched carefully noticed he sometimes fired the best performing person and praised those whose performance made them likely candidates for leaving the show. Not aired were scenes in which he demeaned people, ogled women including making one twirl for him, and engaged in other boorish sexist behavior.

The executive order reclassified many federal employees from regular civil service status to "excepted service" status if they are involved in policy-determining, policymaking or policy-advocating.

It's difficult, having studied the man for 32 years, to imagine a federal Qualifications Review Board would accept Trump a senior executive service member.

Political termites

A related strategy Trump undertook in 2017 to impose his will on career civil servants was detailed in my 2018 book It's Even Worse Than You Think: What the Trump Administration Is Doing to America. Trump put in key management positions, the very lobbyists and executives who had worked against those agencies, contradicting his campaign promise to "drain the swamp" of special interests. Because they eat away at the substance of our federal government silently and generally unseen by the public I called those appointees "political termites."

This newest power grab by Trump is more of the same with a major addition. People who never signed up for tenuous employment at the pleasure of the president would become at-will employees with no job security.

This is exactly what the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act was supposed to prevent. That law was enacted when Vice President Chester Arthur unexpectedly became president after the assassination of James A. Garfield just six months into his term in 1881.

President Arthur had been a major gear in the corrupt Tammany Hall political machine in New York. His cronies scurried down to Washington licking their chops at all the graft they anticipated. To their shock, Arthur told his longtime pals to never again darken the White House. Arthur promised to run a clean administration, which he did, abandoning the old "spoils" system of hiring cronies and party loyalists and embracing the creation of our merit-based federal civil service.

Trump's executive order will certainly be challenged in federal court. But unless and until some judge blocks it, this executive order is in effect.

How Trump gets away without paying taxes

To understand how Donald Trump got away with paying little to no income taxes for many years, even after he forged at least one income tax return, it helps to first understand the risks wealthy Americans face for cheating.

Let's start with IRS audits of the 23,400 richest American households, average income $30 million each. In 2018 the Trump administration audited seven. You read that right—seven. That's an audit rate of 0.03%.

If American police detected murders at the same rate it would mean that they would become aware of just five of the 16,214 reported homicides that year. Of course, not everyone is a tax cheat, but audits are about detecting taxes due, whether through error or intent.

Under Obama in 2015, America's richest households were 270 times more likely to be audited than under Trump.

It also helps to know that about 1 million rich Americans didn't even bother to file income tax returns during Barack Obama's last years in office. America's tax police, the near toothless Internal Revenue Service, are so short-staffed that the inspector general says they aren't even trying to make the scofflaws pay the estimated $47.5 billion they owe.

There's no question Trump is a tax cheat because he has done it again and again. He cheated on New York City sales taxes in 1983, for which Mayor Ed Koch said Trump should have served 15 days in jail. He went to extreme, even farcical lengths to evade $3 million of payments he owed in lieu of taxes to New York City.

Trump has been tried twice for civil tax fraud. He lost both times, a story I broke four years ago but you may not know about because America's major news organizations have not reported it except for one passing mention in the wedding announcement section of The New York Times. Two years ago, however, that newspaper did an exhaustive report showing years of calculated gift tax cheating by two generations of Trumps. In recent weeks income tax information that newspaper reported revealed many badges of tax fraud.

So why hasn't Donald Trump been brought to justice? After all, everyday radio and television commercials tell us of the power the IRS has to garnish our wages, seize our bank accounts and even take our homes. Surely brazen tax cheats live in fear of arrest and losing their mansions, jets and yachts, right?

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This is the first of four articles examining the failure of our country to adequately tax and police the wealthy, like Donald Trump. Next: The suspected tax cheats our Justice Department does pursue, and why.

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Auditing the Working Poor

Now let's compare the audits of people in Trump's income class with the working poor, defined as households with incomes under $25,000. They were the subject of almost a third of all IRS audits even though average income was just $12,600.

The audit rate for poor families is 0.28%. That's nine times the audit rate for the richest Americans.

This is a dramatic shift from the recent past. Under Obama in 2015, America's richest households were 270 times more likely to be audited than under Trump, my analysis of IRS Data Book tables data shows. That year 8.16% of these households had their tax returns audited, not 0.03%.

These vast disparities are just one aspect of a many-sided story about the myth of the all-powerful IRS and how a particular class of rich Americans, a class that includes Trump, almost always wins when they play what in tax world is called audit roulette.

The cold hard truth is that the richest Americans today face a teensy-weensy risk of being detected if they cheat. The hardest tax cheating to detect involves people in a particular class. It is a class with privileges Donald Trump lobbied for and testified about to Congress. The taxpayers who are by far the hardest to identify as cheats share these characteristics the IRS is ill-equipped to address:

  • Own their enterprises lock, stock and barrel, giving them total control with no independent verification of revenue
  • File tax returns that appear on the surface to be accurate, even clean as a whistle
  • Make use of hundreds and in some cases thousands of separate corporations and partnerships in many different locations, a tax evasion helper that will be explained later in this series
  • Operate domestically and abroad where tax treaties, rules on delaying reporting income on tax returns and mismatches between rules of different governments create opportunities to hide money
  • Own commercial real estate because the gains from selling property are not automatically reported to the IRS, unlike wages and dividends

Trump fits those conditions to a T. Later in this series, we'll explore just how he always benefitted from the ways our Congress has instructed the tax police to operate.

Presidential Powers

Now add to all this Trump's powers as president. He appoints the Treasury secretary and the IRS commissioner, who had been a Beverly Hills specialist in helping suspected tax cheats avoid indictment. Trump also recommends how much money the IRS gets and how it will be allocated among various functions such as processing refunds and collecting unpaid taxes. This and more means Trump exercises enormous power and influence over which potential tax cheats, if any, will be found. Because he also appoints America's attorney general, Trump influences which suspected tax cheats will be prosecuted.

In addition, Trump's administration is violating an anti-corruption law enacted 96 years ago after the Teapot Dome scandal. That law gives certain people in Congress the same right he has to inspect any income tax return. At least three staffers on the Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation work at the IRS just to inspect tax returns, especially those seeking individuals refunds of $2 million or more, for badges of fraud. Trump got a nearly $73 million refund; he recently confirmed the IRS wants it back.

Trump refuses to allow the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, which writes our tax laws, to inspect his tax returns. The committee is suing for access. It is the only known case of a tax return being withheld by any president since 1924 when Calvin Coolidge was president. That sentence is qualified only because the IRS is stalling on DCReport's Freedom of Information Act request for a single number – how many times has the IRS refused or declined to turn over a tax return request in writing by the appropriate lawmakers and staff.

Who Gets Audited

That 0.03% audit rate for America's richest families is misleading. It overstates the risks to people in Trump's situation.

Many in that highest income group have very limited opportunities to cheat. About a sixth of these rich Americans are CEOs of publicly traded companies or otherwise employed at huge salaries. Their pay is independently reported to the IRS. This means that they are more like Joe and Joan Sixpack whose taxes are withheld before they get paid.

Opportunities for workers to cheat almost nonexistent, even for those making more than $50 million in salary and bonus as more than 200 workers have each year under Trump.

We cite these facts to give you a lens through which to focus as this DCReport series examines the state of Trump's taxes and the capacity of the Internal Revenue Service, our national tax police department, to enforce the tax laws.

DCReport's investigation into how Trump and others like him enjoy robust opportunities to cheat on their taxes with little risk of detection shows how for decades Congress has handcuffed our tax police. It's as if your local mayor and city council told their police officers to focus on tricycle thefts, not violent crimes, and wouldn't pay for testing equipment and chemicals in the crime lab.

We relied in part on a database maintained by the TRAC, the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University. DCReport donors generously contributed money to purchase access to that database and to pay a Rochester Institute of Technology student to organize the data for analysis. Much of the data TRAC gets had to be extracted from our government through litigation over the public's right to know what our government is doing.

Tax Prosecutions Vanishing

From various official documents and interviews with tax officials, tax defense lawyers and accountants we found our government operates a system of tax law enforcement with these features:

  • Tax prosecution, never a major government activity and generally slipping for decades, collapsed under Trump
  • In 2016, the last Obama year, the IRS referred 2,744 tax cases for prosecution. Since Oct. 1, 2019, the IRS has referred just 231 cases
  • Justice rejected 162 of those cases, or 70%, for "insufficient evidence," an extraordinarily and hard to believe justification since on average each case involved more than a year of detective work
  • Justice rejected an additional 28 cases because prosecuting suspected tax criminals isn't a "national priority"
  • Justice Department's own data shows it is pursuing just 29 new cases
  • More than half of IRS criminal cases in the last decade were about illicit proceeds from narcotics trafficking, money laundering and other criminal activity, not tax cheating by people who underreport their income from lawful activities or overstate their deductions
  • Last year Justice Department prosecutors obtained just 530 guilty pleas and convictions after trial, making the odds of an American adult being found guilty of a federal tax crime about one in 473,000
  • The public never heard about most of those cases because the Justice Department failed to publicize them
  • Almost 900,000 high-income Americans didn't even file a tax return in the last three years of Obama
  • Virtually no effort is being made to collect the estimated $47.5 billion these prosperous-to-rich Americans owe. An Inspector General report says the IRS already dropped 42,600 cases and it is unlikely that any of the others will be pursued

Defunding America's Tax Police

The reality is Congress has defunded America's tax police. The IRS in 2018 had less than half the resources it did, relative to the size of the economy, as when Ronald Reagan was president in 1988, my analysis of federal budget data shows.

Over several decades, as anti-tax activist Grover Norquist persuaded Republicans to sign ironclad pledges to never raises taxes, these same officeholders have worked to make sure the IRS doesn't have the tools or staff to make sure people and companies pay what the law says they owe. Trump personally lobbied for one key change creating an entitlement program for real estate investors that lets them live tax-free if they are rich enough and follow the rules, making his own tax behavior all the more curious.

The beneficiaries of this throttling of the tax police budget and hobbling its operations have been the thin and increasingly rich slice of Americans at the top, especially people who like Trump exert total control of their business affairs.

Republicans persuaded enough Democrats to go along in handcuffing our tax police through laws, some of them based on bogus testimony by people who said they were victims of abusive IRS tactics. By law, the IRS could not respond to the Senate testimony. Congress' Government Accountability Office later wrote a secret report that showed the hearings were unreliable, Ryan Donmoyer of Tax Notes Magazine revealed in 2000. However, subsequent investigations by The Wall Street Journal, Tax Notes Magazine, The Virginian-Pilot and by me when I was the tax reporter for The New York Times showed the hearings were a sham from start to finish.

In response to the 1997 and 1998 Senate Finance Committee hearings led by the late Sen. William Roth of Delaware, and other hearings, Congress imposed all sorts of restrictions on IRS audits. Here are three telling examples we will explore later in this series:

  1. IRS auditors who notice that a taxpayer reports income of under $100,000 but has mansions, fine art and more cannot use that to begin a "lifestyle audit." One man was caught only because a mistress, furious that he didn't keep a promise to buy her a condo, ratted him out to the IRS
  2. Corporations must be told in advance what issues will be examined. If auditors find along the way evidence of tax owed for other reasons they cannot expand the audit unless they uncover clear evidence of criminality
  3. While Congress authorizes what look to be major cash awards to whistleblowers who report tax cheating the program has added less than $1 to every $5,000 in taxes Uncle Sam collects and it takes more than a decade on average to pay these awards

The costs of these favor-the-rich policies even when they cheat are borne by the other 99% of taxpayers. Tax burdens could otherwise be eased through reductions in government spending for their benefit and in added federal debt.

Institutional Corruption

The Framers of our Constitution were concerned deeply with corruption, but not the way they think of it today. They were well aware of the personal venality that today permeates the news from supermarket tabloids to the network news programs. But the Framers focused on how to ensure against institutional corruption ruining our democracy and our society. Law professor Zephyr Teachout explained it in plain English in her book Corruption in America: From Benjamin Franklin's Snuff Box to Citizens United.

Congress pretty much has imposed on the IRS the same institutionally corrupt approach that New Jersey casino regulators employed when Trump dominated Atlantic City gambling.

New Jersey officials created the impression of zealous law enforcement by noisily going after small fries and others who lack the resources to fight back. Or the regulators announced actions raising questions about the behavior of casino owners in dealings with mobsters, cocaine traffickers and money launderers while working hard to avoid making inquiries that would expose wrongdoing by those at the top.

My first book, Temples of Chance, revealed this institutionally corrupt strategy with many examples like cheating novice roulette players at one Trump casino. Another tack was giving favors to gamblers connected to the Yakuza criminal gangs in Japan or the Medellín drug cartel. Casinos owned by Trump and others even extended credit, comped suites, provided liquor and sent limousines to empty the trust accounts of rich child gamblers.

Actually, Congress has gone much further to hobble America's tax police.

The IRS is so short-staffed it cannot even send refunds it acknowledges are owed from 2017 tax returns. Instead of a refund check, some beleaguered taxpayers have shown me form letter after form letter directing them to not ask about their refund for yet another 60 days. An IRS that is not even staffed to refund people's overpayments is going to have a much harder time enforcing the tax laws when it comes to sophisticated tax cheating.

E.R. Brydalski analyzed the TRAC data used in this report.

A primer for US senators: Here are all the questions our leaders failed to ask​ Amy Coney Barrett

After three days of Kabuki theater, a television mini-series produced by the Senate Judiciary Committee, did you learn anything that Judge Amy Coney Barrett didn't want you to know?

Really, it's not hard to frame questions that produce informative answers, including when the response is a dodge. Let me show you, starting here:

Judge Barrett, you testified your judicial philosophy is to follow the law as written. Can you please cite examples of where the law required you to render a decision contrary to your personal beliefs?

Notice how that is framed. Barrett can't swat it away, as she did so many questions as hypotheticals. It asked her to speak about the decisions she already rendered.

Judge Barrett, have you contemplated whether in a childbirth gone awry you would sacrifice your own life to save that of your youngest child, leaving your other children sitting behind you motherless, or whether to live so that your children would grow up under your care with one less sibling?

As a relatively new judge, appointed by Donald Trump to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals three years ago, Barrett has not written all that many opinions. Were the judge to respond that she has yet to encounter that issue here's the follow up:

Judge Barrett, have you given thought to how you would deal with that conflict, especially an irresolvable conflict, between your most deeply held beliefs and the law?

Framing Matters

Again, notice the framing. The question is not what you thought but have you thought about a conflict between personal beliefs and the law.

Were the nominee to say that she had not pondered this—which would be preposterous — then the line of inquiry shifts to how deeply she has thought about the law. If she says she has indeed thought about it the question to ask is, "What did you conclude, if anything?"

Next question:

Judge Barrett, have you talked in your Notre Dame law classes and other forums about resolving conflicts between personal beliefs and Supreme Court rulings your students must work under with when they become lawyers and jurists?

That's a question Barrett might try to slough off with the "I don't recall" diversion. To deal with that ask this:

Well then, Judge Barrett, let's assume I'm not a senator, but the most serious student in your class and that I hope to become a trial court judge or, like you, an appellate court judge. So, what do I do, professor, when confronted with a wide chasm, or worse a complete contradiction, between the law as decided by our Supreme Court and my beliefs?

Following Your Own Advice?

The goal here is to get her to talk about how she analyzes such conflicts as well as her advice. And if she gives her advice the obvious follow up is short and sweet:

Would you, Judge Barrett, always take your own advice?

How that question is answered — candidly, philosophically, or evasively — would give senators and the public insight into what is going on behind the mask that Barrett, like all judicial nominees, wears during such hearings.

I could go on with more questions like this but the point I want to make here is that nothing like this emerged from three days of hearings in what is supposed to be the most exclusive deliberative body in the world, the American Senate. Their questions indicate our senators don't respect that.

That so many bad questions were asked was unsurprising, but also shocking given that most Judiciary committee members are lawyers. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, a subsidy grabbing Republican, is the Senate's only pig farmer. The rest of them ought to know how to ask useful questions.

Judiciary Committee members in both parties should ask questions that probe the souls of nominees — simple, direct questions stripped of rhetorical filagree. Their questions should force nominees to instantly choose between dissembling, looking idiotic to other lawyers or telling the truth.

We would be wise to castigate every member of that committee, in person if you attend a political or social event, for making novice lawyers on their first day in a courtroom look good.

There's one other question I would have asked. It's based on my own life experience as the father of eight now grown children:

Awful Choices

Judge Barrett, obstetricians in troubled deliveries sometimes must make an awful choice between saving the life of the mother or the child. How would you weigh that choice?

Again, the framing is how to make a choice, not what choice.

Concise follow-ups would note that each year about 700 American women die in childbirth. So do about 21,000 of roughly 3.8 million infants.

More questions:

Judge Barrett, are laws that restrict the freedom of choices that doctors, the mother, or if incapacitated her spouse, make during troubled labor a proper exercise of the police powers of the state?

If the doctors conclude that someone will die why should the crude axe of state police power be applied at all?

If there is any role at all for exercising the state's police power in these tragic situations please articulate it.

Whatever her answer, smart follow up questions should focus on freedom, including the freedom to decide who will die. Framing questions in terms of liberty versus policing powers would be illuminating about the nominee's thoughts.

Another follow up:

Judge Barrett, have you contemplated whether in a childbirth gone awry you would sacrifice your own life to save that of your youngest child, leaving your other children sitting behind you motherless, or whether to live so that your children would grow up under your care with one less sibling?

If that sounds cruel let me note Barrett chose to use her children as props. She could have had them stay home playing with dolls and footballs.

Again, notice that the frame is not what would you decide, but have you thought about this. And trust me these are real-world questions that physician and parents must decide, preferably in advance, but all too often in the unexpected moment.

Asking Better Questions Lessons

Here's a recommendation to make all Congressional hearings less Kabuki theater and more a service to us, the people who own our government.

Every member of Congress, in both parties plus independents, should not ask another question until they have sat through a class, including role-play exercises, on how to frame questions.

Congress already has the perfect expert to teach this — Rep. Katie Porter, Democrat of California.

The freshman lawmaker, a former University of California Irvine law professor, frames only smart questions during House Financial Services hearings. No matter how witnesses reply, Porter is ready to follow so that we the people learn about the integrity of each witness or lack thereof.

Porter questions are free of flourish. Porter never preens. Instead, her five-minute examinations are packed tightly. Whether in interrogations designed to embarrass a mandarin like Jamie Dimon of Chase Bank or subtle sideways approaches that sneak up on the witness like the velociraptor who surprises the big game hunter in the original Jurassic Park film, she gets revealing responses.

Smart woman. Would that our senators were half as smart in asking questions.

Featured Photo: Screenshot from Washington Post television of Judge Amy Coney Barrett with most of her children at Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.

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