Steve Bannon moves one step closer to charges of criminal contempt

A week ago, the House select committee on Jan. 6 took the first steps toward holding Donald Trump adviser and proud racist Steve Bannon in contempt for failing to turn over documents requested under subpoena. The committee then followed up with a letter to Bannon’s attorney making it clear that not cooperating with an investigation into the attempted overthrow of the American government was not an option. On Tuesday evening, as The New York Times reports, the committee made the next step by voting unanimously to recommend that the House hold Bannon in criminal contempt of Congress. The issue will now go before the full House, where a vote is expected on Thursday.

Refusal to comply with congressional subpoenas is certainly not a new thing for the former members of the Trump White House. During the investigation of connections between the Trump campaign and Russia, Trump’s first impeachment for the attempted blackmailing of the Ukrainian president, and Trump’s second impeachment for his connection to the Jan. 6 insurrection, nearly everyone who worked for Trump refused to cooperate—on orders from Trump, who routinely claimed some form of executive privilege. In many cases, Trump didn’t actually issue such a claim, but simply instructed those connected with him to clam up on the basis that he could claim privilege if he wanted to. 

It’s a tactic that worked for Bannon the last time he was subpoenaed by Congress. But there are multiple reasons that won’t work this time.

During Trump’s time at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, the infuriating refusal to cooperate with the most basic inquiries forced Congress to issue multiple subpoenas and declare a number of Trump staffers to be in contempt. That included Bannon, who in 2018 was subpoenaed by the House Intelligence Committee. Like so many others, Bannon informed the committee that Trump had told him to claim executive privilege, leading that committee to recommend Bannon be held in criminal contempt.

But until President Biden moved into the White House, there was an additional problem: the Department of Justice (DOJ). Under both Jeff Sessions and William Barr, the DOJ simply sat on Congressional contempt charges rather than moving them forward. In fact, Barr himself was the subject of one of those contempt charges. As a result, Congress had to go to court fighting not just the White House, but the DOJ, which used every possible delaying tactic to see that contempt charges were pointless.

With the Justice Department fighting on Trump’s side and courts repeatedly shying away from stepping into the space between Congress and the executive, even those occasions when House did move forward with contempt charges generated little effect. The futility was such that even getting the full House to support charges against Trump supporters like Bannon became difficult since many members of the House saw the effort as only generating a signal of congressional weakness.

However, as the House moves toward a Thursday vote, it does so knowing that two very big things have changed.

First, Trump can make no claim of executive privilege because he’s not the executive. In some cases, sitting presidents have moved to protect conversations and documents of former White House residents, but in this case Biden has already made it clear he is not shielding any of the requested documents or testimony related to Jan. 6. So Bannon’s claim that he is refusing to testify due to executive privilege has absolutely no basis in law.

Second, Barr is no longer at the DOJ. So the assumption at least is that Attorney General Merritt Garland will act with Congress rather than against it. Congress, the White House, and the DOJ all insist that Bannon must turn over the documents and testify, or face the consequences of criminal contempt—a charge that could net Bannon six months in federal prison.

Bannon’s participation in the committee investigation is particularly important because he was not only involved in directly planning on disruption of Jan. 6 events with Trump and other members of the White House staff, but he also indicated on a radio broadcast that he expected “all hell” to break loose on that day. Bannon was one of those who targeted Jan. 6 for action. He was a participant in a “war room” planning how Trump and his allies would move on that day. His statements show that he anticipated—and may have helped plan—violence.

Bannon’s testimony is vital to the investigation. And moving forward swiftly with charges of criminal contempt against Bannon is vital to showing other members of Trump’s inner circle that the era in which they can get away with literally anything, knowing that Trump will throw them some form of protection, is over.

Trump is claiming executive privilege to prevent Biden from releasing documents. Trump will lose

Denied his access to Twitter, Donald Trump has taken to issuing regular missives to his supporters—almost all of which come with a link for providing donations. On Wednesday, one of those statements made clear that, even before the House Select Committee investigating Jan. 6 issued its first subpoenas, Trump intended to fight them using “executive privilege.”

"Executive privilege will be defended, not just on behalf of my Administration and the Patriots who worked beside me, but on behalf of the Office of the President of the United States and the future of our Nation," wrote Trump.

No one has relied more heavily on executive privilege than Trump. During his time at the White House, and especially during his first impeachment, it’s easy to determine the number of document and testimony requests that were met with a claim of executive privilege—because it was all of them. Trump even instructed members of executive branch agency to refuse to attend long-standing regulatory meetings, or refuse to provide standard information, with the idea that he might claim privilege. In almost all these instances, he didn’t actually ever make such a claim. He also didn’t provide the requested information. Under Trump, executive privilege became a black box that could be placed around any information, at any time, and because it was never really claimed, never had to defend itself in court.

But, for all the ways that Trump has applied executive privilege in the past, there is one thing he can’t do: He can’t call on it from beyond the political grave. As Rep. Jamie Raskin said in response to the missive from Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s thoughts on executive privilege aren’t particularly meaningful at this point “because there’s no president involved—there’s no such thing as a former president’s executive privilege.”

The one person who decides what information gets shared now is the actual president. And no matter what the MAGA crowd might think, the actual president is Joe Biden.

Executive privilege is not a term found in the Constitution. The extent to which the executive can hold secrets, and the actions that the Congress can take to reveal them, is a balance that has always been maintained through a battle of wills occasionally moderated by the Supreme Court.

There have always been instances in which discussions in the White House were held in a high degree of secrecy, but for the most part legal protections extended only to things such as military plans or diplomatic communications that could be construed as matters of national security. Going back to disputes between Aaron Burr and Thomas Jefferson, the Supreme Court (or to be more accurate, John Marshall) ruled that presidents have no particular protections or privileges attached to their private discussions. A quarter of a century later, Andrew Jackson refused to hand over any information to the Senate … but Jackson was an authoritarian jackass whose attitude toward the courts and law shouldn’t be taken as precedent for anyone. Somewhere in the middle of those two positions is the bounds of executive privilege. 

Though there is a lengthy list of refusals to produce information by the executive branch, the first broad application of such privilege didn’t come until Dwight Eisenhower cited executive privilege in refusing to provide information from the Defense Department during the Army-McCarthy hearings. Eisenhower’s reasoning might be fully justifiable, and his opponent wholly execrable, but it was in this exchange that the idea of executive privilege as an appropriate tool for protecting “candid advice,” rather than matters of vital national interest, originated. Eisenhower also extended the idea of privilege beyond direct communications with the executive to cover such discussions among advisers. 

Richard Nixon took that opening and ran for the end zone. Post-Nixon, Republicans have really liked them some executive privilege. Like ... a lot. Ford claimed it. The Bushes, father and son, worked it heavily. And if Donald Trump’s claim that agencies can deny requests from the Congress while waiting to see if he wants to declare privilege seemed like something new, it wasn’t. Ronald Reagan went there first. Reagan’s idea that everything should be assumed to be privileged until he said otherwise flipped the whole concept on its head. It has stayed flipped.

Democrats haven’t been immune to the executive privilege itch. Barack Obama claimed executive privilege when the Republican-led House insisted that then-Attorney General Eric Holder turn over documents about an ongoing investigation or face perjury charges. Bill Clinton claimed privilege over documents about his inappropriate White House affair … and lost that claim in court.

Over the last 50 years, the idea of executive privilege has become so ingrained that it’s often simply assumed that any exchange between White House advisers, or even officials at regulatory agencies, is shrouded by the potential of privilege being exerted. Which has made executive privilege the enemy of transparency in a way that few (except perhaps Jackson, Nixon, and Trump) would appreciate.

But none of this—zip, zero, nada—will avail Trump now. Because, as Raskin said, executive privilege is something for people who are still in office. People who are out of office are protected by something else, something called the Presidential Records Act. And how that applies is up to the current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. 

The first thing that Act does is make it clear that all records of the president and vice president are public data. The next thing it does is make the incumbent president the custodian of that information, and it gives the incumbent president some very broad powers.

The president can destroy records

If information is found to “no longer have administrative, historical, informational, or evidentiary value” then the president can have those records chucked. However, there is a catch. First this proposal has to run past the National Archives. Records can only be disposed on a written request from the president, and with a written approval from the archivist.

The President can restrict access to records

The president can determine that there is a compelling national interest to keep records under wraps for up to 12 years. However, information is open to selected Freedom of Information requests after five years. Again, all of this happens in coordination with the National Archives.

The president can take full control of the records

For as long as the president is in office, records can be essentially taken away from the Archives and held by the White House, meaning that anyone who wants them has to request or subpoena them directly from the president.

The president can make the records fully public

The records can be turned over to the House or Senate, or to the courts as part of legal proceedings. They can also be cleared for release on any request to the National Archives.

And it’s that last thing that’s likely to happen in the case of the records that are currently on President Biden’s desk. Two collections of Trump documents that are part of the extensive request from the Select Committee have now been turned over by the National Archives to the White House. These documents may contain phone records, schedules, meeting notes, and more for Trump, Trump’s adult children, Melania Trump, members of Trump’s legal team like Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell, and records from advisers like Steve Bannon and Roger Stone. The National Archives have reportedly turned over hundreds of pages of information.

The White House is looking at those records to see if there is some reason why they shouldn’t be provided (for example, discussions of a military or diplomatic nature). However, Biden has already made it clear that he values transparency and plans to “err on the side of disclosure.” So Trump should not be expecting any protection on that front.

Despite all this, there’s little doubt that Trump will try to intervene in the release of these documents, and there might be some tiny spark of hope in the land of all you can eat shrimp. 

That spark goes back once again to Joseph McCarthy, the same McCarthy that Eisenhower used executive privilege to ignore. In 1948, the House Committee on Un-American Activities subpoenaed records “concerning the loyalty” of the director of the National Bureau of Standards. Truman responded by blocking all access to so-called “loyalty files” and held a press conference making clear he would not comply with any such request. For the next four years, Truman sparred with the Un-American Activities Committee and with the follow-up hearings. 

But once Truman was out of office, they tried again, seeking to make Truman testify himself. He refused the subpoena, and the committee allowed the matter to drop rather than fight the issue out in court, which could have generated a clear definition of what protection, if any, is provided to a former executive.

That Trump’s legal position could ultimately tie back to McCarthyism … seems entirely appropriate. But he shouldn’t get his hopes up.

Evacuations continue from Kabul, President Biden to address the nation on Friday

On Friday afternoon, President Joe Biden will speak to the nation on the still-unfolding situation in Afghanistan. Daily Kos will carry live coverage of Biden’s address beginning at 1 p.m. Eastern Time.

Military evacuation flights continue to shuttle Americans, allies, and Afghans seeking to leave the country out of Afghanistan. Many of these flights take evacuees to facilities in nearby countries to make as many trips into Kabul as possible.

Many U.S. flights had been directed to Doha in Qatar, but with increasing crowding at those locations, CBS News reports that the U.S. has now secured permission to begin staging evacuees at Isa Air Base in Bahrain. German planes have been evacuating people to Tashkent in Uzbekistan. At each location, military and State Department workers are scrambling to take care of those arriving from Afghanistan, getting citizens on to the next flights, and working out how to handle Afghan refugees. None of these stops are meant to be permanent destinations. 

Additional State Department diplomats headed into Afghanistan on Thursday and Friday to help coordinate those on their way out. U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Ross Wilson remains in Kabul to work with the Taliban, if possible, to protect those still moving toward evacuation. 

U.S. forces continue to hold the military section of the Kabul airport. However, many of those seeking to leave Afghanistan report that they’ve been unable to reach the airport. CNN reported on Thursday that at least one former military translator was trapped in Kabul after spending eight hours trying to reach the airport. Even those who do arrive to the airport can be in for long waits in a facility where water and even shade are in short supply. Some Afghans have reportedly been waiting on the tarmac for over two days.

But as the media continues to play up reports of chaos in Afghanistan and to wonder how things fell apart so quickly, it’s not just the intelligence reports that are coming into question but also the media’s honesty in dealing with the situation.

As journalist and author Eric Boehlert points out, it’s not as if the networks had displayed much interest in Afghanistan until they could get nice crowd shots around the airport. When it comes to the time that the broadcast networks devoted to stories about Afghanistan—any topic in Afghanistan—the average scores since 2015 were ABC 16, NBC 16, and CBS 25. Those are in minutes per year. Not one network gave America’s ongoing war in Afghanistan one crime drama’s worth of coverage in total over a period of five years—and that’s even when rolling in uplifting stories about the women’s soccer team and female entrepreneurs in Kabul.

Naturally, newscasters are not the military or the intelligence community. They’re not responsible for the clearly failed analysis of how rapidly the Taliban would advance, or the equally flawed planning for how Americans and allies could be evacuated. However, they are the filter through which many are now seeing these events. The incredibly light attention to the situation in Afghanistan should lend a great deal of caution when listening to instant experts reporting on the scenes.

Whether reports are talking about a kinder, gentler Taliban 2.0 or about chaos in which the Taliban are beating Americans, everything coming out of Afghanistan at the moment—other than refugees—needs to be met with a degree of skepticism.

As Marcy Wheeler writes at emptywheel, journalists looking for a quick story are “getting suckered by ass-covering sources” who want to make it seem as if they, and they alone, had the insight to predict what was going to happen. As an example, Wheeler points out a Wall Street Journal article that inverts the order and nature of events to make it seem as if low-level State Department officials had an inside scoop while those above them, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken, were blindsided by events. But getting there requires drawing conclusions that ignore even the content of the article itself. But the WSJ, like many media outlets, is more interested in packaging up a nice story of how the Biden administration screwed up than accurately covering events.

Wheeler notes: 

“I get that such stories—suggesting that Biden ignored warnings and so owns this collapse—will drive a lot of traffic. Biden does own this collapse, along with Trump, Obama, and (especially) George Bush. But he owns it because of stupid decisions made 18 months and 18 years ago, not the efforts he made in July to mitigate the aftermath of those earlier decisions.”

There is a stack of people, particularly on the right, rushing forward to say “I told you so” at this point, and a stack of media outlets, not necessarily on the right, eager to give them opportunities to repeat those claims. And the result is a lot of extremely sketchy claims getting extremely credulous reporting.

And, of course, there’s this.

If we leave any Americans behind, or if we leave thousands of Afghans who fought bravely alongside us behind, President Joe Biden deserves to be impeached for a High Crime and Misdemeanor of Dereliction of Duty.

— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) August 20, 2021

This is exactly why Lindsey Graham called for the immediate impeachment of Donald Trump when he deliberately and callously abandoned Kurdish allies who had fought side by side with Americans for two decades. Except, of course, that he didn’t. 

But don’t expect Graham to be the only one. 

First Jan. 6 hearings begin with police who were assaulted, GOP continuing that assault

Make no mistake: Republicans do not want any kind of investigation into the events surrounding the Jan. 6 insurrection because they’re extremely afraid of what that investigation will find. That’s why, when given the opportunity to have an impartial panel that examined those events outside the normal back and forth of Congressional politics, Republicans in the Senate shot it down. That’s why when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi revived the idea as a select committee, Republicans voted against it. That’s why Kevin McCarthy first tried to saddle the investigation with a stack of Republicans whose announced intention was to derail any look into those events, then made a pretense of withdrawing Republican “support” when Pelosi rejected the worst of those who were out to make the investigation a farce.

Republicans do not want this to happen. What they want is for everyone else to leave this alone so they can continue the project of turning Jan. 6 from insurrection to tourist visit to patriotic action that’s a model for future events.

That effort is expected to continue on Tuesday as the House holds the first hearing from that select committee. As CNN reports, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy is expected to make clear that he “will not cooperate” with the committee’s investigation. They are planning a number of events for the course of the day, all with the same theme: It’s Nancy Pelosi’s fault. Pelosi, according to the cover story being generated on the right, failed to get the Capitol Police and National Guard to the Capitol in sufficient numbers—a claim that ignores how that was both not Pelosi’s job and not within her authority.

Meanwhile, the actual hearing is going to begin. Here’s what to expect.

Tuesday, Jul 27, 2021 · 2:38:18 PM +00:00 · Mark Sumner

Fanone pounds the table as he says, "the indifference shown to my colleagues is disgraceful!" "Nothing has prepared me to address those elected members of our government who continue to deny the events of that day and in doing so betray their oath of office," he adds

— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) July 27, 2021

Tuesday, Jul 27, 2021 · 2:41:31 PM +00:00 · Mark Sumner

DC officer Daniel Hodges: "A man attempted to rip the baton from my hands & we wrestled for control. I retained my weapon. After I pushed him back, he yelled at me, 'you're on the wrong team!'...another [shouted], 'you will die on your knees!'"

— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) July 27, 2021

Tuesday, Jul 27, 2021 · 2:43:28 PM +00:00 · Mark Sumner

The opening video included new information, including audio communications of insurgents calling for use of the gallows, and those outside the Capitol insisting that federal, state, and local officials needed to be rounded up for mass executions.

This first day of testimony will be focused on the appearance of four members of law enforcement who were present at the assault on the Capitol. D.C. Metro Police Officer Michael Fanone has become well known for his previous statements and a letter to Congress in which he called attempts to downplay the events of Jan. 6 “disgraceful” and demanded recognition for the dozens of officers injured on that day. Fanone was beaten with metal pipes and repeatedly shocked with a Taser. He described the events of that day as the “most brutal, savage, hand-to-hand combat of my entire life.” 

D.C. Metro Police Officer Daniel Hodges’ name may not be quite as familiar as Fanone’s at this point, but millions of Americans have certainly seen his face. It was Hodges who was caught in the entrance as Trump supporters made a game of trying to crush him between two doors. Trapped with his hands and shoulders pinned behind him, insurgents took the opportunity to beat him, hit him with bear spray, and coordinate their movements to press ever harder against Hodges’ trapped form. At least one man has already been arrested specifically for his attack on Hodges. Hodges also made it clear that in spite of the pain and damage he suffered on that day, he knew exactly what was going on. “If it wasn't my job, I would have done that for free ... It was absolutely my pleasure to crush a white nationalist insurrection ... and we’ll do it as many times as it takes.”

Capitol Police Officer Harry Dunn fought against rioters who smashed police lines and assaulted officers outside the building, then teamed up with other officers to follow Trump insurgents inside and attempt to block access to officials. As a Black man, Dunn was subject to special attention from the white supremacist mob, including being called the N-word dozens of times. When Dunn mentioned this, it was enough to have Tucker Carlson attempt to discredit the officer as an “angry activist.” Because that’s how Black men are. Angry … about being kicked, beaten, bear-sprayed, and clubbed while being under constant racist assault.

The final member  of police to speak on this day is Capitol Hill Police Sgt. Aquilino Gonell. Gonell, both a police veteran and a military veteran, was beaten with a flag pole, had his hand sliced open with a knife, and was so dosed in chemical spray that it dripped from his clothing. Gonell, in a stunned haze from the assault and chemical spray, has recounted hearing insurgents say they were going to kill the police and calling them traitors. Gonell has also said he took Republican votes to block an independent Jan. 6 commission as a personal insult.

The hearing is now underway with a review of videos and reports from that day.

Tuesday, Jul 27, 2021 · 1:48:07 PM +00:00 · Mark Sumner

NEW: The Justice Department is green-lighting the participation of ex-Trump officials in the Jan. 6 investigation, according to a letter reviewed by POLITICO. Story TK w/ @woodruffbets

— Andrew Desiderio (@AndrewDesiderio) July 27, 2021

Tuesday, Jul 27, 2021 · 1:53:31 PM +00:00 · Mark Sumner

The initial video presented at the opening of the hearing was genuinely chilling. It not only showed footage previously seen at the Senate impeachment trial, but included new footage, much of  it from the Capitol grounds, showing more Trump supporters urging the use of the gallows to hang members of Congress, as well as making it clear that many of those present saw Jan. 6 as an opening act.

Tuesday, Jul 27, 2021 · 2:04:50 PM +00:00 · Mark Sumner

It’s a real shame we don’t get to have Jim Jordan on this committee, rolling his eyes and making dismissive gestures as they show the MAGA mob assaulting cops and hunting for Pelosi and Pence.

— Kevin M. Kruse (@KevinMKruse) July 27, 2021

Trump insurgents came within seconds of capturing ‘nuclear football’ on Jan. 6

During Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial, video footage of events on Jan. 6 revealed just how close Mike Pence came to falling into the hands of the people who were chanting for his execution. Fourteen minutes after the mob of Trump supporters first breached the Capitol, Secret Service agents led Pence from the Senate chamber and down a flight of stairs. He entered that stairwell just seconds ahead of the arrival of insurgents, some of whom were carrying rope or zip ties. Had those insurgents not been delayed through the actions of Capitol Police Officer Eugene Goodman, they could easily have been there to capture Pence and take him to the gallows waiting on the lawn outside.

But in addition to Pence, they might have captured something else that would have been especially problematic. For most of us, our electronic devices—phones, tablets, and laptops—are regularly trusted with our most confidential information. That’s one of the things that helps to make these devices our constant companions and among the most vital objects that we own. However, there is still information that’s considered too valuable, too sensitive, to be trusted to any electronic device, and one prime example was in the hands of a military aide who was with Mike Pence as he fled from the Senate. 

That aide was carrying a small satchel, and inside that satchel was a book listing the locations of classified military sites, a description of how to activate and use the Emergency Broadcast System, a “black book” of pre-planned military actions, and a small card that contains the codes necessary to authorize a nuclear strike. That aide was with Pence at the top of the stairs in the video that was shown during the Senate trial.

The Jan. 6 insurgents didn’t just almost get Mike Pence. They almost got the backup copy of the president’s Emergency Satchel. Better know as the “nuclear football.”

As Reuters reports, concern over how close the satchel came to being captured by the Trump horde is calling for a review of just how the vital information is carried and secured. Some form of the football goes back to President Dwight Eisenhower, but it was concerns from President John Kennedy that created the system that’s still followed today. Both the president and vice president are closely pursued by aides who have the current information necessary to respond if the nation were to fall under sudden attack. 

Following the events of Jan. 6, in which one of the footballs almost went into the hands of insurgents calling for the overthrow of the elected government, there’s a concern that this 60-year-old program may be due for some review. This wasn’t the only occasion in the last four years in which the vital information came under threat. An aide carrying the information on a trip to China got into what was described as a “tussle” with a Chinese official while Trump was having lunch with Communist Party leader Xi Jinping. That situation apparently required then chief of staff John Kelly to get into a “physical altercation” to secure the satchel.

Neither situation is particularly reassuring.

Exactly what the Trump mob might have done with the satchel had they taken it and opened it isn’t clear. There are procedures for changing the authorizations codes in the case a football is lost or stolen. However, the book of secure sites and the book of military actions—primarily military actions that the U.S. intends to take in case of an attack on the nation—are extremely sensitive and any data released from those sources could cause serious damage to national security. Had that information been captured, it would have been considered compromised even if the military wasn’t aware of any leaks of the contents. 

Just what changes are being considered to better secure the information are not clear. But just as a start, securing the Capitol against future assaults by ravening mobs of Trump supporters out for blood is a good first step.

McCarthy selects Republican team clearly intended to derail the House select committee on Jan. 6

On Monday, the first felony conviction was handed down for those involved in the assault on the Capitol, with Paul Hodgkins getting 8 months in prison after breaching the Senate chamber while waving a Trump flag and carrying a length of rope. At the moment, 235 other defendants are facing the same charge on which Hodgkins was convicted.

On the same day, House minority leader Kevin McCarthy made it clear just how committed the Republican Party is to supported those insurgents, how little concern it has for either democracy or justice, and how committed it is to protecting the Big Lie. Because of the five Republicans McCarthy named to the House select committee on the January 6 insurgency, not one voted to impeach Trump, and three voted to overturn the results of the election. That includes both Trump favorite Rep. Jim Jordan, and one of the most reliably extreme voices in the House, Indiana Rep. Jim Banks. In fact Banks — who voted against impeachment, against the HEROES Act, and for some of the most disgusting anti-choice legislation imaginable — will be heading up the Republican team.

Banks has repeatedly dodged questions about why he’s defending people who smashed their way into the Capitol chanting that they wanted to hang fellow Hoosier Mike Pence. But as The Washington Post reports, he’s excited by the opportunity to sabotage the investigation into the events of January 6 which he says was created just to “justify the Left’s authoritarian agenda.”

Yes. For modern Republicans, those staging a coup are fine, but listening to the outcome of an election is an “authoritarian agenda.”

In addition to Banks and Jordan, McCarthy named Rep. Rodney Davis, Rep. Kelly Armstrong, and Rep. Troy Nehls. Davis and Armstrong are regarded as “moderates” in today’s Republican Party, meaning that they both hold what would once have been radically conservative viewpoints, but didn’t sign onto the attempt to overthrow the government. Nehls is an enthusiastic supporter of Trump who has downplayed events of that day, even though images from the House chamber showed him working with members of the Capitol Police in an effort to barricade the entrance.

McCarthy named his team after traveling to Bedminster, N.J. last week to meet with Trump. MCCarthy  claims the five Republicans named were “not a point of discussion.” Which presumably means that Trump just told him who to pick, and he did. Jordan has already proven himself effective at disrupting past hearings, including Trumps two impeachments.

All of these choices are coming at the last minute, with the committee set to hold its first hearing on Tuesday, That hearing is expected to include witnesses from both the Capitol Police and Metro D.C. Police.  

It’s clear that the addition of Banks, Jordan, and Nehls is intended to disrupt any actual progress by the committee. Jordan, well known as a reliable surrogate for Trump, and Banks, who is seen as a “rising star” after for his belligerent defense of the most extreme GOP positions, can be counted on to constantly confound the process and use every opportunity to bring proceedings to a halt. 

The selections by McCarthy need to be approved by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, but considering the time constraints, it’s unclear if Speaker Pelosi will take any action to push back against these selections. 

As Republicans complain that the select committee is an attempt to smear conservatives, it’s worth recalling the committee only exists because Republicans made it impossible for an independent investigation to take place. In June, Republicans in the Senate filibustered to prevent the formation of the kind of independent commission that had followed past national tragedies.  As Laura Clawson wrote at the time, “Republicans are going to scream that it’s a partisan witch hunt no matter what Democrats do, so why allow them to also obstruct while they do so?”

Joint Chiefs of Staff made plans to resign rather than obey Trump’s ‘gospel of the Führer’

Previously released excerpts from a new book by Washington Post reporters indicated tension between members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Trump White House. However, additional material released on Wednesday night by CNN takes this to a new and terrifying level. According to Post reporters Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker, senior military officers were so concerned that Donald Trump might drag the military into a coup, that they developed a plan to resign, one by one, rather than accept an order to take part in such a plot.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Mark Milley appears to have been particularly concerned about the idea he might simply refuse to leave office, and that in his final days in power, Trump would use the military to carry out his schemes. Milley, who took part in Trump’s Bible-waving stroll across Lafayette Square, was disturbed at how Trump inserted sycophants into key roles at the Pentagon following the election and saw this as a sign of an upcoming attempt to maintain power at the point of a gun.

According to the authors, Milley grew so concerned that he discussed the possibility not just with his friends, but with other generals and with members of Congress. "They may try, but they're not going to f**king succeed," Milley told his staff. "You can't do this without the military. You can't do this without the CIA and the FBI. We're the guys with the guns."

The book also indicates that Milley had specific concerns about Jan. 6. Trump’s calls for supporters to come to D.C. for a “wild” event, and intelligence showing that militia members were planning to attend in numbers, left Milley fretting Trump was deliberately “stoking unrest” and that he was trying to create an incident that would justify the use of the Insurrection Act along with military force.

“This is a Reichstag moment.”

Seeing Trump as a “classic authoritarian leader with nothing to lose,” Milley became convinced he’d seen this story before. With Trump calling for a “Million MAGA March” following his loss in November, Milley feared it “could be the modern American equivalent of 'brownshirts in the streets.” In addition to referencing incidents in which Nazis had used violence to bring Adolf Hitler to power, Milley supposedly referenced the incident that Hitler had staged, then leveraged as a means of using violence against his enemies. "This is a Reichstag moment. The gospel of the Führer."

One of MIlley’s colleagues, quoted anonymously, confirmed to him that “this is all real” and warned the general "What they are trying to do here is overturn the government. ... You are one of the few guys who are standing between us and some really bad stuff."

The revelations out of the book show a last minute scramble at the White House, with Trump clutching at every conspiracy theory and working to put in place those who might go along with a scheme to defy the outcome of the election. According to the authors, Milley was instrumental in preventing Trump from replacing FBI Director Christopher Wray and CIA Director Gina Haspel, with Milley regarding both of those positions as pivotal to the success or failure of any coup.

 According to the book, Trump’s spiral into darkness was so severe that even Mike Pompeo came to Milley for a “heart to heart” talk in which he complained “you know the crazies are taking over.”

The incidents described in the book go beyond disturbing. They describe a nation well beyond the brink, with a White House actively working to position assets for an end of democracy and military leadership developing a pushback that was not at all certain of success. The revelations are terrifying enough that “shocking” seems an all-too-insubstantial term.

But there is one thing that isn’t completely clear. Though the article states that the book developed from over a hundred interviews conducted by Leonnig and Rucker, it doesn’t make clear when this information was known to them. If Washington Post reporters were aware in the final days of Trump’s occupation of the White House, that he was plotting to keep control of the nation, shouldn’t the nation have been made aware? And if there were reports that top military officials were convinced that Trump’s actions following the election were intended to generate violence, shouldn’t that information have been provided to case managers in Trump’s second impeachment?

There are a number of upcoming books on the final awful days of Trump, and the revelations will continue. But the first question these books need to answer is why are we just hearing about this now?

Not shocking: The Republicans’ star witness at Trump’s first impeachment was lying

When former special ambassador to Ukraine Kurt Volker appeared to testify before the House in hearings connected to Donald Trump’s first impeachment, Republicans were thrilled. Volker was part of the “three amigos,” who Trump had sent to Ukraine to force out experienced diplomats and see that Rudy Giuliani got all the assistance he needed in extorting the Ukrainian government into pretending to investigate Joe Biden. 

As soon as Volker completed his testimony, it was clearly at odds with that delivered by other witnesses. Volker testified that he never talked about the company Burisma, where Hunter Biden was on the board, in his discussions with Ukrainian officials. He completely omitted any reference to a series of meetings and calls on July 10, 2019, after which then-Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman took his concerns about what was going on to the NSC’s lead counsel. Volkman contradicted the content of text messages he sent on July 19, in which he joined Rudy Giuliani in urging the Ukrainian president to initiate an investigation of Biden. He left out how Burisma and the Bidens factored into a statement Trump wanted from the Ukrainians. And he completely failed to testify about how he had insisted—as text messages showed—that Ukrainian officials had to include both claims that Ukraine had interfered with the U.S. election in 2016, and that Biden had tried to block an investigation into Burisma, if they wanted to “prevent a recurrence” of Trump blocking military aid to the country.

But what really excited the Republicans was the fact that Volker provided them with the Big Talking Point: a claim that there was “no quid pro quo” connecting the request for an investigation into the Bidens and the release of U.S. assistance to Ukraine. In his deposition to the House committee, Volker made it clear: “At no time was I aware of or took part in an effort to urge Ukraine to investigate former vice president Biden.”

But text messages at the time also made it clear this wasn’t true. And calls that CNN released this week while looking into the actions of Giuliani make this one thing exceedingly clear: In his sworn testimony to Congress, former ambassador Kurt Volker was lying his ass off.

As The Washington Post reports, it was Volker’s testimony that Republicans leaned on when they claimed that Trump had been exonerated. 

“Ambassador Volker … confirmed what the President has repeatedly said: there was no quid pro quo,” tweeted Rep. Jim Jordan. 

“Ambassador Volker, you just like took apart their entire case,” said a grateful Rep. Michael Turner during questioning.

In his testimony, Volker didn’t hold back. “At no time was I aware of or knowingly took part in an effort to urge Ukraine to investigate former vice president Biden. As you know from the extensive real-time documentation I have provided, Vice President Biden was not a topic of our discussions.”

How could this be the case when Volker repeatedly texted concerning an investigation into Burisma? The pretense that Volker put forward was that he didn’t know. He didn’t know why Trump wanted an investigation into a particular Ukrainian energy firm as part of his deal. He didn’t know why this was so vital that it could be a factor in allowing an ally to be preyed on by Russian forces.

Volker wasn’t the only one. His former “amigos”—Ambassador Gordon Sondland and Energy Secretary Rick Perry—pushed the same line. Apparently Trump and Giuliani had it out for this one gas company. After that, they all pled blissful ignorance. 

Yeah, but … Volker was on the call when Giuliani said this to one of the Ukrainian president’s top assistants:

“All we need from the President is to say, I’m going to put an honest prosecutor in charge, he’s gonna investigate and dig up the evidence that presently exists, and is there any other evidence about involvement of the 2016 election, and then the Biden thing has to be run out.”

That was just one of several instances where Giuliani explicitly drew the connection between what was being asked of the Ukrainian president with the Bidens. Volker was on that call. Pretending that he didn’t know what he was asking when he asked about Burisma would mean not just acknowledging an astounding ignorance about the country he was supposed to be assisting—past allegations against Burisma had played a key role in both U.S. and U.K. actions in Ukraine—it would mean he wasn’t actually listening to what Giuliani said during their conversations with Ukrainian officials. In Volker’s testimony he claimed that “In referencing Burisma it was clear he was only talking about whether any Ukrainians had acted inappropriately,” which never made any sense at all. It still doesn’t.

The Post suggests that Volker hewed a very narrow line in his testimony and that he “referred specifically to the idea that Biden wasn’t brought up in the text messages he turned over—rather than at all in any conversations.” But that’s attempting to parse things way, way too finely.

It’s clear that when Volker, Sondland, and others mention Burisma in their text messages, that this is shorthand for announcing an investigation into the role Joe and Hunter Biden played in connection to that company. That’s specifically what Giuliani asks for, again and again.

And in his testimony, Volker goes much further than The Post suggests. Volker’s full statement to the committee, apparently in response to a question by Rep. Adam Schiff, was this:

“At no time was I aware of or took part in an effort to urge Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Biden. As you will see from the extensive text messages I am providing, which convey a sense of real-time dialogue with several different actors, Vice President Biden was never a topic of discussion.”

It might be possible to twist that statement so that the last mention of Biden is directed toward the text messages. It’s not possible to do so with the first mention. “At no time was I aware of or took part in an effort to urge Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Biden” is simply a lie. An out and out lie. A lie that was intended to cover Volker’s ass, and which Republicans seized on as justification to exonerate Trump.

It was always clear that Volker was lying when he claimed to not understand the connection between Burisma and Joe Biden. The most recent revelations just underline the extent of that lie.

it may be too late for a do-over of that first impeachment, this time with honest testimony. It’s not too late to charge Kurt Volker for his lies.

There’s a second federal investigation underway looking at Rudy Giuliani’s actions in Ukraine

Even before the 2016 election, Donald Trump and his supporters were pushing back against news that Russia was directly interfering in the U.S. presidential election. Even though Russia had engaged an army of false social media accounts, a network of sites dedicated to generating Trump-favorable false stories, and teams of dedicated hackers digging into documents at the DNC, Trump refused to say a bad word about the land of Vladimir Putin. Instead, Trump and his campaign pushed a conspiracy theory that all the hackers, bots, and Facebook ads didn’t actually come from Russia. Instead, said Trump’s campaign, the U.S. was being taken for a ride by that most powerful of opponents … Ukraine.

Trump and members of his campaign team pushed a completely unsupported idea that the “Cozy Bear” hackers were actually Ukrainians just pretending to be Russian. Then Trump took the whole thing further, insisting that Hillary Clinton’s emails were somehow stored on a “missing server” that was somewhere in Ukraine. That there was no missing server in the first place wasn’t a problem. 

It was all ridiculous. But over the next four years, Trump set out to prove that not only was Ukraine behind the 2016 hacks, they were also hiding criminal activity on the part of Joe Biden and his son. So, with the help of Rudy Giuliani and a cast of seemingly hundreds of eager to help scam artists, Trump spent months making connections with pro-Russian elements in Ukraine and leaning on the Ukrainian government. Those efforts not only earned Trump his first impeachment, it seems they also opened the 2020 election to foreign interference … from Ukraine. By way of Rudy Giuliani.

As The New York Times reports, federal prosecutors are now investigating whether a group of  Ukrainian officials launched a scheme to use Trump to get things they wanted in exchange for false information that Rudy Giuliani could spread in hopes of harming President Joe Biden. Which … yes. Yes, that happened. And it’s already been well-documented by House investigators

It’s been clear for months that Giuliani established ties to both exiled oligarch Dmytro Firtash and corrupt officials like parliament member Andriy Derkach. Firtash, who is also connected with former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and employs Trump attorneys Joe diGenova and Victoria Toensing, gave Giuliani the indicted Igor Fruman and Lev Parnas to act as his guides to the Ukrainian underworld. With both Trump and Firtash leaning in, Giuliani had no trouble finding plenty of people willing to sign off on statements that smeared Biden—even if some of those same people instantly folded when questioned and admitted that they were just trying to “curry favor” with Trump.

However, Giuliani’s efforts in Ukraine did have some very serious consequences, including giving power to hoodlums who wanted a U.S. ambassador out of the way so they could increase their level of corruption. Giuliani gleefully served that role, helping to demean and dismiss a dedicated career official so that he could get crooks to sign onto his scheme.

Now that Giuliani is the subject of an ongoing criminal investigation that has seen his home and office raided, it seems that prosecutors are also looking at the people on the other end of the pipe. Particular attention seems to be focused on Derkach. Derkach has been both named by the intelligence community as an “active Russian agent” and sanctioned by the Treasury Department. He’s also one of Giuliani’s primary sources for claims against Biden and his son, Hunter.

The only person standing up for Derkach appears to be Giuliani, who said in an interview, “I have no reason to believe he is a Russian agent.” He said that after being officially warned that Derkach was … a Russian agent. Which is a pretty important denial for Giuliani.

The federal case against Giuliani seems to center on to what extent he acted as an unregistered foreign agent for Ukrainian elements in lobbying Trump to take actions such as the firing of Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch. That Giuliani did such a thing as a dupe of corrupt former officials supported by an oligarch who can’t even set foot in his own country for fear of arrest … that’s bad. But if it turns out that Giuliani did this as the knowing partner of someone who had been identified to him as an active agent of Russia … that’s considerably worse.

This investigation is based in the U.S. attorney’s office in Brooklyn, and is apparently running in parallel with the investigation into Giuliani’s activities being based in the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan. Hopefully they’re sharing notes.

House votes to create Jan. 6 commission, but McConnell is doing what he always does—blocking justice

On Wednesday evening, the House authorized the creation of an independent, bipartisan commission to investigate the the January 6 assault on the Capitol. In the process, 35 Republican representatives bucked GOP leadership to vote in favor of the commission that will investigate not just events of that day, but just how the nation came to face a violent insurgency and an attack on democracy. 

The overwhelming 252-175 vote in the House came after Republican leaders at first expressed support for the idea of such a commission in the immediate wake of the attack. The actual design for the commission came from a bipartisan agreement of the Homeland Security Committee, and gave Republicans equal representation in the investigation, as well as what amounts to  veto power over any subpoenas. That such a Republican-friendly agreement was reached seemed to surprise Republican leader Kevin McCarthy, who initially refused to say whether he would support the deal. Then McCarthy let it be known that he would not whip other Republicans to vote against it. Then he did exactly that.

Now the proposed commission moves to the Senate, where—despite Mitch McConnell’s speech calling January 6 “a disgrace” that happened because Americans were “fed wild falsehoods by the most powerful man on Earth”—McConnell has already announced that he will oppose it. At the moment, not a single Republican in the Senate has spoken up to support the bill.

Because, when all is said and done, they are all still following the orders of the same man, who is still spreading the same wild falsehoods.”

The commission designed by the House Homeland Security Committee could not be more straightforward or more generous in the power it gives to the minority party. Modeled after the similar body created to investigate 9/11, the commission is “charged with studying the facts and circumstances surrounding the January 6th attack on the Capitol as well as the influencing factors that may have provoked the attack on our democracy.”

The 10-person panel is to be composed, not of political figures, but of individuals with “significant expertise in the areas of law enforcement, civil rights, civil liberties, privacy, intelligence, and cybersecurity.” Anyone currently serving in government is not eligible, and the selections are to be split evenly between majority and minority leadership in the House and Senate. The commission can issue subpoenas, but they must be approved by both the Democratic chair and Republican vice-chair.

In terms of the structure and purpose, the commission created by the House bill is in no way slanted toward a Democratic position. The fact that Democrats have agreed to this structure, despite holding a majority in the House and Senate, is testament to the idea that they simply want to know the truth.

 Which is, of course, the problem. 

Because a lot of Republicans stand to be put in a very, very bad light if the full truth comes out. Not least of all, that man who was the ultimate source of “wild falsehoods.” That’s why Donald Trump used his new web page this week to insist that the strikingly bipartisan commission was a “Democrat trap” and “partisan unfairness.” And Trump provided the talking points by saying that any commission should also investigate every act of violence that Republicans blame on Democrats, even if exactly none of those events threatened to overturn the outcome of the election and destroy our system of government.

Both Republicans and right-wing media immediately picked up on Trump’s theme, with McCarthy issuing a statement saying that he could not support the commission because it would not investigated “political violence” on the left. Which makes all the sense of refusing to vote for a 9/11 commission unless it also covered Vietnam protests. Or the Civil Rights movement. 

There is no connection, nor comparison, between what happened on January 6 and what happened during Black Lives Matter protests following the police murder of George Floyd. No connection except how men like Trump and McCarthy used lies about about the BLM protests to help stir anger among many of the same groups behind the violence on January 6.

When McConnell spoke on February 13, he agreed that “Former President Trump’s actions preceding the riot were a disgraceful dereliction of duty” and that “There is no question that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of that day.” McConnell also pushed back against Republicans who had voted in the House or Senate against certifying the election. In fact, as of Tuesday, McConnell had said he was open to voting for the commission.

But, as The New York Times reports, McConnell “reversed” his position and declared his opposition to the commission. McConnell has made it clear that not only will he vote no, he will also insist that other Republicans vote against the commission.

That reversal came “amid pressure from Mr. Trump.” And now McConnell is absolutely toeing the Trump line, voicing the same nonsensical claims that the studiously bipartisan commission would somehow be unfair because it’s not also looking at events totally unrelated to the assault on the Capitol. Previous Trump’s statement, getting the commission passed by the Senate seemed like a given. Now it seems impossible. That change in tone came after both McConnell and McCarthy “joined … Mr. Trump in panning the proposal.”

The man who McConnell explicitly said is “practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of that day” is being allowed to quash an investigation of those events.  Even in exile, even in defeat, Trump rules the Republicans. And the reason is simple. As Politico notes, Trump is their “cash cow.” 

In a party literally without a platform, and with absolutely no vision for the future, the only means of engaging their voters—and donors—is through fear and anger. No one generates that fear and anger more than Trump. Republicans aren’t just giving in to Trump, they’re selling out.