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What Happened to the Bully Pulpit?
Never Trump. Never Sedition.
Sedition has consequences. At least for now.
On Thursday, Dennis Aftergut writes in today’s Bulwark, a federal judge in D.C. “sent a message to the country: There is a serious price in prison time to be paid for taking the law into your own hands to achieve political ends.”
“District Court Judge Amit Mehta sentenced Elmer Stewart Rhodes III, the Yale-educated leader of the militant Oath Keepers, to 18 years in prison for the rarely indicted crime of seditious conspiracy. Rhodes’s top lieutenant, Kelly Meggs, got 12 years behind bars.”
“A seditious conspiracy.” the judge said, “is among the most serious crimes an American can commit.”
The sentence sent a clear message to Donald Trump.
“Phillip Linder, Rhodes’s lawyer, sought to shift the blame to former President Donald Trump: Prosecutors want to make Rhodes “the face of January 6th,” Linder said, but Rhodes was just “a participant”; if you want to “put a face on January 6th, put it on Trump.”…
Capitol police officer Harry Dunn, a defender of the Capitol that day, concurred with Rhodes’s lawyers: “[They] argued that Donald Trump is the root of the problem,” Dunn told CNN, “and I totally agree. Let’s get him next.”
The judge also sent a message to MTG, who has claimed that every January 6 participant jailed for violence is a “political prisoner.”
MTG has only hinted at violence in support of her lies, but the court, when it said to Rhodes that “You . . . present an ongoing threat and a peril to this country,” may as well have been speaking to her.
And the judge sent a message to militants who may be considering further acts of political violence:
Juliette Kayyem, a national security analyst for CNN, put the importance of Rhodes’s and Meggs’s serious sentences succinctly. The sentencing, she said, should have a “chilling effect on [violent] groups,” making it “more difficult for them to recruit and—as important—for them to raise money.”
Finally, Aftergut writes, the judge sent a message to the country ahead of this Memorial Day weekend: “Yesterday’s sentences tell us where our system of justice stands. The rule of law and our freedom from violence will be on the ballot in November 2024.”
Trump has already signaled that he would use his presidential pardon powers to wipe out the convictions.
And, now, here comes DeSantis: “Ron DeSantis says, if elected president, he’ll consider Jan. 6 pardons.”
Hosts of the conservative “The Clay Travis & Buck Sexton Show” asked DeSantis if he thinks Jan. 6 defendants “deserve to have their cases examined by a Republican president,” and whether he would pardon former president Donald Trump if he were “charged with federal offenses.” DeSantis said that on his first day in office, he would “have folks that will get together and look at all these cases.”
“Now, some of these case, some people may have a technical violation of the law,” DeSantis said. “But if there are three other people who did the same thing but just in a context, like [the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020] and they don’t get prosecuted at all, that is uneven application of justice, and so … we will use the pardon power.”
Twice in the interview, DeSantis avoided directly answering questions on whether he’d pardon Trump but left open the possibility.
“I would say any example of this favored treatment based on politics, or weaponization, would be included in that review, no matter how small or how big,” the GOP presidential candidate said.
DeSantis said he would use his pardon powers “at the front end” of his administration, noting that “a lot of people wait until the end of the administration to issue pardons.”
Why won’t NeverTrumpers embrace DeSantis? It’s a real mystery. Amazing, really.
Liz Cheney, the former vice chair of the January 6 Committee, tweeted:
Exactly. NeverTrump = NeverSedition. Questions?
On Thursday’s new episode of the Trump trials, I was joined by Lawfare’s Ben Wittes and Quinta Jurecic. Jack Smith is wrapping up his investigation into the Mar-a-Lago classified document collection and TrumpWorld is bracing for indictments. Plus: re-defamation, court dates, and the DeSantis roll-out.
Two of Donald Trump’s employees moved boxes of papers the day before an early June visit by FBI agents and a prosecutor to the former president’s Florida home to retrieve classified documents in response to a subpoena — timing that investigators have come to view as suspicious and an indication of possible obstruction, according to people familiar with the matter.
Trump and his aides also allegedly carried out a “dress rehearsal” for moving sensitive papers even before his office received the May 2022 subpoena….
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Biden’s Missing Bully Pulpit
There are many ways to measure Joe Biden’s decline, political and otherwise, but here’s one that’s unexpected. One of the weakest House speakers in living memory is running rings around him in a high-stakes negotiation.
Imagine being routed by a guy who needed 15 ballots and boatloads of concessions to persuade his own caucus to choose him, very grudgingly, as its leader.
We’ll have to wait a bit to determine whether, in fact, this really is a rout. But it highlights a puzzle and a problem: Why isn’t Joe Biden using his bully pulpit?
Instead of addressing the nation about the cataclysmic dangers of default or mobilizing his cabinet and surrogates to take the fight to the GOP, he’s chosen to play the insider game. The result: Kevin McCarthy is all over television, while Biden is relatively invisible.
Democrats are understandably frustrated. Here’s Leigh Ann Caldwell and Theodoric Meyer in Wednesday’s “Early 202”: “House Democrats are growing increasingly frustrated with how the White House is handling the negotiations.”
“I’ve never seen such a massive, surprising and consequential potential failure,” said one Democratic member of Congress who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to be candid. “We'll see where this comes out, but by definition we're only measuring success on how much we lost.”
The White House is MIA
Some Democrats point to substandard messaging from the White House and the lack of visibility from the president, who was in Japan at the G-7 meeting for several days last week and has since not spoken publicly at length about the debt limit, which is expected to be reached in as little as eight days.
It’s a stark contrast to McCarthy and his top negotiators, Reps. Garret Graves (R-La.) and Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.), who have been holding court with reporters multiple times per day and hammering home their party’s message.
Biden is paying a price for his reticence. The Wapo’s Aaron Blake notes:
The most recent polling shows Americans pretty evenly divided on whom they would blame for a potentially catastrophic default on the nation’s debt. A Washington Post/ABC News poll earlier this month showed 39 percent would blame congressional Republicans more, while 36 percent would blame Biden more. In a Marist College poll Tuesday, the split was 45-43. In the latest poll, from Fox News, the result actually flipped, with 47 percent blaming Biden and 44 percent blaming the GOP.
These polls are basically unheard of in recent debt ceiling fights.
In fairness, Biden’s insider-game comes naturally to the long-time legislator; and a case can be made that any public comments would risk derailing a deal that could avert economic catastrophe.
Part of the role of the presidency is rallying public opinion and warning the nation against imminent threats. All of Biden’s instincts tell him to stay quiet; but this seems like a moment to use that bully pulpit, especially if negotiations go sideways in the next few days.
Maybe an Oval Office address to the nation? Mr. President?
Trouble in Paradise
A top leader in the organization that puts on CPAC, the highly influential conference of conservative leaders, resigned on Tuesday night, citing financial mysteries surrounding the organization’s leader.
Bob Beauprez, the longtime treasurer of the American Conservative Union, said that he was not fully informed about money being paid for chairman Matt Schlapp’s legal defense against a lawsuit accusing him of sexual assault. “I cannot deliver a financial report at the upcoming board meeting with any confidence in the accuracy of the numbers,” Beauprez wrote in a letter to the ACU’s board of directors.
Meanwhile, in Texas
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Following years of scandal, criminal charges and corruption accusations, Texas’s Republican Attorney General, Ken Paxton, finds himself on the brink of impeachment, and a GOP-led panel is heading the charge.
In a unanimous decision, a Republican-led House investigative committee that spent months quietly looking into Paxton recommended impeaching the state’s top lawyer Thursday on 20 articles, including bribery, unfitness for office and abuse of public trust.
The House could vote on the recommendation as soon as Friday. If it impeaches Paxton, he would be forced to leave office immediately.
1. Are The Anti-Trump GOP Forces Starting to Implode?
[If] Trump does emerge as the GOP standard bearer next year we will look back on this week to grasp why, just like in 2016, he was able to take advantage of a divided opposition.
There was Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ muffed launch, the fitting, sad trombone conclusion to a preannouncement period in which his stock sagged, at least among political insiders.
Nobody was more thrilled about DeSantis’ decision to begin his campaign on a balky Twitter stream than his current and prospective Republican rivals: Trump sees his fellow Floridian as weaker today than at any point since last year’s midterm, and the other non-Trumps are hardly going to step aside anytime soon, even after DeSantis’ eye-popping first fundraising haul.
2. At High School Debates, Debate Is No Longer Allowed
A gobsmacking story via the Free Press: “At national tournaments, judges are making their stances clear: students who argue ‘capitalism can reduce poverty’ or ‘Israel has a right to defend itself’ will lose—no questions asked.”
But let’s say when the high school sophomore clicks Tabroom she sees that her judge is Lila Lavender, the 2019 national debate champion, whose paradigm reads, “Before anything else, including being a debate judge, I am a Marxist-Leninist-Maoist. . . . I cannot check the revolutionary proletarian science at the door when I’m judging. . . . I will no longer evaluate and thus never vote for rightest capitalist-imperialist positions/arguments. . . . Examples of arguments of this nature are as follows: fascism good, capitalism good, imperialist war good, neoliberalism good, defenses of US or otherwise bourgeois nationalism, Zionism or normalizing Israel, colonialism good, US white fascist policing good, etc.”
How does that sophomore feel as she walks into her debate round? How will knowing that information about the judge change the way she makes her case?
Traditionally, high school students would have encountered a judge like former West Point debater Henry Smith, whose paradigm asks students to “focus on clarity over speed” and reminds them that “every argument should explain exactly how [they] win the debate.”
In the past few years, however, judges with paradigms tainted by politics and ideology are becoming common. Debate judge Shubham Gupta’s paradigm reads, “If you are discussing immigrants in a round and describe the person as ‘illegal,’ I will immediately stop the round, give you the loss with low speaks”—low speaker points—“give you a stern lecture, and then talk to your coach. . . . I will not have you making the debate space unsafe.”