A new litmus test.
January 24, 2023
On a day heavy with news, we begin with reports of another mass killing in California. Details are still emerging as I write, so I will note only that it appears that seven people were killed in Northern California, most of whom were “Chinese farm workers.” If true, it is difficult to believe that the killings were not a targeted hate crime. Guns and hate. A lethal combination that forms the backbone of the GOP platform.
As Joe Biden said when he announced his run for the presidency in 2016, we are engaged in a “battle for the soul of the nation.” We cannot relent. We cannot surrender to political expedience or promote half-measures because we are afraid of failure. Well-intentioned temporizing and placating have emboldened those who exalt weapons of war over peace and security in our communities.
Republicans extinguished the constitutional right to privacy by imposing a litmus test for Republican candidates. Democrats must impose their own litmus test—a pledge to support a total ban on assault weapons, including high-capacity magazines and ammunition designed to mutilate human flesh by shattering on impact. If we fail to impose that litmus test, we cede the field to the GOP default test—“guns and hate.” Which test shall we choose?
Hearing on the release of special grand jury report in Fulton County, Georgia.
A special grand jury convened by the District Attorney in Fulton County, Georgia, issued a lengthy report earlier this month regarding Donald Trump's effort to interfere in the 2020 Georgia presidential election. The grand jury recommended that its report be released to the public. A Georgia state court judge will hold a hearing at noon on January 24th to consider the grand jury’s request to release the report.
The legal issues regarding the release of the report are complicated and the report may not be released for months. But whatever the outcome, we may know on Tuesday whether the special grand jury recommended indicting Trump. Clues as to the special grand jury's recommendation will be contained in the arguments of the Fulton County District Attorney and questions from the judge. Stay tuned.
Former FBI head of counterintelligence in New York office indicted in two separate prosecutions.
The former head of counterintelligence in the FBI's New York office was indicted in two separate prosecutions on Monday. The underlying facts are complicated and still developing. The indictments can be accessed in this article from Talking Points Memo, DOJ Accuses FBI Official Of Concealing Massive Cash Payments From Foreign Gov’t.
This troubling development will be with us for a while, so rather than get into the details tonight, I will focus on big-picture points to help frame future discussion and analysis.
The defendant is Charles McGonigal. McGonigal retired from the FBI in 2018. The two indictments are split according to his pre-retirement and post-retirement activities. Together, the indictments raise this troubling prospect:
While McGonigal was directing counter-intelligence operations targeting key figures in the Trump-Russia investigation, he was being paid by a foreign intelligence agent for Albania, and after his retirement, began working for one of the targets of the Trump-Russia investigations, Oleg Deripaska.
I urge you to go back and re-read the preceding sentence. If correct, it raises profoundly disturbing questions about the integrity of the FBI’s investigation of Trump’s connections to Russia. If true, one of the key FBI counter-intelligence agents investigating Trump’s connections to Russia was hopelessly compromised by intelligence agents of a former Soviet satellite nation. Sadly, the Fox News headline says it best: Retired top FBI counterintelligence agent who led Trump-Russia probe arrested for own ties to Russian oligarch | Fox News.
DOJ secures more convictions for seditious conspiracy arising from January 6th insurrection.
The DOJ secured a second set of convictions for seditious conspiracy against participants in the January 6th insurrection. See Politico, 4 more Oath Keepers found guilty of seditious conspiracy tied to Jan. 6 attack. The latest convictions bring the total to fourteen members of the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys who have been successfully tried on charges of seditious conspiracy.
The DOJ should be rightly proud of the convictions, which go a long way toward vindicating the rule of law. Sadly, the convictions of the foot soldiers highlight the complete absence of a single charge against a leader of the insurrection and coup. It has been more than two years since the insurrection. Special counsel Jack Smith promised his appointment would not slow the pace of the January 6th investigations—and we should take him at his word. Why, then, have no indictments—not one—been brought against leaders of the insurrection—or even against low-level co-conspirators? Something is deeply broken at the DOJ.
If you feel compelled to criticize me for my continued criticism of Merrick Garland, I ask you to consider that tens of millions of Americans have had their faith in our system of justice shaken by the delay in prosecuting the ringleaders. Yelling at me won’t change the way they feel. And while the DOJ absolutely should not make prosecutorial decisions based on popular sentiment, it is rightly subject to criticism for prioritizing obtaining 700 convictions for “parading without a permit” while doing nothing to bring a single leader of the insurrection to justice.
DeSantis defends banning of AP course on African American studies by blaming “queer theory”.
Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida defended himself against charges of racism in banning an AP course in African American studies by clarifying that part of his objection was the inclusion of “queer theory in Black history” in the course. He said,
This course on Black history, what’s one of the lessons about? Queer theory. Now, who would say that an important part of Black history is queer theory?
In other words, Ron DeSantis doesn’t want you to think he is a racist bigot, just an LGBTQ bigot.
But since DeSantis asked, “Who would say that queer theory is important to Black history,” the answer is, the “National Museum of African American History and Culture,” which is currently featuring an exhibit titled “The Harlem Renaissance in Black Queer History | National Museum of African American History and Culture.”
Seriously, though, this episode highlights why Ron DeSantis is facing stiff headwinds as he tries to position himself as a national candidate for 2024. His initial rejection of the AP course of African American studies said that it “lacked educational value”—a slur against the history of all Black Americans. By trying to redirect his racist attack to slam LGBTQ people, he simply made matters worse.
Put simply, Ron DeSantis is ignorant and stupid—and I use both terms advisedly. He is slow on his feet, easy to anger, and a one-dimensional checkers player.
None of that means that we should write him off for 2024, but can we please stop acting like he has superpowers and charisma? He has neither. His peculiar brand of racist, anti-LGBTQ, anti-education demagoguery has appeal in some quarters of the MAGA universe. But he is trying to outflank Trump by slithering to the farthest reaches of the MAGA hellscape, which will reduce the pool of people who can tolerate his extremism.
DeSantis is beatable in 2024, so don’t unwittingly add to an unwarranted buzz by trading rumors about his superiority to Trump. You may discourage or alarm people unnecessarily. Let’s stay calm and carry on.
Kevin McCarthy’s personal hell.
Kevin McCarthy gave away legislative control over the House by agreeing to appoint three members of the Freedom Caucus to the Rules Committee. The Rules Committee is like the “traffic cop” of the House. Nothing gets to the floor for a vote unless the Rules committee says so. On Monday, McCarthy announced that he had appointed two members of the Freedom Caucus and one member of the Gadfly Caucus to the Rules Committee. See Washington Post, Kevin McCarthy adds hard-right Republicans to House's Rules Committee.
By appointing three “hard-right” members who opposed McCarthy’s bid for Speakership, he has essentially given away control over the progress of legislation on the House floor. The Committee has 9 GOP members and 4 Democrats—meaning that any bill needs 7 votes (out of 13) to proceed out of committee. With the hard-right controlling 3 of the 7 GOP votes, they control the agenda for the House, not McCarthy.
A glimpse into the difficulties that McCarthy faces because he surrendered the powers of the Speaker to become the Speaker were put into high relief on Monday. One of the “hard right” members of the Rules Committee—Chip Roy—received a promise from McCarthy to bring an immigration bill to the floor in the first weeks of the 118th Congress. But Roy’s proposed bill was so inhumane that dozens of Republicans refused to support the bill. See Washington Post, Immigration legislation exposes House Republican rift. Per the Post,
But the scope of the three-page bill has rattled dozens of House Republicans, many of whom worry it would prevent migrants and unaccompanied children fleeing violence from seeking asylum in the United States — a traditionally protected tenet of the country’s immigration laws.
To be clear, the proposed bill is nothing less than performative cruelty. It will never be passed. But the bill was so cruel that McCarthy’s promise to hard-liners to bring the bill to the floor will fail. What then, Kevin? You have already broken your first promise to your captors. Welcome to your personal hell!
Yesterday I wrote that America does not have a “gun safety” problem, it has a gun problem. That is not a popular framing of the issue, especially for groups that are attempting to secure incremental gains where they can. I respect their efforts and welcome their gains. But it is a disservice to the victims and their families to pretend that if we address gun “safety,” we will solve the problem of gun violence. We will not.
Eugene Robinson wrote an op-ed in WaPo on Monday after the Monterey Park mass killing. See WaPo, The only way to stop senseless mass shootings? You know the answer. Robinson writes,
The gun, the gun, the gun, the gun. The common factor, always, is the gun.
When we agree as a society that the problem is the gun, the path to success will remain long and arduous. It may require eliminating the filibuster, expanding the Supreme Court, or amending the Constitution. None of those are easy steps. But they won’t happen unless and until we call the problem by its name: the gun. And hate. Guns and hate. A toxic mixture.
Despite the darkness of another day that ends with a mass killing, I cannot end on such a somber note. We welcomed our third granddaughter to her home today. The twenty-month-old big sister insisted on “holding” her newborn sister within seconds of being introduced. The twenty-month difference between the two is astounding. The newborn is tiny, fragile, and utterly dependent. Her big sister could already out-negotiate Ron DeSantis over who is “next” on the swing.
Every time a newborn entered our lives (starting with our own daughters), we swore that we would never forget how precious each moment is and how quickly time passes. But then life intervenes, and we forget that important lesson. For today, at least, the lesson is still fresh, and I will try to hold onto to it for as long as possible.
Talk to you tomorrow!