The House Judiciary Committee has lined up whistleblowers to testify about alleged political interference inside the Justice Department, committee aides told POLITICO on Tuesday, as Attorney General William Barr continues to rebuff efforts by the panel to reschedule testimony he committed to in March.
The whistleblower hearing, which has yet to be formally scheduled, is part of a series of steps the panel intends to take in the coming weeks to push back against Barr, who they say has rejected renewed efforts to testify before the Democrat-led panel. The panel is also proposing to slash Barr's personal budget by $50 million, a response to the mounting frustration with the attorney general's resistance to scheduling his first appearance before the panel that oversees his Justice Department.
In addition, the committee will imminently file a brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals opposing the call by the Justice Department to force the dismissal of the charges against former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who had previously pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI but had recently sought to withdraw that plea.
A Justice Department spokesperson said officials informed the Judiciary Committee late Monday that Barr could not testify because of White House orders prohibiting cabinet officials from testifying to Congress without approval from White House chief of staff Mark Meadows. It's unclear if Barr sought Meadows' approval for a waiver from the prohibition on testimony.
This guidance has been in place since March, and Democrats have decried it as overly restrictive and selectively applied.
DOJ also indicated that it would wait to make Barr available until the "return of regular order to the House of Representatives," a jab at the House's decision to conduct most of its business remotely in recent weeks. DOJ also indicated it was willing to make Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen available, but committee Democrats are insistent on hearing from Barr.
"I am not going to spend months litigating a subpoena with an Attorney General who has already spent years resisting the courts and legitimate congressional oversight—but neither will we stand by and allow Mr. Barr to continue to corrupt the Department," Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) said in a statement. "We do not take these actions lightly or with any sense of joy. We have both a duty and a moral obligation to protect the rule of law in our country, and we intend to do just that.”
Nadler also hit back at Barr for claiming to be too tied up because of the coronavirus epidemic yet appearing with Trump Monday for his photo-op amid widespread protests in Washington D.C.
"He told the Committee that he could not find the time to testify because of that epidemic—but took the time to tour the peaceful protests at Lafayette Park just minutes before riot police fired tear gas into the crowd," Nadler said. "Mr. Barr has thoroughly corrupted the integrity of the criminal justice system, he has shown contempt for Congress, and the Committee has an obligation to hold him to account.
Democrats have been eager for more than a year to grill Barr about a growing list of topics — from Barr's handling of former special counsel Robert Mueller’s report to abrupt reversals in the prosecution and sentencing of allies of President Donald Trump, including Flynn and the president’s longtime confidant Roger Stone. The panel held Barr in contempt for refusing to appear last spring, shortly after he issued the Mueller report, and has called for him to come before the committee to testify on a slew of other controversies since. The House also held Barr in contempt for refusing to cooperate with inquiries related to the 2020 Census.
But lawmakers are likely to be eager to question Barr about his involvement in Trump's designation of antifa — a label for an amorphous collection left-wing activists — as a domestic terror group, and his deployment of DOJ riot teams to help quell protests in Washington, D.C., that have erupted since the killing of George Floyd while in the custody of Minneapolis police.
The White House has blocked most senior officials from testifying before Congress since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, citing the crisis as a more urgent day-to-day priority. But as Congress has slowly returned to action, Cabinet officials and other senior aides have begun trickling in to Capitol Hill. Barr was slated to testify before the Judiciary on March 31, his first scheduled appearance before the committee since he was sworn in a year earlier. But the hearing was postponed as the coronavirus raged, sending lawmakers back to their districts.
Nadler, at the time, said DOJ had committed to "rescheduling the hearing for when the crisis abates and the Committee is able to reconvene." Since then, White House officials have repeatedly renewed the restriction on congressional testimony, which is meant to apply to officials involved in the coronavirus response. Barr was seen Monday walking near the White House grounds and observing the law enforcement response when police fired nonlethal weapons and gas at protesters, clearing a space for Trump to stage a photo-op at nearby St. John's Episcopal Church, which was damaged during protests over the weekend.
It's unclear whom the Judiciary Committee has lined up for its pending "whistleblower" hearing, but Barr's involvement in the prosecutions of Flynn and Stone have sparked outrage among some veterans of the Justice Department. One line prosecutor in the Stone case, Jonathan Kravis, resigned and recently wrote an op-ed decrying political interference within DOJ after Justice Department leadership backed away from its initial sentencing recommendation for Stone.
Nadler had also previously asked Barr to make a long list of senior DOJ officials available for interviews, including Connecticut U.S. Attorney John Durham, who is reviewing the origin of the FBI's investigation of the Trump campaign's contacts with Russians in 2016, and former D.C. U.S. Attorney Jessie Liu.
Threats to defund Barr's office may be idle, since the Republican-controlled Senate is certain to object. But it's the first appropriations-related threat to the Justice Department rooted in Barr's reluctance to testify.
An amicus brief by the committee in the Flynn case is likely to act as a counterweight to GOP lawmakers, who filed their own briefs supporting the Justice Department and Flynn’s effort to drop the case against him.
A day after Donald Trump deployed police force against peaceful protesters outside the White House for a photo op, the cat's got GOP leader Sen. Mitch McConnell's tongue.
Asked Tuesday about Trump's threat of unleashing military force on American cities, McConnell dodged, declining to answer reporter questions as he exited the Senate floor.
McConnell was uniquely responsible for saving Trump's presidency, convincing his caucus to not only acquit Trump of impeachment charges but to do so without even hearing from witnesses at the show trial they staged.
As law enforcement officer-turned-Congresswoman Val Demings wrote on Twitter Monday night: "When we impeached this president, we warned that he was a dictator in waiting. I believe now what I believed then: this president is a threat to our democracy, our families, and to us."
As I have noted before, McConnell and Senate Republicans are uniquely responsible for turning Trump into the monster he is today precisely because they have condoned every single one of his lawless actions, from colluding with Russia to enlisting Ukraine's help in stealing the upcoming election to blocking all congressional oversight.
Now Trump wants to use the U.S. troops to deploy military force against American citizens and they've got nothing to say?
Sen. John Cornyn of Texas went a step further, criticizing Joe Biden's speech Tuesday morning as a campaign stunt.
"What we expect from leaders is to try to unify us, not point the finger of blame," Cornyn told Fox News. Is he f-cking kidding? Trump has spent his entire presidency sowing division among Americans and blaming everyone in the world but himself for his unprecedented string of failures.
A quick check of the Twitter feeds around 11:30 AM from Sens. Susan Collins, Cory Gardner, and Thom Tillis turns up zilch about any of the events Monday night or Trump's threat of force against American citizens.
Through their silence, Senate Republicans are complicit.
They are embracing the dictatorial tactics of Trump without saying a word, just like they have condoned every other lawless act Trump has committed since setting foot in the Oval Office.
They must be voted out because they clearly no longer support democracy.
James Woods, the famed actor and conservative activist, has an interesting point when it comes to public health and rioting.
This much is certain after all this rioting: in two weeks we’re either going to have a shitload of sick Democrats, or we’re going to realize COVID-19 was not what Democrats said it was.
— James Woods (@RealJamesWoods) June 1, 2020
For all to see on nationwide cable news, looters, arsonists, and vandals seem to be casting aside any notion of coronavirus social distancing with nary an unkind word from Democrats who only a week ago were imposing draconian measures on average American citizens if they dared to not maintain a six-foot perimeter around themselves.
Democrat governors in states such as Kansas and Kentucky (and other Democrats as well) threatened severe penalties against those who tried to go to church, or even visit loved ones, if social distancing was at risk. But today, when up close and personal material carnage and urban mayhem coincide with their anti-American agenda, the Democrat social distancing edicts are as dead as yesterday’s polling data. Presently it’s a free for all on the streets, as rioters stand COVID-ignoring arm to arm in opposing law enforcement personnel who are trying to stop them from burning down large swaths of American cities.
One wonders if social distancing, and other virus regulations, wasn’t just the latest in a line of moves to be conveniently discarded when the need no longer suited the Democrat playbook. This process started almost on the very day Donald Trump was elected president.
First he was an illegitimate president put into office by the Russians. That didn’t work. Then they made that fantasy official with the Mueller probe. Sorry, no banana. Then as soon as that went bust the narrative turned effortlessly to impeachment. They lost that too. Almost the week after the Senate vote that exonerated Trump in January, coronavirus, and its subsequent grabs for state power by various Democrat governors, came into play.
Now as the American people start to ignore virus protocols and go back to business (what’s left of it) and their lives, suddenly (as if on cue) the George Floyd riots appear on the streets of many American cities. The bridges between these attacks on the president and America seem virtually seamless.
Are we alleging a conspiracy? Hardly. The more likely explanation is opportunistic exploitation, good timing, and funding and training already in place to take advantage of probable events. Ask yourself: How many incidents of police brutality happen on a regular basis? It’s not that the police are mindless animals—far from it.
But in any organization there will be moral stragglers. Given the many scores of thousands of law enforcement personnel throughout the nation, some are bound to be bad apples who will act on their brutal instincts. When they do so, as in the Minneapolis case of Justine Ruszczyk Damond, and it doesn’t meet the proper political criterion, the case is ignored. However, when the casting fits the wolves pounce.
There are other interesting clues as well. Professionally-made signs appearing at the riots in mere hours after the Floyd killing, bricks apparently prepositioned in urban locales for the use of rioters, tactical operators ready to dispense cash and on-the-scene direction immediately in evidence and effective at their jobs, and a media narrative that switched from a pandemic that was going to kill us all (hence the need for nanny state regulations), to a virus wiped off the headlines with almost preplanned ease.
Yes, it surely seems like a deep dark NWO/deep state/Atomic Mole People gambit to corrupt our precious bodily fluids. But it’s not. It is the tactical and opportunistic expertise of a cunning enemy and their media acolytes. Next time —and there will be a next time— perhaps we can be proactive instead of constantly reactive.
This piece was written by PoliZette Staff on June 2, 2020. It originally appeared in LifeZette and is used by permission.
Read more at LifeZette:
Charlotte Police Department reveals 70% of rioters they’ve arrested are ‘instigators’ from out of state
Obama breaks his silence on George Floyd’s death: ‘Bigotry’ is ‘painfully, maddeningly normal’ in USA
Chilling footage shows Portland mob beat up unconscious man: ‘Black lives matter, f*ggot’
The post Democrats Have Forgotten About Social Distancing…When It Comes To Rioters appeared first on The Political Insider.
President Donald Trump spent Monday further fanning the flames of confrontation between protesters and police. And some Republicans are urging the president to extinguish them.
Against a backdrop of police officers with riot gear ringing the Capitol as well as protesters chanting “I can’t breathe” and “hands up don’t shoot,” Senate Republicans called for a far gentler touch than the president has displayed so far.
Some said they’d like to hear him make a national address, a move Trump had avoided for days despite deepening nationwide angst. Others implored him to empathize with those outraged over the deaths of George Floyd and other black Americans at the hands of police, even as he acted to curb riots and looting in big cities.
“We are obviously in a divisive situation right now that’s escalating, and I think he needs to make more unifying comments,” said Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.).
“The country is looking for healing and calm. And I think the president needs to project that in his tone. He masters that sometimes,” said Senate Majority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.). “That’s the tone he needs to strike right now.”
Their pleadings followed a day’s worth of presidential grievances and inflammatory rhetoric that caused many in his party to fret once against about Trump’s divisive form of politics. But there was also an acknowledgment by some Republicans that conciliation is just not in Trump’s repertoire, and many have grown tired of trying to get Trump to calibrate his inflammatory rhetoric.
“I don’t think there’s a speech the president can give at this stage that’s going to calm things down,” said Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), the only GOP senator to support Trump’s removal during his impeachment trial. “The call today with the governors, as it was reported, doesn’t calm things down.”
Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina also personally spoke to Trump over the weekend and suggested he have conversations with black leaders and law enforcement officials away from the cameras.
With more than a dozen major cities embroiled in deadly clashes between police and protesters as well as riots and looting, Trump spent Monday dressing down governors as weak and ordering them to “dominate” demonstrators.
On Twitter, Trump bragged about his poll numbers and attacked former Vice President Joe Biden as “sleepy” and his staff as “radical” for donating money to help bail out protesters. He also endorsed Sen. Tom Cotton’s (R-Ark.) idea to bring in the military to help quell protests.
There are only the faintest signs that the GOP's impatience with his combative approach are sinking in. On short notice, Trump made remarks at the White House on Monday evening and said Americans were "rightly sickened" by Floyd's death and assured that he would not "die in vain."
Casting himself as the "law and order" president, Trump said he would use the federal government to fight back against what he deemed "domestic terrorism.” Police forces dispersed a crowd of peaceful protesters outside the White House with tear gas minutes before D.C.'s curfew began. Trump said he would dispatch thousands of “heavily-armed” soldiers to enforce the curfew.
The United States now faces rising unemployment, ever-increasing coronavirus deaths and now protests in most major cities over harsh police treatment of African Americans across the United States, and some GOP senators are eager for Trump to step up.
“The president should help to heal the racial divisions in this country. It is at times like this that a president needs to speak to the nation, to pledge to right wrongs, and to calm inflamed passions,” said Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who urged Trump to address the nation and tell Americans to peacefully work to combat “racial injustice.”
Trump demands loyalty from Republicans and has dressed down those who have criticized his tone too sharply. So many are sticking with him or staying away from the topic altogether.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) agreed it would be a good idea for Trump to give a national address. But he declined to wade into whether the president was striking the right tone: “I’m not going to comment about the tone of his tweets.”
“Some people love the president, some people don't. And I don't think we're ever going to resolve that,” Cornyn said. “It would be good for him to address the nation.”
“I’m not going to speak for the president, but I just think this is a time we should just show a lot of compassion,” offered Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa).
Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), a close Trump ally, took to the Senate floor on Monday afternoon and sympathized with peaceful protesters while urging an end to the violence and reading into the Senate record details of Floyd’s death. He said it would be good for the country to hear from Trump but stopped short of urging Trump to deliver an address harmonizing with his own message.
“I can only speak for myself. What I think needs to be said is the violence, and the unrest, that does great disservice to [Floyd’s] memory and his cause,” Hawley said. “I defer to [Trump] on what he’s got to do. Every person has to speak for himself or herself.”
Hawley was one of several Republicans to come to the floor on Monday and express his revulsion at police killings of black people. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said that the country “cannot deafen itself to the anger, pain, or frustration of black Americans,” and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said that “George Floyd deserved better, all black American do.”
But some in the party doubted whether Trump’s bully pulpit could help the nation heal anyway.
“Unifying would be a good thing. But … we never really seem to be able to unify around these incidents that have gone on for a long time,” said Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.). “Going back to what happened in Ferguson in 2014, there’s a pattern that we can’t seem to figure out how to break away from.”
Quint Forgey contributed to this report.
Ukraine’s recently appointed prosecutor general, 41-year-old Iryna Venediktova, is a woman to watch. The president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, expects her to investigate and prosecute his predecessor. She seems more than enthusiastic about that, and it’s a process that's been set up from the start to (once again) try to smear Donald Trump’s leading challenger for the presidency of the United States, Joe Biden.On the night of May 19, Venediktova personally approved the beginning of criminal proceedings against former President Petro Poroshenko for high treason and abuse of office. The move was triggered by leaked recordings of confidential conversations that allegedly took place in 2015-2016 between Poroshenko and then Vice President Biden, as well as John Kerry, who was the U.S. secretary of state at the time.Before her appointment as prosecutor general in March, Venediktova—a graduate of Ukraine's police academy who holds the rank of captain—had served Zelensky as acting chief of the State Bureau of Investigations (DBR). She reportedly launched investigations into Poroshenko while in that position, and is said to have clashed with the well-respected prosecutor general at the time, Ruslan Ryaboshapka, because of the way she conducted them. Ryaboshapka was dismissed in March, clearing the way for her to take his position.The nature of the private Biden-Poroshenko recordings and the way they were leaked is reminiscent of the way the Soviet KGB exploited wiretaps and disinformation, but that has not prevented Zelensky and Venediktova from sensationalizing what’s now been put on the record.Who Leaked Biden’s Calls to Ukraine?It was first presented at a press conference given on May 19 by Andriy Derkach, a member of Ukraine’s parliament who has a very pro-Moscow past. Derkach, like Russian President Vladimir Putin, is a graduate of the former Soviet Union’s Higher School of KGB, the foreign intelligence training facility now known as the FSB Academy. In recent years Derkach has worked closely with Trump’s personal attorney, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, to promote accusations that Biden as vice president strong-armed the Ukrainian government to try to protect the interests of his son, Hunter Biden, who was serving in a lucrative position on the board of a Ukrainian gas company called Burisma. Anyone familiar with the history of Ukrainian corruption knows that Biden’s pressure on the government in 2015 and 2016 was part of a major campaign by the International Monetary Fund and the European Union, as well as the Obama administration, to get Poroshenko to clean up his act. Hanging in the balance were $40 billion in IMF loan guarantees, with a $1 billion loan guarantee from the U.S. opening the way.At the time, one key symbol of reform was the replacement of Poroshenko’s long-time crony, Chief Prosecutor Viktor Shokin, who was notorious for not convicting any major oligarchs or public officials known for corruption—even those from the infamous regime ousted by the Maidan Revolution in 2014. Starting in the mid-1990s, general prosecutors in Ukraine acquired reputations for exploiting corruption rather than fighting it. Often, prosecutions in Ukraine have been launched to shake down the targets rather than put them in prison.According to an extensive report in the British newspaper The Independent based on multiple interviews with lower level prosecutors, an investigation of the owner of Burisma, the company with Hunter Biden on the board, fit that shakedown scenario precisely. “Neither Shokin nor Poroshenko wanted to investigate [Burisma owner Mykola] Zlochevsky,” former deputy prosecutor David Sakvarelidze told The Independent. “They simply began a criminal case, arrested a few assets, and began negotiating with the corruptioneer for a bribe.”So, there are no real revelations in the Biden-Poroshenko conversations. What’s revealing is the use that Venediktova, Derkach, and Zelensky are making of them.“The leaked recordings are a nothingburger,” says Poroshenko’s defense lawyer, Ilya Novikov, borrowing a term from Biden’s spokesman. “But Venediktova rushed to open the case late in the evening after Derkach had published the leaks,” Novikov told The Daily Beast. “That to us indicates that President Zelensky personally expected his prosecutor to begin the process before his own press conference [the next day].” In fact, there is no mention of Burisma on the Derkach recordings. But the tough talk does force Ukrainian listeners to realize once again, as they did when they read the transcript of the Trump-Zelensky phone call last year, just how dependent on Washington Kyiv has become.Poroshenko clearly was reluctant to dismiss Shokin, who had been “his” prosecutor on and off for a dozen years, well before Poroshenko (an oligarch who made his fortune selling chocolate candy) moved up the political ladder to the presidency. Poroshenko can be heard on the recording telling Biden he’s willing to ditch Shokin even though, according to Poroshenko, Shokin had done nothing wrong. In a subsequent call, Biden congratulates Poroshenko on appointing a new general prosecutor.“I know there’s a lot more of that that has to be done,” says Biden. “But I really, I really think that’s good, and I understand you’re working with the Rada [Ukraine’s parliament] in the coming days on a number of additional laws to secure the IMF [loan guarantees], but congratulations on installing the new prosecutor general. It’s going to be critical for him to work quickly to repair the damage Shokin did, and I’m a man of my word, and now that the new prosecutor general is in place we’re ready to move forward in signing that new $1 billion loan guarantee.”When Derkach presented these recordings to the press in May, he publicly accused Biden of offering Poroshenko $1 billion of U.S. taxpayers’ money “in exchange for maintaining Burisma schemes and international corruption.” As Derkach described his version of the events, "Biden leaves for Kyiv to put pressure on Petro Oleksiyovych [Poroshenko] regarding Shokin. There's a powerful argument… in Biden's pocket... a $1 billion loan guarantee... such was a price to save [Hunter] Biden from prison." Then Derkach took the recordings to Venediktova. If charged, Poroshenko could face up to 15 years in prison.When President Zelensky marked the end of his first year in power the day after Venediktova drew up the treason charges against Poroshenko, he left no room to doubt he supported them and found the recordings incriminating. “I think it’s not the last sign that Ukrainians will see. The prosecutors, law enforcement bodies should react,” said Zelensky. “The prosecutor general of Ukraine registered criminal proceedings at the request of deputy [Andriy] Derkach yesterday. They will investigate.”During the impeachment proceedings that grew out of the U.S. President Trump’s notorious July 25, 2019, phone call pressuring Zelensky for dirt on Biden, Zelensky did his best to avoid taking sides. That will be harder to do if Venediktova continues to pursue the treason case based on Biden conversations. The Ukrainian president still enjoys rare popularity with an approval rating of more than 60 percent, but that is a steep decline from nearly 80 percent last year and Zelensky is the target of increased criticism. Marking the first anniversary of his presidency by threatening his predecessor with accusations of high treason does not look good. “I do not believe Zelensky,” Kristina Berdyskykh, a leading Ukrainian political journalist, said on Ukraina 24 television. “All young and progressive members have left Zelensky’s team.”As these controversies develop, Zelensky’s prosecutor will be at the center of them. Less than two years ago, Iryna Venediktova was teaching law at a university in the city of Kharkiv in eastern Ukraine. “She specialized in theory of civil and corporate law at a not very significant faculty, not on criminal justice,” a civil society activist in Kharkiv, Volodymir Rysenko, told The Daily Beast. But in a matter of months, Venediktova’s career jumped from a university teacher to a seat at the Rada. She is a member of Zelensky’s Servant of the People party, and she was made number 3 on its electoral list last year, virtually guaranteeing she would get a seat. Then she was given another head spinning job when Zelensky appointed her to be the acting director of the State Bureau of Investigation.Finally, in March, Venediktova was appointed to be Ukraine’s prosecutor general, the first woman to hold that position.“When we look at Venediktova from Kharkiv, we see nothing to be proud of,” says Rysenko. “We hear Venediktova accusing people in her interviews without any understanding of what presumption of innocence really means.” “She has little experience for such a huge job and was appointed on the basis of being a political buddy of Mr. Zelensky,” says global affairs analyst Michael Bociurkiw. “She’s reversing the reforms of her predecessor which were lauded by civil society, diplomats and the international community. She has already made several controversial appointments, reinstated incompetent or politically tainted prosecutors rightfully sacked by her predecessor, and blocked civil society and foreign partners from vetting some appointments.” The executive director of the non-governmental Anticorruption Action Center, Daria Kaleniuk, does not see any legitimate grounds for triggering a criminal case of high treason based on the recordings. “In my opinion Derkach deserves to be investigated for treason for his long-term work with people like Giuliani, for spreading disinformation and conspiracies, which undermine U.S.-Ukraine strategic relationships," Kaleniuk told The Daily Beast. "I think Zelensky still clearly indicates that he doesn’t want to interfere in the American elections and to support any side there; but I am concerned he has appointed Venediktova, who among other strange things—like blocking prosecution reform—makes this nonsense case based on Derkach audio. It shows the lack of professionalism of both the prosecutor general and the president.”For progressives in Ukraine, a huge question looming over the treason case is how the Biden-Poroshenko recordings were obtained in the first place, and who passed them on to Derkach. He claims he got them from some “investigative journalists,” but nobody knows the journalists’ names.Kyiv-based experts following the Bidens, Burisma and Trump ordeal in detail want prosecutor Venediktova to pay serious attention to the source of the leaked recordings."I personally know Derkach,” says Yevgeny Kiselev of the TV show Real Politics. “He sounds like he is the bridge between the Ukrainian and Russian special services. In our conversations he bragged about his meetings and connections in Moscow; his father, former head of the Security Service of Ukraine, was involved in publishing compromising recordings to discredit President [Leonid] Kuchma and now Derkach junior is leaking very dubious recordings." "The former foreign minister, Pavel Kilimkin, told me that Poroshenko, Biden and Kerry had lots and lots of conversations about financial aid and about the Congress approving money,” Kiselev told The Daily Beast. “He also said that Poroshenko used to invite all sorts of people to those virtual conversations, mostly to show how important he was; one of them must have recorded the conversations—that is a matter for an investigation.”The Daily Beast asked Prosecutor General Venediktova if her office has also been investigating the source of the recordings but did not receive any answer.—Christopher Dickey also contributed to this article.Read more at The Daily Beast.Get our top stories in your inbox every day. Sign up now!Daily Beast Membership: Beast Inside goes deeper on the stories that matter to you. Learn more.
As cities reel under protest and violence, Black Lives Matter leaders say the president has failed his country * George Floyd protests: live coverage * Robert Reich: the Trump presidency is over“Americans watching this address tonight have seen the recent images of violence in our streets and the chaos in our communities. Many have witnessed this violence personally, some have even been its victims. I have a message for all of you: the crime and violence that today afflicts our nation will soon – and I mean very soon – come to an end.”These were the words of Donald Trump, not in May 2020 but July 2016, as he accepted the Republican presidential nomination at the national convention in Cleveland. For many observers, there was a distinct echo of Richard Nixon’s 1968 acceptance speech – “We see cities enveloped in smoke and flame” – and a foreboding that history could take a newly dark and dangerous turn.For three years, the first president elected without political or military experience rode his luck and skirted past disaster. In the fourth year, the fates demanded payback.Not even Trump’s harshest critics can blame him for a virus believed to have come from a market in the Chinese city of Wuhan, nor for an attendant economic collapse, nor for four centuries of slavery, segregation, police brutality and racial injustice.But they can, and do, point to how he made a bad situation so much worse. The story of Trump’s presidency was arguably always leading to this moment, with its toxic mix of weak moral leadership, racial divisiveness, crass and vulgar rhetoric and an erosion of norms, institutions and trust in traditional information sources. Taken together, these ingredients created a tinderbox poised to explode when crises came.Trump, they say, was uniquely ill-qualified for this moment. He tried to wish away the threat of the coronavirus and failed to prepare, then paid no heed to how communities of colour bore the brunt of its health and economic consequences. As unrest now grips dozens of cities, he speaks an authoritarian language of “thugs”, “vicious dogs” and “when the looting starts, the shooting starts”.The nation waits in vain for a speech that might heal wounds, find a common sense of purpose and acknowledge the generational trauma of African Americans. That would require deep reading, cultural sensitivity and human empathy – none of which are known to be among personal attributes of Trump, who defines himself in opposition to Barack Obama.“He is obviously in way over his head,” said LaTosha Brown, a civil rights activist and co-founder of Black Voters Matter.“He doesn’t have a clue. He’s a TV personality. He has a cult following that’s centred around this white power broker persona rooted in white supremacy and racism. Wherever he goes, he carries that role and that kind of persona, but ultimately right now with what we’re looking for in this country is real leadership. He is incapable of providing that because that’s not who he is.”Brown added: “He’s a personality. He’s used to these dog whistles and, instead of trying to uproot division and seeing that the citizens are actually in pain and hurting, he doesn’t have the capacity to address that. He actually adds fuel to the flames and shows how fundamentally intellectually disconnected he is from what is happening and also how ill-prepared he is as a leader to respond to that.”Trump is not much a child playing with matches as an arsonist hellbent on burning it all down, Brown warned.“If it would take the destruction of the country for him to protect his position, he is willing to do that. He has shown that he is willing to kill every single thing in this country, including its people, if it protects him.> He’s willing to kill democracy. He is willing to kill any sense of real respect or trust in his government> > LaTosha Brown“He’s willing to kill democracy. He is willing to kill any sense of real respect or trust in his government. He is willing to kill America’s international and global relationships. He is a destroyer.”Rashad Robinson, the president of Color of Change, a civil rights advocacy group, said of the current moment: “This is the type of controversy that Trump feels most at home in.“He didn’t create hostility and division, but he incites it. He creates incentives for it to thrive. He has elevated and put people around him that do that as well.”The president’s suggestion of moral equivalence between white nationalists and anti-fascist protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017 failed to loosen his grip on the Republican party. Perhaps it tightened. At the start of this re-election year, feeling emboldened by his acquittal in a Senate impeachment trial and a robust economy, Trump was confident of his re-election chances.Now, with health, economic and social crises feeding off each other, polls show him trailing rival Joe Biden. But the situation remains volatile and unpredictable. The president has sought to scapegoat anti-fascist protesters, and there would be little surprise if he returned to Nixonian law-and-order rhetoric to rally Republicans and lay a trap for Democrats, portraying them as “soft on crime”.“Get tough Democrat Mayors and Governors,” Trump tweeted on Sunday, even as protesters gathered outside the White House for the third straight day. “These people are ANARCHISTS. Call in our National Guard NOW. The World is watching and laughing at you and Sleepy Joe. Is this what America wants? NO!!!”Biden has billed the election as a battle for the soul of the nation – the potential to lurch deeper into disarray with a second Trump term, or to reset, rebuild and plot a new direction. The stakes keep getting higher by the day.Robinson said: “Presidential leadership, when it comes in the form of real action, is incredibly important.“When a leader can hear the demand and the concerns and work to solve the problem, that’s the power of democracy. President Trump is not interested in either. He’s not interested in leading or solving problems. Like a lot of things he does, he’s treating this as a game.“The problem here is that we can focus this simply on Trump or we can also focus on all of those folks that have enabled Trump: the Republican leadership, the corporation that may make statements in support of this work but, on the other hand, do all sorts of things to prop up, support, donate to Donald Trump. You don’t get Trump and Trumpism without a whole host of institutions and individuals that support and enable him.”DeRay Mckesson, a leading voice in the Black Lives Matter movement, said: “Nobody’s a magician, so I don’t expect Biden to change everything on day one, but the demands should be for him to change as much of this by the end as humanly possible.“If Trump has reminded us of anything, it’s that the government can move as fast as it wants to and nobody, no person of colour, no poor person is going to win if Trump is the president again. So I’m not interested in Trump. I am interested in a plan from Biden’s team around ending police violence. I think that needs to come now. I think it is, frankly, late, and I’m hoping to see it soon.”Trump’s unconventional inaugural address in January 2017 is best remembered for a single phrase: “American carnage”. His entire presidency may be remembered for it too.
The debate over whether Congress will approve a new round of pandemic aid is over. Now it’s just a question of what’s in the package.
After brushing off Democrats’ demands for more relief, Senate Republicans now say the next major coronavirus package is likely to move in the coming weeks. And a key conflict ahead will be over how to help the 40 million Americans out of work.
The shift comes as the state of the economy grows worse and more GOP senators call for action. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is already making clear Republicans will not support an extension of the extra unemployment benefits Congress passed in March. GOP lawmakers say the additional aid — which expires at the end of July — provides a disincentive to return to work and some are now proposing alternatives they can rally behind.
Democrats counter that Congress must extend benefits for the millions struggling to pay bills as the U.S. faces its most uncertain economic climate in generations. Regular unemployment insurance, they note, covers just half of workers’ pay on average.
In fact, some top Democrats want to go further. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) is eyeing a push to automatically tie unemployment benefits to the condition of the economy, according to a Senate aide — a move that has not been previously reported. Supporters of the automatic stabilizer idea, which Speaker Nancy Pelosi has also publicly endorsed, say it would avoid the political wrangling that could otherwise threaten to hold up much-needed aid.
The divide over jobless benefits is likely to surface as one of the biggest flashpoints for McConnell and Pelosi as they lead their parties in talks on the next major aid bill. The outcome will determine not just how much help goes to the roughly 1-in-4 unemployed Americans but how the parties can position themselves in a fierce campaign where Congress and the White House are up for grabs.
McConnell said in Louisville over the Senate's Memorial Day recess that he is “still in favor of unemployment insurance,” but he strongly criticized the additional $600 each week unemployed workers get under the CARES Act, which he said hampered certain industries’ abilities to bring back workers as the economy reopens.
“What I thought was a mistake was the bonus we added that small businesses all over the country are saying make it more lucrative to not work than to work. That’s exactly the opposite of what we want to do,” McConnell said. The GOP leader also vowed to end enhanced unemployment benefits on a recent call with House Republicans.
Democrats, however, have been adamant that Congress can’t cut off that economic lifeline.
“They’ve said that they don't want workers to get this money that they need to pay rent and groceries,” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who negotiated the unemployment provisions in the March package, argued in an interview. “It expires July 31. And we'll see if they want all those workers hurting all summer long.”
The debate over the government’s role in supporting unemployed workers comes amid the worst economy since the Great Depression and as every state has begun a gradual reopening of its economy.
Some businesses — particularly in industries like food service — are struggling to bring back workers whose pre-pandemic salaries don’t match their current unemployment benefits. Other workers have complained that their previous pay isn’t enough to justify the risk of working as a virus that has killed more than 100,000 people continues to spread.
The enhanced unemployment benefits nearly tripped up the $2 trillion coronavirus relief package just hours before it was passed by the Senate in March. Several Republicans, led by Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), threatened to hold up the bill because of the provision, which Schumer called “unemployment insurance on steroids.”
Now even Republicans who were initially open to the boost in benefits are showing little interest in extending them.
“Future coronavirus relief legislation must provide a better system to help make people whole, but not receive more through unemployment compensation than they were previously earning,” Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said in a statement.
Collins was one of only two Senate Republicans alongside Cory Gardner of Colorado to oppose a Sasse amendment to cap benefits at workers’ previous salary. The Maine Republican, referring to her state’s Department of Labor, said that at the time she was “informed by both the Treasury Department and the Maine DOL that the only way to quickly begin administering expanded benefits was through a flat rate increase.“ But now, she said “states have had sufficient time to adjust“ their unemployment insurance systems.
In a sign that lawmakers are now eager to spur an economic recovery rather than just extend a lifeline, members of both parties have introduced legislation recently to boost employment with “return to work” proposals.
Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) is pushing to have the federal government subsidize business’ payrolls during the pandemic. Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) has a proposal that would provide workers with an additional $450 a week bonus on top of their current wages as an incentive to go back to work — an idea that has caught the White House’s attention.
“We need policies that encourage those individuals that can to return to the workplace to help get our economy going again,” Portman said in a statement. Top White House economic advisor Larry Kudlow said recently on Fox News that Portman’s plan is “a good idea” and “something we're looking at very carefully.”
Even as Democrats back an extension of the benefits for those out of work, many also advocate for more aggressive plans to save jobs.
Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) has a proposal supported by moderates and liberals in the Democratic caucus — as well as Schumer — to dramatically expand the employee retention tax credit. A similar provision, from Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.), was backed by the House.
Warner said in an interview there could be "some collaboration" between his proposal and Portman's, in a sign that some consensus could be found when bipartisan talks begin in earnest.
“A lot of what we’re focused on is those employees who at this point have been furloughed, how you reconnect them, but recognizing there may be some additional time before business generates enough to bring the employee back,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Labor Department is strongly encouraging state unemployment agencies to ask employers whether unemployment insurance benefit recipients refuse to return to work. Under federal rules, once workers accept unemployment benefits, they must take any suitable job offer or will become ineligible, although states have some flexibility in implementing work search requirements.
Most Democrats in the House and Senate have argued that the additional jobless benefits should last beyond the summer. A bill approved by House Democrats earlier this month would extend the extra $600 in assistance through January of next year.
“We are just seeing record-breaking unemployment rates and so many people signing up for it, it breaks your heart. But we have the unemployment insurance that will be renewed in this legislation,” Pelosi said of the House’s recently passed Heroes Act.
Democrats have also argued that lower-income Americans are often hit harder by the economic fallout. Nearly 40 percent of people with a household income below $40,000 lost their job in March, according to a Federal Reserve survey last month.
That compares to just 13 percent of people who made over $100,000 who lost their job over the same period.
Still there are a small number of moderate Democrats — particularly from areas of the country that appear to be suffering more from the recession than from the virus itself — that have privately opposed calls to extend enhanced unemployment benefits. Those Democrats say they’ve heard from employers in their district that are struggling to bring workers back who earn more on unemployment.
“This is an example of where there are two truths,” said Rep. Dean Phillips (D-Minn.), who supports renewing the aid and has closely studied the effects on small businesses.
“One truth is that yes, the $600 amplification is going to complicate things for many businesses to re-attract their employees. That is a fair assessment,” he said. “But the other truth is that we have a problem in our country with people struggling to put food on their tables and a roof over their head.”
Rebecca Rainey contributed to this report.
With reports that white supremacists instigators are behind instances of violence at protests across the nation, with the military standing by to take control of the streets, and with Donald Trump tweeting out that the blame for violence entirely lies with the “radical left,” it raises an obvious question: Is this Trump’s Reichstag fire moment? Is this the point at which Trump uses the events of the news cycle to justify the destruction of democratic institutions and the sitting aside of legal protections, in the name of racism, divisiveness, and hate?
The answer is no … and also yes. Because for Donald Trump, every moment is a Reichstag fire moment. Every moment is an excuse for hate. Every moment is an opportunity to erode civil liberties. Every moment is a chance to consolidate authoritarian control. Trump lives in Reichstag fire mode 24/7, and his election started the fire that is burning down the nation.
Just a month after Adolph Hitler was sworn into power, an arson attack on the home of the German parliament was swiftly blamed on “communist agitators” and used as an excuse to silence, imprison, or murder those whose political positions fell to the left of Nazism. But many historians believe, based on very good evidence, that the fire was actually set by the Nazis themselves, to provide justification for going after other political parties.
Since Trump’s election, there has been a continual concern about what might serve as his Reichstag fire moment. What might Trump used as a casus belli on democracy? The answer is everything.
Investigating the over 100 connections between his campaign and Russian officials was a Reichstag fire. Impeachment was a Reichstag fire. Actually exercising democracy by keeping Republicans out of control in the House in the 2018 election was definitely a Reichstag fire. But her emails was a Reichstag fire, James Comey was a Reichstag fire, Robert Mueller and unmasking that never happened and the World Health Organization and studies that come out against hydroxychloroquine are all Reichstag fires.
For Trump, the Reichstag fire isn’t an event, it’s a way of life. It’s how he governs every day—from a place that seeks to lever open racial, social, and political gaps for the purposes of furthering his own power.
So of course Trump will treat the protests against police violence are a Reichstag fire. He will make, as he always seems to, some offhand claim to seeking unity—in this case by calling the family of George Floyd—but when that action isn’t immediately greeted with universal praise and a special Nobel Prize minted in his honor, he will flip around to use this moment as an assault on everything who isn’t one of his “very fine people.” Even if those very fine people turn out to be the root cause of violence.
Trump has spent a lifetime dehumanizing Black people, from denying them apartments in the 1970s to taking out a full page ad calling for the death of five Black teenagers, to repeated that desire for blood shed long after he knew those teenagers were wrongfully accused. Racism is in Trump. To the bone. On top of this, Trump has used the language of “enemy of the people” in describing the media. In just the last week, he retweeted a message saying that the “only good Democrat is a dead Democrat,” and he spent the morning defending white supremacists.
Is this a Reichstag fire moment? Of course it is. Just like every moment, of every day, watching democratic institutions wither and die under Donald Trump.