With midterm elections approaching, John Oliver discusses what happens after the votes are in, how some elected officials might try to negate legitimate election results, and which teletubby would taste best.
Heather Cox Richardson | Letters from an American
February 14, 2022
It appears there was a reason for the former president’s unhinged rant of yesterday suggesting that members of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign had spied on him and that “in a stronger period of time in our country, this crime would have been punishable by death.”
Trump is likely unhappy because of a letter his accountants, the firm Mazars, sent to the Trump Organization’s chief legal officer on February 9. That letter came to light today when New York Attorney General Letitia James, who is investigating the finances of the Trump Organization, filed new court documents to explain why she wanted to question Trump and his adult children under oath.
The Mazars letter told the Trump organization that Trump’s financial statements from years ending June 2011 through June 2020 could not be relied upon to be accurate, and that it should tell anyone relying on those documents—banks, for example—that they were not reliable. It went on to say there was now a “non-waivable conflict of interest” with the Trump Organization that meant that Mazars was “not able to provide new work product” for the organization.
Lawyer George Conway interpreted the letter for non-lawyers. He tweeted:
“‘decision regarding the financial…statements’=they are false because you lied
‘totality of the circumstances’=the D.A. is serious
‘non-waivable conflict of interest’=we are now on team D.A.
‘not able to provide new work product’=sorry we’re not going to jail for you”
That is, it appears that Mazars is now working with James’s office. Last month, James’s office alleged that there is “significant” evidence that the Trump Organization manipulated asset valuations to obtain loans and avoid taxes. Now Trump’s accountants appear to be working with her office and have said that Trump’s past ten years of financial statements “should not be relied upon.”
This will probably be a problem for the banks that have loaned money to Trump. Their officers have likely relied on the accuracy of the information Trump provided, and according to lawyer Tristan Snell, the lenders could now call in loans early or otherwise change the terms of their agreements.
The Trump Organization jumped on the statements in the Mazars letter that “we have not concluded that the various financial statements, as a whole, contain material discrepancies,” and that “Mazars performed its work in accordance with professional standards” to claim that it is exonerated from any wrongdoing. “This confirmation,” it wrote, “effectively renders the investigations by the DA and AG moot.”
NBC legal analyst Glenn Kirschner tweeted: “Trump Org[anization] tries to spin it as a complete exoneration (& G[eorge] Orwell blushes).” Orwell was famous for identifying “doublespeak,” language that reverses the meaning of words.
But while the fear of what it means for him that his accountant has dropped him might have inspired Trump’s rants about executing Hillary, the same does not hold for Representative Jim Jordan (R-OH), who on Sunday’s Fox & Friends broadcast agreed with Trump that Clinton’s aides had spied on him, and implied the punishment for such alleged espionage should be death.
The normalization of violence as part of the mainstream Republican Party is cause for concern.
Heather Cox Richardson | Letters from an American
February 7, 2022
It appears that the Republican National Committee’s censure of Representatives Liz Cheney (R-WY) and Adam Kinzinger (R-IL), along with its declaration that the riot at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, was “legitimate political discourse,” has created a problem for Republican lawmakers as they try to position the party for the midterms and the 2024 election. Coming, as the statement did, just after former president Trump said that Pence had the power to “overturn the election” and that if reelected, Trump would pardon those who attacked the Capitol, it has put the Republican Party openly on the side of overturning our democracy.
Trump loyalists have been insisting that the rioters were “political prisoners,” and clearly the RNC was speaking for them. This wing of the party got a boost this evening when venture capitalist Peter Thiel, the libertarian whose wealth Forbes estimates to be about $2.6 billion, announced that he is stepping down from the board of Meta, the parent company of Facebook, to focus on electing Trump-aligned candidates in 2022. Thiel famously wrote in 2009 that he “no longer believe[s] that freedom and democracy are compatible,” and deplored “the vast increase in welfare beneficiaries and the extension of the franchise to women” after 1920.
It also got a boost today when the Supreme Court halted a lower court’s order saying that a redistricting map in Alabama violated the Voting Rights Act by getting rid of a Black majority district. Alabama’s population is 27% Black, which should translate to 2 congressional seats, but by the practice of “packing and cracking”—that is, packing large numbers of Black voters into one district and spreading them thinly across all the others—only one district will likely have a shot at electing a Black representative. The vote for letting the new maps stand was 5 to 4, with Chief Justice John Roberts siding with the liberals against the new right-wing majority, in control thanks to the three justices added by Trump.
But the backlash against the RNC’s statement suggests that most Americans see the deadly attack on our democracy for what it was, and Republican lawmakers are now trying to deflect from the RNC’s statement.
RNC chair Ronna McDaniel said that media quotes from the resolution are a “lie” and says the committee did not mean it to be taken as it has been. But other Republicans seemed to understand that the RNC has firmly dragged the Republican Party into Trump’s war on our democracy.
National Review called the statement “both morally repellent and politically self-destructive,” and worried that “it will be used against hundreds of elected Republicans who were not consulted in its drafting and do not endorse its sentiment.” If indeed the RNC simply misworded their statement, the editors said, “its wording is political malpractice of the highest order coming from people whose entire job is politics.”
Sunday, former New Jersey governor Chris Christie, who seems to entertain hopes for 2024, said on ABC’s This Week that “January 6 was a riot incited by Donald Trump in an effort to intimidate Mike Pence and Congress into doing exactly what he said in his own words—overturn the election.”
But others, like Senator Todd Young (R-IN), seem to be trying to split the baby. Young told Christiane Amanpour that those saying the attack was legitimate political discourse are “a fringe group,” although the RNC is quite literally the official machinery of the Republican Party. Young is up for reelection in 2022. He is also from Indiana, as is former vice president Mike Pence, who seems to be positioning himself to take over the party as Trump’s legal woes knock him out of the running for 2024.
On Friday, Pence told the Federalist Society that Trump was “wrong” to say that he, Pence, had the power to overturn the election. But he did not say that Biden won the election fairly. Then, on Sunday, Pence’s former chief of staff Marc Short seemed to try to let Trump off the hook for his pressure on Pence, telling Chuck Todd on Meet the Press that the former president “had many bad advisers who were basically snake oil salesmen giving him really random and novel ideas as to what the vice president could do.”
They seem to be trying to keep Trump’s voters while easing the former president himself offstage, hoping that voters will forget that the Republican leadership stood by Trump until he openly talked of overturning the election.
Representative Adam Schiff (D-CA), chair of the House Intelligence Committee and a member of the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol, seems unlikely to stand by as the country moves on, as the National Review editors indicated they were hoping. As he said in his closing at Trump’s first impeachment trial: “History will not be kind to Donald Trump. If you find that the House has proved its case, and still vote to acquit, your name will be tied to his with a cord of steel and for all of history.”
The other big news of the past day is that it turns out that Trump and his team mishandled presidential records, suggesting that we will never get the full story of what happened in that White House.
By law, presidential records and federal records belong to the U.S. government. An administration must preserve every piece of official business. Some of the documents that the Trump team delivered to the January 6 committee had been ripped up and taped back together, some were in pieces, and some, apparently, were shredded and destroyed. Legal commentator Asha Rangappa noted that Trump’s impeachments mean that such shredding could have amounted to an obstruction of justice.
Today we learned that the National Archives and Records Administration had to retrieve 15 boxes of material from Trump’s Florida residence Mar-a-Lago, including correspondence with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and the letter that former president Barack Obama left for Trump (which would have brought a pretty penny if it were sold). Trump aides say they are trying to determine what other records need to be returned.
Former Republican Kurt Bardella noted, “If this had happened during a Democratic Administration while Republicans were in the majority, I guarantee you [the Oversight Committee] would be launching a massive investigation into this and writing subpoenas right now to any and every W[hite] H[ouse] official that was involved in this.”
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton used the story to raise money for her progressive organization, Onward Together. She linked to the story as she urged people to “Take a sip from your new mug as you read the news.” With the tweet was the picture of a mug with her image and the caption “But Her Emails.”
House January 6 committee member Jamie Raskin (D-MD) says that the committee is planning to hold public hearings in April or May. They have been slowed down by the reluctance of the Trump team to cooperate.
Heather Cox Richardson | Letters from an American
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.”
Heather Cox Richardson | Letters from an American
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.