Senator Grassley, Via His Staff, Tips His Hand

Now we know why they brought in the sex crimes prosecutor from Arizona.

The state of play less than ten hours out from the hearing is that the Senate Judiciary Committee’s GOP majority has conducted three interviews, with two men, without notifying the ranking Democratic member or any of the Democratic staff on the Judiciary Committee, both of whom claim they are the man who attacked Dr. Blasey. I will be very, very, very (pleasantly) surprised if the female sex crimes prosecutor from Maricopa County, AZ doesn’t conduct an inquisition of Dr. Blasey tomorrow morning.

Brace for impact!

Open thread!

What to Watch for in the US Senate Over the Next Several Days

With the new allegations brought forth by Michael Avenatti, as well as the reporting that the President is taking over the public relations regarding his nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, including an announced 5 PM press conference/statement/availability, the real action will be within the Republican majority caucus in the Senate. Specifically all the attention needs to be on Senator McConnell.

The Senate majority leader is not particularly popular within his own caucus. He’s a top down, micromanager who tries to control everything. This includes the committees. The GOP committee chairs in the Senate are, in many ways, just figureheads. Right now every reporter is scrambling to get answers from Senator Grassley, who is the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, about what is going to happen. And while he or his office will eventually provide some, they aren’t really Grassley’s answers. They’re McConnell’s. Senator Grassley is just the face of the GOP majority on the committee, McConnell is really calling the shots.

Senator McConnell is almost the truest example of a natural fascist in American politics and public life today. His guiding principle that might makes right is the distilled essence of totalitarianism and was a hallmark of Mussollini’s fascism (national-syndicalism), as well as part of the bastardization of Nietzche’s philosophies adopted and used by the NAZIs. As I wrote back in June:

Senate Majority Leader McConnell isn’t a politician or like any politician who has ever served as Senate Majority or Minority Leader. Rather than view him as a politician, it is more appropriate to understand Senator McConnell as an insurgent, albeit a non-violent one. He recognizes no legitimacy but his own. When out of power he’ll do whatever is necessary using asymmetric, irregular, and/or unconventional means to achieve power. And once he achieves power he will do whatever he can to achieve his objectives to consolidate his gains as quickly as possible using any means necessary as he believes his actions are self justifying – that his achievement of power justifies his by any means necessary strategy. This is, by the way, the basic argument of the premier Italian fascist (national-syndicalist) theorist Sergio Panunzio, who delineated the fascist theories for the use of political violence and low intensity warfare in the 1920s. As a result, there is no law, rule, tradition, norm, ethic, promise, and/or deal he won’t violate or renege on. This also makes him an unreliable interlocutor and makes it impossible to negotiate with him in good faith as he doesn’t believe in good faith negotiations.

Senator McConnell doesn’t do anything in good faith. The last thing that Senator McConnell wants is to lose control of the Senate. Whether now because of the defections of a pair of his retiring members using it as leverage to achieve their own objectives or in the mid terms because enough voters want a check on the President to override the partisan Republican advantage in this senatorial election cycle. It is why he’s ground everything in the chamber other than handling nominations, specifically judicial nominations, to a halt. It is why he doesn’t want to do the legally required annual budgetary resolution so he can avoid having his members take tough votes before the midterms. And it is why he’s cancelled most of the August recess under the pretense that it is the only way he can move judicial nominees because of what he alleges is Democratic obstruction. Nominations that only exist because he prevented President Obama from seating almost any judicial nominees during his final two years in office. The Democratic minority has no tools to stop these nominations, regardless of what Senator McConnell says because Senator McConnell in conjunction with Senator Grassley has gotten rid of the blue slip rule and refuses to recognize Democratic senators holds on nominees. Senator McConnell’s cancellation of the August recess is really just a thinly veiled attempt to keep incumbent Democratic senators up for reelection off the campaign trail. Every Senate rule, tradition, norm, ethic, and even law (Congressional Budget Act) has been bent or stretched to breaking or just outright ignored by Senator McConnell in his quest to consolidate his power and achieve his revanchist and reactionary objectives. As an insurgent, albeit a non-violent one, Senator McConnell only understands and recognizes the application of leverage and force.

If you want to know how the Senate is going to respond to these recent allegations, or specifically how the Senate’s GOP majority is going to respond, watch Senator McConnell. He is the only Republican senator that matters.

Open thread.

The President Had Quite the Morning at the UN

The President’s speech to the UN General Assembly this morning was basically a modified rally speech. He started off with his usual vigorous patting himself on the back, which was received well…

So that went well. But as the speech went on, it went someplace weird. And not just weird, but obscurely weird.

We already know that globalism is the code that Stephen Miller and Steve Bannon use to refer to not just the current global system of international trade, international relations, and international security agreements, but to Jews. It is intended to be understood, if I may, literally by the majority of people who aren’t anti-Semites or anti-Semitic curious and figuratively by the President’s supporters who are. But what is this Doctrine of Patriotism? The Doctrine of Patriotism was proposed by Charles Spurgeon a mid to late 19th Century Calvinist Baptist from London.

Specifically, Spurgeon wrote (emphasis mine):

Patriotism is an instinct which is found, I think, in every true Englishman. And most of the other nations of the earth can also boast of their patriots. Let it never be said that the Church of God has no feeling of patriotism for the Holy City, for the Heavenly Land and for her glorious King enthroned above. To us, Christian patriotism means love to the Church of God, for—

“There our best friends, our kindred dwell, There God our Savior reigns.”

Let us have loyalty, by all means, but, chiefly, loyalty to Christ! Let us have true patriotism, but, especially that patriotism which consists in love to “the land of the living” of which Christ is the one King and Ruler.

So here too we have the President using a phrase that is going to either just get a “hmm, that sounds a bit odd” or “what does he mean by that” from most listeners, including scholars of international relations and security and national security professionals and that is going to be heard and understood differently by a very specific group of the President’s base: white Evangelical Christians. Moreover, this concept dovetails with a lot of Putin’s attempts to use and leverage the Russian Orthodox Church to promote himself to white American Evangelicals, as well as a variety of American and European white supremacists, neo-NAZIs, neo-fascists, and neo-nationalists. The President’s use of the doctrine of patriotism, like his use of the term globalist, is meant to be taken figuratively by his base and fellow travelers, but literally by everyone else who doesn’t speak in this coded jargon.

Aside from the fact that realism can’t really be principled by its very nature, neither of these two things – principled realism and the doctrine of patriotism – are actually the Trump Doctrine. The Trump Doctrine, as we’ve discussed here extensively, is “I will be treated fairly or else and only I can ensure that America will be treated fairly or else and only I can ensure that the forgotten men and women of America will be treated fairly or else.”

I’m sure tomorrow’s UN Security Council meeting is going to go very smoothly…

Open thread.

Rosenstein Update

Not to step on Dave’s post, but this is a fast moving story. Here’s the most recent reporting:

What does this exactly mean? Here’s a quick explainer on the Vacancy Act that Steve Vladek at Lawfare did when VA Secretary Shuklin was either fired (according to Shulkin) or resigned (according to the White House):

One of the obscure federal statutes that has come to prominence in the Trump administration is the Federal Vacancies Reform Act of 1998 (FVRA), a statute designed to increase the president’s flexibility with respect to filling vacancies within the executive branch on a temporary basis. Most discussion of the FVRA has centered on the Justice Department, and whether President Trump could use the statute to replace Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, or both, with someone from outside of the Justice Department. But the real action with the FVRA has largely involved the Department of Veterans Affairs—with respect to which the White House has now completely bungled matters, twice.

Let’s start at the beginning: When a federal office becomes vacant, the default is usually that the “first assistant” to that office is entitled to exercise the functions of the office (but does not formally ascend to the office) on a temporary, or “acting,” basis. But both because numerous positions don’t have obvious “first assistants” and because sometimes there’s no one holding that position, either, Congress in 1998 sought to provide a bit more flexibility to the president when filling many—if not most—vacancies in federal offices.

Thus, as the FVRA provides, when an executive branch officer whose position requires Senate confirmation “dies, resigns, or is otherwise unable to perform the functions and duties of the office,” the default is still the “first assistant,” but the president can override that default—and choose any other executive branch officer holding a Senate-confirmed position, or some senior, non-Senate-confirmed officers from the relevant agency, to exercise the functions of the office for no more than 210 days. The two big questions that the FVRA raises but does not answer are whether (1) it overrides all agency-specific succession statutes, such that the FVRA process is always available; and (2) even if it does, whether it applies when the vacancy is created by the president—i.e., when the prior permanent officeholder is fired, rather than dies or resigns.

The former question is hypertechnical. (With regard to the Justice Department, at least, the Office of Legal Counsel has concluded that it can be used in lieu of the more specific DOJ succession statute.) The latter question is much more important—and much less clear. Although the text of the statute could be read to encompass allvacancies (and at least one senator said on the floor that it would apply to firings), there are strong prudential and contextual arguments militating in the other direction—including that the purpose of the FVRA is to give the president flexibility to deal with unexpected vacancies, not to create vacancies himself and then sidestep existing succession schemes. Indeed, if the answer to both questions is “yes,” then the president would have the power not only to create vacancies in every executive branch office, but to fill them on a temporary basis with individuals who were never confirmed by the Senate either to that specific position, or, in some cases, at all. It’s easy to see, then, why the FVRA has loomed large in the repeated rumors over succession at the Department of Justice.

But for all of the focus on the Justice Department, the real flashpoint for the FVRA lately has been the Veterans Affairs Department (with an honorable mention to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau). In late March, President Trump fired the VA Secretary, David Shulkin, and named a Pentagon undersecretary, Robert Wilkie, to serve as acting secretary under the FVRA. (The VA has its own succession statute, but that statute expressly incorporates other authorities.) Thus, Wilkie raised the big FVRA question: Does it apply when the vacancy is created by the president firing the incumbent? (Veterans’ groups brought a lawsuit arguing that the answer was no.)

Shortly after Shulkin was fired, however, the White House began arguing—loudly—that Shulkin had not been fired, but that instead, he had resigned. The only reason why this could have mattered is the FVRA: If the statute does not apply to vacancies created by the president, then Wilkie could not have been named to serve as acting VA secretary—and any actions he undertook in his capacity as acting VA secretary were subject to legal challenge. Thus, the White House, at least, seemed wary of the second FVRA question. (President Trump also ran into different statutory problemwhen he nominated Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson, the White House doctor, to hold the position on a permanent basis, but that issue was mooted by Jackson’s withdrawal.)

This brings us to the latest VA-based FVRA kerfuffle: Last Friday, President Trump surprised everyone (including the putative acting secretary) by announcing at a public event that he was nominating Wilkie to hold the position of VA secretary on a permanent basis. Small problem: The FVRA expressly prohibits such a move. Although the FVRA allows lots of folks to hold an office on an acting basis, one of the few exceptions is an individual who has not been the “first assistant” to the office for at least 90 days who is then nominated by the president to hold the office permanently. Put another way, Wilkie’s formal nomination, by dint of the FVRA, disqualifies him from continuing to serve as acting secretary. This is not an open question about the FVRA; it’s compelled by the plain text.

Wholly apart from what this whole mess says about how seriously the Trump administration takes the VA (which is to say, not), it also suggests two important, related points about the FVRA: First, the White House is at least outwardly wary of the open question concerning its application in cases in which the vacancy is created by firing. It might therefore be a bit gun-shy about relying on the FVRA in a higher-profile case going forward. Second, the White House (or, at least, the president) doesn’t seem to fully understand the FVRA—as evidenced by the Wilkie mess. Neither of these conclusions is earth-shattering, of course. But both could be important markers for the vacancy fights to come.

This is going to be an ongoing, fast moving story. Expect it to change several times over the next few hours until all the details are nailed down. And then expect that regardless of those actual details, the White House will claim that Rosenstein resigned, so they can just use the Vacancy Act to slide someone already approved by the Senate into the position. They’ve done this several times now – at VA and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau – to circumvent the rules.

I think it is also important to note that once again the President is trying to fire or force out by pressuring a senior appointee to resign and he can’t bring himself to actually do it. He either has someone else do it, as was the case with Comey and now, potentially, Rosenstein or he does it by passive-aggressive tweet.

Update at 12:15 PM EDT

Here’s what I think happened, someone called up Jonathon Swan at Axios, and leaked that Rosenstein was resigning, in order to create a fait accompli by boxing in the President Swan, like The New York Times‘ reporters on Friday, appears to have been manipulated and used by their sources for those sources’ own interests.

We are off the glass and through the map.

Happy infrastructure week!!!

Open thread.

Avenatti Drops a Bomb on the Senate Judiciary Committee

Michael Avenatti has released his email correspondence with Mike Davis, who is Senator Grassley’s Chief Counsel for Nominations for the Senate Judiciary Committee.

So you don’t have to squint, here’s the email correspondence that Avenatti tweeted:

As I’ve been saying in comments for several days, there is a lot of time between now and when Dr. Blasey testifies on Thursday for more shoes to drop, let alone between now and the following week, which is most likely when Senator McConnell will try to schedule the floor vote on Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination. And Avenatti is just beginning his campaign of death by a thousand twitter cuts.

Open thread.

Personal Security Arrangements

This morning, in the lees of my post about how the Senate GOP majority is likely to misplay their hand in regard to Dr. Christine Blasey Ford*, commenter dimmsdale asked the following question:

Adam, if you know, Id be curious to get an expert’s view of the kind of protection she should have. Thinking the sort of services Gavin DeBecker offers. do I have that right?

I’m generally familiar with DeBecker’s work, but cannot comment on exactly what his firm does as I’ve no first hand experience with it or him. I do hold a personal security and close quarters combatives tactical certification from a training course I took when I was in graduate school back in 1994. I took the course from one of DeBecker’s competitors. Other than working as one of the lead bouncers (coolers) at a large entertainment venue/nightclub for a few years in grad school, I have never actually been employed to do this type of work. I had the opportunity to take the course, decided it would be an interesting adjunct to martial arts training, and the added bonus was that British Special Operations legend Lofty Wiseman was one of the instructors!

Over the summer, I was contacted by one of our readers asking what I recommended for a friend who needed personal security protection due to an ongoing set of legal issues. My sanitized (references to location, person, etc.) recommendations are below as an answer to dimmsdale’s question.

  1.  I’m not sure I still have enough details, so keep that in mind when reading the following.
  2. The first thing your friend’s attorney needs to do is contact the local police and get something documented on the record about: a) the harassment that’s already happened and b) the general concern for your friend’s safety. This may include needing to request a restraining order/order of protection.
  3. If your friend and her attorneys are seriously concerned, then professionals need to be hired. Have the attorneys check to see if they can hire local law enforcement off duty to a) stay with your friend and park their cruisers in her driveway while doing so and b) serve as a personal security detail.
  4. If local law enforcement where you’re at doesn’t do this, then the attorneys need to ask for increased police patrols in her neighborhood and at her place of work.
  5. If local law enforcement where you’re at doesn’t do this, then the attorneys need to hire professionals who work in work in your state. Usually these will be private investigators/private security professionals licensed to work in your states and often these folks are retired law enforcement, military, and/or intelligence personnel. They should be licensed, bonded, and insured. If the latter is not the case, then your friend’s attorney will need to ascertain the liability insurance that will be need to be purchased, and then purchased, in order to legally protect whomever you’ve hired to provide personal security.
  6. If they’re targeting your friend, change her appearance. If she’s got long hair, cut it short. If she’s got short hair, change the style and start letting it grow out or get a good wig. If she’s blonde, die it a dark color. If she’s brunette or has black hair, dye it blonde. If she’s conservative, style it provocatively and die it hot pink, purple, and green. If she likes to dress casual – jeans,  t-shirts, button down shirts, pullovers, – put her in bonnets, sundresses, and sandals. If she likes to wear skirts and dresses, put her in jeans, boots, and button down shirts. If she dresses professionally, dress her casually, if she dresses casually, dress her professionally. Basically make it harder to quickly identifier on the street, in a restaurant or store, or in a crowd. The same suggestions apply to men using appropriate male attire.
  7. Get a dog and put it in her house as an early warning system. And make sure it isn’t unattended outside as pros, or knuckleheads who think they are, will try to bait and either sedate or bait and kill the dog to get it out of the way.
  8. If she doesn’t have it already, order a decent home surveillance camera system and have it installed. Something that uploads to the cloud and streams to her phone and her attorneys’ phones.
  9. If they’ve got a good target on her car, get her a different car with different tags.
  10. If possible, just get her out of town to some place safe where she can be protected. Or relocate her in town. Some place with limited access and clear sight lines with people she can trust. Don’t just stash her at a hotel or B&B.
  11. If you all are this worried about her security, don’t try to DIY this. Have it all done properly and professionally. Have the attorneys document everything they felt had to be done, have her and the attorneys and whichever professionals are hired document anything that might be suspicious or a concern, no matter how slight or coincidental or seemingly explainable.
  12. If she has a firearm: a) ascertain if she actually believes she can use it if she has to, b) ascertain if she’s got the training to do so under stress, c) and then it has to be on her person at all times. Home carry, bathroom carry, shower carry (make sure to protect against rust), on the nightstand when she sleeps, carry outside the home to work, the store, church, etc. Anywhere she can legally have it and carry it would need to be carried. And it has to be on body carry. No purse carry. No trunk or glove box carry. On the body where it can be unlimbered and brought to bear on target quickly and effectively. If she doesn’t really believe she could use it and/or is uncomfortable carrying it everywhere then it either needs to go into a proper safe and stay there for the duration or given to a friend who’s not involved in any of this mess for safekeeping. Otherwise it’ll be taken from her and used against her. Same thing if she’s got a “front closet” shotgun or rifle. It’s either always within arm’s reach when at home or it’s secured in a safe. She can’t be in the bedroom sleeping and the shotgun is in the front hallway closet where she can’t get to it.
  13. If you’re going to hire professionals, defer to their judgement on whether your friend should be armed.

Updated at 11:46 PM EDT

14. Turn off the geolocation on your devices and social media so you can’t be tracked through using your various social media accounts or through your fitness monitoring device.

15. There are two options for what to do about online/social media. Either shut and lock everything down and go completely dark, or lock everything down as much as possible security wise, but continue to use it to give the impression that nothing out of the ordinary is going on.

Also, Anne Laurie sent this along from the ACLU:

If the #MeToo movement had caught on in 1997, the many people coming forward would still have had to worry about getting sued, in addition to the myriad other consequences of challenging their harassers. But because it caught on in 2017, they also have to worry about getting hacked and being subject to mass online attacks, trolling, and other forms of harassment that can unfortunately be the cost of speaking out.

I’m a technologist with the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy, and Technology team, but outside of my day job, I’ve been working for the better part of a decade with people — mostly, but not all, women — who have been targeted online. I’ve also been a sexual-misconduct whistleblower myself, so I know the personal cost of speaking out. People often feel powerless in the face of unknown threats from the internet, but there’s a lot that whistleblowers can do to stay safe while coming forward.

The digital defense tips below are for individuals. They address threats against specific people, not the systemic problem of harassment. There’s an important conversation happening about how institutions — from universities to software platforms to law enforcement — handle online threats. In the meantime, though, these are some concrete things that individuals can do to feel a little safer about speaking out and confronting power.

Much more at the link!

I CANNOT STRESS ENOUGH that you want professionals involved if you are seriously concerned for her safety and well being!!!!! And I can’t stress enough that these discussions should be had with her attorneys and between them and local law enforcement and then whichever professionals are hired.

In the case of Dr. Blasey’s, there are a couple of other items to be considered. The first is that because a lot of the threats that have been made have been made online, and because her email has been hacked and she’s been impersonated online and in social media, her attorney needs to get the local FBI Field Office and the state police/state bureau of investigation involved. The former will also, partially, get around the White House’s refusal to ask the FBI to do a supplementary background check regarding her allegations against Judge Kavanaugh. The second, as I stated in item #11 in the list of suggestions above, is that Dr. Ford, her family, and her attorney should not try to establish their security as a DIY project. Given the political moment we’re living in, this is not the time to wing it. Unfortunately one of the prices of Dr. Blasey’s courage in coming forward is that her life as she and her family know it is now over.


* There was a robust discussion in the comments last night as to whether it is Dr. Blasey, Dr. Ford, or Dr. Blasey Ford. My understanding from the reporting is that she uses Blasey as her professional surname and Ford, which is her married name, as her personal surname. I’m using Dr. Blasey because unless/until it is otherwise reported, this is how she wishes to be professionally known.

The Big Bamboozle

In a bizarre interview with The Hill last night, Trump bragged that he is doing the country “a great service” by declassifying documents pertinent to an ongoing investigation into his campaign’s possible collusion with Russia. What he is actually doing, of course, is trying to further undermine the Mueller investigation and influence the news cycle.

I hope and believe that Adam’s prediction about that effort will come to pass — that it will make Trump and his toadies in the House look like idiots. In The Hill interview, Trump said the declassification could become one of his “crowning achievements” because it will reveal that the FBI was out to get Trump all along when they surveilled Carter Page. The Atlantic covered this odd strategy here:

But it’s looking more and more like House Republicans have chosen to die on a hill that’s shifting below their feet. “Be careful what you wish for,” Democratic Senator Mark Warner, the ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told reporters on Tuesday. He was indicating, according to an aide, that “it’s simply impossible to review the documents” on Page and conclude anything other than that the FBI “had ample reason” to investigate him. It’s not only Democratic Senators who believe that: Republican Senator Richard Burr, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told CNN in July that he believes the FISA judges had “sound reasons” for issuing the Page surveillance warrant to the FBI. “I don’t think I ever expressed that I thought the FISA application came up short,” Burr said at the time.

But Reps Nunes, Gaetz, Meadows, et al, are doubling down on the Page-as-martyr strategy. It may make sense to people (like Trump) who marinate in Fox News 24/7, but it’ll likely fall flat with everyone else because believing all the Deep State conspiracy crap is a prerequisite of buying the Page-as-victim angle. It would be as if you or I showed up at a city council meeting and started babbling about lost mustard and naked mopping. Any jackals in the audience might find it amusing, but the rest of the crowd would look at us as if we’d lost our goddamned minds.

Anyhoo, there was also this piece of supreme weirdness from Trump in last night’s interview with The Hill:

Trump also said he regretted not firing former FBI Director James Comey immediately instead of waiting until May 2017, confirming an account his lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, gave Hill.TV earlier in the day that Trump was dismayed in 2016 by the way Comey handled the Hillary Clinton email case and began discussing firing him well before he became president.

“If I did one mistake with Comey, I should have fired him before I got here. I should have fired him the day I won the primaries,” Trump said. “I should have fired him right after the convention, say I don’t want that guy. Or at least fired him the first day on the job. … I would have been better off firing him or putting out a statement that I don’t want him there when I get there.”

Trump has offered different reasons in the past for his firing of the FBI chief, blaming Comey’s handling of the Clinton case but also linking it to Comey’s actions in the Russian investigation.

Emphasis mine. Of course, Comey served at the pleasure of President Obama when Trump won the primaries and was nominated at the convention. But I suspect Trump was just indulging in mindless superlatives as usual during that interview but was otherwise faithful to talking points created as part of an evolving legal/PR strategy — to claim that he was onto this Deep State conspiracy even before day one and, therefore, Trump fired Comey for the Clinton email investigation rather than to shutdown the Mueller probe.

But believing that dog’s breakfast of a post-hoc justification requires going down rabbit holes within rabbit holes. For instance, recall that the memo Trump ordered Deputy AG Rosenstein to produce to justify firing Comey rightly claimed that Comey’s actions at the conclusion of the email investigation were unfair to Clinton. But now we’re supposed to believe that Clinton was colluding with the Russians to take out Trump, either with the active participation of Comey or via his negligence? Come on, man.

It’s nonsense. But so is everything else Trump says, like the claims this morning that the economic recovery began the day he was elected. You can plot unemployment rates, GDP growth, etc., on a chart that represents a gradual upward trajectory from the Great Recession to the present day and wave it in Trump supporters’ faces, but they won’t believe their lying eyes or lived experience. Nope, the USA was a Dickensian hellscape until 11/9/2016 and the ascension of the Golden Calf.

Will the con work again? I don’t think so. One thing successful con artists know is that you have to move on because the bamboozle only works until it stops working. Ironically, being POTUS is the first real job Trump has ever had. And it looks like the first performance review is going to be all kinds of ugly.