Heather Digby Parton

It's nothing new for Republicans to promise a blowout victory. The question is why the media falls for it

One more day until the voting is done. Hallelujah! When the polls are so tight and the campaigning so intense you reach a point where you almost don't care who wins anymore and just want it to be over. But of course you do care, as we all must in this age of authoritarian right-wing, lunacy.

I wrote on Friday that nobody really knows anything about this election. It could go either way. It might be a close result or one side could sweep both houses of Congress with big wins. But if you just read the headlines and listen to the pundits and strategists on TV, you'd think the evidence showed clearly that Republicans were running away with it. There's a reason for that: Republicans plant this notion in the press and the sad-sack Democrats play into it by prematurely assembling the circular firing squad whenever a race is close.

You see headlines like "Democrats fear midterm drubbing as party leaders rush to defend blue seats," but the fact that Donald Trump held big rallies just days before the election in Florida and Pennsylvania, where the GOP is defending numerous seats, isn't framed the same way. There's "CNN panelist predicts 'bad night,' says Democrats didn't 'listen' to voters throughout the election" while the New Yorker publishes a widely-read article headlined "Why Republican Insiders Think the G.O.P. Is Poised for a Blowout."

Maybe it's all true. Maybe it will turn out that Democrats have blown the election (even though all the fundamentals and historical precedents suggest defeat was more or less preordained) and maybe the Republicans played a masterful hand (in winning an election everyone assumed was already in the bag). We will see. But let's not kid ourselves about what is going on in these final days. Republicans are playing the press for chumps, as they do every single time. Of course they may win, but this election is close and they're not soothsayers. It's a deliberate strategy.

The most famous purveyor of this strategy was Karl Rove, also known as "Bush's Brain," the strategist who eked out a history-changing victory for his guy in 2000. Rove was a big believer in the "bandwagon effect," which assumed that a significant chunk of the voting public wlli go with those they perceive as winners. So when a race is close you put on a big show to pretend that you're confident of winning, in the hopes of getting any last-minute wobblers or people who might not otherwise vote to get behind your team. It's fun to win! In close races, Rove reasoned, this strategy might just make the difference. But it's not scientific and nobody should take a GOP strategist's word for anything in the final days of a campaign. They're just spinning.

Rove even went so far as to send George W. Bush to California in the final days of the 2000 campaign, to convince the press that they were so confident of a blowout that they were hoping to expand the map into deep blue states. The New York Times blared, "A Confident Bush Says He Can Win California's Vote." As it turned out, Al Gore won the state by double digits, leading observers to wonder whether Rove should have sent Bush to Florida instead, the state he ended up "winning" by only 537 (disputed) votes. They did the same thing four years later by sending Dick Cheney to Hawaii, and the Los Angeles Times dutifully reported, "Aloha State Has Become a Surprise Campaign Battleground." Um, no. It hadn't. Democrats won Hawaii by nine points, as per usual.

Rove didn't just deploy this strategy for election campaigns. As Bush's senior adviser, he played the same game with public opinion over the war with Iraq:

In shaping their message, White House officials have drawn on the work of Duke University political scientists Peter D. Feaver and Christopher F. Gelpi, who have examined public opinion on Iraq and previous conflicts. Feaver, who served on the staff of the National Security Council in the early years of the Clinton administration, joined the Bush NSC staff about a month ago as special adviser for strategic planning and institutional reform.

Feaver and Gelpi categorized people on the basis of two questions: "Was the decision to go to war in Iraq right or wrong?" and "Can the United States ultimately win?" In their analysis, the key issue now is how people feel about the prospect of winning. They concluded that many of the questions asked in public opinion polls — such as whether going to war was worth it and whether casualties are at an unacceptable level — are far less relevant now in gauging public tolerance or patience for the road ahead than the question of whether people believe the war is winnable.

That helps explain the infamous 2003 Bush gaffe with "Mission Accomplished." That didn't work out in the long run because Republicans couldn't deny reality forever as the Iraq war began to go south shortly after that. But the press was gullible enough, and the public stayed on board long enough, for the Bush team to win re-election and support the "surge" that prolonged the war. It's simple enough: If you call yourself a winner, people will believe it (at least for a while) and will act accordingly.

We're in a new landscape these days with election denial prominently featured on the menu. (Karl Rove is actually getting booed as a RINO sellout at GOP rallies.) The bandwagon effect is still in play but they now have a back-up: the Big Lie. It's not overly cynical to suspect that a whole lot of the happy talk coming from Republican strategists whispering in reporters' ears about how great their private polling looks is just a set-up for the possibility that they won't do as well as they would like. As we already know, their voters are fully indoctrinated to believe that Democrats can only win if they cheat, and Republicans have created a full-scale election denial operation to challenge any negative results they don't like. In some instances, they have challenged election systems in counties Trump won by double digits! Election denial has become the party's primary organizing principle.

All of this has been aided and betted by Republican pollsters flooding the zone this cycle and right-leaning aggregators like Real Clear Politics which have helped to set sky-high Republican expectations. As the Atlantic's Ron Brownstein quipped on Twitter:


None of this is accident or coincidence. The strategy is clear: In a close race, pretend you're winning in hopes of enticing voters to jump on board. If that doesn't work, claim the election was stolen and deny the legitimacy of your opponent's victory. This is just what they do. Why the press allows itself to be manipulated this way, year after year, is another question. Media folks can't possibly fail to understand what's going on, after all this time. On some level, they fall for it because they like it.

'He’s drowning in himself: Bob Woodward releases full Trump tapes — and it's even worse than you might think

Venerable reporter Bob Woodward has produced a new audiobook called "The Trump Tapes," which contains the 20 interviews he conducted with Donald Trump in the course of reporting and writing his three books about the ex-president's administration, "Fear," "Rage" and "Peril" (the last with Robert Costa). Woodward has never released full interviews or raw transcripts before, but decided to do it this time because Trump's words don't come across the same way in print. I think that's true. I've read a number of Trump books over the past five years and I'm always struck by the fact that he doesn't seem quite on the page as he does on video, even when the authors are quoting him saying something we've all seen or heard.

(Of course Trump now says the tapes actually belong to him and claims he's already hired lawyers to sue Woodward, whom he describes as a very sleazy guy. One would expect nothing less.)

Woodward shared some of the audio in a piece for the Washington Post over the weekend in advance of the audiobook's release this week. One of its most interesting aspects is the extent to which Woodward himself was clearly appalled by the man he was interviewing. That's been pretty clear in the previously published books and interviews but it really comes through in this piece. This is a reporter who's interviewed every president of the last 50 years and many other powerful officials, and he sounds ... spooked.

Some of the exchanges in the article are familiar ground but always worth revisiting since Trump is clearly close to announcing that he's running again in 2024. (At a rally in Texas over the weekend he said, "I will probably have to do it again.") Woodward provides one of the discussions about Trump's relationship with Kim Jong-un, which the then-president considered beyond special:

Woodward: The CIA says about Kim Jong Un that he's "cunning, crafty but ultimately stupid."
Trump: I disagree. He's cunning. He's crafty. And he's very smart. You know.
Woodward:
Why does the CIA say that?
Trump:
Because they don't know. Okay? Because they don't know. They have no idea. I'm the only one that knows. I'm the only one he deals with. He won't deal with anybody else …The word chemistry. You meet somebody and you have a good chemistry. You meet a woman. In one second you know whether or not it's all going to happen...
Woodward
: And is this all designed to drive Kim to the negotiating table?
Trump: No. No. It was designed for whatever reason, it was designed. Who knows? Instinctively. Let's talk instinct. Woodward: Do you get a sense he's wooing you? Trump: No, I get —
Woodward: Or building a relationship of trust?
Trump:
— a sense — I get a sense he likes me. I think he likes me. Okay, so, you know he's got a great piece of land. He's in between Russia, China and South Korea. In the real estate business we'd say, "Great location." You understand?

Listening to him say such idiotic things in the intimacy of private conversations is even more unnerving than watching him do it in front of a crowd. Woodward writes:

Trump's voice is a concussive instrument. Fast and loud. He hits hard and will lower his volume to underscore for effect. He is staggeringly incautious and repetitive, as if saying something often and loud enough will make it true.

When asked if he'd given Kim too much power and what he would do if the North Korean leader shot off one of his ICBMs, Trump responded, "doesn't matter... let me tell you, whether I gave it to him or not, if he shoots he shoots." He literally cared about nothing but this supposed personal relationship, which seemed largely to exist in his own head, and just shrugs off the prospect of a nuclear strike by a rogue nation. It's deeply bizarre.

Woodward was perhaps most upset by Trump's attitude toward the pandemic, which sounds even more dreadful than it did in real time. Woodward asks at one point if Trump thinks the crisis — in which the entire world economy was shut down and thousands were dying every day — was "the leadership test of a lifetime" and Trump barks out "No!" It is an exceedingly weird response. He consistently tells Woodward that everything is going great, while clearly failing to grasp the gravity of the situation.

Woodward says he believes that "the tapes show that Trump's greatest failure was his handling of the coronavirus, which as of October 2022 has killed more than 1 million Americans." There is no doubt of that in my mind either. I continue to be amazed that it seems to be forgotten among Trump's many crimes, scandals and misdeeds.

There are a number of committees and commissions charged with looking at the COVID crisis but they mostly seem concerned with where all the money went, which is important. The House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis has released a number of reports on the Trump administration's failures, to very little fanfare. Just last week, for example:

A committee report last summer laid out evidence of the administration's similar pressure on the FDA. But so far there has been almost no media attention on how poorly Trump and his administration handled that terrifying first year.

That level of malfeasance, which had such terrible consequences for millions of people, should not be allowed to disappear down the memory hole. Perhaps Woodward's new book and the attendant publicity, given his personal focus on the issue, can put it back on the agenda.

When Woodward appeared on "CBS Sunday Morning," he told host John Dickerson:

Trump was the wrong man for the job. But I realize now, two years later, all the Jan. 6 insurrection, leads me to the conclusion that he's not just the wrong man for the job, he's dangerous. He is a threat to democracy and he's a threat to the presidency, because he doesn't understand the core obligations that come with that office.

Unfortunately, Trump is the clear frontrunner for the 2024 Republican nomination and could be back in the White House in a little over two years. The recording of Trump saying the following says it all:

Trump: ... I get people. They come up with ideas. But the ideas are mine, Bob. The ideas are mine.
Woodward: And then?
Trump: Want to know something? Everything is mine.

Woodward told Dickerson, "When you hear this voice and the way he assesses situations and himself, he's drowning in himself." Yes, he is — and he's taking the country down with him.

Is a major bombshell coming? It sure looks like it

If there is one prominent through-line connecting the two most corrupt presidents in U.S. history, Richard Nixon and Donald Trump, it would have to be the person of Roger Stone. The man has been at the heart of every election scandal for the past 50 years and he's still at it, even today. It's quite a legacy for the guy who has Richard Nixon's face tattooed on his back. It's lucky he left his chest clear for his last great cause, Donald Trump. Stone's work on Trump's behalf provides the perfect coda to a legendary career as a political dirty trickster and world-class black-ops conspiracy-monger.

Stone has had his fingerprints on every nefarious deed the Republicans have pulled in the last half-century, starting when he was a kid working on Nixon's re-election campaign in 1972, and given the job of spying on rival campaigns and finding devious ways to embarrass them in the press. He has said that during the day he was a scheduler but at night, he was "trafficking in the black arts."

In 1977, at age 24, Stone was elected president of the Young Republicans with the help of his buddy Paul Manafort, after they had reportedly compiled "whip books," or files of personal information, on all 800 delegates to the convention. He went on to work on all of Ronald Reagan's presidential campaigns doing what he does best. Stone has claimed, for example, that he served as a go-between when Roy Cohn — the infamous mob lawyer and mentor to Donald Trump — got liberal Republican John Anderson on the New York general election ballot as a third-party candidate in 1980, splitting the vote and allowing Reagan to win the state. Stone has hinted that he delivered a suitcase full of money to a lawyer to make that happen.

Stone then teamed up with Manafort, Charlie Black and the infamous Lee Atwater to form a lobbying and consulting firm that became known as "The Torturer's Lobby" for its willingness to represent the world's most infamous dictators, along with such right-wing luminaries as Rupert Murdoch. He worked with Trump for years, as an adviser and lobbyist for his gambling interests and later as manager of Trump's brief campaign for the Reform Party's presidential nomination in 2000.

Yes, Stone was deeply involved in the 2000 Florida recount, taking credit for the famous "Brooks Brothers riot" that delayed the vote count long enough for the Supreme Court to intervene (others have disputed that he was actually behind that). Throughout the 2000s he perpetrated underhanded dirty tricks in various campaigns, including the formation of an anti-Hillary Clinton group in 2008 called Citizens United Not Timid, purely for the fun of using the crude acronym to own the libs. By 2015 he was egging on his old pal Donald Trump to run for president again, for real this time. He worked for the Trump campaign, at first in an official capacity and then off the books to practice his "dark arts."

Hurricane Ian has forced postponement of the Jan. 6 committee's next hearing. But it looks like the storm is coming for Roger Stone.

You may recall that in 2019 Stone was convicted on charges relating to his alleged coordination with WikiLeaks aimed at sabotaging Hillary Clinton's 2016 campaign. But Attorney General Bill Barr rode to his rescue, overruling the career prosecutors and recommending a light sentence, which Trump then commuted. All four prosecutors withdrew from the case in protest. That was the closest call of Stone's career, and the only time anyone has ever seriously tried to hold him liable for his toxic influence on American politics. (Trump eventually pardoned him, which Stone no doubt knew would happen. He knows where all the Trump bodies are buried.)

The Jan. 6 House select committee had to postpone Wednesday's scheduled public hearing, with a major hurricane descending on Florida and dominating the news. But as with previous hearings, the committee teased some of its revelations earlier this week, and we know that Stone's involvement in the Trump coup plot and the Jan. 6 insurrection will feature heavily in their presentation. Some incriminating clips from an unreleased documentary about Stone shot during the 2020 election campaign and its aftermath have already been released.

In an interview with CNN, the Danish filmmakers have said that committee lawyers had flown to Copenhagen to see what they had regarding interactions between Stone, the Trump White House, the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers. Reportedly they identified around eight minutes of relevant footage. Even what we've seen so far is startling. In July 2020, the documentary crew captured Roger Stone saying:

What they're assuming is the election will be normal. The election will not be normal. "These are the California results." Sorry. We're not accepting them. We're challenging them in court. If the electors show up at the — at the Electoral College, armed guards will throw them out. "Fuck you. I'm the president. Fuck you. You're not stealing Florida. You're not stealing. I'm challenging all of it."And the judges we're going to. Our judges. "I appointed you. Fuck you. You're not stealing the election." That's what — that basically what Bush did to Gore.So, you know, if they want to run a bunch of fake ballots, we'll have an investigation. We'll say, "These ballots are fake. Your results are invalidated. Goodbye." That's the way it's going to have to look. It's going to be really nasty. But you cannot count on, we're not going to get an honest election.So, let's say that Trump is a little behind right now, which he probably is. That doesn't bother me. But even if he wins an honest election, we're not going to have an honest election. They're going to steal it. They're stealing this blindfolded right now. So, you know, it's not the first time it's happened in this country and it happens around the world.So, he's going to have to — he's going to have to fight for the presidency in the courts. Our next election will be decided in the courts. Because they cheat and we don't cheat. We've never cheated.

Setting aside the unbelievable fatuousness of Stone's proclamation that "we've never cheated," which is deeply absurd coming from him, this pretty well lays out the conspiracy to overturn the election, three months before it was executed. He knew Trump was behind and likely to lose. The question before the House committee now is whether or not Roger Stone and Donald Trump were plotting this together and whether Stone was colluding with the violent extremists with whom he associated to start the insurrection on Jan. 6, 2021.

If there is anyone in American politics who's capable of doing such a thing, it's Roger Stone. It would be the ultimate dirty trick of all time, the crowning achievement of a storied rat-fucking career.

Justice Department exposes Steve Bannon’s desperate ploy to derail Jan. 6 hearings

The latest January 6 committee hearing is scheduled for tomorrow and it promises to be dramatic. From what we can gather, this will be the hearing that grapples with the actual violence of that day and will explore what Trump and his accomplices did to bring it about. The committee apparently plans to discuss the participation of armed militia types, some of whom have already been charged with seditious conspiracy by the Justice Department.

Tuesday's questioning will be led by Stephanie Murphy, D-Fl., and Jamie Raskin, D-Md., and there will be live witnesses — although only one has been named, a former spokesman for the right-wing militia group Oath Keepers. Jason Van Tatenhove will reportedly discuss the group's radicalization and attraction to Donald Trump.

On Friday, Trump's former White House Counsel Pat Cipollone testified before the committee. He may have shed some further light on what the White House did with information that was shared by virtually every government department about the potential for violence on that day. And who knows what else he had to say? Early reports suggested that Cipollone was less than helpful but the committee put out a statement over the weekend that says otherwise:

"In our interview with Mr. Cipollone, the Committee received critical testimony on nearly every major topic in its investigation, reinforcing key points regarding Donald Trump's misconduct and providing highly relevant new information that will play a central role in its upcoming hearings. This includes information demonstrating Donald Trump's supreme dereliction of duty."

That certainly sounds intriguing. And more specifically, the committee's spokesman went on to say, "Cipollone's videotaped testimony will likely be featured prominently during the final hearing."

But the big news over the weekend was that on the eve of his trial for contempt of Congress for refusing to abide by a committee subpoena, former Trump campaign chief and current podcaster Steve Bannon abruptly announced that he was ready to testify after all. He sent a letter to the committee saying that Trump had agreed to waive executive privilege and requested that he be allowed to appear in a live public hearing. (No word on whether he wanted them to remove all the brown M&Ms from the bowl in his dressing room.) Trump confirmed his "waiver" with a typically juvenile extended tweet-like statement:

"I will waive Executive Privilege for you, which allows for you to go in and testify truthfully and fairly, as per the request of the Unselect Committee of political Thugs and Hacks, who have allowed no Due Process, no Cross-Examination, and no real Republican members or witnesses to be present or interviewed. It is a partisan Kangaroo Court.

Despite many in the media's credulous reporting of this news, it's not what it appears to be.

First of all, there is absolutely no reason to believe that Bannon has any intention of testifying honestly. Trump's embarrassing letter makes it clear what he expects and there's little doubt that Bannon is on exactly the same page. All you have to do is watch some of his "War Room" podcasts to know that. So any thoughts that this is a sudden change of heart are absurd. This is nothing more than a ploy to delay his impending trial, which he has been trying to do since June 30 when he requested that it be moved to October claiming that he can't get a fair hearing because of the committee hearings.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) mocked his request by pointing out that he's only been mentioned twice in the hearings for a total of 30 seconds. This gambit is designed to change that by putting him at the center of the story although it's pretty unlikely that the judge in his case won't see that.

Even if he does testify, Bannon would not be off the hook because it doesn't change the fact that he did defy the subpoena for all these months. And the notion that he had the executive privilege in the first place is daft. Although he may have been scheming with the president to overturn the election, Bannon hadn't worked in government since 2017. Even his own lawyer said that only some of the requests from the committee could fall under executive privilege. And that assumes it exists with respect to Bannon at all, which it doesn't. (In fact, it really shouldn't apply to anyone since Donald Trump isn't the president, but that seems to be in dispute in some quarters.)

Late last night the DOJ dropped a bomb with a filing that pretty much exposed Bannon's desperate little scheme.

Authorities revealed that one of Donald Trump's lawyers, Justin Clark, testified to the FBI on June 28 that Trump never invoked executive privilege for Bannon in the first place. That certainly was not helpful to Bannon's defense and it may explain why Bannon and his lawyers moved to delay his trial the next day. The filing went into all the reasons why the executive privilege claim was always specious and concludes with this slap down:

"All of the above-described circumstances suggest the Defendant's sudden wish to testify is not a genuine effort to meet his obligations but a last-ditch attempt to avoid accountability."

Usually arrogant and full of bravado, Bannon does seem to be scrambling.

Journalist Jennifer Senior, who wrote a big profile of Bannon for The Atlantic this month, tweeted this:

Intrigued to see Bannon's about-face on the J6 committee. When we were last face-to-face (3/30), he was v[ery]excited about his latest scheme: "If we execute, it'll be classic honey badger." His plan had been to subpoena the J6 committee members. Didn't get traction, obv[iously].

Then, on a 5/17 phone call, he told me (and I quote) "The 6 January Committee -- go fuck themselves." Hmmmm. Or not. And on June 7, two nights before the first J6 Committee hearing, he texted me that said hearing would be a "zzzzsnoozz fest". Not so much.

I have no clue what Bannon will say. But these hearings have clearly had more power than anyone in Trumpworld had anticipated. And the specter of prison can be very motivating.

This is Steve Bannon we're talking about, so even if he does end up testifying it's hard to imagine that the committee will learn anything of value despite the fact that he was intimately involved in the "war room" at the Willard Hotel in the days before the insurrection and seems to have been aware that something violent was going to happen. He said on his podcast that "all hell is going to break loose" long before people marched to the Capitol. But perhaps the committee has learned all it needs to know about that part of the coup plot.

We'll find out what they have in tomorrow's hearing and it's likely to be disturbing.

Extremists egged on by the likes of Bannon plotted to take over the U.S. Capitol to stop the peaceful transfer of power. That should never fail to shock. The main questions now are: "What did the president know and when did he know it?"

Liz Cheney makes it clear to Republicans and the public that she is coming for Donald Trump

Thursday night's public hearing by the House Jan. 6 committee made one thing very clear: Donald Trump is personally in the crosshairs. They are coming for him with receipts, in the form of testimony from some of his closest aides and allies. The committee seems prepared to destroy any pretense that Trump was a casual bystander to the insurrection. In fact, its members are building a case that he actively encouraged it, and that by refusing to take action for many hours that day, he was an actual accomplice.

The committee plans to going to knock down the Big Lie by answering a big legal and moral question: Did Trump know he had lost the election? The answer is clear: Yes, he did. Everyone around him told him so. His former aide and current associate Jason Miller testified that their own number-crunchers told him he had lost. Attorney General Bill Barr told him that spreading the lie that the election was stolen was "bullshit." His own daughter, Ivanka Trump, testified that she believed what Barr said. And we learned all of this from hearing their very own words in videotaped testimony, which made it all the more powerful.

In her opening statement, committee vice chair Liz Cheney laid out the whole case.

Over multiple months, Donald Trump oversaw and coordinated a sophisticated seven-part plan to overturn the presidential election and prevent the transfer of presidential power.

That seven-part plan forms the basis for the committee hearings yet to come. The next one, scheduled for Monday, June 13, at 10 a.m. Eastern time, will demonstrate that "Trump engaged in a massive effort to spread false and fraudulent information" even though he knew that he had lost the election. Most of us already know that, of course. But it will be very helpful to have his own allies make that case.

The following hearing, now set for Wednesday, June 15, will delve into the second part of the plot, which was aimed at influencing the Department of Justice and replacing anyone who refused to back Trump's phony claims of election fraud with those who would. Former Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen and his then-deputy Richard Donohue, both of whom were Trump appointees, will be testifying.

There will likely be a fourth hearing on Thursday, June 16, and two more the following week, with the final hearing again scheduled in prime time, probably on June 23. These hearings will presumably cover the rest of the seven-point plot in considerable detail. We didn't hear an explicit summary on Thursday, but a committee source outlined it to CNN this way:

  1. President Trump engaged in a massive effort to spread false and fraudulent information to the American public claiming the 2020 election was stolen from him.
  2. President Trump corruptly planned to replace the acting attorney general, so that the Department of Justice would support his fake election claims.
  3. President Trump corruptly pressured Vice President Pence to refuse to count certified electoral votes in violation of the U.S. Constitution and the law.
  4. President Trump corruptly pressured state election officials, and state legislators, to change election results.
  5. President Trump's legal team and other Trump associates instructed Republicans in multiple states to create false electoral slates and transmit those slates to Congress and the National Archives.
  6. President Trump summoned and assembled a violent mob in Washington and directed them to march on the U.S. Capitol.
  7. As the violence was underway, President Trump ignored multiple pleas for assistance and failed to take immediate action to stop the violence and instruct his supporters to leave the Capitol.

When the committee gets to the third point, the pressure campaign on Mike Pence pressure, I assume that will include all the material on attorney John Eastman, the mastermind of that particular scheme. In whichever hearing addresses the fourth point, pressure on state election officials and state legislators, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger is reportedly set to testify.

It seems likely that the final prime-time hearing will offer new details on points six and seven, building the legal and moral case that Trump was responsible for summoning the "violent mob" and unleashing them on the Capitol, and exploring what actually happened during the many hours when Trump was watching the violence at the Capitol and did nothing to stop it.

The second half of Thursday's hearing focused on the crucial role in the assault played by the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers. In videotaped statements, members who said that Trump's "stand by" comment in a 2020 presidential debate greatly increased recruitment, and that they immediately began planning to come to Washington on Jan. 6 after Trump put out the call in his infamous tweet of Dec. 19, 2020: "Be there, will be wild!" Nick Quested, a British documentary filmmaker who was embedded with the Proud Boys before and during the Jan. 6 events, testified last night that he filmed a meeting between Enrique Tarrio of the Proud Boys and Stewart Rhodes of the Oath Keepers in a parking garage on the night of Jan. 5, although he could not hear what they said to each other.

On the morning of the 6th, members of both the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers had assembled at the Capitol long before Trump told his rally audience at the Ellipse to march to the Capitol and pressure "weak" Republicans (including Pence) to overturn the election. It was apparently Proud Boys who first broke through police lines and smashed windows at the Capitol building in what was clearly a fully formed plan.

It makes you wonder: Did Trump know in advance that the Proud Boys would try to enter the Capitol? Just this week, we learned that he had been talking about leading a march on the Capitol for two weeks but the Secret Service had rebuffed the request. There was no permit for such a march, which was one reason there was such a light police presence at the Capitol, even though Trump allies were posting about it all over social media. Once the insurrection was underway we know that Trump refused to do anything to stop it, and Cheney said on Thursday night that he also "placed no call to any element of the U.S. government to instruct the Capitol to be defended." (Several such calls were made by Pence, on the other hand.)

While we don't have the full picture yet — the committee plans to cover this in a future hearing — we know that Trump said some curious things during that 187-minute interval when he refused to call off the mob. One of the most startling moments in the hearing was footage of a rioter reading Trump's tweet condemning Pence through a megaphone, followed by the crowd chanting, "Hang Mike Pence!"

According to one witness, he apparently responded to that chant this way:

That sounds curiously like what Trump reportedly said to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, when McCarthy begged him to tell the rioters to leave the Capitol: "Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are." On the night of Jan. 5, when Pence told Trump that he had no authority to overturn the election, Trump was listening to the raucous crowd gathered outside the White House and asked the vice president, "What if these people say you do?"

Committee chair Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., told CNN's Jake Tapper that they have evidence that the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers were in contact with people in "Trump's orbit," which raises the proverbial question made famous in Watergate: What did the president know and when did he know it?

Donald Trump staged a coup attempt, and Republican officials have known this from the beginning. But after a brief moment of common sense and decency, they reverted to type and excused it, defended it and even endorsed it. I'm sure most of them are so far gone that nothing will move them at this point. But if there is even one of them with a conscience, Liz Cheney's words had to wound them deeply:

Tonight, I say this to my Republican colleagues who are defending the indefensible: There will come a day when Donald Trump is gone, but your dishonor will remain.

Stay tuned. Last night was just the preview. The plan to overthrow a legal election will be revealed in even greater detail over the rest of this month. It's even worse than we knew.

How long can Jared Kushner get away with it?

There's a lot going on in the world these days, but I have to say that I'm disappointed that there isn't more attention being paid to the revelation that Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner made a deal with the Saudi Arabian government for what looks very much like a straight-up payoff for services rendered during the Trump administration.

I'm hardpressed to think of another example of alleged corruption more serious or more threatening to the stability of the world. After all, right now the U.S. government is trying very hard to get the Saudis to cooperate with the rest of the world to keep oil prices in check during this crisis in Ukraine but it's pretty obvious that the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salmon (MBS), Kushner's bosom buddy during Trump's four years in office, is instead banking on Trump's return and refusing to help.

The New York Times reported the story of Kushner's big deal a couple of weeks ago. A major wealth fund backed by the Saudi government invested $2 billion in Kushner's new "venture-capital" company called Affinity Partners. Now you may recall that Jared Kushner's experience before going to the White House consisted of some bad real estate deals and running a small newspaper in New York City. The rest of the financial world recognizes this and has not jumped at the chance to partner with Kushner on the project and it's reasonable to assume that many investors are reluctant to sign on with both the man who had a famous journalist dismembered in the Saudi embassy and the corrupt Trump family. That's a lot to swallow even for cynical, self-interested greedheads, especially since there is every reason to believe they will lose money in the process. Where's the upside? It's hard to imagine that the Saudi Crown Prince is any more naive about Kushner's business acumen, which leads to a lot of speculation that this is payment for services rendered and an investment in a future Trump presidency. Nobody was a better friend to MBS than Jared Kushner and there's evidence that Jared delivered handsomely. He would almost certainly come through again.

First of all, recall that the very first trip Trump took overseas was that very weird, over-the-top adventure to the Middle East in early 2017 where they did the sword dance and all put their hands on a white orb for inexplicable reasons. It was pretty clear that Trump had his eye on that big pile of Saudi money from the very beginning. But it was Kushner who made it into his own special project. From the beginning there was lots of talk about the two young Turks, Kush and MBS, chewing the fat late into the night, exchanging private mash notes on WhatsApp and basically spending a lot of quality bro time together. In 2018, the Intercept reported that MBS touted his close relationship with Kushner, revealing that Jared had shared classified information with him about Saudis who were disloyal to him. He was quoted as saying that Kushner was "in his pocket."

According to text messages obtained by investigative journalist Vicky Ward, author of the book "Kushner, Inc.: Greed. Ambition. Corruption. the Extraordinary Story of Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump", Kushner specifically shared intelligence with MBS about the previous Saudi ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, who was close to the CIA and was concerned about the ambitions of MBS. Ward reported that this information was used by MBS to strike against the crown prince. He was arrested and imprisoned. No one has heard from the crown prince in two years. Ward claims this was the reason Kushner was repeatedly denied a security clearance. If true, Kushner was instrumental in the ascension of MBS. Later, Kushner did him another solid by running interference for him over the murder and dismemberment of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, ensuring that President Trump would let it go despite a global outcry.

MBS was good to the administration in return. When Trump asked him to raise oil production in 2018 he did it and when they asked him to decrease it in 2020, he did that as well, in stark contrast to how they are responding to the Biden administration's entreaties to raise oil production during this Ukraine crisis.

Meanwhile, Kushner has been bragging about his experience cutting deals with Saudi Arabia and Russia to entice other prospective investors to contribute to his "fund." This report from Josh Marshall reveals that MBS is hosting lavish conf-fabs with power players in the investment world in recent days --- and Jared is seated next to the Crown Prince at every event:

My interlocutor had never seen anything like it. Sitting next to the ruler on a single night would be a career maker even for your average billionaire. But there Jared was every night — even for the private few-attendees dinner, apparently. The message seemed crystal clear and bold: Jared is my guy. In fact, he's my number one, number two and number three guy.

That would just be plain weird if it weren't for the fact that Trump is running again.

According to The Intercept, which broke the story about Kushner's touting his connections to the Saudis, even Wall Street players were a little shocked by the blatant corruption:

A source in contact with multiple U.S. investors approached by Affinity said the investors were not attracted by the presentation and described their shock at how cavalierly it seemed to suggest influence peddling, a "value add" often handled with more subtlety in the investment world. "They said they'd never seen such a joke of a deck, openly talking about 'networking' and 'networks' — i.e., our corrupt insider contacts," the source said on condition of anonymity to describe private discussions. "They're bragging about 'networks,' they're using cliches, with no serious investment discussion."

This is beyond corrupt. Vast sums of money are changing hands and the Saudis are actually manipulating the world oil market in order to sabotage Joe Biden's administration and help set the table for Trump's second term. And yet, we have heard far more about Hunter Biden's laptop and Hillary Clinton's email server than we will ever hear about Jared Kushner's sweetheart deal with his Saudi bro.

Just as there are no repercussions for Trump running his business out of the White House and doing pay-to-play every weekend at his resorts and 24/7 bribery and influence peddling at the Trump Hotel in DC. And as Don Jr. and Eric Trump traveled all over the world doing deals while their father was president. They didn't even wink and nod about what they were really selling. The corruption was massive. And there is nothing but sighs and shrugs among the mainstream media which dutifully reports it and that's the last you ever hear of it.

By contrast, here is what you get if you are following right-wing media:


Trump 2.0: Ron DeSantis’ radical agenda is the future of the Republican Party

Former president Donald Trump had another of his interminable rallies this weekend. He said the usual things delighting his South Carolina crowd and boring the rest of us into a coma. This time, however, he did add one memorable new line to the script which got people's attention:

As we watch the horrific carnage unfolding in Ukraine and the repressive crack down in Russia, comments like that are all the more chilling. He truly does want to emulate Vladimir Putin or Kim Jong Un. As the Washington Post reported recently, he has repeated his earlier admiration for Kim's "total control" as well:

He espoused praise for North Korea's brutal leader, marveling at how Kim's generals and aides "cowered" when the dictator spoke to them. "Total control," Trump said of how Kim ran the country, describing generals snapping to attention and standing up on command. "His people were sitting at attention," he added. "I looked at my people and said I want my people to act like that."

I have little doubt that if he wins another term, he will be much worse than he was in the first. He won't make the mistake of hiring people who might stand in his way a second time.

However, as we know, Trump isn't really serious about governing and wouldn't know how to do it efficiently even if he were. It doesn't make him any less dangerous, of course. His chaotic narcissism can do as much damage as a serious ideological authoritarian could. But he's laid out a style template for someone who is serious, showing them exactly the attitude that appeals to the MAGA base. And nobody in GOP politics is as ready to seize the mantle as Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, Trump 2.0.

The personality and affect have been evident since DeSantis won the governor's seat back in 2018. The Trumpian pettiness, the contempt, the reflexive hostility seem to come naturally to him. He treats the press like dirt and thinks insults are the highest form of humor. If he has any personal warmth or human compassion it's certainly well hidden. He even gestures like Trump.

But with DeSantis, it's more than just style. He's got the Republicans in Florida working together like clockwork to enact the most authoritarian agenda in the country, calibrated perfectly to appeal to the base in advance of his re-election campaign --- and a potential presidential run in 2024.

Florida has been at the leading edge of COVID denialism from the very beginning, but in recent days DeSantis and his hand-picked science-denying surgeon general have taken it to a new level. They had already turned masks into a battleground with the governor taking it upon himself earlier this month to scold high school kids for wearing them in his presence, declaring that it's time to end the "COVID theatre." This was ironic since it turned out that many of the kids had been told by their parents to wear them and DeSantis' numerous assaults on education over the past year have been rationalized as a defense of "parental rights." Then last week the surgeon general went even further, defying the CDC and most physicians by recommending that kids not get vaccinated for COVID-19. DeSantis and his medical henchman seem determined to keep the virus circulating as long as they can.

Meanwhile, the legislative season just coming to a close has produced such an astonishing array of right-wing culture war victories delivering on Desantis' "anti-woke" agenda that it's hard to know where to start. Building on last year's education wrecking ball in which they banned Critical Race Theory from schools despite the fact that they were not teaching it, instituted a requirement that schools teach about the "evils of communism" and passed a higher education law that allows for budget cuts to colleges based on student and faculty surveys about "viewpoint diversity" (which DeSantis defines as "indoctrination") this year they took it to a whole new level. Salon's Amanda Marcotte offered this tart analysis of the "Stop WOKE Act" "

The legislature also passed the "Stop WOKE Act," which bars both schools and businesses from having any training or program that supposedly causes an "individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or her race, color, sex, or national origin." This has been largely covered as a ban on any kind of diversity training, but it's even more expansive than that. As I note in Friday's Standing Room Only newsletter, conservatives can also block anti-sexual harassment trainings by claiming it's guilt-tripping men to tell them that ass-pinching is not allowed in the workplace.

The "fuck your feelings" crowd sure are sensitive snowflakes, aren't they?

Maximum leader DeSantis also got his wish for a first in the nation election police force which will report directly to him. I've got a tip for them: it turns out that the Republican Party in south Florida changed the registrations of hundreds of Democrats to Republican without their permission. That's a crime. In fact, DeSantis might end up regretting this one. If the election police are on the level (which is unlikely, I know) it's almost certain they will be putting many more Republicans behind bars than Democrats. Even Trump's Chief of Staff just blatantly committed it in the last election.

And then there is the grotesque "Don't Say Gay" law which prohibits teachers from discussing the subject in grades K-3. But because it uses the new vigilante system of civil law harassment, and is written so poorly, it will result in a chilling effect on all school districts and will result in small kids with gay parents being treated like aliens and many LGBTQ kids being shoved in the closet. If you doubt their intentions, just listen to DeSantis' vile press secretary:

Those of you who are of a certain age will hear the echoes of one of Florida's original homophobic crusaders Anita Bryant whose "Save Our Children" campaign was based upon the noxious lie that gays were "recruiting" the nice Christian children of the sunshine state.

Under pressure, the CEO of Disney, the state's largest employer and a major DeSantis donor belatedly objected to the bill and spoke to the Governor about it. DeSantis didn't budge and Disney announced that they will be suspending all political donations in the state of Florida after which the governor had a full blown meltdown:

Florida Republicans believe these Commie Symp mega corporations have no right to criticize them.

There was a time when business property rights were sacrosanct in the GOP as a matter of principle. But in the new authoritarian right, if a business doesn't toe their bigoted line, the government "won't stand for it."

Donald Trump is still likely to get the nomination and we can only hope and pray he doesn't win. His dictatorial impulses are well known. But Ron DeSantis is the future of the Republican Party and he's figured out how to take all that right-wing hate and grievance and put it into practice. You don't want to know what he could do on a national level.

Donald Trump oozes fealty for Vladimir Putin in bonkers CPAC speech

I don't think anyone who happened to turn on the TV or went online over the weekend missed the horrifying events that are unfolding in Ukraine. The Ukrainians are putting up a valiant fight so far and seem to have thwarted the enemy's plan for a quick takeover of their capital and decapitation of the democratically elected government. But it's early days yet, so it's important not to get overly optimistic. It's going to be a very rough time for the Ukrainian people.

It also appears that it's going to be a very rough time for Russia as President Vladimir Putin has accomplished one thing he probably did not anticipate: the unification of most of the world against him.

Both the European Union and the United States, as well several other key countries in Europe and around the world, have acted very quickly to enact sharp sanctions on Putin and his wealthy oligarch compatriots. Russia's already been cut off from the international banking system and the Ukrainians have already seen a massive resupply of military equipment. NATO has never been more united. Countries like Finland, which have always rejected NATO membership, are suddenly discussing the possibility of joining up.

This is not what Putin wanted. He thought he was dealing with a fractured alliance and a United States so bitterly divided that it could not act with any credibility. It turns out he was wrong.

It's a bit hard to focus on domestic politics while all this is going on but since the U.S. is involved, whether we like it or not, and our political situation is hugely relevant, it's important not to lose sight of what's happening here at home. This weekend the Conservative Political Action Conference was meeting in Orlando Florida and the keynote speaker was their once and future Dear Leader Donald Trump. He spoke on Saturday night to an ecstatic crowd that was eager to hear him do his greatest hits.

I think everyone in politics was interested to hear what he had to say about the Ukraine situation. Last week his comments about the invasion were abhorrent. After saying silent for the entire time the U.S. was warning Ukraine that the invasion was imminent he finally stepped up and said this:

I went in yesterday and there was a television screen, and I said, 'This is genius.' Putin declares a big portion of the Ukraine — of Ukraine — Putin declares it as independent. Oh, that's wonderful. He used the word 'independent' and 'we're gonna go out and we're gonna go in and we're gonna help keep peace.' You gotta say that's pretty savvy.

He followed that up with this comment the next day at a political event at Mar-a-Lago:

'Oh, Trump said Putin's smart.' I mean, he's taken over a country for $2 worth of sanctions. I'd say that's pretty smart. He's taking over a country, really a vast, vast location, a great piece of land with a lot of people and just walking right in.

That's the kind of talk you expect from drunk guys at the end of the bar, not a former American president. But this is Donald Trump so what else could we expect?

In the days that followed those comments, there was a sea change within the GOP coalition when it became obvious that much of their pro-Putin commentary was falling flat with the public. Putin cheerleaders like Tucker Carlson abruptly pivoted from attacking those who criticized Putin to attacking President Joe Biden for being weak and failing to stand up to him. And in fairness, Trump had been saying the same thing, of course, suggesting from the beginning that the genius and savvy Putin would never have attempted the invasion if he were still president.

His appearance at CPAC Saturday night would finally clarify if Trump would continue to extol the great genius of Putin — as he has been doing for years now — in the face of a brutal, unprovoked invasion of a sovereign country or whether he would finally find it in himself to condemn the actions of his favorite dictator. He did not do the latter.

It was the usual prepared speech (which sounded like a Stephen Miller special) mixed with ad libs about how America is an apocalyptic hellhole interspersed with shout outs to his cronies and fangirls. It took Trump nearly 15 minutes to even mention Ukraine and when he did it was an aside about "the perfect phone call." His first mention of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was how he had allegedly told the world that Trump had done nothing wrong. (Zelensky did not do that.) It took several more minutes before he finally got to the part in his script where he condemned the invasion, calling it an outrage and an atrocity before he resumed bragging about what a great president he'd been.

In his first mention of Putin he said he'd made the decision to attack Ukraine after he witnessed the Afghanistan withdrawal and once again said he was smart and NATO and the U.S. are dumb:

If you take over Ukraine, we are going to sanction you, they say. Sanction? That is a weak statement. Putin says they've sanctioned me for the last 25 years. I can take over a whole country and they're going to sanction me? They're not going to blow us to pieces ... at least psychologically?

Blow them to pieces psychologically? What in the world?

Then he slammed Democrats for defending Ukraine's sovereignty when they supposedly care nothing about protecting their own borders which garnered huge cheers from the crowd. Apparently, Trump and his followers are unable to see any difference between people who are coming over the border to work in restaurants and harvest crops and an army mowing down innocent people with rockets and tanks.

And then that was it on Putin.

So Putin's just a smart guy doing the smart thing according to our former president. But there is a serious threat to democracy and world peace that's much worse:

It's tempting to make jokes about this but I really can't. Trump pretty much announced he is running again at this event. (He said that he's already won twice and he's going to do it a third time.) And according to at least one recent poll, nearly half of Americans disapprove of Biden's handling of the situation in Ukraine. Only 66% of Democrats even approve. I'm not sure what they think he should have done differently, perhaps kowtow to dictators as Trump did?

This is all very concerning. Biden and his team have actually done a good job of wrangling a fractious alliance and putting together some very tough economic sanctions. Their decision to telegraph the intelligence that the invasion was coming took guts as well — because if Russia had pulled back they would have been accused of either lying or being hysterical. As it was, Biden and his team prepared the world for what was coming and laid the groundwork for a unified response. The fact that the president doesn't even have the full support of his own partisans despite that is a very bad omen.

The man who practically declared war on Canada and literally cannot say a bad word about a dictator who has just invaded his own neighbor is still almost certain to be the next Republican nominee for president.

Here’s what Ron DeSantis' COVID fight with the FDA is really all about

The FDA has announced that two of the monoclonal antibody treatments that have been useful in treating COVID are not effective in treating the omicron variant, so the government is no longer going to be distributing those treatments. That sounds quite reasonable, right? You don't want to be giving people treatments that you know don't work. That would be malpractice.

So naturally, Donald Trump's mini-me, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, is having a fit over the decision. After all, DeSantis clearly thought he figured out a cunning way to avoid pushing the vaccines and angering the GOP's rabid anti-vax base while still pretending to offer some solution to the raging pandemic. His entire COVID response has been based upon the idea that the monoclonal antibody treatments are the answer. The fact that vaccines offer the best protection against serious disease in the first place was never of interest to DeSantis. Neither was the fact that monoclonal antibody treatments cost around $2,100. Vaccines, meanwhile, cost about $20-$40. For supposed fiscally conservative Republicans, that's quite a waste of government money.

DeSantis' plan was always a little too cute by half and it didn't work very well as a medical intervention. But as a political strategy, it was quite effective.

Building on his months-long crusade against masks and mitigation efforts he began whining about the federal government's alleged unfair distribution of the treatments back in September when the Delta variant was still raging. There were plenty of the treatments available but he got tons of praise from the right-wing media anyway and further established his MAGA bonafide. Then in December, the National Institute of Health (NIH) discovered that the treatments were not working against the omicron variant so they advised the government to pause its distribution. Once again DeSantis and company went ballistic, ostentatiously pounding their chests and insisting that the federal government was denying the people of Florida their life-saving treatments. At the time, Delta still made up about 25% of cases so the feds relented and resumed distribution to Florida. Today, omicron makes up 99% of the cases in the U.S. and these treatments remain ineffective against it. Even the pharmaceutical manufacturers who make them agree:

As you can see, DeSantis insists that "there is no clinical evidence" that it doesn't work as if that has some relevance. Scientists all over the world have come to the same conclusion. As the Washington Post reported, studies in December showed the therapies were ineffective. Scientists at Columbia University working with the University of Hong Kong came to the same conclusion as did German researchers. A more recent study showed that the Regeneron and Eli Lilly therapies "completely lost neutralizing activity against" omicron and "also lacked inhibitory capacity." The NIH and the FDA, which have a responsibility to ensure that drugs do more good than harm, have both looked at the data and concluded the same thing. In other words, they don't work.

Nonetheless, DeSantis made the daft claim that some people who are taking the drugs are getting better. Of course they are! Most people who get COVID get better. That doesn't prove that the treatments are the reason. What it does prove is that people are getting pumped full of expensive, experimental drugs they don't need --- which considering that many of them are among the stubbornly unvaccinated is enough to make you reach for the cheap tequila.

This is nothing new. The Republicans have been pushing ineffective cures from the very beginning of this pandemic. From Hydroxychloroquine to Ivermectin to ingesting disinfectant, bathing in bleach and now drinking urine, they've willingly tried it all --- except the safe and available vaccines which have been proven to drastically reduce your chances of getting seriously ill.

For all of Desantis' cheap political caterwauling, there are still plenty of therapeutics being sent to Florida. According to the Miami Herald, while the state will no longer receive the Regeneron and Eli Lilly treatments, the state will get "3,200 doses of the monoclonal antibody manufactured by Sotrovimab; about 4,700 doses of AstraZeneca's Evusheld treatment meant for high-risk patients and some 26,000 total doses of antiviral pills developed by Merck and Pfizer." And there is an ample supply of cheap vaccines if anyone chooses to be sane enough to get a couple of simple shots and save themselves the trouble.

Despite all that, DeSantis moved quickly to cover his error in putting all his eggs in the monoclonal antibody basket by going on the offensive. He claimed that the president "has forced medical pros to choose treating their patients or breaking the law" and that Floridians' "access to treatment shouldn't be denied at the whims of a floundering president." His spokesperson retweeted a post by a right wing conspiracy pusher that said "the FDA is trying to make it so that people in Florida die of COVID. They'll kill people to harm Republicans." It was quite a performance.

Naturally, the oleaginous Senator from Texas, Ted Cruz, got in on the act:

Cruz has always trafficked in this smarmy, patently obvious sanctimony but Desantis does it better. He combines that with the phony outrage, the histrionic battling with the federal government, the fist shaking and tremulous defenses of the regular folks in the natural voice of a demagogue. He has that knack of being aggressively shameless that the American right just loves so much.

It will be interesting to see how DeSantis' former mentor down the road in Palm Beach deals with this. Donald Trump blasted those who refuse to admit if they got the booster --- DeSantis being the most prominent --- for being "gutless" and has, on occasion promoted the vaccines in his ongoing quest to be given personal credit for inventing them. But he also received the monoclonal antibody treatment under a very special dispensation when he had COVID and promised to ensure that every American had access to them --- a promise he never fulfilled because he was so busy lying about the election results. Who knows where he will land?

The word is that Trump has been frustrated with DeSantis for failing to show proper deference by promising not to run against him in a primary in 2024. But he may just let this one go since the latest polling shows him running 45 points ahead of his former protege in a primary match up, 57-12. Those numbers have been unchanged for months. As New York Magazine's Ed Kilgore observes, "if two impeachments and a failed insurrection haven't shoved him toward the dustbin of history, will Ron DeSantis?"

I don't think so. And all of the clever positioning to Trump's right or left, insulting Joe Biden and catering to the anti-vax MAGA faithful on COVID isn't going to change that. It's Trump's base now — all the rest of the GOP presidential hopefuls are just wallowing in it.

Trump's old legal troubles return to haunt him this week

If last week was considered Joe Biden's no-good, very bad week, there's a case to be made that this week was Donald Trump's no-good, even worse week.

Let's look at all of the legal cases and investigations that seem to be pushing forward against Trump despite his best efforts to repel them with lawsuits and delaying tactics. The good news for Trump is that it appears the Department of Justice (DOJ) has decided that all of the obstruction of justice Trump perpetrated in plain sight during the Russia investigation is not worth prosecuting. Unless they make a move very quickly, the statute of limitations is about to run out on that front. So much for Robert Mueller's sanguine pronouncement that we needn't worry about his refusal to recommend indictment because, of course, they could always do it after the president left office.

But that's the only good news on this front that Trump's received in recent days.

The former president is still facing a flurry of legal investigations from New York to Georgia while the evidence is piling up at the January 6th committee and the DOJ. The case that seems to be closest to coming to a head is the civil investigation by New York State Attorney General Leticia James. Last Tuesday, James filed a response to one of Trump's frivolous arguments with a filing and a statement that her office has "uncovered significant evidence indicating that the Trump Organization used fraudulent and misleading asset valuations on multiple properties to obtain economic benefits, including loans, insurance coverage, and tax deductions for years."

It's not that anyone's surprised by this. The New York Times exposed the massive tax fraud perpetrated by Trump's father over decades — and Trump learned everything he knows about "business" from his daddy. There have been numerous other journalistic deep dives into Trump's corrupt business practices defrauding customers, investors and insurance companies. The joint investigation by Pro-Publica and WNYC called Trump Inc. and the book by its main producer Andrea Bernstein called "American Oligarchs: The Kushners, the Trumps, and the Marriage of Money and Power" alone uncovered years of misrepresentations and double-dealing in Trump's real estate businesses in the U.S. and abroad. This family business — as we know from previous cases such as the Trump University fraud case which Trump settled for 25 million dollars when he assumed the presidency and the embarrassing con game they ran called the "Trump Foundation" which turned out to be little more than a slush fund for themselves — has been skirting the edge of criminality for years.

This case by the NY attorney general is the first to take an official look at some of those allegations and it appears that there is plenty of evidence to back them up. For instance, James brought receipts showing that Trump had refinanced the loan on his 40 Wall Street tower in Lower Manhattan by claiming that it was worth $735 million when it was worth less than half of that. The Trump Organization's Aberdeen Golf Club's value was massively inflated based upon lies about how many luxury houses it was planning to build. The AG also claims that Trump gave untrue statements to the IRS, overstating the values of land at two of his golf courses by counting the values of nonexistent mansions for which he then took deductions. I don't know about you, but I have a sneaking suspicion that if any of us tried to do something like that even on a tiny scale we would be in serious criminal trouble.

The Manhattan District Attorney's office has an ongoing criminal investigation based upon the same evidence and there is some coordination between the two offices, a fact which Trump and his offspring are using to argue that they should not have to appear under subpoena. You see, if they wish to avoid incriminating themselves in the criminal case, they would have to take the 5th in the civil case, and unlike criminal cases, that can be used against them.

Just think about that: the former president of the United States and his children, one of whom was a senior white house adviser, are arguing that they will not be able to testify because they might incriminate themselves criminally. You might think they're just trying to delay the proceedings but they must actually be very worried about criminal exposure. According to James, Eric Trump, the only one to testify until now, took the 5th 500 times in his deposition.

The criminal investigation has been much quieter than the New York attorney general's but they have indicted the Trump Organization's Chief Financial Officer on unrelated fraud charges and since the case is intertwined with the civil case, one can assume they are operating from the same evidence. It's possible they won't be able to put together criminal charges from what we've seen, but if what James says is true, that means something is terribly wrong with our criminal justice system.

Meanwhile, down in Georgia, the district attorney investigating Trump's attempt to coerce state and local officials into committing voter fraud has requested a special grand jury to hear the case. That's the one where he was recorded calling up the Secretary of State to tell him he would be in legal trouble if he didn't "find" 11,800 votes to put Trump over the top. It looks as though that case isn't going away any time soon either.

Back in DC, Trump's hand-picked Supreme Court betrayed him once again, ruling this week that the National Archives can turn over the records requested by the January 6th committee. (I would be very surprised if lawyers in the White House who were reportedly so concerned about the president's unconstitutional coup planning, did not write notes to the file outlining their objections.) The committee subpoenaed Trump's lawyer Rudy Giuliani, Sidney Powell, Jenna Ellis and has asked Ivanka Trump to appear voluntarily to tell what she knows about her father sitting on his hands while his supporters sacked the Capitol.

And now we have this story of Giuliani coordinating the use of fraudulent Trump "alternate electors" who actually sent fake documents to the National Archives, which may end up being the most notorious case of voter fraud in history. (It's enough to make your head explode.) Two state attorneys general have referred the case to the Department of Justice and it's hard to imagine that they will not look into this. People are in jail right now for far less.

It's raining bad legal news for Donald Trump. Unfortunately, what this means is that Trump will definitely run for president which he believes will insulate him and his family from legal exposure. Coming from the man who won his election with promises to "lock her up!" that's especially rich, but this is Trump. And if he were to win (or "win") in 2024, he would gain himself four more years in which to run out the clock on all prospective crimes since the DOJ policy is that a sitting president cannot be indicted. Perhaps that's one norm that really deserves to be shattered.

The radical right's takeover of the Supreme Court is complete

It's very hard to fathom why the right seems so determined to prolong the deadly COVID-19 pandemic but it's obvious that they are. From politicians banning mask requirements to media celebrities pushing disinformation about vaccines, there is no escaping the fact that Republicans and their allies simply do not care that more than 850,000 thousand Americans are dead in less than two years from this scourge and that hundreds of thousands of them are still dying because they refuse to take life-saving vaccines. That the majority of them are their own constituents who have died because they believe right-wing conspiracy theories is just mind-boggling, but apparently they are convinced that this is good for them politically and gives them great ratings.

I guess I was hoping against all evidence to the contrary that there was some corner of the former conservative world that was above exploiting a global health catastrophe for their own gain but that was a silly illusion. Not even the Supreme Court could set aside their partisan and ideological goals in the face of a calamitous crisis. Yesterday they joined the anti-vax fanatics of Fox News and Info-Wars and blocked the implementation of the Biden administration's "vax or test" requirements for large businesses. If they could bend the rules just a little bit further the majority no doubt would have joined Tucker Carlson last night for a celebration.

The court did manage to scrape up a majority with the three liberals plus Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Brett Kavanaugh to decline to block the mandate for health care workers — although the fact that four justices voted to block that as well is stunning. Remember, however, that there are still cases in the pipeline about that mandate so I'd guess the conservatives still hope they will be able to convince Kavanaugh or Roberts to join them on the dark side down the road. For now, the federal government has the right to mandate that institutions that serve Medicare and Medicaid patients require their employees to not willfully spread a deadly virus to their patients for no good reason. A rare moment of sanity.

Still, it's quite something to see the entire right-wing of the U.S. political system, all the way up to the Supreme Court, work together to hobble efforts to contain the pandemic so they can blame their political rivals for failing to contain the pandemic. Talk about teamwork.

Early reports suggest that the big businesses that were to be affected by the mandate are divided on the issue. Some, like United Airlines, which imposed its own mandate, reported that they have 99% compliance and are happy with the results. Others are planning to scrap their plans now that the federal mandate is gone. And if anyone was under the illusion that this was about freedom or markets or small government, ideas that used to be the backbone of conservative thought, some red states have imposed bans on private employers requiring vaccines. So without the federal mandate, even employers who would like to protect their workforce and their customers are going to be forced to allow unvaccinated employees to get sick, transmit the virus and make them bear the costs. Apparently, the Supreme Court agrees that this makes sense, which is terrifying.

The majority opinion rested on the idea that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) exceeded its authority because COVID is not specific to the workplace. They say that because people can also get it elsewhere an agency that is tasked with ensuring workplace safety has no business making this rule. I would just point out that this reasoning is going to come as quite a surprise to the people who have been working from home for the past year and a half, along with school employees, frontline workers and basically anyone who works for a living.

It's absurd. Nothing has been more disrupted by the pandemic than work — you know, that place where people gather inside buildings to spend at least 8 hours with other people breathing all over the place? Of course COVID is being spread at work, probably more than anywhere else. This rationale makes no sense at all. People can get poisoned by asbestos at places other than the workplace but employers are still required to ensure that they can't get it at work. The dissent by the three sane justices made clear how ludicrous the majority's decision was:

"Underlying everything else in this dispute is a single, simple question: Who decides how much protection, and of what kind, American workers need from Covid-19? An agency with expertise in workplace health and safety, acting as Congress and the president authorized? Or a court, lacking any knowledge of how to safeguard workplaces, and insulated from responsibility for any damage it causes?"

What is remains unstated but has been really illuminated in all this is the larger agenda of this Supreme Court. As law professor Kim Wehle explained in this piece for The Atlantic, this ruling is the first salvo in the conservative court's crusade to dismantle the administrative state:

"If Congress is hindered in its ability to employ agencies to fill in the details of its broad mandates, life in the United States could change dramatically. Agencies make rules and regulations affecting stock markets, consumer-product safety, the use and trafficking of firearms, environmental protection, workplace discrimination, agriculture, aviation, radio and television communications, financial institutions, federal elections, natural gas and electricity, the construction and maintenance of highways, imports and exports, human and veterinary drugs, and even the licensing and inspection of nuclear-power plants."

That is the goal. It's grotesque that they would exploit a deadly disease that's killing thousands of people every day to advance it, but they have a mission and nothing will stand in their way. In fact, there's a whole school of thought devoted to the idea that not only is it unconstitutional for the federal agencies to enact regulations, but Congress also has no authority to delegate that task to them in the first place. In this view, public health and safety is solely a state function.

If you are not one to follow the dark machinations of the right-wing legal community, and who can blame you, this idea may nonetheless sound familiar because you've heard it from some other less exalted sources. Recall that none other than Steve Bannon has been blathering on about the "deconstruction of the administrative state" ever since he came to national prominence. Recently, he's been telling people that he's training 4,000 "shock troops" who will be ready on day one when Donald Trump is restored to the presidency to take over all the federal agencies to clean out the bureaucracies and take a wrecking ball to government regulations.

The goal of destroying the government regulatory apparatus that makes America a first-world country is shared by Republicans from Bannon to Utah Sen. Mitt Romney to Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney to Chief Justice John Roberts and every conservative in between. And it's one of the most radical agendas any political faction has ever advanced. If you want to know why all the Republicans backed Donald Trump even when they knew he was monumentally unfit, this was it. They got their court and their dream is about to come true. Unfortunately, it's a nightmare for the rest of us.

The radical right's takeover of the Supreme Court is complete

It's very hard to fathom why the right seems so determined to prolong the deadly COVID-19 pandemic but it's obvious that they are. From politicians banning mask requirements to media celebrities pushing disinformation about vaccines, there is no escaping the fact that Republicans and their allies simply do not care that more than 850,000 thousand Americans are dead in less than two years from this scourge and that hundreds of thousands of them are still dying because they refuse to take life-saving vaccines. That the majority of them are their own constituents who have died because they believe right-wing conspiracy theories is just mind-boggling, but apparently they are convinced that this is good for them politically and gives them great ratings.

I guess I was hoping against all evidence to the contrary that there was some corner of the former conservative world that was above exploiting a global health catastrophe for their own gain but that was a silly illusion. Not even the Supreme Court could set aside their partisan and ideological goals in the face of a calamitous crisis. Yesterday they joined the anti-vax fanatics of Fox News and Info-Wars and blocked the implementation of the Biden administration's "vax or test" requirements for large businesses. If they could bend the rules just a little bit further the majority no doubt would have joined Tucker Carlson last night for a celebration.

The court did manage to scrape up a majority with the three liberals plus Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Brett Kavanaugh to decline to block the mandate for health care workers — although the fact that four justices voted to block that as well is stunning. Remember, however, that there are still cases in the pipeline about that mandate so I'd guess the conservatives still hope they will be able to convince Kavanaugh or Roberts to join them on the dark side down the road. For now, the federal government has the right to mandate that institutions that serve Medicare and Medicaid patients require their employees to not willfully spread a deadly virus to their patients for no good reason. A rare moment of sanity.

Still, it's quite something to see the entire right-wing of the U.S. political system, all the way up to the Supreme Court, work together to hobble efforts to contain the pandemic so they can blame their political rivals for failing to contain the pandemic. Talk about teamwork.

Early reports suggest that the big businesses that were to be affected by the mandate are divided on the issue. Some, like United Airlines, which imposed its own mandate, reported that they have 99% compliance and are happy with the results. Others are planning to scrap their plans now that the federal mandate is gone. And if anyone was under the illusion that this was about freedom or markets or small government, ideas that used to be the backbone of conservative thought, some red states have imposed bans on private employers requiring vaccines. So without the federal mandate, even employers who would like to protect their workforce and their customers are going to be forced to allow unvaccinated employees to get sick, transmit the virus and make them bear the costs. Apparently, the Supreme Court agrees that this makes sense, which is terrifying.

The majority opinion rested on the idea that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) exceeded its authority because COVID is not specific to the workplace. They say that because people can also get it elsewhere an agency that is tasked with ensuring workplace safety has no business making this rule. I would just point out that this reasoning is going to come as quite a surprise to the people who have been working from home for the past year and a half, along with school employees, frontline workers and basically anyone who works for a living.

It's absurd. Nothing has been more disrupted by the pandemic than work — you know, that place where people gather inside buildings to spend at least 8 hours with other people breathing all over the place? Of course COVID is being spread at work, probably more than anywhere else. This rationale makes no sense at all. People can get poisoned by asbestos at places other than the workplace but employers are still required to ensure that they can't get it at work. The dissent by the three sane justices made clear how ludicrous the majority's decision was:

"Underlying everything else in this dispute is a single, simple question: Who decides how much protection, and of what kind, American workers need from Covid-19? An agency with expertise in workplace health and safety, acting as Congress and the president authorized? Or a court, lacking any knowledge of how to safeguard workplaces, and insulated from responsibility for any damage it causes?"

What is remains unstated but has been really illuminated in all this is the larger agenda of this Supreme Court. As law professor Kim Wehle explained in this piece for The Atlantic, this ruling is the first salvo in the conservative court's crusade to dismantle the administrative state:

"If Congress is hindered in its ability to employ agencies to fill in the details of its broad mandates, life in the United States could change dramatically. Agencies make rules and regulations affecting stock markets, consumer-product safety, the use and trafficking of firearms, environmental protection, workplace discrimination, agriculture, aviation, radio and television communications, financial institutions, federal elections, natural gas and electricity, the construction and maintenance of highways, imports and exports, human and veterinary drugs, and even the licensing and inspection of nuclear-power plants."

That is the goal. It's grotesque that they would exploit a deadly disease that's killing thousands of people every day to advance it, but they have a mission and nothing will stand in their way. In fact, there's a whole school of thought devoted to the idea that not only is it unconstitutional for the federal agencies to enact regulations, but Congress also has no authority to delegate that task to them in the first place. In this view, public health and safety is solely a state function.

If you are not one to follow the dark machinations of the right-wing legal community, and who can blame you, this idea may nonetheless sound familiar because you've heard it from some other less exalted sources. Recall that none other than Steve Bannon has been blathering on about the "deconstruction of the administrative state" ever since he came to national prominence. Recently, he's been telling people that he's training 4,000 "shock troops" who will be ready on day one when Donald Trump is restored to the presidency to take over all the federal agencies to clean out the bureaucracies and take a wrecking ball to government regulations.

The goal of destroying the government regulatory apparatus that makes America a first-world country is shared by Republicans from Bannon to Utah Sen. Mitt Romney to Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney to Chief Justice John Roberts and every conservative in between. And it's one of the most radical agendas any political faction has ever advanced. If you want to know why all the Republicans backed Donald Trump even when they knew he was monumentally unfit, this was it. They got their court and their dream is about to come true. Unfortunately, it's a nightmare for the rest of us.

Why the GOP is suddenly running scared from Trump's Big Lie

Something unusual happened last weekend that may portend a little bit of dissonance in the Republican Party. A conservative senator went on television and directly refuted Donald Trump's Big Lie.

ABC's George Stephanopoulos asked Sen. Mike Rounds of South Dakota, "What do you say to all those Republicans, all those veterans who believe the election was stolen, who have bought the falsehoods coming from former President Trump?" Rounds responded:

We looked -- as a part of our due diligence, we looked at over 60 different accusations made in multiple states. While there were some irregularities, there were none of the irregularities which would have risen to the point where they would have changed the vote outcome in a single state.
"The election was fair, as fair as we have seen. We simply did not win the election, as Republicans, for the presidency. And moving forward -- and that's the way we want to look at this -- moving forward, we have to refocus once again on what it's going to take to win the presidency.

Trump was not a happy ex-president. He fired off a scathing response:

"Senator" Mike Rounds of the Great State of South Dakota just went woke on the Fraudulent President Election of 2020. He made a statement this weekend on ABC Fake News, that despite massive evidence to the contrary, including much of it pouring in from Wisconsin, Georgia, Arizona, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and other states, he found the election to be ok – Just fine.
Is he crazy or just stupid? The numbers are conclusive, and the fraudulent and irregular votes are massive.
Even though his election will not be coming up for 5 years, I will never endorse this jerk again.

And then the oddest thing happened. Rounds stuck by his comments.

"I'm disappointed," the Republican said, "but not surprised by the former president's reaction."

However, he continued, "the facts remain the same. The former president lost the 2020 election."

Rounds went on to argue that relitigating the past and attacking Republicans was no way to win elections. GOP Leader Mitch McConnell backed him up, saying, "I think Sen. Rounds told the truth about what happened in the 2020 election." Sens. Kevin Kramer, R-S.D.,and John Thune, R-N.D., also agreed with Rounds. And here's what Utah's Mitt Romney had to say:

What makes this unusual is not that some Republicans are speaking out about something Trump has done. Over the years, many have expressed shock and dismay over some of his crude insults or egregious behavior, but they always back off once they realize that the rank and file are sticking with him. Soon after the night of the January 6th insurrection, when so many congressional Republicans made bold declarations of independence from Donald Trump, most slunk back into their safe spaces, afraid to admit what he did that day for fear of angering the base. On the one-year anniversary of the Capitol riot, Politico took a look at all Trump's cabinet members who resigned from the administration in protest and found that none of them had spoken out since.

No, what makes Rounds' comments, and the powerful senators backing him up even in the face of Trump's spittle-flecked rebuttal, unusual is what they are saying. Top Republicans in the Senate are now disputing the central organizing principle of the GOP in 2022: the Big Lie.

A Washington Post-Amherst poll released last week showed that only 21 percent of Republicans believe that Joe Biden was legitimately elected, which tracks with most other polling over the last year. Donald Trump's relentless pounding of this issue, day in and day out, starting even before the election was held in November 2020 has done its work. Republican officials all over the country have used Trump's sore-loser strategy to change voting laws, install partisans in the election system and generally prepare the ground to dispute elections whenever Republicans don't win. The Big Lie is now the central organizing principle of the GOP.

All of this has the effect of not only validating the mistrust in the electoral system with Republican voters, it's shaking faith in the system among Democratic voters as well. After all, if elections are being overseen by partisan Republicans chosen specifically for their willingness to back Trump's delusional insistence that he won an election he lost by 7 million votes, people will be hard pressed to put much faith in the integrity of their decisions. This is not a problem for the GOP which will be happy to see Democrats flailing about trying to contest elections that really were "rigged." They are not afraid of that.

So why are these Republicans testing the waters by speaking out about the Big Lie now? After all, it stands to benefit them if they can wire elections in their favor. But Rounds' other comments make clear what they are concerned about. They are afraid that all this demeaning of the election system will keep their own voters from the polls In his first comments Rounds said:

[I]f we simply look back and tell our people don't vote because there's cheating going on, then we're going to put ourselves in a huge disadvantage. So, moving forward, let's focus on what it takes to win those elections. We can do that. But we have to let people know that they can -- they can believe and they can have confidence that those elections are fair.

He followed up later saying:

Why are we having that discussion today? I think because we're getting closer and closer to 2022, in which we want people to get out and vote. We want them to have faith in the election process. We want them to feel like they're a part of it and that their vote really matters."

And while he only mentioned it in passing, these folks are very worried about Trump's attacks on Republican incumbents and the fringe weirdos he's endorsing to replace them.

Many smart Republicans understood that Trump's insistence that the election was stolen was largely responsible for the loss of the Senate because of the way his lies played out in Georgia with the two Senate runoff races that sent Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff to Washington. It's fair to assume that they hoped Trump would fade away by now and they could carry on about their business without having to confront him on this. But he's still lying and there's no getting around it.

Will this challenge hold up any better than any of the other times a few Republicans tried to stand up to Trump? Who knows? But as the Democrats continue to struggle in the Senate over the vital voting rights legislation that could help stave off some of this partisan electoral engineering based on the Big Lie, it's interesting that there's some nervousness among the GOP leadership about how it might affect them negatively as well.

Imagine if they could summon the intestinal fortitude to really do the right thing and acknowledge that a bipartisan vote to secure voting rights for everyone (as has been done regularly over the past 30 years) could go a long way toward solving all these problems? I'm not holding my breath.

Trump's troops: The far-right has a tight grip on too many in uniform

Everyone surely remembers Donald Trump's appeals to "law and order" going all the way back to his infamous full-page ad condemning the (innocent) Central Park Five titled "Bring Back the Death Penalty, Bring Back Our Police." When he ran for office he sought out law enforcement at all levels as a discrete constituency, promising to let them take the gloves off and encouraging them to not "be so nice" to suspects. During the George Floyd protests during the summer of 2020, he told federal law enforcement and military leaders he wanted them to "crack skulls" and "beat the shit out of" the protesters. At one point he said, "just shoot them." Luckily, they didn't do that. It took a devoted Trump-loving vigilante named Kyle Rittenhouse to execute that order.

Until the January 6th insurrection, Trump was the nation's most vociferous defender of police. But on that day he was strangely reserved, tepidly tweeting that the rioters should be respectful but pretty much remaining hands-off for hours as his rabid followers stormed the U.S. Capitol and assaulted hundreds of police who were trying to keep the mob from attacking members of Congress. That night he said the violent horde that did the following was very special and that he loved them.

Ball continues:

Where was his backup? Where was the police union, which rushed to the defense of any officer criticized by left-wing politicians? The Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), which endorsed Trump in 2016 and 2020, had issued a lukewarm statement on Jan. 6 urging "everyone involved to reject the use of violence and to obey the orders of law enforcement officers to ensure that these events are brought to a swift and peaceable end." Numerous active-duty FOP members have since been charged in connection with the riot. In at least one case, the union is trying to keep an accused rioter from being fired by his department...
Colleagues he's known for decades don't talk to him anymore. Guys who never called to check in when he was in the hospital send him taunting memes about his liberal-darling status.

Fanone thought he was speaking for his fellow officers. But he wasn't. And he asks himself today, "the vast majority of police officers—would they have been on the other side of those battle lines?"

That is the question, isn't it? The police on duty that day were protecting members of Congress from a violent mob that was trying to stop the transfer of power. And there is ambivalence among cops about whether that was the right thing to do? That's chilling.

And it isn't just the police. Trump's love for men in uniform wasn't confined to law enforcement. He saw the military as a constituency too and was very popular among the troops. In fact, he was so popular that a number of active duty military were among the rioters on January 6th. Many are also members of the Oath Keepers, a far-right group of former and current military and law enforcement.

Last month the Pentagon released new guidelines on how to deal with extremism in the ranks, which they now realize is a growing problem. The Washington Post reported that the University of Maryland consortium "released a report last month showing that since 1990, 458 crimes tied to extremism involved veterans or active-duty U.S. troops." In fact, the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil before 9/11, the Oklahoma City bombing, was carried out by a military veteran who had been radicalized while on duty and later joined a far-right militia group.

The military really doesn't have any idea how widespread this problem is.

When you consider that someone like former Gen. Michael Flynn, a far-right conspiracy theorist and Trump's first national security adviser was in charge of Military Intelligence just a few years ago, it's clear this problem is not confined to the rank and file. There are probably quite a few extremists among the active duty brass as well.

So once again this raises the question, what if it happens again? Three retired generals wrote an op-ed recently asking that very question. They note the participation of active duty and retired personnel in the January 6th insurrection as well as a number of retired flag officers who have signed on in support of Trump. And they offered this hair-raising scenario as a possibility:

The potential for a total breakdown of the chain of command along partisan lines — from the top of the chain to squad level — is significant should another insurrection occur. The idea of rogue units organizing among themselves to support the "rightful" commander in chief cannot be dismissed...
All service members take an oath to protect the U.S. Constitution. But in a contested election, with loyalties split, some might follow orders from the rightful commander in chief, while others might follow the Trumpian loser. Arms might not be secured depending on who was overseeing them. Under such a scenario, it is not outlandish to say a military breakdown could lead to civil war.

The prospect of members of law enforcement agencies and the military breaking off into rogue commands seems like something out of a political thriller. And it's probably not very likely. But then the election of Donald Trump was unlikely as was the insurrection of January 6th. I would have thought it unlikely that police officers would defend a vicious mob beating other cops with flagpoles or that active duty military would boldly participate in it. We all should recognize by now that anything can happen.

Is Biden ready to pounce? The meaning behind the best speech of his presidency

I don't think anyone has ever said that Joe Biden is a great orator. In fact, he's probably one of the least gifted presidential speakers I can remember. Maybe George Bush Sr. was equally mediocre, but that's not saying much. However, yesterday, on January 6th, Joe Biden gave the best speech I've ever heard him give and I suspect it may actually be remembered as an important one. The speech marked a shift in both tone and substance on a matter of monumental importance that hopefully signals a new strategy to try and save our democracy.

Despite opening his campaign in 2019 with a strong condemnation of President Trump's unprincipled behavior and a call to "restore the soul of America," Biden hasn't really talked much about the ongoing Republican threat to democracy since he's taken office. And he has scrupulously avoided talking about Donald Trump because the White House reportedly felt feared further elevating the disgraced former president. But the anniversary of January 6th was the day they decided to put democracy at the top of the agenda — and it was none too soon.

Biden's speech was fiery and rhetorically effective. Despite never using his predecessor's name, he took the fight to Trump, something that simply cannot be avoided any longer whether the White House likes it or not. Biden went right for the jugular, evoking Trump 16 times in the speech, calling him a "defeated former president" (emphasis on the word defeated), declaring that Trump's outsized ego won't allow him to admit he lost. And that's the truth – Donald Trump is the greatest sore loser in the history of the world.

The former president of the United States of America has created and spread a web of lies about the 2020 election. He has done so because he values power over principle. Because he sees his own interest as more important than his country's interest, than America's interest. And because his bruised ego matters more to him than our democracy or our Constitution. He can't accept he lost.

Biden almost certainly had some real hope that he could bridge the bipartisan divide when he took office and he was determined to give it the old college try. He's thrown in the towel. He made it clear that the Republican Party is just as guilty as Trump. While praising those who have stood up for democracy (which we can count on one hand), he said this about the rest:

Too many others are transforming that party into something else. They seem no longer to want to be the party of Lincoln, Eisenhower, Reagan, the Bushes.

They don't even want to be the party of the prince of darkness, former Vice President Dick Cheney, who showed up in the Capitol for the commemoration and stood next to his daughter, the only two Republicans to attend. (Right-wing media immediately went for his throat, of course.)

He didn't let the MAGA cult off either, which I think was gutsy:

Those who stormed this Capitol, and those who instigated and incited, and those who called on them to do so, held a dagger at the throat of America and American democracy. They didn't come here out of patriotism or principle. They came here in rage -- not in service of America but rather in service of one man.
You cannot love your country only when you win. You can't obey the law only when it's convenient. You can't be patriotic when you embrace and enable lies.

Naturally it was instantly slammed by Republicans fatuously clutching their pearls and claiming it was "divisive" (nothing new in that) and whining that Biden was "politicizing" Jan. 6, which is hilarious. Nobody but former House Speaker Newt Gingrich had the brass to evoke Lincoln to slam Biden, however — and mess it up so badly:

Gingrich needs to read that speech again:

Fondly do we hope — fervently do we pray — that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue, until all the wealth piled by the bond-man's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgments of the Lord, are true and righteous altogether."

Basically, it was "we can put the country back together but if you think we're going to go back to the way things were you've got another thing coming." Interestingly, in response to a reporter's question, Biden did echo Lincoln's famous words "let us strive to bind up the nation's wounds" when he said, "the way you have to heal, you have to recognize the extent of the wound," which is something Lincoln, after four years of bloody civil war, already knew, but he would certainly have appreciated Biden's understanding of the situation.

The modern Republican Party's undisputed leader, Donald Trump, himself issued a flurry of hysterical statements in which he said Biden "used my name today to try to further divide America," and claimed that listening to him was "very hurtful to many people." (He also went through his usual litany of lies about the 2020 election in tedious, obsessive detail, as he does most days.)

Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., and his pal Rep Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., held a little press conference that nobody watched in which they threw out conspiracy theories about the FBI starting the insurrection and otherwise babbled incoherently.

Biden said that we are at an inflection point in history and I agree. Our politics are not normal and they aren't getting any better. If anyone thought that Trump leaving office would "break the fever" they need a new thermometer. The question now is what is he — and what are we — going to do about it?

Biden is headed to Georgia next week to talk about voting right legislation and the desperate need to shore up our electoral system. Will he be able to rally the two Senate divas, Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin, to the cause and persuade them to allow an exception to the filibuster to save our democracy? At this point that really is the only question, isn't it?

Fox News and Sean Hannity have a big Jan. 6 problem

Tomorrow is the first anniversary of the Capitol insurrection and attempted coup of the U.S. government by former president Donald Trump. There was a time not long ago when everything about that sentence would have made us laugh at the sheer absurdity of it. Nobody's laughing now.

Trump was apparently persuaded by his advisers to cancel his scheduled press conference for Jan. 6 after seeing that he would not get live coverage on all the networks to spread the Big Lie and excuse the violent mob that stormed the capitol a year ago vowing to hang Vice President Mike Pence. He promised to deliver that message to his loyal followers at a rally next weekend instead, drawing a huge sigh of relief from most Republican officials in Washington who just want to keep a low profile and put the unpleasantness behind them.

Unfortunately for them, however, it's not going away.

Trump will be talking about this for the rest of his life and the January 6th committee is revving up for several months of public hearings. Even some MAGA Republicans on Capitol Hill are determined to try to muddy the waters by dusting off their Benghazi playbook and holding their own "investigation" into why House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., was derelict in her duties by allowing hundreds of rabid Trump-voting fanatics to breach the Capitol that day.

On Tuesday, committee chairs, Reps. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., and Liz Cheney R-Wy., released a letter they sent to Fox News host Sean Hannity in which they revealed that they had many text messages from him to high-level members of the White House staff in the run-up to January 6th. They ostensibly want Hannity to cooperate with the committee, but I doubt that there is any expectation that he will. This seemed more likely to be a notice to anyone who ever texted people in the White House during this period that the committee probably has them and intends to make them public. And it will almost certainly cause more dissension in Trumpworld. Meadows is already on thin ice. Now Hannity's backchannel "concerns", as Thompson and Cheney put it, about what Trump and his cronies were up to before and after January 6th leave him at odds with the president, who very likely had no idea that Hannity was pressing his staff to stop him from doing what he did.

Hannity's lawyer issued a statement saying they were examining the letter and had First Amendment concerns. However, his texts indicate that he was acting as an adviser to the president and comparing what he said privately to what he was saying on the air at the time, it's quite clear that he wasn't acting as any kind of journalist. It will be interesting to see if his bosses at Fox News have a problem with one of their stars brazenly lying to their audience. (Yeah, never mind. They won't.)

The committee homed in on just the period between December 31 and January 20th when Trump finally left office. They mention a text to Meadows in which Hannity said:

"We can't lose the entire WH counsels office. I do NOT see January 6 happening the way he is being told. After the 6 th. He should announce will lead the nationwide effort to reform voting integrity. Go to Fl and watch Joe mess up daily. Stay engaged. When he speaks people will listen."

It's impossible to know for sure what he meant by "January 6th happening the way he is being told" but according to a number of accounts this was when Trump's henchmen were hatching their plot to have Republicans in Congress object to the electoral count and have Pence throw the election to the House of Representatives where Trump would win despite losing through legitimate means. In other words, the coup was being planned. And apparently, the White House counsel's office knew it was illegal and was threatening to quit en masse over it, or at least that's the suspicion based upon what Hannity was texting.

Hannity was obviously very much in the loop inside the upper echelons of the White House and knew all about the discussions to put the heat on Pence. On January 5th he wrote to Meadows "Pence pressure, WH counsel will leave." On the night before the insurrection he wrote, "I'm very worried about the next 48 hours" which prompted the committee to ask, "why?" — which is a very good question. Surely he couldn't have foreseen the violent insurrection. But was Hannity worried that the entire administration would resign? Massive protests? It would be very interesting to know, although I doubt we ever will.

The letter suggests there are other texts which indicate that Hannity spoke with Trump personally that night as well as others. I have a sneaking suspicion that he didn't express his "concerns" quite as openly with Trump. Nobody does that. No, this was Hannity wringing his hands with the chief of staff and others in the White House while he put on a happy face with Trump and his MAGA-crazed audience.

After Trump's egregious performance on that day, which will live in infamy, and in the days after, Hannity once more proved that he was anything but a member of the press when he texted Meadows and Trump sycophant Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, worried about what Trump might do before the inauguration:

"Guys, we have a clear path to land the plane in 9 days. He can't mention the election again. Ever. I did not have a good call with him today. And worse, I'm not sure what is left to do or say, and I don't like not knowing if it's truly understood. Ideas?"

Trump responded to that on Thursday night, telling Kaitlin Collins of CNN, "I disagree with Sean on that statement and the facts are proving me right." Actually, they are not.

As I said, I don't think Hannity will cooperate and there's no doubt that there will be much shrieking and caterwauling about the freedom of the press and Hannity's sources being revealed. But Meadows is the one who turned over the texts and Hannity never reported any of this. In fact, this was what he was sharing with his audience which he was clutching his pearls behind the scenes:

Every day we hear new evidence about the attempted coup and insurrection of January 6th and there's every reason to believe that the next few months will offer even more. It is simply astonishing that this happened in America in 2021. But even more astonishing than that is the fact that after all that (and everything that came before) Donald Trump is still the most popular and influential Republican in the country and is overwhelmingly favored to win the nomination for president in 2024. The man plotted a coup and incited a violent insurrection and he didn't lose any voters. No wonder he just keeps spewing the Big Lie. It works. And I have no doubt that Sean Hannity will be at his side helping him do it.

Trump's MAGA movement suffered in 2021 — but has big comeback plans for 2022

Last year at this time we were all counting down the days until the delusional lame duck president would finally be out of office and the world would tilt back on its axis. He and his clown car full of MAGA lawyers were pushing conspiracy theories all over the country while judge after judge was knocking down their arguments in court. And we had been told by people close to him (anonymously of course) that poor Donald Trump was just having a hard time accepting his fate and the best thing to do was just let him cry it out, after which he'd fade into the woodwork as all defeated president do.

The MAGA movement seemed to have come to the end of the line. They had a good run and the reverberations would be felt for many years to come, but it was over. Their last hurrah, planned for January 6th when the faithful all planned to gather in Washington D.C. for one last Trump rally, promised to be the last of its kind. After what transpired that day we can now only hope that's true. But there is little guarantee of that. The MAGA movement is anything but dead. In fact, it's thriving.

Current polling shows that Trump managed to convince tens of millions of Americans that the election was stolen and his hardcore followers are still as rabidly enthusiastic about Trump himself as they ever were. And a new set of MAGA leaders emerged this year to carry the banner in DC. Republican Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, Madison Cawthorn, R-NC, Lauren Boebert, R -Co, Matt Gaetz, R-Fl., Arizona's Andy Biggs and Paul Gosar among others, have stepped up to troll, insult and otherwise cause chaos on behalf of the MAGA Movement in the Congress. Greene distinguished herself very early on when the House voted to strip her of her committee assignments after she "endorsed the executions of Democrats and spread dangerous and bigoted misinformation" — and was proud of having done so. The MAGA faithful immediately began sending her huge sums of money, showing just how profitable being an obnoxious, Trumpist cheerleader in Congress could be.

Later in the summer, she and Gaetz, currently under investigation by the DOJ for possible underage trafficking, took their act on the road with "Peaceful Protests Against Communism" events to entertain the troops. They weren't welcome in certain places, but that just gave them even more MAGA street cred. Boebert made a name for herself by ostentatiously displaying her gun collection during zoom committee hearings and calling Democrats jihadist terrorists on the House floor and at fundraisers. Gosar sent out an animated video showing himself killing fellow Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and got himself censured for doing it. His faithful followers couldn't love him more.

Meanwhile, across the nation, Trump voters dug in their heels and staged ongoing tantrums, threatening public health officials and school administrators who were trying to keep people safe during the pandemic and harassing election officials to say the election was stolen. They refused to get vaccinated, resulting in hundreds of thousands of unnecessary COVID deaths, instead putting their faith in the kind of snake oil cures Trump pushed relentlessly when he was president.

They are so dug in that they even booed Trump himself when he begged them to let him have credit for the vaccines. And they are shocked and dismayed that he subsequently said the vaccines actually save lives. (I'll be shocked if he pushes that line again — the backlash from his faithful supporters was fierce.)

The MAGA media even had its own odyssey this year.

According to the Washington Post, Fox News had been contemplating moving away from Trumpism after the election, something which Trump sensed and tweeted about relentlessly. He promoted the small time rivals OAN and Newsmax and it had an effect. Fox lost viewership and quickly learned its lesson. It went back to all MAGA all the time and it's ratings have never been better.

On the social media side, the results have been less stellar.

90 percent of the top-rated Facebook pages are Trumpist but the man himself has been banned from Facebook and Twitter so he is forced to send out what would formerly have been tweets as "statements" directly to his followers via email. There are a number of alternative right-wing sites, like GAB, Parler and Rumble backed by major corporate figures and billionaires but the former president is saving his essence for the new social media company called "Truth Social" he has conned some other rich marks into backing. (It will probably be better than his earlier attempt, which was basically an embarrassing blog that nobody read. )

Has Trump's golden image tarnished a bit among his followers? Maybe just a little. But considering that he continues to this day to insanely insist that he actually won the 2020 election in a landslide and suggests that he could still somehow be reinstated, it's amazing that his hold on the Republican Party is as tight as ever. Now he and his top henchwoman Marjorie Taylor Greene and her congressional clique have big plans afoot to pull the rope even tighter.

Trump has made it clear that he plans to participate in GOP primaries against incumbents he considers his enemies. The list of them is long. From Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wy., to Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, Trump is pledging to take out any Republican who crossed him in the past and/or refuses to say the election was stolen. Just this week, he informed Alaska Governor Steve Dunleavy that he would only endorse him if he agreed not to back incumbent Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski for re-election. The litmus test couldn't be more clear: Trump then, Trump now, Trump forever.

Greene and fellow MAGA Caucus member Madison Cawthorn, R-NC., are ready to rumble too, endorsing candidates who are interested in helping them build power in the GOP. According to the Washington Post, they are working against any Republican incumbents who are deemed disloyal to the former president. Even more importantly, the candidates this group is backing say they are uninterested in fighting Democrats -- they want to come to Congress to shame Republicans. One candidate told the Post that he wants to "force Republicans into tough votes, starting with articles of impeachment against President Biden and a full congressional inquiry into the 2020 presidential election, which he says was stolen from Trump."

They seem like a terrific bunch. And I doubt that any new GOP House speaker, whether it's Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Ohio congressman Jim Jordan or Donald Trump himself will be able to control them. This group will make the House Freedom Caucus look like mild-mannered institutionalists by comparison.

MAGA is still kicking and it's more powerful than ever within the Republican Party. In fact, in 2022 it may be gathering enough power that it doesn't actually need Trump himself. I suspect Trump may know that, too. Those boos he got last week must have him kicking himself for failing to slap the Trump name on the movement the way he's slapped his name on everything else he's ever done. Without that brand is it really his?

Donald Trump's lazy response to COVID just blew up in his face

One of the most notorious moments of the presidency of Donald J. Trump has to be that visit he made to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) on March 6th of 2020. COVID-19 hadn't even been named yet and the World Health Organization (WHO) hadn't yet designated it a pandemic but we all knew that something very bad was happening. Cases had shown up in Washington state and California. The whole country was riveted by the plight of a cruise ship sailing off the West Coast with sick people aboard and nowhere to moor. The president was reportedly angry about the whole thing and was resisting dealing with it but finally agreed to travel to the CDC's Atlanta headquarters for a photo-op to show his concern. It was one of the most astonishing presidential performances of all time:

But perhaps the most memorable of all was this:

You know, my uncle was a great person. He was at MIT. He taught at MIT for, I think, like a record number of years. He was a great super genius. Dr. John Trump. I like this stuff. I really get it. People are surprised that I understand it. Every one of these doctors said, "How do you know so much about this?" Maybe I have a natural ability. Maybe I should have done that instead of running for President.

Those exchanges illustrated the fundamental bind Trump was in from the beginning of the crisis. He wanted to "downplay" the virus, as he admitted to Bob Woodward around that time, but he also wanted to be the very stable genius who personally solved it. So he wavered back and forth throughout, some days saying the whole thing was just going away by itself and that his political enemies were talking it up to hurt his re-election chances. On other days he promoted snake oil cures, even offering advice to scientists on what they should be researching to treat the virus, apparently convinced that he had brilliant ideas that hadn't been explored:


He grew impatient with the medical professionals who kept telling him bad news and instead turned to the quack remedies like Hydroxychloroquine which people like Fox News personality Laura Ingraham were promoting. He listened to quack doctors like Fox News radiologist Dr. Scott Atlas, who would tell him what he wanted to hear. As his COVID task force coordinator Dr Deborah Birx has testified before Congress, during the final months of his term, Trump completely lost interest in COVID altogether — at least until he came down with it himself.

However, towards the end, the vaccines were coming on line and Trump very much wanted to be given credit for them. He claimed over and over again that everyone said it would take five years but he made sure they were done in record time and nobody could have achieved that but him. In his first press conference after the election he said this:

The vaccines, and by the way, don't let Joe Biden take credit for the vaccines. If Joe Biden… Joe Biden failed with the swine flu, H1N1. Totally failed with the swine flu. Don't let him take credit for the vaccines because the vaccines were me and I pushed people harder than they've ever been pushed before. But the vaccines, there are those that says one of the greatest things. It's a medical miracle. Don't let anyone try and take credit for it.

As you can see, he was desperate to be given credit, as if he had personally spent that previous few months cooking up the vaccines in the White House kitchen. After all, he had a genius uncle who taught at MIT and all the doctors were astounded by his "natural ability." As he put it, "the vaccines were me."

We found out later that he and Melania Trump were among the first to be vaccinated while they were still in the White House, although they didn't announce it or do what all the other politicians were doing by having cameras present to record the moment as a way to reassure the public that they were safe. Nonetheless, over the following months, Trump would from time to time talk up the vaccines, mostly as a way to talk up his part in it, and while always emphasizing that people "have their freedoms." Last September, he even joined the freedom from sanity club himself saying that he probably wouldn't get the booster when they became available.

His followers were not convinced.

After all those months of Trump downplaying the virus, refusing to wear a mask and otherwise encouraging his voters to see the mitigation strategies as a Democratic plot to bring him down, they have continued to chase snake oil cures and refused to get vaccinated. They don't see the "medical miracle" of vaccines as a Trump triumph. They see it as a threat.

This week, Trump told another audience that he had received the booster after all — and he got booed. He took the opportunity to once again try to make the case that he should get credit and that his supporters are "playing into [the Democrats'] hands" by booing him.

"Take credit for it. What we've done is historic," Trump told an audience over the weekend. "If you don't want to take it you don't have to, you shouldn't be forced to take it, no mandates. But take credit because we saved tens of millions of lives, take credit, don't let them take that away from you."

He meant, "don't let them take that away from me."

Many people have seen those comments as Trump encouraging people to get vaccinated, but it really wasn't and I doubt any of his followers saw it that way. In fact, he made it clear that he doesn't care if they do it or not and that all that matters is that he is acknowledged as a big hero. In other words, his comment was really just more of his partisan politicization of the pandemic that's gotten us into this mess in the first place.

And even if he did make an explicit pitch for people to get vaccinated, it's unlikely that it would make a difference. Polls show that the resistance to vaccines is now baked into the MAGA psyche, with him or without him. He may have created this problem but he has no power to fix it and I imagine that's intensely frustrating for him.

Trump yearns to be worshiped as the great leader who single-handedly saved the world but his followers are all inexplicably offering themselves up as human sacrifices instead.

How Joe Biden lost Joe Manchin — and how he can win him back

I expect you're going to be reading an endless number of hand wringing analysis pieces over the next couple of days about the deeply disappointing decision by West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin to go on "Fox News Sunday" after the Senate had recessed for the holiday and announced his decision to destroy the Democratic agenda — making it even more probable that the Republicans will win in 2022. Merry Christmas.

Now it is understandable why podcaster Charlamagne tha God asked Vice President Kamala Harris the other day which Joe — Biden or Manchin — is the real president. Manchin is powerful enough that he has veto power over the entire legislative agenda and he's apparently decided to use it to kill Biden's Build Back Better Bill (BBB). As he said:

I cannot vote to continue with this piece of legislation. I just can't. I've tried everything humanly possible. I can't get there. This is a no on this legislation. I have tried everything I know to do.

Manchin went on to say that he believes the Biden administration should direct all of its attention to "the variant," although he didn't explain what exactly he thought they should be doing about it that they have been unable to because they were distracted by their legislative agenda. But then he's offered up dozens of different and conflicting reasons for his reluctance to support the bill during the entire process, stringing the White House along with vague impressions that he could be seduced, so this latest reasoning was no more convincing than any of them.

Manchin's always been unhappy about the amount of money being spent, fretting over debt even as his partner in sabotage, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., was the one who nixed tax hikes that would have easily paid for everything. This led to Democrats coming up with the idea of allowing program funding to "sunset" in just a few years on the logic that once enacted nobody would have the nerve to kill them. I have to say I think that's naive. It may have worked for the Bush tax cuts but that's just because Democrats are fools. It's true that their failure to end Obamacare is an example that proves such a case, but I think we have to acknowledge just how close they came to doing it. If not for one stubborn, dying, man with a grudge against Donald Trump it would have happened. And the Republican Party as currently constituted would positively revel in reversing Build Back Better if given the chance because they believe that creating chaos gives them power. (They are not wrong, unfortunately.) And it is wildly optimistic to believe that Democrats will hold on to the Congress and the White House long enough to fully entrench these programs in this polarized electorate.

Smart analysts like American Prospect Executive Editor David Dayen, who argued in the New York Times all the way back in October for simplifying the bill, saw this moment coming. Dayen suggested that many of Build Back Better's programs were impossibly complicated, bureaucratic and poorly funded in any case and some are downright counter-productive, largely thanks to the relentless demands of Manchin and Sinema who had turned the bill into a mess as everyone tried to figure out ways to accommodate their needs. Dayen wrote:

After grinding an expansive agenda into paste, Democrats should not expect voters to re-elect the pastemakers so that they can sculpt the paste into something useful.

He said "to be successful, not only in this legislation but in revitalizing Joe Biden's presidency and his party, Mr. Biden must enact permanent, simple, meaningful programs, and connect them to his argument about how government can work again."

The thrust of Dayen's political argument was that inefficient, kludgy programs do more harm than good since the public doesn't get it. Much better to do a few things well and restore the people's faith in government than try to solve everything at once and do it badly, reinforcing the view that government can't do anything right.

If the Democrats and the White House decide to give that approach a go and pick just a few programs that Manchin and Sinema have both supported in the past it will no doubt result in some very hard feelings among the various constituencies that will be left out of this round of legislation. It's a bitter pill to swallow. But this negotiation has almost certainly clarified that having such a small majority makes it extremely difficult to pass anything, particularly when dealing with divas like Manchin and Sinema who are perfectly content to walk away.

To those who say that the Democrats should never have decoupled the infrastructure bill from the BBB bill because that would have been leverage over Manchin, I doubt it would have gone that way. Manchin would just as easily walked away from that as well, particularly since it wouldn't have been bipartisan which is something he actually does care about.

The media reported that the White House was caught off guard when a Manchin staffer informed them of his decision only a half an hour before the interview was broadcast. He apparently failed to answer a call from the president as well which is more than a little disrespectful under the circumstances. Biden was displeased and signed off on a blistering comment from the White House press secretary Jen Psaki, more or less calling out Manchin for failing to act in good faith.

Some Democratic members of Congress reacted angrily to the news as well. Senator Bernie Sanders, D-Vt., wants the bill to come to the floor so that everyone can see who is voting against all the popular items in the bill. I'm not sure that would accomplish anything. Manchin and Sinema would be thrilled to have a "thumbs down" moment to show their independence. Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota called Manchin's excuses "bullshit." After all the work both Houses put into this, it's understandable. Millions of Americans who have been following this saga undoubtedly felt exactly the same way. It's infuriating.

But maybe they'll all take a break, come back next year and pick up the pieces. Oregon Democratic Senator Ron Wyden came out with a proposal already:

The New York Times reported that the White House is thinking along similar lines. So, perhaps all is not lost. The huge comprehensive deal that Democrats wanted may be dead but that doesn't mean they can't pass something substantial and meaningful that will tackle urgent priorities like climate change and drug prices.

If they can get that done, perhaps the American people will regain faith that the government can accomplish some big things — even if they can't do it all at once.

Trump's coup accomplices in Congress: The House Freedom Caucus is a major problem

Around this time one year ago, Donald Trump was leaning heavily on the Justice Department (DOJ) to help him overturn the presidential election. According to notes taken by top DOJ official Richard Donoghue, after attorney general Bill Barr had abruptly skedaddled out of town before the proverbial manure hit the fan, the president called up the newly installed acting attorney general Jeffrey Rosen and told him "just say the election was corrupt + leave the rest to me and the R. Congressmen."

That Nixonian "request" was denied by Rosen, since it would have been a bald-faced lie but as we later learned, the White House was also plotting with an obscure DOJ lawyer named Jeffrey Clark to put the heat on Rosen to squeeze state election officials in states Trump claimed without evidence had been stolen from him. Rosen was told that Trump planned for Clark to replace him if he didn't comply but Rosen resisted and Trump backed off after his own White House counsel convinced him that there would be mass resignations at the DOJ if he followed through. Other than one congressman from Pennsylvania, a Republican by the name of Scott Perry who had reportedly called up Donoghue to threaten him into doing Clark's bidding, until now we didn't know exactly who the "R. Congressmen" were. Now The New York Times reports that Trump's accomplices were none other than the members of the House's far-right Freedom Caucus.

The Times names Jim Jordan of Ohio, Andy Biggs and Paul Gosar of Arizona, Louis Gohmert of Texas, Mo Brooks of Alabama and Pennsylvania's Perry, who is described by the Times as the coordinator of the plans to replace the attorney general with the compliant Clark. They all worked closely with one of the original founders of the Freedom Caucus, Mark Meadows, the former North Carolina congressman who served as Trump's chief of staff.

The Times reports on a previously unknown meeting that took place shortly after the election which included Jordan, Perry and Meadows along with White House adviser Stephen Miller, Trump's campaign manager Bill Stepien and press secretary Kayleigh McEnany. Jordan claims it was purely a media strategy meeting. But when it comes to The Big Lie, that amounts to a strategy to overturn the election. Everything flowed from that. These Freedom Caucus members were all over TV spreading falsehoods about voter fraud. They pressured Republican officials and ran around chasing rumors of foreign interference. And after Barr announced that the DOJ had found no evidence of fraud, they smeared the FBI and the DOJ in the press. That's when they turned their full attention to overturning the election, focusing on January 6th.

Gohmert sued vice president Mike Pence to force him to nullify the election. (The case was thrown out of court.) Perry forwarded a letter from some Pennsylvania state legislators to Sen. Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, and Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the minority leader in the House, asking them to delay the certification which they had no authority to do.

And they met personally with the president to make plans to "stop the sedition."

And now we know from the Times' reporting that the PowerPoint coup plot was forwarded to Meadows by none other than Jim Jordan --- who Trump awarded with the Presidential Medal of Freedom after the insurrection. (That would be the same Jim Jordan who Kevin McCarthy had the chutzpah to attempt to install on the Jan. 6th Committee.)

The "R. Congressmen" were up to their necks in coup plots. But that's not surprising. If anyone had told me five years ago that we'd have an attempted coup in America I would have assumed that the Freedom Caucus would be involved. They've been practicing for years on their own party.

When the Freedom Caucus was formed in 2015, Mark Meadows was one of its founding members. So was Mick Mulvaney, another former Trump chief of staff, and current Florida Governor Ron Desantis among others, like Jordan. They presented themselves as dedicated to fiscal conservatism and re-establishing congressional prerogatives but from the start it was clear that their prime directive was to make the GOP leadership miserable and drive Democrats to drink.

Meadows went even beyond the caucus at times, unintentionally showing the way forward. He challenged then House Speaker John Boehner's leadership by deploying an obscure procedure that hadn't been used since 1910. It failed, but it riled up the right-wing media and the base in a way that only Trump has since mastered. With their in-your-face extremism they managed to create so much chaos in the GOP caucus that House Speaker John Boehner was eventually forced out.

They refused to vote for his assumed successor, Kevin McCarthy of California, helping to doom his candidacy and instead they got Wisconsin congressman Paul Ryan, an up and coming conservative superstar who had run for Vice President on the ticket with Mitt Romney in 2012. Ryan was considered one of their own at the time, although he wasn't a formal member of the Freedom Caucus. But that didn't really work out all that well either. They made Ryan's life hell too and he ended up quitting politics altogether in 2018.

The truth is that the Freedom Caucus has been running the House Republican caucus in a reign of terror for over half a decade now and if they manage to take the majority in 2022, Kevin McCarthy is likely to have a big fight on his hands. He's never been one of them and despite his desperate attempts to ingratiate himself with Trump, the Freedom Caucus is going to want to put a homeboy in charge for real. That person is almost surely going to be Jim Jordan, the man who helped Mark Meadows plot the attempted coup.

These people have been fighting a guerilla war against their own party for years and were the perfect choice to be Trump's personal henchmen. In many ways they paved the way for his mafioso style of governance. And you can bet that as Trump goes around the country wreaking revenge on all those who betrayed him over the next few years, the Freedom Caucus will be right there with him. When it comes to stabbing fellow Republicans in the back, they are professionals.

Mark Meadows is having a really bad week — and Trump's is even worse

It has been a very bad week for former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows —maybe even the worst week of his life. And it's not over yet.

Late on Tuesday night, the House of Representatives voted to hold Meadows, a former GOP congressman from North Carolina, in criminal contempt of Congress for refusing to comply with a subpoena issued by the bipartisan Jan. 6th Committee. The vote fell mostly along party lines, with only Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, the only two Republicans serving on the committee, being the only two Republicans who voted with every Democrat to hold.

Meadows contempt citation will now be referred to the Justice Department, which will decide whether to prosecute. Most of the TV lawyers seem to think this will be a hard call since Meadows really was in the White House during the period in question, unlike podcaster Steve Bannon, who was referred a few weeks ago on the same charge. On the other hand, before Meadows decided to defy the subpoena, he had turned over around 6,000 documents including many text messages, which the committee claims it wants to ask him about. So Meadows is claiming that they can look at his documents but his knowledge of them is privileged information? That doesn't make any sense.

The documents he turned over which the committee has released in the last few days have been dramatic and compelling. Among them was the PowerPoint presentation that had been circulated in the White House and to Republicans in Congress and the right-wing media prior to the insurrection. It's a shocking document that outlined several possible strategies to illegally overturn the 2020 election. Subsequent reporting revealed many GOP officials knew that Trump and his henchmen had cooked up plans to stage a coup and didn't say anything about it.

Then on Monday, as the committee was preparing to vote, Rep. Liz Cheney, R-WY., read off some of Meadows' text messages showing that Fox News personalities such as Laura Ingraham and Sean Hannity had been frantically texting Meadows during the insurrection asking him to get Trump to call off his troops. Even Donald Trump Jr. exhorted Meadows to tell his daddy that he needed to "lead now" and do an Oval Office address. There were dozens of such texts from people all over Washington, begging the president to tell his followers to stop the violence.

We know that Trump sat on his hands for hours sending out lame tweets about respecting the police until he finally released a video in which he commiserated with the violent thugs and told them that they were very special and he loved them.

We've learned that there were texts to Meadows after the fact from unnamed congressional lawmakers telling him they had tried their best but "nothing worked." On Tuesday night before the floor vote, members of the committee read more, some of which revealed that members of Congress were offering advice on how to carry out the coup even before January 6th:

The Jan. 6th Committee is planning to start holding public hearings shortly after the new year and the word is that they will release the names of those GOP officials who helped with the coup planning.

One can only imagine what's happening down at Mar-a-Lago now that Trump has seen that his own son Don Jr. was calling his (formerly) trusted majordomo Mark Meadows on that day, telling him his father had to "lead." After the recent debacle of Meadows' book, in which he revealed the former president's pitiful, weakened state as he was lying to the country about having COVID, Trump now has to grapple with the fact that Meadows inexplicably turned over all these documents to the committee and is only now exerting executive privilege after the cat is out of the bag.

So Trump may be having a worse week than Meadows.

Not only is he dealing with the fallout of Meadows' document dump, a judge just ruled on Tuesday that he's going to have to give up his tax returns after all. That the ruling came from a judge who Trump appointed, must really chap his hide. It's been stayed pending appeal, but the gyrations the higher courts would have to go through may not be worth the trouble. If he runs again in 2024, there's a good chance the country will at least be able to see what he's been hiding.

He's also been called to appear for a deposition by the New York Attorney General's office in regards to the civil fraud investigation into his real estate business. Since the Manhattan District Attorney is running a parallel criminal investigation, this puts Trump at risk if he is forced to take the Fifth Amendment in the civil case to avoid incriminating himself criminally. In civil cases, you are allowed to infer guilt from a Fifth Amendment plea.

The bad news quickly piled up for Trump this week when the New York Times reported late Tuesday that the prosecutors in the criminal investigation have called his accountant and his longtime banker before the grand jury to determine whether Trump committed fraud when he applied for loans. It appears that these two cases may be coming to a head.

But perhaps even more threatening, for the first time we are seeing the contours of what the January 6th Committee may be leading up to: a criminal referral of Donald Trump for obstruction. Liz Cheney spelled it out on Monday during the Committee hearing to hold Meadows in contempt of congress:

Hours passed without necessary action by the President. These privileged texts are further evidence of President Trump's supreme dereliction of duty during those 187 minutes. And Mr. Meadows' testimony will bear on another key question before this Committee: Did Donald Trump, through action or inaction, corruptly seek to obstruct or impede Congress' official proceedings to count electoral votes?

Journalist Marcy Wheeler explains that this seems to be following the same legal framework the DOJ is using to prosecute the most serious January 6th rioters. She writes, "Liz Cheney was stating that Trump's actions on January 6 may demonstrate that he, along with hundreds of people he incited, had deliberately attempted to prevent the vote count."

The language Cheney used tracks closely with those other cases, which is a clue that this is how they may be seeing this case going forward. The courts have so far been amenable to this interpretation of the law 18 USC 1512(c)(2) which makes it illegal to obstruct an official proceeding. Whether that holds up through the inevitable appeals process is yet to be determined, but when you look at the evidence it's clear that Donald Trump spent weeks planning to do just that and when his followers resorted to violence to accomplish it, he sat on his hands for hours and watched them do it.

I am not particularly optimistic that any of these cases will come to fruition. But Trump and his henchmen are feeling the heat right now for what his long-time fixer Michael Cohen always calls "his dirty deeds" and maybe that's the best we can hope for.

Republicans splinter: Trump clashes with the GOP establishment as it desperately grasps at straws

Two prominent conservative voices have finally decided they've had enough and quit their gigs at Fox News.

Stephen Hayes, author of "The Connection: How al Qaeda's Collaboration with Saddam Hussein has Endangered America," and Jonah Goldberg of "Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left, From Mussolini to the Politics of Change" fame announced that they resigned from the flagship right-wing network over "Patriot Purge," Tucker Carlson's fraudulent "documentary" about January 6th. I guess everyone has their breaking point, although it's kind of hard to believe it was Carlson's scurrilous project that did it rather than the event itself.

Considering their body of work, however, I suppose the news about Goldberg and Hayes is not too surprising. Goldberg told Ben Smith of the New York Times that "they had stayed on at Fox News as long they did because of a sense from conversations at Fox that, after Mr. Trump's defeat, the network would try to recover some of its independence and, as he put it, 'right the ship.'" Apparently, they were under the inexplicable impression that Fox wanted to change course — which is kind of hilarious. After all, their biggest star, Tucker Carlson, has been pushing increasingly extremist rhetoric and philosophy on his show for months.

Rupert Murdoch, whose News Corp runs Fox News, spoke to shareholders last week and pointedly said that Donald Trump should get over the 2020 election — which didn't stop Trump from appearing on the network on Sunday night to whine about the 2020 election. Neither does it seem that Murdoch is taking any action to rein in top talent like Carlson whose "Patriot Purge" just adds fuel to the Big Lie. As Bloomberg's Timothy O'Brien observed, perhaps the patriarch has actually handed over those reins to his son, Lachlan, who seems to be simpatico with the Fox flamethrowers and has backed Carlson to the hilt throughout his descent into far-right extremism.

Murdoch isn't the only one who wants to have it both ways.

I wrote about Chris Christie's rather pathetic attempt to carve out a "middle lane" for himself in a GOP primary, extolling Trump's allegedly super-impressive accomplishments while trying to distance himself from the Big Lie. He's also working hard to stay in the good graces of the Fox flamethrowers, so he winds up on the opposite side of people like Hayes and Goldberg. Watching Chris Christie walk that tightrope is not a pretty picture.

Meanwhile, we have a bunch of Republican governors who met this past week for their annual confab toasting their newest member, Glenn Youngkin of Virginia, while, according to Jonathan Martin of the NY Times, meeting furtively behind the scenes to privately gripe about Donald Trump's "cancel culture." They were referring, of course, to his penchant for gleefully bringing the hammer down on any Republican who looks at him sideways.

The head of the Republican Governors Association, Steve Ducey of Arizona, pledged to all the incumbents up for reelection in 2022 that the group would back them regardless of Trump's endorsement, which is probably not all that reassuring. Contrary to the conventional wisdom that has the Youngkin victory putting Trump on the defensive since Youngkin didn't openly embrace the former president, Trump sees the Republican victory in Virginia as a personal vindication:

Mr. Youngkin's success in a campaign in which his Democratic opponent relentlessly linked him to Mr. Trump has emboldened the former president to further tighten his grip on the party, one whose base remains deeply loyal to him.

Those poor GOP governors all thought it would show him that he needs to stay on the down low so the party can win. Naturally, Trump took the opposite lesson. And now he's feeling his oats:

Moving beyond the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach him this year, Mr. Trump is now threatening to unseat lawmakers who voted for the bipartisan infrastructure bill. He taunts Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell as an "old crow" on a near-daily basis, while demanding that Mr. McConnell be removed from his leadership post. And, most alarming to the clubby cadre of Republican governors, Mr. Trump has already endorsed two challengers against incumbent governors and is threatening to unseat others.

For all the hand-wringing and pearl-clutching over the Democrats' chances in 2022, the desperate grasping at straws taking place among Republicans as they head into another election season with Donald Trump dominating their party is a story that should not be ignored. As Jonathan Martin quipped on Twitter:

And needless to say, the MAGA army is already gathering on the battlefield for 2024.

The Atlantic's Peter Nicholas attended the same meeting and reports that one of Trump's former advisers has a plan to make Trump back down: Teach him about Adlai Stevenson.

"I think that would resonate. Trump hates losers," the former advisor told Nicolas that he plans to explain to Trump that if he loses in 2024 he would be like Stevenson, one of history's serial losers.

That's the plan. I'm not kidding.

Apparently, some people on this planet have not yet discovered that Trump doesn't believe he lost in 2020 and will never admit to losing anything ever. He believes that he can create his own reality, simply by saying what he wants people to believe over and over again. Even former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who you'd think would know better, told Nicholas, "I don't think he wants to risk losing twice. Once, you can argue about the outcome. Twice, it becomes a repudiation." Actually, the twice impeached president who made a spectacle of himself on the world stage, played politics with a deadly pandemic, left the economy a smoldering wreck and incited a violent insurrection was rightfully repudiated in no uncertain terms by a majority of voters. The fact that he'll probably be given a mulligan after that dreadful performance is a sad comment on the Republican Party.

I suppose it's good news that two more Trump skeptics have finally reached their limit and walked away from Fox News. And yes it's a positive step that some Republican governors and other officials are criticizing Trump among themselves. But let's not pretend that this is some kind of trend. We just watched the entire GOP House caucus gather in support of a violent., white nationalist nut, Arizona Rep. Paul Gosar, and then Trump immediately endorsed him for re-election. It's obvious which way the wind is blowing.

Chris Christie's comeback tour is a flop

Arguably the most famous comeback in American political history was that of Richard Nixon, who lost a close presidential race in 1960, followed up by a loss in the California Governor's race two years later. After that defeat, he famously whined to the press: "You won't have Nixon to kick around anymore." Everyone thought he was done for. Nixon was, after all, an extremely unlikable politician whose nickname, "Tricky Dick," said everything about his uniquely slimy character. But then he ran again for president six years later — and won.

Nixon's appeal to his voters was the fact that he was an asshole, there's just no other way to put it. He had no charisma or charm. But he was a ruthless operator who his supporters believed would do whatever was necessary to keep their political opponents and foreign enemies in line. We all know how that worked out.

It's tempting to see Donald Trump as a true heir to Nixon. After all, his appeal was similar in many ways. He too lied as easily as he breathed, stripped the bark off of anyone who crossed him and was seen as someone who would keep the hippies and the minorities in line. And Trump actually outdid Nixon in personal corruption. But that's where the similarities end. Nixon had a deep understanding of government and policy and a fully formed, sophisticated ideological agenda. Trump was a rank amateur with no interest or capacity for learning anything new. And say what you will about him, there is no denying that Trump managed to create a full-blown cult of personality, something poor old Dick Nixon couldn't even come close to achieving.

No, the true heir to Nixon in modern Republican politics is former New Jersey governor Chris Christie. Like Nixon, Christie's main appeal lies in the fact that he's an asshole which seems to thrill about half of America's voters at any given time. He's also got a record of political dirty tricks, deep unpopularity with his (former) constituents, a failed presidential campaign and what appears to be an attempt at a comeback.

As hard as it is to believe after his sad performance as a Trump toady, Christie has a new book out in which he is endeavoring to present himself as the one guy willing to stand up to Donald Trump. It's his bid to compete for the presidential nomination in 2024 — and the media is eating it up with a spoon. In fact, there has never been so much excitement over a book by a has-been politician who left office years ago with a 14% approval rating and whose main claim to fame since then was doing debate prep for the man who beat him. But the press can't get enough of this guy. As Aaron Rupar documented in his newsletter Public Notice, in the last week:

Following an interview published in the New York Times on Saturday, Christie has been doing a ridiculous number of TV hits. He's appeared on two ABC shows (This Week and The View), Fox & Friends, Fox News, Fox Business, the Daily Show, and CNBC. He appeared on MSNBC three separate times during a 24-hour period stretching from Monday evening into Tuesday.
On Monday evening, CNN ran an hour-long, soft-focus special about Christie. (The scandal that tanked Christie's standing in New Jersey, Bridgegate, wasn't even mentioned.)

That's not all. If you read Christie's Twitter feed, you'll see that he's doing late-night shows, radio, streaming interviews and podcasts as well. He is in great demand. And it's mind-boggling. As Late Night host Seth Myers quipped:

"Cable is so desperate to fill time that CNN even aired a ludicrous special focused entirely on Christie called Being Chris Christie...You guys are acting like he's some weird lifestyle-having guy that everyone wants to know about. He's not Harry Styles or Banksy, he's a loudmouth from New Jersey. If you want to know what he's thinking you don't need CNN. You just need to be within earshot, which is for him I think like a mile?

I suspect that's exactly what most people think of Christie, especially Trumpers who will only see him as disloyal — and no one else ever liked him in the first place. But apparently, the media is so hungry for some Trump-lite that they are lapping up everything he says as if he's some exciting, new political superstar.

To his credit Christie admits that the election was not stolen and mildly criticizes Trump for refusing to let it go, always suggesting that it's bad for "the party" rather than admitting that it's a grotesque perversion of American democracy. In his book, he even dishes a bit on the former president, revealing that Trump personally leaked to the press that he'd offered Christie the White House Chief of Staff job and revealing that Trump had offered him "just about every other position this side of White House chef." Unfortunately, he never offered him Attorney General, which Christie says was the job he really wanted.

But mostly Christie is trying to walk the line between Trump critic and Trump supporter, a position which Politico reported he sees as the road to victory in 2024. He distanced himself after January 6th and has not promised not to run against him, as others have done:

There is a strategic logic to that approach. Christie, according to those familiar with his thinking, would occupy a middle lane in a potential primary, positioned between those who embrace Trump without reservation and would never criticize him, and any candidate who sought to capture the Never Trump vote.

Christie says he wants to "rescue" the party. What he doesn't say is that he wants to rescue the party from Trumpism. In fact, it's quite clear that he sees himself as its rightful leader.

"He's very ambitious, always has been. And he's very, very smart and knows how to calculate the odds," said former New Jersey Gov. Tom Kean, who has known Christie since high school and whom Christie once called a mentor. "He felt the last election that Trump took his place. He thought he had carved out a space for himself, the rough-talking, tell-things-as-they-are position. But that was Trump. Now he thinks Trump is probably in the rearview mirror and what position can he get into now."

Trump stole his lane last time and now the voters are over him and will want to vote for the real thing? That's just sad. But this is even sadder:

No matter what, he's not going up against Fox News. Here he is belatedly responding to MSNBC's Nicolle Wallace after she cornered him about the real problems underlying Trumpism and the Big Lie:

Chris Christie's book is called "Republican Rescue: Saving the Party from Truth Deniers, Conspiracy Theorists, and the Dangerous Policies of Joe Biden." Wallace was 100 percent correct. It's pretty clear that the only thing Chris Christie is trying to save is his reputation and it's not going well.

As the (parody) Nixon twitter account put it:

Steve Bannon's criminal indictment is the best thing that's ever happened to him

So Steve Bannon, former Trump adviser and current podcaster, got indicted on federal charges again. Last time he was charged with defrauding desperate MAGA donors with a scam called "We Build the Wall" that siphoned off a million dollars to cover his own personal expenses. With no care for his duped followers, Donald Trump granted Bannon a full pardon on his last day as president. Now Bannon stands accused of contempt of Congress for his refusal to respond to a congressional subpoena. He turned himself into authorities today — and it's probably one of the best days of his life.

"We're taking down the Biden regime," he said with a sly smile facing a camera live-streaming his surrender in front of a D.C. courthouse. Bannon went on to promote Monday's lineup for his War Room: Pandemic podcast before addressing his followers directly: "I want you guys to stay focused and stay on message. Remember. Signal not noise. This is all noise. That's signal."

The bipartisan congressional committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol riot subpoenaed Bannon because of the massive amounts of evidence that point to him being involved in plotting the attempted coup and his possible advanced knowledge of the insurrection. As Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Robert Costa point out in their book "Peril":

"Bannon told Trump to focus on January 6. That was the moment for a reckoning.
"'People are going to go 'What the [expletive] is going on here?' Bannon believed. 'We're going to bury Biden on January 6th, [expletive] bury him.'
"If Republicans could cast enough of a shadow on Biden's victory on January 6, Bannon said, it would be hard for Biden to govern. Millions of Americans would consider him illegitimate. They would ignore him. They would dismiss him and wait for Trump to run again.
"'We are going to kill it in the crib. Kill the Biden presidency in the crib,' he said."

Sure, Trump may have persuaded himself that the election was stolen from him and believes it will be the rallying cry that will get him back to the White House in 2024. And it's possible that Bannon had some advanced knowledge of some group like the Oath Keepers planning to invade the Capitol to stop the count. There's no public evidence for that, however, except for his typically overwrought, macho-dude, rhetoric on his podcast the day before:

"All hell is going to break loose tomorrow. It's gonna be moving. It's gonna be quick. And all I can say is strap in, the War Room, a posse. You have made this happen and tomorrow it's game day."

If you listen to his podcast, however, that's how he talks about everything.

Steve Bannon may or may not have thought that Trump could strong-arm Vice President Mike Pence to go along with their daft plan to refuse to certify the electoral votes of several states and send the issue to the House which would then certify the election for Trump. If he did, he almost certainly expected that the streets would immediately be flooded with angry Democratic voters, possibly leading to confrontations with police and maybe the military. And he wouldn't be crazy to think so. But predicting the storming of the Capitol? That's much more of a stretch. I'm not saying he couldn't have known of some master plan but I haven't seen any evidence of that.

Steve Bannon is not a stupid person. I suspect his goals were less dramatic, more strategic —and possibly even more consequential. He said it right out: The Big Lie makes it hard for Biden to govern because it denies him legitimacy in the eyes of half the country. This isn't just about restoring Trump. It's about destroying Biden's presidency and delegitimizing democracy. It's about creating chaos. And Bannon's been agitating for that for many years.

I think we all thought he had been banished from American politics once Trump kicked him to the curb after he got too much attention and bad-mouthed Trump to Michael Wolfe for his book "Fire and Fury." Bannon tried to make himself into a kingmaker during the 2018 primaries but saw dismal results so he spent the next couple of years wandering around the world, connecting up with leaders of other authoritarian regimes, acting as something of an alt-right entrepreneur. Nothing much came of it, at least institutionally. Bannon's ballyhooed global far-right movement he branded with an exceptionally catchy name, "The Movement," failed to ever get off the ground. Likewise, his hopes to start a far-right Catholic political academy in an 800-year-old monastery in Italy were thwarted last March when The Council of State ruled against it after years of court battles. Bannon was designing the curriculum for the Academy for the Judeo-Christian West for Catholic activists in which, as The New Yorker's Ben Munster put it, "a new class of right-wing 'culture warriors' would be trained." Bannon told Munster that he saw it preparing the next generation of Tom Cottons, Mike Pompeos and Nikki Haleys, which sounds wholly unimaginative to me. Surely there are boatloads of young influencers and podcasters champing at the bit to get media training and learn all about "Cultural Marxism, Radical Jihad, and the C.C.P.'s Global Information Warfare" and "The Early Church as a Business Enterprise."

Bannon's philosophy has been written about quite a bit, including by yours truly, because it is extremely radical and very, very weird. It's all wacky mysticism mixed with antediluvian, pre-enlightenment, authoritarianism posing as nationalism based upon the writings of an obscure French writer named René Guénon from the early 20th century and the teachings of one of his followers (and Mussolini adviser) Julius Evola. (If you're interested in going deep, these articles will fill you in.) The school of thought is called "Traditionalism" and it is like no tradition you've ever heard of. But Bannon is not alone with this philosophy. It's held by members of far-right leaders' inner circles throughout Europe and in places like Brazil and Russia. If there is an intellectual rationale for Trumpism beyond the Dear Leader cult of personality, this "traditionalism" is it.

It's hard to know if Bannon has some kind of overarching plan or if he's just winging it. He always sounds like he knows where he's going but he never seems to get there and his foray into defrauding MAGA followers certainly gives credence to those who say that he's just another Trumper on the grift. But it doesn't really matter. Bannon being a "political prisoner" martyr to the cause works for him either way. He can make a mockery of the law with his antics and potentially turn any trial into a spectacle in order to foment more chaos and disillusionment in the country while, no doubt, making a tidy profit at it. As I said, from his perspective, being indicted for defying Congress is the best thing that ever happened to him. It's made him relevant again.

America's torture regime faces a reckoning

With all of the hoopla this past week over the off-year elections, President Biden's foreign trip, and the ongoing drama on Capitol Hill, there was very little discussion of the latest chapter in one of the most important and horrific stories of our time.

The New York Times reported on an unprecedented sentencing hearing of a detainee held at Guantanamo Bay. It was the first time a prisoner detailed in public the torture he underwent at the hands of the U.S. government. There are no adequate words to describe the grotesque war crimes committed against this man. Times' reporter Carol Rosenberg, who has covered the Guantanamo legal proceedings for many years now, vividly detailed the story of 41-year-old Majid Khan, a Pakistani citizen who graduated from a Baltimore high school and, as a lost young man, took a trip back to his home country in 2002 after his mother died. There he was seduced into joining a terrorist organization. As he put it, "I went willingly to Al Qaeda. I was stupid, so incredibly stupid. But they promised to relieve my pain and purify my sins. They promised to redeem me, and I believed them."

Khan was captured by American forces in 2003 and has been held in legal limbo ever since, despite the fact that he cooperated from the beginning. But according to his testimony, the more he cooperated, the more he was tortured. As with so many other victims of the brutal U.S. torture regime, Khan was compelled to make up tales in order to get the torture to stop. When his tales didn't pan out, he was tortured some more.

The maze of national security restrictions put on Guantanamo prisoners attempting to defend themselves (an almost 20-year long process) has generally made it impossible for them to speak out about what happened to them. But apparently, (it isn't clear from the reporting) Khan's lawyers found a way for him to publicly detail the torture he endured without specifically accusing any individuals. So last week, in open court, he took the stand and expressed remorse for his actions and forgave his tormentors. In front of his horrified father and sister, both of whom are American citizens, he laid out for the record what happened to him.

Kahn described in detail the primitive conditions in which he was held: naked, with his hands chained above his head or shackled to the wall crouching "like a dog," beaten and sleep-deprived to the point of hallucination. He was waterboarded repeatedly and nearly drowned. And then there was the sexual and "medical" sadism, as Rosenberg reports:

[A]fter he refused to eat, his captors "infused" a purée of his lunch through his anus. The C.I.A. called it rectal refeeding. Mr. Khan called it rape.
The C.I.A. pumped water up the rectum of prisoners who would not follow a command to drink. Mr. Khan said this was done to him with "green garden hoses."
"They connected one end to the faucet, put the other in my rectum and they turned on the water," he said, adding that he lost control of his bowels after those episodes and, to this day, has hemorrhoids.
He spoke about failed and sadistic responses to his hunger strikes and other acts of rebellion. Medics would roughly insert a feeding tube up his nose and down his throat. He would try to bite it off and, in at least one instance, he said, a C.I.A. officer used a plunger to force food inside his stomach, a technique that caused stomach cramps and diarrhea.

When CIA officers transferred Khan from one black site to another, they would insert an enema and then duct tape a diaper on him so he wouldn't have to be taken to the bathroom.

Kahn was eventually charged with four terrorism charges and pled guilty to delivering $50,000 from Pakistan to an Al Qaeda affiliate in early 2003 that was traced to the bombing of a Marriott hotel in Jakarta, Indonesia. At the time of the bombing, Kahn was already in custody. He also worked with Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the 9/11 mastermind, in some failed plots during his brief period with al Qaeda.

At his trial, the lead prosecutor conceded that Kahn got "extremely rough" treatment but told the jury he was lucky to be alive when the victims of al Qaeda are not. Kahn's lawyer said "Majid was raped at the hands of the U.S. government. He told them everything from the beginning."

The jury of eight military officers was required to hand down a sentence of 25 to 40 years. They gave him 26 years beginning from his guilty plea in 2012. But in an unexpected twist, obviously moved by the testimony, seven of the eight jurors wrote a letter to the overseer of military commissions asking him to grant Kahn clemency. They did not know of a secret deal that was struck earlier this year with the Pentagon in which the sentence could actually end early next year and no later than February 2025 because Khan turned government cooperator upon pleading guilty.

Some of the details of these monstrous tactics were known already due to the "executive summary" of the classified Senate Torture Report that the Obama administration ensured would be withheld from the public. You may recall that the Senate Intelligence Committee and the CIA were at each other's throats over that project with the CIA issuing criminal referrals against Senate staffers and the committee accusing the CIA of penetrating its computers. (As it turned out, the Inspector General found that the CIA was wrong on both of those issues and then CIA Director, John Brennan, was forced to apologize.) The Senate passed the McCain-Feinstein Anti-Torture Amendment, banning "enhanced interrogation techniques" the Bush administration's Soviet-style euphemism for torture. But no one has ever been held accountable.

In 2018, Gina Haspel, who was involved in the CIA's infamous destruction of CIA tapes that documented the practice and was personally involved in the torture of one terrorist suspect, became the head of the CIA under Donald Trump, the man who won the presidency in 2016 by declaring:

Would I approve waterboarding? You bet your ass I would — in a heartbeat, And I would approve more than that. Don't kid yourself, folks. It works, okay? It works. Only a stupid person would say it doesn't work.

Torture doesn't work. And the use of it, as well as the cover-up by two administrations and the crude endorsement by a man who would be president, is one of the greatest moral stains on America's reputation in its long history of moral stains. And this one happened on our watch.

Dr. Birx admits the truth about Trump's crime against humanity

Is playing politics with a deadly pandemic a crime against humanity? The Brazilian Senate thinks so, and has backed a report calling for charges against President Jair Bolsonaro over his handling of COVID-19.

The committee that prepared the report had originally called for Bolsonaro to be charged with genocide and mass homicide against the indigenous people of Brazil as well but those charges were removed by the larger Senate before the vote. Whether the crimes against humanity charges will be sent to the International Criminal Court for investigation and adjudication is unknown. If they are, it will be a first.

The 1,300-page report also calls for eight other charges against Bolsonaro, including misuse of public funds and spreading fake news about the pandemic as well as falsification of documents and incitement to crime, which they referred to Brazil's top prosecutor, an ally of the president who is unlikely to prosecute.

Brazil's death toll is huge — second only to the United States — with over 600,000 deaths and counting. That nation's first wave was monstrous, with mass graves and overwhelming hospital overload. When the second hit, medical facilities were so ill-prepared that they ran out of oxygen. Bolsonaro's response has been to tell people to "stop whining" about "the little flu." He refused necessary lockdown measures from the beginning and relentlessly pushed snake oil cures like hydroxychloroquine. He has disparaged vaccines, masks and other public health measures.

Brazil is a signatory to the International Criminal Court so it could theoretically agree to hear the case should it be forwarded to them. The law seems pretty straightforward, according to this analysis by Jen Kirby at Vox:

A crime against humanity exists "when committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack." "other inhumane acts of a similar character intentionally causing great suffering, or serious injury to body or to mental or physical health."

Kirby spoke with David Scheffer, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and former U.S. ambassador-at-large for war crimes issues, who told her that the "catchall nature" of the last part of the statute was deliberate:

It is obvious that other types of assaults on your civilian population are going to emerge in the future, and you have to provide for that in the statute. It's hard to think of a better example than intentional mismanagement of a Covid-19 pandemic or some other pathogen. And so I would argue that, yes, that's fair game.

Bolsonaro defiantly says that he is guilty of "absolutely nothing" despite his decisions to allow the virus to spread through the country in pursuit of "herd immunity" which basically translated to "let 'er rip." And he has continued to spread disinformation. Just this week, Facebook and Youtube removed a video in which the Brazilian president falsely claimed a link between COVID-19 vaccines and AIDS.

You will no doubt recall that Bolsonaro and Donald Trump were great friends and kindred spirits during Trump's term. They saw eye to eye on many things, but perhaps on nothing so much as the proper response to the pandemic.

In March of 2020, as the virus was starting to spread quickly, the Brazilian leader visited Trump's private club, Mar-a-Lago, and that became one of the earliest Trump super-spreading events when Bolsonaro's press secretary tested positive for the virus after meeting with Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and others. Bolsonaro came away from the meeting inspired by Trump, telling his health minister "that life was normal at Mar-a-Lago, everything was cured, and that hydroxychloroquine was the medicine that was supposed to be used. From that time on, it was very hard to get him to take the science seriously."

We all saw the similarities between Bolsonaro and Trump's reaction to the pandemic in real-time.

They both downplayed the virus and were obsessively concerned with the economic fallout, leading them to lean on scientists to fudge the numbers. Both of them were constantly out in public exposing themselves and others to the virus and they each recommended unscientific cure-alls while ignoring the public health recommendations that actually mitigated the worst of the virus. Trump really wanted to take credit for the vaccines, but has been forced to downplay that achievement due to skepticism among his followers, while Bolsonaro just comes right out and says they don't work. Their record in the pandemic is astonishingly similar.

Here in the U.S., the task of investigating what happened with the pandemic has fallen to the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, which has kept a pretty low profile these last few months. But on Tuesday they took the testimony of Dr. Deborah Birx, Trump's COVID-19 coordinator. According to the New York Times, Birx reiterated her earlier shocking claim that at least 130,000 lives were unnecessarily lost because the administration refused to do everything it could to ensure the nation followed the public health recommendations to mitigate the spread of the disease.

But in her testimony this week she also said that as the pandemic wore on into the summer and fall, the administration became distracted by the presidential campaign and pretty much lost interest in the crisis. In other words, a lot of people died so that Donald Trump could get elected.

When asked if she felt Trump did everything he could to save lives, Birx replied, "no."

She also complained about the malign influence of Dr. Scott Atlas, the radiologist who caught Trump's eye on Fox News and was brought in to push the idea that the country should seek "herd immunity," just as Bolsonaro had tried to do in Brazil. Birx testified that Atlas even brought to the White House the three physicians who later authored the "Great Barrington Declaration," which called for deliberately hastening herd immunity. Trump was all in:

Bolsonaro and members of his family are under fire for corruption as well and there is a good chance he may face jail time as well as a tough re-election campaign next year. And then there is the little matter of the crimes against humanity charges that could be before the International Criminal Court.

His good friend and inspiration, Donald Trump, is in a similar situation — although he has three more years to try to make everyone forget his terrible response to the pandemic. Trump needn't worry about the ICC, of course. The U.S. isn't a signatory. The powers that be thought signing on to it might result in U.S. troops being accused of war crimes. I doubt they anticipated that a U.S. president might be accused of facilitating the deaths of hundreds of thousands of his own citizens. Donald Trump has always been a very lucky guy in that way.

Trump's 'get out of jail free' card

Donald Trump is "telling most anyone who'll listen that he will run again in 2024." That's according to Axios's Mike Allen, who also pointed out this weekend that all of the polling suggests that Republican voters are clamoring for the former president to do it. There is little doubt that he will win the Republican nomination easily. Allen reports that all of the Republicans he's spoken with say "it would take a severe illness, death — or criminal charges sticking — to stop Trump from walking away with the race before it even begins." I have never doubted it. They love him, they really love him.

Trump is reportedly watching any would-be rivals very carefully, particularly Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, as well as Mike Pence, his former vice president, and former secretary of state Mike Pompeo. Allen reports that, according to his sources, it's Pence who is Trump's most likely primary opponent — and he is not planning to defer to his former boss, which Allen pointedly says Trump "has noticed." Watching Pence get squashed like a stink bug doesn't seem very sporting, but it's probably all we're going to get.

Truthfully, there is no opening for a serious anti-Trumper and as long as the real thing's on the scene. Nobody can out-Trump Trump. You have to give DeSantis points for trying, though. The Florida governor is now contemplating offering $5,000 to unvaccinated cops who move to the Sunshine State and join departments there rather than submit to vaccine mandates in their home state. Trump must have raised his diet coke in silent salutation at that one. It's Trumpism at its crudest.

DeSantis and Pompeo are still playing the waiting game to see if any unfortunate events befall Trump, but they need to be careful lest they anger the boss and ruin their chances to run as his VP, which they will be happy to do, all the while winking and nodding at the right-wing power brokers that they'll be sure to keep Trump in line. Fat chance.

There are several obvious reasons why Trump is so dead set on running again.

The first is his obsession with vengeance, particularly for what he perceives as disloyalty. This explains why he spends just as much time slamming RINOs (Republicans In Name Only), whom he claims betrayed him, as he does Democrats. This is a deeply held philosophy that Trump has made plain for many years.

An even bigger motivation for Trump to run is the fact that his "grandiose narcissism" will not allow him to admit that he lost in 2020. Personality psychologist Evita March explained how this works shortly after election:

The grandiose narcissist is competitive, dominant, and has an inflated positive self-image regarding their own skills, abilities, and attributes. What's more, grandiose narcissists tend to have higher self-esteem and inflated self-worth. For the grandiose narcissist, defeat may compromise this inflated self-worth. According to researchers from Israel, these people find setbacks in achievement particularly threatening, as these setbacks could indicate a "failure to keep up with the competition".
Instead of accepting personal responsibility for failure and defeat, these individuals externalize blame, attributing personal setbacks and failures to the shortcomings of others. They do not, or even cannot, recognize and acknowledge the failure could be their own. Based on the profile of the grandiose narcissist, the inability to accept defeat may best be characterized by an attempt to protect the grandiose positive self-image. Their dominance, denial of weaknesses, and tendency to devalue others results in a lack of comprehension it's even possible for them to lose.

If you read the blizzard of statements he releases every day, it's clear that Trump spends most of his days obsessing over the Big Lie. He's now demanding that Republicans endorse his delusion or risk his wrath and his followers' rejection. It's not enough for him to believe it, he needs everyone else to validate that belief. And he has to run again — and win — in order to finally make the Big Lie true. To that end, he is working the system night and day to make sure he has loyalists planted in all the swing states to make sure that happens.

But while it's clear that he has deep psychological reasons for perpetuating the Big Lie and running again to avenge the loss he cannot accept, there are practical reasons for Trump to be desperate to get back in the White House. The Los Angeles Times' Doyle McManus reminds us that while Trump has always managed to squirm out of the endless legal and political problems he's confronted throughout his life he's facing some serious charges at the moment:

Throughout his epic, scandal-ridden career, Donald Trump has compiled an astonishing record of impunity, constantly staying one jump ahead of prosecutors, plaintiffs and creditors...[His] record of escapes would make Houdini envious. But Trump remains under the gun. He's still in search of escape routes.
A House committee is examining his attempts to overturn last year's presidential election, including his actions when a mob of his supporters stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6. A prosecutor in Georgia is investigating whether he violated state law against soliciting election fraud when he demanded that officials "find 11,780 votes" — the number he needed to undo Joe Biden's victory in that state. And prosecutors in New York are looking into allegations that Trump, or at least the closely held family business he runs, committed tax and bank fraud.

I'm sure Trump enjoyed many things about being president, with the overwhelming amount of attention being the most important. But the Russia investigation made clear that as long as he was in office, he would not be prosecuted. Being president is literally a "get out of jail free" card. He knows that as soon as he declares his candidacy, any possibility of prosecution is unlikely. As McManus says, "it's a way to hold his troops together — and to make every prosecutor think twice."

I don't doubt that his desire to get back into the White House is mostly driven by his desire for revenge and the extreme personality defect that will not allow him to admit that he lost. But he's not insane. If he can get back into the White House, he will be completely out of the law's grasp for four years. And he knows it.

Steve Bannon's contempt case: Could the coverup lead to the truth of the crime?

On Thursday, the House of Representatives voted 229 to 202, with nine Republicans joining all the Democrats to hold podcaster and former White House adviser Steve Bannon in contempt of Congress for defying a subpoena to testify before the committee investigating the insurrection of January 6th and events leading up to it. The order was sent to the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, who will evaluate it and will likely put it before a Grand Jury to determine if Bannon should be prosecuted for criminal contempt, a crime which carries a possible fine of $100,000 and a year in jail.

It's not uncommon for congressional committees to threaten contempt of congress when they don't get the cooperation they believe they deserve and the committees even vote to take the case to the floor of the House from time to time. It's usually a sort of game to get the parties to the table to work out an agreement — which they usually do. Or, they will instead file a civil action, where the case slowly wends its way through the courts. And sometimes, the Department of Justice just says no and that's the end of that.

The last time the Department of Justice prosecuted such a case was back in the 1980s when it indicted then former Reagan administration Environmental Protection Agency official Rita M. Lavelle for failing to testify about the department's handling of the EPA's $1.6 billion "Superfund" to clean up hazardous waste. Reagan had fired her and the House voted unanimously to hold her in contempt but she was acquitted at trial. (She was later jailed for lying to Congress in a different case.)

The only person to be convicted of contempt of Congress in recent memory was none other than G. Gordon Liddy, who received a suspended sentence because he was already doing so much time for his other Watergate crimes. Even Nixon didn't have the nerve to pardon all of his henchmen before he left office as Trump did. (Liddy went on to have a lucrative career as a right-wing talk show host so it all worked out well for him.)

The vice-chair of the committee, Republican Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, made it clear what they want to discuss with Bannon and you can certainly see why Bannon wouldn't want to do it. She said in comments to the committee on Tuesday:

"Based on the Committee's investigation, it appears that Mr. Bannon had substantial advance knowledge of the plans for January 6th and likely had an important role in formulating those plans. The day before this all occurred — on January 5th — Mr. Bannon publicly professed knowledge that '(a)ll hell is going to break lose tomorrow.' He forecast that the day would be 'extraordinarily different' than what most Americans expected. He said to his viewers on the air: '(S)o many people said, "if I was in a revolution, I would be in Washington."' (W)ell, this is your time in history."

Bannon also said on his podcast:

It's not going to happen like you think it's going to happen. Okay, it's going to be quite extraordinarily different. All I can say is, strap in. … You made this happen and tomorrow it's game day. So strap in. Let's get ready. It's all converging, and now we're on the point of attack tomorrow.

Before Thursday's vote by the full House, Cheney said,

"Mr. Bannon's own public statements make clear: he knew what was going to happen before it did ... The American people deserve to know what he knew, and what he did,"

She believes Trump did too:

Mr. Bannon's and Mr. Trump's privilege arguments do appear to reveal one thing, however: they suggest that President Trump was personally involved in the planning and execution of January 6th,

Trump was certainly involved in the planning. He invited people to come to the Capitol on that day tweeting, "it's going to be wild." And we know from the Bob Costa and Bob Woodward book "Peril" that throughout the post-election period, Bannon was pushing January 6th as the big event. (Some of that was, no doubt, Bannon's way of cozying up to Trump for a pardon, which he duly received on Trump's last day in office.) His involvement in the Willard Hotel "war room" with a group of Trump cronies on January 5th and 6th explains why he knew all about the John Eastman coup plot to have Mike Pence throw the election to the House where they could declare Trump the winner. (He alluded to Eastman's scheme in his podcast on the 6th.) What he might have known about any planning for subsequent violence remains unknown although his rhetoric certainly did sound like a call to arms.

As we know, Pence refused, but according to the book Trump later commented to others that there was a lot of anger "out there" and we all know what he said the next morning to his ecstatic and worshipful crowd. As he sat in the White House watching his people, carrying Trump flags, breaking windows and beating cops, it's not hard to imagine that he was thinking about how "cool" it was to have that power.

Bannon, meanwhile, is almost certainly "in heaven," as author Michael Wolfe put it to MSNBC's Lawrence O'Donnell earlier this week:

"Remember, Steve has been in the wilderness for the last three years since Trump forced him out of the White House. But the real pain in Steve's heart is that the attention has been on Donald Trump — who Steve regards as, as stupid, crazy and a crook — rather than the attention being on Steve Bannon. So, yes, it's a good day for Steve."

A good day, indeed.

I suspect Bannon will be happy to fashion himself as a "political prisoner," comparing himself to everyone from Nelson Mandela to Gandhi to Martin Luther King. He won't mention the one he really resembles, but he has certainly seen the parallels — and Steve Bannon certainly thinks it would be very "cool" to have that guy's power.

How the Republican Party is making the Democrats look like rank amateurs when it comes to being in 'disarray'

As anyone could have predicted, much of the media is once again obsessed with the "Democrats are in disarray" storyline, a perennial favorite that makes it easy to preserve the preferred conventional wisdom that says the right may be authoritarian bigots but at least they aren't the dizzy dingbats of the left. Republicans don't even have to make the trains run on time anymore.

Right now, the Democrats are doing the most tedious of all political tasks: trying to pass complicated legislation with a coalition that includes a handful of officials who look in the mirror every morning and see a superstar looking back at them. There is no politician on Earth who does not have a healthy ego, but these are people who live for headlines like this one: Manchin Lays Down Demands for Child Tax Credit.

This is hardly a unique characteristic of the Democratic Party. We only have to look back at the famous moment back in 2017 when GOP Senator John McCain of Arizona, dying of cancer and filled with loathing for President Donald Trump, dramatically gestured thumbs down and defeated the repeal of the Affordable Care Act. Still, it is true that Democrats are particularly prone to exceedingly tiresome haggling over legislation, but that's because they actually want to do things. The Republican agenda is pretty much confined to confirming judges and cutting taxes so they tend to get those things done quite efficiently, no negotiating required.

So the Biden Agenda may end up falling apart. It was always going to be a heavy lift to do big things with such a narrow majority. But they still might pull it off and if the process is messy and exhausting it's just how progress happens. If one wants an example of a political party that's in a state of full-blown internal chaos, just look to the right and check out what's going on in the GOP. Sure, Republicans are in lock-step obstruction mode in Congress, fighting anything and everything the Democrats are trying to do. But the party is actually eating itself alive, so energetically in fact that the media is beginning to take notice. What seems to have precipitated this new interest was this startling statement by Donald Trump last week:

There was no way to interpret that as anything but a threat. Trump was just making it clear that anyone who isn't in line with the Big Lie will be put on his "don't vote" list. And, not that he cares, but the statement also has the effect of telling GOP voters that unless the election fraud is "solved" (whatever he means by that) that they might as well not bother to vote.

There are plenty of people, including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who believe that his caterwauling about voter fraud cost the Republicans two Senate seats last year. He wasn't the only one. Right wing personality Erick Erickson said at the time:

"Telling everyone that the race was stolen when it wasn't cost the Republicans two Senate seats. The going all-in on the cult of personality around President Trump hurt them as a result. They had to play up this, 'There's no way Donald Trump could have lost. It had to be stolen from him.' "

This is not just an assumption. In this Sunday New York Times piece, Jeremy Peters notes that even a vociferous supporter like Marjorie Taylor Greene was surprised to find in an internal survey that 10% of Republican voters in her Georgia district would not vote in 2022 if there was no "forensic audit" of the 2020 vote. Marjorie Taylor Greene's district will no doubt return her to Congress, unfortunately, even if 10% of her voters did lay out. But in districts and states with more competitive races, that rate of GOP apathy could be a serious problem.

There are a few rare dissenters left in the party and not just the usual suspects., Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Il, or Wyoming GOP congresswoman Liz Cheney. Senator Bill Cassidy, R-La, has shown some independence in the past and this week told Axios that he wouldn't vote for Trump in 2024 and hoped he wouldn't run because he lost the House, the Senate and the Presidency in four years and politics is about winning. I don't know if Cassidy had attended the National Republican Senatorial Committee retreat in Palm Beach, Fla. last week, but according to the Washington Post, if he did he heard Trump say that he had actually saved the party, telling the gathered GOP senators that "it was a dying party, I'll be honest. Now we have a very lively party." That's one way of putting it.

Trump went on to insult various "RINOS" in the party whom he felt betrayed him, naming Mitt Romney and Ben Sasse among others. It's a good bet Cassidy will also be name-checked soon, as will Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson who told Meet the Press on Sunday that "re-litigating" the 2020 election would be a "recipe for disaster."

Cassidy and Hutchinson are outliers in the party for openly embracing reality. Most elected Republican officials are falling all over themselves trying to prove their loyalty and the ensuing primary battles are already head spinning. Everyone is no doubt aware by now of Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley's humiliating descent into Trump cultism. Fred Hiatt in the Washington Post tells the tale of first term Tennessee Republican Senator Bill Hagerty, former Ambassador to Japan, a man once considered to be a man of integrity and independence who has instead become an energetic Trump sycophant for no real apparent reason other than a desire to please the man.

Nowhere is the tension more marked than the Virginia gubernatorial race, where the the Big Lie is the last thing GOP candidate Glenn Youngkin wants to talk about but it's the only thing his voters seem to care about. He is a man desperate to escape the clutches of Donald Trump but cannot risk offending his followers and it's tying him up in knots.

Still, the GOP primary races are where the real action is.

Amy Davidson Sorkin in the New Yorker reports on an astonishing Republican race in Alabama to fill retiring Richard Shelby's seat between an establishment candidate Katie Britt and Insurrectionist Congressman Mo Brooks. Brooks attacked Britt for saying that she feels it's important to stand with women and her reply was that Brooks was insufficiently loyal to Donald Trump because he had once supported Ted Cruz in the 2016 primaries while she was a Trump supporter from the get-go. It's getting very ugly, very quickly.

Democratic wrangling over their agenda is difficult and frustrating but at least they are trying to get something done for the people. The Republican Party is making the Democrats look like rank amateurs when it comes to being in "disarray" and it's all in service of keeping Donald Trump happy. It's not hard to see which process is actually serving the public interest and which one isn't.

Kyrsten Sinema doesn't need saving: GOP’s faux outrage about left-wing misbehavior is one of their oldest tricks

I have often observed that shamelessness is the American right-wing's superpower and that is never better illustrated than when they call for the smelling salts over Democratic "incivility." We are once again undergoing such a phony hissy fit in the case of Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema, a Democrat, who was accosted by protesters who followed her into a public restroom, in one instance, and asked her questions on an airplane flight in another.

Let me just say that I think the bathroom thing was ill-advised, and cornering anyone on an airplane is pretty aggressive since there is literally no escape. It's not like a business owner asking someone to leave the premises, such as what happened to Donald Trump's former press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders or when his former DHS Secretary Kirstjen Neilsen was taken to task by fellow diners in a restaurant in Washington, both of which also caused right-wingers to froth and fume. Sinema was in no physical danger from these protesters and neither were Sanders and Neilsen. As President Biden said when asked about it on Tuesday, "I don't think they're appropriate tactics, but it happens to everybody … it's part of the process."

The right-wing is staging this fit because they are currying Sinema's favor in the hopes that she will destroy the Democratic agenda. But this is a common tactic — hypocritical faux outrage about left-wing misbehavior is one of their oldest tricks.

As Salon's Zachary Petrizzo reported, former Trump adviser turned podcaster Steve Bannon railed about the fact that the protesters were "illegal aliens" (always a good bet to get the right-wing base riled up.) Breitbart News claimed that the protesters "stalked and harassed" Sinema and Red State wondered if a crime had been committed. A Fox News anchor declared that Sinema was "assaulted" on the airplane and wondered why the FAA didn't intervene. And in one of the more embarrassing examples of right-wing self-righteousness, the National Review's Charles Cooke wrote this:

If, instead of a left-winger berating a moderate Democrat in the loo, a right-winger had berated a moderate Republican, it would have been the biggest news of the year. Within minutes, the incident would have had a name — the "Arizona Attack," perhaps. Within a day, it would have been deemed to be representative of everything that was wrong with the American Right — and with the United States itself. Within a week, we would have been drowning in breathless TV segments, tendentious op-eds, and mawkish lectures about the sanctity of democracy in the United States.

I don't know how to break it to him but you don't have to imagine it. It's happened. A lot.

Last January, just before the joint session of Congress to certify the presidential vote, GOP Senator Mitt Romney was accosted in the Salt Lake City airport and rudely confronted by Republicans angry at him about his unwillingness to object to the electoral count. On the airplane full of people coming to the rally scheduled for January 6th, they chanted, "traitor, traitor, traitor!" and yelled at Romney to resign. (At the insurrection rally on January 6th, President Trump asked the crowd, "I wonder how Romney liked his flight last night," to the delight of the crowd.)

Likewise, Senator Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., was angrily confronted by a mob of Trump supporters at Reagan National Airport a couple of days later. They called him a traitor too and crowded him to the point that airport security had to escort him to safety. In one of the videos of the incident, a woman was heard saying, "one day they will not be able to walk down the street; it is today."

Last month Republican Congressman Anthony Gonzales of Ohio dropped out of his race for re-election citing the fact that he had to have police escorts for himself and his family at airports due to threats from Trump supporters angry over his vote for impeachment. I'm sure Congresswoman Liz Cheney has similar stories. And while they didn't manage to find Vice President Mike Pence on January 6th, we know what they planned to do with him if they did, don't we?

Right-wing protesters aren't just attacking politicians. All over the country, they are threatening health care workers, election officials and school board members about everything from masks to vaccines to critical race theory. It has gotten so bad for local school officials and teachers that the Department of Justice has announced a plan to intervene. But yet, in another example of egregious shamelessness, Senator Josh Hawley took the other side of the argument in a Senate hearing this week, arguing that these were just fine examples of parents looking out for their children. MSNBC's Chris Hayes rounded up some examples of such civic protest for Hawley since he didn't seem to have the full picture of what's been going on:

Meanwhile, we have the predictable claims that the protesters who confronted Kyrsten Sinema were financed by the great leftwing boogeyman, George Soros. It's true that the group they belong to got money from Soros' foundation in 2017 and 2019, but there is no evidence that the foundation is involved in the protests in any way. It certainly isn't directing the protests with talking points and strategy as the Washington Post reported the Koch brothers network has been doing with the school board protests.

This is nothing new for GOP activists. In 2009, the very similar angry protests over the Affordable Care Act were likewise directed from on high by groups financed by big-money donors who bused activists all over the country with instructions to disrupt the town hall meetings. They put out a strategy memo that said:

— Artificially Inflate Your Numbers: "Spread out in the hall and try to be in the front half. The objective is to put the Rep on the defensive with your questions and follow-up. The Rep should be made to feel that a majority, and if not, a significant portion of at least the audience, opposes the socialist agenda of Washington."
— Be Disruptive Early And Often: "You need to rock-the-boat early in the Rep's presentation, Watch for an opportunity to yell out and challenge the Rep's statements early."
— Try To "Rattle Him," Not Have An Intelligent Debate: "The goal is to rattle him, get him off his prepared script and agenda. If he says something outrageous, stand up and shout out and sit right back down. Look for these opportunities before he even takes questions."
Recall that all those nice "protesters" even gathered in Washington one day to yell racist epithets and spit on congressmen? Clearly, the right thinks that protesting masks and vaccine mandates will deliver them the same win that the Obamacare protests did in 2010, which is highly debatable. We have 700,000 people dead from COVID and the majority of Americans are not amused at these antics.
But no matter what, Trump or no Trump, the Republicans will still be wringing their hands about at the alleged incivility of the left and whining about the supposed denial of their rights even as they do everything they claim the other side is doing. As I said, shamelessness is their superpower.

A former Trump strategist hopes to make election-reversal possible at 'precinct level' — and the GOP is on board

One of the more memorable quotes from the 2020 post-election period was the one in which a Republican insider blithely told a reporter for the Washington Post that there was no harm in letting Trump cry himself out:

"What is the downside for humoring him for this little bit of time? No one seriously thinks the results will change," the official said. "He went golfing this weekend. It's not like he's plotting how to prevent Joe Biden from taking power on Jan. 20. He's tweeting about filing some lawsuits, those lawsuits will fail, then he'll tweet some more about how the election was stolen, and then he'll leave."

We all know how that turned out, don't we?

Today, the congressional Jan. 6 commission continues to subpoena witnesses and demand documents from various players in the post-election saga, and the press keeps reporting new information on exactly what went down during that bizarre period weekly. Last month, the new book from Bob Woodward and Robert Costa, "Peril," revealed the existence of a full-blown coup plot based upon a legal theory advanced by conservative constitutional lawyer John Eastman, formerly of Chapman College and a founder of the Claremont Institute, a right-wing think tank. They actually memorialized what they planned to do in writing.

The idea was to have Mike Pence refuse to acknowledge the electoral votes of certain states whose legislatures might be persuaded to send an alternate slate of electors and then declare Trump the winner based upon the remaining electoral votes. It was a cockamamie scheme, but the concept of Republican state legislatures declaring that the vote was rigged and sending an alternate slate to declare Trump the winner did not come from nowhere. I wrote this in November 2020, just a couple of weeks after the election:

Having lost over and over again in court, Trump and his team have switched to their Plan B, which, as longtime Democratic strategist Chris Marshall spelled out in detail in Salon on Thursday, is to delay the certification of the vote in certain states and try to get Republican legislatures to assign electors to vote for Donald Trump instead of the actual winner, Joe Biden. This is based on the theory that if they can create enough chaos around the election results, Republican loyalists will rise to the occasion and "save democracy" from the Democrats, who are allegedly stealing the election.

Trump's behavior with all these phony "audits," even in places like Texas where he won, is explained as an extension of that plan. They are attempting to create so much distrust in the electoral process that in the case of a semi-close election, the default "solution" will be for the (Republican) state legislatures to take over the process and decide the winner. Lest you think the courts would automatically reject such a clearly unconstitutional move, don't count on it. As the New Yorker's Jane Mayer noted:

Few people noticed at the time, but in … Bush v. Gore, Chief Justice William Rehnquist, along with Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, hinted at a radical reading of the Constitution that, two decades later, undergirds many of the court challenges on behalf of Trump. In a concurring opinion, the Justices argued that state legislatures have the plenary power to run elections and can even pass laws giving themselves the right to appoint electors.

Today, the so-called Independent Legislature Doctrine has informed Trump and the right's attempts to use Republican-dominated state legislatures to overrule the popular will. Nathaniel Persily, an election-law expert at Stanford, told me, "It's giving intellectual respectability to an otherwise insane, anti-democratic argument."

That's the legal argument. The implementation will require provocateurs to help foment the chaos and distrust on the ground. Enter Trump's former campaign chairman (and pardoned accused felon) Steve Bannon. You may recall that Bannon was heavily involved in the Jan. 6 planning, urging Trump to "kill the Biden presidency in its crib" and promising listeners of his wildly popular podcast the night before that "all hell will break loose tomorrow. It's them against us. Who can impose their will on the other side?"

ProPublica did extensive reporting last month showing that since then Bannon has been pushing a "precinct strategy," whereby MAGA followers take over the Republican apparatus at the precinct level, which in many states means they have influence over how elections are run, including the choice of poll workers and members of election boards. When Bannon announced this strategy, it "rocketed across far-right media" and suddenly people who had never before been involved in politics were volunteering all over the country, in blue states as well as red states, cities and suburbs and rural areas alike.

This strategy is the brainchild of Arizona activist Daniel J. Schultz, who has been pushing it for several years:

In December, Schultz appeared on Bannon's podcast to argue that Republican-controlled state legislatures should nullify the election results and throw their state's Electoral College votes to Trump. If lawmakers failed to do that, Bannon asked, would it be the end of the Republican Party? Not if Trump supporters took over the party by seizing precinct posts, Schultz answered.

Schultz is now a huge right-wing celebrity, has been on Bannon's show at least eight times and holds weekly Zoom calls with activists around the country. Last July he told his audience, "Make sure everybody's got a baseball bat. I'm serious about this. Make sure you've got people who are armed."

Bannon isn't confining himself to trying to destroy the democratic electoral system. NBC News' Jonathan Allen reported that he's also planning an assault on the government once he gets Trump back in the White House, as a continuation of his "deconstruction of the administrative state." To that end, Bannon held a meeting last week with "scores of former Trump political appointees" at the Capitol Hill Club and gave them their marching orders for the hypothetical day when Trump returns to power.

He was invited by a new group called the Association of Republican Presidential Appointees, which has the goal of having non-confirmable executive branch appointees ready on Day 1 to go in and take over. In practice, that means they would immediately set about systematically dismantling everything put in place under a Democratic president and deregulating everything in sight. Bannon aptly calls them his "shock troops."

Now maybe all this is just the lunatic fringe acting out and nothing will come of it. Bannon has been flogging this kind of anti-democratic strategy for a long time. But considering how radical the GOP establishment itself has become, it seems foolhardy to make that assumption. Inviting Bannon to address this ambitious new Republican group sends a clear signal that his previously outlandish ideas and strategies have become mainstream conservative thinking.

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