Morning Digest: Trump’s man in Georgia keeps flogging election conspiracies as his campaign craters

The Daily Kos Elections Morning Digest is compiled by David Nir, Jeff Singer, Stephen Wolf, Daniel Donner, and Carolyn Fiddler, with additional contributions from David Jarman, Steve Singiser, James Lambert, David Beard, and Arjun Jaikumar.

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Leading Off

GA-Gov, GA-Sen, GA-SoS: A new survey from the University of Georgia for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution is the latest poll to find Gov. Brian Kemp cruising to renomination in the May 24 GOP primary, with Kemp holding a 53-27 lead over Big Lie proponent David Perdue and earning the majority needed to avoid a June primary runoff against the former senator. This latest survey is one of Kemp's best results so far from any pollster and marks a significant improvement for him from UGA's last poll taken in late March and early April, which found Kemp ahead 48-37. Still, every other recent poll here has also found Kemp with a sizable lead.

Perdue has failed to gain traction in the polls despite Donald Trump's endorsement, but that hasn't stopped his zealotry for spreading Trump's 2020 election conspiracy theories from shaping the race. Perdue and his allies have run ad after ad spreading the Big Lie that Trump was cheated in 2020 and chastising Kemp for failing to help Trump steal the contest, and Perdue's opening statement in Sunday's debate reiterated his bogus accusation of election theft. Kemp, meanwhile, has focused his campaign message on reminding voters that Perdue's re-election defeat makes him a proven loser and touting the governor's record on bread and butter conservative issues such as immigration, crime, and taxes.

In the Senate primary, UGA's poll does have unambiguously good news for the Trump-backed candidate: Former NFL star Herschel Walker has a 66-7 edge over his closest rival, state Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black, which is little different than his 64-8 lead in their previous poll.

Looking further downballot in the GOP primary for secretary of state, another of Trump's endorsees running a campaign focused on 2020 election denial has found more success than in the governor's race, but UGA's latest poll finds it is no sure thing. Their survey shows incumbent Brad Raffensperger holding a 28-26 lead over Rep. Jody Hice, who has Trump's backing, which marks an improvement for the incumbent from Hice's 30-23 advantage in UGA's prior poll. However, Hice has done significantly better in one of the few other credible polls here from GOP firm Landmark Communications, which had Raffensperger trailing by a wide 35-18 earlier this month.

Trump's election lies almost certainly aren't going anywhere as a campaign topic regardless of the outcome of the primaries for secretary of state. One of the leading Democratic contenders, state Rep. Bee Nguyen, has focused her initial ad on her support for protecting voting rights against Trump's attacks and previews what the general election message may look like.

Senate

AL-Sen: Alabama Patriots PAC, which is backing Army veteran Mike Durant in the May 24 GOP primary, has reported spending more than $3 million on his behalf thus far.

FL-Sen: Former Donald Trump operative Roger Stone, whom Trump pardoned in December 2020 after he was convicted on several felony charges of obstructing Congress' investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, said he isn't ruling out a primary bid against GOP Sen. Marco Rubio over the latter's vote against overturning the 2020 election outcome. Stone, however, hardly looks like a serious candidate: even he conceded that he wasn't the ideal challenger and implored someone else to run. Stone had also mulled running for governor as an independent to stymie Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis before acknowledging he was barred from doing so by state law preventing recent party switchers from running for office.

OH-Sen: Democratic firm Blueprint Polling has released a poll finding that the May 3 GOP primary is still up in the air with 33% undecided and no candidate topping 20%. The pollster, who did not disclose who, if anyone, was their client, shows state Sen. Matt Dolan with a slim 18-17 lead over venture capitalist J.D. Vance, while businessman Mike Gibbons earns 13%, former state Treasurer Josh Mandel takes 12%, and former state party chair Jane Timken wins just 7%.

This is the first survey from any outfit this cycle showing Dolan in first, but with all three other polls disclosed this month from reputable firms each finding three different leaders and many voters still undecided, it's another sign of just how uncertain the outcome of next week's vote is.

Governors

MI-Gov: Republican Rep. Jack Bergman, whose 1st District covers the Upper Peninsula and northernmost portion of the Lower Peninsula, has switched his endorsement in the August GOP primary from former Detroit Police Chief James Craig to self-funding businessman Perry Johnson. In doing so, Bergman complained that Craig ignored "campaigning in Northern Michigan and the U.P. in favor of a self proclaimed Detroit-centric approach."

NE-Gov: The Republican firm Data Targeting has conducted a survey of the May 10 GOP primary for Neilan Strategy Group, which says it's not working on behalf of any candidate or allied group, that shows state Sen. Brett Lindstrom taking a narrow lead for the first time in a very expensive and ugly race where he'd largely been overshadowed.

The firm shows Lindstrom edging out Trump-backed agribusinessman Charles Herbster 28-26, with University of Nebraska Regent Jim Pillen, who is termed-out Gov. Pete Ricketts' endorsed candidate, just behind with 24%; former state Sen. Theresa Thibodeau lags far behind in fourth with 6%. Back in mid-February, the firm showed Herbster edging out Pillen 27-26, with Lindstrom taking third with 21%.

This new poll is the first we've seen conducted since the Nebraska Examiner published an April 14 story where Republican state Sen. Julie Slama and seven other women accused Herbster of groping and other forms of sexual assault; Herbster denied the allegations and soon went up with a commercial claiming "the establishment" was lying about him just like they supposedly did with Trump. Unsurprisingly, Trump himself has stuck behind his man, and he's scheduled to hold a rally with him on Friday.

While no other polls have found Lindstrom in first place, there were previously signs that his detractors were treating him as a serious threat even though he lacked the money and big-named endorsements that Pillen and Herbster have available. (Lindstrom's most prominent supporter is arguably Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert.) A group called Restore the Good Life began running ads against the state senator weeks ago that portrayed him as wrong on taxes, while another outfit called Say No to RINOs launched its own spots in mid-April saying, "Liberal Brett Lindstrom is no conservative, he just plays one on TV."

But perhaps most tellingly, Conservative Nebraska, a super PAC funded in part by Ricketts, recently began running its own spots using similar arguments against Lindstrom after it previously focused on attacking Herbster only. The termed-out governor himself joined in the pile-on, characterizing Lindstrom as "a liberal (who) does not have a conservative voting record in the Legislature." The state senator, for his part, said last week that he wouldn't be running negative ads against Pillen and Hebster.

PA-Gov: State Attorney General Josh Shapiro, who is unopposed in the May 17 Democratic primary, has laid out $950,000 of the $16 million his campaign recently had on hand to air his first two ads. The first commercial is a minute-long spot that devotes its first half to Shapiro's biography, referencing his Pennsylvania roots, family values, and the importance of his Jewish faith, while the second part highlights his record of keeping taxes low when serving in local office and how he has "taken on powerful institutions" as attorney general.

The second spot expands on the latter theme, featuring a nurse praising Shapiro's work going after predatory student loan companies like the one that she says tried to rip her off.

WI-Gov: Wealthy businessman Tim Michels, who announced a sizable ad buy when he joined the GOP primary over the weekend, will spend $980,000 on his initial ads, though no copy of a spot is available yet.

House

FL-04: Navy veteran Erick Aguilar this week became the first notable Republican to announce a bid for the new 4th District, a Jacksonville area constituency that would be open should incumbent John Rutherford run for the 5th as fellow Republicans expect. The new 4th would have supported Trump 53-46.

Aguilar himself had been waging a second primary bid against Rutherford, who beat him in an 80-20 landslide two years before, before redistricting changed things. But while Aguilar's doomed first campaign brought in all of $16,000, his second try is a far better-funded affair: Aguilar raised $320,000 during the first quarter of 2022, and he ended March with a hefty $812,000 on hand thanks in part to earlier self-funding.

FL-23: Republican state Rep. Chip LaMarca has announced that he won't run to succeed retiring Democratic Rep. Ted Deutch in the new 23rd District, which contains most of Deutch's existing 22nd District.

IL-03: SEIU Local 1, which represents maintenance workers, has backed Chicago Alderman Gilbert Villegas in the June Democratic primary.

IL-17: SEIU Illinois, which represents more than 170,000 public sector employees and workers in private service sectors statewide, has endorsed former state Rep. Litesa Wallace in the June Democratic primary, which has no clear frontrunner yet. Wallace faces a field that includes former TV meteorologist Eric Sorensen, Rockford Alderman Jonathan Logemann, and Rockford Alderwoman Linda McNeely.

OH-11: Democratic Majority for Israel is airing its first negative spot of the year against former state Sen. Nina Turner ahead of her Democratic primary rematch next week against Rep. Shontel Brown. The narrator faults Turner for not supporting Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump in 2016 before declaring that the challenger "said voting for Biden was like eating ****." (The screen flashes the words "EATING S**T.") The super PAC, which recently began running positive commercials for Brown, has spent close to $600,000 so far.    

OR-06: In an effort to unravel why billionaire Sam Bankman-Fried's super PAC, Protect Our Future, has spent more than $7 million so far boosting first-time candidate Carrick Flynn's quest for the Democratic nomination in Oregon's brand-new 6th Congressional District, OPB's Dirk VanderHart dives deep into the possible ties between the two men.

Most notably, Flynn's wife, Kathryn Mecrow-Flynn, worked at an organization called the Center for Effective Altruism in 2017—the same time that Bankman-Fried served as the group's director of development. Flynn has maintained he "has never met or talked to Sam Bankman-Fried"—by law, super PACs are forbidden from coordinating with campaigns they're seeking to boost—and in response to VanderHart's reporting, he said of his wife, "If she's met him she hasn't said anything. I think she would have said something."

VanderHart also points out that Bankman-Fried's younger brother, Gabe Bankman-Fried, runs yet another super PAC called Guarding Against Pandemics that has likewise endorsed Flynn; it so happens that the president of Protect Our Future, Michael Sadowsky, also works for Guarding Against Pandemics. Gabe Bankman-Fried offered effusive praise for Flynn in remarks to VanderHart, though he insisted he "could not comment" on the interest shown in Flynn by his older sibling, who has not said anything about the candidate publicly.

TX-28: Attorney Jessica Cisneros is focusing on abortion rights in her first spot for the May 24 Democratic primary runoff against conservative Rep. Henry Cuellar, a topic the Texas Tribune says she didn't run many spots on during the first round. The narrator declares that Cuellar sided with Texas Republicans when they "passed the most extreme abortion ban in the country," characterizing the incumbent as "the lone Democrat against a woman's right to make her own decisions, even opposing life-saving care."

Cuellar's new ad, meanwhile, features people praising him for having "kept our businesses open during the pandemic and reduced taxes" and funding law enforcement and border security, language that's usually more at home in GOP ads. The commercial then pivots to the left by commending him as a champion of healthcare and affordable college. One elderly woman goes on to make the case that he's vital for the district, saying, "Henry helps us with prescriptions and Social Security benefits. If we lose him in Congress, we lose everything."

Cuellar goes into the final weeks of the runoff with a cash-on-hand lead over Cisneros, but she's managed to close much of what had been a massive gap. Cuellar ended March with a $1.4 million to $1 million edge, while he enjoyed a $2.3 million to $494,000 advantage three months before.

TX-30: The cryptocurrency-aligned group Web3 Forward has reported a $250,000 ad buy ahead of the May 24 Democratic primary runoff to support state Rep. Jasmine Crockett, who came just shy of winning the nomination outright last month with a 48-17 lead over party operative Jane Hamilton. Web3 Forward may have more where that came from if the initial primary, where they and another crypto-oriented group had already spent over $2 million aiding Crockett, was any indication.

Attorneys General

KS-AG: Former Secretary of State Kris Kobach has released a survey from WPA Intelligence arguing that he's well-positioned to win the August Republican primary for attorney general and revive his career following his disastrous bids for governor and Senate. The firm shows Kobach taking 52% in the race to succeed Derek Schmidt, who is leaving to run for governor, with state Sen. Kellie Warren and former federal prosecutor Tony Mattivi far behind with 12% and 7%, respectively. The Democrats are fielding attorney Chris Mann, a former prosecutor who currently faces no serious intra-party opposition.

Mayors

Los Angeles, CA Mayor: City Attorney Mike Feuer is spending about $1 million on an opening TV and digital buy for the June nonpartisan primary, which his strategist acknowledges to the Los Angeles Times is "pretty close" to all they have available. The spot features the candidate, who took just 2% in a recent UC Berkeley poll, walking a dachshund (who at one point rides a skateboard while leashed) through the city as a song proclaims him the "underdog." Feuer tells the audience, "Even with the most experience, being outspent 30 to 1 could make the odds of becoming mayor … well, long. But L.A.'s a city of underdogs."

Billionaire developer Rick Caruso, who had the airwaves to himself until now, has run numerous ads focused on crime without mentioning any of his rivals, but one of his most prominent allies will soon be going after his main competitor. The Los Angeles Police Protective League, which is the city's well-funded police union, has so far given $500,000 to a new super PAC opposed to Democratic Rep. Karen Bass.

Prosecutors

Maricopa County, AZ Attorney: Anni Foster, who is Gov. Doug Ducey's general counsel, has dropped out of the August special Republican primary and endorsed Rachel Mitchell, who was appointed interim county attorney last week. The nomination contest still includes Gina Godbehere, who recently announced that she was stepping down as prosecutor for the City of Goodyear in order to concentrate on her campaign.

Ad Roundup

Dollar amounts reflect the reported size of ad buys and may be larger.

Trump supporters were fed explicitly racist and anti-Semitic propaganda before marching on Capitol

Republicans want to frame Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial as if it’s all about the speech he made at the “Stop the Steal” rally on Jan. 6. It’s not. The impeachment is over the incitement to violence and insurrection created by Trump over the whole span from the election to the assault on the Capitol. That includes Trump sending tweets such as “This Fake Election can no longer stand”  and, of course, “Big protest in D.C. on January 6th. Be there, will be wild!”

However, so long as Republicans are focusing on the events of that one morning, it’s worth taking a second look at that rally and the one that came before on the evening of Jan. 5. While the words of Trump’s closing speech—complete with repeated demands that his followers march to the Capitol—are the most obvious subject of the impeachment, he was far from alone. Speakers at those two rallies included Roger Stone, Michael Flynn, Rudy Giuliani, Eric Trump, and Donald Trump Jr. All of them did their share in both raising the temperature of the crowd and encouraging violent actions. 

But there was one other event at that rally that both sums up what Trump’s movement is all about, and contributed to driving insurgents into the halls of Congress. It was a film. One in which every frame is a cast study in delivering violent, anti-Semitic propaganda. 

There’s no doubt that every speaker on the agenda added to the dark energy that resulted in the deadly insurgency. In fact, as The Washington Post reports, one of the speakers at the Jan. 5 rally was actually among those who bashed their way into the Capitol the following day. Brandon Straka—a white guy who founded the “walk away” campaign that encouraged Black voters to leave the Democratic Party—described Jan. 6 as “the revolution” in his speech to the gathered Trump supporters, and encouraged them to “fight back” as “patriots.” Straka, who frequently appears on Fox News as “a former liberal,” assaulted a police officer, called on others to do the same, then broke into the Capitol. He’s now facing multiple felony charges.

That same evening Roger Stone spoke while being flanked by “guards” from the Oath Keepers. As Mother Jones noted, Stone has a long-standing relationship with terrorist group the Proud Boys. On Jan. 5, Stone was there to tell Trump supporters to “fight until the bitter end” to block Joe Biden’s victory. Stone described the following day as the central moment of an “epic struggle.”

Michael Flynn described Jan. 6 as “a crucible moment in United States history.” While his word choice was suspect, his message to the gathered mob was clear. “We should not accept this,” said Flynn.  “Some of these states had more dead voters than the battlefields of Gettysburg or the battlefields of Vicksburg or the battlefields of Normandy. … We did not have a free, fair, and transparent vote on the third of November. And the entire world knows, everyone in this country knows, who won the election on the third.” And Flynn finished by explicitly telling the crowd what was expected of them. “The members of Congress, the members of the House of Representatives, the members of the United States Senate … those of you who are feeling weak tonight; those of you who don’t have the moral fiber in your bodies, get some tonight. Because tomorrow we the people are going to be here, and we want you to know that we will not stand for a lie.” On the heels of Flynn’s speech, former Trump adviser George Papadopoulos stepped up to make it clear that Trump’s supporters would not forget the “traitors” who voted to count the electoral votes. 

Before Trump spoke on Jan. 6, Rudy Giuliani took the stage and spun a completely fantastic tale in which halting the day’s count of electoral votes would somehow generate a 10-day period in which everything about the election could be reviewed. There’s nothing in the Constitution or later law that even hints at such an event, and Giuliani was speaking after 63 days and 62 lawsuits had failed to uncover any of the evidence of fraud he assured the crowd was present. Still, “Over the next 10 days, we get to see the machines that are crooked,” said Giuliani, “the ballots that are fraudulent, and if we’re wrong, we will be made fools of. But if we’re right, a lot of them will go to jail. Let’s have trial by combat.”

Donald Trump’s sons also appeared that morning, and their speeches—particularly that of Donald Trump Jr.—did have one especially notable quality. As Politico reported, Junior’s speech was so laced with expletives that Fox News, which had been covering the event live, was forced to cut away. But as Trump’s eldest son warned Republicans that they better vote the way his father wanted spoke, he did make one clear statement between all the four letter words. “This gathering should send a message to them,” said Trump Jr. “This isn’t their Republican Party anymore! This is Donald Trump's Republican Party!” Oh, and Eric also spoke. “We will never, ever, ever stop fighting,” said Eric. 

But for all those speakers, it was a film that both set the mood of the day and serves as the best defining document of Trump and Trumpism. Just Security has done a breakdown of the imagery involved in this brief film, and the message of fascism shines through. Not just the kind of authoritarianism that everyone casually assigns to Trump as if that’s just peachy, but genuine shiny-boot and red armband fascism, complete with enough tropes of Übermensch and Untermensch to make Leni Riefenstahl jealous.

As Just Security’s analysis makes clear, the video follows a long tradition of fascist framing. That doesn’t just mean presenting Trump as a heroic figure whose powerful presence causes others to swoon, or contrasting a false paradise under Trump with an equally false wasteland without him. It also explicitly involves using images to remind supporters what Trump stands for: white nationalism.

Everything about the video is designed to help viewers see a through line that connects what’s happening in the Capitol to an elite group of Jews secretly, and not so secretly, guiding America toward a state where white Christians are under siege. The scope of the threat is expanded to include an international conspiracy that includes the U.N. and E.U. who, with Jewish-controlled Hollywood, are seeking to weaken powerful white America.

The video shifts to an image of Senator Charles Schumer, reminding the viewer of prominent Jewish leaders of the Democratic party. Schumer is wearing a Kente cloth, an image evocative of Ku Klux Klan ideology — that Jews support Black liberation movements as a way to undermine white rule and destroy the nation. The next frame shows the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, flanked by two Jewish Congressman, Representatives Nadler and Schiff. Pelosi, too, is controlled by Jews.

House minority leader Kevin McCarthy may have had a sudden memory lapse when it comes to understanding QAnon and the intrinsically anti-Semitic ideology at its core. Trump’s video team did not forget. They’ve created a video that is practically a look into Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s hate-filled mind.

This video was sequenced right after Rudy Giuliani told Trump’s supporters that he wanted “trial by combat” and right before Trump himself stepped up to call on his followers to march to the Capitol. What those people who murdered a police officer, trampled over a woman, injured hundreds, smashed open the doors of the Capitol, raised a gallows, and went hunting for congressional hostages received wasn’t just limited to Trump’s statements on the morning of Jan. 6. What drove them there was what Trump, his surrogates, the right-wing media, and Republicans in both the House and Senate did after—and before—the election.

They created a world where people don’t just believe the propaganda of the video above, they’re willing to act on it. 

Trump must be impeached and removed for commuting Roger Stone’s sentence. Rule of law demands it

It’s very simple: By commuting Roger Stone’s sentence, The Man Who Lost The Popular Vote has sent a clear signal that anyone who does something illegal on his behalf, or who has knowledge of something illegal he has done and lies about it under oath, and/or to investigators, will never be punished. This an act that fatally weakens the constitutionally mandated checks and balances through which our democracy prevents a president from achieving dictatorial power.

Investigations cannot proceed toward any sort of justice if no one is required to tell the truth. That much should be apparent to any reasonable, objective observer, no matter their party. This president has now created a shield around himself so that he can—so long as he simply maintains the loyalty of his minions—do literally anything he wants and remain free of accountability or punishment. That cannot be allowed to stand. Our system offers but one remedy.

Thus far, only a single Republican office-holder of note has spoken out about Trump’s attack on the rule of law. All other Republicans must take a stand—either for the would-be Tyrant from Trump Tower, or for American constitutional democracy. There is no in-between.

Unprecedented, historic corruption: an American president commutes the sentence of a person convicted by a jury of lying to shield that very president.

— Mitt Romney (@MittRomney) July 11, 2020

We know the reasons we will hear from those who counsel against impeachment and removal: “but the election…..” You know what? Fuck that. This is about standing up for our Constitution. And not just the Second Amendment.

For far too long, Trump and Republican leaders in Congress, and in the states, have acted in ways that are technically within their rights (does Merrick Garland ring a bell?), but which violate fundamental constitutional norms. Commuting Roger Stone, however, goes far beyond violating norms. Even Richard Nixon didn’t pull anything like this. Trump’s corrupt actions represent a blatant attempt to destroy our democracy, and the only way to stop him is for Congress to take the one power the Constitution provides to rein in such a president.

Congress must impeach and remove Donald Trump. Now.

House Judiciary committee hearing confronts Barr’s politicization of the DOJ

On Tuesday, Capitol Hill was dominated by a hearing with health experts, where the biggest news was that Trump hadn’t spoken to Dr. Anthony Fauci or any of his team on the subject of the pandemic in over two weeks. On Wednesday, the focus of the day shifts to the Department of Justice and how Attorney General William Barr has blown up the barriers that are supposed to exist between that agency and the White House.

The most critical testimony of the day is likely to come from attorney Aaron Zelinsky, who was formerly assigned as a prosecutor in the case against Trump campaign adviser, Roger Stone. Zelenski’s opening statement makes it clear that there was an unprecedented degree of political influence exerted on prosecutors. That included giving Stone unmatched leniency, including reducing the sentencing recommendation without cause, and bringing in a new attorney at Barr’s direction to give Stone kid-glove treatment. With Barr’s dismissal of the U. S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York fresh off the headlines, and multiple voices from within the DOJ speaking up against the politicization of the department, the hearing can be expected to be contentious.

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In his opening statement, Zelinsky is expected to say that, "What I saw was the Department of Justice exerting significant pressure on the line prosecutors in the case to obscure the correct Sentencing Guidelines calculation to which Roger Stone was subject—and to water down and in some cases outright distort the events that transpired in his trial and the criminal conduct that gave rise to his conviction.” 

Since the release of Zelnsky’s statement, Barr has issued a reply which clarifies the situation, by making it worse. The statement shows that Barr personally intervened in Stone’s case, ordering the removal of sentencing guidelines. Laughably, Barr also maintains that stepping into this one case specifically to deal with Trump’s long-time friend and campaign adviser, was keeping the department “away from politics.”

Barr’s handling of the Justice Department may be unprecedented, but so is the Republican reaction. Republicans in both the House and Senate have been protective of Barr and Trump’s ability to turn the DOJ into an extension of Trump’s personal legal team and to overlook its use as a political tool—just as they’ve defended Trump’s right to use pardons to reward friends with protection from absolutely justified convictions. 

The special treatment for Stone came after Barr fired U.S. Attorney Jessie Liu and replaced her with an acting attorney who was under “heavy pressure from the highest levels of the Department of Justice to cut Stone a break.” The way in which Liu was removed to clear the way for making things easy for Stone is a mirror of the legal musical chairs that has seen Barr replace the legal team handing charges against Michael Flynn. And it’s exactly why the removal of U. S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman in the midst of investigations of Rudy Giuliani and other Trump associates rang (and continues to ring) so many alarm bells. In all of these instances, Barr has removed experienced prosecutors taking a standard, apolitical approach to cases involving serious crimes, and replaced them with second-tier toadies who get their marching orders via Twitter. And in the case of both Stone and Flynn, Barr has used his personal authority to the benefit of Trump’s associates.

Barr has bent the law beyond the breaking point to protect Stone, and Flynn, and most of all Trump. What has happened with both Stone and Flynn, as the DOJ has revised and reduced sentencing proposals, isn’t just unprecedented or extraordinary, it’s corrupt. Republicans who defend these actions aren’t just protecting this corruption, they are rolling in it. Five months is not too short a time to conduct an impeachment.  

The Judiciary Committee hearing on prosecutorial independence will begin at 12 PM ET.

Trump’s attacks on judges and prosecutors aren’t the worst part of his threat to the judicial system

This week alone, Donald Trump has attacked career prosecutors because they refused to go along with a political decision to interfere in the sentencing of one of Trump’s advisers. Trump has also taken multiple swings at the federal judge involved in the case, including demanding a do-over for his pal Roger Stone after Stone was convicted on seven out of seven counts. But as bad as those attacks on the justice system may be, there’s one other thrust from Trump that may be the most deadly to anything resembling impartial justice: Trump has been attacking jurors.

Leveraging a statement from the jury foreman that they thought the U.S. attorneys involved in the case were “honorable,” Trump has made multiple assertions that the jury was biased against Stone from the start. Not only that, but he has tweeted attacks against the jury foreman by name, destroying the concept that a private citizen serving on a jury out of civic duty deserves to be shielded from political pressure and threats.

Trump’s attack on the jurors isn’t just a head-on assault on the American system of jurisprudence; it’s also a slam at the attorneys. Not the U.S. attorneys—Stone’s attorneys. After all, every one of the jurors survived questioning and challenges from Stone’s legal team to be seated. The transcript of the jury selection even shows Stone’s team learning that a juror had previously been a Democratic candidate for office and declaring themselves fine with it. Trump is creating a standard by which there’s no trial in America that could hold up. Or at least, no trial that Trump wants to see hold up.

And it’s not just Trump. Naturally, Fox News is all-in on the idea of attacking the privacy and assumed independence of jurors. Judge Andrew Napolitano has been all over this topic, insisting that the juror had an obligation to reveal information that very much was revealed during the jury selection. In fact, Stone’s attorneys were absolutely aware that some of the jurors had political positions opposed to Trump, with the transcript showing an attorney questioning one potential juror’s previous response, repeating, “Your answer was supported Hillary Clinton in 2016. Deeply opposed to everything Donald Trump stands for,” and the juror responding, “Yes.”

Stone’s attorney accepted that juror, along with others who said they had political positions opposed to Trump. There is no basis here for any retrial unless Stone wants to file an appeal on the grounds that his counsel was inadequate, which is a tough play, considering the essentially unlimited funds he had available to surround himself with a multimember team.

In many ways, Trump’s attack on the jurors resembles another campaign that he and his Republican allies just waged: the one against the intelligence community whistleblower whose information spurred the investigation that led to Trump’s impeachment. In that case, the whistleblower’s role was simply to bring information to the attention of authorities—no different than someone who called in on a tip line, or sent police anonymous information about a potential crime. The identity and motivations of the whistleblower mattered not one whit as soon as that role was performed. Not one piece of evidence came from the whistleblower. Not one action taken was based on testimony by the whistleblower.

But the IG whistleblower and Stone trial juror both represent something that Trump, and Fox, cannot stand: ordinary people trying to do the right thing, even in the face of pressure from the powerful. When that happens, Republicans spring into action. To attack. To threaten. To demean.

Because until people learn that they should just shut up around their betters, the world just can’t be the way that Trump and his allies demand.

Susan Collins is so concerned about Trump that she’s going to make a sternly worded phone call

The White House better be prepared. It’s going to get a sternly worded phone call from Sen. Susan Collins over the impeached president’s interference in the sentencing of Donald Trump’s buddy Roger Stone after his conviction in federal court. She told reporters that Wednesday, saying that Trump should "play no role whatsoever when it comes to sentencing recommendations" and that he "should not have commented" and that she wished he "would not tweet." No word on whether she's also going to talk about the tweeting on the phone call. But boy, that's sure going to strike terror in Trump's heart.

She also has questions for Attorney General William Barr, she says, but she's not sure if there should be any hearings yet over Trump and Barr turning the Department of Justice into Trump's defense counsel. She wouldn't want to be hasty. Still, a sternly worded phone call might be happening. I'm sure she really wishes it would help. But don't worry, she says, about Trump being "emboldened" by being let off the hook by her and her Republican pals.

Her time's up. Please give $1 to help Democrats in each of these crucial Senate races, but especially the one in Maine!

He wasn't acting out because he knows now that there are no limits to his power, now that the Senate will let him do literally anything. It's just him acting like a toddler, she says. He "often acts in an impulsive manner," she explained in a USA Today interview. "I think the president was angered by impeachment and that is reflected in the personnel choices he made," she said. Because that makes it so much better, the fact that he's now a 4-year-old on speed, and it had absolutely nothing to do with her.

No, she's not responsible at all for his behavior now. She was doing her solemn duty and certainly, she told the Bangor Daily News, if the president had committed "treason or bribery," she would definitely have voted to impeach. The House, however, called Trump's treason and bribery in withholding aid to Ukraine in order to force that country to interfere in the presidential election on his behalf "maladministration." So they didn't meet her bar.

But boy, Trump, she better not catch you doing this again, or you'll be in big trouble.

‘This is how democracies die’: House Democrats’ flagging urgency on Barr’s depravity is inexcusable

The rule of law is the very virtue that separates a democracy from a dictatorship. Though one’s ability to vote is a feature of democracy, elections are meaningless without a functional legal apparatus to safeguard them. People are allowed to cast votes in virtual dictatorships all the time, but their collective will is ultimately crushed by leaders who rig the outcomes. Without the rule of law America is doomed as a democracy, and the sanctity of the legal system is exactly what Donald Trump and his attorney general, William Barr, are working to dismantle in real time by turning the Department of Justice into a tool of the State.

Trump is reportedly seething after enduring three years of investigations for which he is constitutionally incapable of taking any responsibility. Sure, he called for Russia to find Hillary Clinton’s emails in 2016, and Russia followed suit almost immediately by hacking the Democratic National Committee. Sure, he asked the Ukrainian president to investigate his political rival Joe Biden and withheld desperately needed funding and political backing to pressure him into doing so. But Trump is never wrong, can never be questioned, and surely has never been held accountable in his life. And now that he will carry the stain of impeachment to his grave, there’s going to be hell to pay and the nation’s top law enforcement officer has proven eager to help wherever possible.

But this goes way beyond the interference Barr ran last year on public release of the Mueller report, which otherwise would have been devastating to Trump. Barr is now intervening in the administration of justice on multiple cases, weaponizing the Justice Department against Trump’s political enemies, and shielding Trump’s allies from the full force of the law.

The list of interventions is simply staggering. In brief, they include a relentless effort to find wrongdoing by the officials at the FBI and CIA involved with launching the Russia investigation in 2016, taking specific aim at former FBI Director James Comey and former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe (who was already denied his pension benefits by Barr’s predecessor after decades of service at that bureau).

And on the leniency side, Barr has moved in recent weeks to lighten the punishment for two Trump loyalists and former campaign advisers, Mike Flynn and Roger Stone. In service of that goal, Barr removed the Senate-approved U.S. attorney in D.C. and replaced her in the interim with a close ally from his office, Timothy Shea, who has gladly done Barr’s bidding. Shea is the guy who earlier this week signed off on overruling the sentencing recommendations made by the four federal prosecutors on Stone’s case who have all since resigned in protest. While all these actions are indefensible, Barr’s interference with the sentencing recommendations of a Trump ally was so unprecedented that it has elicited an outcry from a groundswell of former federal prosecutors and Justice Department officials.

“I’ve never seen so many prosecutors, including those who aren’t political or those who haven’t been following this situation closely, go to red alert so quickly,” Joyce White Vance, a former U.S. Attorney in the Obama administration, told the Washington Post. “The reason is this: If a president can meddle in a criminal case to help a friend, then there’s nothing that keeps him from meddling to harm someone he thinks is his enemy. That means that a president is fully above the law in the most dangerous kind of way. This is how democracies die.”

Vance’s prognosis isn’t hyperbole. America is teetering on the edge and Republican lawmakers have proven to be nothing but a herd of sycophantic lemmings. Unfortunately, House Democrats, who do have some agency, haven’t exactly been robust in their response. Barr has agreed to appear before the House Judiciary Committee for a hearing but not until March 31. 

At her weekly press conference Thursday, Speaker Nancy Pelosi called Barr “a sad disappointment,” saying he had “deeply damaged the rule of law by withdrawing the Department of Justice sentencing recommendations” in the Stone case, among other things.

But frankly, Democrats should be jumping up and down about this in order to shine a public spotlight on the Justice Department’s turn toward becoming nothing short of an instrument of authoritarianism. How about a bicameral press conference? How about burying the Justice Department in subpoenas just to make a point? How about a speedier timeline for Barr’s hearing? Some actual outrage spiraling into public spectacle would be useful here. We need leadership to meet the moment so American voters will understand the stakes here and be fully operational when they hit the polls in November. 

Trump is abusing a judge, intimidating jurors, and attacking prosecutors to destroy justice

In defending his convicted co-conspirator Roger Stone, Donald Trump has attacked the investigators, the prosecutors, and the judge in Stone’s federal case. On Thursday morning, with encouragement from Fox News, he moved on to attacking members of the jury. Trump has continued to show that there is no line he will not cross, because there are no lines. In the wake of his acquittal in the impeachment trial against him by the Republican-dominated Senate, Trump is unbound. He’s not testing the limits of the law; he’s making it clear that he is the law.

At the same time, Attorney General William Barr has made it known that he is personally stepping in to manipulate how punishment is handed down in America: more for Trump’s enemies, less for Trump’s friends. 

Since 2016, there has been no article that has proven its worth more times than Masha Gessen’s “Autocracy: Rules for Survival.” And one paragraph in particular clearly illuminates the last few days:

Rule #3: Institutions will not save you. It took Putin a year to take over the Russian media and four years to dismantle its electoral system; the judiciary collapsed unnoticed.

Trump didn’t have to take over American media. Fox News came prepackaged before he even stepped onto the golden escalator. All Trump had to do was scream, “Fake news!” at every fact that squeezed onto a screen. The Republican Senate just upheld Trump’s right to disassemble the electoral system at his leisure. So now it’s time for collapsing that judiciary—and Trump isn’t even trying to do it without notice.

As The Washington Post reported on Wednesday, Trump has gone directly after U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson, the judge presiding over the case of Roger Stone. This isn’t the first time Trump has demonstrated his willingness to demean a federal judge: He hadn’t even been elected when he attacked U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel by claiming that his “Mexican heritage” made him biased in the Trump University case; and in 2018, Trump was so blatant in his attacks on District Court Judge Jon Tigar that even United States Chief Justice John Roberts objected. But Trump is targeting Jackson as part of what is clearly a campaign to create right-wing outrage. Trump has repeatedly hinted, and did again on Wednesday, that he will simply pardon Stone and Flynn when it comes down to it.

But pardoning them is not enough, not when he can use these cases to assault not just charges against Trump advisers who were caught and convicted for 2016 campaign activities, but the whole concept of impartial justice. Donald Trump isn’t hammering a judge who is being tough on a pal. He’s hammering apart the whole justice system.

On Thursday morning, Trump attacked the foreperson of Stone’s jury, saying that she had “significant bias.” What was the evidence of this bias? It was that the jurist—whom right-wing media outlets have, of course, named—made a Facebook post defending the four prosecutors who resigned after Barr stepped in to overturn their sentencing guidelines. The juror said that the prosecutors “acted with the utmost intelligence, integrity, and respect for our system of justice.” As with his demands that the intelligence community whistleblower in the Ukraine plot be outed and interrogated, Trump is putting the jury, judge, and prosecutors on trial for Stone’s conviction.

All of this is aside from the fact that, thanks to Mitch McConnell, Trump has appointed 192 federal judges. That includes 51 appeals court judges and 137 district court judges, in addition to two Supreme Court justices that put conservatives in the driver’s seat of national policy for untold years to come. What Trump is doing now isn’t destroying the judicial system, because that work is pretty much done. He’s now rubbing out faith in the judicial system.

That’s why it’s unlikely that Stone will get an immediate pardon. As long as Stone can cool his heels at home, Trump and company will use his case for those two all-important purposes: destroying the republic and fundraising. That’s why members of Trump’s campaign team have already set up a fund supposedly dedicated to paying for Stone’s appeal and are running ads to reach out to Trump supporters in Stone’s name. Stone will probably get his pardon … when Trump has milked his crimes for maximum damage. In the meantime, Trump will tell outright lies about Judge Jackson, such as the claim that she put Paul Manafort in solitary confinement. She didn’t.

But the level of assault that Trump and Barr are staging on the remainder of the judicial system at this point demonstrates vividly that this is an endgame for democracy. Republicans didn’t do anything about Trump’s extorting a U.S. ally to cheat in the 2020 election. They’re not doing anything now about his abusing a judge, intimidating a juror, and tilting the scale of justice to favor his friends. They’re not going to do anything.

Except, perhaps, think about how nice elections will be when only Trump-approved candidates are allowed on the ballot.

Trump and Barr ramp up their abuses of power—and Senate Republicans are responsible for all of it

This is what a liberated post-acquittal Donald Trump looks like: not chastened, as some of the more dishonest Senate Republicans said they hoped he would be, but ever more brazen in his corruption and his destruction of democratic institutions. Tuesday was a nightmare for justice in the United States of America, with three top prosecutors either stepping down from the case or resigning entirely as Attorney General William Barr obeyed a Trump tweet and intervened in the sentencing recommendations for Trump buddy Roger Stone.

That came after the news that Barr is working with Rudy Giuliani to dig up and launder dirt on Trump’s political opponents, and after the firing of Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman and his brother from their White House jobs because he testified at the impeachment inquiry. Trump and Barr are committing the abuses, but every single Republican senator other than Mitt Romney gave them permission. Said “Go right ahead, we won’t do a thing about it.”

Every day that goes by and every new abuse that Trump commits shows why it's so important to retake the Senate. Please dig deep to defeat vulnerable Republicans in 2020.

I’m talking about Susan Collins, up for reelection in Maine. Cory Gardner, up for reelection in Colorado. Joni Ernst, in Iowa. Thom Tillis, in North Carolina. Kelly Loeffler, who will be facing Georgia voters for the first time after being appointed to replace former Sen. Johnny Isakson. David Perdue, also in Georgia, meaning there are two Senate seats at stake in one state. Martha McSally, who lost a Senate election in Arizona in 2018 and was appointed to a Senate seat anyway—she needs to lose for a second time in a row. 

Every single one of these people voted to let Trump continue his lawlessness. They voted that way when any halfway sensible person knew that he would take the vote as permission to do more and worse. These senators intended to give him that permission—and do more and worse he has. He has been publicly vindictive against Vindman for daring to testify to what Trump did on Ukraine. His attorney general is systematically perverting the administration of justice to cater to Trump’s personal desires, to protect his friends and persecute his opponents, making a mockery of the Justice Department's mission statement to “ensure fair and impartial administration of justice for all Americans.” 

Every Republican senator but Mitt Romney voted to tell Trump that he is above the law. In 2020, voters can make some of them pay for that. Give now to send the opposite message—that no one is above the law—by defeating these Republicans in 2020.

William Barr officially becomes Trump’s personal attorney—with power to persecute or pardon anyone

On Tuesday, Donald Trump tweeted that the sentencing recommendations for his longtime associate Roger Stone were unfair. Stone, who was convicted in federal court on seven counts, including lying to Congress and obstruction, including death threats against a judge and threats to murder a witness’ dog, could have received 20 years in prison or more. The recommended sentence of seven to nine years was solidly in the middle of the possible range and was made by a quartet of veteran prosecutors.

But rather than ignoring Trump’s tweet, within hours Attorney General William Barr had instructed the Department of Justice to take an appallingly unprecedented move. The DOJ announced that it was overruling the action of the U.S. attorneys in order to reduce Stone’s suggested sentence—even as Trump threatened to pardon his henchman altogether. It was a moment when American justice teetered on the edge.

Then, overnight, it fell over completely. And the attorney general of the United States officially became Trump’s personal attorney.

Three of the four U.S. attorneys who signed on to Stone’s sentencing recommendation have now withdrawn from the case in protest. At least one has resigned from the DOJ entirely. Rather than seeing this as a moment to rethink how much he had been putting his thumb on the scale of justice, Trump responded by slamming down his whole fat hand. Trump spent the night mocking and threatening the career prosecutors, accusing them of being allies of Robert Mueller, then accusing Mueller of lying to Congress—one of the same charges on which Roger Stone was convicted.

It was a staggering sequence of events—Trump demanding a lighter sentence for someone who participated in both collusion and obstruction for Trump’s own campaign; Barr stepping in to give Trump what he wants; U.S. attorneys who had spent their whole careers with the Justice Department protesting in the only way available to them by resigning; Trump responding by mocking them and threatening to prosecute both them and others. In a matter of just a few hours, every possible flare had been launched to reveal that the Department of Justice wasn’t just being politicized—it was being corrupted, turned into an instrument of Trump’s will.

And then Barr doubled down. As NBC News reports, Barr has taken “control of legal matters of personal interest to President Donald Trump.” That includes persecution of Trump’s enemies, such as former acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe. That includes protecting Trump allies such as Roger Stone and Michael Flynn. Barr isn’t turning the Justice Department into a political instrument—he’s already done that. He’s using his role to create revisionist history and to actively support and generate nothing less than corruption.

The entire Ukraine plot underlying the impeachment of Donald Trump revolved around a corrupt prosecutor general who persecuted political opponents but refused to go after his allies, no matter how large their crimes. And what Trump learned from this is was that that way of operating was a really good idea.

Fortunately, Trump already had William Barr on hand. Barr has already proven, with his manipulation of the special counsel’s report and his round-the-world conspiracy hunt, that he’s up to the job. And now the attorney general of the United States has officially made himself Donald Trump’s personal attorney—except that this personal attorney has the ability to protect Trump’s friends, persecute his enemies, and bring an end to the idea of apolitical justice in America.

Barr’s interference in Stone’s case follows his already reaching into that of Michael Flynn. Flynn, one of Trump’s former national security advisers, whose convictions were limited to lying to the FBI only because he had made a deal to provide information to the FBI in a number of other cases—including his illegal lobbying for Turkey and his participation in a plot to kidnap a U.S. resident cleric and return him to certain death in Turkey—began backing away from his deal and stalling on sentencing hearings last year. As a result of Flynn breaking his deal, prosecutors recommended a six-month sentence—and an angry judge seemed to agree that Flynn was still getting off easy. Then, in the midst of the process, Barr withdrew the attorney who had been handling Flynn’s case from the beginning and replaced him with a new attorney who rewrote the sentencing guidelines to suggest that there was no need for Flynn to be punished for his lying, obstruction, and defiance of investigators. Instead, the new recommendation was probation.

What’s happening in both the Flynn and the Stone cases is an overt subversion of the role of the attorney general and the Department of Justice. And Trump isn’t backing away—far from it. He has stated that he has an “absolute right” to tell the DOJ what to do. In addition to threatening the attorneys who withdrew from the case, Trump also expressed “congratulations” to Bill Barr in his new role of minister of justice, or prosecutor general, or whatever. 

When the Republicans in the Senate voted to allow Trump to get away with abuse of power and obstruction, he did learn a lesson. But it was the same lesson he’d learned before—that he can do anything. There are no laws except the laws that Trump declares. No justice except that which he permits. No republic remaining except what he deigns to allow.

That may seem like an exaggeration. It’s not.