Since we live in a period of misdirection and high volume propaganda it is important to restate the things we may sort of know but which are pushed to the edges of our awareness. High, high on that list is this: virtually every argument President Trump has used to stymie lawsuits, congressional probes and criminal investigations is tied to his being the **current** President of the United States. As Josh Kovensky reports here, he’s sticking to these maximal claims of immunity even after being rejected on this front by his packed Supreme Court.
Earlier this year, the Supreme Court knocked down the idea, advanced by President Trump’s lawyers, that their client was immune from criminal investigations. Today, that case came back before the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals, where lawyers for the President advanced new arguments for why Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance cannot subpoena Trump’s financial records.
Except, not really.
Like clockwork, President Trump on Wednesday sparked a new controversy centered on his shirking of democratic norms. This time, it was Trump refusing to commit to a peaceful transition of power if he loses the November election. Read More
Allies of the president have been murmuring ominously about potential October surprises all year. There’s the Durham investigation, Giuliani’s conspiracy theories, and Senator Ron Johnson’s (R-WI) investigation into Ukraine-related Biden allegations, to name a few.
We got the results of that last one this morning. But, alas! There is no surprise.
As I’ve mentioned a number of times, beyond our ordinary tasks of government, I think an audit of the executive branch is critical after President Trump leaves office. But in these perilous final weeks before the 2020 election we can see another pressing need spotlighted by a lawless President but not created by him: the scaffolding of the US government, the state, the Republic itself, simply isn’t up to code. Like an old house that long predates all the codes and regulations that are mandatory in new structures it’s held up well enough and it simply makes no sense to force a renovation. But in a storm all those problems come to the surface. And in the aftermath of damage you wouldn’t rebuild it in the old way.
There was never any real doubt that Republicans would move swiftly to fill the seat of the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. And now a number of key Republican senators have come out to endorse Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) effort to do so. Whether a vote will happen before or after Election Day remains something of an open question, but once McConnell has the votes he will say “go.”
As you’ve seen me argue, Democrats must add either two or four seats to the Supreme Court if Republicans proceed with another corrupt Court appointment and Democrats win the presidency and the Senate. There may be other remedies I haven’t thought of. There may be better ones. But I’m certain we are at the point where a real, practical and credible remedy is essential. With that in mind I wanted to make a point about general principles.
President Trump wasted no time declaring when his SCOTUS nomination announcement will be because the Senate majority leader wasted no time — literally no time, maybe minutes after the late justice’s death broke news Friday night — to declare he’d bring him or her to the Senate floor.
Mainer TPM Reader AF follows up with some important detail and correction about my note on Susan Collins and her statement. I stand by the point I made last night. But it was an – I hope – uncharacteristic imprecision to call it a “promise”. As AF states, it’s definitely not. If Collins thinks it is in her interest I definitely think she will vote to confirm before the election. And I think it’s highly likely she’ll do so, win or lose, during the lame duck session after the election. But my same point holds, she’s judged it is strongly against her interest to vote at all before the election. It’s Democrats’ challenge to press her on this purported commitment and her history of breaking such commitments for the next six weeks. TPM Reader AF …
Susan Collins’ statement is punditry, without any promised actions.
Collins said a vote on a nomination should wait until after the election. She didn’t say a word about what she would do or not do.
Take a closer look at Collins’ statement. She says Trump has the right to make a nomination. She says she has “no objection to the Senate Judiciary Committee’s beginning the process of reviewing his nominee’s credentials.” After that she says there shouldn’t be a vote before the election.
In the last 24 hours, we’ve seen two former Trump administration officials take significant steps to speak out against President Trump and Vice President Pence, flinging their White House secrets-laced weight behind Democratic candidate Joe Biden.
We are now back in one of those recurrent waves of bad publicity for Facebook. It deserves every bit of it. Facebook is the prime online, global incubator of racist, quasi-fascist propaganda, conspiracy theories, state-run psyops and agit-prop operations, even in at least one case actual state-backed programs of population transfer and arguable genocide. But to really understand the problem with Facebook we need to understand the structural roots of that problem, how much of it is baked into the core architecture of the site and its very business model. Indeed much of it is inherent in the core strategies of the post-2000, second wave Internet tech companies that now dominate our information space and economy.
Facebook is an ingenious engine for information and ideational manipulation. Good old fashioned advertising does that to a degree. But Facebook is much more powerful, adaptive and efficient. That’s what all the algorithms do. That’s why it makes so much money. This is the error with people who say the fact that people do bad things with Facebook is no different from people doing bad things with phones. Facebook isn’t just a ‘dumb’ communications system. It’s not really a platform in the original sense of the word. (The analogy for that is web hosting.) Facebook is designed to do specific things. It’s an engine to understand people’s minds and then manipulate their thinking. Those tools are refined for revenue making but can be used for many other purposes. That makes it ripe for misuse and bad acting.
The core of all second wave Internet commerce operations was finding network models where costs grow mathematically and revenues grow exponentially. The network and its dominance is the product and once it takes hold the cost inputs remained constrained while the revenues grow almost without limit. With the possible exception of Apple, which is still driven mostly by the production of physical products, that’s the core feature of all the big tech Goliaths.
We covered news this morning of White House chief of staff Mark Meadows attempts to distance President Trump’s own CDC director from the vaccine development process in order to adhere to Trump’s own political narrative surrounding its creation.
Before more time goes by a brief follow up on yesterday’s post about the Trumpian build up for a violent showdown after the election. In his late afternoon press conference yesterday President Trump again found an opportunity to declare his readiness to put down election night “riots” or “protests” by force using the US military. He quickly joined this to a conversation about purported voter fraud and election rigging using mail in ballots.
Michael Caputo, the longtime Trump hype man and HHS official, is taking a leave of absence from the Department of Health and Human Services.
This follows a tumultuous few days in which reports surfaced showing Caputo and one of his close aides at HHS were involved in a scheme to pressure the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention into cooking the books on COVID-19 reporting data to more closely adhere to President Trump’s rosy rhetoric on the pandemic.
I often find it a clarifying exercise to do the following. In six months we will know the outcome of the 2020 election. We will likely look back to September 2020 and see the eventual outcome as far more known, predictable than it actually appears to us today. This is in the nature of thinking historically. We have lived experience but the people of the future know more than us. My exercise is this: tell the version of me six months in the future how clear or unclear things look right now.
Taking this approach the weight of evidence points to Joe Biden winning a clear if not overwhelming victory over Donald Trump and a good likelihood that Democrats will control both houses of Congress. Looking not emotionally, not with the uncertainty that is so deep-rooted in the Trump Era and not with the weight of all that is at stake, the biggest fact of this election cycle has been the persistence and consistency of Biden’s lead. For all the drama, look at those trend lines. They barely budge.
Looking at all the available evidence, that is the most likely outcome. And I suspect in retrospect it will look even more clear, more likely. After the fact we’ll have only the evidence, the bundle of factual data and not the doubt, uncertainty and the specter of the unknown.
But of course there are other possibilities. The most likely bad outcome is simply that Donald Trump loses the popular vote by three or four percentage points but squeaks out an electoral college win with narrow victories in Florida, North Carolina, Ohio, Arizona and lucky breaks in maybe Pennsylvania or other states.
But I want to note another storyline being anticipated and demanded by many of Trump’s most ardent supporters. As usual with people in the Trump world, it surfaces either as ‘jokes’ or things his opponents purportedly want to do or start. In his on-going public meltdown, acting HHS comms chief Michael Caputo predicted that Joe Biden and his followers will try to overthrow the government with violence after not accepting Trump’s victory. Trump will have to put them down by force. He warns Trump’s supporters to stock up on fire arms and ammunition for the coming clash, which the Democrats will force on Trump.
We learned this morning that DOJ prosecutors are investigating the publication of former National Security Adviser John Bolton’s new tell-all memoir about his time in the White House, a twist in the increasingly unsurprising narrative that President Trump’s been loudly building since he appointed Bill Barr his attorney general.
I’m not sure it counts as South Dakota Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg’s third story about running over a pedestrian two nights ago. Because it’s the first version of the story we’ve heard at length directly from him. But there are significant changes and additions from the revised story from yesterday. (Story one appeared to be that he was involved in a car accident in which someone died; story two was he ran someone over but thought the person was a deer.) You can read the full statement here.
The gist is as follows.
We reported on the news this weekend after Politico published a piece based on emails it had obtained from the Department of Health and Human Services. Essentially, for weeks, HHS public affairs chief Michael Caputo (and former member of the 2016 Trump campaign), along with his scientific adviser, pressured the CDC to change its reports on COVID-19 spread and case data from across the U.S.
I just started reading this Buzzfeed article about Facebook board member and Trump backer Peter Thiel’s relationship with racist fringe groups. Thiel seems like an outlier in Silicon Valley because of his high profile support for Trump. But he is actually part of a rising tide of neo-authoritarian thought in the tech world which argues that democracy has failed and must be replaced. This reminded me of something I’ve been coming back to again and again with greater clarity and understanding its greater significance as the years have gone by.
At some point in 2015 I was sitting at my desk in TPM’s New York office’s talking with a good friend who worked at Gawker. The Hulk Hogan lawsuit had been on the horizon for a long time before it actually came to trial. In preparation Gawker founder and owner Nick Denton had recently cut some deal with a Russian oligarch to give Gawker deep enough pockets to withstand an adverse judgment which they anticipated and hoped could be reversed on appeal. My friend was walking me through all of these developments. He was very much preaching the Hulk Hogan lawsuit gospel. The future of freedom of the press, he told me, was on the line with Gawker’s fate.
I nodded in agreement with each point. As a publisher and strong supporter of press freedom, I supported Gawker’s position publicly and privately. And yet tucked away in my head part of me was saying, “C’mon. You published a sex tape.” Publishers see every libel suit and think there but for the grace of God. In this case, I knew to a certainty that this particular libel situation was not one TPM ever would have found itself in.
Michael Caputo is a career Republican political operative with no medical expertise beyond an annual physical. He is best known as being an associate of convicted felon Roger Stone, with his own lengthy history working in Russia and as a suspect in the Russia probe. Trump installed Caputo as the acting director of communications for the Department of Health and Human Services in April. We learned yesterday that he demanded and received the right to review and amend the CDC’s weekly mortality and morbidity reports, which are among the canonical public health and scientific reports of the US government, in order to make sure they don’t depart from President Trump’s COVID messaging.
Tragedy is tragedy. And while the invisible crisis our country is currently facing looks and feels and hurts differently than this day 19 years ago, the parallels of massive loss of life and the infiltration of a society-altering fear are clear.