It's not too late to prosecute Trump-era crimes

On Monday night, there was a brief moment of serious consternation at the news that the Department of Justice (DOJ), under Attorney General Merrick Garland, had declined to prosecute former Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross for lying to Congress after the department's Inspector General forwarded a serious referral presenting evidence that Ross had lied. The next day, the Associated Press, which published the report, issued a correction to say that it was actually the William Barr Justice Department that had issued the declination, not Garland which was a welcome relief for those who have been growing more and more concerned about whether there will be any real accountability for the Trump administration's lawlessness. After what he did with Roger Stone, no one expected William Barr's Justice Department to hold any Trump crony accountable. It remains to be seen if Garland will reverse that decision — but he certainly should.

This article was originally published at Salon

Garland did announce some good news on Monday, however, formally reversing many decades of DOJ policy when he announced that, with some limited exceptions, the department would prohibit the seizure of journalists' records in leak investigations. This is a power that was egregiously abused in the last administration but was used liberally by administrations of both parties. Getting rid of it is a good step.

Garland's other recent decision to double the size of the voting rights enforcement staff to vigorously combat efforts to restrict ballot access and prosecute those who threaten or harm election workers was also very welcome. Unless and until the filibuster fetishists in the U.S. Senate agree to pass new voting rights legislation, these will be the only tools the federal government will have to protect the electoral system.

And the decision to reinstate the moratorium on federal executions, which Trump and Barr had dropped after almost two decades so they could go on a killing spree in the last year of Trump's term, is another huge step back from the moral abyss.

But there is reason to be worried about Garland's DOJ still.

The decision to support Trump's claim that he was performing his official duty when he demeaned and degraded E. Jean Carroll's integrity and her physical appearance as he denied her accusation that he'd raped her in a department store dressing room before he was president was inexplicable. This claim of immunity because he was doing his job is based upon a law that holds that an individual government employee cannot be held personally liable for what he or she does in the course of their duties. It's ridiculous that anyone would agree that being a disgusting boor is in the presidential job description, but it's even more worrisome that this concept is now being taken up by at least one of his henchmen and it could have very far-reaching consequences.

Alabama Republican Congressman Mo Brooks is now citing the same immunity in a lawsuit brought against him for helping to incite the January 6th insurrection. Brooks stood on the stage at the "Stop the Steal" rally and proclaimed that was the day "American patriots start taking down names and kicking ass." He says he was just performing his official duty, under the same legal theory that Trump used to excuse his crude defamation of E. Jean Carroll, a claim excoriated by Donald Ayer, deputy attorney general in the George H.W. Bush administration, Danielle Brian, executive director of the Project On Government Oversight, and Norman Eisen, special counsel to the House Judiciary Committee during the first Trump impeachment, who wrote an op-ed in the New York Times this week exhorting the Attorney General not to accept Brooks' claim:

It is difficult to imagine an act that falls farther outside the scope of a sitting congressman's official duties than what he is accused of doing: helping to provoke a crowd to lay siege on the center of our federal government, putting his fellow members at risk of physical harm and ultimately disrupting the vital constitutional process of certifying presidential election results...Certification that Mr. Brooks acted within the scope of his job would leave the United States government defending the right of its elected representatives to foment insurrection against itself.

They point out that if Garland grants this certification, then it is only a matter of time before Trump himself claims it in one of the many legal cases pending such as the one in Georgia in which he is being investigated for pressuring election officials to "find" the votes he needed to win the electoral college, in which case it will be the law of the land that politicians are immune from any legal accountability for attempting a coup. Or as Harvard Law professor Lawrence Tribe wrote in a piece making a similar argument, "to embrace that proposition is to embrace the quintessential dictatorial premise that the chief executive is the state."

I have never been very optimistic that there would be any legal accountability for important Republicans, particularly Donald Trump. For quite some time there has been a widespread understanding in the political establishment that even in the face of outright criminal behavior, it would be dangerous to "lock up" high-level members of the government because it would start a cycle of retaliation. This idea certainly informed the Obama administration which made the decision not to "look in the rearview mirror" on the torture policies of the Bush administration. But as former congresswoman Elizabeth Holzman, D-NY, pointed out in a recent interview with MSNBC's Chris Hayes, it wasn't always so.

During Watergate, a large number of high-level administration officials went to jail. The attorney general himself (and a close personal friend of the president) did 19 months in federal prison after being convicted of conspiracy, obstruction of justice, and perjury. (The perjury charge, by the way, was for lying to Congress, which is what former Trump Cabinet member Wilbur Ross is accused of doing.)

I might have held out some hope that Congress would have been able to at least get to the bottom of the events of January 6th since it was such a grievous assault on the constitution and a physical attack on the capitol itself. However, the Republicans' rejection of the eminently fair Bipartisan Commission proved that they will obstruct any attempt to seriously investigate. With this week's appointment of at least four GOP supporters of both Donald Trump and the insurrection itself to the House select congressional committee, it's not looking very promising. One of them, Congressman Jim Jordan of Ohio, was obviously chosen for his penchant for histrionics in committee hearings which virtually guarantees that he and his cohorts will be playing to the audience of one, holed up in one of his presidential palaces in exile.

Meanwhile, the DOJ is dutifully prosecuting the actual insurrectionists who stormed the Capitol, so there is that. People are going to do time for what they did that day and you can't help but think of the words of Donald Trump himself who told journalists Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker: "Personally, what I wanted is what they wanted." Of course, it was. But it looks like they're the only ones who will have to pay a price for it.

Republicans' vaccine refusal is about more than just sabotaging Joe Biden

One of the Republican Party's go-to strategies to counter a Democratic president's campaign promise to bring the country together is to obstruct everything the president attempts to do, working night and day to keep their people as angry and unhappy as possible so they can call the Democrats a failure for being unable to fulfill their promise. Such a promise is a bit of a sucker's play by the Democrats, to begin with, but it's a natural impulse since Republican administrations so often leave office having put the country through an overwhelming trauma with the nation yearning for healing. It takes a lot of chutzpah for the Republicans to pull this over and over again, yet they have no shortage of that particular characteristic. In fact, one might even call them shameless. And, after all, it works, so why should they stop?

This article was originally published at Salon

You can go back quite a way in history to find this cycle, but I think the recent example of Barack Obama's presidency is the most vivid.

Obama ran as a guy who signaled a new day in America, one in which a gifted, young, Black politician with a compelling vision of a diverse, multi-cultural society and a smart, technocratic style could usher the country into the new century and put an end to all of the overwrought political turmoil of the post 9/11 era. Obama had big ambitions, not the least of which was an idea that he could take many of the thorniest political arguments off the table with a Grand Bargain that included some offers the GOP supposedly couldn't refuse. The thinking was that if they could just get past some of these big disagreements, the temperature would be lowered and the Democrats would have running room to fulfill their agenda.

There was more than a little bit of hubris in that idea. The economy was in freefall which meant that it was going to take a whole lot of political capital to stop its descent into chaos. And Democrats also made the big mistake of telegraphing their intentions by holding dinners with members of the press and letting them know the contours of the big Grand Bargain plan even before the inauguration. The GOP took notice.

Under the circumstances, the new administration assumed the Republicans would eschew crude partisan politics and work with the Democrats for the good of the country. So it came as quite a shock when the most popular right-wing personality in the country, Rush Limbaugh, came right out and said that he wanted Obama to fail. On his show, Limbaugh said he'd been approached by a major publication and asked to write a 400-word essay on his hopes for the Obama administration. His response?

My hope, and please understand me when I say this. I disagree fervently with the people on our side of the aisle who have caved and who say, 'Well, I hope he succeeds. We've got to give him a chance.' ... So I'm thinking of replying to the guy, 'Okay, I'll send you a response, but I don't need 400 words, I need four: I hope he fails.'

It did cause quite a stir at the time but Limbaugh was just saying what the Republican establishment was thinking.

Then Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-KY, (who also has a habit of saying the quiet part out loud) famously said the next year, in the heat of very intense negotiations, "the single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president." Columnist George Will said on Fox News Sunday, "of course I want Obamacare to fail, because if it doesn't fail, it will just further entangle American society with a government that is not up to this." Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio even personally sabotaged a bipartisan immigration reform bill that he'd worked on for years rather than give Obama (and the country) a win. But perhaps the best example of the phenomenon I described above came from the Donald Trump prototype, former VP candidate Sarah Palin, speaking at a Tea Party Convention who said very sarcastically, "I gotta ask his supporters, 'how's that hopey, changey stuff working out?' "

Obama promised hope and change and the Republicans thwarted him at every turn. They then taunted him for failing to deliver. It's a very cynical ploy in the best of times but seeing them use that tactic in the midst of a global pandemic in order to ensure Biden fails in his ambition to vaccinate the country and save lives is beyond even my most pessimistic view of Republicans.

I had been wondering about the basic logic of these Republican governors and other officials' stubborn hostility to the vaccines. Obviously, the vast majority of them are not fooled by the massive disinformation campaign that's keeping so many of their constituents from protecting themselves and others. They can see that cases are surging and that the unvaccinated are getting very sick with the Delta strain that's much more virulent than the COVID of last year. Yet they are still passing laws banning mask and vaccine mandates for schools and, in some cases, even workplaces. In the state of Florida, where 20% of all the current new cases are, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis is running for re-election selling beer koozies that say "Don't Fauci My Florida." In Tennessee last week Republicans banned state public health outreach to teenagers for vaccines of any kind, not just COVID.

It is now clear that Republicans are going out of their way to ensure that COVID spreads and kills more people. In any normal society, you'd have to wonder how it could possibly serve these people to let their own voters get sick and die. But obviously, they're just relying on their old playbook and have decided it's politically profitable to make Biden's vaccine distribution program fail. Their constituents are basically human sacrifices for the cause.

Trump made this explicit on Sunday with this statement:

Joe Biden kept talking about how good of a job he's doing on the distribution of the Vaccine that was developed by Operation Warp Speed or, quite simply, the Trump Administration. He's not doing well at all. He's way behind schedule, and people are refusing to take the Vaccine because they don't trust his Administration, they don't trust the Election results and they certainly don't trust the Fake News, which is refusing to tell the Truth

The line is that Biden is failing because some people don't trust him. And why don't they trust him? Because Republicans, starting with Donald Trump, are lying to them about what Biden is doing. It's a neat trick and one they've used quite successfully before. This time they're actually killing people to own the libs.

Trump's generals weren't the only ones: Did Mike Pence fear a coup too?

Back in 2016, candidate Donald Trump made it very clear that as president he would not hesitate to order the military to torture prisoners. On March 3rd of that year, in a presidential primary debate, Fox News anchor Brett Baier noted that over 100 foreign policy experts had signed an open letter refusing to support him because his "expansive use of torture" is inexcusable, declaring that the military would refuse because they have been trained to refuse illegal orders.

Baier asked Trump, "so what would you do, as commander-in-chief, if the U.S. military refused to carry out those orders?"

"They won't refuse," Trump arrogantly replied. "They're not going to refuse me. Believe me."

He went on to rant about terrorists "chopping off heads" and how he would go beyond waterboarding, ending with this:

And -- and -- and -- I'm a leader. I'm a leader. I've always been a leader. I've never had any problem leading people. If I say do it, they're going to do it. That's what leadership is all about.

He walked back his comment the next day with a perfunctory statement promising not to give an illegal order but it was clear that he was utterly ignorant of the president's constitutional limits and saw himself as a would-be dictator. And throughout his presidency, he said over and over again that he had the power to do anything he chose, parroting what one of his flunkies told him about "Article II" of the constitution:

Nobody took him very seriously, to be sure, because it was ridiculous. And with the exception of regularly firing members of his administration, until the final year of his term, he tended to push the boundaries of his power mostly by breaking long-standing norms and corruptly abusing his office for political and financial gain which he did frequently. But as he faced re-election in the midst of the COVID pandemic, which he had no idea how to handle, and the humiliating prospect of losing re-election (along with the legal protections the office gave him) it's clear that the people around him started to get worried that he was going to use his very robust and clearly delineated powers as Commander in Chief for political purposes.

It was perfectly legitimate for him to disagree with the Pentagon about policy and direct them to follow his orders despite their resistance. But he began to delve into areas of military justice and discipline, following the advice of Fox News pundits who convinced him that accused and convicted war criminals were being persecuted for doing the kind of dirty work Trump had advocated in his 2016 campaign. He intervened in one trial and pardoned some others. When the Navy tried to keep one of the accused from retaining his Navy Seal designation, Trump insisted he be allowed to keep it and the Navy Secretary was fired when he protested the interference.

In June of 2020, Trump was incensed by the George Floyd protests and was demanding that the active-duty military intervene to quell them. And it was at this point, according to several new books about the final year of the Trump administration, that the Joint Chiefs of Staff started to get nervous, particularly its chairman, General Mark Milley, who had been involved in the notorious clearing of Lafayette Square that culminated in Trump's infamous photo-op with a Bible. Milley eventually publicly apologized for allowing himself to be used as a political prop. What we didn't know until now was that the discussions that happened around those protests awakened the Pentagon leadership that Trump was becoming unhinged. As the presidential campaign heated up and they saw that he was setting the table to call the election illegitimate if he lost and contest the results regardless of the circumstances, they became alarmed. When Trump fired Esper the day after the election and installed some of his most notorious henchmen in the Pentagon, it's safe to say that the top levels of the military's hair were collectively on fire.

According to the latest book by Philip Rucker and Carol Leonnig called "I Alone Can Fix It," as the surreal post-election period dragged on with the administration refusing to cooperate in the transition and Trump becoming more and more desperate, Milley and the others apparently saw the potential for street clashes between Trump's "brownshirts" (as he called them) and police leading to Trump declaring an insurrection and demanding the use of the active-duty military to step in. He seems to have feared this is what would lead to a "Reichstag Fire" moment in which Trump would somehow attempt to stay in power. He and the senior brass even put together a sort of "Saturday Night Massacre" style plan to resign one by one should Trump attempt it. They were all spooked by what they were seeing.

Clearly Milley has been cooperating with all these authors and has portrayed himself as a hero who saved the Republic which does seem overblown. And it's very unnerving to see a general in this position, working with others to thwart the will of the civilian leadership. That is NOT how it's supposed to work. In fact, it's yet another very important norm that seems to have been broken and it's a very important one. But Trump's behavior in the post-election period has been insane by any measure and while he was still in office, he was listening to people like Michael Flynn who was telling him that he could declare martial law and the military could seize the voting machines and run new elections, so there is no doubt we are lucky this didn't turn out a lot worse than it did.

And it wasn't just Milley and brass who were paranoid about what was happening. In "I Alone Can Fix It" a chilling anecdote shows that Vice President Mike Pence was just as nervous.

On January 6th, his Secret Service detail wanted to drive him off the Capitol grounds and he refused saying to his top agent Tim Giebels, "I'm not getting in the car, Tim. I trust you, Tim, but you're not driving the car. If I get in that vehicle, you guys are taking off. I'm not getting in the car." The book goes on to describe the man in charge of the Secret Service's movements telling Pence's national security adviser, Gen. Keith Kellogg, they planned to move Pence to Joint Base Andrews. Kellogg told him not to do it saying, "he's got a job to do. I know you guys too well. You'll fly him to Alaska if you have a chance. Don't do it."

There are a number of ways to interpret that but MSNBC's Nicolle Wallace said on Thursday, "someone familiar with this reporting tells me that Pence feared a conspiracy. He feared that the Secret Service would aid Trump in his ultimate aims that day." Considering everything that had been going on, all of which Pence was no doubt aware, that would not have been a ridiculous suspicion. After all, if they could have gotten Pence out of town they would have thwarted the certification of the electoral college vote at least for that day. Who knows what would have followed? (And what does this say about the Secret Service?)

We all saw a lot of this as it unfolded in real-time. And we certainly suspected that this sort of thing was happening behind the scenes. These accounts, no matter how self-serving they might be, show that whatever suspicions anyone had were more than justified.

Trump is raging at 'totally disgraced' Brett Kavanaugh -- but his anger is bizarrely misplaced

According to "Landslide," Michael Wolff's new book about the final days of the Trump administration, former President Trump is very disappointed in his handpicked Supreme Court justices, particularly Brett Kavanaugh. As Axios reports:

There were so many others I could have appointed, and everyone wanted me to. Where would he be without me? I saved his life. He wouldn't even be in a law firm. Who would have had him? Nobody. Totally disgraced. Only I saved him.

He did? Kavanaugh had a lifetime appointment on the D.C. Court of Appeals when Trump nominated him and would have sailed through the nomination process for the Supreme Court if Christine Blasey Ford hadn't stepped forward with her accusations of sexual assault when they were high school students. Trump has reportedly claimed that Republican senators begged him to pull the nomination saying, "Cut him loose, sir, cut him loose. He's killing us, Kavanaugh." Trump supposedly responded, "I can't do that," telling Wolff, "I went through that thing and fought like hell for Kavanaugh — and I saved his life, and I saved his career. At great expense to myself ... okay? I fought for that guy and kept him."

This article was originally published at Salon

Yes, this sounds so much like Trump. Everyone knows his word is his bond and he's loyal as the day is long. Wolff also quotes Trump as saying:

I don't want anything ... but I am very disappointed in him, in his ruling. I can't believe what's happening. I'm very disappointed in Kavanaugh. I just told you something I haven't told a lot of people. In retrospect, he just hasn't had the courage you need to be a great justice. I'm basing this on more than just the election.

Since the election seems to literally be the only thing Trump can think about it's hard to know what else he might be referring to. It's likely that there has been some grumbling, among those who have made pilgrimages to kiss the ring, that Kavanaugh has not voted with the far-right justices in every case, as they appointed him to do. Trump doesn't care about that unless it affects him personally, of course, but he considers "his justices" to have been placed on the court to do what they're told and he doesn't like it when they are perceived to have deviated from their orders.

But let's face it, his carping is really about the election. Back in September, Trump made his expectations clear:

His rationale for pushing through Amy Coney Barrett so close to the election was to ensure there were enough votes to decide the contest for him, as he made even clearer a few days later:

I think this [election] will end up in the Supreme Court. And I think it's very important that we have nine justices. This scam that the Democrats are pulling — it's a scam — the scam will be before the United States Supreme Court. And I think having a 4-4 situation is not a good situation, if you get that. I don't know that you'd get that. I think it should be 8-0 or 9-0. But just in case it would be more political than it should be, I think it's very important to have a ninth justice.

He assumed "his justices" would take up any election case and would naturally vote in his favor, regardless of the facts or the circumstances. They owed him.

None of Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani's post-election lawsuits made it up the ladder to the court, because they were all garbage. But before the election Kavanaugh was notably amenable to Trump's arguments about mail-in votes being counted after the election, in a Wisconsin case in which the court affirmed a lower court ruling that the state Supreme Court could not extend the deadline. He also looked favorably on an idea percolating in right-wing legal circles for some time about who gets to decide election cases. Slate's Mark Joseph Stern raised the alarm about a footnote in Kavanaugh's concurrence, in which he endorsed a notoriously extreme argument from the Bush v. Gore case:

William Rehnquist, joined by Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas — tried to overturn the Florida Supreme Court's interpretation of the state's own election law. As a rule, state Supreme Courts get final say over the meaning of their own state laws. But Rehnquist, Scalia, and Thomas argued that SCOTUS must review their decisions to ensure they comply with the "intent of the legislature." In other words, the Supreme Court gets to be a Supreme Board of Elections that substitutes state courts' interpretation of state law with its own subjective view of a legislature's "intent."

Anthony Kennedy and Sandra Day O'Connor refused to sign on to that at the time, and Chief Justice John Roberts didn't go along with it this time around either. But it's fair to ask if the new Trump majority of Thomas, Alito, Gorsuch, Kavanaugh and Barrett would. Considering Roberts' hardline views on voting rights, he might, in the end, throw his lot in with them on this too.

There was a lot of chatter around the election about whether or not state election officers and courts have the authority to administer elections. We've recently seen state legislatures take action against the secretaries of state and nonpartisan election officials. If the Supreme Court sees fit to make itself the final arbiter of the states' election laws, it's entirely possible that this court would be open to letting GOP legislatures capriciously change the laws to their advantage — or even overturn elections. It's almost certain that any new voting rights laws passed in this Congress will find a hostile majority when cases make their way through the court. It would not be surprising if this Supreme Court was very good for Trump and his movement over the next few years.

Not that it matters, as far as the right-wing justices and their backers are concerned. They wouldn't actually be doing it for Donald Trump, even if he might benefit from it — and even though he inspired all this drastic action based upon the Big Lie in the first place. The Republican legal community always saw the big opportunity it had in Trump, and ruthlessly exploited it. Former White House counsel Don McGahn, Leonard Leo of the Federalist Society and their most cynical ally, Sen. Mitch McConnell, recognized that they could remake the federal courts and use them to secure power, even as a declining electoral minority. Little did they know that Trump's loss and the Big Lie that followed would supercharge that plan the way it has.

Trump may be unhappy with "his justices," but that's because he never understood that he wasn't using them. They were using him, and they are perfectly happy with how it's turned out so far.

Trump loyalists across the country are going after fellow Republicans in 2022

Donald Trump held another rally over the July 4 holiday weekend and made a little news. He brought up the Manhattan district attorney's felony indictment of his company and its CFO, Allen Weisselberg, by playing dumb about the law and making clear that he believes that important people like him shouldn't have to pay taxes. This is no surprise. When he was confronted by Hillary Clinton in a 2016 presidential debate for failing to pay his taxes, he said, "That makes me smart."

Whether any of that will ever add up to Trump himself being charged with anything is an extreme long shot, but he certainly doesn't make it easy on his lawyers or, as Salon's Amanda Marcotte points out, his henchmen. Nonetheless, he has a lot of them — henchmen that is. And a good many new recruits appear to be running for office in 2022.

The Washington Post's Amy Gardner did a rundown of some early-bird campaigns around the country and Trump loyalists are on the move. She wrote about one candidate for Arizona secretary of state, GOP State Rep. Mark Finchem, who told a QAnon-friendly talk show that he believes it's possible that the bogus "audit" of the 2020 presidential ballots will result in overturning the results of the last election. And there is Georgia Rep. Jody Hice, an evangelical pastor who was elected to Congress as a hardcore Christian conservative but has now been converted to full-time Big Lie purveyor. Donald Trump has enthusiastically endorsed Hice's primary challenge to his nemesis, current Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican who famously refused to help Trump steal the election in 2020.

Then there are the average citizens who've been moved to primary Republicans through Trump loyalty. Virginia House of Delegates candidate Wren Williams defeated a longtime incumbent solely because the latter said he'd seen no evidence of fraud in 2020. Then there's Mellissa Carone of Michigan, the former temp worker for Dominion Voting Systems who appeared disoriented or perhaps inebriated at a hearing alongside Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani, making claims so outlandish that she became the subject of a "Saturday Night Live" sketch. Of course she's now running for a State House seat. How could she not?

These are just a few of the Trump Republicans who are running for state office on the Big Lie platform. If they win, their primary goal will be to change elections systems in their states to ensure that legislators will no longer be hampered by all those inconvenient laws that stand in the way of overturning election results that don't reflect the will of Real America. You know, Trump voters.

Gardner reports:

While most of these campaigns are in their early stages, the embrace of Trump's claims is already widespread on the trail and in candidates' messages to voters. The trend provides fresh evidence of Trump's continued grip on the GOP, reflecting how a movement inspired by his claims and centered on overturning a democratic election has gained currency in the party since the Jan. 6 Capitol attack.

This, as I've written before, is the new Republican organizing principle. And it's not confined to state offices. It's early yet, but there are signs that Big Lie candidates will on the ballot for the U.S. House and Senate all over the country as well, in many cases running to take down Republican incumbents.

Obviously, Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming is at the top of the hit list. Another is Rep. Anthony Gonzalez of Ohio, once considered a rising star in the Republican Party, and now a prime Trump target. The race to unseat him is crowded, with all the candidates elbowing each other out of the way to prove just how energetically they can lick Trump's boots. Trump has endorsed a political novice named Max Miller. who the Daily Beast describes as "a 32-year-old former White House aide with a thin résumé and a rap sheet that includes multiple charges ... for assault, disorderly conduct, and resisting arrest."

Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler of Washington was among the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump in January (and it was she who revealed that Trump told House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy that he "didn't care as much about the election" as the rioters did). She faces a primary challenge by a military veteran named Joe Kent, who says all incumbents who refused to challenge the Electoral College certification should be run out of office.

Senate races appear to be organizing along similar lines. Trump has already endorsed a primary challenger to Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who committed the unpardonable sin of voting to convict in his second impeachment trial. And Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma is shocked, I tell you, shocked, that the chairman of the Oklahoma GOP has endorsed his primary challenger, which he claims is unprecedented (and is indeed highly unusual). What is the reason for this break with party norms? Lankford failed to object to the certification of the presidential election on Jan. 6.

I'm sure there are governor's races which will be fought on the same basis. I'm not entirely sure exactly why this is happening, but Allen West, the former Florida congressman, former Texas Republican Party chairman and former Army officer (who was forced to retire over the abuse of an Iraqi policeman) is challenging Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who has practically handcuffed himself to Trump's border wall as a symbol of his loyalty. Presumably West is going to run as the One True Texas Trumper, but it's hard to see how he can be any more unctuous and sycophantic than Abbott.

Trump, meanwhile, is said to be focused almost exclusively on the Big Lie, clearly unable to deal with the fact that he lost in 2020 and bent on revenge for his humiliation. But that's also his ticket to the 2024 election, and he isn't confining himself to fantasies about "audits" and pyrrhic recount victories. He's made the decision to portray Jan. 6 as his movement's crucible.

Up until now it's only been the fringiest of the fringe, like Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona, who declare that the insurrectionists who have been arrested are being persecuted for their political beliefs. Only the most extreme elements have suggested, for instance, that Capitol rioter Ashli Babbit was murdered in cold blood without cause. Trump has now brought these ideas into the mainstream. At his rally in Florida, he said:

How come so many people are still in jail over Jan. 6? By the way, who shot Ashli Babbitt? Who shot Ashli Babbitt? We all saw the hand. We saw the gun. … Now they don't want to give the name, It's got to be released.

Trump is literally normalizing the insurrection and turning those who participated into heroes and martyrs. And all those sycophantic candidates who are running on the Big Lie platform will follow his lead and say the same things.

This shouldn't really come as a surprise. After all, the tweet that finally got Trump banned from twitter made clear that he saw it this way from the very beginning:

Here's the disturbing reason Trump should be thrilled by this week's news — indictments and all

Donald Trump's company and its chief financial officer were indicted on Thursday on multiple felony counts and the prosecutors went to some lengths to say they weren't finished yet. In a sane world, one would think that presents a real problem for a man who is planning to run for president but this is Trump we're talking about and he's survived dozens of legal challenges as a businessman and as a politician so it's a fairly good bet he'll wriggle out of this one too. After all, in the last 18 months, he's been impeached twice, botched the handling of a historic global pandemic resulting in more than 600,000 American deaths, incited an insurrection against the U.S. Congress, and his supporters love him more than ever. He famously said he could shoot someone on 5th Avenue and not lose any votes and it appears to literally be true.

This is probably why he is reportedly happy about the indictments, "thrilled" they are what he thinks of as light charges, and already anticipating how the cases can be leveraged for his big comeback in 2024 because it will "hurt Sleepy Joe." He plans to make this latest "witch hunt" a theme of his upcoming rallies and since his political career has been built upon relentless whining, which his followers eat up with a spoon, he may just be right.

Since January 6th, there is a very powerful, unspoken threat should any real danger to Trump and his future plans present itself: violence. It's doubtful that anyone involved in these or any other cases aren't constantly weighing the risks against the benefits in taking steps to hold Trump accountable. He's gotten away with so much that even grounded, rational people have to be asking themselves if he's literally made a deal with the devil.

According to Politico, people around him say that while he has been spending some time at Trump Tower (since he's summering at his Bedminster Golf Club) and has been concerned about these cases, it's far from his top priority.

Aides said that Trump's interest in the Manhattan D.A.'s case pales in comparison to his obsession with the idea that he could still prove to be the winner of the 2020 election. "His world is seriously consumed by that," said another Trump adviser. "In comparison to election fraud, [the D.A.'s investigation] is not even close." According to this adviser, Trump is holding out hope that if the Arizona "audit"/fishing expedition ends up in his favor, a few other states will follow suit, triggering some sort of legal process that would make him president.
He's even questioned the merits of the Constitution, if it can't be used to investigate election fraud.

He must have been awfully pleased to see that the Supreme Court seemed to agree with him, at least to the extent that states should be able to make it as hard for people to vote as possible, ostensibly to protect itself from voter fraud, which doesn't exist. Thursday's ruling on the voting case Brnovich v. DNC, from Arizona, ground zero for Trump's Big Lie hysteria, with the full conservative bloc coming together to further weaken the Voting Rights Act, must have made his day.

The court upheld a series of voter restrictions much like the ones that are popping up all over the country in the wake of Trump's Big Lie, although it did not, as was feared, completely eliminate all barriers to such restrictions. It did create a new set of criteria for determining if a voting law is discriminatory, one of which seems to say that any restrictions which may have been in place in 1982 (when the Voting Rights Act was amended) are acceptable. (I guess this is yet another form of "originalism?") The majority opinion cites this example:

"it is relevant that in 1982 States typically required nearly all voters to cast their ballots in person on election day and allowed only narrow and tightly defined categories of voters to cast absentee ballots."

So much for mail-in voting.

That opinion was written by Samuel Alito, a sure signal to the GOP establishment that this one was for them. (Alito is, by far, the most flagrantly partisan justice on the Court.) This decision, which endorses the idea that states can restrict voting because of (non-existent) voter fraud, is solely a Republican Party project. This decision makes it clear that while this court may throw a bone to the left once in a while when it comes down to securing power for the Republican Party, their allegiance is certain. Mitch McConnell must have strained a muscle patting himself on the back for his efforts to make that happen.

At this point, the entire Republican establishment, which includes the Supreme Court majority, is working together to take advantage of the opening Trump's Big Lie has given them. The party strategically targeted the states that Biden won closely and is feverishly passing laws to disenfranchise Democratic voters there. At the same time, they are assiduously working to disempower any form of non-partisan oversight of the election apparatus. In fact, they are using every lever of power at their disposal, from legislative control in the states, to the filibuster and the Supreme Court.

Yet even in light of that, the Democrats are saying that any changes to voting laws must be bipartisan and are letting the GOP get away with obstructing voting legislation for the dumbest possible reason: they think they need to hold on to the filibuster to stop Mitch McConnell and a future GOP president from doing things they don't like in the future. As if McConnell and the Republicans haven't made it crystal clear that they will do as they like by any means necessary. If Republicans need to nuke the filibuster in the future they will not hesitate to do it. In fact, they may do it just to troll the libs the minute they get back the majority.

The consensus among the political press is that this battle is over.

CNN's Senior White House correspondent Phil Mattingly insisted on Thursday that the handful of Democrats who believe this drivel are not going to change their minds and the rest of the party is accepting their fate, with the White House planning to fall back on the "bully pulpit" to tell people how they might avoid the undemocratic roadblocks the Republicans are putting in their way.

That's right. The party that controls the House, the Senate and the White House apparently believes it is impotent to protect American democracy from a bunch of right-wing crazies who worship Donald Trump so they're planning to give some speeches instead.

If this cynical consensus is right (and I fervently hope it isn't) all I can say is that it's a good thing we have an empathetic mourner-in-chief in Joe Biden to comfort us when our democracy finally dies. Unfortunately, we probably won't be able to hear his consoling words over the giddy laughter of Trump and the Republicans. They couldn't have dreamed the Democrats would go down so easily.

American carnage: What we are now learning about Trump's nightmarish mishandling of COVID

There are a lot of books coming out over the next few months that chronicled the final days of the Trump administration and it's pretty clear there are a lot of stories to tell. Of course, there is also a burning desire on the part of some members of Trump's entourage to buff up their severely tarnished reputations.

Michael Wolff of "Fire and Fury" fame has a new book coming out about the post-election period called "Landslide" that sounds as though it will be as lurid and gossipy as his previous Trump book. ABC News correspondent Jonathan Karl's book called "Betrayal" (which I referenced in this piece about Bill Barr on Monday) appears to take a look at the same period as another new book by Wall Street Journal reporter Michael Bender called "Frankly, We Did Win This Election: The Inside Story of How Trump Lost." It makes sense that there would be a number of books about the election, Trump's Big Lie and the subsequent nsurrection. The assault on democracy is the biggest political story of our time and it's still unfolding.

But I think the most serious story of the Trump administration and granted, it's hard to choose, has to be the massive, overwhelming failure to deal with the COVID pandemic that's killed over 600,000 people and counting. I still can't quite wrap my mind around that number or the fact that the leadership of the United States of America was so inept. According to yet another new book, aptly entitled "Nightmare Scenario: Inside the Trump Administration's Response to the Pandemic That Changed History," it was all actually much worse than we even thought.

The authors, Washington Post reporters Yasmeen Abutaleb and Damian Paletta, tell the coronavirus story from the perspective of the science advisers as well as the political people around Trump who were desperately trying to get him to take the problem seriously. We knew from Bob Woodward's earlier reporting that Trump had consciously made the decision to "downplay" the virus, ostensibly to keep people from panicking. Nobody really believed that, of course. It was obvious that he was "downplaying" the virus because he was afraid that the stock market would panic and that the ensuring economic turmoil would cost him the election. It seemingly never even occurred to him that mass deaths might be a bigger drag on his campaign.

The earliest unforgettable moment in the saga was the day when Trump went down to the CDC and bragged that everyone there was so impressed by his grasp of the complexities that perhaps he should have been a scientist instead of a president. And he made the comment that would guide the entire response from that point forward:

According to "Nightmare Scenario" Trump was so upset by the idea that these people would "double his numbers" that he asked his staff if there wasn't "an island we own" that we could send them to and he asked more than once about the possibility of sending them to Guantánamo. The staff finally got the idea scuttled but because they were all just as shallow and self-serving as he was, they did it not because it was grotesquely inhumane but because they were "worried about a backlash over quarantining American tourists on the same Caribbean base where the United States holds terrorism suspects." They had a point. Sending sick old people to a terrorist prison camp is pretty bad optics.

The "numbers" continued to anger Trump. He demanded that the officials who allowed the cruise passengers into the US be fired (it didn't happen) and when he said at his infamous Tulsa Oklahoma rally back in June of 2020, "when you do testing to that extent, you're gonna find more cases. So I said to my people, slow the testing down please" — he was not joking. The book quotes Trump having a tantrum over the phone to Health and Human Services Director Alex Azar, saying "Testing is killing me! I'm going to lose the election because of testing! What idiot had the federal government do testing?" (Azar replied, hilariously, "Uh, do you mean Jared?")

This response was a trainwreck in every way, mostly because of Trump's ignorance which made his decisions erratic and ineffectual, which I suspect also led to the magical thinking that had him demanding that everyone be a cheerleader and if you just tell people that everything is fine, it will be. He's quoted as saying to his team, "I am sick and tired of how negative you all are. . . . I spend half of my day responding to what Tony Fauci has to say, and I'm the president of the United States!" He told Dr. Deborah Birx, "Every time you talk, I get depressed. You have to stop that."

Perhaps the biggest revelation in this book is the fact that Trump was much, much sicker from COVID than we knew. His doctors were seriously afraid he was going to die and pushed the FDA to break all the rules to get him the experimental drugs that might save him. As we know, they did that and pumped him full of steroids and he recovered quite quickly. But in one of the more eye-rolling moments in this story, apparently, some of the advisers like CDC Director Robert Redfield, assumed his very close brush with death would automatically force him to take the COVID protocols more seriously and go out and tell people about his own experience in order to convince them to do the same. That's just laughable. It would mean he had to admit he was wrong and that's impossible. You'll recall that he defiantly ripped off his mask when he returned to the White House and then made a video telling everyone to go out and live their lives. He promised that he was going to make those experimental drugs available for free to everyone. That didn't happen, although he did arrange for his cronies Chris Christie and Ben Carson to get them.

This book reinforces the story that we already knew which is that the death toll in the U.S. from the pandemic is so high largely because the president of the United States at the time was an incompetent narcissist who was incapable of handling the crisis. So instead he said it was all bad press and poor optics and tried to happy talk his way out of it. It ended up killing people. A lot of people. Despite his desire to be seen as the man who single-handedly created the vaccines and saved the world, his followers heard him "downplay" the virus and they believed him. Now many of them are refusing to get the shots and Trump's American carnage continues to this day.

If there's one lasting legacy of Donald Trump it's that there are no longer any sacred cows on the American right

If there was one thing I always thought Donald Trump truly cared about, it was men in uniform. After all, one of his earliest forays into politics, if you want to call it that, was an infamous full page ad he took out about the Central Park Five jogger case entitled, "Bring Back the Death Penalty, Bring Back Our Police," in which Trump waxed nostalgic about the days when police had free rein in the city and recalled fondly the time he saw a couple of cops violently rough up some guys in a diner when he was a kid. Trump was also said to have loved dressing up in his military high school uniform and considered his four years there akin to serving in the military. He would always call the Pentagon leadership "my generals" and loved it when they looked as if they came out of central casting. His 2016 campaign was filled with lurid stories of tough officers committing war crimes, which he enthusiastically endorsed.

Trump's idealized view of the men in blue and the military brass was sorely tested as president, however.

He locked horns with his first defense secretary, retired General James Mattis, whom he had chosen on the basis of the nickname "Mad Dog" and was sorely disappointed when he turned out to actually be sane. Likewise he had nothing but disdain for those who insisted that military discipline and preparedness required that the military not allow war criminals to go unpunished, much less be lauded for their crimes.

His great respect for law enforcement had its limits as well.

Trump was vicious when it came to the FBI, insulting the agency and many employees by name when it became known that he was in their crosshairs. And on January 6th, as a wild mob of insurrectionists engaged in hand to hand combat with police trying to protect the Capitol and a joint session of congress, it took hours before Trump could be persuaded to gently admonish them to not be violent with the police. It was clear he was siding with the mob. After all, he did send them there.

I suppose it's not all that surprising that the Republican base would be hostile to the FBI. Being gun fetishists, the extreme right has long had issues with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, which certain politicians called "jack-booted thugs" back in the 90s. And there has always been the pretense among some on the far right fringe that they are preparing for war with the federal government. But I have to say that I never thought we'd see the day when average Republican voters would storm the Capitol and openly beat rank-and-file cops over the heads with metal flagpoles, all with the not-so-subtle encouragement of the man who professed to be the "law and order" president.

CNN has excerpted a new book about the last months of the Trump administration and the 2020 campaign by Wall St. Journal reporter Michael Bender called "Frankly, We Did Win This Election: The Inside Story of How Trump Lost," and it reveals just how uncivilized and tyrannical Trump really was. Recounting the period of the George Floyd protests a year ago, Bender writes that Trump was beside himself with anger at the protesters. He loved footage of police getting confrontational with the protesters telling his staff, "That's how you're supposed to handle these people! Crack their skulls!"

This isn't a total surprise. I wrote about this last year, quoting a source for the Daily Beast saying that he kept talking about returning to "eye for an eye" and wanting to "go in" to Democratic run cities and round up (Black) people for summary executions, one of his favorite fantasies. But I didn't know how hard he pushed the military to "go in and beat the fuck" out of the protesters. According to the book, Trump said "just shoot them!" multiple times.

The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley pushed back Trump's intention to invoke the Insurrection Act so the military could get involved in domestic protests (although he made the monumental mistake of wearing battle fatigues to accompany Trump on his ill-fated photo-op and had to apologize.) According to the book, at one point, Milley pointed to a portrait of Lincoln and said: "That guy had an insurrection. What we have, Mr. President, is a protest."

"Seven months later, we did have an insurrection — at Trump's direction. And this week Milley appeared before the House Armed Services Committee to discuss it. If you had asked me a few years ago if this would be the way Fox News would respond to such comments, I would not have believed you:"

"Who had money on the Republican Party running on "Defund the Military" in 2022? Not me. And the next night, there was this:

He made that up, of course. Milley is actually known to be blunt spoken and has spent a great deal of time on the battlefield. Carlson topped off that insulting commentary with this charming observation:

I won't go into Tucker Carlson's ongoing descent into madness on national TV but suffice to say that right-wing pundits are now completely incoherent."

The party that once extolled the police and the military as the highest form of civic duty and patriotism is now celebrating the actions of people who beat cops over the heads with metal pipes and calling the military leadership stupid pigs, as if they've traveled back in time to a Bizarro World version of 1968. They are simultaneously excoriating the Democrats because some activists used the slogan "defund the police" in the wake of the murder of George Floyd while angrily demanding that we "defund the military" — which will certainly come as a surprise to their leader Donald Trump who considers his bloated military budgets to be among his greatest achievements.

If there's one lasting legacy of Donald Trump it's that there are no longer any sacred cows on the American right. They have given themselves permission to literally say anything in the moment without regard to principle or ideology while at the same time wringing their hands over the supposed destruction of American culture by "wokeness" and political correctness. They no longer have any commitment to making sense and I'm not sure that anyone knows exactly how to combat such surreal intellectual anarchy.

Republicans have made it disturbingly clear: They will defend Trump's Big Lie at any cost

The assault on democracy that's taking place all around the country in various state legislatures has come boldly into focus in recent days and not a moment too soon. Democrats across the nation are begging the national government to step in and do something to protect our electoral system. And in a stunning irony, the Republican response is to use the federal government's most undemocratic institution's most undemocratic rule to prevent that from happening.

On Tuesday, Republicans invoked the filibuster to prevent the Senate from bringing S.1, the For the People Voting Rights Act, to the floor for debate, effectively killing the bill. West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin had even cobbled together a compromise, giving Republicans a bunch of goodies they have wanted for a long time, including national voter ID and federal permission to purge the voter rolls, just trying to tempt them into even allowing a debate on the issue.

It did no good.

Manchin couldn't even coax one of his "good Republicans" to vote for it. His bipartisan crusade is 0 for 0 so far. Before the vote on Tuesday, Sen. Rafael Warnock, D-Ga, described the GOP's shamelessness perfectly:

"What could be more hypocritical and cynical than invoking minority rights in the Senate as a pretext for preventing debate about how to protect minority rights in the society?"

Mother Jones' Ari Berman elaborates:

Congressional Democrats' signature voting rights bill, the For the People Act, is set to be defeated on Tuesday by the very anti-democratic system it's meant to reform.
The 50 Democratic senators who support the For the People Act (or least Sen. Joe Manchin's compromise proposal keeping some key elements of the bill while excluding others) represent 43 million more Americans than the 50 Republican senators who oppose it, according to data compiled by Alex Tausanovitch of the Center for American Progress. Yet because of the 60-vote requirement to pass most legislation, 41 Republican senators representing just 21 percent of the country can block the bill from moving forward, even though it's supported by 68 percent of the public, according to recent polling.

It is certainly true, as Republicans are quick to proclaim, that progressives and liberals have used the filibuster to stop GOP legislation in recent years as Mitch "Grim Reaper" McConnell, R-Ky, escalated the use of the process to an unprecedented frequency in order to entrench his minority party's chokehold on legislation. But not since the Dixiecrats all defected to the Republican Party when they rebranded themselves as the official white supremacy party 50 years ago have Democrats used the filibuster to subvert the electoral process.

And keep in mind that McConnell was happy to change the rules when he needed to do it. His Holy Grail was packing the courts and he made sure that he was unencumbered by the filibuster when he did it. Don't ever doubt that he would entirely eliminate it in a heartbeat if he felt he needed to.

The GOP's overriding goal at the moment is obviously to keep as many Democrats as possible from voting and to subvert any universal commitment to the idea that the democratic process should be non-partisan. After the Republicans all voted to sustain the filibuster against S.1 on Tuesday, CNN's Manu Raju asked McConnell, "are you okay with states like Arizona, that's conducting it's own audit to throw into question Joe Biden's victory there?"

Reminiscent of his smug declaration that he would break his own rules if he had the opportunity to steal another Supreme Court seat (which he did), a dead-eyed McConnell flatly replied:

"I'm ok with the states sorting this stuff out. So, regardless of what may be happening in some states, there's no rationale for federal intervention. They'll figure it all out. They'll go to court. They'll determine whether there's any rational basis for this. That's not unusual in this country."

I guess all those death threats against election officials are the sign of a healthy democracy working like clockwork. McConnell's comments were eerily reminiscent of the old states' rights arguments against desegregation and universal suffrage. Some things never change. This was how they "figured it out" in the states before "federal intervention" 55 years ago:

It is no coincidence that it was after the right-wing majority on the Supreme Court declared the Voting Rights Act effectively dead that states run by the white supremacist party are back to their old tricks. (Remember, one of the Big Lie's fundamental tropes is that urban cities with large Black populations — Detroit, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Atlanta — all cheated to deny Trump his rightful place as the president of white America.)

In the big picture, this latest assault on democracy is not only a throwback to the days of Jim Crow, although it certainly is that. In this era of disinformation and propaganda, they are also encouraging the idea that our system relies on nothing more than an exertion of power and winning by any means necessary. The vote on Tuesday shows that McConnell and his party, including the so-called "moderates" are all in on that part of the program too.

If what it takes to win means that they have to let states that are important to preserving minority power put QAnon conspiracy theorists and MAGA fanatics in charge of the electoral system, well that's just how it has to be. Sure, these new rules and laws will eventually wend their way through Mitch McConnell's handpicked federal judiciary. And in a few years, some of them will probably be overturned if only to keep up appearances. But expecting Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, the man who wrote the despicable opinion overturning the Voting Rights Act back in 2013, to do a 180-degree shift on this issue seems highly optimistic.

There is still a way around all this, of course.

The Democrats could eliminate the filibuster and pass this bill. A couple of weeks ago I wrote about Majority Leader Chuck Schumer's plan to hold a whole bunch of votes like this one to illustrate the folly of pursuing bipartisanship in the hopes that it will persuade the filibuster fetishists to change their minds. After Tuesday's vote, Manchin almost said Republicans were being unreasonable (shock!) by failing to even consider his compromise, so maybe Schumer's plan will work?

We'd better hope so. The Republicans are hard at work in the states to ensure that the Democrats are ousted from power by any means necessary. They better use it while they have it or they are going to lose it for good.

Jan 6. was the blueprint: The GOP is now planning a state-by-state hostile takeover

On Sunday night, CNN aired a two-hour documentary called "Assault on Democracy" chronicling the evolution of the American right's most recent embrace of conspiracy theories and authoritarianism which led to the insurrection of January 6th. Unlike most of the recent TV examinations of this phenomenon, CNN didn't simply go back to the day Donald Trump descended the golden escalator in Trump Tower but traced the beginning of this latest lurch into right-wing lunacy to the election of Barack Obama and the furious backlash that ensued. (The seeds obviously go back much further, but this is a logical place to begin with the Tea Party's seamless transformation into MAGA.)

The program rightly attributes the massive growth in conspiracy theories to the rise in social media during that period and especially takes on Facebook for its algorithms that lead people deeper and deeper into insular rabbit holes. Crude profiteers such as Alex Jones and Breitbart are exposed as well as good old-fashioned talk radio and Fox News. There can be no denying the massive influence of those cynical propaganda outfits on the events that transpired over the past few years.

Perhaps the most disturbing moments in the special were the interviews with some of the MAGA faithful who were at the Capitol on January 6th, which was a trip to Bizarro World in itself. They still don't see anything wrong with what happened and most of them, whether they are QAnon, Proud Boys, religious leaders or local politicians, are obviously 100% sincere in their belief in Donald Trump. If you didn't think he was a cult leader before, you certainly will after hearing them talk about him. It's downright eerie.

Recounting the events of that awful day with all the dramatic footage, some of it new, in chronological order is still as dreadful to watch as ever. And we still are missing huge pieces of what happened that day.

We know that Trump snapped at Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., when the House minority leader asked him to call off his followers as they stormed the Capitol: "Maybe you just don't care as much about this election as they do!" It took much cajoling to get Trump to release the tepid statements he eventually made calling for peace and telling the insurrectionist that they are very special and he loves them. But for all the detailed leaking from the Trump White House over the course of four years, this is one afternoon they've kept a pretty tight lid on. (It's also clear that's one of the main reasons the Republicans have nixed the bipartisan commission, as some people would have to go under oath and testify about all that.)

Perhaps all of this seems tedious by now. After all, we all know the story. Most of us watched it play out in real-time. But as CNN's Brian Stelter pointed out, it's important to keep telling it because the purveyors of lies and conspiracies keep trying to whitewash it into something completely different. He quoted this tweet:

And as I noted last week, conceding to them also means letting down our guard and failing to be prepared for Insurrection Redux. Listening to those MAGA fans in the CNN documentary was very clarifying on that point. Those who took part in the insurrection and have been charged continue to believe they did nothing wrong and are no doubt prepared to do it again. Those who helped incite the mob from their pulpits and various rally stages have absolutely no regrets. There's no doubt that there could easily be more violence.

But just as important in continuing to tell the truth about January 6th is to continue to combat the Big Lie about the election.

The MAGA faithful have been completely brainwashed and I don't think they'll ever change their minds. But devious, partisan players are hard at work in the states subverting the electoral system in ways that are truly insidious. It's so bad that I think everyone is simply obligated to continue to focus very diligently on this issue. To that end. the New York Times reported some very disturbing new details out of Georgia, where Governor Brian Kemp signed a new law that allows Republicans to remove Democrats from local election boards:

Across Georgia, members of at least 10 county election boards have been removed, had their position eliminated or are likely to be kicked off through local ordinances or new laws passed by the state legislature. At least five are people of color and most are Democrats — though some are Republicans — and they will most likely all be replaced by Republicans.

Democrats in the state rightly point out that had these laws been in effect last fall, there's every chance that MAGA-friendly officials would have been put in charge of the election and Trump's requests to "find" votes might very well have been successful.

It isn't just local officials. Some states are going after statewide offices as well.

One of the more unbelievably transparent acts took place in Arizona, the epicenter of Big Lie activism, in which the Republican legislature introduced a bill that would strip the Democratic secretary of state of authority over election lawsuits. But in an act of epic chutzpah, they plan to have the law expire once she is out of office. (I assume they will reinstate it if another Democrat wins, but perhaps they feel they've put up enough roadblocks to ensure that never happens again). In Georgia, they've similarly turned the secretary of state's office into little more than a ceremonial position with little authority.

And this one is especially concerning because it tracks with the growing belief in a crackpot legal theory that state legislatures are the one and only legitimate arbiters of elections, superseding all other elected officials and the courts:

Kansas Republicans in May overrode a veto from Gov. Laura Kelly, a Democrat, to enact laws stripping the governor of the power to modify election laws and prohibiting the secretary of state, a Republican who repeatedly vouched for the security of voting by mail, from settling election-related lawsuits without the Legislature's consent.

It is only a matter of time before one of these states passes a law that openly allows the legislature to overturn an election — and then does it.

If you read the inane rationalizations by these Republican officials, some of whom are quoted saying they believe the Big Lie, it's clear that the assault on democracy is actually just beginning. And it isn't just about Donald Trump. The Republican Party realized that just a few tweaks to the election laws means they can call into question any election result they don't like and take steps to overturn it. They are also very well aware that the specter of January 6th violence hovers still hovers over the country and they have millions of agitated Americans who are willing to believe anything. They have power and they are using it.

A second insurrection: The real mission behind Republicans' absurd Arizona 'audit'

During the Trump years, it always felt as if the news cycle was running at 110 miles an hour and we were just hanging on for dear life. And it was true. There was always something terrible going on. Most people looked forward to the day that everything would slow down to a normal pace and we'd all be able to spend more time thinking about something other than the latest lunacy coming from the White House.

That time is now. The chaos has more or less, sort of, come to pass. The daily outrage meter has been turned down to eleven and it feels as if the whole government is operational instead of just the oval office and whichever corrupt Trump minion happens to be in the headlines. But there is still a whole lot going on, from foreign policy settling down into something vaguely recognizable as sane American participation in world affairs, to the Justice Department coming to terms with the wholesale corruption of the institution over the past four years to the gripping saga of the Democratic agenda wending its way through Congress. On Thursday, we even saw the Supreme Court once again uphold the Affordable Care Act, eliciting a huge sigh of relief from the 30 million people who had been waiting with bated breath to find out if they were going to have health insurance when they woke up this morning.The federal government is busy and for the most part, it's doing what Americans employ it to do. It's not always pretty but it seems to be cranking up and becoming at least somewhat functional.

But that doesn't mean the craziness has stopped or that we can assume that the bad dream we just went through for the past four years is over. Sadly, it's not. As Salon's Amanda Marcotte noted yesterday, Trump and his loyal servants in the right-wing media (or is it the other way around?) have whizzed past delusional and have moved into full-blown insanity. She wonders what the Democrats are going to do about it and I agree with her that it doesn't look like much. As Marcotte says, "the [Republican] party has reorganized itself entirely around the goal of making sure that next time Trump tries to steal an election, he pulls it off."

But I actually think it may be worse than that. The various undemocratic power grabs in the state are raising expectations among the faithful to such an extent that they may actually be leading to another insurrection.

The Washington Post's Philip Bump and the Bulwark's Tim Miller both wrote pieces in the last week or so taking a look at the way the "audit" in Arizona and the flurry of similar activity in some of the other states (including those Trump won, which means the point is nothing more than to further discredit the entire electoral system) and they concluded that energy these gambits are producing may inevitably result in more violence.

Bump notes that there were two factors that led to what happened on January 6th. First, Trump's followers were persuaded that the election had been stolen with a steady stream of lies from Trump and the right-wing media. Second, they were called to gather on the specific day the vote was to be formally certified by a joint session of Congress to stand against it. We know what happened. Now they remain agitated and upset over the Big Lie and there hasn't been anywhere for them to focus all of that wrath. In light of this week's FBI assessment that QAnon may be moving away from digital extremism into real-world violence, this bogus Arizona audit may be the catalyst they've been looking for.

In his piece, Miller points out that the GOP establishment is ostensibly dismissing the three-ring "Cyber Ninja" circus happening in Arizona's Maricopa County as a joke while the Trump supporters are taking it very, very seriously. And when this audit eventually concludes, as it surely will, that the Arizona election was definitely stolen, the odds are that some Trump supporters are going to believe they have an obligation to take action.

Miller writes:

Activists in the QAnon movement have described the audit as the first step in "The Great Awakening." And Arizona Republican Party Chairwoman Kelli Ward has threatened "arrests" of those who did not comply with the audit. (N.B.: The Arizona Republican Party does not yet have the power to detain citizens for crimes against MAGA.)...
Steve Bannon's War Room, which was the official podcast of the "Stop The Steal" rallies last fall, is playing the same role in unofficial fashion in Arizona and has found an audience for the grift. (At the time of this writing, War Room was the tenth-biggest news podcast on the Apple charts.) The thirstiest and craziest MAGA Republicans around the country have all made the hajj to Maricopa to either learn how they can bring the insurrection to their states or signal their allegiance to primary voters. The frontrunner in the Missouri race to succeed the retiring Senator Roy Blunt, Eric Greitens, is the latest of this latter group.

Miller asks, "doesn't this sound familiar?"

Indeed it does. It was this churning and agitation for someone to "do something" to "save the country" that led all those people to lose their minds that day in January and start beating cops and hunting down former Vice President Mike Pence and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.

Miller then wonders, "when the Arizona audit bell tolls, what exactly is McConnell and McCarthy's plan?"

Unfortunately, I think I have the answer. The New York Times' Jonathan Weissman reported that the GOP plan to win in 2022 is to ensure that America believes it is "in crisis."

There is an economic crisis, they say, with rising prices and overly generous unemployment benefits; a national security crisis; a border security crisis, with its attendant homeland security crisis, humanitarian crisis, and public health crisis; and a separate energy crisis. Pressed this week on whether the nation was really so beleaguered, the No. 2 Republican in the House, Representative Steve Scalise of Louisiana, thought of still more crises: anti-Semitism in the Democratic ranks, "yet another crisis," he asserted, and a labor shortage crisis.
"Unfortunately they're all real," he said, capping a 25-minute news conference in which the word "crisis" was used once a minute, "and they're all being caused by President Biden's actions."
It's highly debatable if they can convince Americans that all those concerns represent a crisis and I don't think Scalise believes it either. He's really ginning up the Republican base about the Big Lie "crisis" which is literally the only thing they really care about. They most certainly believe that all their troubles are "being caused by President Biden's actions" — in allegedly stealing the election. If this audit or series of audits inspire some die-hards to commit a little domestic terrorism for the cause, that's all to the good. After all, that really will be a crisis and Republicans have decided that's just what the doctor ordered.

Mike Pompeo's whitewashing of Trump's record backfires

President Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin just met for their first summit since Biden was sworn in. They've known each other for years and there are many stories about their frosty interactions in the past. But hopefully, there will be something of a proverbial "reset" between the two countries coming out of this meeting after the disastrous embarrassment of the Trump years.

Back at home, however, we are very much haunted by the ghosts of old troubles. There used to be a quaint old tradition of members of outgoing administrations keeping quiet for a period of time to allow the new regime to set their own policies and establish their own relationships with foreign leaders. Needless to say, like all other norms and traditions, that one has been chucked in the garbage can and Trump and his top henchmen are all screaming that Biden has already failed.

On Tuesday, Trump issued one of his usual statesmanlike press releases in which he reminisced about his "great" meeting in Helsinki and admitted that he trusted the Russian government more than the "lowlives" who worked in US Intelligence:

Trump's closest Senate ally, South Carolina's Lindsey Graham, delivered a headache-inducing spin on Fox News accusing Biden of appeasement telling Sean Hannity that "the liberals believe that we're the problem, not Russia" and exhorting him to threaten Putin:

"We need to go on the offense. We've lost deterrence when it comes to the Biden administration, and we've lost respect. Our allies no longer respect us. Our enemies are not deterred by the president and his administration. He needs to tell Putin, 'If there's another cyberattack in America coming from Russian soil, you're going to pay a price.'"

Are you feeling just a little bit disoriented reading that? It's like a dispatch from Bizarro World. Graham's comments are absurd, of course, and only on Fox News would they be met with anything but shock or hysterical laughter.

Trump's behavior toward Putin was one of the most surreal and suspicious relationships between an American president and a foreign leader in American history and all you have to do is look at his statement from this week to be reminded of it. (Too bad Democrats in Congress are in such a rush to forget it.)

While Graham is just a sad toady to the president in exile now, he's not alone.

No Trump henchman has been out there criticizing and gaslighting more than former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. As a paid Fox News contributor he's been all over the network in recent days but he's very obviously preparing his run for the 2024 election with appearances in early primary states. And his interpretation of the Trump national security and foreign policy "achievements" is just as deluded as Graham's. In a scathing op-ed at the Fox News website, Pompeo wrote:

Biden has already signaled to Putin that he is timid and unprepared to confront the Russian challenge – a weakness that ex-KGB agent Putin surely senses. We in the Trump administration created real leverage against Russia he could have used. Instead, he has chosen to abandon it,

He claims that Biden's belief that climate change is the greatest threat to our survival is a "ridiculous mindset – one apparently shared by what are supposed to be some of America's most gifted military leaders" and says that Biden must tell Putin that he sees Russian aggression "in the highest echelon of threats" and will "support our armed forces in deterring it." And he said that Biden really needs to crack down on all the cyberattacks and advised him to "put America first and back up your language with real deeds and not just rhetoric and name calling you're exceedingly more likely to be successful." Seriously.

This is coming from the man who loyally served the Putin genuflecting Donald Trump as CIA Director and Secretary of State for four years as Trump traipsed all over the world cuddling up to every tyrant he could find, excusing any and all bad behavior (other than trade infractions which he dealt with with a wrecking ball).

Even some Fox News journalists have been nonplussed by Pompeo's whitewashing of the past. Sunday host Chris Wallace pointed out that Trump never condemned the poisoning of Russian opposition leader Alexy Navalny and Pompeo laughably replied "with respect to human rights, I — we take a backseat to no one." That has to be the most fatuous comment he's ever made and that's saying something. There are dozens of examples of Trump's grotesque dismissal of human rights all over the world and here in the U.S. by the Trump administration. He pardoned war criminals and made them into heroes, he celebrated the use of torture and pledged to do it again "only worse" if needed. But perhaps the most egregious was Trump's admission to Bob Woodward that he helped to cover up the dismemberment of journalist Jamal Khashoggi:

"I saved his [Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's] ass. I was able to get Congress to leave him alone. I was able to get them to stop."

Pompeo went along with all of it. There is no question that Pompeo eagerly did Trump's bidding while laying the groundwork for his own run at the presidency. (Recall that one of the many scandals of the administration was Pompeo and his wife's extravagant taxpayer-funded "salons" at the State Department with lots of influential political benefactors.)

In fact, his weird mischaracterization of the last administration as a hawkish aggressor that dominated Putin and Chinese Premier Xi Jinping and gained massive respect from America's allies for his (and Trump's) adroit global leadership is obviously how he plans to present himself to the voters. He's going to be Trump but a lot more warmongery. He's already going all over the country, ostensibly to help with midterms but he's actually collecting chits for his own run. He's even ventured into the culture wars, making silly comments like "I met with the Taliban, I met with Chairman Kim. None of that scares me as much as what's happening in our universities and on our campuses today."

This week he announced that he's starting a new PAC which caused quite a kerfuffle on social media:

Many people may think "pipehitter" refers to someone who smokes crack, so it's a good thing they explained it.

This definition is a Navy Seal thing that Pompeo is clearly using to boost his cred with the far-right gun and camo crowd. (He went to West Point but he got out of the service very quickly.) He may run into some trouble with that name, however. It's also the name of accused war criminal Eddie Gallagher's foundation. For his sake, I hope they worked that out ahead of time.

You have to wonder if he's discussed his presidential plans with Trump as well. If not, he'd better tread carefully. You know his old boss is watching all these maneuvers with interest. Despite Pompeo's monster ego, being Donald Trump's loyal servant is really all he has going for him. It's pretty clear he doesn't realize that.

It's not voter suppression, stupid. The GOP's new — and old — weapon is vote nullification

It's quite a relief to see President Biden overseas acting like a normal president after the last four years of embarrassment on the world stage. Our traditional allies also appear to be exhaling for the first time since November of 2016 because they know that the U.S., with all of its flaws, is at least in the hands of someone who has a grasp of the job requirements. The latest Pew survey shows that the people of other countries are relieved as well. The numbers have done shifted 180 degrees since Trump left office.

They can't be completely reassured, of course, since Trump continues to insist that he is the true president in exile as he issues pseudo-tweets from his lavish golfing palaces and continues to spread the Big Lie. Things are still weird enough here in America that I'm sure the rest of the world still has its guard up. As anyone following events closely knows, there is something very nefarious going on around the country that could upend this brief moment of semi-normality. And while it's taken a while for many in the media to grasp the novel nature of this latest threat, they are now getting up to speed. Take Fred Hiatt of the Washington Post, who wrote an editorial over the weekend in which he compared the Republicans to termites, "destructive but largely unseen, anti-democracy forces around the country are gnawing at the foundations of America's free and fair elections."

State by state, the termites are trying to change the rules to allow Donald Trump or someone like him to succeed in 2024 where Trump tried and failed in 2020: to steal an election that he lost.

That's putting it starkly — but honestly: It is exactly what Republicans are planning to do.

Most importantly, Hiatt and others in the media are belatedly grappling with the reality that the civil rights groups and Democratic Party officials who have been fighting for the right to vote for years don't have a lot of experience dealing with this specific type of assault on the franchise. Voter suppression is sadly familiar in American political life. Vote nullification, however, is not. And that's what all these new laws and regulations are designed to do. If the vote doesn't go their way, they are putting mechanisms in place to simply nullify the results through a complex set of "legal" maneuvers.

For the most part, at least since the civil rights movement, local and state elections officials have operated in a non-partisan fashion, But Trump's all-out attempt to cajole, threaten and intimidate officials into stealing the vote for him in close states has opened the floodgates to anti-democratic activity all over the country. Republicans may not have folded in 2020 but they are making sure there are legal means to do it in 2022 and 2024. And some of those means are just rank intimidation. They have put in place criminal sanctions and huge fines for decisions undertaken by election officials and are handing power to partisan players in legislatures across the country. The consequences are already being felt, as the AP reports in an article amusingly headlined, "Exodus of Election Officials Raises Concerns of Partisanship":

After facing threats and intimidation during the 2020 presidential election and its aftermath, and now the potential of new punishments in certain states, county officials who run elections are quitting or retiring early. The once quiet job of election administration has become a political minefield thanks to the baseless claims of widespread fraud that continue to be pushed by many in the Republican Party.

Trump's despicable behavior is the proximate cause of all this, of course. He has accused his political rivals of doing what he and his henchman are planning to do going forward. It's enough to give you a migraine. But I happened to be reading the new biography of the GOP éminence grise James Baker III by the New Yorker's Susan Glasser and the New York Times' Peter Baker this weekend and was struck by the fact that we have thought so little about the precedent that the entire GOP establishment set when they pulled out every stop to make sure George W. Bush prevailed in the 2000 election despite his loss of the popular vote, something which had only happened once, more than a century before.

From the very beginning, Baker insisted that the system was rigged because the rules stated that manual re-counting done by representatives of both parties, overseen by non-partisan officials and even eventually sanctioned by judges themselves, was an attempt to "divine the intent of the voter." Baker also accused the other side of wanting to keep counting until they magically found the votes they needed. The famous "Brooks Brothers Riot" was all about intimidating voting officials into stopping the count — and it worked.

It was a very close election in Florida, which just happened to be run at the time by Jeb Bush, and there is a mountain of evidence that Baker and the rest of the Republicans ruthlessly used every lever they had available, some of it hugely unethical. For example, the Baker book reveals that he got word of a critical Florida Supreme Court decision before it was announced. Baker was sure from the very beginning that the Supreme Court would decide the outcome, something which most legal scholars assumed was completely out of the question, and he plotted the strategy on that basis. They were not willing to count the votes under the laws that existed in the state before the election.

In 2000, the Republican establishment was in charge of the vote nullification process and they brought in all their heavy hitters including three lawyers who are now on the Supreme Court. They were methodical and professional and the entire party banded together to make it happen. In 2020, it was Trump and a motley crew led by Rudy Giuliani while the establishment sat it out. Everyone professed astonishment that he would undermine the electoral process this way. But it wasn't exactly unprecedented, was it?

Considering what they did when it was someone they all wanted to see in the White House, from the lowliest intern pounding on the doors of that counting room in Miami to the five Republicans Supreme Court justices, I don't think we should be too surprised that Republicans are happy to let Trump and his MAGA crew rig the election apparatus in important swing states. They know it will come in handy someday.

These mysteries are lurking in the Senate's first official report on the Capitol riot

Over the past few weeks, we've heard from some of the police officers who defended the U.S. Capitol from a violent mob on January 6th and their stories have been poignant and quite sad. They clearly feel betrayed by the many elected officials who have publicly dismissed what happened as simply a bunch of rowdy tourists when the officers were the ones left to literally engage in hand-to-hand combat and put their lives on the line to keep those same officials safe that day.

This article was originally published at Salon

Capitol Police Sgt. Aquilino Gonell told CNN that he was beaten by a man with a flagpole, his hand was sliced open and he was sprayed with so much chemical poison that it soaked through his clothes and burned him for hours. But what bothered him the most was that the rioters called the police traitors and said, "we're going to shoot you. We're going to kill you. You're choosing your paycheck over the country. You're a disgrace!"

I suspect that's not something those officers hear from the tourists coming through the building on a normal day. And it's likely that some of the police officers had been Trump fans, unable to fathom that all those white people dressed in red, white and blue, waving the American and Trump flags would ever treat cops that way.

Before the recent Senate vote on the bipartisan January 6th Commission, the mother and partner of Officer Brian Sicknick who died on that day asked to speak with the GOP senators who were planning not to vote for the bill. She simply wanted to know how it happened. A few met with her, but none of them changed their minds — at the request of Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Despite an extremely fair bipartisan process that gave Republicans equal input and influence, the Republicans whined that the commission was "politicized" and expressed confidence that almost everything people need to know about that day was already known. Congressional investigations and prosecutions of the rioters, they argued, would take care of the rest. The Republicans filibustered the bill and it went down to defeat.

On Tuesday, the first of the "reports" they all insisted would tell the tale was released. It was a bipartisan investigation undertaken by the Republican and Democratic leaders on the Senate Homeland Security and Rules committees to determine the scope of the security failures on that day. Those policemen who spoke up about the horror of that day must feel even worse than they did before. If this report is any indication, the official history of that day may very well make it appear that the primary responsibility for what happened lies with the police — not the rioters or the people who instigated it.

That is not to say that the failures the report illuminated weren't serious. Salon's Jon Skolnik summarized the most important findings:

[T]he Capitol Police's intelligence division flagged various social media posts that plotted to breach the building. Police Chief Yogananda Pittman told congressional investigators that the unit reportedly brought them to the department's "command staff," but the material never arrived at the desks of higher-ups. This lack of communication persisted throughout the plan's escalation on social media until the riot unfolded on January 6.

The "full scope of known information" was never conveyed to Capitol Police "leadership, rank-and-file officers, or law enforcement partners." The Intelligence Community apparently didn't take it seriously either or, if they did, they didn't pass on their concerns and there was no emergency authority so nobody knew which way to turn when reinforcements were required. The police simply weren't prepared for a violent insurrection even though many of the Trump followers who were planning to swarm the Capitol that day were openly talking about perpetrating one.

It is a sobering report and does add some new detail to the story that we hadn't heard before. But it leaves many more questions than it answers. After all, these insurrectionists didn't just cook this up out of the blue. They felt they'd been given the order to do what they did and said so openly as they stormed the building. None of that is addressed by this investigation — and that's because the Republicans on the committee refused to do it.

According to CNN, the language of the report was the subject of many negotiations in order to keep the timorous Republican senators on board. A committee aide told the network, "did we look at Trump's role in the attack? The answer is no." They couldn't even use the word "insurrection" or mention the threats against Vice President Mike Pence in the body of the report. They were instead forced to leave Trump's incitement against Pence to the appendix.

The report also didn't look at the attempts behind the scenes to get the president to bring the insurrection under control, for obvious reasons: He thought it was terrific. As he told Fox News a couple of months ago:

"Right from the start, it was zero threat. Look, they went in — they shouldn't have done it — some of them went in, and they're hugging and kissing the police and the guards, you know? They had great relationships. A lot of the people were waved in, and then they walked in, and they walked out.

And they certainly didn't investigate what Trump knew and what he did before January 6th because it's potentially even more damning. Francesca Chambers of McClatchy reported just days after the event:

The night before the president directed his supporters to converge on the Capitol, he considered announcing by tweet that he would march down Pennsylvania Avenue with them. But he decided against it out of concern that they would be blocked from approaching the federal building if he provided advance notice of their plans.

At the very least it's clear that Trump didn't want the police to be properly prepared for a huge crowd unexpectedly bearing down on the Capitol. One might even suspect he knew exactly what he was doing.

These are things the American people have a right to know about. If people inside the White House were telling reporters about it, they could certainly be compelled to speak under oath to a congressional committee or even a special counsel. The report issued this week, with its tippy-toeing around the big orange elephant in the room only makes it more obvious how necessary a serious probe really is. The work that's going on in the states by Republicans to further subvert the electoral process along with the ongoing threat of right-wing extremist violence cannot be fully dealt with unless the American people have access to everything that led up to this moment.

The Democrats must keep hammering away at this regardless of the GOP's desperate desire to pretend it never happened. If they don't, there's a very good chance it will happen again.

Democrats don't have to let Joe Manchin win

Last Friday I wrote about how the Democrats plan to spend the month of June deliberately failing to pass their legislative agenda in order to demonstrate how intransigent the GOP is being with their use of the filibuster. It is reminiscent of the House plan to pass "messaging bills" in the last congress as a way of illustrating that the Senate was blocking popular legislation. How'd that work out?

This article originally appeared at Salon.

Judging from the comments from various Democrats in this article, many in the party remain convinced that if they can show how obstructionist the Republicans are being, they can persuade the filibuster clingers in their own caucus to support some reforms that would allow the party to actually fulfill its promises. The fatal flaw in that logic is that it assumes the Democrats even have 50 votes for such a simple agenda. They, of course, do not.

This weekend, Senator Joe Manchin, D-WV, threw another bucket of ice cold water on that cunning plan with an op-ed in his local newspaper announcing that he would not vote for the big voting rights bill, the For the People Act, and reiterating his pledge that he will never vote to weaken or end the filibuster. It's tempting to try to parse the word "weaken" to mean something other than "reform" but it's getting a little bit ridiculous at this point. It's pretty clear that Manchin will not touch the filibuster. And while he claims to support the less comprehensive "John Lewis Voting Rights Enhancement Act," he also made it very clear that he believes it must be bipartisan enough to pass a 60-vote majority threshold. He seems to think there will be some Republicans on board with such legislation —which is highly unlikely — but even if there are there will not be 10, which means they will filibuster and we are back to where we started.

A few months back I wondered if Manchin wanted to be remembered as the Strom Thurmond of his time. Apparently he does.

In his new op-ed, Manchin wrote that Democrats "conveniently ignore how [the filibuster] has been critical to protecting the rights of Democrats in the past." It's true. It did protect the rights of white racist Southern Democrats like Strom Thurmond. Today's Democrats aren't conveniently ignoring that, however. He is.

Fox News host Chris Wallace grilled Manchin on Fox News Sunday and asked him why, if he really wants bipartisanship, he doesn't keep alive the possibility that he might vote to bust the filibuster, giving the GOP incentive to actually negotiate. He asked, "by taking it off the table, haven't you empowered Republicans to be obstructionists?" Manchin went into a song and dance about how he knows there are 6 or 7 good Republicans who want to work on a bipartisan basis —neglecting to acknowledge that without 10, the GOP will still successfully filibuster every last bill.

At this point it's more than fair to assume that the Koch-funded efforts to pressure Manchin to oppose the For The People Act and protect the filibuster at all costs have paid off. His clumsy, illogical, fatuous rationale doesn't pass the laugh test.

So what does all this add up to?

Well, I'm sorry to say that it looks like it adds up to the end of President Joe Biden's first term agenda. His administration may get a puny infrastructure bill that cannibalizes most of the money from vital programs which benefit average Americans. And that's a win-win for the GOP. There's also a possibility that Congress may pass the Paycheck Fairness Act aimed at increasing gender pay equity and maybe one or two other smaller priorities. There will be the usual fights over the debt ceiling and the budget. But that's probably it.

So once they get done with what Sam Seder calls the June Loserpalooza what are all these elected officials going to do with their spare time? Well, maybe it's time for them to start taking their oversight responsibilities seriously and crank up the hearings? Investigations have apparently been happening behind the scenes, obscured by the need to foreground the legislative agenda. They now need to come up to the front.

Last Friday, the House finally got to hear from former White House Counsel Don McGahn after years of stonewalling. A transcript of the testimony will be released this week but he reportedly confirmed the details in the Mueller Report about Donald Trump asking him to obstruct justice during the Russia Investigation. Democrats missed the chance to have McGahn testify in public and provide a reminder that Trump, the once and possibly future president, behaved in office like a mafia boss instead of a president. And as this weekend's first big rally-style speech grimly demonstrated, Trump is not going away.

Since the GOP refused to back the bipartisan January 6th Commission, the Democrats will just have to do it and the sooner they get started the better. Perhaps the Senate Judiciary Committee could hold some public hearings with testimony from former Chief of Staff Mark Meadows whom they have uncovered was in close contact with Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen in the waning days of the administration pressuring him to investigate some of the most batshit crazy election conspiracy theories out there. I see no reason they couldn't call Donald Trump himself to testify. President Gerald Ford testified before Congress about Richard Nixon's pardon when he was still in office. Trump is a private citizen, just as Hillary Clinton was when they publicly grilled her for 11 hours in one of the 14 different Benghazi probes.

They also need a serious inquiry into what happened with the pandemic. The latest brouhaha about the Wuhan lab should certainly be explored but perhaps they might want to take a close look at Trump's collusion with China during the first few months of the pandemic as well. Slate's Will Saletan documented all the public evidence a few months back and it's far more damning than people may realize. And naturally they need to look at all the malfeasance and corruption in the Trump administration's completely inept response to the crisis.

There are a dozen other potential crimes to look at from Trump's foreign policy dealings to the enduring mystery behind the weird, dangerous personnel moves in the intelligence and military hierarchies in the last months of the administration. And that's just for starters.

The Big Lie is growing every day and the Democrats need to use their institutional power to contest this version of events and the entire idea that Trump had a hugely successful presidency and was cheated out of a second term. Joe Manchin and his comrades in the status quo caucus may thwart their ability to legislate needed change but he cannot stop Democrats from shining a light on what the Republicans have done. We simply can't afford to let them sweep it under the rug this time.

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