Judge to Trump “No one is above the law”

Heather Cox Richardson | Letters from an American

HCR
Heather Cox Richardson

January 19, 2022

Just before midnight last night, New York Attorney General Letitia James announced 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” and is taking legal action “to force Donald Trump, Donald Trump, Jr., and Ivanka Trump to comply with our investigation.” She concluded: “No one is above the law.”

James is overseeing a civil case against the Trump organization and is cooperating with a criminal case overseen by the Manhattan district attorney, Alvin Bragg, who recently took over from Cyrus Vance, Jr. When Eric Trump testified in the investigation overseen by James, in 2020, he invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination in response to more than 500 questions.

This morning, Maggie Haberman of the New York Times reported that the news of James’s insistence that he and his family testify has pushed former president Trump to decide to run for president in 2024. CNN’s Jim Sciutto pointed out Trump seems to think that so long as he is running for office, he can persuade people that investigations are all political. In addition, since the Department of Justice decided internally in 1973 that sitting presidents cannot be prosecuted, it is reasonable to assume he thinks that the White House would protect him from ongoing civil or criminal lawsuits.

Those lawsuits might well include some related to the events of January 6. Today the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol issued subpoenas to Nicholas J. Fuentes and Patrick Casey. The two men are leaders of the “America First” or “Groyper” movement, extremist white nationalists trying to inject their views into mainstream politics through trolling and provocation. Both spread lies about election fraud and were at the January 6 insurrection.

The committee’s letter to Fuentes notes that he urged his followers to “storm every state capitol until January 20, 2021, until President Trump is inaugurated for four more years,” and told supporters to show up at the homes of politicians to push their views. Fuentes received more than $250,000 in Bitcoin from a French computer programmer; Casey received $25,000 from the same donor. The FBI is interested in those donations.

This evening, the Supreme Court denied Trump’s request to block the National Archives and Records Administration from sending documents from the Trump administration concerning the January 6 insurrection to the January 6 committee. The vote was 8 to 1. Justice Clarence Thomas, whose wife, Ginni, supported the January 6 rallies, was the dissenting vote.

The Big Lie from the former president that he had won the 2020 election and been cheated of victory led to the January 6 insurrection; it has now led to a crisis in voting rights, as Republican-dominated state legislatures have rewritten their laws since the 2020 election to suppress Democratic votes and hand election counting over to partisan Republicans.

That, in turn, led the Democrats to try to establish a fair baseline for voting rights in the United States by passing the Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act. The new bill would end partisan gerrymandering, stop dark money in elections, establish early and mail-in voting systems, provide for online registration, and make sure votes are counted fairly. It would modernize and limit the protections for minority voting that Congress first established in 1965 and the Senate renewed unanimously as recently as 2006.

The bill became a lightning rod, as it illustrated the gulf today between Democrats, who want to use the federal government to regulate business, protect civil rights, provide a basic social safety net, and promote infrastructure, and Republicans, who want to stop those things and throw the weight of governance back to the states. If Republican-dominated state legislatures are permitted to keep the laws they have passed limiting voting, they will continue to pass discriminatory laws, including ones that limit women’s constitutional rights, stop the teaching of any material that legislators see as “divisive,” and so on.

Today, the voting rights bill was before the Senate, which is evenly divided between 50 Republicans and 48 Democrats and 2 Independents who caucus with the Democrats. While the numbers of senators on each side are equal, the numbers of constituents are not: the Democrats and Independents represent 40.5 million more people in our nation of about 332 million than the Republicans do.

But the changing Senate rules have permitted Republicans to stop any legislation they dislike with a mechanism called the filibuster, which means that it takes 60 votes to bring any measure to a vote. This essentially requires a supermajority for any legislation to pass the Senate. But there is a loophole: financial bills and judicial appointments—the two things Republicans care about—have been exempted from the filibuster. That leaves Democrats fighting to find ways around Republican obstructionism to pass the measures they care about.

Today marked the showdown between these two visions. It was instructive first because it was an actual Senate debate, which we haven’t seen for years now as Republicans have simply dialed in filibusters. When debate began this morning, while few Republicans showed up, most Democrats were present.

It was instructive also because Democrats defended the right to vote in a democracy, while Republicans insisted that the Democrats were trying to get a leg up over the Republicans by grabbing power in the states (although the federal government protected voting rights in the states until 2013). Passionate speeches by Georgia Senators Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, Angus King of Maine, Amy Klobuchar of Wisconsin, Chris Murphy of Connecticut, and all their Democratic colleagues, sought to bring Republicans around to defending the right to vote.

It didn’t work. Tonight, Senate Republicans used the filibuster to block the Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act from advancing to a final passage by a vote of 49 to 51, with all Democrats except Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) voting yes (he voted no for procedural reasons). But when Schumer brought up a vote to change the filibuster to a talking filibuster for this bill, meaning that Republicans would actually have to debate it rather than just saying no to it, Democrats Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) joined the Republicans to kill the measure. In addition to stopping this law, they badly undercut Biden and the Democrats who have wasted months negotiating with them.

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

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

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

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

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

Will we permit the loss of hard-fought voting rights?

Heather Cox Richardson | Letters from an American

HCR
Heather Cox Richardson

January 16, 2022

Republicans say they oppose the Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act because it is an attempt on the part of Democrats to win elections in the future by “nationalizing” them, taking away the right of states to arrange their laws as they wish. Voting rights legislation is a “partisan power grab,” Representative Jim Jordan (R-OH) insists.

In fact, there is no constitutional ground for opposing the idea of Congress weighing in on federal elections. The U.S. Constitution establishes that “[t]he Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations.”

There is no historical reason to oppose the idea of voting rights legislation, either. Indeed, Congress weighed in on voting pretty dramatically in 1870, when it amended the Constitution itself for the fifteenth time to guarantee that “[t]he right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” In that same amendment, it provided that “[t]he Congress shall have the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”

It did so, in 1965, with “an act to enforce the fifteenth amendment to the Constitution,” otherwise known as the Voting Rights Act of 1965, a law designed to protect the right of every American adult to have a say in their government, that is, to vote. The Supreme Court gutted that law in 2013; the Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act is designed to bring it back to life.

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was a response to conditions in the American South, conditions caused by the region’s descent into a one-party state in which white Democrats acted as the law, regardless of what was written on the statute books.

After World War II, that one-party system looked a great deal like that of the race-based fascist system America had been fighting in Europe, and when Black and Brown veterans, who had just put their lives on the line to fight for democracy, returned to their homes in the South, they called those similarities out.

Democratic president Franklin Delano Roosevelt of New York had been far too progressive on racial issues for most southern Democrats, and when Harry S. Truman took office after FDR’s death, they were thrilled that one of their own was taking over. Truman was a white Democrat from Missouri who had been a thorough racist as a younger man, quite in keeping with his era’s southern Democrats.

But by late 1946, Truman had come to embrace civil rights. In 1952, Truman told an audience in Harlem, New York, what had changed his mind.

“Right after World War II, religious and racial intolerance began to show up just as it did in 1919,” he said. ”There were a good many incidents of violence and friction, but two of them in particular made a very deep impression on me. One was when a Negro veteran, still wearing this country’s uniform, was arrested, and beaten and blinded. Not long after that, two Negro veterans with their wives lost their lives at the hands of a mob.”

Truman was referring to decorated veteran Sergeant Isaac Woodard, who was on a bus on his way home from Georgia in February 1946, when he told a bus driver not to be rude to him because “I’m a man, just like you.” In South Carolina, the driver called the police, who pulled Woodard into an alley, beat him, then arrested him and threw him in jail, where that night the police chief plunged a nightstick into Woodard’s eyes, permanently blinding him. The next day, a local judge found Woodard guilty of disorderly conduct and fined him $50. The state declined to prosecute the police chief, and when the federal government did—it had jurisdiction because Woodard was in uniform—the people in the courtroom applauded when the jury acquitted him, even though he had admitted he had blinded the sergeant.

Two months after the attack on Woodard, the Supreme Court decided that all-white primaries were unconstitutional, and Black people prepared to vote in Georgia’s July primaries. Days before the election, a mob of 15 to 20 white men killed two young Black couples: George and Mae Dorsey, and Roger and Dorothy Malcom. Malcom had been charged with stabbing a white man and was bailed out of jail by Loy Harrison, his white employer, who had with him in his car both Malcom’s wife, who was seven months pregnant, and the Dorseys, who also sharecropped on his property.

On the way home, Harrison took a back road. A waiting mob stopped the car, took the men and then their wives out of it, tied them to a tree, and shot them. The murders have never been solved, in large part because no one—white or Black—was willing to talk to the FBI inspectors Truman dispatched to the region. FBI inspectors said the whites were “extremely clannish, not well educated and highly sensitive to ‘outside’ criticism,” while the Blacks were terrified that if they talked, they, too, would be lynched.

The FBI did uncover enough to make the officers think that one of the virulently racist candidates running in the July primary had riled up the assassins in the hopes of winning the election. With all the usual racial slurs, he accused one of his opponents of being soft on racial issues and assured the white men in the district that if they took action against one of the Black men, who had been accused of stabbing a white man, he would make sure they were pardoned. He did win the primary, and the murders took place eight days later.

Songwriters, radio announcers, and news media covered the cases, showing Americans what it meant to live in states in which law enforcement and lawmakers could do as they pleased. When an old friend wrote to Truman to beg him to stop pushing a federal law to protect Black rights, Truman responded: “I know you haven’t thought this thing through and that you do not know the facts. I am happy, however, that you wrote me because it gives me a chance to tell you what the facts are.”

“When the mob gangs can take four people out and shoot them in the back, and everybody in the country is acquainted with who did the shooting and nothing is done about it, that country is in pretty bad fix from a law enforcement standpoint.”

“When a Mayor and City Marshal can take a…Sergeant off a bus in South Carolina, beat him up and put out…his eyes, and nothing is done about it by the State authorities, something is radically wrong with the system.”

In his speech in Harlem, Truman explained that “[i]t is the duty of the State and local government to prevent such tragedies.” But, as he said in 1947, the federal government must “show the way.” We need not only “protection of the people against the Government, but protection of the people by the Government.”

Truman’s conversion came in the very early years of the Civil Rights Movement, which would soon become an intellectual, social, economic, and political movement conceived of and carried on by Black and Brown people and their allies in ways he could not have imagined in the 1940s.

But Truman laid a foundation for what came later. He recognized that a one-party state is not a democracy, that it enables the worst of us to torture and kill while the rest live in fear, and that “[t]he Constitutional guarantees of individual liberties and of equal protection under the laws clearly place on the Federal Government the duty to act when state or local authorities abridge or fail to protect these Constitutional rights.”

That was true in 1946, and it is just as true today.

GasLit Nation: Merrick Garland Both Sides the Coup

January 12, 2021

GASLIT NATION WITH ANDREA CHALUPA AND SARAH KENDZIOR

It has now been over a year since the worst attack on the Capitol since 1812, and Attorney General Merrick Garland has responded to the ongoing threat of bloody sequel coups and the rapid erosion of our democracy with…a tepid speech. We break down his weasel words and analyze his “probe” that consists of rounding up minor participants and giving them sentences so light or slow that they can commit vehicular manslaughter while they wait, and discuss why he continues to ignore the criminal elites at the helm.

Lawyer says Trump is immune from any legal consequences. Judge may disagree

Heather Cox Richardson | Letters from an American

HCR
Heather Cox Richardson

January 10, 2022

Today, U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta held a hearing in Washington, D.C., to determine whether three lawsuits against former president Trump and a number of his loyalists should be permitted to go forward.

The lawsuits have been filed by Democratic members of the House and Capitol Police officers injured on January 6 against Trump, lawyer Rudy Giuliani, Donald Trump Jr., Representative Mo Brooks (R-AL), and others. The plaintiffs are trying to hold Trump and his team liable in a civil suit for inciting the January 6 insurrection.

But the questions in these three cases mirror those being discussed by the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol, and touch on whether the former president committed a crime by inciting insurrection or by standing back while the rioters stopped the official proceedings of Congress (which itself is a crime).

Most significantly, Judge Mehta grappled with the meaning of Trump’s refusal to call off the rioters for 187 crucial minutes during the insurrection as they stormed the Capitol. This is a key factor on which the January 6th committee is focused, and Mehta dug into it.

While Trump’s lawyer tried to argue that the president could not be in trouble for failing to do something—that is, for failing to call off the rioters—the judge wondered if Trump’s long silence indicated that he agreed with the insurrectionists inside the Capitol. “If my words had been misconstrued…and they led to violence, wouldn’t somebody, the reasonable person, just come out and say, wait a second, stop?” he asked.

The judge also tried to get at the answer to whether the actions of Trump and his loyalists at the rally were protected as official speech, or were part of campaign activities, which are not protected. Brooks told the judge that everything he did—including wearing body armor to tell the crowd to fight—was part of his official duties. The Department of Justice said this summer that it considered the rally a campaign event and would not defend Brooks for his part in it.

Trump’s lawyer, Jesse Binnall, argued that Trump is absolutely immune from any legal consequences for anything he said while president. “So the president, in your view, is both immune to inciting the riot and failing to stop it?” Mehta asked.

When Binnall suggested the judge was holding Trump to a different standard than he would hold a Democrat, Mehta called the charge “simply inappropriate.”

For all their bluster before the media, key figures in the events of January 6 appear to be increasingly uncomfortable. Last night, Representative Jim Jordan (R-OH) joined other Trump administration figures when he announced that he would not appear before the January 6th committee. It has asked him to testify voluntarily, since he has acknowledged that he spoke to Trump on January 6, and since the committee has at least one text from him appearing to embrace the theory that the election results could be overturned.

Jordan claimed that the committee has no legitimate legislative purpose, although a judge has said otherwise.

Observers today noted that Jordan is denying that he recognizes the authority of Congress, and pointed out that in 2015, then–Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did, in fact, recognize that authority when she testified for 11 hours before a Republican-led House Select Committee on Benghazi.

Today, establishment Republicans showed some resistance to Trump’s attempt to remake the Republican Party as his own when they made a desperate push to stop litigating the 2020 election and instead to move forward. Senator Mike Rounds (R-SD) appeared Sunday on ABC News, where he said the 2020 election was “fair” and that Trump lost. “We simply did not win the election, as Republicans, for the presidency,” he said. The former president then issued a rambling statement asking: “Is he crazy or just stupid?”

Rounds retorted that the party must focus on “what lies ahead, not what’s in the past.” Senator MItt Romney (R-UT) jumped aboard, tweeting that Rounds “speaks truth knowing that our Republic depends upon it.” Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski actually made fun of Trump on Friday with a local political news outlet, mocking his endorsement of the Alaska governor’s reelection only if the governor did not endorse Murkowski.

In North Carolina today, eleven voters filed a challenge with the State Board of Elections to Madison Cawthorn as a candidate for reelection on the grounds that he is disqualified by the third section of the Fourteenth Amendment, which prohibits from holding office anyone “who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any state legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any state, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof.”

North Carolina law says “[t]he burden of proof shall be upon the candidate, who must show by a preponderance of the evidence of the record as a whole that he or she is qualified to be a candidate for the office.”

In late December 2021, Cawthorn told supporters to “call your congressman and feel free—you can lightly threaten them…. Say: ‘If you don’t support election integrity, I’m coming after you. Madison Cawthorn’s coming after you. Everybody’s coming after you.’” Cawthorn spoke at the January 6 “Stop the Steal” rally before the crowd broke into the Capitol, suggesting he supported the attack, then voted against accepting the certified ballots from certain states. Cawthorn continues to question the legitimacy of Biden’s election and, last summer, warned there could be “bloodshed” over future elections.

The group filing the challenge promised it would be the first of many.

GasLit Nation: The Save Democracy Challenge

December 29, 2021

GASLIT NATION WITH ANDREA CHALUPA AND SARAH KENDZIOR

Meet the patriots of the Gaslit Nation 2020 Save Democracy Challenge! We speak to superheroes who organized, stayed engaged, and did what they could wherever they were, often facing threats and other pressures, to help save our democracy in 2020. Their efforts matter, made a difference, and planted powerful seeds for protecting their communities, and therefore our country.