Lost in the Sauce: Jan. 26 – Feb. 1
Welcome to Lost in the Sauce, keeping you caught up on political and legal news that often gets buried in distractions and theater.
THIS WEEK: The White House is still withholding a meeting from Zelensky, the Supreme Court set arguments in Trump cases, more Giuliani back-channel dealings, another taxpayer-funded party for Trump, attacks on the environment, straight up buying votes, landmines, bombs, and more.
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.
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Let’s dig in!
THE MAIN COURSE
Last week, we learned of three major claims from John Bolton’s manuscript. I’m going to assume most of you have read about it already, so I’ll just include a short blurb about each:
- In August 2019, Trump personally told Bolton he was withholding nearly $400 million in military aid to Ukraine until officials there helped with investigations into Democrats including the Bidens: The New York Times (non-paywalled).
- In early May 2019, Trump directed Bolton to help with his pressure campaign to extract damaging information on Democrats from Ukrainian officials. The president urged Bolton to call Ukrainian president Zelensky to ensure that he would meet with Giuliani. Mick Mulvaney, Giuliani, and Pat Cipollone were present when Trump made the request: The New York Times (non-paywalled).
- John R. Bolton, the former national security adviser, privately told Attorney General William P. Barr last year that he had concerns that President Trump was effectively granting personal favors to the autocratic leaders of Turkey and China: The New York Times (non-paywalled).
- Bolton was regularly appalled by what he saw from the president, the people close to him said. He wondered at times if Trump was acting in America’s best interest or if he was inspired by nefarious reasons: The Washington Post.
GOP Senators know the truth
The Washington Post reported that Republican senators have known since 2016 that Trump’s defense is based on lies:
At a Senate hearing in 2016, a number of GOP senators who are still in office today sat in attendance during discussions of the Obama administration’s approach to Ukraine. At those hearings, officials and outside experts repeatedly discussed the need to remove the prosecutor in question — Viktor Shokin, the prosecutor general — describing this imperative as central to official U.S. policy.
What’s more, Joe Biden’s own role in prompting this ouster came up repeatedly, and it was openly and explicitly discussed that the loan guarantees were being used as leverage to bring it about — as U.S. policy.
…GOP senators present at the hearing — and who remain in office today — included John Barrasso (Wyo.), Cory Gardner (Colo.), James E. Risch (Idaho) and David Perdue (Ga.).
What this shows is that ousting the prosecutor was about fighting corruption in Ukraine as a matter of administration policy — and that GOP senators understood this full well at the time. Indeed, none of that stirred any controversy.
Administration hiding documents
Just hours after the Senate voted against seeking new evidence in Trump’s impeachment trial, the Justice Department submitted a court filing revealing the existence of 24 emails that contain “Presidential decision-making about the scope, duration, and purpose of the hold on military assistance to Ukraine.” A lawyer for the Office of Management and Budget wrote in the filing that these communications are protected by “presidential privilege” and that the administration should not have to unredact the contents.
Still withholding a meeting
White House officials reportedly wanted Ukrainian President Zelensky to publicly back up Trump’s defense during Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s trip to the country last week: Before the cameras, they hoped Zelensky would state that “the president never pressured Ukraine to investigate Trump’s political rivals.”
Andriy Yermak, a top aide to Zelensky, has been pushing the Ukrainian president “to embrace a pro-Trump line for the sake of his embattled country.” The pressure on Zelesnky to take such an approach continues, as Pompeo told the Ukrainians that “Mr. Trump was not ready to receive Mr. Zelensky at the White House.” Meanwhile, Trump has twice hosted Russian foreign minister Sergey V. Lavrov at the White House.
Trump’s defense vs Trump’s defense
Trump’s impeachment defense team has pursued numerous lines of arguments during the trial that directly contradict the Trump administration’s arguments in court.
In the most recent instance, a Justice Department lawyer told the court that the House Oversight Committee should pursue impeachment as a remedy for the administration’s failure to comply with subpoenas seeking information on the decision to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census. District Court Judge Randolph Moss responded that it was “ really not a great state of affairs for this country,” if the House should impeach the President over every subpoena that his administration ignores.
Throughout the impeachment process, Trump’s lawyers and Republicans have criticized the House managers for not going to court to resolve disputes over subpoenas; yet, the Justice Department is actively telling the courts that this is incorrect, that the courts have no place in resolving such disputes.
In another instance, Ken Starr argued before the Senate that the senators are not jurors and are, in fact, a “court.” However, the Justice Department has been arguing the opposite in its attempt to keep the House from accessing Mueller’s grand jury materials: DOJ lawyers told a panel of judges in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit that the Senate impeachment trial is not a court and “therefore not exempt from secrecy rules that shield grand jury materials from disclosure.”
“That argument has now been contradicted by the president’s counsel’s statements to the Senate, which confirm that the Senate sits as a ‘court’ rather than a ‘legislative chamber’ during an impeachment trial,” according to the filing from House general counsel Douglas N. Letter.
- More contradictions: As I explained in last week’s Lost in the Sauce, Trump’s defense also contradicted the DOJ’s arguments in the case for Don McGahn’s testimony.
- Tax returns: House lawyers also mentioned Trump’s defense while asking U.S. District Judge Trevor McFadden of the District of Columbia to lift a stay in the case for Trump’s tax returns from the Treasury and IRS. McFadden paused the case at the beginning of January because he believed he should wait for the Appeals Court hearing the McGahn case to reach a verdict first.
Supreme Court sets Trump dates
The Supreme Court will hear arguments on March 31 in three major cases involving Trump:
- Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance’s subpoena to Mazars for Trump’s financial information
- The House Oversight Committee’s subpoena to Mazars for Trump’s financial information
- The House Intelligence and Financial Services Committees’ subpoenas to Deutsche Bank and Capital One for Trump’s financial records
In yet another example of Rudy Giuliani’s conflicts of interests and potential corruption, The Washington Post reported that during a meeting with a top Ukrainian official to push for investigations sought by Trump, Giuliani also applied pressure on behalf of a former client of his.
Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko, for whom Giuliani has said he did consulting work, was on the verge of being fired by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky from a separate post as the appointed head of the city administration, a move that would greatly reduce his power. Giuliani urged a Zelensky adviser at the Madrid conclave to retain Klitschko , according to Lev Parnas, a former Giuliani associate.
“Rudy told him, ‘Make sure Klitschko stays,’ ” Parnas, who participated in the meeting, told The Washington Post in an interview.
…Zelensky backed off the threat, and nearly six months later, Klitschko still remains in his post.
Senate’s Russia report
The Senate Intelligence Committee, led by Richard Burr (R-NC) and Mark Warner (D-VA), is due to release its third installment of its report on Russia’s election interference this week. It will reportedly focus on the Obama administration’s response to Russia’s operations. Warner “blamed the intelligence community’s declassification process for slowing the release of both the third and fourth volumes of the investigation.”
The Senate Finance Committee recently conducted “an extensive interview” of the whistleblower at the IRS who alleges at least one political appointee at the Treasury Dept. attempted to improperly interfere with the audit of President Trump or Vice President Pence.
Democrats who have reviewed it regard it as a deeply significant allegation that, if true, suggests that political appointees may have tried to interfere with the government audit process, which was set up to be insulated from political pressures. WaPo
The Education Department pushed out a whistleblower last December for making a complaint about the department’s treatment of transgender students. Civil Rights lawyer Dwayne Bensing leaked emails that revealed the Dept. of Education was rushing to take up a case to ban transgender athletes from competing on a team that aligns with their gender identity.
The Whistleblower Protection Act holds that employees have the authority to disclose government information if they believe they are witnessing a violation of rules, laws or regulations, gross mismanagement or an abuse of power.
Meanwhile, the acting-Defense Department Inspector General, Glenn Fine, told a subcommittee of the House Oversight Committee that “officials at the Defense Department are not taking action when the inspector general validates allegations of whistleblower reprisal.” Additionally, “advocates for those employees told lawmakers individuals are now less likely to speak out against waste and wrongdoing due to President Trump’s reaction to his impeachment.”
Paying for Trump to party
Taxpayers shelled out another $3.4 million to send President Donald Trump to Florida this weekend so he could host a Super Bowl party for paying guests at his for-profit golf course… The president’s latest trip to his Palm Beach resort and nearby golf course brings the taxpayer-funded total for his golfing hobby to $130.4 million.
…In response to a query, White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham defended Trump’s trip and attacked HuffPost: “The premise of your story is ridiculous and false, and just more left-wing media bias on display. The president never stops working, and that includes when he is at the Winter White House.”
Her phrase “Winter White House” refers to Mar-a-Lago, the for-profit resort in Palm Beach that is several miles east of the golf course and that doubled its initiation fee from $100,000 to $200,000 after Trump was elected in 2016. Trump frequently mingles with guests at social events there. HuffPost
Other Trump-related legal news
- The AP: Lawyers for a woman who accuses President Donald Trump of raping her in the 1990s are asking for a DNA sample, seeking to determine whether his genetic material is on a dress she says she wore during the encounter. Advice columnist E. Jean Carroll’s lawyers served notice to a Trump attorney Thursday for Trump to submit a sample on March 2 in Washington for “analysis and comparison against unidentified male DNA present on the dress.”
- Just one day after the U.S. Attorney’s Office of D.C. reversed its sentencing opinion in Michael Flynn’s case, switching from recommending jail time to requesting only probation, Attorney General Bill Barr announced that he has appointed a new head of the DC office: Timothy Shea, one of his closest advisers. “As the U.S. attorney in the District of Columbia, Shea would oversee some of the lingering cases from special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, along with a number of politically charged investigations.”
- Regarding the DOJ’s recent change of heart in Flynn’s case, some have suggested political interference explains the reversal: “The first filing was delayed twice because prosecutors said “multiple officials and entities” needed to review it, and then today we get this. Something funky has been going on and it’s not hard to guess what it is.” Flynn’s sentencing hearing is scheduled for Feb. 27. In new filings, Flynn says that – despite twice admitting under oath to lying to federal investigators – he now can’t remember the details he admitted to lying about.
A charity allied with Trump’s re-election campaign held a cash giveaway in a black community in Cleveland last week, rewarding attendees for listening to speakers promote the president’s agenda. The charity, called the Urban Revitalization Coalition, is run by prominent Trump supporter Darrell Scott, a Cleveland pastor.
As Politico explains, the fact that the giveaway is organized under a charity allows donors to “remain anonymous and make tax-deductible contributions.” Marcus Owens, a former director of the Exempt Organizations Division at the Internal Revenue Service, says the giveaways may also be illegal: “Charities are required to spend their money on charitable and educational activities… It’s not immediately clear to me how simply giving money away to people at an event is a charitable act.”
The coalition planned a Martin Luther King Jr. Day event at Virginia Union University, a historically black school in Richmond. Advertisements for the event said it would feature a $30,000 cash giveaway and would honor Trump as well as his son-in-law, senior White House adviser Jared Kushner.
But school administrators canceled the Jan. 20 event, saying it had been described to them as an “economic development discussion” when it was first booked. In a letter to Lanier, university President Hakim Lucas said: “The event advertised is vastly different from the event VUU agreed to co-host.”
On Thursday, the Trump administration formally moved to weaken protections for millions of migratory birds. The new rules will not hold fossil fuel companies, developers, power companies, and other industries accountable for “incidentally” killing birds – even on a massive scale.
Since guidelines under the administration’s interpretation of the law were issued in April 2018, hundreds of ducks, geese, herons and migrating birds have perished in oil pits, on utility lines and in other operations without penalty, according to documents compiled by conservation groups.
…In May, a U.N. report found that 1 million plant and animal species are on the verge of extinction as a result of human activity. Four months later, a report by top ornithologists and government agencies found that nearly 3 billion birds across hundreds of species have been lost in North America. WaPo
- “The Trump administration’s Bird Killer Department, formerly known as the Department of the Interior, just gets crueler and more craven every day,” said David Yarnold, president and CEO of the National Audubon Society, in a press release. Use this Audubon form to express your opposition to the gutting of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
- CNN: President Donald Trump rescinded restrictions on the US military’s ability to use landmines, weapons that have been banned by more than 160 countries due to their history of killing and wounding civilians, the White House said Friday. “The Department of Defense has determined that restrictions imposed on American forces by the Obama Administration’s policy could place them at a severe disadvantage during a conflict against our adversaries.”
- The Washington Post: Some of the Washington area’s biggest defense contractors are making more money than ever from classified military and intelligence programs, top executives told investors this week, as competition with China and Russia drives a wave of secret spending one analyst called “unprecedented in recent history.” Executives from Northrop Grumman and Raytheon reported double-digit growth in classified defense business over the past year.
- The Guardian: The US dropped more bombs on Afghanistan in 2019 than any other year since the Pentagon began keeping a tally in 2006…According to new figures released by US central command, US warplanes dropped 7,423 bombs and other munitions on Afghanistan, a nearly eightfold increase from 2015. The increasing intensity of the air campaign has been accompanied by an increase in civilian casualties attributed to US forces. According to UN data, the US accounted for half the 1,149 civilian deaths attributed to pro-government forces in Afghanistan over the first three-quarters of 2019.
Miscellaneous news that may be more relevant in specific states:
- AZ Central: Arizona violated the Voting Rights Act by barring voters from delivering the early ballots of neighbors, friends and others to polling places, a federal appeals court ruled Monday…The policy against so-called “ballot harvesting” disproportionately affects American Indian, Hispanic and African American voters…Republicans who control the Legislature enacted the policy with the intent of suppressing turnout among voters from minority groups, the [Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals] decided. (read more detail)
- Reuters: Fourteen U.S. states and Washington D.C. sued the Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday to fight what they called the Trump administration’s effort to gut rules meant to improve safety at chemical plants and reduce the threat of accidents.
- Orlando Sentinel: Former Florida Gov. Rick Scott destroyed evidence that would have cleared the employees of a Hollywood nursing home accused of doing nothing as the patients in their care died in sweltering conditions, according to court papers filed this week. Attorneys for defendants Sergo Colin and Jorge Carballo are asking Broward Circuit Judge John Murphy to dismiss manslaughter charges against their clients, arguing that deleted voicemails to Scott would have proved that employees of the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills tried but failed to get help as conditions worsened after Hurricane Irma struck in 2017.
- Seattle Times: A panel charged with looking at ways to trim federal properties deemed excess has recommended [that the National Archives at Seattle be closed]. The U.S. Office of Management and the Budget (OMB) agreed and announced its decision late Friday that the facility should be closed…The move comes despite a letter sent Friday to the OMB by all senators from Washington, Alaska, Oregon and Idaho, and eight of the 10 Washington state representatives to Congress. The letter concluded the recommendation to close the archives “was flawed” and should be rejected.
- Personal addition: As an archaeologist in the region, this outside decision, made “without engaging state officials, local officials, and affected communities as required by law,” is particularly upsetting. The archives holds over 100 years of history from the entire Cascadia region – including many records of significance to the 272 federally recognized tribes in the region. These records will be moved to storage in Kansas City and Southern California, far out of reach of the people who need to access them.
- ABC News: President Donald Trump on Friday signed an order to impose travel restrictions on a new group of six countries, adding to the current travel ban…The U.S. will stop issuing visas for travelers seeking permanent residency from Burma, Eritrea, Kyrgyzstan, and Nigeria.
- The Week: The fact that the ban explicitly targets those who are here to stay is particularly confusing when it comes to Nigeria, seeing as its immigrants are among the most likely immigrants to receive college degrees once they come to the U.S. In fact, an estimated 60 percent of Nigerian immigrants to the U.S. have college degrees, as opposed to 33 percent of Americans who do, Census data has shown. Nigerian immigrants are also much more likely to hold doctorates and master’s degrees.
- The Washington Post: The Supreme Court on Monday allowed the Trump administration to begin implementing new “wealth test” rules making it easier to deny immigrants residency or admission to the United States because they have used or might use public-assistance programs… while legal challenges continue in lower courts. …All four of the court’s liberal justices — Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan — noted their disagreement. (non-paywalled)
- The Washington Post: President Trump’s border wall probably will require the installation of hundreds of storm gates to prevent flash floods from undermining or knocking it over, gates that must be left open for months every summer during “monsoon season” in the desert…The open, unmanned gates in remote areas already have allowed for the easy entry of smugglers and migrants into the United States. (non-paywalled)