Kevin McCarthy gets caught off guard when asked if he'll testify about his talk with Trump on Jan. 6

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy seethed with outrage at Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday during a press conference, denouncing her decision to block two of his appointees from serving on the select committee to study the Jan. 6 Capitol attack. But he seemed caught off guard when a reporter asked him if he stands by his previous commitment to testify about his phone conversation with former President Donald Trump in the middle of the insurrection.

"On May 20th, in this room, I think you told us that you were prepared to testify about your conversation with President Trump on the afternoon of Jan. 6. Do you still stand by that? Are you prepared to testify about that conversation?" the reporter asked.

In May, McCarthy had offered a short, "Sure. Next question," when asked about testifying. He has tried to downplay the significance of the conversation, but Democrats argued it was highly relevant during Trump's second impeachment. According to multiple reports, Trump told McCarthy of the people who were storming the Capitol, assaulting police, and stalling the work of Congress: "Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are." It indicated Trump's alignment with the rioters, who he had gathered to D.C. in the first place and inflamed with his false claims about the 2020 election.

On Wednesday, McCarthy appeared to regret his previous assent to testifying about the call.

"My phone call is out there," McCarthy said, shrugging, seeming to suggest there was nothing to be learned from his testimony.

In fact, the phone call is not "out there." There are multiple secondhand reports of the call, from sources on and off the record, but there's no definitive account from either of the two participants. In fact, McCarthy's claim that the record of the call is "out there" is highly deceptive since he has tried to deflect from and cast doubt on the reports about what was said. Here was his reaction when asked about the reports by Fox News's Chris Wallace in April, as transcribed by PolitiFact:

Wallace: "During the Trump impeachment in February … a Republican congresswoman said this. I want to put it up on the screen. She said that while the Jan. 6th riot was in full force, you phoned President Trump and asked him to call off his supporters. And according to you, she said, the president responded, 'Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election then you are.' Is she right? Is that what President Trump said to you?"
McCarthy: "What I talked to President Trump about, I was the first person to contact him when the riot was going on. He didn't see it. What he ended the call was saying — telling me, he'll put something out to make sure to stop this. And that's what he did, he put a video out later."
Wallace: "Quite a lot later. And it was a pretty weak video. But I'm asking you specifically, did he say to you, 'I guess some people are more concerned about the election than you are?'"
McCarthy: "No, listen, my conversations with the president are my conversations with the president. I engaged in the idea of making sure we could stop what was going on inside the Capitol at that moment in time. The president said he would help."

Clearly, he was not forthcoming about the details of the call. It was after those remarks that he agreed to testify about the conversation. That he's now backtracking on that plan suggests he's afraid of what he'll have to say.Echoing GOP Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, McCarthy continued on to try and push the blame on to Democrats, suggesting that the only relevant questions are about the security planning for the day."The question is, you make a phone call after people are in the Capitol to advise the president of what's going on — [it] doesn't get to the answer of: why were we ill-prepared?" McCarthy said. "That's really playing politics. And it really shows that that's the issue of where they want to go to. Of where they want to drive. We want to get all the answers."

This explanation makes little sense. The reason the phone call is relevant is that it is revealing about what Trump's intentions were in riling up the crowd and sending it to the Capitol. That is, of course, a fundamental part of any investigation into the causes of the attack. And it's contradictory for McCarthy to say it's he who wants to get "all the answers" while also declaring one topic of the investigation to be off-limits.

What McCarthy is trying to do is pin the blame on Pelosi for the Capitol's weak security, thus muddying the waters on responsibility for the attack and deflecting criticism of Trump and the GOP. As the New York Times explained, though, the attack on Pelosi is baseless:

Capitol security is overseen by the Capitol Police Board, which has three voting members: the sergeants-at-arms of the House and Senate and the Architect of the Capitol. Paul D. Irving, the House sergeant-at-arms at the time of the attack, was hired in 2012 under Speaker John Boehner, a Republican. The Senate sergeant-at-arms at the time, Michael C. Stenger, was hired in 2018 when Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, led the chamber.

Even if Pelosi had been responsible for Capitol security, however, McCarthy's argument would be unlikely to be effective. The Capitol shouldn't need to be protected from a violent mob inspired by the sitting president's lies. And even McCarthy himself knows this. On Jan. 13, he said:

The president bears responsibility for Wednesday's attack on Congress by mob rioters. He should have immediately denounced the mob when he saw what was unfolding. These facts require immediate action by President Trump.

In that speech, he opposed Trump's impeachment, but he was advocating for an independent commission to investigate the attack. Now, he is doing everything he can to thwart such an investigation.

In a surreal moment, Trump told the truth about his lies at CPAC

During a speech filled with lies, boasts, and bullying attacks that observers have come to expect, former President Donald Trump offered a rare moment of self-effacing honesty over the weekend to the audience at CPAC.

He brought up the conservative conference's practice of holding a straw poll to see who attendees favor to be the Republican Party's next presidential nominee — a contest which other polls suggest he still dominates. But while he was speaking, the poll hadn't been finished yet, so he telegraphed exactly how he will react no matter the results.

"You have a poll coming out, unfortunately — I want to know what it is," he said. "Now if it's bad, I disown — I say it's fake. If it's good, I say that's the most accurate poll perhaps ever."

None of this is a revelation, of course. Since at least 2015, Trump has always transparently pumped up polls that showed him doing well and attacked polls that showed him underperforming as fake. And he has, at times, playfully suggested that his criticisms are driven by self-interest and ego rather than genuine concerns about a poll's validity, though perhaps never quite as straightforwardly as he did this weekend.

Why would he admit something like this? It is, like crying foul about disappointing polls, another power play. It shows his dominance over his fans that he can admit this part of his tactics directly to them, and they laugh and eat it up. It proves how much they are in thrall to him that he can tell them he will lie to their faces, and they will beg for more. And for them, it provides a psychological defense mechanism for any time they see he's lying. Since he can admit that he lies sometimes, they can persuade themselves that his lies just prove even more how powerful he is. It's a show of dominance, and everyone who's a part of the team can feel like they're part of the dominant group. In this mindset, critical writers like me or TV pundits who bemoan the death of truth are just sore losers, sad that they're not a part of the team.

This is a well-established fact of Trump and his followers' psychology, so I normally wouldn't think it's worth mentioning in the era of his post-presidency. His remarks carry much less weight now than they did when he led the United States military. But in this case, these claims, this admission, matter because of the primary reason Trump is still relevant in American politics: the Big Lie.

The lie that Trump won the election is driving Republican legislatures to enact new voting laws they hope will cement their advantage, and the Big Lie may even potentially inspire them to circumvent election results that they don't like in the near future. It may inspire future violence, as we saw on Jan. 6. These are major threats to American democracy.

But Trump's Big Lie is based on exactly the same kind of lying he just admitted to doing at polls. In November 2020, he looked at the results in Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Arizona, Nevada, and Georgia, and he didn't like what he saw. When the counting was ongoing, he urged states that looked good for him to stop counting, and he urged states that look bad for him to keep counting, hoping the result would change. He and his team were outraged about voting procedures and changes that occurred in states where he lost, but they were silent about those same changes in states where he won. It was always transparently frivolous.

Now he's admitting, as has always been obvious, that he engages in exactly this kind of lie — this self-serving confirmation bias — that anyone should be able to objectively admit is faulty and intentionally deceptive. No one would accept it from their political opponents, and few others would openly admit that it's what they do themselves.

And yet the GOP of 2021 will hear those admissions, and it will cheer. It will craft its priorities around the obvious and intentional lie, and it will demand that the rest of the country respect those choices. That's what the modern American electorate must face up to.

Tucker Carlson's story about the NSA spying on him is filled with holes

Fox News' Tucker Carlson tried to claim vindication on Wednesday night for his claim that the National Security Agency has been breaking the law in a politically motivated effort to silence him. In reality, his allegations look increasingly shaky.

The saga began last week, on June 28, when Carlson alleged on his primetime show that the NSA was "monitoring our electronic communications and is planning to leak them in an attempt to take this show off the air." He said a "whistleblower" had alerted him to this plan and had confirmed details of Carlson's personal emails. There was a lot of skepticism about these claims, but they're hard to confirm one way or the other.

Hours before his show aired this Wednesday, Axios broke a significant development in the story. According to its anonymous sources, Carlson had recently been trying to set up an interview with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The sources also claimed that the U.S. government learned of these talks, though Axios said it hasn't confirmed that American officials obtained any of Carlson's communications.

After the story broke, Carlson confirmed on air that he had indeed been trying to set up an interview with Putin. Though he used this claim to try and bolster his allegations, it greatly diminished the impact Carlson's initial story carried. As I and others had argued, the most plausible legal way the NSA would have ended up in possession of Carlson's communications would be if he was communicating with a foreigner who was already being legally spied on by the American government; someone with ties to the Kremlin fits the bill perfectly. This reality would be much less scandalous — indeed, it's legal and commonplace — than Carlson's initial claims suggested. (And, to be clear, his communications with the Russian government would indicate no wrongdoing on his part.)

The NSA had responded to Carlson's initial allegation by saying that the host himself had never been targeted by the agency, though not denying that it had obtained his communications through some other route. This statement seemed to hint at the possibility that Carlson's communications were only incidentally collected. But Carlson was apoplectic about the agency's statement, demanding to know whether they had read his emails. He put on a dramatic show about being outraged that they wouldn't tell him, yet now we know he already knew there was a good possibility they had — because he'd been trying to make contact with the Kremlin, a pertinent fact he kept secret.

Why did he hide this crucial detail from his viewers when he first brought up the allegations against the NSA? The omission borders on deception. His outrage was plainly phony.

This Wednesday, he shifted his ground for outrage once again. Now the problem was that he had been "unmasked." "Unmasking" occurs because the intelligence community often obtains identifying details of people who aren't specifically the targets of surveillance, so internal documents conceal their personal information, even their name, for privacy reasons. Recipients of the intelligence reports can specially request to have these names "unmasked" so they can better understand the information, but they are only supposed to do so for legitimate national security reasons.

Of course, precisely because someone's identity is hidden in the "masking" process, no one can be targeted by an unmasking request. The whole point is that one asks for an unmasking when one doesn't know whose identity is concealed.

But even at this point, there's no solid reason to believe that Carlson was even unmasked. It's not clear that the Axios story is even sourced to government officials, so the sources for the information could've been tied to Carlson or the Kremlin. The only source, it seems, we have reason to believe saw Carlson's name unmasked was the whistleblower themself who contacted Carlson. If what Carlson said is true, this was a genuine national security leak and likely a crime, but it certainly wasn't done to hurt the Fox News host — it was done to help him. It's not even clear Carlson's name was ever "unmasked" at all — his source might've been someone processing the raw intelligence (assuming it exists) before it was masked. If his name was unmasked, it might've been done for a completely legitimate reason — without more details, we just can't know. But Carlson insists we believe he was unmasked for a nefarious reason.

Carlson also claimed that one journalist he knows received a copy of his communications, but he's offered no evidence of this apart from his own testimony. If it's like any of his other claims, it's not likely to live up to the hype. It's possible someone is preparing to inappropriately leak Carlson's communications, but even this circumstance — which lacks any evidence — could fall well short of the agency-wide conspiracy he has alleged.

And finally, Carlson claimed this was all done to humiliate him, intimidate him for being critical of the Biden administration, and somehow force him off the air. Of course, this would be wildly wrong and almost certainly illegal if it happened. But how, exactly, was this going to work? He even said there was "nothing scandalous" in his emails that the NSA supposedly obtained. His stated theory is that the NSA was going to use the fact that he was trying to interview Putin to tarnish him.

"The point, of course, was to paint me as a disloyal American," he claimed.

But this makes no sense. If the emails contain nothing scandalous, then NSA's plan is totally pointless and couldn't conceivably work. Carlson's objective in getting the Putin interview would be to make it public, so how could anyone at the NSA think that publicizing that fact would damage his reputation? And interviewing Putin would be nothing new for Fox News — host Chris Wallace did it in 2018.

None of this really adds up, and it all falls apart the closer you look at it. The only way Carlson's narrative really would hang together is if there really was something damaging in his emails, presumably those that were swept up in collection targeting Russians, and someone at NSA decided to capitalize on that opportunity to go after Carlson.

But even that doesn't have the ring of truth. It seems more plausible that Carlson's emails to the Kremlin were picked up by the NSA through normal means, someone with ties to the agency became aware of this fact, shared the info with Carlson, and in the process, this broader conspiracy narrative was concocted.

Under any reasonable journalistic practice, if a source came to Carlson with these explosive claims about him, he should've directed the individual to speak with reporters on the news side of the outlet to fully vet the claims. Instead, he's taken ownership of a story where he clearly has a conflict of interest and spun a fantastical tale out of it.

But what should we expect? It was, after all, U.S. District Judge Mary Kay Vyskocil who once concluded — citing arguments from Fox News' own lawyers — that Carlson's viewers should know that when he speaks on his prime time show, he "is not 'stating actual facts' about the topics he discusses and is instead engaging in 'exaggeration' and 'non-literal commentary.'"

'Trump knew': Ex-employee's story resolves a key mystery of the Trump Org indictment

In a recent piece for the New York Daily News, former Trump Organization executive Barbara Res offered an insider's view of criminal charges against the ex-president's company and its CFO, Allen Weisselberg.

Res, who worked with Donald Trump on the construction of Trump Tower in the 1980s, has a grim assessment of his integrity and business practices from that era. And while it's been decades since she worked for the man, and her time at his company dates back well before the current charges, she argued that the allegations made against the Trump Organization and Weisselberg — which include a scheme to defraud the government out of taxes on the CFO's non-salary compensation benefits — rings completely true. Based on her view of the inside of Trump's operation, the prosecutor's story lines up exactly with his typical conduct.

"Flaunting and ultimately disobeying the tax laws was a way of life," she explained. "I was on salary, but some executives on the payroll were paid as independent contractors. That meant that Trump could avoid paying his share of payroll taxes and the employee could deduct all sorts of things to diminish his income that you can't do on salary. It was a win-win for everyone except the city, state and federal governments."

Her piece also provides answers to one of the mysteries that arose in the wake of the indictment. The prosecutors accuse the Trump Organization of avoiding taxes on $1.7 million of compensation to Weisselberg over more than a decade. This is a hefty sum from any average person's perspective, and it's certainly the kind of amount that can catch the eye of law enforcement if they're paying attention. But in the perspective of the Trump Organization's size, it's really not that much money. Why wouldn't Weisselberg and Trump just pay the proper taxes? Why take the risk of avoiding taxes when it wouldn't really affect the company's bottom line in any substantial way?

These were reasonable questions. But Res provides a compelling answer, and one that accords with the way Trump behaves in public: This is just how he acts. He tries to cut every corner and cheat at everything, because he thinks he's entitled to.

"If I know the way Trump thinks, and I do, Trump never gave a serious thought about what was legal, only to whether it could be gotten away with. And as far as he was concerned, he could get away with anything. As he has proven so far," she wrote. "The man's M.O. was bending and breaking the rules for maximum profit and advantage."

Another factor, too, helps explain the rationale behind this risky conduct. According to Res, it was about maintaining loyalty from people like Weisselberg:

Trump went to great lengths to make people loyal to him. The definitive example of this was giving a job to an employee's child. This was a default for Trump; it was easy and it cost him nothing. Often Trump "found" jobs, sometimes making them up. The employee then could not go against Trump because the child would lose his job. And he did this with his most loyal employees.
Trump went even further with Weisselberg's kids. Trump paid for one to live in a very expensive apartment and gave him a lucrative job. He helped the other get a prestigious job at a company he did business with. So that made Weisselberg even more loyal and his kids super loyal.

And inducing someone to break the rules with you — to be complicit in the crime of, say, defrauding the government by concealing the true extent of your compensation — binds them to you. They have an interest in protecting you, because you're all in on the same misdeeds.

Res argues that this may even be a force that could keep Weisselberg from flipping against Trump now. She suggests Trump may know about additional criminal conduct Weisselberg engaged in, or that Weisselberg's children may have engaged in, which the ex-president could expose if he feels betrayed. But Res ultimately argues that Weisselberg will cooperate with prosecutors against Trump.

Crucially, too, she says that Trump would've been aware of the illegal tax scheme the company has been charged with.

"In my experience, as with all facets of his business, major decisions like paying someone's rent or tuition were made by Trump and Trump alone. And with his other tax avoidance schemes, Trump had his minions to carry them out — but he was always in charge," she wrote. She told several anecdotes to illustrate the point, including:

The workers who did the demolition prior to the erection of Trump Tower were not paid fair wages and most of them were illegal immigrants. When this came up in court, Trump denied having any knowledge of it. In fact, he had a man on the job watching everything that happened and reporting it back to Trump, every day. Trump knew exactly what was going on.

All this would seem to make Trump himself criminally culpable, but he remains uncharged. One reason observers suspect prosecutors want to get Weisselberg to flip is so they can get him to testify about Trump's own intent to violate the law. Then they could bring criminal charges directly against the former president, rather than just against his company.

As I recently explained, Trump seems to be anticipating this. He is already trying to push the narrative that he was ignorant about the relevant tax laws — and in this case, ignorance of the law can be a legally useful defense. Prosecutors will likely have to prove Trump willfully and knowingly violated the law if they want to criminally charge him.

For those wondering, though, there's little chance Res's account on its own will change Trump's legal circumstances or help prosecutors make the case against him. It's a compelling narrative about his past, and can lead the casual observers to draw damning inferences, but it's not the type of evidence that will likely be allowed in court, as legal experts Eric Columbus and Joyce Vance explained.

Trump is already roadtesting his defense for a possible NY indictment — but there's a big problem

One section of former President Donald Trump's rally speech on Saturday night in Florida stood out to many observers: his response to last week's indictment of his company and its CFO Allen Weisselberg.

Weisselberg and the Trump Organization were hit with a 15-count indictment from the Manhattan DA, Cy Vance, alleging a scheme to defraud the government and avoid paying required taxes on more than a million dollars worth of non-salary compensation the CFO has received for over a decade.

Trump himself was not charged in the scheme, though many argue it's hard to believe he wasn't aware of this allegedly criminal conduct — and indeed, it's hard to believe this kind of criminality wasn't widespread under his leadership. But if Vance ever chooses to try and bring a case against the former president, Trump will likely try to claim he was unaware that these crimes were occurring, or that he was unaware that what was being done was illegal. On Saturday, he started roadtesting this type of defense — which, if true, would undermine the case that he had the criminal intent required to be found guilty of the crimes in question — for his fans:

"You didn't pay tax on the car or a company didn't pay tax, or education for your grandchildren — I, don't even know what do you have to put? Does anybody know the answer to that stuff?"

Some legal commentators argued it was clear Trump was trying to establish this narrative to exonerate himself:

However, there's a big problem with this defense. It directly contradicts what Trump himself has said about his own understanding of tax law and his own company's finances. In 2017, he told the New York Times:

I know the details of taxes better than anybody. Better than the greatest C.P.A. I know the details of health care better than most, better than most. And if I didn't, I couldn't have talked all these people into doing ultimately only to be rejected.

And this wasn't just out of thin air — it literally followed his own discussion of businesses' tax liabilities:

The tax cut will be, the tax bill, prediction, will be far bigger than anyone imagines. Expensing will be perhaps the greatest of all provisions. Where you can do something, you can buy something. … Piece of equipment. … You can do lots of different things, and you can write it off and expense it in one year. That will be one of the great stimuli in history. You watch. That'll be one of the big. … People don't even talk about expensing, what's the word "expensing." [Inaudible.] One year expensing. Watch the money coming back into the country, it'll be more money than people anticipate.

His remarks aren't particularly articulate about the subject matter, but given his interest in the topic, it's a stretch to believe he was completely in the dark about what kinds of company expenses created tax obligations for him and which did not.

In 2016, too, he also suggested that he's able to pay low or no taxes because he's "smart." He also said: "As a businessman and real estate developer, I have legally used the tax laws to my benefit and to the benefit of my company, my investors and my employees. Honestly, I have brilliantly — I have brilliantly used those laws."

This could and should be interpreted as mostly candidate bluster, but it severely undermines his ability to later claim to a court that he's completely befuddled by the mechanics of paying taxes.

Regardless of these and similar comments, Trump might still get away with claiming that he didn't have a clue about the tax practices at his own company. The DA may feel he lacks the evidence to prove Trump's intent beyond a reasonable doubt, and he may be unwilling to go forward against such a high-profile defendant without a rock-solid case. But if charges are forthcoming, Trump has still undermined what would likely be his best defense with his boasting. And if he's allowed to skate free because he persuasively argues that he was clueless about his illegal tax practices, he'll undermine a pillar of his own ostensible political appeal. Though perhaps he's become such a symbolic figure for the right wing that the substantive case he made for his own political prowess is now largely irrelevant.

There's a big hole in Joe Manchin's new argument against a key Democratic voting rights bill

Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia officially announced in an op-ed Sunday that he would vote against the For the People Act, infuriating progressive critics who view the bill as a crucial tool for countering the Republican Party's anti-democratic tactics.

But Manchin's announcement wasn't particularly surprising, as he has repeatedly signaled that he was not fully supportive of the bill and prefers the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, a more modest proposal. Even more critically, though, he has insisted that he doesn't want to end the filibuster, the Senate rule requiring 60 votes to pass a bill, which would've doomed the For the People Act whether Manchin supported it or not. No Republican senators support the bill, and at least 10 would be needed for join all 50 Democrats to pass it into law under the current filibuster rule.

It wasn't just Manchin's opposition to the For the People Act that infuriated his critics, though. The particular arguments he gave struck many as weak, condescending, and hypocritical.

He insisted that any voting rights legislation that will pass must be bipartisan. He warned: "Whether it is state laws that seek to needlessly restrict voting or politicians who ignore the need to secure our elections, partisan policymaking won't instill confidence in our democracy — it will destroy it."

But he refused to answer the simple and natural question that this demanded raises: What if congressional Republicans refuse to support any voting rights legislation?

He wrote:

I believe that partisan voting legislation will destroy the already weakening binds of our democracy, and for that reason, I will vote against the For the People Act. Furthermore, I will not vote to weaken or eliminate the filibuster. For as long as I have the privilege of being your U.S. senator, I will fight to represent the people of West Virginia, to seek bipartisan compromise no matter how difficult and to develop the political bonds that end divisions and help unite the country we love.
American democracy is something special, it is bigger than one party, or the tweet-filled partisan attack politics of the moment. It is my sincere hope that all of us, especially those who are privileged to serve, remember our responsibility to do more to unite this country before it is too late.

But he didn't acknowledge that "partisan voting legislation" is already being passed across the country. Republicans are rewriting the voting rules in state legislatures where they have total control, redesigning the process to fit their own partisan purposes. They hope to make it much easier for their own party to win control, and there are even indications that their policies could make it easier for Republicans to steal elections if they don't win. And Republicans are also poised to redraw congressional districts across the country to increase their advantage in the U.S. House of Representatives to be even greater than it already is, further making Congress even less representative and less democratic than it already is.

By blocking any effort from Democrats in Congress to reform voting rights, Manchin is guaranteeing that these partisan efforts by Republicans at the state level to reshape our elections to fit their desires will largely succeed. He says any federal legislation to reform voting rights must be bipartisan, but why would Senate or House Republicans do anything to weaken the advantage they have in control of state governments? Instead of insisting on bipartisanship, what Manchin is really insisting on is unilateral surrender by the Democratic Party. And if the GOP uses the opportunity to entrench their power, it may be a long time before Democrats can ever get it back.

And Manchin's demands are patently absurd on their face. For example, he wrote:

Democrats in Congress have proposed a sweeping election reform bill called the For the People Act. This more than 800-page bill has garnered zero Republican support. Why? Are the very Republican senators who voted to impeach Trump because of actions that led to an attack on our democracy unwilling to support actions to strengthen our democracy? Are these same senators, whom many in my party applauded for their courage, now threats to the very democracy we seek to protect?

There are seven Republicans who voted to convict Trump because he inspired an attack on the U.S. Capitol to overthrow the 2020 presidential election. Manchin believes that this suggests they are willing to "strengthen our democracy" — but there's no reason to think this is true. Opposing Trump's brazen abuse of power and literal threat to the lives of U.S. lawmakers doesn't suggest that those Republicans don't also support restricting democracy in various ways or even even finding less violent ways to overturn elections. Many Republicans are happy to restrict democracy, even if they think Trump went too far. And Manchin and the Democrats weren't even able to convince all seven of those Republicans to support a commission to study the insurrection, further demonstrating the fact that their votes to convict didn't show a lasting good faith commitment to democracy.

Even still, had all seven Republicans who voted to convict Trump supported a bipartisan voting rights bill, that wouldn't be enough to pass under Manchin's demand to keep the filibuster. Manchin's standard requires at least 10 Republicans support any bill — which means he's insisting that Democrats let Republicans who voted to let Trump get away with the insurrection have a veto over voting rights laws.

Manchin promoted the John Lewis bill as an alternative to the For the People Act, touting it as "bipartisan." But he can only name one Republican senator who has come out in support of the bill — Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. No other Republican seems interest, and even Murkowski's interest appears tepid. And there's no sign that she or Manchin is doing the hard work to get nine other Republicans to vote in favor of the bill so it could actually pass in the face of a filibuster.

And as Fox News' Chris Wallace pointed out on Sunday, Manchin has actually made the job of getting bipartisan agreement on a voting rights bill much harder by coming out firmly against reforming the filibuster. If he left open the possibility that he might support eliminating it were bipartisan negotiations to fail, Republicans would have more of an incentive to actually agree to a deal.

Since Manchin has taken filibuster reform off the table, though, Republicans know exactly what will happen at the federal level on voting rights if they refuse to play ball: nothing. At the state level, Republican legislatures will have free rein. Manchin is guaranteeing more partisanship in voting rights law, not less.

Mike Pence stuns audience by breaking his silence about Trump and the Capitol insurrection

Former Vice President Mike Pence broke his silence about the Jan. 6 Capitol attack on Thursday, revealing that he and former President Donald Trump are still at odds over the event.

Pence stunned the audience with his remarks, according to one reporter present, appearing before a Republican Party event at the DoubleTree Hotel in Manchester, New Hampshire. He has been reluctant to speak out about Jan. 6., a day on which he was pitted against the Constitution by his former running mate. Trump, having bought into and stoked debunked claims that the 2020 presidential election had been stolen by now-President Joe Biden, repeatedly pressured Pence to use the congressional counting of the Electoral College votes on Jan. 6 to overturn the result. However, Pence, like every reputable constitutional scholar, concluded that his ministerial role in the proceedings gave him no authority to change the result.

Ahead of the event, Trump gave a speech to his supporters who he had called to assemble in Washington D.C. and urged them to march toward the U.S. Capitol where Congress was gathered. Groups of his followers stormed the building and shut down the proceedings in a violent assault that left dozens of police officers injured and several people dead. Democrats, along with more than a dozen congressional Republicans, accused Trump of inciting the violent insurrection.

Trump and the crowd's ire had been particularly targeted at Pence. One crowd of the insurrectionists was even filmed cheering "Hang Mike Pence."

"Jan. 6 was a dark day in the history of the United States' Capitol," Pence said. "But thanks to the swift action of the U.S. Capitol Police and federal law enforcement, violence was quelled, the Capitol was secured, and that same day, we reconvened the Congress and did our duty under the Constitution and laws of the United States."

At this point in the speech, the crowd was noticeably silent.

"You know, President Trump and I have spoken many times since we left office. And I don't know if we'll ever see eye to eye on that day," he continued. "But I will always be proud of what we accomplished for the American people over the last four years."

The crowd broke into applause. But according to Business Insider reporter Jake Lahut, those remarks changed the tone of the evening.

"There was almost a palpable shock in the room when Pence mentioned January 6th," Lahut reported on Twitter. "The vibe has gotten much quieter since Pence brought up Jan 6th."

Otherwise, Pence was full of praise for the former president, and he took shots at the Democrats. Even on the subject of Jan. 6, he accused Democrats of trying to use the day to "distract our attention" from the Biden administration. Though this critique rang hollow, given he both admitted to the seriousness of the violence that day and suggested that Trump was, at best, ambivalent about the attack.

NYT reporter explains Trump's plan to 'tar' the New York investigations that threaten him

While the criminal investigations of former President Donald Trump often make the news with fresh developments, many of these revelations don't truly amount to much. On Tuesday, though, there was a significant exception to this pattern when multiple reports found that New York DA Cy Vance, who is working with the state's Attorney General Letitia James, has impaneled a special grand jury of his investigation of Trump and the Trump Organization. This suggests that serious charges may be on the horizon.

After the news broke, New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman, a longtime close observer of the president, explained how he will fight back against the investigations as it threatens to ensnare him or his interests.

"Trump is going to use talk of running again as a way to tar the Vance/James probes," she wrote on Twitter. "From his latest statement in response to the grand jury being empaneled: 'Interesting that today a poll came out indicating I'm far in the lead for the Republican Presidential Primary…'"

He has already suggested that he intends to run for president again in 2024 (even as he insists that he really won in 2020 and thus should be president now.) It's one way he can maintain power in the Republican Party and at least some level of attention from the media.

But Haberman is right that dangling a run — genuine or not — can be helpful in his effort to tar the investigations that target him. As long as he remains a potential candidate, he can say that criminal charges are just an effort to keep him out of power by his political enemies. Of course, that won't make an indictment go away — but it will likely be a potent message for his fans.

Since many are already primed to believe the 2020 election was stolen from him, it's not hard to imagine the prospect of his facing serious criminal charges could inspire more dangerous and lawless actions from his supporters like those seen on Jan. 6.

In the case of Letitia James, the criticism that she's a political enemy of his does have some genuine force. She explicitly campaigned in 2018 on investigating Trump, and she has used her investigation of him to elevate her profile. Vance is a more complicated story though. A ProPublica report actually found that Vance went easy on the Trump family as his office prepared to indict two of Trump's children in 2012. After Trump's lawyer Marc Kasowitz donated $25,000 to Vance, he reportedly overruled his own prosecutors and declined to bring the charges.

A Republican's obtuse comment about opposing the Jan. 6 commission just gave away the game

Freshman Sen. Tommy Tuberville gave a revealing comment on Monday about his opposition to legislation that would establish a commission to study the Jan. 6 insurrection, which has already passed the House of Representatives. The Alabama Republican told Forbes' Andrew Solender that he can't support the commission "until they make it bipartisan."

When Solender shared the comment on Twitter, Tuberville quickly became the subject of mockery. In the short time since he won his first election in 2020, he's become known for making obtuse comments — including the revelation that he didn't know the three branches of American government. His new comment is similarly ridiculous, because the commission he's discussing is absolutely bipartisan in every meaningful sense. It will be split evenly between Republican and Democratic appointees, who jointly share subpoena power. It was the result of bipartisan negotiations. And it won bipartisan support in the House, with 35 Republicans along with all the Democrats voting in its favor.

So Tuberville's comment was patently ridiculous — the commission is already bipartisan, so if his answer were honest, he should already support it.

But it was a revealing answer nevertheless. It clarified just how disingenuous the opposition to the commission has become among Republicans. Because while other Republicans gave excuses for opposing the commission that were less hamfisted than Tuberville's, they were, in truth, just as contrived.

Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, for example, cooked up the bizarre concern that precisely because the commission requires bipartisan support to issue a subpoena, it will allow Democrats to leak when any subpoena fails to get approval, thus casting aspersion on the target. This explanation for opposing the commission is just as phony as Tuberville's because surely Rubio wouldn't want a commission where Democrats could unilaterally issue subpoenas. The only conclusion can be that he won't support a commission at all, even though he won't admit it that straightforwardly.

Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins has raised concerns that the commission will extend its work into 2022 — even though the legislation specifically calls for it to be done by the end of 2021 (a condition some argue makes the investigation too truncated.) There's no good reason for limiting the timeline so dramatically, but Republicans fear that the commission's work could impact their party negatively in the 2022 election. Of course, they had no qualms when Attorney General Bill Barr suggested he might release a report on the investigation into the origins of the Russia probe in the run-up to the 2020 election.

Rubio and others, such as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, have suggested that the existing investigations into Jan. 6 are sufficient and that the commission is unnecessary. But this explanation doesn't track, either. The Justice Department investigations are about the crimes that were committed, but they aren't designed to examine non-criminal behavior that might have contributed to the attack or to share broader lessons about the events as a political matter for Congress and the country. Specific investigations about security failures at the Capitol are important, but they won't have subpoena power or address the threat to democratic stability. And existing investigations within congressional committees are, in fact, controlled by sitting elected Democrats, so they won't have the independence, bipartisanship, and authority that the commission would have.

The fact is this: Republicans can't say what they really think, which is that they don't want a commission because they're not concerned with finding bipartisan solutions to the violence, authoritarianism, and anti-democratic sentiment that their party has cultivated.

How William Barr is desperately trying to rehab his image as the dirty truth comes out

Former Attorney General Bill Barr's record leading the U.S. Justice Department is coming into clearer light as Merrick Garland takes the reins of the agency, and new revelations are bringing the much-maligned Trump acolyte under new scrutiny. It's now clear that under his watch, DOJ obtained the communication records of multiple journalists, a disturbing use of government power that is supposed to face stringent restrictions. Some argue it should never happen at all. The news was revealed when the new administration contacted the journalists to inform them of what happened.

And the public has also learned that Barr's DOJ sought to force Twitter to unmask an anonymous account critical of California Republican Rep. Devin Nunes, a close Trump ally. Shortly after Garland was sworn in as attorney general, DOJ dropped the subpoena against Twitter.

So how is the former attorney general reacting to the new administration airing his dirty laundry? From all appearances, it looks like he's trying to launder his reputation by anonymously giving Trump administration scoops to reporters.

There've previously been signs that Barr has a tendency to plant stories in the press when it serves his interest, but a recent piece in Politico may be one of the most blatant and transparent efforts from the former AG to manage and rehabilitate his reputation.

The piece is titled "Inside Trump's push to oust his own FBI chief," and it's sold as delivering an "explosive" story about scandal in the White House, a genre that's become quite common in the past four years. But read just a little bit between the lines, and what's happening is clear: Barr is personally pushing this story to sell a narrative about himself as principled and independent from Trump. It's not clear if it's coming in direct response to the other revelations about Barr mentioned above, or if he's just more broadly concerned about differentiating himself from Trump; perhaps both motivations are playing a role.

The story, like so many tales of White House intrigue, is sourced anonymously, so how am I able to confidently say it came from Bill Barr? Because without saying so directly, the story as written makes it unambiguously clear.

Consider this passage:

It all came to a head in late April, when Barr went over to the White House for a routine meeting in then-chief of staff Mark Meadows' office.
Instead, a staffer from his office intercepted Barr and told him he was actually going to meet in the Roosevelt Room, where such meetings were not usually held.
Barr found it strange to be put in that room, especially given that no one else was there when they entered it. Soon afterward, John McEntee, the powerful head of the presidential personnel office and a hard-core Trump loyalist, entered. Then Evanina, the director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, also came into the room.
Barr asked McEntee, "What's this all about?" recounted one of the former Trump officials.
McEntee demurred and checked his phone. They were waiting on others, he told Barr.
Fuming, Barr walked out of the room and barged into Meadows' office. "What the f--- is going on?" he asked.

The story is clearly told from Bill Barr's point of view. We're told Bill Barr "found it strange" to be in a room — who would know his feelings but Barr himself? Then when others enter the room, it's Barr who is active. His remarks come in direct quotes, and we're told they were recounted by "one of the former Trump officials." That leaves only three possibilities for the source of the information, and Barr is the only plausible candidate.

McEntee is described having "demurred and checked his phone." That's not how someone tends to talk about their own actions. And then when McEntee speaks, the words are not in quotation marks. This makes sense if Barr is telling the reporter the story — Barr can be directly quoted for his own past remarks that he recounts, but his recounting of any responses from others is more likely to be paraphrased, so these words don't merit quotation marks.

And here's the clincher: As the setting of the story changes, the narrative follows Bill Barr leaving the room and going to another room, where he talks to Mark Meadows. This is Barr's story, he's the protagonist, and it's being told from his point of view. He's the primary source for the narrative.

The story continued:

Then, in a meeting later that day with both Meadows and White House Counsel Pat Cipollone, Barr demanded to know what was happening. When told that Trump wanted to replace Wray with Evanina and make Patel the deputy director of the FBI, Barr calmly told them he couldn't stay in his job if Trump's preferred picks were installed at the FBI over his objection, two of the former officials familiar with the encounter said.
Cipollone, who also said he was completely unaware of what was going on until that day, sided with Barr: He told his two colleagues that the attorney general should be involved in the decision process about who should be FBI director, and that Wray should stay.
And that was it: The White House ultimately backed off on the plan once they realized Barr would quit, according to two of the former Trump officials.

Now we have two sources for the story. We know Barr is one of them. The other is Cipollone, Barr's ally in the story. He, like Barr, comes off looking like one of the "heroes" of the narrative after they take a stand together.

Further corroboration of these inferences comes near the end of the story, which noted:

A spokesperson for Trump didn't respond to a request for comment. Patel and Meadows also didn't respond to requests for comment. Evanina and McEntee declined to comment.

Politico doesn't say Barr or Cippolone declined to comment, because they did comment, anonymously. If they hadn't, the outlet would've felt compelled to reach out to them for comment on the story and note if they had declined to comment.

The opening of the story says it had three sources "familiar with the episode" in total — though the key passages only indicate two sources present for the events. This suggests there is a third source, perhaps a Barr aide, who was told contemporaneously about the events but didn't witness them directly.

In the end, it's not that revelatory a story. We know that Trump and many of his allies would've liked to see Wray gone, but many obstacles stood in his way. It's not clear this episode is really as dramatic as it was framed — it might have been more of a casual discussion than it seems in this recollection.

What we know publicly about Barr and Trump's relationship is frankly more interesting. Barr did indeed stand up to Trump in the end, of his term in office, declaring that the DOJ hadn't found evidence of substantial fraud in the 2020 election. And Barr was sharply critical of Trump after the Jan. 6 insurrection, pinning blame for the mob's actions on the then-president. Those public events don't erase Barr's complicity in many of Trump's worst actions in the prior two years — perhaps most notably, his eagerness to sow doubt in the 2020 election before it was carried out — but they're more significant than the episode recounted by Politico.

But the fact that Barr is trying to spread the story now does tell us something interesting about Bill Barr. He's tried to give the impression that he doesn't care what people think of him. When asked about the damage working for Trump had done to his reputation, Barr gave a memorable answer.

"I am at the end of my career," he told CBS in 2019 ."Everyone dies, and I am not, you know, I don't believe in the Homeric idea that, you know, immortality comes by, you know, having odes sung about you over the centuries, you know?"

As I've long argued, though, that isn't true. He cares deeply about his reputation. Barr was clearly obsessed with the media coverage of the Trump administration. He saw it as his job, in part, to protect Trump from his critics in the press and sometimes bent or broke Justice Department rules to do it.

Now he's out of office, and perhaps he's abandoned the project of helping Trump. But he's still obsessed with what the media is saying.

Kevin McCarthy throws one of his own under a bus — and falls on his face

Republican House Minority Leader announced on Tuesday that he will not be supporting the bipartisan deal for a commission to study the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. And not only that, but the No. 2 Republican in the House, Rep. Steve Scalise, revealed that he'll be whipping Republican votes against the legislation.

It was a disappointing but predictable development for those hoping to have bipartisan consensus on the plan to analyze the monumental challenge to American democracy. With the right wing increasingly downplaying the events of Jan. 6 and former President Donald Trump's attempts to overturn the 2020 election, or even defending them, it was clear Republican leadership had little interest left in seeking accountability. While legislation for the commission is almost certain to pass the House because of the Democrats' majority, it faces a less certain future in the Senate, where it will need 60 votes. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday he is undecided on the legislation.

In turning his back on the commission, McCarthy was essentially throwing one of his own under the bus. Indeed, this is exactly the sentiment New York Republican Rep. John Katko reportedly expressed to a colleague about the development, according to a recent report in The Hill.

"Katko feels like he's been thrown under the bus," the person said. "I think he feels frustrated he was given a direction to go in and had the rug pulled out from under him."

Katko is the top Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee. He was, it seems, given an impossible task: to negotiate a deal with Democrats on a commission that McCarthy and most the GOP caucus was bound to end up opposing.

McCarthy was initially outraged by the events of Jan. 6, pinning the blame on Trump even as he opposed impeachment. But Republican voters have clearly signaled they don't want Trump held accountable, and they're unconcerned with the insurrection, so McCarthy has dutifully abandoned any interest in the commission.

In a statement released by Scalise, the House GOP leadership offered a series of excuses for their opposition to the commission, trying to put the blame on Democrats and Speaker Nancy Pelosi. But the objections were frivolous.

The first three bullet points here are all basically the same point: that the commission only focuses on the events of Jan. 6. That is, of course, the whole point of the legislation. The idea that the 2017 baseball shooting is suddenly among McCarthy's concerns strains credulity, and it has no credible link to Jan. 6 attack. But if it did, nothing would prevent the commission from studying the link. (And if McCarthy had thought the event itself was worthy of study, he could have proposed that back in 2017.)

The point that the report is "due to late" is hard to parse even on its own terms.

The last two points just refer to other investigations of the events, such as in the DOJ and congressional committees, which serve different purposes from an independent commission. Notably, they're run ultimately by Democrats, while the commission is intended to be bipartisan.

Ultimately, the GOP's talking points against the commission just amount to an admission they don't want a commission at all. It's clear there was no reasonable agreement that would satisfy them, unless perhaps it was so watered down as to be pointless. And of course, they use the delay imposed by the negotiations they insisted upon as another reason to oppose the commission.

So why go through all this song and dance? McCarthy perhaps concluded that it would look too cynical to just oppose a commission outright, or maybe he genuinely wanted a commission at the start and changed his mind.

But the attempt to blame Democrats for the failure is falling flat. The arguments against the commission are laughable. And without a doubt, some House Republicans will vote for the commission, just as some voted for impeachment, giving it a seal of bipartisanship even if McCarthy is opposed. It's hard to imagine how the House minority leader's reputation comes out improved after all this.

Democratic Rep. Jim McGovern blasted McCarthy for abandoning the agreement after all the negotiation:

And according to Punchbowl News, many Republicans aren't impressed with McCarthy's excuses, either.

"Sure, there are some Republicans who can toe the line and say that they will oppose it because it doesn't allow for an investigation into all political violence," it reported. "But many in the party are finding that excuse incredibly lame."

Mississippi struck down entire ballot initiative process to prevent medical marijuana

In a brutal loss for direct democracy in Mississippi, the state's supreme court struck down a ballot amendment on Friday that legalized medical marijuana in the state. But the ruling didn't stop there. Invoking a technical flaw in the law, the court invalidated the entire process for amending the state's constitution by popular vote.

"The killing of our ballot initiative process means that Mississippi is, definitively, the state with the least democracy, the most restricted ballot access, and where voters' voices matter least when it comes to the deciding our future," said Ashton Pittman, a reporter at the Mississippi Free Press.

"The Mississippi Supreme Court just overturned the will of the people of Mississippi," read a statement from Medical Marijuana MS, which organized Initiative 65 that would legalize the use of the drug. "Patients will now continue the suffering that so many Mississippians voted to end."

About 73 percent of voters support legalizing medical marijuana, according to Pittman.

At the heart of the court's decision is a crucial flaw in the process that gives voters the power to amend the constitution by popular vote. According to the law, organizers for ballot measures have to collect signatures from the five different congressional districts in the state. But since the 2000 census, Mississippi dropped from having five districts to having only four.

So in the court's understanding of the ballot approval process, it's now impossible to legally get an amendment on the ballot, because the requirements demand organizers obtain signatures from a district that no longer exists.

"This is absolutely stunning," said lawyer Tyler Quinn Yeargain. "In the face of an outdated constitutional provision, the Mississippi Supreme Court just threw up its hands, killing the state's voter-initiated amendment process."

In the 6-3 majority's ruling, the court acted as though it was completely bound to reach its conclusion. It even suggested that the drafters of the ballot process may have intended to render it invalid should the state ever lose a congressional district, a claim that strains credulity to the breaking point:

Pursuant to the duty imposed on us by article 15, section 273(9), of the Mississippi Constitution, we hold that the petition submitted to the Secretary of State seeking to place Initiative 65 on the ballot for the November 3, 2020, general election was insufficient. Because Initiative 65 was placed on the ballot without meeting the section 273(3) prerequisites for doing so, it was placed on the ballot in violation of the Mississippi Constitution. Whether with intent, by oversight, or for some other reason, the drafters of section 273(3) wrote a ballot-initiative process that cannot work in a world where Mississippi has fewer than five representatives in Congress. To work in today's reality, it will need amending—something that lies beyond the power of the Supreme Court.

It said that for the process to be fixed, the state's constitution must be amended. But of course, that's now impossible to do by ballot measure, so it will only happen if the legislature permits it.

Despite the majority's suggestion, this result was not inevitable. The minority argued in a dissent that Mississippi law still has five congressional districts on the books, even though they are not recognized by the federal courts. But since they exist under state law, and the requirement that ballot amendments garner signatures from each of the five districts is also a matter of state law, the dissent argues that it would be reasonable to uphold the ballot process as lawful.

"I respectfully suggest we look to Mississippi law. With this novel approach in mind, I point out that under current Mississippi law—whether we like it or not—there are five congressional districts," wrote Justice James Maxwell in the dissent.

He criticized the majority for doing exactly what it claimed to oppose: "The majority confidently and correctly points out that '[n]owhere therein does the Constitution allow amendment by the Supreme Court.' ...Yet the majority does just that—stepping completely outside of Mississippi law—to employ an interpretation that not only amends but judicially kills Mississippi's citizen initiative process. While the majority admits that our Constitution should not be 'expanded or extended beyond its settled intent and meaning by any court[,]' it actively injects a federal court's injunction into our Constitution—an injunction that was in no shape, form, or fashion aimed at the initiative process."

Pittman, the reporter, noted on Twitter that the decision is already inspiring outrage: "There is A LOT of anger among conservative and liberal Mississippians on my social media feeds right now. I'm not seeing any regular Mississippians who are happy about this. A lot of cross-partisan outrage, though."

Observers worry this decision will completely block hoped-for amendments that would expand voting access and Medicaid eligibility.

This paragraph from a Clinton-to-GOP voter shows America has reached a dark place

A new piece from the New York Times published this weekend and focusing on the rightward shift of south Texas politics included a remarkable quote from a voter highlighting the deep divides in the U.S. over basic understandings of social reality.

Reporter Jennifer Medina peered into Hidalgo County, which contains the city of McAllen. Democratic U.S. Rep. Vincente Gonzalez represents the area, and his is considered one of the most at-risk seats in the party heading into the 2022 midterms. He explained the Republicans' recent strength in the area by pointing "in part to misinformation, particularly on YouTube and other forms of social media."

And then the Times quoted 40-year-old voter Elisa Rivera, who voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016 but turned to the GOP in 2020, to clearly illustrate Gonzalez's point:

"I was following along the family tradition, my dad is a hard-core Democrat, my father was really for unions, and I thought the Democrats defended the union," Ms. Rivera said, before adding: "But then I started to research myself and found out the Democrats are supporting witchcraft and child trafficking and things like that, things that get censored because they get labeled conspiracy theory."

Oddly, the Times report does nothing to point out that her specific claims are completely false. Democrats do not support witchcraft and child trafficking — these are complete delusions.

Rivera is clearly a believer in QAnon, misled by the sprawling conspiratorial fiction into accepting truly bizarre and baffling claims about American politics. They have no connection to reality, but as Rivera's claim that she "started to research myself" indicates, they're tied into a web of liars, scammers, and deluded people who spread these malicious myths online. The fact that someone could go from voting for Hillary Clinton in 2016 to believing in QAnon now is a stark reminder of how quickly these lies can spread and have an impact on political reality.

Even beyond her particular case and the specifics of QAnon ideas, the deep well of misinformation poisoning the right wing and dividing the country into separate epistemic hemispheres is truly alarming. In recent days, Donald Trump has been more openly discussing his lie that the 2020 presidential election was fraudulent and stolen, a belief shared by more than half of Republican voters, according to a recent Ipsos poll. Misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccines, mostly influencing Republicans, is also impeding efforts to eradicate the Covid-19 pandemic.

Governing and living in a country where so many voters are completely disconnected from reality on central matters of political concern is likely to be an escalating problem for the foreseeable future.

Something smells rotten in the new report on the Rudy Giuliani case

While the federal raid on Rudy Giuliani's home has attracted the national media's attention, there's a thread in the story leading up to the issuance of the search warrant that may be underplayed.

The New York Times story that initially reported the news on Tuesday noted that the investigation into Giuliani has been ongoing for years, growing out of his conduct implicated in the first impeachment of former President Donald Trump. He was instrumental and deeply involved in Trump's 2019 effort to induce Ukraine to announce an investigation into Joe Biden, who they perceived as the president's likely 2020 rival. As part of the effort, Giuliani sought to disparage the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, and eventually, Trump had her removed from office.

This piece of the puzzle, the Times reported Thursday, is key to the current investigation. One central question is whether Giuliani sought to have Yovanovitch removed while illegally working as a lobbyist for foreign interests, according to the report. These allegations aren't particularly new — they've been looming over Giuliani since the impeachment story first broke.

But what's particularly interesting is that the search warrant for Giuliani's home and office was issued now, under the Biden administration. The Times reported that the Trump DOJ, under then-Attorney General Bill Barr, blocked previous efforts by prosecutors to get the search warrant:

The United States attorney's office in Manhattan and the F.B.I. had sought for months to secure Justice Department approval to request search warrants for Mr. Giuliani's phones and electronic devices.
Under Mr. Trump, senior political appointees in the Justice Department repeatedly sought to block the warrants, The New York Times reported, slowing the investigation as it was gaining momentum last year. After Merrick B. Garland was confirmed as Mr. Biden's attorney general, the Justice Department lifted its objections.

CNN confirmed this reporting:

And the search warrant for multiple electronic devices comes at an interesting time for Giuliani and Trump. Last year, prosecutors in New York tried multiple times to obtain approval from Justice Department officials in Washington for the search warrant, including in advance of the 2020 election, but did not receive it.
They ultimately did receive it at some point after Trump left office, and as a result of the delay, the seized material may include all sorts of records and communications that prosecutors might not have received if the warrants were approved earlier.

This looks on its face suspicious. Why was Biden's DOJ willing to approve search warrants on Giuliani, but Trump's DOJ — under his ally Barr, who he nominated specifically to protect himself — wasn't? Perhaps this question answers itself.

The Times report gestured at a possible answer, but it was unconvincing:

As the investigation into Mr. Giuliani heated up last summer, prosecutors and F.B.I. agents in Manhattan were preparing to seek search warrants for Mr. Giuliani's records related to his efforts to remove the ambassador, but they first had to notify Justice Department officials in Washington, according to people with knowledge of the matter.
Federal prosecutors must consult Justice Department officials in Washington about search warrants involving lawyers because of concerns that they might obtain confidential communications with clients. The proposed warrants for Mr. Giuliani were particularly sensitive because Mr. Trump was his most prominent client.
Career Justice Department officials in Washington largely supported the search warrants, but senior officials raised concerns that they would be issued too close to the election, the people with knowledge of the matter said.
Under longstanding practice, the Justice Department generally tries to avoid taking aggressive investigative actions within 60 days of an election if those actions could affect the outcome of the vote.
The prosecutors in Manhattan tried again after the election, but political appointees in Mr. Trump's Justice Department sought once more to block the warrants, the people with knowledge of the matter said. At the time, Mr. Trump was still contesting the election results in several states, a legal effort that Mr. Giuliani led, those officials noted. [emphasis added]

This only gives us more reason to think the Trump Justice Department was corruptly protecting the president's ally. And it's frankly perplexing that the Times include the bolded sentence above in the piece, given that Bill Barr was prominently insisting in 2020 that he did not believe the DOJ has a policy "to avoid taking aggressive investigative actions within 60 days of an election if those actions could affect the outcome of the vote."

Barr was clear that he thought the policy was narrower than that.

"The idea is you don't go after candidates," Barr said in a widely discussed interview. "You don't indict candidates or perhaps someone that's sufficiently close to a candidate, that it's essentially the same, you know, within a certain number of days before an election."

Perhaps Giuliani was "sufficiently close to" Trump, in Barr's view, to limit any investigatory steps, but Barr made clear he thought he had wide discretion. And Barr found exceptions when it was convenient for him. As ProPublica reported, the DOJ told prosecutors of a new "exception to the general non-interference with elections policy" months before the 2020 election if they suspect election "fraud that involves postal workers or military employees." And the Justice Department announced an investigation of allegedly discarded ballots in September ahead of the election. Bizarrely, the statement said that the nine ballots had been cast for Trump — an odd claim to include in such a release, and one that had to be subsequently corrected when it was realized only seven of the ballots were found to have been cast for Trump. Barr reportedly brought news of the investigation directly to Trump. Legal experts widely condemned the announcement as inappropriate, and no charges were brought in the case.

Barr was clearly willing to make up rules on an ad hoc basis to get the outcome he wanted around an election. He spoke endlessly of John Durham's probe into the origins of the Russia investigation, despite guidelines against such public disclosures, and he indicated strongly that he sought to release a report on the case, likely before the election — though it didn't live up to his hopes.

But even if it could be justified to block the Giuliani warrants before the election, it's ridiculous to suggest no overt steps could be taken against Giuliani after the election was over because he was part of the effort to contest the result. Such an instantiation of the policy is quite far afield of its purpose and prone to obvious abuses.

Of course, some Biden critics have made the opposite case, that Democrats and the current administration are going after Giuliani for political reasons and that it was Barr who was behaving appropriately. Fox News host Jesse Watters, for example, said of the raid on Giuliani: "Democrat prosecutors are waging political warfare for the benefit of the Democratic party just to purge Trump because he challenged the system." (There's no indication that the investigators in the case are predominantly Democrats.)

He added: "This is a thin predicate and everybody knows it."

These claims are far less plausible than the proposition that the Trump DOJ was protecting Giuliani. When asked about the raid, Biden said Thursday: "I made a pledge: I would not interfere in any way, order, or try to stop any investigation the Justice Department had, no way. I learned about that last night when the rest of the world learned about it, my word. I had no idea this was underway."

Trump, on the other hand, made no secret about his desire to direct the DOJ to investigate his enemies, he defended his right to do it, and he did so explicitly and in public many times.

Any DOJ approval of the Giuliani warrants would be overseen by Attorney General Merrick Garland, who has been widely respected across the board for years. He was confirmed by a vote of 70-30 by the Senate, winning the votes of 20 Republican senators, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. There's no indication that he's a rabid partisan.

And of course, Garland doesn't have the final say. An independent judge has to approve the warrant prosecutors are seeking. We don't know what evidence that judge saw, which is why it's so preposterous for Watters to claim we know the predicate for the investigation is "thin." Andrew Giuliani, Rudy's son, slammed the judge as an Obama appointee in comments on Thursday, but he provided no evidence that any other judge would've ruled differently. And even if the warrant wasn't approved under Bill Barr, the investigation itself still occurred under his leadership, making it even less persuasive to argue the whole case is a partisan witch hunt.

The anatomy of a spin job: How Fox News tried to smear George Floyd protesters after a peaceful night

Despite the fact that Derek Chauvin's murder of George Floyd was captured on film and widely denounced even by fellow police officers, right-wing commentators had a bizarre collection of reactions to the jury's finding on Tuesday that the former cop was guilty of the three charges against him. One common theme was to suggest that despite the guilty verdict in the trial, Black Lives Matter protesters who were outraged by the murder would still not be satisfied and would riot in response.

For example:

As it happened, the response to the verdict from protesters featured a mix of emotions, some celebrating, some still grieving. As the Associated Press reported:

With that outcome, Black Americans from Missouri to Florida to Minnesota cheered, marched, hugged, waved signs and sang jubilantly in the streets. The joy and relief stood in stark contrast to the anger and sometimes violent protests that engulfed the country following Floyd's death.

But Tuesday's celebrations were tempered with the heavy knowledge that Chauvin's conviction was just a first step on the long road to address racial injustices by police.

But the danger and unreasonableness of Black Lives Matter and progressive activists is a central part of right-wing messaging, especially on Fox News. So they weren't going to let the facts get in the way of the narrative. That's how on Wednesday, we got a Fox News story by reporter Danielle Wallace with the headline "Portland protests post-Derek Chauvin guilty verdict result in 2 arrests, bike officer punched in head," and an opening two paragraphs that explained:

Portland was rocked by violent demonstrations Tuesday – even after a Minnesota jury found former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin guilty of the murder of George Floyd.

At least two people were arrested and video first published by The Oregonian and retweeted by police showed a demonstrator dressed in all black punching a bicycle officer in the head before more officers piled on top of the suspect. Police also released photos showing shattered windows at local coffee shops and graffiti of the anarchy symbol and ACAB, an acronym meaning "All Cops Are B*******."

The opening sentence sticks with the story they wanted to tell all along — the one previewed by Lahren on Tuesday. Except even the details in the headline don't seem to support the idea that the city "was rocked by violent demonstrations" — how rocked could the city be if there were only two arrests?

It's true the linked video appeared to show a civilian assaulting a police officer after another officer brushed by the civilian from behind on a bike. Assault can be a serious crime, but it is not typically national news, and it is not clear how this incident "rocked" the city of Portland. There's also no sign the assault itself was a part of "violent demonstration"; rather, it may have just been the result of a tense interaction with police. And it's hard to tell from the angle of the video whether the police officers' response to the civilian's punch was proportionate and appropriate — a question Fox News doesn't even seem to consider.

The other event Fox News discussed was small-scale anti-cop vandalism. The extend of vandalism appeared to be two business windows, one shattered and one intact. Fox News included three photos from three different angles of the same windows in its article. (There's also a reference to a dumpster being set on fire and then extinguished, though there's no claim this was caused by a protester). Minor vandalism is a crime, but it occurs all the time without much wider implications.

What's particularly notable about the article, though, is a note at the bottom which explained that Associated Press content is used in the Fox News piece. This is a common industry practice — outlets pay to license AP stories for their own use, which sometimes they reprint verbatim, and sometimes they use AP content interspersed with original writing and reporting. The AP story Fox News drew from included the paragraph I quoted above, noting that the reaction to the verdict "stood in stark contrast to the anger and sometimes violent protests that engulfed the country following Floyd's death." Fox News chose not to include this paragraph in its story, and why should it? That's not the story it wanted to tell.

Consider also this paragraph from Fox News:

Demonstrators have also set fires, broken windows and vandalized buildings, including a church, a Boys & Girls Club and a historical society in recent days over the deaths of Daunte Wright in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, and Adam Toledo in Chicago, as well as a fatal police shooting in Portland last week.

This is taken almost verbatim from the AP, except that instead of "Demonstrators," the AP said "Small groups of protesters." Fox News clearly wanted to play up the nature of the menace and avoid any language that differentiated violent protesters from other activists. (In fact, the Fox News story didn't use the word "protesters" at all.)

Elsewhere on its website, Fox News a story about a sign in Minneapolis at George Floyd Square that has a sign offering advice "For White people in particular," urging them not to make the protesters about themselves. In a caption on the story, Fox News asked of the story: "IS THIS 'HEALING'?"

So here's what basically happened: After a broadly peaceful and mournful reaction to the Chauvin verdict across the country, Fox sought to feed into its pre-arranged narrative by blowing up a couple local police stories in Portland into a larger crisis. The story ignored reporting about the peacefulness of the national reaction and chose to try to stoke conflict and find ways to fan the flames. However, at the very end of the article, the author included a quote that actually seemed to give away the game about the events that supposedly "rocked" the city of Portland:

"One thing to note, the area affected by the criminal activity was contained within few blocks of downtown Portland," the bureau added. "This is not to minimize the impact to those who were victimized by the property damage, as we take any damage seriously. But the overall geographical area that was impacted was relatively small."

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