Lost in the Sauce: Feb. 23 – 29

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.

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Let’s dig in!

MAIN COURSE

Trump’s incompetence, authoritarian patterns continue with coronavirus response

In a standalone piece published yesterday, I go over Trump’s response to the coronavirus, how he made the spread inevitable, and the impact of Trump’s authoritarian impulses.

Nadler launches Barr investigation

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler sent Attorney General Bill Barr a letter last week requesting a slew of interviews and documents in preparation for Barr’s scheduled testimony at the end of March.

Most notably, Nadler requested interviews with the four career prosecutors who withdrew from Roger Stone’s case after Barr intervened to recommend a lower sentence (which Stone received): Aaron Zelinsky, Adam Jed, Michael Marando, and Jonathan Kravis. John Durham, who is leading Barr’s investigation of the origins of the Russia probe, is also on the list, as is Jessie Liu, who supervised not only Stone’s case, but also the attempted prosecution of Andrew McCabe.

“Although you serve at the president’s pleasure, you are also charged with the impartial administration of our laws. In turn, the House Judiciary Committee is charged with holding you to that responsibility.”

While it is likely that Barr won’t comply with many of these requests, Nadler may issue subpoenas directly to individuals of interest. As Democrats learned during the impeachment hearing, career officials are more likely to be forthright and honest about the Trump administration’s crimes and misdeeds.

Court rulings

McGahn’s testimony

A divided three-judge panel of the D.C. Appeals Court dismissed the House Judiciary Committee’s lawsuit against former White House Counsel Don McGahn, ruling that federal courts have no role to play in disputes between the Executive and Legislative branches. The two judges who ruled in favor of the Trump administration – Thomas Griffith and Karen Henderson – were appointed by George W. Bush and George H.W. Bush, respectively. The pair write that Congress should use other tools to try to compel McGahn’s testimony:

“Congress (or one of its chambers) may hold officers in contempt, withhold appropriations, refuse to confirm the President’s nominees, harness public opinion, delay or derail the President’s legislative agenda, or impeach recalcitrant officers.”

It should be mentioned that the majority does not mention the fact that during the impeachment trial Trump’s lawyers argued that Congress should pursue its subpoenas to executive branch witnesses in court.

Judge Judith Rogers, a Bill Clinton appointee, wrote a lengthy dissent that is worth reading in full (starting on the 58th page of this document)

“The court removes any incentive for the Executive Branch to engage in the negotiation process seeking accommodation, all but assures future Presidential stonewalling of Congress, and further impairs the House’s ability to perform its constitutional duties… Future presidents may direct wide-scale noncompliance with lawful congressional inquiries, secure in the knowledge that Congress can do little to enforce a subpoena dramatically undermining its ability to fulfill its constitutional obligations now and going forward.”

Unfair competition suit

Trump also racked up a win in an “Emoluments-adjacent” lawsuit last week: a three-judge panel of the D.C. Appeals Court united to dismiss a wine bar’s claim that President Trump’s D.C. hotel is unfairly undermining the business of other venues in the city. Judge Thomas Griffith, a George W. Bush appointee, and Reagan appointee Judge Stephen Williams joined Judge Merrick Garland in the ruling.

Though it is undisputed that the wine bar has experienced a downturn since Trump took office — his gilded hotel now attracting lobbyists, advocacy groups and diplomats who used to frequent the local business — the appeals court said no evidence suggests that the president or his hotel interfered in Cork’s business.

The lawsuit “boiled down to an assertion that businesses with famous proprietors cannot compete fairly — a proposition alien to unfair-competition law,” Griffith wrote summarizing the 2017 dismissal of the case by U.S. District Judge Richard Leon.

Purge confirmed

As I explained in last Sunday’s post, Trump is seeking to purge any disloyal officials from his administration. Newly-returned staffer John McEntee is leading the search for “Never Trumpers” with the assistance of a network of conservative activists including Ginni Thomas, the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. On Monday, White House spokesman Hogan Gidley confirmed that the White House is identifying employees seen as disloyal to force out of their positions.

“It’s not a secret that we want people in positions that work with this president, not against him, and too often we have people in this government—I mean the federal government is massive, with millions of people—and there are a lot people out there taking action against this president and when we find them we will take appropriate action,” Gidley said.

“Time and time again we see in the media reports from people in the bowels of the federal government working against this president…The president’s been pretty clear about the fact he wants people in this administration who want to forward his agenda. Donald Trump was the only one elected. He was the only one that the American people voted for. They didn’t vote for someone at any of these other agencies, any of these other departments.” he said.

Unqualified loyalists

One of those purged from the administration, DNI Joseph Maguire, was fired for allowing his top aide to brief Congress on Russia’s intervention in the 2020 election to Trump’s benefit. Last week, Trump said he will nominate Republican Rep. John Ratcliffe to fill the position – again. Trump previously announced his intent to nominate Ratcliffe in July, but withdrew the nomination five days later after members of both parties questioned his qualifications.

  • Ratcliffe rewind: Following Trump’s announcement last year, “key Republicans in Congress quickly signaled that Ratcliffe lacked the national security expertise that the job requires by law.” Ratcliffe also lied to inflate his resume: “Records and interviews with former colleagues also showed that Ratcliffe had exaggerated his role in terrorism and immigration enforcement cases when he served as a federal prosecutor in Texas. During his campaign and on his congressional website, Ratcliffe had boasted that he ‘arrested 300 illegal immigrants on a single day.’ That turned out not to be true. Former colleagues also said he didn’t play a significant role in a major terrorism case as he has claimed.” (WaPo or non-paywalled)

The current acting-DNI, Ric Grenell, can only serve until March 11 unless a permanent replacement is formally submitted to the Senate for confirmation. The Federal Vacancies Reform Act allows Grenell to remain in position throughout the confirmation process and – should Ratcliffe fail – another 210 days after. If a second person is nominated, the clock “resets” again.

  • To add onto previous reports of how massively inappropriate Grenell’s appointment is, ProPublica revealed that the new spy chief once got over $100,000 from the Hungarian government, but never reported it. Failing to register as a foreign agent would normally be something the DOJ would jump at prosecuting. Senate Majority leader Chuck Schumer wrote a letter to the Justice Department last week asking the assistant attorney general for national security to “immediately investigate.” Grenell also wrote op-eds in 2016 defending Vladimir Plahotniuc, a Moldovan politician, and allegedly failed to disclose payments for his work on behalf of the oligarch.
  • What is the play here? The White House may believe that Ratcliffe is likely to be confirmed because Grenell is so ill-suited for the job that Ratcliffe looks better in comparison. Alternatively, Trump is likely comfortable with Grenell as acting-DNI. Knowing that he would never survive the confirmation process, Trump may be using the generous time limits of the Federal Vacancies Reform Act to circumvent the Senate to keep his unqualified loyalist in the position in an acting capacity.
  • Rep. Robin Kelly, a member of the Oversight National Security subcommittee, introduced legislation last week that would mandate unconfirmed national security leaders testify before oversight committees every 45 days. “…this Administration has consistently used the ‘acting’ denotation to skirt these rules and limit Congressional oversight of our national security…The American people deserve better. They deserve to know who is responsible for protecting their families and our security. Congress must hold these individuals and any Administration accountable to the highest level of oversight and transparency to protect our national security.”

The effect of Trump’s grip on intel

The NSA, CIA, and Pentagon have been urged by the White House not to share information about Russia and Ukraine with lawmakers, while the “Gang of Eight” senior members of Congress were bypassed leading up to at least one major intelligence operation. And intelligence community leaders have backed out of the public portion of the annual worldwide threats hearing, fearing Trump’s wrath if their assessments don’t align with his.

“We have an enemy of the United States that is conducting information warfare against us and our executive leadership doesn’t want to hear it, doesn’t want the Congress to hear it, and doesn’t want the people to hear it,” said former acting DNI David Gompert, who said he was “aghast” at the hiring of Grenell. “We now have a situation where the principal objective, evidently, of this acting DNI is to ensure that information about Russian interference and Russian preference for this particular president does not get out.” (Politico)

Ukrainian officials have noticed Trump’s purge and worry that efforts to force out individuals “would in the short term leave a hollowed out U.S. office in Kyiv and space for Russia to ratchet up its aggressive political influence operations.”

“Russia is getting more ambitious. They are already taking an aggressive position. Putin knows what he wants and he does not need to seek approval for his actions inside Russia let alone outside of Russia,” Danylyuk said. “There are not enough people in the administration—in the U.S. administration—to focus on Ukraine and Russia issues. A lot of people left. It will not be easy to find several counterparts.


THE SIDES

March is SCOTUS month

This month, several highly-charged issues will be heard by the Supreme Court, setting up potentially-massive changes to the legal framework of our country.

This week, Trump’s conservative appointees get their first chance to consider new curbs on abortion rights as the court examines the legality of a Louisiana law that could force two of the state’s three clinics that perform the procedure to shut down.

The case, June Medical Services v. Russo, pertains to a law passed in 2014 that requires doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges to local hospitals. This requirement has proven to be unnecessary for clinics (an abortion rarely results in complications, and if one did, the patient would be admitted to a hospital regardless of the doctor’s privileges). And it’s so difficult to implement that when Texas passed a similar law, it shut down half the state’s clinics. (Buzzfeed News)

While it is overwhelmingly likely that five justices will vote to uphold Louisiana’s law, there is some uncertainty about how they will do so. It is possible that the Court will overrule Roe v. Wade outright. But it is at least as likely that the Court will leave Roe nominally in place while simultaneously watering down the abortion right to such a degree that it loses meaning in red states. The Court often prefers to create the impression that it will not allow the law to swing wildly according to the justices’ whims. (Vox)

Also this week, the court will hear arguments on whether Congress exceeded constitutional boundaries in 2010 when it created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The Trump administration believes the independent structure of the CFPB is unconstitutional and wants the president to have more control over the agency. For instance, Trump wants to be able to fire the director at will.

A court ruling on the President’s removal power could affect a multitude of independent agencies including the Federal Trade Commission, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and Federal Reserve Board. For more than a century, Congress has been creating such agencies within the executive branch with directors who can only be removed only “for cause.” (CNN)

Finally, on March 31, the high court will hear arguments in three cases involving House Democrats’ and New York state prosecutors’ attempts to obtain years of Trump’s financial records and tax returns.

Last week, Trump called for Supreme Court Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg to recuse themselves from these three cases. Ginsberg criticized Trump’s character during his 2016 campaign, though she later apologized. Trump did not explain his reasoning for calling for Sotomayor’s recusal, other than her authoring of a dissent critical of the conservative justices on the court.

“Perhaps most troublingly, the Court’s recent behavior on stay applications has benefited one litigant over all others. This Court often permits executions — where the risk of irreparable harm is the loss of life — to proceed, justifying many of those decisions on purported failures ‘to raise any potentially meritorious claims in a timely manner,’” she wrote. “Yet the Court’s concerns over quick decisions wither when prodded by the Government in far less compelling circumstances.”

What she really is saying is that the same justices who have no problem allowing condemned prisoners to be killed before legitimate questions about their cases can be resolved have no compunction in rushing to prematurely protect the Trump administration, and the president’s personal interests, from legitimate legal processes. In other words, Sotomayor is calling her conservative colleagues hypocrites who are willing to bend precedent in the pursuit of ideological goals. (Brennan Center)

Ukraine emails

The latest batch of emails released by the Department of Defense in response to an FOIA suit reveals evidence that the administration withheld from Congress during the impeachment inquiry and trial. Senior members of the Trump administration, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Defense Secretary Mark Esper, and then-National Security Adviser John Bolton had all advised President Trump to release the military aid to Ukraine, but the final decision was ultimately up to Trump.

The August 26, 2019, email from a senior career Pentagon official states that there was “no ongoing interagency review process with respect to USAI [Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative],” and states clearly: “Final decision rests with POTUS.”

“Critically, the email appears to contradict the White House budget office’s stated rationale for withholding the aid,” American Oversight states. Administration officials had been instructed to tell Congress that the freeze of aid to Ukraine was necessary to allow for an “interagency process to determine the best use of such funds.” The August 26 email clearly states that no such process was in action.

“Tonight’s document release is a reminder that before they lined up parrot the president’s line on Ukraine aid, senior members of the president’s national security team unanimously disagreed with his decision to withhold aid from Ukraine,” said Austin Evers, executive director of American Oversight.

An earlier email release revealed that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo fully coordinated with Rudy Giuliani on Trump’s pressure campaign on Ukraine and the ouster of U.S. Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch.

“We now know Mike Pompeo and his aides encouraged Rudy Giuliani to deliver his bogus ‘dossier’ smearing Ambassador Yovanovitch during a week in 2019 when Giuliani’s henchmen were stalking the ambassador in Kyiv,” American Oversight executive director Austin Evers told Yahoo News.

The House continues Ukraine probe

The Foreign Affairs Committee is reportedly at odds with pro-Trump candidate Robert Hyde, who claimed to have former Ambassador Yovanovitch under surveillance. Chairman Eliot Engel, who is investigating the alleged surveillance and threats to the Ambassador, said in an email to Hyde last month that he was “dismayed to read yesterday that you have made statements to the media which greatly exaggerate the extent of your cooperation with this investigation.”

“As you know, we have expressed repeated concern that the records you previously produced contain significant gaps,” the House staffers wrote. They added that it was obvious Hyde hadn’t turned everything over because his batch of materials was missing records that Congress already knows about because they were turned over by Parnas, who was on the other end of the texts.

Last week, six members of Congress led by Reps. Denny Heck (WA-10) and Jim Himes (CT-04) sent a letter to World Bank Group President David Malpass requesting information about his August meeting with Zelensky in Ukraine. The lawmakers voiced concerns that the meeting could be seen as a part of Trump’s pressure campaign that resulted in his impeachment.

The lawmakers asked Malpass to disclose when he decided to visit Kyiv, whether he coordinated his trip with non-World Bank officials, the “deliverables” of the meeting, the meeting’s impact on the World Bank’s plans in Ukraine and whether they discussed Hunter Biden, Burisma or Viktor Shokin, the former Ukrainian prosecutor general who was ousted under international pressure from leaders including former Vice President Biden. (The Hill)

Russia, Russia, Russia

Last week:

  • Trump accused House Intelligence Committee Adam Schiff of leaking information about Russia’s efforts to interfere in the 2020 election, dismissed the intelligence as “exaggerated,” and refused to acknowledge that Moscow was behind similar efforts in 2016. “Schiff leaked it, in my opinion — and he shouldn’t be leaking things like that,” Mr. Trump said without evidence.
  • House Speaker Nancy Pelosi informed the public that the Trump administration “failed to provide Congress with a report on the ongoing attacks on America’s elections from foreign governments, which was required by the bipartisan FY2020 National Defense Authorization Act.”
  • It was reported that Senate Intelligence Committee Richard Burr warned Senate Homeland Security Committee Chairman Ron Johnson and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley that their probe targeting Biden could aid Russian efforts to sow chaos and distrust in the U.S. political system.
  • The Washington Post reported that “U.S. officials are sitting on test results that may show how the Putin regime twice tried to kill a peaceful opponent whose close ties to the United States, and columns for The Post, are reminiscent of Jamal Khashoggi, the murdered Saudi journalist.”
  • A Russian court ordered former United States Marine Trevor Reed be detained for another six months on accusations he assaulted police officers in Moscow last year, a charge that his defense team has called “fraudulent.” Meanwhile, former Marine Paul Whelan has been in a Russian jail since 2018 on espionage accusations. Their treatment is a stark contrast from that received by celebrity rapper A$AP Rocky – when detained in Sweden, Trump dispatched his hostage envoy (and current National Security Adviser) to oversee the matter and secure Rocky’s release. No such effort has been made for the two former service members in Moscow.
  • Hopping the pond to look at Russia’s interference in the U.K.: The wife of former Russian Finance Minister and Putin-ally Vladimir Chernukhin made a £90,000 donation for a game of tennis with Prime Minister Boris Johnson. “The donation comes as Johnson continues to delay publication of a parliamentary report detailing extensive links between his party and donors with links to Russia.”

Alleged Saudi and UAE funding for Trump

Lebanese-American businessman Ahmad “Andy” Khawaja told Spectator Magazine that officials from Abu Dhabi and Saudi Arabia illegally funneled millions of dollars into Trump’s 2016 campaign. As the CEO of an online payment processing company, Khawaja claims that George Nader obtained his assistance to disguise the money using stolen identities and gift cards as under-$200 campaign contributions that are not required to be reported to the Federal Election Commission.

He remembers Nader explaining why they wanted to fund the Trump campaign. According to Khawaja, Nader said: ‘I’ve been meeting with the Trump campaign people…we have a deal with Trump: my boss, His Highness, made a deal that if we help Trump get elected, he’s going to be harsh on Iran, he’s going to take out the nuclear deal that the Obama administration made. That will cripple the Iranian economy and will sanction Iran from selling oil again. It will make it very difficult for them to compete in the oil market. That’s worth a hundred billion dollars to us. That’s the reason we cannot allow Hillary to win at any cost. She must lose.’

Khawaja says he asked: ‘But you really think he’s going to win? I mean, this is crazy.’ And he says that Nader replied: ‘His Highness is not stupid, he will never bet on a losing horse.’ The money would come from the Saudis. The Emiratis would run the operation, using data bought from the Chinese. Khawaja says that Nader told him: ‘We have all the data already, we have 10 million US consumers’ data. And we have endless money.’ The Russians were ‘on board’ too: ‘He said, “Yes, I have met with Putin already and we have a green light from him. Because Putin is on the same page with us. He wants Hillary to lose.”’

Khawaja and Nader were charged with making false statements, obstruction, and allegedly making illegal contributions to Clinton’s campaign on behalf of an unidentified foreign official. While Nader is currently in jail, Khawaja is a fugitive in the Middle East.

Cuccinelli appointment illegal

A D.C.-based federal judge ruled Sunday that President Donald Trump’s appointment of Ken Cuccinelli as acting U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services director violated the Federal Vacancies Reform Act, a decision that suspends two policies Cuccinelli implemented while leading the agency. (Politico)

Three weeks after assuming his new role, Cuccinelli issued a memorandum announcing a revised policy for scheduling credible-fear interviews, the first step in the asylum process, according to the court ruling. Under the revised policy, the agency reduced the time allotted for asylum seekers to consult with others prior to their interviews.

Under Cuccinelli, USCIS also prohibited granting asylum seekers extensions of time to prepare for their credible-fear interviews, “except in the most extraordinary of circumstances.” The asylum directives must be set aside, Moss ruled. (CNN)

Eric Trump’s taxpayer-funded business trip

Eric Trump visited a Trump property in development in Uruguay from January 8 to 9, 2019, a two-day business trip that cost taxpayers at least $80,786. CREW obtained records through the Freedom of Information Act today that add to the massive bill of Secret Service protection related to the Trump family’s management of the president’s business empire. The 2019 trip brings Eric Trump’s total up to at least $178,616 in taxpayer funds to work on development of the Trump Organization’s Punta Del Este property alone.

Scottish leader calls for Trump investigation

Parliamentarian Patrick Harvie, a co-leader of the Scottish Greens party, implored the government to pursue a legal order forcing Trump and the Trump Organization to reveal the funding of its multi-million dollar Scottish land acquisitions, saying there were “reasonable grounds” to suspect the U.S. president has been involved in illegal activity.

Mr Harvie said that the House of Representatives had heard testimony which stated: “We saw patterns of buying and selling that we thought were suggestive of money laundering” – with particular concern expressed about Mr Trump’s golf courses in Scotland and Ireland.

He added: “Trump’s known sources of income don’t explain where the money came from for these huge cash transactions. There are reasonable grounds for suspecting that his lawfully obtained income was insufficient.”

“Scottish ministers can apply via the Court of Session for an unexplained wealth order, a tool designed for precisely these kinds of situations.” The orders can be issued by the courts to compel their target to reveal the source of funding, and are often used to tackle suspected international money laundering.

Roger Stone

District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson denied Stone’s request that she disqualify herself from his case for supposed “bias,” issuing a sharply-worded rebuke of the defense’s allegations: “At bottom, given the absence of any factual or legal support for the motion for disqualification, the pleading appears to be nothing more than an attempt to use the Court’s docket to disseminate a statement for public consumption that has the words ‘judge’ and ‘biased’ in it,” Jackson wrote. “Judges cannot be ‘biased’ and need not be disqualified if the views they express are based on what they learned while doing the job they were appointed to do.”

Footage of Roger Stone’s interviews with prosecutors last month has been released… and the only word that can sum it up is “wow.” The entire archive can be found here, but if you are short on time Politico’s Andrew Kimmel made a supercut of the must-see moments that illustrate Stone’s true character: a narcissist who can barely control his anger at being questioned.

Stefanik broke fundraising rules

A constituent of Republican Rep. Elise Stefanik (NY-21) filed an official complaint against her with the Office of Congressional Ethics for using footage of House floor activities to raise funds for her campaign – an express violation of House rules. Stefanik has used clips of her questioning during the impeachment inquiry in fundraising emails, including one with the subject line, that read, “WATCH: I EXPOSED ADAM SCHIFF.”

In a letter sent on June 7, 2018, the House Ethics Committee reminded legislators that “rules specifically prohibit the use of footage of House Floor activities and committee proceedings for any partisan political purpose.”

“I think Rep. Stefanik’s use of video of the House hearing to solicit political contributions is a serious violation of that rule,” says Larry Noble, the former general counsel of the Federal Election Commission. “The rule is clear, and so is the guidance given by the House Ethics Committee.”

Donald K. Sherman, general counsel of the ethics watchdog Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington — a group that routinely opposes the Trump administration — agrees with that assessment. “House Ethics Committee guidance clearly prohibits Members from using video of committee proceedings for campaign purposes,” said Sherman, who was previously a high-ranking Senate attorney, “which Rep. Stefanik appears to have done nine times in the last six months.

Nunes’ lawsuits

Campaign Legal Center, a nonprofit government accountability watchdog, filed a complaint with the Office of Congressional Ethics asking for an investigation into how Rep. Devin Nunes is paying for his six separate lawsuits against media companies and critics.

The complaint says Nunes appears to be in “blatant violation of House rules,” because he would have trouble paying for all these lawsuits solely from his congressional salary of $174,000 per year. The group argues he’d only be able to pay if he received legal services for free, at a discounted rate, or based on a contingency fee, meaning the lawyer would get compensated from Nunes’ winnings if he prevails in his lawsuits.

In all of those cases, the complaint says, Nunes must disclose the legal help he is receiving by filing a legal expense fund, otherwise it would represent an illegal gift given to Nunes under congressional ethics rules. Nunes has not filed a legal expense fund with the Office of Congressional Ethics.

Immigration news

  • Washington Post: A federal appeals court in California halted the Trump administration’s “Remain in Mexico” asylum policy on Friday, removing one of the key tools the president has used to curb mass migration across the southern U.S. border. The ruling was in effect for only a few hours, however, as the judges later granted a Trump administration request for an emergency stay “pending further order of this court.” Justice Department lawyers said in court filings that 25,000 migrants have been ­waiting in Mexico and argued that they feared the ruling would lead to an influx on the southern ­border.
  • New York Times: The Justice Department said Wednesday that it had created an official section in its immigration office to strip citizenship rights from naturalized immigrants, a move that gives more heft to the Trump administration’s broad efforts to remove from the country immigrants who have committed crimes… Some Justice Department immigration lawyers have expressed worries that denaturalizations could be broadly used to strip citizenship.
    • The Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights: “We reject any denaturalization task force that destroys citizenship as we know it and keeps every naturalized immigrant living in fear. Trump is weaponizing the DOJ to make naturalized immigrants look like second-class citizens.”
  • Jurist: The US Supreme Court issued a 5-4 decision in Hernandez v. Mesa on Tuesday, holding that the parents of a Mexican child who was shot and killed by a border official have no right to seek a remedy in American civil court. The child, Jesus Hernandez, had been playing with friends in a dry culvert that straddles the US-Mexico border between El Paso, Texas and Ciudad Juarez. Border Patrol agent Jesus Mesa fired at Hernandez from the US side of the culvert, and the bullet struck the boy on the Mexican side, where he died.
  • CNN: Secretary of Defense Mark Esper faced a bipartisan grilling from lawmakers Wednesday on Capitol Hill for his decision to divert military funding to pay for the US border wall as he testifies before the House Armed Services Committee… The top Republican on the committee, Rep. Mac Thornberry, also slammed the move saying it is “substituting the judgment of the administration for the judgment of Congress,” adding “I am deeply concerned about where we’re headed with the constitutional issue.”
  • ACLU: The American Civil Liberties Union today filed a new lawsuit challenging the Trump administration’s transfer of an additional $3.8 billion in military funds for border wall construction. Congress did not authorize the funds. “The president is doubling down on his unlawful scheme to raid taxpayer funds for a xenophobic campaign promise that is destroying national treasures, harming the environment, and desecrating tribal lands.”
  • Associated Press: President Donald Trump may not divert $89 million intended for a military construction project in Washington state to build his border wall… “Congress repeatedly and deliberately declined to appropriate the full funds the President requested for a border wall along the southern border of the United States,” [Judge] Rothstein wrote.
  • Today, Monday, March 2, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in a case involving the Trump administration’s “expedited removal” of asylum seekers without allowing them a chance to take their application before a federal judge. For a detailed discussion of the case, see the ACLU and Lawfare.
  • Mother Jones: Melania Trump Got an “Einstein Visa.” Why Was It So Hard for This Nobel Prize Winner? Immigration attorneys say the Trump administration is rejecting highly qualified applicants for “genius” green cards.
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