As politics-followers across the nation know, yesterday was the fifth day of the current round of public hearings from the 1/6 Committee. If you didn't watch, and you still want to, here is the video:
And now, the 10 storylines that stood out to us:
Trump - “Just say the election was corrupt and leave the rest to me and the Republican congressmen”. This is the smoking gun. Coupled with other testimony demonstrates both Trump’s substantive involvement and corrupt intent, requisite state of mind.— Eric Holder (@EricHolder) June 23, 2022
And so I said, "Mr. President, you're talking about putting a man in that seat who has never tried a criminal case, who's never conducted a criminal investigation. He's telling you that he's going to take charge of the department—115,000 employees, including the entire FBI, and turn the place on a dime and conduct a nationwide criminal investigations that will produce results in a matter of days? It's impossible. It's absurd. It's not going to happen. It's going to fail. He has never been in front of a trial jury, a grand jury. He's never even been to [FBI Director Christopher] Wray's office... It's not going to happen. He's not competent."Meanwhile, Herschmann, whose testimony was featured in several video clips, warned Clark that his schemes to subvert the election were illegal, and that he better not think about trying them. Referring specifically to the Georgia letter, Herschmann recalled this remark: "[F]ucking—excuse me, sorry—effing A-hole, congratulations. You just admitted your first step or act you take as attorney general would be committing a felony and violating Rule 6E. You're clearly the right candidate for this job."
And with that, Day 5 of the hearings is in the books. The Committee has not announced when the next hearings will be, other than "early July." They're surely not going to squeeze one in before the Fourth of July holiday, nor are they going to ask their staffers to work during the holiday. Since they've been generally on a Tuesday/Thursday schedule, they could shoot for Thursday, July 7, but Tuesday, July 12, seems more likely. If so, it would surely just be a coincidence that July 12 is Orangemen's Day in parts of Canada and the U.K. (Z)
The Department of Justice tends to play its cards pretty close to the vest, so it's often unclear what exactly it's up to. But for those hoping that Donald Trump and his enablers taste the cold steel of justice, there was another sign yesterday that AG Merrick Garland & Co. are on the case. Two of them, in fact.
To start, the home of Jeffrey Clark—the fellow who tried to make himself AG, and who figured so prominently in yesterday's hearing—was raided and searched by the FBI. There were a dozen DoJ personnel on site, and they took several boxes of stuff, including a bunch of electronic devices. Because the DoJ isn't in the habit of gabbing about its investigations, officials refused to say if the raid was related to the events of January 6. If it wasn't related, however, that's some really remarkable timing.
Meanwhile, the DoJ also issued a bunch of subpoenas to people who planned to act as "alternate" Trump electors, or who helped organize such schemes, or both. The most prominent fish targeted in this latest round was Georgia Republican Party chairman David Shafer, who took the lead in pulling together the fake slate of electors in his home state. It's not known exactly how many people were subpoenaed, but this particular bit of news is clearly 1/6 related. It also means that Donald Trump and anyone else who did naughty things in Georgia is now under at least two different law-enforcement microscopes, one wielded by Garland and the other by Fulton County DA Fani Willis. If Trump manages to dance his way out of all the legal trouble he's in, he'll have to change his name to Keyser Soze. (Z)
Yesterday, the Senate passed the rather flimsy gun-control bill that was unveiled earlier this week, by a vote of 65-33. The Republicans who crossed the aisle to join with the Democrats and the independents are Roy Blunt (R-MO), Richard Burr (R-NC), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Bill Cassidy (R-LA), Susan Collins (R-ME), John Cornyn (R-TX), Joni Ernst (R-IA), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Rob Portman (R-OH), Mitt Romney (R-UT), Thom Tillis (R-NC), Pat Toomey (R-PA), Todd Young (R-IN). We are not sure exactly what conclusions can be drawn from that list, though it does include the handful of Republican "moderates," as well as all the Republicans who are retiring at the end of this term, except for Sen. Richard Shelby (AL).
CNN has described the bill as "major federal gun safety legislation," NBC called it a "landmark," CBS said it is "the most significant gun-control legislation in decades," while Politico decreed that the Senate had managed to "defy the odds." We understand that when you're in a desert, even a shallow puddle looks like a lake. However, we wonder if these outlets aren't toting the water for the NRA and the Second Amendment zealots here, if inadvertently. By making this fairly paltry bill seem like a BIG DEAL, it implicitly suggests that enough "progress" has been made for now, and we don't need to revisit this for another 30 years or so. Recall that the last truly substantive legislation on this subject was signed into law in 1994 by Bill Clinton.
Having passed the Senate, the bill now heads to the House. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said, in a statement, that: "First thing tomorrow morning, the Rules Committee will meet to advance this life-saving legislation to the Floor. When the Rules Committee finishes its business, we will head immediately to the Floor. And we will send the bill to President Biden for his signature, with gratitude for his leadership." Clearly, Pelosi is going to throw her considerable influence behind the bill, and unless there are a number of Democratic defectors (and no Republicans going into the other direction), it's going to be on Biden's desk post-haste. And Biden has said he'll sign it.
Of course, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Pelosi and Biden aren't stupid, and they know that this bill is pretty weak. But running on gun control is tough, since it's pretty easy for Republicans to weaponize (no puns intended). This gives the blue team an "achievement" to run on, and it also allows them to focus on abortion, which—per our item yesterday—looks like it will be the centerpiece of the Democrats' 2022 pitch. (Z)
On the other hand, maybe running on "the guns are out of control" might be worth another look for the Democrats. At almost exactly the same time that the Senate was adopting its gun bill, the Supreme Court was announcing a strongly worded decision, adopted by a vote of—of course—6 to 3, that will effectively gut many (or most) of the nation's gun-control laws.
The case in question, as we've noted, involved a poorly written New York state law that was over a century old and that allowed government officials to decide who does, and who does not, get to have a carried conceal permit. Thomas wrote that:
We know of no other constitutional right that an individual may exercise only after demonstrating to government officers some special need. That is not how the First Amendment works when it comes to unpopular speech or the free exercise of religion. It is not how the Sixth Amendment works when it comes to a defendant's right to confront the witnesses against him. And it is not how the Second Amendment works when it comes to public carry for self-defense.
If they know of no other constitutional right like this, then the six justices in the majority either didn't study very hard in law school, or they didn't think very hard about this decision. If you are too poor to afford a lawyer, you can ask for one, and one will be appointed for you, in fulfillment of the terms of the Sixth Amendment. If you wish to cover presidential press conferences, consistent with the freedom of the press outlined in the First Amendment, you have to prove you work for a media outlet of the appropriate stature. If you cannot afford your bail, you can argue that before a judge, who might reduce or waive bail, consistent with the Eighth Amendment right to non-excessive bail. It took us a grand total of two minutes to think of these three examples, and we didn't even go to law school.
In any case, if Thomas had left it at that, then this would have been a fairly narrow ruling, and would only have affected half a dozen states (as Brett Kavanaugh noted in his concurrence). However, in a moment he's surely been waiting decades for, Thomas slipped some originalism into the decision. The part that really matters is is where the Associate Justice decreed that gun-control laws are legal "only if a firearm regulation is consistent with this nation's historical tradition."
What this means, in practical terms, is that if a gun-control law is to be deemed legal, it has to have some historical antecedent or parallel. And this is particularly true, based on the verbiage in Thomas' decision, if the particular issue being addressed is not a new issue. For example, there have been mentally unstable people throughout American history. However, the notion that courts can deny those folks access to guns (i.e., red flag laws) is a recent innovation. Ipso facto, red flag laws are theoretically unconstitutional because they have no historical basis. To take another example, there were guns in the 19th century and early 20th century that could fire lots of bullets in a short period (Gatling guns, Tommy guns, etc.). And yet, there were no laws limiting the size of the guns' magazines. Ipso facto, modern laws that only allow for 10-bullet or 12-bullet magazines are theoretically unconstitutional.
The ruling does not instantly invalidate these various laws, but it invites challenges, both state and federal, that are surely coming and that are very likely to be successful. Indeed, most or all of the new law passed by the Senate (see above) is probably unconstitutional now. In addition to red flags, for example, there have also been angry boyfriends throughout history, and yet nobody's been denied a gun on that basis. Ipso facto, the "boyfriend loophole," which will theoretically be closed by the legislation, will then presumably be opened right back up by a federal lawsuit.
Rulings like this one are why it is hard to take Thomas in particular, and his conservative colleagues in general, seriously as legal theorists. It cannot be clearer that they figure out what outcome they want, and then they crap out whatever legal mumbo jumbo produces that result. Let us consider, for a moment, abortion. How come the states are allowed to decide on that issue for themselves, but not allowed to decide on gun control for themselves? And if we're talking historical precedents, there have been unwanted pregnancies (and, thus, abortions) in the United States and its antecedents for 400 years. And yet, the first abortion bans weren't enacted until several decades after the Civil War. Why is the lack of historical precedent irrelevant here but highly relevant when considering guns?
In any event, Chief Justice John Roberts and his band of merry men and women are certainly setting the Democrats up to run against an extremist Supreme Court in both 2022 and 2024. Indeed, if the new Senate bill is passed, and then is ripped apart by the Courts, the blue team can say "We tried to legislate, we tried to reach across the aisle, and it was no good. All that's left is making some big changes to the Supreme Court, so that it's more democratic (and more Democratic) and less extreme." (Z)
There's been a lot of interesting news from various races across the nation. On a slower news day, most or all of these might have gotten their own items. On a day like Thursday, with so many big-time goings on, they're just going to get capsules:
As things heat up, with 36 states and 3 territories electing new governors, 34 states electing new U.S. Senators (including one state that's electing two of them), and all 435 House seats up, we may have to do items like this fairly often. (Z)
This was expected, and now it's come to pass: U.K. PM Boris Johnson and his Conservative Party lost two historically Tory seats in by-elections (the British equivalent of special elections) yesterday. This news led Conservative Party co-chair Oliver Dowden to resign his post.
We could write up these results, but wouldn't you prefer to hear from someone with greater expertise than we have? Fortunately, we have another report from reader S.T. in Worcestershire, England, UK (following up on an initial report from earlier this month):
The beginning of June saw Boris Johnson receive a very unimpressive vote of support from his own MPs, with over 40% in favor of his removal as party leader and prime minister. On Thursday, it was the turn of some voters to express their opinion in two by-elections in rather different Conservative-held constituencies.
In both cases, the by-election had arisen in rather unfortunate circumstance. The MP in Wakefield was found guilty of sexually assaulting a child, over a decade ago. His seat was forfeit. The Tiverton and Honiton MP had admitted viewing a pornographic website—twice!—while being in the chamber of the House of Commons, and resigned.
Wakefield in West Yorkshire was viewed by many as emblematic of the "Red Wall" constituencies, in the north of England and the Midlands, which have traditionally been held by the Labour party, but fell to the Conservatives in the 2019 General Election. Whilst it is true that Labour held this seat from 1932 until 2019, the constituency is more mixed than some realize. Wakefield itself is a historic city complete with cathedral, but only makes up about half the seat. The remainder includes (now former) mining and textile manufacturing towns and villages, and rural areas. Boundary changes have caused this hinterland to be chopped and changed over the decades. This politically varied landscape has meant that since 1983, Labour's majority in the seat had fallen below 5,000 in five general elections. So, a Conservative gain by 3,388 votes in 2019 was not wholly unexpected.
By contrast, Tiverton and Honiton in Devon was, on the face of it, a Conservative bulwark. The current seat was created in 1997, but its predecessors had returned Conservative MPs since the 1920's. It is very rural, highly dependent on agriculture, with a scattering of small towns. A slice of the beautiful east Devon coast added in 2010 did little to dilute the mix. The southwest part of England has traditionally been an area where the Liberal Democrats, Britain's biggest third party, have been competitive, but this seat was one which had always eluded them (they took third place behind Labour in the 2019 general election). Nevertheless given their success in the similar constituency of Shropshire North in December last year, the Lib Dems were more than willing to take on the mantle of challenger despite starting 27,086 votes (!) behind the Conservatives.
The results were announced in both seats in the early hours of Friday morning.
On a low turnout of 39.5%, Labour regained Wakefield by just under 5,000 votes. The swing of 12.7% would be enough to defeat most of the Conservative "Red Wall" victors in 2019 and bring a significant number of more traditional Labour/Conservative marginal seats into play. A notable feature is that one in five of those who voted chose independent candidates. That, and the turnout, suggest Labour still has work to do to actively attract votes rather than just depend on a slump in Conservative fortunes.
The Wakefield result was somewhat overshadowed by that at Tiverton and Honiton. Again, turnout compared to the 2019 general election fell to by nearly 20%, to 52%. Helped, however, by tactical voting, the Liberal Democrats powered to victory, gaining the seat by just over 6,000 votes. Those voting Conservative more than halved. The swing was just short of 30%. The Lib Dems had flooded the constituency with campaign literature and volunteers, and will struggle to do so again come a general election. Nevertheless there are a significant number of seats in southern England where just a third of this swing would result in a Conservative defeat.
So where does this leave Boris Johnson and his party? Johnson had already said in advance that it would be "crazy" to resign if the by-elections were lost. But his party co-chairman Oliver Dowden MP has done just that, pointedly (?) noting "someone has to take responsibility." The Conservatives must be worried about their current level of unpopularity and voters willingness to cast their vote for whichever party is seen as the main challenger in varying constituencies. Johnson's personal rating is in an even bigger hole than that of his party, which for someone whose main appeal was supposed to be his popularity with voters is not good.
Based on current internal party rules, Johnson cannot be challenged by his own MPs again within a year. There are rumors that attempts are being made to alter that to allow another vote come autumn. These by-elections results will embolden those who want a new leader.
Thanks once again, S.T.! (Z)
Let's talk books for a moment. If you write one of these high-profile books about a presidential administration, what kind of sales does it take for the book to be a success and to justify the six- or seven-figure advances that publishers have been handing out? We will tell you that folks like James Comey and John Bolton managed to move more than 600,000 copies with their books on the Trump years, while several of Michael Wolff's books broke 1 million copies sold, and Bob Woodward's books sold closer to 2 million.
That gives you some sort of baseline. Now, let's take a look at the Bookscan data for Trump-insider books released since he left office. Note that Bookscan doesn't capture all sales, particularly those in newer formats like audiobooks. However, it does capture the lion's share. And with that caveat, here's a rundown:
What this list suggests is, first and foremost, that there is a fair amount of Trump book fatigue. Further, there is clearly a market for books that dish dirt on Trump, for people to buy and hate-read. There is much less of a market for books that lionize Trump, and to the extent that market exists, it's been serviced by Trump himself with his $200 coffee table books.
In any event, by the standards of most books, these sales are pretty OK. But when there's been a huge advance paid, and when the book has the prominence that comes with a recent presidential administration, these are all bombs. The publishers are going to take a bath on them, and the authors aren't going to be able to retire on their royalties, as they might have hoped.
The folks on the list above are all pretty sketchy, and all were willing to undermine democracy in search of power and fame. Then, they doubled down on that by trying to cash in. And they were aided by the publishers who tried to cash in as well. When all of the folks involved in this sort of skeezy behavior have their profiteering blow up in their faces? Schadenfreude time. (Z)