Lost in the Sauce: Jan. 5 – 11
Welcome to Lost in the Sauce, keeping you caught up on political and legal news that often gets buried in distractions and theater.
Two important things:
FIRST, the headings will guide you through this piece. The Main Course covers the “big” stories and The Sides covers the “smaller” stories.
SECOND, I have not had time lately to do a companion audio TLDR for Lost in the Sauce. I’m very sorry, these take so long to write and compile that suddenly it’s time to post it and I haven’t had a chance to record and edit audio.
- If you enjoy my work, please consider becoming a patron. I do this to keep track and will never hide behind a paywall, but these projects take a lot of time and effort to create. Even a couple of dollars a month helps. Since someone asked last week (thank you!), here’s a PayPal option
- If you’d like to be added to my newsletter, use this SIGNUP FORM and you’ll get these recaps in your inbox!
Let’s dig in!
Next steps in impeachment
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced on Friday that she “asked Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler to be prepared to bring to the Floor next week a resolution to appoint managers and transmit articles of impeachment to the Senate.” Pelosi decided to hold back the articles last month after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refused to commit to an impartial trial.
In her letter, Pelosi lists new evidence of “impeachable conduct” that has emerged since the House impeached the President, supporting her decision to wait to transmit the articles of impeachment. She concludes by saying:
In an impeachment trial, every Senator takes an oath to “do impartial justice according to the Constitution and laws.” Every Senator now faces a choice: to be loyal to the President or the Constitution. No one is above the law, not even the President.
Many people have wondered why Pelosi decided to transmit the articles now, why she is not waiting longer. The Speaker has not explained her decision, but the main factor may be found in a tweet she sent right after announcing the move:
By joining a resolution to dismiss, Sen. McConnell showed his true colors. Americans have now seen what is at stake in a fair trial with witnesses & evidence, and new evidence has emerged. Every Senator will have to vote: is their loyalty is to the President or the Constitution?
The day before, McConnell signed onto Sen. Josh Hawley’s resolution to change Senate impeachment rules allowing for a vote to dismiss the articles of impeachment if they’re not sent to Senate within 25 days of House approval.
While no agreement has been made to call witnesses in the Senate trial, New York Times chief Washington Correspondent Carl Hulse reported that “there’s a growing sense among senators I’ve talked to that there will be some witnesses.” Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) told local news that she is working with a “fairly small group” of Republican senators to ensure that there will be the opportunity to call witnesses.
- A proposal: A Salon piece argues that Joe and Hunter Biden “should call Trump’s bluff and offer to testify” in exchange for Bolton, Mulvaney, and Giuliani also testifying in the Senate trial.
Former National Security Adviser John Bolton released a statement on Wednesday offering to testify if the Senate issues a subpoena:
Accordingly, since my testimony is once again at issue, I have had to resolve the serious competing issues as best I could, based on careful consideration and study. I have concluded that, if the Senate issues a subpoena for my testimony, I am prepared to testify.
- Why it matters: Bolton was present for many key events related to Trump’s pressure campaign on Ukraine. For example, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, and John Bolton sat down with Trump in August 2019 to try to convince him to release the aid to Ukraine. According to then-National Security Council Russia expert Dr. Fiona Hill, Bolton was alarmed by the backchannel pressure campaign run by Sondland, Mulvaney, and Giuliani – Hill quoted Bolton as saying: “I am not part of whatever drug deal Sondland and Mulvaney are cooking up.”
Will the Senate bring Bolton in? That remains to be seen. His offer puts more pressure on the Senate to do so. Schumer pointed out that only a few Republican Senators need to break with McConnell: “It is now up to four Senate Republicans to support bringing in Mr. Bolton.”
- Trump used national security as an excuse to continue covering up the truth about his abuse of power: Even if Bolton is subpoenaed by the Senate, and even if he complies, President Trump indicated he’ll likely invoke executive privilege to prevent Bolton from testifying about many of the pertinent events under investigation. Fox News host Ingraham asked why he’d block Bolton from testifying if he has information that would help the president. Trump responded that he’d “have to” invoke executive privilege “for the sake of the office.” He continued: “…especially a national security adviser, you can’t have him explaining all of your statements about national security concerning Russia, China, North Korea, everything. You just can’t do that.”
What should the House do?
In case it isn’t obvious, a witness can not pick and choose which subpoenas to comply with. That is exactly what Bolton is doing by specifying that he’ll comply with a Senate subpoena, when he’s previously stated that he’d fight a House subpoena in the courts. However, House impeachment investigators chose not to subpoena Bolton when conducting their inquiry. Whether that was a mistake or not is debatable; what’s more relevant now is the argument that the House should subpoena Bolton immediately.
Philip Bobbitt of Lawfare:
Because it is now clear that the Senate will not take steps to ensure that it has all the relevant information before commencing its trial of impeachment, the House should subpoena those witnesses whose testimony would determine—either way—the president’s personal culpability in the withholding of appropriated military assistance to Ukraine. There is ample reason to believe that the former national security adviser, John Bolton, can provide first-hand information on this subject. Bolton should give testimony before any transmittal of the bill of impeachment to the Senate.
If he and others similarly situated—that is, persons with first-hand knowledge of the president’s actions and motivations, such as the president’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo—refuse to honor subpoenas for their testimony, the House should immediately seek an injunction directing their testimony.
Constitutional scholar Heidi Kitrosser told The Washington Post:
“By stating that he would testify if the Senate subpoenas him, Bolton has effectively waived any argument against testifying should the House subpoena him,” Kitrosser said. “Bolton had no plausible claim for absolute immunity from showing up to testify in the first place. But even if he previously had such a claim, there is no plausible basis on which it would apply only against a House subpoena and not against a Senate subpoena.”
Benjamin Wittes suggests withholding the articles until Bolton testifies:
in the context of John Bolton’s announcement yesterday that he’s willing to testify if subpoenaed by the Senate, McConnell’s announcement of his posture creates a strategic opening for Pelosi that she will not fail to notice. A subpoena from the Senate is not, after all, legally different from a subpoena from the House. With McConnell now publicly committed to moving forward without hearing from a witness who is willing to testify, Pelosi’s control over the articles becomes highly significant.
Here is a card she now has in her hand. She can announce that: (1) She is not willing to hand over the articles so that McConnell can bury them without hearing from a witness who has suddenly made clear that he is, after all, available. (2) Since the Senate majority leader appears committed to a trial framework that will not hear all the available witnesses with relevant information, the House Intelligence Committee will issue the subpoena Bolton has invited instead. (3) She will hold the articles pending the completion of that testimony—and whatever litigation may be necessary to obtain it. And critically, (4) the House reserves the right to pass superseding or amended articles of impeachment in response to new information it obtains.
Will the House follow this advice?
On Sunday, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff told Face the Nation that the panel is “considering” issuing a subpoena to Bolton.
The Courts are aiding Trump
House Democrats explained that they did not issue subpoenas to key officials like Bolton because they did not want impeachment to get tied up in lengthy court cases. Last week, Slate published a piece criticizing the court system for moving so slow on Trump’s cases when – as the authors claim – “the judiciary also has the capacity to move very quickly when circumstances demand it.” They add: “Had the courts signaled a willingness to act at a pace befitting the needs of the moment, Schiff might have made a different choice.”
One could be forgiven for starting to wonder whether the courts are taking sides but doing it in a way that looks measured and restrained. The thing is: Sometimes not resolving an exigent case is a decision.
It’s been clear for some time now that the beating heart of this president’s litigation strategy is an effort to run out the clock… What’s stunning is the degree to which the courts are complicit in all this. The courts have aided and abetted the Trump legal team and Mitch McConnell by refusing to behave as if time is a factor in any of these proceedings.
Make no mistake: It is a choice to ignore a congressional subpoena, and it is a choice to claim that only a court can resolve that impasse. When that choice is taken by the president, it seems fair to ask that the courts resolve the matter with something more prompt than the “all deliberate speed” with which they allowed desegregation to drag on for years and years after Brown v. Board of Education. Sometimes, not resolving a case in time for relief of any kind is a decision. Calling it lofty institutional deliberation instead of a dodge is a play to the court of public opinion, but not a court of law.
Cost of Trump’s travel
Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin is attempting to hide how much American taxpayers are paying to support the Trump family’s extravagant lifestyle. A key provision of a bill to move oversight of the Secret Service to the Treasury requires that the Secret Service disclose the costs related to the travel of the president and his adult children within 120 days after it is passed. The Trump administration balked at the time frame, insisting that the costs can only be revealed after the 2020 election.
It’s not difficult to determine why the administration prefers the delay: the Trump family’s lifestyle has likely been very expensive for American taxpayers. Reporters have been able to piece together some estimates. For example, according to a Government Accountability Office report from last year, just one month of Trump travel cost $13.6 million in 2018—a figure that includes the total cost of protecting the president, not just Secret Service costs.
Another example: “A review of federal spending data by liberal super-PAC American Bridge 21st Century found 65 instances of spending by the Secret Service related to presidential golf outings, for a total of $769,520. Another four line items for Secret Service spending related to Mar-A-Lago—the president’s private club, which has no golf course but is often home base for his Florida golfing weekends—brought the total to $950,000.”
The Trump Organization is moving forward with plans to sell the lease to its D.C. Hotel, which is currently at the center of Emoluments lawsuits and congressional investigations. The Washington Post reported that interested buyers have until Jan. 23 to submit initial bids. In an earlier statement, the Trump Organization said it would try to sell the lease for $500 million, though experts believe that amount is “unrealistically high.”
You may remember: A sales brochure obtained by CNN last year promoted the hotel’s ability to attract business from foreign governments. “Tremendous upside potential exists for a new owner to fully capitalize on government related business upon rebranding of the asset,” the pitch says.
Regardless of future plans to sell the lease to the hotel, it seems Trump has yet again raised prices in his hotel on specific nights – nights that relate to political events.
Is President Trump already planning a re-election party at his DC hotel on election night? Maybe so, as rooms at Trump International Hotel are entirely unavailable on November 2nd and 3rd. Those dates just happen to be the day before and the night of the 2020 presidential election. And not only that: The night after the election a basic room costs $1,600, a major spike of nearly 5 times the average cost, which is around $331.
The high rate on November 4th suggests that the hotel’s unavailability on the two days before has to do with high demand: Perhaps the hotel sold out because Trumpworld insiders already booked their rooms, or a political group booked up blocks of rooms for a party. No matter what, President Trump will be making even more money than usual from his DC hotel on the nights around the 2020 presidential election.
Trump Org’s fraud
De Blasio says Trump Organization tax practices referred to DA for review and potential charges:
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said Friday that he had asked Manhattan’s district attorney to investigate discrepancies ProPublica and WNYC revealed last fall between what President Donald Trump’s company reported in filings to city tax officials and what it reported in loan filings. The discrepancies made his properties seem more profitable to a lender and less profitable to the city’s tax authorities.
Reasons become clear
The Wall Street Journal reported that impeachment played a large role in the choice to kill Iranian Gen. Soleimani: “Mr. Trump, after the strike, told associates he was under pressure to deal with Gen. Soleimani from GOP senators he views as important supporters in his coming impeachment trial in the Senate, associates said.”
This reporting was backed up The New York Times: Trump “told some associates that he wanted to preserve the support of Republican hawks in the Senate in the coming impeachment trial, naming Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas as an example, even though they had not spoken about Iran since before Christmas.”
Meanwhile, the Trump administration has offered contradictory justifications for the strike. On Friday, Trump made a new claim: Gen. Soleimani was planning attacks on four U.S. embassies. When confronted with this assertion on Face the Nation, Defense Secretary Esper denied knowledge of such a threat: “I didn’t see one with regard to four embassies.” Senator Chris Murphy pointed out that nothing about imminent attacks on embassies was mentioned during the full Senate briefing earlier in the week.
Rep. Justin Amash: The administration didn’t present evidence to Congress regarding even one embassy. The four embassies claim seems to be totally made up. And they have never presented evidence of imminence—a necessary condition to act without congressional approval—with respect to any of this. (tweet)
- Interesting fact: In a September 2015 memo to Steve Bannon, unofficial Trump campaign adviser Erik Prince advocated for the killing of Soleimani, who Prince called “the Heinrich Himmler of the Iranian State.” Prince criticized the Obama administration’s handling of Iran, writing “that Soleimani and his ilk are not already DEAD is a national disgrace for America.”
Monday morning update: NBC News reports that “Trump authorized the killing of Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani seven months ago if Iran’s increased aggression resulted in the death of an American, according to five current and former senior administration officials…The timing, however, could undermine the Trump administration’s stated justification for ordering the U.S. drone strike… Officials have said Soleimani, the leader of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ elite Quds Force, was planning imminent attacks on Americans and had to be stopped.”
The House passed a non-binding resolution on Thursday seeking to ensure any future military action against Iran is approved by Congress beforehand.
Earlier Thursday, Pelosi said they purposely took this approach to ensure that the chamber could send a clear message to the president. “We are taking this path because it does not require … a signature of the president of the United States,” she said. “This is a statement of the Congress of the United States, and I will not have that statement be diminished by whether the president will veto it or not.”
- The resolution was adopted by a 224-194 vote. Republican Reps. Matt Gaetz of Florida, Thomas Massie of Kentucky and Francis Rooney of Florida crossed party lines to vote in favor while Democratic Reps. Max Rose of New York, Ben McAdams of Utah, Anthony Brindisi of New York, Joe Cunningham of South Carolina, Elaine Luria of Virginia, Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey, Kendra Horn of Oklahoma and Stephanie Murphy of Florida voted against the resolution. Trump was reportedly angered by Gaetz’ support for the resolution
The Soleimani strike has had an interesting side effect: strengthening Russia’s position in the Middle East and weakening America’s global stance.
Since its pivotal intervention in the Syrian civil war in 2015, Russia has sought to position itself as a major player in the Middle East, establishing itself as a rare broker that is on good terms with all of the region’s feuding powers. Now Moscow has a fresh chance to solidify that reputation… [The strike] provides Putin with new opportunities to achieve two of his long-standing goals: undermining U.S. credibility and expanding Russia’s footprint across the Middle East. (Foreign Policy)
As a country that likes to portray itself as a peer to the United States, Russia benefits from being able to point to a U.S. precedent, just as it pointed to the U.S. bombing of Yugoslavia to justify its invasion of Georgia in 2008. The Soleimani killing provides Moscow a potentially useful precedent should it decide, for instance, to target a Ukrainian official on some dubious pretext in the future. (Center for Strategic and International Studies)
Russian state media is portraying Soleimani as an ally, someone to be admired. Meanwhile, pro-Kremlin voices are saying that Trump killed Soleimani to distract from the impeachment proceedings and provide a boost in his re-election chances.
Immediately following the Soleimani strike, Trump’s campaign took to Facebook to praise and thank him for taking out the Iranian general. “Thanks to the swift actions of our Commander-in-Chief, Iranian General Qassem Soleimani is no longer a threat to the United States, or to the world,” the ad says. “Take the Official Trump Military Survey TODAY to let me know what you think of my leadership as Commander-in-Chief.” According to Vice News, Trump’s reelection campaign has purchased over 768 “self-congratulatory” Facebook ads.
In fact, the most popular posts about Iran on Facebook last week were ones written by pages run by President Trump. Since Dec. 31, Trump’s Iran-related Facebook posts have collectively received over 4.1 million interactions.
Both native Facebook content and third-party links on the platform are either overwhelmingly pro-Trump or posted directly by Trump. Eight of the ten most-interacted-with posts containing the keyword “Iran” published to Facebook in the last month were posted by Trump’s personal Facebook page, according to social metrics site BuzzSumo.
Despite Twitter’s decision to ban ads from politicians, Facebook refuses to even fact-check political advertisements. Instead, the company is placing the responsibility on the user: sometime in Summer 2020, users in the U.S. will have the ability to change an obscure account setting to see “fewer” political ads.
Federal Election Commissioner Ellen Weintraub: “These so-called ‘transparency’ solutions are neither transparent nor solutions… I am not willing to bet the 2020 elections on the proposition that Facebook has solved its problems with a solution whose chief feature appears to be that it doesn’t seriously impact the company’s profit margins.”
The New York City Bar Association has sent a letter to Congressional leaders, urging them “to commence formal inquiries into a pattern of conduct by Attorney General William P. Barr that threatens public confidence in the fair and impartial administration of justice.”
The letter asserts that in several extended public statements during the past few months, Mr. Barr has disregarded “bedrock obligations for government lawyers,” including “to avoid even the appearance of partiality and impropriety, and to avoid manifesting bias, prejudice, or partisanship in the exercise of official responsibilities.” (NYC Bar)
The Washington Post reported last week that the Justice Department is closing its 2-year long investigation into Clinton’s business dealings – including the allegation (pushed by Trump) that she had played a role in giving Russia a profitable uranium deal – after not finding any crimes or misconduct.
Former federal prosecutor Joyce White Vance: “Nothing.” This appropriate result still doesn’t erase the unforgivable sin that AG Sessions committed by opening a criminal investigation to please the president. DOJ is not a tool for presidents to use against people they think are their enemies. (Tweet)
A New York State Supreme Court judge rejected Trump’s attempt to have E. Jean Carroll’s defamation lawsuit against him thrown out. Justice Doris Ling-Cohan ruled that Carroll can now proceed with her lawsuit that alleges that Trump defamed her when he made public comments denying that he raped her.
Trump said in June that Carroll was “totally lying,” calling the accusation “fake news.” He said they had never met, though a 1987 photo shows them and their then-spouses at a social event. Trump dismissed the picture, saying he was just “standing with my coat on in a line.”
Flynn and Stone updates
The Justice Department recommended that former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn serve up to six months in prison for lying to the FBI about his Russian contacts after the 2016 election. Prosecutors had previously requested leniency from the court, but reversed the decision when Flynn hired a new legal team that claimed he was “tricked” into pleading guilty. Flynn’s sentencing is set for Jan. 28 before U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan in Washington.
U.S. District Judge Christopher Cooper ruled last week that materials related to the arrest of Trump campaign adviser Roger Stone should be released to media outlets within 60-days. These documents include search warrants and information seized during the FBI’s investigation into possible contacts between Trump’s campaign and Moscow. Stone’s sentencing for obstruction and witness tampering charges is scheduled for Feb. 20.
Joseph Bondy, the lawyer representing Giuliani associate Lev Parnas, tweeted on Sunday that he delivered the contents of Parnas’ iPhone to the House Intelligence Committee. Parnas claims there is evidence on the phone that is relevant to the impeachment investigations.
During Trump’s interview with Fox News’ Laura Ingraham on Friday, the President admitted to “sell[ing] troops,” as characterized by Rep. Justin Amash.
Trump: “Saudi Arabia is paying us for [our troops]. We have a very good relationship with Saudi Arabia. I said, listen, you’re a very rich country. You want more troops? I’m going to send them to you, but you’ve got to pay us. They’re paying us. They’ve already deposited $1 billion in the bank.”
- The Seattle Times: The Department of Homeland Security’s Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties is opening an investigation into the many reports of people being stopped and questioned for hours last weekend at the Canadian border… The vast majority of stops appear to have occurred at the Peace Arch Border Crossing in Blaine and affected people of Iranian descent, although two others of different Middle Eastern heritage also told The Seattle Times they went through a similar ordeal.
- Buzzfeed News: The Trump administration has been preparing to expand its travel ban — which bars individuals from seven countries from entering the US — to restrict certain immigrants from several more nations around the world, according to internal government documents obtained by BuzzFeed News. It is unclear whether the administration will issue the restrictions. But the draft documents suggest it has been actively preparing to do so by creating materials to engage with the media, alongside a draft presidential proclamation.
- NYT: The Trump administration will deport some Mexicans seeking asylum at the United States border to Guatemala as part of a deal that had been praised by Department of Homeland Security officials as a way to deter migration from Central America…In theory, an asylum seeker from Juárez, Mexico, could be deported from the El Paso, Texas, border crossing a mile from his home to the Guatemalan border nearly 2,000 miles away.
- NPR: A federal appeals court has handed the Trump administration a victory by allowing the president to tap military construction funds to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. A divided 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued the decision late Wednesday, reversing a lower court order that stopped Trump from using $3.6 billion in U.S Defense Department money to construct the long-promised border wall.
- CBS News: A federal appeals court in New York on Wednesday refused to allow the Trump administration to implement a sweeping rule that would make it easier for the government to reject applications for green cards and visas from immigrants who it determines are or could become burdens on U.S. taxpayers.
- NBC News: A federal judge has ordered the Department of Homeland Security to return a gay asylum-seeker who was deported to Chad, ruling that the government had not properly considered his asylum claim based on his status as a gay man before deporting him.