Salon

There are several giant holes in the arguments against Roe v. Wade

In a sign of the utter bad faith shot throughout the conservative arguments for abortion bans, the lawyers defending Mississippi's pre-viability ban in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Clinic are claiming that women don't need abortion because — wait for it — of all the great social safety net programs supporting mothers that Americans enjoy these days.

Mississippi's lawyers argued before the Supreme Court on Wednesday that "numerous laws enacted since Roe — addressing pregnancy discrimination, requiring leave time, assisting with child care and more — facilitate the ability of women to pursue both career success and a rich family life." The Washington Post also gave Mississippi attorney general Lynn Fitch space to make the breathtakingly dishonest argument that women pay no professional or economic penalty for unwanted childbearing. "[I]t has become easier for women to reach the very pinnacle of our success, economically and socially" without abortion, she writes, because, um, "[m]aternity leave and even paternity leave are commonplace." Just in case you were unsure she is a big, fat liar, she also throws in, "Men and women are sharing responsibilities in the home." (No, they are not.)

These arguments are such self-evident nonsense that there's little chance that the intent is to fool anyone. Rather it's about propping facile justifications for abortion bans that are, in reality, rooted in a misogynistic desire to punish women for having sex.

Even having to debunk these arguments feels debasing, so hats off to Claire Cain Miller of the New York Times, who took on the task. "The United States stands out for its absence of national paid leave," she writes, and child care "is unaffordable for nearly half of American families." In addition, "access to abortion for young women with unplanned pregnancies led to higher earnings, more education and a higher chance of being a professional or manager than seen in women denied access to abortion." Studies show, time and again, abortion access materially improves women's lives.

But even if the U.S. were the socialist paradise that Mississippi lawyers are pretending it is, that would not justify abortion bans.

Abortion is not an insurance plan to protect against career derailment. It's about very basic human rights: To control your body and to make very basic decisions about your life. As Julie Rikelman of the Center for Reproductive Rights argued before the Supreme Court on Wednesday, "For a state to take control of a woman's body and demand that she go through pregnancy and childbirth with all the physical risks and life-altering consequences that brings is a fundamental deprivation of her liberty." Yes, even if you get to go back to work afterward.

The abortion debate is contentious not because of inadequate maternity leave, but because it cuts right to the heart of the larger struggle over whether or not women should be regarded as full human beings. It's why even having this debate over maternity leave and social safety nets feels debasing. It's undergirded by this assumption that women are too dumb to know what they need and want and so need a little coercion to understand the endless supposed bliss that awaits them after they are forced to give birth.

Fitch has been heavily promoting the claim that having a baby is always the best thing, and if a pregnant person doesn't agree, it must be because she's stupid and needs correction. She even told EWTN Pro-Life Weekly host Catherine Hadro that banning abortion is a gift because "the mothers that will get the chance to really redirect their lives," and women "can have these beautiful children and you can have your careers." The premise is that all women are in a permanent state of wanting to have a baby, and if they say otherwise, it must be under duress.

But this idea that women never truly want an abortion is a total and demonstrable lie.

In the U.S., 6 out of 10 abortion patients have already had a baby. They are fully educated in the joys and challenges of motherhood, and that knowledge is informing their choice to abort this particular pregnancy. In countries that really do have the social safety net that Mississippi is pretending exists here, abortion has not vanished. The abortion rates in countries like France and Sweden are comparable to the United States, even though they have much more generous maternity leave and child care policies. Wealthier countries do have lower abortion rates, but that's because contraception access leads to lower overall pregnancy rates. But as long as there's unintended pregnancy, there will be abortion.

That's because a very basic, unchanging fact about human nature: People want to have a lot more sex than they want to have babies. Yes, even women. People have sex when it's not the right time for a baby. People have sex with partners who aren't the right fit to have a baby with. People have sex even when they've had as many children as they want to have. Contraception makes this safer, but it's not foolproof. Which is why you can throw as many maternity benefits as you want at women, but they will still need access to abortion.

Conservatives get away with this bad faith, because of a larger cultural prudery. There's a general unwillingness, even among a lot of progressives, to defend women's sexuality without caveat. Conservatives want to prop up this ideal of women as asexual beings who only have sex to please men and/or have babies. Abortion's popularity, however, exposes the truth: Lots of women have sex with men they don't want to have a baby with — either right now or ever.

Rather that just let women be, the Christian right wants to use abortion bans to punish women for not adhering to their sexist demands. Progressives should not let red herring arguments about maternity leave or child care distract us from that fact.

Moderate Republican officials are fleeing the party in droves

Moderate Republicans are declining paths toward higher office, or withdrawing from their positions altogether, as the GOP becomes increasingly essentialized by right-wing extremism following Donald Trump's presidency.

On Wednesday, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, a two-term governor who is more popular amongst Democrats than Republicans, announced that he will not be running for re-election next year, making the seat especially vulnerable to a Democratic pickup in the deep blue state. Baker, a former healthcare executive, attributed his withdrawal to Massachusetts' ongoing need for pandemic recovery, calling another campaign of his "a distraction."

"We want to focus on recovery, not on the grudge matches political campaigns can devolve into," Baker wrote in a public letter.

As of November, Massachusetts has seen 852,527 confirmed cases and 19,373 deaths, with roughly half of the latter occurring in nursing homes. Baker came under scrutiny for an outbreak at the Holyoke Soldiers' Home in Spring of last year, according to The Boston Globe, which took the lives of 67 veterans. Baker was also harshly criticized this February over his decision to cut off the vaccines for local clinics, instead prioritizing mass vaccination sites.

Meanwhile, other GOP governors such as Chris Sununu of New Hampshire and Phill Scott of Vermont have rebuffed opportunities to pursue U.S. Senate seats.

Early last month, Sununu announced that he would be bowing out of a potential Senate bid in the midterms, effectively securing another term for incumbent Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H.

"My responsibility is not to the gridlock and politics of Washington," Sununu told reporters. "It is to the citizens of New Hampshire. I'd rather push myself 120 miles an hour delivering wins for New Hampshire than just slow down and end up on Capitol Hill debating partisan politics without results."

His withdrawal – an about-face after months of promises and hype – reportedly shocked and angered many Republicans who considered him the party's best shot against Hassan. According to POLITICO, and The Hill, some GOP strategists considered Sununu's withdrawal a "recruiting failure" on part of the GOP, whose conduct and rhetoric has in recent years apparently alienated its more centrist members.

Just days after Sununu's decision, Scott officially announced a similar course of action, echoing a long-held promise that he would not run for Senate in 2022, despite the vacancy offered up by the resignation of Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. A spokesperson for the governor said last month that Scott "has been clear that he is not running for the U.S. Senate next year. That has not changed."

According to Morning Consult, Republican strategists have for the past year been eager to lure Scott into a Senate bid, largely due to his overwhelming popularity. A poll from June to October found that Scott had a whopping 79% approval rating in his state. The Washington Examiner notes that Scott "was seen not just as [sic] Republican's strongest possible Senate candidate, but perhaps the only Republican who could even in theory win the seat."

Aside from governors, Republicans in Congress have also made moves to distance themselves from the party.

Back in October, Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., revealed that he would not be running for re-election next year. Kinzinger, a six-term congressman and no doubt one the fiercest anti-Trump Republicans, said in a video at the time that "it's become increasingly obvious to me that in order to break the narrative, I cannot focus on both a reelection to Congress and a broader fight nationwide."

Meanwhile, in the Senate, moderate Republicans like Sens. Richard Burr, R-N.C., Pat Toomey, R-Pa., and Rob Portman have all announced that they will not be seeking another term.

Georgia election workers sue far-right website 'The Gateway Pundit,' citing 'campaign of lies'

A far-right website known for spreading 2020 election conspiracies is being sued by election workers in Georgia who say they became the target of harassment and death threats as a result of the outlet's campaign to sow doubt about the legitimacy of President Joe Biden's victory.

The Gateway Pundit, a fringe political site run by two brothers named Jim and Joe Hoft, falsely claimed last year that Ruby Freeman and her daughter, Shayne Moss, had manipulated ballots last November as part of their duties as poll workers for the Fulton County elections board, which covers the Atlanta metropolitan area. The conspiracies quickly spread after then President Donald Trump himself called them out by name last December — mentioning Freeman at least 18 times during his infamous call with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger.

Now, the pair is suing the outlet for running the evidence-free claims — following similar lawsuits by election equipment companies against right-wing publications, including Fox News, Newsmax and One America News. Freeman and Moss, both of whom are Black, are two of the first individuals to take on the influential and oftentimes conspiratorial far-right media machine that gained outsize power during Donald Trump's time in the White House.

"I want the defendants to know that my daughter and I are real people who deserve justice, and I never want them to do this to anyone else," Ms. Freeman said in a statement to The New York Times.

The pair outlined the way their lives have been upended by The Gateway Pundit's conspiracies in a lengthy report published by Reuters Wednesday, claiming that they had been deluged with threatening phone calls and even people showing up at their doors late at night in an apparent attempt to intimidate them. The wire service cited several 911 calls Freeman made after these incidents:

Freeman made a series of 911 emergency calls in the days after she was publicly identified in early December by the president's camp. In a Dec. 4 call, she told the dispatcher she'd gotten a flood of "threats and phone calls and racial slurs," adding: "It's scary because they're saying stuff like, 'We're coming to get you. We are coming to get you.'"
Two days later, a panicked Freeman called 911 again, after hearing loud banging on her door just before 10 p.m. Strangers had come the night before, too. She begged the dispatcher for assistance. "Lord Jesus, where's the police?" she asked, according to the recording, obtained by Reuters in a records request. "I don't know who keeps coming to my door."
"Please help me."

According to the lawsuit, a large group of Trump supporters even surrounded Freeman's Georgia home on Jan. 6 — just as another group was storming the U.S. Capitol building in a last-ditch attempt to stop the certification of President Joe Biden's victory. Luckily Freeman had already fled her home on the advice of FBI agents, who predicted accurately that the day would become volatile. She apparently did not return home for more than two months following the incident.

Freeman and Moss' lawsuit was filed Thursday in a Missouri circuit court in St. Louis, where Jim Hoft maintains a residence. According to the Times, the pair is being represented by a nonprofit called Protect Democracy, a nonpartisan group "focused on resisting authoritarianism in the United States."

The lawsuit does not indicate a sum Freeman or Moss is seeking — instead, they are asking for damages to be "determined at trial."

Missouri's GOP governor attacked mask mandates — and concealed evidence that they work

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson's administration withheld an analysis showing that COVID mask mandates saved lives as Parson railed against mask requirements, according to an investigation by the Missouri Independent.

A study conducted at the request of Parson's office in early November found that mask requirements helped reduce COVID infections during a spike following the spread of the delta variant, according to the report. The study compared infection and death rates in St. Louis and St. Louis County and Kansas City and Jackson County with the rest of the state. The state's health director, Donald Kauerauf, wrote to Parson's office that the analysis showed that mask mandates were effective, according to emails obtained by the Independent and the Documenting Covid-19 project.

"I think we can say with great confidence reviewing the public health literature and then looking at the results in your study that communities where masks were required had a lower positivity rate per 100,000 and experienced lower death rates," Kauerauf wrote.

But the analysis was never made public and was not even shared during cabinet meetings with top state officials, according to the emails.

Missouri is one of just six states that never implemented a statewide mask mandate at any point in the pandemic. Parson has repeatedly criticized mask mandates, calling them "WRONG" in a tweet earlier this year and arguing that vaccinated people should not be subject to mask requirements, even though data shows that vaccinated people can still be infected and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that vaccinated people wear a mask in public in areas of substantial or high transmission. Missouri is currently experiencing another increase in infections after a delta variant wave over the summer. The state reported a positivity rate higher than 12% on Thursday, more than twice the national average.

Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt earlier this year even sued St. Louis, St. Louis County, Kansas City and Jackson County in an effort to block their mask requirements.

The local governments "imposed an unlawful, arbitrary, and capricious mask mandate that is not supported by the data or the science," Schmitt's lawsuit argues. He filed a similar lawsuit against Columbia Public Schools.

The state's own data shows that between April and October, jurisdictions that imposed mask mandates reported 15.8 cases per day per 100 residents compared to 21.7 per day in communities without mask requirements.

"More than anything it confirms for us what our public health experts have been saying, that masks are an effective tool for reducing community transmission," Nick Dunne, a spokesman for St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones, told the Independent.

Despite Schmitt's lawsuit and Parson's criticism, the administration has allowed local governments to set their own health rules. St. Louis County and St. Louis still have mask mandates in place, though they've been lifted in Kansas City and Jackson County.

"This data shows that the public health experts, the St. Louis Metropolitan Task Force, and the St. Louis County Department of Public Health make good decisions to protect our community," St. Louis County Executive Sam Page told the outlet.

Kauerauf has also backed mask requirements since starting the job in September.

"I rely (on) the experts at the CDC on that. Everything I've read, everything I've seen: Masks work," he said at his first press conference.

Schmitt's office said that the analysis will not affect its lawsuits challenging mask rules.

"We dispute this premise and these charts," spokesman Chris Nuelle told the Independent. "We've been clear that Missourians should have the right to make their own decisions, and that government bureaucrats shouldn't be mandating masks or vaccines. We will continue to fiercely litigate our lawsuits against mask mandates in Missouri."

Medical experts called out the state for putting residents at risk by fighting mask mandates and withholding data showing that they work.

"It's devastating to see what the Missouri governor did since mask policies do reduce the spread of COVID-19 and would reduce the number of people who become sick and die in Missouri," Julia Raifman, a health law and policy professor at Boston University who oversees the COVID-19 U.S. State Policies Database, told the Independent. "It's devastating to see policymakers not implement policies that would reduce the number of children who are growing up without their parents."

Former federal prosecutor insists we'll see 'a tidal wave of criminal charges against Donald Trump'

Former federal prosecutor Glenn Kirschner has been speaking the blunt truth about Donald Trump's criminal conduct for years. He's not stopping now just because most of the media, and most Democrats in Congress for that matter, have moved on. I spoke to Kirschner, who is now an NBC News legal analyst, in a recent "Salon Talks" episode about Steve Bannon's indictment and more.

During our conversation, we kept coming back to is Kirschner's conviction that the disgraced former president is still a very real threat to our nation. And Kirschner, who served for more than 30 years as a federal prosecutor, is adamant that the only way to neutralize that threat is by prosecuting Trump for his crimes, ranging from those he may have committed in his effort to overturn the 2020 election to possible crimes arising from his mishandling of the pandemic.

Kirschner believes there's actually a case to be made against Trump for all the lies and misinformation he spread about the coronavirus and how to defeat it, from his intentional falsehoods about the nature of the threat to his disgraceful conduct designed to undermine safeguards, such as mask mandates, entirely because he believed it helped him politically. Kirschner, who formerly headed up the homicide unit of the U.S. attorney's office in Washington, D.C., told me that Trump's "grossly negligent conduct was reasonably likely to result in death or serious bodily injury to another."

Regarding the possible crimes arising from the Jan. 6 Capitol attack, Kirschner said this about Trump's apparent role: "If you don't punish an attempted overthrow of the government, an insurrection, a rebellion, we're going to get more rebellions. That's just common sense." Watch my Salon Talks interview with Kirschner here or read a transcript of our conversation below to hear him lay out the case for manslaughter charges against Trump himself, and discuss the likelihood that prominent Trump allies are on their way to prison.

This conversation has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

Let's start with Steve Bannon. He's been indicted. Can you explain why there was a delay in this indictment? What do you think actually prompted the Department of Justice and the U.S. attorney in D.C to finally indict him?

We were on Steve Bannon indictment watch for 22 days from the day he was voted in contempt and referred for prosecution to the D.C. U.S. attorney's office until the U.S. attorney finally presented it to the grand jury and the grand jury indicted him for two counts of contempt of Congress. Twenty-two days. We know historically it's been done in as few as nine days. It was done to a Reagan-era EPA official named Rita Lavelle. Twenty-two days may sound like a long time. First of all, it wasn't that long. It takes some time to put a quick investigation together, present it to the grand jury and have them vote out an indictment. But I really think the holdup was because there was an acting U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia in place at the front end of that 22-day period.

I've worked for more than 10 U.S. attorneys in D.C. Some of them were acting, some of them were interim, some of them were presidentially appointed and Senate-confirmed. Ordinarily when you have an acting U.S. attorney, that person just tries to keep the trains running on time, not make a lot of waves, not take on a lot of high-profile decisions. The new permanent U.S. attorney was confirmed by the Senate and took over one week before Steve Bannon was indicted. His name is Matt Graves, a former colleague of mine. He's a good man. He's a thoughtful man. He was a public corruption prosecutor when he was in my office. One week after he arrived, bam, Steve Bannon indicted. I think that's an important tell and some foreshadowing about how promptly the new D.C. U.S. attorney is going to go about his business.

Steve Bannon said at his press conference, after going to court for the first time, "They took on the wrong guy this time." He said, "It's the misdemeanor from hell." You know the new U.S. attorney in that district. How do you think he's going to respond to that?

Steve Bannon has a rude awakening coming, because he's going to be convicted if he opts to go to trial. Why? Because the offense he committed, contempt of Congress, requires the prosecutors to prove that he was served a lawful subpoena and that he failed to appear. The fact that he is raising executive privilege — first of all, he doesn't have any. He could say, "I am invoking magical unicorn privilege," and it would be equally persuasive.

I don't want to get down into the weeds of executive privilege, but when you get a subpoena, you have to show up. If you have any privilege — executive privilege, attorney-client privilege, parishioner privilege, doctor-patient privilege — you begin answering questions. If the questions begin to make their way into privileged information, you say, "I hereby invoke the privilege." The Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination, for example.

The way you don't handle it is to thumb your nose at a subpoena and refuse to show up. This is going to be a very easy criminal case to prove. Steve Bannon will be convicted. And under the statute, if he's convicted of contempt of Congress, each count carries a minimum of one month in jail and a maximum of one year in jail. He will see jail time in the event he's convicted.

In your view, it's clear he has no legal defense. What about the case of Mark Meadows, the former White House chief of staff? He seems to be communicating, through his legal counsel, with the Jan. 6 committee, but he seems very reluctant to respond to a subpoena. Does Meadows have a potentially more valid defense?

Mark Meadows has no defense for failing to appear on the subpoena. Now, he may have a more legitimate, more viable executive privilege claim, because he was actually part of the administration at the time these communications were had. But what he was required to do under the subpoena is to appear and assert, question by question, whether he was invoking executive privilege or not.

I'll give you an example, Dean. The first question is going to be, "Sir, please state your name." "No, I invoke executive privilege." Mark, you have no executive privilege over your name. And the questions would have progressed in that fashion until maybe questions involving executive privilege got asked. That's when you invoke the privilege. What that does is it creates a record and defines the parameters of what the witness is actually invoking executive privilege on, and then that can be litigated.

You make a great point for people who think, well, maybe Mark Meadows has executive privilege, as he was White House chief of staff until the very end. You've got to go there, and you or your counsel invoke the privilege. You don't just blow off a subpoena. I saw you tweeting about Stephen Miller, yukking it up on Fox News. He was served as well. Maybe Meadows sends a message to Miller, Kayleigh McEnany, Bernard Kerik and all the rest, because I imagine they're going to follow suit. If nothing happens to Meadows, they're going to claim the same things.

You are far more likely to see the McEnanys and the Stephen Millers appear on the subpoenas now and then maybe try to invoke whatever privilege they believe they have. I do predict that, as you say, other witnesses are now going to begin appearing and they're going to challenge the subpoena in other ways. That's why this was a really important step for both the House Select Committee and the Department of Justice to have taken against Steve Bannon.

I want to shift gears a little bit. A lot of people have talked about the potential criminality of Donald Trump in connection with Jan. 6, which we'll talk about in a minute. But everyone has just forgotten or not even addressed the idea of Trump's potential criminal culpability for his lies and what could be manslaughter charges around COVID. You just put out a video on this very point. Please tell people why you think, as a former federal prosecutor who was chief of the homicide unit in D.C., why Trump may have committed crimes in connection with his handling of COVID.

If you look at a relatively low level of homicide, every jurisdiction, every state has its own laws, its own statutes. They call the crime different things. Some jurisdictions call it negligent homicide. In D.C. we call it involuntary manslaughter, but it's a relatively low level of homicide. Donald Trump's conduct, even just what we've seen publicly reported, satisfies — in my opinion as a former career homicide prosecutor — the three elements that we're required to prove to hold somebody accountable for involuntary manslaughter.

Those are that somebody acted in a grossly negligent way. Donald Trump acted in an intentionally criminal way when he lied to the American people about the nature, the transmissibility and the way that you can protect yourself against contracting COVID. He lied to the American people about that. We can prove that because he told Bob Woodward, on tape, the true state of affairs and then he walked right out to the cameras and he lied to us.

The one incident that really sticks with me, that I think would be a marquee piece of evidence in a Donald Trump prosecution for avoidable COVID deaths, would be when he told Jeff Mason, wonderful reporter standing in the Rose Garden during a press conference. He told him, "Take off the mask." And Jeff Mason said, "Mr. President, I choose to protect myself. I'll speak up my more loudly but I'm not going to take off the mask." Trump then mocked him and said, "Oh, I guess you want to be politically correct."

Dean, what message did Donald Trump's base, the people who for whatever reason, decide to listen to and credit what Donald Trump says, what message do you think they took away from that? "Oh, the president just told me I don't need a mask. And beyond that, he would mock me. He would belittle and demean me and call me 'politically correct' if I wore a mask. I am not wearing a mask." Donald Trump put people in harm's way unnecessarily.

The three elements: that he acted in a grossly negligent manner. He did. That his grossly negligent conduct was reasonably likely to result in death or serious bodily injury to another. When we're dealing with a deadly pandemic, you can check that element off the list. The third element is the one that sounds more complicated or harder to prove, which is that your grossly negligent conduct caused the death of another. But causation has a legal definition. It is that your conduct is a substantial factor in bringing about the death of another. And Donald Trump's conduct was a substantial factor in people declining to protect themselves against the coronavirus. That is a strong case for involuntary manslaughter. It just takes some strong, brave prosecutors to bring the charge and then put it in front of a jury. As long as it's a fair and impartial jury, they will hold Donald Trump accountable, in my opinion.

To remind people, because so much has gone on since then, on Feb, 7, 2020, Trump told Bob Woodward point blank that COVID-19 was "deadly stuff," noting it was five times more deadly than even the most serious flu. Then, on Feb. 26, Trump goes before the cameras, when America's looking for answers, and says, "We view this the same as the flu." He lied to the American people, knowing the risks. That's really where the crux of the criminality could be in this: knowingly misleading people when you know the risk, you know people are looking to you, you have an obligation. You're not some random guy. You're the president of the United States and people are misled to their death because of this. What would it take for a prosecutor to have the courage to file that complaint against Trump?

If I were still at the D.C. U.S. attorney's office, working murder cases on Jan. 21, I would have begun presenting evidence to the grand jury of Donald Trump's responsibility for avoidable COVID deaths. The Department of Justice could not have stopped me. They could have fired me. That's the only way they could have stopped me, because it's the right thing to do to honor the victims and to the community.

What is it going to take, Dean? I think nobody, no prosecutor in New York or Georgia, at the Department of Justice or elsewhere, wants to be the first person to bring criminal charges against a former president. I predict, though, he will be charged and then every prosecutor will want to be the second one to bring charges, because the white-hot glare of media and political and citizen attention will be on the first prosecution. But because Donald Trump committed crimes in virtually every jurisdiction in our nation, anywhere someone died of COVID and they didn't have to, there is criminal liability. You're going to begin to see a tidal wave of criminal charges against Donald Trump, I suspect, once the first jurisdiction indicts him.

There's two other buckets of potential criminal liability against Donald Trump that I want to cover. One is the lead-up to Jan. 6. We've learned more about what we saw that day. We keep learning more and more information about Donald Trump behind the scenes, working with people, trying to get the DOJ to help him overturn the election based on a lie. There was no good faith. It was corrupt. It was bad motive. What potential criminality could Trump face?

There is one overarching conspiracy to commit offenses against the United States that I believe Donald Trump and Jeffrey Clark and John Eastman and Donald Trump Jr., Rudy Giuliani, Mo Brooks — all the people who participated in not only the run-up to Jan. 6, lying to the American people to gin them up, to get them upset about their vote being stolen when in fact it wasn't stolen, but then also participated in the events of Jan. 6 and beyond. I believe there is a very easy charge and it's been brought in the recent past by Bob Mueller. It's called conspiracy to commit offenses against the United States.

I urge everybody to go to the DOJ website because it sets out in a paragraph, in layman's terms, just how broad and sweeping a criminal offense that is. Remember Bob Mueller indicted the Internet Research Agency in Russia on that charge. Why? Because they interfered in our free and fair elections. That is precisely what Donald Trump and company did. They tried to overthrow election results, overthrow our democracy.

That is one overarching conspiracy charge that they're on the hook for. There are lots of other pigeonhole crimes. There is a seditious conspiracy, rebellion. There are any number: Inciting an insurrection is a crime I maintain that Donald Trump fulfills all those federal criminal statutes. I'm optimistic that the Department of Justice is quietly, the way they should be, investigating all these crimes. It's not just a House select committee. I believe in my heart of hearts, knowing many of the people at the Department of Justice, that they're quietly going about their business. How can you not? When you see all this evidence of criminality and there's clearly what we call adequate predication — enough evidence to open a criminal investigation — I don't believe for a minute DOJ is turning a blind eye and saying, "We're happy to give our republic away to Donald Trump. We're not going to investigate these crimes." I don't believe that for a minute.

For Jan. 6, you touch on the idea of seditious conspiracy, which is a crime. But what about the simplest one, incitement to riot? Because we're learning more and more that it seems that it really was, I'm not going to say organic. Those people showed up because Trump lied to them for two months. He radicalized them like an ISIS recruiter. They came there for that but it doesn't seem they planned it, "We're going to attack the Capitol this way or that way." Trump's speech, the fact that he brought them there, incited this. That was what lit this fuse. What rises to the level of inciting a riot? Which was on federal property so it would be a federal crime.

I think one of the most important evidentiary components of what Donald Trump did on Jan. 6 that makes him criminally responsible for what his supporters did after he ginned them up is that everything he said and did came from a place of fraud and lies and deception. He took that group of people and he said to them, "Your vote was stolen from you. Your election was stolen from you. Your president is being stolen from you and if you don't go up the street and fight like hell, you're not going to have a country anymore."

Then Rudy Giuliani said, "Go down there, trial by combat." Mo Brooks, Don Jr.: They said, "Go down there, kick ass and take names." This all came from a platform of lies, fraud and deception, which gives not only the act that you need but gives the mental state, because he lied to the people about all of it. He basically used that angry mob as a weapon in his hand. He pointed that weapon at the Capitol and pulled the trigger. And that bullet headed up the street and they attacked the Capitol. To do what? To stop what was going on in the certification of the Electoral College vote count.

That's what Donald Trump told them to do. He gave them a directive, an action word: Go up there and stop it. And the fact that he called it a steal, he was saying, "Stop the vote count" — that is an attack on our democracy. He used the word "steal," which is a fraudulent word. That's what gives him the corrupt intent necessary to hold him accountable for those crimes.

And think about what came before this: His Department of Justice officials telling him, "Mr. President, there is no systemic fraud that undermines the election results." Donald Trump said, "I don't care. Just say there was and leave the rest up to me and my Republican friends in Congress." Dean, what I've just described in the last three minutes is the opening statement in the trial of Donald Trump for inciting the riot and the insurrection. It's right there plain as day, we just need to present it to a jury.

Let's take it a little broader. Right now we're seeing violence from people on the right against school board members, against nurses and doctors over COVID mandates, even against Republican officials who speak out against Donald Trump. If Trump is not prosecuted criminally for his actions — the fact that he's not been prosecuted so far, is that emboldening his people to do this?

Yeah, not only is it emboldening everybody because, listen, if we didn't punish bank robbers, we'd have a whole lot more bank robberies. If you don't punish an attempted overthrow of the government, an insurrection, a rebellion, we're going to get more rebellions. That's just common sense. But even beyond emboldening people, here's how Donald Trump will spin it if he is not indicted by the Department of Justice for the many crimes he inarguably committed. He will say, "The Department of Justice has given me a stamp of approval for everything I did because if it was a crime, they would have prosecuted me. They didn't. That means they vouch for me in everything I did. It wasn't criminal and I'm going to do it again." Again, this is not rocket science. This is just common sense law enforcement.

When you take a big-picture look at where we are now as a nation, how concerned are you for our democracy given that Trump has not been prosecuted and people on the right are celebrating, including Republican elected officials. We're seeing Republicans who are more upset with other Republicans who vote for the infrastructure bill than with Congressman Paul Gosar, who put out a video cartoon where he's literally killing AOC. It seems that the GOP has embraced violence or at least has no problem with it. And at the same time, they're passing laws — at least 33 laws in 19 states — to make it harder to vote.

Here's something that I think is a positive that is likely to come out of all of this. I think the Republican Party is writing its own obituary because I don't believe that what they're doing is sustainable. I don't believe it's a way to grow the party or even to keep the Republicans that have thus far not walked away. When everything you're banking on involves voter suppression laws and demonizing minorities, whether immigrants or African Americans, or when you have no actual agenda to offer, all you have is hate and division and propping up a criminal former president, that's not a winning formula for the future. It may be the only thing they feel like they have at this moment to try to retain power, but it's not a long-term winning strategy.

I think the Republican Party falls and there's probably a new version of it that is born from the Liz Cheneys and the Adam Kinzingers of the world, who retain their conservative principles but they also retain their morality and their love of country and their defense of democracy. That is where the future of the Republican Party is. But the old Republican Party is dying. I think it has to die completely and then a new Republican Party has to come up from the ashes to replace it. That is what I see as the long-term strategy, as long as we can keep our democracy up and running in the meantime. That, I think, is the challenge.

Trump DOJ lawyer Jeffrey Clark faces contempt charge after Jan. 6 committee vote

The House committee charged with investigating the Capitol riot on Wednesday moved to hold a Trump-era DOJ official, Jeffrey Clark, in contempt for refusing to cooperate with its congressional subpoena.

The panel, led by chairman Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., unanimously voted to recommend charging Clark, but also conceded in delaying an official House vote on his contempt charge since the ex-DOJ lawyer agreed to be deposed on Saturday. The agreement came after weeks of slow-walking by Clark, who has repeatedly shut down the committee's attempts to uncover his role in backing Trump's election fraud claims.

Thompson this week called the Clark's maneuver "a last-ditch attempt to delay."

"Even though Mr. Clark previously had the opportunity to make these claims on the record, the Select Committee will provide him another chance to do so," the panel's chairman said. "I have informed Mr. Clark's attorney that I am willing to convene another deposition at which Mr. Clark can assert that privilege on a question-by-question basis, which is what the law requires of someone who asserts the privilege against self-incrimination."

Clark, the former assistant attorney general for the DOJ's Environment and Natural Resources Division, first made headlines over his alleged role last year in pressuring state lawmakers and Trump-era DOJ officials to pursue the former president's baseless claims of allegation fraud. Specifically, Clark circulated a letter last December calling on the Georgia state assembly to investigate voter fraud in the Peach State.

"The Department will update you as we are able on investigatory progress, but at this time we have identified significant concerns that may have impacted the outcome of the election in multiple States, including the State of Georgia," Clark wrote at the time, even when the agency held concerns of no such significance.

At one point, Trump and his allies reportedly hatched a scheme to replace then-Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen – who refused to support Trump's claims – with Clark, but the plan never materialized.

Despite Wednesday's agreement, the extent to which Clark will ultimately cooperate with the January 6 panel remains unclear, The New York Times noted.

Early last month, Clark made an appearance for a deposition schedule on November 5, but exited before the proceeding was finished. Investigators reportedly intended to ask him questions about his letter addressing alleged voter fraud in Georgia, among other matters, but the ex-DOJ official refused to answer them, citing executive privilege.

"The privileges that are under the overall umbrella of executive privilege are numerous," Harry W. MacDougald, Clark's lawyer, told the committee at the time.

On top of this gambit, The Wall Street Journal reported that Clark has also invoked his Fifth Amendment for fear of self-incrimination.

Meanwhile, Trump has filed a lawsuit against the committee for seeking access to White House records related to the Capitol insurrection, though his legal attempts to block the committee's offensive have yet to prove successful in court.

The omicron variant has now reached the United States — here's what you should know

The omicron variant of COVID-19 has, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), reached the United States.

The virulent coronavirus strain, which was first detected in South Africa, was confirmed to have arrived in California via a person who had recently visited that country. According to President Joe Biden's health adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci, the individual was fully vaccinated but had not yet received a booster shot, meaning that theirs constitutes a breakthrough case. (Fauci added that policymakers may need to redefine what it means to be fully vaccinated.)

This person only displayed mild symptoms, which are now improving, and has self-quarantined since being diagnosed. Everyone who had close contact with that individual has tested negative, although the patient continues to test positive.

Speaking to the American public last week about the omicron variant, Biden closed America's borders to countries where the variant had been identified, urged fully vaccinated Americans to get booster shots so they could protect themselves, and pleaded with those who were not vaccinated to change that. He also suggested that the international community address the problem of vaccine inequality, noting that no one will be safe from outbreaks if only citizens of affluent countries have unfettered access to inoculations.

"The United States has already donated more vaccines to other countries than every other country combined," Biden claimed. "It is time for other countries to match America's speed and generosity."

The omicron variant is alarming to medical experts because B.1.1.529 (omicron's formal name) has 50 mutations, 32 of which are in the spike protein. That protein, so-named because it constitutes the spikes that stick out of the virus' central sphere like spines on a sea urchin, helps SARS-CoV-2 viruses enter your cells and cause infections. Since mRNA vaccines work by helping the immune system identify SARS-CoV-2 spike proteins, any mutations to the spike protein could help coronaviruses evade the vaccines. This is why other strains with these mutations have also been labeled as "variants of concern."

The omicron strain also has new mutations, including one that may make it more effective at infecting cells. Another study (which has yet to be peer reviewed) points out that omicron shares a mutation with alpha and mu that might help the virus replicate more quickly.

"The 32 mutations across the spike protein doesn't mean that it evades immunity, but it is the most [mutations] we've seen," Dr. Monica Gandhi, infectious disease doctor and professor of medicine at the University of California–San Francisco, told Salon yesterday. "In one region in South Africa, cases [of omicron] are going up really fast — it's really just dominating the screens there — and that made some people say, 'it looks like this is really transmissible' because we thought that delta was the pinnacle of being transmissible right now."

In addition to the vaccine inequity caused by unequal vaccine access internationally, new COVID-19 outbreaks and mutations have also been facilitated by the fact that many people who have access to vaccines refuse to get them. Biden announced a round of vaccine mandates in September as a means of closing that gap.

The Supreme Court shows off its contempt for women

Despite all the legalese about "stare decisis" and "reliance interests," the abortion rights hearing held at the Supreme Court Wednesday morning came down to one question: Can women's rights simply be disappeared, with the ease of shaking an Etch-A-Sketch?

Unfortunately, 6 out of 9 members of the Court seemed to strongly believe that yes, it's time to hit the reset button on that whole "treating women like full human beings" experiment after nearly 50 years, since Roe vs. Wade, of women having full human rights.Through the two hours of questioning in Dobbs vs. Jackson Women's Health, one word came to mind to describe the stance of the conservative judges: Contempt.

Wednesday's oral arguments were full of contempt for women's lives, contempt for women's intelligence, contempt for women's privacy and contempt for women's very humanity. To be sure, Center for Reproductive Rights lawyer Julie Rikelman and Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar repeatedly emphasized that women are complex human beings who have as much a right to liberty and the pursuit of happiness as anyone. But it was like talking to a brick wall of misogyny offered by the Republican appointees on the bench. The Court now seems almost certain, as was requested by Mississippi Attorney General Scott Stewart, to overturn Roe v. Wade next year.

Perhaps the most repulsive moment of the morning came courtesy of Justice Sam Alito, who is always ready to act like the biggest mansplaining creep in the highly competitive field of GOP-appointed judges. In response to Prelogar's argument that American women have come to rely on abortion rights, Alito sneeringly argued that the South had also come to rely on "white supremacy" after Plessy v. Ferguson, but that didn't stop the court from overturning it in Brown v. the Board of Education. Yes, you read that correctly: Alito compared a woman's right to control her own body to upholding Jim Crow.

And this was far from the only bad faith comparison offered by the conservative justices.

At one point, Justice Brett Kavanaugh ran down a long list of cases he felt like overturned historical precedent, in the way he clearly would like to overturn Roe — including Brown and, more recently, Obergefell v. Hodges, the case that legalized same-sex marriage. Prelogar did her best to rebut this claim, pointing out that these decisions to overturn precedent expanded human rights, and overturning Roe would take them away. But the conservatives don't seem inclined to view women as humans with rights, and so ignored this crucial point.

Those were the most egregious, but the inability of the conservatives to imagine women as real people behaving in discernibly human ways defined most lines of questioning during Wednesday's arguments. At one point, Chief Justice John Roberts explored the possibility of setting the national abortion limits at 15 weeks, which is the current Mississippi law under debate, instead of overturning Roe entirely. He dug into Rikelman about how 15 weeks should be enough "opportunity for choice" for women seeking an abortion, even though it's actually only about 11 weeks since the missed period. The implication, of course, is that anyone who needs that long is somehow too lazy or stupid to deserve rights. (Though apparently not to lazy or stupid to be a mother!) But, as Rikelman pointed out, poverty and other abortion restrictions often drive women to spend weeks trying to find the time and money to abort. In addition, a huge number of medically indicated abortions happen after the 15-week mark.

Amy Coney Barrett, the token Aunt Lydia of the 6 conservative judges, kept circling around the argument that women don't need abortion rights, because "in all 50 states, you can terminate parental rights" after giving birth. It was a question that only makes sense if one assumes women are merely ambulatory uteruses, with no feelings or internal lives at all. In the real world, however, pregnancy is a difficult process, not just physically, but emotionally. Pregnancy isn't a houseplant you stick in the corner of your house and ignore until someone comes to pick it up. You carry it with your body. People ask you about it — indeed, as anyone who has been pregnant can tell you, it's basically all people can talk to you about when you're showing. It causes all sorts of hormonal and emotional reactions, and giving up a baby your body has created is notoriously wrenching, even for those who are ready to do it.

Barrett, who has kids of her own, should understand this. But other women don't seem to register as people to her. She even snickeringly compared forced childbirth to vaccination, as if a 3 second, risk-free shot has anything in common with the permanently life-altering experience of pregnancy and childbirth.

Realizing they weren't going to get very far with their conservative colleagues with arguments about women's humanity, the liberal justices largely focused on the issue of the court's reputation. The conservative justices have been openly defensive about (entirely correct) accusations that they are "partisan hacks," as Barrett unconvincingly swore she was not earlier this year. So the liberals centered much of their questioning around concerns that overturning Roe would further degrade the court's reputation in the public eye.

"Will this institution survive the stench that this creates in the public perception that the Constitution and its reading are just political acts?" Justice Sonia Sotomayor asked at one point.

But it's hard to imagine six justices are going to be that worried about being criticized in this way. They don't take women seriously as people, so it's unlikely they care much more for the opinions of people who do view women as full human beings. As with Kavanaugh whining and crying because he had to deal with a sexual assault accusation from Christine Blasey Ford, they are all likely to double down on their sense of grievance that they even have to waste time with the women-are-people crowd. Erasing women's rights will be as easy for them as stepping on ants.

Kyrsten Sinema is taking a victory lap on infrastructure. Arizonans say not so fast

By Dr. Warren H. Stewart Sr. and Kai Newkirk, Salon

President Biden's signing of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act was an important victory for his administration and our nation. And, yes, for Senator Kyrsten Sinema, who represents our state. But Sinema's subsequent media victory lap obscures the bigger truth.

Taken as a whole, Sinema's tenure as senator is defined by obstructing the change that Arizonans need and that Americans elected a Democratic congressional majority and a Democratic president to deliver.

Consider.

Every single good thing in the bipartisan infrastructure bill (also known as the BIF) could have been passed by Democrats alone via budget reconciliation. In fact, it could have been passed along with so much more that has been left to the uncertain fate of the Build Back Better Act. And it could probably have been passed months ago.

The only thing the BIF actually adds to what Democrats could have already passed on their own is this: a symbolic show of bipartisanship. That has some value for a nation riven by violent polarization, true. And it burnishes Sinema's cherished brand. But at what cost?

Splitting President Biden's agenda has delayed it, and risks decimating it. As the New York Times has showed, the BIF represents a fraction of Biden's original proposal. Allowing Sinema and a tiny group of conservative Democrats to separately advance their preferred items with Republican help has enabled them to undercut everything else: extending the child tax credit; universal pre-K; paid family leave; expanding Medicare to cover dental, vision and hearing; extending Medicaid to cover millions more uninsured people; and much larger investments in creating good union jobs to build a clean energy economy. In fact, Sinema has single-handedly removed or drastically curtailed two of the most popular parts of Biden's plan: prescription drug price reform and making the rich pay their fair share in taxes.

And then there is the overarching crisis of Sinema's obsession with protecting the arcane Senate rule that Barack Obama called a "relic of Jim Crow" –– the filibuster –– at the expense of so much that her constituents need.

If it weren't for Sinema's (and Joe Manchin's) defense of the filibuster, here are the benefits Arizonans could already be experiencing or expecting soon: a $15 minimum wage, the PRO Act, gun violence prevention reform, measures to secure women's rights, the Dream Act and broader immigration reform, anti-LGBTQ discrimination laws, and –– most importantly in a constitutional democracy –– protections to ensure free and fair elections in which everyone has the freedom to vote. Measures on every one of these issues have passed the House and have all (or nearly all) 50 Democrats on board. Only the filibuster stops them from becoming law.

On voting rights –– a right that, as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. emphasized in his "Give Us the Ballot" speech in 1957, empowers the realization of all others –– Sinema's betrayal is especially inexplicable and urgent for Arizonans. The same Arizona Republican Party that embarrassed us all with the baseless, taxpayer-funded 2020 election "audit" has pushed through legislation to subvert our elections and reduce Arizonans' access to the ballot. And the same Republican U.S. Senate caucus that failed to hold Trump accountable for inciting a violent attempt to overturn our election on Jan. 6 has used the filibuster three times this year to block the Senate from even debating compromise voting rights legislation. It is clear that the only way to deliver federal protection for this most basic constitutional right is to remove the filibuster as an obstacle.

Yet Sinema stands in the way.

For someone who, like Sen. Sinema, claims the great John Lewis as a personal hero, the very notion of indulging in celebratory satisfaction with one's service while simultaneously obstructing the urgent defense of the sacred right Lewis shed blood to protect is simply disgraceful.

We can appreciate the important good in the bipartisan infrastructure act without ignoring how much more good Sinema's obstruction has stymied.

It's undeniable: when we zoom out from the headline of the moment, the vast range of life-changing benefits and protections that Sinema is obstructing vastly outweigh those she has helped deliver. That's not cause for a victory lap for Sinema. It's cause for an about-face.

Don't be fooled by the hype. Arizonans deserve much better from Sen. Sinema.

'What voter suppression looks like': Rejected ballot requests up 400% after new Georgia voting law

Georgia election officials rejected absentee ballot applications in the state's municipal elections this month at a rate more than four times higher than during the 2020 election cycle, in large part as the result of new restrictions on voting passed by Republican state lawmakers.

Election officials rejected 4% of absentee ballot applications ahead of the Nov. 2 elections, up from less than 1% in 2020, according to an analysis by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Most of the absentee ballot applications rejected last year were duplicates of applications that had already been submitted, often because voting groups or local governments sent out multiple forms to voters.

The new Georgia law, SB 202, requires absentee ballot applications to be submitted at least 11 days before the election, while the previous deadline which was the Friday before Election Day. Data shows that 52% of the rejected applications were denied because they were submitted too late under the new law. Another 15% were rejected because of missing or incorrect ID information under the new law.

Most of those people ended up not voting at all. Only about 26% of people whose ballots were rejected because of the deadline voted in person on Election Day, according to the AJC analysis.

"This is what voter suppression looks like," charged state Sen. Michelle Au, a Democrat.

Though full voter file data will not be released by the state until next year, 19% of people who requested an absentee ballot did not submit one before the polls opened on Election Day, according to the New Georgia Project Action Fund, a voting rights group. Based on 2020 trends, the group estimates that 13% of people who requested an absentee ballot ended up not voting at all this year, nearly double the 2020 rate, Aklima Khondoker, the group's chief legal officer, told Salon.

The data shows the "voter suppression law working as intended," tweeted former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

Georgia Republicans passed the law after Joe Biden carried the state last November and Democrats won both U.S. Senate runoff races amid an expansion of absentee voting during the COVID pandemic. A record 1.3 million Georgia voters cast absentee ballots in the 2020 election, with two-thirds of them voting for President Joe Biden.

The law also restricts ballot drop boxes, imposes new ID requirements and includes provisions that critics say could allow Republican lawmakers to subvert elections.

Local election officials have also expressed concern that voters could be disenfranchised by the new deadline.

"The 11-day deadline is too far in advance of Election Day to adequately serve voters, particularly when there is no provision for voters with unforeseen circumstances who learn shortly before Election Day that they cannot vote in person," Tonnie Adams, who oversees elections in Georgia's Heard County, said in an affidavit supporting a challenge to the law.

More than a half-dozen lawsuits have been filed challenging the law, including a suit filed by the Justice Department. Attorney General Merrick Garland said in June that the Georgia law was enacted with the "purpose of denying or abridging" the rights of Black voters in violation of the Voting Rights Act.

"In the November 2020 general election, Black voters were more likely than white voters to request absentee ballots between ten and four days before Election Day," the DOJ suit says. "In addition, of the absentee ballots requested during this period, those that were successfully cast and counted were disproportionately cast by Black voters."

Khondoker called out Republican lawmakers for rushing through the bill without a "racial impact analysis," arguing that the increased rejection rates "show just how damaging that kind of negligence can be to communities of color."

"Since we know that Black voters in Georgia were more likely to request absentee ballots than white voters in 2018, 2020, and the January 5th [U.S. Senate] Runoff, restrictions to voting by mail clearly impact those voters at disproportionate rates," Khondoker said in a statement to Salon. "In a crucial swing state that was decided by 12,000 votes, this kind of seemingly boring or technical administrative burden that the state legislature placed on voters of color could swing the entire nation's trajectory."

Some absentee voting advocates backed the law, arguing that the previous five-day deadline was too short to allow many voters to return their ballots.

"The way it was before, you almost were setting voters up to fail," Amber McReynolds, CEO of the National Vote at Home Institute, told AJC. "That's actually a best practice to cut it off so that voters are actually receiving the ballot with enough time to get it back."

But McReynolds wrote on Twitter that because the Georgia law also restricted drop-off options, the 11-day cutoff should be "revisited" to set an "appropriate deadline to ensure voters have enough to time receive, vote & then return their ballot."

Georgia State Election Board member Sara Tindall Ghazal, a Democrat, said the deadline should be between five to seven days before Election Day.

"Far too many voters end up being disenfranchised," she told AJC. "It leads to many voters getting their applications rejected and not able to access their ballot otherwise."

Marc Elias, a prominent Democratic lawyer who filed a lawsuit challenging the law, said that the increased rate of rejections is a "feature" of the law, "not a flaw."

"This law wasn't designed for 'election integrity' as Republicans have claimed — it was designed to make it harder for voters to reach the ballot box," Elias' voting advocacy group, Democracy Docket, said in a statement.

Kristin Clarke, the first Black woman to head the Justice Department's civil rights division, alleged at a press conference earlier this year that many of the law's provisions were "passed with a discriminatory purpose" at a time when the state's Black population and Black voters' share of ballots cast by mail continues to increase.

"The provisions we are challenging reduce access to absentee voting at every step of the process, pushing more Black voters to in-person voting, where they will be more likely than white voters to confront long lines," Clarke said. "SB 202 then imposes additional obstacles to casting an in-person ballot."

Georgia is just one of a growing number of Republican-led states that passed restrictive voting laws this year amid a torrent of baseless conspiracy theories about Donald Trump's election loss. Garland vowed to go after "laws that seek to curb voter access" in other states but acknowledged that the Justice Department has limited power unless Congress passes the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would restore a Voting Rights Act requirement for states with a history of racial discrimination to pre-clear any electoral changes with the DOJ. The bill has stalled in Congress after Republicans filibustered the bill and Democrats like Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema have resisted calls to reform the filibuster rule to pass voting rights legislation.

"If Georgia had still been covered" by the pre-clearance requirement, Garland said, it is "likely that SB 202 would never have taken effect."

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